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The Foolish Things We Do With Our Computers

By Ben Okopnik

The Old Shell Game, Revisited

from Raspal

Many years ago (1996-97), I was learning computer hardware, had just learned basic electronics, and had hardly started with computer hardware when I got a 486 DX4 assembled by an assembler-friend of mine. He put Win95 in it and a lot of software that I had asked for. I learned Win95 by playing with it.

Well, after a month or two, I had lots of theoretical and a little bit of practical knowledge about assembling a computer. So, equipped with this knowledge, I opened up my computer's case one night to get some "practice". I removed the motherboard completely, then removed the processor along with its fan to check what it was really like, taking care not to touch the pins. Before removing it from it's socket, I tried to see pin 1 of the processor, but failed since it was covered by the heatsink and the fan. It wasn't visible from below either unless the fan and the heatsink were removed. But I had to remove the fan and remember to put it back the same way. So, I carefully marked one end of the fan which was near the socket "clip", with a marker, then removed the CPU from its socket, confident that I would now be able to put it back the same way without any problems.

With the processor out of socket, pin 1 still wasn't visible, and since I also wanted to check if the processor was really an AMD DX4 100MHz, I removed the fan and heatsink carefully and checked that it really was. Then I put the heatsink and the fan back over the CPU. Now seeing the marked side of the fan, I inserted the CPU back in its socket, locked it and put the motherboard back in to the case, covered it and tightened the screws. Then I sat and switched it on. Booooom! it went and there was lot of smoke from the SMPS at the back. I panicked and quickly powered it off but it was too late.

What had happened was that I had put the heatsink and the fan attached to it the other way round on the processor, and since the mark on the fan was now also backwards, put the CPU backwards into the socket. Later I discovered that the motherboard was fried, but the CPU had survived. Since it was in warranty though, I got a new motherboard. But after this incident, I have always been extremely careful how I insert a CPU. Now Pentium processors can't be inserted the wrong way I think, but it was possible in the case of 486 sockets.

Your data, sir: shaken, stirred, and vaporized

from Ben Okopnik

A number of years ago, when I was teaching PC hardware repair classes, I had a student who was in the process of switching from mainframes to the "little machines". He was a very interesting guy to talk to, with lots of stories of "The Old Days" and how much more manual things used to be than what we're used to now. The day that I was teaching the data recovery module, I saw a certain gleam in his eye (which made me think "oh-oh, he's up to something..."), which got progressively more evil as the day went on, particularly when I said things like "...this shows that you can get your data off the hard drive in most situations, even when it seems hopeless."

When he came in the next day, he was carrying a platter that was about two feet across, with deep circular grooves cut into it. He gave me an innocent look and said "can you help me recover this data?" After we all had a good laugh, he explained that in the drives his company used years before (boxes the size of washing machines), the read/write heads were actually mounted on a carrier that rode on a pair of rails, with the driver motor also mounted on the carrier. The rails extended from the edge of the platter toward its center. The problem with these drives was that the screws holding the inner end of the rails (over the hub of the platter) would vibrate loose - and the whole assembly, a pound or so of metal, would come crashing down onto the spinning platter... I told him that if he really wanted his data, he could probably vacuum it up from the bottom of the drive casing; the zeroes and the ones should be almost large enough to see.

[ If you have a story about something foolish or ingenious you did to your computer, send it to articles@lists.linuxgazette.net. -Ben ]


picture Ben is the Editor-in-Chief for Linux Gazette and a member of The Answer Gang.

Ben was born in Moscow, Russia in 1962. He became interested in electricity at the tender age of six, promptly demonstrated it by sticking a fork into a socket and starting a fire, and has been falling down technological mineshafts ever since. He has been working with computers since the Elder Days, when they had to be built by soldering parts onto printed circuit boards and programs had to fit into 4k of memory. He would gladly pay good money to any psychologist who can cure him of the recurrent nightmares.

His subsequent experiences include creating software in nearly a dozen languages, network and database maintenance during the approach of a hurricane, and writing articles for publications ranging from sailing magazines to technological journals. After a seven-year Atlantic/Caribbean cruise under sail and passages up and down the East coast of the US, he is currently anchored in St. Augustine, Florida. He works as a technical instructor for Sun Microsystems and a private Open Source consultant/Web developer. His current set of hobbies includes flying, yoga, martial arts, motorcycles, writing, and Roman history; his Palm Pilot is crammed full of alarms, many of which contain exclamation points.

He has been working with Linux since 1997, and credits it with his complete loss of interest in waging nuclear warfare on parts of the Pacific Northwest.

Copyright © 2004, Ben Okopnik. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 100 of Linux Gazette, March 2004

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