[ Prev ][ Table of Contents ][ Front Page ][ Talkback ][ FAQ ][ Next ]

"Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

The Foolish Things We Do With Our Computers

By Mike "Iron" Orr

On September 6, I, um, dropped a fork on my hard drive while it was running. I asked The Answer Gang and Nick Moffitt what other foolish things they've done with their computers, and here are the responses.

The Case of the Dropped Fork

I keep my computer's cover open to avoid overheating. A fork fell off my desk, through the computer case and landed on the hard drive. The other half of the fork landed on the, um, power supply. Fortunately not *in* the power supply. :) I extracted the fork--being glad I didn't get a shock--and then discovered I couldn't save my nedit files ("read-only file system"). The disk light stayed on continuously. I ran 'mount' and got an input/output error. Suspecting the drive was fried, I wrote down all the changes I'd made to my Python files in the nedit windows. I tried "su -c mount /Backups" to mount my backup partition on the other drive, but it wouldn't do anything. I got most of the way through writing down my changes when nedit aborted. I closed what I could and tried to quit the X session, but the computer froze. I pressed Reset, but it wouldn't get past the BIOS. I turned off the computer, waited a bit, and turned it back on. This time it booted OK. :) :)

The computer ran for a couple days, then then it started crashing in the middle of the night and on bad days I would get two Oopses a day. My roommate strongly hinted I fix my computer, because he works at night and depends on it being the Internet gateway for his Windows boxen. I wanted to install ROCK Linux and try it out, so this gave me an excuse. But I couldn't get through the installation routine without an Oops. It didn't matter whether both HDs were connected or only one. Thinking something unknown might be wrong with the computer besides just the hard drive, I got the parts to build another computer: AMD Duron 800 (more than twice as fast as my K6 350 woohoo!), the cheapest brand-name HD (10 GB), and a PCI Ethernet card and sound card (because my new motherboard didn't have ISA slots), and an ATX case. Next month, I'll write about my adventures installing ROCK.

The Viking Ship

By Nick Moffitt

I haven't got any blunder stories for you, but here's something we used to do with computer hardware back in high school:

My brother's school at the time had a bunch of surplus IBM model Bs (predecessor of the XT I think) that I took home. I only had so many outlets in my room (I had used up all the plugs I dared, and was using oil lamps to light the place, but that's another story), so I had no use for most of them myself.

My friend Jason had a bunch of clock-chip crystals from some card that ran at 66MHz or something. He probably got them from Boeing Surplus, where you can buy drill bits by the pound, hard hats for a dollar, and Ultrasparc pieces as-is. At least, that was the way it used to be.

So we built a crude Viking ship out of spare plywood and set a model B atop it. I ran an extension cord out into the yard to power it, Jason inserted the crystal, and we watched, entranced, as the poor 4.77MHz chip slowly slagged itself. It smelled to high heaven, and the boat didn't catch on fire, so we resorted to setting flaming peeps adrift in his bathtub for our Viking funerals.

"What do you suppose the reaction will be once they reach Valhalla?" Jason asked.

"OLAF LOOK! BUN-NY!" <stomp> <squish>

Iron writes:

When I worked at an ISP, we got our servers from the Boeing Surplus. The owner would buy ten of them at once, whatever model they were selling at $30 each including monitor. The first time, it was these miscellaneous stray 386s. Two years later, it was Dell 486s.

At Bumbershoot (a multi-arts festival every Labor Day weekend), in the art exhibit was a set of ferry-boat models made out of driftwood with scrounged parts, with white Christmas lights inside. They actually looked pretty cool.

Upgrade Hell

By Heather Stern

Gosh, so many years in computing, hard to think what was the dumbest thing... oh yeah, we can narrow it down to just Linux.


I think the dumbest thing I've done with my laptop is upgrade it all in one day before I needed it for something... but doesn't everyone do THAT? Face it, upgrades are dangerous.

But you know, if you ate whole herrings like Tux you wouldn't have had that fork bomb.

<badum Ching!>

I/O Cards

By Chris Gianakopoulos

My dumbest computer act was unplugging and reinserting I/O cards in my S-100 (CP/M) system because I didn't want to wait that long 3-second duration for CP/M to reboot when I was fixing my hardware. After about 40 Acts of Boldness, I finally plugged in the I/O card not quite so straight into the socket and there were lots of sparks.

I just took it apart, and after two weeks (front panel dangling on the floor), I decided to fix the thing. One killer, though. The computer would randomly crash and the front panel lights (it was an Altair 8800 with an 18-slot motherboard), would just light up. After 4 months, when it got in one of its moods, I got a frequency counter and saw that the system clock was superposed where it should not have been. Looking up the signal definitions and the connector pinouts, I saw that there was a piece of copper (from my hot-swapped I/O card connector fingers) shorting the system clock to some other pin (I cannot remember the signals except that one of them was the bus clock). Yes I was electronically oriented (a real computer hacker), and that's what made me so careless.

Not only that, but I was unplugging and reinserting the I/O card without removing power from the computer. How cool I was!

John Karns writes:

Hmm, you just dated yourself [about the Altair 8800]--and to join you, I'll admit that I remember those! I think it was the same model Altair that one of my college classes was assigned to write a low-pass filter algorithm for--assembler debugging was a bear, as programming tools were non-existent--at least for us.

Chris writes:

Those were the days of CP/M. But, now we have Linux, so that we have those days and more!

Iron writes:

Especially with all those emulators Linux has.

John writes:

I still have a 486 / 100 on which I ran Slackware. Although I haven't used it in a while, it actually runs X tolerably well, thanks to the SCSI HD.

I just wish they would offer SCSI on laptops - every time my system does a disk buffer flush, there's a short and noticeable pause if I happen to be moving the cursor around the screen to remind me that I'm running an IDE HD. IMO, using a SCSI HD yields a gain similar to having ample RAM in the machine - helps smooth things out.

Iron writes:

What does "superposed" mean? [Regarding the system clock that was superposed where it should not have been.]

Chris writes:

I read too many linear systems books. Some books will call the term superposed, and other books will call the term superimposed (more intuitive). Anyway, it means one mathematical function algebraically summed with another mathematical functions. For example, you might have a 5 volt DC signal with a 240 millivolt sinusoidal signal riding on top of the 5 volt signal. So, you would have a sine wave with an amplitude of 240 millivolts and a DC offset of 5 volts.

I suspect that you understand what I just said. You were probably wondering where the heck I concocted a word such as "superpose". Usually the word is used in the context of superposition with respect to a linear system. I'm not gonna start talking about superposition, because you will probably kill me for rambling (again).

Anyway, I saw a 1-MHz signal appearing where it shouldn't have been. I'm sorry -- I talk so much. Get me talking about science and stuff and I ramble......

Iron writes:

I figured it meant the same thing as superimposed. I just couldn't, with my puny understanding of electronics, figure out how a system clock could "superimpose" itself somewhere, or why it would matter.

Chris writes:

Oh, now I understand. Utilizing my puny mind, I got bold and was unplugging circuit boards (and plugging them back into the motherboard) with the power on the computer! After fixing my fried computer, every now and then, I could not boot up the computer. All of the front panel lights, on the Altair 8800 computer, just lit up (abnormally). When I finally fixed the problem, I saw that there was a piece of copper short-circuiting the system clock signal to an adjacent pin inside one of the card edge connectors (These were 100-pin connectors - thus, the S-100 bus).

The piece of copper was a portion of foil that got sort of torn off from the edge connector of the I/O card that I was constantly removing and plugging into the computer.

Cold Therapy

By Guy Milliron

I do this (Sorta) all the time with my PCs (currently). I have only one floppy drive. So when I need to use it on any system (Linux systems or my OS-challenged systems), I just hot-swap it in.. power, I/O cables and all!

Reason: Just like you, I don't want to wait. The Challenged OS takes 7 minutes to boot, linux only takes like less than two (But I lose my uptime longevity).

The most foolish thing I've done? Has got to be when I had a 386 CPU that would overheat and crash the system due to my power supply fan had gone out. So three or four times daily I would take 2 zip lock bags and fill them with ice cubes and put them IN the computer right on top of the CPU. It actually worked very well until I was able to buy a new system.

BTW, I still have that same 386/33 motherboard. Was going to make it a Linux Router, till I found the LinkSYS router.

Iron writes:

That takes the cake! If I could draw, I'd make a picture of a computer with melting ice cubes in it.

Leaky Laptop

By John Karns

As recently as this past Spring I put my laptop into a backpack to bring to a friend's house along with some other things, one of which was ... a water bottle. Well, the top wasn't really screwed onto the bottle very securely, and ... you can guess what happened. When I arrived at my destination and pulled the backpack out of the car, I noticed that the seat was very damp. Upon checking the contents of the backpack and removing the laptop, water sort of dripped out of the side of the machine as I held it sideways / vertical.

I took it inside and disassembled it partially, and left it on a table with a fan blowing into it. The important thing to remember in such cases is not to turn on the machine (or other electronic device)! After I took it home I removed the mobo and left it over-night. Luckily, the machine survived the ordeal, without damage to the HD. The screen showed a few white spots, but those went away after a few weeks - sigh of relief. I was just glad that it was the older laptop and not the one I had just bought a week before.

Iron writes:

That's another picture I'd draw: a laptop with water dripping out the side.

If you would like to tell us about the most foolish thing you've done with your computer, maybe we'll publish it.

Mike Orr

Mike ("Iron") is the Editor of Linux Gazette. You can read what he has to say in the Back Page column in this issue. He has been a Linux enthusiast since 1991 and a Debian user since 1995. He is SSC's web technical coordinator, which means he gets to write a lot of Python scripts. Non-computer interests include Ska and Oi! music and the international language Esperanto. The nickname Iron was given to him in college--short for Iron Orr, hahaha.

Copyright © 2001, Mike "Iron" Orr.
Copying license
Published in Issue 71 of Linux Gazette, October 2001

[ Prev ][ Table of Contents ][ Front Page ][ Talkback ][ FAQ ][ Next ]