...making Linux just a little more fun!
By Mike ("Iron") Orr
Back in the days when we used 5.25" floppies, somebody spilled a mug of coffee over their floppy disc. Not unnaturally, it became unreadable. The problem here is not that the data has been destroyed, but the fabric lining of the floppy envelope becomes saturated and constantly re-applies a thin layer of coffee to the disc surface, preventing the data from being read. They brought it to me, so I cut open the envelope with scissors, removed the actual disc, rinsed it under a tap and dried it with paper towels. Then I cut open a spare floppy envelope (removing the unwanted disc), inserted the problem disc and put the whole lot in the drive. It worked perfectly, and we were able to copy the entire contents to safety before abandoning the floppy.
There's a Norwegian saying that goes, "Sometimes you may have more luck than skill." With a couple of exceptions, that has been my experience when doing stupid things with the computers.
I have studied chemistry, and as I studied, I had for a while a job as a kind of sysadmin for the computers the (other) students could use. Most of the machines were some great 386s with a whooping 4MB of RAM. At that time, we also got the first 486 PCs. In one of those, the floppy ceased working, but I knew what to do, as I had a couple of dead 386s in a storage. After a bit of Frankesteinification, I again had a 486 equipped with a floppy. I turned the power on and, oops, there went the blue smoke. It turned out that I had put on the power connection one pin too far to the left. Later, floppy power connectors have been altered so it is virtually impossible to repeat that stunt. Obiously, I have not been the only one...
At about the same time, a friend of mine (yes it is true, it is not me!) got hold of a 386sx that should replace his old 286. I was working together with him to get it all together, and in the end, it turned out that one of the screws had disappeared. We looked for it for a while, gave up, turned on the power and found it immediately, just by looking at the spot where the motherboard started to burn... After that, I have always been very careful collecting all screws and never turning on the power if any are still missing. Well, my friend shortly after got hold of a 486 motherboard and managed to collect 20MB of RAM from old PC at his job, so I don't think he was too unhappy with it at the end. I still remember the thrill of seeing that machine counting RAM during boot... At that time, my own 8088 never came pass 640k... :-)
On the other hand, what really has impressed me is the quality of IDE connectors. I don't know how many times I have connected them the wrong way around, without damaging anything. My last stunt connected two ingenious connections of pieces of hardware was just a few weeks ago. I got a few old SCSI disks from my friend with the burningly fast 386SX (no he does not have any more left now...). On one of them, there was a label on the top telling how to set the jumpers for master, slave or CS, so I thought 'OK, then this one is really an IDE drive, then I'll put it in another PC'. After a bit of fiddling I managed to get it in, but the PC did not recognice it and refused to boot from the other (known working) disk. I took it out again, and had a closer look at the jumpers, after a while I could see that even though the label on the top were mentioning master and slave, the jumpers themselves were labeled A0,A1,A2..... Then a closer examination revealed that the connector was broader than IDE and that some of the pins were slightly bent... I carefully bent the pins back, attached it to a SCSI chain, and saw it came up just beautifully. Occationally, luck is better than skill.
Morten Sickel, DrÝbak Norway
A decade ago I was working as a technician at a computer store. One day a customer bought a 387 mathematical coprocesator for his computer. He insisted on installing it himself. Two days after he come back and returned the chip (without the protective case), saying, "You sold me a broken device".
I responded, "But now is out of the protective cover, How we know it not was affected by an electostatic discharge?"
"I plugged it on the socket in all four possible ways and it was never detected by the BIOS nor by the software at all."
We were shocked. We hadn't imagined it was even possible to plug the copro in another way besides to matching the pin 1 mark on the chip with the mark on the motherboard!
It took us a long week to explain he that he broke the chip when he plug it in the wrong way for the first time, and that's not covered by the warranty.
[If you have a story about something foolish or ingenious you did to your computer, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. -Iron.]
Mike is the Editor of Linux Gazette. You can read what he has
to say on the Back Page of each 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.