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Broken computer at work

So I walk into the building and the maintenance guy says "you know informatique?".

No. No I don't. <manuel>I know nothing!</manuel>

So he took me to the stock control computer. It is running, but nothing on the screeen.

Quick check of the leads, zip. Quick check of the keyboard, no response.

I reboot. The harddisc lights up, and stays lit solidly for 30 seconds. No keyboard response, when pressing F1, F2, and Del (usual ways into BIOS, should also force generic VGA in case the video display settings are screwed up).

Reboot, this time - much to maintenance guy's amusement, I put my ear on the box. But there was solid reason. The harddisc spins up. And that's it. No chk-chk-chk sounds.

Immediate diagnosis:

  1. Motherboard has died. Unlikely.
    Something that takes out the motherboard is likely to leave residual damage. Or at least an icky smell. It could be a bricked BIOS update... I glance around. No, no way in hell anybody here knows that even means!
  2. Processor has died. Unlikely.
    Fan is running, and I have only seen one wonky processor (a 6502 on a development/prototype board that had damaged addition circuitry, it was fun trying to use a 6502 where ADC didn't work - looking back I suspect it might actually have been somehow stuck in BCD mode for ADC).
  3. Memory is dead. Possible.
    While the memory itself is likely to be functional, I think it is not necessarily a good design decision to have high frequency high speed data transfer on flimsy-looking slot-in connections.
My initial diagnosis is, therefore, that atmospheric conditions, temperature, or something, is affecting the memory module connector(s) and the computer either thinks it has duff memory, or it cannot scan the memory at all. Sadly a modern PC BIOS can do exactly jack $#!+ without some sort of responsive memory, not so much as a pitiful beep.

I ask for the machine to be opened. Which is duly performed. With him looking a bit lost, I say "welcome to my world", while reaching inside. After touching a copper pipe, I should point out. ☺
I unclip the two memory modules and slide them out. Checking they are the same size, I swap them over and plug them back in.

Power up. Seconds pass, then Ubuntu's loading screen appears.

[reader's note - what follows is imaginary and did not actually happen]

I then swung around in the chair (office chairs are cool) and stood up and said in an ominous commanding voice BOW BEFORE ME FOR I AM THE ALPHA GEEK at which point the Maintenance guy fell to him knees, trembling.

Seeing my prowess with computers, I was given a nice nicer position in the company. A lot more pay, office hours instead of this 8pm-3.30am nonsense, and all the donuts and caffeine I need. Monday, remember I said the Internet Kiosk in the staff room had a virus? They noticed, like two months later, that it was infected with Confiker (I think it's called, can't be bothered looking). So it's been unplugged. And, really, who the hell uses IE5 and a version of Flash so old you can see dithering patterns on the screen? Time to drop Ubuntu onto the machine. And, okay, it could lay the path open for some hack potential, but the way I see it, ain't nobody there's going to know what SSH stands for. That's Monday's job. All day. At €30/hour. Can't argue with that.

[reader's note - that which is above didn't really happen]


What I will say is I mentioned to my boss that I was interested in potentially progressing into the realm of maintenance. He looked at me like a bug was crawling out of my left nostril. I don't know, I think a person who wants to know every intricate detail of the machinery for the sake of knowing it might be more useful than somebody who knows only what is necessary for their day to day job. That's not to say the maintenance crew are clueless, don't think that, but when one of the machines spits up a bizarre unusual error, I've seen four guys in blue overalls staring at it for over an hour while scratching their heads. Why? Because these problems are not day-to-day hiccups so they aren't sure what to do. Books come out. Test equipment comes out. Things get taken apart...

Meanwhile, when the night team was working the dosing machine went nuts for a few moments before shutting down and refusing to work. When rebooting the machine, it was a reproducible fault. I watched the girls poking random options for a few times and the girl in charge was about to phone the night-call maintenance bloke. I said "hold on a minute", reached under the rotating cog-thingy that sucks and blows the mixture, and fiddled.
"Try that."
Same behaviour. So I pushed the thing I was fiddling with to the left.
"One last try."
It worked.
It was a Hall Effect sensor (detects presence of metal, much better in a messy environment than optical sensing) that picks up on a little metal lug on the cog-thingy to know its position. Its bolt had worked loose and as the connecting wire was tight and the machine shakes in use as the pistons kick back and forth, it had gotten out of position so the machine could no longer tell the position of the cog. I found a pair of pliers, tightened the thing up, and production carried on.
That's not to say I'm wonderful, but really, I'm a teeny-tiny bit more than just the cleaner - though I'm not sure management sees it like that. [there's no unhappy face glyph]


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