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A truly SHOCKING tale of electrified PCs

In which our hero confronts 80s clothing and a death trap

On Call Welcome back to On-Call, our soon-to-be-less-occasional look at the odd things Reg readers have experienced when being called out to client sites at odd times.

This edition features a reader called Jon's adventures on a day trip to Belgium in the 1980s.

The trip was the first time Jon had ever flown commercially, and he remembers "noting on the laptop (well, luggable – it was the end of the 80s, and it weighed a ton) that the tastiest part of the British Airways breakfast was the lemon-flavoured ... er ... napkin."

Jon was met at Brussels airport by a man "dressed in a canary-yellow shirt, peacock-blue trousers and a bright green blazer jacket. He was either colour-blind, taste-deprived, or Michael Portillo. I took a charitable view, and assumed the first, but the day was not looking good."

Jon's job back then was working with label-printing software, and selling whole label-printing systems. The customer's system had been glitching and printing really bad labels.

"As I was the Head of Systems Software, and therefore wise in the ways of both computers and electronics, I was the ninja trouble-shooter. It was printing bad labels, so it was a software problem. Obviously."

"So I plugged the printer cable into the PC's parallel port, ran it out to the printer, and plugged the other end into the – ZZZZAAAPPP! Ouch! OK, BIG static electricity problem here. Right, let's try that again. Just plug this here and – ZZZZAAAPPP!"

It didn't seem to be static. Jon whipped out his multimeter and quickly realised that the PC – supplied by the customer – was frame-live.

"Yep, every exposed piece of metal on the machine was tied to mains live voltage," Jon recalls, and "my customer didn't believe it."

"No, it's just static! You're useless! Look - OUCH! OK, that was static, so let's just - OUCH! There's a lot of static here, it must be the carpet, so - OUCH!"

Jon says the client "gamely attempted to electrocute himself four or five more times, yelping every time. This guy really didn't understand static electricity. Or mains electricity. Or electricity. It was a great comedy act, though. I nearly got a hernia trying not to laugh, and I don't think he really believed the hiccup attack."

It turned out that eight of the ten PCs on site had the same, potentially lethal, power supply fault. "I strongly advised him not to use the other two," Jon wrote, "in case they were having a good day that day and woke up grumpy the next."

"Eventually, we found a PC from another company, installed the same software on that, and – surprise, surprise – printed faultlessly. As often as he liked."

"I was taken back to the airport on a real high," Jon recalls. "Not only was the problem theirs, the company was going to have to cover the cost of the flight, my time and expenses, as the problem was very, very much not our fault. Slightly grumpy (but accepting) customer; very happy employer. And it got even better when my BA flight was cancelled, and I was moved across onto the last seat on a Sabena flight ... in Business Class ... upgrade courtesy of BA."

"Decent food! YES!"

What's happened to you in odd places and/or at odd times? Share your story by pinging me a mail and we'll make you a star. A G-list star. ®


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