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BOFH: Thermo-electric funeral

Just because it's half-dead doesn't mean you shouldn't keep flogging it

Episode 6 "So all I need is the data from yesterday and maybe the day before," the Boss says, handing over his pride and joy.

"Ooooooh!" the PFY says. "A *ONE GIG* USB stick! Did you get it from a pound shop in a box of 10?"

"I paid 85 quid for this when it first came out!" the Boss says proudly, as if owning IT antiquity was one of those positive character traits like giving to the poor.

"So it just stopped working?" the PFY asks.

"No, sometimes it just gets hot and stops working."

"So it's stuffed?" I ask.

"No, it was working, but would get hot - and once it gets hot it disappears from My Computer."

"Because it's stuffed," the PFY adds.

"No, it's working!"

"But it doesn't stay working?"


"So it's stuffed," I say, entering the fray. "And now you want to get your data back?"


"And you didn't save it on your desktop?"

"No, I was working on it from home."

"And you didn't save it on your home machine either?"

"My laptop? No, I wanted to be sure I'd have it for work."

"So you kept on working on it, even when you knew it was stuffed?"


The item concerned is everything you'd expect - attached to a massive bunch of keys and with a usb interface half full of pocket lint.

"...Isn't this the one you asked me to look at a couple of months back?" the PFY asks.

"I..." the Boss responds.

"The one you'd bent over to an angle of about 45 degrees?"

"No. No, it's just one that looks like it."

"It bloody IS!" I say, holding it up against the flat side of the display to show him

"Yes well, that one's a little bit bent" he admits.

"How many times have you bent it?" I ask, already knowing the answer.

"Maybe a couple of times. But it always straightens out."

"So you've got a USB key with an intermittent failure – possibly mechanical – which heats up if you use it too long and which you've had for several years?"


"And you don't want just replace it?"

"It's got a titanium case!"


"They said it was bulletproof!"

"It may be, but it's still stuffed. Though...." the PFY adds.

"Though?" the Boss asks, beating me to it.

"Well, if it's metal we could put a heatsink onto it - you know, to give you time to get your data off..."

. . .

So the Boss is accessing his drive which has now got a CPU heatsink and fan attached to each side and is starting to droop a little out the top of his desktop's USB port.

"It's working, it's woooooorrrrrrrkkkkkkkiiiiiiing!" the Boss gasps "Oh, it's gone."

"PELTIER!" the PFY snaps.

"What?" the Boss asks.

"He's going to use a Peltier device," I explain. "It's a thing that gets hot on one side and cool on the other. So he's suggesting we clamp the cool sides of a couple of peltiers to either side of your key, clamp a couple of heatsinks to the hot sides and then clamp some fans to the heatsinks."

"Will it work?"

"Like a charm!"

A quarter-hour later the Boss' USB stick is connected to his machine by a USB extension cable - mainly because the combined weight of peltiers, larger heat sinks and larger fans would've toppled his tower over if the USB interface hadn't broken off first.

"All right..." The PFY says. "Ready...... >CLICK< GO!"

The Boss scrabbles away feverishly with his mouse, clicking like his life depended on it.

"No..." he says. "I'm not seeing anything - it keeps asking me if I want to format the device."

"Not to worry," the PFY says, cranking the current and voltage up "Try now."

"No, still saying do I want to format..."

"Okay," the PFY replies, winding the current and voltage knobs to the proverbial 11 position.

"What about now?"

"No!" the Boss gasps.

"Give it a minute for the temperature to settle..."

"Nothing..." the Boss says, in running-commentary mode. "Still nothing... Now the USB icon has disappeared completely!"

"Yes, that'll be the USB interface rediscovering the device," I say.

"Yes!" the Boss says. "Is it there? Do I need to do something with the device manager or something? Or will it come up automatically?"

I love this stream-of-consciousness stuff. It's a real insight into the mind of middle management, and yet it's only focussed on the visual senses.

"Should I unplug it and plug it in again do you think?" the Boss asks. "Or maybe I need to...

What's that smell?"

Aaaaaand there we go.

"That's the smell of a Peltier burning out," I say. "And if I'm not mistaken, the smell of titanium USB stick melting from the inside."

"What!? But you said you'd connect the cool side! I checked!"

"Oh, look," the PFY says "I accidentally reversed the polarity."

"STOP IT! QUICKLY! COOL IT DOWN!" the Boss gasps.

"Well the only way we can cool it down quickly will be to bring it into contact with something cool with a dense thermal mass I guess," I suggest.

"DO IT!" the Boss shouts.

Surprising how much thermal mass there is in the cool head of a hammer. Sadly the Boss' USB stick didn't survive the "cooling" process though.

"Look on the bright side," I say as the Boss peels his flatted USB stick off the benchtop. "At least you can be sure that it's stuffed."

He's definitely not a glass-half-full man...

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