A History of (Computer) Violence: Wait. Before you whack it again, try caressing the mouse

Ever been tempted to administer a jolly good thrashing to Windows?

On Call Join us in celebrating another week on Earth with a dive into the bulging bag of Register reader tales of user misadventures, misunderstandings and mindless violence in our regular On Call feature.

Today's tale of base-unit battering comes a reader we'll call "Luca" and again transports us back more than two decades, this time to a telecommunications research lab in Turin, Italy.

Luca was an IT support engineer at the time and the lab had just deployed Windows 95 desktops across the organisation, "replacing green screen terminals".

The computers in question were "Digital (pre-HP acquisition)" units, according to Luca, and the users on which the new shiny had been inflicted were going through the usual pains: "Office, mouse and GUI in general."

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We suspect the machines were Digital DECpc units, produced as the veteran computer maker flailed prior to its acquisition by equally flailing Compaq in one of the biggest deals of the era. Compaq was subsequently snapped up by HP.

In what will bring a tear of joy to the eye of yesterday's Microsoft, the users made the transition from character mode to point-and-click impressively quickly and all seemed to be going swimmingly until Luca got The Call.

It came from one of the department heads. "Lovely gentleman," recalled Luca, "impressively smart with telephony gear."

However, the chap was struggling with his new Windows 95 PC and told Luca that the "new computer is great, but sometimes it freezes."

Being a boss and "a big (and beloved) fish", Luca and a colleague were dispatched to resolve the situation.

The user explained the problem: "You see, everything is OK, but sometimes the computer freezes and the screen turns black, and I can make it work again if I whack it here."

The user indicated a specific point on the chassis of the unfortunate Digital box.

Luca and pal checked over the system and, as you've probably already guessed, could find no fault with the machine.

"Does it happen often?" they asked.

"Yes, often during lunch break," the Big Fish responded.

So, after what we hope was a lengthy lunchbreak – this was '90s after all – the team trotted back to find the user waiting for them. Sure enough, the screen of the PC was blank.

"You see," explained the user, "it's frozen. Now if I hit it here, it comes back."

The user proceeded to administer an almighty thump to the base of the computer. And again. "Serious whacks," said Luca. However, as promised, the monitor lit up and all was apparently well again.

A mystery for sure. A loose VGA connection? Some sort of Apple III-esque chip seating issue? A final trick played by Digital engineers before the company's long trek into the darkness?


The solution? "Disable the screensaver."

"He was hitting the base so hard," explained Luca, "that the desk was shaking, causing the mouse to move," thus closing the screensaver designed to save the CRT.

Ever watched a user administer a decent thrashing to a recalcitrant bit of hardware when a gentle fiddle with a mouse would have done an equally good job? We know we've been there. Share your tales of Mac mayhem or Windows wringing with the occasionally good folk at On Call. ®

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