Fixing an upside-down USB plug: A case of supporting the insupportable

Support chap braved fire and a mile-long run, only to find Windows 95 was the final hurdle

On Call Welcome yet again to On Call, The Register's Friday festival of futility in which readers share their stories of being asked to fix foul-ups inflicted by fools.

This week, meet a reader we'll Regomize as "Dennis", who in the early 2000s worked for an outfit that had decided it was so good at tech support it might as well rent its people out to others, too.

Dennis's main role was in-house support, but one day the phone rang and he was summoned to one of his employer's external clients – the local Chamber of Commerce, an organization he recalls as largely staffed by a jolly middle-aged workforce.

"They were the friendliest bunch of people I'd ever had the pleasure of supporting – always offering a cup of tea and a biscuit when you went to see them, and never complaining about their computers," Dennis recalled.

The call summoning him to assist came from someone uncharacteristically flustered, a fair enough emotional state given the request opened with: "There's smoke and a burning smell coming from my computer!"

Dennis literally ran the mile to the client's office because his employer didn't have a car spare and the client didn't have parking!

After a mile of exertion, and further huffing and puffing to get past reception, Dennis could not help but follow his nose to a small cloud of smoke dissipating smoke over a workstation.

A question or two yielded a theory about the cause of the flameout: the user had been trying to plug in a USB scanner.

But the user – as so many have done before and since – had the USB-A plug the wrong way up and therefore struggled to connect the scanner.

Nevertheless, he persisted. And even managed to get the cable all the way into the port.

At which point 5V shot up the wrong wire, the ribbon cable between the USB port and the motherboard fried, and the smoke started pouring out. Thankfully the damage was limited to the ribbon cable so Dennis was able to fix things up quite quickly.

But as he did so, he noticed something else: the user's PC ran an early release of Windows 95 that did not support USB.

If you have ever been asked to support the insupportable, send an email describing your story to On-Call. The column's mailbag could use a few more entries, so please don't be shy. ®

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