How is this problem mine, techie asked, while cleaning underground computer

If you throw enough mud, some of it will stick … and crash a server

On Call Welcome once again to On Call, the Register column in which readers recall how they dug themselves out of holes while delivering tech support.

This week, meet a reader we'll Regomize as "Doug," who told us about the time his phone rang around 6:00PM on Friday afternoon and he was asked to visit a client that operated a mine.

And not just any mine, but one of the last remaining tin mines in the picturesque county of Cornwall in the southwest of England. Doug was pressed into action in August – peak season for tourism in the region – so he battled horrific holiday traffic as drove for three long hours to reach his client.

This story takes place in the 1980s and the problem Doug was summoned to address was a dead minicomputer built by a long-dead vendor. By the time he arrived – at around 9:00PM – he was dead tired, too.

"I was met by the guy who had logged and as I headed towards the site office he said 'It's not in there, follow me'."

Which was how Doug found himself entering a mineshaft, then a lift, and descending into the depths of the Earth.

"I was greeted by lots of mud and dust and some lighting to navigate the tunnel," Doug recalled. As he walked through the mine, he expected to round a corner and find a room containing the computer.

Instead, he found a niche carved into the rock, wherein dwelled a minicomputer, with its power cord snaking off into the dark.

"The computer was covered in what can only be described as a monumental amount of crud, mud and dust and I could not believe it had been working at any time," Doug told On Call.

There was nothing to do but clean it up, paying special attention to the machine's most sensitive parts.

Doug eventually reached a point at which he felt it sensible to offer a quick prayer to the deities of the digital realm in the hope he had restored the machine to life. He turned on the power and … success!

"I had no idea how the disk drive was still working in the dirty environment, especially as the temperature was also above the normal operating temperature thresholds," he told On Call.

As he ascended, Doug advised the customer they needed to protect the computer properly from the elements.

"I was met with a sharp intake of breath as the tin mine was not a money spinner so they would keep it where it was."

Doug never got another call from the customer. But a few months later he learned the mine had gone out of business.

"As the saying goes: 'They do not make them like that anymore' - both the computer and the tin mine," he signed off.

What's the dirtiest place you've been asked to deliver tech support? And what was the nastiest thing you found there? Click here to dish the dirt to On Call and we'll try to clean up your story for use by this column on a future Friday. ®

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