‘I needed antihistamine tablets every time I opened the computers’

Readers share more filthy tales of cruddy computers, including a potentially explosive airport issue

ON CALL: DIRT FILE The On Call mailbag is bulging with contributions from readers who want to add to The Register’s Dirt File, a seasonal spin-off of our weekly On Call column about tech support nightmares that focuses on the dirtiest, nastiest, grottiest, and filthiest environments in which readers have been asked to work.

To open this installment, meet a reader we’ll Regomize as “Wright” who is an assistant IT manager at a very, very, large US airport.

“We had a 22U cabinet deployed out in the public area of our airport that was housing a network switch and an uninterruptible power supply,” Wright explained. The cabinet was locked tight.

Yet the airport’s facilities team would often call to ask for keys to get into what they assumed was a locked trash can.

Wright arrived and found the rack was “nearly full from people jamming garbage through the cable access slot in the top.”

Among that garbage were bottles and cans that, inevitably, had not been entirely emptied.

As readers will doubtless appreciate, uninterruptible power supplies (UPSes) contain lots of batteries. And when batteries get wet all sorts of nasty things can happen involving fires and explosions. Which aren’t popular anywhere but are especially concerning in airports.

Thankfully, this UPS didn’t suffer.

“Amazingly, the equipment survived even beverage containers leaking their contents,” Wright told On Call. “I can only assume the first layer of trash provided protection or dispersal of the liquids.”

Do not try this form of defense in depth at home, dear reader.

Next, let’s meet “Howard” who used to ply his trade in Monaco, including in the home of a woman who offered dog-sitting services to the denizens of the Principality.

“She would often have 10 to 15 dogs free roaming around the house at any given time,” Howard told On Call. And while those dogs were not allowed in the room of her home that housed a computer, dog hair still made its way inside.

“The computer fans and mother board would require regular cleaning every 3 or 4 months to remove about 0,25 cm of caked dust, dander, and occasional dog hair, to avoid overheating.”

Howard suffers from allergies so working in this home set him off.

“I had to take an antihistamine at least 30 minutes before I arrived at her place just to survive the visit,” he wrote.

He had the same problem at a nearby sports bar where four machines near the main entrance “would suck in all manner of dust and crud and needed regular cleaning (or replacement) of the chassis and CPU fans especially, despite the daily obligations for hygiene.”

The datacenter got me drunk. No, really

Now let’s meet a reader we’ll call “Dennis” who was once asked to upgrade the network at a winery that was an hour or two out of town.

“The comms room sat atop the cellars that contained thousand-gallon barrels of port,” Dennis explained, adding that some of the barrels were 100 years old and the winery laid down a new one each year.

All that booze sat there, with varpours wafting their way up towards the comms room where the air conditioning sucked the heady, yeasty, vapors inside.

“Being in there for several hours had the inevitable effect,” Dennis told On Call. “I had to ring my manager and advise that I was staying the night at an adjacent hotel as I was not in a fit state to finish the job.”

Dennis’s boss assumed he’d sampled the customer’s wares.

“I took some time explaining that not a drop had passed my lips,” Dennis wrote, before lamenting the truth of his statement because “.they made and still do some great wines.”

Lastly, let’s meet a reader named “Bobby”, who thankfully didn’t have allergies when he was asked to fix a fan, peered inside a server and wondered who on earth had decided to line it with what looked like thick felt.

Except it wasn’t felt.

“It was 15 years of caked dust from the floor carpets and cigarette ash and smoke that had been sucked and compressed into the case from the power supply fan, and was occupying every spare centimeter of space inside,” Bobby told On Call.

His attempts to clean it went badly.

“It burst out into the room, like a spore cloud. Once airborne, it quickly entered the building-wide air circulation system, causing the entire building to smell like stale cigarettes for several days.”

Share your stories of the dirtiest places you’ve had to work by clicking here to send On Call an email. The Dirt File will return next week. ®

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