Do not touch that computer. Not even while wearing gloves. It is a biohazard

PLUS: Dodging rats the size of cats while repairing chewed-through cabling

On Call: Dirt File It's a holiday Friday in much of the Reg-reading world so On Call is departing from its usual format of a single story to instead bring you more tales from our Dirt File: your stories of mud, crud, dust, fust, and other foul substances that make fixing hardware so very fun.

Let's start with a reader we'll Regomize as "Bill" who once repaired Apple kit for a larger retailer.

"One day a customer unit comes in and you could literally smell the thing at over 50 paces," he told On Call, explaining that the Mac in question bore the unmistakable odor of cigarettes.

Thousands of them. All breathed in the direction of one computer that now would not boot.

"As soon as I took the side cover off, the smell became several orders of magnitude worse," Bill told On Call. Opening the machine also revealed that "literally the entire inside of the case was coated in a thick layer of slime."

Bill wanted us to know that he's not exaggerating.

"'Thick layer of slime' is not hyperbolic or my taking any kind of literary license, it is a simple statement of fact," he wrote. "It was as if Slimer from Ghostbusters had flown through the computer a few times and left the entire inside coated. There were literally tar-cicles (I assume that's what it was) on the fan blades a good couple millimeters long, you could see what looked like water droplets, only made of tar, frozen in time on the walls, and dust and other miscellaneous debris had been mixed into the various layers of slime as it was laid down."

Bill's manager sympathized, to the extent that he decided this was not a job to be done without gloves.

Then on closer inspection, the boss decided the machine was too besmirched to even touch.

"Just send it back as a biohazard," Bill was told, whereupon photos were taken to prove that the machine was dangerous to his health.

After dispatching the foul box, Bill ruminated that it had survived very well given the state of its interior.

"I have a couple of hypotheses on what finally killed it," he wrote – among them that the slime both slowed the machine's fans and coated every component, eventually baking it to death.

He also suggested the slime and the tar it contained corroded some of the key electronic components. Or perhaps the slime layer produced enough electrical resistance that signals couldn't travel along the circuit board?

His eventual diagnosis was that all of the above did the deed.

The rat was 'the size of a cat'

Now let's meet a reader we'll Regomize as "Scott" who told us about his stint in the telecoms industry – including the time he was sent out to investigate cabling at an electronics workshop housed in a heritage listed building.

"The cabling passed through a barn used to store straw and corn," Scott told On Call.

He quickly found that the barn was also home to at least one "rat the size of a cat, and to cables laid in an I-beam that had become a de facto trough for corn and straw dust. The rats loved the channel of the beam as a source of food and as a literal rat run, because it was well above head height and therefore quite safe.

"The smell of straw, corn and rat droppings was oppressive," Scott recalled.

To fix the cabling, Scott had to clean that up.

"So there we were on step ladders trying desperately to replace the cabling without becoming rat bait," he told On Call. "It took us a few hours paying out cable with the head of a broom, but we succeeded."

Job done, and Scott told the client that if he ever had to clean a similar mess again, he'd charge for it. Perhaps spending the money on pest control instead would be a better investment?

Fun with coal dust – and high voltage wires

Finally, let's meet a reader we'll call "Evan" who told us of the time he did tech in an Australian coal mine.

That gig involved all sorts of non-fun – like being required to wear masks to keep the coal dust that killed computers out of his lungs, and finding the horrid black stuff even inside computers that breathed heavily filtered air.

And then there was the terminal he was asked to fix in the diesel fitter's bay, which was filled with not just dust but had also been "agglutinated by a fine spray of diesel fumes."

But the scariest incident of all came late one night when Evan heard "the world's loudest 'twang' and had to stop work as the power went out."

"A 150-ton mine truck had driven up the 'do not drive here with the tipper tray up' road, ignored the instructions, and taken out the overhead 440V power line."

Evan didn't tell us what happened to the truck or its driver. On Call hopes it was less messy than other tales in this Dirt File.

What's the slimiest, grimiest, rimiest thing you've ever seen while doing tech support? Click here to share your story and we may use it when next On Call next offers a Dirt File – probably when either the world or your correspondent takes a holiday. ®

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