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Computer Voodoo? 686

jbeaupre asks: "A corollary to 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic' is that sometimes users have to resort to what I call 'computer voodoo.' You don't know why it works, you barely care how it works, but you find yourself doing the strangest things because it just seems to work. I'm talking about things like: smacking a PC every 5 seconds for an hour to keep it from stalling on a hard drive reformat (with nary a problem after the reformat); or figuring out the only way to get a PC partially fried by lightning to recognize an ethernet card, after booting into Windows, is to start the computer by yanking the card out and shoving it back in (thereby starting the boot processes). What wacky stuff have you done that makes no obvious sense, but just works?"
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Computer Voodoo?

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  • by QuantumFTL ( 197300 ) * on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:15PM (#15938091)
    For most problems, I find smacking the user is more effective than smacking the computer.
    • by freakmn ( 712872 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:22PM (#15938123) Journal
      That has to be about the most insightful thing I've ever seen here on Slashdot. And, of course, you got modded funny.
      • by QuantumFTL ( 197300 ) * on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:43PM (#15938218)
        That has to be about the most insightful thing I've ever seen here on Slashdot. And, of course, you got modded funny.

        Actually, to be honest, I find that creating an incentive for the user to understand the technology is a much better long run solution. The average person nowadays can accomplish an awful lot with a very basic, approximate functional understanding of the system. Unless there is some reason that they need to learn the details, they will likely never do so.

        The truth is that this does not merely apply to "lusers," but to many of the most brilliant programmers you'll find. How many programmers know the deep details about the electronics that make up the processor? Or about the connection between doping, band-gap effects, and statistical mechanics that regulate the real-world execution of logical operations? I have dual degrees in Physics and CS, yet I would not include myself in that category.

        I think what we need is users that aren't necessarily "theoretically" educated (this can, in practice, be quite useless), but rather have the appropriate metaphors (pipes, not tubes) to understand the majority of what to do in a given situation. Know what different symbols and actions connote, and where to find help (besides just asking the "computer guy").
        • by honkycat ( 249849 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @12:04AM (#15938836) Homepage Journal
          I know where you're coming from, but I disagree somewhat. I don't think understanding the physics of the semiconductors is terribly important unless you are actively working on engineering better chips. It's intellectually interesting (to some), but it's really of very little value when it comes time to program.

          Even understanding the architecture of your processor is only of value to some programmers. For most, it's better to understand the programming model for the particular language being used and tailor your program to that abstraction. Trying to apply knowledge of the low-level architecture in high-level programming is a recipe for over-optimization, especially if that code ever gets ported to another architecture.

          Now, in the latter case, I will grant that it's indispensible to have learned the details at least one computation architecture through and through at some point. It almost doesn't matter what it is, since it's the process of stepping back and thinking about how to construct machines that compute that is the enlightening bit. It's really astonishing how "dumb" the logic behind a really "smart" processor can be. However, day-to-day, it's very rare to actually need to apply details for the specific machine you're using.

          If you're writing DSP code or other real-time embedded stuff, this is obviously different, but that's a very small subset of all programmers.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by QuantumFTL ( 197300 ) *
            I know where you're coming from, but I disagree somewhat. I don't think understanding the physics of the semiconductors is terribly important unless you are actively working on engineering better chips. It's intellectually interesting (to some), but it's really of very little value when it comes time to program.

            It's not useful for programming, but that's not what this article (or my post) is about - it's about using and fixing computers. All the software knowledge in the world doesn't help you when it's
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by MECC ( 8478 ) *
              It's not useful for programming, but that's not what this article (or my post) is about - it's about using and fixing computers.

              That's where spending time fixing all kinds of eletronics (stereos, TVs, VCRs, cassette tape recorders, 8 track players, reel-to-reel tape recorders, fish locators, film projectors, overhead projectors, computers, packet assembler/disassemblers, etc) grants a kind of insight that theoretical background might not give you.

              Oddly, sometimes it seems that its not saying the exact
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by pimpimpim ( 811140 )
          Indeed! But the problem is how to learn someone this 'approximate knowledge'. I have the impression that this is mostly a matter of personality. Many people stop after the first try, then give up. Other people will turn the malfunctioning device off and on again (this works for a lot of things!). Other will go even further, try to find extra options, then there are the people that takes something apart and put it back together again as it was, and in the end there are the people that start testing currents
    • by east coast ( 590680 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:26PM (#15938139)
      I actually use that line at work, well kinda. I use: hitting the machine won't make it work better but hitting people makes them work better.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by kfg ( 145172 ) *
      I find smacking the user is more effective than smacking the computer.

      Ditto. If only I were a masochist that would work out just fine.

    • by innosent ( 618233 ) <jmdority.gmail@com> on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:47PM (#15938423)
      True, and throwing out equipment fried by lightning doesn't hurt, either. Seriously, what kind of questions are these? Hardware doesn't work? Isolate it and replace it. Other than freezing an old hard drive to free up bearings to get data off before you throw it out, it's not worth the aggravation.

      Of course, as far as real Computer/Equipment Voodoo is concerned, there is always the Heisenbug [wikipedia.org]. Just had a mechanical version of this today, the Bayer tech has spent 3 days on a machine to isolate a pump problem. To see the pumps, you have to open a panel either on the side or the front of the instrument. The past 2 days, he was working on it through the front, and the problem didn't occur. Today, after being called back because it happened again, he opened the side panel to watch it, and accidentally bumped the front panel while he was looking at it. As soon as the front panel closed, the problem occurred. It turns out that a zip-tie that holds some tubing from the pumps together was caught on the front panel, and when the panel door closed, it pulled on the zip-tie, which pulled on and pinched the tubing, causing a pressure sensor to throw a fault.
    • This is really going to date me but here goes....

      Once upon a time, CD burners were a very new thing. We had just gotten one in at work. We didn't burn much because the disks were expensive. This new guy started in our shipping department and he asked if we would copy a game for him if he bought the disk. We told him that would be fine. He brings in his software and his blank disk. We carefully put everything in the machine and set the disk to burn.

      When it's done, I very calmly pull some oven mitts out
  • by drfrog ( 145882 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:16PM (#15938095) Homepage
    ...i had to code a html page without dreamweaver

    now thats voodoo

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:23PM (#15938126)
    When somebody has a problem that they want me to fix, my mere presence and their attempt to repeat the problem makes it go away.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Fortran IV ( 737299 )
      When somebody has a problem that they want me to fix, my mere presence and their attempt to repeat the problem makes it go away.

      My boss has exactly the opposite talent. If something is working perfectly and has been running properly for days, weeks, or even months, it will go haywire thirty seconds after he walks up to look over your shoulder.
  • hitting it (Score:5, Informative)

    by crazedotaku ( 996392 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:25PM (#15938132)
    Usually whenever it would start going on the fritz a good punch or kick to the tower would get it going again. And also stop that damn whirring noise. It always makes me laugh when I'd see people hitting the monitor. Because THAT is where everything is XD
  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:26PM (#15938141) Homepage
    Not sure how it works, but I've saved 2 or 3 hard drives that reported tons of bad sectors with cat /dev/urandom > /dev/hdb and then cat /dev/zero > /dev/hdb and repeating that a couple times. Seems to alleviate all the problems. The drives wouldn't format, and all the data would get corrupted, but after doing that trick, they haven't had a problem (with the longest running drive being 2 years after the fix and still going).
    • by Ant P. ( 974313 )
      I'm guessing it probably works the same way as fixing Ni-MH batteries by discharging and recharging them completely several times.
    • Here's how it works.

      IDE drives keep a list of spare sectors to be used if one of the "primary" ones gets damaged. However, if a sector gets damaged and it already contained data, the drive won't reallocate it, because it would have no way of recovering the information. So it keeps "hoping" that some day the data will be readable again, and when that happens, it'll reallocate the sector. However, it never happens.

      When you overwrite a defective sector, the drive says "aha! since the user overwrote the information, it means it's not important anymore; so I'll go ahead, mark the sector as bad and replace it with a spare". That's why overwriting gives the drive a chance to remap all bad sectors to clean ones.

      This is a trick I learned by reading the documentation on smartd; if SMART reports defective or unreadable sectors, there's a way to figure out which files reside in those sectors and overwrite them with zeroes; the file will of course be lost, but by overwriting you let the drive reassign the sector and everything is peachy again.

      By the way, if you reformat the drive with the destructive verification option (-c -c) it's likely that when the test overwrites to verify readability, the same reassigning process will take place; the standard "-c" test is a read-only test that's why you're unable to format a drive without the overwriting procedure.

      So you see, not voodoo. :)
      • Also (Score:3, Informative)

        by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 )
        Just running the diag tools provided from the company is often a good solution. It will check the drive, and recover the data when it can. Failing that you can always try Spinright from GRC. It's not the magic tool Gibson sells it as, but it can recover drives nothign else can. Take the drive, set it near a good fan, and let Spinrite at it. You'll either have your data, or a totally worthless drive. So try other recovery methods first.
    • by spinja ( 994674 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:03PM (#15938472) Homepage
      This trick even works non-destructively: dd if=/dev/hda of=/dev/hda bs=512 A friend of mine showed me this method a few years ago and it has helped recover failing drives over a dozen times since.
      • Mod parent up!!! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Fallen Kell ( 165468 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:29PM (#15938528)
        If I had mod points left I would have done it myself. I never actually thought to try and do that. It makes perfect sense now that you said it. I always assumed that when used dd setting the input file and output file to the same thing would cause it to get stuck in an infinite loop. But now that you posted that and I thought it out some more, it makes perfect sense. DD will just grab the amount of data you specified as the block size from the input file and dump it to the first part of the output file (which in this case would be the same section of the disk). It will then increment by the block size on the input file and place copy it to the output file by the same incrementation of the block size, rinse, repeat ad infinum until it hits EOF...

        Again, great little one liner command to remember in the tool bag...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bcrowell ( 177657 )
      Hey, I tried what you said, but it didn't make my computer work better, it broke it! How come?
    • by wurp ( 51446 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @11:57PM (#15938812) Homepage
      My dad works for the Arkansas Washington County Road Service, and he is something of a computer nut, so he would 'recover' the computers they were throwing out. I was pretty profoundly poor and also a computer nut, so I would take some of the stuff off his hands.

      Anyway, I used to have three or four MFM hard drives in various states of disrepair. (I think they were 40 *meg* hard drives, but I only had a controller to control up to 20 meg, to give an idea how old this hardware was.) One by one they died, until finally only one was left. When it gave up the ghost, it would spin up, then immediately spin back down. I dug into it and found some connections I could short across while it was spinning up and then break the connection, and it would keep running. I was too poor to want to go spend $1 on a pushbutton, so I just had two wires hanging out of the front of the computer that I held together while booting the PC. I ran it that way for over a year...

      A non-computer story, but more interesting one, is of an old Ford Escort I used to have. The starter went out on it, and, again, I was poor, so I dug into it. I finally figured out that the relay was kicking out too far and shorting out against the housing, so I duct taped a kitchen sponge to the inside of the relay housing and put it back together. I never had a problem with the starter again for the 2 years I had the car.

      That same car later had the fuel pump go out. When it went out, I asked my stepdad if I should check to make sure the pump was out instead of a wiring or power problem, and he said nah, it's the pump. So I bought a replacement - it didn't help. So, I hunted around under the hood until I found some leads that were hot when the key was on, but not when it was off, and I used ties to secure an extension cord from the leads to the fuel pump. The car ran fine.

      That was in the summer. When winter came along, one day I needed to defrost the front window as I was driving down the road. I flipped the vent from dash to defrost, and the engine stopped running. (I was doing 50 mph down the road at the time.) I flipped it back to vent, and the engine started right back up again.

      Somehow I had found a wire that only gave power when the vent was not on defrost. I never fixed it, just kept the inside warm enough that it didn't frost over.

      Now I'm a software developer and not poor. I virtually never fix (or jerry rig) anything myself, other than software and the occasional computer hardware issue.
    • by cowbutt ( 21077 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @05:07AM (#15939588) Journal
      Roadmaster has the explanation bang on the money in his post.

      The only thing left to add is that doing

      dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/hdb bs=10485760
      should be significantly quicker.

      Oh, and the other thing is that, these days, I tend to run badblocks' write-test on new drives, in an attempt to get the drive to remap any failed or marginal blocks before putting Important Information on them.

  • hard drive (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tempfile ( 528337 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:26PM (#15938144)
    I once had a hard drive that wouldn't spin up if the computer had been off a few days. The only way was turning it by 90 degrees every time before booting the computer.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CheeseTroll ( 696413 )
      We used to call this "stiction" when it happened to old Mac SE's in the college labs. I had several drives die on me every day for a while one summer, and we'd have to whack them progressively harder to recover any data off the drives.
  • by Blastrogath ( 579992 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:26PM (#15938145)
    No, seriously. For some reason my presence is enough to get some computer problems to go away.

    (until I leave...)
    • by mashade ( 912744 ) <mshade.mshade@org> on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:30PM (#15938167) Homepage
      We refer to this as 'techie karma' or the 'magic touch'. For some reason, it doesn't work as well with females.

      -- Shade

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Didn't you ever play the role playing game "Paranoia?"

        Machine Empathy is a mutant power that makes all things electronic (be they computers, appliances, or killbots) into your best friends.

        I submit that people who program computers, and like computers, naturally develop this mutant power. :)

        (Incidentally, the best part of the game was that computer programmers were called "high programmers" and were worshipped (and feared) by the rest of society. That is how it should be.)
    • by miyako ( 632510 ) <miyakoNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:55PM (#15938258) Homepage Journal
      Actually, some people laugh at that, but I have the same thing happen. I remember a couple of years ago, I convinced a friend of mine to try switching from Mandrake to Suse on his laptop. Chatting with him on the phone, he complained that booting up the system was taking 15+ minutes. I drove over there to see if I could possibly diagnose the problem (he had been using linux for a while, but was never really much for sysadmining). I walk over, he boots up the machine, it boots up very quickly and runs flawlessly. Tried a couple of more times, same quick bootup. After I went home, he tried rebooting and ran into the same problem. We were both dumbfounded for quite a while, until I finally worked out that it was because when he had been using it, he was sitting in his living room, and it had hung waiting for eth0 to time out, but when I came over to look at it he put it in the docking station and plugged in the ethernet cable.
      I've seen other situations like this. Many times, it's because the user is doing something they know is stupid/they shouldn't be doing, and with a techie looking over their shoulder they don't do it.
      • by Alfred, Lord Tennyso ( 975342 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:17PM (#15938342)
        Or they've been skipping some step that they figure is useless and they're sure they've done already but it didn't help. When demonstrating it for the techie they throw that step in just to save time. They're certain that when it doesn't work the techie will tell them they missed a step and make them do it all over including that step; it still wouldn't work and it would be a waste of time.

        Except that the step WAS crucial, and now it works. They had some other problem, and they'd fixed it, but now by skipping that step they still get the problem.

        I wish I could attribute that just to dumb users, but I've made that mistake myself. "Yes, I TRIED rebooting the router... oh, it worked this time. Never mind."
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by RESPAWN ( 153636 )
        I actually had just the opposite happen with one of my friends. He had given me the CDs for the Mankrake 10.0 Community distribution. I start the install, get it to the copy files stage, and then go to work. On the way home from work, I stopped by his place to say hi and we eventually end up going back to my place so I can finish installing Mandrake. After the install, everything was working except for the sound card. At first I just chalked it up to plain bad luck as I always seem to have issues with
      • by SlartibartfastJunior ( 750516 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:53AM (#15939286)
        I knew a guy who could only log into the network while sitting down. If he was standing up when he tried to log in, no dice.

        Turns out he touch typed while sitting, but had to look at the keyboard while standing - and since he "cleaned" his keyboard and put a few key tops back in the wrong places, he was mis-typing has password if he was standing up.
    • by grcumb ( 781340 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:39PM (#15938559) Homepage Journal

      Computers mysteriously start working again when you enter the room? Feh. This hardly qualifies as Voodoo. I mean, it's got a perfectly rational explanation [catb.org]:

      quantum bogodynamics: /kwontm boh`gohdi:namiks/, n.

      A theory that characterizes the universe in terms of bogon sources (such as politicians, used-car salesmen, TV evangelists, and suits in general), bogon sinks (such as taxpayers and computers), and bogosity potential fields. Bogon absorption, of course, causes human beings to behave mindlessly and machines to fail (and may also cause both to emit secondary bogons); however, the precise mechanics of the bogon-computron interaction are not yet understood and remain to be elucidated. Quantum bogodynamics is most often invoked to explain the sharp increase in hardware and software failures in the presence of suits; the latter emit bogons, which the former absorb. See bogon, computron, suit, psyton.

      Here is a representative QBD theory: The bogon is a boson (integral spin, +1 or -1), and has zero rest mass. In this respect it is very much like a photon. However, it has a much greater momentum, thus explaining its destructive effect on computer electronics and human nervous systems. The corollary to this is that bogons also have tremendous inertia, and therefore a bogon beam is deflected only with great difficulty. When the bogon encounters its antiparticle, the cluon, they mutually annihilate each other, releasing magic smoke. Furthermore 1 Lenat = 1 mole (6.022E23) of bogons (see microLenat).

  • Hard Drive Massage (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mashade ( 912744 ) <mshade.mshade@org> on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:27PM (#15938149) Homepage

    In my repair monkey days, my shop used to handle data recovery jobs of all kinds. The problems ranged from minor filesystem corruption or unbootable drives to physical damage - heads, and even a bullet through a hard drive (No, I wasn't able to get anything off that one).

    We had a variety of methods for dealing with the physically damaged drives that had suffered a head crash, but my boss had a technique he called the 'massage'. A clicking or noisy drive would be rotated around its various axes until the BIOS would recognize it on boot. Sometimes the clicking would stop and he would sit there holding the drive in that position or prop it up to keep it there.

    Another method we used was to freeze the drives for a period of 15 minutes to 6 or 8 hours. Sometimes this allowed enough contraction to let the tracks line up again, and we'd get as much data as we could with the drive cold. Once, we even froze a drive between two ziploc bags of water with IDE and power cables hanging out the edge to keep the drive colder longer. It worked!

    -- Shade

    • by RealityMogul ( 663835 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @11:37PM (#15938735)
      Sometimes taking the drive cover off and watching what it is doing helps. My uncle had a drive that died and would just click at startup. Upon watching it "click", I realized the head was just snapping back from the position it was trying to read. Solution: physically hold the read head in place when it tried to reset. Worked well enough to get the drive booted as a slave and copy all the important stuff off of it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by moonbender ( 547943 )
        There isn't a lot left on Slashdot that will make me wince, but this did. ;)
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          That was the /. equivalent of "So I put my finger over the hole in his heart and gave him mouth-to-mouth until the surgeon arrived."
  • 7-second rule (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WilliamSChips ( 793741 ) <full DOT infinity AT gmail DOT com> on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:28PM (#15938161) Journal
    Whenever I boot from Windows to Linux, I have to turn the power strip off for seven seconds for the network card to work.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I guess the closest reason would be that you have to wait for something to be reset in the card, and that seven seconds is the xRC value for a capacitor on the card to discharge and allow the voltage across couple transistors on some chip to drop below .7 (or .3?) volts.

      Or maybe just voodoo...
    • by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @11:27PM (#15938708)
      I used to have a Performa 5200 [lowendmac.com] back when I started college, and if you're not familiar with the machine, it's arguably the worst Macintosh ever made. [lowendmac.com] Ever. The only thing it excelled at was displaying grainy TV on the TV tuner card you could get for it.

      Read that second link for all the gory details of why the follow scenario works, and you'll shudder.

      I used to note in college that when doing particularly fast FTP transfers that saturated by 10-Base-T card that the machine would often lock up within a minute of starting the transfer. For months, I fiddled around and noticed that if I was actively working that this didn't happen. Eventually, I found the article I mentioned and realized that if I kept moving the mouse constantly, the machine wouldn't get in whatever weird state locked up the machine and I could finish my transfers. That's right -- to run FTP (or any other sustained, saturated transfer), I had to sit there moving the mouse in circles through the entire transfer.

      Essentially, the "Left 32" bus described in the article was shared by the 16-bit Apple Desktop Bus (for mouse and keyboard) and the 16-bit networking card (as well as audio and the 8-bit SCSI controller). So long as I kept interrupting the bus with input from ADB, the networking card was unable to flood the controller that had to make sense of all the different bit-widths and clock speeds between the various busses hanging off of it, and the machine wouldn't lock up.

      Now how's that for some serious computer voodoo?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sjs132 ( 631745 )
        Interesting... Back in 90 in College, I found the same thing/info... And now out of habbit, whenever my computer seems to bog down, I find myself spinning the cursor. EVEN though, I know it has NOTHING to do with current problems. It's just "back there" in my subconscience. I usually laugh when I catch myself doing this type of stuff...

        I also remember my old Tandy COCO Days with my external 300 Baud modem... I could dial into Delphi but I couldn't start pressing keys or the Term Program I wrote would fre
  • by gnarlin ( 696263 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:30PM (#15938166) Homepage Journal
    I always have the feeling the gentoo runs more smoothly if I recompile the kernel again, even if it's the same version that is currently running.

    I gotta stop using gentoo.

  • by Couchmanx ( 995646 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:31PM (#15938172) Homepage
    On the first pc I built one of the best ways to keep it in line in its last few weeks with me was to randomly yell and smack the pc, it didnt know when it would happen so it didnt risk crapping out on me :P Nah, Ive never had to rely on any voodoo to keep my pc running .. but to eliminate some annoying buzzing sounds from fans nothing beats a swift smack on the top left corner of the case. I had a roommate that smacked his pc cause it wasnt working the way he wanted it to .. but it was working perfectly fine (no hardware or software issues - all user issues) .. I told him I'd have to start a support group for his electronics (he hit everything) if he kept it up. Electronic Victims of **** still lives to this day (name censored so he doesnt come after me :P)
  • TV Card (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The Mysterious X ( 903554 ) <adam@omega.org.uk> on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:37PM (#15938196)
    My old TV card. No matter what cables you used, if the aerial lead wasn't bent at a 90 degree angle about 2 inches away from the computer, it wouldn't pick up a signal. In the end I just blutacked it down; I assume there was a loose connection inside, and the twist put out just enough force to make the connection.
  • My analysis? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Travoltus ( 110240 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:39PM (#15938203) Journal
    For smacking the computer to keep a hard drive formatting from failing, I'd say something is loose. And that will stop working after a while.

    The same is most likely true with the ethernet card.

    The motherboard itself may have something loose, and the way to deal with all of it is to move components into other PC's and see how things go.

    I've seen and met all hardware problems and beat 'em all (even if by buying a new component). The REAL voodoo lies in the software. Why in God's holy name does Windows fail to boot one time, and then boot successfully the second time?
    • by FLEB ( 312391 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:09PM (#15938312) Homepage Journal
      Why in God's holy name does Windows fail to boot one time, and then boot successfully the second time?

      Hardware problems.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cgenman ( 325138 )
      The first time I assembled this computer, it didn't work. I unplugged all of the devices one at a time. Still didn't work. Set it to a minimum configuration that should work. Didn't work. I disassembled the computer entirely, to test it. The parts all worked fine in a different computer. I plugged everything back together, and it didn't work.

      Long story short... there is one screw in the motherboard that if I tighten it down... the motherboard doesn't work. You can't believe how long it took to find
    • Re:My analysis? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @11:39PM (#15938739) Homepage
      Why in God's holy name does Windows fail to boot one time, and then boot successfully the second time?

      Hah. I had something close to that one. A friend's Windows XP Home system. Boot it up, runs fine for about 30 seconds, then locks up hard. Reboot it, works fine for as long as you like. Next time you boot it up, locks up after about 30 seconds. Reboot, works fine. Lather, rinse, repeat.

      I booted it up off a Knoppix disc and ran a bunch of hardware tests -- nothing. And no problems with locking up either.

      Back to Windows -- same thing.

      I eventually realized the pattern: after a clean Windows shutdown, it would lock up 30 seconds after the next boot. After a dirty shutdown (e.g. power cycle or reset button), it would boot up fine. Obviously the Windows shutdown was leaving something in a funky state for next time. Beats me what.

      I told my friend she had the choice of doing a re-install and keeping fingers crossed, or always shutting it down with the power switch, or moving to Linux. I don't recall what she did beyond passing the box on to her kids because she'd already got a new one for herself.
  • Wireless (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stefanlasiewski ( 63134 ) <slashdot@stefanc[ ]om ['o.c' in gap]> on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:39PM (#15938205) Homepage Journal
    I bought a bunch of Dlink DWL-520 wireless cards from Tigerdirect (refurbished, mail in rebate, etc. etc). These cards came to $20 apiece, which was a pretty good deal in 2004. You probably know this card -- it's called the 'DWL-520', but could actually be one of 6 different cards, each containing a different wireless chip--- each requiring it's own driver. A piece of crap-- but I wasn't willing to spend more money on a wireless network justyet.

    However, after I installed the card, Windows 2000 would crash with the following BSOD:


            *** STOP: 0X000000D1 (0X0191A400,0X00000002,0X00000001,0XF828B908)

            *** NETR33X.SYS - Address F828B908 base at F827B000, Datestamp 3ecdaf93

    Annoying as heck-- somewhat expected from a cheap network card.

    So one day I was wat home downloading Fedora with bittorrent--- my DSL connection was maxxed out. There was too much interference on the line, so I hit the little 'channel' button to switch to a different channel.

    As soon as I hit the button on the phone -- *boom*, the computer threw up the Blue Screen of Death. ANd sure enough, I reboot, hit the button on the phone-- and *boom* -- Computer crashes again.

    I have since replaced all of the D-Link cards with cards from other manufacturers.
  • by miyako ( 632510 ) <miyakoNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday August 18, 2006 @08:46PM (#15938229) Homepage Journal
    In general, with my main desktop machine and main laptop, if something funky is happening I will simply replace the part or parts in question to ensure a smoothly working machine, but I've had some interesting things with some old hardware I kept around for no real reason.
    I used to have an old pentium (133 I think) that ran well, except that the CD drive would only actually recognize a disk if you tilted the computer at about a 20 to 30 degree angle when the disk was inserted. I never did figure out why this fixed it, luckily I didn't need to use the cd drive very often.
    I also used to have a cable modem that would drop the connection if you so much as blew on the power cord. I always just figgured that was just some flaky hardware, and eventually got the cable company to replace it. Another really aggrevating hardware problem that I never figgured out was an old Sony DVD drive that I had. When you opened the tray, it would about 1 to 2 seconds later automatically close the tray, but when you opened it again it would stay open for about 10 seconds, just long enough to remove or insert a disk.
    I think everyone runs into a situation where there is some voodoo involved in solving a problem, it becomes problematic when people stop carying about having any answers, and just care about getting something working.
  • At a job about ten years ago we used both Windows 95 and NT 3.51. Rebooting from NT to 95 worked fine. If we rebooted from 95 into NT the network card wouldn't work. We had to power the system off and do a cold boot.

    Not a computer one, but... my high school's music teacher had an ancient stereo amplifier that would make the sound muddy every few minutes. The solution was to knock on the case at a certain spot until the sound cleared up.
  • Right now my computer is fucked.
    It runs perfectly stable.

    But when I reboot, windows pukes, hard. It will refuse to boot completely even in safe mode until I run chkdsk. Chkdsk doesn't seem to find or fix anything, but once it finishes everything works fine.
  • More Magic? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MerlynEmrys67 ( 583469 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:01PM (#15938291)
    I always liked this story More Magic [retrologic.com]. A wonderful story about a switch that wasn't connected to anything, but when you switched it off of the More Magic position into the Magic position, the computer crashed.

    Got to love old school hacking

  • Always remember... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:02PM (#15938293) Journal
    ...you gotta type 'sync' three times before it works.
    • by KiloByte ( 825081 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:31PM (#15938380)
      ...you gotta type 'sync' three times before it works.
      Don't laugh so loud. While running it thrice is indeed voodoo, there are Unices where you actually need to sync twice.

      The POSIX semantic is: sync() doesn't have to actually write everything, it can just schedule the commit. However, a second sync() won't return until the writes from the previous sync() finish.

      On Linux, a single sync is enough, though.

  • Complexity (Score:4, Insightful)

    by identity0 ( 77976 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:13PM (#15938322) Journal
    Hmm, what you describe is not the result of being "advanced", but of being complex to the point that people cannot tell what is causing a specific state or failure or success.

    'Magic' is when a device does something well, which one did not expect technology to be able to do, and in a way that does not make it obvious how the technology is implemented.

    The story is about when devices do not do what they are expected to do.
  • by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:27PM (#15938372) Homepage Journal

    That wouldn't boot up unless freon spray was applied to the area just under the processor. (Okay, it wasn't real freon, but the CFC-free stuff...)

    It seems that it had a few "cold soldered" joints on an IC or two, and freezing it brought them back into contact with each other.

  • by texaport ( 600120 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @09:34PM (#15938387)
    Flip a CAT5 cable end-to-end gets a connection back (when assisting over the phone and you know its a loose cable).

    Tell the enduser their network cable "got reversed" and somebody will have to go over there and turn it around for them.

    First, if you ask someone to put the phone down to check for link light, they'll answer back in 3 seconds without checking.

    Second, even if they actually wouldn't lie about it, they'd never get under a desk to fix it in the first place.

    Even guys in suits do it every time, if you say someone will be over "later" to reverse their (known loose) network cable.

    End result -- works every time if you do it right, and no credibility lost since everybody understands what happened.

  • by The MAZZTer ( 911996 ) <<megazzt> <at> <gmail.com>> on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:11PM (#15938491) Homepage
    Just today I turned my computer on after leaving it on hibernate for a week. The "thaw" as I guess it could be called, failed (the computer hung before showing anything useful) so I rebooted. Windows starts up fine and then tells me my hardware has changed and I need to reactivate Windows. Except my hardware hadn't changed since the last boot (over the course of owning this computer, admittedly it had changed a lot). Oh wait, I can't activate over the Internet anymore, I've installed it too many times on the same machine, I have to call Microsoft, speak a 42 digit number slowly into the phone, get put on hold, be told I spoke the number wrong, put on hold again, read part of the number to a person, and then type another 42 digit number read to me over the phone. Then my computer will work again.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Progman3K ( 515744 )
      I don't think you are a troll;

      A few years ago, my pc started randomly turning itself off while I was using it.

      During the course of swapping parts in an out of the motherboard and trying to boot the computer to see if a specific component was causing the problem (it was the power-supply, duh!), Windows eventually got to a place where it needed to be reactivated.

      The network card didn't function anymore because its driver had been uninstalled (???) during the tests.

      I didn't feel like spending any time on the p
  • by alshithead ( 981606 ) * on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:29PM (#15938529)
    I had a Lexmark all in one printer, scanner, blah, blah, blah that wouldn't work after we moved. The PC just didn't recognize that it was attached. The copy function worked fine but it didn't depend on the PC for that function. Uninstall and reinstall, troubleshoot USB cable, remove USB hub, all of the normal troubleshooting steps. Finally, buried in Lexmark's website, was the suggestion to have the PC power and printer power be supplied from different outlets. Not different circuits but different outlets. Craziest frickin' thing I've ever heard and even crazier was that it worked! If anyone has a good explanation for why that would work, I would love to know.

    As for being on topic...I can guarantee that shit will break everytime I try to take a long weekend or vaction. The corollary is that everytime I'm on site for a "just in case", I end up not being needed.
  • by 00Sovereign ( 106393 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:38PM (#15938553)
    I keep various old expansion cards, motherboards, and processors hanging on the wall in plain sight of my beige box. The threat of disembowelment seems to keep it inline.
  • by sakusha ( 441986 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:45PM (#15938580)
    True story: I used to identify bad RAM chips in old Apple II units with a dowsing rod. Finding one bad RAM chip out of 24 was a horrible pain in the ass, the normal procedure was to remove half of them, replace those with known-good RAM chips, see if the mem diagnostic passed, ok, it wasn't in the half I removed, put those back. Take out half of the chips that weren't removed before, replace with known good chips, repeat, etc. in a binary search pattern. This was horribly unproductive, particularly if the memory fault was intermittent. And even worse, once in a while, due to all the handling and insertion/extraction, or maybe just from static discharges, you'd ruin a chip in the known-good set, which really screwed things up, you could go back and forth for HOURS.

    I remember when I was a little kid, I used to watch the old Tom Snyder Tomorrow show on late night TV, and some weird guy demonstrated how to dowse using a couple of bent wires made from coat hangers. I was skeptical, but eventually I became known for some rather startling dowsing stunts, I used to challenge people to hide my keys in a location I was unfamiliar with, in houses or buildings I'd never been to, and could find them 4 times out of 5. So when I became a computer tech, I figured, what the hell, it couldn't hurt, it couldn't possibly take MORE time to try dowsing than to do the elaborate binary search method. And to my astonishment, it was a LOT faster. Sometimes it took me a couple of tries, but pulling just a couple of individual chips was a lot faster than pulling 12 chips at a time, and my results were way above the expected average of just pulling a chip at random. BUT.. I made absolutely sure that nobody ever saw me dowsing on their machines. This is Computer SCIENCE, after all, it isn't computer VOODOO. Ha!
  • by OldSoldier ( 168889 ) on Friday August 18, 2006 @10:53PM (#15938608)
    This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes/jokes from the Tom Baker era of Dr Who.

    He stumbled across an old spacecraft on a very distant planet. As he sat down at the control console he remarked, "this looks like Earth technology". As he began to power it up it slowly came to life then started to fade back out. He kicked the bottom of the console and the rocket resumed slowly coming back to life. The Doctor remarked "Definitely Earth technology".

    I just LOVE the implication that this sort of "kick it to keep it working" is a characteristic aspect of our technology that (in the world of this SF TV show at least) sets us apart from other species.

  • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @12:00AM (#15938822) Journal
    The large majority of "computer voodoo" is because of Microsoft's buggy crapware...

    Back in the DOS days, people were convinced things worked better if they left the power off for long periods of time, before restarting.

    Windows got more complex, and had too many of those things to name. Hitting the tower is a popular one. Moving the mouse around while waiting to prevent lock-ups is another very popular one. There are certainly millions of them. Linux, too, has developed a few, because some drivers are iffy, but they make up the tiniest fraction of what you see with Windows zombies (aka. users).

    When I'm helping someone with a Windows system (I keep that as rare an event as possible), I still see similar nonsense. Windows XP's setup will allow me to partition hard drives #1 and #2, but WON'T let me format them there, and I have to put them in another system to do that part. Not to mention all the drivers that will just corrupt themselves after working fine for 3 months, if you just LOOK at the system funny. It's no wonder voodoo is so popular with Windows systems (and pre-OSX Macs, to be fair).

    With that said, I have seen some frustrating hardware problems. After 6 months of working without any problem, my always-on Linux system starts crashing every day for 3 days, and then won't start up... Typical crappy power supply (bloated capacitor).

    I had a Charter cable modem which would work whenever the tech guys were here (I called them out a dozen times over 2 months), but would fail miserably just moments after they'd step out the door. It took me a while before I realized that the thing would work for amout 5 minutes after it was power-cycled, and only then would it crash. They would never take my word for it, and I had to cancel my service to get rid of that piece of shit.

    I've seen a few network cables, which test-out just fine, and work most of the time, but after the machine has been online for a while, it will fail, and need to be rebooted... This is partially Windows voodoo, because the stack is unstable, and can't handle many errors. But mainly, it's because of cables with marginal connections, which work about 95% of the time, enough to pass tests, but cause all sorts of problems in real-world use.

    Then there are the occasional network cables with crosstalk, which can be hard to diagnose if you don't have an advanced/expensive meter, and give many of the same symptoms as above.

    There was one case where a guy would play music CDs for an hour, before they started skipping. He changed CD-ROM after CD-ROM, before asking for my help. It was pretty obvious when I saw the sheer ammount of lint in his system fans. It would run fine while the system was cool, but the fans not spinning would drive the tempurature up to insane levels shortly, and the CD-ROM was just the first part to show symptoms.

    Another Windows one is IE's download dialog... It takes so long before it appears, that when it starts there is already a few KBs downloaded, so it claims a 500KB/sec download rate on a dial-up modem, and only gradually goes down to about 4K, as it's really doing. People think that's accurate, and actually come up with the great idea of stopping and restarting downloads several times every minute, presumably because the server or their ISP will only allow them to download "fast" when the download first starts.

    God I hate Microsoft...
  • by trainsnpep ( 608418 ) <mikebenza@NosPAm.gmail.com> on Saturday August 19, 2006 @12:10AM (#15938852)

    What wacky stuff have you done that makes no obvious sense, but just works?

    Ask Slashdot.

    (...though I'm not quite sure it works...)

  • by RESPAWN ( 153636 ) <caldwell@@@tulanealumni...net> on Saturday August 19, 2006 @12:23AM (#15938897) Homepage Journal
    I had (still have, actually) this old Compaq Presario computer with a Pentium 200 MMX processor. The thing was never the most stable computer out there and was a pain in the but to work on, having non-standard screws and proprietay memory, as most Compaqs of that era did. One day I realized that I had a bunch of old hard drives lying around, so I decide to make this Compaq into a makeshift file server by adding the two larger drives in to the machine and brought it to school with my at the start of my Senior year. The machine's sole purpose was to act as a file server AND as a second internet/instant messaging terminal that I could use when my primary desktop was otherwise engaged. The machine didn't do this well as it seemed to suffer a 25% random reboot rate while using it. (Windows 98, couldn't even get Linux to come close to running on it.) This wasn't really any different from the sort of behavior it had shown since the day we purchased it, shortly after the MMX processors were released, so I just put up with it until...

    One day I'm playing Serious Sam over the LAN with some friends. There's a brief lull in the action and so I reach over for the 1 gallon bottle of apple juice I was drinking from. Well, instead of picking up the apple juice, I tip it over and the entire contents spill out ON TOP OF the Compaq. I of course, immediately jump in to disaster recovery mode and race to the kitchen to grab the paper towels. I start cleaning up the mess, expecting the wrost for the Compaq in the process. I could see where there was apple juice in all of the little crevices and I'm darn sure some of it actually got into the computer. Some had spilled on to some school papers lying next to the machine and I wanted to make sure I didn't lose any notes so I took plenty of time to salvage those papers.

    After I finished cleaning up the mess, I check the computer. Mouse and keyboard input seem OK. I start up Winamp and it seems to work OK. I run scandisk on all of the drives and they all report being OK. I can't find a single thing wrong with this computer. And I'll be damned if that computer didn't have a single random reboot after I spilled apple juice on it. It became the object of admiration and jokes amongst my friends, and one friend even managed to find one of those fruity, rainbow colored Apple Computer stickers that he wanted me to put on the case. I never even bothered to open up the computer to asses the damages (partly becuase I was lazy and didn't have a torx screw driver at school). Truth be told, I was afraid to even move the comptuer or otherwise disturb it since it seemed to be working OK.

    A quick addendum to this story... right before graduation I purchased another hard drive for my primary desktop machine that was about 4 times the total capacity of the drives in the apple computer. I copied all of my data off the apple computer on to this drive and pretty much relegated the apple solely to web surfing detail. About a year and a half later, I need another hard drive for a client machine and so I decide to finally open the apple computer to raid one of the hard drives in it. I was even more amazed then that the computer still worked. There was brown, sticky apple juice residue on everything in the computer. There was even a puddle of this gooey gel that had pooled at the bottom of the case. It was all over the cables, the drives, everything. I was even more surprised and even a little bit proud that the computer still worked after that ordeal.

    I guess that just goes to show: if you want a stable computer, get an Apple. ;)
  • by Chabil Ha' ( 875116 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @12:24AM (#15938900)
    We wrote a script once that would gradually slow down the mouse pointer. We installed it on the interns computers and watched them get frustrated when their mouse pointer wouldn't move. We explained to them that they had to unplug the mouse, swing the plug end rapidly around their heads, and then plug it back in, and it would be fixed.

    We would conspiciously watch from quite a few cubes away and watch this mice get whipped around in the air! It was the most hilarous thing we've ever seen! You'd think that they wouldn't buy it, but when push came to shove they did it and it worked for them after looking like fools!
  • by MichaelKaiserProScri ( 691448 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @12:41AM (#15938948)
    I had a friend have a hard drive that simply would not spin up. He REALLY needed the data off that drive. After about 6 hours of messing with it, he picked it up in frustration and slammed it against the desk. Well, it spun up. He didn't ask any questions, but IMMEDIATLY "Ghosted" the drive to another one. The drive lived through the "Ghost" and never started again. And the data was mostly OK.
  • by amrust ( 686727 ) <marcrust@NOSpaM.gmail.com> on Saturday August 19, 2006 @12:56AM (#15938987) Homepage
    I have a friend. Her and her husband's computer works completely normal. To him, anyway, when he only "checks email occasionally". But for some reason, when the wife uses it, she says their antispy software shows the husband's profile/browsing history is mysteriously always infected cookies from a bunch of porno sites that they never visited! Seems like it's worse when she gets back from being out of town. Like the ghostly hackers know when she's been gone, or something.

    There's some spooky voodoo for ya, right there. They should probably call Ghostbusters, or something.
  • by udoschuermann ( 158146 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:40AM (#15939088) Homepage
    Back in the day when I was a network admin (think 286 and the powerhouse 386 with a whooping 8mb RAM), we had occasional issues with one networked PC or another. Most of the time I'd carry a fairly large hammer with me and would place it on top of the computer case while I had it open to investigate the problem and work on the machine. The sight of the hammer freaked out more than one person in the office because they thought I intended to really use the thing. Apparently it had a similar effect on the computer because I never had a problem getting the thing to work again in short order. They also behaved just fine after that implicit threat (the computers, not the people).
  • Super NoFriendo (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Evets ( 629327 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:50AM (#15939127) Homepage Journal
    I bought a clearance Super-Nintendo from CompUSA for $5 when I worked there. We didn't even sell them, but someone got suckered into taking it as a return. It worked find for about a week, then we ended up resorting to blowing on the cartridges for another week or two.

    Finally it stopped working alltogether, but addicted to one of the games, I set to taking it apart and finding the problem. While it was apart, I found that if I held the game cartridge in with a certain amount of pressure it would work, but too much pressure or none at all and it would not operate at all.

    Searching throughout the house for an appropriate weight, I ended up finding a 3 quarters empty bottle of Amaretto in the parental unit's liquor cabinet that worked perfectly. I spent the last semester of my senior year with a bottle of alcohol staring at me that I could never drink - for if I did my game console would die on me. It didn't last once summer started, though ... :)
  • by WWWWolf ( 2428 ) <wwwwolf@iki.fi> on Saturday August 19, 2006 @05:00AM (#15939560) Homepage

    As everyone knows, Commodore VIC-1541 Toaster is a very, very odd thing.

    I once got a C64 game collection. The store was half across the country. Got home. Tried playing the games. A few didn't work. We mailed the games back to the store for replacement.

    The games came back with a note "If the games do not work, turn the floppy drive to its side." With a helpful diagram.

    Flipped the drive to its side, tried running the game, and wham - time to enjoy some games.

    I later ran into some games that had such a weird copy protection that, in turn, didn't work while the drive was on its side...

    Now, honest truth to tell, I've looked at modern attempts at DRM/copy protections with rather bleary eyes, but I think Starforce and the Sony XCP rootkits seem to have finally beaten this stuff - time to get worried about nasty copy protection schemes again...

  • by Bake ( 2609 ) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @08:17AM (#15939982) Homepage
    I once added a TV Tuner card to my homebrewed NT machine. No matter how hard I tried, it simply refused to operate, even with NT specific drivers for the card, it would always give an error saying it was unable to share an IRQ. The manual for the card said that the only devices using IRQ 9 (still remember the IRQ) should be the TV Tuner card and the video card.
    After a bit of digging I was finally able to determine that IRQ 9 was indeed being shared by more than just the tuner card and the video card; my ZIP Zoom card was also using IRQ 9.

    For those who don't know what a Zip Zoom card was, it was a stripped down SCSI controller mainly used for external Zip SCSI drives.

    After a few months of being unable to use both my Zip drive and tuner card at the same time, I grew weary of plugging/unplugging the cards based on when I wanted to use them and finally decided to do something about it.

    The first step I took was to take a second look at the offending IRQ and changing it. The Zip zoom controller had a few jumpers you enabling you to change the port and IRQ. Finding out that the offending IRQ was 9 I thought it was a simple task at moving the IRQ jumper and therefore assigning a different IRQ.

    I still get the same error. Move the jumper to its original position, same error. This is when things start to get weird. I keep moving the jumper between positions and NT still keeps saying it's using IRQ9. I boot into Linux and shuffle the jumpers back and forth and amazingly Linux says the IRQ for the card changes.

    I then take a closer look at the card and its documentation and notice that the only IRQs the card supports are IRQ 5 and 7 (and NT reports it as having IRQ 9); I still remember the "hmm... this is odd" feeling I got when I found that out.

    Long story short, it turns out that NT's HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer) decided that my Zip Zoom card belonged best at IRQ 9 and assigned IRQ9 to it accordingly. I was then able to change the IRQ for the zip zoom card so that it used the a different IRQ than IRQ9; thus enabling my to finally use my Zip drive at the same time as my TV Tuner card.

    This is what I call voodoo.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.