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Computer Voodoo?

Cliff posted about 8 years ago | from the that-you-do dept.


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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For most problems... (5, Funny)

QuantumFTL (197300) | about 8 years ago | (#15938091)

For most problems, I find smacking the user is more effective than smacking the computer.

Re:For most problems... (5, Funny)

freakmn (712872) | about 8 years ago | (#15938123)

That has to be about the most insightful thing I've ever seen here on Slashdot. And, of course, you got modded funny.

Re:For most problems... (5, Insightful)

QuantumFTL (197300) | about 8 years ago | (#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").

Re:For most problems... (2, Interesting)

drachenstern (160456) | about 8 years ago | (#15938514)

How many programmers know the deep details about the electronics that make up the processor?
If I could find a way to get you modded up past 5 I so would. This has been my whole philosophy ever since I have tried to educate those around me, and I'm just a grad level student.

Re:For most problems... (4, Funny)

east coast (590680) | about 8 years ago | (#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:For most problems... (4, Funny)

Duhavid (677874) | about 8 years ago | (#15938281)

This is your boss.

I quite agree.

See you Monday. Bright and early!

Re:For most problems... (4, Funny)

east coast (590680) | about 8 years ago | (#15938317)

I know this isn't my boss. Early isn't in his vocabulary.

Re:For most problems... (1, Offtopic)

Duhavid (677874) | about 8 years ago | (#15938347)


I thought it was worth a shot.

Re:For most problems... (3, Funny)

kfg (145172) | about 8 years ago | (#15938417)

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.


Re:For most problems... (4, Interesting)

innosent (618233) | about 8 years ago | (#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 [] . 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.

one time at computer camp... (3, Funny)

drfrog (145882) | about 8 years ago | (#15938095)

...i had to code a html page without dreamweaver

now thats voodoo

Re:one time at computer camp... (5, Funny)

Telvin_3d (855514) | about 8 years ago | (#15938121)

I had to code a standards compliant page with Dreamweaver ... now THAT'S voodoo

Re:one time at computer camp... (1)

RalphSleigh (899929) | about 8 years ago | (#15938151)

I once debugged a I.E for Mac display bug over the phone, you know, change code, upload, ask guy over the phone to look at it on his crappy old mac, repeat for 1 hour. The end result was telling him to accelerate said mac out of a window, but it worked.

Getting computers to appear on a windows network, now that was pure voodoo in the 95/98 era.

Re:one time at computer camp... (1)

iced_773 (857608) | about 8 years ago | (#15938133)

You mean you don't NORMALLY code web pages by hand?!

And you hang out here at News for Nerds???

Re:one time at computer camp... (5, Funny)

drfrog (145882) | about 8 years ago | (#15938192)

real nerds dont code html by hand, they write a script to code the html for them

Re:one time at computer camp... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15938483)

And people wonder how the blink tag was invented.

xset r on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15938125)

Oh, how I hate the command 'xset r on', I have to type this 3 or 4 times per xsession to keep my key repeat on. It likes to turn off when I toggle numlock, caps lock, etc.

This is ever since I played around with 'xset r off' ... be warned!

I've got the touch (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#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:I've got the touch (2, Funny)

Fortran IV (737299) | about 8 years ago | (#15938321)

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 (5, Informative)

crazedotaku (996392) | about 8 years ago | (#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

Re:hit the monitor (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15938171)

me i always HIT the MONITOR because i know that EVERYTHING (is not) THERE but i'm felling better after that (and not worrying about my harddrive)

Re:hitting it (5, Informative)

dadragon (177695) | about 8 years ago | (#15938204)

Well, I've hit a monitor because that's where the problem was! It had that God-aweful flyback transformer noise. Hitting it ever 15 minutes or so would make it go away for a while. Then it got fuzzy, so I bought an LCD instead of fixing it.

Re:hitting it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15938547)

I currently have a s*ny v*io notebook. It started having weird display problems: random jitter, font problems, strange lines everywhere, noise that would dance from left to right while I scrolled a webpage... sometimes it would only affect web browsers (everything else was magically fine). A reboot would sometimes work... but sometimes it wouldn't.

Tapping the area near the connection from the LCD to the motherboard would sometimes make it worse or better... so I thought, okay, loose wire or board, I'll reseat and replug everything.

Every time I take the thing apart, the problem is gone while the case is open and the machine is running. I wiggle everything, but cannot get the problem to occur while the case is open.

I thought it might be bad RAM. Nope, any tests I run work fine... memtest86, kernel compiles, etc. Maybe heat-related? Nope, it happens sometimes when the machine is cold, sometimes when hot... sometimes as the machine heats up, it goes away!

I still have a warranty on it, so I'm about to send it in to get repaired... I'm crossing my fingers that they can duplicate the problem, because it's not always consistent! (note to anyone who works for s*ny who might read this post: everything posted above about taking the machine apart is fictitious, and any resemblance to computers living or dead is entirely coincidental! Believe me, either you guys or c*mpusa have actually broken pieces and lost screws when you've repaired it before, so if I'm "voiding my warranty" just by opening the case to check things out...)

Not sure how it works... (4, Interesting)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 8 years ago | (#15938141)

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).

Re:Not sure how it works... (1)

Ant P. (974313) | about 8 years ago | (#15938226)

I'm guessing it probably works the same way as fixing Ni-MH batteries by discharging and recharging them completely several times.

Re:Not sure how it works... (5, Informative)

Roadmaster (96317) | about 8 years ago | (#15938402)

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. :)

Re:Not sure how it works... (5, Informative)

spinja (994674) | about 8 years ago | (#15938472)

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!!! (4, Informative)

Fallen Kell (165468) | about 8 years ago | (#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...

hard drive (4, Interesting)

tempfile (528337) | about 8 years ago | (#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:hard drive (1)

chameleon3 (801105) | about 8 years ago | (#15938403)

I had almost the exact same problem with an old "brand X" DVD player. Damn thing had to be at 38 degrees (+/- 2) or it wouldn't spin the DVD.

Oh, and a little "percussive maintenance" didn't hurt either.

Re:hard drive (1)

Nutria (679911) | about 8 years ago | (#15938511)

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.

Sounds like the lubricant was solidifying.

Re:hard drive (1)

drachenstern (160456) | about 8 years ago | (#15938543)

same here, maxtor I believe, drive is now almost 7 years old, if not more, and the only solution i have found is to let the sys run for +/- 12 hrs, then cold boot a dozen times or so over the course of an hour or so, then it runs with no problem. Now, not turning it off in the first place lets it run fine...

Walk into the room (3, Funny)

Blastrogath (579992) | about 8 years ago | (#15938145)

No, seriously. For some reason my presence is enough to get some computer problems to go away.

(until I leave...)

Re:Walk into the room (5, Funny)

mashade (912744) | about 8 years ago | (#15938167)

We refer to this as 'techie karma' or the 'magic touch'. For some reason, it doesn't work as well with females.

-- Shade

Re:Walk into the room (4, Interesting)

miyako (632510) | about 8 years ago | (#15938258)

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.

Re:Walk into the room (4, Insightful)

Alfred, Lord Tennyso (975342) | about 8 years ago | (#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:Walk into the room (1)

Jett (135113) | about 8 years ago | (#15938388)

I've yet to meet someone experienced with fixing computers who does not have this happen. It is very weird and after awhile the people you support start noticing it and telling jokes about how the machines either fear or miss your presense.

Re:Walk into the room (3, Informative)

grcumb (781340) | about 8 years ago | (#15938559)

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 [] :

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 (5, Interesting)

mashade (912744) | about 8 years ago | (#15938149)

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

7-second rule (3, Interesting)

WilliamSChips (793741) | about 8 years ago | (#15938161)

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:7-second rule (1)

hurfy (735314) | about 8 years ago | (#15938280)

I have a tape drive in our 'server' that follows the 7-seconds rule ;)

9 times out of 10 the computer loses track of tape drive when you pull the tape out (old TR-3 with cartidge hanging out)

Shut down computer for a few seconds, let monitor make its discharge noise turn it on again and it is there every time ready to go.

No restart tho, i think the firmware in drive needs to discharge or something for it to reset fully. Restart almost always leaves the drive flashing an error light. Been working this way for 'reliably' almost 2 years.

Oh well, that 'server' is just a pIII win98 box sharing a database. A forced restart each week really isn't THAT bad of thing ;)

Re:7-second rule (3, Interesting)

littlerubberfeet (453565) | about 8 years ago | (#15938298)

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...

feeling better, thank you (4, Funny)

gnarlin (696263) | about 8 years ago | (#15938166)

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.

Re:feeling better, thank you (1)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | about 8 years ago | (#15938343)

Updated compiler or std libs?

Random Cursing and Hitting (5, Funny)

Couchmanx (995646) | about 8 years ago | (#15938172)

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)

I don't smack my laptop (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 8 years ago | (#15938181)

I just remove the overhot battery, unplug the power cords, let it cool down, and restart it again.

But I do sometimes force it to exit to a menu state in certain programs, so that it will flush the video and data cache and write the threads out.

Am looking forwards to when Windows Vista is so common I'll be forced to upgrade my WinXP laptop to Linux, quite frankly.

I'd rather issue a kill command any day.

Besides, if I smack my laptop, the vibrations make me feel all funny ...

Re:I don't smack my laptop (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 8 years ago | (#15938246)

Speaking of overheating laptops, I had a roommate in university who could only play certain games on his laptop if he left the CD drive open. Otherwise the computer would lock up. As far as we could figure, opening the CD drive would allow just a little extra air to flow, and keep it cool enough so it didn't lock up. Thank god for NoCD crackz.

TV Card (3, Interesting)

The Mysterious X (903554) | about 8 years ago | (#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? (3, Insightful)

Travoltus (110240) | about 8 years ago | (#15938203)

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?

Re:My analysis? (4, Funny)

FLEB (312391) | about 8 years ago | (#15938312)

Why in God's holy name does Windows fail to boot one time, and then boot successfully the second time?

Hardware problems.

Re:My analysis? (0)

chris_eineke (634570) | about 8 years ago | (#15938523)

Why in God's holy name does Windows fail to boot one time, and then boot successfully the second time?
Well, isn't that obvious?

Pristine Windows are squeaky clean and Oh, Shiny! Then you kick them very hard, because you're angry at Mac, and you start Bleeding, because of the sharp Edges. And since it's common to bleed quite a lot when booting Windows, your face may become Blue. That's a failed boot attempt. Now they're broken and lots of Glass is missing being replaced by Aero. That means you'll have to get new Windows and pay the Microsoft Tax. Vi$$$ta, baby! By now, frustrated, having had a blood transfusion, and your face flushed red like an Apple, you kick them very hard a SEcond time and, well, nothing really happens because it wasn't really supposed to work anyways. That's a successful boot attempt.

Wireless (4, Interesting)

stefanlasiewski (63134) | about 8 years ago | (#15938205)

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.

floppy drive (1)

d3am0n (664505) | about 8 years ago | (#15938211)

For some weird reason my computer kept stalling everytime I'd start windows waiting for the floppy drive to read. I don't know why, I'd just hear it make that "grrr rrrr rrrtt" noise for a half second, then suddenly my desktop would come up. Found windows came up way faster after I just unplugged it. -USB 1 gig key, eat it 1.44MB.

Re:floppy drive (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 8 years ago | (#15938261)

I would like to know why computers fail to get the point that I don't have a floppy drive connected. Even if I disable the controller in BIOS, the A: drive always shows up in windows, and Linux still seems to insist that /dev/floppy exists. If you every click on A: in My Computer, the computer tends to freeze up for a couple seconds trying to figure out where the missing piece of hardware is.

Re:floppy drive (1)

spauldo (118058) | about 8 years ago | (#15938428)

The floppy interface has been standardized since the 70s. It's not plug & play.

Many operating systems tend to just assume it's there, even if it's not, for compatability reasons. Windows has had floppy issues in the past.

Re:floppy drive (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15938277)

For some weird reason my computer kept stalling everytime I'd start windows waiting for the floppy drive to read. I don't know why, I'd just hear it make that "grrr rrrr rrrtt" noise for a half second, then suddenly my desktop would come up. Found windows came up way faster after I just unplugged it. -USB 1 gig key, eat it 1.44MB.

Seen this one. Fixed it by clearing out the recent documents in the start menu.

Current computer (1)

The Mysterious X (903554) | about 8 years ago | (#15938215)

From a cold start, if you turn the computer on before the monitor, the computer fails the POST.

If you turn the monitor on, then the computer, it works fine.

At first, I thought it was just timing (maybe the PSU has to charge itself up or something, and the delay while I turned on the monitor was just enough time for it to do this), but even if you power it on at the main hours in advance, the monitor must still go on first.

Re:Current computer (2, Interesting)

BabaChazz (917957) | about 8 years ago | (#15938243)

Yeah... many video cards will report "not present" if there is no monitor attached. There is a pin on the VGA connector that says "monochrome" and another that says "color", and if neither of them is connected, the card doesn't know whether to report mono or color and reports "not present", and you get the long... short short short beep rather than a POST.

Re:Current computer (2, Interesting)

The Mysterious X (903554) | about 8 years ago | (#15938268)

DVI slots only :)

Once you've turned the monitor on once, its fine. You can then disconnect it, carry it to the other side of the room, unplug it, whatever.

It sounds crazy (and my CS degree tells me it must be something else) but the mere act of turning on the monitor seems to cure it.

Re:Current computer (3, Informative)

MyDixieWrecked (548719) | about 8 years ago | (#15938253)

I'm not sure I'm reading your post right (no pun intended), but...

some BIOS require certain devices to be present to pass the POST. I discovered this the hard way when setting up a headless server. I spent 20 hours installing gentoo, got the services all nicely configured and put the machine in the corner, and it never went online... so I pulled it out and brought it back to my desk and it booted fine.

I didn't find out that it was keyboard/monitor missing errors that was preventing the system from booting until I carried the monitor to the other side of the room and plugged it in and saw the keyboard error... then I poked around in the bios and saw the options for requiring keyboard and monitor.

Re:Current computer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15938522)

I've got a kind of similar one. This is the process needed to start one of my slightly older computers (an Athlon 800) from a cold boot:
1) Power on. POST will hang looking for the first harddrive.
2) Hit the reset button. POST will find the first harddrive, but hang looking for the second.
3) Hit the reset button again. POST will detect both HD's, the CD-RW, and the DVD-ROM, and boot successfully.
I have no idea why. It's also strange, since hitting reset is supposed to momentarily disconnect power, like a cold restart, isn't it? But turning it off and on in place of hitting reset doesn't work. Actually, it's gotten kind of annoying, since it adds about 20sec to the boot process.

Windows (1)

aitikin (909209) | about 8 years ago | (#15938222)

I had a situation a while ago where my Windows XP install wouldn't boot. So I figured I'd try running it through VMWare in Linux. I set it all up, get VMWare set to look at the partition, unmounted the partition (yay FAT32 drives) and started the virtual machine. Sure enough, it booted with no problems. After a week or two, my roommate needed to use my computer cause his was on the fritz and mine was turned off. I told him before to feel free, so he boots it up, selects Windows XP through GRUB and it boots fine. I look at it and think, "What the hell?!" I rebooted again, tried to boot Windows, didn't work. Went into Linux, VMWare booted it, rebooted and Windows worked. So for 3 weeks (the time it took to get any important files and such off of there, because I didn't want to accidently blow a big paper or story away), the only way I could boot into Windows was if I had VMWared it before hand. Since then, I've reinstalled Windows, but I rarely use it now...I should re-allocate that HD.

Funky Hardware Stories (3, Interesting)

miyako (632510) | about 8 years ago | (#15938229)

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.

Playing Tetris solved my problems (1)

mindsuck (607395) | about 8 years ago | (#15938240)

While trying to install Nexenta GNU/OpenSolaris [] the installation kept failing for random reasons. The installer includes a console version of Tetris you can play while the software installs, I found out that playing it kept the installer from failing. That's what I call Computer Voodoo.

SuSE Linux (1)

The Mysterious X (903554) | about 8 years ago | (#15938249)

On my machine has to be installed with the TV card removed, otherwise the soundcard does not work.
I have no explaination for this at all. If you put the tv card in once everything is done, it all works fine. (If anyone else knows of this, it is suse 10.1 retail, Soundblaster Live! 24 bit (on an msi k8n diamond) and a hauppauge CX8XX based card.)
So I dont have to make a forth post, I have also put a hard disk in the freezer and swapped ram slots over (worked fine in one, but not in the other, with 2 identical sticks in 2 identical slots).

Re:SuSE Linux (1)

mashade (912744) | about 8 years ago | (#15938331)

The TV card is picked up as a sound card, and probably takes the /dev/sound/dsp0 position. Your sound card probably never had drivers loaded for it since SUSE picked up the Hauppage first. Running alsaconf or setting arts to use /dev/sound/dsp1 instead would probably have fixed that issue for you. You could even define it in /etc/modprobe.conf

I should probably stop saying probably.

-- Shade

ps - prolly

Cold boots only (1)

kefoo (254567) | about 8 years ago | (#15938250)

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.

Re:Cold boots only (1)

dadragon (177695) | about 8 years ago | (#15938489)

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.

That one's probably a loose vacuum tube in the amp. That'd cause some interesting sound quality issues.

chkdsk. (1)

Inominate (412637) | about 8 years ago | (#15938263)

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.

Well, one old brute I have... (1)

BabaChazz (917957) | about 8 years ago | (#15938264)

still running Windows NT, AT box, dual Pentium Pros; it pulls so much power that it has actually burned out two PSU connectors. If you turn it off, you have to let it sit for a minimum of 1 minute; less than that, and it simply won't come up again. I don't know why not.

Re:Well, one old brute I have... (1)

Mister Transistor (259842) | about 8 years ago | (#15938545)

The old original Compaq "luggable" suitcases were notorious for this too.

It's because of a power supply circuit called a "crowbar", an SCR that triggers (shorts) on transients from turning off the supply. Once triggered, the SCR stays shorted across the PS output until ALL the voltage stored in the filter capacitors drains off, to less than .7 volts. This can take some time depending on how big the caps are.

voodoo and you (1)

Rolling_Go (859757) | about 8 years ago | (#15938274)

most of my friends have given me the name computer jesus due to getting them out of jams so many times. i haven't had to resort to much 'voodoo magic' but when i had an old TEAC 4x cdrom on my 486 i did. that bugger would only read discs if you were smacking it while it read. one day i got really pissed and yanked the tray right out of the drive. i put the tray back in and lo and behold the damn thing works perfect. i dunno how the hell that worked, but it did. the marvels of computing and angry german genes.

cpu freeze (1)

syrinx (106469) | about 8 years ago | (#15938285)

Used to have a computer setup that would totally freeze at random times if the CPU was idle. As long as I was running seti@home or something else, no freezes. Let the CPU idle, it'd freeze within a half-hour. Never figured out if it was hardware or software or both; I seem to remember it happening on multiple versions/installs of Windows, but not in FreeBSD. And when I replaced the mobo/CPU, it stopped happening, even when I still had the samw Windows install.

Jiggle the PCI (1)

mnmn (145599) | about 8 years ago | (#15938287)

I've seen many bad cases which bend when pressed on one side and which dont let PCI cards and their brackets align properly. When you screw them in the top of the bracket is either higher pulling the card out a little, or to one side. I just have that paranoia where I have to press the PCI card in and jiggle it to make sure the connector pins in the slot arent bent and touch the right pads.

I also tend to blow on the data surface of CDs, even really clean ones. Especially when I pull them out of paper envelopes, I suspect particles on that surface and tend to just blow on in before using the CD. I know the fast spin cleans it but.... I just have to.

But I never smack the monitor. What good will that do?

False assumption (1)

Demona (7994) | about 8 years ago | (#15938289)

The problem has a cause, and there's a reason why the solution works. The fact that you don't yet know either of those things is no reason to pretend they don't exist.

One piece of hardware I'll never understand: (1)

Ant P. (974313) | about 8 years ago | (#15938290)

The Sega 32X. Refuses to do anything, at all, unless you've let it warm up for an hour.

More Magic? (5, Interesting)

MerlynEmrys67 (583469) | about 8 years ago | (#15938291)

I always liked this story More Magic [] . 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... (3, Interesting)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | about 8 years ago | (#15938293) gotta type 'sync' three times before it works.

Re:Always remember... (3, Informative)

KiloByte (825081) | about 8 years ago | (#15938380) 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.

Smacking the monitor (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15938304)

For all of you who were dissing on the monitor smackers saying it'll never fix anything, it will, of course, fix monitor problems. My old CRT monitor one day began this annoying high pitched squeal. Turning it off and back on did nothing, but a good HARD smack on the side stopped it for a couple weeks before the treatment had to be repeated.

Dell Inspiron 2500 (1)

spx (855431) | about 8 years ago | (#15938307)

What I am using now (main PC motherboard died, gtg get a new one). This laptop is possessed, sometimes I type too quick and w/o having any part of me on the mouse pad, the cursor will jump around. Sometimes the I & K keys go out so I have to plug in another keyboard just to finsih whatever I was doing. Its freaky sp00ky. I cant wait until my main box is back up and running, this is evil. I went from a HP NX6115 to this evil thing, then again both were free and 'borrowed' from fiances work, guess I get what I didnt pay for (even though the HP worked wonders). *insert aggitation face here*

Re:Dell Inspiron 2500 (1)

mbstone (457308) | about 8 years ago | (#15938341)

Control Panel, Mouse, check box "Tap Off While Typing"

Memtest86 (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | about 8 years ago | (#15938310)

Memtest86 has solved about 75% of the all the voodoo problems I've had with my computers.

Most of the other 25% are directly related to water somehow getting on the motherboard...

Poweroff after crash for 3c90x to work (1)

bughouse26 (975570) | about 8 years ago | (#15938320)

If my kernel panics and I do a soft reboot from a serial debugger, 3c90x claims it can't find my card. Power cycling the machine fixes the issue.

Complexity (3, Insightful)

identity0 (77976) | about 8 years ago | (#15938322)

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.

I yell at it. (1)

twitter (104583) | about 8 years ago | (#15938337)

A few discouraging words does nothing for the problem but it makes me feel better. This mostly happens at work where I have to use Windoze for data collection.

Touch screen to reboot (1)

marcsherman (300604) | about 8 years ago | (#15938339)

I once had a buggy video card that behaved perfectly normally in Windows, but when I booted into OS2 on the other partition, touching the monitor would reboot the computer. I'm guessing there was some bad trace on the video card that was only active in a mode that the OS2 driver used, but was unused by the Windows drivers, and a static discharge on the monitor was enough to short out the card when it was in that mode. It was the quickest way to boot back into windows.

Quadra 950 (1)

Lord Kano (13027) | about 8 years ago | (#15938355)

I was working for a graphic shop a while back and they bought a nubus PowerPC upgrade card. When card was inserted, the computer wouldn't boot. It took me some doing, but I found out that if I rearranged the cards that it would. The upgrade card had to be in the highest slot and the graphics card had to be in the last slot. The other card(s) could be anywhere else.


I had a motherboard... (2, Interesting)

gillbates (106458) | about 8 years ago | (#15938372)

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.

This works every time (4, Funny)

texaport (600120) | about 8 years ago | (#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.

Most unintuitive thing I've done (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 8 years ago | (#15938422)

I had just purchased a nvidia gforce 4200 and had it sitting proudly inside the open case of my computer when disaster struck.
A can of coke got poured into it and all over the place.

I saw the magic smoke :(

My heart sank as the coke soaked itself into the dust bunnies around the machine and dripped slowly from the (now stopped) fan of the new card.

I disassembled everything and did the only thing I could, I went and gave it a cold shower (just the mobo/gfx card).

Remarkably a couple of hours later the machine was back up and ran without issue for another 18 months :D

old mac books talk about scsi voodoo (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 8 years ago | (#15938451)

Like you have to brake the rules of scsi to make it work.

What I usually do... (1)

bangenge (514660) | about 8 years ago | (#15938466)

I usually stick needles in a PDA. sometimes it works.

Computer hardware and software voodoo (1)

ArielMT (757715) | about 8 years ago | (#15938473)

I picked up a refurbished Toshiba Win95 book that was so old that it didn't even have a CD-ROM drive. It had an Intel 486-SL/33 CPU, 12 MB RAM, and an 800 MB disk drive. Win95 was installed from floppies: 13 of the buggers, with IE3 optional on three more. Anyway, it didn't have an on-board modem. I had to buy a PCMCIA modem card, and all I could afford was a used 14.4 Kbaud. Yes, I surfed the 'Net quite happily on a 14.4, but that was a good ten years ago. But that thing had the weirdest problem.

After using it for a while, like an hour or two, it turned on the modem speaker, so I could hear the modulated data whether I wanted to or not. After three hours, it just wouldn't hold a connection anymore, and nothing could get it back online. Well, I found that it was just getting too warm (but not too warm to the touch), so cooling it down made it perfectly useable again. The best place to keep it cool is -- where else? -- in the refrigerator. I was known as the only one within a thousand mile radius who kept his modem in the fridge's butter tray. It was the only way the modem would work for long stretches.

For Windows use, given how often it crashed otherwise, I kept the can of Diet Coke I was drinking visibly crushed right next to the keyboard. I never crushed the can enough that it would leak, but I crushed it enough that a third had to be drank already. Keeping that within sight of the book kept it from crashing.

When I switched back to desktops, I kept a Skuld [] UFO catcher doll [] suspended over the computers. When it was there, no serious failures to speak of. When it wasn't, the "System Halted" BSOD. Your guess is as good as mine.

Now, for general use on desktops and laptops, I keep a plush voodoo doll or two around. I can't quite afford a collection of Tux plushes just yet, so I use the next best thing: Cozy Heart Penguin, one of the Care Bears (along with the patron Care Bear of cryptography, Secret Bear). Those usually convince PCs to play nice.

cookie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15938476)

my girlfriend had an old pentium 266 laptop that her father decided needed to run XP with only 64 megs of ram (because that was the minimum requirment and he didnt want to buy more ram) it was the slowest thing ever but if she offered it a cookie it worked quick as if it was a modern computer and whats real funny is the only cookies she gave it were from websites

"You are a pirate!" - Microsoft (4, Interesting)

The MAZZTer (911996) | about 8 years ago | (#15938491)

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.

Florence Ambrose nailed it. (0)

ArielMT (757715) | about 8 years ago | (#15938494)

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

"Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced." - Barry Gehm

"Any technology, no matter how primitive, is magic to those who don't understand it." - Florence Ambrose [Freefall #255] []

Networking and the color red (1)

crossmr (957846) | about 8 years ago | (#15938500)

I've had two weird things occur with computers. Windows Networking is a mystery. I find it to be extremely finicky and will work one second and not the next. I.e. you can browse the workgroup, then restart and you cannot. If I knew what I did to suddenly make it work all those times I'm sure I could retire.

When I was in high school long ago I had a CGA monitor that was tinting red randomly. I used to smack it and it'd be cool. This went on for a year or more then I took microelectronics which included soldering. They let me take a soldering pen home with some solder and the stuff for removing solder. One night me and the monitor had a reckoning and on a whim I resoldered half the circuit boards. I have no idea which one was the problem one but it fixed the problem. I don't think I've done anything half as cool as that since. Yeah I'm a sad geek.

Not exactly on topic but close (2, Interesting)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#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.

RE: Entrails (4, Funny)

00Sovereign (106393) | about 8 years ago | (#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.
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