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Fun with electricity

Fun with electricity. I’m trying to figure out if I’m overreacting or not. What really scares me is that this journalist seems to know a whole lot more about electrical safety than some other people working in an IS/IT department.
The scenario: I had a PC that wouldn’t boot or power off. It sat there in a catatonic state, HD LED solid, power LED solid, fans running, but no other signs of life. The only way to power it off was to pull the plug. Plug it back in, and it reverted instantly to the catatonic state. I popped the hood and didn’t see anything obvious. I did notice a weird smell, which isn’t unusual for an electrical problem, but it was somehow different. Organic… I unplugged the ATX power connector and went and plundered an ATX power supply from an old P166. I came back, plugged the plunder into the board’s power connector, connected the cord, and hit the switch. It fired up and the system POSTed. OK, it’s a short in the power supply. I’ll just e-mail Micron with the details and the serial number, and they’ll overnight me another one. In the meantime, this one’s not doing anything anyway.

So I unbolt the bad one, pull it out, flip it over, and get a nice splash of black liquid. What the? 10W40!? In a computer!? Wait… Suddenly the smell made sense. Old coffee. With cream and sugar, judging from how sticky my hands were getting. So I went to the facilities to wash my hands and get some paper towels to clean up the coffee spill that had now migrated to the IDE cables and elsewhere inside the case.

I cleaned up, assembled the system, and e-mailed my boss and my boss’ boss to ask what, if anything, needed to be said or done. My boss is incredibly busy, but my boss’ boss asked if we could loan them another Pentium II until theirs was fixed. I told him he was missing the point: I already got their computer working. My problem with the situation was we had an electrical device with liquid in it and no one told me before I started trying to fix it. The $35 power supply is meaningless. It’s a lot more expensive to repair or replace techs if they electrocute themselves.

He asked me what part of policy isn’t working if it’s not safe to work on equipment.

Am I the only one who remembers from grade school not to put a hair dryer in the bathtub? It’s the same principle, just with more current and less liquid. And I also remember from science class that pure water isn’t a conductor. It’s the stuff dissolved in the water that conducts. St. Louis has hard water. Add coffee. Add cream and sugar. Now you’ve got enough conductivity to short out the power supply. Having some idea what kind of juice accumulates in the power supply (I shook hands with a power supply a few years ago, which is why I don’t open power supplies anymore), this situation strikes me as dangerous.

I was at least owed the courtesy of being told they spilled coffee in there so I knew not to reach in with both hands and complete the circuit. The embarrasment is better than finding a dead Dave laying in their cube next to a dead Micron, isn’t it?

I guess I didn’t explain it well enough.

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