Great moments in computer hardware user stupidity

I just spent 20 minutes troubleshooting my computer sound, coming to the conclusion that my speakers have given out. See, the sound has been a bit wonky for awhile, suddenly coming on seconds after it should have after long periods of sound inactivity. Plus the speakers are probably close to 15 years old (Boston Accoustics 2.1 set I got with an old Gateway PC years ago). So when I heard nothing when launching a game, even though I had been playing 10 minutes earlier, it seemed like a possibility.

Of course I didn’t just assume. I plugged headphones into the PC to make sure it was producing sound, which it was. I checked all the connections for the speakers, unplugging and replugging everything in and making sure they were receiving power. Still nothing. I even plugged the speakers into my MP3 player, figuring some sound would come out even if the speaker jack in the computer was somehow wrong. Nothing.

Well that’s it, I thought, the BA’s are dead. I guess I’ll have to use the headphones until I get a chance to get my other speakers out of storage in a few days.

Then I noticed I had somehow turned the volume nob on the speakers all the way down. I feel like an idiot.


My first computer build ever- I plug it in and hit the power button. Nothing. So, I tear the case open and spend 45 minutes pouring over manuals and every wire in the case…

The damned power supply was switched off. I feel your pain Sarkus.

The other night my keyboard wasn’t working. Power was going to it fine, but typing something in didn’t do anything. I opened up notepad to see if it was a problem with software being unresponsive, nope still nothing. Pressing caps lock and num lock changed the light on the keyboard, so that was alright. Worry I’d have to reboot and endure a three minute, completely unacceptable annoyance was building. I started slamming every key in anger but for some reason only áááá was coming out (that should have seen me right, but no.) I leaned over the desk and unplugged the keyboard from the USB and in the process nudged a plate that was in front of me. It had been pressing up against the Alt Gr button.

Silly me.

This one time? In my first job? I plugged a printer’s parallel cable into a SCSI port.

Spent several hours building new PC beside the gutted husk of my old PC underneath the tangle of wires and other fire hazards that was my lean-to, hand-built desk at the time. After much sweat, pulling my hair out of my eyes, and cursing at case-nicked knuckles, the beast was complete. I flipped the power switch, pressed the big black button, and waited.

It POSTed, it beeped pleasantly, and everything around me flickered to life. Beaming at my accomplishment, I started trying to enter the BIOS to swap drives around and prepare it for the Windows install. . . except that the BIOS wouldn’t come up.

I rebooted thrice attempting to mash F2 in time to no avail. Frustrated but undaunted, I pressed forward with my Windows install. . . getting so far as the serial key entry screen where, no matter my action, nothing would appear. I frothed (at the mouth, for the most part), shouted, and cursed the gods for a good long while before I started following tightly bundled wires.

Goddamned keyboard was plugged into the old PC.

One of the most common computer problems people come to me in my house is the classic, “Is there something wrong with the internet?” Invariably, to solve this problem I just have to ask, “Did you accidentally click the wifi switch on your laptop to off again?” Maybe one day they’ll learn to check that first, until then, I’m just glad it’s such an easy fix.

With my last computer I could never get it to post if I had my Ipod docked, boot order and such. I completely forgot about that one day and restarted it to install some Vista updates… black screen. I was convinced it had given up the ghost, acting funny beforehand like it was. I unplugged it, removed the battery to reset the bios. Read the manual, searched the net. Everything, like 2 hours later I was sitting there, morose and saddened when I noticed the white cable coming out of the front of my computer…


Thursday I was in a Skype conference.

I could hear everyone else, but they couldn’t hear me. I messed around with the settings, tried everything.

Suddenly they were texting me that they could now hear me, but I couldn’t hear them!

I started messing with all the settings again. Nothing worked until I realized I’d turned down the volume on my headset.

That’ll get you arrested in Texas.

I feel fortunate not to have too many stories like these, but there was one incident, quite recently, where the network printer just wasn’t working right. I uninstalled and reinstalled drivers, messed with the router settings, and power-cycled like there was no tomorrow.

Just when I was about ready to drop the printer off of a bridge, I noticed the network cable was unplugged.

Like all of y’all, I’ve done these things too, but the incident that sticks with me involved my brother (who doesn’t read these boards so I can dis him with impunity! I think.). He called me up to troubleshoot his balky printer. After an hour or so of trying all sorts of arcane fixes over the phone, I finally asked him, “is it plugged in?” Silence. Then, “Oh, nah, it’s not. There it goes, seems to work now! Thanks!”. I guess it was my fault for not asking the basic question right up front, but there you have it.

My favorite story of personal stupidity is when I spent a couple hours trying to troubleshoot a newly built PC that wouldn’t POST. Nothing would appear on the screen, even though the startup beep sounded normal. Swapped out memory, CPU, graphics card…

Finally, my daughter, who was about 11 at the time, pointed out that the little light on the monitor wasn’t shining. I’d never actually turned the monitor on…

Back when PCs were really quiet (my first pentium) and I liked to listen to music really loud, I forgot to turn off the computer before plugging in a modem card. Blue fire everywhere!

This is one of the design choices I’ve always puzzled about: the ease with which you can turn off integrated wifi in modern laptops.

I assume that it is intended primarily for airplane use, as I can’t think of good reasons to have wifi frequently off. Yet, I don’t understand why they decided to make it so damn easy (a single button push).

Even my cellphone has a more involved process to turn off signal.

I once plugged a rack complete with three rackmount 4u servers and a storage array into an unmarked 240v outlet hiding amidst a group of 110v outlets. The lightning arcs inside the power supplies made it look like the servers had displeased the emperor by refusing to join the dark side.

I was quite new on the job and was panicking because I thought I was going to be shown the door immediately. Luckily a more senior tech took pity on me and showed me how to RMA the power supplies and claim they had been dead upon arrival from the vendor.

These are hilarious…my worst offense is more ignorance than stupidity since I was around 11 at the time. First PC was an XT clone and I didn’t realize that it had a turbo mode. Just had to press Alt-Ctl-Minus and BOOM, from 4.77mhz to 8!! Crazy speed boost back then. I only found out when the 5.25" floppy drive was acting up and someone at a local shop took a look at it.

I built a PC for the very first time this morning. I had never done anything motherboardy, processory or power supply-ee before. I was getting quite worried last night over what I’d do to everything and whether an RMA for everything that was delivered would be accepted.

I built it, in a few hours, and troubleshot everything in 5 minutes.

:especially smug in this thread:

You have taken your first step into a larger world.

I spilled a 32oz coke on a diNovo Edge. I had just bought it two weeks earlier. It was a $189 keyboard back then, and there was no salvaging it. I even talked to Logitech and they basically just said “that sucks, bro. But now you can buy another one and you’ll have an extra Bluetooth dongle!” Yeah, woooooo.

Congrats man! PC building as a hobby can be quite rewarding. You’ve earned an achievement for sure.

Speaking of that old Gateway computer, after I’d had it about a year or so I added a video card to it, back in the 3dfx days. Months later I purchased AvP (the first game I’d bought that actually REQUIRED a video card) and for some reason, though I could get sound, all I was seeing was a black screen. I called up Gateway tech support for help. The guy asked me to look on the back and tell him where the monitor was plugged in and when I told him that’s when I found out you had to plug into the video card monitor out rather then the original monitor out to actually get the benefits of the video card. Doh!