Friday, June 19, 2009

Coke & Computers do not mix

A client required a new system a while back. I built and tested it, then delivered it 50kms west of town for free. The client called me a few weeks later in a foul mood because the computer had failed to power up. He was pretty aggressive on the phone and I tried to calm him down and just have him bring the system in for assessment.

They arrived and I put it on the bench. The hubby was effing and blinding about the computer being unreliable, a pretty poor attitude all round. I opened the case and found a brown liquid had run down the back of the system into the power supply and it had shorted. I said "that looks like coke". He swore black and blue that it couldn't be coke as his kids were little angels that never took a soft drink near the system ever.

I dipped my finger in the liquid and tasted it.

"That tastes like coke" I said.

Oh no it couldnt be coke as they had never drunk coke in their lives and if they did it wouldn't be anywhere near the computer.

"You taste it then" I said.

Oh no Im not tasting that says he. It might be glycol from the power supply, cos my father was an electrical engineer and he knows all about power supplies.

Sure, even I know that the electrolyte is usually boric acid or sodium borate in aqueous solution together with various sugars or ethylene glycol which are added to retard evaporation.

I've tasted Ethylene Glycol. Sure it has a chemical sweetness similar to aspartame but is generally foul.

But this looked like coke an smelled like coke. It was enough like coke that I was prepared to taste it. There was no chemical aftertaste or acidity. The volume of fluid was way beyond the capacity of even the largest electrolytic capacitor in a power supply. Its path of ingress was from the top of the system down through the power supply and across the motherboard, to pool in the bottom of the case.

My sister turned up for a visit. She saw the open case and stated "that looks like coke".

"It tastes like coke too" I said.

I stripped the system. Washed the motherboard (as coke is a corrosive) and replaced the power supply. It booted and ran.

We worked out a deal. He picked up some bike parts for me in Melbourne and I wore the cost of the power supply and repair.

Everyone happy. Well sort of anyway.

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