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Car allergic to vanilla ice cream (2000) (cmu.edu)
1667 points by isomorph 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 506 comments

We had a similar problem at work in the late 90s. A member of staff reported that their mouse would stop working between certain hours of the day. It had apparently been okay in the morning, stopped working over lunchtime then started again later.

On some days it would work perfectly all day long, but on others it would stop working between those hours.

The biggest clue was it would always work perfectly on overcast days, but on sunny days this strange behaviour would manifest again.

Turns out the problem was related to the mouse being a cheap mouse. The case had very thin plastic.

The mouse was a ball mouse, and it worked by shining an LED into a sensor on each of the X and Y axes. On sunny days the sun would completely overpower the sensor due to the plastic case being very thin and on overcast days it would not. On sunny days the mouse would only work when the sun had moved around the sky to cast a shadow over where the mouse was being used.

Perfectly logical but baffling at first.

Reminds me of a problem that I had (many years ago) with my iPhone 4 - if I tried to boot it in a dark place, it would get stuck on the Apple logo in an infinite boot loop.

Turns out some versions of the Pangu jailbreak for iOS 7.1.x would crash during boot if the reading from the ambient light sensor was below some threshold. To this day I don't know the exact explanation of this bug, but it seems that Pangu included some unnecessary code that messed with the light sensor [1].

If you don't believe me, there is a huge reddit thread[2] with a lot of people confirming this.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/jailbreak/comments/294wob/jailbreak... [2] https://www.reddit.com/294wob/

Engineers love problem solving. I always see it as a challenge. No matter how unimportant.

That's funny, there exists a similar issue with the LG G7 that a friend of mine ran into several years ago. The fingerprint sensor on his phone just straight-up completely stopped working, and subsequent OS updates did nothing to fix it. At first we assumed it was hardware failure, and he was ready to send it to a repair shop. While investigating it I saw a comment somewhere that it had something to do with the light sensor, and after holding my thumb over it for 10 seconds it "magically" started working again after 4 months of being completely non-functional.

Seems unlikely. I don't have access to the paste but from the comment below it I think it's probably a false positive that Pangu was doing something with the sensor. (Not that I don't doubt that the sensor could be the problem, it's just that the code is not very conclusive.)

The intent might have been to prevent it turning on while in your pocket.

I had a similar problem, but in the opposite direction. My cable internet speeds at home were fairly good (for the US, anyway), but sometimes would absolutely bottom out. Not dead, just glacially slow. After troubleshooting everything under the sun, I came to realize that the problems would happen not when it was raining per se, but when it was heavily foggy or misting. Normal to heavy rain was fine.

Called the cable company, tech came out. Everything inside was fine, but the cable from the main line to the house had a tiny cut in one spot, not enough to really affect the connection, but enough for ambient moisture to work its way in and foul the connection.

on dslreports or broadbandreports there's at least two instances of me complaining about two cable companies because, at last, it was figured out there was moisture ingress in the LE (line extender, usually on cable lines on poles). The only common denominator was it happened during prime time, every night, and went away around midnight.

The other common denominator was the cable company refusing to believe it was an issue with their equipment; this meant it took a couple of months of calling them every night until they finally sent a technician and a manager to my house to verify that I wasn't wrong, leaving my house, coming back 15 minutes later to say "it'll be fixed tomorrow, there's a problem with the LE balance up the road" - and then the issue is resolved.

Now this doesn't sound so bad, until you learn that the first time this happened to me, i had only VoIP - so the internet would start to foul, i'd call the cable company, and the tier 1 would reset my modem at some point, and then i wouldn't be able to call back until after midnight (or whatever), when there was no longer a problem. So after a week of this, i would walk 30 minutes - one way - to a pay phone (remember those?) once the internet slowed, call them, explain that i couldn't do anything they wanted me to do physically, since they disconnected my phone line every time i called.

This is what happens with a de facto monopoly.

I will never pay suddenlink another dime, even if they're the only terrestrial provider, for whatever reason.

Interesting, I wonder if I’m experiencing something a little bit similar that Comcast can’t seem to debug.

Almost every day, in the heat of summer, I get one to five 10-minute outages as soon as the temp gets over about 80F. More when it’s hotter, usually. Usually it results in a modem reset, so it’s hard to tell how long the actual outage is.

Been happening for going on 5 years. They replaced the under-street cable from our house to the junction box across the street to no effect. I suspect it’s that junction box, but afaict, none of my neighbors that share that junction box have the same issue. Not very fun to have your WFH day collapse unexpectedly in the middle of the afternoon.

Strangely, for the last month we’ve had several days of 80+ temps with no sign of outage. So fun.

Edit: yes of course multiple modem replacements and inside cable checks, to no avail.

We had the same problem at an old house. There was a cable splitter in the attic that was expanding in the heat and losing connection to the cable. We bought a heftier one and moved it under the insulation in the attic.

Interesting, I removed a splitter from the attic many years ago and replaced it with an F-F coupler.

I wonder if the coupler’s center conductor contacts could be expanding just enough to break the connection?

I wouldn’t be surprised if that was happening.

Yeah, probably very similar thing if that pattern is true. It's the shift forcing your modem to change speeds, but neither side being willing to accept it.

If you can, try forcing a level at/below the speed you get during the breakage and see if it just rides it out. If it does, shift it back up and plan your coffee breaks around it. Or don't, I'm not your mother

Several day's of 80+ temps, meaning it hasn't dropped below 80? Possibly it is just getting above 80 before you start your work day. And not dropping below until after your work day has ended?

I've experienced something similar except for temperatures below ~32-36 degrees. At this particular location it would result in a ~1hr outage going below that temperature, but not when it went back above it for some reason.

I think you’d get this problem, monopoly or not, whenever cost saving measures are in place (and they always are, for good reason) at the customer-interface level.

Maybe there should always be a hidden option that only people that meet a certain troubleshooting ability threshold get access to when calling in for tech support….

> I think you’d get this problem, monopoly or not, whenever cost saving measures are in place (and they always are, for good reason) at the customer-interface level.

I'm guessing that these scripts that we're all complaining about solve 95% of problems customers call in about. Sure makes things painful for the 5% of cases, though.

I've been a (grudging) Comcast customer for ~17 years, and I have been impressed by how their monitoring has improved over that time. It's been quite a number of years since I've had to convince them that I had an actual problem that their systems didn't automatically detect.

There is a hidden option - you can call it "proof of work", or "proof of determination". You keep calling, and trying ways to escalate, maybe even send a paper letter; eventually, something in the customer "support" process will yield and you'll get through to someone who can actually help you.

That time is an intersection of heavy home use and when the dew hits.

A customer's DSL connection dysfunctioned every evening during December - but worked fine the rest of the year... Culprit: interference from nearby Christmas decorations leaking EM all over the place.

A customer's DSL connection dysfunction's frequency increased mornings and evenings. Culprit: the lift's electric motor leaking EM all over the place.

A bunch of DSL connections degrade when traffic increase... Crosstalk in big cables of course !

The sort of fun incidents that take a good while to troubleshoot... I'm glad we are migrating away from DSL to fiber: either it works or not !

It's not like fiber doesn't have its own weird failure modes. Favourite one I heard was shoddy belowground work while crossing a street. No problem with ordinary car traffic, but heavy trash haul trucks could interrupt the link.

An ISP my friend worked at was having weird outages in one area, and it turned out that they had an apartment block built right in the way of their free-space optical link. Surprisingly, it was fine at first because the link went straight through it without obstructions, window to window. But when they started to add window panes, finishing the construction, the link became spotty, and adding the doors blocked the signal completely.

How does one even attempt to troubleshoot that, without resorting to a questionably legal drone or chopper flight?!

Line of sight, easy - just aim a sight and find that you are seeing a building rather than the opposite device.

Having had to debug many of such cable issues in the past, it's baffling to me that cable companies aren't proactively monitoring for things like this.

They have all the data available on their end, as far as I can tell! (Unless DOCSIS modems somehow don't have a standard "signal receive report" functionality?)

Telcos used to monitor their copper outside plant for moisture. This was called Automatic Line Insulation Testing in the Bell System. The ALIT system ran in the hours before dawn. It would connect to each idle line, and apply, for tens of milliseconds, about 400 volts limited to very low current between the two wires, and between each wire and ground, measuring the leakage current. This would detect moisture in the cable. This was dealt with by hooking up a tank of dry nitrogen to the cable to dry it out.

Here's a 1960s vintage Automatic Electric line insulation test system at work in a step-by-step central ofice. [1] Here's the manual for automatic line insulation testing in a 5ESS switch.[2] 5ESS is still the major AT&T switch for copper analog phone lines. After that, it's all packet switching.

For fiber, of course, moisture doesn't affect the signal.

This led to an urban legend: "bell tap". While Western Electric phones were designed to not react to the ALIT test signal, many cheap phones would emit some sound from the "ringer" when the 400V pulses came through, some time before dawn.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wt1GGdDa5jQ

[2] https://www.manualslib.com/manual/2755956/Lucent-Technologie...

Great comment, thanks!

(I've sent a quick email suggesting it be added to https://news.ycombinator.com/highlights :)

If you're really into telephony history, the Internet Archive has "The History Of Engineering and Science in the Bell System" (3 volumes) online.

If you have to build reliable distributed systems, it's worth understanding how this was done in the electromechanical era of telephony, where the component reliability was much worse than the system reliability. "Number 5 Crossbar"[1] is worth reading, but hard to follow if you have no idea how telephone switching worked and are unfamiliar with the terminology.

Number 5 Crossbar, in current terms, was a collection of microservices. There was a big, dumb switch fabric, and "markers" which told it what to connect. Other microservices included trunks, originating registers (which listen to incoming dial digits), senders (which sent dial digits to the next switch), billing punches (which recorded toll call data for later billing), translators (which held routing tables), and trouble recorders (which logged errors.) Central offices had at least two of each resource, for redundancy. Resources were "seized" as needed from resource pools, with a hardware timeout and alarms to prevent resource lockup. If something went wrong in setting up a call, it was retried once, using different resources. If it failed on the second try, the caller got a fast busy and there was an alarm and a trouble recorder dropped a trouble card. Markers did not have persistent state. They started each call with a reset. So they could not get stuck in a bad state.

In the entire history of the Bell System, no electromechanical switching office was ever down for more than 30 minutes for any reason other than a natural disaster or a fire. It's worth understanding how they did that.

[1] https://telephoneworld.org/mdocs-posts/number-5-crossbar-sys...

Not truly related to the post content, but there is something about the way these old manuals are formatted/printed that immediately inspires confidence in the contents.

Maybe because you know that someone spent a lot of time on it before it was published since no adjustments could be made after the fact.

> trouble recorders

This feels like a term a sci-fi author would invent in an alternate history setting to replace "error log" and I find it very humorous.

No, just practical.

The previous version was a panel of blinking lights called the "trouble indicator". When an alarm sounded, someone had to go to the panel and record by hand which lights were on. There were about 200 lights. So the trouble recorder, which recorded that info automatically, was added in larger central offices as an upgrade.[1]

[1] https://hackaday.com/2022/12/02/stack-trace-from-the-1950s-p...

We still have a land line. When a call comes through the phone often gives a gentle "peep", then a pause, then goes full-on ring. I've started to react to the "peep".

But every evening, mostly around 21:00 or so, the phone gives a gentle "peep" without then ringing.

I wonder if it's a line test?

Crap electronic ringer, probably. If you put a scope on the line, you should be able to see what's happening. Remember to be prepared for higher voltages, up to 400V.

There are various weird, obsolete signals in analog phones. Ring pulse alerting signal. ALIT test. Polarity reversal. Ring to ground. Ground start. Caller ID (1200 baud FSK between the first and second rings) DSL. Basic talk and ring was standardized around 1900, and everything else is backwards compatible. Ringers are supposed to ignore all that stuff. People who implement Asterisk PBXs are into this.

Here are some actual waveforms, if anybody cares.[1]

[1] http://www.adventinstruments.com/Products/AI-5120/Screenshot...

Ah, so that's why there were always nitrogen tanks on NYC sidewalks.

Yup, here's a tom scott video on the very same: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juZqGU9iuq0

> Wait! Was that an old adding machine?

At 02:40.

And yes, it is an adding machine.

In my observation, to a first approximation, cable operators take off-the-shelf equipment, connect it, power it on, and bill customers for it. They don't really have the r&d capability to innovate and create new monitoring solutions quickly.

It might happen that an equipment manufacturer sees an opportunity and builds something, but then they have to go into a long sales cycles to convince operators to use it. Operators are in a duopoly situation in most places, so quality of service is kind of a secondary concern for them - customers may get annoyed, but as long as the competition is not vastly superior, few actually switch. It is not a market prone to innovation.

Common issue in Ireland for DSL customers. Damaged copper cabling would leak water when it rained causing dropouts and lower speeds. Telecom engineers would call out on days when the copper had dried out and be unable to find any fault. Turns out correlating such reports with weather reports is hard. :/

I’d suspected that, but kept it to myself because it sounded a bit mad

I ran into a similar issue, except internet and phone would get really bad on a cold morning.

Tech showed up around noon, saw I was indeed having a bad connection, went and checked the signal at the junction box for the street (can't remember what you call these) and everything was normal there, so he closed it back up again and double checks the signal at the house again, but it was fine. He walks the lines to double check but everything looked normal.

His best guess was that moisture was condensing ever so slightly inside the junction box that morning, and was let out as soon as he opened it at around noon, which fixed the problem.

Moisture in copper cables is what slowed me down too. It was in a section up the road from me. However now that fibre is installed, it’s glorious and works in the rain.

I had a similar problem, due to an old line running to my house; liquid getting in, etc. And when it acted up, I'd call the cable company and be like "look, I can show you I'm losing packets right now... I need you to run tests on your end to confirm". And every time, they'd tell me they could schedule a tech to come out and take a look at it. Only, I couldn't "schedule" the problem to occur when the tech came out.. so they'd come out, declare all was fine, and leave. It was infuriating.

Eventually I called so many times and had so many appointments, that the tech lead gave me his direct number and told me to call him directly the next time it happened. When it did, I did, and he ran some tests, and confirmed there was a problem. I don't know that we ever got it sorted out (it was a while ago), but just getting them to agree there was an issue took a very long process.

We have a countertop ice maker that gets jammed up and overloaded with ice on sunny days for a similar reason.

There's an infrared beam and sensor. When the ice tray is full, it is supposed to block the beam, and then the machine stops making ice.

On a sunny day, there's enough bright light in our kitchen to fool the sensor so it keeps making ice.

We have a random magazine that we put on top of it to make it work correctly.

I have a garage door that will not close on sunny days.

Same sort of problem. The obstruction sensor at the bottom of the door is confused by the strong sunlight and the door stops closing part way and re-opens.

I've tried a toilet-paper tube around the sensor but that isn't always successful. I really wish there was a laser sensor to replace it with.

The sad thing is there are certain IR wavelengths that are a lot less affected by the sun and nobody bothered to check for an outdoor product...

The garage door obstruction sensors are located inside the garage, so it technically might be an indoor product.

Although, the possibility of a garage being oriented such that the sunlight would directly hit the sensors while the garage door is open seems like it could be a not infrequent occurrence.

Paint your garage floor black: less light will reflect.

It also is a lot easier to see fallen bolts and shit on a black floor than on a white/gray one.

What sucks is those sensors are designed so you can't just jump a wire to permanently defeat them.

You can, however, tape the sender and receiver together.

Is it a Genie system? My old Genie system had that exact same problem. Even making large sun shields out of Amazon boxes didn't fix it.

I had to replace my opener and door anyway and had a conversation with a tech about it. We decided on a LiftMaster in part because their sensors are very good at dealing with sunlight.

Depending on the orientation of your garage door, exchanging the sensor could put it in an unaffected position.

It looks like an industrial photoelectric sensor, including laser based ones run around $100, so maybe that can be a realistic swap.


I have this exact problem and (mostly) fixed it by swapping the sensor and transmitter. I just cut the wires and spliced with electrical tape. Now the problem still happens but only sometimes in the fall and spring when the sun's angle is just right. This is with a west facing garage about 41°N latitude USA.

But yeah, why this isn't laser based, or using a light frequency that is less affected by sunlight? Probably cost, or ignorance.

It varies by brand- some brands are better at filtering out sunlight than others. The home builder should know not to use certain brands in garages that face the sun... but they often don't.

It'a not laser based so the sensors don't have to be perfectly aligned. Keeps your garage door working when you kid knocks it with their foot.

Very basic engineering would be to modulate the sender at a specific frequency

Similar problem toilet-paper hack worked.

Maybe experiment with filters.

Also it could be 'fun' to swap out the LEDs?

I had a VCR back in the day that refused to function if you opened its case. It turned out that instead of using physical switches inside it used pairs of lights and detectors that would give false positive results when ambient light shined on them.

as in an optocoupler? Those are the coolest, especially for dealing with different voltages.

No, there's not any call for high voltages in a VCR, outside the feedback loop of a SMPS if it's fancy. The most common thing to use light sensors is just detecting the difference between tape and clear leader at the ends of the tape (or broken tape).

Your mouse story makes me think of the day the CI system at work turned out not to be robust to vibrations.

One day we started having flaky tests, seemingly out of nowhere. We quickly identified that the issue affected tests involving graphical X client applications, but then we struggled to make further progress. The issue was just impossible to reproduce in other conditions... Well, as it happens, the CI jobs were running on some desktop machines we had installed somewhere within our premises. It turned out that some gentleman had plugged a mouse into one of the machines, and left it lying around on the shelf. Since then, when one of the machines was under a heavy load, the fans would spin faster, causing more vibrations, in turn causing the mouse to move, ever so slightly. And for ungodly reasons, this had side effects on tests.

Fun fact: the machines were not on my site, I managed to diagnose this over SSH. I was quite proud :-)

> And for ungodly reasons, this had side effects on tests.

Let me guess - tests with very tight timings?

Sadly I can't remember this part; I'm pretty sure there were comical bits to it.

This makes me want to dig out the gitlab issue, and turn it into a better write-up! This'll have to wait until I'm back from holidays though.

When it’s sunny, my wife’s car can’t open the garage door, and my car requires getting extremely close. Once the sun goes down, we can both open the door from the street.

It turns out our solar panels (or the optimizers, or the inverter) emit radio frequencies that interfere with our garage door opener. When the sun is out and they are producing energy, the interference is stronger than the homelink garage door opener.

A few years ago the garage door openers started working fine. It took a few days to realize it was because the inverter had failed.

I’m fairly certain there are some FCC regulations that would require our installer to fix it, but that relationship soured during installation and I’d rather deal with an unusable garage remote than dealing with them for warranty work.

Some clip on ferrites on the inverter cables might help.

If you have any amateur radio neighbours they'd probably love to help you with a project like this.

If they had a HAM in direct neighborhood, I imagine said HAM would already pay them a visit - the interference from the inverter is likely not constrained to the ISM band.

Not to be a pedant, but just for your info, Ham is not an acronym :)

I always saw it written as either "HAM" or "ham", and I assumed the latter is the "young generation doesn't give a damn about spelling or punctuation" spelling, and therefore that the former is the correct one.

On the cables coming in from the panels or wiring going back to the main panel?

I'd start with the wiring going back to the main panel first but be open to anything. Fixing RF noise is more of an art than science in my experience.

If you get a SDR, you can watch the interference and try things to help reduce it. An SDR should be like $20 and you plug it into a computer

Just curious but did you try any bodged shielding?

I used a coax cable to move the antenna closer to the exterior wall and didn’t see an improvement, however, I might not have grounded the shielding properly. I’ve had to replace the control board since then and didn’t replace the antenna on the new board, but may try that again.

How old is the garage door opener? Older ones used frequencies that are more susceptible to interference from certain sources. It's possible to buy new receivers to connect to your existing door opener.

The garage door openers aren’t terribly old, but they are terrible!

I have a HomeKit opener attached to it that we use during the day. Fortunately that’s been reliable enough to get around the issue.

Argh. My own mouse not working one:

- Use to fix PCs professionally in the early 90s.

- Guy comes in with PC. Right-mouse button stopped working.

- Replace mouse. Still not working.

- Play with Windows 3.1 drivers. Nothing helps.

- Pull HDD from another PC, install, boot. Mouse button still broken. WTF.

- Pull whole mobo, put another spare mobo in, with replacement HDD and replacement mouse. Still don't work.

- Replace PSU. Right-button works.

- Give up on computers, live in wilderness, eat squirrels.

I used to know an older woman who did trap and eat squirrels as her main source of protein, so... this isn't entirely unlikely.

What was her trap like?

I have a similar stories.

The first was a VDSL connection I had at home. It worked great (fast, for the time) except when it didn't. It always failed in the evening. Techs would come out, bless it as being good, and leave -- because of course it worked while they were there. Unless they showed up and it was broken and then they'd declare that it was an outside problem, and that they'd have to get someone else to fix it (because the residential techs can't do overhead work).

I made lots of (very polite) phone calls, which results in more refunds and more service calls. More than once, my driveway and the street in front of my house looked like an AT&T convention.

This went on for months.

I had direct numbers and emails for tier 3 support and the local manager who oversaw this plant. We were all getting to know eachother too well, and there were boots on the ground addressing this problem as many as three times in week.

I eventually noticed that as the days got shorter so did the evening outages...and that if it was a cloudy day, then that day was often outage-free.

I had an epiphany: The problem might correlate with the angle of the sun, and the duration of exposure!

I checked my logs and the past weather, and sure enough: It lined up.

So I reported my findings, even though they seemed like nonsense as the words came out of my mouth, and they sent out some crazy-haired guy with bluejeans and an untucked shirt who was clearly not used to wearing a uniform, and who was also obviously not normally customer-facing.

"I know exactly why they can't find the problem," he said after I reiterated what I'd learned. "Your neighborhood still has old lead-sheathed overhead lines, and nobody knows how to work on that anymore."

"But I'm certified on that. I'm going to go back to the shop, pick up a bucket truck and get your line fixed. It will take me most of a day to do this, but I will be back when I'm done."

And it was getting pretty late, but he did come back to let me know that he found some things and fixed them. And I don't know what those things were, but it was fine after that -- and it stayed fine.

Thermal expansion letting cosmic rays leak into copper pairs wrapped in paper, tar, and lead? Who knows. I certainly don't know.

I've never encountered that stuff professionally (and it isn't your grandfather's 25-pair cable) and as this dude said, "nobody knows how to work on that anymore."

We had a similiar problem with a label printer.

On some days, exclusively in the morning hours, the printer would fail to detect the start of a new label, printing over several labels.

After connecting remotely and checking the usual (queue, network connection, drivers etc), I asked my colleague to call me, as soon as it happened again.

When I went there, I saw that a ray of sunlight hit the printer. The windows had shutters, but there was a gap.

Label printers detect the gap between labels using a laser. And for some reason, the printer's case had a clear window at the top.

I printed an empty label and stuck it on the little window.

Printer, fix thyself!

I'm amazed an IT department would troubleshoot deeply enough to figure out it was the thin plastic letting in interfering light on sunny days.

I would have guessed they'd shrug at the first sign of trouble, swap it out with a known-working mouse and mark the ticket resolved... unless all the replacement mice were thin plastic too, I suppose.

I can't leave something like that unexplained, and I've been an IT department before.

It would bother me until I figured something out.

I'm assuming it was a trackball mouse from the description. The OP said it was cheap so I don't think cost was an issue but from my experience some employees are very particular about their peripherals (don't blame them one bit!). If they're important enough (or maybe just nice enough) I could absolutely imagine spending the time to make sure their preferred device is working properly.

Mice used to be expensive enough to troubleshoot.

For myself, I can't remember a time when a mouse cost more than an hour of an IT guy's time.

I suppose a good office-computer mouse in 1990 would cost $100 ~ $200 (say $350 today). In that case, yes troubleshooting it for a day would make sense, especially if it's not an isolated problem.

> For myself, I can't remember a time when a mouse cost more than an hour of an IT guy's time.

This is not a sensible comparison to make. Support staff have a lot of free time. They have to, because they're support staff -- if they were always busy, then whenever a problem arose, it would be impossible to get support.

So to have the IT department playing with the mouse is unlikely to cost the company anything. If something comes in that's more important, the mouse problem will be put aside. If they have nothing better to do, they can play with the mouse.

I love these kinds of problems. There's an old story about a bug where some people couldn't send an email further than 500 miles. Huh?


Your car repeatedly doesn't start so instead of taking it to the shop, you... write a letter to the CEO of Pontiac who not only actually reads the letter but also personally dispatches an engineer to waste a week going out for ice cream? And Pontiacs have a known vapor lock design flaw that only you, the letter writer, are experiencing? And you've only experienced it on your ice cream runs? And you've never got the vanilla ice cream but took a little extra long so the vapor lock dissipated and disproved your cute theory about vanilla ice cream?

Seriously, this is one of those dumbass stories that come from your boomer relatives with the subject line "fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: re: fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: vanilla ice cream"

Nobody actually believes this story is true, right?

While I appreciate your point, I think anyone who has spent sufficient time troubleshooting complex systems has dealt with similar types of problems, and can grasp the _spirit_ of the story.

In fact, I'd argue the quaint style of the story does geeks a favor: if it's appealing to normies, maybe they'll appreciate us technical folks' perspective a little more.

actually the story is detrimental to helping people understand how technical systems and troubleshooting work, because it's so poorly invented.

lots of people, both technical professionals, and non-engineers who are observant and have an appropriate level of belief in causality, troubleshoot transient failures like this all the time. a difference in the amount of time between shutting down the engine and starting it up is one of the first things that someone like this would test, or control for. it's beyond implausible that the second time the guy got vanilla (after riding along for 4 trips, two long and two short), the engineer didn't raise the question of how long he was in the store.

people troubleshoot things like this by being able to separate causes which are plausible, although unlikely and surprising, from things which aren't remotely plausible. the 500-mile email story and the stories above about sunlight interfering with sensors demonstrate this.

if you're the sort of person who believes that the type of ice cream you get might affecting your car's ignition - the type of person who buys ice cream often but never thinks about how long the errand takes, you simply never get the point of being able to make a pattern between those two things. the second time your car doesn't start, you blame it on the scratch-off lottery ticket you won $2 on which used up your supply of luck for the day. the third time, you conclude that the car ignition knew you were late and likes to choose its failures to cause maximum annoyance. and the fourth time, you realize that your mother-in-law gave your car the evil eye that morning.

the story as told, especially when presented as a real parable about engineering rather than an amusing myth, is frankly insulting to the other type of person. the untrained, not necessarily educated person who cares about machines and believes in material reality. the person who starts checking their watch each time they go to the store and a couple of weeks later is telling their mechanic friend "if it's more than 3 minutes or so, it's fine. but if you try and start it before 2 minutes, then you have to wait another 5 before it's ready to go".

And having a stranger along for the shopping trip doesn't affect the timing more than the extra walk to the back of the store?

And the engineer is sitting in the car on the first night and it "wouldn't start," which signals the end of the episode for the day. Were they stranded? Did the car start after a few tries, which would have given a huge hint about the root cause? Surely the engineer who had reproduced the issue would quickly narrow it down by running diagnoses on the car itself.

But the family dynamics are the most improbable part here. How does the family have this predictable routine and not simply stock up on ice cream? The family has enough kids that the consume a whole $unit of ice cream per day. So with that much chaos in the house, how does the dad justify going out for a drive after dinner when the chaos of family multi-tasking (cleanup, chores, homework, bedtime) is at its peak? "Oh, look. Out of ice cream again. I'll be back in a few!"

Also ridiculously implausible is that the supermarket keeps vanilla ice cream in a completely different location in the store.

Aisle caps commonly feature a product that would ordinarily be found alongside a bunch of closely-related products somewhere else in the store. But I don't think I've ever seen a refrigerated aisle cap.

Obviously, they'd put the most popular flavor way at the back of the store, and the least popular flavors at the front. The store is not in the business of maximizing throughput of customers - quite the opposite, they want customers to spend more time walking and getting lost between shelves, as this maximizes the amount of wares moved.

I believe the aisle caps are bid for, and then arranged by, the manufacturers. The store just sells them the space.

The manufacturer is unlikely to see a problem with putting a display of very popular products right at the front of the store where people can't help but see it.

So you think Vanilla Inc, the company that only makes vanilla flavor ice cream, is paying for a whole chiller that they fill with vanilla, since all the other flavors are not as popular?

Or perhaps, unbeknownst to everyone in the world who uses the word 'vanilla' to mean 'mundane', vanilla ice cream actually enjoys far higher profit margins than all other ice cream.

No, I think Dreyers, the company that makes ice cream, uses the limited space available in the aisle cap to showcase one or two of their most popular flavors. (Or one or two flavors that are seasonally relevant.) That's a totally normal use of the aisle cap, just like how a Triscuits aisle cap is all original Triscuits and the many secondary flavors that Triscuits come in have to be found in the crackers aisle.

It would be literally impossible for an aisle cap to feature every ice cream flavor available - there are so many that each flavor would have very little representation in the display, and the concept would fall apart as soon as anyone bought something from it. At that point, you're paying a bunch of extra money to send the message "check out our least popular flavors".

It's unclear whether you're claiming 1. the vanilla ice cream is sometimes kept in a separate chiller must nearer the entrance and this obviously made-up story is perfectly true, 2. at least some stores exist where the vanilla ice cream (and only the vanilla) is kept in a separate chiller must nearer the entrance, or 3. the vanilla being kept by itself in a separate chiller has elements of plausibility, and can not be dismissed out of hand, even though it's possible that this specific set-up has never existed in any actual store in real life, ever. Which is it?

If you read my comments before deciding you needed to respond to them, it would be pretty apparent that I am claiming none of those things. I specifically noted that a refrigerated aisle cap is implausible.

What's not implausible is the idea that one flavor of a product with several flavors might be located far away from all the other flavors. That happens all the time.

> At that point, you're paying a bunch of extra money to send the message "check out our least popular flavors".

That's what I expect them to do, though. The most popular flavors, by definition, needs advertising the least.

The most popular flavors, by definition, benefit from advertising the most. The goal isn't to achieve equality of popularity between every product you sell. It's to sell the greatest number of products!

The advertising costs the same whether you advertise popular flavors or unpopular ones, but you'll get a lot more sales by advertising the popular ones.

Go check out a grocery store, see whether the aisle caps slant towards popular or unpopular product varieties.

..nor would the featured product simply be one flavor of ice cream, as opposed to, say, all the Ben & Jerry's.

Another similar anecdote I heard before was related to a wireless device, and some employees flying a drone during their break, generating interference.

My parents have some old Gateway amplified computer speakers. Came with the 386!

They still work perfectly... except for a regular pop of noise every few seconds that would intermittently show up, that scaled with the volume setting.

It turned out, their portable phone (read: landline with short-distance wireless RF handset) would ping from the base station to the handset, if it were off the cradle, which was being picked up by the unshielded line-level audio cable and amplified.

Moved the base station further from the cable, pop disappeared.

Remember how old speakers would let you know if you were about to get a cellphone call. It was like digital precognition haha

you can still hear cellphone and wifi noise in crappy amplifiers - i have two sets of active muff hearing protection - the ones with microphones on each earpiece, and if you get inbetween a beamforming WAP or near any wifi antenna, or near a cellphone, you get "brrz bz bz bz bzzzzzz tiktiktiktiktik".

But this is different than the old <2g/edge phones, which wouldn't interfere unless you were about to get a call - because the tower said "where's this phone?" and your phone would max out it's tx and say "here i am!" and that's what you heard. This is probably incorrect, but based on my observations this is what occurred.

Remember the doodads you could put on your startac style phones on the antenna bit, with LEDs in them - they'd light up when you were about to get a call, as well, by design!

Speakers haven't really changed in 50-60 years, it's the phones that changed there. If you got a call on 2G today it'd still happen.

i found this and had to find this thread... https://www.youtube.com/shorts/Q-6M2P6mAx4

OMG had forgotten all about that.

We did a lot of wireless (2.4GHz range) sensor development at my last job. It was a rule of thumb to avoid any testing at lunch time since the microwave generated so much interference, everything would fail when someone wanted to heat up their meal.

“Microwave oven to blame for mystery signal that left astronomers stumped”: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/may/05/microwave-ov...

Ugh... Mom and the microwave were a scourge back in the days of yore when I hosted servers for friends in various games. I was hardwired into the router as "the keeper of the hardware", but the wireless would just get schlocked every time she heated up her coffee.

And Mom ran on coffee. Lotsa coffee. Sometimes I think she just did it because she didn't hear enough complaints coming out of the speakers.

I rejoiced the day that thing died. She's now got an even beefier one, but it doesn't interfere on the 5ghz bands at all, and I'm not testing the 2.4 out of respect to the spirit of that ole menace.

Had a similar effect with garage door sensors and TVs which use infrared. During sunset, the sun would line up juust right to blank out the sensors

reminds me of testing out a pinewood derby track in my backyard for our cub scouts pack. It had an IR sensor that would detect the cars at the finish line. When someone was standing next to the finish line, it worked flawlessly. Otherwise, it was very flaky and randomly would trigger without the cars trigger it. I pretty quickly surmised it was interference from the direct sunlight, so we put up a pop-up shade over it and it worked flawlessly (without someone standing nearby, coincidentally casting a shadow). The other dads were amazed that I figured it out, but it's just one of those things you learn from experience (and some background knowledge).

This happened to me in my first job and it took me weeks to figure it out. The penny dropped and I put tape around the thin gap in the casing where the top joined to the bottom and it fixed it immediately.

This is a secondhand anecdote, but it’s pretty funny. Back in the days of server rooms, a friend’s server for his company would reboot every day around 5pm. They checked everything they possibly could with the OS, they would be logged in and running checks on it and it would spontaneously go offline for about 5 minutes and reboot every day. Finally they decided to go stand in the presence of the server around the time it goes down every day. They watched a cleaner come into the room, unplug the server rack, plug in their vacuum and vacuum around the servers, and then plug the server rack back in.

Oh I have a similar one. This one is first hand, I was in the room when we were debuging the issue.

We were developing a smart camera product which were counting traffic on a road. So for example a city council would install this camera somewhere on a road and it would generate statistics of how many lorries, and passenger vehicles, and motorbikes used that road.

One of our cameras exhibited a problem where it restarted every day around roughly the same time. It wasn't exactly the same second though, in fact there was a clear pattern to it. One day it would restart at 19:12:10 and the next day two second later, then again the third day two more seconds later. (not the real timestamp and i don't remember the real time deltas either, but there was a clear progression)

After much debuging we learned that the issue was that as the sun was settling some street furniture projected a shadow in front of our camera. Our software wrongly concluded that it is a vehicle and started collecting information about it for classification. But of course shadows creep a lot slower than real vehicles so it run out of memory before the "shaddow vehicle" has passed out of the frame. And once we run out of memory the system froze and then got restarted by a watchdog.

Turns out the pattern we have seen in the timestamps was caused by the angle of the sun changing which made the shadow trick our algorithm just a little bit later every day.

Definitely an urban legend at this point. A reddit thread[0] mentions it being collected in 1990 from computer stories going around in the 80s[1]

[0] https://old.reddit.com/r/talesfromtechsupport/comments/5yrs1...

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3227607-the-devouring-fu...

The story probably endures because things like this actually happen [0, 1]

0. https://www.cnn.com/2023/06/27/us/janitor-alarm-freezer-rens...

1. http://www.st-v-sw.net/Obsidian/Martin/gravity.htm (search sprinkler)

I mean it actually happens. Not powering down the actual machine, but in my last house the landlord had a cleaner visit every fortnight. Occasionally I came home to find downloads broken or my remote connection would drop randomly in the afternoon. We lived in an old house and had a wifi extender to reach the upper floors (and not enough sockets). The cleaner would unplug the extender to vacuum the kitchen and half the house would go offline.

The ice cream story reads too much like a dramatisation to be truly believable, but accidental and repeated unplugging is common I expect.

I think the vacuum story gets retold because it's so close to real-life stories.

The UPS on a server I manage would trip once a week around the same time. The old story came to mind and sure enough, once a week it was time to vacuum and someone would plug in a vacuum cleaner into the same circuit (700W vacuum cleaner on a 100V/15A circuit), causing enough voltage dip to kick the UPS into gear.

would it be surprising if this has happened more than once?

The version that I remember hearing was https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/polished-off/. Also false.

I've never heard that one. It has many more characteristics of a modern urban legend than the simple "janitor unplugs the server then plugs it back in" story. Urban legends are essentially modern day folk tales. They'll often involve fear, horror, or even humor, and they're frequently cast as cautionary tales. They tend to be reasonably detailed (which helps keep a listener's attention), but at the same time they frequently not pinned down to a specific time or place. They're almost always told as secondhand stories (e.g. it happened to "a friend of a friend"), and tend to fall at the edge of plausibility.

But, the key thing is that urban legends always reflect some sort of underlying societal belief or worry. "Janitor polishes off patients" is about the fear of death, and how it can come for anyone at any time, and there's nothing they can do about it. "Janitor unplugs server every night at 5" is probably more about the idea that strange things happen sometimes, but it usually turns out that there's a good explanation.

Essentially all these stories are apocryphal. Even this vapor lock story.

Sorry but even before today, having a automotive engineer sent to a random person's home over what clearly sounds like a quack letter seems implausible to me. The dictates of capitalism, human resources, and the politics of the workplace would make this difficult if not impossible. Even in the past when there was more human capital in support positions and more of a sense of customer service.

Way, way too many suspicious stories involve high-level people being involved in trivial issues. I just find it all pretty suspicious. Real stories tend to start with poor customer service at the dealership and being mocked by managers and mechanics. Not some unrealistic ideal white knight manager sending off engineers to people's homes. Imagine how many weird letters a place like pontiac gets. They don't have the manpower to do this if they actually chose to do it, and engineers might balk at the idea of doing at-home support too.

Pretty much any "idealized Americana" business story should set off BS alarms in us. "Oh a trivial problem with your car? No problem ma'am, I'm sending our top engineers over tomorrow," doesn't happen because its costly and unsustainable. Instead ask anyone who has odd car problems. Its endless painful calls and visits to dealerships and mechanics. There's a reason we have lemon laws for cars. Its because whats described in this story doesn't actually happen and people demand restitution.

I don't doubt that someone had a famous vapor lock shopping story (ive heard different versions of this story, usually about a housewife picking up her child from a nearby elementary school), but over the years these stories get modified into memetic structures based on dishonesty because most people are social capital seeking and having a humorous story provides them the immature ego boost they need. So "wow my car had vapor lock when I make quick trips" became "So the CEO of Ford came to my house to look at my ice cream car..." The latter is just more interesting in the market of storytelling.

That is to say, the ONLY reason this story is here is because its been modified to be memeticly attractive. A "boring" (i find old technology faults interesting, personally), but a "boring" story about vapor lock wouldn't make it to places like HN or reddit, which are memetic responders (upvote/downvote mechanisms) and lowest-common denominator (by this demographic) popularity machines. But dress up that boring story and now everyone is repeating it, often times claiming its their story and they know the people in it! The same way the comment you're responding to probably doesn't actually know the famous "unplug the server at 5pm" person.

I used to work for General Motors as a field engineer. Basically, I was the "mechanic of last resort" for some issues. The most certain method of getting something fixed was to write a letter to someone at the top, or very close to the top. When the request rolled downhill to "fix this", no one knew if this was a whim or something serious (like it was the CEO's neighbor). So those service requests got absolute priority.

I remember one incident where that "fix it" letter came from high enough that I drove out to the customer's house and swapped out their radio in their driveway. At night.

When GM bought EDS, Ross Perot ended up on the board. He'd do all sorts of silly things. Like when something went wrong with his car, he'd take it to a dealership. And report back to the board how that went. The first few times, they just told him to hand the keys to the valet at the executive garage and tell them what needs fixing. The plant I worked out of made radios. Other branches of the division that I worked for made engine computers and instrument clusters. If someone at the executive garage had a radio problem, one of my tasks was to go out to the assembly line, grab a radio, test it, then get it to the Kokomo airport for the GM jet to pick up. FedEx (tagline: when it positively has to be there the next day) wasn't fast enough. That fleet of jets would carry parts from plant to plant. And the executive garage was the best equipped and best staffed GM dealership on Earth.

You soon learn at a big company that almost any expense is justifiable to the boss if it prevents his boss from asking inconvenient questions.

By coincidence, I have witnessed this just last night. No details will be provided to protect identity, I'll just say you probably heard of the company.

It's staggering.

What industry?


You don’t happen to be the guy who overnighted a bunch of network cables for $5,000 because the boss had to have them overnighted and the company didn’t care what it cost I read about recently? lol

Oh for these silly escapades to only cost $5k.

Delco! I now live in one of those small factory towns in Indiana. It’s fascinating to me how so many little towns in the Midwest existed just to make one small part for Detroit.

I've had the CEO of a municipal water company at my house looking at what his contractors did to my property frontage and potentially my well. Also, my other story in this thread is documented in posterity on a forum, you can see i didn't embellish any of it, and that involved a manager or supervisor having to drive quite a long time to my house at 10 PM with a technician to source a problem i had had for weeks or months.

So, in essence, "it depends". Good stories, in the memetic sense, will have hooks to ensure that the moral or point of the story is remembered; in a great story, the memetic hooks are so great that you can repeat the story nearly verbatim to other people, after hearing it yourself.

Well, CEOs do look at these letters quite frequently. At least, I did when I was the CEO of a networking company.

We were only selling equipment in the US at the time but some had found its way around the globe. This one particular Indian gentleman had been engaged for some time with support claiming that his unit wasn't working right and exhibiting all kinds of strange behavior.

I had a habit of looking at the cases with the longest open history, which is how I found it. I continued to monitor though I didn't send anyone out to India or anything like that.

Eventually it came out that the sleek looking aluminum unit had some kind of stocky packaging material stuck to it, so the customer had put it in the washer to clean it off.

Without vast knowledge, many unreasonable things are seen as reasonable. How much of our history's truth is based on what was told to the gullible majority? Should we not talk about Mythology because a skeptic questions it's authenticity?

Comedians make up stories all the time to entertain audiences. These stories don't require accuracy, they are more about delivering specific results; a laugh, a story to share, confirmation bias, etc.

Many people lie, believing they're telling the truth. I think you will have a hard time truth policing people who don't and won't care, but focusing on truth and validity is probably a useful skill for you in many parts of your life.

If I tell you something I believe to be true, but actually isn't, I'm not lying, just wrong. Lying involves an intent to decieve, so if I don't know the truth, it's not a lie.

There is a word for telling something as though it were factual but with a negligent disregard for its truth: bullshit.

That is true, in addition, outcomes are not defined by intentions. It was my hope to draw attention to why we perpetuate this behavior (results).

There is a lot of gradation, the differences between stating misinformation you believe is true vs stating what the majority believes to be true due to laziness vs an intentional lie, etc.

Your lack of faith is disturbing, specially when there are first hand accounts of [Apple/Microsoft/Insert Co] sending engineers to people's houses to diagnose unique problems. This could be a perfectly real story, a different thing would be that you choose not to believe it.

during the PPC 603 era of Macintosh Performa series, we had a bad motherboard, and apple sent an engineer to our house to replace it. This is around the time that the story of apple sending engineers to houses to remove motherboards, raise them 2 feet above a flat surface, and drop them was being passed around. Something about reseating chips that one of their pick and place machines was misaligned on or something.

When I worked my first job in retail in the mid eighties - we were selling Atari ST and there was an official Atari bulletin to do exactly that. It would reseat the socketed chips.

interesting; i doubt my memory is that faulty, so it's possible the story went through some iterations, making it an apocryphal story about apple, instead. Or, possibly, the major pick and place manufacturer had a slew of alignment issues in the 80s!

I thought the apple "lift and drop the computer" story was about the Apple 3. It had no vents, so it was always overheating and "unseating chips" like the Xbox 360 heat issues.


And so it doesn't become apocryphal but stays a real story, there 100% were people who "Fixed" their RRoD Xbox 360s by wrapping them in towels for an hour so they cooked themselves even more, or they put the mobo in the oven on a low temperature. That fix was also 100% used for fixing certain graphics cards unseating in the mid 2000s as well.

I've got an HP Laser Printer from about 15 years or so. About once a year, the printer stops responding and I have to remove the board, put it in the oven for 10 minutes or so to revive it.

What even is the theory on how that could possibly work? I believe you, it's just that I don't have any mental model of how baking a circuit board makes it work right for a year, and how it keeps working to fix the issue.

The theory is that 'baking" it could reflow a bad solder joint and fix it. A popular fix of last resort.

I get that that could work and might solve the problem entirely. What I don't get is why you'd ever have to do that every few months.

Laser printers have parts that can get very hot. If their "baking" reflowed the parts, but just barely, maybe those hot parts would just cause the exact same problem all over again.

Ah! There we go! That was what I was missing. Thanks. It all makes sense now.

I've reflowed a GPU in an oven before, personally. with 5 little balls of aluminum foil as standoffs and monitoring the temp closely. It fixed it. I probably still have that - working - card somewhere.

Those might be field engineers, but I have heard of the WiFi teams at computer companies going out to people's houses to test especially weird situations.

It's a fun story to read, whether it's fact or fiction. We are not too concerned about whether a large company would really send an engineer to investigate a seemly absurd claim, in the same way that we are not too concerned about whether one single shoe is able to uniquely identify Cinderella and no one else.

It's not just any memetic structure though. Urban legends have a number of components to them that make people want to re-tell them. See, for instance, my other comment here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=37596325

One of the things I talk about is that these stories often ride the edge of plausibility. Even with this one, dispatching an engineer to someone's house over a "quack letter" seems like a thing that could happen or could have happened in the past. Having high level people involved is a thing that others have talked about, but I'd also like to point out that people have literally emailed jeff@amazon.com before about issues and gotten resolutions that way, so it's not completely off the mark.

The real clue here that we're dealing with an urban legend and not an actual incident (though it may be based on one) is the lack of specifics. Urban legends are often not really pinned down to any specific time or place.

> Essentially all these stories are apocryphal. Even this vapor lock story.

The vapor lock ice cream story might go back to this 1997 Car Talk Puzzler, where Ray claims it was a customer of his: https://cartalk.com/radio/puzzler/finicky-volare

>>all these stories are apocryphal

Do not mistake cynicism for intelligence. It is actually negatively correlated [0, + other studies]

Just listing a basket of "I doubt..." and "No one does..." does not make it all false.

Of course Just So stories exist, but that does not mean that all cool stories are fabricated Just So stories. In this case, it is the cynicism that merits a [Citation Needed] tag.

[0] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/trust-games/202111/t...

Wow, you used "memetic" three times. Very erudite.

Frankly I found the whole thing to be shallow and pedantic.

I've swung from -2 to +2 during the day.

You're right -- it was obviously a fun engineering legend, and leave it at that.

Every now and then a ceo will do somethings like this. If this is true idk. Good for PR.

I personally had a similar situation. We had an accounting firm whose servers we were maintaining, and occasionally the print server would reboot, always between 9 and 10 am. So I sat in there for a week between those hours and noticed the light would dim and occasionally the reboot would happen.

It turned out that the lawyer next door would come in, turn on his PC, printer and coffee pot simultaneously because they were all on the same power strip, and the drain was causing an undervoltage on the circuit the server was on during startup. We had it on a UPS, but it turns out that at the time consumer grade UPS systems only handled outages.

I measured drops as low as to 85 volts, in practice anything under 95 or sou would reboot.

1999, the town hall of a small municipality s/e of Stuttgart Germany. For the 3rd time in half a year me (IT apprentice) and senior developer are onsite to fix one MS SQL db's broken indizes. It's the early afternoon of friday and humid hot, a thunderstorm is on it's way. We toil on and are almost done when at about 16:00 the chief officer turns up and informs us that we have to hurry because at 17:00 all electricity will be cut in the building! Senior developer and me share a shocked glance. "Is this every friday?" "Why yes! We conserve lots of energy that way." Senior and me share another glance and on impulse I speak up. "Isn't the weekly db cleanup scheduled for 16:30 PM on fridays?" The senior developer nods. We spend the remaining hour to fix the problem and then cancel this weeks schedule and manually shut down the DB server for the time being. Every friday these guys cut the power to the building, causing all kinds of production issues with not only their Netware Server but also the DB server for their collections software (our product). As per maintenance contract we were required to repair the DB everytime which was a hassle and a waste of ressources on our behalf. In the end it took another month or so until they relented and rescheduled the hard power down until saturday morning so that all servers could shut down properly even AFTER the backup jobs could complete (backup was also totally broken but they never did check or even perform a restore so they never actually noticed).

Man I've heard this story so many times, this guy must have a million friends in a hundred countries he's told this story to. :-)

I think it's more like a common experience. My wife and I both work, so we have cleaners come in every two weeks for a deep clean. We've used several different companies, and apparently it's standard practice to unplug things when a power outlet is needed. They don't unplug computers that have monitors, and they don't unplug things with visible clocks that would need to be reset, so they do take some care not to inconvenience us, but they'll unplug anything else, including NAS appliances, DVRs in the middle of recording shows, etc. When we hire a new company, we make sure they mark down a special request that they not unplug anything, pointing out that we have ample outlets and can help them find one or free one up if necessary. I also replace any network connectors that lose their little plastic locking tabs, because they're likely to slip loose when things get jostled around during cleaning.

It is a common story and sometimes those get put in the collective blender and we get apocryphal stories out of it. Here's two stories of my own:

Back in the mid 90s, I built out a system that gave every school in a district their own webpage that was carved out of some government funding for providing internet access. There was no budget for hardware though, so it ended up running on a repurposed workstation in somebody's office. One Tuesday even the cleaners unplugged it to vacuum and it didn't power back up after being plugged in. On Wednesday somebody helpfully stuck a piece of paper saying "don't unplug" to it, which seemed to solve that problem until the whole project was mothballed.

In the late 90s, I worked at a company where we started getting complaints from the staff about machines being getting slower over time. Nobody took it seriously until there was an inventory of machines taken and we found that a large amount had significantly less memory installed than they should have, somebody was stealing half the memory sticks from each. Hidden cameras were installed in the office and it turned out that somebody on the cleaning crew came with a screwdriver and ESD bags and knew how much to take to leave the machines working.

Goes again to show the usual thing that gets you caught is repetition.

Had he struck once or twice and then left the rest alone nobody may ever have figured it out.

I would expect the repetition generally comes out of necessity. If he's selling the parts to feed himself or his family he's that much less likely to choose to stop if it means giving up some source of income, however ill-gotten.

It's more likely from "I got away with it, I'll get away with it again" - but I've not done deep research into thefts, but the ones I know were along the lines of "I need more money for more drugs, this will get me some money".

For critical devices you could use red outlets. Different colored outlets are scary.

funny thing, something like this happened to me. we were on site doing some implementation and went back to the hotel at about 3am.

less than an hour later, we get an email from nagios (i think it was nagios? it was a GOOD while back) complaining the server was offline. we got into a cab and went back straight up (this server was not supposed to be offline ever).

guess what? a maintenance guy turned the server off by mistake while cleaning up the server room -- even worse, he was not even supposed to be there!

this triggered a bunch of security checks and the company found out that most employees had access to any room in the building.

The key to making friends is having a good story.

Similarly, we were just finishing up a project for a client and we’re just going through and connecting everything up.

The hardware consisted of 6 color terminals (Wyse 350s I think), the server, and 10 PCs with large, 20” tube monitors. We had these all in my bosses office powered through assorted outlets and power strips. The room was wall to wall machinery.

It was after hours when the janitor came in and plugged in his vacuum. I looked at him, he looked at me, I looked at my boss, who looked back. We then both turned back to the janitor, who looked at us.

Not a word was said as he fired it up. 2 seconds later, the power was out, we blew the breaker. Took us a half hour to get it back on. But it was funny at the time.

This story is my favorite in the thread. Thanks.

> Back in the days of server rooms

Huh? Yesterday? Or are you referring to the fact that servers are now often offsite, in 'clouds'?

Pretty much, server rooms still exist in offices but they'll mostly be for the network infrastructure, with most workloads including email and storage having moved to the cloud. Office365 is a really tempting offering, compared to operating your own servers + staff.

I had a similar experience: I have a permanent dynamic lighting system installed in a food hall / night club. One day about a year after installing the owner called to tell me a fixture was on the blink. The following day, another, the following day, more, but different ones. This was worrying as all the hardware is custom and would be very hard to source replacements for. We investigated lightning strike or other power surge related to construction on the block, water damage, etc. Long story short we found out that the new cleaner, who was VERY VERY thorough, was pulling out the server rack to mop behind it nightly and straining the cat cable terminations.

This story is older than the internet.

this is why denmark has an additional slanted plug for IT equipment and a winky one for hospitals

In the US the "winky" receptacles that go (-|) or (⊣|) - except the T faces the other way - are 20 amp outlets, 120 volts. every receptacle that differs from the "shocked face" means something. Our standard shocked face receptacles are 15A. In hospitals, you need a guarantee that your monitors or assistive devices aren't going to trip a breaker somewhere if someone plugs in a vacuum; making it impossible to use the receptacle for something else is something that only matters after it's too late, i'd think.

In hospitals, they're colored differently to denote which sockets are on backed up lines vs not.

How can, say, a cleaner tell the prong configuration on a plug when it's plugged in and not visible?

none, but they sure cant plug in their vacuum.

hispital ones are red wires

Right but the point isn’t to stop something being plugged in, it’s to stop something unplugged

This reminds me of a GM minivan that my youngest brother-in-law drove, back in the '80's. He'd gotten it from his father, who was a career GM automotive engineer - and complained that, occasionally & randomly, it would not start. It seemed like the minivan's whole electrical system was dead...

Brother-in-law was known to be "not so good" with cars - so his automotive engineer father didn't take the complaints seriously.

Complaints and emotions escalated, until brother-in-law convinced his dad to swap vehicles for a month, so (he hoped) his dad could experience the problem for himself.

After the problem manifested in the parking lot of the GM Technical Center, and the whole crowd of GM engineers surrounding the vehicle couldn't figure out why the heck the electrical system seemed to be dead, my brother-in-law felt pretty vindicated.

I have a 2009 Mercedes SLK that had the same symptom. It was absolutely fine 99.9% of the time, but one time in a thousand it wouldn't even try to start. No clicks, no indication that it even knew I was in there turning the key. Just dead. And then seven or eight hours later... it would start fine, as if nothing ever happened. Couldn't correlate it to anything.

Had it towed to a service center a few times when this happened. Every time, by the time they got around to trying it (a few hours later)... it would start fine, with nothing to diagnose.

Then, it was 99% of the time it was fine. I was with a group of folks car-camping off road to fly a human powered airplane for a couple days, and... no start. Finally started -- with no sign of any problems -- around noon the next day, and I high-tailed it out of there a day before the rest of the group, because getting stuck there /after/ the rest of the group would have started pushing my comfort level. So at this point it's actually interfering with my life.

I've tried all the usual stochastic troubleshooting (swapping out fuses, light to moderate percussive maintenance, alternate keys) and nothing. Finally it fails to start in my driveway, and I get it towed to an independent mechanic. It's short tow, and it fails to start when it gets there! So now he's seen the problem, and is as puzzled as I am. Of course, when he tries again the next morning, it starts fine.

He proposes two possible fixes: replacing some ECU module, or replacing the fuse box itself (under the theory that it's the connector or connection into the bottom of the fuse box that is having some moisture ingress or intermittent connection). Of course whatever we choose, I won't know if it was right or not until the next time I'm stuck. The ECU is multiple thousands of dollars, and the fuse box is < $200 with labor, so I make the easy choice.

This was six or seven years ago, and that car is still my main and only car. Hasn't had a single mechanical issue since swapping out that fuse box. A good independent mechanic and a good guess!

I had a truck do this kind of behavior once.

Finally figured it out after months when I moved a wire and it started, then move the wire close to another wire and it would no longer start. These were wires that would typically be close, so my guess is one of the wires was now generating enough noise that it was bleeding over into some other system and causing it to fail. As the car bounced around the proximity of the wires changed and lead to the random behavior.

EMF can do some seemingly crazy things. I built a kiln controller and the initial version would sometimes randomly lockup, reboot in the middle of an operation, or do other seemingly "crazy" things. Sometimes even the hardware watchdog would stop functioning.

Turns out contactors pulling in and out a 5000w load generates some strong EMF and sometimes that EMF is enough to cause random glitches to the CPU or other hardware.

Switching to high power solid state relays completely solved the problem while keeping the system compact. The actual silicon transistor was so big you could have drawn the mask by hand and it was attached to a heat sink half the size of an adult fist. I was initially worried about reliability but (knock on wood) 8 years later the system is still working without issue.

Yeah. I wrote the code for a controller that managed the temperature of a lubricant. The heater was a propane-fired burner that was mounted on the same skid. Every so often we'd get a random reboot. Finally, when it was very quiet, I heard a soft 'tic' just before I noticed that the CPU had rebooted again. EMI from the spark gap that ignited the propane was coupling back into the I/O lines and would occasionally reset the CPU.

One of those things where if it had happened 100% of the time we'd have figured it out quickly. But it was so infrequent that no one thought of that as a cause.

EMF is fun.

We had one access point (unifi) in our datacenter which was consistently failing.

fail, RMA, fail, RMA, probably replaced that thing 5 times. It was also incredibly unreliable.

Meanwhile all the other access points (probably 10 of them in total) had 0 issues.

Eventually realized that the cable for that AP was running perpendicularly over the conduits which fed power into our suite, so, about 1MW of power. Relocated the cable so it was farther from the conduit and it never had an issue again. Makes you wonder about the effect of working in such environments.

Most likely this solid state relay has a builtin flyback diode that was not in the circuit of the contactor. The diode should be as close as possible to the load to reduce the EMF.

Interesting that your car is a Mercedes...

I know an older guy at church, whose kids all graduated college - except for one.

His "failed" son is the top mechanic at a Mercedes dealership. He does some supervision, training, etc. But the reason the dealership is paying him $200K/year is his skill at figuring out and fixing problems like that, for the dealership's most desirable and profitable customers.

(That I've heard, none of the mechanic's "successful" siblings are making that kind of money.)

Troubleshooting can be a very valuable skill.

I know a story of a certain large engineering firm, dating back to the second World War. They had a senior engineer who habitually came to work drunk and slept through meetings. Every once in a while, they'd wake him up, and he'd save them a couple of million dollars. He had a gift for finding clever solutions.

He probably would have had a better life if he'd gotten his act together. But knowing how to fix subtle issues, or how to design good processes, can be a ridiculously valuable skill.

That definitely sounds like a loose connection, not an ECU problem. Usually it's a bad clamp on the battery terminal. Often it's the ground clamp in particular.

The easiest diagnosis is to rotate the cables on the terminal several times to rub off oxide build up, then leave them in an orientation so that the natural tension of the cable forces the clamp into good contact.

A "dead" (low voltage) battery will still cause some indicators/lights to come on when you crank, while a bad connection usually acts like zero volts.

I was about to say the same thing. My car (nowhere near as nice as a Merc) had the same issue. There would be oxide deposit on the contact points and the minuscule amount of rust and crack on the clamp would render it useless on a bumpy road randomly (1 in 10 times approx). It was scary the first few times but when I figured out the symptoms, it took me less than a minute to get it to start.

Today's car mechanics are a different breed. The ability to diagnose and triangulate problems without advanced tools made car mechanics quite intuitive and resourceful in the past. I take my car to one such mechanic. I always leave with a bill lower than any other estimate I get and he always finds and fixes the problem.

Wow, it's crazy to see this comment because I drive the same type of car and recently experienced a similar problem.

The car was dead for long enough that I could get it towed to the mechanic and they educed it was a problem with the EIS (electronic ignition system).

The EIS computer was sent off to mercedes for diagnosis, they reported that the computer itself was fine but it was an issue with power. The mechanics traced it back to a bad connection of a wire somewhere.

wonder if removing and replacing the fuse box (reseating all the fuses, reconnecting all wires, etc) would have done the same thing? sigh.

It would have required removing and replacing the box itself... the fuse box has a connector going into the back side, and then a separate harness inside the box that splits out the individual fuse sockets; that connector seems to have been the problem. At various points I swapped/reseated every fuse in there trying to fix things, never occurred to me to remove the box itself.

I have seen similar behavior on vehicles that have a dying alternator. The issue is that one vane of the rotor (or maybe stator?) has shorted and no longer functions. If when the car is shut off and the rotor stops in a particular position the alternator won’t work. Give it some time and with heating/cooling moving things around just a bit plus the act of repeatedly trying to turn it on potentially making it move just a bit, and it works fine.

Alternators aren't needed for starting. Perhaps a similar issue with the starter motor? But even then you'd hear the thunk of the starter solenoid. Any audible clue definitely makes root-causing simpler.

I have a crank sensor that is going out, and though it still works most of the time if the crankshaft stops in just the right position it becomes an absolute bear to start, and runs in limp mode when it does.

Any of the other positions it works just fine.

This reminds me of an old F250 my dad had. He towed it from Colorado to Missouri and about halfway he noticed his gas mileage got worse. But, you know, coasting down mountains until you get to plains would also have a similar outcome, so he didn't think about it.

Once he got to Missouri he noticed the transfer case (I think) had somehow bounced out of neutral and was partially engaged, which chewed many teeth off the flywheel. To start it we had to get a pipe wrench and manually rotate the flywheel to a spot with enough teeth to catch the starter and turn over. That got harder and harder (as it kept chewing off more teeth) so eventually we had to push start it and pop the clutch. Thankfully it was a manual so it still worked!

My dad had an old diesel Benz - the generator (that old, didn't have an alternator) went out and for a couple of months we just made sure to park it on a hill and drive during the day. Electricity is overrated!

Seen things like this before. Often a bad connection somewhere, possibly involving material that expands/contracts significantly in response to a change in temperature (turning the module into an inadvertent temperature controlled switch).

What happened with the human-powered airplane?? Is that a thing normies can do?


I don't know if Alec Proudfoot counts as a normy, but DaSH PA flew a bunch of times, with many different pilots. That particular event, which was an attempt to try some records, was a bust; there had been rain recently and the dry lake beds weren't. Landing gear was a recurring problem (light weight and robust don't go together), and even some last-minute attempts to build a runway out of 4x8 plywood sheets was unsuccessful.

I have some very, very fond memories of flight days at Moffett, though. I had gotten to work on the Moffett runway for work previously (so cool out at the bay end of the runway at night, totally silent), and getting back there to help run ground ops (including assembling DaSH PA before sunrise so first flights would hit the calmest possible air) was just lovely.

That's really cool! I was only aware of the Gossamer Condor/Albatross and MIT's Daedalus in that field.

Nope, it's at the point that there's whole gatherings (most recently in the UK) where multiple aircraft and their builders/pilots/communities meet.

Heisenbugs are manifestations of whole-system design failings, where projects are not engineered to facilitate troubleshooting, subsystems are strongly coupled, and everything is just barely held together with baling wire and bubblegum.

That GM vehicles from this infamous era would suffer from maddening, mysterious electrical glitches makes perfect sense.

Tell me you only use memory managed languages without telling me...

But I don’t?

A formative early experience of mine was learning valgrind to track down a Heisenbug for a C project I was working on (which turned out to be an invalid read in a dependency). I’m indeed thinking of this anecdote when generalizing about whole-systems failings, since troubleshooting memory errors is so difficult.

I think there’s an analogy to be drawn when designing large systems on top of unsound foundations.

please expand to include more explanation for why you think this is a memory managed lanugage problem. I used C and C++ professionally for years and ran into all sorts of issues like this. Interaction between subsystems doesn't care at all what language you're using inside each component, they care about design patterns and architecture.

GP is correct that I generally prefer memory managed languages, I just think it’s right to emphasize that this preference is informed by experience. I’ve spent large amounts of my career writing C code, and now when I have a choice I’d prefer Rust for systems projects.

The higher-level point is that Heisenbugs are an emergent phenomenon of complex systems when fundamentals are lacking.

* C systems are lacking because the language is very old and we’ve learned that we need additional infrastructure to avoid memory errors.

* 1980s GM systems were lacking because of a management culture which didn’t value reliability, leading to inevitable issues in e.g. poor grounding and electrical isolation.

It’s my belief that many contemporary tech companies have management cultures similar to 1980s GM, and subsequently waste tremendous resources when troubleshooting complex systems which are not designed to facilitate troubleshooting. That’s why the original article resonates strongly with me.

GM cars are notorious for (sometimes) developing strange problems that would have you think they are possessed with the devil. (Despite post-1990 GM cars being near peers to Japanese cars for reliability overall)

I learned a lot of things from my father. Unfortunately a lot of them were what not to do. Don’t buy cheap tools that you’ll have to replace three times in the lifespan of one that costs 50% more. And don’t buy GM.

Mechanically they may be reliable, but 90’s GM forgot how to make paint stick to metal and had to pay to repaint a massive number of vehicles that simply pealed if parked outside for too long. How?

And there is absolutely no forgiveness in my soul for the Chevy Citation. I joked when I moved to Seattle that the main problem is since there is no salt, there are still Citations on the road and that is unnatural. Their place in the natural order is the junk yard.

After owning my 1988 Chevrolet Beretta for about a year, the paint came off in one big sheet one morning when I was brushing a light dusting of snow off with my wool toque.

The first call to GM revealed that it was the acid rain (acid rain in the 1980s was what global warming is today -- the cause of all evil). Exposing my car to rain voided the warranty.

The second call to GM revealed that ultraviolet light destroyed the bond between the paint and the primer. Exposing my car to sunlight voided the warranty.

I spent hours researching this issue through the trade mags and published court filings. Plenty of legal findings about implied warranties of fitness for purpose. Evidently GM had an unpublished policy that it would pay the cost of a repaint to dealers for this situation, and the dealer was expected to provide the work for free.

Of course, the greasy grin of the dealer as he quoted full price while knowing he would collect the same from GM was enough to make me drive the car with no paint for the next 10 years so everyone could see, and recommend nobody purchase any GM product ever again.

I'll say this though: that primer sure prevented rust.

I wonder if the irony of the situation is that some chemical engineer invented a new primer that sticks to metal extremely well and it turned out that it may stick to metal like glue but it doesn’t stick to paint as well as the old stuff.

But based on what peeled, I’d say thermal expansion or UV damage were involved. The former could still be the primer’s “fault”.

>I joked when I moved to Seattle that the main problem is since there is no salt, there are still Citations on the road and that is unnatural. Their place in the natural order is the junk yard.

This was the fate of many British Leyland cars, even the ones that people genuinely liked such as as the classic Mini and the MGB were practically hygroscopic.

I will say I was somewhat delighted by the number of good looking mustangs and british roadsters there were. And so many Beetles. My roadster had a little too much bondo for my liking.

I loved the Mini, but I loved my Maxi even more. That was the most useful car ever bar none.

I didn't realize the Countryman was bigger than a midsized sedan until I parked next to one the other day. Walking back to my car something seemed off. Wait, that's a Mini??

None of the 'Mini's' are Mini. They're just BMW that bought the brand and builds cars loosely inspired on the original, with sizes ranging from 1.25 times the original all the way up to definitely non-Mini crossovers. Our company had one of the smaller ones as a lease car and even though it drove ok'ish it definitely didn't feel or drive like a small car. It was a way for BMW to appeal more to women (with that demographic BMW never really caught on) who loved the original Mini to bits. And then wealthy women want a larger but still trendy car.

BMW is hyper aggressive about the brand, including going after each and every use of the brand for the original cars, even when used in the context of spare parts.

I think about eight, ten years ago they stopped being mini when collision safety laws changed. They had to raise the hood for pedestrian safety (hitting legs and spinning heads into the windshield is not allowed) and raise the door height for side impact safety. The whole car got normal sized because of it and then they just kinda said fuck it.

Why in the world did GM make a car with the name Citation? Are there any good connotations of that word?

>Are there any good connotations of that word?

Of course there are: "a mention of a praiseworthy act or achievement in an official report, especially that of a member of the armed forces in wartime" Don't focus on the North American usage of "a traffic citation". Citation is almost a contranym, which is a word that has at least two meanings that are opposites of each other, i.e. bolt, bound, buckle, cleave, clip, consult, ...


There’s also the aircraft series:


Those are named after a race horse. Car may also be for the race horse. Or maybe the car’s named after the plane(s).

I would love to drive a Chevy Potoooooooo

Simple, it's so that every time someone reads "citation needed" on Wikipedia, it triggers the buy impulse.

Citation just means to be noted for something ("Cited for valour.")

But in the context of motor vehicles, the term is highly associated with infractions and monetary fines.

I mean, people like fast cars, so the Chevy Speeding Ticket should be a good seller.

You do have a point!

I think it's funny how GM came out with the "Cavalier" to compete with Honda's "Civic". Or that matter, there was a Chevy Cobalt (e.g. a "Kobold" is a demon that causes mine accidents) or an AMC Gremlin.

...But cobalt is both a color and an element...?

Sure, the name is derived from "kobold", but that's like saying you should never call anything good "terrific", because it derives from the root "terror". Etymology isn't destiny.

There's always the business-school legend about the failure of the Nova with the Spanish market.

> The statement refers to a popular anecdote in international business and marketing about a supposed blunder made by American automaker Chevrolet with the car model, "Nova."

> According to the story, when Chevrolet tried to market the Nova in Spanish-speaking countries, the car reportedly did not sell well because in Spanish, "no va" translates to "doesn't go". This led people to joke that a car named "doesn't go" wouldn’t be a popular choice.

> However, it's important to note that this is largely a myth. In reality, the Chevrolet Nova was relatively successful in Spanish-speaking markets. "Nova" as a word is understood to mean "new star" in Spanish, and it's unlikely Spanish speakers would naturally break up the term into "no" and "va", just like English speakers wouldn't naturally break up "notable" into "no" and "table".

> But the story remains popular as a cautionary tale of the consequences of not considering linguistic and cultural differences when naming products for international markets.

Dat Soon?

It's also the name of a brand of private jet, and of what used to be the most successful racehorse in the world.

I'd guess both the car and the plane owe their names to the horse.

Technically Chevrolet did but the entire thought process for that vehicle was questionable so the name is IMO a harbinger. This is not a place of honor.

  > Are there any good connotations of that word?
A few other GM vehicles have this issue, Chevy in particular. A well known example is the market failure of calling a car Nova (No-Va) in South America.

You know, I've heard that rebuttal, but I've been told this anecdote of the car's notoriety by family members from Columbia and more recently from a friend from Argentina. So perhaps "no va" and "Nova" are pronounced differently, and perhaps the car did sell well, but the Spanish-speaking peoples most certainly did find the term "no va" in the car's name.

You should know what they say about the Mitsubishi Pajero, too!

It's the same difference as between papa and papá. We are trained to perceive different accented syllables as different words with different meanings.

Sure, we have these in my language as well. For instance, the car Kia should be written like "vomit" - so we have a convoluted spelling and say the name slightly wrong to distance the word from "vomit". But it's still clear to everybody how the name should be pronounced and spelled.

Doesn't seem to affect sales, though, probably like the Chevy Nova. Those Kia are everywhere.

> Mechanically they may be reliable, but 90’s GM forgot how to make paint stick to metal and had to pay to repaint a massive number of vehicles that simply pealed if parked outside for too long. How?

Could be an older component stopped being available. Like when Apple switched to environmentally friendly lead free solder, but then the NVidia laptop GPUs got so hot they unsoldered themselves.

> 90’s GM forgot how to make paint stick to metal and had to pay to repaint a massive number of vehicles that simply pealed if parked outside for too long. How?

Dodge Ram Trucks had exactly the same problem. I also have no idea how two different companies with 100 years of history simply forgot how to paint cars.

i learned that these things typically are grounding issues. it usually came down to a single source of ground being a loose connection which is why it was intermittent. as a personal anecdote to this, as a first car as a teenager, i drove a GM/Chevy S-10 that one day started to have issues where all of the gauges on the dash would just go crazy and the lights would go on and off, and then suddenly just start working again. after taking it to the shop my dad recommended, a mechanic walked out to greet me. after i told him the symptoms, he stepped back to look at the truck model, asked me to confirm the year model. he promptly opened the driver side door, reached under the dash, located a specific screw, hand tightened it as a test, and everything worked. he came back with a screw driver to properly tighten in before sending me on my way free of charge. he told me that specific model was notorious for the screw holding the ground wire to come loose. it would cost him more in time to write up a sales slip to charge me.

I think independent mechanics tend to opt for earning goodwill in this situation rather than charging fair value for a quick and easy fix. Objectively, he provided more value than someone who might have spent several hours of troubleshooting time, but customers don’t necessarily think logically about it. So it ends up being better for the mechanic to earn that goodwill rather than appear “greedy”.

Some do the freebies because that’s who they are, and the free publicity is just a secondary effect. Some do the freebie because they know the publicity as the primary reason. I feel like this experience was the former.

> Despite post-1990 GM cars being near peers to Japanese cars for reliability overall

American carmakers really needed that kick in the ass from Japan. Around 1990 was when my parents went from being protectionist, "buy American" to never buying another domestic car again in their lives. They were angry, angry at the reliability difference and angry knowing that domestic carmakers could have done better but instead relied on people like them to buy the flag.

I had a 1989 Chrysler LeBaron that developed insane electrical issues. Windshield wipers would randomly turn on, the radio would change stations by itself. It really did seem possessed.

When I was a kid my (not wealthy) family had a Lincoln Towncar that was probably purchased used and fixed up and it ended up with some freaky electrical problems like you describe- most notably (because it freaked me out as a small child) I remember the automatic door locks would start locking/unlocking themselves rapidly, and they were big chunky metal switches that pop up and down and made an awful sound when this happened

What are you talking about the 90s was the worst era for GM they cheaped out on everything possible.

I dunno. When my son needed a car to get to work we found a 1996 Buick Park Avenue in almost perfect condition at 100,000 miles. He didn't like the look of modern cars, didn't want a touchscreen, besides a 2010 Japanese car can cost almost new prices and they wanted $9k for a Chevy Sonic with 180,000 miles (didn't know they went that far!)

Granted the traction control and anti-lock brakes occasionally fail to boot up, but it seems to be a pretty good car, but it was close to the top of the line. Gets 27 mpg which is not bad for a big ass car. I like how it has a lot of the feel of a 1970s boat but it has airbags, OBD II and most of the good features of a modern car... And we didn't need to get a loan to afford it. Driving home though I was looking in the mirror and seeing it dwarfed by today's XXL trucks and SUVs.

>> GM cars are notorious for (sometimes) developing strange problems that would have you think they are possessed with the devil.

Like turning on the backup lights in a parking lot when the engine isn't even running.

I mean...it's possible they've improved a lot compared to where they were 30+ years ago, but to call GM's cars "near peers to Japanese cars for reliability" just doesn't hold up.

On Consumer Reports' list of car brands by reliability[0], none of GM's brands even crack the top 10. GMC and Chevy are 20 and 21, respectively, out of 25 brands. (The top 5 include, unsurprisingly, Toyota, Lexus, and Honda—your classic reliable Japanese brands.)

[0] https://www.consumerreports.org/cars/car-reliability-owner-s... (may be paywalled...?)

Plenty of cars that intermittently won't turn on in this thread, but I once had a car that intermittently wouldn't turn off... or at least the headlights wouldn't. I assume a relay somewhere was overheating and that was making it stay closed, but I never debugged it, and nor could my cousin who was an auto mechanic. We never tried too hard, though: I would just take the fuse out if it happened and put it back the next morning.

True story: I had that happen to an airplane. I was a student on a long solo flight and on the last two legs of that flight, the engine wouldn't shut off using the usual method of pulling the throttle back to idle and turning off the magneto.

It's been long enough that I don't remember what I did to get it shut off (maybe I toggled a circuit breaker?), but when I got back to base, I made a note in the airplane log about the problem and also left a note for my instructor, who was out that day.

When I came in for my next lesson, instructor mentioned that the next person to use the airplane, also a student on a solo cross-country, got stranded 100 miles away because when the engine wouldn't shut off, he panicked and pulled the throttle hard enough to rip the cable through the firewall. Airplane had to be put on a flatbed to get it back home.

Guess he didn't see my note!

Sounds like it might have been dieseling - enough carbon buildup glowing hot that even with both magnetos off it can still ignite the next rotation.

Usually there was a fuel disconnect along with the throttle that would eventually starve the engine.

That's probably what I did. Thinking back, the first time it happened, it just took about 10-15 seconds to shut off. The next time, when I was back at my home airport, it wouldn't stop running at all and I think I turned the fuel cutoff to get it to stop.

The radiator fan in my Jeep did that in Sudan when it was 48C. Better to have it stuck on that stuck off in those temps!

I just tapped the relay with a wrench and it un-stuck and turned off.

Funny enough that was almost 5 years ago, and it hasn't done it once since in more than 80,000 miles of driving. Not in -35C, not in +45C. Odd little relay.

I'm going to armchair and guess that your brother needed a new battery.

My (GM) car gets really funky startup behavior when the battery gets old. It will often turn the starter fine, but the electronics can get stuck in weird states until I disconnect the battery (essentially a hard reset).

Subaru just had a class action lawsuit about their stupid car infotainment systems draining the battery.


The dealers wanted a ton of money to diagnose the issue, even though I suspected it must have been the infotainment system draining the battery. I just ended up replacing the infotainment system with a cheap CarPlay compatible one and the problem went away.

Problem is I cannot get money from the class action settlement since the original infotainment system is already out and I fixed it myself.

> Problem is I cannot get money from the class action settlement since the original infotainment system is already out and I fixed it myself.

You only fixed it because it was a problem though. Not a/your lawyer though, so good luck and have fun navigating the American legal system!

But I cannot prove it without reinstalling the original infotainment system. That is many, many hours of work for little gain.

What I do not understand is how the settlement did not require Subaru to compensate all Subaru owners for the faulty design. Why was there proof required, other than the purchase of their car with the faulty components?

If it was surrounded by a crowd of engineers, surely someone would have tested the battery?

This is the point where I would tell the story of how I once got lost in Porto, while in a group of 25 geographers

But zero cartographers.

The problem with having a bunch of experts is that experts usually forget to check the basics.

I’m sure we’ve all been caught trying to troubleshoot a problem where the actual issue was a loose cable.

I worked tech support that included a device for software developers that had Ethernet connectivity. I learned very quickly to say "Try reseating the Ethernet cable" because if I said "Is the Ethernet plugged in" about 1/3 of the people would respond very negatively (e.g. "I'm not a fucking moron") but by having to reseat the cable, they would sometimes discover it's not plugged in.

The classic way to get the consumer to power cycle the hardware is to ask them which color ring is at the base of the DC plug. It doesn't really matter what color it is, what matters is that it was removed and the hardware definitely restarted.

I once has this happen with my father's new standing desk. He, PhD with an Electrical Engineering degree, couldn't get it working. Turned out the C13 power cable was only 90% inserted, and felt firmly in place but did not have enough connector to power the desk.

The other technique is to ask the customer to turn the cable around.

A friend who is an automotive engineer shared once that most colleages were not so great with cars. Engineering new cars is one thing; fixing them is another. It's like asking a programmer to do system administration - two different jobs.

It's not much different than computers.

Lots of programmers that would struggle to diagnose basic stuff when their laptop when it goes wrong.

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