Facepalm moments in IT #1: the server and the brass mounting stand incident

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So, about 20 years ago, computer cases didn’t often have the same level of engineering that we see today. You would generally have a flat plate for the back for where the mainboard fitted and a few holes to screw in these brass mounting screws.

You would then (logically) put the required / correctly positioned brass stand-off/mounting stands in to align to your mainboard holes and then place your mainboard on these and then screw down the board with a corresponding metal screw and a maybe a supplied rubbery material-type washer to prevent scratching/moving.

So, I get a phone call from a client (an “IT manager”) in a panic one day. He says his new server he bought and assembled himself from components is not starting and he heard a pop and saw smoke after switching it on.

What did this guy do? Well, for some reason, he opened the packet of brass mounting screws, disregarded the other matching set of mounting components, and then proceeded to directly place these brass stand-offs through the mainboard holes and screwed (in more ways than one) the entire brand new server mainboard flush against the metal plate of the case using an alan-key socket screwdriver (computer kits usually had one of these to put the stands into the mainboard).

Yes, that’s right. He used the friggin’ stand-offs to screw the mainboard flush against the metal back of the case! You can’t make this stuff up.

To this day, I don’t know why he did this. He obviously wasn’t good with putting the correct shapes in the hole as a kid – or maybe he just never got to play with that toy.

The case was supplied with brass mounting screws in one packet, washers and the corresponding hexagonal screws to fit into the brass stands. How the heck could someone even with limited mental ability not figure this out?

All I could think of at the time was to take a pic with my nokia cell phone and try not to laugh my head off. I failed miserably because I couldn’t control myself when I opened the case up and saw what he had done. It takes a special kind of ignorance to do that to a PC install – let alone a few thousand dollar server! Why on earth would you tackle a job like this? I can only suspect he suffered from a severe case of Dunning-Kruger syndrome.

The fact that he brought the machine to me with the mainboard screwed in firmly and shorting out without first correcting his mistake showed he was absolutely clueless. I don’t know how the heck he ever explained this to his boss. I truly regret not being there to see the arc and flash of light as the thing shorted out the first time it switched on. It must have been spectacular!

Not only had he shorted the mainboard, but all the cards as well – back then SCSI controllers, parallel printer cards were all separate components. When I lifted the mainboard, one or two places had black electrical arc-marks and several components on the board were visibly damaged.

Now, to a techie even with the most basic experience, this would have been an obvious mistake to avoid, but this guy wanted to impress his boss, was too cheap to get the hardware components assembled correctly and then only asked for tech help when things went south.

By this time, it was too late. To this day, it astounds me how he managed to BS his way into an “IT manager” role at this company when his knowledge was very generic, basic desktop level. I guess you can fool some of the people some of the time.

Be careful who you hire.