On Call Friday has come around, reliable as ever, to mark the end of that most dreaded thing, the first full week after New Year.
To celebrate and get you through the day, here's On Call, our regular instalment of readers' tech conundrums solved.
This week, our tale comes from "Charles", who was working at a small business that sold custom software back in the early '90s.
"The software would date/timestamp records in a database, and the date and time was critical to the functioning of the solution," Charles told us. "The date and time was obtained from the computer hardware and operating system."
The only problem was that one clock in question was constantly losing time, and after several days it would be "wildly inaccurate" – a problem that seemed unfixable.
"There must have been 50 service calls where the computer was replaced twice, and we even installed specialised accurate time cards into the expansion slots," Charles said.
And yet the time-travelling computer kept rolling back the years.
"At this point the customer was looking for a refund so I was sent to the office to try to fix it as everyone else was frustrated," he said.
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Charles arrived in the morning, adjusted the clock to the right time and date, ran through the software and manually corrected the records to values that made sense.
At around noon, while he was looking at the screen, Charles saw "the time literally run backwards – the minutes counted down". He opened the program that displayed seconds and those were also rolling backwards.
At this point, Charles heard a commotion on the other side of the wall behind the computer desk, and a quick investigation revealed a kitchenette where employees were heating up their lunches.
"The device they were using was a very early model Amana (Raytheon) Radarange oven, circa sometime after 1967 – the precursor to the microwave oven," Charles said. "This thing must have been one of the very first Radaranges sold in the USA."
After the hungry staffers finished in the kitchen, Charles reset the clock, went to nuke a cup of water and then ran back to the computer.
Sure enough, time ran in reverse until the Radarange was finished, then went forward normally.
He repeated the test a few times, then moved the computer to the other side of the room and – lo and behold – the problem was solved.
"Apparently, this thing wasn't shielded very well and was leaking massive amounts of EMF, which impacted the crystal oscillator in the computer, which also wasn't shielded very well against EMF."
As Charles astutely pointed out to On Call, the next logical step would have been to replace the ancient – and presumably fairly dangerous – oven. But the owner of the firm wasn't keen.
"He had brought the Radarange oven from home and installed it at the office to avoid the cost of buying a new microwave," Charles said, having spent the equivalent of about $4,000 on the item back in the day.
The solution, Charles said, was either to move the desk to the other wall, away from the Radarange oven and "install a sign warning anyone with a pacemaker to steer clear of the office", or to buy a microwave.
"I never found out if he replaced the Radarange – but we did move the desk before I left."
Have you ever solved a problem of time travel? Come back to the present day to tell On Call all about it. ®
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