Engineer investigates vermin problems in a printer for a medical monitoring device.
A recent story in the British press about hungry rodents being implicated in a computer failure reminded me of an incident that happened to me many years ago.
I was working for a medical equipment manufacturer who supplied and installed patient monitoring equipment in hospitals. I was actually one of the first software engineers at the company. Although I had limited hardware experience, since I was the new kid it was my phone number customers taped on the control console to call in the event of any problems.
One chilly winter weekend day, the duty nurse at a local hospital called me at home to tell me that there was a strange smell coming from the equipment. “Does it smell like something is burning?” was my first question. She said no, not exactly, but I told her to unplug everything just to be on the safe side and that I’d be over as soon as possible.
When I arrived, I literally sniffed around. The odor was a lot worse that of burned insulation, and it appeared to be coming from a strip chart recorder. Back in the days before digital mass storage, there were these hard-copy printers that used an analog meter movement with a hot stylus to produce a data graph on a strip of thermally sensitive paper.
As soon as I popped open the cover, I could see the problem: A mouse looking for a warm place to sleep under the hot stylus appeared to have trapped itself and had expired. The mechanical mouse and the optical mouse had yet to be been invented; this was an actual meatware mouse problem.
There are lots of stories here about computer bugs -- what kinds of encounters with vermin have other engineers experienced?
Author Harold Rabbie is a field applications engineer.