Grasping the Intangible

Random images and thoughts of a former TV Field Service Engineer and Computer Repair Technician

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Comet estate car in 1979. For 17 years I visited customers at home and fixed their TVs, VCRs, stereos and microwave cookers.
See the Telly Man page for stories.

My first job with computers was at DCS where I worked on and off from '91-96
I created some 3D animations for DCS, 2 of which are below.

DCS made me redundant, I was unemployed, went to Microcom & Control Training under a government Training for Work scheme to extend my dole money - then DCS took me back again under the training scheme - training to do my original job but for a greatly reduced wage! My second job with computers was at Blue Chip. I worked for Blue Chip from 1996 to 2000 until the business failed. Across the road at the Drum Brae roundabout was PC World...

Sadly, I've little to remember Microcom Training by - no photos and only that scanned pearl of wisdom above. I added the underline to highlight the misspelt 'receive' but that's all. I knew more about computers than all the staff and trainees combined. I remember a Spanish girl called Mayte - and a local dude who did small removals as well as a really cool in-house 'zine for the punters, printed on a dot matrix printer.

Control Training was in Broughton Road and the trainer was called Rizal (anagram of Rizla) from Bangladesh. he was pretty good and knew his stuff. We learned programming in C and word processing. There was a trainee called David who was given to washing his feet in the wash hand basins in the toilets. I set up Microsoft Word so that whenever someone typed David it would change to Now wash your feet...

On completing these training courses you were awarded a National Record of Achievment folder. I found some anagrams for 'National Record of Achievment' e.g. 'Nice cover, inane mad-hatter fool.' - 'Afternoon miracle not achieved.' - 'I am the feared loon contrivance.' - 'Fat moron achieved intolerance.' - 'Radioactive floor enhancement.'

Above is Blue Chip as seen from across the road from the PC World corner (beside McDonalds). The next picture is of the manager being presented with a well-deserved Investors in People award. Working here was very nice and a totally different world from the World to come. I had lots of bench space and rarely needed to speak to the public - that's what we had a receptionist and a secretary for.

The most difficult part was try to grasp the intangibility of switched mode power supplies and CRT monitors' scanning circutry. All monitors had Cathode Ray Tubes. Flat screen? Expensive laptops only! I paid £1800 for a Sony Vaio with 32MB RAM and Windows 98.

It was possible to repair expensive monitors etc with no manual or circuit diagram. Ray Baker and I could find those dry joints, failed diodes and FETs. It was never 100% success because there would be a dodgy capacitor that would fail after it got hot, or something like that.

That's the carpark (my bike) and Reception. Pictured right is my U-shaped bench arrangement with monitors, power supplies and monitors under repair or test. Anyway the company failed and I had to move on.

The End of Blue Chip

Me on the left, Ray Baker on the right.

Turn of the century prices.
I was told that PC Repair Man was based on Brian Brownhill a former employee.

PC World

PC World's advertisement in the local paper stated Mature applicants welcome which was good because I was already 56 years old. I went to Portobello Job Centre, did a fairly basic technical test and was interviewed and got the job.

The company paid for all of us successful applicants to attend the King James Thistle Hotel at the top of Leith Walk for training. The food was good. Later we also attended the Kings Manor Hotel to finish our training.







These are the three main jobs I had in the Service Industry. All jobs were largely trying to work with stuff that you can't actually grasp - electricity (but you can feel it) and digital data (which is a good thing but a mystery to most).

Tech Disc front-ends I did at PC World

We used to install Healthcheck software and I created bootable CDs to make these easier for colleagues as not all were qualified technicians.

My Tech Discs would Autorun in Windows, or you could boot PCs with it - in which case you'd have to press Escape to dismiss the warning message and reach the DOS-based menu called by this batch file:

@echo off
   echo 1 - F Prot UPDATED Sept 16 2006 (FAT32/16) Check for updates
   echo 2 - BIOS identify
   echo 3 - PCI chipset info
   echo 4 - Ghost 2003 (FAT32/16 for Images, FAT/NTFS disks/CDRs)
   echo 5 - Norton Disk Doctor (FAT32/16)
   echo 6 - Registry Check (FAT32/16)
   echo 7 - Test Internal Speaker
   echo 8 - Norton Disk Edit (FAT32/16)
   echo 9 - Picture View (FAT32/16)
   echo 10 - NTFSDOS Pro - Read & recover NTFS files in DOS7 environment
   echo (insufficient RAM to run F Prot)
   echo 11 - Delete Temporary Internet Files (default folder, not XP) 
   echo 12 - BIOS util
   echo 13 - Wipe CMOS - attempts to reset the BIOS's CMOS memory
   echo To return to this menu, type menu [Enter] (cd\ if necessary)
   echo or just m [Enter]
   echo also Autoruns in Windows (password required)

At that time the healthcheck was originally designed to be installed from a CD that used Windows Autorun. The same method was used by me but if you browsed the disc there were numerous other utilities.

This is a still image from a rendered animation I did. The 50 years experience relates to the combined computer experience of the three technicians, myself, Dave Prummer and Derek Wilson. The animation is below. Like other animations I've done it can loop back to the beginning and run continuously.


These images are all 640 x 480 pixels...

Larger images (of which there are a few) will have clickable thumbnails so that your browser will show them using its default method, unencumbered by the restraints of CSS containers.

The above picture is based on a still from an animation I did - shown below.

Not so much plagiarism in the above image as homage to a hilarious satire on the old Bush administration.

Haven't seen one of these Macs in a while. Glad to see the demise of CRTs. If you've ever tried to set up purity and dynamic convergence you'll know why. Oh, and there's that 25 kilovolts too... Picture from the Onion website.

Things did take some time back then but it's got much worse since. Please Wait. OMG!

One of my favourite piss-takes of a Windows dialogue box featured above.

I think the guy above was called Bob...

A festive effort from 2002. Santa has eschewed reindeer in favour of internal combustion.

Have a nice dump.

An arresting image.

No matter, I'll just start it all over again from the beginning.

Vista's uncannily accurate time prediction: 86 years to copy less than a DVD's worth!

Larger Images - click the thumbnails or hover for comments.


One of the first animations I did with a PC World theme. On the globe it says A World of a Difference at Kinnaird Park - obviously a play on words related to PC World. It also says We love computers, which helps when working with the things, whether it's using them creatively or for other purposes.



More and more, computers are part of our lives. In just a few short years the home computer has changed from being a specialist item into something few people can function without. Convergence is a term bandied about as the home computer evolved into a home entertainment system and much more.

PC service technicians are well aware of the trend for people to store their lives on their hard disk. Tech guys spend ever more time and effort trying to reunite computer users with their data, whether it be photos of family and friends, holiday snaps, important documents or a vast collection of movies or music.

Most people can't get to grips with something so nebulous as computer data or software. Many have blind faith that the photos they've transferred onto the PC will always be there.

One of the worst computers to rescue data from is the family PC with several users - especially if they're teenagers or naive 20-somethings. A typical scenario is that there's, say, 4 users but a dozen user accounts because people have screwed up their original user accounts with careless use of dodgy file sharing. Some of them will think it's really cool to misspell their name with upper and lower case characters and symbols from Character Map.

So in the Documents and Settings folder or equivalent, there will be lots of folders with users' names and in these folders there will be data to be recovered, or there may be nothing at all except Windows defaults and sample picture and music etc. But you've got to look to see. And you've got to look in the various users' Desktop folders to see if they've saved a few gigabytes there.

Poking around in other people's photos and music collections is mostly mundane and boring but can be quite stressful for technicians who are trying to navigate around complicated folder structures and decide what's valuable data and what's not, only to be interrupted by a customer at the counter who's bought the wrong ink cartridge.

At PC World we never explored customers' hard disks for fun or amusement. We've seen it all before and it's boring and predictable, apart from which there are too many tasks demanding our attention. In my case it's all in the past tense since I retired in July 2009.

If a PC fails to boot into Windows then the user is likely to panic if they haven't backed up all their stuff, thinking it may be gone forever, in a puff of logic - as Douglas Adams might say. There really is no excuse for not having duplicate copies on an external hard disk or flash drive or remote backup service. Why not buy a flash drive for next to nothing, bung your important stuff on it and give it to a friend or family member? Then you'll still have your stuff even if your house burns down.

Data Recovery and Data Retrieval may appear to be much the same thing, but the former may be free of further charge if a service agreement is active - whereas the latter may be always chargeable. Data Recovery implies a corrupt file structure which an in-store IBAS system running Linux could repair. The license provided by OnTrack and other licensing agreements made this the official method for recovering data.

There's an abundance of free software out there to retrieve and recover data but it's not licensed to be used in a corporate environment. My favourite bootable disc was my customised version of Ultimate Boot CD. I've seen magazine cover discs with ISOs so readers could burn a bootable Linux CD with CDRW software included. The resultant CD, only 28MB of files, would allow the user to browse files on a broken Windows system and save pictures and music etc to a CDR.

The thing is, lots of PC users haven't thought of the obvious things like having a look at the big selection of computer magazines in the shops. For some, it's a moment of divine inspiration (or something) when you swivel round an Eclipse screen and show them the wonders of Google. They've had a problem but never thought of looking for the answer online. Instead, they drove miles and queued up at the PC Clinic counter.


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Here's a variation of the PC World animation. This time the globe has a reflective surface. Like the other animations it can play continuously if the player supports it.




More random images dredged up from my files:

It's been said that TINY stands for Tough, It's Now Yours.
Packard Bell's finest!
Time computers may once have been on your side...
Click for large version 1083 x 1476 pixels
£5000 for a 386 PC with 80MB hard disk!

YouTube is closing down for tonight. Please remember to shut down your computer. Click Play button to initiate sequence.

Reinstalling Windows Words and chords for ukelele, music is George Formby's When I'm Cleaning Windows.

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A fond farewell to my workbench. I've still got some of those tools.
Another picture of Harry the field engineer and rock star.
It wasn't all bad. We could pass the time downloading mp3 files on dialup or drawing Harry's head on a Robert Crumb cartoon.
Yes, it's true. A Computer Repair Centre and Florists combined. Weird!
In its death throes by now. The owner was mingling and merging with this bizarre result.
The page Dirty PCs has more of this. The two hard disks here were 'installed' by a customer.
You may think this hard disk is badly fragmented but at least there's 36% free space. Technicians have seen much worse.
A small part of my home network hardware.
The area surrounding the filthy CPU fan is a clip-on plastic conduit to channel air in from the side of the case.
26384 viruses so far, not to mention 399 spyware. The joys of filesharing!
1680 x 1050 pixels for this widescreen wallpaper I created.
I scanned an old shirt then used the image in the next picture.
Grateful thanks to all my old chums for my retirement card and presents.
A technician uses his lunch break to increase his technical knowledge.
As usual, Packard Bell give the user simple, clear instructions. It's really clever how the screen tells the user to Turn your computer on again. It doesn't tell the user to turn it off first; it must already be off, ready for the user to install your floppy drive. Computers are easy, when it's Packard Bell.
Packard Bell System Restore is part way through so what better time to invite the hapless punter to Take a tour of Windows XP.
Beat this for a precise error report!
Norton 360 has detected Norton 360 and it's gotta be removed, then we'll restart the computer and start all over again.
3rd paragraph: I sit here on the eve of my retirement... And I was - so I customised this screen accordingly.
Remember REPOS? Here's an Update Repair screen from 2003.
AC Power Not Connected on a desktop PC..? Customer supplied recovery discs for a laptop!
88493 infected files found so far... a destructive program (Trojan)
The user's name has been pixellated out from this dialogue box. This sort of thing happens when trying to save customer's data.
Error - customer needs to be 0 years of age or over.
A solid glass and coloured lights effect for this treatment of the DCS logo.
This was my working area at DCS. There's 3 AOC monitors and an oscilloscope on the bench, as well as a motherboard with a multimeter attached.
This larger version shows a clearer view of Elm Row at Lasswade, part of the A768 road. (seen that number before 1100000000)
A healthcheck found over 40,000 viruses on a customer's PC.
I wanted to try wrapping curved text round something - the McEwan Hall served the purpose.
Pink and fuzzy and 1440 x 900 pixels.
Just 'plain' text.
A self portrait with a 2MP Sony camera.
More experimentation with surfaces and textures.
Coloured lights make interesting effects on the bumpmapped letters.
1680 x 1050 pixels, fun with displacement maps.
A softer, less contrasty wallpaper effort.
Never used for wallpaper. Based on a still from an animation I did.
This variation may never have been used. Discreet likenesses of me and some colleagues.
DOS errors brightened up a bit
The same 3D model as the motherboards on the left but rendered in wireframe mode.
Some wallpaper I did for a PC in the clinic.
Just one of many variations.
The painting of the the guy watering the yucca is by an unknown artist. I scanned it and merged it.