What horror lies within
March 2, 2010 6:59 AM   Subscribe

How disgusting can the inside of computer become? See now! Some people smoke near their computers. Some people secrete their chip packets inside their computer boxes. You think you can get away with it until you need someone to find out why your computer is fucked up and then.. Ah hah! Could it be.. you have an alien fetus? Mice? The detritus of your fucked up lifestyle? All living within your box? Feel bad about yourself now!
posted by h00py (70 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think it would be very painful to secrete a chip packet.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 7:09 AM on March 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

Why did I look at that? Why? Why?? Definitely not the way to start any day, especially a dark and rainy one like today . . . I don't blame you, Metafilter--you didn't say I had to look.

So why would I?
posted by emhutchinson at 7:13 AM on March 2, 2010

/eats popcorn, throws bag into computer.
posted by acro at 7:17 AM on March 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

Next up on Best of the Web: The crumbs under your refrigerator.
posted by DU at 7:18 AM on March 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

Of all the dust bunnies I've ever seen, none have been quite as meh as these.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:20 AM on March 2, 2010

[Fixed the link, let's try this again.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:20 AM on March 2, 2010

I used to work at a repair shop back when floppy drives where important. So many floppy drives worked once they got removed and cleaned. Some intermittent failures were due to moisture gathering in colossal dust bunnies and shorting. Sometimes dead things would helpfully bridge some components for you.

The sink was part of the workbench, is all I'm saying.
posted by drowsy at 7:22 AM on March 2, 2010

I have long suspected that most people who don't work on an iMac or a laptop probably think of their computers in terms of its interfaces, not the tower. We focus on the screen, keyboard and mouse and rarely direct our attention to the tower unless we need to plug something in. Perhaps not even then, thanks to phone or mp3 player docks and keyboard usb ports. Sometimes there's even a button on the keyboard to turn them on, too.
posted by zarq at 7:22 AM on March 2, 2010

Don't smoke, and vacuum the insides annually. Problem solved.

I think I understand a little more why Apple is big on sealed tablet computers...
posted by Jubal Kessler at 7:24 AM on March 2, 2010

I quit smoking indoors (and thus cut my consumption of the things down by about half) when I went through an intense spring cleaning period and saw what smoke residue plus cat fur did to the inside of my computer. GROSS.

My newest computer has screens over nearly every possible access point to the inside of the tower and it's still amazing how much cat fur gets sucked into the thing.
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:27 AM on March 2, 2010

posted by ardgedee at 7:31 AM on March 2, 2010

Stuff like this has circulated for years - there was an infamous series of pictures of a colony of dead rodents being pulled out of a VAX or some other big machine.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:33 AM on March 2, 2010

saw what smoke residue plus cat fur did to the inside of my computer

Any electronic gear, really. Generally, people will not buy used rack-mounted music gear unless it comes from a smoke free environment, except at a steep discount.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:35 AM on March 2, 2010

MetaFilter: The detritus of your fucked up lifestyle.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:39 AM on March 2, 2010 [9 favorites]

Semi-regular vacuuming of the interior is fine for me.. but the really disgusting bits of a computer are the keyboard and mouse. I tend to clean those properly at least once a week, but somehow for many people that's a strict no-no, and the things collect enough food and debris to support a small country for a month.

On a similar keyboard/mouse related note... is there REALLY no plastic that can withstand a couple of years of human sweat?
posted by Harry at 7:40 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

> I think I understand a little more why Apple is big on sealed tablet computers...

Sealed isn't truly sealed: In lieu of some wickedly clever engineering that allows them to use the case as a heatsink without endangering the user, they still have to be vented, provide portholes for power, headphones, dock, and so on. You can blow through the headphone jack of the iPhone and air exits the dock port.

Whether this is better or worse is open for debate. Passive ventilation means there's less air going through, carrying crud. It also means that whatever can get in will stay there.
posted by ardgedee at 7:42 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I smoke, I have a cat that sheds like mad, and the box has these stupid holes in the shape of the manufacturer's logo. I'm sure the inside looks every bit as bad as these.
posted by FrauMaschine at 7:42 AM on March 2, 2010

Yeah, me too.
posted by h00py at 7:45 AM on March 2, 2010

I've heard of angry raging from chain smoking hipsters who get angry when Apple refuses to service their computers. Not only does it build up and mess with your computer, as these photos nicely demonstrate, tobacco is a hazardous substance and they aren't willing to expose their employees to it.
posted by fontophilic at 7:46 AM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I repair computers so I have seen ones like these.
But the absolute worse ones are the ones that are covered inside with that fine white dust…that you KNOW is dead skin cells.
It ALWAYS creeps me out. so gross
posted by ShawnString at 7:49 AM on March 2, 2010

and yea…please dont smoke around your computer, it makes it sticky inside
posted by ShawnString at 7:49 AM on March 2, 2010

At last, non-smokers have a place to feel superior!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:50 AM on March 2, 2010 [13 favorites]

Those poor little mice!
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:53 AM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've heard of angry raging from chain smoking hipsters who get angry when Apple refuses to service their computers.

Is there no end to hipster crimes? I just hate them so much!!!!
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:54 AM on March 2, 2010 [18 favorites]

Far too often I eat dinner with my laptop. I mean, I'm munching on some noodles and writing e-mail and reading mefi and being semi-productive. And I clean the thing, but those noodle splashes just kind of build up over the months.

Whenever company comes over I shame-facedly close it up and put it beneath the couch.

We need to start a recovery group or something.
posted by bardic at 7:54 AM on March 2, 2010

Wolfdaddy: You're right, cat hair + smoking is probably the worst combination possible. Cats curl up on warm components, their fine hairs and dander get everywhere and the particulates & tar from cigarettes just cement all that nastiness together.

I've made my living fixing other people's computer problems for close to 10 years at this point. I've encountered dead roaches, live termites, dust bunnies by the litter, tar balls that needed prying off. I've seen laptops & keyboards that squirt coke/water/coffee/wine/beer when you type on them or have melted spots where they were used as an ashtray.
I don't think anything would prep me for finding two whole dead mice in a power supply.

The worst? A college kid brought in a PowerBook that he had vomited on and then left to dry out for 3 days. Except he had left it in the sun covered in a black trash bag (to promoted evaporation) and now wanted to see if we could get any data. I worked on it outside, with gloves on, and a fan to drive the bad air away. After extracting the hard drive, it became evident it wasn't possible: sitting in concentrated stomach acid for three days has a way of eating through the drive electronics.
posted by now i'm piste at 7:54 AM on March 2, 2010 [8 favorites]

I've... seen things you people wouldn't believe...
posted by Artw at 7:58 AM on March 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've seen dirty pictures on the Internet... but WHOA!
posted by Drasher at 8:00 AM on March 2, 2010

now i'm piste… you win.
posted by ShawnString at 8:04 AM on March 2, 2010

I've heard of angry raging from chain smoking hipsters who get angry when Apple refuses to service their computers.

The big issue was Apple claiming that smoking near the computer voids the warranty when the warranty says no such thing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:06 AM on March 2, 2010

I learned that if the CPU temperature is always pegging the upper limit so much that it throttles back the clock speed, you may have a large mat of cat hair covering the heat sink.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:06 AM on March 2, 2010

meh, i've seen worse. used to be a tech at a firm in SF where a creative had the back of his computer pointed toward a window located on a major street near Union Square ... clogged so thick with dust that every component was completely dust covered, and i had to use outlines in the dust to judge where i was in cleaning it out. hilarious and disgusting all at the same time. he was so happy when his computer started running properly again after the vacuum!
posted by kuppajava at 8:08 AM on March 2, 2010

We have two cats who both shed as much or more than any other beast, and I swear, we have NEVER had dust/hair like that. I mean, we do blow the things out every so often, but . .. wow. Just Wow. Disgusting. People are really, really foul.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:08 AM on March 2, 2010

I'm going with "Really Disgusting!"

I once had to clean innominate gunk out of the GPU cooling fan. Innominate I tells ya!
posted by Mister_A at 8:09 AM on March 2, 2010

I find that my Porter-Cable 150 PSI Air Compressor that I bought for trim carpentry is one of the best computer repair tools that I've ever owned. My HP laptop was spontaneously rebooting every few hours until I blasted air into the vents. Likewise, the server that we keep in the bedroom got much quieter after I pulled the cover and blasted the heat sink and fans with air.
posted by octothorpe at 8:14 AM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you think this is bad, you should see my crawl space!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:14 AM on March 2, 2010

Oh I can top that! Between dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, etc. my house is a living dust storm, and sometimes the dust-bunnies are as big as the actual bunnies.

But I can assure everyone that I have boxes in my home that contain far, far more vile and disgusting things than can possibly be conveyed in picture form; they are called "saltwater reef tanks".

They sit there, looking all pretty, until you have to move them. And that means draining out the water, removing the live rock, and then... (ugh, just thinking about it is gag inducing), removing the sand bed. Or as it is also known, "the place where evil smells go to die and rot"

Believe me; there is absolutely nothing inside of your PC case that can compare to that bubbling box you might have sitting in the corner.
posted by quin at 8:16 AM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

i wish i had gone to a school where everyone chipped in. then again, our school did have wastebaskets.
posted by the aloha at 8:40 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

He should save all the hair and funk, and sculpt new and exciting creatures from it.
posted by LordSludge at 8:45 AM on March 2, 2010

My late wife was a heavy smoker; she went through around one keyboard a month so we started to just buy them for $5 at Goodwill.

Just being in the same room where she smoked was enough to kill some of my equipment (mostly optical drives); I did a complete teardown of a Model M keyboard a few days ago. Wiped down the inside and outside of the case with alcohol wipes, took off the keys and keycaps and ran them in batches through my ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. The water was brown when everything was done.

Over the years, I tended to pull the usable parts (CPU/RAM/hard drive) out of her "old" systems when she upgraded and just chuck the motherboard, PS, and case, rather than try to clean them well enough to sell or give away.
posted by mrbill at 8:45 AM on March 2, 2010

At an earlier point in my life, I worked for a company that leased computers with maintenance contracts. Part of my job responsibilities included periodically visiting customers' sites to provide "preventative maintenance," which included physically cleaning the hardware (blowing out the innards with canned air, etc). These machines were in regularly-cleaned, smoke-free environments. Due to the quantity of dust and muck, I generally adopted a "hold the canned air at arm's length, close eyes, hold breath, spray" policy. I'm slightly terrified what the innards of a computer in a dirty environment might end up looking.
posted by Alterscape at 8:47 AM on March 2, 2010

The first thing you learn about blowing dust out of anything... is to close your eyes.

Obligatory xkcd
posted by meowzilla at 9:06 AM on March 2, 2010

If you think that is filthy you should see what's on my hard drive!
posted by mazola at 9:11 AM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I once found a whole other computer inside my computer. And...AND there was little guy sitting at a desk smoking using that little computer inside my computer. I asked the guy what in the hell was he doing sitting in my computer with his own little tiny eency weency computer smoking?

He said he was working on a Powerpoint presentation on how not to get trapped inside a computer. And if I didn't mind could I bugger off as he had a deadline to meet.

So I close up the tower to my computer, and far as I know he's still in there, actually I think some girls moved in with him, because sometimes I hear all sorts of moaning and knocking sounds....

I think I'm going to get a laptop next time.
posted by Skygazer at 9:14 AM on March 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sometimes dead things would helpfully bridge some components for you.

SOL: I dealt with some bugs back in my Pi days. I was wondering if it was similar to one I ran into.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:15 AM on March 2, 2010

With everybody discussing how much of their cat (fur) they find in their computers, it's no wonder the internet is made of cats.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:18 AM on March 2, 2010

Okay. Time for a some exemplar cases from my Previous Career in hands-on tech support. Gather 'round.

I worked for a credit processing company. They wrote the software and developed the tech for those machines where you slide your debit card to pay. As you should know, these don't always work. And when they fail, a cashier or manager has to call tech support. So I was supporting those who were supporting, and there were many of those supporters to support. There was one half of an entire floor of support folk that were notorious for their lack of cleanliness. We in tech support, we referred to their department as "The Dirty Keyboard Area" -- and with very good reason.

Case One. I get called over to an employee's desk. They cannot log-in, WinNT is not accepting their password. I don't notice all of the plant-life around their cube at first. It's not until I shake their keyboard and here a rattle that I make the connection. So I turned the keyboard over and tapped on it. Potting soil showers out.

Case Two.
Pulled not one, but two Gummi Bears from underneath a person's spacebar.

Case Three. Another morning, another employee who cannot manage to log-in. Also, several keys just aren't working at all. So I visit. And I find that the keys are not working because they are sticking, albeit briefly, when pressed. Then they slowly pop back out. And what's that smell? Yeah, it turns out that the employee was a fan of the McDonald's Big Breakfast (eggs, sausage, pancakes) and had been eating those every morning with the styrofoam platter sitting on their keyboard ... the keyboard that was now full of maple syrup.

Toward the end of my time at that company, we had to move those folks from one floor to another. I showed up with latex gloves and was laughed at by the 3rd party company that had been hired to assist with the move. Once they saw the Dirty Keyboard Area, every last one asked for their own pair of gloves.
posted by grabbingsand at 9:18 AM on March 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

Cleaning out boxes that live in a university computer lab setting was truly revelatory with respect to the depravity of the average person. The more isolated the computer's location, the more entertaining the accretions. We usually wore gloves and masks is all I'm saying.

I run all my server boxes (reclaim/outdated desktops) at home without the decorative front/side panels because I generally forget to update the OS, much less remember to blow out the cases. At least I can see the neglect every time I open the closet. This way I am regularly prompted to do a thorough cleaning/update.
posted by Fezboy! at 9:26 AM on March 2, 2010

Reminds me of a post I saw on a tech support site, about the lady who called to say that the retractable cup holder on her computer wasn't working.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:27 AM on March 2, 2010

I've always wondered about the German fellow who twice tried to return a computer full of potatoes.
posted by usonian at 9:36 AM on March 2, 2010

I worked in a big, prestigious architectural firm in Boston. We had 100+ Sun Sparc 10 & 20 workstations. I learned that closing your eyes while using canned air isn't always enough: often it's advisable also to breathe out gently to keep anything from settling on your face. Ugh.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:42 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

years ago I fixed a friend's VCR, and when I opened it up it was just teeming with roaches. Apparently they like the warmth.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:47 AM on March 2, 2010

posted by Mister_A at 9:49 AM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Far too often I eat dinner with my laptop. I mean, I'm munching on some noodles and writing e-mail and reading mefi and being semi-productive. And I clean the thing, but those noodle splashes just kind of build up over the months.

I'm ashamed to tell you that I recently had to take my laptop in for the second time on account of an accident involving dinner. The nice people at the repair shop look at me with pity and I sort of hide my face and pay my bill and promise to never do it again when they know full well that in six months I'll stand too quickly and the gazpacho will spill all over the keyboard and we'll be right back to square one.

On the other hand: you'd be surprised how quickly you grow accustomed to a curry & ginger scented Macbook.
posted by thivaia at 9:51 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a mini-ITX desktop built for passive cooling (ie, no fans). It's not the fastest computer in the world, but it sure is clean! The case is an old cookie tin I cut some holes into with a dremel tool, after being sure to get all the crumbs out.

Once, long ago, with a different computer, I noticed a stream of ants coming out of my closet. I wondered at this, given the lack of food or utility in said closet. Investigation found that the ants had established a colony in the power strip that was feeding my rather large desktop and monitor; as someone said above, apparently they liked the warmth.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:04 AM on March 2, 2010

These pics illustrate exactly why I stopped doing PC housecalls years ago. Nothing is more vile than a urine soaked processor left running to bake and accumulate dust. (and sorry for the mental imagery)
posted by samsara at 10:07 AM on March 2, 2010

Obligatory: Board Chow

As someone who works with PC's in an industrial setting I find none of this even slightly unusual or disturbing.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:11 AM on March 2, 2010

About ten years ago my (cobbled together, contained open slots in the case) PC became the nest of some rodents. When I finally opened it up it was, frankly, much worse than most of these pictures. And it never stopped working until it became infested with viruses, much smaller than are visible here.
posted by norm at 10:33 AM on March 2, 2010

I've got two cats, so my computer has dryer sheets taped over the vent holes. When the sheets are new, they're a bit too static-y and don't provide quite enough airflow, but if you use them once and then pull them out of the dryer, they make great dust filters.

I still have to hit the inside of the case with canned air twice a year to blow out all the tiny dust particles, but the dryer sheets do prevent the dreaded "heatsink with a fur coat" problem...
posted by vorfeed at 10:34 AM on March 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

> I've got two cats, so my computer has dryer sheets taped over the vent holes.

I occasionally see some really old external hard drive or tape drive case built with filtered vents, a plastic frame holding the replaceable little paper or fuzz filter. Then it makes me wonder how many of those drives died from overheating because the filter was never replaced. Full-height 5.25 drives (storing a whole 20 MB or so) were a lot of mass to heat up, and airflow was a lot more important than it is these days.
posted by ardgedee at 10:45 AM on March 2, 2010

I once had one of those old school answering machines you know with the little cassette tape and everything and it was like a nightclub in there.....for roaches. And I mean the cocky kind. Man, those roaches were cocky, they were doing cocky roaches exstasy in there....
posted by Skygazer at 12:09 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

you know what would be really bad? Raccoons.
posted by Artw at 12:11 PM on March 2, 2010

Ack. Eating near/over laptops. This is one of the reasons I like having a desktop (in addition). The keyboard is just a keyboard.

Why not eat over your house deed while you're at it? And some expensive artwork?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:20 PM on March 2, 2010

I used to repair computers for a living at a retail computer shop.

The worst computer I ever saw was from a local marine biology lab. This was back in the IBM AT days (before towers). When I slid the lid off, I found the entire case was filled with a single dust bunny. That is, with the top off the computer the dust bunny maintained the shape of the case.

On a less gross note, another machine was brought in because the floppy drive didn't work. I removed the drive and noticed a heavy rattling: it turned out to be full of silver dollars. The owner's kid had seen people putting things in the drive and figured coins should go in there too.

Thankfully I never saw any dead mice in any machines.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 1:22 PM on March 2, 2010


i fix computers for a small, prestigious liberal arts college. supposedly these are the best and brightest youths the US has to offer, hand-picked by college admissions experts at the top of their industry. many of these kids go on after graduating to do wonderful things for the world. many more of them have computers filled with unspeakably vile substances.

last week, a kid brought in a macbook he said he'd spilled water on, wanting us to see if it was fixable. we opened it up, marveled over the level of sheer destruction this "water" had caused, and proceeded to take pictures. while taking pictures we noticed the smell. it was not a computer smell. it was urine. urine he'd chosen not to disclose to us and that now contaminated our work bench, hands, and tools.

when pressed, the kid admitted he had peed on the computer while drunk. we hastily donned gloves and shoved the disassembled machine into a plastic bag, taping it shut. we informed him that we would not be repairing it and he was to pick it up. i have never hated smart young people more than i did at that moment, wearing gloves, cleaning some overprivileged kid's urine-soaked macbook.
posted by hollisimo at 1:47 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have seen much worse than any of those pictures, and those PCs were never smoked around. Warehouses get really nasty. When computers go for four years without being cleaned in those conditions, they get caked with a layer of..something.

I should have gotten hazard pay for cleaning them out after we bought that place..

posted by wierdo at 1:55 PM on March 2, 2010

The guys who put Apollo 11 on the moon smoked like chimnies and spilled coffee on the consoles....Git off my lawn!
posted by shockingbluamp at 1:59 PM on March 2, 2010

you know what would be really bad? Raccoons.

Only if you doubt what they become when they grow up. That's the kind of mistake that will get you killed.

Searching my comments reveals that I reference raccoons a lot. Weird.
posted by quin at 2:01 PM on March 2, 2010

I once opened up a Mac and found a whole other computer in there made by Intel. Blew my fuckin' mind.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:39 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Up until the last two examples, I didn't understand the second comment. Now I'm so glad I've already had dinner.

I've... seen things you people wouldn't believe...

And I bet rain is not enough to do away with them?
posted by ersatz at 2:39 PM on March 2, 2010

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