Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lessons from the Help Desk

At our company, the newer IT staff take 1 week rotations on help desk. They kind of throw you in the water to teach you how to swim, so I end up picking up a lot of new information. Most importantly, I learned about the inner workings of computer chips, including the heart of the device.

Transistors? Integrated circuts? Capaciotors? All nessicary support parts, but the most important component of all...

Blue Smoke.

First discovered in an ancient Aztec well in a 1914 excavation, this rare substance was found to have unique conductive properties that eventually let to the deveolopment of the ENIAC; the blue smoke was used in the vaccum tubes. All 17,000+ of them. Interestingly, the value of the Smoke itself is almost dwarved by the expense of the process of trapping it in the component. The ENIAC project had it's budget tripled over the course of 4 years, a bill that tax payers are still footing today.

During the development of the ENIAC, the secret of the Blue Smoke was heavily guarded as the Manhattan Project, then kept classified throughout the 80's, up until the end of The Cold War. Since then, the private sector has improved on mining, transporting, and injecting the Smoke, lowering the cost of computers dramatically. The particulars of the process are still closely held trade secrets of Intel and AMD, so most of the finer details of the mining and injection equipment is still unknown, save for a few unsubstantiated rumors floating around on the Internet.

Today, when a chip or processor is made, the last thing the manufacturer does is inject a small dose of Blue Smoke into it before sealing it off. Electronic current run through the pins excites the blue smoke, sending 'happy' signals through the bus, making your computer work. OK, it's a little more complex than that, but after the the signals leave the processor, it's all bottom level logic, 1's and 0's, blah blah blah.

Under normal conditions these chips can last for years, even decades. But stress from overclocking and poor maintenance can cause the smoke to swell, and causes the the plastic on the chip to soften and split, letting the Blue Smoke escape. Although the equipment used to inject the Smoke, while it has become cheaper and more energy efficient in the past 50 years, it's still far too sophisticated and costly for consumer use, so once you burn out the chips or processor and let the Blue Smoke escape, your machine is rendered useless. You're better off buying a new device, rather than paying to have the smoke re-injected.

So the next time you see a bluish smoke pouring from the back of your computer, know that you are looking at the greatest innovation of the 20th century as it makes its final escape from your once mighty electronics.

3 comments:

Ben Kephart said...

I lol'd.

Fuzzy said...

Bleh... I should really hold off on posting until I give it one final proofread. I just fixed a whole bunch of minor gramatical and typographical errors.

Anyway, glad you liked it, Kep. Only my REAL friends bother to read my blog! *Glares at Lisa*.

ninjaterp said...

He's self-editing! My work here is done!