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Spooky tech tales to make your computer crawl

We asked readers to send in their spookiest tech tales in advance of Halloween, and they delivered the gore. Get ready to be scared.

CNET News Poll

Tech terrors
Which spooky story scares you most?

Fried gecko inside a PC
Possessed Best Buy printer
Car lock problem following black cat sighting
Code-defying robot
Insects scurrying out of computer case
Creatively downsized floppy disks

View results

Awhile back, in preparation for Halloween, we asked CNET readers to send in their tales of tech terror--and we got some doozies. From creepy crawlies in the machine to large-scale backup disasters and close encounters with sharp objects, the submissions spooked us out more than (almost) any blood-drenched zombie ever could. Here are a handful of our favorites. And thanks, readers, for sharing the scare.

The PC and the poison pen
When I had an internship last summer, I received a brand new IBM ThinkPad laptop, along with an optical mouse, an LCD monitor, Ethernet cord, and laptop dock. My cubicle was located a floor below my immediate manager's cubicle.

Well, during the internship period while working on a project, I got a notification through e-mail that I had to come upstairs to have a progress report. I closed my laptop with the presentation file and everything, put it in the laptop bag, and headed to the meeting room. About 15 minutes past the meeting, I said I have the demonstration to show and took out my laptop to find laptop's screen was completely broken!

What happened was I mistakenly put a pen between the keyboard and the screen and closed it and put the laptop inside the bag. The result was a laptop with black, cracked screen. Fortunately, my manager was kind enough to give me a desktop, though lower in performance, for me to continue to work on my project while the laptop was sent to the repair shop. To get the laptop fixed, I had to wait about one week and kept talking back and forward with the help desk. I later received the laptop back like new, but I definitely learned my lesson.

--Ji Son, Austin, Texas

Oh, rats!
I got a call from a friend asking if I could come take a look at their computer, as it wasn't powering up. They said they had a burning smell and all of a sudden the machine turned off and wouldn't power back up. I assumed it was a power supply issue and headed over. Once I got there, I pulled out the tower to find a fried/dead rat that had chewed through the power cord running to the power supply. An easy fix, but definitely gross!

--CNET reader "idlehand326"

Funny smell coming from your PC? You might want to check for geckos. CNET

Gecko in the machine
My boss brought in his home PC because it was booting up with a strange crackling sound and apparently there was a funny smell coming from it. OK, let's take a look at it. I plugged it in turned it on..."BANG!"--a flash and all the lights and power in our section of the office went down. Smoke and noxious fumes were emitting from the PSU. It was safe to turn off the machine--the fuse had tripped.

Unplugged the unit, took out the PSU, a nice expensive Antec, hmmm now why would one of those blow? Peered inside, the smell was revolting, putrid even. Lo and behold, one severely fried and dead gecko inside!!!

--CNET reader "Mikeybabes"

Curse of the black cat
Our vehicle has automatic safety door locks that engage at about 20 mph. As I was driving home, a black cat crossed my path about four car lengths ahead of me...I got a good look at it, all black. I heard the automatic door locks engage at that very instant that I saw the cat. The rear passenger door has not opened since. It refuses to unlock.

I've tried everything, hip-checking the door, disassembling the handle mechanism etc., all to no avail. The dealership wants over $400 to repair it. This would not have happened if that black cat had not crossed my path. It worked perfectly for years until that very moment.

--CNET reader "digipixx"

A real cutup
Back in the day when I owned a computer storefront, a client came in and bought a brand new desktop from me. I offered to install it for free (how things change) but she informed me that she knew how to do it and had owned a computer for years. She paid in full and was on her way.

About three days passed and I get a phone call from her. Her old system used 5.25-inch floppy disks and her new system only had 1.44MB 3.5-inch disks. She told me she had a book she had been working on for 25 years backed up on floppy and that the reason she got a new computer is that her hard drive had died. I told her it was not a problem, that I had an old 5.25 floppy drive I could install and would even be happy to transfer the data to the 3.5-inch disk free of charge (again, how things change). She thanked me and stated that she would be at my office shortly.

Floppy disks
Taking scissors to floppy disks...probably not a good idea. George Chernilevsky/Wikimedia Commons

About 30 minutes later she walks in carrying a large box. My first thought was, "Oh man...what the heck did I just get myself into? That's going to take me days to read if that box is full of disks."

She sits the box on my desk and thanks me once again for my help, explaining that it was her life's work and that she was almost finished with it. I opened the box to find a huge pile of cut-up floppies. In horror, I asked her what happened. She stated that she figured she could just trim the edges of the disks off so they would fit into the smaller drive and it would work fine. I asked her if she still had the old computer but she had trashed it more than a week before.

About two hours later I was able to get her husband on the phone to come pick her up from my office. She was so shaken she was not able to drive herself home and so stunned she could not even tell me how to get to her house (now we have GPS...more evidence of how things change).

--CNET reader "Nyteblade"

Ghoulish tech support
Back in late 2003 we purchased 75 Dell Optiplex GX270 small-form-factor PCs along with Dell Gold support. A little over a year later one of the workstations would not power up. An inspection revealed bulging capacitors on the motherboard. About a week later another motherboard failed, again as result of faulty capacitors. Within days more motherboards starting failing. A little Internet research revealed a known issue with the Optiplex line. Confronting Dell with this discovery, along with the escalating failure rate, resulted in denials and stonewalling. Only after threatening to turn the matter over to our legal department did Dell agree to send motherboards in bulk so as to replace them all at once instead of piecemeal.

Now the really scary part. I was replacing the motherboards myself because a Dell tech took an hour and a half to replace the very first failure. After about the third or fourth attempt I had the replacement time down to 10 minutes. Bulk motherboard deliveries, however, revealed something even more disturbing. The anti-static bags were not sealed, the motherboards were covered with dust, and the capacitors were bulging. Dell was sending us faulty motherboards as replacements for our faulty motherboards!

Calls and e-mails to Dell resulted in denials, then apologies, and the matter was finally blamed on a shipping error. If the replacement had been left to Dell technicians, we would not have noticed and systems would have continued to fail. So much for Dell Gold support.

--Mark Bishop, New Jersey system administrator

What made that printer spit out a story on exorcisms? Warner

The Devil at Best Buy
My friend and her mother were walking through Best Buy, peering at the new modem models and trying to figure out those passwords only the employees know for the computers just for fun (we've all done it). Of course, she walked right by the printers, paying them no mind; because, really, does anyone just randomly look at printers unless they're in the market for one?

She was facing a flat-screen monitor when she heard a noise from behind. One of the printers seemed to be spitting something out, though no one was at any of the other computers and she hadn't even started guessing the password on her current endeavor. So what was it printing? Her mother reached into the tray and pulled out a two-page article on exorcisms. A Wikipedia article on the movie "The Exorcist" came out a few minutes later.

--CNET reader "sittingincomputerclass"

Robot run amok
I am a FIRST Robotics member and the programmer for my team. Last year we were at a regional in Minneapolis and our robot was competing in a round. In the first 15 seconds is an autonomous part where all the robots run without people controlling them.

Well, the robot took off like normal and then went a little crazy and started running motors that I had not programmed to run at all. They were not electrical shorts or anything; it was running like it was programmed that way but I knew it wasn't. It was like seeing a ghost in the machine. It creeped me out pretty good.

--CNET reader "TechJoe37"

Wasn't that computer off?
I had turned off my computer and unplugged it, it had totally powered down. I woke up in the middle of the night, WIDE awake, and right as I woke up, my computer turned itself on and I swear I could feel someone staring at me. I later found that my desk fan had been pushed off of the desk, and my Chinese tea set had been moved.

--Nathan Hutton, Denver

Stormy day for servers
My worst tech experience happened at my last job. I was the assistant IT administrator and my boss did not believe in backup servers. Not too bright, but it gets worse. He decided to take the day off on Monday morning and I was the only IT person working for the day. The day was already off to a great start as it was stormy outside and I had forgotten my umbrella, so I got pretty wet in the downpour. When I went to do the routine check of our server systems, I noticed the UPS battery that our Primary Domain Controller had died over the weekend and was signaling this with the usually noisy alert beep.

The storms weren't just outside that day. Kathleen Craig

There was still power though, so everything was still working fine. We didn't have spare batteries, but there was a perfectly fine UPS in my boss' office. I e-mailed him to alert him of the situation and went to retrieve the UPS. Surely it would be OK while I stepped away for a few moments. Boy was I wrong.

Before I even made it to my boss' office, the power went out in the building. I kept my fingers crossed for the best as I retrieved the UPS and headed back to the server room. All the other servers were still running as their UPSes were still working fine, but the PDC was down for the count. I hooked up the UPS and since the battery needed to be charged, I had no choice but to wait till the power came back on to realize my fate.

About 45 minutes later, we had power and I returned to the server room. Just my luck, two drives in the RAID array blew out. I spent the next day and a half rebuilding a PDC from scratch and reading all the clients to the domain, as well as rebuilding all the shares and having the staff scream at me when I broke the bad news to them that their data was gone. My boss quickly invested in a backup solution and BDC after that awful nightmare.

Try and top that one guys!!!

--CNET reader "santellan17585"

Computer bugs (as in insects)
My work does repairs for extended warranty companies. We have gotten some horror stories in here, but one in particular was a PC with a mainboard that had been previous "repaired" by another vendor. Something caused a voltage spike in it strong enough to blow one of the solid tantalum capacitors off the mainboard with so much force, the inside cover of the case had a quarter-inch deep dent (in steel, mind you), and looked as if it was hit with a shotgun blast!

Of course being a repair facility for extended warranties sold in cheap retail outlets such as Wal-Mart has other downsides, such as the computers that are so full of bugs (insects, not programming), we open the case cover and they come scurrying out all over the anti-static pads on the workbench. *shudder*

--CNET reader "Mitoni_Katsu"