Ivan's place: CRT horror stories_

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Anyone who is enthusiastic about retro tech knows how dangerous CRT screens can be. Those cursed radioactive vacuum tubes that carry electrons inside of them to display fancy images, leveraging a ray gun. Incredibly surreal when you think about it in detail.

A CRT can hold several thousands volts of electricity, especially in its flyback circuitry. If you do not have the necessary experience and tools to properly discharge and make safe a CRT, you should not even take the plastic cover off. There is also the chance of physically damaging the fragile neck of the CRT, leading to a violent implosion as the vacuum is released. This could spray poisonous, phosphor-covered shards of glass all over the room.

Back when CRT was the norm, Mac "Geniuses" had to pass the CRT safety section of the certification exam with a 100% score every year - it's that serious of a safety issue.

And, don't think a CRT which has been powered off for a long period of time will be safe - the CRT will slowly continue to build static electricity due to the Earth's rotation and magnetic fields.

In this blog post, I will tell you a horrifying story (based on real events) about this dangerous invention. Don't worry, for it has a happy ending. Enjoy! :)

Sam and the surge

Once upon a time, in a small, cluttered local workshop, there was a dedicated vintage tech technician named Sam. Sam had spent years mastering the art of cathodic ray tube screen reparation. He had a reputation for breathing life back into vintage monitors, making them glow with the nostalgia of a bygone era. He loved doing it, and never failed to grin whenever he made one of these monitors work again.

One gloomy afternoon, Sam was hunched over an ancient CRT monitor. He was determined to revive this particular screen. It had certainly seen better days, but that didn't stop him from attempting to bring it back to life. As he worked with precision, the room was filled with a soft, rhythmic hum. When he thought he had finished the repair, he decided to give it a go, without the casing. The CRT's screen flickered, showing signs of life. Sam's heart raced with excitement; he was on the verge of another successful resurrection, or so he thought. He leaned in closer, already grinning. When, suddenly, disaster struck.

There was a blinding flash, followed by an ear-splitting crack. Sam recoiled in pain and horror and fell on the floor. The monitor had released a surge of electricity, which also caused the light to go off. He tried to get up, but fell. Confused, he decided to sit down. Sam then started smelling something strange, it was the smell of burned meat. He then realized that his right arm was smoking. It seems that, amidst the chaos, a jolt of energy surged through his dominant arm. With a wrenching scream, he realized he couldn't any more feel it, nor move it.

Sam laid on the floor, and surrounded by darkness, started crying silently. He wasn't sure if it was because of the pain (or rather, the pain that he wasn't feeling). All he knew was that he had just broken a monitor, and potentially, himself. Minutes had passed, he didn't know where to go from there. What was he going to do without his dominant arm? Millions of obscure thoughts and disgusting imagery went through his head every second, as if they were arrows being thrown at his chest. He felt a constant and profound sense of loss and despair.

The following day, overwhelmed by a mix of shame and fear, he sought out the nearest doctor, his injured arm still throbbing with pain. Heartbreaking news awaited him as the doctor's diagnosis revealed the irreparable damage to numerous nerves in his arm, dashing any hopes of regaining full mobility. With tears welling up, he made his way back to his workshop, aching not only from the physical pain but also from the devastating reality he now faced. During his journey home, he couldn't help but ponder the stark irony of how a simple screen repair had altered the course of his life so profoundly.

As he pushed open the workshop door, there it was, the very device that had seemingly shattered his world. Sitting in his workspace, bathed in eerie silence, while sun rays from the window were dramatically hitting it. It no longer seemed as a fun little repairing project, but instead, a looming nightmare. He cautiously approached the ominous machine, in fear. Sam's gaze locked into the device, unable to look away.

A strange swirl of emotions coursed through him: Fear, anger, resentment, perhaps even envy. He stood there, about to unleash his emotions on the monitor, until clarity pierced through him. It was not at fault, it was not the one to blame. He was the one who turned it on without the protective casing meant for his own safety, he was the one who leaned in closer, mistakenly thinking the repair was finished. Whether it was the flyback transformer, or the ray gun, it felt completely insignificant. The only one at fault for his arm's loss of function, was himself. He carefully put his left arm on the machine, and exhaled.

"I've fucked up. I fucked up big time." As he said that, he looked at his right arm. He could still barely move it, and he knew it wouldn't get much better from there on. These repairs had brought him so much joy, and he didn't want to give up on them. Sam grabbed his chair, sat on it, and looked directly at the monitor. "What do you think I should do?" He asked it. It was stupid, really stupid, and he was aware. He just didn't care.

Unsurprisingly, he had no answer from the device. Still afraid of it, he looked closer into it. He got up, and started looking into its internals. He could still see a mark from the surge, and almost felt empathy for it. While looking into it and remembering in detail all about his traumatic experience, he realized. He saw what was wrong with it, he had it.

He plugged it off, and turned the workspace power back on. Sam didn't know why, but he was going to finish the repair. He felt he was going to faint at any moment just from looking at it, but he didn't care. He tried to use his right arm to discharge the device, but he went through. Using his left arm, he clumsily yet safely discharged it. Losing mobility made him follow security protocols again, now that he had to use his non-dominant hand.

He spent thirty-nine minutes in a job that would normally take him ten, ten minutes in a safety precaution that he normally wouldn't have done at all, you get the point. He was scared, of course, he just had a terrible accident, but he was doing it.

When he thought he was done, he put the casing in the monitor and pressed the power button with his non-conductive screwdriver. Mind you, he had to also repair the damage that yesterday's accident had caused. And, to his surprise, it turned on. Just to test it, he decided to hook up his media center, and watched some episodes of his favorite show on it. No zapping, no arching. Even though unfortunate, it seems the accident had reminded him of the value that proper precaution and care has.

Sam never fully regained the use of his arm, but he adapted. Throughout his life, he carried the constant reminder of reduced sensation and control in his right arm. Despite the limitations, he repaired countless monitors and eagerly shared safety tips with fellow enthusiasts. Whenever the temptation to skip a safety protocol arose, the memory of his experience served as a steadfast reminder, ensuring he safeguarded his left arm.

Sometimes, tragedy can be a reminder of what we have in our lives, prompting us to reevaluate from a fresh perspective. Don't be disheartened by failure; instead, embrace it as a valuable teacher to learn from and treasure.

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Proudly written by Ivan.

Ivan is a young and passionate libre software advocate and coder, main author and designer of this website. He's been proudly embracing the open web and giving back to the open source community ever since he was 13 years old.


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- Eating your apple pie in secret.