back to article BOFH: Power corrupts, uninterrupted power corrupts absolutely

"THE POWER'S OUT!" the Boss shouts, blundering into Mission Control like a robotic vacuum in super-random turbo mode. "THE TRANSFORMER DOWN THE ROAD HAS EXPLO... hey, why are your lights still on?" "They're on the UPS. Aaaaaaaaaaaand... wait for it..." I say, after a slight flicker; "... on the generator, too." "Why is your …

  1. rhydian

    This rings too true...

    "Now we just need to ensure we get several pints into him before he realises that (a) we're not paying for our drinks (b) the pub is the only building on the block apart from Mission Control with power and (c) there's a thick cable which seems to join our two buildings."

    Annoyingly my house, work and local pub (three separate buildings in about a mile radius) are all on the same supply/phase, so if one's off, everything's off.

    1. Andy A

      Re: This rings too true...

      Virtually everything in any decent pub ought to be power-supply independent. Handpumps for ale. Gas cylinders for those who partake of lager. Optics or measuring cups for official spirit measures. Ice should last an hour or two.

      The only problem zone is the till, for which a desktop-style UPS ought to provide enough energy to get a reasonable number of drinks in.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. glen waverley

        Re: This rings too true...

        Re the till...

        Was once drinking in pub in the northern suburbs of Darwin during the afternoon with a few other thirsty humans. Bar wasn.t busy, given the time of day. Suddenly, lightning hit the power lines in the street, rendering the pub powerless.

        As described by Andy A above, beers could still be poured and rums could also be dispensed. But the till was a (back then) new style electronic till. No power meant the cash tray wouldn.t open. Bar manager and barmaid tried to get the tray open while the drinkers offered suggestions like "How about we give you the right amount and you just stick the money in a jug".

        Anyway after about 10 minutes of fiddling, the bar manager managed to use a knife to prise the tray open. Service restarted, yrs truly ordered and paid for a round, bar maid takes the money, sticks it in the tray and by force of habit slams the tray shut. As an example of learning curve, manager re-opens the tray using the knife in less than a minute. And puts a glass longways in the till to stop it being closed.

        So, yes to battery backup or mini UPS for tills.

    2. John 104

      Re: This rings too true...

      Best drink those pints in the fridge before they warm up then...

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: This rings too true...

        My home fridge draws a couple of hundred watts for about 15 seconds a minute. The freezer draws a little more, but you can run a fridge, freezer and lighting circuit of a small residential property off of a cheapish rackmount UPS of the sort that gets replaced every few years most places because it's more or less the same price as replacing the battery when it fails the self test.

        You can also get a much more impressive run time by replacing the pathetic little 1.2Ah 12v batteries with 100Ah camping batteries, though admittedly it's a bit messy. You can do it semi cheaply from friendly scrapyards. (they store batteries that they think they have a hope of reselling)

        I'd think that running a pub off of a UPS isin't massively infeasible.

        1. DropBear

          Re: This rings too true...

          Fridge or not, we did have a breaker that did sometimes trip after power cuts. The thing is, all computers powered from that line (including the server room) were drawing a current well below the breaker's trip point, even on a startup surge. We knew since we measured it with a clamp meter connected to an oscilloscope.

          ...then someone powered up the aircon keeping said server room cool, and I saw the current promptly DOUBLED for a non-negligible fraction of a second. And yes, that was definitely more than enough to trip the breaker...

          1. Mike Pellatt

            Re: This rings too true...

            Re: Aircon tripping the breaker.

            You had the wrong type of breaker installed. Look up "Type B" and "Type C". And, if you've got really massive inrush current, "Type D".

            Now, try convincing the refurb crowd who installed Type B breakers on 20A radial circuits that they were told were supplying servers (and therefore via UPS's which have a hefty inrush current) that they installed the wrong breaker types when you find this out over a year after the refurb, and ought to replace them FOC....

            Another item that's now on my checklist.

            1. Roland6 Silver badge

              Re: This rings too true...

              Re: You had the wrong type of breaker installed.

              Also should check what the factory needs - I've worked at places where they have to call to the electricity company when they want to restart the production line...

              1. ukgnome

                Re: This rings too true...

                The only way you can get your fizzy lager from a cellar is with a pump. The ale should go up hill nicely, but anything that requires a hit of nitro or CO2 needs a pump assist.

              2. Mike Pellatt

                Re: This rings too true...

                And then there's the electricity company itself, too. Wrongly-rated overcurrent protection on a 275KV line led to around a quarter of London (and around half the tube) going dark a few years back.

    3. Peter Mount

      Re: This rings too true...

      I remember a story I was told years ago where, during the oil crisis in the 70s when there were regular power cuts.

      Anyhow a certain UK news company who had protected stasis never lost power. Next door was the pub with an inconspicuous cable crossing the street.

      Oddly that pub never went dark. ..

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This rings too true...

        Back in the 1980s I was living right next to a hospital which meant I always had power even when power cuts happened or the Electricity Board people were on strike. I have no idea how that particular city block was wired but I did appreciate it.

  2. Dr Who

    That's why any decent DR plan will include multiple geographically separated redundant pubs.

    1. Velv

      A decent DR plan will include several geographically separated pubs. It would also account for transportation and overnight accommodation (since you're not going to drive back, are you?)

      It's the Business Continuity plan that's lacking in useable resources close to hand. Carry out cool bag stocked with beers kept in the little fridge under the desk. If the principle BC site is unavailable to provide refreshment the beer garden can still be leveraged.

    2. scrubber

      Redundant Pub?

      No pub should ever be redundant. They should always be in constant rotation to ensure the smooth transition of service from one to the other in a round-robin fashion.

      1. Dwarf Silver badge

        Re: Redundant Pub?

        The problem with the round robin approach is that you can't tell if the next pub is open before you leave for it, which leads to disappointment.

        You could always leave a 'polling agent' in each one to test for availability, which resolves this problem.

        Beer - well, for the reason stated above.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Redundant Pub?

          Aha!!! There might be a market for this using IoT. Maybe, finally, something useful will show up in the IoT.

    3. Midnight

      That was originally called a Redundant Array of Independent Pubs, but nobody liked the acronym very much.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge


        You owe me a new keyboard - that doesn't happen very often :)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Still a better acronym then a Redundant Array of Pubs Experienced.

    4. Arctic fox
      Thumb Up

      Thumbs up for that one Dr Who..............

      .........."That's why any decent DR plan will include....."

      Although honesty compels me to admit that, being a lowly organic chemist, I had to google that one before I got the joke!

    5. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: Dr Who

      "That's why any decent DR plan will include multiple geographically separated redundant pubs." After having been railroaded on a few contracts, I added a term into my general contract that any site I worked at had to have a supply of coffee. HR drones almost always failed to query it, being more concerned with hours and pay rates. Of course, no-one puts their coffee vending machine or kitchen on generator or UPS so any powercut means I pack up and leave for the day.

  3. TeeCee Gold badge

    Uninterruptible Pub Supply!

    1. Arctic fox
      Thumb Up

      Thumbs up for that one as well TeeCee....although unlike Dr Who's contribution.......

      ........I did not have to google that one. The reason being that IT here at Uni arranged for a new one to be installed recently - I read the memo for once!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What's that then, a pub with piping to connect it directly with the brewery across the road?

    3. Sarah Balfour

      Uninterruptible/ted Pint Supply, surely…?

  4. Chronos

    Bastard! T|N>K

    Usually, BOfH leaves me nodding sagely in agreement. This time it's full on belly laugh - and I have a lot of belly ;-)

    You owe me a new bloody K120 and a pot of screen wipes from Poundland.

    1. Alistair

      Re: Bastard! T|N>K

      I'm sure that the BOFH could make sure that new K120 was quite bloody for you.

  5. earl grey Silver badge

    I'm shocked.

    Shocked that there was enough light for the boss to make it into mission control past the mains electronic gate. Beer time

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: I'm shocked.

      You mean the electric gate to the car park and building entry system were also on the UPS?

      Surely the boss, if not on site, is still at home trying to call a PABX number that is currently unavailable because no one programmed the emergency phone line number into his phone...

  6. Norm DePlume

    Only me

    Call me a pedant (I know you want to), but how do you get a heater with low efficiency? Everything ends up as heat eventually, even matter.

    1. Hero Protagonist

      Re: Only me

      It's not only you, I wondered that myself

    2. Ogi

      Re: Only me

      I fully agree with you in the long term (the march of entropy and all that).

      On a shorter term though, I would say LED Lighting is an example of a really low-efficiency heater. You would only get ~10% of the input energy out as heat :-)

      1. maffski

        Re: Only me

        Maybe I'm missing something here. But what do you think the light is?

        1. Steve Foster

          Re: Only me

          "what do you think the light is?"

          If the goal is space heating, it's a waste by-product.

          1. Andy A

            Re: Only me

            Even then the only waste is that which escapes through the windows. The rest just warms the surfaces it reaches.

          2. maffski

            Re: Only me

  's a waste by-product.

            Until it hits an electron and transfers energy to it. It may not have been the intended route of transmission, but that doesn't affect it's efficiency at heating.

    3. DJSpuddyLizard

      Re: Only me

      but how do you get a heater with low efficiency?

      A light bulb is a low-efficiency heater.

      A huge array of compact floursecent lights could be a great low-efficiency heater.

      1. Pirate Dave

        Re: Only me

        "A huge array of compact floursecent lights could be a great low-efficiency heater."

        Reminds me of my younger days as the maintenance helper at the local Sears and Roebuck's. There was no "heater" in the store's HVAC unit, all heat was supplied by the hundred or so fluorescent lighting fixtures in the drop ceiling, which, as normal, was also the return air duct. There was a chiller, though, that ran all year long, maintaining the temperature by removing more or less of the heat the lights radiated into area above the drop ceiling.

    4. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Only me

      Surely "a heater with low efficiency" is any heat source incapable of boiling water for the tea and coffee needed to keep operators refreshed on-site and not at the pub...

    5. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Only me

      Every electric heater is 100% efficient, except for some heat pumps that can be more than 100% efficient.

    6. DropBear

      Re: Only me

      "how do you get a heater with low efficiency?"

      As much as I do agree with you, you have to concede that the indoors element of an air conditioner would make a heater with a spectacularly lousy efficiency - as far as heating the room is concerned...

    7. swm Silver badge

      Re: Only me

      I remember a collector that had a working old IBM 704 in his barn. He convinced the electric company to give him the heating rate as all of the electricity was 100% converted to heat.

  7. wowfood


    I'm surprised that, in case of power outage, the doors don't automatically lock, except for the ones between mission control and the nearest fire escape. For security reasons of course. (So they can securely make it out of the building and into the pub without anyone noticing)

    Perhaps leave a few other routes open for others to get out, via the door furthest from the mission control route.

  8. Alan Ferris

    Love it

    They would work perfectly well until they're needed.


  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ah, reminds me of my previous jobs.

    1) in the army testing some new communications equipment. Change over between generators meant relying on the UPS. This failed within seconds as someone hadn't wired up all the batteries.

    2) second job looking after a large number of linux servers on my last night shift and the internet stopped working. Identified that the comms room was dark and that we'd lost power. Eventually someone located a bug in the UPS firmware meaning that the redundant supplies, generators and UPS's we had were all useless. I wouldn't have known until the hourly checks came round if the internet hadn't stopped!

    Power failure, tends to ruin the whole day not just part of it!

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "the internet stopped working"

      What? All of it?

      1. Midnight

        Yep. I asked for a loan of it so that you could use it in your speech.

      2. Irongut Silver badge

        The little red light went out and everything.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That reminds me of a friend who used to work at a site that reconditioned and tested Nike missiles (Look it up on YouTube if you don't know what a Nike is.). One day, a missile showed up for testing. They dutifully hooked the cables up to the electronics, and started the test sequence. My friend noticed that the missile under test looked a bit different than the ones that they usually tested. So, he called the test engineer over, who promptly went totally berserk and started ripping multi-thousand dollar cables out, overturning test machines, and generally wreaking havoc in the test lab. It seems that the test was only a few moments away from having the electronics package do a launch sequence, and some intelligent fool had forgotten to remove the solid rocket engine from the missile under test!

      1. Munchausen's proxy

        and some intelligent fool had forgotten to remove the solid rocket engine from the missile under test!

        Always mount a scratch missile.

      2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

        "(Look it up on YouTube if you don't know what a Nike is.)"

        So that's why Justin Gatlin runs like a rocket...

  10. Positive ground


    '...if he could fabricate any better he'd be a 3D printer'

    I am still chortling as I shut down my computer and head off to the night office.

  11. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    All flowed along nicely

    and some positively sparkling bullshit, but I must admit I wasn't expecting the cable to the pub - nice one!

  12. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Electricity - Pah!

    Nothing nicer than sitting in a nice old pub lit by thermal incandescence and hand or gravity pumped beer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Electricity - Pah!

      You need to try The White Horse (a.k.a. Dirty Nellies) in Beverley, Yorkshire.

      Traditional and real ales, flagstone floor and lit by candle / gas light, yes, that is correct, gas light.

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        Re: Electricity - Pah!

        Been far too long since my last trip to Beverley... I shall have to make the effort now. Though, it does sound somewhat like the Angel Inn in Leeds city center. They've still got a few gas lights around, wooden benches and stone floors. Upstairs though is like a true gentleman's club with fine leather sofas, open fires and fine paintings. Still best place to get 2 in with change from a fiver.

      2. Small Furry Animal

        Re: Electricity - Pah!

        @AC, +1 for bringing back the memories.

        My friends and I frequently visited the place in the 70's. We once smuggled my sister in and she managed to buy a round .* It helped that she smoked cigars and was as tall as me.

        * Nellies was men-only, as was that place just off Silver Street in Hull. Can't remember the name atm. Must be old-age or the beer - take your pick

      3. Sarah Balfour

        Re: Electricity - Pah!

        The best selection of real ales, ciders, perries, and stouts I've ever come across is to be found at the Sheffield Tap, conveniently located opposite platform 1 at the station. It's reputed to have the largest selection of home-brewed real ales and ciders in the country.

        You've just got to remember not to get so obliterated that you miss your train… I quit drinking over 20 years ago, haven't touched a single drop since.

        1. Bill M

          Re: Electricity - Pah!

          How do remember when you are pissed ?

      4. pyroweasel

        Re: Electricity - Pah!

        There's also the Bag of Nails in Bristol; compact, gas-lit, and well-stocked with the finest ales

  13. Julian I-Do-Stuff

    Of course we had it tough...

    Designing special purpose UPS to support nuclear reactor mainframe peripherals. Spec said "up to 5 minutes of power"... Hmmm, we thought, if all the power goes off in a nuclear power station - including the primary UPS & backup generators - the fan will be very brown very quickly so we gave them power for 3 hours to sort it out. Mind you, the mainframe was probably long dead by then, but it was unlikely to be *our* fault. Arses properly covered. PS The mainframe also had a battery... for starting.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: Of course we had it tough...

      "PS The mainframe also had a battery... for starting."

      You had a mainframe that ran off an internal combustion engine? Wow.

      1. herman Silver badge

        Re: Of course we had it tough...

        Oh yeah, mainframe made by Charles Babbage himself. Nothing is as radiation proof as stainless steel gears...

    2. Blane Bramble

      Re: Of course we had it tough...

      "Up to 5 minutes power"

      So 1 second would have done?

    3. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Of course we had it tough...

      Surely, in the event of a total power loss in a nuclear power station, the mainframes are waaaaay down the list of things to worry about.

      Just imagine if they'd had a decent UPS at Fukushima:

      "Look on the bright side lads. Yes the backup gennies are stuffed, the cooling system's dead and the core's about to go critical, but the computers are still running!"


      1. Martin Budden Bronze badge

        Re: Of course we had it tough...

        Just imagine if they'd had a decent UPS at Fukushima

        Just imagine if they hadn't put the original two diesel generators and the newer switching stations in the basement at Fukushima: it would have been up and running again within a few weeks.

  14. Unicornpiss Silver badge


    We used to have Cisco switchgear that had redundant power supplies... and the firmware was such that if the fan failed on one, the unit would fail to operate even with a perfectly good 2nd supply available.

    1. Unicornpiss Silver badge

      Re: @redundancy

      Really? Someone voted down my truthful comment about our poorly-designed switchgear? Geez, they must work for Cisco...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @redundancy

        I think the more likely explanation is that you need to enter something like

        console cisco##> redundant-ps 2

        console cisco##> write mem

        Just a theory, too lazy to check it out on a Saturday morning.

        1. DMSlicer

          Re: @redundancy

          Switch# configure terminal

          Switch(config)# power redundancy-mode redundant

          Switch(config)# end

          In theory though switches should ship in redundancy-mode "redundant" by default (instead of "combined")...

  15. Dave 32

    Amish Electrician

    Oh, well, they'll just have to call their Amish electrician to sort the electricity problems out. ;-)


    P.S. I'll get my coat, it's the one with the key for the horse and buggy in the pocket.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And that's why I keep a stashed UPS that runs on car batteries...

    ...because I forget the lights on my own car running, and use those to jump-start it.

    ...And my desktop takes 20 solid minutes to cold reboot, and I hate that. 50Ah should keep that desktop happy for... 6 hours, even on old batteries.

    1. Irongut Silver badge

      Re: And that's why I keep a stashed UPS that runs on car batteries...

      Have you considered that if your desktop takes 20m to reboot then there's something wrong with it? Or is that how long it takes you to fill the hopper with coal?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And that's why I keep a stashed UPS that runs on car batteries...

        Ten minutes here, generally. Does Windows have a methodology for properly handling software boot order? No. Services are allowed delays and dependencies, other software, fergit it.

  17. John 104

    Strangely Appropriate

    We had an unseasonably powerful storm here (Seattle) last week. Sure enough the power took a dip and our UPS took over. And immediately fell on its face due to 7 of the 40 batteries having high resistance. Into bypass mode it went and a call to the supplier to come out and re-wire the remaining units to get us back to filtered power.

    Of course, the drop wasn't enough to trip the ATS and fire the generator. Just a sensitive Eaton and a brace of the cheapest that could be found.

    Unfortunately for the on call engineer, there are no pubs within walking distance...

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Strangely Appropriate

      You never know if a UPS/backup generator/etc system will work until the mains goes off. But no one will take the risk of pulling the big red leaver[1] at the master distribution panel just to find out...

      [1] We really did have one of those, with a telescoping handle for a 400A 3-phase switch for our lab. There were also a few big switches for long-gone stuff with simple but intriguing labels such as "magnet" that always made me want to power the circuit up just to see what would happen. Alas, common sense meant I resisted the temptation to "do an Igor".

  18. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    I always thought that "optimising the idle loop" was a no-no

    I learned something useful from the BOFH today.

  19. tonybarry

    The device sounds like an isolator, not a breaker. It will break on full current, but not pleasantly. It prefers to be operated at no load, to isolate the downstream devices which are already turned off.



  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    They're a bit like having a guard dog that is high-maintenance, sleeps through a fraction of the burglaries, makes a huge mess once a week, and every once in a long while eats one of the children.

    I've been evacuated from the workplace several times BECAUSE OF the smoldering UPS.

    Not to mention the other times they've malfunctioned, shutting down the server without notice.

    Supposed cure, which it often isn't, that is often much worse than the disease.

    I hate them.

  21. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "The generator for this place is on the roof and it came with the building. About the only thing that could get that off the roof is an earthquake – and then it would only travel vertically."

    This is obviously untrue. It was sold for scrap months ago.

  22. LINCARD1000

    Ah, the good ol' ET server...

    "We need an engineer!"

    Thassokay, Simon - I'll have my flamer and/or mobile-MG ready and waiting for you on Friday night :-)

    (flame icon for my favourite BOFH roasting weapon)

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