back to article Lights out! Newbie IT manager's dark basement trip

Hello and welcome to a brand-new Register series taken from the front line of high tech and business, encompassing war stories from our readers and writers about clumsy contractors, slippery suppliers, and the machinations of management. It's tales of fail, "I told you so" moments, and of getting away with it. Kicking off is …

  1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    "the threats we'd made about the PBX guy's testicles"

    so one may presume these were pre-Register days, therefore no handy and creative suggestions via Tales of the BOFH...

    (nuke because we have no cattle-prod-induced electrocution icon)

    1. Roq D. Kasba

      Re: "the threats we'd made about the PBX guy's testicles"

      The BOFH predates El Reg by a considerable number of years. In fact the original dozen were ARCHIVED to, so that gives you a bit of a clue how far back they go ;-)

  2. GrumpenKraut
    Thumb Up

    Nice read

    This is the stuff I come here for, thanks.

    Hyperconverged gobbledigook, not so much.

    1. cd / && rm -rf *

      Re: Nice read

      "This is the stuff I come here for, thanks"

      Agreed. Have an upvote.

  3. Peter Simpson 1

    TV station

    A friend was the tech honcho for a US TV station. They had built a brand new transmitter building, all new kit, several stations shared the building. There was a HUGE diesel generator outside and a fairly large UPS to carry the load while the diesel spooled up. Everything tested fine*.

    First power failure comes, and everyone's off the air. Cables from the UPS to the generator had been improperly connected. Generator never started. Heads rolled (luckily, not my friend's)

    *That is, the UPS tested OK, and the generator fired up when the "test" button was pushed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: TV station

      Where I work the UPS systems are routinely tested by breaking the incoming mains. The guys who do it are quite good now and even check we have enough Diesel on site beforehand.....

      Odd though what has been found over years when doing these tests e.g the Control system for the UPSes and the aircon did not have their own UPS. When it got one, it was then found that the batteries were not getting charged properly and on the next test it failed. Seems obvious after the event but it shows that sometimes the only was to test something is to do it for real.

  4. IT Hack


    Murphy and his law, along with the associated engineering based corollaries, did not appear out of thin air.

    1. Mark 85

      Re: Murph

      Exactly. We built a new remote office.. increasing staff from 150 to 400+. Come the day for the moves, server, network, PC-types, all running around and doing last minute things while the movers moved everything from the old office to the new except the old hardware. We even tested the back up gens by killing main power at the building input (power company had to that part).

      Things looked good at lights out Sunday night. Monday morning all hell is breaking loose starting at zero-dark early. Seems someone misconfigured a local switch to point any machine wanting to open a file on an MS server (local) to the IP of the mainframe at the main office. Took them 2 days to figure this out and 5 minutes to fix. Murphy is a mean son-of-a-b*****.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Murph

        Witnessed a HP JetDirect box have its IP address set to that of the Default Gateway of the network used by all the user's PCs. Watching everyone lose connection meant a very frantic hunt for the offending device and a big stick for the button pressing monkey who typed in the wrong details.

        1. TheNeonSpirit

          Re: Murph

          Circa 20 years ago I worked for a firm that didn't use DHCP on their TokenRing LAN. When people were issued with a PC (most users were connected to a mainframe with dumb terminals) they got a slip of paper with their personal IP address details. I lost count of the number of times the Gateway and Host IP addresses were transposed, knocking the whole area offline..

          1. Blane Bramble

            Re: Murph

            That wouldn't have been a large American oil company would it?

  5. Daedalus

    Brit bit crit hit

    Reminds me of the UKTV programme where they bought a pre-designed, pre-furbished modular home in Deutschland and after much trouble getting the concrete foundation laid, they found that the only Brit component of the assembly process had sent the bloody crane to the wrong bloody town.

    1. Wiltshire

      Re: Brit bit crit hit

      Grand Designs?

  6. Richard Jones 1

    Ah Diesel Generators

    We had a lovely powerful standby generator that performed flawlessly during every routine test powering the entire system with effortless ease. There was however one tiny problem, it was fed from a smallish header tank which was replenished by a pump system from the main supply. This filled the header and rather than mess about with float valves and the like, once the header was full any excess went back to the main store. Well that was the theory. The snag was a multi-way valve which controlled the various possible fuel flow patters. Sadly there was one position which stopped flows going anywhere. So the main pump overheated and died unnoticed, until that was, we had a 'real power cut' The generator cut in and took over only to splutter to a halt as the header tank was finally exhausted. The error of the valve setting was soon noticed and corrected. Getting a new fuel circulator pump took a lot longer...

    1. Commswonk

      Re: Ah Diesel Generators

      I know of a similar failure although its exact location escapes me; a similar system to that described above always behaved perfectly on test, but failed fairly quickly when there was a real mains failure. No - one had realised that the transfer pump between the external storage and the running tank was supplied from the incoming supply, not the "post changeover" maintained supply. I'm not sure how long it ran for but with 3 or 4 big engines generating somewhere around 1.5 - 2 MW I don't think it was very long.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Ah Diesel Generators

      Best example of Murphy's Law in action that I ever saw was a diesel genny.

      Test run every week it was. Once a month there was a full load cutover on a Sunday to prove the UPS and that the genny kicked in when required. Every six months it was fully serviced and the diesel tank was drained and refilled with fresh.

      So, when there was an actual power cut do you think the sodding thing would start...........?

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Ah Diesel Generators

        If it's worth installing ONE diesel genny, it's worth installing TWO diesel gennies. (and 2 fuel tanks, so you don't get stupidity as described above).

        Split tankage is a no-brainer for long-term fuel storage. Whoever signed off on a single tank should be introduced to Mr RedHot Poker.

      2. hugo tyson

        Re: Ah Diesel Generators

        One job, the modal cause of genuine fire alarm evacuations was "the temperature is too high in the detached generator building" - following the regular testing... especially in summer.

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Ah Diesel Generators

      > standby generator that performed flawlessly during every routine test

      We had one likewise. Except for the point of failure - the large diesel tank under the carpark didn't have anything measuring how much diesel was in it. So when it sprang a leak and 20K litres of diesel drained away into the subsoil no-one noticed. Until we had an actual power outage, the generator kicked in and quickly ran through the contents of the header tank..

      After that, they put some sensors in the tank itself to measure how much diesel was left in it.

      1. Keith 12

        Re: Ah Diesel Generators

        Sounds like somewhere near the Kent coast I herad about many years ago...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    best get in some emergency lighting too! I wouldn't fancy being in a windowless basement when the lights go out!

  8. CDD

    Brand New Column?

    Not sure about brand new - to El Reg perhaps. Isn't this a rehash of the old 'This Damn War' column in one of the old trade rags, Network News if memory serves? Still, it used to be the best column to read though.

    Showing my age...!!

    1. DJV Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Brand New Column?

      Your memory is almost fully functional, CDD! It was actually Network Week and I have proof of this as I have just dug out a copy of the 22nd October 1997 edition. The story I'd submitted for "This Damn War" was published on page 4 of that issue. Page 3 also had the BOFH column long before he'd taken up residence at el Reg.

  9. swm

    In 1965 we had a generator to keep a 3-phase drum spinning during power outages. It blew a fuse every time the power went out on one of the phases so the drum kept spinning on a single phase. Yep - the phase rotation of the power company and the generator were different. It took some time for me to convince the college electricians what phase rotation was and to check it.

  10. Aseries

    As Mrs. Malaprop might say, "a great victory over diversity."

    Good story...looks like ComputerWorld SHARKTANK has competition.

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