IT man strikes again, win win for the assistant
She complained about the noise and got a nice under desk heater at the same time as clearing her desk and solving the noise issue. no wonder he became the goto guy.
Everybody knows a tidy desk equates to a drawer below rammed full of dusty detritus. Welcome to an On Call in which a Register reader channels his inner Kondo. "Walt" is the teller of today's tale, which takes us back to the mid-1990s when he was part of a dynamic duo performing the role of "classroom tech support" at an Ivy …
We had an office over an external walkway and we always got cold feet in winter. We complained but were told the air conditioning is fine. We brought old news papers and rugs to put on the floor, which helped. We would also rest our feet on the computer.
We were moved out, and 3 offices were made into one big executive office.
The executive complained that she got cold feet in in winter. Because the executive complained, they investigated it.
It turns out that the pipes under the floor were leaking. When it was cold outside the water froze - and so gave us all cold feet.
Cue 3 months work while they dug up (up from outside) the reinforced concrete floor and relaid the pipes.
It was the only time I've used a computer as a foot warmer.
During a few years in sunny climes I had an office that was freezing.
As in - I'm wearing a hoody at my desk and there are palm trees outside my window - freezing.
I complained and was fobbed off with, "you Brits have probably never seen Air Conditioning before".
Tried blocking the outlet vents and fiddling with the thermostat - risky activity with university facilities people.
Later heard that my replacement had also complained and discovered all the AC airflow valves had been put in the wrong way round. the more the AC tried to warm the room the colder it got.
As a student, I took a summer vacation job at IBM Chiswick in London. The group I was working with happened to be in a former machine room - the mainframes were gone, but the 10m long A/C built in to the external wall remained.
In general, then room was very pleasant to work in, however, one Monday AM when I arrived bright and early, I discovered that this massive A/C had be set to "max" and left on all weekend. The metal surfaces in the room were frosty. Took a while to warm up, English summers being what they are!
My dad's workplace had an air conditioning unit fitted to the 24 hour control room which contained many displays with information about all the water treatment facilities in the area plus someone to watch over them, call out engineers to fix issues and answer the phone to the public. These were the days when calling the water company out of hours got you through to someone who could actually tell you what was broken.
The control room staff all complained that the shiny new air conditioning unit must be broken. Turned out that they thought the symbols (frost and sun) were meant to match the prevailing weather conditions and not the temperature of the air being emitted, as a result they had the system set to "hot" on a summer day.
Luckily it was a simple fix to turn the control to the opposite setting.
Reminds me a bit of moving into a house that had night storage heaters. We had never had night storage heaters before, and they came with no instructions. But we guessed that setting them to 'Late Boost' would mean that the house would become nice and toasty in the evenings.
It did, kind of. In fact the heater controls had no timing or thermostat, and worked by opening and closing physical flaps over bricks that heated up overnight at the 'cheap rate' of electricity. 'Late Boost' was the setting where you cranked the flaps fully open, to allow the bricks to emit the last vestiges of heat at the very end of the day. You were supposed to close them again to allow them to be heated up over the course of the Cheap Rate period. Instead, they were pumping out all that lovely heat all night, to be nice and chilled during the day. We had to use the Electric Heater mode (at normal daytime expensive rates) to make the place bearably warm.
This misunderstanding gave us an electricity bill that still makes me flinch when I think of it.
Maybe THAT's what was wrong with my office, at a large university, back in the 1990s. It was a repurposed lab which I shared it with another secretary. It had no windows. It supposedly had air-conditioning, but in the summer the AC put out HEAT.
We called Grounds and Buildings, and they sent a nice young man to try to fix it (standing on my office-mate's desk). He fiddled for several hours, got nowhere.
Finally he said, "I'm sorry, I don't know what's wrong with this thing and I have another call I have to make. You know, if this were happening in a room full of lab animals, I would have to work on it till it was fixed."
Secretaries ranked lower than rats.
We had an office block designed to look nice from the outside. It was 3 stories and ran E-W, with lots of glass. Of course, all the money when into the external appearance. The air con and heating were controlled by one or two thermostats per floor. As the south side of the building had the 'view' that's where the seniors would sit, and woe betide anyone on the north side complaining about being too hot or too cold. All winter we hugged the power packs for our laptops and wore thick clothes. All Summer we sweltered. OH and the whole heating and air con system was run by a Windows NT PC. We left the building in 2012.
The first purpose built comprehensive school, Kidbrooke, was all plate glass and concrete. Must have looked wonderful in the architects impression drawings. It was also aligned East-West, i.e. one side was facing South. It got so hot on that side that the table tops were quite literally too hot to touch at times. And the rooms were horribly hot most times.
When I am at work, I work in a relatively small office, with a lot of computer equipment in it, a radiator we are not allowed to turn off. In fact, while the rad does has a valve, this is locked so it can't go below a certain setting. While a lot of the building is air conditioned, my office isn't. We have a large window we can open though.
That said, even with the window, the room being a cold isn't a problem we have to face.
Back in the very early 90's, I had to spend a couple of hours a day retrieving digitised documents for the typing pool (/sigh), off optical WORM discs.
The machine with the WORM drive was not networked, and it was located in a tiny, tiny, store room, the size of a budget airline toilet, accessible only via the a door at the back of the cleaners' store cupboard.
I felt like Get Smart walking in, deeper and deeper into the bowels of the building. It wasn't quite as glamorous though.
In my postgrad days I did a lot of electron microscopy. The EM suite was in the basement for stability (though a large truck going past would shake your sample at a decent mag). The corridor to get to it had a ceiling completely covered with a dense mass of pipes and wiring.
Did I mention that half way along the corridor the Anatomy dept kept the bodies for dissection in big tanks of formalin (where do you think Damian Hirst got the idea?). The light switch was at the far end of the corridor. Since I was a lowly student the only time I could book the machines was in the dead of the evening. So i would walk this corridor in the dark and the pipes would go CLASH! BANG! just as you got near the doors to the body tanks.
Believe me the atheist sceptic part of you lives in the cortex. The lizard fight or flight response is in the brainstem, FRIGHT wins every time before the cortex can come along and calm things down.
At least the scope room was warm, once you turned the scope on. Which wasn’t a help in the summer.
Re Damian Hirst - my dad was a Uni Zoology prof and as a result I took great joy in dissing Hirst as the plagiarist he is. Much to the annoyance of many pretentious art students who dont like finding out their hero was just vomiting up his biology O'level text book.
"The EM suite was in the basement for stability"
Ours was on the first floor. However it had its own separate floor slab on its own columns - sort of like a 6 legged table. I'm not sure that actually helped but as it was almost entirely devoted to looking for gun-shot residues with XRF I didn't have occasion to use it.
I technically don't actually have a desk at work. I work out of the lunch room. Not much of an issue right now as working from home but yea.
I guess if you consider the lunch room my office I do have the biggest office in the company though....
Just to add once I worked in an IT office that had windows. Actual light entering windows! They needed a place to put the call center staff so we were moved form the room in the middle of the floor to one on the side that had just been freed up by a departing manager. Sure 4 of us had to chare that room but was still roomy enough. We might not get the best deal but in that case we were at least one above the call center staff.
It was the 90s, not the 80s.
VCRs were quite cheaper than a decade before and you could get a decent TV that was not that expensive too. Just get an old color one and buy the "Channel amplifier"thingie so you could get more than 12 channels the TV had and you were done.
I once occupied an office in space repurposed from a gents loo, which circumstance many of my colleagues found endlessly amusing.
Tiles pipes and porcelain removed, bog standard magnolia paint applied to walls by estates' staff. However, the sporadic aim of previous incumbents lead to a certain smell as ungents prevously absorbed by the walls outgassed. Was advised to repaint using kitchen and bathroom paint with an exterior sealant as undercoat. We did so one weekend and all was good.
Reminds me when I was a student at Bath (back in the 1970's). There was a traffic island with ladies and gents toilets built under them - with steps down from the island. It was colloquially known as Bog Island. Went back to Bath for a visit about 20 years later and it had been turned into a night club - it was officially called the Island Club, though still known locally as Bog Island. It has since been closed down.
I once switched on a bench PSU to be greeted with the kind of loud 50Hz buzz that usually meant overload and imminent fireworks. Rapid switch off, tidy the cables, reconnect, same problem.
It was only when I lifted it down to open the lid and start investigating further that I found the heavy steel washer that had got knocked underneath. Just underneath where the PSU transformer was, in fact. When the PSU was switched on, the washer was leaping around like a mad thing under the transformer, vibrating off the case & the bench.
Reminds me of a couple of calls I've had.
Problem - Noisy fan.
Solution - Mouse cable rubbing on PSU fan (somehow a section had worked in through the exhaust slots at the back.
Problem - PC makes intermittant buzzing sound
Solution - Removed pager from desk drawer
On a tangent - I'm sure some years ago that I read that the space shuttle uses 386 or 486 CPU - no
Pentium with floating point bugs for NASA!
Work in schools:
"You must put networking in this room, it's critical, and there's nowhere else it could possibly go, so you must install it here and it must be done quickly and run half the school!".
"This room is a classroom and we can't have that switch fan humming in the cabinet that you had to put in".
"We want an amplified sound system in the sports hall, it has to be loud enough for open days and have several access points from which we can plug in sound, and you can only use this cabinet that's miles away for the amplifiers, etc. (quite literally 600+ metres of cabling to and from the speakers alone) and the cables mustn't be visible."
"You can't consult a theatre audio company that we use all the time, they always charge more than everyone else! And it needs to be cheap!"
"The sound buzzes/hums all the time when the room is quiet! We must have a volume control!"
"The volume control is NEVER in the right place when we need it and people are pulling out the wrong cables and adjusting the wrong volumes all the time and it never works when we need it. You have to lock the cabinet so people can't play with the volume!"
"You can't lock the cabinet, because now we can't control the volume!"
(Cue next project in another building where the exact same thing happened, and I had to rip-up brand ceilings and walls to get a PROPER audio company to put in a high-voltage audio line and equipment round the building at 3 times the cost it would have been if I'd just done that in the first place - but we did at least end up with perfectly quiet speakers that were capable of proper audio when you needed it!)
100V speakers are common, easy to install and the kit is relatively cheap. No idea why you needed a "proper" speaker company :-) I've installed many 100V systems and it's easily done with bog standard mains cord. The only thing you have to be careful to do is match the maximum power output of the amplifier with the total power "tappings" on the transformers of the speakers you are using (many speakers have several tappings).
The downside is that because of the transformers they're not exactly "HiFi", but to be perfectly honest in a typical school classroom / corridor / sports hall setting nobody is going to notice.
Other than that, and if you want to get properly high tech (and have a bit more money), there are plenty of digital distribution systems around. For example, Behringer (and its many brands) makes kit with something they call "Ultranet" - this is a single Cat.5e cable that can carry up to 16 audio channels one-way. There are speakers with Ultranet built-in and Ultranet "hubs", so you can use star or daisy-chain topology, or a mix of the two to your heart's content. Individual speakers can choose which of the 16 channels they reproduce and I believe that while 600m might be pushing it a bit, 400m distance is possible. This protocol has been around for well over 10 years and, as I said, is just one of many possibilities.
The speakers I use for events at work are connected using Ultranet. It is so much easier to run out the cables than it used to be when I had to run a separate chunky Speakon to each speaker. The downside is that the speakers also need mains, but it's a minor downside for my use :-)
The mixer is connected to the stage box with a "digital snake" too - 48 bidirectional audio channels. 16 of mine carry the Ultranet speaker feeds, so these days I run a single (tough) Cat.5e cable from the mixer to the stage box, rather than a two-inch thick analogue snake plus six main speaker cables and at least two foldback speaker cables.
Sorry, I digress.
For distance distribution of audio, stick with 100V kit.
Space has lots of radiation whizzing about. Core memory was a lot more resistant to radiation bit flips than silicon chips at the time so it was the sensible thing to use. I think the shuttle had 5 identical computers all doing the same thing just to make sure too!
The first company I worked for got the contract for one of the computer systems for the Shuttle. There were three systems, each produced by a different team, and the results from the three went into a voting system, the idea being that two teams won't make the same mistakes.
The other contract they got was for the external tank - the one bit where they had to buy a new one every launch. :-) $$$
One chap got a ridiculous bonus for a weight saving idea on the tank. Every ounce you shave off the tank is an ounce of payload to orbit. Most people were looking to drill holes in stanchions here and there. His idea:
Don't paint it.
You are throwing it away. Who cares what colour it is? What's more, you don't have to buy the paint o pay someone to apply it.
So the first two launches had a white tank. Every one after that had the yellowish insulation showing. The difference in weight? TWO TONS !
We had a boss that absolutely demanded to have the most powerful PC in the building. Very annoying when you set up a modeling and simulation rig, only to have it disappear into the management suite and you get his malware-infested hand-me-down.
So our IT guys would build out out M&S boxes inside ancient IBM-AT 5170 cases, modified as appropriate. Very occasionally they would upgrade the execs PCs by installing louder and more obnoxious fans to handle the 'increased power'
The placebo effect is strong.
Once had a member of staff who insisted that their machine was slower than everyone else, despite the fact that we literally buy all machines at the same time, to the same spec and then image with the exact same image on every machine.
It went on for months, complaining about how slow theirs was compared to everyone else's. We cleared their user profile, timed logins, benchmarked the machine under load, re-imaged, blew out the fans and the case, etc. but they wouldn't believe us.
So, just as they started screaming to senior management, I personally removed the PC and let them see me do it. I then made sure that, when the user came to find out what had happened, they saw their exact PC on the pile of work that was "to do". Then saw it again when it started to get dismantled and put into piles. Later on, they saw a "brand new" PC being built for them, imaged up, and then inserted back into their room.
Their response was overwhelming - praise for the IT department, wouldn't shut up about how much faster it was, told everyone about their new machine, even made a few people jealous and they wanted us to replace theirs too! I checked in every week for three months and same answer - how much faster and better it was. Still there two years later, still receiving the same praise.
I would hate for them to find out that we literally "dismantled" (i.e. removed the hard drive and opened the case so they could see the motherboard) the machine and waited for them to see it like that. Then reassembled the machine with the exact same components (shuffling them through piles so it looked like they were condemned and then a "new" (i.e. the original) hard drive was put in from another pile instead), cleaned the outside of the case with a wet wipe, then put it back into the room in the identical state to which it was taken. The metrics for EVERYTHING were identical to before - boot time, login time, etc.
It was a beautiful demonstration to my department of perception, placebo and how users CANNOT be relied upon to judge a machine's performance.
My staff smirk every time they deal with that user or that computer. Don't give me all that "correlation is not causation" stuff or that "fake news" from the benchmarks, it's quite obvious that wet wipes make your computer faster.
in the lab i worked we had a particularly annoying boffin, his knickname was Lord Snooty so that gives you some idea what he was like. Anyway he was moaning that the strip lights in his office weren't very good and the light was poor, kept on moaning and moaning until eventually the lab sparks came and removed the tubes, left the office with said tubes, returned 5mins latter with the SAME tubes, put them back in and got a "well that's much better" from Lord Snooty! no more moaning
Thats easy nowadays
Install something like MSI afterburner that lets you set up overclocking
Then modify the fan option from 'auto' to 'max speed at all times' , set that to default profile and hey presto, a nice noisy fast machine to impress the managler.
And a quieter time for the poor IT staff...
PS... and just to be annoying , set all the cpu clock/memory speeds to 50% .......
When the part number sticker of the HP cooling fan came off and got stuck, they made a high pitched sound and it happened where I work 3 times (I think most often in HP ProBook 6550b's).
First time found when replacing the fan and the sticker fell out, next 2 times I looked in the fan and it was the same.
Weird thing is one person couldn't be bothered to report it so drove everyone around them mad.
In the days when quiet pcs were just becoming a thing, we had one vip who (fairly justifiably) wanted something quieter than the (appropriately, here) very powerful and very loud box stuck under his desk. At quite some expense - including a lot of time to spec and build a quiet machine with the same capabilities - we came up with a very nice solution. It was impressively quiet, drowned out by transformer hum.
So our hand and knees kid went one evening to set it up at the client's office. Disconnected the old machine, and left it there in a corner.
Cue anguished call the next day that the noise problem is just as bad. Insisted we didn't 'send one of your useless kids again'. I was employed at the time, so was perfectly happy to take the day to go into c London.
I got to the client's office, and indeed there was an audible noise coming from under the desk. Oddly, it sounded identical to the old machine. First question I asked was "did you reconnect the old PC to get some files off it?" Second was "did you forget to turn it off afterwards?", though the client was already face-palming at that point.
Client laughed at himself a lot and then bought me lunch in return for me not telling anyone about it :)
Just noticed the 'hand and knees' typo. That was another guy I worked with.
For some reason HR decided they needed to know how many people in the company were left handed. Some hr intern - god, that's a horrifying thought; do people deliberately choose a career in hr? - had to call everyone and ask.
Obviously Mr 'a hand in the bird is worth two anytime' - no, really, it was the 90s, with adenoids - put the call on speakerphone. The line I remember is "so, I'll put you down as ambidextrous, ok?"
That's at least three minutes more than it was worth.
There are only two accents it might be said in - builder, or polyester shirt, adenoids, 40y/o virgin because of a contraceptive personality. I think these days he'd call himself an involcel, but just like then, washing more often would be a good start...
Customer of mine got an old computer from his work that was being replaced, a monster server in a full tower. Called me after he got it home and plugged it in, had to yell as it was so noisy. Turns out that as it was a proper server, it had a backup PSU which would scream an alarm if it wasn't plugged in...
As anyone who worked back in the 1980s can attest, the hard drives produced by Miniscribe were monsters. Like Godzilla or Mothra, they were big, heavy, and especially noisy.
In 1985 or so, I had a service call to a small law office. It was a legal factory, with one lawyer and seven or eight public notaries. They each had a PC and a primitive network (parallel port based, as I recall). The centrepiece of the office was the extremely large, extremely impressive, and extremely loud legal line printer. It was essentially a networked (by the standards of the day) typewriter that printed out 14" legal sized documents all day, every day. I sounded like a light submachine gun when it was running, which was most of the time.
As a result of that, it was enclosed in a sound box, which was essentially a plexiglass cage with lots of soundproof padding inside to muffle the noise. It didn't stop the noise, of course, but it brought the office down from about 60db to about 35db. Still not great, but better.
The way the "lan" worked was a point to point network. No one could print directly, but each notary could copy the file to the file server PC next to the printer, which had a job that just printed everything in a particularly directory every minute. It was a kludge, but it worked.
One day, the file server died. So they got another one. The new one had a Miniscribe hard drive. Running a miniscribe hard drive is like having a bag of metal ball bearings dropping on a skillet, 7/24. The noise was not only loud, it was excrutiating.
The next time I visited that office, the printer was in the middle of the room, completely exposed. The sound baffle was now over the file server, because the hard drive was louder than the printer.
Yeah, I believe it.
I had a friend who custom built systems for offices back then. When Miniscribe came out with their next generation of hard drives, they released a lot of promotional material to people like my friend beforehand, to try to get them to start buying Miniscribe again.
He showed me some of it. One of the blurbs stated that Miniscribe guaranteed that the sound level of their new drives was 30db or lower. I don't remember the actual number, it may have been lower than 30db, but it was still high. But the key point was that they were actually promising a maximum noise level from their drives. They were the only hard drive manufacturer to specify that, and they'd never done it before. That alone was enough to tell me that the noise had been hurting their sales, no matter what their salesmen were claiming at the time.
I once constructed a monster machine for a C level who wanted the best. We had no budget for such a beast. I entered our parts quagmire and began to build a Franken-beast from an empty Apple Mac Pro G5 case, the impressive metal ones. My surgery included the insertion of 4 120mm fans for droning sound plus a mini-itx board attached inside with zipties and some rubber cement to prevent vibration. It was a thing of beauty and sounded like a hovercraft. The C level person flipped it on and grinned ear to ear. I ended up having to make 5 more for the other C dwellers. I nearly cleared out our storange bins with a hodgepodge of bit and peces. I used locking screws so no one could see inside the concoctions that I inflicted upon them. They seemed to serve as noisy furnititure rather than perform any function. They were happy and our budget was increased to to provide more drony furniture. It was fun and purely psychological.
Working for a centrally employed teaching service we were on the receiving end of all sorts of crap that wasn't good enough for the bosses or higher profile teams.
So when we needed some decent computers we were sent an old thin client Unix network that had been removed from some other place, with no useful software, no mouse control or gui. (This was in Windows 9x era time, not the stone ages). It could never even be made to work, let alone useful.
And when we asked for decent reception area furniture ( where parents and visitors had to sit) we got sent the worn out crap from the director's office and he got new stuff.
I was a Walt, and one particularly noisy academic with an even noisier new machine insisted that I install it in our data centre, to where he would remote access it via his less noisy yet still expensive laptop. I declined this suggestion on the grounds that it was an insecure device (he refused to allow IT to manage it and wouldn't guarantee he'd even run Windows Update monthly), and we could not trust it alongside our servers regardless of internal and external firewalling and wait what "you want your students to remote to it from anywhere". To my surprise and gratitude, I received the support of my boss and the dean, and his demand was denied. Happy story. The End.
The loud academic went past the dean to some clearly senior contact at the University, who saw to it that the noisy desktop was housed per his wishes in the central data centre along with storage, email, printing &c. Where, a few months later, thanks to its accessibility and unpatchedness it was duly hit with whatever remote exploit was popular at the time and set about DOSing the data centre via its dual Gbit NICs.
This would have been the biggest I Told You So of my career had the loud academic had his way originally. That being the case, the fallout of the half day campus wide IT outage was sufficent to produce a "just as well we didn't put it in our own server room" from the dean the next time he saw me.
The AC froze my feet in my office at Sun (previously a Taligent building which was previously an Apple building which is now back to being an Apple building).
I used to sneak in my hound late at night and she used to wrap herself around my feet.
Things were fine till she decided to mark my manager’s office.
In the early 1970s I worked in what had been a former warehouse, complete will a railroad height loading dock on one side. While I was there, our offices and the machine room got moved from the basement to the top (second) floor--an area that was completely remodeled for use. Our desks were over the old railroad loading platform. The whole area had single A/C system.
Energy not being an issue in those days, the A/C put out air at a constant temperature, somewhere around 35'F and there were hot water heat exchangers at each vent.
During the winter (this was in San Francicso, where winter isn't all *that* cold), the hot water system failed. We were told the A/C couldn't be turned off because the mainframe (IBM S/360-40) had to have it on, but we were welcome to wear anything we wanted to keep warm...sweaters, gloves, etc. If only we'd been able to open the windows, we could have warmed up the office area....
I remember when Sun refurbished a floor in the Munich offices circa 2001. They made it Open Office (pun deeply intended) with an A/C system for the whole open floor. The input and sensor was in the ceiling in one corner. They then built an exec’s office right there, enclosing the sensor. The result was the whole A/C system was broken.
I also remember in 1983 working at Square-D in Swindon. We had to start work at 7:30am! We clocked in and then took a coffee into the “soak test” room where all the PLCs (with Ladder Logic and Stack-Core memory) were left for a week after we had repaired them for a snooze.
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