back to article Solving a big, yellow IT problem: If it's not wearing hi-vis, I don't trust it

Welcome to On Call, the The Register's Friday celebration of those called out for the most spurious and silly of reasons. Our tale today comes from "Ivor" and concerns the time a whizzy new minicomputer was being installed in the dealerships of a company known for heavy duty machinery that was big, yellow and driven by hard- …

  1. cosymart
    Go

    Data Entry

    We were involved with a similar role out and hit the problem of preparing the system with existing data. Decided to call upon the services of the, soon to be made redundant, typing pool and they were brilliant! Once they got going and realised that each data sheet was identical and they had to tab through each field including null values the stuff was going in at fast rate. One problem, they were entering the data that fast and being touch typist they very rarely needed to look at the screen the screen refresh rate was struggling to keep up and the buffer could only cope with so much. We had to ask them to pause every 5min to allow the buffer to clear and the screens update :-)

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Data Entry

      Certainly there is a story that occasionally does the rounds (can't verify it) that the QWEWRTY keyboard was designed to both improve efficiency in typing, but also limit speed as touch typists were more than capable of snarling up an old typewriter once they had practised for a while and were up to speed.

      1. Joe W Silver badge

        Re: Data Entry

        I understoot it is so keys (well, the actual hammering thingys, too lazy to look up the name) don't interfer with another, jamming up the typewriter. You change back and forth between different "columns" (ok, you change sideway, not back and forth) and indeed sides of the typewriter keyboard so that keys adjacent to each other seldom get the chance to stick together.

      2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Data Entry

        The story I heard is that because the typeface hammers were connected to the keyboard mechanically via stiff wires, the layout of the hammers had to be the same as the keyboard layout. If two hammers close together were operated in quick succession, they would jam against each other. So the keys were arranged so that letters that would often be typed in quick succession were not placed in close proximity.

        Not sure that that is a good explanation though, because the qwerty keyboard has many letters in close proximity that are used as letter pairs in may common words. "E" and "D", "T" and "H" as just two examples.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Data Entry

          "E" and "D" may be close to each other, but since you use the same finger for both, there is time for a mechanical arm to swimg clear. "T" and "H" are close to each other and they use different fingers, but I'm pretty sure the arms come from opposite sides of an old style mechanical typewriter.

          Letter combos like "D-F" are the problem.

      3. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: Data Entry

        While the (above twice mentioned) prevention of hammer collision is the official line, the real reason for the QWERTY-layout is that it allows quick and easy typing of "typewriter" as the letters are all on a single line. It was a bit of a salesman gimmick back when typewriters were just another newfangled invention. And once the standard was established, there was no changing whatsoever.

        1. CountCadaver

          Re: Data Entry

          On that topic....how many here use a keyboard layout other than QWERTY?

          Does anyone use Dvorak still?

          1. lglethal Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: Data Entry

            I use QWERTZ does that count?

            (german keyboard for anoyne wondering... When in Rome Berlin...)

          2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Data Entry

            Does having to use a Belgian AZERTY keyboard layout because of a temporary job count? Replacement with a US-International QWERTY was a huge improvement.

            1. Antonius_Prime

              Re: Data Entry

              Counts as a warcrime, maybe...

              (I have to remotely deal with Belgians and AZERTY - while on a QWERTY keyboard as the Gods of Computing intended...)

      4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Data Entry

        I've never come across a typewriter that didn't get into a tangle when I was typing. I suspect the thing about touch typists is that they work at a constant pace whilst the amateur will stutter and end up with two or three type bars in flight at the same time

      5. redpawn Silver badge

        Re: Data Entry

        You also get best results with a manual typewriter if you type with a metronome like cadence. When I use my 1928 Remington portable, I can't type "the" as I do with a computer. It is very easy to strike the t and the h so quickly that the type hammers don't clear each other. In fact when I learned to type in in school it was at times accompanied by music with metronome like clicks. The IBM Selectrics for my second year did not require nice cadence and could go much faster than my fingers.

        1. Solo Owl

          Re: Data Entry

          I had the same problem when I was taught touch typing in 1954. T and H are typed with the strongest finger on different hands, and the hammers stuck together. If an engineer designed that to prevent collisions, he FAILED.

          The real reason is that the typewriter was invented to help telegraph operators write down incoming messages as they received them. The inventor, quite logically, arranged the letters alphabetically. He called in two of his telegrapher friends to test the contraption. Their strong suggestion: Letters whose Morse code began the same should be next to each other, to reduce hand movement. (Note that Morse code has changed, but the keyboard layout is the same as it was 150 years ago.)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Data Entry

      Dear mother is ex-typing pool and could type at 110WPM. She moved into the libraries IT for book data entry in the 80s and could type so fast that the terminal crashed. I remember her saying that the first computer that could keep up with her was the 8086 that my Dad was given to work from home on.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Data Entry

        User complaint - "My computer is slow"

        How fast are you typing?

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Data Entry

          5 characters per word *plus space* = 6 bytes per word. So 100bps

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Data Entry

        I can type at 80 WPM myself, and occasionally, on a *modern* computer that's running slowly, I have to wait for it to catch up. But 110 WPM? Wow.

        1. Evil Auditor

          Re: Data Entry

          I'm hardly that fast. But still too fast for the regular laptop keyboard which keeps screaming beeping through the headset when its buffer can't keep up.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Windows

            Re: Data Entry

            All modern computers can more than stay ahead of any typist. The shitty software on the other hand...

        2. Solo Owl

          Re: Data Entry

          Back in the day, I was connected to 360s, 370s, and DEC20s at 300 baud. I could get half a line ahead of the letters echoing on the screen, and I had to pause.

  2. Little Mouse Silver badge

    "bad-mouthing the system"

    Hardly surprising though that not everyone was happy with the new technology. It must have been a nervous time for some people. Computers & robots were replacing a lot of workers on the factory floor / typing pool, etc.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "bad-mouthing the system"

        Surely: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEQriHQpJFQ

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "bad-mouthing the system"

        For me this is still the best TV ad ever.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: "bad-mouthing the system"

      Seems many execs were unhappy about the typing pool disappearing. At one place i worked just about every exec had a sweet young thing "on the side". They solved this by moving them to "secretary" positions where previously none existed.

  3. chivo243 Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Live that everyday

    When is it going to blow up again... The system isn't robust...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Live that everyday

      Yeah... We've got that issue. Just waiting on the server to be replaced. It's only a Compaq unit... With 10s of millions of customer records in it. No biggie that the hardware is 10+ years out of warranty and risking caching batteries leaking at any moment.

      No rush bean counters....

      Oh disaster recovery? Yeah I asked about that too. Got stopped when the warranty ran out as it cost money to test...

      Nervous much?

      1. lglethal Silver badge
        Go

        Re: Live that everyday

        Make sure you have all your recommendations for replacement and distater recovery on paper (hard copy so it doesnt go down with the ship). Then when the inevitable happens you can show a long paper trail of requests for replacement and offsite backup, that were stymied and blocked by beancounters and management.

        When the Axe falls, make sure there's someone else under the blade...

        1. Admiral Grace Hopper

          Re: Live that everyday

          When I was but a baby programmer, a grey and grizzled developer imparted their career advice in terms of sure certainty: "You'll see a paperless toilet before you see and paperless office, and always keep a CYA file". This wisdom has followed me down the decades.

          1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Live that everyday

            Archive ALL emails.

            Offsite.

            1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
              Joke

              Re: Live that everyday

              Upvote from me - I'll have access to the emails in about 30 minutes.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Live that everyday

            You'll see a paperless toilet before you see and paperless office

            What, you mean you don't use the three seashells? How retro...

            1. nichomach
              Thumb Up

              Re: Live that everyday

              Dammit, I wanted to get that one in! "nichomach, you have been fined one credit for violation of the Verbal Morality Statute"

              Why you... ******* **** ***** ***************

              "nichomach, you have bee fined...."

          3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Live that everyday

            Best to ensure the paperless toilet and CYA file don't get too near each other.

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Live that everyday

            many years ago they decided to ditch paper timesheets and we were issued with cut-down Psion Organisers (2x16 char displays, knobbled with a custom ROMpack).

            It wasn't too much problem for me once I discovered I could book my lunchbreak first or last then 8hr of answering phones, but the field guys were having to book each and every job along with booking and status codes. this meant that with a 2-line display they could never get the totals right and ended up wasting paper printing everything, often multiple times, so they could spot the errors.

            Then the boss had to import all the data to consolidate it and print it again, then he had to correct the printout in pen!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Live that everyday

          I was glad of that once when I had a load of recommendations and project plans from the previous 2 years to put 2fa/mfa in place for our email and the CEO fell for a phishing scam. Everyone asked 'why didn't we put some better security in place' and were rewarded with me pointing at the board level IT director as he was the one who refused the spend.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Live that everyday

            I'm currently in that battle now.

            Pointed out dangers and potential fines in case of a breach and got "we'll see if we can find time to talk about it next week".

            I know exactly how shitty some people's passwords are so it's way overdue.

            It goes hand-in-hand with being an IT Manager who isn't actually allocated a budget so everything has to go across the MD's desk which mean it rarely gets done.

            Anon obvs

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Live that everyday

              same here, "IT Manager" for a small defence manufacturer, it really is a bit of a shit show, so many things need sorting I'm fed up of mentioning it

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Live that everyday

                Are you involved with the F-35?

        3. Little Mouse Silver badge

          Re: Live that everyday

          Yep -Thats exactly what the Risk Register is for. "The Business" can then choose to deal with the risks that have been flagged however it likes.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Live that everyday

            Which, in my sad experience, means ignoring it and hoping they won't get compromised. When they do, lie their arses off to limit the damage to reputation. As a bonus, try and shift the blame elsewhere (and yes, I am a great believer of the CYA method of filing - its saved me on a number of occasions)!

      2. TonyJ Silver badge

        Re: Live that everyday

        Reminds me of a time well over a decade ago now. I was resposible for the co-design and migration from Exchange 5.5 and x.400 on NT4 to Exchange 2003 and SMTP.

        There was one single Compaq server in a rack that no one dared to turn off for a cold P2V because of the very high probability it wouldn't come back up. Apparently it was prone to this. It also happened to be the NT4 PDC (with Exchange on it!).

        I was working for Microsoft at the time and this was in Belgium at a rather huge site just outside of Mons so the user base was enormous.

        It took me lots of persuasion to allow me to use non-Microsoft tooling but even then, eventually, we had no choice but to cold clone it because with all the best will in the world we could not get it to hot convert.

        To mitigate as much as we could we did manage to buy a small number of second hand spares from eBay but it was still a nervous operation.

        It was a long time ago so I may have some bits slightly out but you get the jist. :)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Live that everyday

          That still goes on today. That businesses let it come to the point that EBay is the place they need to go to keep their mission critical systems running is just insane (and I am not talking about small businesses here - I am talking multi-million pound businesses).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Live that everyday

            Don't the US nuke missile systems still use 8" floppies?

            1. PerlyKing Silver badge
              Black Helicopters

              Re: Don't the US nuke missile systems still use 8" floppies?

              If they do, someone somewhere has a contract to be able to make them on demand. At $10,000 a pop, natch.

            2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

              Re: Live that everyday

              Good if they do. Not even the Russians can get hold of 8" drives these days ...

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Live that everyday

                I know 2nd user brokers who can sell me 8" drives and disks, they never throw anything away. It would ahve been pennies 5 years ago but I suspect the price has hone up recently

          2. legless82

            Re: Live that everyday

            About 10 years ago I was involved with what was then the largest private sector IT project in Europe, and involved a 'clone and go' approach to a business unit being sold off from a large multinational to another multinational - both large household names.

            There was a team of us frantically scouring eBay and bankruptcy auctions for months trying to get all of the kit together to build an infrastructure identical to what already existed in the parent company. Some of it was running business-critical accounting and manufacturing scheduling systems, and was running on kit that had been out of production for over 15 years in some cases.

            I remember rejoicing on one day when I found a bulk-lot of various capacity 30 pin SIMMs for sale. They were rare even then.

            1. Robert Sneddon

              Re: Live that everyday

              There's someone on Youtube that shows you how to make your own old-school DIMMs with PCB layouts and the like.

            2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

              Re: Live that everyday

              Old HP lazerjet printers still use single SIMM ram. Might be worth a nosy if you're desperate still.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Live that everyday

            And they all make extensive use of "free" software like OpenSSL, much of which software is maintained by two guys & a dog working in their shed.

            1. Daedalus Silver badge

              Re: Live that everyday

              Yes, and remember what happened when that javascript library guy decided to fork off and take his stuff with him? There was a global panic until somebody made a copy available.

              https://www.theregister.com/2016/03/23/npm_left_pad_chaos/

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Live that everyday

              "much of which software is maintained by two guys & a dog working in their shed."

              Meaningless point when you can maintain it yourself. Or pay peanuts to these two guys to do it for you.

              Closed source software EOLled is not only dead, it's totally unmaintainable.

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Live that everyday

            About 15 years ago, in a pharma manufacturing plant, we had some interfaces that were obsolete. Purchased the very last 3 from the factory. There would never, ever again be another one made. We made sure to notify management that they REALLY needed to upgrade to something current, otherwise we'd be sourcing our next set of replacements from Ebay.

            Six months later, the boss is searching Ebay for some replacements...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Live that everyday

              a ex-colleague of mine told me a story of working in a Hospital in the NHS who's haematology system was running on something as olldddddddd as the hills that couldn't be upgraded or restarted, etc the usual story. The impact of this thing failing would have been massive, no blood tests could be done etc. Bonkers

        2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Live that everyday

          his was in Belgium at a rather huge site just outside of Mons

          I hope you didn't sign an NDA (or that it expired) about identifying where you worked as you just did. And no, I am not going to name it for those who don't yet know.

          1. TonyJ Silver badge

            Re: Live that everyday

            No, no NDA for that and given that you could (presume still can) get a free bus outside the airport stating in big letters where it is going to, I suspect that they don't much care if people know the where. You had to show your ID to prove you worked there.

            Another one would be the companies/people with offers of cheap accommodation for anyone working there on providing proof...given these were adverts on the site, in their accommodation assistance unit, again, see point 1.

      3. JimboSmith Silver badge

        Re: Live that everyday

        An excolleague of mne was a rather charming American. He'd worked last century for a company that sold parts for an industry. Ican't remember what it was suffice to say not computers or electronics. Anyway he was in a support role and had to travel to field offices when there was a problem they couldn't fix over the phone.

        He had a request to go to a small office in the Midwest to look at their computer (singular). it had stopped working but according to his boss it was urgent as as they did most of their sales over the weekend. So armed with a tolkit and spares he'd jetted off to Yokelsville that Friday. When he arrived at the office the manager looked embarrased and said that they'd fixed it. Well it was certainly true that there was a functioning Win95 box and CRT monitor. The screensaver was going so everything seemed perfect which was unlikely. He asked the manager what the problem had been the previous day.

        Well they'd turned it on on Monday morning and it had said "no fixed disk present". He asked how they'd fixed he said one fo the two sales staff had seen this before. You had to replace the metal box inside the computer to fix it. Not to worry says the manager that same sales bloke had one of those at home. He'd fixed it by swapping the metal boxes and everything now worked again.

        Indeed when he opened the machine up there was a brand of hard drive he'd never seen before.The bloke had just put the old hard drive they'd had in an old computer at home. Delving deeper into this he discovered that the computer had taken a serious knock on the Wednesday as they were closing. It had failed to fire up the next day and the support call had been placed as a result. The old 'metal box' had been thrown out and the manager couldn't understand what the problem was now that the computer was working okay again.

        The original hard drive was found in the bin and looked okay so was reinserted. The computer fired up as normal and the sales reporting prog was there as expected. The cable had somehow come loose when the 'knock had happened henc no hard drive found. The manager then announced that it didn't matter until monday anyway. That was when his niece came in to process the previous week of sales. it wasn't that they were selling masses over the weekend as head office thought. They were only getting reported when entered onto the system on a Monday. Manager's niece would print all the invoices /sales forms up correctly/place asny orders and send them out. She'd also use the prog to update head office via modem and that dealt with restocking.

        It was all done on triple ply paper pads during the rest of the week because they didn't understand how to use the sales prog. They did use the computer though to play Solitaire etc. in quiet periods.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Live that everyday

        Been there a few times. and FEP out of maintenance had 8 fans, then 7 then 6, you know where this is going, it started throwing faults 2 days before we were replacing it when it was down to 2 fams. We kept it limping along using tower fans from the office on their sides and taking the front and back panels off.

        We had an old ICL DRS system which was being decommissioned, the cashier just had to do closing balances and run a couple of reports to get the data out when she spilt orange juice on her keyboard washing and drying the keyboard didn't work, and as it was a non standard device we were in a hole, I ended up having to send a couple of guys down into the basement to look through the scarp waiting to go to the recyclers of days later. it had 6 months worth of obsolete pre-pc equipment in it amazingly they found the right keyboard after a couple of hours. It's not often that the dice roll that way

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Live that everyday

          Fans are an interesting one. Most small fans are standard sizes and ratings, but occasionally you find one that isn't. I have a large fleet of projectors at work, mid-range Panasonic DLP units - bigger than the sorts of things you find in boardrooms.

          One "chassis" used in two models that we have (D5700 and D4000 projectors) has a very vulnerable "FAN1", which is a fan to cool the DLP unit. We've replaced many of these projectors by now, but I still have eight D4000 and two D5700 units in daily use, with run times in some cases well over 30,000 hours (I consider 20,000 hours a reasonable lifespan for our sort of use).

          You can't get spares for these projectors now, so if the DLP module goes (usually stuck or dead pixels) or the colour wheel goes (I've had one or two just "shatter") there's nothing you can do but it's nearly always FAN1 which fails first, a fan which probably cost Panasonic about 50p to buy-in and some of the projectors still in use have had fans transplanted into them from other, retired units.

          By 30,000 hours of course, other things are beginning to be a problem. You can't get original lamps for the D5700s any more, so we're now relying on remanufactured ones. The colour wheels do begin to fade so contrast begins to suffer, and again in the case of the D5700s which are more powerful than the D4000s and run hotter, the foam seals have almost completely turned to dust. The projectors are sort of mission-critical to the place, but still there is no timetabled replacement cycle and we tend to get new ones, only when the old ones have failed or are so past-it that people other than I begin to notice.

          It didn't get off to a good start as the original fit of "Christie" brand (badge-manufactured Sanyo units) projectors (before my time) was promised with a 28,000 lifespan, and should therefore have lasted pretty much to the planned refit seven years after opening. There was therefore no need for a replacement cycle. Anybody who knew anything about projectors though would have told you that 8,000 hours would be good going for that kind of unit and indeed when I arrived and delved further, the critical LCD module turned out to have an expected lifespan of just 4,500 hours and a replacement cost about half the original cost of the projector or about the same as a brand new Panasonic which had better specifications and lower running costs.

          Then again the refit never happened and a lot of stuff is getting creaky. For example, three or four of the public-facing computers are still original-fit Pentium devices with a pair of Maxtor 10k SCSI drives for data and a Maxtor 7k2 SATA drive for boot. They are now over 15 years old and have mostly only needed minor maintenance and perhaps a new power supply.

          I have a colleague who is beginning to wonder if our ability to "keep things going just a little longer" has worked against us in the long run...

          M.

  4. hugo tyson
    Mushroom

    Brownouts (fnarr fnarr)

    I used to work somewhere that had one of the first HP/PA HPUX systems (I think, mid 1990s) outside the USA. They were very pleased with their automatic voltage sensing auto-switching PSU that just worked with 110V or 240V or whatever, supposedly. We were in Barrington Hall, in a village. At least the place had 3-phase supply.

    We had brownouts.... we also had power cuts and the supply was delicate enough that procedure was to turn off everything we could when it went dark; sysadmins would then come round and turn it on one by one so that the startup load of all the discs didn't happen all at once and trip it out again.

    But in some shapes of brownout, the HP/PA machine's clever PSU auto-switched to 110V. Great. But it was very slow at switching back to 240V when the mains came back up, and failed with smoke. Every time the project was delayed a week whilst they shipped another PSU; after some months they sent a better PSU without the stupid in it, and all was well.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Brownouts (fnarr fnarr)

      ahhhhh the days of the old manual voltage switch on computers PSU's User "what does this switch do?" click, BANG, blue smoke, User "oh"

      1. DJV Silver badge

        Re: Brownouts (fnarr fnarr)

        Yeah, a friend of mine did that whilst reaching around the back for a "reset switch that didn't exist" - that was only one of three computers she managed to kill (using different methods) within 12 months.

    2. tcmonkey

      Re: Brownouts (fnarr fnarr)

      One of Sharp's very first LCD projectors (the XV100) had a power supply that suffered from the same design flaw. Here in Australia it became a service item to remove the 110v components from the PSU to stop them from being blown up every time the mains dipped, which happened very frequently in the early 90s.

  5. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    Was it Diggerland?

    I want it to be Diggerland

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: Was it Diggerland?

      I took the kids to Diggerland before they closed for the winter (early birthday for the youngest).

      Despite having 'land' in the name it was surprisingly good fun for all.

      1. William Towle
        Thumb Up

        Re: Was it Diggerland?

        +1.

        I learned of the West Yorkshire Diggerland through our options for a work outing day (which I picked as was covered by the same ticket as got me to the station en route to work in the opposite direction - a journey work still expected me to take nevertheless, but that's another story).

        "If it's little more than a fun fair that just happens to have 'JCB' written on the rides it's okay for an afternoon", I reasoned. Turned out it was more :)

        Able to make my own way back home without the communal minibus, I ended up happily staying longer than everyone else.

        1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

          Re: Was it Diggerland?

          It was indeed the Casvegas one (I used to pass it whilst walking to and from work on times long since gone).

          I still want to go again but only if can have a go on the tank next time (I'm sure the youngest would be happy to ride shotgun).

    2. alexlawriewood

      Re: Was it Diggerland?

      +1 for Diggerland. Went to the Devon one a year or two, girlfriend enjoyed it almost as much.

    3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Was it Diggerland?

      I'd never heard of Diggerland. Thank you! I'm off to tell my wife where we're going next time we're allowed outings again...

      1. Hairy Wolf
        Happy

        Re: Was it Diggerland?

        Some years ago a local firm brought along a small digger to our kids primary school fate. I got to the front of the queue and the bloke looked at me, no small kid. I said they we off having fun, I wanted a go. He shook my hand a congratulated me for being the first person not embarased to ask, or pretend the kid wanted a go.

        1. Korev Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Was it Diggerland?

          "primary school fate"

          What did the school die of?

      2. Mike 16 Silver badge

        Re: Was it Diggerland?

        "Allowed Outings"?

        Just say you were testing your eyesight. I hear that works.

    4. TimMaher Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Was it Diggerland?

      Is that in Australia?

    5. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Was it Diggerland?

      Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham used to have three "tethered" mini JCBs in their basement "Earth" pavilion when I worked there. No idea if they still do as the place was flooded a few years ago so probably had to be refitted.

      I believe they were the first (opened in 2001) place in the country to let members of the public drive "real" diggers and the company that did the digital controls for them - supposedly very safe with defined operating envelopes and reduced speeds - was constantly up mending bits and pieces, usually when one of us had yelled down the phone that we'd just had to spend the afternoon re-welding the setwork because their machine had just slewed a bit too far clockwise and smashed everything to bits again.

      Apparently their controls had never had such a hammering; they couldn't understand how small children could break a JCB that worked fine day-in-day-out in the building industry.

      One of the other issues was that the "rocks" they were moving about were made of foam and gradually disintegrated over time. Some of the foam "sand" thus liberated would get into the rotary encoders and suchlike which allowed the computer to keep track of the positions of the arm. No idea how - those things were supposed to be completely environmentally sealed.

      M.

  6. benjya

    Big motors

    I once investigated an issue with Internet dropping at a custom-mix concrete place. The server was fine but periodically their Internet link would drop. Eventually we linked it to every time the 70 kW motor which mixed the concrete started up... moving the router over to the UPS (along with the server) solved that one.

    1. Empty1

      Re: Big motors

      Mid 70's and desk sized accounting machine. Likewise weekly powering off and on (core memory so just carried on from where it left off). Tracked down to the use of a Mother Of All Lathes. The chuck was horizontal in the floor and about 20ft across. A 1970's motorised variac on the computer supply sorted it .

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Big motors

        What the hell were they turning on that? Whole trees?

        1. Sudosu

          Re: Big motors

          Making toothpicks...

    2. ICPurvis47
      Boffin

      Re: Big motors

      When I was an apprentice, I spent some time in Quality Control Department of an automotive electrical manufacturer. One day, when we were doing routine tests of car speedometer head units, every single one was out of calibration. This was a "Line Stop" situation, and I was despatched, armed with a trolley of test gear, to find out why the line testing equipment was wrong. The Line Foreman was very indignant, and said that there couldn't be anything wrong with their setup, it had been calibrated against the electrical mains supply just that morning. I connected up all my equipment, and the mains frequency was spot on, but their testing machine didn't synchronise with it. I asked what time they had last checked it, and it coincided exactly with the spark plug machine being started. This machine was only run for about an hour every day, because the rest of the spark plug line couldn't keep up with it. I asked them to start the machine again, just for a few seconds, and the mains frequency went down to 49.8 Hz while the enormous motor was spinning up, returning to 50 Hz once it was up to speed. Turned the machine off and recalibrated the speedometer tester, no more out-of-calibration speedos that day. Made sure that the same thing could not happen again by scheduling recalibration for the end of the shift, ready for the following morning's work shift.

      Had a similar problem with the fuel gauge line, 33% scrap rate on one particular subassembly, but as the output from all three machines went into a single hopper, couldn't trace the source that way. Then, one of the operators was off sick for a day, and only <1% scrap rate that day, so she was reassigned to another part of the production line, and the problem mysteriously disappeared.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Big motors

        I get the solution - clearly that one operator was messing up EVERY SINGLE PIECE produced on that line, but was there any attempt to figure out exactly what she was doing wrong? That way the other operators could be warned "don't do [x]".

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Big motors

          Also check one or two from each machine before they went into the hopper.

        2. ICPurvis47
          Boffin

          Re: Big motors

          Yes, she was applying too much tension to the coated resistance wire as it was being wound around the bimetal strip, and the coating was being cut by the cornersof the strip. If it was only cut in one place, it would pass, but a cut in two places shorted the resistance and rendered the device inoperable. I daresay we could have intercepted individual machines' outputs, but in a busy factory we would not have been allowed to remove the safety covers without stopping the line, which would also have prevented the machines from working.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Our startup problem was with a transonic wind tunnel (with 20MW motor) located about 500m from the computer room. These were Apollo computers using that company's token-ring network which was wired from machine to machine - including one quite close to the wind tunnel. It was probably a difference in earth potential when the motor was winding up to full speed.

    A bit tricky to diagnose because the failures were always at the dead of night - electricity being the bulk of the wind tunnel boys' running costs.

    The wind tunnel team had their own IT guy whose career had an inauspicious start. At some former employer he managed installation of their first computer - a couple of racks full of Prime? kit. He instructed the janitor to be very careful cleaning the racks, and just use soapy water. Janitor interpreted this to mean emptying a buck of soapy water over the rack... you can imagine the consequences.

  8. UCAP Silver badge

    Had a similar problem once

    Working at a company that made flight simulators when I was an undergrad on a year's placement. I was helping them develop some data entry and processing systems running on a Commodore PET 800 series (it was that long ago). Anyway we would normally leave the machine to run overnight because the volume of data it needed to process was too large to work through during a single 9-5 day. The problem we had is we would come into the office in the morning and find the PET locked-up and frozen, requiring a power-cycle to get it working again.

    Took us the best part of a month before we realised that the neighbouring company was a medium/heavy engineering company, and were operating a drop hammer in the night - the power spikes that was putting on the mains was then screwing our systems up.

    A UPS put on the mains used by the PET solved that problem.

  9. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    A certain Machine Tool Company. 1981. New Computer Equipment. New Factory Control Idiom: "Material Requirements Planning". New manufacturing software suite.

    We spent ages loading data into the beast.

    We ran the system over a weekend and made 15 boxes of fanfold stationery.

    The reports said we were only making 67 machine tools that year. Nobody knew that. It looked like a lot more from the bits lying around the shop floor and the clipboards full of notes the progress chasers waved around.

    "There must be some mistake!" declare management, and we do indeed discover data entry problems. Another weekend run was scheduled.

    We make 15 more boxes of fanfold stationery.

    Analyst in charge announces that we did indeed have the wrong number of builds in the last run.

    Count is now 63 machine tools to be built next year.

    Hugh and Cry wander around having a say.

    It is pointed out that with 63 machine tools in the pipleline we do not need a 2 million quid computer to run the shop. One old bloke with a flat cap and a clipboard can do the job.

    And thus a new career as a consultant was unveiled to me.

  10. Marty McFly Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Bad mouthing...

    Yup, did that done that - retrofit old systems for new. Almost always the bad mouthing came from the people who had learned to game the old system to their financial advantage. I represented a pay-cut for them. Inevitably a few months later they would change jobs. I would hear from the owner that gross sales were up, but the cost of goods were unchanged. Yup, figured as much.

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