back to article We don't know why it's there, we don't know what it does – all we know is that the button makes everything OK again

An On Call reminder this week that all must worship the mystery beige box with the single baleful LED eye, no matter what one thinks it is used for. Our tale comes from a reader Regomised as "Mike", an on-site engineer. Mike spent the late 20th century on the road, coming to the rescue of customers up and down Britain. His …

  1. ColinPa Silver badge

    The light..

    I remember one strange box that had a light. If the light was on - it meant there was power, and it was turned OFF. Turn the box on and the light went off. The logic was as follow

    If the box was working then you ignore the light

    Else If the light was off - there is no power, turn on the power

    Else the box was turned off, turn it on.

    Obvious once you think about it - one light - 3 states!

    1. tip pc Silver badge

      Re: The light..

      i've worked with people that think like that.

      That's why internet upstarts where so successful, doing things that people like that hail as impossible or not needed etc but normal people think is actually useful.

      put 2 LED's in the box, 1 for power, 1 for function.

      you don't then need a PHD in awkward to understand whats going on.

      1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        Re: The light..

        There are three kinds of people. (1) Those who can understand a two-light system what the two different lights each mean, and are also able to understand a one-light system where on means off. (2) Those who cannot understand either system. (3) Those who wire up the one-light system backwards and then with a straight face claim it's a feature.

        1. Phil W

          Re: The light..

          There are four lights!

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: The light..

            Our two indicator lamps are for fear and surprise ... and ruthless efficiency ... our three indicator lamps are for ...

        2. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: The light..

          I don't know if Apple did 1 or 3 at one point, but it featured in the Simpsons.

        3. kernelpickle

          Re: The light..

          Those three types of people are as follows:

          1. - Experienced IT guys

          2. - Typical Users

          3. - Engineers (especially the ones tasked with making cost cutting revisions)

          I'm sure that will ruffle the feathers of a couple engineers out there, because only management would ever approve of something like that as a viable option--but those engineers know exactly what they've done. Even if they're ultimately absolved of any responsibility, because the final design was approved by senior management, it still doesn't help them sleep an easier at night. Just remember that the whole "I was just following orders" argument only worked for 25 out of 177 defendants during the Nuremberg trials. Not that shoddy designs are on par with any of the war crimes that the Nazi committed, but when you encounter something like that in the wild, and it's making your life far more difficult than it needs to be--you sure wish that the folks responsible would receive similar punishments.

      2. Jakester

        Re: The light..

        Several years ago I purchased a new laptop which had a totally worthless power indicator. As I recall, when the power supply was plugged in and the battery was charging, the power light would glow (white LED). When the battery was fully charged, the LED would turn-off. If the power supply was disconnected or if power to the power supply was turned-off, the LED would stay dark until the battery was almost completely discharged, then the LED would once again light-up (it was a white-only LED). There was no way to tell if the laptop was charging or discharging at that point. After talking to the manufacturer tech support, they assured me that was how it was supposed to work. I took that piece of garbage back for a full refund.

        1. elaar

          Re: The light..

          That's pretty similar to my current HP laptop!

    2. Steve Button Silver badge

      Re: The light..

      So, a warning light then?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The light..

      Configuring a particular sensor was memorable enough for me to still recall it over 15 years later. It had (as is common on these sorts of things) a multilevel menu system to allow access to all the settings, viewable via a one-line display. Normal so far. The odd thing was, it only had ONE button. If memory serves, you pressed it to access the menu system, waited for it to show the particular item you wanted, then quickly pressed it again. Hold-for-3-seconds had some other function.

      "Normal" manufacturers put in 4 buttons - menu, up, down, enter.

      1. Zarno
        Flame

        Re: The light..

        I have dealt with those...

        You had the luxury of a display though, I remember one bit of doohicky that had a single button+LED and that was that.

        So infuriating that I purged memory of exactly what it was, but it may have been an ESC or something related to automotive remote starters.

        Icon because that's what those interfaces should be killed with.

        1. tip pc Silver badge

          Re: The light..

          Sounds like my original go pro.

          Every video from everyone started with the user looking at the camera awaiting the red flash to see if it was recording or not.

          Really annoying

      2. Mage Silver badge

        Re: The light..

        Then they designed the Apple Magic Mouse. The unergonomic puck. I used to GIVE regular mice to Apple users.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The light..

        The most maddening thing I ever dealt with was a Motorola CSU/DSU that had 3 buttons: Yes, No, and Home.

        Those 3 buttons were for not only going through the list of configuration options, but also for changing their values.

        1. pirxhh

          Re: The light..

          In the eighties, I was an intern at an aircraft manufacturer. We had a lovely CAD system that used a lightpen and a separate function keyboard. One of the most-used keys was helpfully labeled "Yes|No".

          If pressing that ambiguous bird meant "yes" or "no" was context dependent. Lovely UI.

      4. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: The light..

        I'm getting a flashback to something. An ISDN "modem" maybe.

      5. JulieM

        Re: The light..

        Wow, you've just reminded me of how you were supposed to set the time of day on my old number pager, with its one-button user interface.

        It was much easier just to put the battery in at midnight .....

      6. Peter Ford

        Re: The light..

        I have a monitor (an inexpensive one) that has one button and one light. I believe there's some way of using that one button to access menus and configurations, but it's also the on-off button.

        I connected it up and it just works - when the Mac it's connected to sleeps the screen goes dark, and when the Mac wakes up the screen comes on again. I haven't dared even try turning it off - I might end up in a maze of twisty menus, all alike.

      7. kernelpickle

        Re: The light..

        Smarter manufacturers could do it with only 2 buttons. One to cycle through the main menu, and the other to select one of the available options.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The light..

      If the light was on - it meant there was power, and it was turned OFF to standby.

      FTFY

      Looks across at TV. Red light on, screen off. CBA to wander into the other room to see the TV with a blue light on and screen off.

      Nothing strange at all; standard practice these days.

      1. LastTangoInParis

        Re: The light..

        I have an Epson small business printer and a homebuilt file server, both of which have blue LEDs to indicate power on. So far so good. However I swear you could see them half a mile away in the dark. Are all blue LEDs so annoyingly bright?

    5. JohnGrantNineTiles

      Re: The light..

      There's a light switch in our garage like that, it's got a neon indicator so you can find it in the dark. The indicator goes off when you switch the lights on, probably the idea is that when the lights are on you can see where the switch is anyway. Of course, if the lights and the neon are both off you know there's a power cut.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: The light..

        Or the bulb has gone.

      2. Dog11
        Go

        Re: The light..

        @JG The idea is probably low cost, only a few pennies to add. Put a neon indicator across the switch contacts, If the switch is off, there will be mains voltage between the contacts.and it will light up. If the switch is on, the neon gets bypassed.

        1. NITS

          Re: The light..

          I've put in several of those switch-with-a-neon-light thingies. They're intended to help you find the switch in a dark room. They're about the only option in legacy installations which don't have a neutral wire in the switch box.

          They work well with incandescent lamps. But I've run into a couple of instances where the lamp was changed to LED, and the lamp would strobe every second or so when switched off. Enough energy sneaks through the neon lamp to let the switching power supply build up a charge, the lamp starts, discharges the power supply capacitor, goes out again. Lather, rinse, and repeat. In other words, a high-tech relaxation oscillator.

        2. Zarno

          Re: The light..

          I know that some energy efficient LED lights can "ghost" with those style switches.

          They can also give a bit of a zap if you expect no power at the fixture end when the switch is off.

          EDIT: Yay, redundant reply on my end.

          I must check all replies before replying, I must check all replies before replying, I must check all replies before replying....

    6. timrowledge

      Re: The light..

      The light is a lie!

    7. Toni the terrible
      Angel

      Re: The light..

      Go Into The Light

      1. Rodderstoo

        Re: The light..

        Unless it's the light at the end of the tunnel, in which case it's the enemy carrying a flamethrower.

        1. Down not across Silver badge

          Re: The light..

          There's 106 miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark out, and we're wearing sunglasses.

          (yes, I know Carrie had M16 in the tunnel and the flamethrower was in the phone booth scene....)

    8. The Mighty Spang

      Re: The light..

      said in before in the forums about our vax cluster and the failure of the air conditioning. i thought it was getting warm, all 3 compressor fail lights are off, we're fine says sysadmin

      one day cluster goes bang, i run round, doors open, machines going nuts spewing console logs, worried people powering down drives.

      the the aftermath they thought that when i thought it was a bit warm behind one of the machines they were down to one unit. first major hot day of year and it gave up the ghost.

      why no failure lamps?

      lamps were 'on' for failed unit. but if that board *itself* failed, no lamps for you boyo. it was changed for a system where lamps were on to show something working lol

      oh and they were those big red round hemisphere industrial indicators, very HAL like

  2. Mast1

    The knob......

    I have heard rumours of people building research kit with the useful knobs hidden away and the front panel populated with mostly functionless knobs. This kept the people who did not keep their hands in their pockets 'amused', while allowing the designer/builder to keep it in a known state.

    1. Mishak Silver badge

      Re: The knob......

      I once worked on an environmental control system that replaced the office thermostats with a computer-controlled system that was much more energy efficient and which gave better temperature control.

      The workers rebelled - they were sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold (the logging showed the temperature never changed) and they wanted their thermostats back. Now!

      They got them. The workers were happy. The thermostats were never connected to anything...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The knob......

        Ours are actually connected to the computer-controlled building system. The temperature adjustment knob too. What they don't know is that the adjustment was reranged; it allows the setpoint to be tweaked up or down by a total of ±0.1 °F.

        1. Persona Silver badge

          Re: The knob......

          Once you get a Building Management System involved all bets are off. In one new and not completely finished building I was working in the heating valves were wired up the opposite way around from what had been configured in the BMS. My part of the office was very cold all winter. The heating never turned on. Then spring came things got warm and a setpoint was passed. So the BMS commanded the valves it "thought" were open and suddenly with the heating at full blast on that hot spring day it got very hot indeed. All fixed by lunchtime with a quick config change to the BMS.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The knob......

            Our office in South Africa had windows on opposite sides of the building. There was only one thermostat - on one side. The offices on that side had good temperature control - the ones on the opposite side froze or sweltered depending on the position of the sun. The climate is almost guaranteed sunshine all day.

          2. ricardian

            Re: The knob......

            I once worked in a Government building built in the 1970s. It had a complex environmental control system which had its very own control room with lots of knobs, dials & flashing lights. Alas, it was designed for schools and offices where there was a regular occupation - 9-5, Mon-Fri - but this building housed day staff working 9-5, Mon-Fri plus lots of 24/7 shift workers whose numbers would vary on a random basis. After a few years the Building Maintenance got the system behaving itself after a fashion but my office & associated lab were bitterly cold every morning when we started work. Each time we complained Building Maintenance insisted that all was well and it was all in our imagination. After one particularly cold winter I managed to arrange for Building Maintenance to install a gadget that recorded the temperature every 5 minutes. After a 48 hour period the results showed that the room did become bitterly cold overnight. After some muttering Building Maintenance actually had a look at the ventilation system and discovered that one "door" in the trunking had been left open after new kit had been installed with the result that outside air was admitted directly to out part of the building. The offending "door" was closed and our office became as comfortable as all the other offices

          3. Jakester

            Re: The knob......

            At one assignment in the US Air Force, my office was in a hangar office with a poorly designed environmental control system. In the winter, the heat would never come on, so had to work with gloves, hat, winter coat and boots to stay warm. Temperatures would get down to into the 30's (F) quite often in the offices. However in the summer, the air conditioning would seldom come-on and the system would detect a fault with the system and go into a "failsafe" mode to keep water in the pipes from freezing. One day with temperatures exceeding 100F outside, the system went into a failsafe mode. It got so hot in the offices that many of the thermometers (the old style alcohol filled) blew off their tops. I was in an office there for a little more than a year and they were never able to fix the system.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The knob......

          Just because you've seen it elsewhere doesn't make it a joke or something that didn't happen to the poster. (Also, a quick Google *and* DDG doesn't show that exact text anywhere I found.) I've personally seen similar (mine was the ±0.1 °F comment) - this is apparently a common problem with a common solution.

          1. The Bobster

            Re: The knob......

            After about 18 months in the office, HVAC engineer discovered that the West-side user control panel was connected to the East-side HVAC ceiling unit and vice versa. With of course hilarious consequences.

            1. gnasher729 Silver badge

              Re: The knob......

              We had that, but one of the controls was upside down - try to turn the heat up, and it would cool down the other area.

        2. Kane Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: The knob......

          "Please don't let this place become like Reddit."

          Take my downvote and leave.

          1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

            Re: The knob......

            Were you not here a few years ago? I think it was January 2018 ( 2017 )?

            They sacked a load of workers and changed the political centre of the website from "grownup" to "student union".

            With that came a change in commentards.

            I assume the leftism (ironically) makes them more money.

        3. Mishak Silver badge

          Re: The knob......

          @AC - that's because I've probably posted it here before in response to another thread; it is not a joke, it is a fact.

      3. Zarno

        Re: The knob......

        That always works, till some waffle scarfing bugger gets in good with facilities, and has them override a 68°F +-1°F temp controlled area to 75°F because they're cold.

        Threw every damn calibration out the flipping window...

        When there was a complaint made that $$$$$ equipment was at risk, it was set back, but then the strategic ice packs on the temp sensors started.

        So glad to be out of that mess.

      4. Rich 10

        Re: The knob......

        Ohh yes, back in the great days of crashing budgets the command was sent down to turn all thermostats to 65F - a very unpopular setting, especially with the secretaries who's desks were posted right by the front exit to the breezeway.

        One day we came in to find a damp towel placed over the sensor cover of the thermostat, and a secretary with a spray bottle of water. Evaporative cooling meant we had the warmest office in the building.

        1. Dog11

          Re: The knob......

          I have great respect for the ingenuity that secretaries can provide, when sufficiently motivated.

        2. NITS

          Re: The knob......

          In an auto parts store, where the aircon was controlled from On High, a trouble light hung below the thermostat did the trick.

      5. Shred

        Re: The knob......

        >> The workers were happy. The thermostats were never connected to anything...

        Seems to be standard practice in the environmental control industry. I once worked in a building where it was always hot and stuffy. Middle of Winter (-3 deg C outside) - hot and stuff. Middle of Summer, hot and stuffy. Many visits by HVAC experts failed to fix it. Finally, with much fanfare, a thermostat was attached to a wall.

        The thermostat did nothing. Turn it all the way up... still hot and stuffy. Turn it all the way down... hot and stuffy. One of my colleagues had enough... "this bl...dy thing isn't even connected!". Grabbed the cable to the thermostat and started pulling on it. About 10 metres of cable piled up on the floor and the end emerged - cut flush... it had never been connected to anything.

        The junior tech climbed up on a desk and put his hand in front of a vent - nothing coming out. He pulled the grill off the vent. "There's a butterfly valve in here and it's closed". Opened the valve... a vast amount of black dust and gunk poured out all over him in his white shirt... we finally had fresh air!

        I've since regarded the whole HVAC industry with deep suspicion.

        1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
          Coffee/keyboard

          Re: The knob......

          On the other hand our HVAC engineers managed to make it rain indoors.

          Complete with said black gunk.

          Killed a few computers and my old full stroke mac keyboard (since replaced with the Bluetooth equivalent). Even after all of that....

          Still no working HVAC. The thing pushed out as much fresh air as a flatulent corpse. Bah!

        2. veti Silver badge

          Re: The knob......

          "Black dust and gunk" sounds like an accumulation of quite-possibly-toxic mould. I hope the system was thoroughly cleaned within the next couple of hours.

          1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

            Re: The knob......

            Ahahahhahhahahhahahhahahahahaaa..... Cleaned he says. Cleaned! Within hours even.

            Pull the other one, it's got bells on it (it's a prototype before we attach the cattle prod).

        3. CuChulainn Silver badge

          Re: The knob......

          My company was too tight for A/C. We just had 'air handling' units - which recirculated the air every 15-20 minutes.

          In summer, they recirculated hot and sticky air every 15-20 minutes.

          In winter, they recirculated cold and frigid air every 15-20 minutes.

          And at any time, if that stupid person in the Buying Department in our open plan office had a meeting away from her desk, she'd empty a full can of Impulse on herself, and that would get recirculated every 15-20 minutes for the next eight hours.

          1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

            Re: she'd empty a full can of Impulse

            Our Air Conditioning units looked out over Drummond Street, one of the most famed places in London for a curry. (Neil Kinnock preferred the establishments in Ealing though).

            As it was deemed that the equipment was more important than the workers, the temperature was set below 20 degrees (Celsius, but felt like Fahrenheit), so there was this combination of smell of curry with shivering temperature.

            1. CuChulainn Silver badge

              Re: she'd empty a full can of Impulse

              When I was in a different job in a different building (same company), one of my departmental engineers spent a lot of time on the roof 'maintaining the air handlers'. Especially in summer.

              You knew when he was up there, because you could smell his pipe (he smoked a pipe) throughout the department that was manufacturing hot medicated confectionery on open cooling conveyors.

        4. Mooseman Silver badge

          Re: The knob......

          I used to work for a well-known UK high street purveyor of white goods (now defunct), in a flat roofed building with 3 glass walls (one long one faced south), sharing the room with dozens of desktop PCs and a few servers. In the summer the temperatures were unbearable (even in England) but complaints were met with the dismissive comment that the windows weren't designed to open and the aircon was too expensive to fix, so we sweltered when we couldn't come up with an excuse to work elsewhere.

          One night at about 1 am there was a serious failure of the system designed to send customer orders to the dispatch branch and I went in to sort it out, to be met by one of the directors who wanted to see what was going on (!) 0 after an hour in temperatures in excess of 110 F (we had installed a thermometer) the director stomped off home. The next week opening windows and a functioning aircon were added, and the server never fell over again.

          1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

            Re: well-known UK high street purveyor of white goods

            That story would be extremely appropriate if the company in question was Tempo.

            I used to walk past their offices in Kingston quite regularly. Modern, with plenty of glass, no flat roof though IIRC.

      6. ITMA Bronze badge

        Re: The knob......

        If there is one thing office "users" should never be allowed anywhere near or, even worse, physically be abel to touch, are HVAC controls.

        Does't matter what you set it at someonme is too hot, someone else is too cold. It goes on and on....

        And God forbid, someone is allowed to bring in portable heaters! They multiply like vermin.

        I think anyone who has to deal with such environments would do well to consider some (of the few) words of wisdon that came (allegedly) from some NASA guy during a meeting with Hubble (telescope) scientist:

        "I have had it trying to make you happy. I'm now just going to concentrate on making you all equally unhappy"

        LOL

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Go

          Re: The knob......

          A portable heater under my desk was the only thing that kept me at one particular job for more than one winter.

          Asking me to work with cold feet is like asking the pope to use a condom.

      7. Shooter
        Coat

        Thermostats

        I copied this from a comment in a different thread, years ago:

        "In the late '70s I used to work at a cinema, and we were constantly beset by menopausal women complaining that the theater was too hot, followed immediately by post-menopausal women complaining that the theater was too cold (I know that sounds sexist, but I honestly don't recall ever having a male complain about the temperature). This was during the "Energy Crisis (TM)", so the HVAC system was set at a government mandated setting, and the thermostat was in a locked plastic box to boot. I quickly learned to respond "Yes ma'am, I'll get right on that! Takes a while to change the temperature in a huge room like this, though." Then I would ignore the issue. Very rarely got a second complaint..."

        Icon, for the temperature >>

        1. Rol

          Re: Thermostats

          I remember attending a botanical garden in the middle of Preston. It was never intended to be a botanical garden by the Department of Works and Pensions, who's office it was, but the staff just couldn't resist greening up the place.

          I was there in response to a complaint about the air conditioning. It wasn't working. Something we were well aware of, as the office block was undergoing an extensive refit, floor by floor, so such things had been fundamentally broken from day one, and replaced with portable aircon units in every zone.

          "So what's the problem?"

          "The aircon isn't working"

          "Err it seems fine to me. You have been topping up the water. Haven't you?...err I see not, it's bone dry"

          "It's not our job to keep the water topped up"

          "So who waters the plants everyday?"

          "Err, the porter"

          "What? You are using our contracted staff to water ALL of these plants. Everyday? Right here's what is going to happen. From now on YOU water your own damn plants, and during that process you also add water into YOUR aircon unit. Otherwise I'll be dragging your manager down here and explaining why we are billing her department for our contractors hours. And by the way. It is me who will be deciding where you get decanted to, when the refit comes to your floor. And hell is definitely an option."

          ".......!"

          "I assume your dumbstruck silence, is a tacit agreement, so we'll leave it at that. Goodbye"

          In all the jobs I have had, it was people employed in government bureaucracy that were far and away the most deceitful, dishonest and unflinchingly self-serving morons I have ever had the displeasure to come up against. Every opportunity to steal, slack off, or just sit at home doing sod all was pounced upon. If ten percent of the resources directed at catching dodgy benefit claimants were repurposed to catching dodgy civil service staff, the national debt would be wiped out within a couple of years.

          I must add, the most honest staff I ever met were based in Liverpool. We never had any problems with theft. Go figure.

          1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            Re: Thermostats

            When the fairly large, glass pyramid styled "St Enoch Centre" shopping mall was built in Glasgow, Scotland (opened in 1989), a newspaper cartoon portrayed a neighbour stopping by to ask how the tomatoes were growing.

            A day or three later, someone reported they actually were growing some tomatoes in there.

            If you're thinking it could be something else, I only heard about the tomatoes.

        2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: Thermostats

          It's easier to put more clothes on than take more clothes off (you rapidly run out of layers to remove), so set the temperature to "cool" and PUT A BLOODY JUMPER ON!

          1. C R Mudgeon

            Re: Thermostats

            That works until it gets so cold my fingers start to lose dexterity. Touch-typing in gloves is not a realistic option.

            I've worked in such environments.

          2. Esme

            Re: Thermostats

            Well said. I suffered in places where temperatures were well over 20C and some staff were still complaining of it being cold, but also refusing to wear a cardigan. . So the temperatures got pushed up and up by a couldn't-care-less management who simply replied to those f us who were fainting from the heat - in midwinter! - that the law of the tie only insisted that workers not be too cold.

            So productivity nosedived amongst trained staff who couldn't cope with being expected to work in temperatures approaching 30C in the middle of winter, all because some selfish buggers couldnt be bothered to wear a cardigan over their short-sleeved thin blouses or shirts. The management response, despite it having been pointed out that overheating people can be life-threatening? Wait for people to quit, then replace them with new, and thus, untrained, staff, some of whom also sweltered in the heat and left quickly.

            How the management responsible for the iidiotic situation didn't get fired as productivity continued to plummet I have no idea, especially as this was local government, and several small suppliers went bust as a resultbecause their bills to the Council were in a steadily mounting backlog that delayed payments for months.

            Not to mention the adverse effects on health suffered by quite a few staff form being forced to work in overheated arid air all year round. Grrr!

            1. TechHeadToo

              Re: Thermostats

              You said it - local government. Never anyone actually accountable in local government...

              1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                Re: Thermostats

                Yes and no. In Local govt being accountable often means supporting whatever current line of thinking (I use the word loosely) is in vogue/comes from on high. And for those on high, or aspiring to get there, accountability for the consequences of their actions is side-stepped by the simple tactic of having moved on to some new pet project (of their own or their bosses') by the time the things go pear shaped. The can gets carried by those who had been tasked with running the now discredited project. Often bright young professionals who'd been seduced into the project by the claims and high up support it carried. Only to be disillusioned or even to have their careers wrecked when the support dries up. It doesn't actually matter whether the project itself was valid/worthwhile/successful or not btw. The outcome is always the same. Support from above withers as some new project becomes fashionable, decisions - especially hard decisions- aren't made, budgets wither and clients or whatever it was intended for evaporate because the parts of the council that were recruiting them scent which way the wind is blowing and stop referring

                Career success in these shark infested waters depends on spotting what's ascending or descending and jumping astutely to the next ascender. It's kind of like playing Super Mario Goes Career Climbing..

      8. Potty Professor Bronze badge
        Devil

        Re: The knob......

        I was put in charge of specifying, purchasing, installing, and configuring a complete energy management system in the office/factory complex. When it was all up and running, some people complained that they couldn't change the thermostat, it was all controlled from a central computer (PS/2) on my desk. One day I noticed that one office was showing a low temperature and its heating system was going full blast. I took a stroll through that building and pretended not to notice that someone had hung a plastic sandwich bag full of ice cubes in front of the sensor. I wandered nonchalantly back to my office and lowered the setpoint for their office to -6°C (the lowest available). About an hour later, the phone rang and somebody complained that it was freezing in their office and the radiators were stone cold. "Oh, OK, let me look on the server" Clickety Clickety. "Oh, Yes, your ice cube trick has caused the sensor to roll over, and it is reporting that you are now basking in a 34 degree heatwave. If you remove the ice cubes, it will roll back under and the heating will come back on." A few minutes later, the temperature began to rise, so I set the setpoint back to 19°C, and the heating system came on until it had reached the correct temperature. They never tried that trick again, although I suspect that they found other ways to trick the system.

      9. Wayland

        Re: The knob......

        It would make sense as a comfort sensor. Not for setting the absolute temperature but for learning if the occupants were feeling too hot, just right or too cold.

      10. jake Silver badge

        Re: The knob......

        Pretty much everywhere I've ever worked there has been a long standing feud between two halves of the population that I can't mention without being accused of being sexist ... One side always says it's too hot, the other side always says it's too cold. Facilities says "set it all to 72F, that's what the HVAC is optimized for" ... and so we listen to pretty much everyone bitch about the temperature.

        Until one place I worked at upgraded the AC, and all the controls that go along with it (had to do with a couple of new clean rooms). Naturally, the folks installing all the new gear left all the old thermostats in place. They were no longer connected, so why worry about them. A friend of mine noticed one of the secretaries would inevitably turn one of these controls up, and then keep an eye on it from her desk. Within an hour, one of the engineers would stroll by & turn it down again. Then she'd turn it back up, and so on ... This dance went on all day.

        So we hatched up a Plan ... with the Boss's permission, we installed unconnected thermostats quite near both the secretary and the engineer ... and removed the one they were "fighting" over. Now both could happily set "their" temperature to whatever they wanted. It worked. Both were happy, and both commented how comfy the office was with the "new, improved" controls. People in their circle of friends made similar comments. The complaining about the temperature stopped, virtually overnight.

        That would have been the end of it, except ever since then I've installed faux thermostats for 'special" people. It has never failed to shut them up about the office temperature. However, be warned ... that type can always find something else to bitch about. Don't say I didn't warn you.

    2. Aladdin Sane

      Re: The knob......

      front panel populated with mostly functionless knobs

      Lockdown has been tough

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: The knob......

        Priceless! Have one of these too :)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The knob......

      In Rock'n'Roll, we use to call that the "DFA"*

      If a punter helpfully suggested that we might need "more treble in the bass" (or whatever), we simply agreed, and adjusted the DFA accordingly.

      * Does Fuck All

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: The knob......

        Also known as the three sliders at the end of the mixing desk?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "more treble in the bass"

        Heh, reminded me of this old thing ...

        Flanders: "I see you've got your negative feedback coupled in with your push-pull-input-output. Take that across through your redded pickup to your tweeter, if you're modding more than eight, you're going to get wow on your top. Try to bring that down through your pre-amp rumble filter to your woofer, what'll you get?

        Flutter on your bottom!"

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "more treble in the bass"

          Alas, there's not enough Flanders and Swann in the world.

        2. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: "more treble in the bass"

          Flanders & Swann, A Song of Reproduction

          I only discovered a few months ago that the wonderful Stephanie Flanders (formerly economic editor for the BBC) <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6253824.stm2>is Michael's daughter</a>. Explains rather a lot for anyone who used to enjoy her contributions to the PM programme alongside Robert Peston during the 2008 economic problems.

          M.

      3. ITMA Bronze badge

        Re: The knob......

        "DFA" - isn't that a management term that applies to certain members of staff?

        LOL

    4. Morten_T
      Joke

      Re: The knob......

      "the front panel populated with mostly functionless knobs"

      I believe "users" is the accepted term today :D

      1. Just An Engineer

        Re: The knob......

        Or C Suite Dwellers

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: The knob......

          Or Ministers of the Crown.

    5. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: The knob......

      We had an engineer designing a "box" for customers. It has one control besides the on/off switch. That control was labeled "wonderful" and only rotated in on direction. Per his comments this was designed that way as customers always wanted "more wonderful".

      As I recall, the product was released but after a month or so, the company owner had him remove the "wonderful" control. While the marketing types loved it, the owner was a more practical person who realized it really didn't do anything.

    6. TomPhan

      Re: The knob......

      A lot time ago there was a new entry system installed and everyone had a badge with a mag stripe to swipe - then it was discovered the data wasn't being read and you could use a credit card, a library card, or a video rental membership card just as long as it had one of those strips on the back. Turned out getting all the software to really read them cost much more than the company was willing to pay.

      1. Paul Johnston
        Pint

        Re: The knob......

        Video rental membership card!

        Old school, have a beer to watch your video with.

      2. TRT Silver badge

        Re: The knob......

        I remember an early passenger operated ticket machine at Manchester Piccadilly station in the mid-80s. Whilst bored and waiting for my parents to pick us up we started playing with this thing. It had a little CRT in the middle of a sloped table absolutely covered with buttons, and a card slot. I put in a debit card and the screen welcomed me with my name and some instructions! Incredible, I thought, so we both then started putting every mag-stripe card we had into the reader. Half of them came up as unreadable, but the others had name data on them; and the ones that had name data included the most surprising of cards! Video store memberships, supermarket loyalty cards, library cards... things that you thought would have had proprietary data formats.

    7. C R Mudgeon
      Coat

      Re: The knob......

      "mostly functionless knobs"

      I've heard tell of workplaces largely populated with those. In government, typically.

    8. wjake

      Re: The knob......

      Ampex Open-Reel Video Recorder had a knob with an old Dymo label reading "Tune for minimum smoke."

    9. jake Silver badge

      Re: The knob......

      I know of at least three high-end research facilities that have a "control room" that is nothing more than a mock-up, with blinkinlights, knobs, switches, displays, the odd sonalert, etc. They do nothing but impress management, moneybags, and VIP visitors. The actual guts of the things are really messy (but logical!) breadboard rigs. Remember, they are research facilities ... the controls can change near daily, so there is no money for "pretty".

      1. pirxhh

        Re: The knob......

        When visiting one such large, vastly impressive facility, one of the group asked "How many people work here?" - to which the guide, a nice physics postdoc, responded "oh, about thirty percent". Netted her a good laugh.

  3. David Robinson 1

    A Story about Magic

    http://www.catb.org/~esr/jargon/html/magic-story.html

    1. DailyLlama
      Terminator

      Re: A Story about Magic

      I was installing some spotlights on the front of my Ford Capri back in the day, and whilst holding the two lights in my hands, my brother connected one cable to the car, and they lit up.

      I was wearing rubber soled trainers, and wasn't in contact with any other part of the car, so am at a loss to explain how this worked...

      1. Mast1
        Joke

        Re: A Story about Magic

        Co-axial cable .........

        1. Intractable Potsherd

          Re: A Story about Magic

          For reasons I do not recall, I actually wired some lights on one of my cars many, many years ago using co-ax - positive on the inner core, negative outer. I suspect it was one of those "nothing more permanent than a temporary fix", though what possessed me to do such a temporary fix in the first place I do not know

          1. LogicGate

            Re: A Story about Magic

            The reasoning is obvious. By putting the positivce on the inner core, your outer negative worked as shielding, either protecting your positive from a nasty EMI environment that it had to pass through... or alternatively, it protected the rest of the car from all the nasty EMI on your positive.

            I just hope that you did not accidentally create a ground loop while doing so.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: A Story about Magic

              Most cars are held together with ground loops.

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: A Story about Magic

            Back when we were making TCP/IP somewhat fit for release, we had a mentor who insisted that "Wire's wire!", meaning that IP didn't (shouldn't) care what the medium of propagation was.

            The same mentor also had a mantra when troubleshooting: "Check the wire first!".

            I've been known to use "available wire" to wire stuff into my cars, too. Regretted it occasionally.

      2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: A Story about Magic

        You are Uncle Fester, AICMFP

      3. Emir Al Weeq

        Re: A Story about Magic

        So you are saying that after fitting another piece of cheap kit from the Halfords boy-racer add-ons department to a Capri, ie a car that had probably already been "upgraded" by the previous owner/his mates/your brother/that bloke who "knows about cars", the electrics worked in a way that defied physics.

        What's your point?

        1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

          Re: A Story about Magic

          That reminds me of a guy I used to know.

          For reasons defying rational thought, he used to have one of those body kits on his car. It was some sort of skirting that covered up the gap under the car ( it was white, could have been a mark 1 Corsa or something like that ).

          The problem is that it made his car look like a B movie spaceship.

      4. jake Silver badge

        Re: A Story about Magic

        Almost 50 years ago, I accidentally kicked in the 750 Watt linear amplifier connected to my CB radio ... and promptly outed myself. I was playing the "fox" in a fox-hunt ... and was parked under the awning of the Texaco station in the north-west corner of the San Antonio & Middlefield intersection on the Palo Alto/Mountain View border. The RF lit up the overhead fluorescent lights ...

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: A Story about Magic

      I came here to post that (I didn't follow your link, but I fully know what it points to)

      Here is the same link with magic of HTML that the piteous mortal non-badge holders cannot conjure...

      http://www.catb.org/~esr/jargon/html/magic-story.html

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: A Story about Magic

        Hands up everybody who expected a rickroll ...

        Hands down everybody who needs "html magic" to follow a link.

  4. ortunk

    We once sold a fully loaded Pentium II (weird slot thing) with all 4 ram slots full, it never booted up the first time, after few reboots it was managing.

    So I showed the customer how to reset 3 times after ram was initialised (or counted for no apparent reason) and voila!

    With 3 rams it worked fine but the insisted.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Reminds me of a server issue we had.

      An old PC got scrounged to act as a file server and wouldn't boot because the big hard disk took too long to do it's own power on self test and wasn't ready when the BIOS wanted to boot from it. It was fixed be adding more RAM. The RAM test then took long enough to allow the drive to get it's act together before the BIOS tried talking to it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Reminds me of a server issue we had.

        Or you could have adjusted the HDD delay in the BIOS?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Reminds me of a server issue we had.

          Well if you want to just give in and surrender to the machine

        2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

          Re: Reminds me of a server issue we had.

          A machine with an HDD spinning up that slow and with RAM counting that slow - that is WAY before the time such options existed on normal PCs. And most PCs never had such an option.

        3. waldo kitty
          Boffin

          Re: Reminds me of a server issue we had.

          Or you could have adjusted the HDD delay in the BIOS?

          IF the BIOS had such, yes... otherwise, you had to find some other way to delay the BIOS boot... adding more RAM was one solution... putting the HD on a separate power supply and turning it on first followed by the PC power supply a little later was another solution...

          1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

            Re: you had to find some other way to delay the BIOS boot

            Yes, I had to deal with this problem on a few occasions.

            I created a boot-up floppy and made sure the BIOS was set to boot off it. Autoexec on the floppy pointed to the program on the hard drive you wanted to run at startup. With Netware that was a doddle.

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: Reminds me of a server issue we had.

            "putting the HD on a separate power supply"

            I've seen that work quite nicely, by smoking the system thus requiring the purchase of new kit.

    2. the spectacularly refined chap Silver badge

      We once sold a fully loaded Pentium II (weird slot thing) with all 4 ram slots full, it never booted up the first time, after few reboots it was managing.

      I remember encountering something similar perhaps ten years ago, the computer would always need to be reset twice before it would successfully boot. Turned out to be BIOS settings. The user was one of those "experts" who got their knowledge from Computer Shopper or whatever and had over locked the system for huge performance boost. Said system couldn't support the overclock but the BIOS had a failsafe, on the third attempt it would revert back to default settings. My memory is hazy but I don't think it was CPU speed but DRAM settings IIRC.

      Revert the settings and it booted first time every time. Of course user now complains system is really sluggish despite the fact it was in reality still running at the same speed it always had.

      1. Wayland

        Back in the 1980's when PCs were first 4.77MHz and then increased to 8MHz or even 16MHz they started fitting 'turbo' buttons to cases so you could switch down to 4.77MHz to play old PC games.

        The games ran too fast at 16MHz.

        My new 1989 Viglen 386DX33 came with a turbo button. The machine felt much faster on turbo. Then one day I went inside the case to fit more RAM and discovered the turbo button was not connected to anything.

        1. Not Yb

          Had a 100MHz Pentium. Motherboard had documented jumper settings for 50/75/90 and "Not used". Of course the jumper was on the "not used" pins. Testing showed it was actually running at 100MHz, but apparently they were selling prototypes, ha.

  5. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Dummy thermostats

    > "I had, and still have, no idea what that box did," he admitted, "apart from giving a sense of satisfaction and a powerful placebo effect."

    One building I worked in had an office that was long and somewhat narrow. There were continual arguments between the people at one end and those at the other as to what temperature the single thermostat, situated in the middle of the room, should be set to.

    This escalated to "management" (who had their own, air-conditioned suite somewhere else entirely). After a particularly sweaty summer week, the staff came into work the following Monday and found to their delight, TWO extra thermostats - one at each end of the room.

    Problem solved! Situation defused! Heat, cooling and best of all ... control.

    Nobody thought to tell the occupants that all three thermostats had absolutely no effect on the office temperature, which was set for the whole building in the control room. But the staff were satisifed that they had been listened to.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Dummy thermostats

      The number of variations on this kind of story is bewildering.

      It's almost as if someone in Manglement is reading El Reg !

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. NXM

          Re: Dummy thermostats

          I've worked in hvac and believe me, they're not jokes. Not when you've seen a setup you left working perfectly under automated control to integrate hearing or cooling to keep rooms at set temperature, then gone back a couple of years later to find chillers festooned around the windows, all on full blast, fighting against the heating, also on full blast.

          Because people apparently don't understand how thermostats work.

          1. Mishak Silver badge

            Re: Dummy thermostats

            Yep. Back in the early days of (not so) "smart buildings" we saved one office tower loads by setting the heaters and chillers on the water circuit so that they weren't generating heat in the basement and rejecting it on the roof!

          2. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: Dummy thermostats

            >Because people apparently don't understand how thermostats work.

            And because people don't understand that their sense of hot/cold is independent of the actual room temperature.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Dummy thermostats

              I'm pretty sure most people simply don't understand closed-loop control.

              Almost every commercial "light-harvesting" installation puts the light sensors outside the building, where they cannot possibly see the light they control.

              So the commissioning technician ends up guessing as to how much sunlight is going to get inside throughout the year, and the poor sods working in the building live in darkness some of the time.

              There are hundreds of white papers, installation guides and case studies repeating the "Put the sensors where they see the combined result" message, yet most architectural consultants still make the same mistake over and over again...

              1. Roland6 Silver badge

                Re: Dummy thermostats

                >yet most architectural consultants still make the same mistake over and over again...

                That's because they don't tend to use the buildings they design.

                I'm sure if architects had to live in a modern "rabbit hutch", their usability would massively increase.

                Also builders need to take some of the blame: just because you've always installed light switches 4~5 feet off the floor doesn't mean that is the most usable - 3~4 feet (back of the hand height for a typical adult) is much more accessible for young children and wheelchair users.

                Back in the early 90's I got ribbed by an electrician friend for rewiring the house (well it needed doing anyway) just so that the light switches and power sockets were accessible, he changed his tune when he visited and actually used the services to do the work I wasn't qualified to do.

                1. TechHeadToo

                  Re: Dummy thermostats

                  Light switches at a height were deliberately to stop children from poking their wet hands into the switch, or unscrewing the round face plate to 'have a look'

                  Some things just get stuck into folk expectations.

                2. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Dummy thermostats

                  I have the opposite problem, being tall. I have to crouch down to read the display on a handicap-accessible gas pump, for instance. Perhaps something in between our different eye levels would be better.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: Dummy thermostats

                    I have the opposite problem, being tall. I have to crouch down to read the display on a handicap-accessible gas pump, for instance. Perhaps something in between our different eye levels would be better.

                    well, you and I (also tall) are able to crouch. Difficult for the short or wheelchair bound person to magically rise to the occasion. Of course, two identical displays at different heights would solve that, but no one wants the cost.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Dummy thermostats

            There are a lot of people ( and apparently not just older ones) who think the thermostatic setting means that colder==faster.

            So if the room/car is too warm/cold when they first get in/turn it on they adjust the thermostat.

            Anon because while herself doesn't read El Reg, you never know...

            And yes she does this. Car been in the sun, thermostatic control gets turned down to 16.

            Car is too cold when she gets in in the middle of winter thermostatic control goes up to 22.

            Does me 'ed in it does.

            1. mtp

              Re: Dummy thermostats

              I have given up on explaining this to some people. The concept of a thermostat is totally alien, they visualise it as a heat more / cool more control and nothing can persuade them otherwise.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Dummy thermostats

                Itr makes sense with the older ( than me and I'm pretty old) generation. For them gas and even electric heating did work like that. If you were cold you turned it up higher. They had no thermostatic controls then.

                I'm guessing a generation or two later it's people who just do what their parents did. It's not simply about heating. it's about unthinkingly and stubbornly doing what they've always done- in general.

                *Still AC because...

              2. jake Silver badge

                Re: Dummy thermostats

                And don't get me started on how elevator/lift buttons work ... nor how "push button to cross street" buttons work. Or "summon attendant" buttons work. Etc. etc.

                Pardon me while I hit <esc> three or four times in vi ...

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Dummy thermostats

                  I assume you mean the way some folks will hit the button again after it's already active, or hit it several times if they're in a hurry.

                  Come to think of it, a particularly bright designer would actually include that behavior in their design. If an elevator button gets pressed a dozen times, with a couple seconds between each, send two elevators (if a multi-elevator setup) to that floor since all the folks won't fit in one. If it gets pushed a bunch of times in quick succession, make that stop higher priority since that person's in a hurry.

                  Kind of like they do with IVR systems. Can't find an option to talk to a human? Try SCREAMING at the automated system; the better ones detect that you're upset and PROMPTLY transfer you to a human.

                  1. jake Silver badge

                    Re: Dummy thermostats

                    No. One button press, or many, sends the elevator to the indicated floor. Or trips the "WALK" circuit. Or summons an attendant. Etc. Any more is superfluous. And will be abused by children or the child-like.

                    As for the screamers ... If I were programming an IVR, I'd put them on-hook immediately. No way I'm intentionally subjecting my front-line staff to irate morons who think screaming at the equipment will somehow help the situation.

                    1. Anonymous Coward
                      Anonymous Coward

                      Re: Dummy thermostats

                      (I'm the one who mentioned IVR.)

                      In my case, I scream at the IVR for the express intent of getting it to transfer me to a human - who I then speak to in a calm, polite tone. The screaming is reserved for the machine that insists on getting a dozen bits of information from me before giving me a long list of options that don't apply, without an easy way of saying "there's no way that my issue is in your list, much less can be handled by your automated system, so get me to a human who can handle it in less time than it takes to navigate these menus!"

                      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                        Re: Dummy thermostats

                        Repeated pressing Zero when asked to choose 1 2 3 4 ........ does it for me.

        2. gotes

          Re: Dummy thermostats

          Jealous much? Here you go AC, have an upvote, even though you don't really deserve it.

    2. swm Silver badge

      Re: Dummy thermostats

      I was at a conference at a hotel and the room was too hot. I opened the window and the thermostat just cranked the room temperature higher. I finally disassembled the thermostat and put a piece of paper between some contacts and everything was fine.

  6. benjya
    Flame

    Fighting thermostats

    The opposite was the server room where I once worked. Two AC units with their own thermostats on the wall. And big signs on both of them telling you to ensure they are set to the same temperature otherwise they just fight each other...

    1. DailyLlama

      Re: Fighting thermostats

      A site I worked at had two offices with individual AC units, but whose thermostats were somehow connected to the other office. User in office A decides that she is too cold, and turns the heat up, making office B too warm, where the user turns the heat down. Eventually, office A is near Absolute Zero, and office B is practically on fire, and neither user is happy...

      After a few months of this, somebody figured out the issue, and the contractors were recalled to fix the problem.

    2. KittenHuffer Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Fighting thermostats

      I remember my first server room. You needed to wrap up like Kenny McKormick to go in there.

      It turned out that the thermostat was set low enough (16 centigrade IIRC) that the A/C unit could never actually draw down to that temperature. So it would run continually (24/7) and fail after about 6 weeks. The second unit would kick in and during its six weeks the first one would get fixed. Repeat - ad nauseam!

      When I figured out what was happening I slowly turned the thermostat up until the A/Cs could handle the load but the room was still easily cool enough. And the A/C failures mysteriously stopped.

      .

      ----------> The one time that both units failed at the same time!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Fighting thermostats

        Why not run both units at 55% or whatever? And if one fails, the other ramps up to 100%?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Fighting thermostats

          Because most AC units do not have a "run at 55% cooling capacity" feature. The ones that do are much more expensive.

      2. CuChulainn Silver badge

        Re: Fighting thermostats

        "You needed to wrap up like Kenny McKormick to go in there."

        I used to find every excuse possible to go into our server room during the summer. It was the only A/C controlled room on site.

    3. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Fighting thermostats

      A few years ago my mom had a $500 electric bill in December. Since electricity is less than 10 cents per kwh, That's a huge draw of nearly 7 kwh average throughout the whole month! It couldn't be something simple like a not quite shut door in the basement deep freeze, it would need to be something able to draw a lot of power.

      I ran my finger over the breakers in her electrical panel and found the one to the main floor furnace/AC unit was warmer than the rest, so I went outside and checked it and found it was running. That probably shouldn't be happening when it is below freezing outside! I eventually figured out that something had happened to cause her AC unit to run and keep running - and the furnace was also running to offset it.

      Luckily there's a breaker switch outside for each AC unit so I was able to shut it off without stopping the furnace from operating normally, and since it was 15 years old decided getting it replaced that spring would make more sense than repairing it.

      I never would have thought it was possible for the furnace and AC to run at the same time, since they are part of one combined system.

      1. PRR Bronze badge

        Re: Fighting thermostats

        > I never would have thought it was possible for the furnace and AC to run at the same time, since they are part of one combined system.

        Maybe to the user. Internally HVAC is a mish-mosh of mildly compatible gizmos made to sell at high mark-up (i.e. cheap).

        One thought is that the "contactor" which applies power to the compressor (loud outside unit) was arcing (they always do, more or less) and finally welded its contacts together so the power was applied without any silly command from the controller.

        A contactor is a $25 1-hour part; the compressor is (depending) >$666 and half a day of motivated labor. Your A/C tech will know one from the other but may have little motivation to recommend the lower-price repair.

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Fighting thermostats

          I didn't even have anyone look at it since the unit was old enough it was due for replacement, and my mom would rather spend the money to have something new (and more efficient) installed than having an old unit repaired and constantly worry that it'll break down on the coldest or hottest day of the year.

          At my business I've had compressors and heat exchangers replaced in multiple rooftop units that are nearing 20 years old now - the primary reason being that due to code changes if the entire package is replaced a whole new pier will have to be built with a walkway and railing. Since that will not only be larger but also have a higher weight requirement it would require additional supports in the attic which in turn might require additional sprinkler heads. So replacing one of the compressors for $3000 or $15K for new unit and another $10K-$15K for building a new pier etc. is a no brainer.

    4. Brad16800

      Re: Fighting thermostats

      We had a case where they'd subdivided a room with a partition to make the IT room and manager room. IT side had no thermostat or temp monitor. End result was our room was freezing cold, manager perfectly fine.

      In this case we didn't even get a dummy one on the wall, Solution, taped some A4 paper over one of the the vents in the ceiling.

    5. Potty Professor Bronze badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Fighting thermostats

      I moved into rented accommodation some four years ago, it had just had a complete refurb. In the hall was a wall thermostat that controlled the central heating, and on the hall radiator was the only Thermostatic radiator valve in the property, so they both tried to control the temperature of the same volume, and so fought like cat and dog. I turned the TRV up to maximum, so it wouldn't interfere with the wall thermostat, and everything worked fine, thanks!

  7. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    Plotters

    The box might have been something that translated print data to plotter data - most likely AGL (A Graphics Language)

    I reckon that the destruction of the Amazon rain forest was kicked off by my initial attempts to use HPGL to get decent plots out of test gear in the 1980s. There's a Farside Cartoon with a pic of a boys bedroom and a poster on the wall saying something like "First Trousers, Then Shoes". Mine would have read "First Select Pen Then Pick Up Pen"

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Plotters

      That would certainly make sense... if it was actually in-line with the serial cable.

      They already said that the serial cable went straight from the patch panel to the plotter, avoiding the box.

      I would have been interested in hearing exactly where the wires attached to the grey box actually did go. I presume there must have been power for the light, but did it actually go somewhere else on the plotter? It is just possible that if there was a wire running to the plotter, it might have been to a broken or normally inaccessible switch wired externally, that may have actually done something to the plotter (like resetting the serial interface on the Calcomp plotter - quite often the serial port was an add-on board that contained it's own Intel 8042 or 8049 microcontroller).

      1. the spectacularly refined chap Silver badge

        Re: Plotters

        It does make sense to me. I'm not familiar with Calcomps but I am with HP and Roland units. I recall many of the HPs in particular had an expansion cartridge available to extend the command set. I suspect this was slightly more than a ROM upgrade since the basic and extended functions were a weird mix - you could render text using the basic command set but even circles and arcs (computed by the plotter rather than the host) needed the cartridge.

        Reading between the lines I came to the conclusion it was whatever needed floating point that needed the cartridge. May have been a ROM and additional RAM, may have been a coprocessor in there, but it supplemented the brains of the unit as opposed to re-interpreting the data stream. Maybe Calcomp had something similar, it was described as a "formatter" by the user's after all.

        The HP cartridges clipped directly into the plotters but at the clock speeds of the time they certainly could have been cable mounted (c.f. IEEE488). Why mount in under a floor plate? That's a toughy, but it may be pilfer-proofing. Would have been quite pricey back then and if only a minority of jobs needed the extended commands it may go some time before being noticed.

      2. chuBb.

        Re: Plotters

        As its underfloor and not in the serial signal path my gut would say its a power conditioner, either a surge protector or a back emf surpressor, possibly an AC frequency shifter

        If it was connected by a single cable to the printer then some bespoke protocol interpreter or rom expansion, or as we are talking about a time of discrete components not flyshit on multilayer pcb could just be a circuit fix fixed on subsequent pcb revisions, reset 74 logic in inconsistent state etc. . Would certainly explain the mystery and external mounting, be interesting to know if it was one of the first in the country....

    2. PRR Bronze badge

      Re: Plotters

      > ....a Farside Cartoon with a pic of a boys bedroom and a poster on the wall saying something like "First Trousers, Then Shoes"

      Image

      Far Side 2003 Calendar at Amazon US,

      Far Side 2003 Calendar at Amazon UK

  8. Ordinary Donkey

    My suspicion

    If you reset the plotter, it sometimes fixed the problem but took a couple of minutes to run through the whole process. People would try in the meantime and declare it not fixed. Forcing them to wait long enough to lever up the floor panel and press the redundant box meant they waited long enough between attempts to reset the plotter.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: My suspicion

      New product idea.

      Arduino with a screen saying 'testing and a counter' but does nothing

      1. Wayland

        Re: My suspicion

        A progress bar that's really just a timer. Each time the button is pressed the bar resets and progresses slower.

        It can display messages such as "Purging flow control buffers", "Re-linking event triggers", "Calibrating level sensors"

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: My suspicion

      Yeah, my thought, straight away, was "delay mechanism".

    3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: My suspicion

      Not sure about Calcomp plotters, but I do know that sometimes sending a poorly formatted or garbage print to a plotter will generate no output, but will require the plotter to actually receive the whole plot at whatever the serial speed is before it will accept another job, causing a delay in the output.

      This did normally set some of error indicator, though.

      If it was attached to a VAX running either VMS or UNIX, chances are that the plotter was just set up as a batch printer in the spooling system, so maybe someone sent a document to the wrong queue.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: My suspicion

        Many years ago a colleague had a student holiday job at NPL in the UK. The plotter was free-running. He had to start the plotter paper feed running - then sprint the length of the machine room to start the program output before the plotter ran out of paper.

        1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

          Re: then sprint the length of the machine room

          That's why they called it the National Physical Laboratory.

  9. stungebag

    Field Engineers' Terminals

    Some Burroughs mainframes had FE Terminals, used by the engineers during preventative maintainance time. They looked very much like electronic calculators and, coincidently, they were installed during the time that Burroughs had an incentive scheme that handsomely rewarded those who sold electronic calculators.

    The engineers were instructed to make sure that they used their terminals on every visit, even though they weren't in any way connected to the computer.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Formatter -> Reclocker?

    Random guess: serial hardware in the plotter was a bit dubious and this box reclocked serial transitions after a long run?

    1. C R Mudgeon
      WTF?

      Re: Formatter -> Reclocker?

      Not in this case, since it wasn't actually in circuit. But I worked at a place once with a similar setup.

      There was an imagesetter [1], brand long forgotten, which got its input via a parallel port. Sitting on top of it, and electrically between it and the Xenix server that hosted its queue, was an A/B switch with nothing connected to its "B" input. Why? It turns out the switch wasn't just a passive switch; it was also a print buffer.[2] We didn't need that either, since there was a spooler upstream, so again, why? Well, we were using the thing off label. The cable run was longer than parallel was really designed to support, and unlike the imagesetter itself, that cheapo buffer's input port was robust enough to get a reliable signal off the wire(s).

      Speaking of decoys, though...

      We later (mid-90s) replaced that imagesetter with a new one from AGFA. This thing cost, if I recall, in the $30-50K range (which, for imagesetters, was pretty low-end, but for a smallish company it was a major purchase). The AGFA consisted of two units: the imagesetter itself and the "raster image processor" (RIP) -- the computer that contained the PostScript interpreter. (So basically, the "formatter" that the article's Calcomp box-under-the-floor was reputed to be but probably wasn't.) The RIP was a big, impressive-looking unit, as befits a device with such a price tag, which sat on the floor (as it was meant to), beside the imagesetter proper. Picture a tower computer case on steroids -- very roughly HxWxD = 3ft x 1ft x 2ft.

      Well, one day the AGFA tech was in doing some work on the RIP, and so I saw it open. Inside that case was (a) a lot of empty air and (b) a bog-standard (for the day) "landscape-format" desktop PC case -- sheet metal and everything -- mounted sideways. You could have fit two of them in there, with room to spare

      The big, floor-space-consuming RIP enclosure was all for show.

      [1] Imagesetters were output devices formerly(?) used in publishing. They did the same basic job as black-and-white laser printers -- turned PostScript into a printed page -- but produced output of far higher quality. Resolution, contrast, position and size accuracy -- all things you need when the device's output is ultimately destined for a printing press, but that laser printers are merely OK at. An imagesetter had a raster-scanning laser, but used it to directly expose photographic film/paper, which you would then carry over to yet a third unit (big, noisy, smelly) to develop it.

      [2] History lesson: back in the day, desktop machines often weren't networked, and their O/Ses didn't have built-in print-queue functionality. (I'm thinking specifically of MS-DOS here. I don't recall about MacOS Classic and early Windows versions.) That meant your computer talked directly to your printer -- synchronously. Your application fed data to the printer at the speed the printer wanted it (which could be painfully slow -- tens of characters per second for a low-end dot-matrix), and since there wasn't (reasonable) multitasking, that meant your computer was basically unusable until the print job completed. The buffer box was intended to solve that problem by gulping the print data from the computer all at once, then dribbling it out at the printer's speed -- along with, of course, letting you share one printer between two computers.

  11. trevorde Silver badge

    An evil plot

    Used to be a mechanical engineer in a previous life. Worked in an office where we had a Calcomp pen plotter. All the draftsmen hated it because they've have to watch it like a hawk in case the pens dried out. This was replaced by a large format, full colour HP roll plotter, which was a lot more civilised. One of the other engineers immediately 'tested' it by printing out a huge poster for his holiday chalet side business!

  12. Pangasinan Philippines

    There are different types of thermostat.

    Wooden equipment building in the middle of a field of h.f. antennae.

    Big 12 inch Xpelair fan wired to a heating thermostat.

    Increase the temperature setting and the fan would run non-stop!

  13. AdamT

    Actually ....

    ... I was on a large open office floor and getting really cold from the aircon unit right above me. So I'd call up to have it adjusted (had to set up a problem ticket, etc. etc.) - with the frequent effect that I often felt it was actually getting colder...

    This went on for a while until I got the trick of insisting they re-open the original problem ticket. Eventually this hit some time limit where it got escalated and an engineer called to say he was going to come to my desk and check personally. 20 minutes later he calls and says "I'm here, where are you?".

    Turns out there was a mix up in the A/C location database between the serial numbers of two units. I was sitting under unit X which had been recorded as being at location Y and vice versa. So I'd call up and they would dutifully increase the set point of the unit claiming to be at location X but was actually at Y and then shortly after that the person at location Y would call up to ask for a decrease at location Y, which would lower the temperature for me at location X.

    Took a while to resolve (they actually had to get out the scaffolding tower over the weekend to get into the ceiling space) but never underestimate the power of keeping that same problem ticket open!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    X25 service story

    Many moons ago, I was in charge of an old X400 mailing system used to exchange all the corporation invoice info with their bank.

    It was going through X25. It was EDI based if I remember.

    And yes it was as critical as the pope's life.

    It had always worked. From time to time a glitch fixed by downing/uping the X25 driver on the system. From time to time a blocked msg at email layer. Easy peasy.

    One time, nothing was going trough. All phones went red, and everyone was pointing at me.

    Couple of X25/X400 commands to no avail. the X25 layer was down. Call to the X25 provider. All good at their end. Same for the OS and system provider. I even had the Europe guru for this.

    So cable ? Checked at modem end and system end: all correctly plugged.

    It took me the rest of the day to:

    -open all tiles of the DC and follow cm by cm, the massive X25 cable. No damage. But after one hour, since this thing was going through 20 m, what was that ???? 2 massive X25 connectors joining 2 cables, hidden below 10 cms of network cables, which had moved and been unplugged when the last dude laid down some network cables.

    Re-plugged and all good again ! The idiot who had done this without proper info, I never found him :(

    1. Dvon of Edzore

      Re: X25 service story

      Whereupon you zip-tied the two connectors to prevent their becoming unmated because the screws which normally accomplish that purpose had mysteriously gone missing, right?

      Restoring the connection to a known-defective state would merely reset the time bomb for the next sod charged with "make it go, now" - a crime for which the afterlife offers ample opportunity for pain and regret.

      1. Unicornpiss
        Pint

        Re: X25 service story

        "Restoring the connection to a known-defective state would merely reset the time bomb for the next sod charged with "make it go, now" - a crime for which the afterlife offers ample opportunity for pain and regret."

        --I must've been the guy that did such sins in a previous incarnation as it would then explain karmically (and sometimes comically) the situations I've encountered in my life.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: X25 service story

      A Remote Job Entry terminal on the floor above the computer room. It suddenly stopped working - although the poll/reply lights at the terminal end looked ok. In those days - no available lights to check the computer end though.

      The terminal was connected by line drivers - with what looked like two bell-wire cables. The wires came down through a hole in the ceiling and trailed across the computer room floor to the comms cabinet.

      Someone had lifted a false floor tile then put it back on top of the cables. The cables disappeared on one side - then re-appeared on the other side. The tile had a steel plate underside sitting on a steel bar matrix that acted like a guillotine. Only one pair had been severed - hence the misleading terminal indicators. It was reckoned that someone had had to jump on that tile to get it to sit flat afterwards.

  15. 42andSlarty

    Ground, or Earth as is known across the pond, was sometimes questionable.

    Coming to pick up your plot, and touching the frame of the plotter, probably caused stored energy to ground to the human - static electricity build up. When multiple plots were run without the big bag of water touching the plotter as they picked up their plot, a path to ground through a circuit would leave the "computer" locked. A reset might work, and failing that, lift the floor tile and press the magic red button. Red button = a big path to ground/earth = static electrical charge dissipated from the plotter chassis.

    Back in the 80's we had an office worker who had plugged their ground requiring Unix terminal into an ungrounded extension cord. Every half hour we received a call of "Core Dump" messages and "get your ass over here and fix this thing". On-site technicians duly changed RAM and processor modules - with a half hour window before the next "Core Dump" phone call. My site visit, to see what was really going on discovered the ungrounded terminal - a new extension cord was procured and problem solved.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ground, or Earth as is known across the pond, was sometimes questionable.

      A mainframe was suffering random crashes which were likely to be due to electrical noise. Went in at the weekend while the engineers were doing their general maintenance. Quickly proved that it was the closing of tape deck doors that would cause the fault.

      Called the engineer over and showed him - except the problem wouldn't happen. The engineer went back to what he was doing - and the problem suddenly came back.

      A classic case of "what changed". The engineers were adding new tape decks to the already long line of them. When we interrupted him - the engineer had just lifted a floor tile to thread a new thick cable. After he went back - the floor tile was put down again.

      The support for the false floor was a metal bar matrix - on which sat the floor tiles whose undersides were reinforced with bare sheet steel. With so many tape decks the metal junction box on one tape deck cable was sitting on top of a pile of other cables - and shorting to the steel under the tile. The matrix was on the building "dirty" earth.

  16. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

    Before I was born

    Story related to me by my mom, some time after my dad passed away.

    My dad made (from a kit?) a literal black box which he kept on on his desk. On the front was a push button, on the back a toggle switch. Push the button, and a battery powered buzzer sounds. Flick the toggle switch and nothing happens, it wasn't connected to anything. The actual reset was hidden in a pinhole on the bottom. A customer was in the office, my dad stepped out and when he came back the box was missing. The customer had thrown it out the window, and it didn't survive the fall.

  17. Phrontis

    Illicit contols

    Years ago my boss was really into saving energy and would only allow an air compressor to be run at a maximum of 90PSI. This would have been fine but at the end of the line it was only 83PSI. And of course the equipment wouldn't run correctly at less than 86PSI and if it wasn't running right he would want an explanation why, without any guff about air pressure being too low. We used the contoller to put an offset to the display on the compressor panel, so that the compressor was running at 94PSI, but only showing 90. Great idea. But then the boss came back asking why the pressure gauge on one of the air recivers was showing well over 90. At the weekend when I knew he wouldn't be in, I went round all of the pressure gauges that indicated different to the compressor and took the indication needles of each of them and put them back on so that everything indicated 90. On the Monday he came into the office to say that he'd never seen all the gauges reading the same before. Dohhhh!

    1. Unicornpiss

      Re: Illicit contols

      Similarly, when I managed a restaurant, 1,000 years ago, I had a good employee that was chronically a half hour late every day. So I'd just schedule him an half hour before I really needed him.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. CuChulainn Silver badge

        Re: Illicit contols

        Upvoted. But I got in trouble once for doing something similar (in various ways, for various people, when scheduling and holding meetings).

        I was told that it was 'disrespectful' and 'untrusting'.

        My reply that if they bloody turned up on time instead of 20 minutes late, when the room was booked by someone after and the meeting topic was critical, it wouldn't be necessary was also not graciously accepted.

        1. Rodderstoo

          Re: Illicit contols

          No, the turning up late for a meeting is disrespectful..

  18. Elledan

    HVAC by the lowest bidder

    I had the honor of sprucing up the HVAC system at the office of a former employer. That system had a lot of problems, from clogged drains from construction debris, defective water valves for the coil-fan units installed in the ceiling and thermostats mounted on a dark wall that would have the sun blasting it with IR for hours on end, as well as thermostats mounted next to the entrances of the large central room in blissful ignorance of the conditions near the windows where anyone who sat there would be blasted with ice-cold air all day long.

    Made me think that most HVAC systems are put in more as a kind of placebo best case and human rights violation in the worst case.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >all we know is that the button makes everything OK again

    What they need is Homer's 'Everything's OK' alarm. Classic.

    Everything's OK.

  20. Roland6 Silver badge

    Missing something

    "I traced the cable from the serial port on the VAX, through a patch panel, under the floor and up to the plotter, completely avoiding the magical beige box."

    And what was the magical box attached to?

    I wonder if the magical beige box was an early and more up-market variant of the household power saver...

  21. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Buffer box

    It's a buffer box. 80s printers had very little RAM so the computer had to tend to it continuously, feeding it byte by byte. It was quite a strain for computers and software engineers back before multitasking was easy.

    Enter the buffer box. This magical device could hold at least one page of print data so your computer was free to do other things. It typically was a box with an LED and a button. If there was ever a printing or communications error, you had to press the button to clear the buffer so the computer could send fresh commands.

    Really fancy boxes had a "print again" button.

    1. elaar

      Re: Buffer box

      The article states there was only a serial connection from the PC direct to the plotter.

      How would the remote buffer work? There were no serial interfaces used back then for RAM, so it would require a parallel connection of some sort, and even then it would work unreliably with cable induction voltage spikes.

      You would think a plotter (as expensive as they were) would have enough RAM for a few pages worth (although what do i know?).

  22. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Disk Formatter

    Is this to do with the hard drive containing the plot to be plotted filling up? The Formatter button formats the hard drive.

    Press button.

    Wait for hard drive to format.

    Hey look, space to now plot the plot - then it plots!

  23. Unicornpiss
    Happy

    Formatting

    We used to have plotters that had a dedicated PC from the vendor that handled formatting the output to something the plotter would understand. They were running Windows, but we had no access to the OS. Once in a while the plotter would misbehave and we'd have to just power cycle the dedicated PC.

    We did have conference rooms that had a similar 'black box' screwed to the bottom of the table for formatting video for the projector. Introducing the new guy who was flustered after a half hour of fruitless troubleshooting to the magic box that needed to be reset was always fun.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A newly built computer building in Africa soon had problems with the machine room A/C. The units were large room-high cabinets. The top sucked in the warm air and the bottom cold air outlet was below the false floor. The A/C design calculations seemed right - but an extra unit was installed and solved the problem,

    On a visit to do a software upgrade the operators were very friendly. They lifted a floor tile at the base of one of the original A/C units and offered us cold beer and water melon from their stock stored there.

    1. CuChulainn Silver badge
      Pint

      I LOVE that!

  25. arachnoid2

    It could be......

    Given the high price of such units all the peripherals, whether used or not were included in the price. After all its accounts that purchase the items, and they have no idea if its a used part of the required system.

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