back to article One door opens, another one closes, and this one kills a mainframe

Ah, dear reader, what a joy it is to see you here once again on this blustery Monday morning. And if it's not blustery where you are, don't brag about it - and instead nestle in for another instalment of Who, Me? in which Reg readers admit to the times their days did not go quite right. This week, meet "Buster" who "back in …

  1. trevorde Silver badge

    Tech support call

    Was at work one day & I got a phone call from my wife: ” My laptop is making a strange beeping sound and there's water running out of the corner!". Turns out she'd spilt her glass of water over it. Told her to turn it off and let it dry out. Amazingly, it fired right back up as if nothing had happened & continued on for a few more years after that.

    1. Killfalcon Silver badge

      Re: Tech support call

      Water is kind, unless it shorts something fragile it will get better.

      Sugar, on the other hand, murders circuit boards.

      1. Stork

        Re: Tech support call

        To perfect it, use Coke (original). Other sugary beverages available.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Tech support call

          sweet coffee is a fun one to deal with as well.

          User Spills coffee on my machine "strange question, but do you take sugar" confused a few users that way in the past.

          1. kventin

            Re: Tech support call

            been there, done that. the coffee was mercifully unsweetened, but there was a lot of it (4dl pitcherful).

            table cloth ruined, carpet ruined, everything around soggy with coffee, the thinkpad merily continued with whatever it was doing, plus streaming coffee when picked up.

            1. Zarno

              Re: Tech support call

              I remember at least a few of the older ones had actual liquid drain channels built in, to divert spills to "safer" locations.

              They don't make them that robust anymore.

              Icon because they may have been bomb proof.

          2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

            Re: Tech support call - ASIDE

            Reminds me of the time I took my car in for a service and was told, in all seriousness by the mechanic "Your tires are on inside-out."

            I was somewhat dumbfounded by this statement.

            Apparently the wall of each car tire has words stating whether it is to be on the 'inside' or 'outside' of the vehicle. And, yes, when pointed out, I could see the word "inside" on the tire wall. presumably something to do with the stresses on the tire walls rather than the tread as same tires on all four wheels.

            Oh well, live and learn.

            1. SammyB

              Re: Tech support call - ASIDE

              Some tires have a very specific tread design and are supposed to roll in a specific direction. That is the reason for the inside/outside designation.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Tech support call - ASIDE

              I had a VX220 which had directional tyres. Failed an MOT because the tyre dealer had fitted them on the wrong sides a few days before. As the MOT was being carried out by said tyre dealer, they swapped them for me and passed it.

            3. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

              Re: Tech support call - ASIDE

              "presumably something to do with the stresses on the tire walls rather than the tread as same tires on all four wheels"

              It likely is the treads, which are presumably asymmetric. I've had tires like that.

              But yeah, the guy's phrasing, "Your tires are on inside-out", suggests a rather more egregious error :-)

              There are also "directional" tires, whose direction of rotation matters. Those also have sidewall markings showing which way to mount them. I think my car's current tires are like that -- and I know my bicycle's are.

              Here's a picture of the different types, and articles on asymmetric and directional tires.

              If I have either type, I make a point of checking them after every tire swap. I've had shops get them wrong more than once, so it's worth the couple of minutes and dusty knees, and the minor embarrassment of being seen to be double-checking their work.

              1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

                Re: Tech support call - ASIDE

                Thanks, upvoted for the informational content. I really had no idea tires were so, umm, interesting.

                No competent work person would object to the customer actually inspecting their work, taking an interest is compliment, if you do it in the right spirit.

          3. phuzz Silver badge

            Re: Tech support call

            A pal spilled a cup of (fortunately unsweetened) coffee over her laptop, and sensibly immediately pulled the power, and asked me to check it out before she tried to power it back on. Fortunately it just required a small bit of cleaning and fired right back up.

            However, it did smell strongly of coffee, which I hate, but my friend was entirely happy with.

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Tech support call

            At a vendor's site, I knocked over my sweetened coffee while trying to connect a monitor to my laptop. The coffee, despite landing on the table, managed to wick into the laptop, which promptly turned itself off. Two hours later, it still wouldn't power up. A quick message to my manager revealed that the lead time for a replacement was in months.

            Mercifully, a couple hours after that, it worked fine. It's now been a few months and still smells faintly of coffee. And then there's the, ah, "enhanced-watermarked" documents...

      2. JimC

        Re: Tech support call

        I once saw water 6 inches deep in a machine room false floor after an air conditioning fault (ie major water leak). Everything was running normally with all the power connectors and many data connecters under water. So we pumped all the water out, and got a big hot air blower to dry the space out, which really put some stress on the newly repaired aircon. It was, IIRC, winter thank goodness so we could have all the doors open.

        1. JulieM Silver badge

          Re: Tech support call

          Pro-tip for next time: The air conditioning would have dried out the server room by itself without the heating!

          Just turn it down to single digits, or as low as it will go. Cold air can hold less moisture than warmer air.

          A dehumidifier actually works by chilling the air, and the excess moisture precipitates out onto the evaporator as ice crystals. (The difference between a dehumidifier and an air conditioner is, a dehumidifier then blows the freshly-chilled air straight over the condenser, and puts back the heat it extracted. A fixed air conditioner has the condenser positioned outdoors. A heat pump is more or less the same, but the flow of refrigerant is reversible so it can make outdoors cooler and indoors warmer. A portable air conditioner blows the freshly-chilled air back into the room, and a separate stream of air over the condenser and out of a window via an exhaust hose; if you leave the exhaust disconnected, it turns into a dehumidifier.)

          1. david 12 Silver badge

            Re: Tech support call

            And then your air conditioning ices up.

            It can handle some humidity, but it's not designed and specified as a de-watering system.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Tech support call


          Seen it twice, but different companies. Both times it was due to a split water pipe to an aircon unit. The first time, the change in pressure when we lifted the tiles up to look made the water go over the top of the near by power sockets and caused a short. One big flash/bang and we were out of there faster than a cat on hot coals.

          The second time wasn't so bad, and we had several cleaners there with industrial hoovers cleaning out the water. I can't say where this happened, but lets just say it was important enough that this was all done with the power still on because it wasn't possible to shut operations down.

      3. mtp

        Re: Tech support call

        Sugar is nothing compared to antifreeze. It leave PCBs covered in blue fuzz which dissolves all the copper and has a good go at the FR4. Or as H.P.Lovecraft would have put it they are left verdant and squamous.

        Icon - because HPLovecraft would approve of this.

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: Tech support call

          Or as H.P.Lovecraft would have put it they are left verdant and squamous

          Nit pick: if it was fuzzy that would be rugose, not squamous.

          Obvious question: antifreeze in a machine room???

          1. Alistair

            Re: Tech support call

            Obvious question: antifreeze in a machine room???

            AC in colder climates include antifreeze. And let me tell you, when that crap gets loose, it *stinks*. For years afterward.

            1. Not Yb Bronze badge

              Re: Tech support call

              My personal favorite "cool climate system cooling solution" is the one my father described, from somewhere in Sweden. When they needed to cool the generators, they just opened the windows in the (rather large) room.

      4. Yes Me Silver badge

        Re: Tech support call

        "Water is kind, unless it shorts something fragile it will get better."

        Then (are you listening, James Dyson?) why does a teeny drop of water completely bugger an expensive cordless vacuum cleaner? So they have to replace the electronics module and blame the user for daring to have a drop of water on the kitchen floor?

        Ah, fragile, I see.

        1. Killfalcon Silver badge

          Re: Tech support call

          You'd expect the design specs to include "water might be present". I mean, seriously, what the hell. The damn thing is a mains-power motor, it's going to have an even higher risk of arcing.

        2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: Tech support call

          I'd better not complain about the design fault where the trigger mechanism is made of plastic and flexes, eventually so much that it will not turn the thing on, and it cannot be replaced or repaired so you need an entire new suction unit.

          Oh and that is Sir James Dyson to us plebs btw.

    2. Binraider Silver badge

      Re: Tech support call

      I've had a motherboard survive a can of John Smiths.

      I guess most of the sugar had been removed in the production process, as it worked fine after a couple days dry out

    3. JamesMcP

      Six feet deep and rising

      I worked at a Fortune 100 healthcare company in the early 2000s that was on the very edge of the midwest in the USA near where they have a very large horse race and some incredibly pure tap water that comes from limestone wells. (That last part will be important) I was not IT, but I was highly dependent on many IT systems and had friends in various IT departments so I heard various bits of this story from six different directions. (Some bits may be modified slightly to protect the guilty)

      For reasons no one could rationally explain, a data center wound up in a basement. And in a highly predicable fashion, two months before the DC was to be relocated in a new facility, an 8" fire line on the 3rd floor blew out. It took hours to get the building water supply shut off and by then the DC was literally neck deep in water. By chance (or likely laziness) all the UPS & power transfer switches were located on the floor above (I think they cannibalized a loading dock) so there was not a horrific >BANG< or >ZZORZTCH<.

      Fire marshals evicted everyone from the building but as there had not been a >BANG< or >ZZORZTCH< they let the power stay on. In Theory this was just to catch the last business day's worth of processing and push that over to the DR facility.

      Reality & Murphy grabbed beers while they pointed and laughed at Theory.

      There was a migration plan, multiple backups, offsite disaster recovery, and all the business continuity stuff you would expect. What the cynic in particular will expect is that none of it had been given a proper test so it was all FUBAR. The backup system was pointed at the DEV servers, The offsite DR copy had been used for a data anonymization project that had accidentally removed all user identifiers, and various other Shakespearean comedy of errors had transpired to render it all a dumpster fire.

      But for some reason, the servers were still online, their lights twinkling merrily under all that water. A frantic data exodus began. Various network hacks were added to increase bandwidth, cables were plugged in through above-ground windows to pull data out through the building LAN to laptops with external drives, you name a desperate stunt that the Fire marshals would allow and they did it.

      The magic is that for four days the lights stayed on in that data center, during which every bit and byte were streamed out of that DC. The new facility was booted up and business functions resumed in less than a calendar week.

      AFAIK, no heads rolled. All the senior IT staff had seen the potential for doom had kept plenty of receipts. From the whispers I heard, various VPs who had demanded things like the anonymization project be done on crash timelines in violation of the corporate processes but gotten sign off from the C-suite.

      1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

        Re: Six feet deep and rising

        "incredibly pure tap water that comes from limestone wells. (That last part will be important)"

        Not completely pure, then, but very, very slightly alkaline, from dissolved limestone.

        I wonder if *that* was important.

    4. cosmodrome

      Re: Tech support call

      Clearly the magic smoke in there had condensed.

  2. abend0c4 Silver badge

    You're not supposed to open all the cabinets at once

    If, like me, you were wondering how heavy the cabinet doors would have to be:

    That's a big fridge, and I don't fancy fixing the ice-maker.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You're not supposed to open all the cabinets at once

      Hmmm. How much of the works can you fit to the door before it stops being a door and becomes just a hinged extension of the chassis. I'd say this is borderline.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: You're not supposed to open all the cabinets at once

      Great pic!

      Explains how the weight might tip the balance.

      Looks like the open doors would act as a sort of kick-stand holding the teetering machine at about 80 degrees

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You're not supposed to open all the cabinets at once

      So they put part of the circuitry on the doors. That would make them tippy if you opened too many doors.

      Kind of like a filing cabinet. You shouldn't open more than one drawer at a time. And load an empty one from the bottom up. I didn't do it, but I saw one after it tiped when someone was moving between cubes. Luckily no serious injuries.

      1. Dinanziame Silver badge

        Re: You're not supposed to open all the cabinets at once

        Which is why many filing cabinets have a mechansim that prevents you from opening two drawers at the same time.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You're not supposed to open all the cabinets at once

          The good ones do. Cheap ones not guaranteed to be so sensible.

  3. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    He was obviously offering the prospective recruit a tip or two

    1. Korev Silver badge

      I hope he gave the PFY a balanced introduction...

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. KarMann Silver badge

      The good news is, it didn't end with a trip to the tip.

  4. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge


    Narrow escape there. Reminds me of the time I was showing some students around the Centre for High Performance Computing at the university, and we came across the fridge-sized cabinet housing the Cray J932. Not much to look at, but with an impressively big rectangular green LED showing the machine was up and running, and a (very well recessed) power button below. One student asked what would happen if he pressed that button, whereupon I said that two little semicircular steel claws would come out and clip off his finger, and if that malfunctioned I had a set of pliers to complete the job. He seemed to accept that "explanation."

    1. Howard Sway Silver badge

      Re: OOPS!

      It's amazing that so many computers just have a single button, which if pressed whilst the computer is running might wreck the system. Why they had to combine the on / off functions to save a couple of coins adding a second button on a Cray supercomputer that probably cost millions is beyond me. But I guess it "looked cool"......... Ideally, it should have been fitted with one of those hand crank shafts from an early car to start it up, with a seperate power off button very far away hidden behind a couple of doors to avoid this disaster waiting to happen.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: OOPS!

        Cos if it's on fire you don't want to have to do all the whole self destruct sequence scene in Alien to shut it down

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: OOPS!


        2. collinsl Bronze badge

          Re: OOPS!

          In that case I wouldn't rely on the "off" button and would flip the breakers for it or pull out the power plug(s)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: OOPS!

            The Cray, Y/MP anyway, has a big red button top of the front panel that you can just reach over and punch (and, yes, there was an optional Mollyguard). You don't just unplug something like that, it's either hard wired or on a large Ceeform connector. Ans how long would it take to get to the breakers, open the box, figure out which breaker etc.?

  5. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    Reg Standard Units

    I think that using a refrigerator as a unit of measure is ambiguous given that fridges in the US (or at least those I see on telly programmes) are massive compared to the ones we use in the UK.

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Reg Standard Units

      Nah, it's a cool standard...

  6. Sam not the Viking Silver badge

    Total Recall

    I didn't want to remember the event but this story poked a brain cell.......

    New company, we had all put our personal investment in money, time, effort and skill and had taken our first biggish orders. We were renting premises. One of our first sub-contract motor-control panels was delivered to our 'factory' and we borrowed a local fork-lift truck to off-load...... Although we were beset with a range of skills fork-lift truck driving was not one of them. The panel, about 4 metres long, 2 high and 0.6 deep was carefully lifted off the wagon, reversed away, whereupon it did a perfect 270-degree slam onto the ground 5-foot below. The face of the panel was protected by protruding instruments (ammeters etc.) which were all damaged. The paintwork cracked and chipped. This could be a major financial hit, plus late delivery, reputation damage before it was even established.....

    The instruments we could replace. Broken handles we could replace. Small dents we could fill. The internal relays that had all fallen out were re-inserted. One of our team was an amateur model-maker and he determined that he could restore the paintwork. With artwork worthy of the V&A, the panel was restored to nearly pristine glory.... undetectable except under forensic inspection. We re-packed it more carefully than it had been delivered to us and delivered it to site. It worked! The customer noted the panel had slightly mis-matched front appurtenances but this was an industrial site, it just had to work.

    Many years later, I went back to the site and the panel was still in operation. I could see the evidence of its previous acrobatics but said nothing........

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Fork lift trucks

      Yes, for safety reasons, you definitely need to be a properly licenced fork-lift truck driver, as is demonstrated in this 'extremely serious' YouTube video.

      1. NXM Silver badge

        Re: Fork lift trucks

        That vid is one of the funniest things I've ever seen, thank you!

        For an entire movie along the same lines, try Black Sheep about flesh-eating mutant ... sheep.

      2. JulieM Silver badge

        Re: Fork lift trucks

        How bad is it, on a scale 0-10, that I knew exactly what that video was before I clicked the link?

        1. collinsl Bronze badge

          Re: Fork lift trucks

          2, or 12, I'm not sure since I knew too.

      3. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

        Re: Fork lift trucks

        And some still say we Germans know neither humor nor sarcasm. Let me get the big dictionary to proof you wrong.

        1. Not Yb Bronze badge

          Re: Fork lift trucks

          I loved watching that video in the original German (which I can sort-of understand). The English translation isn't bad, but it sounds somehow... more dangerous in German.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Fork lift trucks

          It's well known that the German sense of humour is no laughing matter.

      4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Fork lift trucks

        From the title on the page, it's exactly the video I was expecting you to link to, but for some weird reason I get "Sign in to confirm your age". Well, that ain't gonna happen! It certainly didn't happen the last time I saw it. I wonder what's changed at YouTube?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Fork lift trucks

          The USA reduced the age that children can work in factories. You can't have 14 year olds working with forklifts see something like this !

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Fork lift trucks

            Sorry that wasn't true, they were 11


            1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

              Re: Fork lift trucks

              Woah, child labor is on the rise in US.,., Again?

  7. Sean o' bhaile na gleann

    IBM, too, maybe...

    There's an old story - almost apocryphal, I'm sure - about IBM's 3330 disk drives.

    A full 'bank' of drives came as four cabinets of 2 disk 'drawers' that were mounted vertically, plus a control unit on the end (pic here: )

    The disks themselves were 'exchangeable' - any single volume could be swapped for another by hitting the 'stop' button for the relevant drawer, waiting for the disk to spin down, opening the drawer, taking out ('dismounting') the disk that was there and putting a different one in, then firing that particular drive up again to make the new volume available to the system (and, yes, you could do that while the 'old' disk was actually in use - with predictable results!)

    They story goes that while it was possible to open all four top drawers at the same time, it was inadvisable to do so since the entire 'bank' would topple forward (those 3330 disks were heavy.)

    An extension to the story says that this problem was fixed by a special IBM part that could be attached - two extendable legs that attached to the front of the bank to provide extra physical stability.

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: IBM, too, maybe...

      That reminds me of another IBM story, I was assured, by someone who claimed to have been there, that this really happened but make your own judgement.

      They were looking for some new tail-lift vans to deliver the large line printers. Ford UK's proposal was for Cargo vans but IBM decided they were larger than required and found an independent supplier who'd fit tail lifts to Transits, having figured that two printers would be within the van's carrying capacity and one would fit on the tail lift. As this was a big investment they arranged a grand unveiling with various senior management present. Having rolled a nice new printer onto the brand new tail lift the driver pressed the *up* button, at which point the printer stayed where it was and the front of the van rose into the air! The dodgy supplier hadn't calculated the loading correctly for a single large item being lifted, Ford had done so and realised a Transit wasn't suitable.

      1. disgruntled yank

        Re: IBM, too, maybe...


        Many, many years ago, while taking a break from school, I worked as a driver. The printing company had what appeared to be a moderately sized truck, but was van with a truck box fitted on. Normally this wasn't something one noticed, but then one day it was necessary to load it with considerably more than the usual two or three pallets. The front rose up in a manner that reminded me of pictures of 1940s aircraft with the little wheel at the tail. The tilt was not so bad as to dangerously obstruct the view forward, but the ride was squishier than usual, and I drove very carefully across town.

        1. John 110

          Re: IBM, too, maybe...

          That was how I discovered that you're not supposed to fill the boot of your car with paving slabs. Going round corners was a bit problematic...

          1. Caver_Dave Silver badge

            Re: IBM, too, maybe...

            But now you would feel at home in any US muscle car.

            They go around corners in a similarly imprecise way.

            Caveat - I've only driven one, but it did handle like that and (the original UK) Top Gear were always saying it.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: IBM, too, maybe...

              I know what you mean: I have a Flymo

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: IBM, too, maybe...

        I remember once seeing a picture of a skip lorry where the skip had decided it was tired and didn't want to get up.

      3. JulieM Silver badge
        IT Angle

        Re: IBM, too, maybe...

        A very long time ago, I found myself in the driving seat of a minibus, made from a Ford Transit, that somebody had got stuck on a beach and was now just churning up sand from the rear wheels (I said it was a long time ago .....) Even although I was the only one in the group without a driving licence (and therefore blameless), I was also the lightest .....

        (I got it moving, though!)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: IBM, too, maybe...

      The systems people did this when I was a dba and installed gummy stops which eventually crashed multiple disks for multiple days. I became a master at database recovery. Still don’t know what gummy disks are. Does anyone still know?

  8. Anonymous Anti-ANC South African Coward Bronze badge
    Thumb Up

    Now that's *proper* heavy metal... big iron still rules!

  9. Admiral Grace Hopper

    Buttocks Of Power

    Rooting around the temperamental disc controller on the only rack of Dell gear on the estate for the umpteenth time, I bent low to stare angrily the same bloody capacitor that had to be shorted so that we could could get the disc array booted up again. I hadn't noticed the doors on the racks behind me had been removed for reasons unknown to me. Capacitor shorted, I moved back to return the controller to its operational position. I felt something against my right buttock then heard the unmistakable sound of a hefty bank of discs powering down. My backside had found the power switch and switched off the discs in the rack behind me. I waited for the box to reach quiescence then hit the switch (wiping it to remove finger prints), waited for everything to turn green, locked my own rack doors, then went back and checked which system I had just given an unscheduled DR test. DEV - phew! No harm done. Since then, like when I drive, I always check behind me before pulling out.

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: Buttocks Of Power - Linguistic aside

      I heard this on the radio a few months ago, don't recall who told this story.

      The Ibo language of Africa is an intoned language. So people learning it as a second language need to be careful. One person trying to impress intended to say "God has great power", but actually said "God has great buttocks."

      Well, of course She does.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Saved an engineer from being crushed.

    Luckily I was with him as he pulled out a system in a rack to work on it (an RP7400 if I remember - heavy bugger), and the entire rack started to tilt forward. I pushed against the rack as the engineer quickly pushed the server back in. I was a little confused. We had anti-tilt feet bolted to all the cabinets. I looked down, and yep, there was the anti-tilt foot. Which moved when I kicked it.

    Someone in the DC had unbolted ALL the feet on ALL the racks, but left the feet sat loose at the bottom of each rack. Never found out who or why though.

    The only time in my career where "Holy fuck, that was close" was wholly appropriate.

  11. TimMaher Silver badge

    Little hamsters on wheels.

    Back in the late seventies I was working at a systems supplier that had a mid-range sort of machine in a glossy glass enclosed room that looked pretty slick from the outside.

    On rare occasions one of the hard drive cabinets would see its disk power down for no apparent reason. As a mate pointed out, there was a reason. If you opened the front panel you could see that the rubber band had come off the disk gearing.

    Power off, force rubber band back into place, power on and then run the job again.

    1. disgruntled yank

      Re: Little hamsters on wheels.


      That sounds like the unit Data General used to sell--a 25 MB hard drive with an 8" floppy one could use to back it up. I remember being at a customer's site and hearing a "spang", which was followed immediately by a system panic. The sound was that of the belt drive falling off. We left replacement to the FE.

      1. Tim99 Silver badge

        Re: Little hamsters on wheels.

        I bought a similar set (DG Nova 4c) for acquisition and processing data from a scientific instrument. The 25 MB disk was mounted in a desk rack and could be slid out for maintenance. It had a transparent plastic top and the head made a pleasant musical sound when working - One day I heard a very load screeching sound and then everything stopped. The head had crashed, gouged a furrow around the middle of the platter and oxide coating had covered the rest of the unit. It made a great conversation piece until the FE took it away, as you could see exactly how it should have worked.

  12. Falang

    A similar incident happened to me as a trainee operator on our ICL System 4 mainframe (that shows how long ago!). The disk drives were in 2M high cabinets with 2 draws in each. I merrily went along the line of cabinets opening all the draws ready to to do a bulk disk pack swap when the the whole line started to teeter. I just managed to avert disaster by using hands and feet to very rapidly close all the draws again. It would have brought a whole new meaning to the term 'the computer's crashed'.

    BTW you've heard of a memory leak but have you ever seen a disk drive bleed?

    We suddenly started getting lots of errors on one of the drives, it was then we noticed the expanding pool of red liquid coming out from under the unit (the head actuators were powered by hydraulics).

    We reported it to the on-sire engineer (remember them?) saying we think a drive unit has been fatally wounded which confused him until he saw the pool of hydraulic fluid.

    Happy days, ring fights and C02 cannons :-)

    1. LessWileyCoyote

      I remember those drive cabinets! I think your system probably started life as an English Electric System 4 if it had drive arrays that old.

      1. Falang

        It was a few years after ICL was formed from the merger of EE and ICT. Everything was badged as ICL in beige cabinets. I vaguely recall being told the drives were rebadged CDC units.

    2. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

      Never had a ring fight, but I can guess which rings you mean.

      Our weapons of choice were frisbee guns.

      1. Falang

        Write Permit Rings fired with a large elastic band were quite painful if you got hit. The fast spinning tab hurt!

        Mini-tape canister lids made great frisbees. Great fun until you hit the under/over voltage cabinet and crash powered off the whole system. Those trips were built like booby trap trembler switches, wack the cabinet and they would trip.

    3. Mr Army

      Made me think of this

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    not a who me but related

    I worked for a Local Authority a while back and we were doing a DC migration. The new hardware had been bought and built in the old DC for some reason I can't recall. Cue a frantic weekend of lift and shift of expensive kit. By about 1100 on Saturday it was more or less looking OK and my boss and I caught the lift down to the loading bay to look at the next consignment of expensive toys to be unloaded. We emerge to see the delivery drivers standing around looking a bit scared with the shiny new SAN lying on it's side under the tail lift of their truck.

    The rest of the weekend is a bit of a blur in my memory but we got it all up and the SAN survived the trauma.

    AC to protect the guilty.

    1. LessWileyCoyote

      Re: not a who me but related

      Back in the 90s I worked for a minicomputer manufacturer, happened upon one of the FEs dismantling a parallelogram shaped fridge-sized machine from a bank. Movers had pushed it out of their van onto the tail-lift, hadn't realised it had rollers underneath... It kept going, straight off the edge. Fortunately these machines were built to a military spec which included being able to be parachuted out of planes: the chassis was scrap, but all the boards and components were servicable.

  14. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Get to the chopper!

    ...rebadged version of the General Electric GE-600 series

    I'm obviously showing my age here, but when I read that the first thing that crossed my mind was the image of a mini-gun.

    Still at least we had Buster and not Arnie or Jessie...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Now if that much computing power falls on the floor, the hardest part is finding it again.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Under Pressure

    During that era when everyone suddenly decided that asbestos was bad for you, a lab I was tangentially connected to had to move out of their old building and into a shiny new one that would burn down more easily but wouldn't give you lung cancer. Naturally, the separately negotiated contracts meant that the old building was scheduled for demolition before the new one was ready so key kit had to be relocated to portakabins for continued operation.

    The big mass spec was concerningly heavy for such a flimsy structure but, after looking up the weights of everything, the installers assured management the floor could take it. This proved to be true initially but two facts were overlooked: the water chiller weight was the dry figure and it was on wheels.

    When it was filled up with several hundred litres of DI, the pressure was sufficient to cause it to fall first into and then through the floor. Since the new hole was between the mass spec, a lot of other heavy, expensive kit and the door, they had to dismantle the cabin and crane it out. I believe that there was a bit of back and forth over responsibilities but the exact financial outcome was never (as far as I know/remember) disclosed outside of top management.

  17. AlanSh

    Opening doors - yes, it can cause chaos

    I was working at Orange in (I think) Switzerland). They had a humungous size take backup system which you walked into to load/unload tapes. When the doors opened, all systems shut down - for obvious reasons. One day, a VP was showingan important visitor around and wanted to show off the tape system. so, he opened the doors. Of course, all the running backups etc. shut down. 10 seconds later, the ops manager rushes in - "Which idiot did that???! - VP, not impressed but had to admit it was him.

    The systems took about 8 hours to re-initiialise.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Opening doors - yes, it can cause chaos

      And that is why those rooms are Authorized Personnel Only, and Vps are not authorized.

      They can look through the the windows to show off the blinkenlichten.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the system was about six or seven meters long

    What sort of meters, water? gas? electricity? sound?

    If this is supposed to describe a size, why doesn't the article use el Reg's proper unit of measurement, the giraffe?

    1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Re: the system was about six or seven meters long

      > water? gas? electricity? sound?

      Make an educated guess which "meter" corresponds "long". Or do you pick on metre vs. meter? Start another war between US and Brit?

      > proper unit of measurement, the giraffe?

      A southern Sahara one or a northern Sahara one, before it got hunted into extinction?

      1. F. Frederick Skitty Silver badge

        Re: the system was about six or seven meters long

        Northern of course - the southern one is still evolving, so isn't a stable form of measurement.

      2. collinsl Bronze badge

        Re: the system was about six or seven meters long

        The huge ones which haven't been discovered in the fossil record yet. IIRC they were 20 miles tall.

  19. WolfFan

    Not hamsters

    They're gerbils. And they will do anything as long as they are kept far away from Richard Gere. (And Sylvester Stallone.)

    Exit, stage right, in a Kia Soul.

    1. TimMaher Silver badge

      Re: Kia Soul

      I’m sorry @Wolf, we haven’t got one of those.

      May I lend you a coat?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Smoking hot mainframe

    That well-known computer manufacturer "HAL" of "2001 - A Space Odyssey" fame once ordered my companies top product. And, because they were HAL, and HAL always bought the best, most expensivest thing, they bought the fullest sized analysis computer with all the fancy upgrades possibly imaginable. So, the tecchies plugged in all the extra bits and bats ,flipped the main power switch and the whole thing hummed into life. Unfortunately, after about 30 minutes, the machine caught fire, due to all the extra thingies (Which nobody else had ever been crazy enough to buy before in their entirety) overloaded the main power supply. About half a million dollars and an awful lot of free stuff later the customer calmed down.

  21. aerogems Silver badge

    Design Flaw

    Granted time has made the matter moot, but seems like a design flaw if the weight of all the doors being open is enough to tip the system over. Granted I am still a little confused why the hero of the story didn't just show the PFY the innards of one system, then close the door and move on to the next one. I could maybe see wanting to compare two side-by-side, but beyond that it starts getting harder to believe it was necessary.

  22. Sunset

    The 6000 family didn't die in 1989, actually! It got absorbed into Groupe Bull who continued custom-hardware development until about 2006 and sells the product line under emulation to this day. There's a handful of sites in North America and a few more in France.

    Nice platform. 36-bit, ASCII, distinctly old school.

    1. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

      And it fits on a USB dongle now, too. Much less problem when it tips over.

    2. david 12 Silver badge

      The GE computers were very successful in banking -- my bank was still running the (legacy) passbook savings account business on a GE computer in emulation years later.

      There were, apparently, three problems:

      1) The peripherals weren't as good. IBM thought that there would 'only be 5 computers', and dedicated their efforts to making good peripherals, continuing their success with card equipment. It doesn't matter how good your PC is, if your screen, printer, keyboard, and network are irritating.

      2) Accounting for the GE computer division was screwy. Most computer equipment then was built for rental, so your costs are up-front and your income is back-loaded. That means the more equipment you build, the more money you need. And the GE computer division was exceeding targets every year. If you look at that one way, it's an investment with predicable returns. Looked at the wrong way, it looks like you're loosing more and more money every year.

      3) Management wasn't interested. It was a small part of GE, and the numbers didn't look good.

  23. bjzq888

    We had a huge bank of batteries in the basement for the data center. They were inspected once a month; no red lights, note it on the sheet and go back upstairs. The inspector in this case fumbled with his clipboard and the page fell off, then perfectly flew into the air intake of one of the batteries, where it disappeared. It literally made it through a gap of just a few millimeters, horizontal, on its own. There was no way to remove the paper while the system was online. Not knowing if it was going to cause a fire or a problem, we had to power *everything* down in the data center, the only time I had ever observed this happening in that facility. It was a 24-hour datacenter for a reason, after all. So off everything went...That meant lights, air conditioning, mainframes, servers, you name it. The entire place had to go dark...then they had to carefully disassemble the battery unit, remove the paper, and put it back together, in a multi-hour operation.

  24. wyatt

    Reminds me of the time I was taking an army vehicle for servicing, going round a corner I heard a loud bang. On return to the garage I had a look in the box body- the enclosure with the Nortel Passport, Switch and a number of other bits was suspended by the fibre connectors not where it should be.

    I'd forgotten to secure it before moving, apart from a dent it was fine.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      And this is why military kit cost so much. It has to survive the grunts handling it, enemy fire and still have spares available at least 10 years down the line even when it's outdated and near as damn it obsolete :-)

      Some of the shitty old printers we still have to maintain for a military customer partly because they come with special flight cases for that specific printer model but mainly because the software used to maintain the multi-million dollar weapons systems will only work with a very limited subset of no longer manufactured printer models from a specific manufacturer.

  25. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Many moons ago

    while I was a mere PFY, we had tool trollys loaded with big tools (think 15lbs + each), they had a rack of tools either side. If you cant guess what happened next... goto the back of the room for correction.

    Yeah they dont work so well when a doofus unloads just one side

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Many moons ago

      And there was me thinking that a typical PFY would probably be riding said trolley at high speed when approaching a tight corner followed by much blood and hilarity. Your story seems a little tame. :-)

  26. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

    Stone knives and bear skins

    I spent most of my time at university as a 6000-series user, and one summer as an operator. This was in the late 70s. I then worked with them at Honeywell itself for my first year-plus out of school. (No, I'm not the article's "Buster".)

    The computer's logic wasn't in the doors, but all in the cabinets proper; the stuff on the doors was user-interface control panels. Well, maintainer interface; end users weren't allowed anywhere near the hardware. Here are pictures of the control panels on the inside of a CPU and a System Controller Unit (SCU). (Different generations, obviously; I remember only the SCU's black-on-white styling.)

    As a lowly operator, I was strictly forbidden to touch any of that stuff -- except for the SCU's "initialize" button, which I was instructed to press once or twice. It initiated a hard reboot -- the moral equivalent of a PC's "reset" button. I only mention it because the hard-reboot mechanism is an interesting bit of history. As I recall, that button caused exactly one punch card to be read from the card reader, into a specific hard-wired memory location, and then jumped to. That card was expected to contain the code to read and jump to the next few cards, which would have enough code to read the rest of the bootloader, which would read the rest of (what we would now call) the kernel, which would then read a bunch of configuration directives, all from punch cards. That's the kind of rigmarole the word "bootstrap" was invented to describe, before ROM was cheap enough to contain anything like a BIOS. (That wasn't the usual boot procedure; usually the system could be booted from disk. The punched-card boot was only needed as a last resort.)

    Of course the first part of the deck didn't contain Hollerith codes, but were punched with "column binary" -- executable code in raw binary. (The 6000 had 36-bit words, so I presume column binary lined up nicely as three 12-bit columns per word.) It was only once you got to the configuration part of the deck that the cards switched from column binary to text.

    (Speaking of ROM, I also heard tell of a machine (I think it was the PDP-11/45 UNIX box that I also spent a fair amount of time on) which had a boot ROM consisting of a matrix of discrete diodes that were soldered in where all the 1 bits were supposed to be.)

    The main body of each cabinet consisted of dozens of large PC boards, plugged into what I presume was a passive backplane (you can see those, though not well, in the picture OP posted). The backs of the cabinets also had doors, but what you saw when you opened them was frightening: thousands of wire-wrap wires going every whichway! Something like this. (That's not from a Honeywell machine -- judging by the URL, it's a Burroughs B7800 -- but the Honeywell's guts were similar enough.)

    One day the Honeywell field engineer was doing some work -- installing an upgrade, I think -- and the system didn't work afterward. He spent all day debugging it, with the help of one of the students, who I think was studying electrical engineering. The debugging tools available were, as I recall, those control panels plus an oscilloscope. They finally tracked the problem down to one of those wire-wrap wires, broken inside the insulation, i.e. the damage wasn't visible.

    A sad coda: there was an electronics surplus store I liked to spend time in (Toronto's late, lamented Active Surplus -- aka the "gorilla store" because, well, gorilla). Four or five years after I left Honeywell, I dropped into Active one day, and saw a couple of those 6000-series control panels for sale. The price they quoted me was "$1.50 per switch" or thereabouts. More than I was willing to spend for a weird, nostalgic wall hanging. Now, I regret passing them up.

  27. David Newall


    Who puts the knobs and switches on the inside of the door?

  28. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge


    "the Honeywell 6000 was the rebadged version of the General Electric GE-600 series, acquired in 1970 when GE quit the computer business"

    The Honeywell operating system was called GCOS -- General Comprehensive Operating System. Previously it had been GECOS, with the E being for "Electric", but after the purchase, Honeywell dropped the E and left it at "General".

    If you've ever wondered how /etc/passwd's "gecos" field got its name, it originally held the user's ID on Bell Labs's GE mainframe. It only later got repurposed as a comment field.

    It just now occurs to me to wonder whether that mainframe was left-over hardware from the Multics project. The timing works out, but that's only circumstantial. Does anyone know?

    1. Trixr

      Re: GE?COS

      I don't know re Multics leftovers, but I am delighted to know the origins of "gecos", which has made it into the Active Directory user attribute set.

      Fittingly, we use it as an alternate ID field where I work (pure serendipity for the choice on my part - it was unused on all 20K+ user accounts and is the appropriate data type).

  29. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Heavy doors

    OK, so I'm probably being a bit stupid or slow (or both), but, if opening too many doors caused the cabinets all to fall forwards, then I am assuming that it was the fact they were all bolted together that prevented each individual one falling forwards when its own door was opened. Which gets me to the question: if the cabinets had not been bolted together would opening the door on any one cabinet have caused it to fall forwards?

    Sounds like bad design to me, but I am happy to be corrected by the Register's resident experts.

    1. TSM

      Re: Heavy doors

      Logically, if opening all the doors is enough to tip over all the cabinets, then opening one door would be enough to tip over one isolated cabinet.

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