back to article Fresh cotton underpants fix series of mysterious mainframe crashes

Hello Friday! And hello, therefore, to On-Call, The Register's regular column in which readers explain how they were sent out into user-land to do odd things and returned triumphant, frustrated or smugly satisfied. This week, meet “Ben” who wrote to tell us that he once ran support for “a small mainframe manufacturer.” Among …

Page:

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Ben conducted further investigation and learned that his colleague's dress was polyester dress."

    Surely a moment calling for supreme delicacy and tact?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Trollface

      ['puter says]

      There ain't room for both of us. Either she goes, or I do.

    2. wolfetone Silver badge
      Coat

      "Surely a moment calling for supreme delicacy and tact?"

      Quite right. I'm sure he didn't open with "You know, that dress would look better on my bedroom floor. Because I don't have servers in my bedroom with anti-static protection on them."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Angel

        @wolfetone

        "Because I don't have servers in my bedroom with anti-static protection on them."

        What kind of sysop is that???

        1. wolfetone Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: @wolfetone

          "What kind of sysop is that???"

          A sysop that gets laid.

          1. Marshalltown

            Re: @wolfetone

            Reply Icon

            Re: @wolfetone

            "What kind of sysop is that???"

            A sysop that gets laid.

            Yeah, but WHAT KIND OF SYSOP get's laid?

    3. Jedit
      Angel

      "Surely a moment calling for supreme delicacy and tact?"

      Perhaps not supreme delicacy. That was presumably required shortly after, as the writer implies that enquiries were also made into the nature of the lady's underwear.

    4. chivo243 Silver badge
      Devil

      Just this week, an office received new furniture, and we had to re-cable the desks etc while people were working. I advised one of the ladies wearing a nice summery dress that pants would be a good idea the next day as I would be working at the desk across from her ;-}

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        One of our desktop guys set a password to reset daily, just so he had an excuse to check her network connection which was below her desk.

        She had great legs and short skirts.

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Joke

          gynecologist on his lunch hour

          and with all of this, I'd almost expect someone to pop up from under a desk and make the claim "It's ok, I'm a gynecologist. I'm on my lunch hour."

          (as in 'where's the Monty Python angle')

      2. phuzz Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        "I advised one of the ladies wearing a nice summery dress that pants would be a good idea"

        Can we just clarify, by pants do you mean trousers, or underwear?

        1. chivo243 Silver badge
          Headmaster

          @phuzz +1

          My oversight! trousers, pantalons, britches, spijkerbroek, jeans - well yes... The idea that she might be au natural hadn't crossed my mind, but now when I see her... what were we talking about again?

          1. RW

            Not au natural. "Au naturel" is correct. "Au naturale" is incorrect. But none is quite right.

            "Commando" is the word meaning clothed without wearing underwear. There is the implication that underwear doesn't show if you are dressed, which is not always true.

            Drawback: "Commando" may be too male a word to be used for a woman as it's connected somehow with the concept of letting the boys hang free.

            1. Curtis

              re: Commando?

              The first time I heard it, it was from a female co-irker (who later that night offered to show me what she meant)

    5. G2
      Paris Hilton

      that female was probably so hot that the server was literally blowing its load whenever she walked by.

      =)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        ...and somehow we wonder why there aren't more women in tech. :-)

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Is Ben's surname Dover by any chance?

  2. DougS Silver badge

    Humidity control

    Aren't computer rooms typically humidified in dry climates to avoid unwanted static discharges? Any moving part (fans, etc.) can create static discharges in dry air.

    1. Gordon Pryra
      Pirate

      Re: Humidity control

      We are talking about old mainframes here, even 10 years ago data centers were generally just "rooms with computers", 20 years ago and i can remember being able to smoke whilst fixing issues with NT4 webservers,

      Further back in time, things get even less controlled

      (Pirate icon cos there is no icon for unregulated cowboy controls)

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Humidity control

        Smoking in the data center? That's a terminal offense, no questions asked. This has been true since the late 1960s that I am personally aware of.

        Oh. Windows. That's OK, it's just a toy.

        1. Steve Kellett

          Re: Humidity control

          Long enough ago and far enough away that I can remove anonymity from the guilty...

          It would have been in about 1984 and the place was the head office of a company called Locamion in Lyons, France. Back in those days smoking in France was more or less compulsory, and the atmosphere in the office was pretty much opaque. This much was expected, but when I went into their machine room I discovered an unusual modification had been made to the MDS disk drives[1]. Ash trays had been added so that they could convince the operators to remove their cigs from their mouths for the time taken to switch disk packs. That stopped them getting fag ash on the platters and thus reduced the frequency of head crashes.

          Otherwise the room was climate controlled and had temperature and humidity tracking, just like all the others. In fact the "Computer Room" used to be the one place you could escape summer heat and pollen.

          1) Huge washing machine sized contraptions with on exchangeable disk drive at the top (6 platter 18" diameter beasts with 60MB capacity) and a 640MB non-exchangeable drive at the bottom.

          1. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

            Il est formellement interdit de fumer

            "Back in those days smoking in France was more or less compulsory..."

            That statement, dear readers, is no exaggeration.

            I bought some "Il est formellement interdit de fumer" (Smoking strictly forbidden) signs for a customer computer room. The thought never occurred to them, and this was a very large company who should have known better.

        2. boltar Silver badge

          Re: Humidity control

          "Smoking in the data center? That's a terminal offense"

          Would that be a vt100 type offense or a wyse 60?

          1. Down not across

            Re: Humidity control

            Would that be a vt100 type offense or a wyse 60?

            ADM-3A

        3. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Flame

          Re: Humidity control

          smoking in the office building PERIOD should be a terminal offense. (thankfully that hasn't been in any office I work in since the very early 90's)

          But at the very least, if it were NOT outright banned throughout the building, by keeping that crap out of the data center, it would give me a reason to move my workstation in there. Just wear hearing protection, no need for a phone, right next to the machine if I had to do something with it, etc. and nobody would bother me.

        4. Updraft102 Silver badge

          Re: Humidity control

          "Smoking in the data center? That's a terminal offense, no questions asked."

          I understand the problem and I personally think smoking is beyond disgusting, but summary execution of the offender does seem a little bit excessive.

          1. Curtis

            Re: Humidity control

            No. It's not. I used to smoke (switched to vaping) and cleaned the inside of my PC at least quarterly. This meant a full strip down, wiping down the board with 91% and qtips, cleaning all the fans and heatsinks, etc. A complete environment clean.

            All this stemmed from a position at a company that had to replace the payroll computer at least yearly, because the elderly lady working on it chain smoked. Computers can die of smoke inhalation.

      2. Esme

        Re: Humidity control

        @Gordon Pyra - interesting to hear you say that about how firms look after their kit. My first proper job was as a mainframe operator for SERC nearly 40 years ago now - the computer room had aircon (indeed, me and my team leader used sign language to communicate from one end of the compuer room to the other, the aircon was so noisy). Following that, I worked for Fedex on their mainframes - also in an airconditioned room. Twent years ago, and I was working for the local council, NOT in IT , but their equipment was in an air-conditioned room.

        My impression has been that all companies keep their IT gear nice and cool, even if they don't care if their staff fry!

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: Humidity control

          They ran out of budget to put the aircon in our local PC IT room for the college... and so the PCs all fried... and the students!

        2. Marshalltown
          Pint

          Re: Humidity control

          Heh. That reminds me of a job on an archaeological expedition in Israel in the late 1990s. The project laboratory and analytical facility was headquartered at a kibbutz. The older kibbutz architecture was big on windows and really weak on staying actually cool. We had a computer room with a window mounted air conditioner which we kept set to "Arctic." The locals asked why we kept the room so cold and we just said the computers couldn't take the heat.

      3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: Humidity control

        even 10 years ago data centers were generally just "rooms with computers",

        I take it you've never been in a proper mainframe server room? 30 (ish) years ago I worked for a company that had several big 3090 units and *everything* was set up to keep them happy..

        and i can remember being able to smoke whilst fixing issues with NT4 webservers

        I'm glad I didn't work where you did. Smoking has been banned in every server room I've ever worked in.

        1. J P
          Stop

          Re: Humidity control

          As a young lad* I was taken around Daddy's offices. Daddy wrote operating systems for IBM mainframes, and the computers** were kept in a custom built glass cube on the side of the Georgian mansion they'd bought as offices. In addition to the aircon, Halon systems etc I clearly remember being told about how we had to go through an airlock because they also maintained an artificial air pressure differential between the computer room and the outside world. So no, not really just "a room with computers".

          *Some decades. Shoulder pads were in, as was (just) Margaret Thatcher. Still hadn't heard of the Falklands though.

          *I was 8. I don't remember model numbers etc. They were big boxes with glass lids.

          1. RW

            Re: Humidity control

            "big boxes with glass lids"

            Maybe IBM 2314 disk drives. Removable disk packs.

      4. boltar Silver badge

        Re: Humidity control

        "even 10 years ago data centers were generally just "rooms with computers"

        10 years ago? Try right now. Our "server room" doubles as the staff rec room! The rack is behind a

        partition not far from the fridge and microwave. No, I'm not making this up.

      5. PM from Hell

        Re: Humidity control

        I worked for ICL as a Mainframe systems consultant in the 80's and 90's working in ICL customer services (SSC & S39SC) at that point all mainframe vendors insisted on air conditioned and humidity controlled environments. We did perform site audits as part of the pre-sales process for new customers and I have worked with customers who were experience higher than normal failures to commission floor and ceiling void cleaning and aircon overhaul's (e.g. where a site was experiencing regular system crashes / disk head failures). The original posted doesn't seem to realise what access we had to engineering data when investigating faults and the level of skill and the persistence the engineering teams when trying to resolve reliability issues. Mainframe computers were the Rolls Royce of IT during this period and the running costs reflected this. Even as a fairly junior consultant I could mobilise whatever technical resources I required from our engineering teams as long as I could provide a viable hypothesis which was backed u by the diagnostic data.

        While I was with ICL we did market a range of mall mainframes (S39 30's) for use in office environments but even these were more reliable in a Data centre environment.

        Several vendors did marker mid range systems which could operate outside the data centre but no-one would call these mainframes.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          NO ONE with a mainframe

          Kept it in a room that wasn't built as a datacenter! You don't spend a million bucks plus on a single piece of hardware and stick it in a broom closet. Sure, lots of companies did that with Novell and Windows servers, but that's a totally different thing.

  3. jake Silver badge

    Don't give me no static ...

    I've personally measured 61,750ish volts on an empty, unused Styrofoam coffee cup set down on an isolated table after a colleague walked across a nylon carpet wearing Nikes ... That's more than enough to cock up a CPU. HiPot is one of my favorite destructive testing "what if" games ;-)

    Grounded anti-static mouse mats were an actual thing. They were to ground the user, not the mouse. Seems the average secretary can generate upwards of 85KV walking down the hall to get a cuppa ...

    As a side note, most gas(petrol) station pump fires seem to be caused by females with man-made fiber underwear getting back into their cars after starting the fuel flow ... and then not grounding themselves before getting close to the fumes surrounding the fuel-flap when completing the scenario.

    Static electricity can be a bitch.

    1. Chris 125

      Re: Don't give me no static ...

      "As a side note, most gas(petrol) station pump fires seem to be caused by females with man-made fiber underwear getting back into their cars after starting the fuel flow ..."

      Which is one of the reasons given for disabling the "auto flow" feature on UK pumps. The little clip and holes up the side of the handle should have an extra part to allow you to lock on the trigger and walk around. Useful on giant minitrucks and SUVs with 120 litre tanks, not so needed on a 50L tank over here.

      By forcing you to hold onto the metal trigger, you're grounded through the process. Less sparks, less boom.

      You can usually wedge the fuel cap in the trigger - I often do as on cold days my wonky handbones don't half ache after 3-4 minutes of squeezing the trigger. However if you do this in view of the cashier, expect to have your pump shut off and a snarky tannoy announcement.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: Don't give me no static ...

        Argghh!

        My Clark's slip-on, wear-for-every-routine-activity shoes seem to build up a nice static charge when I'm in the car, and earth painfully when I'm out. The thought of this surrounded by petrol fumes! (Icon literal).

        1. Fihart

          Re: Don't give me no static ...

          On one occasion I touched a laptop and felt/heard a flash of static. The computer stopped dead.

          Fortunately laptop could be restarted and was apparently undamaged. Culprit, pair of trainers with (presumably) synthetic soles, walking on a wool carpet.

          Note also that opening envelopes with self-adhesive flap generates static -- try opening one in the dark

          (don't ask !) .

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            > opening envelopes with self-adhesive flap generates static

            Possibly the same effect as using sellotape to generate x-rays.

            https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn15016-humble-sticky-tape-emits-powerful-x-rays/

          2. Still Water

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            It's related, but not quite the same - it is called triboluminescence (whereby small charges are shorted within the glue itself/bond breakage cause the glow) - it's not like the discharge you get when (eg) taking off a jumper made of man-made fibres.

            1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

              Re: Don't give me no static ...

              Smash some candy (surgery sweets like a "Polo").

              You get a nice glow!

              https://youtu.be/tW8q_JfmcbU

              1. Captain DaFt

                Re: Don't give me no static ...

                Wintergreen lifesavers are best. The wintergreen oil in them really lights up!

            2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              Re: Don't give me no static ...

              discharge you get when (eg) taking off a jumper made of man-made fibres.

              Or (cough, allegedly) stroking a cat with something made of silk.

              Which (again, allegedly) results in a very annoyed cat and areas of missing epidermis on the hands.

              Scars? What, me? Oh - *those* scars. Can't think where they came from - nothing I know can create 4 roughly parallel scars[1] about 1cm apart over the back of your hand..

              [1] Until $CURRENT_DOG I'd never been bitten[2] by a dog[3] despite living with them all my life. I do, however, have a number of small puncture-scars. Quite a few of them as the result of have a tortie cat as a youngster. One who lived up to every sterotype of tortieness..

              [2] To be fair, stepping on him at 3am while getting out of bed was a mistake. In my defence, I did look for him sleeping by my side of the bed, but a combination of extreme myopia, darnkess and blankets draped over the bed meant I really didn't see him. And at that point he was still settling in and (as a 13-year old rescue dog) had obviously had people stepping on/kicking him. He bit me in reflex and then immediately went into high-pitched propitiation yipping. I then spent the next 5 minutes reassuring him.. I did the same thing recently one night and his reaction is now very different - he just grumbles instead of biting.

              [3] Boxers[4] and boxer-crosses growing up. GSD/rottie cross, doberman/rottie cross, staffie/JR cross and miniture dachshund once married. And a few elderly rescue dogs once that lot were gone.

              [4] And very nice they were too. Unless they thought that I or my brothers were being threatened by someone. I'd love a boxer now but don't think I've got the energy to keep up with one (or two).

          3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            "Note also that opening envelopes with self-adhesive flap generates static -- try opening one in the dark"

            Not necessarily static. Other forms of luminescence are available.

          4. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            "Note also that opening envelopes with self-adhesive flap generates static -- try opening one in the dark"

            Cant wait to try that! will make bills much more fun

          5. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
            Headmaster

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            "opening envelopes with self-adhesive flap generates static"

            That's triboluminescence, not static electricity.

          6. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            "Note also that opening envelopes with self-adhesive flap generates static -- try opening one in the dark"

            Nope. Nothing to do with static - that's Triboluminescence.

            Anyone who has ever worked in a darkroom has seen this, for instance when peeling off sticky tape when opening a pack of pgotograpgic paper. BTW, unpeeling a roll of sticky tape in a vacuum will generate X-rays.

        2. steelpillow Silver badge

          Re: Don't give me no static ...

          @Terry 6: When you climb out of the driving seat, hold on to the door latching stud on the main bodyshell. (wipe off excess grease first!)

          The static builds up only as you pull your butt away from the seat and work is done pulling apart the two layers of different-charged materials covering each. If you ground yourself back to the vehicle, you create a return path for the electrons and no charge can build up. The current passing through your hand is negligible and you won't feel it.

          I went through all kinds of trailing gizmos behind my motor before I figured this out. I felt it made all those years as an EMP test engineer worthwhile.

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019