back to article Pasta-covered cat leads to kid night operator taking apart the mainframe

Black Friday Giveaway! We don't want you to think El Reg isn't jumping on the internet bandwagon as the frenzied hunt for "bargains" continues apace. So we're offering you a deal of our own: a BOGOF On Call! That's right, TWO techie tales for the price of ONE, as we bring you a double header from reader "Geraldine" on her …

  1. A.P. Veening

    Click bait

    Nice click bait in the title, was expecting that cat to be a bit closer to the computer ;)

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Click bait

      It was a nice tail though...

      1. ACcc

        Re: Click bait

        Gave me paws for thought

      2. The Corner of Moron
        Coat

        Re: Click bait

        Ha!

        Nice cat pun! ;0) I laughed so hard I nearly "chat" myself.......

        .......I'm getting it, I'm getting it!

    2. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble? Silver badge

      Re: Click bait

      Nice click bait in the title

      That's how they get their claws in to the reader

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Click bait

        I'm feline a bit let down too

        1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

          Re: Click bait

          You need to move pasta it.

    3. macjules Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Click bait

      Letting a cat into the computer room is just asking fur trouble. It could even cost a pretty penne to fix.

      1. Giovani Tapini

        Re: Click bait

        I missed the computer by a whisker while choking on my lunch reading this.

        1. WorsleyNick

          Re: Click bait

          You were lucky, I'm still trying to get the whiskey (John Power, if you must know) splatter out of the keyboard :-)

    4. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Click bait

      @A.P. Veening

      was expecting that cat to be a bit closer to the computer ;)

      May be it was, may be it wasn't.

      Was the FE called Schrödinger?

  2. A K Stiles

    Got to love undocumented fixes

    A simple sticker pointing out how the jam detection had been disabled could have saved the poor lad from the massive tear-down/rebuild, but obviously everyone 'knew' about it so it wasn't necessary, until someone didn't.

    But also, how did it get to the point of having the printer stripped to components (i.e. who authorised it?) before having someone point out the work around?

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Got to love undocumented fixes

      how did it get to the point of having the printer stripped to components (i.e. who authorised it?)

      Initiative - not always the right thing...

    2. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Got to love undocumented fixes

      A simple sticker pointing out how the jam detection had been disabled could have saved the poor lad from the massive tear-down/rebuild,

      Baring mind the topic of the article, wouldn't a CAT scan have worked better?

    3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Got to love undocumented fixes

      I've worked in plenty of places where there's been a switch or control covered with white sparky's tape emblazoned with "Do Not Touch This", and the implicit subtext of "touching it will break something, but nobody's sure how or why"

      1. Wzrd1

        Re: Got to love undocumented fixes

        '...and the implicit subtext of "touching it will break something, but nobody's sure how or why"'

        And I'm the unmitigated prick who will do precisely that, on a scheduled downtime interval, to ascertain if it's still necessary and if so, precisely why, include it into a manual and log, then test the next damnable taped over switch or remove the tape after testing and change management review.

        I worked in a change management lacking environment once. One day, I was happily tooling along with some patches to be manually applied via dos prompt and suddenly, my prompt promptly disappeared.

        I turned to the shop supervisor and asked, "I just lost my dos prompt and can't raise it again, what did you do?".

        It turned out that there was a change order and we were exempted via that order, so he helpfully tested it upon us, the BOFH mk2's.

        "Stop it!" at rather high volume was projected by a voice heard by approximately 1000 men without amplification.

        He subsequently rose to management, but retained access rights by chicanery and telephone calls to his office frequently revolved around "Stop it!", raising a rueful laugh in the building.

        By that point, I had become in charge of information security, he kept trying to do admin things without warning, creating hell, or havoc, your choice.

        Laughably, due to manpower shortages, which were infamous, I retained my network god access and worked some issues alongside the tier 2 and 3 types.

        I happened to be working at one point on a modest change in a specific network and noticed that my computer logon script wasn't what I saved and worse, as I slapped a tail program on it, changes were incremental and eventually, a loop was introduced. I reached for my telephone and speed dialed one of the few entries on my speed dial.

        "Carl, I'm working on the ZZZZZZZ network logon script and noticed some odd changes."

        "Woo-hoo, I was working on that computer logon script, as it's part of a change order and it needs to be done. I accidentally created a loop and I'll fix it once I reboot and log on with my network cable disconnected."

        "Carl, you're no longer a tech or administrator, you're a manager. STOP IT AND MANAGE", generating open laughter in the office.

        I then advised him that I had the ticket, fixed his foul up and the order is marked compliant, so Stop It!.

        Generating sidesplitting hilarity in the office.

        Full background, that was a US military installation that is part of a command abroad, in a war theater.

        I also was asked, by the installation commander how I was to enforce a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) mandated and frequently ignored, with problematic results, a weekly mandatory reboot.

        Knowing that tasking order, I had a script ready to go, which implemented active directory changes to our OU, a secondary SCCM job to push a script that did the same and a more retro approach, where the DNS and WINS server were queried and what was common and not responded to by SCCM or AD got poked the script, which performed the changes at system level.

        I simply said, the network command refuses to enforce the order, so, as computers are your responsibility, what do you want to do?

        He said, reboot at seven days.

        Went to my office, did so. One push on the enter key was all that was needed, once logged in.

        About a month later, he was briefing his General and his computer rebooted in the middle of his presentation and he related his orders.

        Which he did, which much open laughter, relate to me.

    4. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: Got to love undocumented fixes

      But also, how did it get to the point of having the printer stripped to components

      There was a time when computer equipment was subjected to Preventive Maintenance, usually as part of a service contract. Replacing the drive belt and tensioner in RA8x drives, adjusting vacuum and pressure levels and replacing filters in various tape drives, down to replacing or cleaning out the airflow filters in VAXen and Alphaservers.

      Preventive Maintenance on printers would have been in those contracts too, and printers being subject to the unholy alliance of dust, moving mechanical parts and the buildup of gooey ink, they would dearly need it. Which means that at least once a year, but probably more often, a service engineer would show up, dragging a trolley with the PM kit for that printer model, and to a first approximation take the entire printer apart indeed. With any part not deemed up to spec and potentially causing a service call some weeks or months on, let alone broken, replaced. If the customer was lucky the printer would be back in working order at the end of the day, but it might instead be waiting for parts that weren't in the kit, in the engineer's "would be useful to have at hand" stash of parts back in his car, nor in any of his printer-frobbing colleagues' either.

      So yes, a printer closely resembling one of those exploded views in the associated service manual, with an ink-smeared person wielding screwdrivers and spanners next to it may well have been a planned activity.

    5. Wzrd1

      Re: Got to love undocumented fixes

      "But also, how did it get to the point of having the printer stripped to components (i.e. who authorised it?) before having someone point out the work around?"

      That suggests that stickers were available in that specific era, which is iffy, save toward the end, when printers finally sang their swan song and the "printing" was stored in a log file.

      And when PM very often required a manual teardown to remove paper dust and small shreds. And where the masked off contact should have been observed during the tear down, as inspection is a part of the process.

      Oops, I think I just gave away my age...

  3. JJKing Bronze badge
    Coat

    Sorry.

    He said to the cat, "You fix it" and the cat said "Me 'ow".

    Mine's the one that smells of catnip.

    1. Chunky Munky
      Facepalm

      Re: Sorry.

      See Icon --->

    2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Sorry.

      Mine's in the window.

      1. Mephistro Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Sorry.

        Hodor! Hodor!

        8^)

  4. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    I had visions of a pasta-covered c*t chasing a mouse through the mainframe, covering everything inside with pasta.

    And dried pasta is very, very difficult to remove.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "And dried pasta is very, very difficult to remove."

      Almost as difficult as a cat that doesn't want to be moved...

      1. Antonius_Prime
        Devil

        RE: Dried Pasta & Stubborn, Unmoving Cats...

        I've always found that rapid, multiple uses of fire tends to get rid of both issues...

        (Mine's the one with the asbestos coating and the RFotSoBOFH* logo tastefully embroidered on the left shoulder, thanks. And I've counted the cash too...)

        (*Royal Fraternity of the Society of Bastard Operators From Hell)

        1. DuchessofDukeStreet

          Re: RE: Dried Pasta & Stubborn, Unmoving Cats...

          Probably gets rid of the mainframe as well...

          But a cat will always be exactly where it wants to be - if that co-incides with where you want it to be, great. If not, probably easier to change your thoughts than the cat's location.

          1. joeW

            Re: RE: Dried Pasta & Stubborn, Unmoving Cats...

            You can't train a cat, all you can do is make it more sneaky about doing whatever it wants to do.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: RE: Dried Pasta & Stubborn, Unmoving Cats...

              "You can't train a cat, all you can do is make it more sneaky about doing whatever it wants to do."

              Almost true. We trained our cats not to get caught on the kitchen counters.

              You see I said "caught". We never see them on the counters. But we do hear a loud thump from the kitchen sometimes. Like a cat just jumped off somewhere higher up. And a bowl magically fell on the floor the other day that had been on the countertop. But we didn't see a cat do it.

              1. Nick Kew Silver badge

                Re: RE: Dried Pasta & Stubborn, Unmoving Cats...

                But we didn't see a cat do it.

                Is your cat called Macavity?

              2. beep54
                Angel

                Re: RE: Dried Pasta & Stubborn, Unmoving Cats...

                Dear Sir or Madam: You will like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRx2MFf0dWs

            2. swm Bronze badge

              Re: RE: Dried Pasta & Stubborn, Unmoving Cats...

              "You can't train a cat, all you can do is make it more sneaky about doing whatever it wants to do."

              I had a friend who had trained his cat to roll over on command. It was quite amusing to watch.

        2. Terje

          Re: RE: Dried Pasta & Stubborn, Unmoving Cats...

          I prefer the overcharged CATtle prod myself.

    2. MaltaMaggot

      well that just sounds like an episode of Tom & Jerry... one of the crap 'new' ones

  5. Nick L

    Burroughs/Unisys...

    I joined Unisys as a fresh faced young graduate in the mid 90s after working on Silicon Graphics workstations throughout my CompSci degree, only to be introduced to the Unisys V-Series, which was obsoleted already but had just been installed for an outsourced payments processing venture. It had a total of 32Megawords, which left me distinctly nonplussed because I'd just upgraded my Amiga to 64MB of memory (via a WarpEngine 040, for the truly geeky reader). The processor was a minor work of art, is I was told it practically ran COBOL instructions natively. It was rather chunky.

    The V series occasionally would just fall over in a heap badly, and the engineer decided I'd like to see the inside of it. Cue a tear down...

    ...only to find a 10 inch long thin flatblade screwdriver, with a 6 inch uninsulated bit, jauntily lying across the motherboard. Presumably randomly making contact with some of the rather massive DILs when airflow changed.

    I recommended it be removed. The engineer agreed with the young oik.

    Management were amazed at the reliability improvement a few weeks later. I had been sworn to secrecy by the engineer, and was complicit in the "remove, reseat and cleaned" explanation.

    1. Symon Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Burroughs/Unisys...

      Screwdriver? You need a bobby pin.

      https://youtu.be/OeLnS8O08ng?t=24

    2. Alister Silver badge

      Screwdriver? Try a spanner!

      Whilst working as a fresh-from-school apprentice in a telephone exchange, I was tasked with helping to wire up an additional selector rack in a Strowger exchange.

      The rack was already in place and powered by the 50V DC feed through two hefty copper busbars about 4 inches apart. The busbars were plastic clad, apart from the ends near the rack where terminations were made.

      The individual wiring to all the selectors was carried on open steel cable trays mounted above and to the side of the busbars, and these cable trays were bolted together by M10 nuts and bolts.

      So who do you think it was who managed to drop his 10mm spanner neatly across the bare ends of the live and return busbars then?

      The equipment room went strangely quiet, as all the selectors stopped chattering, and the spanner glowed gently, and then brighter, and brighter, and then melted gently in the middle, and all the equipment sprang back into life, followed by the clang of alarm bells and the flashing of warning lights.

      I carefully climbed down the ladder from near the ceiling, and went and owned up to the T.O.

      I wasn't sacked on the spot, just lectured on the importance of caring for my tools...

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: Screwdriver? Try a spanner!

        So who do you think it was who managed to drop his 10mm spanner neatly across the bare ends of the live and return busbars then?

        10mm spanner -> M6 bolt. M10 bolt -> 17mm spanner.

        I was told about an incident in the exchange I was assigned to for keeping their VAXes happy: a painter had set a tin of paint down on those bus bars. Across both.

        The result was said to have been similar to Mr. Bean's way of painting his living room.

      2. Chris G Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Screwdriver? Try a spanner!

        As a bit of a spanner wielder (welder?) myself, I should point out that M10 refers to shank size, so an M10 bolt will require a 17mm spanner and a 10mm spanner will be used on a 6mm bolt and it's nut.

      3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: Screwdriver? Try a spanner!

        Have not done that. Close, but have never done it.

        Best I have done is to melt the blade of a screwdriver.

        Before working on a mains circuit (which I believe to have been shut off), I first meter it, then short it with a screwdriver, just to be sure (taking the appropriate safety precautions, of course - safety glasses, etc)

        I have drawn a spark more than once.

      4. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

        Re: Screwdriver? Try a spanner!

        Also known as 2000A slow-blow fuse.

        http://pawpawshouse.blogspot.com/2014/08/fuse-replacement.html

    3. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Burroughs/Unisys...

      We had a baby-Burroughs server. A BTOS modular jobby. It consisted of half a dozen modules plugged into each other, stretching across a desk.

      I went on holiday and when I came back, I found site services had moved it to a neary-by table because the desk it was on was needed elsewhere... Only they hadn't asked anyone about it, and I was the only one who knew how to shut it down, they had simply picked it up (2 men, one at each end of the long sausage of components stuck together "Lego" style) and moved it to the table, whilst it was still running.

      2 of the HDDs were dead, unsuprisingly.

      1. seanf

        Re: Burroughs/Unisys...

        BTOS? what a strange way to spell CTOS ;-) Scarey story tho. Well they did market the X-Bus as being very "flexible"...

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Burroughs/Unisys...

          The machine I had was still running BTOS at the time.

          BTOS - Burroughs Technology Operating System (it was the Burroughs name for CTOS and it was also marketed under the name Starsys).

          I also went on a training course in Milton Keynes at the Unisys campus in Fox Milne.

          That was fun. Middle of the course The Blues Brothers was shown on TV. Just about everybody on campus had watched it. Just one boring old fart, who complained about the racket coming from all the neighbouring rooms.

          1. Down not across Silver badge

            Re: Burroughs/Unisys...

            BTOS - Burroughs Technology Operating System (it was the Burroughs name for CTOS and it was also marketed under the name Starsys).

            Wasn't CTOS from Convergent Technologies? I rememeber running 68K based MiniFrame and MegaFrame boxen running CTiX. Some MegaFrame I/O processor boards ran CTOS (scaled down obviously). They also came out with 80x86 based NGEN (or Burroughs B25 if you prefer) that ran CTOS. I'm talking about before Unisys bought Convergent Technologies.

            1. big_D Silver badge

              Re: Burroughs/Unisys...

              CTOS was from Convergent, they licensed it to Burroughs, and I believe Bull.

          2. Petergwilson

            Re: Burroughs/Unisys...

            I remember those. It was made by Convergent Technologies.

            I worked for Unisys in Birmingham in 87/88 and had a few visits to the Milton Keynes training centre. I did work on these.

            After that I worked for Bull Information Systems in London and discovered to my horror they rebadged it as well, called it a B20 I think and renamed the operating system to Starsys.

            The one I had on my desk had just about every available module and was about three foot long.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convergent_Technologies_Operating_System

            It was actually quite a clever design. Pity my manuals had been translated from American English to French and then to proper(ish) English. Made for some interesting reading.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Burroughs/Unisys...

            ... ahh, Unisys @ Fox Milne, that does bring back happy memories - an attractive young lady colleague was on a course there. As I only lived 100 miles away I dropped in for a social visit one evening, nobody questioned why there was an extra person at breakfast. Happy days.

            Nostalgia for BTOS & the B20 range too, networked long before the IBM PCs could offer any credible alternative, pity they lost the plot, among other things lagging behind on colour and sticking with their proprietary networking standard.

    4. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: Burroughs/Unisys...

      ...only to find a 10 inch long thin flatblade screwdriver, with a 6 inch uninsulated bit, jauntily lying across the motherboard.

      A PC is where you can lose a screwdriver in. A mini is where you can lose a toolkit in, and a mainframe is where you can lose the service engineer in.

    5. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Burroughs/Unisys...

      > practically ran COBOL instructions natively

      Somewhere an ARM RISC engineer is crying

      1. timrowledge

        Re: Burroughs/Unisys...

        .. and some monster is thinking about trying the jazelle insanity with cobol. Call it ... cobollox ?

  6. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    Back in high school...

    ...my friends and I behaved somewhat irresponsibly with a classic piece of kit.

    We had some Tektronix 4051 vector displays. We were left unattended, bored, and near an open toolbox. Hilarious outcome. Reversed polarity on the horizontal deflection circuit and got to watch our teachers pull their hair out figuring what we had 'done to the software'

    One surmised quickly what we had done and asked rhetorically whether he should congratulate us for coming up with the mod or punish us for being an annoying bunch of cheeky bastards. He went with "both"

  7. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Thisa looka like...

    This story looks exactly like a cat and pasta from another story I read somewhere ;-)

  8. NorthIowan

    Whats wrong with remote hardware support?

    I did that once. I fixed a mainframe's printer in Florida over the phone from Iowa.

    OK, "fix" is probably stretching it a bit.

    The operators had called me to fix a daily batch job that didn't print out overnight. I had just fixed it a few days earlier because it had crashed due to more data coming in than usual. So it's not to surprising that they called me up again because it "failed" again.

    I dialed in and checked the print queue first and saw the file and several more waiting to print. So I called the operators back and asked if the printer was on? They checked and it was on but it had been offline. Seems a tech had worked on it the day before and had left it offline. No one had noticed till they went to get the overnight printouts to distribute to the bosses.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Acronyms..

    Here to thank El Reg for using a sane acronym. I'm not sure if it's unique to this side of the pond, but I usually see BOGO offers. BOGO as in "Buy One Get One", which is sometimes called out in the ads. Buy One, Get One? No shit, if I buy one and I get none, I'm pressing charges for theft. If its BOGF, now that may be a deal.

  10. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Happy

    Early DEC days

    I had a customer who had "graduated" from running her lab on a DEC 11/23+ booting of RL02's to the new 8" hard drive! So much faster ... until one day when it would not boot up. We talked about it over the phone and I gave her some diagnostic tasks including listening to the sounds that the machine made when she booted it by hand via MCR.

    She called back a couple of days later to say that the problem was solved - she discovered that she couldn't hear the disk spinning so she'd removed the top casing from the 8" hard drive and just gave the disk a little spin with her finger to start it turning - once it booted she put the cover back on with it running and didn't turn it off while backing everything up!

    An easy fix for me - I just shipped her a new hard drive.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Early DEC days

      I had a hard drive that wouldnt spin up unless I gave it a little twist on powering up. Budget cuts meant the cover remained off my PC for a couple of years!

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