Monday, June 27, 2011

Thirty Years Of Jobbers - Chapter 1.10

On the subject of hardware problems, here's an amusing story that occurred at jobber number two: One day I got a call from the computer operator who was ranting and raving that every time he touched the keyboard the computer would shut down. Then he would have to wait until the computer restarted before he could go back to work. We must have talked for thirty minutes about the possibilities of static electricity and gremlins in the system.

At this point I need to paint a picture of the environment where the computer was located. We had cleared out a spot once used as a storage room to house the computer system. In the interest of saving money, a telephone had not been installed in the computer room, but rather a long 25-foot, spring-cord had been added to the wall telephone handset in the front office. If the computer operator needed to talk to me, he would go into the front office, call me, and then walk back into the computer room so he could work on the computer while we were having our conversation. The cord to the telephone was long enough for him to sit down at the computer, but not long enough for him to talk while facing the computer. Get the picture?

During our conversation, every time he would turn to type on the keyboard, the computer's power would go off and he would start cussing a blue streak. It was quite frustrating for the both of us.

Finally I heard him blurt out a string of expletives that gave an indication he had found the root of the problem. It seems that overnight, someone had put a case of oil under his desk. The case was touching the spring activated reset switch on the power supply. When he turned in his chair, his knee would hit the case of oil and the oil would hit the switch and turn the computer off. Then when he took his knee away, the case would release the switch and the computer would restart. We laughed about that Rube Goldberg setup for years.

Back at jobber number three, our biggest hardware problem centered around that huge 20 million character hard disk that sat on the floor next to the computer. Every once in a while the belt that ran the disk would come off and the nice lady that ran the accounting department, would have to put it back on. The manufacturer said they had "never heard of such a thing," which is a typical manufacturer's response even today, so we were never able to get it permanently repaired. Since a new hard disk was several thousands of dollars, I taught the bookkeeper how to put the belt back on. It ran for several years, top removed, belt on, belt off, and everybody got used to it.

Jobber number three also had a larger staff than my two previous installations. The bookkeeper that ran the business had been sold on the system by the bookkeeper at David's office, who during a visit to evaluate my system, told her, "You've got to get you one of these things, honey. All I do now is smoke cigarettes and talk on the telephone." Well, I never said it was that easy.

Back in 1982, a multi-user environment was unheard of for a microcomputer system. Although the manufacturer I was buying my computers from had designed and built a working "network" system, it looked like more things to go wrong to me. I'd be much richer if I had embraced his network technology back when people thought networks were ABC, NBC and CBS. But looking back, I would probably do just what I did then - run like hell in the opposite direction.

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