BOFH: The Boss gets Grandpa Simpson syndrome

So he's an old computer buff, apparently


Episode 16

"...And we used to do pretty much everything from the switches on the front panel – bootstrapping, diagnostics, machine code reprogramming – all on toggle switches!" the Boss burbles happily "...those were the days!"

"I'm sure they were," the PFY says dryly, rolling his eyes out of the Boss' view.

"Oh, that was just the tip of the iceberg," he continues. "When I first started computing we used to send out cards across London to get processed, but then we bought our own reader connected to a phone line and used it to transmit them over the phone lines with what was the forerunner to modern modems."

"You don't say," the PFY adds.

"Oh yeah! And then we bought our own Burroughs and did the whole thing ourselves, start to finish. We even got our own cards produced for the data entry and replaced our punch card system with mark sense cards – which was a process in itself, but I'll save that story for another day!"

"Oh, don't feel obliged," the PFY says, stifling a whimper.

...Which you can't blame him for. It seems that the Boss has the Grandpa Simpson gene which causes him to recount endless stories with no apparent relevance to what's happening at the moment and which are more stream of unconsciousness recollections than monologues of any value. And today, now that half the IT department is on user-centric service training, the Boss is all ours and has taken use under his wing in an effort to teach us to be more... well, boring.

"Nonsense!" the Boss gasps. "It's my pleasure. You know once we had this machine which had a symmetrical four prong plug in the back of it with a little arrow on it and it turned out that when the arrow was pointing in a vertical direction the machine ran at about two thirds of the speed of what it did when the arrow pointed in the horizontal direction – only no one knew this of course. Anyway, we'd paid for a machine that ran as fast as the vertical position only one day one of the vendor's engineers came and moved the plug from the vertical to the horizontal position for the testing (because they had to test the machine at it's full speed) and forgot to turn it back when he'd finished. Instant upgrade!!! It was only a couple of years later when we had something go wrong that another engineer discovered the plug was in the wrong orientation from what we'd paid for and said we'd have to pay for the upgraded ability that we'd been using. Well, that caused a stir, let me tell you!'

"I'm sure it did," the PFY says, picking up a pager from his desk and pressing the test button.

>BEEP< >BEEP<

"Oh!" the PFY continues. "Looks like we've got a server down – I'll have to pop off to sort that out."

"That's ok," the Boss says. "I'll come with you – I haven't told you about the time we were using one of those old acoustic couplers for remote diagnostics and our throughput from 300 baud to around 20! We searched for that problem for weeks before realising that when we shut the lid on the receiver it was squashing the foam in just the right way to generate a bit of feedback through a channel in the coupler's casing – which of course we didn't know because when the cover was closed you couldn't hear a thing."

"DO TELL!" the PFY snaps, walking into the computer room to fake a server outage with the Boss in tow.

Minutes later I notice an icon turn red on the monitor as the PFY probably presses its power button to ‘clear the fault' for the Boss' benefit, with a restart shortly thereafter.

"...and so it turned out that the punch cards had been eaten by weevils," the Boss blathers. "Which explained all the parity errors we were getting!"

"I see," the PFY says before making excuses about the calls of nature.

"I was just telling him about having to reread all our old punch cards," the Boss says, wandering over to my desk.

"Oh yeah, when you were getting data errors and found that insects had eaten holes through them," I say. "I remember you telling me that!"

"Weevils," the Boss says. "But before that we had..."

"An acoustic coupler with feedback, yes, I heard that. And the one about the plug which set the speed on your machine."

"Oh," the Boss says in a hurt tone as the PFY returns. "But I know you've not heard about the time..."

"One of your large disk drives head crashed and the whole floor shook?"

"Oh," the Boss sniffs. "What about the time..."

"You bypassed the door-open switch on your 9 track tape drive and it lost vacuum and tape spewed out all over the floor?"

"Oh," he repeats, sounding even more wounded before slowly wandering off.

"That was a bit cruel wasn't it?" the PFY asks. "And how did you know about that disk drive thing – I don't remember that story?"

"EVERY old computer buff has a head crash story," I said. "Anyway, I thought you'd done a runner when you ducked off to the bog."

"Nah," the PFY says holding up the home modified cattle prod wrapped in swathes insulation tape. "I was just changing the batteries on this. Honestly, if I had to hear one more story about how they debugged 11/34 crashes I was going to let him have it!"

"And a good thing too. The 11/34 was a piece of crap. The 11/70 was a sack of cack as well and their only redeeming feature was they were the forerunner to the VAX series. We had a couple of 11/780s when I started work complete with 8 inch boot floppies and you could always tell when one crashed because the attention light came on followed by the furious clicking inside the cabi >KZZZZZEEERT!<"

...Can anyone else smell burning?


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