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

As a sneaky fix flummoxes n00b Burroughs engineer

On Call 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 experiences taking apart retro favourite Burroughs machines.

In the first, she takes us back to the time a cat covered in pasta led to some raised eyebrows from her higher-ups.

"I was the night operator on the Burroughs 6800 and there was an error in high memory I/OCW [Input/Output Control Word]," she told us.

"It was self correcting, but annoying. I ran the Friday night load, and ran the machine hot. But to avoid the error, I had to keep the load lower."

Geraldine said that since she was friends with the field engineer, she called him at home – during which "he spilled a plate of spaghetti on the cat".

Rather than clearing up the mess and then having to drive the hour to get to the machine, the engineer decided to provide assistance over the phone.

"He talked me through halting the mainframe, taking the skin off, unseating the memory board, counting to find the bad chip, pop the connector, reseating, and restarting," she said.

"I continued to run the machine to the max, as I was accustomed, without the memory parity error."

Geraldine wrote it up in the turnover log, "thinking nothing of it since it was done under the guidance of the vendor rep" – but the boss had a rather different opinion.

"Apparently the director came unglued when he found out the kid night operator had taken apart the mainframe," she said. "I didn't get in trouble, but it was made clear they would prefer I didn't do that again."

In the second tale of Burroughs wrangling, the shoe is rather on the other foot, as a sneaky fix requested by Geraldine saw a newbie take the heat.

The paper motion in the Burroughs 6800 mainframe and chain printer, which indicated when there was a jam or was out of paper, was broken "most of the time", Geraldine said, and this interfered with her team meeting report dates.

"I managed the computer room, and asked the field engineer if he could do anything about it," she said, assuring the chap they could handle the jams and all, and would much prefer that to having the printer down so often.

"He pulled a card and taped off the connection," she said. "Roll the clock forward a couple months and we're merrily printing along."

However, one day Geraldine came into work to find a new FE doing "preventative maintenance" on her very large printer – and that he had it "pretty much dismantled, spread across the computer room floor".

On asking what he was up to, the engineer told Geraldine he couldn't figure out why the paper motion sensor wasn't working.

"I just said, 'Oh, F7 is taped off', but was laughing inside – the poor guy! Now he had to put it all back together," she said.

"“I let him take the tape off F7, because it seemed like the right thing to do. He could feel like he fixed it."

On Call always enjoys your tales of working with historic kit – especially when there's an ingenious fix to boot.

You can send in your stories to the Vulture who corrals the column directly here, or via her author page here. And next time, it might be your trip down memory lane that we use. ®

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