On Call Welcome to the first Friday, and the first On Call of the new year – we hope your celebrations haven't left you too worse for wear.
To kick things off in 2019, we thought we'd give you a bit of inspiration for a spot of Feng Shui, as "Vernon" tells us about a mysterious hard disk malfunction.
"This happened around 1985 when the first clone AT computers become affordable and within the reach of smaller businesses," he said.
Vernon's software company had, together with a local accountancy firm, developed a baseline PC financial booking package that could hook up to a mini computer and import monthly results.
"The application was a derivative of the mini computer's main application, which was written in RMCobol," recalled Vernon.
"It ran, was fairly stable, took forever to compile – but had one major downside: if you turned off the computer before leaving the application, the headers of the ISAM files where the data was stored were corrupted."
In the case in question, the customer had bought an AT clone from Olivetti, on which Vernon installed the software and gave the user some training.
"About a week goes by before I get the call to say that errors are showing up and he couldn't get into the application," said Vernon.
"He swore that they always closed the application before turning off the PC."
Vernon drove down to run the utility to see for himself, and was surprised to find the "dreaded 'sector not found’ error on the hard disk".
He called the PC supplier, told them they needed to bring a new hard disk and then returned to reinstall the software the day after.
"A few days later, the same problem happened again, so I told the supplier his hard disk had failed again," Vernon said. "Rinse and repeat."
Then a week later – you guessed it – the same thing happened.
Only this time, Vernon had an angry PC supplier on the phone, who said the application must be at fault – which Vernon said was impossible because they were "nowhere near the code that did this".
"We reconvened at the customer site, and I, looking at my notes, realised that, if the error happened it was on a Tuesday morning, when the system had been working perfectly on a Monday evening," he said.
And then as Vernon, the PC technician and his boss gathered in front of the computer, the Eureka moment arrived.
"The whole screen screwed to the left like a sailing ship in a gale and we heard a rattling coming from the behind the wall on the left where the PC was sitting," he said.
"We ran into the next room and there was this massive old school telex, where an order was being received."
The problem, it seemed, was that every Monday evening the company received a large order from an affiliate in Hong Kong and the telex went to work for about 15 to 20 minutes.
"The whole thing was a magnificent Gauss generator and bathed the PC on the other side of the partition in its glory," Vernon said.
"We moved the PC across the room and it had no issues for years to come."
Nothing like a bit of room reorganisation to freshen things up, eh?
Tell us about your own Eureka moment, and you could celebrate the New Year by seeing your story on the pages of On Call. ®