BOFH: Switch off the building? Great idea, Boss

Never mind what those blinkenlights are doing. Take a deep breath and this will all be fine

Episode 9 "How much power does the company use in a day do you think?" the Boss asks.

"Oh, it's hard to say, but we could look at the check meters in the MCB room. They have pulse indicators so we could count the pulses and make a 10 minute average."

"And we could use that to work out how much power we use during the day?" he asks. "And then divide that by the number of people in the building to work out the maximum amount that people could claim per day for power when they're working from home?"

"Uh, theoretically," the PFY lies.

…5 minutes later in the plant room...

"So that's the main meter there?" the Boss asks. "The one with the flashing light?"

"The rapidly flashing light, yes," the PFY says.

"What does that mean?"

"It pulses once per kilowatt hour - though I suspect this one's internally set with a 10x - or 100x multiplier."

"Meaning?"

"How much power?"

Time for some quick mental maths. I take the number of highly flammable carpet tiles stacked in the corner of the room, multiply that by the sum of the number of pulses per second and the number of machine screws missing from the front panel of the switchboard then divide that by the number of shunted heat detectors on the ceiling and give the Boss the result.

"Is that a lot?" he asks.

"Not for a small township," I think, but being a problem solver, I just say "No."

The Boss nods thoughtfully then responds, "The other thing I'm proposing is that with the increasing number of people working from home at the moment we could encourage everyone to work from home and just switch the building off. To save power."

There is a moment's respectful silence for the death of a stupid idea before the PFY speaks.

"What?!" he asks, turning towards the Boss.

"Switch the building off."

"Oh, OK," the PFY says.

Zzzzz >CLACK!<

"I DIDN’T BLOODY MEAN NOW!" the Boss shouts from the darkness.

"Oh!" the PFY says, feigning stupidity whilst reaching for the breaker lever in the dark.

>Clack!<

"Should you really have turned the power back on that quickly?" the Boss asks nervously. "Don't you always say that we should leave it 30 seconds because of fault currents or something?"

"Good point!" the PFY says.

Zzzzz >CLACK!<

"WELL DON'T TURN THE BLOODY POWER OFF AGAIN!!!"

>Clack!<

"WAIT BLOODY 30 SECONDS!"

Zizz >CLACK!<

"DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!" the Boss rages from the darkness

…29 seconds later...

"OK," the Boss says, speaking slowly and precisely. "Now I just want you to turn the power on and I don't want you to turn it off again."

"OK," the PFY says.

>Clack!<

"Now I suppose we’ll need to see if all that switching on and off has caused any damage," he says.

"Oh, it's bound to have caused some damage," I say. "We just don't know what it is yet."

"What?" the Boss gasps, as the albatross of responsibility wraps its feathered wings around his shoulders.

"Who knows?" I reply. "The server room will be fine, but I can guarantee that some of our ageing aircon compressors will be toast."

"How do we find out?"

"Look at the A/C system monitor. When it comes up," I say.

"If it comes up," the PFY adds.

"Unless it has caught fire," I counter.

"Why would it catch fire?"

"It dates back to the 70s," I say. "It's a wall of relays, lamps and motorised timers all held together by hope and insulation tape."

"Didn't you say we replaced that a few years ago?"

"The server room aircon. The building aircon's ancient."

"Though not as ancient the fire alarm," the PFY adds. "Parts of it date back to when fire was invented. The aircon system could catch fire but we'd never know because the fire system might have blown a fuse and we'd never know."

"THE FIRE SYSTEM'S OFFLINE?!" the Boss gasps.

"Who knows?"

"You should!" the Boss snaps back.

"No, no, the Building Manager should know - but he's working from home."

"HOW DO WE CHECK THE FIRE SYSTEM?!"

"We could look at the fire indicator panel - that was replaced a couple of years ago," the PFY says.

"Where?!"

We tell the Boss and there's a mad dash upstairs to look at the indicator panel.

"So it's OK then," he sighs, seeing the green System Normal light.

"Possibly," I nod.

"Possibly?"

"Well that's just the indicator panel. The System Normal relay could have fused shut in the master panel and we'd never know."

"HOW DO WE CHECK?"

"Oh, the master panel's back in the plant room."

"Is it OK?" the Boss asks, staring at a panel with a single slowly blinking red light on it.

"Possibly," the PFY says. "The light could mean the system is on, but the flashing could mean there's a fault. Maybe the light should be green and not flashing."

"How do we find out?"

"Well could force a fault condition then see what the lamp does?" the PFY suggests.

"What, set the alarm off?!?!?" the Boss blurts.

"No, something simple. Just make it switch to battery and it'll report a power fault."

"OK, try that," the Boss says.

Zzzzz >CLACK!<

"DON'T TURN THE BLOODY POWER OFF AGAIN!!" the Boss screams.

"Oh!" the PFY again says.

"WELL TURN IT ON AGAIN!"

"I thought you wanted me to wait 30 seconds."

"JUST TURN IT ON!" he rages.

>Clack!<

As the lights come back on I notice the veins on the Boss' forehead are dangerously large and realise that we need to just calm things down a little.

"Can anyone else smell smoke?" I ask.

Zzzzz >CLACK!<

"My mistake," I said. "I meant to say fresh air, not smoke."