Hmmmmm, how to cool that overheating CPU, if only there was a solution...

Garden hose + handy tap = bad times


Who, Me? Feeling the burn? Stress getting to you? Today's edition of Who, Me? concerns pressure of a different sort as a Reg reader experiences a most unexpected deluge.

Regomised as "Peter", our hero was working in the IT department of what he described as a "medium-sized city" somewhere on the West Coast of the US. It was the early 1980s, and computing duties were being performed by a Univac mainframe.

It was a high-end (for the Series 90) 90/80; "Sperry Univac's answer to the IBM 370," Peter told us. This example featured a water-cooled central processor and was designed to shut down if things got too hot.

"I was startled," he told us, "when I got off the bus on my way to work one day to see a wide stream of water sluicing along a downtown street.

"It was coming from opened fire hydrants. I found that my office building was at the top of the stream. Inside, it sounded like a fountain; all of the taps in all of the restrooms had been opened. Fellow programmers (as coders used to be called) warned me "Don't drink the water.'"

The problem was the mainframe. It had been getting rather hot and bothered and the engineers had hit on a seemingly simple solution. More cooling needed? Add more water, of course!

A hose, having been liberated from a garden, had been run from a handy faucet to the radiator and attached. The valves were opened and the engineers prepared to congratulate themselves on their genius.

Except things did not go quite as expected. The pressure in the radiator was rather high. High enough, in fact, that the mains water, under a lower pressure, did not trouble the cooling system. Likely a lucky escape, because who knows what untreated water would have done to the internals.

Not so lucky, however, were those downstream since the chemicals in the coolant began to go places where they shouldn't as the flow went the wrong way. Don't drink the water indeed.

Ill-thought-out solution swiftly cut-off, the way to resolve things was to turn on taps and hydrants in an effort to flush out the contaminants.

The cock-up made the news. Peter recalled: "The evening paper featured a picture of flooded gutters with the headline 'Main Street.'"

But at least they were liquid cooled, eh?

The Register asked a number of people in the pumping and chemical industry if such a thing was possible and the answer, after lots of complicated discussions about "reverse flow" and "composition profile", was "story sounds viable." So, there you have it.

That said, the incompetence required to think that attaching a garden hose to a mainframe cooling system was a good idea is a thing to behold.

We like world-beating incompetence in the files of Who, Me? and On Call. So email your story to Who, Me? in exchange for a spin on the Regomiser and confess all. ®

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