It's the day before the grand opening but we need a firmware update. It'll be fine

Modern drinks are rubbish

Who, Me? Before one can organise a piss-up in a brewery, one must first get the brewery started. Something a Register reader found difficult in today's Who, Me?

Our tale takes us back to the '80s, the decade of fun. Our brave reader – let's call him "Gareth" – was heading up a team building a state-of-the-art Brewery Process Block.

It was quite the thing to behold. "They literally came from all over Europe to see it," boasted Gareth. The clever modular design meant that bits could start being water tested even if other parts were not quite ready. It was also up and running – handy since a grand opening was planned.

And what an opening it would be. Heads of government and churches had been invited. Had the ceiling fallen in, a good few countries would be in need of leaders.

However, it wasn't the ceiling the boss was worried about. Looking at the plans and attendees, he blanched and parachuted in more people to be on hand. Just in case.

"He promised me that they would be invisible," said Gareth, "but said that, 'If we mess this up we'll never be able to sell another system.'

"Fair enough."

It was the eve of the opening ceremony, and things appeared good. Gareth was looking forward to a starring role in a lavish dinner that night, where garlands were due to be rained down upon him for his extreme cleverness. Also, there would be free booze and food.

However, the engineers were about to lob a spanner into the works. The system had never been shut down during the commissioning process. The hardware was new to the market, and none of the team had much experience with it. It was decided a firmware upgrade was required, which involved an hour replacing the ROMs and restarting.

A brief note about the system involved. There was a bus into which a bunch of Motorola 68020-based (a variant of this CPU was found in the Commodore Amiga 1200) cards were plugged. These cards could be sequence controllers (running custom software tailored to the plant), network interfaces or controllers that talked to the 300 or so interface cards that actually ran the plant.

Each card also sported a megabyte of RAM and firmware containing the operating system.

A firmware upgrade the day before all the bigwigs were due to admire the system in apparent operation at its opening? What could possibly go wrong?

The engineers did their thing, over all the boards since the powers-that-be decided that the big-bang approach made for easier maintenance. The system was restarted.

"The printers burst into life, logging the boot, and then... nothing.

"Repeat. Ditto."

Twelve hours of desperate investigation later, during which time Gareth missed his shot at stardom (and the wining and dining that would accompany it), the team solved the mystery.

"The system bus was simply overwhelmed so that the 10 boards – all with a 68020 CPU aboard – were waiting for a 'proceed' flag." Although there was no helpful error message.

"Nobody had ever come across this before so it took us a loooong time to track down the problem."

And the solution? Popping in a WAIT instruction at a strategic point in the startup code to allow the traffic to clear.

Hurrah! The systems came back to life!

"With 20/20 hindsight," admitted Gareth, "we should have taken an 'If it ain't broke...' approach.

"We could always have reverted to the old firmware I suppose and would probably have done so come midnight.

"But the opening went well. Phew!"

There's an unwritten rule in the IT world about Friday afternoon deployments. However, this is possibly the first time an organised, er, event in a brewery was almost knocked off course by an ill-timed update. Unless you know better? Let us know, with an email to Who, Me? ®

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