Douglas Adams was right: Telephone sanitizers are terrible human beings

This one cleaned things up so well that signals couldn't get through

On Call Welcome once again to On Call, in which The Register connects readers with your peers to share stories of shocking support SNAFUs.

This week, meet a chap we’ll Regomize as "Walt" – because that's the Regonym we used on the previous occasion he submitted a story.

This time Walt told us of an experience in the mid-1980s when he worked as the sole IT person for an up-and-coming investment firm.

"We had moved into a new office to house our call center and we had about 30 telephone reps working 24x7 shifts," he explained. "Each had a desk with a telephone and a pre-PC era 24x80 alphanumeric computer terminal. These were connected to a large minicomputer."

The call center agents were on level 23 of a very tall building, with the minicomputer housed in a lovely machine room replete with raised floor, air conditioning, UPS, the works – way down on level five.

It's a long way from level 23 to level five, so it was impractical to run dedicated cabling – this was the mid-80s, remember, when hair was big but cheap cabling was not.

Walt therefore expropriated telephone wiring already present in the building to connect the terminals.

Here's how Walt described the resulting rig to On Call:

"The setup involved running cables from the machine room to the adjacent master wire closet and terminating them on telephone punch-down blocks. Drop lines from the 23rd floor wire closet to the desks were also run. Between the floors were riser cables with plenty of capacity and by cross-connecting the source and destination cables to the risers we had a solid copper connection from computer to terminals that worked like a charm."

Until, of course, it didn't – and Walt received an urgent call that the terminals were failing.

"I headed to the 23rd floor to investigate and sure enough one by one the terminals were going dark."

He checked the terminal controller, anticipating it had failed.

"When I got there, I saw the door to the wire closet was open. Inside was a telephone technician ripping off the cross-connects between our terminal lines and the risers to the 23rd floor."

Gentle reader, shield your delicate ears against Walt's next utterance, which was "What the **** are you doing?" Except not the asterisks.

"A tenant has vacated, and I was cleaning up the cross-connects. I saw these and put my tester on them. No dial tone or voices so I assumed they were abandoned. I decided to clean these up, too."

Telephone sanitization, on other words. Just like the cretins Douglas Adams packed into hypothetical ark-load of useless workers.

Walt told the phone tech that he wouldn't get a dial tone because they were data lines, not phone lines, and they needed to be fixed so data could resume transmission!


"I went to my desk in the machine room and grabbed a printout of the cross-connects as well as a punch-down tool another telephone tech had given me," Walt said. "Going by the chart, the phone tech and I had the cross-connects replaced and the call center was up and running again in under fifteen minutes."

The post mortem to this incident saw a sign posted near the relevant wiring, to warn future would-be telephone sanitizers that the panel and cross-connects were data circuits.

Have crossed wires caused you grief? Click here to email On Call your stories. Keep 'em clean and lean – and remember, no story is too old nor too silly! ®

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