VAXen Don’t Belong Everywhere

Dan Flood Computer Humour Leave a Comment

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Subject: VAXen, my children, just don't belong some places
Message-ID: <[email protected]>
Date: 1 Mar 89 11:30:05 GMT
Lines: 277

( I've never heard of the "WAR_STORIES" notefile; if you want to get
back to the original author you'll have to go through "[email protected]".
I'm enclosing everything just as it reached me.)

Mike O'Brien
The Aerospace Corporation
=============
Subj: Just extracted this from the WAR_STORIES notefile. Long but amusing.

VAXen, my children, just don't belong some places. In
my business, I am frequently called by small sites
and startups having VAX problems. So when a friend of
mine in an Extremely Large Financial Institution
(ELFI) called me one day to ask for help, I was
intrigued because this outfit is a really major VAX
user - they have several large herds of VAXen - and
plenty of sharp VAXherds to take care of them.

So I went to see what sort of an ELFI mess they had
gotten into. It seems they had shoved a small 750
with two RA60's running a single application, PC
style, into a data center with two IBM 3090's and
just about all the rest of the disk drives in the
world. The computer room was so big it had three
street addresses. The operators had only IBM
experience and, to quote my friend, they were having
"a little trouble adjusting to the VAX", were a bit
hostile towards it and probably needed some help with
system management. Hmmm, Hostility... Sigh.

Well, I thought it was pretty ridiculous for an
outfit with all that VAX muscle elsewhere to isolate
a dinky old 750 in their Big Blue Country, and said
so bluntly. But my friend patiently explained that
although small, it was an "extremely sensitive and
confidential application." It seems that the 750 had
originally been properly clustered with the rest of a
herd and in the care of one of their best VAXherds.
But the trouble started when the Chief User went to
visit his computer and its VAXherd.

He came away visibly disturbed and immediately
complained to the ELFI's Director of Data Processing
that, "There are some very strange people in there
with the computers." Now since this user person was
the Comptroller of this Extremely Large Financial
Institution, the 750 had been promptly hustled over
to the IBM data center which the Comptroller said,
"was a more suitable place." The people there wore
shirts and ties and didn't wear head bands or cowboy
hats.

So my friend introduced me to the Comptroller, who
turned out to be five feet tall, 85 and a former
gnome of Zurich. He had a young apprentice gnome who
was about 65. The two gnomes interviewed me in
whispers for about an hour before they decided my
modes of dress and speech were suitable for managing
their system and I got the assignment.

There was some confusion, understandably, when I
explained that I would immediately establish a
procedure for nightly backups. The senior gnome
seemed to think I was going to put the computer in
reverse, but the apprentice's son had an IBM PC and
he quickly whispered that "backup" meant making a
copy of a program borrowed from a friend and why was
I doing that? Sigh.

I was shortly introduced to the manager of the IBM
data center, who greeted me with joy and anything but
hostility. And the operators really weren't hostile -
it just seemed that way. It's like the driver of a
Mack 18 wheeler, with a condo behind the cab, who was
doing 75 when he ran over a moped doing it's best to
get away at 45. He explained sadly, "I really warn't
mad at mopeds but to keep from runnin' over that'n,
I'da had to slow down or change lanes!"

Now the only operation they had figured out how to do
on the 750 was reboot it. This was their universal
cure for any and all problems. After all it works on
a PC, why not a VAX? Was there a difference? Sigh.

But I smiled and said, "No sweat, I'll train you.
The first command you learn is HELP" and proceeded to
type it in on the console terminal. So the data
center manager, the shift supervisor and the eight
day operators watched the LA100 buzz out the usual
introductory text. When it finished they turned to
me with expectant faces and I said in an avuncular
manner, "This is your most important command!"

The shift supervisor stepped forward and studied the
text for about a minute. He then turned with a very
puzzled expression on his face and asked, "What do
you use it for?" Sigh.

Well, I tried everything. I trained and I put the
doc set on shelves by the 750 and I wrote a special
40 page doc set and then a four page doc set. I
designed all kinds of command files to make complex
operations into simple foreign commands and I taped a
list of these simplified commands to the top of the
VAX. The most successful move was adding my home
phone number.

The cheat sheets taped on the top of the CPU cabinet
needed continual maintenance, however. It seems the
VAX was in the quietest part of the data center, over
behind the scratch tape racks. The operators ate
lunch on the CPU cabinet and the sheets quickly
became coated with pizza drippings, etc.

But still the most used solution to hangups was a
reboot and I gradually got things organized so that
during the day when the gnomes were using the system,
the operators didn't have to touch it. This smoothed
things out a lot.

Meanwhile, the data center was getting new TV
security cameras, a halon gas fire extinguisher
system and an immortal power source. The data center
manager apologized because the VAX had not been
foreseen in the plan and so could not be connected to
immortal power. The VAX and I felt a little rejected
but I made sure that booting on power recovery was
working right. At least it would get going again
quickly when power came back.

Anyway, as a consolation prize, the data center
manager said he would have one of the security
cameras adjusted to cover the VAX. I thought to
myself, "Great, now we can have 24 hour video tapes
of the operators eating Chinese takeout on the CPU."
I resolved to get a piece of plastic to cover the
cheat sheets.

One day, the apprentice gnome called to whisper that
the senior was going to give an extremely important
demonstration. Now I must explain that what the 750
was really doing was holding our National Debt. The
Reagan administration had decided to privatize it and
had quietly put it out for bid. My Extreme Large
Financial Institution had won the bid for it and was,
as ELFI's are wont to do, making an absolute bundle
on the float.

On Monday the Comptroller was going to demonstrate to
the board of directors how he could move a trillion
dollars from Switzerland to the Bahamas. The
apprentice whispered, "Would you please look in on
our computer? I'm sure everything will be fine, sir,
but we will feel better if you are present. I'm sure
you understand?" I did.

Monday morning, I got there about five hours before
the scheduled demo to check things over. Everything
was cool. I was chatting with the shift supervisor
and about to go upstairs to the Comptroller's office.
Suddenly there was a power failure.

The emergency lighting came on and the immortal power
system took over the load of the IBM 3090's. They
continued smoothly, but of course the VAX, still on
city power, died. Everyone smiled and the dead 750
was no big deal because it was 7 AM and gnomes don't
work before 10 AM. I began worrying about whether I
could beg some immortal power from the data center
manager in case this was a long outage.

Immortal power in this system comes from storage
batteries for the first five minutes of an outage.
Promptly at one minute into the outage we hear the
gas turbine powered generator in the sub-basement
under us automatically start up getting ready to take
the load on the fifth minute. We all beam at each
other.

At two minutes into the outage we hear the whine of
the backup gas turbine generator starting. The 3090's
and all those disk drives are doing just fine.
Business as usual. The VAX is dead as a door nail but
what the hell.

At precisely five minutes into the outage, just as
the gas turbine is taking the load, city power comes
back on and the immortal power source commits
suicide. Actually it was a double murder and suicide
because it took both 3090's with it.

So now the whole data center was dead, sort of. The
fire alarm system had it's own battery backup and was
still alive. The lead acid storage batteries of the
immortal power system had been discharging at a
furious rate keeping all those big blue boxes running
and there was a significant amount of sulfuric acid
vapor. Nothing actually caught fire but the smoke
detectors were convinced it had.

The fire alarm klaxon went off and the siren warning
of imminent halon gas release was screaming. We
started to panic but the data center manager shouted
over the din, "Don't worry, the halon system failed
its acceptance test last week. It's disabled and
nothing will happen."

He was half right, the primary halon system indeed
failed to discharge. But the secondary halon system
observed that the primary had conked and instantly
did its duty, which was to deal with Dire Disasters.
It had twice the capacity and six times the discharge
rate.

Now the ear splitting gas discharge under the raised
floor was so massive and fast, it blew about half of
the floor tiles up out of their framework. It came up
through the floor into a communications rack and blew
the cover panels off, decking an operator. Looking
out across that vast computer room, we could see the
air shimmering as the halon mixed with it.

We stampeded for exits to the dying whine of 175 IBM
disks. As I was escaping I glanced back at the VAX,
on city power, and noticed the usual flickering of
the unit select light on its system disk indicating
it was happily rebooting.

Twelve firemen with air tanks and axes invaded. There
were frantic phone calls to the local IBM Field
Service office because both the live and backup
3090's were down. About twenty minutes later,
seventeen IBM CEs arrived with dozens of boxes and,
so help me, a barrel. It seems they knew what to
expect when an immortal power source commits murder.

In the midst of absolute pandemonium, I crept off to
the gnome office and logged on. After extensive
checking it was clear that everything was just fine
with the VAX and I began to calm down. I called the
data center manager's office to tell him the good
news. His secretary answered with, "He isn't expected
to be available for some time. May I take a
message?" I left a slightly smug note to the effect
that, unlike some other computers, the VAX was intact
and functioning normally.

Several hours later, the gnome was whispering his way
into a demonstration of how to flick a trillion
dollars from country 2 to country 5. He was just
coming to the tricky part, where the money had been
withdrawn from Switzerland but not yet deposited in
the Bahamas. He was proceeding very slowly and the
directors were spellbound. I decided I had better
check up on the data center.

Most of the floor tiles were back in place. IBM had
resurrected one of the 3090's and was running tests.
What looked like a bucket brigade was working on the
other one. The communication rack was still naked and
a fireman was standing guard over the immortal power
corpse. Life was returning to normal, but the Big
Blue Country crew was still pretty shaky.

Smiling proudly, I headed back toward the triumphant
VAX behind the tape racks where one of the operators
was eating a plump jelly bun on the 750 CPU. He saw
me coming, turned pale and screamed to the shift
supervisor, "Oh my God, we forgot about the VAX!"
Then, before I could open my mouth, he rebooted it.
It was Monday, 19-Oct-1987. VAXen, my children, just
don't belong some places.
--
Edited by Brad Templeton. MAIL, yes MAIL your jokes to [email protected]
Attribute the joke's source if at all possible. I will reply, mailers willing.
I reply to all submissions, but about 30% of the replies bounce.
.

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