[TUHS] The evolution of Unix facilities and architecture

Ron Natalie ron at ronnatalie.com
Wed May 17 08:33:50 AEST 2017

Our biggest UNIX vs. DEC OS problem was that UNIX set the system clock in GMT whereas the DEC OSes of the day used local time.

We got used to the time being 4/5 hours off after a DEC CE was there.


We actually contracted our maintenance out for the entire company.    We ended up going with GE.   We couldn’t convince the guys from DEC who bid that when we said there were certain critical components of the site that needed 24-hour response, that this meant, 24 hours in a row, not three successive 8 hour days.


We often were stuck using a DEC CE for initial system setup or warranty work.    We had a particularly bad one who would blow power supplies, screw up running systems, etc.    She was just simply incompetent.   The culmination of this was when she managed somehow to put herself across the AC line of a VAX over in one of our external buildings and ended up being taken a way in an ambulance.    Working off hours, we’d often set up the new machines and run diagnostic checks on them ahead of the CE showing up.    I got a testy CE show up and tell me that he “didn’t need me checking up on his work.”  (Hell, was the COTR and customer).   I told him I only had one word to say about that <insert the incompetent CE’s name>.   He beat a quick retreat saying that Nancy was a different story.


I was driving to work one morning at Christmas time, and one of our local radio stations was soliciting people to send in their sob stories about how bad a year they had and they would be given a special gift.   One story went on for a few minutes, and I hadn’t caught on until it got to the electrical shock at work part and I knew it was Nancy’s story.


Our standard joke was that the way you could tell a DEC CE with a flat tire was that he had to change all four before he found the problem.


Amusingly, working for the feds had some other interesting fiascos.    I got an amusing message from the security and facilities people one day.    I had to tell our CE.


ME:   Bill, I can’t let you in the machine room anymore.

BILL:   Why not 

ME:   You’re a fire hazard.

BILL:   How so?

ME:  You have soldering irons.


Of course, I was able to prevail on them that we’d keep an eye on the CE and stand by with fire suppression if we let him do his job.    The machine room in my building had no automatic halon system which was popular in those days.    What we had was a lot of large halon hand extinguishers.    The post fire department came out and set pan fires behind our building and let us practice putting them out with the halon.     I can’t imagine what the costs to the federal budget and the ozone layer were on that little activity.    Of course, I brought my turnout gear as I was a firefighter and paramedic at the time.    This led to another interesting call from the front office.


SEC:    You need to attend a CPR class.

ME:    I’ve already had one this year.   I’m a state certified paramedic.   I go through recurrent training every month.

SEC:   Well it is a requirement that you have a CPR card.

ME:   Why am I the only one in my office that this is a requirement for?

SEC:    It’s your job classification.

ME:   Because I’m an electrical engineer and the other guys are computer scientists?

SEC:   Yes.

ME:   Why?

SEC:  Because you work with electricity.

ME:   I work with digital logic.   Five volts.   Further, even if I was going to shock myself into cardiac arrest, I can’t do CPR on  myself.   You should make everybody else take CPR.






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