Computer Old Farts Forum
 help / color / mirror / Atom feed
* [COFF] Vaxen, my children, just don't belong some places
@ 2021-10-19  4:51 Dave Horsfall
  2021-10-19  5:25 ` Grant Taylor via COFF
  2021-10-19  6:53 ` Lars Brinkhoff
  0 siblings, 2 replies; 3+ messages in thread
From: Dave Horsfall @ 2021-10-19  4:51 UTC (permalink / raw)
  To: Computer Old Farts Followers

[ Warning: you need to be an OF to understand the references ]

I don't think I've ever posted this here...  And trust me, an IBM 3090 was 
really big iron in those days.

I don't recall the author, but I found it on the 'net.


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 RA60s running a single application, PC style, 
into a data center with two IBM 3090s 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... 

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 

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 its 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 

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 ELFIs 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 3090s.  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 3090s 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 
3090s with it.

So now the whole data center was dead, sort of.  The fire alarm system had its 
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 

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 3090s 
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 
3090s 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.

-- Dave
COFF mailing list

^ permalink raw reply	[flat|nested] 3+ messages in thread

* Re: [COFF] Vaxen, my children, just don't belong some places
  2021-10-19  4:51 [COFF] Vaxen, my children, just don't belong some places Dave Horsfall
@ 2021-10-19  5:25 ` Grant Taylor via COFF
  2021-10-19  6:53 ` Lars Brinkhoff
  1 sibling, 0 replies; 3+ messages in thread
From: Grant Taylor via COFF @ 2021-10-19  5:25 UTC (permalink / raw)
  To: coff

[-- Attachment #1.1: Type: text/plain, Size: 864 bytes --]

On 10/18/21 10:51 PM, Dave Horsfall wrote:
> [ Warning: you need to be an OF to understand the references ]

I guess I'm enough of an OF to understand and appreciate much of what's 
sed.  At least I think so.

> I don't think I've ever posted this here...  And trust me, an IBM 3090 
> was really big iron in those days.

I compared someone to Mel earlier today.  They used an unimplemented I/O 
instruction as a delay.  It reminded me of putting the next instruction 
at the sector that just passed the read / write head, thus causing a 
delay waiting for it to come all the way around again.

> I don't recall the author, but I found it on the 'net.

I don't remember the first place I saw VAXen my children... but I know 
that I have always appreciated it.  I've even put a copy of it on my 

Grant. . . .
unix || die

[-- Attachment #1.2: S/MIME Cryptographic Signature --]
[-- Type: application/pkcs7-signature, Size: 4013 bytes --]

[-- Attachment #2: Type: text/plain, Size: 141 bytes --]

COFF mailing list

^ permalink raw reply	[flat|nested] 3+ messages in thread

* Re: [COFF] Vaxen, my children, just don't belong some places
  2021-10-19  4:51 [COFF] Vaxen, my children, just don't belong some places Dave Horsfall
  2021-10-19  5:25 ` Grant Taylor via COFF
@ 2021-10-19  6:53 ` Lars Brinkhoff
  1 sibling, 0 replies; 3+ messages in thread
From: Lars Brinkhoff @ 2021-10-19  6:53 UTC (permalink / raw)
  To: Dave Horsfall; +Cc: Computer Old Farts Followers

Do they belong on the ARPANET?  I'm trying to build an emulated network
but I haven't found many NCP capable systems to put on it.  I'd welcome
VMS or BSD nodes if the code can be found.
COFF mailing list

^ permalink raw reply	[flat|nested] 3+ messages in thread

end of thread, other threads:[~2021-10-19  7:28 UTC | newest]

Thread overview: 3+ messages (download: mbox.gz / follow: Atom feed)
-- links below jump to the message on this page --
2021-10-19  4:51 [COFF] Vaxen, my children, just don't belong some places Dave Horsfall
2021-10-19  5:25 ` Grant Taylor via COFF
2021-10-19  6:53 ` Lars Brinkhoff

This is a public inbox, see mirroring instructions
for how to clone and mirror all data and code used for this inbox;
as well as URLs for NNTP newsgroup(s).