True Story No23


Pride comes before a fall

A long time ago in the days of proper computers there was a big development taking place for a new computer that would never go wrong.

It was being designed for use in a telephone exchange and as everyone wants to be able to use their phone at any time and no-one wants lose contact in the middle of a call it was important to design a computer that wouldn't let you down.

Our group, up north, had been designing the microprogram bit that was the brains, and our southern outpost had been designing the other bits.

The first fully constructed machine was built in a big factory near Poole in Dorset.

A long time had been spent making sure it all worked well.

A full system actually consisted of lots of small computers connected together and these monitored each other to detect any mishaps.

If something went wrong, clever hardware sorted out the problem.

The system even told you what to do to put things right.

There were about a dozen large racks each containing lots of shelves, in each of which there were about 24 circuit boards.

One day we were invited down to see the culmination of the work which had been taking place over the last couple of years.

We were wined and dined and at last led to the computer room wherein was the first "System 250", so named because the read-write access time of the core store used by the computers was 250 nanoseconds.

We were shown to our seats in front of the system and an engineer proceeded to tell us about their work and the specifications of the system.

"ANY fault can be detected and a print out on that teleprinter will indicate the nature of the problem and the action to be taken", the young chap said to the assembled throng.

"To make it easy", he said, "We'll demonstrate by unplugging a printed circuit board.

We CHALLENGE you to defeat the system!

Each one of you can select a board and my associate, Peter, will unplug it and you'll see what happens".

The first visitor rose to his feet and walked over to the system.

When he pointed a finger at the fifth printed circuit board in the fifth shelf of the fifth rack, Peter unplugged the board.

The teleprinter rattled and out came the result "Board XYZ failed.. replace with a new board".

"That code is the one for the board that was removed", explained Peter.

We were all impressed.

The board was replaced and the alarm lamp which had been glowing, went out.

One by one the visitors rose and made their selection only to see a perfect diagnosis and repair.

Allan stood up and walked over to the system.

"There must be a way of defeating it", he thought.

"Of course there had been not a little rivalry between the design groups and after all we should have had the job of building the system after all.

Unfortunately politics had got in the way and the work had gone south.

Let me see…the last rack…it doesn't look very impressive…only a couple or three shelves…the third shelf…just two boards in the middle"…… "allow me", I said, without waiting for Peter to do the honours, yanking out the right hand board.

The teleprinter that had been humming to itself suddenly went very quiet.

"You can't have that one, that's the one that controls the teleprinter".

"Do I win the challenge", I asked….

Peter did well, he ended up Managing Director of the business!

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