Wednesday, January 4, 2012

That’s not the switch for the conference room lights!

Computerworld magazine has a featured blog called Shark Tank with stories about what really happens in the world of tech support. Six years ago they published a tale that can be told by dividing what happened into good news and bad news.

The bad news was that a secretary put in a frantic call lamenting how her computer display had gone blank - right as she was in the middle of typing a document her supervisor said he needed ASAP.

The good news was that the problem was fairly obvious. When the support person asked if the power light on her personal computer (down on the floor) also was off, she said yes. When did it go off? The same time that ALL the room lights went off.

The bad news was that the support person couldn’t get in touch with maintenance by phone.

The good news was that maintenance already was busy responding.

The bad news was that one of the company administrators had been giving a presentation in the conference room. He couldn’t find the light switch when he was ready to start projecting his PowerPoint. So, he stormed into the nearby custodial closet and decisively flipped a switch - which turned out to be the main circuit breaker for that entire floor. 

The good news was that he couldn’t blame his secretary for being late because he’d caused the problem. Also, the maintenance man managed to keep from laughing while he showed the administrator where the light switch really was.


The bad news was that turning off more than just the lights can have very unpleasant side effects. When you turn a water pump off, you can generate a large transient pressure in pipes or tubing - known as water hammer. I know of an incident where water hammer blew a rubber hose for chilled water off of a tapered push-on fitting on a piece of equipment. Naturally this happened in a room with a sunken floor. The pond already was a few inches deep before someone spotted the flooding, shut the water off, and got out a wet/dry shop vacuum cleaner.

The good news was that equipment had been idling so it didn’t overheat, and there were no other electronics down near the floor to get dunked and ruined.

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