Punting the Power Strip

  • I work at a small private university. We have about 1,000 undergraduate students, well over 100 employees and part-time workers, an average of 1.2 computers per person on campus, and... 5 IT staff, including myself and a VP. Without getting into the reasons why, it seems that most of the campus has had an apathetic dislike of technology for a very, very long time. That being the case, while we don't see people actively trying to sabotage our tech-based resources, people still haven't embraced technology--especially new technology.

     With that being the case, my job as a web developer splitting my time between the marketing and IT departments occasionally brings me into some "interesting" situations. One Monday, a somewhat annoyed-sounding person from the admissions department called us, and asked for a data export of all recent online undergraduate admissions applications from the website for the past several days in a format that could be imported into our admissions processing software. I asked what format that might be, and was given the runaround for a while, but eventually discovered that they wanted a CSV file. A bit more wrangling got me the names of the column headers they wanted in the CSV, and the actual data that it should contain. I produced the export and sent it to them.

    A few days later, they called me again. Sounding even more exasperated, the person this time asked for just one day's export (the normal export process takes place daily at midnight). Curious, I asked him what was going on. He replied that the machine "running the admissions software" was going down on a fairly frequent basis. They seemed to think this was unavoidable, so I inquired whether I could automate the export to email them the formatted file they wanted on a regular basis. This didn't help them much, as each export/import process caused a lot of trouble and took quite a bit of time--to bring the machine back up in the first place, they had to call the third-party company that we had purchased the admissions software from (and to whom we paid a recurring support fee) and ask them to log into the machine. It seems that even though the machine was on campus, we didn't have login rights to it. After the company logged into the machine, Admissions would call us, get me to do a data export, and then call the third-party company back to have them run their import process (which consists of a converter application written by the third-party company reading in the CSV that we send to the machine via FTP, converting the CSV to a .dbf, and importing that into their actual software package, which uses another database format entirely).

    Not wanting to touch that can of worms inside Pandora's box with a 10-foot pole, I decided to try another tack, and went after the root of the problem. Asking if they knew why the machine kept going down, I received a terse, somewhat-annoyed response: "Yes." I asked if it was something I could help them with--I may be a web developer by title, but all of us in IT wear several hats around here, and help out with anything technology-related whenever possible; besides, doing these exports was taking time away from an important project I needed to work on. I could hear some muttered discussion over the phone, and finally they came back and asked me to come over to look at the problem.

    I spent the rest of the day in shock. The "server" in charge of our admissions software, instead of being a nice VM running on a rack-mounted machine in our nice cozy server room nestled somewhere tornado-proof (a constant threat in spring/fall around here), was an ancient Dell desktop tower sitting on the floor of the head of admissions, who happened to be very distrustful of technology in general, especially new technology. It was wired up to a power strip that had been around since probably the '90s, judging by the network jack on it labeled "MODEM". This power strip was not a surge protector, and it was plugged directly into the wall. It was also sitting directly underneath the head of admissions' desk.

    A rather frustrated employee told me "We think the power strip has gone bad. Whenever it gets kicked, the machine goes down."

    Some time later, after replacing the ancient power strip, re-running all the power cables in the room, and placing the new surge-protecting power strip far, far away from the head of admissions' feet, I at least had the consolation of making everyone else in the IT office simultaneously facepalm.

  • Wow! Except for the whole University thingy it sounded like a place I used to work.

    At first I was all hmmmm

    And then I was all Ohhhh

  • It could be worse!

    A few years back I did lots of trade shows for various broadcast equipment. When we designed the stands we did crcuit diagrams showing every connection, including power routing. Unfortunately the people building the stands did not worry too much about following the diagrams. I turned up at one show the day before it opened and was debugging the set-up of the equipment. The stands were quite big and included crawl-ways that were a little bit like [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferies_tube]Jeffries tubes[/url]. I was crawling through one of these to check a suspect connection when I became aware that one of the cables I was crawling over was painfully hot. I traced the power cables and realised that an entire section of the stand was connected at random via power strips that all ended up in the same strip. How this strip was managing at least 20A or so, and how nothing had blown or caught fire, I will never know!

    Needless to say, I spend a couple of hours re-wiriing the power!

  • I've had some contacts with a company that you could rent to come provide, set up, and run stage equimpent for a show.

    Best story I remember was the show organizer providing the company with required 20A socket... crudely soldered to an 8A-graded cable, that was routed through a wooden barn's attic full of hay. Imagine what would happen when this gets hot.

    Runner-up was some big concert in pouring rain... during which some disgruntled old grandpa wanting dem all to go quiet and let him sleep sneaked somehow to the electrical box and started tugging on such a 20A cable... while ankle-high in water. They stopped him before anything happened... I'm not sure if I should add the word "fortunately" or not.

  • My office has its power wired strangely. There's a number of outlets in the production room (where I am) sharing a circuit with the studio. The problem with that is when they are actually using the studio they need quite a bit of power for the lights etc. It's a standard 16A circuit (3840W), with about a dozen 10A outlets on it). Without the studio it's plenty of power, but not enough when they are using it. So to power my computer I need to run an extension cable about 10m along behind everyone's desks! That circuit only has three outlets on it so something is wrong there.

    @bannedfromcoding said:

    Best story I remember was the show organizer providing the company with required 20A socket... crudely soldered to an 8A-graded cable

    My sister used to live in a caravan next to our parents' house and she used a 10A cable, jamming it into the 15A inlet. Of course here in Australia the only real difference between a 10A and 15A plug/socket is the earth pin (it is designed so that a 10A plug will go into a 15A (or 20A) socket, but not the other way around (without forcing)). She wouldn't've been using that much power, but it wasn't long until a sparky came out and installed proper 15A plugs and sockets anyway. (I think some water got into somewhere and caused a short)

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