At least they didn't just unplug it to plug in the vacuum

It's the late 1960s, and refrigerator-size minicomputers have just started arriving at university computing centers across the U.S., says a pilot fish who has just been bitten by the programming bug.

"I tried to get as much hands-on time as possible," fish says. "The 'big' time-shared PDP-8 was only available standalone from about midnight to the start of classes the next morning, so that's when I could use it and try my luck at writing more than simple BASIC programs.

"Being a college student, the hours were not a problem. What's sleep anyway?"

The problem, it turns out, is that at 6 am. the custodial staff arrives at the computing center to start in on their morning chores -- which includes vacuuming the computer room.

The noise doesn't bother fish, and neither does the presence of all those people milling around.

But there's a reason the PDP-8 is such a popular machine for educational institutions. True, it's a fraction of the price of a mainframe. But it also doesn't require air conditioning or specially conditioned power lines, the way a mainframe does. It can literally be plugged into an ordinary electrical outlet.

So when the cleaning crew's big industrial vacuum cleaner powers up -- throwing a bright haze of blue sparks from the motor's commutator -- the electrical and radio-frequency interference is terrific.

"I would be working away, and all of a sudden the entire system would freeze with a crazy pattern in the lights," says fish.

"So the arrival of the cleaning staff became my signal to pack it in for the night before I got all my work corrupted. I'd then walk to breakfast -- the only times I ever went to breakfast -- and thence to bed."

Sharky doesn't need you to stay up all night polishing your story. Just send me your true tale of IT life at I'll file off the identifying information, and you'll score a sharp Shark shirt if I use it. Comment on today's tale at Sharky's Google+ community, and read thousands of great old tales in the Sharkives.

Get Sharky's outtakes from the IT Theater of the Absurd delivered directly to your Inbox. Subscribe now to the Daily Shark Newsletter.


Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon