But what do you do with all your spare time?

A: Probably reads more manuals.

Computerworld  |  Shark Tank
Computerworld / IDG

Did all the good Shark Tank stories happen 40-plus years ago? No, of course not. Sharky is confident that IoT, for one thing, is going to be a treasure trove of great true tales of IT life. It’s just that right now you’re probably all too busy putting out the fires — and besides, time removes the pain and reveals the humor!

And so, once again, we hark back to the days of mainframes, one dominant vendor, and monstrous tabulating machines like the IBM 402. Pilot fish, who is much older and wiser now, was a college student at the time, working in a data processing department while studying for his degree in electrical engineering. The 402, recalls fish, was a behemoth, “stuffed full of pullies, fan belts, gears, relays, mechanical accumulators, card read stations, hammer print heads, wiring, more relays, delicate copper tubing supplying oil to all the bearings and a big motor driving everything.” Seriously, he asks, “when was the last time you operated a piece of computing equipment that had a built-in drip tray?”

It’s capable of running 50 to 150 cards per minute; the IBM support person has decreed that the slowest speed is what this shop is going to use. Fish, though, spends a lot of time with the 402, and he’s not exactly soothed by the rhythm of its idle cycle: “kachunk, pause, kachunk, pause, kachunk.” And big end-of-day runs just take forever. So, being curious and studious, fish takes the service manual from under a slot in the hood of the 402 and reads up on the idle cycle relay. And he finds he can cut those end-of-day runs in half and turn that rhythm into “kachunk, kachunk, kachunk.”

Obtaining this speed requires removing the machine’s skins, swinging out a relay bay, removing a case and pulling the relay. It’s a pain to do that all the time, of course, and fish is sure he doesn’t want to be caught doing it should the IBM support person walk in the door.

So he comes up with the “special program option”: a very neat wiring job within the existing wire harness to two spare positions on the plugboard. Inserting a “magic jumper” into the correct “spare” plugboard positions disables the forced idle cycle. This setup is perfected when fish recruits an ally: He gets a phone call from the front office saying when IBM is on the way, pulls the jumper, and “kachunk, kachunk, kachunk, kachunk” turns back into “kachunk, pause, kachunk, pause, kachunk.”

Ethical? fish asks himself now. “Uh, no. But all fish are young and curious at some time.”

Sharky is curious about your true tales of IT life. Send them to me at sharky@computerworld.com. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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