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Ingenuity or Let’s Try Something

July 24th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The day we fixed a supercomputer with a cardboard box.

I suppose this post has to do with good old American ingenuity or some myth we like to create about ourselves. Regardless of myths and selective memory, this is actually a true story.

On the job we had serial number one of a supercomputer. Yes, we bought the first one. Perhaps a bit over-optimistic on our part bordering on the foolhardy. Well, good old serial number one wasn’t working. It was constantly rebooting itself after it lost its mind. Not good for something that cost $6 Million (in 1990 dollars).

Part of the many long distance phone conversations (yes, in those days we still used the term “long distance call” when calling coast to coast), was a mention of cooling, over heating and other such thermal things.

Good old serial number one was sitting atop a raised floor with (supposedly) enough cold air blasting up its innards to allow it to function. Right in front of the rack, yes supercomputers used to require an entire, full-height 19″ rack, was a vent on the floor.

Someone, I’ll take the credit here, had the goofy idea of taking a cardboard box, sitting it on the cold-air vent, and using it to force the cold air into the middle of the good old serial number one. A knife, some masking tape and no one in senior management watching, and we had an ugly something-or-other pushing cold air into the computer.

It worked. In five minutes, the $6 million supercomputer was super computing.

Lesson #1: Try things.

Lesson #2: Pay attention to the conversations. The mention of thermal properties was a quiet, slight, and quick one. Someone on our side of the continent heard it and remembered it. There are lots of little things passed in conversations. It is a good idea to listen for them.

I suppose this is another example of people telling your their problems and the solutions. We have to notice.

Tags: Computing · Consulting · Failure · Listening

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