True DBA Blooper #8: Cleaning up disk drive mess

Ellen O'Brien

Experienced DBA Peter Gooley had to dig deep in his memory archives to come up with his favorite blunders, mistakes that make him laugh today, but were not so funny then. He shared his two blunders, one that started as a mystery and another that began with bored DBAs playing silly games. Gooley shared his memories with our for our weekly installment of True DBA Bloopers.

"While working as the computer room supervisor at a television network here Sydney, Australia back in the early '80's, we had a problem that baffled FACOM (FUJITSU) for ages.

On a random basis, one of the disk drives would mysteriously power off in the middle of processing. The technicians spent weeks running diagnostics without seeing any results. The key to the problem turned out to be that these drives had a STICK type SWITCH on the front.

One night, the problem reared its ugly head once again. The only person in the computer room near the drives was a cleaner who was vacuuming the floor, as he did every night. I asked him to show me what he had been doing in the last few minutes. He demonstrated just how he moved an extension cord between one row of disks to the next. Suddenly, the problem, and the solution, became clear.

We had our set builders design some plastic covers for the switches so that he couldn't turn the disks off by flicking the extension cord over the units any more."

Like many DBA blunders, Gooley's disc drive problem was

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solved with a non-technical solution. Next, Gooley tells about the danger of idle DBA hands.

"In the late 70's, at a large Transport Firm here in Australia, we had a near-death experience that I thought some might appreciate.

We were in the middle of an Invoice job on an old 370/145 with a whole 1 meg of main memory. The machine had a series of buttons and rows of lights on the front panel. It was a long job and the operators got bored. So, they organized a cricket match, using a roll of paper held together with packing tape!

Empty boxes were placed over the buttons and the typewriter-style console, while this game went on. We were waiting for the machine to sound, ringing a bell to cue us for the next response. When the bell rang, the game was halted and the boxes removed.

As one of the operators left the room, he casually lobbed the "ball" to the operator at the console. You can see this coming, I bet. It bounced off the keys, and onto a button labeled SCF. The machine made a strange clicking sound, and it became clear that SCF indicated Start Console File, and that's what was happening.

The supervisor at the time suggested that the operators grab their gear and go home so he could solve the problem. He said it was a precaution, because he was going to kill us otherwise. We laugh about it today but it wasn't that funny at the time!"

For more true DBA bloopers, click:,289521,sid13_tax292843,00.html

Have your own tale of woe to share? Submit your backup/recovery snafus, tuning disasters and ugly upgrades. Stories of good intentions gone bad, over-ambitious and under-trained newbies, clueless consultants, and even more clueless managers will all be accepted. The submitter of the most amusing or wince-inducing blooper of the month will receive a free copy of Craig Mullins' new book Database administration: The complete guide to practices and procedures. Send your bloopers to us today!

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