In search of what's next

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fun with paperclips and electrical outlets...

Welcome Carnival of Comedy visitors!

I read a post on Bad Example (funny stuff) where Harvey was mentioning children's books that were never published (from a prior carnival of comedy) and one of the posts in the comment list by Oregano was called "Fun Projects with Paperclips and Electrical Outlets". I hope he doesn't mind me taking the title, but something happened a couple of years ago that personified this for me.

I'm the network admin for a small company in Cincinnati. I had worked there for about a year and was fed up already. I was having power problems and I couldn't get anyone to fix it for me. Fortunately, most of the problems were with my UPS's, but when the UPS would fail, the software would shut down the server (self inflicted of course). During the middle of the night, this wasn't so bad unless backup was running. But during the day, it shut down pretty much everything.

I usually got a quick beep, then down the system would go, so not much warning. This just kept on and on and eventually, I had to replace a UPS box. The bigger ones ain't cheap either, at least for my budget at the time. I had to tell the boss the reason I needed to replace it so soon after the last purchase was because of the power problem.

This finally got enough attention, that they sent one of the electricians off the assembly line in to look at my problem, because he was licensed and had a business outside of the factory.

For posterity, I must state that this guy will NOT under any circumstances work anywhere near my house. EVER.

Being a small company, all the servers (4) were on a shelf beside my desk in my office. The electrician comes in to my office and I explain the problem to him. He tells me he's going to trace the problem to see which power circuit my servers are plugged into. He gets out his meters and testers and makes a bunch of trips in and out of my office, but not much action otherwise. After a while, I ask for progress stats and he says he can't find the circuit in any of the panels, so he's going to try something a little different.

We slide the cabinets and shelves away from the wall where the power plugs are and he sits down in front of the outlet, pulls it out of the wall, and begins to strip a wire about 8 inches long on each end. I'm thinking he's not going to do what I think but sure enough....

BOOM! He stuck the wire in the outlet and the wire disentigrates in his hand and knocks him into my desk. Fortunately he lived with no serious after affects that we could tell, or at least other than were already there.

If you know anything about electricity, this plug was a 30Amp with a special UPS just for a 30A connection. Apparently, this was direct connected to the incoming bus line from the power company on the side of the bldg from the power company. No circuit breakers other than the main shutoff at the back of the bldg. The wire was enough to cause a short for a few cycles, then it evaporated. Basically, the lights blinked.

This caused a bit of a stir in the office as about 25 people tried to crowd into my office to see what was going on, as I tried not to yell at this dufus for shorting out the circuit. After settling everybody down, and sending them away, I try to make sure the electrician isn't going to do that again.

While this was going on... Apparently the fire alarm system was attached to the same electrical bus, so the short on the bus and subsequent power drop caused it to call the fire dept. While I'm talking to the electrician, I notice somebody standing in my office doorway so I look to see who else wanted to see the potential carnage.

I look to see a fireman dressed in complete attire with axe in hand and another one behind him. I'm thinking, how did this happen? "Can I help you?", I feebly ask. He asked what happened, and before I could explain the ever proud electrician tells him what he did.

I know what the electrician did was wrong. I know you don't stick things in electrical sockets, especially when they can short things out. I had already lectured him on this. But, now the fireman had to lecture me on it. I used to work for an electrical equipment mfr. and I'd already been lectured on electrical safety. My mother and father had both executed the same speech when I was 4. I REALLY didn't need this. I felt stupid enough for just letting it happen.

I ended up hiking over every inch of the bldg following the firemen (still dressed in their fire suits) all during the normal work day. No work got done for about an hour as everyone watched us walk around looking at the walls and ceiling.

On the bright side, he had one of those infrared heat cameras that could see thru walls, which was why we went over the whole bldg to make sure we didn't start a fire somewhere by shorting the socket out.

He wouldn't let me play with the camera. Or the siren. Bummer.


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