Renamed as “Peter,” our hero worked in the IT department of what he described as a “mid-size town” somewhere on the West Coast of the United States. This was in the early 1980s, and computing tasks were performed by a Univac mainframe.
It was a top of the range (for the 90 Series) 90/80; “Sperry Univac’s response to the IBM 370,” Peter told us. This example featured a water-cooled mainframe and was designed to shut down if things got too hot.
“I was surprised,” he told us, “when I got off the bus to go to work one day to see a large stream of water pouring down a downtown street.
“It was from open fire hydrants. I found out that my office building was at the top of the creek. Inside it looked like a fountain; all the taps in all the toilets had been turned on. being called) warned me ‘Don’t drink the water.’ “
The problem was the mainframe. It was quite hot and inconvenient and the engineers had come up with a seemingly simple solution. Need more cooling? Add more water, of course!
A hose, after being released from a garden, had been led from a convenient tap to the radiator and attached. The floodgates were open and the engineers prepared to congratulate themselves on their genius.
Except that things didn’t go as planned. The pressure in the radiator was quite high. High enough, in fact, so that mains water, under lower pressure, does not interfere with the cooling system. Probably a lucky escape, because who knows what the untreated water would have done to the interns.
Not so lucky, however, were those downstream since the chemicals in the coolant started going where they shouldn’t because the flow was going the wrong way. Do not drink the water indeed.
A poorly thought-out solution that was quickly cut off, the way to solve the problems was to turn on the faucets and hydrants in an effort to remove contaminants.
The rooster made the news. Peter remembers: “The evening newspaper featured a picture of flooded gutters with the headline ‘Main Street’.”
But at least they were liquid cooled, eh?
The register asked a number of people in the pumping and chemical industry if such a thing was possible and the answer, after much complicated discussion of ‘reverse flow’ and ‘composition profile’, was’ l ‘story seems viable’. So this is it.
That said, the incompetence required to think that attaching a garden hose to a central cooling system was a good idea is a thing to see.
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