Flashback Friday: Touchy

A backup generator apparently should provide some backup work.

Computerworld  |  Shark Tank
Computerworld / IDG

This pilot fish’s company provides the software to run a backup generator, and it’s great stuff for the times.

“The generator could be controlled via our power distribution control system, which had a nice graphical interface that used large, color touchscreen monitors,” says fish, who also provides a detailed test spec for engineers who install the generator.

One day he gets a call from one such engineer, who starts the conversation a bit confrontationally: “Your software doesn’t work.”

Fish gets the engineer to explain and learns that he attempted to start the generator via the touchscreen interface, but it failed to engage. So he walks him through the process over the phone. The generator still won’t start.

Fish asks questions. And more questions. One thing puzzles him: The engineer says the circuit breaker icon on the touchscreen is flashing yellow. That means the control system can’t talk to the circuit breaker, fish tells engineer.

That’s unlikely, engineer says — the electricians signed off on the installation work order as completed.

Hmm, says fish. Can you hook up the modem so I can remotely access the control system? Engineer does, and now fish can watch as the engineer tries — and fails again — to get the generator started.

But this time fish can see a message in the status line at the bottom of the screen: “Command failed.”

It’s almost certain that the circuit breaker isn’t connected to the network, fish says.
Impossible, engineer says.

Says fish, “As delicately as I could, I asked him to double-check the electricians’ work. ‘But that’ll take me all day!’ he said. I pointed out it was the only way to disprove my suspicion.

“The next day, I got an irate phone call from what must’ve been a very red-faced engineer.

“‘The electricians never connected the circuit breaker!’ he said.

“Apparently they were saving it for later, so they would have some additional troubleshooting work to bill for.”

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