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no-one / someone is responsible


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Was thinking of the "no-one is responsible" aspect, being a touch sardonic (old cartoon comes to mind - computer hardware, software, telecoms, moon and astrology progressively blamed)


flashback ... Government office in Virginaia, Prime Contractor in California, sub-contractor on Long Island, New York. Someone came up with the idea of setting a Teletype machine to help handle the timezone difference. Building full of 'engineers' but the job came to me, as none of them had a clue beyond coming up with the idea. I had a BBS running at the house, so I "must know" something about hooking up a Teletype to the phone line, right? <g> Tried talking to one of the phone guys (this is back when Ma Bell ran the show in the U.S.)

My question: what do I need to specify in my request.

Answer: just tell us what capabilities you want.

My follow-up: what capabilities exist?

Answer: That's Bell proprietary information, you just tell us what you want.

Time went on, three other phone guys were approached, conversation repeated. However, one of those guys and I got along well, and on a trip to the 'snack bar' the next day, he had 'accidentally' left his tool box open and there was this big book laying right on top .... he asked me to 'watch' his tools while he went to the room down the hall <g> Took some notes, read some more, and hightailed it to the office when he came back. Submitted the request, thought I had it all handled.

This Government office was on a little base that most folks had never heard of, and it turns out that the local phone office didn't have anyone on-hand that knew the first thing about "data lines" (another point of reference, we're talking 300 baud here <g>) .. so they brought in someone from a Washington, D.C. office. (Prime Contractor had no problems at their end and had had their end up for at least two weeks prior, just waiting for us/me) Guy said he was done, I placed a call, and traffic started flowing ... signed off on the workorder, and everybody was happy ... until the next morning <g> Contractor called, but our machine wasn't answering. Got the guy back (days later of course) ... he looked at it, checked his notes, looked at it some more and said it was good. I placed another call, traffic flowed, everyone was happy .... until the next morning <g> Same problem.

Turns out that the Security Office had 'handled' my request. My timing sucked, as it turns out <g> There was a black, female Captain that had only been on the job like three days (more on her later) .. and when she read the request, she changed the order on/for me. Thus, I'm working with what I had asked for, the phone guy was working with the job order he'd been given, but neither of us caught on that there was that small difference. (Don't forget that the 'technical data' was proprietary, thus he wasn't offering up many details beyond "it's working as requested") The "change" was based on that Captain's view that there was no way in the world that she was going to authorize a phone within a secure building/compound to actually go off-hook (answer) all by itself. Thus the "I could call out with no problem" but .....

Based on all the fallout from that situation, she decided to really go over the line and 'handle' some other issues "by the book" .... a number of phone company folks showed up one day and started disconnecting phones and throwing them into a box .. all over the building. Storyline there was that none of these phones had a "push-to-talk" switch on them, so they also were not secure. Problem was that she was only an O-3 in the Army, but GS-15 civilians in charge of multi-million dollar projects now had no way to contact anyone .... That young Captain had a "new" job in less than three hours <g> ... and the phones managed to get re-installed the same day!

Back to the TTY (Teletype) .. things ran great for quite a while, then came the day of a new hire of a new secratary, office move / reorg came up ... some complaints made about the DAA (Digital Access Arrangement) looking like crap, bolted to a piece of plywood which had been bolted to the wall. Turns out that with a bit of cutting, that piece of wood actually fit inside the bottom of the TTY in that sloped lower front panel (where the typist would have his/her knees) ... Connection problems were noticed within the next few days. I'd tear the machine apart, could find nothing wrong, send some stuff out, receive some stuff ... put it back together and move on to the next challenge. Repeat this a few days and I'm going nuts, folks are getting ticked, ... get the D.C. guy back in .. he's not much help, repeating everything I'd done with the same results ... on his third re-visit, he brought in an older guy (either already or very near retirement) who diagnosed the problem in all of 30 seconds. Turns out that some of the relays on the circuit board were mercury-wetted ... so while the machine was torn apart (and the cables only being so long) the board was 'vertical' .. everything worked .. when the machine was put back together, that 'slope' came into play and thus all the mecury ran off to one side, so the relays no longer worked. I mean, there's 'electronics' and then there's 'electronics' <g>

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:) Quite a few lessons, in the dénouement alone.

  • Cultural (re)feedback - kaizen versus if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
  • I would like to think the same tale is still circulating in "officer country" as a warning against "adjusting the height of window blinds" a la the Peter Principle (but we both know that would never happen).
  • In these days of product liability, the relay casings (and the DAA enclosure) would be covered with warnings (in Spanish and English) This way up, Not for aeronautical use and Do not eat.
  • "Here" we often downplay the real advances brought about by the internet but as an option to catching the old codgers before they retire we now have the excellent Globalspec.com and (in a pinch) Archive.org / the wayback machine (to the extent it has not yet been eviscerated by "security concerns").

Ah yes, "the good old days" (we were young then ...). Now, if only these rotten kids would just listen ... :)

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Wazoo, that's a great story.

There are so many of them though <g> ... Maybe when I see more of the subject matter being shown on a Discovery or History TV channel, some of them I mught feel 'safe' in relating ... I just caught another new presntation on some submarine activity that included data that apparently mist have been declassified .. I was still going with the thought that I'd "go directly to jail" if I revealed any of that data ... There was no time limit on some of the paperwork signed at debreifing time.

ust one (half-rhetorical) question:  What does have to do with the rest of the story that the Captain was "black" or "female"?


Ah you know how I do prattle on at times ... there was more to the story in my head, walkling through those events in my head, there was 'more to come' but then realized how long I'd been composing that missive and so decided to stop. Yes, there was plenty of racial/discrimination charges that came later (from both sides), all dropped, life went on ... when I typed that set of words, I was picturing the specific episode of me standing at one side of her desk, a number of project managers, engineers, and various "guys-in-charge-of-stuff" crowding up the rest of the office. This Captain and I were the only two folks in a military uniform, she was the only person not caucasian ... and yes, the thought of a "lynch mob" did cross my mind <g> ... On the other hand, although the whole discussion was about the surprise removal of the phones, the way it was handled (no warning, no plan for somehow obtaining a thousand plus 'secure' phones to replace those removed, on and on) ... she was the one that decided to bring up the race issue .. which of course had nothing to do with anything going on at the moment ... things went downhill very quickly at that point. Technically, all she had to do was stick to her guns and point to the Regulations and basically tell them all to "go to h*&^", but when she went with "it's because I'm black" .. well, ... end of game.

For balance, I saw the same thing occur to a young, white male Lieutenant at Tobyhanna Army Depot (TOAD) ... he'd been at his new job for exactly one day when I showed up (working another project) ... the civilian workforce there was unionized. at 1000, (in the building I was in) the lights over the main work floor were turned off, the heavy machines switched to an idle mode ... there was "no" work to be performed for the next 15 minutes. This included folks on the phone at the time the horn went off ... (maybe a quick) good-bye and the phone was hungup. This new LT got a bit riled at being hung up on, marched himself to that other person's office, and went off the deep-end when he saw a number of folks sitting around playing cards, to include the individual that had hung up on him. The fact that no one would talk to him just drove him further over the edge. His ensuing rant about folks paying attention (and respect) to his uniform, his title, his position, etc. (to a group of civilians, most of which were either retired military or at least had had previous militatary experience and knew just how far down the pecking order an LT was <g>) got him his new job almost immediately (had to wait until break-time was over <g>) ... this kid didn't have a clue as to what happened, by the time he'd made it back to "his" office, "his" stuff was being moved <g>

It was amazing that I was working on projects that might take 10 to 15 years from the day the concept was brought up and approved to actually making it into the field for use by soldiers, yet there were these things that could happen in a matter of minutes <g>

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First, I'm glad you didn't read that as me being in any way rude ... I was kind of fretting it, but didn't know how to word it (without prattling on, myself) -- so, whew, the communication went through ok.

Second, It makes so much more sense now that you gave me the other details. I've been taking an intro to fiction course (it's so weird being in class with college sophomores) so my what's-out-of-place and what-could-that-mean detectors are on the high setting right now.

I visit a lot of forums, and often race and the military are both topics which are too hot to get any in-depth personal anecdotes (mostly you just get generic hyperbole). I haven't been posting much here in a while, but you're story was too good to keep quiet.

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There are so many of them though <g> ... Maybe when I see more of the subject matter being shown on a Discovery or History TV channel, some of them I mught feel 'safe' in relating ...


And Google some key phrases, ops names, etc. from time to time (Echelon notwithstanding). It's amazing how quickly some of this stuff goes public (if not exactly declassified). A local vet (Jack Sue, ex Z Special Force) held off publishing his account of the unit's WWII activities for years on the personal advice of the Minister for the Army that he would be in breach of the Official Secrets Act or whatever. In 2001 when he finally published, his account of operations was still unique and it was hard to find information even on some of his "kit", including the Welrod pistol. Just Google it today and look at the "hits"! Bottom line, "they" don't issue an "all clear", even when it is ...

Sure, it's sometimes hard to pick in advance. Operation Claret was a more recent example in this part of the world - blown wide open by the newspapers after only about 10 years. Got a feeling Wikipedia would do the job in even less time these days. But there are other things, less earth-shattering one would think, which are still all silence. Funny old world, isn't it?

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