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Programming IT Technology

Worst Working Conditions You Had To Write Code In? 1127

Posted by samzenpus
from the 150-of-us-in-a-shoebox-in-the-middle-of-the-road dept.
sausaw writes "I recently had to write code in a hot dusty room for 20 days with temperatures near 107F (~41C); having nothing to sit on; a 64 Kbps inconsistent internet connection; warm water for drinking and a lot of distractions and interruptions. I am sure many people have been in similar situations and would like to know your experiences."
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Worst Working Conditions You Had To Write Code In?

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  • by Sybert42 (1309493) * on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:36PM (#27559141) Journal

    Those guffaws are annoying.

    • by zepo1a (958353) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:40PM (#27559229)
      The laughter is fine...As long as they are not doing your code review! :)
      • by StCredZero (169093) on Monday April 13, 2009 @02:02PM (#27560957)

        > The laughter is fine...As long as they are not doing your code review! :)

        Any laughter is fine...As long you are doing it on the way to the bank!

        True story:

        My first industry job was 13 years ago building dynamic website stuff for a Public Television station. I was doing Perl-CGI, and all they gave me was a 2 foot by 2 foot junk table, an old wooden chair with peeling paint, and a green-screen DEC terminal in a noisy server room. To develop a web site! I had to debug my code using Lynx! (Text-only web browser.) The reason why I had this lovely setup was that I also had to deal with a redneck idiot admin who didn't understand the web and who thought that all of the station's online presence should be through the BBS he set up. So he was deliberately trying to sabotage the project.

        Yes, definitely an idiot. He had no concept of process isolation on modern OSes. His understanding of C programming was along the lines of "magic." And he once was convinced he found a security breach in my code because he composed a GET request, making a pistol gesture and a "pow" sound. I had to point out to him that the CGI script was merely returning him to the home page because it had detected a nonsensical request, and it was designed to do exactly that! (I showed him the unless clause doing it.)

        Well, in the end, the project was successful, and redneck idiot BBS man left the job. But his fundie contacts got him a 80k programming job in Atlanta. This is why I tell people, "any idiot can get an 80k programming job." (If they're well connected.)

        • by kRutOn (28796) on Monday April 13, 2009 @03:36PM (#27562601) Homepage

          And he once was convinced he found a security breach in my code because he composed a GET request, making a pistol gesture and a "pow" sound.

          Being able to compose an HTTP GET request just by making a pistol gesture and a "pow" sound definitely requires some serious "skillz." No matter how much I tried, I couldn't replicate this on my PC. I tried every conceivable pistol gesture and permutation of "pow," "ka-blooey," "Muad-dib," etc. It wasn't happening for me.

          • by tknd (979052) on Monday April 13, 2009 @05:11PM (#27563801)

            Wait a minute, you're telling me you don't have a water gun pistol with a wii-mote strapped onto it and a custom bluetooth driver installed? Get with the times!

            Now anything I do gets done with a "pow" sound. Click that link: "pow". Go back: "pow". Stop: "pow". Close windows: "pow" "pow" "pow". Are you sure you want to leave this page? Hell yeah! "pow". Do you want to debug? Hell no! "pow".

            I even threw out my keyboard and use the on screen keyboard. Now programming in Java is actually fun. Just to type "System.out.println();" takes 24 "pow" with no mistakes! And changed my mouse cursor to a cross hair, set all the event sounds to a "pow" sound, and the window theme to the "High Contrast Black".

            Best of all is when something doesn't work or when a page takes too long to load: "pow" "pow" "p-p-p-p-pow". Double and tripple clicking is equally fun: "p-pow!" "p-p-pow!".

            Working with computers is so much fun now. You wouldn't believe how much fun I had posting this. "pow" "pow" "p-p-p-pow"!!!

        • by JohnnyLocust (855742) on Monday April 13, 2009 @07:36PM (#27565167) Homepage
          I had to debug my code using Lynx! (Text-only web browser.)

          I find it very endearing that someone felt the need to explain what Lynx is on SlashDot.
    • by archammer2 (1041754) on Monday April 13, 2009 @01:07PM (#27559789)

      Dude, you could have just said something to us and we'd quiet down. Sheesh, some people...

  • Hmmmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by gentlemen_loser (817960) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:36PM (#27559143) Homepage
    I once had an office mate that LOVED Kenny G. I think those were pretty horrific conditions...
  • Well (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:36PM (#27559149)

    I once had to write code on a palm pilot while I walked 15 miles uphill in the snow while naked with a pack of wolves and two grizzly bears stalking me.

  • Itsatrap!!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:38PM (#27559179)

    You had water?!

    That's your cue, geezers.

    • by StikyPad (445176) on Monday April 13, 2009 @01:06PM (#27559751) Homepage

      Why, when I was a kid, we had to write code while walking 20 miles to the computer building, in 12 feet of snow in the middle of winter. And it was uphill both ways! Course we couldn't wear gloves, because it was too hard to line up the hole punch on the punched card. They didn't have knapsacks in those days, so we just had to keep our card stack on a string tied to our belt. Now, a hole punch cost a nickel, and in those days nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. "Give me five bees for a quarter," you'd say. Now where were we? Oh yeah, the important thing was I had a stack of punch cards on my belt, was the style at the time. They didn't have standard 5081 cards in stock, because of the war. The only thing you could get was graph papyrus, and you had to draw all the tables by hand.

  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:38PM (#27559183)

    ...had to write code in a hot dusty room for 20 days with temperatures near 107F (~41C); having nothing to sit on; a 64 Kbps inconsistent internet connection; warm water for drinking and a lot of distractions and interruptions...

    I'll go you one better - I once had to maintain Perl code.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:38PM (#27559185)

    You had to move your hands in between revolutions and very quickly type. No time for comments and indentation and occasionally it would cut your hands off.

  • I still have nightmares of those endless tendrils of code wrapping around my ankles... it's too hard to talk about, man. Just too hard to talk about.
  • by Hal_Porter (817932) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:39PM (#27559211)

    At a client. Ok I was debugging something and to be fair they did warn me not to spend too much time there, but it took a while to set things up.

    Nasy experience actually, I could feel my nerves being a bit frazzled even the next day.

    • by johannesg (664142) on Monday April 13, 2009 @01:12PM (#27559897)

      Customer site. There was already a contractual dispute. Entire company hated our guts (some because of the software, some because of the contract). Were perfectly happy letting us know how much they hated us.

      Were in one room with company owner. Guy smoked cigars all day long. Had two PC's + keyboards + mice + documentation on a tiny six-sided table. Bad chairs.

      Topping it all off, this was in an office with a view on my grandmothers house. She passed away while I was typing code in that damn office. Was taken to task by company owner for leaving work early that day. Asked for and received a transfer to another project after that.

  • 15 years or so ago (Score:5, Informative)

    by wiredog (43288) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:40PM (#27559225) Journal

    Working in industrial automation. Installing a machine, and tweaking the code. An un-airconditioned plating shop in Oklahoma, in August, in a heat wave. So 100F+, near 100% humidity. Sometimes hanging above a vat of nasty chemicals while debugging with an oscilloscope.

    Fun times.

    • by Thelasko (1196535) on Monday April 13, 2009 @01:00PM (#27559631) Journal

      Working in industrial automation.

      I can attest to this. Although I am not a programmer, and don't know the parent personally, I once spent some time as an industrial engineer.

      I've seen programmers write pieces of code using nothing but a piece of plywood across the top of a garbage can for a desk. Keep in mind, many factories don't allow chairs on the factory floor, so all the work was done standing up. Not to mention the other horrible working conditions that come with factories.

      Although, I do seem to remember those programmers most of those programmers going freelance and making some big money.

    • by NormalVisual (565491) on Monday April 13, 2009 @01:40PM (#27560501)
      My faves:

      - Spending two weeks doing Y2K updates to four laser markers at a tool factory in 90+ degree heat, grimy, filthy conditions, and with management breathing down my back since they demanded all four machines be done at once, which totally shut the factory down. They backed off a bit when they saw that happen. Oh, no chairs too.

      - Spending four days doing the same Y2K update on two laser markers in a bearing factory. It was winter so the heat wasn't bad, but you could literally see the kerosene mist in the air, and it took a few days for it to work itself out of my pores to where I couldn't smell it anymore. I felt so bad for the poor people that had to sit near me on the plane home. No chairs there either.

      - Several clean-room environments in chip fabs when writing on-site updates to the laser machines that correct mask defects. I hate the suits, and depending on where in the fab you are, you might be subjected to the most God-awful yellow light for extended periods of time. Also, it never fails - you spend 15 minutes getting suited up, walking through the air showers, up however many flights of stairs, and through other protective measures, then right as you sign in to get into the protected area of the fab, you realize you have to pee and the nearest bathroom is where you suited up.
  • by thermian (1267986) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:41PM (#27559255)

    My last Employer actually expected me to write code in the morning! We are talking pre 10am here. I still have nightmares...

  • Not coding, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Shadow Wrought (586631) * <shadow,wrought&gmail,com> on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:42PM (#27559275) Homepage Journal
    A paralegal I worked with was sent to do a document review at a Client's industrial site. She was in a small, metal shack filled with boxes of old documents. While she was working away, half a dozen guys in full hazmat suits came in. They were as shocked to see her as she was to see them since the building was condemned and they were there to clean it out!
  • Under pressure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mmkkbb (816035) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:42PM (#27559289) Homepage Journal

    No matter the physical environment, nothing is an intense and scary as the pressure that mounts above you as you attempt to code on a customer's premises, on production code, trying to find a problem you didn't cause and barely understand, with no connectivity and no source control and no opportunity for QA.

    • Re:Under pressure (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Monday April 13, 2009 @01:04PM (#27559729)

      Somebody mod this guy up. The customer is pissed at you because you represent the company, your boss is pissed at you because his revenue will go down, support is pissed at you because they have to stay late, and R&D is especially pissed at you because everything works in their lab.

      Then again, if you do fix it, you get to be the hero. Not sure how many years that kind of stress takes out of your life though.

  • by kurt555gs (309278) <kurt555gs@o v i .com> on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:43PM (#27559301) Homepage

    I write automation software for sewage treatment plants, and sewage pumping stations. I could describe incidents that rival goatse.cx of old.

    Floaters any one?

    Cheers
     

  • by carn1fex (613593) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:43PM (#27559305)
    I was having to write code to debug radar problems while on board one of NASAs P3 Orions (not technically The vomit comet but close enough)... in a thermal suit where the ambient temperature would go below zero at high altitudes then they would perform corkscrew dive maneuvers at some serious G-force to point the nadir looking antennas above the horizon back down to 300ft above the ocean where the temperature would spike over 100 degrees and the turbulence would throw you from the seat if not for the 6 point restraint. And the korean grad students were barfing their tuna fish sandwiches everywhere so the whole place smelled as can be expected. YOU KNOW NOTHING OF PAIN.
  • Factory floor... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gooberheadly (458026) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:44PM (#27559335)

    I once had to write code sitting on a metal stool in an aluminum rolling plant in Muscle Shoals Alabama in the summer. The background noise level where I sat was well over 80db, and the noise peaked at something over 130db when the machine was in operation. My connection to the embedded device was a 9600 baud serial line, and the code/compile/test cycle took 30 minutes on a 25mhz AT&T server running SVr3. Every time the guys on the rolling line wanted a break, they kicked the server until it reset and they had 15 minutes to go smoke. This would of course happen in the middle of me editing code.

    Aside from the 110 degree temp in the plant, 100% humidity, and horrific noise level, I had to wear a dust mask to try and filter out the particulate matter from the grinding work down the line. When I'd shower at night the drain would turn a matted grey color.

    My only memories of Alabama are horrible. Other than the ribs, of course.

  • Spare me. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by moore.dustin (942289) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:44PM (#27559337) Homepage
    As many here can attest, it only takes one bad boss to make working your conditions analogous to hell on Earth. I would argue that in the worst cases, your setup would be welcomed on a daily basis if got away from their boss that is not worth the dirt they walk on.
  • Prayer meetings (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NineNine (235196) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:46PM (#27559385)

    I was on-site at a clients' place of business for a few months and I had to endure weekly prayer meetings. Not just the run-of-the-mill prayers, but the owner of the company would speak in tongues. I tried to skip them, but somebody would always come to retrieve me and I was told that they were mandatory.
    If I wasn't a contractor, I would have sued their asses off for every nickel they're worth.

  • by virtigex (323685) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:49PM (#27559435)
    I was working for a car company on a project for communication between vehicles and infrastructure. The end-of-year demo was in Michigan in January. Because of the cold, I had to deal with car batteries failing, in addition to bugs cause by GPS inaccuracies. Oh and failing hands, because of the temperature. My boss, holding down the fort in California, was please that the demo was a success, but what really cracked him up was the fact that I came down with the flu after the demo.
  • by Noryungi (70322) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:51PM (#27559469) Homepage Journal

    I once had to write code is a super-small stuffy room.

    That's not so bad, but I had to share it with two people who smoked like chimney. I am serious, that was before all those non-smoking laws. The two smoked close to a pack a day per person. I probably "smoked" more with these two than ever before, or after... And I am a non-smoker!!

    The stench was so bad that, when I arrived at the office, and I was usually the first person to come, I would open every single window in the office to make sure some of the cold tobacco odor would go out a little bit. And I did this religiously, no matter how cold or rainy it was outside, since the smell was so bad I was that close to puking every time I would go in that room.

    To cut a long story short: I had -- in about six months time -- a bronchitis, followed by a sinusitis, followed by a bronchitis AND a sinusitis at the same time! Each time, my doctor would look at me, and practically plead with me to stop working in that place.

    Thank goodness, that contract only lasted for about 12 months. Most horrible conditions I have ever worked in. My hatred of smokers started in that place.

  • SARS Anyone? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FreeKill (1020271) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:51PM (#27559471) Homepage
    During the SARS outbreak a few years back, I was employed as a programmer in a hospital where there was a quarantined SARS area. As a result, the entire building was on lockdown and you couldn't enter or exit without a medical overview (they take your temperature, ask you a bunch of questions) and being suited up in a face mask and rubber gloves that were not to be removed for any circumstances... Try coding for an 8 hour day in rubber gloves and a face mask!
  • by James-NSC (1414763) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:52PM (#27559487) Homepage
    While working for the USAF developing a PTT (Part Task Trainer) for the new "glass cockpit" on KC-135R Aerial Refueler, my coding partner and I worked at the largest non-commercial airport in the US. Our office was a 6x9 closet. We were located by the fuel station, so every afternoon when the news choppers and flight for life choppers would refuel, the ventilation system pumped AvGas directly into the "office". It would get so bad that we would have to stop working from 3-5. After attempting to work through it at first, we would get dizzy from the fumes.
  • by greg1104 (461138) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:56PM (#27559571) Homepage

    I once had a job at a wireless ISP where I would regularly troubleshoot disfunctional rooftop routers located on an antenna mast. This sometimes left me balancing my laptop on top of a ladder in order to connect to the crashed device, which was particularly fun on high buildings during windy days. Every tried to troubleshoot and fix a kernel panic by tweaking kernel driver source code in a situation where you could fall to your death if you lost your balance? It would make an awesome geek extreme sport.

  • Evicted (Score:5, Funny)

    by A. B3ttik (1344591) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:58PM (#27559605)

    I recently had to write code in a hot dusty room for 20 days with temperatures near 107F (~41C); having nothing to sit on; a 64 Kbps inconsistent internet connection; warm water for drinking and a lot of distractions and interruptions.

    We were evicted from our Hot Dusty Room! We had to go code in a lake! [youtube.com]

  • by Skraut (545247) on Monday April 13, 2009 @12:58PM (#27559607) Journal
    I used to work at a Quarter Mile Drag Strip, and my office was about 70 ft from the starting line. The track allowed people to rent the track during the day, so you either had something like a mustang club burning out and going down the track every 30 seconds for the entire day, with the endless drone of engines and tires. Or there would be a top fuel team renting the track and there would be an hour of silence followed by 170+ decibel noise of the fueler burning out and launching. Getting surprised by that because I was deep in code led to quite a few bashed knees as I jumped out of my seat at that noise. My boss didn't believe in headphones, because we all needed to be able to answer the phone, and telecommuting was completely out of the question.
  • by CyberSlammer (1459173) on Monday April 13, 2009 @01:03PM (#27559705)
    Then my boss kept moving stuff into it and crowded me out to the basement and he left me down there with a can of roach spray and he took my red stapler....

    I'm going to burn the building down....

  • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Monday April 13, 2009 @01:07PM (#27559803)

    I was coding in portable building, (looks like a shipping container), in high summer. No a/c, no breeze... I was working with two cute and VERY well-endowed female coworkers who decided to skip bras and wear the smallest cut-away T shirts possible. Oh, and thin summer mini-skirts.

    They might just as well have been naked.

    Now you try and debug a financial application written in uncommented RPG3 in that environment...

  • by CranberryKing (776846) on Monday April 13, 2009 @01:08PM (#27559809)
    I was riding my Xooter around on the hardwood floors of our TriBeCa luxury office loft in my tailored suit, while on a conference call via the wireless headset. As I veered around the servers, Aeron chairs, and putting green, I stopped by the espresso bar in our giant kitchen only to realize there was no more organic fair-trade raw sugar! I xooted over to the PM & demanded an explanation. He gave me some lame excuse about there not being any at the store.. I told him if the situation wasn't rectified I was going to raise my consulting rate another $10! Needles to say, the next day we had the sugar, but I had to suffer such horrible indignity and it changed me forever.
  • by will_die (586523) on Monday April 13, 2009 @01:10PM (#27559863) Homepage
    Worst programming place I ever saw was one I visited.
    Arrived at the place to talk with the developers and see if we could incorporate their software at our location. The atrium to the place was nice, wide open area with plants and all nice. Going into the halls they had robots running mail and physical items between room, then we got to the programming room. It was a big white room with 3 columns, and around 5 rows, of picnic type tables and two programmers on each table, each with their own computer. At the front of the room was a raised platform where the managers desk was sitting.
    Making it even worse was the manager, she would require that they get permission to go to the bathroom, get lunch, etc.
    The only good thing about the trip was that I was with people who went up there a bunch of time so knew all the good restaurants, hotels, etc. So after talking with the developers for less than an hour the people I was with decided the software would not work for them so I had the rest of week free to do nothing; which kind of sucked becaue Indianapolis does not have much to do for a full week.
  • by Cmdr-Absurd (780125) on Monday April 13, 2009 @01:30PM (#27560285)
    Over 100 degrees in a bedroom owned by a slob of a teenager.
    With a monochrome display that was prone to collapsing the image to a single dot in the center of the screen.
    With a 25 line, 40 column text display that wrapped upside down over the last two lines.
    With 64KB of total memory.
    Less to actually work with.
    In assembly.
    Of course the disarray of the room was self-inflicted.
  • My Worst.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sirgoran (221190) on Monday April 13, 2009 @01:44PM (#27560611) Homepage Journal
    Not a coding job, but by far one of the worst I ever had.
    In the mid 1980's, I worked in Reno as a houseman for a large hotel casino. Being a houseman was bad enough. Having to move furniture, sort the dirty linen, cleaning up rooms that the maids called "too dirty" for them to clean. But on one day, I was looking for a way to make some brownie points with my boss, when he asked for a volunteer to clean a room. I made the mistake of raising my hand.

    Before I was sent to clean the room, I learned that the guest had blown his brains out with a small caliber gun. I was to clean the room and place any "biologic matter" in a special haz-mat bag they gave me.

    I then was briefed by the detective on the case that the bullet had not yet been found. Part of my cleaning job was to "feel" each piece of brain matter as I bagged it up for them to look for the bullet. It was about two hours later, when I had finished cleaning the room that I learned from my boss that they had found the bullet. He didn't want to come up and tell I didn't have to keep looking for it, because the idea of seeing the mess make him feel sick.

    I was so pissed that I tossed the bag-o-bits on his desk and told him to call the cops to ask for a pick-up.
  • One word: Microsoft (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rene S. Hollan (1943) on Monday April 13, 2009 @02:04PM (#27560987)
    What can I say? Three and a half years of indentured servitude got me my green card.

    None of the code I wrote was part of released code (so I felt a bit better about it's proprietary nature): I wrote test automation code and server-side code for mobile services.

    The physical conditions were cushy (private office, etc.), but the mental anguish was pure horror: "Ohh! Your code has no bugs? Great fix these other people's bugs -- they can't find them... Oh dear, you had lots of bugs to fix last year, tsk, tsk: bad review for you."

    I suppose some people thrive in an environment that rewards the political savvy to get other people to clean up their mess, but I don't.

    There actually are a few good people there, doing decent research, but, from what I saw, very little trickled down to improve day to day development, or worse, it was misinterpreted and misapplied.

    Of course, that's just my experience. No doubt some people like it there -- I just attribute my experience to a bad case of culture clash (That, and the "linux fish" on my car's bumper.)

  • My best worst story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by professorguy (1108737) on Monday April 13, 2009 @02:11PM (#27561137)
    I was once 'invited' to a Barbeque at my boss's house on a Friday evening. When all of the programmers had shown up, he had us check out his new computer setup. We entered this little room with about a half dozen PCs.

    He then LOCKED US IN and told us we could leave when the programming project we had been working on was finished.

    Yes. You read that correctly. He kidnapped about 8 people.

    I had no family at the time so I thought it was all great fun. But some of the married people were less excited to be forced to work the weekend. The conditions weren't terrible, but no one likes to work anywhere there is no choice.

    No surprise but the upshot: Many programmers quit, boss was fired, company soon folded.
  • Black Mesa (Score:5, Funny)

    by east coast (590680) on Monday April 13, 2009 @02:15PM (#27561217)
    I worked for a research facility out in the New Mexican desert for many years. It wasn't too bad until one of the teams farked everything up with a resonance cascade during one of their experiements. Damn alien sons of bitches... and then there were the marines... Horrors that you can't imagine.

    I'll never go back. I've since landed a job with Aperture Labs working on a project called GLaDOS. Much better.
  • by careysub (976506) on Monday April 13, 2009 @02:22PM (#27561377)

    My worst environment was revising code on a UNIVAC 1230 in the late 1980s in a metal shack out in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The source code had been lost years earlier, so one had to patch object code using toggle switches to enter data one bit at a time.

    But it make this more challenging the tape decks were ex-Navy warship units - armor-plated and weighing over a ton. Unlike on board the ship, the drives were not bolted down to a metal deck, but just sitting on a plywood floor. Each tape deck unit had three tape drives that slid out. The kicker - you had to remember never to pull out more than one drive at a time, and to lock each in place when it was closed. Otherwise the armor-plated deck would tip over and crush you to death.

    Oh, and there were rattlesnakes outside. The deadliest species - Mojave Greens.

  • by Medievalist (16032) on Monday April 13, 2009 @03:16PM (#27562227)

    The building was the research wing of a nationally known foundation. I'm not going to name them because I actually like the organization and admire their work. HOWEVER.....

    When they bought the ventilation system for the researcher's fume hoods it was spec'd stainless steel with a draining gradient to prevent pooling of condensation. What was actually built was a sort-of-level duct system made from the same galvanized steel components as the HVAC system.

    To save money on duct hangers, they stacked the fume ducts with the HVAC ducts, HVAC on the bottom. The guy in the basement was researching plant DNA, and for complicated reasons he used to boil skunk cabbage in fuming nitric acid from time to time. When he did this in the summer, the airconditioning in the HVAC ducts cooled the whole duct stack and the mercaptan-laden acid condensed into puddles on the more-or-less level bottoms of the fume ducts. Eventually, near the end of one hot summer, the acid ate through both layers of steel and toxic fumes from dozens of research experiments in six stories of lab building were comingled with the building atmosphere. The HVAC system was on a duty cycle and the fume exhaust system was on constant fan, and things got real ugly real fast; people vomiting and being sent to the hospital, itchy, burning eyes, the whole nine yards.

    To fix the problem, the entire building HVAC was ripped out, stem to stern, over the course of a month or so. This left me (on the fifth floor) with no AC for the central computing system (a DEC mini that blew quite a bit of heat). With no external wall (since the new library wing got built over it) I had to chop a hole with a hatchet into the wall leading into the main hallway and install a household window air conditioner in order to get the payroll and other critical jobs run. This put the hallway at 107 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity like the amazon rainforest, and the computer room in the high 80s to low 90s depending on how often people sneaked in to cool off. It also necessitated turning all the lights and conveniences off because the AC unit overloaded the available electrical circuits.

    You'd think that was bad enough. But actually it was OK once we got used to it; I ran extension cords and 20mA loops out to the roof and set a couple VT100s up there so my cow-orkers and I could work on the roof in the (relatively) cool breeze in t-shirts. We had smokes and tall drinks with umbrellas in them, it was OK as long as it wasn't raining. It was worse by far for the scientists who had to continue working in stuffy, unventilated labs and offices (did I mention that nobody stopped working for any of this?).

    But the months dragged on, and the HVAC reconstruction did as well. Other crises came and went and various stumbling blocks were overcome, but in the middle of a freezing Philadelphia winter we had no heat but that generated by our trusty DEC mini! Since the building circuits were (still) inadequate, electric heat was reserved for offices and labs without heat-generating computer systems. I personally cannot type with gloves on, I had to periodically escape to the heated wings or rub my stiff fingers over the PDP's exhaust fans so I could keep coding. This was while re-writing the database software for a 12-million-object live database... you could see your breath in the computer room.

    Nearly a year passed before the last wall was sealed up and the HVAC/fume systems were pronounced sound. During the course of the demolition, several walls that I had drilled and sleeved for cables were taken down, and when they were mortared back up the mason for some reason carefully separated each wire bundle into separate ethernet and 20maLoop cables, laid one down every foot or so into the mortar bed, and laid block over them. When you entered the wiring closet, the wires were growing out of the wall like bright blue and grey grass, over about a ten-square-foot area. It was dumbfounding. I discovered this when communications starting failing everywhere... the li

"Probably the best operating system in the world is the [operating system] made for the PDP-11 by Bell Laboratories." - Ted Nelson, October 1977

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