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November 19, 2012 by Steve Modica

Steve ModicaMany years ago when I was a “smoke jumper” support guy for SGI, I got to see some of the strangest problems on the planet.   Mind you, these were not “normal” problems that you and I might have at home.  These were systems that were already bleeding edge and being pushed to the max doing odd things in odd places.  Further, before I ever saw the problem, lots of guys had already had a shot.  So reinstalling, rebooting, looking at the logs, etc., had all been tried.  

One of my favorite cases was a large Challenge XL at a printing plant.  It was a large fileserver and was used for storing tons and tons of print files.  These files were printed out, boxed and shipped out on their raised dock.

Each night, the machine would panic.  The panics would happen in the evening.  The machine was not heavily loaded, but the second shift was getting pissed. They were losing work and losing time.  The panics were all over the place – Memory, CPU, IO boards.  By this time, SGI had replaced everything but the backplane and nothing had even touched the problem. The panics continued.

Finally, in desperation, we sent a guy onsite.  He would sit there with the machine until the witching hour to see what was going on.  Maybe a floor cleaner was hitting the machine or there were brown outs going on.  We felt that if we had eyes and ears nearby, it would become obvious.

Around 8pm that night, after the first shift was gone and things were quiet, our SSE got tired of sitting in the computer room and walked over to the dock.  He was a smoker and he wanted to get one more in before the long night ahead.  The sun was going down, making for a nice sunset as he stood out there under the glow of the bug zapper (this happened in the south where the bugs can be nasty).

As he watched, a fairly large moth came flitting along and orbited the bug zapper a few times before *BZZZZZZT* he ceased to exist in a dazzling light display. It was at that moment when the Sys Admin (who was keeping an eye on the machine during our SSE’s smoke break) yelled over to him “HEY! The machine just went down again”.

Yes folks, the bug zapper was sharing a circuit with the SGI machine.  One large insect was enough to sag the circuit long enough to take the machine right down.  Go figure.


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