Tag Archives: IBM

Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals

Originally posted January 3, 2014:

After the reorganization at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma during 1987, a bunch of new faces showed up at the plant.  I mentioned in last week’s post that we had a new plant manager, Ron Kilman (See Post:  “From Pioneers to Power Plant Managers“).  In that post I also mentioned that the PC age was rapidly growing and I had bought a computer of my own and was eager to learn more.  The Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey had retired, and was replaced by a guy named Tom Gibson.  Tom was a good supervisor who was willing to think out of the box.

Tom gave me one of my first assignments directly by calling me to his office.  Well, Leroy had never really called me to his office before.  When Leroy wanted to chew you out, he was happy to come down to the Electric Shop and do it, so I didn’t really know what to expect by being “called to his office”.  Believe me… it wasn’t the last time he had “called me to his office.”  But it was the most satisfying time.  Mainly because this time, when I arrived, Tom’s face wasn’t beet red with anger like it was on one later occasion.

This is what Tom told me to do…  He said that we needed to install computer terminals all over the plant.  They had a chart where they wanted the terminals to go.  There were about 15 locations all over the plant including the coalyard which was about 1/2 mile from the main plant.  Along with those, there were a bunch of IBM Network printers that needed to be installed with the terminals.

Then Tom told me the best part.  He wanted me to do it all myself.  Then he told me an even better part…. He said, (and I quote) “I want you to learn everything you can about this computer stuff.  I think it will come in handy.”  As my friend Stephen Todd at Dell would say, “That was the ‘Keys to the Kingdom”.  I told him I would be glad to do everything he asked.

That last part later came back to haunt Tom…. but he did tell me…. learn “everything” I could about the computer.  When he was referring to “The Computer”, he was talking about the company mainframe, a Honeywell system that resided in Oklahoma City at Corporate Headquarters.

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

The Terminals I was going to install were called “Dumb terminals”.  they weren’t computers, they were just monitors with a keyboard that connected directly to a switch back in the telephone room that was connected via a microwave link directly to Oklahoma City and the Honeywell system:

A DEC terminal like this.

A DEC terminal like this.

So, when I returned to the electric shop, I began my “hacker” apprenticeship.  One that would later allow me to harass Gene Day in the Control Room, confuse Dick Dale in the warehouse, cause headaches for the IT department downtown, and finally cause the President of the Electric Company to personally call our Plant Manager Ron asking who was this guy Kevin Breazile!  Hence the reason for Tom Gibson’s beet red face a few years later.  But that is another story for another time.

I had two things right away that I had to figure out.  How was I going to run cables from the telephone room in the office to each of the places around the plant that needed a computer terminal and what are these funny connectors and what do I need to do with them?

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

Ok, so I figured they plugged in the back of the terminal and then there was a Cat1 cable (no, not a Cat3, a Cat1) that plugged into that, and needed to plug into a jack in the wall that I was going to have to install.  They called these funny connectors “Hoods”.  The 25 pin Hoods that we used were blue.  We had 9 pin hoods also that we used for the actual PCs that the clerks and the chemist were using.  They had an emulator program to make them act like a dumb terminal:

 A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

In an early post called “Power Plant Men’s Club Prizes and a Story of Luck” I explained how I have always been cursed with being very lucky.  Well, that’s what some may call it, but I prefer to believe that one of my best friends St. Anthony helps me out at certain times.  Well, this was one time when I asked for his assistance.  St. Anthony of Padua is considered the Patron Saint of lost items.  So, I asked him to help me figure out how I was going to do all this work in a reasonable amount of time.

St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua

As is often the case, St. Anthony pointed me in the right direction.  This particular day, he told me to tell my problem to Charles Foster.  My close friend and one of the two Electric Shop foremen (not mine.  I was working for Andy Tubbs).  So, during lunch I told him what Tom Gibson told me to do, and showed him the blueprints where they wanted the terminals placed throughout the plant.

One of the places that needed a terminal was right there in the electric shop office.  Charles looked around the office and said, “You know what?  there used to be an old intercom system in this office that I think goes up to the telephone room.  In fact, I think all the intercoms that were originally installed in the plant went to the telephone room.”

An old intercom sort of like this only in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

An old intercom sort of like this only older and in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

I vaguely remembered the intercoms when I was working as a summer help as there used to be an old box sitting in the garage when I worked for Stanley Elmore.  They were later cut out and removed, because it wasn’t really practical and so it wasn’t used.  Charles told me to start there, because there were intercoms everywhere.  In the control room, the warehouse, and even in the coalyard!  And definitely in the office area.  This was just what I needed to hear.  My work was already half done.

I pulled the cables out from under the desk where they had been cut and checked them out.  There were definitely enough cable pairs to do the job.  In most places I had to install both a terminal and a printer, so I had a lot of dual wall jacks just for this job:

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

There were some places where the intercom system didn’t go where I needed to install either a dumb terminal or at least connect a computer.  So, I was looking for any kind of alternate way to install the jack without having to run cables all the way from the telephone room to these locations.  So, I went out and bought a book about networking so that I could learn more about what was really going on.  If I had bought it a few years later it might have been called “Dumb Terminals for Dummies”, but the Dummies books hadn’t come around yet.

I have since thrown that book away after using it for years to prop up the corner of our sofa bed for the times when my mom would come and visit and she would sleep on the bed, only it had a broken bracket, and the Networking book was just the right thickness to level the bed…. But there was one page in the book that I found that allowed me to hook up dumb terminals in places where there was only a phone line.

You see.  When the phone lines were run throughout the plant, they used a three pair cable.  Well.  A phone really only uses two wires (or one pair).  so, this left 4 more wires not doing anything.  The only problem was that the dumb terminal used 4 pair, or 8 wires…

An RJ45 Cable

An RJ45 Cable has 8 wires

So, when I was reading the networking book, I ran across a diagram that made me stop and stare.  I like to think that I was holding a half eaten apple in my hand and I had just taken a bite when I stopped mid-bite and stared.  It would have been a nice picture to remember sort of like when the apple fell on Newton’s head.  Only we didn’t have cellphones with cameras in those days, so no one was around to take my picture.  The diagram I saw was this:

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

What?  This showed 4 of the wires are nothing but grounds….  The network cable only really uses 4 of the 8 wires.  Which means I only needed two pair.  And guess what?  The phone lines run all over the plant were 3 pair with only one pair being used!  So, I was able to install the computer jacks right next to the telephone jacks and use the same cable that the telephone was using, and they all tied back to the telephone room where the main computer switch was located that connected to the Mainframe computer back in Oklahoma City through something called a Memotec X.25 Modem.

So, now that I have gone through all this detail to tell you how I was able to quickly install all these terminals and printers around the plant in a way as if it is exciting (because it is to me).  I know that many of you are so bored out of your gourd that you have already stopped reading before you have reached this sentence….  I suppose those of you that are still following along are wondering “Why?”

Why would we want to install all these dumb terminals throughout a power plant that connected to the Honeywell Mainframe down at Corporate Headquarters?  Well.  It was because all the plant operators, mechanics, welders, machinists, electricians, instrument and controls and heavy equipment operators were going to start using it to do stuff.  Yeah.  All of us were being introduced to the computer age.  From the janitor on up.

Each printer had 4 character ID that identified it, so if you were looking at a work order on the terminal, you could choose to print it.  You just had to know the 4 character number and you could print the work order out on any computer in the company.  Usually, this meant, you wanted to use the printer that was closest to you.  But if you wanted to print something out for the warehouse, as long as you knew their printer ID, you could send them a printout of some part that you wanted them to retrieve for you.  Then call them up and tell them you printed something out on their printer.

Ok.  So the average Joe didn’t see much benefit, but it did get them used to seeing computer monitors all over the place, which at least helped them in the future when the real computers showed up.  Right now, they were just “Dumb Terminals” and that’s what a lot of the operators and maintenance people thought… they are just dumb…

I, on the other hand was in hog heaven.  You see.  I had called downtown to the IT department and asked to get a user name so that I could log directly into the mainframe.   After all, my supervisor Tom had told me to learn “everything” I could about “this computer”.  So, I took him up on it.  I quickly was learning UNIX commands, though at the time, I didn’t know that’s what they were called.

I began learning the Computer language called “A” before I realized there was a “B” language and a “C” language, and that C was the one that was really used at the time.  As it turned out the mainframe had manuals for everything right on it.  That is how I was able to cause so much trouble the next few years.

Oh, and one more interesting thing I discovered on the mainframe.  It had this interesting feature called “Email”.  Yeah.  Only, after figuring out how to pull up a list of all the emails on the system I found that there was only a handful of people that actually had e-mail addresses.  So, the only person I would email on the mainframe was an engineer named Craig Henry.

Craig Henry. Engineer and Gentleman

Craig Henry. Engineer and Gentleman

I had met him briefly once, but in the next few years, he was a valuable source of information.  Email seemed like a great idea, but what good was it if there was only a few people you could send an email?

As for Craig Henry… As Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Rains in Casablanca, “This is the beginning of a Beautiful Friendship.” Come to think of it… Craig Henry sort of reminds me of Claude Rains…  I must admit, I learned a lot more from him than he ever learned from me.

Dick Dale and the Power Plant Printer Romance

Originally posted January 17, 2014.  I added more to the story:

When I first moved to Ponca City in 1986 I carpooled each day to the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma with Dick Dale, Jim Heflin and Bud Schoonover (See the post:  “Carpooling Adventures with Bud Schoonover“).  Dick Dale had moved to Ponca City a couple of years earlier after his divorce.  He didn’t want to continue living in Stillwater where he felt as if everyone knew about his tragic situation.  We had been friends from the first day we met (which is often the case with Power Plant Men) when I was a summer help working out of the garage and he worked in the tool room and warehouse.

I wrote about Dick Dale this past Christmas, when I talked about his situation (See the post:  “Harmonizing with Dick Dale on Power Plant Christmas Harmonicas“).  I knew that even though it was a few years later, Richard was still feeling the impact from this emotional trauma.  One day I found the opportunity to play a “Power Plant” joke on him that I thought might help lift his spirits.

I recently wrote another post about how I had installed dumb terminals around the plant so that regular workers would be able to access the mainframe computer downtown in Corporate Headquarters in order to see their work orders, or look up parts in the warehouse, etc. (See the post:  “Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals“).  In most places where I installed terminals, I also installed large IBM printers that printed using continuous feed paper.

IBM Dot Matrix Network Printer

IBM Dot Matrix Network Printer

For those of you who remember, at first most dot matrix printers would feed paper from a box underneath them.  they had holes down both sides of the paper where the sprockets would rotate and paper would come rolling out the top of the printer.

Dot Matrix paper with holes so the printer can feed the paper through. The holes sections with the holes were perforated so you could tear them off easily.

Dot Matrix paper with holes so the printer can feed the paper through. The holes sections with the holes were perforated so you could tear them off easily.

Ok.  Here is a quick one paragraph side story…

One day when my son was 5 years old, we had to wait a while in an airport.  We were sitting in a row of seats at the gate waiting.  My son kept popping up slowly, jerking as he rose, from behind the row of seats and would lay over the seat back and end up head down on the chair.  After doing this a few times, my wife Kelly who was becoming slightly annoyed asked him what he was doing.  He said, “I’m paper coming out of the printer”.  Of course, this cracked us all up.

Anyway, back to the story.  By the time I had to add the dumb terminals and printers to the Garage and Warehouse, I had already been playing around on the mainframe learning all sorts of ways to get into trouble. — Well, what else was I going to do during lunch while Charles Foster and I talked about movies and stuff?  I had a personal user account on the mainframe that basically gave me “God Access”.  They didn’t really have anything like “Network Security” back then.  — This was 1988.

Back then, we also didn’t have anything called “Email” either.  It wasn’t until 1989 that CompuServe first offered real Internet e-mail to its users.  When we wanted to send something to someone in the company, we either printed it out and put in an intra-company envelope and sent it by “snail” mail, or we could find out what printer they used and get the ID for the printer and send it to them.  It was a code like:  P1234.

Well.  I had been playing with this text editor on the Honeywell mainframe called FRED.  This stood for FRiendly EDitor.  For those of you who know UNIX, this was pretty much the same as the VI Editor found on UNIX mainframes.  The commands were the same.  Today, users of Microsoft Word would be horrified to find out what you had to go through to create a document back then.

I had been practicing using this editor, and found that by using the special escape codes for the printer, I could create documents that would come out looking pretty neat.  So, I had created some templates that would make it look like I was printing a Memo from some mainframe program.  That was about the time that I installed the printer in the garage.

So, I created a big long document that would print out on the garage printer as soon as I connected the printer to the network.  It went on and on about how the printer wasn’t happy about being placed in such a dusty environment and how it refused to be cooperative until it was moved to a cleaner place.  It would spit out a bunch of sheets of paper, printing protest after protest.

Then it ended up by saying that if it wasn’t moved right away, it was going to shut down in 10 minutes and it started counting down by 30 second intervals.  Then at the last minute, it counted down by 15 seconds until it counted down the last 10 seconds by feeding a sheet of paper for each second while it was counting… then it paused at the last second.  Finally, it printed out at the end a concession that since it was obviously not going to be moved to someplace cleaner, it might as well give up and be cooperative.

When I installed the printer in the office in the automotive garage, I knew it would take about 30 seconds to connect the first time, and by that time, I was outside making my way back to the electric shop.  By the time I arrived back in the electric shop Charles Patten, the foreman in the garage was calling me on the gray phone.  The gray phone is the plant PA system:

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Of course, I knew why.  I answered the phone and Charles told me that something was wrong with the printer.  It kept shooting paper out of it and wouldn’t stop.  He had even turned it off, but when he turned it back on, it still kept feeding paper out.  I told him that sounded pretty strange to me and I would be right over to see what was going on.  I took my time returning to the garage giving the printer time to throw it’s tantrum.

By the time I returned, the printer had stopped ranting about being installed in a dirty environment and had given up it’s protest.  Charles said that it finally stopped.  I walked over to the printer and took the pile of hundred or so pages that it had printed out, and tore them off the printer and walked out with them.  I don’t even know if Charles had paid any attention to what the printer was saying.

I think I was the only person that knew that I had just “attempted” to play a joke on Charles.  After all, as the paper was feeding out it was carefully collecting into a nice stack in front of the printer on the floor, and unless someone picked up the stack and looked at it, they wouldn’t know that anything was even printed on it.  So, in this case, the joke may have been on me.  But then again, Power Plant Men are like that.  If they figure a joke is being played on them, then they figure out how to turn it around so that the joker is the one that has the joke played on them.  Maybe that was the case here.  Charles Patten was probably one of the most intelligent foremen at the plant, so it was possible.

Charles Patton

Anyway, back to Dick Dale.  I installed the printer in the warehouse and Dick Dale, Darlene Mitchell, Mike Gibbs and Bud Schoonover were happy to be connected to the Inventory program on the mainframe…..  um… yeah. sure they were…… especially Bud.

Bud Schoonover was the person that when it was his turn to run the tool room would not give you something if it was the last one.  So, if I needed a flashlight and it was the last one, and I asked Bud for a flashlight, he would say that he couldn’t give it to me.  Why?  You might ask.  Well, he would explain that if he gave the last one away, he would have to order some more.  Bud didn’t like ordering things on the computer.  So, in order to keep from having to order anything he simply didn’t give away the last one of any item.

Anyway.  I decided one Monday during my regular lunch time computer educational moments to send a letter over to the warehouse printer addressed to Dick Dale.  It was from an anonymous woman.  The letter sounded like it was from someone that really had a thing for Richard and remembered how they used to work together.  It also mentioned other people, like Mike Gibbs and Pat Braden and about how they used to hang around each other.

Since this was a fictitious character, I could say anything I wanted, but I wanted to put it in a time period back when I was still a summer help.  Well…  It wasn’t long before Dick Dale called me on the gray phone (no.  I won’t post another picture of the gray phone here.   I think you get the idea).  He asked me to come over to the warehouse.

When I arrived, Richard showed me the letter.  He was excited about it.  He was trying to figure out who it could be.  He thought about the people that had moved from the plant to Corporate Headquarters and wondered if it was one of them.  I thought for a little while, and I couldn’t come up with who it might be (obviously), since it was me.

The next day at lunch I sent another letter to his printer.  I mentioned more about the “old days” working at the plant.  On the way home Richard showed it to me.  I could tell that he was really excited about this.  I held back my smile, but inside it felt real good to see that Richard had finally come back to life.  For the past couple of years, he had been so down.  Now some woman was paying attention to him, and actually was telling him that she had always liked him.

Darlene Mitchell sent a letter to the printer ID I had sent in the letter to Richard, saying the following:

Dear Ghost Writer,

This has been the most exciting thing that’s happened in the warehouse in a long time.  We await your messages.  Dick is really trying hard to figure this out, and if you don’t give him a little hint, his little old brains are going to get fried.

He also requests that you send his messages to his printer only, that way I won’t be able to send my message back.  He takes all the fun out of everything.  P)24 is his number, and if you can’t get a response out of him, I’ll be glad to put my two cents in.

I’m sure Dick would like to see you too.  Maybe we can get him headed in your direction, if you tell me where that is.

So, long, see you in the funny papers.

<end of message>

Darlene-Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

On Thursday Richard called me and asked me to come over to the warehouse.  He showed me the letter he had received that day.  He said he was too excited.  He just had to find out who it was that was sending him these letters.  He said that since I knew everything there was to know about computers (a slight exaggeration), he asked me to see if I could find out where the letters were coming from.

I told him I would do what I could to see if I could track down who was sending the letters.  On the way home that day, he asked me if I had any luck.  I told him I was still looking into it.  I told him I thought there might be a way to find a log somewhere that would tell me.

So, after lunch on Friday I walked over to the warehouse.  When I entered, I signaled to Richard that I wanted to talk to him.  — Remember.  Richard and I had developed facial signals while carpooling with Bud Schoonover so that all we had to do was glance at each other and we instantly knew what each other was saying…

Richard and I stepped outside of the warehouse where we could be alone.  He asked me if I had found the person sending him the letters.  I told him I had (I knew I had to do this right or I would lose a good friend, so I said), “Yes.  I have.”

I could see the look of excitement in his face.  So I looked straight at him and I said, “I have been sending these letters to you.”  He was stunned.  He said, “What?”  I said, “Richard.  I have been sending them to you.”

I could see that he was very disappointed.  After all.  No two people could read each other’s expressions better than me and Richard.  We practiced them every day.  The corners of his mouth went down.  The middle went up.  Edges of the eyes went down.  Eyes began to water.  Yep.  He was disappointed to say the least.

I told him I was sorry to get his hopes up.  I put on the saddest look I could muster.  Inside I wasn’t so sad.  Actually I was pretty happy.  I knew this was a tough moment for Richard, but he had spent an entire week flying high.  For the first time in a long time, Richard had hope.  A  couple of hours of disappointment was well worth this past week.

I patted him on the back and he turned to walk back into the warehouse despondent.  I went back to the electric shop.

As for my part, I continued sending Dick Dale printed messages from time to time.  Just goofy messages like the following:

Dear Richard,

Sometimes when I type letters I find that the words I use are not always the typical type that I would use if I wrote a letter.  The letters that I make when I write a letter aren’t the type of letters that I use when I type a letter.  When I write a letter, the letters in the words are sometimes hard to distinguish, but the letters I type when i’m typing a letter are the type of letters that stand out clearly and uniformly.  I can’t really say that when I type I’m right, or when I write I’m right, because I usually type a different type of letter than I write when I’m writing a letter.  I typically use a different type of words when I’m typing than I use when I’m writing, so I really can’t say that writing is right when a typical typed letter is just as right as writing.  That is just the type of person I am.

Typical Typist

After a few more days, Darlene Mitchell and Dick Dale began sending me letters indicating that the warehouse workers had been taken hostage, and they had a list of hostage demands.  I would write back to them.  The hostage letters and my replies would make up an entire blog post just by themselves.

So, what followed this episode?  Well.  Within a few weeks  Dick Dale had attended an event at the Presbyterian Church in Ponca City where he met a very nice woman, Jill Cowan.  He began dating her, and within the year they were married on November 13, 1988.

I like to think that I had given him the kick in the pants that he needed at the time that he needed it.  For that one week where he had hope, he believed that someone else really cared for him (which I really did, just not in the way he was thinking).  If he could believe that, then maybe it could really be true, even if in this case it turned out to only be one of his best friends.

I know that Dick Dale lived happily ever after.  As I mentioned earlier, I wrote a post about Dick Dale about a time when I gave a Christmas present to Dick Dale, Christmas 1983.  Well. as it turned out, my friend Richard was presented to Saint Peter at the gates of Heaven 25 years later on Christmas Day, 2008, 20 happy years after his marriage to Jill.  I don’t really miss him.  He is always with me in my heart to this day.

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Printing Impossible Power Plant Fast News Post

Originally posted: July 12, 2014:

Tom Gibson, the Electric Supervisor at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma didn’t have a clue the large can of worms he opened the day in 1988 when he told me to find out all I could about the company computer in Corporate Headquarters…. The one that ran all the important financial systems for the company. I remember going straight down to the Electric Shop office and sending a request for a username on the Honeywell Mainframe to the IT department, with Tom’s approval.

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

This story is a continuation of two previous stories…. Last week I wrote a post called: “Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild“. This is the next shoe that dropped in that story…. Earlier this year I wrote a post called: “Toby O’Brien and Doing the Impossible“. Well, this is the second story in the list of “Impossible Things” Power Plant Electricians were able to accomplish when others said it couldn’t be done.

As a reminder… and in case you didn’t read last week’s post…. as a summary….. let me just say that I had printed out a form on every printer in the company as part of a “Quality Idea” our team was investigating. In doing so, I sent commands to the printers to change their quality settings, as well as the Font Size and a few other settings. When I ran the little known command that sent the document to every printer listed on the mainframe, I didn’t realize that this included all the billing, paycheck and work order printers that all had their special kinds of paper and setting for those particular jobs to run.

This was probably the biggest “Faux Pas” (pronounced “Foe Paw” — yeah…. French… which literally means: “False Step”) of my 18 years as an Electrician. Before I tell you about how the second shoe dropped… Let me explain that a few weeks before I had hit enter on the keyboard sending the disastrous command to the Mainframe, In June, 1993, I had found an interesting program on the Honeywell mainframe called “Magna 8”.

It had to do with creating reports from the main database. This was the entire database that ran the Electric Company Business! I thought this would be a great program to learn in order to create all kinds of reports for our plant that would help us understand where our efforts were being spent. I thought I might actually be able to tie our Maintenance Orders to the time the employees spent on them to their wages, and to the cost of the parts used…. Nothing like that existed at the time, and the little I was able to read from the Magna 8 User Manual on the mainframe, this seemed like just the ticket..

We had never heard of SAP, or other ERP systems at the time. — Oh… sorry… ERP stands for “Enterprise Resource Planning”. It does just that. It combines all the company’s business together in one application so that you can account for all the costs down to each machine, person, and part. If I could learn more about Magna 8, maybe I could start piecing these pieces together from the database. I was having one problem…. When I would page down in the user manual, it kept skipping the bottom half of every page….

I couldn’t figure out how to stop it from scrolling past the second half of each page. So, I called in a favor from the IT guys downtown and asked them if they could send me a printed copy of the Magna 8 User’s Manual. They said they would be glad to send me a copy. About a week later, I received the User Manual through company mail. It was about 4 inches thick.

There were different sections. One was called: “The Update Module”. Yeah…. That’s right…. It was used to enter data into the database…. I thought about that module for about 2 seconds and decided It would be best to stay away from that one. Then there was the “Reporting Module”.

That was the one I was looking for. — on a side note…. I know “for” is a preposition, and I know you aren’t supposed to end a sentence in a preposition, however, who doesn’t say, “That’s what I was looking for”? In these circumstances, I figure that I better approach it from a whole different angle…. like…. “That’s the section I really wanted.” — End side note.

A couple of weeks after I received the copy of the Magna 8 User Guide, I sent the infamous form to all the printers in the company, and that’s when I was sort of had all my “atta boys” taken away with that one “Uh Oh”. I was all prepared to watch my step while on the mainframe. About a week after the episode in Tom’s office when he told me not to send anything outside the plant without Ron Kilman’s permission, my foreman, Andy Tubbs came in the office and told me that in two days, I was supposed to go to some training in Oklahoma City.

“Oh. Training!” One of my favorite things! I always liked to learn new things. I asked Andy what the training was for (Oh geez… did I really say that? “For” at the end of the sentence again! — how about “I asked Andy what kind of training would I be taking” — yeah…. that’s what I said…). Andy replied, “Something called ‘Magna 8′”.

Oh No! I hadn’t asked for training! I had just asked for the user guide! Now I was scheduled to go to training in Oklahoma City and I knew that no one at the plant had “okay-ed” it. Now what was I supposed to do? I did the only thing I could think of at the time…. I asked Andy where I was supposed to go at Corporate Headquarters for the class.

Since I knew that this class hadn’t been approved by Tom Gibson or even our A Foreman Bill Bennett, I decided that I was going to go on my own dime…. that is, I wasn’t going to expense anything. I would pay for my own mileage and lunch, etc. Hopefully, no one would notice that I was gone that day. — Anyway, I could always fall back on the fact that my own Foreman Andy had told me to go….

So, when the day came, I drove to Oklahoma City and entered Corporate Headquarters dressed in my cleanest steel-toed work boots and my cleanest tee-shirt!

I chose this picture because they look like my boots, only I never wore the toes out so that you could see the steel toes.

I chose this picture because they look like my boots, only I never wore the toes out so that you could see the steel toes.

Yeah. Just like this

Yeah. Just like this — no not really

When I introduced myself to the instructor, Scott Overmeyer, I told him I was surprised that I had been scheduled for this class. He told me that since I had requested the User Guide that he figured that I should attend this course so that I would know how to use Magna 8 to create reports. — Well, that explained it.

The classroom was short on computers so we had to share one computer between two people. I sat in the back row on the right side if you are facing the instructor. A young lady sat next to me. Her name was something like Laura Burgert. We didn’t introduce ourselves right off the bat. We spent the morning learning about how our database was structured.

Our database was not what is referred to as a “relational database”. I’m not even sure if that term was being used at the time…. anyway, we had what is called a “Hierarchical Database”. The relationships are more like a family tree. If you needed to connect the data, you had to go up the tree to where you could go back down another branch… sort of like if you were into Genealogy and you were looking for your 3rd cousin twice removed. This was all new to me.

I found this diagram of a simple Hierarchical Database model on Wikipedia

I found this diagram of a simple Hierarchical Database model on Wikipedia

Anyway, this isn’t an important part of this story, so don’t strain your brain trying to figure it out.

When noon came around and we were just breaking for lunch, Laura Burgert said to me, “You’re Kevin Breazile! Oh my Gosh!  You’re the guy that printed out that form on everyone’s printers!” I replied, “Yeah, that’s me. I sure was in trouble for that one.”

She replied that they had been trying to do something like that for a long time. Then she explained… “I work in the Communication Department and we create the Fast News Bulletins that are sent out to the printers….”

You see… this was what you had to do before e-mail was available…. When there was some news about the company that they wanted to disseminate to all the employees quickly, they would send out a Fast News bulletin to the printers and we would post it on the bulletin board in our area.

She continued to explain….. We have asked IT to give us a list of printers that we should send the Fast News Bulletins, because we know that our list is old and we are sending some to printers that messes up billing jobs and other things…. I said, “Yeah. I know all about those.”

She continued to explain some more…. IT told us there isn’t any way to tell which printers are good printers and which ones we shouldn’t be sending Fast News Bulletins. I replied, “Well…. I know which ones are good and which ones are not. I have all the forms that were sent to me. You can tell right away by the paper they are printed on, and if that’s not enough to give you a hint, just read the ‘colorful’ notes they wrote to me trying to convince me not to print on their printers anymore…”

Laura said it would be a great help if I could send those forms to her. I said I would do it as soon as I was back at the plant.

When I arrived at the plant the next morning, and Andy Tubbs told me that Tom Gibson was upset when he found that I had gone to Oklahoma City for training when Bill Bennett had mentioned it to him the day before. He had been all hot because he hadn’t approved any training and here I was going off on my own to Oklahoma City. I told Andy…. Well…. You did tell me to go….

Anyway, after that I gathered up the stack of around 500 forms and carried them up to the mail room where Denise Anson helped me put them in a small box to mail them to Laura Burgert.

A few weeks went by and Laura called me on the phone. She asked me how I had created the header on the forms. You see, I had created a header with the name of the company and part of the name was normally smaller and had one word over the top of another so….. well…… let me just show you…..

An example of the Company Memo Header on our Dot Matrix Printer

An example of the Company Memo Header on our Dot Matrix Printer – without the “Quality” turned on.

Notice the “GAS/AND” in the middle of the name of the company…. — This doesn’t look like anything to you today, because we now have laser printers and Publishers and all sorts of Word Art at our fingertips. But back then, printing this from a mainframe document took some work…. let me explain, just to give you an idea.

First, I had to space all the way out to where the word GAS starts, then I had to turn on the underline and decrease the font size to the size of the small letters and print out the word GAS then I had to turn off the underline and backspace the three characters, change the font back to the large size, then backspace all the way back to the beginning of the line, then print out the word Oklahoma and a space, then change the font back to small and print out the word AND then change the font back to the large size, and continue with the rest of the line. Yeah… I had to send backspace commands to the printer…. I was pretty proud of my header.

You can see by the Memo above that I had been using it for almost a year. The picture above isn’t even using the “Quality” setting on the printer which even made it look a lot sharper.

Anyway, on with the story…… The Fast News Bulletin’s header had a simple design. The “F” in Fast was created using a bunch of F’s. The A using a bunch of A’s. Like this:

Fast-old-news

Yeah… pretty embarass… um… I mean exciting huh? Laura was looking for a way to add some Quality to the Fast News Bulletin. I told her that I could create large block letters using the graphic commands on the printer I asked her what her printer ID was and I quickly created a Fast News Bulletin for her with a real header: Fast-News-Header Laura was excited and said that she may be getting back to me soon…. which she did a few weeks later. She asked if I could attend the first meeting of a new Task Force they had created to enhance the Fast News. I said I would be glad to attend, but I would first have to have permission from my Electric Supervisor before I could go.

She said she would take care of it…. and she did.

Ben Brandt, our Assistant Plant Manager wanted to know why I was being asked to show up to a Corporate Communication Task Force! — “Uh… I don’t know.” I replied. Knowing that everything I did outside the plant grounds was being questioned after my previous “misstep”.

Memo Ben Brandt Received

Memo Ben Brandt Received

So, one day I showed up at Corporate Headquarters again. Laura Burgert was there to greet me. She told me where to sit along a big long table in a meeting room. I was to sit about halfway down the table, while she sat on one end of the table.

When others came in, the IT person that was on the committee… I believe his name was Mike Russell sat on the far end from Laura. Laura opened the meeting by explaining the reason for the task force and when she finished she said, “For starters we were thinking that instead of using the ugly Fast News header we have been using, we would like to have a header like this…. And she passed a copy of the Fast News Bulletin I had printed out on her printer that day when she called me.

When Mike Russell saw it, he replied, “Our Printers can’t print a header like this.” Laura looked over at me, as if she wanted me to reply to Mike’s remark. So, I said, “This was printed out on the standard IBM network printer.”

Mike replied by saying, “No. Our printers can’t print like this. It’s impossible.” I repeated that this Fast News was printed out on Laura’s IBM printer from the mainframe just like the regular Fast News is printed out. I even told him that I could send him a copy of the header so that he could print it out and see for himself.

He said, “There’s no need to do that. Our printers can’t print this out.” — Though he held a bulletin in his hands that was printed out on our Standard IBM printer.

At the end of the meeting Laura thanked me for coming. She said, “See? This is what we have been dealing with. They probably weren’t going to be able to go anywhere with this.” I just nodded…. I thanked her for inviting me and I returned to the plant 75 miles north.

I guess it didn’t matter too much. A few months later and we were all being introduced to E-Mail, as I had been running telephone cable all over the plant so that we could set up a new NT Server network using Netware 4.0. Which used Novell’s GroupWise for e-mail. Fast News then just showed up in our Inbox.

It’s funny how things work out. What are the odds? I wreak havoc by sending a “rogue” form to printers that should be left alone, only to have those forms become useful to another department after I was “accidentally” enrolled in a training course where I happened to sit next to the one person in the company that could benefit from that printing blunder. Which then led her to look at ways to improve the Fast News Bulletin that she was responsible for creating….

Then the IT department refused to listen, but it didn’t matter anyway because new Technology quickly came along which began the process of weaning us off of the mainframe and onto a new state of the art network that later allowed us to use SAP a real ERP system that made the Magna 8 application that I went to learn in the first place obsolete.

I guess the Fast News Bulletin for the day is that Technology Moves Fast…. If you aren’t on for the ride, then you will be making statements like “That’s Impossible” and having a student in the 8th grade proving you wrong. It reminded me of what my dad always said when I was growing up… “Don’t ever say you can’t. — There’s always a way.”

Comments from the original post:

    1. Ron Kilman July 12, 2014

      Great story! I still applaud your initiative, enthusiasm, and risk-taking tenacity.

        1. Plant Electrician July 12, 2014

          Thanks Ron.
          I am still amazed by how many times I am told that something is impossible when I’m already doing it.

    1. Dave Tarvee July 12, 2014

      How they ever let you get out of there is incredible, I guess you were just real popular all over the company LOL and proved things were not impossible too many times, what a group of talent at Sooner in one place unreal

        1. Plant Electrician July 12, 2014

          That’s true Dave. It may sound like I was some lone wolf out there doing the impossible, but the truth is that we were surrounded by great Power Plant Men doing the impossible every day.

    1. Citizen Tom July 14, 2014

      Great story! I have been working with IT equipment since the early 80’s. The changes have been amazing, but I will never forget listening to a print job that made a printer sing (literally). The new printers are amazing, but the experts could make those first ones do the strangest things.

      The problem with the early computers, as you found out the hard way, is that almost any change involved programming. And since that early equipment was so costly, much of the testing had to be done on production equipment…….

      Anyway, it seems your management made the sensible decision to chalk up your mistake as part of the costs of training and testing.

  1. miller davidge iii August 9, 2014

    Couple of things…My wife is an IT person and I sent the link to this to her. She loved it.

Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals

Originally posted January 3, 2014:

After the reorganization at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma during 1987, a bunch of new faces showed up at the plant.  I mentioned in last week’s post that we had a new plant manager, Ron Kilman (See Post:  “From Pioneers to Power Plant Managers“).  In that post I also mentioned that the PC age was rapidly growing and I had bought a computer of my own and was eager to learn more.  The Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey had retired, and was replaced by a guy named Tom Gibson.  Tom was a good supervisor who was willing to think out of the box.

Tom gave me one of my first assignments directly by calling me to his office.  Well, Leroy had never really called me to his office before.  When Leroy wanted to chew you out, he was happy to come down to the Electric Shop and do it, so I didn’t really know what to expect by being “called to his office”.  Believe me… it wasn’t the last time he had “called me to his office.”  But it was the most satisfying time.  Mainly because this time, when I arrived, Tom’s face wasn’t beet red with anger like it was on one later occasion.

This is what Tom told me to do…  He said that we needed to install computer terminals all over the plant.  They had a chart where they wanted the terminals to go.  There were about 15 locations all over the plant including the coalyard which was about 1/2 mile from the main plant.  Along with those, there were a bunch of IBM Network printers that needed to be installed with the terminals.

Then Tom told me the best part.  He wanted me to do it all myself.  Then he told me an even better part…. He said, (and I quote) “I want you to learn everything you can about this computer stuff.  I think it will come in handy.”  As my friend Stephen Todd at Dell would say, “That was the ‘Keys to the Kingdom”.  I told him I would be glad to do everything he asked.

That last part later came back to haunt Tom…. but he did tell me…. learn “everything” I could about the computer.  When he was referring to “The Computer”, he was talking about the company mainframe, a Honeywell system that resided in Oklahoma City at Corporate Headquarters.

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

The Terminals I was going to install were called “Dumb terminals”.  they weren’t computers, they were just monitors with a keyboard that connected directly to a switch back in the telephone room that was connected via a microwave link directly to Oklahoma City and the Honeywell system:

A DEC terminal like this.

A DEC terminal like this.

So, when I returned to the electric shop, I began my “hacker” apprenticeship.  One that would later allow me to harass Gene Day in the Control Room, confuse Dick Dale in the warehouse, cause headaches for the IT department downtown, and finally cause the President of the Electric Company to personally call our Plant Manager Ron asking who was this guy Kevin Breazile!  Hence the reason for Tom Gibson’s beet red face a few years later.  But that is another story for another time.

I had two things right away that I had to figure out.  How was I going to run cables from the telephone room in the office to each of the places around the plant that needed a computer terminal and what are these funny connectors and what do I need to do with them?

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

Ok, so I figured they plugged in the back of the terminal and then there was a Cat1 cable (no, not a Cat3, a Cat1) that plugged into that, and needed to plug into a jack in the wall that I was going to have to install.  They called these funny connectors “Hoods”.  The 25 pin Hoods that we used were blue.  We had 9 pin hoods also that we used for the actual PCs that the clerks and the chemist were using.  They had an emulator program to make them act like a dumb terminal:

 A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

In an early post called “Power Plant Men’s Club Prizes and a Story of Luck” I explained how I have always been cursed with being very lucky.  Well, that’s what some may call it, but I prefer to believe that one of my best friends St. Anthony helps me out at certain times.  Well, this was one time when I asked for his assistance.  St. Anthony of Padua is considered the Patron Saint of lost items.  So, I asked him to help me figure out how I was going to do all this work in a reasonable amount of time.

St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua

As is often the case, St. Anthony pointed me in the right direction.  This particular day, he told me to tell my problem to Charles Foster.  My close friend and one of the two Electric Shop foremen (not mine.  I was working for Andy Tubbs).  So, during lunch I told him what Tom Gibson told me to do, and showed him the blueprints where they wanted the terminals placed throughout the plant.

One of the places that needed a terminal was right there in the electric shop office.  Charles looked around the office and said, “You know what?  there used to be an old intercom system in this office that I think goes up to the telephone room.  In fact, I think all the intercoms that were originally installed in the plant went to the telephone room.”

An old intercom sort of like this only in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

An old intercom sort of like this only older and in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

I vaguely remembered the intercoms when I was working as a summer help as there used to be an old box sitting in the garage when I worked for Stanley Elmore.  They were later cut out and removed, because it wasn’t really practical and so it wasn’t used.  Charles told me to start there, because there were intercoms everywhere.  In the control room, the warehouse, and even in the coalyard!  And definitely in the office area.  This was just what I needed to hear.  My work was already half done.

I pulled the cables out from under the desk where they had been cut and checked them out.  There were definitely enough cable pairs to do the job.  In most places I had to install both a terminal and a printer, so I had a lot of dual wall jacks just for this job:

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

There were some places where the intercom system didn’t go where I needed to install either a dumb terminal or at least connect a computer.  So, I was looking for any kind of alternate way to install the jack without having to run cables all the way from the telephone room to these locations.  So, I went out and bought a book about networking so that I could learn more about what was really going on.  If I had bought it a few years later it might have been called “Dumb Terminals for Dummies”, but the Dummies books hadn’t come around yet.

I have since thrown that book away after using it for years to prop up the corner of our sofa bed for the times when my mom would come and visit and she would sleep on the bed, only it had a broken bracket, and the Networking book was just the right thickness to level the bed…. But there was one page in the book that I found that allowed me to hook up dumb terminals in places where there was only a phone line.

You see.  When the phone lines were run throughout the plant, they used a three pair cable.  Well.  A phone really only uses two wires (or one pair).  so, this left 4 more wires not doing anything.  The only problem was that the dumb terminal used 4 pair, or 8 wires…

An RJ45 Cable

An RJ45 Cable has 8 wires

So, when I was reading the networking book, I ran across a diagram that made me stop and stare.  I like to think that I was holding a half eaten apple in my hand and I had just taken a bite when I stopped mid-bite and stared.  It would have been a nice picture to remember sort of like when the apple fell on Newton’s head.  Only we didn’t have cellphones with cameras in those days, so no one was around to take my picture.  The diagram I saw was this:

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

What?  This showed 4 of the wires are nothing but grounds….  The network cable only really uses 4 of the 8 wires.  Which means I only needed two pair.  And guess what?  The phone lines run all over the plant were 3 pair with only one pair being used!  So, I was able to install the computer jacks right next to the telephone jacks and use the same cable that the telephone was using, and they all tied back to the telephone room where the main computer switch was located that connected to the Mainframe computer back in Oklahoma City through something called a Memotec X.25 Modem.

So, now that I have gone through all this detail to tell you how I was able to quickly install all these terminals and printers around the plant in a way as if it is exciting (because it is to me).  I know that many of you are so bored out of your gourd that you have already stopped reading before you have reached this sentence….  I suppose those of you that are still following along are wondering “Why?”

Why would we want to install all these dumb terminals throughout a power plant that connected to the Honeywell Mainframe down at Corporate Headquarters?  Well.  It was because all the plant operators, mechanics, welders, machinists, electricians, instrument and controls and heavy equipment operators were going to start using it to do stuff.  Yeah.  All of us were being introduced to the computer age.  From the janitor on up.

Each printer had 4 character ID that identified it, so if you were looking at a work order on the terminal, you could choose to print it.  You just had to know the 4 character number and you could print the work order out on any computer in the company.  Usually, this meant, you wanted to use the printer that was closest to you.  But if you wanted to print something out for the warehouse, as long as you knew their printer ID, you could send them a printout of some part that you wanted them to retrieve for you.  Then call them up and tell them you printed something out on their printer.

Ok.  So the average Joe didn’t see much benefit, but it did get them used to seeing computer monitors all over the place, which at least helped them in the future when the real computers showed up.  Right now, they were just “Dumb Terminals” and that’s what a lot of the operators and maintenance people thought… they are just dumb…

I, on the other hand was in hog heaven.  You see.  I had called downtown to the IT department and asked to get a user name so that I could log directly into the mainframe.   After all, my supervisor Tom had told me to learn “everything” I could about “this computer”.  So, I took him up on it.  I quickly was learning UNIX commands, though at the time, I didn’t know that’s what they were called.

I began learning the Computer language called “A” before I realized there was a “B” language and a “C” language, and that C was the one that was really used at the time.  As it turned out the mainframe had manuals for everything right on it.  That is how I was able to cause so much trouble the next few years.

Oh, and one more interesting thing I discovered on the mainframe.  It had this interesting feature called “Email”.  Yeah.  Only, after figuring out how to pull up a list of all the emails on the system I found that there was only a handful of people that actually had e-mail addresses.  So, the only person I would email on the mainframe was an engineer named Craig Henry.

Craig Henry.  Engineer and Gentleman

Craig Henry. Engineer and Gentleman

I had met him briefly once, but in the next few years, he was a valuable source of information.  Email seemed like a great idea, but what good was it if there was only a few people you could send an email?

As for Craig Henry… As Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Rains in Casablanca, “This is the beginning of a Beautiful Friendship.” Come to think of it… Craig Henry sort of reminds me of Claude Rains…  I must admit, I learned a lot more from him than he ever learned from me.

Dick Dale and the Power Plant Printer Romance

Originally posted January 17, 2014.  I added more to the story:

When I first moved to Ponca City in 1986 I carpooled each day to the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma with Dick Dale, Jim Heflin and Bud Schoonover (See the post:  “Carpooling Adventures with Bud Schoonover“).  Dick Dale had moved to Ponca City a couple of years earlier after his divorce.  He didn’t want to continue living in Stillwater where he felt as if everyone knew about his tragic situation.  We had been friends from the first day we met (which is often the case with Power Plant Men) when I was a summer help working out of the garage and he worked in the tool room and warehouse.

I wrote about Dick Dale this past Christmas, when I talked about his situation (See the post:  “Harmonizing with Dick Dale on Power Plant Christmas Harmonicas“).  I knew that even though it was a few years later, Richard was still feeling the impact from this emotional trauma.  One day I found the opportunity to play a “Power Plant” joke on him that I thought might help lift his spirits.

I recently wrote another post about how I had installed dumb terminals around the plant so that regular workers would be able to access the mainframe computer downtown in Corporate Headquarters in order to see their work orders, or look up parts in the warehouse, etc. (See the post:  “Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals“).  In most places where I installed terminals, I also installed large IBM printers that printed using continuous feed paper.

IBM Dot Matrix Network Printer

IBM Dot Matrix Network Printer

For those of you who remember, at first most dot matrix printers would feed paper from a box underneath them.  they had holes down both sides of the paper where the sprockets would rotate and paper would come rolling out the top of the printer.

Dot Matrix paper with holes so the printer can feed the paper through.  The holes sections with the holes were perforated so you could tear them off easily.

Dot Matrix paper with holes so the printer can feed the paper through. The holes sections with the holes were perforated so you could tear them off easily.

Ok.  Here is a quick one paragraph side story…

One day when my son was 5 years old, we had to wait a while in an airport.  We were sitting in a row of seats at the gate waiting.  My son kept popping up slowly, jerking as he rose, from behind the row of seats and would lay over the seat back and end up head down on the chair.  After doing this a few times, my wife Kelly who was becoming slightly annoyed asked him what he was doing.  He said, “I’m paper coming out of the printer”.  Of course, this cracked us all up.

Anyway, back to the story.  By the time I had to add the dumb terminals and printers to the Garage and Warehouse, I had already been playing around on the mainframe learning all sorts of ways to get into trouble. — Well, what else was I going to do during lunch while Charles Foster and I talked about movies and stuff?  I had a personal user account on the mainframe that basically gave me “God Access”.  They didn’t really have anything like “Network Security” back then.  — This was 1988.

Back then, we also didn’t have anything called “Email” either.  It wasn’t until 1989 that CompuServe first offered real Internet e-mail to its users.  When we wanted to send something to someone in the company, we either printed it out and put in an intra-company envelope and sent it by “snail” mail, or we could find out what printer they used and get the ID for the printer and send it to them.  It was a code like:  P1234.

Well.  I had been playing with this text editor on the Honeywell mainframe called FRED.  This stood for FRiendly EDitor.  For those of you who know UNIX, this was pretty much the same as the VI Editor found on UNIX mainframes.  The commands were the same.  Today, users of Microsoft Word would be horrified to find out what you had to go through to create a document back then.

I had been practicing using this editor, and found that by using the special escape codes for the printer, I could create documents that would come out looking pretty neat.  So, I had created some templates that would make it look like I was printing a Memo from some mainframe program.  That was about the time that I installed the printer in the garage.

So, I created a big long document that would print out on the garage printer as soon as I connected the printer to the network.  It went on and on about how the printer wasn’t happy about being placed in such a dusty environment and how it refused to be cooperative until it was moved to a cleaner place.  It would spit out a bunch of sheets of paper, printing protest after protest.

Then it ended up by saying that if it wasn’t moved right away, it was going to shut down in 10 minutes and it started counting down by 30 second intervals.  Then at the last minute, it counted down by 15 seconds until it counted down the last 10 seconds by feeding a sheet of paper for each second while it was counting… then it paused at the last second.  Finally, it printed out at the end a concession that since it was obviously not going to be moved to someplace cleaner, it might as well give up and be cooperative.

When I installed the printer in the office in the automotive garage, I knew it would take about 30 seconds to connect the first time, and by that time, I was outside making my way back to the electric shop.  By the time I arrived back in the electric shop Charles Patten, the foreman in the garage was calling me on the gray phone.  The gray phone is the plant PA system:

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Of course, I knew why.  I answered the phone and Charles told me that something was wrong with the printer.  It kept shooting paper out of it and wouldn’t stop.  He had even turned it off, but when he turned it back on, it still kept feeding paper out.  I told him that sounded pretty strange to me and I would be right over to see what was going on.  I took my time returning to the garage giving the printer time to throw it’s tantrum.

By the time I returned, the printer had stopped ranting about being installed in a dirty environment and had given up it’s protest.  Charles said that it finally stopped.  I walked over to the printer and took the pile of hundred or so pages that it had printed out, and tore them off the printer and walked out with them.  I don’t even know if Charles had paid any attention to what the printer was saying.

I think I was the only person that knew that I had just “attempted” to play a joke on Charles.  After all, as the paper was feeding out it was carefully collecting into a nice stack in front of the printer on the floor, and unless someone picked up the stack and looked at it, they wouldn’t know that anything was even printed on it.  So, in this case, the joke may have been on me.  But then again, Power Plant Men are like that.  If they figure a joke is being played on them, then they figure out how to turn it around so that the joker is the one that has the joke played on them.  Maybe that was the case here.  Charles Patten was probably one of the most intelligent foremen at the plant, so it was possible.

Anyway, back to Dick Dale.  I installed the printer in the warehouse and Dick Dale, Darlene Mitchell, Mike Gibbs and Bud Schoonover were happy to be connected to the Inventory program on the mainframe…..  um… yeah. sure they were…… especially Bud.

Bud Schoonover was the person that when it was his turn to run the tool room would not give you something if it was the last one.  So, if I needed a flashlight and it was the last one, and I asked Bud for a flashlight, he would say that he couldn’t give it to me.  Why?  You might ask.  Well, he would explain that if he gave the last one away, he would have to order some more.  Bud didn’t like ordering things on the computer.  So, in order to keep from having to order anything he simply didn’t give away the last one of any item.

Anyway.  I decided one Monday during my regular lunch time computer educational moments to send a letter over to the warehouse printer addressed to Dick Dale.  It was from an anonymous woman.  The letter sounded like it was from someone that really had a thing for Richard and remembered how they used to work together.  It also mentioned other people, like Mike Gibbs and Pat Braden and about how they used to hang around each other.

Since this was a fictitious character, I could say anything I wanted, but I wanted to put it in a time period back when I was still a summer help.  Well…  It wasn’t long before Dick Dale called me on the gray phone (no.  I won’t post another picture of the gray phone here.   I think you get the idea).  He asked me to come over to the warehouse.

When I arrived, Richard showed me the letter.  He was excited about it.  He was trying to figure out who it could be.  He thought about the people that had moved from the plant to Corporate Headquarters and wondered if it was one of them.  I thought for a little while, and I couldn’t come up with who it might be (obviously), since it was me.

The next day at lunch I sent another letter to his printer.  I mentioned more about the “old days” working at the plant.  On the way home Richard showed it to me.  I could tell that he was really excited about this.  I held back my smile, but inside it felt real good to see that Richard had finally come back to life.  For the past couple of years, he had been so down.  Now some woman was paying attention to him, and actually was telling him that she had always liked him.

Darlene Mitchell sent a letter to the printer ID I had sent in the letter to Richard, saying the following:

Dear Ghost Writer,

This has been the most exciting thing that’s happened in the warehouse in a long time.  We await your messages.  Dick is really trying hard to figure this out, and if you don’t give him a little hint, his little old brains are going to get fried.

He also requests that you send his messages to his printer only, that way I won’t be able to send my message back.  He takes all the fun out of everything.  P)24 is his number, and if you can’t get a response out of him, I’ll be glad to put my two cents in.

I’m sure Dick would like to see you too.  Maybe we can get him headed in your direction, if you tell me where that is.

So, long, see you in the funny papers.

<end of message>

Darlene-Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

On Thursday Richard called me and asked me to come over to the warehouse.  He showed me the letter he had received that day.  He said he was too excited.  He just had to find out who it was that was sending him these letters.  He said that since I knew everything there was to know about computers (a slight exaggeration), he asked me to see if I could find out where the letters were coming from.

I told him I would do what I could to see if I could track down who was sending the letters.  On the way home that day, he asked me if I had any luck.  I told him I was still looking into it.  I told him I thought there might be a way to find a log somewhere that would tell me.

So, after lunch on Friday I walked over to the warehouse.  When I entered, I signaled to Richard that I wanted to talk to him.  — Remember.  Richard and I had developed facial signals while carpooling with Bud Schoonover so that all we had to do was glance at each other and we instantly knew what each other was saying…

Richard and I stepped outside of the warehouse where we could be alone.  He asked me if I had found the person sending him the letters.  I told him I had (I knew I had to do this right or I would lose a good friend, so I said), “Yes.  I have.”

I could see the look of excitement in his face.  So I looked straight at him and I said, “I have been sending these letters to you.”  He was stunned.  He said, “What?”  I said, “Richard.  I have been sending them to you.”

I could see that he was very disappointed.  After all.  No two people could read each other’s expressions better than me and Richard.  We practiced them every day.  The corners of his mouth went down.  The middle went up.  Edges of the eyes went down.  Eyes began to water.  Yep.  He was disappointed to say the least.

I told him I was sorry to get his hopes up.  I put on the saddest look I could muster.  Inside I wasn’t so sad.  Actually I was pretty happy.  I knew this was a tough moment for Richard, but he had spent an entire week flying high.  For the first time in a long time, Richard had hope.  A  couple of hours of disappointment was well worth this past week.

I patted him on the back and he turned to walk back into the warehouse despondent.  I went back to the electric shop.

As for my part, I continued sending Dick Dale printed messages from time to time.  Just goofy messages like the following:

Dear Richard,

Sometimes when I type letters I find that the words I use are not always the typical type that I would use if I wrote a letter.  The letters that I make when I write a letter aren’t the type of letters that I use when I type a letter.  When I write a letter, the letters in the words are sometimes hard to distinguish, but the letters I type when i’m typing a letter are the type of letters that stand out clearly and uniformly.  I can’t really say that when I type I’m right, or when I write I’m right, because I usually type a different type of letter than I write when I’m writing a letter.  I typically use a different type of words when I’m typing than I use when I’m writing, so I really can’t say that writing is right when a typical typed letter is just as right as writing.  That is just the type of person I am.

Typical Typist

After a few more days, Darlene Mitchell and Dick Dale began sending me letters indicating that the warehouse workers had been taken hostage, and they had a list of hostage demands.  I would write back to them.  The hostage letters and my replies would make up an entire blog post just by themselves.

So, what followed this episode?  Well.  Within a few weeks  Dick Dale had attended an event at the Presbyterian Church in Ponca City where he met a very nice woman, Jill Cowan.  He began dating her, and within the year they were married on November 13, 1988.

I like to think that I had given him the kick in the pants that he needed at the time that he needed it.  For that one week where he had hope, he believed that someone else really cared for him (which I really did, just not in the way he was thinking).  If he could believe that, then maybe it could really be true, even if in this case it turned out to only be one of his best friends.

I know that Dick Dale lived happily ever after.  As I mentioned earlier, I wrote a post about Dick Dale about a time when I gave a Christmas present to Dick Dale, Christmas 1983.  Well. as it turned out, my friend Richard was presented to Saint Peter at the gates of Heaven 25 years later on Christmas Day, 2008, 20 happy years after his marriage to Jill.  I don’t really miss him.  He is always with me in my heart to this day.

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Printing Impossible Power Plant Fast News Post

Originally posted: July 12, 2014:

Tom Gibson, the Electric Supervisor at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma didn’t have a clue the large can of worms he opened the day in 1988 when he told me to find out all I could about the company computer in Corporate Headquarters…. The one that ran all the important financial systems for the company. I remember going straight down to the Electric Shop office and sending a request for a username on the Honeywell Mainframe to the IT department, with Tom’s approval.

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

This story is a continuation of two previous stories…. Last week I wrote a post called: “Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild“. This is the next shoe that dropped in that story…. Earlier this year I wrote a post called: “Toby O’Brien and Doing the Impossible“. Well, this is the second story in the list of “Impossible Things” Power Plant Electricians were able to accomplish when others said it couldn’t be done.

As a reminder… and in case you didn’t read last week’s post…. as a summary….. let me just say that I had printed out a form on every printer in the company as part of a “Quality Idea” our team was investigating. In doing so, I sent commands to the printers to change their quality settings, as well as the Font Size and a few other settings. When I ran the little known command that sent the document to every printer listed on the mainframe, I didn’t realize that this included all the billing, paycheck and work order printers that all had their special kinds of paper and setting for those particular jobs to run.

This was probably the biggest “Faux Pas” (pronounced “Foe Paw” — yeah…. French… which literally means: “False Step”) of my 18 years as an Electrician. Before I tell you about how the second shoe dropped… Let me explain that a few weeks before I had hit enter on the keyboard sending the disastrous command to the Mainframe, In June, 1993, I had found an interesting program on the Honeywell mainframe called “Magna 8”.

It had to do with creating reports from the main database. This was the entire database that ran the Electric Company Business! I thought this would be a great program to learn in order to create all kinds of reports for our plant that would help us understand where our efforts were being spent. I thought I might actually be able to tie our Maintenance Orders to the time the employees spent on them to their wages, and to the cost of the parts used…. Nothing like that existed at the time, and the little I was able to read from the Magna 8 User Manual on the mainframe, this seemed like just the ticket..

We had never heard of SAP, or other ERP systems at the time. — Oh… sorry… ERP stands for “Enterprise Resource Planning”. It does just that. It combines all the company’s business together in one application so that you can account for all the costs down to each machine, person, and part. If I could learn more about Magna 8, maybe I could start piecing these pieces together from the database. I was having one problem…. When I would page down in the user manual, it kept skipping the bottom half of every page….

I couldn’t figure out how to stop it from scrolling past the second half of each page. So, I called in a favor from the IT guys downtown and asked them if they could send me a printed copy of the Magna 8 User’s Manual. They said they would be glad to send me a copy. About a week later, I received the User Manual through company mail. It was about 4 inches thick.

There were different sections. One was called: “The Update Module”. Yeah…. That’s right…. It was used to enter data into the database…. I thought about that module for about 2 seconds and decided It would be best to stay away from that one. Then there was the “Reporting Module”.

That was the one I was looking for. — on a side note…. I know “for” is a preposition, and I know you aren’t supposed to end a sentence in a preposition, however, who doesn’t say, “That’s what I was looking for”? In these circumstances, I figure that I better approach it from a whole different angle…. like…. “That’s the section I really wanted.” — End side note.

A couple of weeks after I received the copy of the Magna 8 User Guide, I sent the infamous form to all the printers in the company, and that’s when I was sort of had all my “atta boys” taken away with that one “Uh Oh”. I was all prepared to watch my step while on the mainframe. About a week after the episode in Tom’s office when he told me not to send anything outside the plant without Ron Kilman’s permission, my foreman, Andy Tubbs came in the office and told me that in two days, I was supposed to go to some training in Oklahoma City.

“Oh. Training!” One of my favorite things! I always liked to learn new things. I asked Andy what the training was for (Oh geez… did I really say that? “For” at the end of the sentence again! — how about “I asked Andy what kind of training would I be taking” — yeah…. that’s what I said…). Andy replied, “Something called ‘Magna 8′”.

Oh No! I hadn’t asked for training! I had just asked for the user guide! Now I was scheduled to go to training in Oklahoma City and I knew that no one at the plant had “okay-ed” it. Now what was I supposed to do? I did the only thing I could think of at the time…. I asked Andy where I was supposed to go at Corporate Headquarters for the class.

Since I knew that this class hadn’t been approved by Tom Gibson or even our A Foreman Bill Bennett, I decided that I was going to go on my own dime…. that is, I wasn’t going to expense anything. I would pay for my own mileage and lunch, etc. Hopefully, no one would notice that I was gone that day. — Anyway, I could always fall back on the fact that my own Foreman Andy had told me to go….

So, when the day came, I drove to Oklahoma City and entered Corporate Headquarters dressed in my cleanest steel-toed work boots and my cleanest tee-shirt!

I chose this picture because they look like my boots, only I never wore the toes out so that you could see the steel toes.

I chose this picture because they look like my boots, only I never wore the toes out so that you could see the steel toes.

Yeah.  Just like this

Yeah. Just like this — no not really

When I introduced myself to the instructor, Scott Overmeyer, I told him I was surprised that I had been scheduled for this class. He told me that since I had requested the User Guide that he figured that I should attend this course so that I would know how to use Magna 8 to create reports. — Well, that explained it.

The classroom was short on computers so we had to share one computer between two people. I sat in the back row on the right side if you are facing the instructor. A young lady sat next to me. Her name was something like Laura Burgert. We didn’t introduce ourselves right off the bat. We spent the morning learning about how our database was structured.

Our database was not what is referred to as a “relational database”. I’m not even sure if that term was being used at the time…. anyway, we had what is called a “Hierarchical Database”. The relationships are more like a family tree. If you needed to connect the data, you had to go up the tree to where you could go back down another branch… sort of like if you were into Genealogy and you were looking for your 3rd cousin twice removed. This was all new to me.

I found this diagram of a simple Hierarchical Database model on Wikipedia

I found this diagram of a simple Hierarchical Database model on Wikipedia

Anyway, this isn’t an important part of this story, so don’t strain your brain trying to figure it out.

When noon came around and we were just breaking for lunch, Laura Burgert said to me, “You’re Kevin Breazile! Oh my Gosh!  You’re the guy that printed out that form on everyone’s printers!” I replied, “Yeah, that’s me. I sure was in trouble for that one.”

She replied that they had been trying to do something like that for a long time. Then she explained… “I work in the Communication Department and we create the Fast News Bulletins that are sent out to the printers….”

You see… this was what you had to do before e-mail was available…. When there was some news about the company that they wanted to disseminate to all the employees quickly, they would send out a Fast News bulletin to the printers and we would post it on the bulletin board in our area.

She continued to explain….. We have asked IT to give us a list of printers that we should send the Fast New Bulletins, because we know that our list is old and we are sending some to printers that messes up billing jobs and other things…. I said, “Yeah. I know all about those.”

She continued to explain some more…. IT told us there isn’t any way to tell which printers are good printers and which ones we shouldn’t be sending Fast News Bulletins. I replied, “Well…. I know which ones are good and which ones are not. I have all the forms that were sent to me. You can tell right away by the paper they are printed on, and if that’s not enough to give you a hint, just read the ‘colorful’ notes they wrote to me trying to convince me not to print on their printers anymore…”

Laura said it would be a great help if I could send those forms to her. I said I would do it as soon as I was back at the plant.

When I arrived at the plant the next morning, and Andy Tubbs told me that Tom Gibson was upset when he found that I had gone to Oklahoma City for training when Bill Bennett had mentioned it to him the day before. He had been all hot because he hadn’t approved any training and here I was going off on my own to Oklahoma City. I told Andy…. Well…. You did tell me to go….

Anyway, after that I gathered up the stack of around 500 forms and carried them up to the mail room where Denise Anson helped me put them in a small box to mail them to Laura Burgert.

A few weeks went by and Laura called me on the phone. She asked me how I had created the header on the forms. You see, I had created a header with the name of the company and part of the name was normally smaller and had one word over the top of another so….. well…… let me just show you…..

An example of the Company Memo Header on our Dot Matrix Printer

An example of the Company Memo Header on our Dot Matrix Printer – without the “Quality” turned on.

Notice the “GAS/AND” in the middle of the name of the company…. — This doesn’t look like anything to you today, because we now have laser printers and Publishers and all sorts of Word Art at our fingertips. But back then, printing this from a mainframe document took some work…. let me explain, just to give you an idea.

First, I had to space all the way out to where the word GAS starts, then I had to turn on the underline and decrease the font size to the size of the small letters and print out the word GAS then I had to turn off the underline and backspace the three characters, change the font back to the large size, then backspace all the way back to the beginning of the line, then print out the word Oklahoma and a space, then change the font back to small and print out the word AND then change the font back to the large size, and continue with the rest of the line. Yeah… I had to send backspace commands to the printer…. I was pretty proud of my header.

You can see by the Memo above that I had been using it for almost a year. The picture above isn’t even using the “Quality” setting on the printer which even made it look a lot sharper.

Anyway, on with the story…… The Fast News Bulletin’s header had a simple design. The “F” in Fast was created using a bunch of F’s. The A using a bunch of A’s. Like this:

Fast-old-news

Yeah… pretty embarass… um… I mean exciting huh? Laura was looking for a way to add some Quality to the Fast News Bulletin. I told her that I could create large block letters using the graphic commands on the printer I asked her what her printer ID was and I quickly created a Fast News Bulletin for her with a real header: Fast-News-Header Laura was excited and said that she may be getting back to me soon…. which she did a few weeks later. She asked if I could attend the first meeting of a new Task Force they had created to enhance the Fast News. I said I would be glad to attend, but I would first have to have permission from my Electric Supervisor before I could go.

She said she would take care of it…. and she did.

Ben Brandt, our Assistant Plant Manager wanted to know why I was being asked to show up to a Corporate Communication Task Force! — “Uh… I don’t know.” I replied. Knowing that everything I did outside the plant grounds was being questioned after my previous “misstep”.

Memo Ben Brandt Received

Memo Ben Brandt Received

So, one day I showed up at Corporate Headquarters again. Laura Burgert was there to greet me. She told me where to sit along a big long table in a meeting room. I was to sit about halfway down the table, while she sat on one end of the table.

When others came in, the IT person that was on the committee… I believe his name was Mike Russell sat on the far end from Laura. Laura opened the meeting by explaining the reason for the task force and when she finished she said, “For starters we were thinking that instead of using the ugly Fast News header we have been using, we would like to have a header like this…. And she passed a copy of the Fast News Bulletin I had printed out on her printer that day when she called me.

When Mike Russell saw it, he replied, “Our Printers can’t print a header like this.” Laura looked over at me, as if she wanted me to reply to Mike’s remark. So, I said, “This was printed out on the standard IBM network printer.”

Mike replied by saying, “No. Our printers can’t print like this. It’s impossible.” I repeated that this Fast News was printed out on Laura’s IBM printer from the mainframe just like the regular Fast News is printed out. I even told him that I could send him a copy of the header so that he could print it out and see for himself.

He said, “There’s no need to do that. Our printers can’t print this out.” — Though he held a bulletin in his hands that was printed out on our Standard IBM printer.

At the end of the meeting Laura thanked me for coming. She said, “See? This is what we have been dealing with. They probably weren’t going to be able to go anywhere with this.” I just nodded…. I thanked her for inviting me and I returned to the plant 75 miles north.

I guess it didn’t matter too much. A few months later and we were all being introduced to E-Mail, as I had been running telephone cable all over the plant so that we could set up a new NT Server network using Netware 4.0. Which used Novell’s GroupWise for e-mail. Fast News then just showed up in our Inbox.

It’s funny how things work out. What are the odds? I wreak havoc by sending a “rogue” form to printers that should be left alone, only to have those forms become useful to another department after I was “accidentally” enrolled in a training course where I happened to sit next to the one person in the company that could benefit from that printing blunder. Which then led her to look at ways to improve the Fast News Bulletin that she was responsible for creating….

Then the IT department refused to listen, but it didn’t matter anyway because new Technology quickly came along which began the process of weaning us off of the mainframe and onto a new state of the art network that later allowed us to use SAP a real ERP system that made the Magna 8 application that I went to learn in the first place obsolete.

I guess the Fast News Bulletin for the day is that Technology Moves Fast…. If you aren’t on for the ride, then you will be making statements like “That’s Impossible” and having a student in the 8th grade proving you wrong. It reminded me of what my dad always said when I was growing up… “Don’t ever say you can’t. — There’s always a way.”

Comments from the original post:

    1. Ron Kilman July 12, 2014

      Great story! I still applaud your initiative, enthusiasm, and risk-taking tenacity.

        1. Plant Electrician July 12, 2014

          Thanks Ron.
          I am still amazed by how many times I am told that something is impossible when I’m already doing it.

    1. Dave Tarvee July 12, 2014

      How they ever let you get out of there is incredible, I guess you were just real popular all over the company LOL and proved things were not impossible to many times, what a group of talent at Sooner in one place unreal

        1. Plant Electrician July 12, 2014

          That’s true Dave. It may sound like I was some lone wolf out there doing the impossible, but the truth is that we were surrounded by great Power Plant Men doing the impossible every day.

    1. Citizen Tom July 14, 2014

      Great story! I have been working with IT equipment since the early 80’s. The changes have been amazing, but I will never forget listening to a print job that made a printer sing (literally). The new printers are amazing, but the experts could make those first ones do the strangest things.

      The problem with the early computers, as you found out the hard way, is that almost any change involved programming. And since that early equipment was so costly, much of the testing had to be done on production equipment…….

      Anyway, it seems your management made the sensible decision to chalk up your mistake as part of the costs of training and testing.

  1. miller davidge iii August 9, 2014

    Couple of things…My wife is an IT person and I sent the link to this to her. She loved it.

Printing Impossible Power Plant Fast News Post

Originally posted: July 12, 2014:

Tom Gibson, the Electric Supervisor at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma didn’t have a clue the large can of worms he opened the day in 1988 when he told me to find out all I could about the company computer in Corporate Headquarters…. The one that ran all the important financial systems for the company. I remember going straight down to the Electric Shop office and sending a request for a username on the Honeywell Mainframe to the IT department, with Tom’s approval.

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

This story is a continuation of two previous stories…. Last week I wrote a post called: “Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild“. This is the next shoe that dropped in that story…. Earlier this year I wrote a post called: “Toby O’Brien and Doing the Impossible“. Well, this is the second story in the list of “Impossible Things” Power Plant Electricians were able to accomplish when others said it couldn’t be done.

As a reminder… and in case you didn’t read last week’s post…. as a summary….. let me just say that I had printed out a form on every printer in the company as part of a “Quality Idea” our team was investigating. In doing so, I sent commands to the printers to change their quality settings, as well as the Font Size and a few other settings. When I ran the little known command that sent the document to every printer listed on the mainframe, I didn’t realize that this included all the billing, paycheck and work order printers that all had their special kinds of paper and setting for those particular jobs to run.

This was probably the biggest “Faux Pas” (pronounced “Foe Paw” — yeah…. French… which literally means: “False Step”) of my 18 years as an Electrician. Before I tell you about how the second shoe dropped… Let me explain that a few weeks before I had hit enter on the keyboard sending the disastrous command to the Mainframe, In June, 1993, I had found an interesting program on the Honeywell mainframe called “Magna 8”.

It had to do with creating reports from the main database. This was the entire database that ran the Electric Company Business! I thought this would be a great program to learn in order to create all kinds of reports for our plant that would help us understand where our efforts were being spent. I thought I might actually be able to tie our Maintenance Orders to the time the employees spent on them to their wages, and to the cost of the parts used…. Nothing like that existed at the time, and the little I was able to read from the Magna 8 User Manual on the mainframe, this seemed like just the ticket..

We had never heard of SAP, or other ERP systems at the time. — Oh… sorry… ERP stands for “Enterprise Resource Planning”. It does just that. It combines all the company’s business together in one application so that you can account for all the costs down to each machine, person, and part. If I could learn more about Magna 8, maybe I could start piecing these pieces together from the database. I was having one problem…. When I would page down in the user manual, it kept skipping the bottom half of every page….

I couldn’t figure out how to stop it from scrolling past the second half of each page. So, I called in a favor from the IT guys downtown and asked them if they could send me a printed copy of the Magna 8 User’s Manual. They said they could be glad to send me a copy. About a week later, I received the User Manual through company mail. It was about 4 inches thick.

There were different sections. One was called: “The Update Module”. Yeah…. That’s right…. It was used to enter data into the database…. I thought about that module for about 2 seconds and decided I best stay away from that one. Then there was the “Reporting Module”.

That was the one I was looking for. — on a side note…. I know “for” is a preposition, and I know you aren’t supposed to end a sentence in a preposition, however, who doesn’t say, “That’s what I was looking for”? In these circumstances, I figure that I better approach it from a whole different angle…. like…. “That’s the section I really wanted.” — End side note.

A couple of weeks after I received the copy of the Magna 8 User Guide, I sent the infamous form to all the printers in the company, and that’s when I was sort of had all my “atta boys” taken away with that one “Uh Oh”. I was all prepared to watch my step while on the mainframe. About a week after the episode in Tom’s office when he told me not to send anything outside the plant without Ron Kilman’s permission, my foreman, Andy Tubbs came in the office and told me that in two days, I was supposed to go to some training in Oklahoma City.

“Oh. Training!” One of my favorite things! I always liked to learn new things. I asked Andy what the training was for (Oh geez… did I really say that? “For” at the end of the sentence again! — how about “I asked Andy what kind of training would I be taking” — yeah…. that’s what I said…). Andy replied, “Something called ‘Magna 8′”.

Oh No! I hadn’t asked for training! I had just asked for the user guide! Now I was scheduled to go to training in Oklahoma City and I knew that no one at the plant had “okay-ed” it. Now what was I supposed to do? I did the only thing I could think of at the time…. I asked Andy where I was supposed to go at Corporate Headquarters for the class.

Since I knew that this class hadn’t been approved by Tom Gibson or even our A Foreman Bill Bennett, I decided that I was going to go on my own dime…. that is, I wasn’t going to expense anything. I would pay for my own mileage and lunch, etc. Hopefully, no one would notice that I was gone that day. — Anyway, I could always fall back on the fact that my own Foreman Andy had told me to go….

So, when the day came, I drove to Oklahoma City and entered Corporate Headquarters dressed in my cleanest steel-toed work boots and my cleanest tee-shirt!

I chose this picture because they look like my boots, only I never wore the toes out so that you could see the steel toes.

I chose this picture because they look like my boots, only I never wore the toes out so that you could see the steel toes.

Yeah.  Just like this

Yeah. Just like this — not not really

When I introduced myself to the instructor, Scott Overmeyer, I told him I was surprised that I had been scheduled for this class. He told me that since I had requested the User Guide that he figured that I should attend this course so that I would know how to use Magna 8 to create reports. — Well, that explained it.

The classroom was short on computers so we had to share one computer between two people. I sat in the back row on the right side if you are facing the instructor. A young lady sat next to me. Her name was something like Laura Burgert. We didn’t introduce ourselves right off the bat. We spent the morning learning about how our database was structured.

Our database was not what is referred to as a “relational database”. I’m not even sure if that term was being used at the time…. anyway, we had what is called a “Hierarchical Database”. The relationships are more like a family tree. If you needed to connect the data, you had to go up the tree to where you could go back down another branch… sort of like if you were into Genealogy and you were looking for your 3rd cousin twice removed. This was all new to me.

I found this diagram of a simple Hierarchical Database model on Wikipedia

I found this diagram of a simple Hierarchical Database model on Wikipedia

Anyway, this isn’t an important part of this story, so don’t strain your brain trying to figure it out.

When noon came around and we were just breaking for lunch, Laura Burgert said to me, “You’re Kevin Breazile! You’re the guy that printed out that form on everyone’s printers!” I replied, “Yeah, that’s me. I sure was in trouble for that one.”

She replied that they had been trying to do something like that for a long time. Then she explained… “I work in the Communication Department and we create the Fast News Bulletins that are sent out to the printers….”

You see… this was what you had to do before e-mail was available…. When there was some news about the company that they wanted to disseminate to all the employees quickly, they would send out a Fast News bulletin to the printers and we would post it on the bulletin board in our area.

She continued to explain….. We have asked IT to give us a list of printers that we should send the Fast New Bulletins, because we know that our list is old and we are sending some to printers that messes up billing jobs and other things…. I said, “Yeah. I know all about those.”

She continued to explain some more…. IT told us there isn’t any way to tell which printers are good printers and which ones we shouldn’t be sending Fast News Bulletins. I replied, “Well…. I know which ones are good and which ones are not. I have all the forms that were sent to me. You can tell right away by the paper they are printed on, and if that’s not enough to give you a hint, just read the ‘colorful’ notes they wrote to me trying to convince me not to print on their printers anymore…”

Laura said it would be a great help if I could send those forms to her. I said I would do it as soon as I was back at the plant.

When I arrived at the plant the next morning, and Andy Tubbs told me that Tom Gibson was upset when he found that I had gone to Oklahoma City for training when Bill Bennett had mentioned it to him the day before. He had been all hot because he hadn’t approved any training and here I was going off on my own to Oklahoma City. I told Andy…. Well…. You did tell me to go….

Anyway, after that I gathered up the stack of around 500 forms and carried them up to the mail room where Denise Anson helped me put them in a small box to mail them to Laura Burghart.

A few weeks went by and Laura called me on the phone. She asked me how I had created the header on the forms. You see, I had created a header with the name of the company and part of the name was normally smaller and had one word over the top of another so….. well…… let me just show you…..

An example of the Company Memo Header on our Dot Matrix Printer

An example of the Company Memo Header on our Dot Matrix Printer – without the “Quality” turned on

Notice the “GAS/AND” in the middle of the name of the company…. — This doesn’t look like anything to you today, because we now have laser printers and Publishers and all sorts of Word Art at our fingertips. But back then, printing this from a mainframe document took some work…. let me explain, just to give you an idea.

First, I had to space all the way out to where the word GAS starts, then I had to turn on the underline and decrease the font size to the size of the small letters and print out the word GAS then I had to turn off the underline and backspace the three characters, change the font back to the large size, then backspace all the way back to the beginning of the line, then print out the word Oklahoma and a space, then change the font back to small and print out the word AND then change the font back to the large size, and continue with the rest of the line. Yeah… I had to send backspace commands to the printer…. I was pretty proud of my header.

You can see by the Memo above that I had been using it for almost a year. The picture above isn’t even using the “Quality” setting on the printer which even made it look a lot sharper.

Anyway, on with the story…… The Fast News Bulletin’s header had a simple design. The “F” in Fast was created using a bunch of F’s. The A using a bunch of A’s. Like this:

Fast-old-news

Yeah… pretty embarass… um… I mean exciting huh? Laura was looking for a way to add some Quality to the Fast News Bulletin. I told her that I could create large block letters using the graphic commands on the printer I asked her what her printer ID was and I quickly created a Fast News Bulletin for her with a real header: Fast-News-Header Laura was excited and said that she may be getting back to me soon…. which she did a few weeks later. She asked if I could attend the first meeting of a new Task Force they had created to enhance the Fast News. I said I would be glad to attend, but I would first have to have permission from my Electric Supervisor before I could go.

She said she would take care of it…. and she did.

Ben Brandt, our Assistant Plant Manager wanted to know why I was being asked to show up to a Corporate Communication Task Force! — “Uh… I don’t know.” I replied. Knowing that everything I did outside the plant grounds was being questioned after my previous “misstep”.

Memo Ben Brandt Received

Memo Ben Brandt Received

So, one day I showed up at Corporate Headquarters again. Laura Burgert was there to greet me. She told me where to sit along a big long table in a meeting room. I was to sit about halfway down the table, while she sat on one end of the table.

When others came in, the IT person that was on the committee… I believe his name was Mike Russell sat on the far end from Laura. Laura opened the meeting by explaining the reason for the task force and when she finished she said, “For starters we were thinking that instead of using the ugly Fast News header we have been using, we would like to have a header like this…. And she passed a copy of the Fast News Bulletin I had printed out on her printer that day when she called me.

When Mike Russell saw it, he replied, “Our Printers can’t print a header like this.” Laura looked over at me, as if she wanted me to reply to Mike’s remark. So, I said, “This was printed out on the standard IBM network printer.”

Mike replied by saying, “No. Our printers can’t print like this. It’s impossible.” I repeated that this Fast News was printed out on Laura’s IBM printer from the mainframe just like the regular Fast News is printed out. I even told him that I could send him a copy of the header so that he could print it out and see for himself.

He said, “There’s no need to do that. Our printers can’t print this out.” — Though he held a bulletin in his hands that was printed out on our Standard IBM printer.

At then end of the meeting Laura thanked me for coming. She said, “See? This is what we have been dealing with. They probably weren’t going to be able to go anywhere with this.” I just nodded…. I thanked her for inviting me and I returned to the plant 75 miles north.

I guess it didn’t matter too much. A few months later and we were all being introduced to E-Mail, as I had been running telephone cable all over the plant so that we could set up a new NT Server network using Netware 4.0. Which used Novell’s GroupWise for e-mail. Fast News then just showed up in our Inbox.

It’s funny how things work out. What are the odds? I wreak havoc by sending a “rogue” form to printers that should be left alone, only to have those forms become useful to another department after I was “accidentally” enrolled in a training course where I happened to sit next to the one person in the company that could benefit from that printing blunder. Which then led her to look at ways to improve the Fast News Bulletin that she was responsible for creating….

Then the IT department refused to listen, but it didn’t matter anyway because new Technology quickly came along which began the process of weaning us off of the mainframe and onto a new state of the art network that later allowed us to use SAP a real ERP system that made the Magna 8 application that I went to learn in the first place obsolete.

I guess the Fast News Bulletin for the day is that Technology Moves Fast…. If you aren’t on for the ride, then you will be making statements like “That’s Impossible” and having a student in the 8th grade proving you wrong. It reminded me of what my dad always said when I was growing up… “Don’t ever say you can’t. — There’s always a way.”

Comments from the original post:

  1. Ron Kilman July 12, 2014

    Great story! I still applaud your initiative, enthusiasm, and risk-taking tenacity.

    1. Plant Electrician July 12, 2014

      Thanks Ron.
      I am still amazed by how many times I am told that something is impossible when I’m already doing it.

  2. Dave Tarvee July 12, 2014

    How they ever let you get out of there is incredible, I guess you were just real popular all over the company LOL and proved things were not impossible to many times, what a group of talent at Sooner in one place unreal

    1. Plant Electrician July 12, 2014

      That’s true Dave. It may sound like I was some lone wolf out there doing the impossible, but the truth is that we were surrounded by great Power Plant Men doing the impossible every day.

  3. Citizen Tom July 14, 2014

    Great story! I have been working with IT equipment since the early 80’s. The changes have been amazing, but I will never forget listening to a print job that made a printer sing (literally). The new printers are amazing, but the experts could make those first ones do the strangest things.

    The problem with the early computers, as you found out the hard way, is that almost any change involved programming. And since that early equipment was so costly, much of the testing had to be done on production equipment…….

    Anyway, it seems your management made the sensible decision to chalk up your mistake as part of the costs of training and testing.

  4. miller davidge iii August 9, 2014

    Couple of things…My wife is an IT person and I sent the link to this to her. She loved it.

Dick Dale and the Power Plant Printer Romance

Originally posted January 17, 2014.  I added more to the story:

When I first moved to Ponca City I carpooled each day to the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma with Dick Dale, Jim Heflin and Bud Schoonover (See the post:  “Carpooling Adventures with Bud Schoonover“).  Dick Dale had moved to Ponca City a couple of years earlier after his divorce.  He didn’t want to continue living in Stillwater where he felt as if everyone knew about his tragic situation.  We had been friends from the first day we met when I was a summer help working out of the garage and he worked in the tool room and warehouse.

I wrote about Dick Dale this past Christmas, when I talked about his situation (See the post:  “Harmonizing with Dick Dale on Power Plant Christmas Harmonicas“).  I knew that even though it was a few years later, Richard was still feeling the impact from this emotional trauma.  One day I found the opportunity to play a “Power Plant” joke on him that I thought might help lift his spirits.

I recently wrote another post about how I had installed dumb terminals around the plant so that regular workers would be able to access the mainframe computer downtown in Corporate Headquarters in order to see their work orders, or look up parts in the warehouse, etc. (See the post:  “Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals“).  In most places where I installed terminals, I also installed large IBM printers that printed using continuous feed paper.

IBM Dot Matrix Network Printer

IBM Dot Matrix Network Printer

For those of you who remember, at first most dot matrix printers would feed paper from a box underneath them.  they had holes down both sides of the paper where the sprockets would rotate and paper would come rolling out the top of the printer.

Dot Matrix paper with holes so the printer can feed the paper through.  The holes sections with the holes were perforated so you could tear them off easily.

Dot Matrix paper with holes so the printer can feed the paper through. The holes sections with the holes were perforated so you could tear them off easily.

Ok.  Here is a quick one paragraph side story…

One day when my son was about 6 years old, we had to wait a while in an airport.  We were sitting in a row of seats at the gate waiting.  My son kept popping up slowly, jerking as he rose, from behind the row of seats and would lay over the seat back and end up head down on the chair.  After doing this a few times, my wife Kelly asked him what he was doing.  He said, “I’m paper coming out of the printer”.  Of course, this cracked us all up.

Anyway, back to the story.  By the time I had to add the dumb terminals and printers to the Garage and Warehouse, I had already been playing around on the mainframe learning all sorts of ways to get into trouble. — Well, what else was I going to do during lunch while Charles Foster and I talked about movies and stuff?  I had a personal user account on the mainframe that basically gave me “God Access”.  They didn’t really have anything like “Network Security” back then.  — This was 1988.

Back then, we also didn’t have anything called “Email” either.  It wasn’t until 1989 that CompuServe first offered real Internet e-mail to its users.  When we wanted to send something to someone in the company, we either printed it out and put in an intra-company envelope and sent it by “snail” mail, or we could find out what printer they used and get the ID for the printer and send it to them.  It was a code like:  P1234.

Well.  I had been playing with this text editor on the Honeywell mainframe called FRED.  This stood for FRiendly EDitor.  For those of you who know UNIX, this was pretty much the same as the VI Editor found on UNIX mainframes.  The commands were the same.  Today, users of Microsoft Word would be horrified to find out what you had to go through to create a document back then.

I had been practicing using this editor, and found that by using the special escape codes for the printer, I could create documents that would come out looking pretty neat.  So, I had created some templates that would make it look like I was printing a Memo from some mainframe program.  That was about the time that I installed the printer in the garage.

So, I created a big long document that would print out on the garage printer as soon as I connected the printer to the network.  It went on and on about how the printer wasn’t happy about being placed in such a dusty environment and how it refused to be cooperative until it was moved to a cleaner place.  It would spit out a bunch of sheets of paper, printing protest after protest.

Then it ended up by saying that if it wasn’t moved right away, it was going to shut down in 10 minutes and it started counting down by 30 second intervals.  Then at the last minute, it counted down by 15 seconds until it counted down the last 10 seconds by feeding a sheet of paper for each second while it was counting… then it paused at the last second.  Finally, it printed out at the end a concession that since it was obviously not going to be moved to someplace cleaner, it might as well give up and be cooperative.

When I installed the printer in the office in the automotive garage, I knew it would take about 30 seconds to connect the first time, and by that time, I was outside making my way back to the electric shop.  By the time I made it back to the electric shop Charles Patten was calling me on the gray phone.  The gray phone is the plant PA system:

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Of course, I knew why.  I answered the phone and Charles told me that something was wrong with the printer.  It kept shooting paper out of it and wouldn’t stop.  He had even turned it off, but when he turned it back on, it still kept feeding paper out.  I told him that sounded pretty strange to me and I would be right over to see what was going on.  I took my time returning to the garage giving the printer time to throw it’s tantrum.

By the time I returned, the printer had stopped ranting about being installed in a dirty environment and had given up it’s protest.  Charles said that it finally stopped.  I walked over to the printer and took the pile of hundred or so pages that it had printed out, and tore them off the printer and walked out with them.  I don’t even know if Charles had paid any attention to what the printer was saying.

I think I was the only person that knew that I had just “attempted” to play a joke on Charles.  After all, as the paper was feeding out.  It was carefully collecting into a nice stack in front of the printer on the floor, and unless someone picked up the stack and looked at it, they wouldn’t know that anything was even printed on it.  So, in this case, the joke may have been on me.  But then again, Power Plant Men are like that.  If they figure a joke is being played on them, then they figure out how to turn it around so that the joker is the one that has the joke played on them.  Maybe that was the case here.  Charles Patten was probably one of the most intelligent foremen at the plant, so it was possible.

Anyway, back to Dick Dale.  I installed the printer in the warehouse and Dick Dale, Darlene Mitchell, Mike Gibbs and Bud Schoonover were happy to be connected to the Inventory program on the mainframe…..  um… yeah. sure they were…… especially Bud.

Bud Schoonover was the person that when it was his turn to run the tool room would not give you something if it was the last one.  So, if I needed a flashlight and it was the last one, and I asked Bud for a flashlight, he would say that he couldn’t give it to me.  Why?  You might ask.  Well, he would explain that if he gave the last one away, he would have to order some more.  Bud didn’t like ordering things on the computer.  So, in order to keep from having to order anything he simply didn’t give away the last one of any item.

Anyway.  I decided one Monday during my regular lunch time computer educational moments to send a letter over to the warehouse printer addressed to Dick Dale.  It was from an anonymous woman.  The letter sounded like it was from someone that really had a thing for Richard and remembered how they used to work together.  It also mentioned other people, like Mike Gibbs and Pat Braden and about how they used to hang around each other.

Since this was a fictitious character, I could say anything I wanted, but I wanted to put it in a time period back when I was still a summer help.  Well…  It wasn’t long before Dick Dale called me on the gray phone (no.  I won’t post another picture of the gray phone here.   I think you get the idea).  He asked me to come over to the warehouse.

When I arrived, Richard showed me the letter.  He was excited about it.  He was trying to figure out who it could be.  He thought about the people that had moved from the plant to Corporate Headquarters and wondered if it was one of them.  I thought for a little while, and I couldn’t come up with who it might be (obviously), since it was me.

The next day at lunch I sent another letter to his printer.  I mentioned more about the “old days” working at the plant.  On the way home Richard showed it to me.  I could tell that he was really excited about this.  I held back my smile, but inside it felt real good to see that Richard had finally come back to life.  For the past couple of years, he had been so down.  Now some woman was paying attention to him, and actually was telling him that she had always liked him.

Darlene Mitchell sent a letter to the printer ID I had sent in the letter to Richard, saying the following:

Dear Ghost Writer,

This has been the most exciting thing that’s happened in the warehouse in a long time.  We await your messages.  Dick is really trying hard to figure this out, and if you don’t give him a little hint, his little old brains are going to get fried.

He also requests that you send his messages to his printer only, that way I won’t be able to send my message back.  He takes all the fun out of everything.  P)24 is his number, and if you can’t get a response out of him, I’ll be glad to put my two cents in.

I’m sure Dick would like to see you too.  Maybe we can get him headed in your direction, if you tell me where that is.

So, long, see you in the funny papers.

<end of message>

On Thursday Richard called me and asked me to come over to the warehouse.  He showed me the letter he had received that day.  He said he was too excited.  He just had to find out who it was that was sending him these letters.  He said that since I knew everything there was to know about computers (a slight exaggeration), he asked me to see if I could find out where the letters were coming from.

I told him I would do what I could to see if I could track down who was sending the letters.  On the way home that day, he asked me if I had any luck.  I told him I was still looking into it.  I told him I thought there might be a way to find a log somewhere that would tell me.

So, after lunch on Friday I walked over to the warehouse.  When I entered, I signaled to Richard that I wanted to talk to him.  — Remember.  Richard and I had developed facial signals while carpooling with Bud Schoonover so that all we had to do was glance at each other and we instantly knew what each other was saying…

Richard and I stepped outside of the warehouse where we could be alone.  He asked me if I had found the person sending him the letters.  I told him I had (I knew I had to do this right or I would lose a good friend, so I said), “Yes.  I have.”

I could see the look of excitement in his face.  So I looked straight at him and I said, “I have been sending these letters to you.”  He was stunned.  He said, “What?”  I said, “Richard.  I have been sending them to you.”

I could see that he was very disappointed.  After all.  No two people could read each other’s expressions better than me and Richard.  We practiced them every day.  The corners of his mouth went down.  The middle went up.  Edges of the eyes went down.  Eyes began to water.  Yep.  He as disappointed to say the least.

I told him I was sorry to get his hopes up.  I put on the saddest look I could muster.  Inside I wasn’t so sad.  Actually I was pretty happy.  I knew this was a tough moment for Richard, but he had spent an entire week flying high.  For the first time in a long time, Richard had hope.  A  couple of hours of disappointment was well worth this past week.

I patted him on the back and he turned to walk back into the warehouse despondent.  I went back to the electric shop.

As for my part, I continued sending Dick Dale printed messages from time to time.  Just goofy messages like the following:

Dear Richard,

Sometimes when I type letters I find that the words I use are not always the typical type that I would use if I wrote a letter.  The letters that I make when I write a letter aren’t the type of letters that I use when I type a letter.  When I write a letter, the letters in the words are sometimes hard to distinguish, but the letters I type when i’m typing a letter are the type of letters that stand out clearly and uniformly.  I can’t really say that when I type I’m right, or when I write I’m right, because I usually type a different type of letter than I write when I’m writing a letter.  I typically use a different type of words when I’m typing than I use when I’m writing, so I really can’t say that writing is right when a typical typed letter is just as right as writing.  That is just the type of person I am.

Typical Typist

After a few more days, Darlene Mitchell and Dick Dale began sending me letters indicating that the warehouse workers had been taken hostage, and they had a list of hostage demands.  I would write back to them.  The hostage letters and my replies would make up an entire blog post just by themselves.

So, what followed this episode?  Well.  Within a few weeks  Dick Dale had attended an event at the Presbyterian Church in Ponca City where he met a very nice woman, Jill Cowan.  He began dating her, and within the year they were married on November 13, 1988.

I like to think that I had given him the kick in the pants that he needed at the time that he needed it.  For that one week where he had hope, he believed that someone else really cared for him.  If he could believe that, then maybe it could really be true, even if in this case it turned out to only be one of his best friends.

I know that Dick Dale lived happily ever after.  As I mentioned earlier, I wrote a post about Dick Dale about a time when I gave a Christmas present to Dick Dale, Christmas 1983.  Well. as it turned out, my friend Richard was presented to Saint Peter at the gates of Heaven 25 years later on Christmas Day, 2008, 20 happy years after his marriage to Jill.  I don’t really miss him.  He is always with me in my heart to this day.

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals

Originally posted January 3, 2014:

After the reorganization at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma during 1987, a bunch of new faces showed up at the plant.  I mentioned in last week’s post that we had a new plant manager, Ron Kilman (See Post:  “From Pioneers to Power Plant Managers“).  In that post I also mentioned that the PC age was rapidly growing and I had bought a computer of my own and was eager to learn more.  The Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey had retired, and was replaced by a guy named Tom Gibson.  Tom was a good supervisor who was willing to think out of the box.

Tom gave me one of my first assignments directly by calling me to his office.  Well, Leroy had never really called me to his office before.  When Leroy wanted to chew you out, he was happy to come down to the Electric Shop and do it, so I didn’t really know what to expect by being “called to his office”.  Believe me… it wasn’t the last time he had “called me to his office.”  But it was the most satisfying time.  Mainly because this time, when I arrived, Tom’s face wasn’t beet red with anger like it was on one later occasion.

This is what Tom told me to do…  He said that we needed to install computer terminals all over the plant.  They had a chart where they wanted the terminals to go.  There were about 15 locations all over the plant including the coalyard which was about 1/2 mile from the main plant.  Along with those, there were a bunch of IBM Network printers that needed to be installed with the terminals.

Then Tom told me the best part.  He wanted me to do it all myself.  Then he told me an even better part…. He said, (and I quote) “I want you to learn everything you can about this computer stuff.  I think it will come in handy.”  As my friend Stephen Todd at Dell would say, “That was the ‘Keys to the Kingdom”.  I told him I would be glad to do everything he asked.

That last part later came back to haunt Tom…. but he did tell me…. learn “everything” I could about the computer.  When he was referring to “The Computer”, he was talking about the company mainframe, a Honeywell system that resided in Oklahoma City at Corporate Headquarters.

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

The Terminals I was going to install were called “Dumb terminals”.  they weren’t computers, they were just monitors with a keyboard that connected directly to a switch back in the telephone room that was connected via a microwave link directly to Oklahoma City and the Honeywell system:

A DEC terminal like this.

A DEC terminal like this.

So, when I returned to the electric shop, I began my “hacker” apprenticeship.  One that would later allow me to harass Gene Day in the Control Room, confuse Dick Dale in the warehouse, cause headaches for the IT department downtown, and finally cause the President of the Electric Company to personally call our Plant Manager Ron asking who was this guy Kevin Breazile!  Hence the reason for Tom Gibson’s beet red face a few years later.  But that is another story for another time.

I had two things right away that I had to figure out.  How was I going to run cables from the telephone room in the office to each of the places around the plant that needed a computer terminal and what are these funny connectors and what do I need to do with them?

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

Ok, so I figured they plugged in the back of the terminal and then there was a Cat1 cable (no, not a Cat3, a Cat1) that plugged into that, and needed to plug into a jack in the wall that I was going to have to install.  They called these funny connectors “Hoods”.  The 25 pin Hoods that we used were blue.  We had 9 pin hoods also that we used for the actual PCs that the clerks and the chemist were using.  They had an emulator program to make them act like a dumb terminal:

 A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

In an early post called “Power Plant Men’s Club Prizes and a Story of Luck” I explained how I have always been cursed with being very lucky.  Well, that’s what some may call it, but I prefer to believe that one of my best friends St. Anthony helps me out at certain times.  Well, this was one time when I asked for his assistance.  St. Anthony of Padua is considered the Patron Saint of lost items.  So, I asked him to help me figure out how I was going to do all this work in a reasonable amount of time.

St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua

As is often the case, St. Anthony pointed me in the right direction.  This particular day, he told me to tell my problem to Charles Foster.  My close friend and one of the two Electric Shop foremen (not mine.  I was working for Andy Tubbs).  So, during lunch I told him what Tom Gibson told me to do, and showed him the blueprints where they wanted the terminals placed throughout the plant.

One of the places that needed a terminal was right there in the electric shop office.  Charles looked around the office and said, “You know what?  there used to be an old intercom system in this office that I think goes up to the telephone room.  In fact, I think all the intercoms that were originally installed in the plant went to the telephone room.”

An old intercom sort of like this only in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

An old intercom sort of like this only older and in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

I vaguely remembered the intercoms when I was working as a summer help as there used to be an old box sitting in the garage when I worked for Stanley Elmore.  They were later cut out and removed, because it wasn’t really practical and so it wasn’t used.  Charles told me to start there, because there were intercoms everywhere.  In the control room, the warehouse, and even in the coalyard!  And definitely in the office area.  This was just what I needed to hear.  My work was already half done.

I pulled the cables out from under the desk where they had been cut and checked them out.  There were definitely enough cable pairs to do the job.  In most places I had to install both a terminal and a printer, so I had a lot of dual wall jacks just for this job:

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

There were some places where the intercom system didn’t go where I needed to install either a dumb terminal or at least connect a computer.  So, I was looking for any kind of alternate way to install the jack without having to run cables all the way from the telephone room to these locations.  So, I went out and bought a book about networking so that I could learn more about what was really going on.  If I had bought it a few years later it might have been called “Dumb Terminals for Dummies”, but the Dummies books hadn’t come around yet.

I have since thrown that book away after using it for years to prop up the corner of our sofa bed for the times when my mom would come and visit and she would sleep on the bed, only it had a broken bracket, and the Networking book was just the right thickness to level the bed…. But there was one page in the book that I found that allowed me to hook up dumb terminals in places where there was only a phone line.

You see.  When the phone lines were run throughout the plant, they used a three pair cable.  Well.  A phone really only uses two wires (or one pair).  so, this left 4 more wires not doing anything.  The only problem was that the dumb terminal used 4 pair, or 8 wires…

An RJ45 Cable

An RJ45 Cable has 8 wires

So, when I was reading the networking book, I ran across a diagram that made me stop and stare.  I like to think that I was holding a half eaten apple in my hand and I had just taken a bite when I stopped mid-bite and stared.  It would have been a nice picture to remember sort of like when the apple fell on Newton’s head.  Only we didn’t have cellphones with cameras in those days, so no one was around to take my picture.  The diagram I saw was this:

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

What?  This showed 4 of the wires are nothing but grounds….  The network cable only really uses 4 of the 8 wires.  Which means I only needed two pair.  And guess what?  The phone lines run all over the plant were 3 pair with only one pair being used!  So, I was able to install the computer jacks right next to the telephone jacks and use the same cable that the telephone was using, and they all tied back to the telephone room where the main computer switch was located that connected to the Mainframe computer back in Oklahoma City through something called a Memotec X.25 Modem.

So, now that I have gone through all this detail to tell you how I was able to quickly install all these terminals and printers around the plant in a way as if it is exciting (because it is to me).  I know that many of you are so bored out of your gourd that you have already stopped reading before you have reached this sentence….  I suppose those of you that are still following along are wondering “Why?”

Why would we want to install all these dumb terminals throughout a power plant that connected to the Honeywell Mainframe down at Corporate Headquarters?  Well.  It was because all the plant operators, mechanics, welders, machinists, electricians, instrument and controls and heavy equipment operators were going to start using it to do stuff.  Yeah.  All of us were being introduced to the computer age.  From the janitor on up.

Each printer had 4 character ID that identified it, so if you were looking at a work order on the terminal, you could choose to print it.  You just had to know the 4 character number and you could print the work order out on any computer in the company.  Usually, this meant, you wanted to use the printer that was closest to you.  But if you wanted to print something out for the warehouse, as long as you knew their printer ID, you could send them a printout of some part that you wanted them to retrieve for you.  Then call them up and tell them you printed something out on their printer.

Ok.  So the average Joe didn’t see much benefit, but it did get them used to seeing computer monitors all over the place, which at least helped them in the future when the real computers showed up.  Right now, they were just “Dumb Terminals” and that’s what a lot of the operators and maintenance people thought… they are just dumb…

I, on the other hand was in hog heaven.  You see.  I had called downtown to the IT department and asked to get a user name so that I could log directly into the mainframe.   After all, my supervisor Tom had told me to learn “everything” I could about “this computer”.  So, I took him up on it.  I quickly was learning UNIX commands, though at the time, I didn’t know that’s what they were called.

I began learning the Computer language called “A” before I realized there was a “B” language and a “C” language, and that C was the one that was really used at the time.  As it turned out the mainframe had manuals for everything right on it.  That is how I was able to cause so much trouble the next few years.

Oh, and one more interesting thing I discovered on the mainframe.  It had this interesting feature called “Email”.  Yeah.  Only, after figuring out how to pull up a list of all the emails on the system I found that there was only a handful of people that actually had e-mail addresses.  So, the only person I would email on the mainframe was an engineer named Craig Henry.

Craig Henry.  Engineer and Gentleman

Craig Henry. Engineer and Gentleman

I had met him briefly once, but in the next few years, he was a valuable source of information.  Email seemed like a great idea, but what good was it if there was only a few people you could send an email?

As for Craig Henry… As Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Rains in Casablanca, “This is the beginning of a Beautiful Friendship.” Come to think of it… Craig Henry sort of reminds me of Claude Rains…  I must admit, I learned a lot more from him than he ever learned from me.

Printing Impossible Power Plant Fast News Post

Tom Gibson, the Electric Supervisor at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma didn’t have a clue the large can of worms he opened the day in 1988 when he told me to find out all I could about the company computer in Corporate Headquarters…. The one that ran all the important financial systems for the company.  I remember going straight down to the Electric Shop office and sending a request for a username on the Honeywell Mainframe to the IT department, with Tom’s approval.

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

This story is a continuation of two previous stories…. Last week I wrote a post called: “Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild“.  This is the next shoe that dropped in that story….  Earlier this year I wrote a post called:  “Toby O’Brien and Doing the Impossible“.  Well, this is the second story in the list of “Impossible Things” Power Plant Electricians were able to accomplish when others said it couldn’t be done.

As a reminder… and in case you didn’t read last week’s post…. as a summary….. let me just say that I had printed out a form on every printer in the company as part of a “Quality Idea” our team was investigating.  In doing so, I sent commands to the printers to change their quality settings, as well as the Font Size and a few other settings.  When I ran the little known command that sent the document to every printer listed on the mainframe, I didn’t realize that this included all the billing, paycheck and work order printers that all had their special kinds of paper and setting for those particular jobs to run.

This was probably the biggest “Faux Pas” (pronounced “Foe Paw” — yeah…. French… which literally means:  “False Step”) of my 18 years as an Electrician. Before I tell you about how the second shoe dropped… Let me explain that a few weeks before I had hit enter on the keyboard sending the disastrous command to the Mainframe, In June, 1993, I had found an interesting program on the Honeywell mainframe called “Magna 8”.

It had to do with creating reports from the main database.  This was the entire database that ran the Electric Company Business! I thought this would be a great program to learn in order to create all kinds of reports for our plant that would help us understand where our efforts were being spent.  I thought I might actually be able to tie our Maintenance Orders to the time the employees spent on them to their wages, and to the cost of the parts used….  Nothing like that existed at the time, and the little I was able to read from the Magna 8 User Manual on the mainframe, this seemed like just the ticket..

We had never heard of SAP, or other ERP systems at the time. — Oh… sorry… ERP stands for “Enterprise Resource Planning”.  It does just that.  It combines all the company’s business together in one application so that you can account for all the costs down to each machine, person, and part.   If I could learn more about Magna 8, maybe I could start piecing these pieces together from the database. I was having one problem…. When I would page down in the user manual, it kept skipping the bottom half of every page….

I couldn’t figure out how to stop it from scrolling past the second half of each page.  So, I called in a favor from the IT guys downtown and asked them if they could send me a printed copy of the Magna 8 User’s Manual.  They said they could be glad to send me a copy. About a week later, I received the User Manual through company mail.  It was about 4 inches thick.

There were different sections.  One was called:  “The Update Module”.  Yeah…. That’s right…. It was used to enter data into the database….  I thought about that module for about 2 seconds and decided I best stay away from that one.   Then there was the “Reporting Module”.

That was the one I was looking for. — on a side note…. I know “for” is a preposition, and I know you aren’t supposed to end a sentence in a preposition, however, who doesn’t say, “That’s what I was looking for”?  In these circumstances, I figure that I better approach it from a whole different angle…. like…. “That’s the section I really wanted.”  — End side note.

A couple of weeks after I received the copy of the Magna 8 User Guide, I sent the infamous form to all the printers in the company, and that’s when I was sort of had all my “atta boys” taken away with that one “Uh Oh”.  I was all prepared to watch my step while on the mainframe. About a week after the episode in Tom’s office when he told me not to send anything outside the plant without Ron Kilman’s permission, my foreman, Andy Tubbs came in the office and told me that in two days, I was supposed to go to some training in Oklahoma City.

“Oh.  Training!”  One of my favorite things!  I always liked to learn new things.  I asked Andy what the training was for (Oh geez… did I really say that?  “For” at the end of the sentence again! — how about “I asked Andy what kind of training would I be taking” — yeah…. that’s what I said…).  Andy replied, “Something called ‘Magna 8′”.

Oh No!  I hadn’t asked for training!  I had just asked for the user guide!  Now I was scheduled to go to training in Oklahoma City and I knew that no one at the plant had “okay-ed” it.  Now what was I supposed to do?  I did the only thing I could think of at the time…. I asked Andy where I was supposed to go at Corporate Headquarters for the class.

Since I knew that this class hadn’t been approved by Tom Gibson or even our A Foreman Bill Bennett, I decided that I was going to go on my own dime…. that is, I wasn’t going to expense anything.  I would pay for my own mileage and lunch, etc.  Hopefully, no one would notice that I was gone that day.  — Anyway, I could always fall back on the fact that my own Foreman Andy had told me to go….

So, when the day came, I drove to Oklahoma City and entered Corporate Headquarters dressed in my cleanest steel-toed work boots and my cleanest tee-shirt!

I chose this picture because they look like my boots, only I never wore the toes out so that you could see the steel toes.

I chose this picture because they look like my boots, only I never wore the toes out so that you could see the steel toes.

Yeah.  Just like this

Yeah. Just like this — no not really

When I introduced myself to the instructor, Scott Overmeyer, I told him I was surprised that I had been scheduled for this class.  He told me that since I had requested the User Guide that he figured that I should attend this course so that I would know how to use Magna 8 to create reports.  — Well, that explained it.

The classroom was short on computers so we had to share one computer between two people.  I sat in the back row on the right side if you are facing the instructor.  A young lady sat next to me.  Her name was something like Laura Burgert.  We didn’t introduce ourselves right off the bat. We spent the morning learning about how our database was structured.

Our database was not what is referred to as a “relational database”.  I’m not even sure if that term was being used at the time…. anyway, we had what is called a “Hierarchical Database”.  The relationships are more like a family tree.  If you needed to connect the data, you had to go up the tree to where you could go back down another branch… sort of like if you were into Genealogy and you were looking for your 3rd cousin twice removed.  This was all new to me.

I found this diagram of a simple Hierarchical Database model on Wikipedia

I found this diagram of a simple Hierarchical Database model on Wikipedia

Anyway, this isn’t an important part of this story, so don’t strain your brain trying to figure it out.

When noon came around and we were just breaking for lunch, Laura Burgert said to me, “You’re Kevin Breazile!  You’re the guy that printed out that form on everyone’s printers!”  I replied, “Yeah, that’s me.  I sure was in trouble for that one.”

She replied that they had been trying to do something like that for a long time.  Then she explained… “I work in the Communication Department and we create the Fast News Bulletins that are sent out to the printers….”

You see…  this was what you had to do before e-mail was available…. When there was some news about the company that they wanted to disseminate to all the employees quickly, they would send out a Fast News bulletin to the printers and we would post it on the bulletin board in our area.

She continued to explain….. We have asked IT to give us a list of printers that we should send the Fast New Bulletins, because we know that our list is old and we are sending some to printers that messes up billing jobs and other things…. I said, “Yeah.  I know all about those.”

She continued to explain some more…. IT told us there isn’t any way to tell which printers are good printers and which ones we shouldn’t be sending Fast News Bulletins.  I replied,  “Well…. I know which ones are good and which ones are not.  I have all the forms that were sent to me.  You can tell right away by the paper they are printed on, and if that’s not enough to give you a hint, just read the ‘colorful’ notes they wrote to me trying to convince me not to print on their printers anymore…”

Laura said it would be a great help if I could send those forms to her.  I said I would do it as soon as I was back at the plant.

When I arrived at the plant the next morning, and Andy Tubbs told me that Tom Gibson was upset when he found that I had gone to Oklahoma City for training when Bill Bennett had mentioned it to him the day before.  He had been all hot because he hadn’t approved any training and here I was going off on my own to Oklahoma City.  I told Andy…. Well…. You did tell me to go….

Anyway, after that I gathered up the stack of around 500 forms and carried them up to the mail room where Denise Anson helped me put them in a small box to mail them to Laura Burghart.

A few weeks went by and Laura called me on the phone.  She asked me how I had created the header on the forms.  You see, I had created a header with the name of the company and part of the name was normally smaller and had one word over the top of another so….. well…… let me just show you…..

An example of the Company Memo Header on our Dot Matrix Printer

An example of the Company Memo Header on our Dot Matrix Printer – without the “Quality” turned on

Notice the “GAS/AND” in the middle of the name of the company….  — This doesn’t look like anything to you today, because we now have laser printers and Publishers and all sorts of Word Art at our fingertips.  But back then, printing this from a mainframe document took some work…. let me explain, just to give you an idea.

First, I had to space all the way out to where the word GAS starts, then I had to turn on the underline and decrease the font size to the size of the small letters and print out the word GAS then I had to turn off the underline and backspace the three characters, change the font back to the large size, then backspace all the way back to the beginning of the line, then print out the word Oklahoma and a space, then change the font back to small and print out the word AND then change the font back to the large size, and continue with the rest of the line.  Yeah… I had to send backspace commands to the printer….  I was pretty proud of my header.

You can see by the Memo above that I had been using it for almost a year.  The picture above isn’t even using the “Quality” setting on the printer which even made it look a lot sharper.

Anyway, on with the story…… The Fast News Bulletin’s header had a simple design.  The “F” in Fast was created using a bunch of F’s.  The A using a bunch of A’s.  Like this:

Fast-old-news

Yeah… pretty embarass… um… I mean exciting huh?  Laura was looking for a way to add some Quality to the Fast News Bulletin.  I told her that I could create large block letters using the graphic commands on the printer  I asked her what her printer ID was and I quickly created a Fast News Bulletin for her with a real header: Fast-News-Header Laura was excited and said that she may be getting back to me soon…. which she did a few weeks later.  She asked if I could attend the first meeting of a new Task Force they had created to enhance the Fast News.  I said I would be glad to attend, but I would first have to have permission from my Electric Supervisor before I could go.

She said she would take care of it…. and she did.

Ben Brandt, our Assistant Plant Manager wanted to know why I was being asked to show up to a Corporate Communication Task Force!  — “Uh… I don’t know.”  I replied.  Knowing that everything I did outside the plant grounds was being questioned after my previous “misstep”.

Memo Ben Brandt Received

Memo Ben Brandt Received

So, one day I showed up at Corporate Headquarters again.  Laura Burgert was there to greet me.  She told me where to sit along a big long table in a meeting room.  I was to sit about halfway down the table, while she sat on one end of the table.

When others came in, the IT person that was on the committee… I believe his name was Mike Russell sat on the far end from Laura. Laura opened the meeting by explaining the reason for the task force and when she finished she said, “For starters we were thinking that instead of using the ugly Fast News header we have been using, we would like to have a header like this…. And she passed a copy of the Fast News Bulletin I had printed out on her printer that day when she called me.

When Mike Russell saw it, he replied, “Our Printers can’t print a header like this.”  Laura looked over at me, as if she wanted me to reply to Mike’s remark.  So, I said, “This was printed out on the standard IBM network printer.”

Mike replied by saying, “No.  Our printers can’t print like this.  It’s impossible.”  I repeated that this Fast News was printed out on Laura’s IBM printer from the mainframe just like the regular Fast News is printed out.   I even told him that I could send him a copy of the header so that he could print it out and see for himself.

He said,  “There’s no need to do that.  Our printers can’t print this out.” — Though he held a bulletin in his hands that was printed out on our Standard IBM printer.

At then end of the meeting Laura thanked me for coming.  She said, “See?  This is what we have been dealing with.  They probably weren’t going to be able to go anywhere with this.”  I just nodded….  I thanked her for inviting me and I returned to the plant 75 miles north.

I guess it didn’t matter too much.  A few months later and we were all being introduced to E-Mail, as I had been running telephone cable all over the plant so that we could set up a new NT Server network using Netware 4.0.  Which used Novell’s GroupWise for e-mail.  Fast News then just showed up in our Inbox.

It’s funny how things work out. What are the odds?  I wreak havoc by sending a “rogue” form to printers that should be left alone, only to have those forms become useful to another department after I was “accidentally” enrolled in a training course where I happened to sit next to the one person in the company that could benefit from that printing blunder.  Which then led her to look at ways to improve the Fast News Bulletin that she was responsible for creating….

Then the IT department refused to listen, but it didn’t matter anyway because new Technology quickly came along which began the process of weaning us off of the mainframe and onto a new state of the art network that later allowed us to use SAP a real ERP system that made the Magna 8 application that I went to learn in the first place obsolete.

I guess the Fast News Bulletin for the day is that Technology Moves Fast…. If you aren’t on for the ride, then you will be making statements like “That’s Impossible” and having a student in the 8th grade proving you wrong.  It reminded me of what my dad always said when I was growing up… “Don’t ever say you can’t. — There’s always a way.”