Sunday, July 1, 2012


It isn't BC, but . . .


For some reason several "If only the BC practitioner had been involved" events came to mind the other day.

They weren't Big Catastrophes for which plans had been made and mitigation options put into place. These are more of the "if only someone had considered" or, in one case, "if only the engineer had listened."

Location, location, location

A company in Florida moved its facility from one site to a new site.

In its wisdom, the Project Manager included business continuity in her plans.

Unfortunately, the company lacked the foresight.

The land it bought was in a flood plain.

Were that not bad enough, it put is core business on the first floor of a three story building. The logic was that visitors to the facility could view the operation through a huge glass wall.

Impressive, but given Florida's June-to-November weather threats, not particularly wise.

Those darn cables - Part 1

This organization made computer equipment.

One system was bench tested and proved a keeper, a real marketable item.

When it came time to assemble everything into a standard 19-inch cabinet the engineers discovered that they failed to allow space for power and communications (ribbon) cables.

Back to the drawing boards; all because someone failed to consider wiring.

Those darn cables - Part 2

Another organization made a top-of-the-lone SMDR device, complete with 9-inch reel-to-reel tape deck.

The "brains" of the machine were stored on a pull-out shelf beneath the tape deck.

At the time I was a tech writer documenting the device. As such, I pulled out the shelf and, in the process and unbeknownst to me, tore a flat cable from its connector. When I was done documenting the connections, I returned the shelf to its position.

The next day the Product Manager tried to demo the unit and it failed. We discovered the problem: a flat cable that was a couple of inches too short to allow access to the equipment on the shelf. A longer cable was ordered and the product was fully operational.

(Tech writers can be both trouble and trouble-shooters.)

Top heavy

A PBX manufacturer, to avoid heat problems from the unit's power supply, mounted the power supply on top of the PBX.

It worked fine and heat dissipation problems were eliminated.

Problem was, when the PBX was trucked to a customer, it had a tendency to tip over, damaging the unit. After two or three instances, the company got wise and made certain the units were secured in an upright position before the truck left the loading dock.

Flattened pins

Another PBX company had a great single-shelf system.

Our first customer for this system was a Big Name in Telephony distributor.

When the switch got to the customer site and the distributor's tech hung the unit, it didn't work.

"Send a new unit. And send the tech writer with it." Why me? I was not a technician, although I did document the system, so ...

The replacement system and I boarded a plane. I got off at the destination; the replacement unit continued on to the airline's Texas hub. (I won't mention the airline's name, but it was not Southwest.)

When the unit came back the next day it was hung with the same results. Panic.

I called back to tech support and explained the problem and what the distributor's tech had done. (He was well trained and knew PBXs.) Talking to several company techs we decided that the unit's backplane had bent pins, preventing a connection with the plug-in cards.

Send a new backplane and this time ship it standing upright (rather than lying flat on its pins).

The new backplane arrived with pins in tact, was installed, and the switch was operational.

Only one problem remained: The operator console was inoperable. I traced the cable from the switch to the console and discovered a different installer had stapled the cable to a wall - and the staple went though the cable. Remove staple; console worked.

Ground - Part 1

A company for which I briefly worked made telecom add-on units.

It rolled out a new unit that I documented.

I noticed that the unit lacked a system ground. I mentioned this to the Chief Engineer who, thinking what can a tech writer know, dismissed my concerns out of hand.

A trainer was showing off the system to some potential buyers. As he bent close to the groundless system, it arced from the power supply to the trainer's metal framed glasses. Fortunately no one was injured, but the box DID get a system ground . . . and I was terminated.

Ground, Part 2

Avoiding the next problem would require a building's plumbing schematic, not normally a requirement for an installer.

According to the tech manual, the installer was to connect a #6 wire from the machine's system ground to either a stake or a cold water pipe. Since it usually was easier to connect to the pipe, most techs used that option.

In one case, the machine was "flaky"; it would go on and off without any obvious reason.

The tech we sent to resolve the issue was an old pro. He tried this; he tried that. Nothing. Finally, he decided to check the ground.

System ground to cold water pipe: OK.

But, being smart, he traced the metal cold water pipe to where it went underground.

The "Ah Ha" moment came when he saw that the metal pipe terminated at a PVC coupling and it was PVC that went into the ground, negating any value the metal cold water pipe might have as a ground.

The tech drove a spike into the ground and terminated the system ground there. No more "flaky" system.

Learning process

As a tech writer, even an experienced tech writer, I lacked knowledge only experience brings. Most of the knowledge was "general" knowledge; knowledge that I applied across products: telephone gear, computers, etc. As I documented equipment and systems, and got to know many - but hardly all - the things that can go bump in the night, I added to my troubleshooting tables. (I did stop suggesting to Big Buck Engineers that a system ground was worth consideration. If UL couldn't convince the gentleman, how could a "mere" tech writer?)

Tech writers and risk management practitioners are some of the few people outside of the Executive Suite who know almost all of an organization's operations. Perhaps not to the last red cent, but "in general."

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