Giving fair warning before plugging in your computer

That colleague who gave me the AOL CD that came with a big-iron server later received a prototype Itanium computer for testing purposes. The early Itaniums were behemoths. They weighed a ton, sounded like a weed whacker, and put out enough heat to keep you comfortably warm through the winter. (If you opened them up, you would likely see several carefully-shaped Styrofoam blocks with the label "Do not remove! Engineering styrofoam!" I never thought I would ever see the phrase "engineering styrofoam" used seriously. Note: Styrofoam® is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company; consequently, it should be capitalized. The generic term is "foamed polystyrene". Mind you, the Dow Chemical Company also claims to have trademarked the color Blue [see **].)

Never one to read all the safety labels before playing with a new toy, my colleague took the heavy-duty double-capacity power cables and ran them to the normal wall socket. Then he threw the power switch.

And the power went out in the entire building wing.

The power surge from the Itanium overloaded the poor wall socket and tripped the wing's circuit breaker. Everybody went through the standard power outage drill, while speculating amongst themselves what the cause for this one might be.

It didn't take long for word to get out. "Fred plugged in his Itanium." (Not his real name.)

After the electricians came by to check that everything was okay, they reset the circuit breaker and everybody got back to work.

My colleague re-cabled the machine to be more friendly to the building's power circuitry. Then he sent out email to the entire team.

"I'm turning it on!"

Everbody laughed.

And then hit Ctrl+S just in case.

Comments (17)
  1. What is it with geeks and power?

    I feel obliged to link to: which is my personal favorite power story.

  2. vince says:

    speaking of trademarked colors, I randomly noticed yesterday that according to the label on a pack of Post-It ™ notes, 3M has a trademark on the color "Canary Yellow".

    Disturbing. I wonder if there are any colors left that are not trademarked?

    And can you trademark any part of the EM spectrum? Can a chip company trademark 3 Gigahertz? Can I trademark 105.7MHz and sue radio stations? Hmmmmm.

  3. vince says:

    Sorry to follow up on my own post, but more info on color trademarking here:

  4. BTX says:

    so what was Ctrl+S for?

  5. Daev says:

    Ha! I have that very computer: an enormous, slow old Itanium 1 which I rescued from a closet and coaxed to run Windows 2003 Edition. I hope "Fred" had as much fun as I did.

    That machine has a great big lock on it to keep anyone from stealing the Styrofoam(tm). When I found it, the keys had been lost, but if you call the tech support line they’ll give you detailed lock-break-in directions!

    Some day I hope to get the time to do some Itanium assembly language hacking, and use your stack frame articles from last year. IA64 reminds me of the old CDC Cyber architecture. (Alas, the VS2005 team has just announced that they are dropping Itanium support for this release.)

  6. Mike Dimmick says:

    For some reason I had the console in mind, where pressing Ctrl+S is Pause. Doh!

  7. Matt says:

    I remeber heating my cubicle last year with an Itanium machine.

    It was very effective for that purpose.

  8. Gabe says:

    This reminds me of the Alphas of yore. Back in 1998, I used to hang out with the guy who was making hibernation faster in NT5 (it used to write out all of the RAM whether it was used or not). As I recall, MIPS and PPC support had already been dropped, but Alphas were still around and he needed an Alpha to test his code on.

    For some reason there were a number of Alphas sitting in the hallways of Building 26 that were these mini-fridge sized bohemoths, and my friend ended up getting one because they were readily available. Now these things had 3 333MHz Alphas, gigs of RAM, 20+ hard drives, N fans (you had under an hour to replace a bad fan before the system would overheat), and even its own laptop for management. Like the Itanium, it was too noisy to have a conversation near, and put out too much heat to run during the summer.

    Anyway, it didn’t have a regular power cord; it ran on 3-phase power and couldn’t be plugged in until the electricians came and installed the appropriate outlet. So plugging it in didn’t trip any breakers.

    The funny part is that after all this huge hassle to get this awesome machine installed, it was useless. Why? Because DEC never wrote hibernation support into the firmware. Who the hell hibernates a $200,000 server?

    The big thing ended up being a piece of furniture, and it didn’t matter anyway because Compaq bought DEC and dropped Alpha support before Win2k shipped.

  9. John Gardner says:

    That "Styrofoam" copyright/trademark comment is pretty funny! My dad owns/operates a small company in Wisconsin (RobinII) that actually manufactures polystyrene products. (another generic term for it is EPS, "expandable polystyrene").

    Anyway, in our household, "Styrofoam" was THE "s" word. if you said it, you might get a spanking! :)

  10. Carlos says:

    Trademarks are typically scoped by market segment. So Dow haven’t trademarked the colour blue per se; they’ve trademarked the colour blue in the context of foamed polystyrene. Which is fair enough.

    But why is the Itanium server full of Styrofoam?

  11. Cooney says:

    3 processors? Isn’t that kind of weird?

    I do remember the Alpha build being useful well after the processor was dropped because the compiler exposed different bugs than the other build targets.

  12. Ryan says:

    But why is the Itanium server full of Styrofoam?

    To direct airflow

    Ours had three fans in the front and two in the back and the styrofoam formed a wind tunnel over the processors.

  13. Trademarking Colours says:

    Cadbury (makers of Chocolate in England and Australia and maybe in America) tried to TM the colour Purple (not the book), but lost a case recently.

    I think Trade Marking a colour is in regard to a market segment. So 3M can trademark Canary Yellow for their products, and could stop you making Canary Yellow notepads, but couldn’t stop you making a Canary Yellow Car.

  14. alanjmcf says:

    In Larry’s story, what’s a BVT? Err, build verification test, if what’s done there.


  15. Richard says:

    > heavy-duty double-capacity power cables

    Clearly different to the (Intel) Itanium prototype box we had here… just a normal power cable.

    This is of course UK, so standard sockets have more than 3kW capacity (240V, 13A).

  16. IPFBigot says:

    It was not an Itanium Server Platform (Tiger) per se that had the infamous Styrofoam(R) but rather it was the Workstation (BigSur) platforms that had this foam in them. Get your factoids(r) [a registered trademark of who gives a rats] straight :)

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