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Four techies flummoxed for hours by flickering 'E' on monitor

Replaced everything to no avail, before small talk about the view sorted things out

By Simon Sharwood, 4 Aug 2017

On-Call Salutations dear readers, and congratulations on reaching the last working day of the week, on which The Register runs On-Call, our reader-contributed tales of gigs that get you giggling.

This week, meet “Sonny”, who told us of his first job as a System Engineer with a local IBM PC reseller, in the early 1980s. Or as Sonny called it, a time “when the worth of an engineer was measured by the size of his Micro Channel Adapter Description File collection.”

The reseller “had several large, multi-site customers based throughout the North West. One of these customers made extensive use of IRMA boards for connecting their PS/2 desktops to the company 3270 mainframe.”

Sonny and his colleagues were pressed into service on one such site to help with an office move. All weekend long he and his mates installed new co-axial cables, new hardware and got things working well enough that by Monday none of the inevitable post move problems were particularly difficult.

At least until Sonny was asked to visit one user who was having trouble with her 3270 session.

“I arrived expecting to find the co-ax cable unplugged or a config file that hadn’t been updated,” he told us. “Instead the user explained that whenever she used her terminal emulator, a letter 'E' kept flashing up in the middle of her screen.”

Sonny was sceptical about this and asked for a demo. And there it was: an 'E' flashing on and off every few seconds.

Somewhat confused, Sonny “checked everything I could think of – cable connection, re-seated the IRMA board, reinstalled the software. The problem persisted.”

“Over the next week or so, I made several return visits and tried swapping out the IRMA card, tested the cabling and even tried an entire new PC. Still the 'E' kept flashing up.”

By now the customer was over it and Sonny was out of ideas. So he asked a more senior colleague what he thought.

“The next day we returned, mob handed,” he recalls. “Me, the senior engineer, one of the cabling guys and the customer’s account manager to sooth ruffled feathers. A couple of hours later we’d re-tested everything, but still the spurious 'E' kept flashing up in the middle of the screen”

“Exasperated, coffees in hand, the four of us stood staring at the screen wondering what to do next.”

Which was when the sales chap started making small talk about the lovely view from the new office. Why, he could even see an airport in the distance.

At which point “the cabling guy muttered something obscene and started repeatedly looking from the window to the screen and back again.”

“He’d noticed that the random 'E' flashed up on the screen only when the airport radar dish – visible across the fields – pointed at the office's window.”

Sonny and pals disconnected the PC, moved it to a different desk and the 'E' evaporated. Forever.

Sonny says he later “heard that the user, who was really keen to not lose her window seat and its lovely view, moved the PC back to its original location but placed a metal sheet at the back of the PC to block the radar signal.”

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