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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Open the pod bay doors HAL

With weather like this, it is going to be hard making it from the parking lot to the office without turning back around.

I was settled in at my desk and about to start a team meeting when the alarm sounded.  A Fire Alarm.  Lucky for us it was just a fire drill.  11AM on the nose, up from my desk, and guiding the others to the exit.  I am a designated floor searcher and helper for fire drills at our building so I was one of the last to go out to the parking lot.

This day in history "Near Montignac, France, a collection of prehistoric cave paintings are discovered by four teenagers who stumbled upon the ancient artwork after following their dog down a narrow entrance into a cavern. The 15,000- to 17,000-year-old paintings, consisting mostly of animal representations, are among the finest examples of art from the Upper Paleolithic period."

2001 A Space Odyssey featured a monolith.  The story deals with a series of encounters between humans and mysterious black monoliths that are apparently affecting human evolution, and a space voyage to Jupiter tracing a signal emitted by one such monolith found on the moon. Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood star as the two astronauts on this voyage, with Douglas Rain as the voice of the sentient computer HAL 9000 who has full control over their spaceship. The film is frequently described as an "epic film", both for its length and scope, and for its affinity with classical epics.[

The part of the film that I remember is how HAL, takes over and does not obey the human commands.  The story goes on as HAL picks off each of the human crew members, until only he and Dave are left.  The only thing to do is to trick the computer into letting Dave in, so he can shut it down.

Today was the day after a 13 years of faithfull service, RNASL was supposed to be shutdown and powered off.  This is no typical computer, it is a Tandem NonStop Fault tolerant machine that is designed to operate and stay running 99.999% of the time.

First attempt at gaining control of the system, the console kept mysteriously rebooting itself.  A spare unit was shipped to St Louis to be installed.  Although the console was working the day before, it arrived at the datacenter and would not power up.  Plan A and Plan B have somehow failed.  The machine continues to operate.

Why not just turn the power switch off ?  Well, this well designed and thought out computer does not have an  on/off switch, after all it is supposed to stay running.  Plan C is a backdoor mechanism known as an EPO. (Emergency Power Off), a command issued to the Kernel of the operating system to shutdown.  The command seemingly ignored by this machine, which refuses to be shutdown.

Unlike the HAL, RNASL is not going on a killing spree or wreaking havoc.  However, as part of a plan, culminating in a large celebration on Friday, where the last of its kind at Reuters, the S77 in London will be shutdown.  RNASL has to be powered off.  Plan D goes into place.  Electricians trace the power cables that are hardwired to the power supplies and open the circuit breakers causing the machine to loose power.

It is not over, as RNASL remains running, it's lead acid batteries trickling electrons into the circuits, disk drives, until finally the lights go out.   The batteries drained, RNASL bleeds out and is pronounced at approx: 19:30 Central Standard Time.

Open the pod bay doors HAL...I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that......

Photo of the day "HAL"

P.S.  I have a confession to make.  I have a connection to this machine.  It won't be easy to stop looking at the blank screen on my desk.   The screen I have used thousands of times over the years to keep the news flowing at Reuters....

1 comment:

  1. Nicely compared with HAL...reminds me that I got to read the novel again.