Keep Customers Away From The Wiring

Those who employ professionals should respect the professionalism of their employees. The reason they hire specialists in the first place is because they themselves lack the requisite knowledge.
Management should never forget this. (Management is overhead, but that’s a tale for another day) 🙂

A customer with 403 accounting machines had the following application. Shipping orders were typed on a Frieden Flexowriter, a ‘typewriter’ which also produced a paper tape. This tape was input to an IBM machine which produced punched cards (possibly the model 40?). The resulting punched cards went into the 403 to produce invoices. My job was to wire the control panels for the 403. It quickly became obvious that given the layout of the cards and the layout of the preprinted forms, the 403 needed additional Selectors installed. I knew that changing the programming in Frieden Flexowriter was out of the question and the tape-to-card equipment couldn’t do anything, so I suggested he change the layout of the forms. Unfortunately, he had ordered a year’s supply of 9-part, floating-carbon forms; an entire storeroom filled to the ceiling with boxes of forms. Very. Expensive. Forms. My suggestion was not well received, so IBM added the needed banks of Selectors – and had to boost the power supply to support them. The customer whined that ‘the shop upstairs doesn’t have this problem’ until I finally pointed out that the ‘shop upstairs’ was using a more powerful (and more expensive) 407 instead of a 403.
Grudgingly, the customer retreated and I settled down to wiring the control board.

Every single column on the card could go to one of several columns on the form, depending on the type of the specific card. Every column on the form could get its data from one of several card columns. Most wires on these machines were simple: a plug on each end of a single wire. There were ‘multi-tail’ wires; a plug with 2 or more wires coming out, each ending it its own plug. That panel is the only one I’ve ever wired that required multiple 4-tailed and 5-tailed wires. The 403 control panel had approximately 900-1000 contacts (don’t recall exactly) and when I finished, less than a dozen slots were unplugged.

The wiring took me about 10 days. I turned the panel over the customer and went on my way.

A few weeks later, the customer called, saying “it wasn’t working right”. Turned out he decided to convert all my wiring to ‘permanent wires’. Normally, the jacks plugged into the slots are removable, in case the user wants to make changes later. There were jacks which were not removable, but these were almost never used -if a user wanted to protect from a wire accidentally being pulled out, he put a cover over the control board.
Instead of covering the board or asking me to convert to permanent wires, the customer decided to screw it up himself. I found wire X going to slot Y instead of slot Z. This, of course, raised the question of where in hell was wire A which was supposed to go to slot Z and where was wire B going instead of to slot Y where it belonged….

This was on a Friday. I was scheduled to start a computer class on Monday. I went to the customer’s shop on Sunday, ripped out all the wiring and rewired the entire panel. From memory.
(In theory, I could have made a wiring diagram when I originally wired it, but I never saw that done in any shop).
I gave it to the customer, threatened hellfire if he ever touched another wire and went off to my class.

Footnote: A few months later, he called and smugly declared there was a bug in the wiring- his totals for a report were coming out $6.00 too high. Upon investigating, I found he had keypunched the letter O instead of number 0 on one of his cards. Numbers consisted of a single punch, 0-9 in a column. Letters consisted of 2 or 3 punches: a number 0-9 and 1 or 2 ‘zone punches’. The letter O consisted of 6 + ‘zone B’ punches. The card reader found the ‘6’ and since the column had been programmed as numeric, ignored the ‘zone B’ punch. Effectively, the column was a 6 instead of 0.
I pointed out this customer error – probably none to politely – and he never dared call me again.

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