8-Bit Software Online Conversion

From K4U (Chris Robbins) FIRE, FIRE ! Nowadays automatic systems which make use of computers for control purposes are widely used. You'll find them in everything from washing machines to rolling mills. But the systems don't always work in quite the way their designers intended. In most cases the results aren't too catastrophic. Perhaps a wash program that ends with a tub full of water, or redundant movements of a positioner. However there are exceptions. Such as the case of the car assembly robot, which tried to weld chunks of a saloon and an estate together. This story is by now well known, if apocryphal. It may or may not have some basis in fact. The tale I'm about to relate is in fact true. And although I didn't experience the events myself, I'm assured by a friend who was there, that they did actually happen. A few years ago a new multi-million pound theatre was built to house performances of various kinds; plays, concerts, ballet etc. A lot of time, effort, and money had gone into its design and construction. As with similar buildings, there were a number of safety precautions that had to be taken, particularly fire precautions to protect both the patrons, and the theatre itself. There had to be some means of automatically detecting a fire and of sounding a suitable alarm, an effective means of extinguishing fires, and adequate protection from smoke and flames for those in the theatre. Being a thoroughly modern theatre, much use was made of the very latest technology. There were automatic smoke detectors, alarms situated both within and without the building, and links with the city's emergency services. There was a large tank on the roof to hold water for the comprehensive sprinkler system, which covered both the auditorium and the stage. There were vents high in the roof over the scenery towers, which by suitable means, could be opened quickly to disperse smoke and protect the audience from poisonous fumes and the danger of suffocation. There was a huge metal roller blind of a fire screen, which in the event of a fire, would come down to separate the public from the stage. Should there be a power failure, there was a standby generator that would cut in of it's own accord if the normal mains supply were disrupted. As an extra precaution there were backup control circuits, that could take over in the event that the primary circuits failed. And controlling the whole system, there was of course a computer. One day sometime soon after the theatre had been built, there were on the stage a number of musicians rehearsing for the grand opening. A test of the efficacy of the fire system had been arranged for that very same day, and was about to take place. Unfortunately nobody had seen fit to warn those on stage of the impending test. So the first intimation they had, was the clangour of the alarms, and the rapid descent of the metal fire screen which threatened to cleave their number in two, not to mention one or two individuals and their instruments. Fortunately they were a quick witted bunch, for no sooner had they noticed the rapidly approaching danger than they scattered, leaving their instruments behind. For some reason, the computer was unaware of the difference between a test of the system and the real thing. So once the fire screen was in place, it decided to turn on the sprinklers, showering both the stage and the auditorium with copious amounts of water. Luckily the auditorium had yet to be furnished with seating, although the carpets were in place, and these got rather wet. The stage itself fared better since it wasn't carpeted. But the instruments abandoned following the hasty departure of the musicians, suffered grievously. Those in the brass section came out of it best, although it was some time before they were dry enough to be played again. The woodwind wasn't too bad either. But the string section was left in a very sorry state. They managed eventually to turn the water off and restore some sort of order. Mopping up operations commenced straightaway, but even on the opening night several weeks later, the carpet around the stage was still slightly damp. Some time after this, it was decided to test the air conditioning system. To do this required the release of a quantity of coloured smoke, in order to observe the airflows. By now the seating had been installed, and in view of the previous unfortunate episode of the sprinklers, the water supply to them was turned off manually, just in case. It proved to be a wise move. The smoke was denser than had been anticipated, and triggered the smoke detectors. The computer activated the fire screen, which began to descend. The alarms began to sound. The automatic call to the emergency services was set off, and engines were dispatched at top speed to the scene of the supposed conflagration. Since the water had been turned off, there was no chance of damaging the by now fully equipped auditorium. It was more of a nuisance than anything else. All that was necessary was to reset the system, and apologise to the fire department. The reset button was duly pressed. But since the smoke was still present, the computer would have none of this obviously erroneous reset. Nothing happened. The alarms continued to sound. Somebody was sent to turn off the main power supply. Switching of the power to the whole building made things a little difficult, since the major part of it was now in darkness. But at least the alarms had stopped. Until that is, the backup power supply cut in automatically. Nobody knew how to turn this off, so the alarms continued to ring, and the computer continued to try to drench the theatre with water. Restoration of the power supply solved the lighting problem, but left them right back where they had started. By now there was quite a bit of smoke about, so the computer decided it was time to blow the explosive bolts which kept the smoke vents closed. Bang, they dutifully went, and the vents opened. However, they opened just a trifle too fiercely, tore themselves off their hinges and sailed majestically through the air to land with a resounding crash on the top floor of a neighbouring multi-storey car park. It was just bad luck that there were cars parked there at the time, and that one or two happened to be in the way as the vents landed. Needless to say, the cars underwent some uncalled for restyling of their bodywork. By now the original idea of testing the air-conditioning had long since been forgotten. The one thought of all those concerned, was to turn the system off. Hardware modules were frantically pulled out in a vain attempt to shut it down. The computer obviously realised it had a major emergency on it's hands and switched in backup modules. And as more pieces of the hardware were removed it transferred control to further backup units. To say that those concerned were getting a little frantic would be somewhat of an understatement. To add to the confusion smoke continued to pour forth. Curiously no one had thought to turn it off. Eventually, somehow, it was sorted out, and switch off the fire system they did, much to to the relief of those in charge. Sadly my friend doesn't know how it was done, for he'd left the building by that time. Did the computer run out of backup systems? Or did some enterprising fireman put an axe through it's CPU? Whatever, there were certainly some red faces (and blue/green ones from the smoke) after the event. THE END