Embarrassing Stretch Marks #socs

Hard to believe that it was almost 40 years ago that I started working for MSA, a software company that later became Dun & Bradstreet Software and Geac Computers (since I left, the company became Infor). I started out as a Technical Support Representative, or TSR, which also stood for "traveling social reject." I would go to client sites with a box full of magnetic tapes which contained the software and various utilities to get it to work. It took me the better part of a week to install most of our systems, sometimes longer.

Clients were supposed to send the tapes back after the software was installed, but rarely did so. In order to cut costs, we started using less-expensive tapes to deliver the software. One of the first things we would do during an installation was to make copies of the tapes my company delivered and conduct the remainder of the install from the client’s tapes, which were ostensibly of better quality than the ones we delivered. Surprisingly, it was rare that the delivered tapes developed problems bad enough that we had to order new tapes from Atlanta, such as what we called "embarrassing stretch marks," where the tape would stretch while it was being read and thus become all but useless for installing the software.

I was at a client in Hancock, Michigan one week. Hancock is, I believe, the northernmost point of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, right about where the Keweenaw Peninsula (on which resides the town of Houghton) begins. During the winter, it’s not unusual for Hancock to get 30 feet of snow. Naturally, I was there in the dead of winter…

The Keweenaw Peninsula. Hancock is indicated. The blue is Lake Superior.

Hancock is so remote that things sent FedEx Air Overnight take two days to arrive, or at least they did when I was there.

Anyway, I get there Monday morning and go through my pre-install spiel about what I’m going to do and how I’ll let them know what I did and blah blah blah. Well, we get to the point of the installation where we’re making copies of the tapes. The installation tape (which has the installer file and test files to prove that the software works) copies fine. The source tape gets to about block 2400 and stretches. I call Atlanta and they will have a tape to me as soon as they can. which is at least two days. I sat down and figured out what I would need to do to complete the installation (or as much as possible) without the source tape.

All goes remarkably well, all things considered, and by Tuesday afternoon I was finished with all the steps I needed to complete minus the ones that require a source tape. We sat around most of the day on Wednesday until the source tape got there. A little after 3 PM, the tape arrived.

We start the jobs that required the source tape at 3:30. The job that copies it reads about 1100 blocks, and, you guessed it, it stretches. We decided to call it a day and attack the problem first thing in the morning.

I called a couple of guys I knew and asked how they might go about getting a good tape, and all they could come up with was "order another tape, go home and fly back next week."

I got up the next morning and decided there had to be something that I could do to come up with one good tape from the two bad tapes I had. I went in and told the client that I was going to try one thing before I called Atlanta again. I used a utility called DITTO to copy the first 2300 blocks off the original tape, then to skip the first 2300 blocks on the second tape and copy the rest. I wasn’t sure that it would handle the stretch at block 1100 on the second tape, but it did! The resulting source tape worked pefectly, I completed the installation, and had an extra beer on the plane home to celebrate…

Linda hosts Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Now a word about Spring filter cigarettes. It air conditions the smoke!

31 thoughts on “Embarrassing Stretch Marks #socs

  1. Nice on Keewanau. We are vacationing with our kids near Eagle River and EAgle Harbor this summer. Nice. Houghton is a neat town. Kind of like Michigan’s version of Teleride I think.


      1. Quite a ways apart. Eagle River is up in the Keewanau not all that far fro Houghton– and Iron River is on far most western part of the UP in a different time zone. Iron River is not as nice, but the whole UP is pretty nice, really. At least a couple hours apart.


        1. I remember driving a very long way to get to Iron River. It was really remote… Hancock/Houghton is on the same time as Detroit, isn’t it? That surprised me when I was there during the summer a year or so later. I thought it might be on the same time as Chicago, but no…


          1. Yep, Houghton and Marquette and really MOST of the UP are on Detroit, eastern time. But as you get to Menominee and Iron River on the far west, it’s central time like Wisconsin. My daughter lives in Green Bay so we take US 2 all across the UP often. Iron River is on the far west, but north of Menominee. Been there many times. No good water there. Sounds like you were very creative up there in God’s Country. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Impressive problem solving! Sometimes I’ve wondered why people live in such cold climates where they get 30 feet of snow. But I haven’t seen snow is so long, it would be exciting for a little while.


    1. The UP was settled by Scandinavians, primarily Finlanders. I had a Physics teacher in high school who grew up there who was very proud of his Finnish heritage. The same is true of Northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. It’s in their blood…


  3. Ah, the good ol’ days of tapes and punch-cards. I like the present much better and love having a hand held computer. Eat your heart out Spock!


    1. The “good old days” weren’t all that great, as it turns out. I’m glad we’re past that, although things the way they are now have their own problems, don’t they?


  4. Thinking out of the box…it’s a must at a lot of jobs…including mine. It feels great when it works.


  5. Your ingenuity was superb. It doesn’t surprise me though from what I’ve learned from your posts and comments. Your ability to ‘think outside of the box’ (or beyond the stretch marks) is clear. Bravo and cheers!


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