Binary Dinosaurs Computer Museum
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Tandata PA
It seems that anyone who knows the PA knows it's achilles heel - the following message
Resetting machine, All data Lost.
      Very, very Sorry
Over to Boc again, with some surprising info:
The PA was designed with a Unix-inspired OS and filing system (v7,
what else - of course we were not just Unix nerds but Unix snobs). We
had to write the entire system; the concept of free-to-use
public-domain source was yet to be invented. Our end result was
something that was orders of magnitude more complicated that the
page-based filing system of the older terminals. Then, along came the
"machine gun to the filing system" bug. Our response to the bug (later
discovered to not be a bug at all, but a hardware issue) was two fold
- 1) find the bug, 2) when the PA encountered the problem, get the PA
to fix itself via a reimplementation of the unix programme fsck "file
system consistency check").

Our version of fsck was implemented by our system architect in less
than a week in a burst jaw-dropping ability - the real unix v7 fsck
took much much longer to write than one man-week! I would categorise
the entire team as exceptionally talented but the system architect was
in a league of his own. When a problem was detected the program would
carefully repair what damage it could – it would often run for 15
minutes or more, and if it could restore any data at all, no matter
how partial, it would. But, the damage that could be caused by the bug
was sometimes so great that even this programme could not recover the
data. So he programmed in the “very very sorry” message if fsck
finally failed.

When I first saw the message I was mortified. It was so
unprofessional. I asked him to remove it. I was the project manager
and the team leader so it was my call. He refused. So the Design
Director asked him to remove it. He refused again. Eventually, there
was the group MD, plus the Design Director, plus me in a room with him
- asking, cajoling, arguing. He still refused. His argument, as I came
to understand it, was that the apology was not a corporate one. It was
from him personally, to the individual user who had just lost
hours/days/months of data, and he had let down.


So they asked me to remove it. As a team member as well as team
leader, I could have done it in 15s flat. I refused – it would have
been disrespectful to the guy no matter how much I disagreed with him.
So the group MD stormed upstairs to the lab, and asked the entire team
to remove it. No one did.


So the message stayed. Over the months and years that followed, I
sometimes took calls from users who were very angry. Usually, they had
just lost some very valuable data, and hence were desperately phoning
the manufacturer. They often saw the very very sorry message as
cynical or a joke. I had to explain that we were not joking, that we
were professionals, but if they saw the message it meant we had tried
our very best and that all their data, no matter how important, was
indeed lost. And every time I saw the message, I got a little tingle
of embarrassment about how unprofessional it was. Every. Single. Time.
But we never removed it.
But! Whilst browsing the ROMs of this machine I came across some intriguing messages:
press 'play' and 'record',
press any key to continue
Please rewind the tape,
press 'play',
Tape Recorder check? (y/n):
Skipping leader...
The writeups said there was no local backup available, so what gives? Over to Boc:
The PA always had cassette backup, but in a professional machine it
was seen as an “enthusiastic amateur” feature and solidly ignored by
Tandata Management and Sales. The key element as far as they were
concerned was the I/O port on the back, engineered specifically to
take a floppy disk controller we never designed.
So there you have it, it WAS possible to save all your data but telling people about it was nixed. In hindsight I think that's a terrible shame.

All images and text © Adrian Graham 1999-2019 unless otherwise noted using words. Also on