Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A bug in the system . . .

Martha note: We battle many adversaries in the world of public radio, but none more baffling than the one Matt  Bingay, WMRA Program Director and techno-whiz, confronted over the weekend. If you were listening on Saturday morning (and who wasn't) you may have noticed that our programing was a little -- how shall I put this? -- different.

I asked Matt to tell the story as he lived it . . .
A Bug in the System
Matt Bingay here… thought you’d like to know why we were unable to present this week’s Car Talk and Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me this past Saturday morning.  It’s something that happens maybe once in a decade, if even that, and it took us 3 hours to figure it out.  Basically, our entire link to the public radio system almost came to a crashing halt on Saturday because of the Hymenoptera Apocrita, otherwise known as the Wasp. 

Without going into too much detail, we were unable to receive new programs, and we began trouble shooting the system.  It might help to know that our system involves many computers, a few servers and a satellite link.  After rebooting, testing and rebooting again…  we got a call from a tech specialist at NPR.  This was someone on-call for the most complex of emergencies only… and he said, “sounds like you’ve got bees.”

Bees are not the first thing that come to mind when one begins vetting a complex technical system.  However, we were at our wits' end and decided to humor him.  Dan and I walked outside and starred at the feed horn on our 15-foot satellite dish.  Everything seemed fine, but after 5 minutes of gazing up at a small space-age looking cone, I saw the culprit.  A wasp lazily flew up to the little hole in the center of the feed horn and walked right in.  My jaw dropped.  Car Talk disrupted, Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me compromised and a Saturday afternoon of IT agita, thanks to a busy group of wasps.

We then called our engineer, Bill Fawcett, who dropped his afternoon plans to come in and remove the offending nest.  He pulled out a ladder, sprayed the wasps, removed the nest with a screw driver and that was it.  The signal was restored and all systems returned to normal.

I’ve heard the proverb, “for want of a nail, the Kingdom was lost,” but this is the first time I’ve almost lived it.

-          Matt
This is the nest that took out Saturday morning programming

And please, if you live in Virginia's 26th District, don't forget to vote! This is not a primary! Tomorrow either Carolyn Frank (I), Tony Wilt (R), or Kai Degner (D) will represent the district in Virginia's General Assembly.


  1. So funny! Bill Fawcett, bee slayer.

  2. As I spotted him on the ladder, Bill explained (screwdriver in one hand, spraycan in the other) that the waves could pass through the dry nest, but not through the moisture laden wasp larvae. Fascinating creatures, wasps and engineers.