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Big Red Button Disasters? 508

FredDC asks: "The Daily WTF has a story about a Big Red Button disaster. What Big Red Button disasters have you experienced? Which ones have you caused? Are there any that you've heard about, or do you know of any that can happen any day now?"
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Big Red Button Disasters?

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  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by hahafaha ( 844574 ) * <> on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @07:48PM (#19060363)
    When I was a young child, I found a fire alarm, and, with my father screaming ``No!'' in the background, proceeded to pull it. This is right after we moved to America from Russia, and dealing with the fire department, while barely understanding what they are saying, must have sucked.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I pulled the fire alarm at my aunt's wedding reception. I was just learning to read and all I could figure out was the 'fir' part. I thought it was strange that this switch on the wall had something to do with trees and.... my mom found me hiding in a dumpster in the parking lot.
      • Re:Well... (Score:4, Funny)

        by Poltras ( 680608 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:10PM (#19061721) Homepage
        I submitted a story before, on january 27th, 2007 to be more exact. It got published on the front page by may 9th. Talk about an experience!
        • Re:Well... (Score:5, Funny)

          by beckerist ( 985855 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @07:51AM (#19065193) Homepage
          I was 6 and the manager at my local bank was in a meeting with my mother. He let me play in the next office over, and what did my young inquisitive eyes find, but a nice big red button, right there on the floor!!! I pushed it, of course as that's what I do, and next thing I know a cop is rubbing my head asking me what grade I'm in. I never admitted to pushing the button outright though.

          3 weeks later my uncle approached me (remember, I'm 6): "I heard you pushed a grey button under the desk at the bank last month!"

          My response: No! It was red! *busted*
    • ...on the way to the toilets.

      It is on a chain that goes way up to the roof... ...and some pipes.... ...this used to be a factory... ...compressed air? Sprinkler valve? What?

      I don't know.

      I wonder, I wonder.

      Other people wonder.

      Maybe it has been pulled many times? Maybe someone will pull it and sprinkle all the PCs? Maybe someone pulls it and we all get flushed down the intertubes. (Funny, my kids have never seen a toilet with a chain)

      Life is full of little puzzlements.

      (It all goes wrong tomorrow, IT WASN'T ME! I HAVE RESISTED TEMPTATION FOR YEARS NOW!)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Divebus ( 860563 )

      A large video post production facility was using a space which used to belong to Sperry Univac years before. They had all the big red emergency power shutoff buttons on the wall which we covered with a guard. One new employee asked what those big red buttons did and someone answered "if you push it, the clowns come out". Sure enough, before anyone could tackle him, he yanked the guard off and pushed the button. Put us out of business for an hour.

      Sidebar: my Uncle used to work for Univac as a system trouble

  • by Sorthum ( 123064 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @07:49PM (#19060365) Homepage
    ...thinks that datacenters should be open to ANYONE besides critical staff? At work, we don't even let the janitor in...
    • by Shag ( 3737 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @07:52PM (#19060401)

      At work, we don't even let the janitor in...
      Ah yes, the corporate version of "But mom, I don't want you to clean my room."
      • by Fulcrum of Evil ( 560260 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @02:57AM (#19063691)
        Are you going to trust someone who makes $7/hr running a vacuum with the fate of $Millions in hardware that he probably has no clue about (or else he wouldn't be a janitor)? I wouldn't - we let a cleaner into our secure room once a year (under supervision), only because it's mostly terminals. Yes, we take out our own trash.
        • by nahdude812 ( 88157 ) * on Thursday May 10, 2007 @08:48AM (#19065699) Homepage

          he probably has no clue about (or else he wouldn't be a janitor)?

          Fresh out of high school I was a janitor who happened to clean the data center at a big business. I was in this job because I needed to raise money for college (it paid $12/hr believe it or not, which was a fair sight better than pretty much any other job I could have landed at the time). It was a foot in the door, and I eventually worked my way through college and up the corporate ladder in the very same company. Now I'm responsible for the servers which occupy that same space which I used to clean.

          Fortunately the guys working in the data center weren't as narrow-minded as you; while working as a janitor I would regularly take a few minutes to help them diagnose some problem with their Windows boxes or just help them put together some new hardware. While it's possible they were patronizing me because they saw in me some spark of what they saw in themselves, I also genuinely believe that they were grateful for the assistance, and at the very least at least they didn't judge me because of my position in life.

          I have never since worked as hard in my life as I did while a janitor. I have never since in my life been looked down on by as many people. You cannot imagine how being constantly surrounded by people who look down on you saps your self confidence and opinion of yourself. Working to clean the filth that other people generate, and in service to these people, they will often not even acknowledge your presence even if you address them directly. It was one of the worst periods of my life, and I also regard it as one of the most valuable.

          Today I use people's attitude toward janitorial or maintenance staff as a litmus test of their personal character and it has yet to let me down. For example, once while interviewing a job candidate, the janitor came into the room to empty the trashcans. The candidate showed obvious distaste, and I recommended against this person for the job. They got the job in spite of my recommendation, but within 8 months they were shown the door; this same attitude, which they were not even able to mask during an interview infested the rest of their inter-personal relationships. They were a nightmare to work with or even just be around.

          Whenever you think you are better than someone else because of what they do or because of who they are, that self-same thought makes it not so.
    • by Nutria ( 679911 )
      ...thinks that datacenters should be open to ANYONE besides critical staff?

      Like Operators who are more than occasionally dumb as rocks?

      Besides, haven't you read the story of why BRS protectors are called molly-guards?

    • When I was at Purdue, an engineering club was given an office with a big yellow button on the wall. Late one night... figuring it couldn't be connected to anything... and slap-happy from studying late... someone hit the button and took down the whole engineering computing network :)
  • by rbanzai ( 596355 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @07:56PM (#19060437)
    I was doing I.T. support for a 400 person call center. In the server room there was a Big Red Button that was very clearly labeled "EMERGENCY POWER SHUT-OFF" near one of the sets of double-doors.

    A technician from U.S. Worst had finished his work in the server room and on his way out he hit the Big Red Button thinking that would open the doors, like at a hospital.

    Hilarity ensued.

    Later that day I printed out several mock "Big Red Buttons" on sheets of paper to use as decoys next time the tech had to visit.
    • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:00PM (#19060493)
      I work in a datacenter, and while I can appreciate the need for the EPO in emergency situations (fires, etc), I think they should need more then a push (perhaps a turn and a push) to prevent accidental power offs. Several fire alarm triggers I've seen through my career have a two stage process (lift and pull, turn and push, etc) to prevent accidental triggers, and I hope to see this carried over to EPOs someday.
      • Don't many EPOs reside behind the old "In case of fire, break glass"? That sounds relatively foolproof.
        • Some, but not all. Two data centers in Chicago that I manage equipment at (both carrier facilities) don't cover the EPO with any sort of plastic/glass.
        • by BluBrick ( 1924 )
          You'd think so, wouldn't you? I didn't work at this particular site at the time, and it may be an amalgamation of several anecdotes into one urban legend, but read on...

          An apprentice electrician did the old "absent-mindedly press the EPO beside the door" trick, plunging the site into blackout. After that, the computer room manager decided to prevent any recurrence of the same, by covering the EPO with a clear plastic hood that bore several obvious warnings and required a concerted effort to lift before g

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ptbarnett ( 159784 )
          Don't many EPOs reside behind the old "In case of fire, break glass"? That sounds relatively foolproof.

          Yes, but not until after someone has accidentally pushed it.

          We had an EPO button near the door, as required by code. But, it had no guard at all on it -- not even a shroud that required you to press the button with a thumb (instead of the heel of your hand).

          We usually stacked boxes of continuous feed paper (for a line printer) against the wall, on the other side of the EPO button from the door. On

      • by spikedvodka ( 188722 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @09:32PM (#19061373)
        Working at a computer center, I think the best design I've seen was the "Big Red Button" was actually 2 buttons, spaced far enough apart that you couldn't hit them both at once with on hand, but close enough together that they were obviously related. They were also much higher off the raised floor than any other switches, and clearly marked.
        • THNTD (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) * <> on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @11:28PM (#19062353) Homepage Journal
          Working at a computer center, I think the best design I've seen was the "Big Red Button" was actually 2 buttons, spaced far enough apart that you couldn't hit them both at once with on hand, but close enough together that they were obviously related. They were also much higher off the raised floor than any other switches, and clearly marked.

          Just as trivia, that type of circuit is common on industrial equipment (think of the big press from the end scene in Terminator 1) and is called a Two-Hand No-Tie-Down. Basically there are two switches, and they have to both be depressed within a certain interval in order to close the circuit (generally 0.5s or so). If you "tie down" one of the switches, or have something leaning against it, or whatever, pressing the second switch won't trigger (otherwise it would be just a simple AND gate).

          The circuits to do it are pretty standard and easily available. What's cooler, is that you can actually get a basically-identical circuit that uses compressed air or other gas instead of electricity (for use in chemical plants and other explosive atmospheres). One of the cooler things I've gotten to see made was a pneumatic "circuit board" cut out of Lucite for this purpose. I've always thought they would make a nice demonstration device for teaching kids about electronic circuits.

    • by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @09:13PM (#19061203) Homepage
      There are big red buttons at the power station that kill the plant and are designed to stop all rotating machinery extremely fast. Turbines with a 10 minute cooldown cycle stop in something like 30s with the big red button. The power grid is designed to cope with such an immediate loss of supply- the grid controllers maintain a "spinning reserve" that is greater than the capacity of the the single largest plant. If one plant should happen to have a sudden mishap then nothing happens, an already running plant takes up the slack. But if two large power plants were to simultaneously kick off grid at the same moment on a very hot day bad things could happen.

      There were a couple days last summer where there was no spare capacity in the Northeast. It was simply so hot that all the AC's were cranked and the grid was saturated in many places. This year should be interesting.
      • by epine ( 68316 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:49PM (#19061999)
        Back in the early 1980s I heard a story on my second co-op work term from a former Dow Chemical contractor about an incident I believe took place somewhere in Ontario. The Dow site operated a large generator of its own, and the generator was monitored by four VAXes running FFTs continuously to detect any unusual vibrations. One day the VAX cluster lit up a few warning lights, the control engineer inexplicably paniced, and despite much training to the contrary, pressed exactly the wrong big red button. The improper shutdown cracked or damaged the giant rotor.

        To make things worse, I was told there was a industrial fatality in the aftermath when a panel was removed from a region of the generator that hadn't been properly depressurized. Then they determined that the required replacement rotor was too large to legally truck into Ontario over any public roadway from the U.S. based factory where it originated. I was told they ended up doing a very complex comedy-cops operation under cover of darkness with many scouts and radios, but they did finally get it up and running again, months later.

        This was well before the internet so I wasn't able to check out any of the details at the time, and it was a fairly small (yet costly) accident as these things go. I was surprised at the use of VAXes for grinding FFTs, as they seemed rather underpowered in raw CPU relative to other solutions from that era, though maybe not at the time the generator was first commissioned.
      • by slashdotmsiriv ( 922939 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @01:36AM (#19063263)
        Arguably the biggest shutdown-button screw-up in history ...

        From [] :

        "At 1:23:04 the experiment began. The unstable state of the reactor was not reflected in any way on the control panel, and it did not appear that anyone in the reactor crew was fully aware of any danger. Steam to the turbines was shut off and, as the momentum of the turbine generator drove the water pumps, the water flow rate decreased, decreasing the absorption of neutrons by the coolant. The turbine was disconnected from the reactor, increasing the level of steam in the reactor core. As the coolant heated, pockets of steam formed voids in the coolant lines. Due to the RBMK reactor-type's large positive void coefficient, the steam bubbles increased the power of the reactor rapidly, and the reactor operation became progressively less stable and more dangerous. As the reaction continued, the excess xenon-135 was burnt up, increasing the number of neutrons available for fission. The prior removal of manual and automatic control rods had no substitute, leading to a runaway reaction.

        At 1:23:40 the operators pressed the AZ-5 ("Rapid Emergency Defense 5") button that ordered a "SCRAM" - a shutdown of the reactor, fully inserting all control rods, including the manual control rods that had been incautiously withdrawn earlier. It is unclear whether it was done as an emergency measure, or simply as a routine method of shutting down the reactor upon the completion of an experiment (the reactor was scheduled to be shut down for routine maintenance). It is usually suggested that the SCRAM was ordered as a response to the unexpected rapid power increase. On the other hand, Anatoly Dyatlov, chief engineer at the nuclear station at the time of the accident, writes in his book:

        "Prior to 01:23:40, systems of centralized control ... didn't register any parameter changes that could justify the SCRAM. Commission ... gathered and analyzed large amount of materials and, as stated in its report, failed to determine the reason why the SCRAM was ordered. There was no need to look for the reason. The reactor was simply being shut down upon the completion of the experiment."

        The slow speed of the control rod insertion mechanism (18-20 seconds to complete), and the flawed rod design which initially reduces the amount of coolant present, meant that the SCRAM actually increased the reaction rate. At this point an energy spike occurred and some of the fuel rods began to fracture, placing fragments of the fuel rods in line with the control rod columns. The rods became stuck after being inserted only one-third of the way, and were therefore unable to stop the reaction. At this point nothing could be done to stop the disaster. By 1:23:47 the reactor jumped to around 30 GW, ten times the normal operational output. The fuel rods began to melt and the steam pressure rapidly increased, causing a large steam explosion. Generated steam traveled vertically along the rod channels in the reactor, displacing and destroying the reactor lid, rupturing the coolant tubes and then blowing a hole in the roof.[7] After part of the roof blew off, the inrush of oxygen, combined with the extremely high temperature of the reactor fuel and graphite moderator, sparked a graphite fire. This fire greatly contributed to the spread of radioactive material and the contamination of outlying areas ... "

  • Alex tends to use hyperbole A LOT when editing a story for posting on WTF. :)
  • Stimpy, don't press the red button! []
  • by Shag ( 3737 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:03PM (#19060515)
    ~> ftp www.workplace.domain
    Connected to www.workplace.domain.
    220 Microsoft FTP Service
    Name: shag
    331 Password required for shag.
    230 User shag logged in.
    Remote system type is Windows_NT.
    ftp> cd /mis-typed/path
    550 /mis-typed/path: The system cannot find the file specified.
    ftp> put index.html
    local: index.html remote: index.html
    227 Entering Passive Mode.
    125 Data connection already open; Transfer starting.
    226 Transfer complete.

    The realization that one has just overwritten a public-facing, high-traffic /index.html with something that was supposed to be a couple levels down is bad enough.

    It's worse when /index.html is owned by someone else entirely. Someone who now must be woken up in the middle of the night, in a different country...

    After I did this two or three times, I decided to stop being such a hardcore geek and got an FTP application with a GUI.
  • A QA Intern Story... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:04PM (#19060539)
    I was a QA intern at Fujitsu working on the WorldsAway [] chat world when I discovered a rare crash bug with a new artist tool that I could reproduce successfully but my boss couldn't. Since the tool was supposed to be used on the test server only, my boss approved release of the update to the production server. Everything was fine for a day before the production server started crashing. Turns out that the artists were creating new content on the production server instead of the test server and using the new tool that caused the crashes. The production server was shut down for three days a complete code rewrite was required and Fujitsu lost $250,000 USD in revenue. My boss kept his job as he led the programming team to rewrite the code. I, on the other hand, was given two weeks notice that my six month contract wasn't going to be renewed. Two weeks after I left the company, one-third of the division was laid off to pay for the lost revenue.
    • by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:32PM (#19060849) Homepage Journal
      Wait a second. You, as a QA engineer, find a crashing bug in a piece of software you didn't write, you report it to your boss who decides, "What Could Possibly Go Wrong?"... And it's your ass that gets canned?


    • Worlds Away was jinxed. It started life as "Habitat," a partnership between Lucasfilm Games and Quantum Computer Corporation, aka Quantum Link. After a brilliant beta test, Quantum gutted it and released something called "Club Caribe" with the game engine. It turns out they wanted to reclaim space on the mainframe for America Online v1.0.

      Lucas also produced a standalone game with the engine: Maniac Mansion.

      The codebase for Worlds Away is now owned by a tiny operator called Vzones. They operate several world
  • We had a literal Big Red Button near the door to our (small) data center at my last job. My boss and I didn't know what it was for, although we guessed it was a shut-off for the power to the entire room. Our APCs at that time could only keep things running for about 30 minutes, tops.

    We never did push the button, but after a couple years my boss had maintenance physically remove the button, just to get rid of the temptation. :)
  • by Dimwit ( 36756 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:08PM (#19060583)
    Wow, I haven't posted in forever.

    Anyway, we did a big datacenter migration at my last company. I'm not going to name names, but it's a Fortune 100 company based in Austin, TX. The move was happening because we built our own building with our own datacenter.

    As part of the technical staff (network engineering/security), I was given a tour of the new datacenter before it opened. My boss and assorted other folks were on the tour. My boss, by the way, was a huge...jerk.

    The electrician showed us the Big Red Buttons by each of the exit doors. He also said that each of the Power Distribution Units (of which there were three) had a Big Red Button that would cut power to just the areas powered by that unit.

    My boss said, not jokingly, "If you need to cut power in an emergency, see if you can figure out which PDU is involved and just cut that one, so we don't lose the whole datacenter."

    I piped up: "If I'm getting 220 across my nipples, cut the whole damn room. I really don't care enough about the company to die. I can see my epitaph now: 'Here lies Dimwit. He died saving two-thirds of the datacenter.'"

    Man, if looks could kill.
    • by Phroon ( 820247 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @12:40AM (#19062889) Homepage

      I'm not going to name names, but it's a Fortune 100 company based in Austin, TX.

      You just did. It's Dell [].

      They are the only Fortune 100 company based anywhere near Austin, TX (they are actually based Round Rock, about 20 miles from Austin). Though, there are two other Fortune 500s in Austin; Whole Foods Market at #411 and Temple-Inland at #414.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by hey! ( 33014 )

      I piped up: "If I'm getting 220 across my nipples, cut the whole damn room. I really don't care enough about the company to die. I can see my epitaph now: 'Here lies Dimwit. He died saving two-thirds of the datacenter.'"

      Obviously, you were in the wrong line of work. You should be working for the State Department.
  • Small Red Button (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LiquidCoooled ( 634315 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:17PM (#19060691) Homepage Journal
    All new keyboards have a single key Shutdown/sleep thing.

    Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh @ little fingers.
    I either rip the bastard thing right off the board or dig out the regkey thingy to disable it.
  • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:19PM (#19060705)
    to tell people that "Halon" is French for "Exit," so if they ever get locked in the data center, they know how to get out.
  • First Job Ever (Score:5, Interesting)

    by daeg ( 828071 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:20PM (#19060719)
    I was told to fix an invalid credit card number in the database. I didn't design it, I just worked there, so don't knock me for storing credit card numbers. Although what I did "fixed" that security problem...

    update customer_cc set card_number = '1234567890123456';
    Woops. Backups were corrupt, too (not my task). Needless to say, it suddenly became a "security feature" that we stopped storing credit card numbers.
    • Could you explain what that command does to those of us who aren't database monkeys? From context I gather that it changed all the card numbers in the database?
      • Re:First Job Ever (Score:4, Informative)

        by _Hellfire_ ( 170113 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @09:30PM (#19061357)
        UPDATE does the obvious, but what the OP neglected was the WHERE clause, which restricts the update to just the rows you want to modify.


        update customer_cc set card_number = '1234567890123456';

        Will set *every* customer's card_number to '1234567890123456'

        It should really be

        update customer_cc set card_number = '1234567890123456' where index = 1445;

        assuming the column named "index" is a unique identifier for the row (number 1445) you want to change.

        It's an easy mistake to make - but it can have devastating consequences.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Blakey Rat ( 99501 )
          That's why you always write the WHERE clause first, then top it with a "SELECT" and look at the dataset to make sure it's what you want, THEN type "UPDATE."

          I guess every new database programmer has done this at least once, but yeah.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Eivind ( 15695 )
            delete from tblcustomer

            Also is not precisely the same as the intended delete from tblcustomer where customerid = 1783.

            Figured that out the hard way.

            Still not quite as funny as the co-worker of mine that managed to justify /etc/passwd (as in line-wrapping it at 80 cols). Don't even ask what he was doing in there with a text-editor in the first place...

  • Two actually (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bernywork ( 57298 ) * <bstapleton@gmail. c o m> on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:20PM (#19060727) Journal
    1) I was working with a friend of mine, and we were setting up the graceful shutdown of the servers after getting all the UPS on the network.
    He manually tripped the battery low condition with the intention that the UPS would abort the shutdown when the power came good again. Nope, all the servers were triggered for shutdown (Couldn't abort on the UPS or the servers) and had to be rebooted. The best part was that the UPS sent commands to another site for servers to shutdown there. We had to phone another data centre and get them to go power on the servers after we quickly faxed through forms telling them what they had to do (Cabinet number, server name etc)

    2) Another job, I had just wired up a big red button next to the door in the new data centre (Someone had forgotten to install one, so I had to do it on a weekend). Well, one of the guys who I worked with phoned me up asking me if the switch was connected. I told him it was, and that I hadn't installed the Molly Guard yet, but was going to do it after I finished all the testing when I got back from lunch. He said OK, and hung up. He got it into himself to finish the testing to save me the time. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn't have been a problem, pulling apart APC UPS units wasn't a major concern to us at this point. What he assumed had happened however was that I had left the toggle switch for test on. No, I hadn't. The switch worked and was live in case it needed to be used (It was there for a reason, just because I am a block down the street getting lunch doesn't mean that it might not have a purpose as far as I am concerned). About 5 mins later, he phones me back up and asks if I can come back to the office, I say "Sure, not a problem, what's going on? The SQL server not patching?" (Something else we were doing that day) "I am in the data centre". At this point in time, I realise that normally I am asking him to walk out of the data centre cause it's too noisy. Glad it was the weekend and there wasn't much going on.

    I have also had a UPS engineer blow dust into a VESDA [] and we had a few fire trucks turn up, but that wasn't big red button issue.
  • by pruneau ( 208454 ) <pruneau@gma i l . com> on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:24PM (#19060765) Journal
    X was the field-support manager assigned to this brand new american customer (cell provider), using this brand new product of us (big telco badass). X was doing crazy hours, getting all the support calls firsthand (which where numerous and any time in the day/night) before dispatching them to the techies (us).
    On top of the support calls, he was of course getting his daily "yelling at escalation managment party conference call" because not everything was smooth, needless to say. For instance, that brand new customer was brand new to deploying a cell phone infrastructure: bad planning, downtime, crazy schedule were the least of their problems. To add some icing to this merry cake, our switching software was quite new as well, and prone to er, quirks?

    Talk about a recipe for wide-scale disaster ;-)

    But this day, instead of storming to the next support specialist to wearily beg for some random node reboot, X was running to each and everyone desk, doing his grand floor tour, smiling like a madmam, yelling for everyone to hear:
    "They shut off the switch, they shut off the ***** switch, I tell you".
    Turns out some cleaning lady tried to shut the **light** off after a good floor-cleaning session, but when for the BIG SWITCH, the one with the big conspicuous red handle, labelled "MAIN POWER - DO NOT..."
    X did not get his yellint at party this day, and possibly a few days afterward.

    (No real names was used, because all the abovementionned companies are still operating as of today:)

  • by micpp ( 818596 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:25PM (#19060775) Homepage
    You know the submission queue is slow when by the time the story is posted the site has changed its name.
  • The kind man who gave us Explorer Scouts the tour of the IBM Federal Data Center in Gaithersburg, MD (literally acres of machine room floor) said:

    "Don't touch that red switch. Really don't. It takes us days to recover."


    "Well, you actually have to *pull* the knob." (Why he gave half a dozen computer-starved teenagers that knowledge, I have no idea).

    On IBM systems, apparently there's a knife of some kind that physically severs the power cables. It's a mess.
  • A few jobs ago I had just gone about nine hours trying to find a problem with an application running on a Solaris box. It was frustrated, and had not gotten much sleep the night before. Anyway, I needed a smoke but I saw one of the directors outside the server room (through the glass in the main doors), thought better about it, turned around and still deep in thought about the problem proceeded to open one of the emergency exit doors that used to lead to the loading dock areas. Despite the "ALARM WILL SOUND
  • by mccalli ( 323026 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:29PM (#19060817) Homepage
    Around ten years ago I was looking to rent a house in Park Royal, London with a couple of friends. We went into a decent house on Twyford Abbey Road for those that know the area (just off Hanger Lane Gyratory).

    The landlord was abroad in Tokyo, so it was just ourselves and the agent. Nice house, but whilst looking around we saw a big red button in the main bedroom. For those to whom it's obvious what the purpose was, at that time it was my first encounter with such a device - first encounter for all of us in fact. And so, with the agent waiting downstairs, the conversation went...

    Friend 1: "What's that for?"
    Me: "I say we press it. That's what big red buttons are -for-."*
    Friend 2: "ok" (presses button)

    The next scene - pandemonium as the alarms all round the house go off. It's a panic button of course - we'd never come across one at that point, so we pressed it anyway. Up runs the estate agent to find out what we'd done. We tell him - yep, love the house. We'll take it. Oh, the alarm thing? That's fine, it's because we pressed this big red button. Ah - the owner's in Tokyo and you don't know the code? And it's -what- time in Tokyo? Hmm. Err...

    And out the house we went, as fast as possible. And away we drove, again as fast as possible. We'd left the agent in charge of a screaming house, which every neighbour for a mile must have heard, and with absolutely no way to shut the alarm off for several hours. It was, as the saying goes, time to be somewhere else.

    Still took the house though - lived there for a few years, enjoyed it actually.


    *I was actually quoting a friend of mine, who in turn says he was quoting some film or comic. If you happen to know the source of the quote, I'd be interested to hear it.
  • Using jed or emacs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:38PM (#19060905)
    I wanted to delete temp files that my editor created it did so by putting a ~ at the end of it. FileName~
    I also had some directories I wanted deleted so I renamed them with a ~ at the end as well So I can delete them in one swoop.

    So I was in a rush and didn't want to be warned because I had about 50 or so Temp Files so I did a /bin/rm -rf * ~

    That one acedental space whiped out all the files and folder in that directory then preceded to begin deleteing all the files in my home directory as well. I suck most because I had a 1000 line HTML code I just finished (This was in the days before dependable Javascript and CSS). I spent the rest of the day shifting thew the Cache files on my windows box for IE and Netscape for Windows testing. I was able to get most of it back, but man that was a bad day.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MirthScout ( 247854 )
      For a fun variation of this:
      Say you want to delete all of the hidden files in a user's home directory. Quite naturally, as root, you type:
      rm -rf .*

      At some point you will realise this is taking far longer than it should. You have plenty of time to think about what just happened while you restore your filesystem from backup or reinstall.
  • by MrDelSarto ( 95771 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @08:41PM (#19060941) Homepage
    I used to work help-desk, and late at night there would only be two people in the quite large building - me and one of the operators. Anyone who as worked with "ops" knows they generally turn a bit strange due to them working nights with nobody around and only DAT tapes for company.

    So anyway, there is this big fire alarm panel with tons of buttons that we never really thought about, until one night when it started beeping constantly. The ops guy found a key to it, and then we both stood there looking at the probably 60 buttons and flashing lights, etc. Personally, I would have chosen one of the black buttons marked "mute", but the ops guy went straight for the biggest red one on the board.

    The result was more beeping, lots of red lights and about 5 fire-engines.
  • My "Big Red Button Day" occurred due to a new employee on a government program at Peterson AFB. He was escorting the cleaning people around our office area and datacenter. Part of the task is to turn on flashing red lights to let people know that there are uncleared people in the room. When he escorted them into the datacenter, he saw "The Big Red Button" (covered, but unlabeled at the time) and thought, "Red button turns on red light".

    Unfortunately, our office area was built on the computer room floor w
  • by waa ( 159514 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @09:38PM (#19061447) Homepage
    While not an official "Big Red Button" story I think it is worth telling.

    In 1999 while I was working as a private consultant for the capitol city of a small New England state, a colleague of mine was attempting to make a change to the city's core switches. Per usual with this guy, he over-sold his skill set and was way out of his league - while never willing to admit it.

    Meanwhile, I was working in the server room on the squid web caching server while he was attempting the change...

    I kept hearing him say things like "I wonder what this command does", and "I wonder what the reset command means. Should I enter it?"

    Suddenly I was no longer ssh'ed into the proxy server... I looked up and asked "What the hell did you do?"

    His answer: "I entered the reset command"
    Me: "Well, fix it. Restore the configuration. It looks like you just reset EVERYTHING..."

    Well, needless to say, there was NO saved configuration to restore, and no documentation for the city's network nor the equipment installed, and on this equipment the reset command was the command to reset it to its default settings. (BTW, he entered the reset command on the core switch) There were several local switches (connected via copper), and many fiber connections to all the remote departments across the city - several fire departments, the main police department, city hall, you name it... All off-line.

    In the end, the city's network was DOWN for 3-4 full days while he contacted qualified people to attempt to rebuild the network...

    We would have been better off if he had hit the big red button near the sliding glass door at the server room's exit.


    P.S. I am pretty sure he blamed it all on me.

  • Act One

    Big test floor, where several large (multi-million dollar) computer systems are being configured and tested before shipment to the customer.

    Tall skinny hyperactive developer (no, not me, I was just an observor) leaning against the wall of the test floor, actually *fiddling with* the Big Red Button.

    Someone suggests that he ought not do that. He promises to be careful.

    Act Two

    Five minutes later. All the power has just gone out. It's amazing how quiet it is all of a sudden. Everyone is looking over at the tall skinny developer with his hand on the Big Red Button.

    No words are spoken.

    Act Three

    Half an hour later. Electrician is leading the tall skinny developer around as he turns on each part of the power system in the right order. CEO and various unmollified developers watching. Back by the door, guy from facilities is bolting a flap over the Big Red Button.

  • Almost.
    The guy I work for helpfully logged me into a root mysql prompt on the main db server, then told me not to change anything and left for the rest of the day. All I was doing was fixing some AJAX code.
    First thing I did was panic and stab the xterm to death with ctrl+D.
  • But a little red switch. During class, I was sitting in the first row and stretching out a bit. I turns out the power strip was down there. Unfortunately, the smartboard and projector just happen to be plugged into the power strip. I cut off the instructor mid lecture. Even though I had worked with the professor outside of school and got along with him well, I've never seen him look so annoyed, except when a cell phone went off in class. Thought I was going to be kicked out.
  • by Scutter ( 18425 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @09:59PM (#19061629) Journal
    This story has been around for years and years. In case you haven't heard it, here it is again.

    Magic Switch Story

    Some years ago, I was snooping around in the cabinets that housed the MIT AI Lab's PDP-10, and noticed a little switch glued to the frame of one cabinet. It was obviously a homebrew job, added by one of the lab's hardware hackers (no-one knows who).

    You don't touch an unknown switch on a computer without knowing what it does, because you might crash the computer. The switch was labelled in a most unhelpful way. It had two positions, and scrawled in pencil on the metal switch body were the words "magic" and "more magic". The switch was in the "more magic" position.

    I called another hacker over to look at it. He had never seen the switch before either. Closer examination revealed that the switch had only one wire running to it! The other end of the wire did disappear into the maze of wires inside the computer, but it's a basic fact of electricity that a switch can't do anything unless there are two wires connected to it. This switch had a wire connected on one side and no wire on its other side.

    It was clear that this switch was someone's idea of a silly joke. Convinced by our reasoning that the switch was inoperative, we flipped it. The computer instantly crashed.

    Imagine our utter astonishment. We wrote it off as coincidence, but nevertheless restored the switch to the "more magic" position before reviving the computer.

    A year later, I told this story to yet another hacker, David Moon as I recall. He clearly doubted my sanity, or suspected me of a supernatural belief in the power of this switch, or perhaps thought I was fooling him with a bogus saga. To prove it to him, I showed him the very switch, still glued to the cabinet frame with only one wire connected to it, still in the "more magic" position. We scrutinized the switch and its lone connection, and found that the other end of the wire, though connected to the computer wiring, was connected to a ground pin. That clearly made the switch doubly useless: not only was it electrically nonoperative, but it was connected to a place that couldn't affect anything anyway. So we flipped the switch.

    The computer promptly crashed.

    This time we ran for Richard Greenblatt, a long-time MIT hacker, who was close at hand. He had never noticed the switch before, either. He inspected it, concluded it was useless, got some diagonal cutters and diked it out. We then revived the computer and it has run fine ever since.

    We still don't know how the switch crashed the machine. There is a theory that some circuit near the ground pin was marginal, and flipping the switch changed the electrical capacitance enough to upset the circuit as millionth-of-a-second pulses went through it. But we'll never know for sure; all we can really say is that the switch was magic.

    I still have that switch in my basement. Maybe I'm silly, but I usually keep it set on "more magic".


    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Hmm. Ive never seen this story before.

      I do have one idea: The ground from the wire was not absolute ground. If it was relative ground, and linked to absolute ground, it would, for sure, crash the machine.

      Magic sparks fly when you hook up on a TV the chassis ground with the "ground plug" ground.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by munpfazy ( 694689 )
      Great story.

      My attempt at scripting a plausible origin:

      "Hey Bob - it looks like that 100 MHz crap on the line goes away if we let the front chassis panel float."
      "Great. Problem solved. Just isolate the panel and let's forget about it."
      "Okay, but let's add a switch just in case we ever want to change back. Say, what luck - this old toggle switch shorts one pin to the chassis internally."
      "Great. Be sure to label that switch so we know what it does."
      "But we don't know why it works in the first place. I kn
  • by paintswithcolour ( 929954 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:41PM (#19061961)
    Arthur: "I wonder what will happen if I press this button."

    Ford: "What happened?"

    Arthur: "A sign lit up saying 'Please do not press this button again.'"

    (Douglas Adams)

    Then again, this would make really want to push the button...

  • by vrmlguy ( 120854 ) <samwyse&gmail,com> on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:58PM (#19062077) Homepage Journal
    I had custody of the kids (2, 5 and 7 at the time) every other weekend. Saturday night, I get a call from work, and it's something that can't be fixed from home. I can't find my ex, I can't find a sitter, so I bring the kids in. One of the operators volunteers to show them around the computer room while I work on things. Five minutes later, the IBM mainframe [] mysteriously halts. Yes, one of the kids had wondered why there was a big red button on the console. My problem was suddenly minor, so I took the kids out for ice cream.
  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @11:03PM (#19062121) Homepage Journal
    Ever have to escort a bunch of suits through a new data center and have the Chief Operations Officer open the goddamn EPO and punch it?

    I have.

  • by bccomm ( 709680 ) <> on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @11:13PM (#19062205) Journal
    I adminned for a LAN party once. We did it in the school cafeteria from 10AM to 11PM. The guys who set up the boxes had half of the machines plugged into a single outlet. Apparently this half of the place was pwnz0ring the other half because I remember things getting louder from that side. Then they got louder still in the form of some words I had never heard before when I walked past and tripped over it. I don't remember much after that. Good times.
  • by zerocool^ ( 112121 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @11:29PM (#19062363) Homepage Journal

    Two solaris oopsies.

    One: Somehow, I don't know how, I accidentally deleted /dev/random. This was our main NFS and NIS+ server. The whole network went tits up about 10 seconds later. Still don't know exactly what happened that depended on random being there.

    Two: Not wanting to accidentally halt the machine without really meaning it, I moved the halt command to halt.ireallymeanit. I then replaced halt with a small shell script that echoed "You don't want to halt this machine" (sleep a few seconds) "If you do, type halt.ireallymeanit" (sleep a few seconds) exit.

    Then, to test it, I type halt. Without (duh) first typing which halt to make sure there wasn't a halt command before the /bin/halt that I had replaced with a shell script (oops, /sbin is before /bin in the $PATH). Oh, this was also while we were figuring out a couple of problems and had hacked together a NFS/NIS fix, which required that our main server (that machine) be booted up to the point that it was serving NFS, then the NIS server be booted up while the main server was timing out waiting on some authorization thing to continue its boot sequence. Of course, the NIS server wouldn't boot without the NFS server being up. It was a big mess that we eventually got sorted.

    Needless to say, it's not Solaris' fault, but somehow I always managed to screw up that OS without meaning to, so I have developed a healthy fear and loathing for it. I'd like to think I've grown up a bit since then - this has been like 3 or 4 years now, and I've learned a helluvalot since then.

  • by mknewman ( 557587 ) * on Thursday May 10, 2007 @12:37AM (#19062875)
    Back in the 70's when I worked in the IT department at TI Austin we had a fairly large computer room with a Big Red Button, and no clear box. We also had no UPS and power outages were a regular part of life (cheap bastards wouldn't listen), so as sysadmin I would deal with these outages. I was getting sick of it, so one day when I had just gotten done rebooting 55 systems from the front panel (7 words of 16 bit binary switches for each) and then read cards in to do the boot on the servers my boss was watching me go through the motions. When I was done and everything was up we talked for a few minutes, I walked out of the room and as I passed the door, right above the Big Red Button there was a light switch. I turned it off and you could hear him gasp. I grinned and turned it back on. They still wouldn't buy a UPS.
  • by AtariDatacenter ( 31657 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @12:44AM (#19062919)
    Great story on the Big Red Button. A well known company built a new datacenter, and started populating it with servers. Everything was going great. But the datacenter had the Big Red Button. It also had a somewhat smaller Yellow Button. You see, the datacenter's sprinkler system (yes, no halon... water sprinklers) worked in two stages. The first was to fill the tubes with water, and the second was to open up the heads in the sprinklers.

    But, in their wisdom, they offered a Big Yellow Button to hold off on opening up the sprinklers. As long as the Big Yellow Button is held down, the sprinklers won't actually spray water. So you can see that this could be very useful in a false alarm situation.

    Well, one day, an employee decided to play around with the Big Yellow Button. Yes. Do you know what is coming? No, you probably don't. And neither did the employee. Well, earlier in the story, I mentioned that this was a new datacenter. And it looks like they didn't do a great deal of testing of its emergency features before they put it into use. You see, the people who wired up the Big Yellow Button had swapped the wiring at the other end with the wires to the Big Red Button. But nobody tested the buttons out to make sure they worked. Since you are a Slashdot reader, I'm sure you understand the result of this unfortunate wiring mistake, and lack of testing.

    The employee, however, was not fired or significantly disciplined for the significant outage (and disk damage from a sudden power loss) that resulted.
  • by csk_1975 ( 721546 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @02:28AM (#19063557)
    Don't know if it qualifies as a Big Red Button story but the effect was the same. I work in a satellite TV broadcaster. We were standing around in Master Control one afternoon discussing stuff and the cleaning lady snuck in when no one noticed. She proceeded to use a wet rag to wipe down the main switcher and switched every channel to black. It was pretty amazing to see a wall full of monitors (about 100 of them) suddenly go black. For a moment we all thought the SDI router must have melted until we noticed the cleaning woman polishing the desk.

    The other thing she did was she worked out that she could get into the machine room with her pass if she went via the emergency exit. We kept finding puddles of water under the raised floor that we couldn't explain until one weekend I noticed her carting a bucket and mop into the machine room to give it a good scrub with a liberal amount of water.

    She doesn't work here anymore.
  • by simm1701 ( 835424 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @03:03AM (#19063745)
    Harking back to the good old days of high school...

    We had several antiquated BBC micros in one of the classroom blocks public areas - in theory for getting work done during break but since no other classes used those machines they usually ended up having games on them for those that knew how to find (or write) them.

    Bored one lunch time I typed in the same 20 or so lines of basic on each machine and with the help of a friend hit enter at the same time on each.

    The screen now flashed from black to red and black, beeped every second and read "This computer will self destruct in: 5:00" counting down every second. After a bit of a giggle (ok we were 12) at how this looked we walked away and wondered who would find it.

    It turned out to be one of the dinner ladies (for those that didn't have this concept in school - they are non teaching staff that wander the open building and grounds during breaks keeping an eye on things). Being about 60 or so she obviously beleived what the computers said and hit the fire bell!

    One evacuation later and a short investigation of the computer screens (which if I had got the code right should have one letter on each screen - B O O M - I never did see the final result so I don't know) everyone returned to classes.

    Didn't really hear much until my next IT class, at the end the teacher took me to one side - his comments were basically:

    "Very nice trick, but please, don't do it again, ok?"

    Was fairly obvious it was me, only the lowest years of the school were allowed in that area, I was the only one in that categry that could have done it. I do remember the teacher was trying to stop himself from grinning.
  • One for the nerds (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:29AM (#19064203)
    Perhaps this one is too nerdy for /. - no forget that I said that.

    You can do really interesting things as root; in a place I worked one of my colleagues wouldn't admit that he had done the following on one of our biggest and most important UNIXes: He had logged on as root and opened up /etc/passwd in vi, then immediatelty realized that this was not where he wanted to be. Now, normally one qould use ':q' to exit a file without saving, but he was in the habit of using ':x', which is a convenient way of saving and exiting at the same time. Unfortunately he forgot the ':', which makes it a command to delete whichever character you are standing on. When nothing seemed to happen, he automatically did it again, this time getting it right. Then he logged out.

    Now, what is normally the very first line in /etc/passwd? I'll give you a hint: it begins with root:x:0:0 - so this guy had deleted the 'r' in root, saved the file and exited. And since nobody else was logged in as root, we were stuffed - one couldn't log on as root, since he was not in /etc/passwd, and logging on as oot didn't work either because he was still called root in /etc/security/passwd (this was on AIX - it corresponds to /etc/shadow). And using 'su -' from an ordinary user didn't work, since this command actually looks for the username 'root'. Unfortunately it turned out that booting in single user mode meant that you had only very minimal access to the disks, and getting the others online is not easy when you know too little about AIX and have a very complicated arrangement of disks and volumegroups. In the end we had to reinstall. This of course had to have the traditional, serious consequences: the guy was .... promoted.
  • by evilandi ( 2800 ) <> on Thursday May 10, 2007 @05:26AM (#19064469) Homepage
    I took a great deal of effort to toddler-proof my study. PC and laptop with exposed buttons at desk height or above. Synth moved from wobbly stand to sturdy wall-mounted shelf. Linux server, under my desk, rehomed into a blacker-than-black case, fancy lighting rig unplugged, all buttons, optical drives and recesses safely hidden behind a plain black door. O'Reilly Wall moved from bookcase to high shelves.

    I even got a "decoy" keyboard for my 11-month-old daughter to play with.

    Of course, she found the UPS switch in seconds. It had a nice glowy LED above it, and was sitting on top of the Linux server just at her shoulder height.

    All three PCs, the whole study, powered down, and not in a nice graceful apcupsd way, just a sudden BOINK, follwed by darkness and silence, penetrated only by a happy gurgle.

    Thank heavens for Linux software RAID mirroring.

    (A couple of months earlier, she managed to cause Windows to prompt "Add new hardware - Searching for drivers" [blur-o-matic cameraphone photo []] by sucking the end of my iPod USB cable. Unfortunately I didn't have any Win2K drivers for a 9-month old baby. I bet Ubuntu installs them by default, even though the GNU crowd complain they're not truly free.)

    Annabel is one on Sunday. Wish her happy birthday.
  • by maroberts ( 15852 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @05:35AM (#19064527) Homepage Journal
    Back in 198x, I was working for an aircraft electronics manufacturer on their prototype flight management computers.

    Unfortunately resetting them involved touching a wire to a ground pin....which was near to a 48V avionics supply pin.... as I found out....twice.

    Burning out the only two systems in existence did not make me popular.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CharlieG ( 34950 )

      I worked in Military Electronics in the 8Xs too. My story has to do with a backwards BRS - the time a BRS was supposed to trip, but didn't

      We were testing some power supplies in the environmental lab, The heaters in the test chamber had a triple redundant cutoff - The were normally controled by a computer via a IEEE-488 bus, there was a bi-metalic thermostat on the fixture, and there was also a thermocouple with an overtemp cutout that dropped the entire 3 phase to the heaters. The original design
  • UPS power switch (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ishmalius ( 153450 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @05:46AM (#19064557)
    Our company finally got a new medium-size UPS, large enough to power two racks of servers and a router rack. It was placed on the floor in the midst of them, giving us a sublime sense of security and well-being. Trouble was, the manufacturer put the UPS's reset switch in the front, exactly at knee level. We had several instances of all of the servers rebooting in the evenings after everyone had gone home. Turns out that the cleaning crew was bumping into that switch while making their rounds. Took us a while to debug that problem. The fix: open up the UPS box and snip the reset switch wire.
  • by DeanOh ( 61485 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @06:15AM (#19064653)
    ...but certainly qualifies..

    The US Navy's P-3 Orion (in many variants) is a 4-engine maritime patrol airplane. The engines are Pratt and Whitney T-56 turboprops, a powerplant shared with the C-130, the E-2 and the C-2.

    In the flight station, in the top center of the instrument panel are four big yellow handles that you pull when you need to shut the engines off in an emergency. Because they are used for emergencies, the are cleverly called "e-handles". Underneath each e-handle is a red button. This is the the button that releases the contents of the high-rate-of discharge (HRD) fire extinguisher in the corresponding engine compartment. You can see a picture of this configuration here: .jpg []

    I was in the navy flying with a P-3 crew in the mid 1980s. We were at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, trying to take off and get to the same place in the ocean where some foreign naval unit was exercising its right to free navigation in international waters during the Cold War. Even though there are other P-3s on the ramp that day, *our* P-3 was special, since it had some sensors that that other kids didn't have yet..which is why we got to hang around the airplane during this maintenance delay...

    During our engine starts, there was a problem with the number two engine (inboard on the port side). It was fixable in an our two, but the mechs would have to pull the plane into the hangar to do the work.

    It's late spring, a mild sunny day, and I curl up by the port overwing exit in the tube; this part of the crew cabin it has enough space to stretch out and get a decent. The overwing hatch is open, cool breezes are flowing off the East China Sea. Others are lounging in their seats, on the bunks in the back, in the flight station, listening to the radio on the ADF receiver. We're just chillin', waiting for the mechanic on the ladder under the number 2 engine compartment to work his magic so we can go flying.

    I can hear the sound of his tools banging around in the engine compartment, and just as I'm about to go asleep, I hear him call to the flight station (whose side window was also open): "Hey, somebody pull the number 2 e-handle"...

    The e-handle does a number of things, including severing some mechanical connections between the propeller and engine turbine, cutting fuel flow, and generally making sure that the the motor you shut down during an inflight emergency won't be further damaged.

    That's the 'splaining. Here's what happened next....

    The guy in the flight station who responded to this request was neither an aviation mechanic nor an aviation electrician, nor an aviation hydraulics technician. Regrettably, he was an aviation electronics technician, and this particular one was not, shall we say, the sharpeset tool in our shed that day.

    Here's what he didn't know:
    He didn't know that the red button under the e-handle was *not* the push-to-release-button for the e-handle. So, before he pulled the e-handle, he pressed the red button underneath it, believing it *was* the push-to-release button.

    When he pushed the button, the contents of the HRD fire extinguisher emptied --immediately-- into the number 2 engine compartment...where our helpless mechanic was still working.

    The good new was that nobody got hurt (including the poor bastard who pushed the button, who was spared physical harm by the mechanic). The mechanic was none too pleased, because now cleaning the engine compartment just got added to his list of things to do...we didn't get to go fly that day because it takes many more hours to clean up the engine compartment after the fire extinguisher is emptied out in there.

    Big red buttons ang big yellow handles...equal sources of entertainment.
  • by BenEnglishAtHome ( 449670 ) * on Thursday May 10, 2007 @10:33AM (#19067239)
    Well, at least one office.

    This was nearly 3 decades ago. I was a new clerk and had never even had a computer. I had done a good job with my paper-shuffling, so much so that my boss lent me out to another function (big perk, goes on your record as a wider set of experience) where I was to work in the "NEC room." This was a tiny room with a big NEC computer hooked up to an even bigger line printer inside an acoustic shell that held pin-feed, 8-part forms. These forms were Revenue Agent Reports, the final results of all audits, the paperwork you sign to agree to a change in your taxes.

    I *really* impressed those folks. Seriously. First off, they couldn't get the forms aligned in the printer; they were always printing everything a fraction of an inch too high or too low on the form. It seemed a simple job to me. I noted the position of the pin-feed holes relative to some random part of the printer, printed one report, changed the position of the forms relative to that printer part to a degree roughly designed to compensate for the error on the first form, then printed another sample form. It was, as expected, properly aligned. I had aligned a new box of report forms with just one test print. The long-time workers in that little room thought I was a god. Literally, mouths dropped opened. They were accustomed to spending hours and half a box of forms getting set up. They loved me.

    Next, they had a bunch of garbage records in the database that kept printing out. It was pretty simple to figure out that if I deleted each record, they wouldn't start each day with 20 garbage prints. By this time, they loved me so much the manager stopped by to meet me, sent an official memo of praise to my boss (something normally never done until a detail is complete) and started making noises about creating a position for me in his group. I was flyin' high.

    A couple of days later, I asked the question I'd been curious about since I got there but there was never anyone around who could answer. "What's the button for?" "What button?" "This big red one next to the door" I said as I pointed at it. I SWEAR that I didn't intend to touch it; the tip of my index finger just barely kissed the dome of the button.


    Every light in THE ENTIRE BUILDING went out. This was the emergency shut off for EVERYTHING, pre-dating the installation of the computer equipment and intended to be tripped only in case of fire. It took building maintenance about 6 hours to go floor by floor and get every circuit up and running again.

    My temporary boss called my permanent boss who called me at home that night and informed me that not only was I no longer on the detail, I was not to set foot in that building until further notice. There were apparently about a hundred Revenue Agents who lost their cases (Remember, this was back in the days of dual-floppy computers without hard drives and saving your work meant deliberately pulling out a disk and inserting another) that morning and had to rebuild their files. Each and every one had apparently vowed to strangle me on sight.

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak