Military techie mangled minicomputer under nose of scary sergeant

That's 'I hit the power button my mistake, SIR!' Do you understand?

Who, Me? Welcome to the fourth edition of Who, Me?, The Register's new column in which techies share their shameful secrets.

This week, meet a chap who asked to be called "an apprentice human" and who told us he once worked "at an Australian military training establishment in a coastal country town."

It was the early 1990s and as this establishment was an officer training college, it had been equipped with some state-of-the-art minicomputers from Pr1me Computer, complete with "500MB hard drives the size of a clothes dryer, but much louder."

"The Apprentice" told The Register the machines went all right, given the variable quality of the electricity out on the edge of the grid. They did go down from time to time, however, thankfully they usually "recovered from total power outages with very few corrupted files." Which was a relief because this was our man's first IT job after several years in the military, and he didn't want to go back to other duties.

Complicating matters was the wiring in the computer room: this was a repurposed library that had a pair of switches near the exit door. One was for the lights, the other was for the Pr1me and they both looked just the same.

Which became a problem when The Apprentice's sergeant told him to turn off the lights and come outside. "Being well indoctrinated I did what I was trained to do: turn the lights out and help the good sergeant."


"I turned both switches off at once. The system was down, hard, and I was thinking about how many guard duties I was going to do for this fuck-up."


‘I crashed a rack full of servers with my butt’


"Then I saw the sergeant laughing, answering the phone, and saying 'Yes, the system was down, there must have been another power spike'."

The Apprentice followed that lead, and told more than a few lies on the phone, then followed his sarge outside for a calming (and then not-ostracism-worthy) cigarette.

"He told me to reboot the machine and make sure it came up clean." So The Apprentice did so.

"Pr1me Computers may not have taken the world by storm but its ex-DEC engineers knew how to craft rugged hardware from their mainframe days," The Apprentice told The Register. "On every occasion that machine came back."

Even, it turned out, a couple of weeks later when it was the sergeant who absent-mindedly flicked both the light and the power switches at once.

The Apprentice and the sarge again answered telephones for the next 10 minutes, and again invented a power fluctuation.

But this time, the end of the story changed: The Apprentice told us he "spent the rest of the day crafting a box to go around the bottom switch. Funny how the system became much more stable during working hours."

What have you botched while watched? Click here to share your secrets with Who, Me? and your masterful mess could top The Apprentice on a future Monday. ®

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