Crash, bang, wallop: What a power-down. But what hit the kill switch?

It was an easy solve, says techie, once we put our heads together

On Call Well done, Reg readers, you’ve once again triumphed in the battle with the 9-5 and made it to Friday.

Celebrate with a dose of On Call, our weekly instalment of tech conundrums and calamities caused by other people.

This week, we meet “Clark”, who wrote in to tell us about a very particular kind of fault, which is probably one of a kind.

At the time of the incident, Clark was working for a government contractor in New Mexico.

“Our computer room was host to DEC PDP-11 and VAX-11 computers, and had all the standard raised floors, power conditioning and lots of air conditioning,” Clark said.

“The line printer was also located in that room, and the operator frequently had to replenish the wide fan-fold paper which came in a heavy box.”

Software license image

Reliable system was so reliable, no one noticed its licence had expired... until it was too late


But one day, while Clark was working on a software project in an adjacent room, he heard a heavy clunk.

The clunk, it turned out, was the power centre emergency shutdown relays, and quickly all the terminals in Clark’s room went dead.

The group rushed into the computer room, only to be confronted by a rather sinister feeling.

“We found the lights off, fans off and a quiet, eerie room as the spinning disks slowed to a stop,” Clark said.

Eventually they found the source of the problem, as they located the operator (who we’ll call Fred) next to the line printer, sat in a heap on the floor.

“He explained that he lost his balance while picking up a box of paper, and stumbled forward, his head hitting the large red emergency shutdown button on the wall,” Clark said.

Although jobs in process were lost, there was no long-term damage from the event (presumably, we hope, to neither the company’s work or the operator’s noggin).

However, Clark said, the very next week, the big red trigger got a smart new upgrade.

“The emergency button was enclosed in a new hinged box of clear plastic to avoid accidental shutdowns in future,” Clark said.

“Thus ended the company legend we called ‘Fred’s Head Crash’.”

Have you ever seen a colleague accidentally press the kill switch? When was the last time one of your support calls involved a physical intervention?

Tell On Call now, and your tale might feature in a future instalment. ®

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