back to article How to destroy expensive test kit: What does that button do?

All aboard for a nautical installment of Who, Me? where the words "Don't Touch That Button!" have an altogether damper meaning. Today's tale comes from a reader Regomised as "Trev" and has a slightly naval tinge to it. "I was involved in installing a system in a corvette for a Middle Eastern navy," he told us. "Our customer …

  1. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge

    Expensive test equipment

    Once you get beyond the ordinary multimeters, just about all test equipment is expensive. It is a relatively small market so the margins have to be somewhat higher than consumer kit.

    A new oscilloscope / analyser I specified 8 years ago to test multi-gigabit links and DDRx cost about £150k including the probes.

    1. AdamT

      Re: Expensive test equipment

      used to work at a place which had a deal with HP (back when they used to make test equipment, e.g. HF oscilloscopes, etc.) to get the newest/beta stuff - because we actually needed it and could also provide useful feedback.

      In a wonderful proof of "high intelligence does not correlate well with common sense" a senior engineer put a magnet on the screen of the new, very expensive, colour digital oscilloscope "to see what would happen" (everything still being CRT based at the time).

      Myself and another engineer spent a few hours very carefully degaussing it with a huge inductor and a variac. The expression "pathetically grateful" doesn't even begin to cover the miscreants abject thanks...

      1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

        Re: Expensive test equipment

        "huge inductor and a variac"

        Images of Photonicinduction now come to mind using his variacs

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Expensive test equipment

          I keep regretting that I didn't buy that 20 amp variac I saw at the Army surplus store while I was at University.

          But then I remind myself it was a 1 mile walk back to the dorms. And it was a 2 or 3 phase setup so there were 2 or 3 of the behemoths on a common shaft. Oh, and no case so I would have to have been extra careful not to damage it or myself on the walk back to my dorm room.

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: Expensive test equipment

      After having a Tek scope (now made in Japan) lose its power supply TWICE, and being told the second time, that it was unrepairable (they had no more replacement power supplies), I decided to buy a couple of those $500 Chinese scopes for everyday use in the lab. They work surprisingly well. Still evaluating them, but I'm impressed with what I see. I daresay we will find some weak spots (one of the engineers has already complained about the frequency measurement accuracy on one of them), but the do seem to work.

      We still buy the $20k HP/Agilent/Keysight/Whatever-they're-calling-themselves-today units, but given that the last one we bought died within 2 years (was repaired free) I'm more and more skeptical of the quality of instruments that come from names that used to be the "gold standard" of instrumentation manufacturers

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: Expensive test equipment

        "I daresay we will find some weak spots (one of the engineers has already complained about the frequency measurement accuracy on one of them), but the do seem to work."

        I supposed it depends what you're using it for, but given that one common use is to provide accurate frequency measurements, an oscilloscope that has trouble doing that might not seem to be working particularly well. It may well be true that established brands no longer provide quite the quality that used to justify their high prices, but the problem is that the cheaper stuff still rarely matches that level. So you're often left with the awkward choice of either paying £20k for something that's only worth maybe £5k, or paying £500 for something that definitely isn't worth £5k.

      2. cdegroot

        Nothing new...

        In the mean time, my '70s Tek, while hardly a daily driver, still is happily doing its work (I got it at a fire sale but was calibrated and thus in production use until 2011).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Expensive test equipment

      The large stainless steel shoebox we have in our office surprised me with its cost. £15,000 apparently around 7-8 years ago. We use it for testing alternative mobile networks, completely isolated from external frequencies (commonly known as a Faraday cage).

      Bloody thing didn't even come with a UK socket inside, but does have two different network connections and attachments for external aerials.

      Still seems grossly expensive as the stylus didn't even include spare tips.

      Anon because of the line of business that needs that sort of kit....

      1. Paul Uszak

        Re: Expensive test equipment

        Alternative networks? You mean police/FBI Stingers?

    4. emag

      Re: Expensive test equipment

      Oh, if it's the equipment I'm thinking of (and it's really a Mk 41 VLS), it's much more expensive. During testing, instead of using real missiles, there are these boxes that connect via the same system, which completely simulate the responses to commands sent by the launch hardware and software. They're so completely simulated, the system has no way of knowing it isn't talking to a real missile. They're smallish, heavy, and very very expensive. If they were doing the final integration tests, no actual missiles would be loaded yet. Each is in its own disposable canister, loaded by crane.

      Source: I used to develop software for $current+2 generation of the Mk 41 VLS back in the late 1990s. We used the same boxes to verify that the software behaved exactly like it would in a combat situation, at sub-millisecond tolerances. After some time, you could tell just listening to relays clicking if everything was working properly on our side.

      Fun story: some of the first demonstrations (on land), someone loaded a canister rotated 180 degrees, so when they launched, instead of going up and away from the stands of Big Brass, the missile headed straight towards the spectators.

  2. El blissett

    On my first weekend job as an extremely untrained PFY, I was told to just do what I normally did for the same client during the week - look after the Mac kit on a bus/ring network during the day, make sure the OS X server was happy, then switch off and lock up when I leave. With a line of sight to the doors, I could live the life of Larry sitting in the server room doing whatever I liked, like fixing up an old Mac II to play Risk clones on or messing around with the likes of Photoshop and Captivate that I would never afford.

    If someone quiet came in, and I was otherwise engaged, I wouldn't see or hear anything different if I missed them coming in the door. The server room was out of sight of the main room, and they hadn't told me anyone else was in - I couldn't see anyone else on Sunday night and wasn't expecting anyone. However, there was indeed someone in doing a sensitive sequential backup. As I left for the night, sending the shutdown command (which had been set to be ignored this time) and flicked the switches, I'll never forget the blood-curdling "NOOOOOOO!" my long haired silent colleague screamed as I wiped out his day's work.

    Oddly enough I didn't lose my PFY status, at least until the long haired silent colleague became the long haired silent boss, but I never got asked to do weekends again.

    1. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

      Silent Bob, by any chance?


    "Do not press" button

    Many years ago (1997) I designed and programmed a database system to record incoming discharge prescriptions to a pharmacy in a large UK teaching hospital (1000 beds).

    It also recorded time to reach various staes in dispensing process (to help tweak processes)

    This last bit is irrelevant to the story.

    As a bit if fun, I put a button on main menu marked "Do Not Press" complete with "Stop" symbol...

    Pressing opened a borderless window dialog asking if you wanted to format HDD..with "OK" and "Cancel". Of course "cancel" started "format" anyway complete with faux Windows progress ending in full screen DOS style "reboot" "screen" and "No operating system" message...

    This stayed on screen for 30 secs for effect before "fooled you!" message.

    System went live and I waited...unfortunately I missed it's "use" (out on wards) but heard ALL about it.

    Our deputy chief pharmacist ran the VAX JAC based stock control/labelling system and managed its use with fearsome SOPs and weekly meetings at recent "errors" by unfortunate staff.

    You guessed it, the ine person who should have known better...

    He pressed it....deliberately....apparently his went bright red and he went rigid at the "reboot"

    much to the delight and mirth of the surrounding staff.

    He never told me he had pressed it...staff used to 'dare' new staff members to press it for a laugh with identical effect in the unfortunate.

    I retired in 2017 but the system is still in use and ex-colleagues tell me the button is still in regular use

    1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

      "More magic"

      Here's a story about a hardware implementation of the concept, from the old Jargon File.

      1. irrelevant

        Re: "More magic"

        See also "the engineers finger" in the original BBC Micro.

    2. abortnow

      Re: "Do not press" button

      Read of a toy box with a button and two windows.

      One lit reading "Press to test".

      Push button.

      Other window lights with "Release to detonate".

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: "Do not press" button

        Early 80s. Teaching in a large secondary school there were a few weeks, once when I had to set up a row of BBCs for my next lesson before I went out on playground duty. For some reason lost in the depths of memory I couldn't just lock the door to stop the kids getting in. Of course they'd been told not to touch, but huh! So I wrote a simple bit of code and left it running in the background. Basically using the "any" key. Any kid touched one of the machines and there were klaxon sounds, flashing lights and a range of dramatic effects. It only happened once.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. MisterHappy

    From the late, great Sir Terry

    “Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying 'End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH', the paint wouldn't even have time to dry.”

    From "Thief of Time

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      Re: From the late, great Sir Terry, preceded by the late great Douglas.

      Arthur Dent: What happens if I press this button?

      Ford Prefect: I wouldn't

      Arthur Dent: Oh.

      Ford Prefect: What happened?

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

      Icon: Raising a glass for both of them.

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: From the late, great Sir Terry, preceded by the late great Douglas.

        I’ll just leave this here.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: From the late, great Sir Terry, preceded by the late great Douglas.

        The Father Ted version:

    2. swm Silver badge

      Re: From the late, great Sir Terry

      In the campus police office at college there was a red button with some label I forget. There was a sharp needle in the middle of the button. It regularly drew blood.

  5. Barking House

    The more senior the person the more likely they will press a big red button

    Early 1990's had a High Availability VaxCluster system with 4 nodes, this system was very robust and basically acted like a fault tolerant system with no unplanned downtime. The financial institution that owned the system was very proud of its record of not having service interruptions (As these were very costly, hundreds of thousands in a few hours type.) and for reasons that are lost to the midst of time the CIO wanted to show the board the very expensive cluster system that was making them more money and enhanced their customer service experience etc.

    The CIO said how in this single facility they had duplicate systems, power, comms etc and they were investing in a second site to provide improve resilience etc, the Board Chairman seem to have taken the CIO at his word that nothing would take the system down and wandered over to the big red emergency power off button and pressed it - This brought the tour to a immediate end, cost an eye watering amount of money in lost business, permanently ended DC tours (Even for the most senior of executives) and of course the Chairman was exonerated as how was he to know that the Big Red Emergency Power Off labelled button would actually do what it said.

    But on the bright side, the CIO got promoted out of the company and the financial institution 2 years later replaced the VAX'es with a Pyramid Unix system (From Pyramid Technology which was eventually bought by Siemens) and although powerful and fast for the time the Pyramid system was not super reliable and the service interruptions became almost a weekly event.

  6. Alan J. Wylie

    The VLS space is sprayed down with water

    Fresh or sea water?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      the story's about a navy in the middle east. it would have been fresh water bottled from a glacier in the himalayas.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        In the Royal Navy I would assume a button marked pre-wet would dispense a pre-lunch pink gin

        1. gerdesj Silver badge

          "In the Royal Navy I would assume a button marked pre-wet would dispense a pre-lunch pink gin"

          Nope: a Pinkie (WAFU) still in training.

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

            I'm reminded of two colleagues that got involved in a chemical spill incident (Icon) at Dartford & were unceremoniously shoved under the cold external showers in the "sunny warmth" of a late November day, told to strip & dispose of their wallets etc & sent home in paper overalls.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              That was a long time ago

              I remember that incident too but can't remember whether it was Paul and Vince or not. One of the most unusual incidents I can recall. Like the frightened fox which fell through the medicines packing floor ceiling just before an FDA inspection. Unfortunately it was very frightened.......

  7. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    Anyone got any suggestions what the purpose of the "Pre wet" button might be , aside from ruining test equipment?

    1. KarMann

      Just as a marginally-educated guess, they might spray the tube with water just before firing to absorb some of that thermal energy and prevent cooking off the missiles in the other tubes, a little bit (but just a little bit, I don't think the navies are too concerned with sound volume outside of submarines) like the sound suppression system sprayed water under the Space Shuttle and other large launches. It might also make it easier to recondition the tube for its next use, if it hasn't been heated up so much.

      What might happen if they didn't. -->

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Isn't pre-wet the state of the equipment before hitting the button? Shouldn't it have been marked post-wet?

        Or better still a knob that turned between pre-wet and post-wet? Bonus marks if you can turn it back!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Whatever yanks your crank

          There are many ways to get a knob pre- and post- wet. Turning is apparently a method for some.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        At an amateur rocket launching day I saw a chap launch small rockets on a piston - the rocket fired its exhaust into a closed tube through a hole in a disk that accelerated the rocket up the tube with seriously impressive acceleration - leaving the tube at an order of magnitude or so faster that it would have accelerated under its own thrust. OK these were little rockets but I wonder if the principle could apply to the VLS setting with a pre-wet providing steam for thrust too?.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Typically you use steam or compressed air to get the missile out of the launcher before lighting the blue touch paper.

          It means the motor doesn't have to handle the increased temperature and pressure of running in a confined space and the launch tube doesn't have to contain it. You don't have to clean up any unburned fuel residue or exhaust left behind in the launcher and in the event of an "oops" the missile just drops into the sea rather than you having to deal with a fully fuelled and loaded anti-ship missile fizzling in a tube on your nice shiny ship.

          1. J. Cook Silver badge

            ... and presumably armed?

            That would ruin the captain's day for certain.

            1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

              It wouldn't be that elitist - it would ruin the day of everybody in the vicinity, regardless of rank...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A tweet on HMS Enterprise's account says:

      Our 'pre-wet' system is designed to prevent chemical, radiological and biological contamination sticking to the ship. It gets tested annually...

      Apparently, 'pre-wetting' was also a protection in case of nuclear fallout on older ships from the 40s onwards.

    3. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      Pre (Launch) Wetting I'm thinking.

    4. Jim_E

      Pre-wet when I was in the Navy was a system for wetting a ship's decks and superstructure to reduce the effects of nuclear fallout. Never did find out if it worked. :-) Almost certainly salt water.

    5. Toe Knee

      "Pre-wetting was the method of using large numbers of water jets to spray the entire outer surface of the ship in preparation for encountering an area contaminated with radioactive 'fall-out'. The continual spray would not only make the surface wet, thereby preventing radioactive particles from sticking, but also wash them off."

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sailors and Buttons

    Many years ago* I was involved in something similar. We were on deck with our test equipment plugged in to where the missile would go, while the ship's crew ran through a carefully-scripted series of actions in the control room.

    The exercise was taking much longer than planned and lunchtime was fast approaching. Whether by accident or design one of the Matelots pressed the FIRE button, sending lots of Rich Chunky Amps into the test gear. The result was that they had their lunch on time while we repaired the damage.

    * The ship ended up at the bottom of the South Atlantic.

    1. hoofie

      Re: Sailors and Buttons

      * The ship ended up at the bottom of the South Atlantic.

      The Belgrano ??

      1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

        Re: Sailors and Buttons


  9. Sequin

    Many years ago I was buiding a database system (Dataflex on MS-DOS) for a government department and went to a specification meeting with my boss. He asked what the system should do if a user tried to do a particular sequence of ations - "It shoud tell them to bugger off!" came the reply from the client.

    When we built the systemand you tried to do teh said verbotten thing, the screen cleared and slowly filled with block art, it vivid colours, which said BUGGER OFF while playing the Monty Python theme tune through the PC speaker! I did all of tis in 8086 assembly language and was very proud of my efforts.

    The client was less impressed and we had to change it.

    1. Hero Protagonist

      “ the screen cleared and slowly filled with block art”

      Maybe the client was just unhappy that it took too long to display?

    2. Uncle Slacky
      Thumb Up

      Found the other Dataflex programmer! I did (local) government work too (careers services).

    3. Manolo

      I used to have my CTRL-ALT-DEL remapped to `play pissoff.wav`, the wav being from Monty Python as well.

    4. elkster88

      Ah, fond memories ...

      I once added assembly code to an unused block of EPROM memory in an add-in PC floppy disc controller, that caused the PC speaker to say "Help! Somebody get me out of here, I'm trapped in this computer!" every time the system booted up. Said PC was a common use system in an engineering lab.

      Didn't even have to change any of the existing code, just put the required 0x55aa signature at the beginning of the block, plus the size in 512 byte blocks in the 3rd byte, and an INT 20h at the end / or a RET instruction (IIRC). And not to forget- had to make sure the checksum of the entire collection of 512 byte blocks was zero.

      It lasted a couple of weeks before I was asked to restore the original contents of the controller's boot ROM.

      My copy of Peter Norton's "Programmer's Guide to the IBM PC" hasn't been cracked in over 25 years but I still have fond memories of playing in that domain.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Ah, fond memories ...

        "Help! Somebody get me out of here, I'm trapped in this computer!"

        I had exactly that as an executable. I'm surprised there was that much spare space in the EPROM :-)

  10. ColinPa Silver badge

    What ignorant bar steward touched this system?

    I heard this at a war story swapping contest.

    A civilian onboard ship was part of a team deploying some software. Hours were long, sleep was short, things were not going well. Getting the basic system up took a week instead of an hour etc (the ship had an unsupported set of products).

    Some very senior naval officers (lots of gold braid), came for a tour of the ship before it went to sea. The head of engineering wishing to impress the gold braid said this software is so advanced it will be able to recover if there is a major outage. He clicked on the delete and recover button menu item. Replying yes to all of the prompts.

    It displayed a messages saying "deleting current image". Nothing happened for about 2 minutes.

    Suddenly someone burst into the room, red in the face, carrying a hacksaw; swearing and cursing, along the lines of "I'm going to cut the hands off the ignorant bar steward who touched the system".

    Head of Engineering: "I was trying to demonstrate the delete and recover"


    They decided to delay departure for a week. Suddenly other departments said "ah- that's useful, it will give us more time to finish, can we have two weeks?"

    1. spuck

      Re: What ignorant bar steward touched this system?

      > They decided to delay departure for a week. Suddenly other departments said "ah- that's useful, it will give us more time to finish, can we have two weeks?"

      We used to call this "Schedule Chicken" -- every group needs more time but none dare to ask for it, so they all plod silently together towards the cliff, waiting to see who will stick their neck on the block to ask for the additional time.

      1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        Re: What ignorant bar steward touched this system?

        "every group needs more time but none dare to ask for it"

        I just go to my manager and tell them "I need more time, and by the way I hear other groups also need more time, but if you want you can say it's just me". I figure if they will shoot the messenger, better to find out sooner than later so I can go find a decent manager. But surprise, surprise, so far all my managers have proved to be decent. I even had one manager thank me with the remark I was the only person giving good feedback.

        1. swm Silver badge

          Re: What ignorant bar steward touched this system?

          At Xerox all of the component divisions (fuser, optics, photo recepter etc.) would play "chicken and sign up for an aggressive schedule knowing that manufacturing would not be ready. One year manufacturing sent spies to the other divisions and were ready. None of the other divisions were ready...

    2. Stevie

      Re: What ignorant bar steward touched this system?

      See: From The Earth To The Moon, episode "Spider".

    3. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: What ignorant bar steward touched this system?

      From my time working for HM government in the being naughty department supporting HM navy

      I can state that stories like the one above and in the article itself are all true (and they're only the tip of the iceberg)

      Rosythe dockyard is a benighted hell hole of a place, and after you've spent god knows how many hours there repairing/servicing some kit you are desperate to get away..... right upto the point where the PFY of the group switches said item on before its ready and theres a fizz followed by the magic smoke escaping.

      I was that PFY and ended up having to buy everyone beers ...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sometimes, my users do me proud...

    In a previous life I coded a database system for a local charity, and being a DNA fan I included a button marked "Do Not Press!". If selected, it popped up a message of "Please do not press this button again."

    I was delighted when the user in question refused to press the button since it said "Do Not Press".

  12. Stevie


    Er ... isn't this an "On Call" story rather than a "Who Me" confessional?

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      Does it matter?

    2. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      Nahh, it would be a "Who Me?" if the story had come from the Muppet who pressed the button before waiting for an answer to their question "What does this do?"

      As this (supposedly ;) ) came from the guys setting up the test, that would make it an "On Call"...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Touch is enough

    Sticking to the naval theme, looking over the shoulder of a radar repair in progress I picked up a component and innocently asked what it was. My sergeant answered wearily; after holding it like that, it's a piece of sand. Normally it is a hypersensitive crystal for the receiver costing a few thou.

    He quickly brought my heart rate down by confessing that the one I 'ruined' was the faulty one freshly burned out by the set itself.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Touch is enough

      If it hadn't been the broken one, I would have asked why they left something really tiny and sensitive somewhere where anybody could pick it up, and therefore any accidental movement by people, objects, or even the air could cause expensive damage.

    2. PerlyKing

      Re: Touch is enough

      Getting back to the less rugged world of corporate IT, in the early nineties we had an HP-UX box in for assessment as a possible replacement for Sun kit. Don't ask me why it was running with the case off, but one of the senior members of the team wandered up, asked "what's this bit?" and plucked something off the motherboard. The screen went black and all eyes were on him =-O Fortunately after turning the power off, replacing the part and screwing the case on firmly it started up again flawlessly.

  14. TooOldForThisSh*t

    What Happens When This is Turned OFF ?

    Long, long ago in a place far, far away I was a Netware Master CNE supporting a good sized business with a large customer service department taking phone orders for their sales people. Custom order entry system ran on a COMPAQ (tells you how long ago this was) SystemPRO server running Netware. My manager and I spent the weekend installing a second identical server, matched all firmware versions, upgraded both systems to their fault tolerant version SFT III along with adding more hard drives and memory and some special fiber optic boards that mirrored everything between the two systems. A LONG weekend, but all was up and running fine on Monday, until.... one of the big wigs arrived to see how everything was going. He asked a lot of questions, and then asked what happens when one goes down and proceeds to power one system OFF. I think my heart stopped, but the application stayed working and the orders kept coming in.

    Note: almost lost the account when I pointed out the 80MB hard drive in the SystemPro array that fit in my hand was the same capacity as the large washing-machine size drives on their UNISYS system :)

  15. sokolnik

    apologies to Steely Dan

    "Rikki, don't touch

    That button"

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      Re: apologies to Steely Dan

      "If you do, call somebody else.

      Send a P45 letter to yourself..."

  16. Norman Nescio Silver badge

    Obligtory xkcd

    xkcd: The Difference

    I can resist pressing buttons (especially big red scary ones) and pulling levers, but I will confess to having intense curiosity about what happens if they are pressed or pulled.

    I hate the green exit buttons in data-centres. Some of them even have Molly-guards, which gives me severe cognitive dissonance. There's also one place that had an Emergency power-down button, a Fire Alarm button, an Exit button and light switches all clustered together by the door. I was always afraid of being on auto-pilot one day and pressing the wrong one. In theory I should be saved by the Power button having a Molly-guard, and the Fire Alarm being a 'Break Glass' type, but an Exit button with a Molly-guard just gets you in the habit of flipping the guard...

    1. J. Cook Silver badge

      Re: Obligtory xkcd

      We have, in our data center:

      a red button, under a Molly-guard that has a built-in battery powered screamer if it's lifted- I can't remember if it's the EPO or the "DUMP ECARO NOW" button.

      a pull station which, IIRC, either initiates the "DUMP ECARO NOW" or the hold-back sprinkler system of last resort- I can't remember off the top of my head.

      a push button (collered yellow) to hold-off an automated ECARO system dump.

      a non-functional phone that one assumes is to be used to make an emergency phone call to someone whilst holding down the yellow button. I've asked for the phones to be replaced, but no one has actually listened to me yet...

      1. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: Obligtory xkcd

        So, the button under the molly-guards are, in fact, EPO buttons. the pull stations are the ECARO dump initators. And to my surprise, the phones got replaced this week with functional ones. :D

    2. Giles C Silver badge

      Re: Obligtory xkcd

      At an ex employer we had a comms room with two buttons by the door.

      One opened the door

      The other was the emergency stop

      Yes someone walked out the room and pressed the stop button to open the door.

      People will always press big red buttons….

      Mind you the same person worked in a building where the mains power was out (someone stole the busbars from the substation outside)

      We had a generator powering the comms room and the building but it wasn’t capable of running all the kit, they unplugged the feed to the comms room to run an envelope inserting machine, 20 minutes later the ups ran out of power and brought the entire site to a halt…..

    3. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      Re: Obligtory xkcd

      @ Normal N - have to totally agree (and thumbs-up).

      Any site dumb enough to put a Molly guard on the commonly used default button with a harmless action like opening the door deserves all they get for misoperation of dangerous buttons that are guarded for a reason..

      I would ask if people are really that stupid, but I guess manglement and beancounters would also be involved in such a specification, so it would be a rhetorical question.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: Obligtory xkcd

        I would ask if people are really that stupid, but I guess manglement and beancounters would also be involved in such a specification, so it would be a rhetorical question.

        Only if you include manglement and beancounters in the category "people". I don't.

  17. David Shaw

    The regional Tritium Handling Laboratory experimental facility had been completed on time, and within it’s (enormous) budget.***

    A fax arrived at the research lab from head-office, marked “très importante”, “the project has been cancelled”

    “Do not load the lab with the hot-stuff” The team thought, allegedly, we have this big, clean , enormous lab; We’ve got oodles of 3H , and that JET bellow to test. Hmmm, decisions……

    They, I didn’t arrive at this lab until 3-yrs after the techies decision, had the choice to either measure Tritium permeation through a real joint torus bellow, or not press the green button - and instead start dismantling the whole clean building. (Would be infinitely more difficult once/if everything became just a smidgeon activated, contaminated, 12 year half-life etc)

    So did they press Green for Go!

    Or Red to Stop!

    Do I drive past the ☢️ labelled “keep away” building each day & mentally salute the team of “Who Me’s”.

    Or do I drive past the ornamental garden, site of a previous, temporary exhibit, that is lost to history?

    Any guesses? :-)

    *** Note. I just checked the project history, and the budget is (still) helpfully listed as Zero Cost

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      My bet is on that fax being received just too late (officially that is).

  18. Schultz

    "Don't Touch That Button!"

    That's why, back in the days, we had a prominent red "professor's button" installed in our experiment. You could push it, turn it, and watch the signal jump up and down while the normal distribution of particle counting did its magic.

    I assume my students have similar jokes these days ...

  19. richdin


    Tell a man that there are a billion stars in the galaxy and he'll believe you.

    Tell a man that the paint on the bench is wet, and he has to touch it to make sure.

  20. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    When I started Uni support, every bench of computers had a kill switch for the power. I think it was from the previous use of the room, rather than any specific requirement to have a kill switch on every bench.

    A few times, someone (be it a student or lecturer) would come in and muck around with the big red button (which was labelled emergency shutoff), and power down the entire bench, not giving the students using the computers on that bench time to save their work..

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