back to article When management went nuclear on an innocent software engineer

Sure, you might use words like "boom" and "explode" when it comes to errors with your system. But could a whoopsie have the potential to render a chunk of a country uninhabitable? Welcome to On Call. Our story comes from a reader Regomized as "Ellen" who spent the early part of the 1980s toiling away in the IT department of a …

  1. BOFH in Training Bronze badge
    Joke

    Next time

    More bigger explicit signs so even idiots know better then to think they know better.

    Unfortunately Einstien did say "“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.” ..... so it may not be enough unless you have a few nasty guard dogs as well which will bite anyone who comes anywhere close.

    1. ShadowSystems Silver badge

      Re: Next time

      Even better than a sign to warn folks away would be a quad of VDG towers, one at each corner, set to zap anyone that approaches without the proper safety measures. (Flicking the power switch on the far side of the room, hidden in a potted plant, disguised to look like a LawnGnome.)

      Nothing says "Don't Touch!" like a ring of still smoking charred corpses surrounding something like a grisley moat.

      On a COMPLETELY unrelated note, who is up for some bacon? =-D

      1. tinman

        Re: Next time

        I'd have gone with using a metal box instead of cardboard and wired to the mains but yeah, something more robust than another sign

        Also, long pig bacon, yes please. Breakfast of champions

        1. Mast1

          Re: Next time

          New pair of glasses required here. I read it as "Breakfast of champignons"

          Yup, I could do with some mushrooms with the bacon: dilutes the salt.

          1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: Next time

            The inevitable TP quote here, from Thief of Time:

            “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.”

            And of course, the thing should have been put in the cellar lavatory, without lights or stairs, in a locked filing cabinet and the signage reading "Beware of the Leopard.”

            Best of British and a Friday pint to all...

            1. Bertieboy

              Re: Next time

              Does not the cupboard need to be on apha centauri for maximum security?

              1. richardcox13

                Re: Next time

                See quote above: still not enough. Someone will find their way there.

                1. Muscleguy Silver badge
                  Trollface

                  Re: Next time

                  One of the ultra light laser accelerated probes we are proposing to send to Alpha Centauri etc will of course fly right into said cupboard and have the gear to scan, interpret and relay their contents back to earth.

                  That counts as someone going there.

            2. Flere-Imsaho

              Re: Next time

              And, at that time, pTerry was a press officer for the nuclear industry. So he might have witnessed this incident first-hand; even if he didn't, he would probably have heard of it...

          2. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: Next time

            Downtick for "dilutes the salt". That's what the tequila is for.

            1. Muscleguy Silver badge

              Re: Next time

              Shrooms not having any extracellular space or fluid are therefore rich in potassium there being more K than Na inside cells and vice versa outside. Our cells swim in the ancient ocean still. In a real sense the fungi are the only properly terrestrial multicellular organisms.

        2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: Next time

          Ellen is extremely lucky.

          When I was a wet-behind-the-ears new engineer at Data General, the guys in the next lab space couldn't fit their product into a temperature chamber, so they stuck a large cardboard box over it, set it running and left for the evening.

          When we came in to work the next morning, the entire office area was covered with a fine, greasy black deposit. The place smelled of burned plastic. The labs were worse. The impromptu heat chamber had burned to a crisp, as had the product inside. The HVAC system had spread the smoke and fumes throughout the entire floor. The fumes were so bad, people got headaches and left work.

          Do NOT stick cardboard boxes over running equipment.

          1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
            Alert

            Re: Next time

            "When we came in to work the next morning, the entire office area was covered with a fine, greasy black deposit."

            So how did this NOT set off the fire or smoke alarms?

            1. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: Next time

              "So how did this NOT set off the fire or smoke alarms?"

              Sometimes smoke detectors aren't a good idea in labs and they install heat rise monitors to detect a fire. If the heat doesn't rise fast enough or hit a high enough temperature, it wouldn't get set off. I've baked things that never quite caught fire but were reduced to a black lump and an offensive smell.

              1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: Next time

                "I've baked things that never quite caught fire but were reduced to a black lump and an offensive smell."

                But enough of your kitchen disasters.

                1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

                  Re: Next time

                  Disasters? To someone with my minimal level of cooking skills, that sounds like a minor triumph.

                2. Omgwtfbbqtime

                  Re: Next time

                  More of a day after a night on the Guinness.

              2. Charlie van Becelaere

                Re: Next time

                A noirmange, one supposes?

            2. Man inna barrel Bronze badge

              Re: Next time

              A friend of mine studied polymer chemistry, and one of his industrial jobs was investigating various kinds of synthetic foam rubber. The catalyst was methyl di-isocyanate, if I recall. This is used to catalyse superglue, among other things. It is extremely nasty if it gets into your eyes or lungs. The labs where my friend worked had active fume extraction, and detectors in case there was a leak of isocyanate into the general work area. One day, my pal set a small tray of isocyanate to melt over a bunsen burner in the fume cupboard, but before he could add it to the next chemical, he got called away on a phone call. The isocyanate evaporated, and there was a leak, so the alarm went off. The safety officer was called. He concluded it was a false alarm, as that had happened before. So he reset the alarm.

              Shortly after that, several workers down the lab corridor keeled over, with severe breathing problems, and were sent dee-dah dee-dah to hospital.

              This incident rather put my friend off the idea of a career in industrial chemistry, and by the time I knew him, he was working as a film editor.

              The problem was of course that my pal had not learned the fundamental rule of practical chemistry. Don't do it yourself. Get some other poor bugger to risk their lives, preferably a long way away, like in another country, where they won't ask too many questions when the reaction goes pop and the surrounding area is poisoned for decades.

              1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
                Alert

                Re: Next time

                This sounds like a story out of:

                https://library.sciencemadness.org/library/books/gergel_isopropyl_bromide.pdf

              2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

                Re: he was working as a film editor.

                Did he ever see Cinema Paradiso? That might have made him think about frying pans and fires. Hopefully he isn't editing films of that era.

              3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

                Re: Next time

                "One day, my pal set a small tray of isocyanate to melt over a bunsen burner in the fume cupboard, but before he could add it to the next chemical, he got called away on a phone call."

                BZZZTT!!! There is no such thing as "getting called away" when you have an active chemical fume going.

              4. amess

                Re: Next time

                Don't do it yourself. Get some other poor bugger to risk their lives, preferably a long way away, like in another country, where they won't ask too many questions when the reaction goes pop and the surrounding area is poisoned for decades.

                Like Wuhan?

          2. NorthIowan

            Re: The place smelled of burned plastic...

            This was my gut fealing on what was going to happen in Ellen's story.

          3. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: Next time

            "Do NOT stick cardboard boxes over running equipment."

            It may have been better to write "Reactor Control Simulation In Progress. Do not disturb". Yeah, some schmuck might still touch, but the cardboard box could easily lead to a failure by itself.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Next time

              Leave out "Simulation".

          4. Fred Goldstein

            Re: Next time

            Well, certainly not over inferior DG equipment! DEC equipment was more robust. (only half ;-) here)

            Also, temperature-chamber tests imply a lot of heat was present. A Rainbow was an 8086 machine and didn't generate much heat. And the cardboard might have been loose enough to allow for some venting anyway.

            1. trindflo Bronze badge

              DEC vs DG

              +1 for remembering when DEC and DG where the 800 pound gorillas in mini computers.

              I worked in a building where we had both and I don't recall that either of them had an advantage when our overworked air conditioning would ritually gasp itself into uselessness mid afternoon on sunny summer days, consigning all of engineering to the nearest bar.

              I recall looking at the assembly language and deciding that DG engineering had been driven by hardware engineers and DEC by software engineers.

              1. Tim99 Silver badge

                Re: DEC vs DG

                Personal preference here. I used PDP8s/11s and DG Nova 3s/4s/Eclipses for data collection and processing. RDOS, for my stuff, was easier/better than RSX-11. They were all replaced by networked PCs by the mid to late 1980s…

              2. Nossac

                Re: DEC vs DG

                Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Soul_of_a_New_Machine

                A great read and it explains why :)

        3. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Next time

          Forget fitting a wire connected to the mains. I just picked up a couple of Hot Fence boxes to deter livestock at an estate sale. That'll lurn 'em.

          1. Muscleguy Silver badge

            Re: Next time

            Technician where I did my PhD had a Lifestyle Block (NZ term for a house and enough land to keep few animals, mini ‘farm’). They penned their sheep in a corner of the field with an electric fence.

            Except several kept escaping. One had figured out the fence was only live when it ticked. So timed their run at it so they were through between the ticks. Others had then copied that one.

            I worked with a guy who had worked on mentally deficient sheep, a myelination (nerve insulation) mutant. They had to be reminded to eat. We think sheep are stupid when they are merely, usually, placid and content.

            Remember the commando sheep lying on cattle grids so the rest of the flock can walk over them and cross it? Sheep can be smart.

            1. Man inna barrel Bronze badge

              Re: Next time

              We think sheep are stupid when they are merely, usually, placid and content.

              I think sheep have got humans very well trained. The humans find them nice grass to eat, sort out difficult lambing and other medical needs, and the sheep get a regular haircut. I guess it must hurt a bit to give up your children to be eaten, though.

              Some ago, I observed some sheep that escaped their fate a a small abattoir in Birmingham, when a there was a cock-up with a delivery. It was quite comical watching guys in green overalls, and others in Range Rovers, chasing the sheep around the side streets. The sheep lost in the end, I presume, but not without taking the piss out of their so-called masters.

            2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

              Re: Next time

              Those commando sheep were not clever. They were dumb. They tried crossing the cattle grid, and fell into it. Once stuck, one of the others (most likely a lamb) took the opportunity to walk over the top, and the others, being sheep, followed.

              Sheep are stimulus driven. Take away a stimulus that causes one behaviour, and they will stop doing it. Like eating if they don't get the nerve messages to say that they are hungry.

              I was once farm-sitting for my father-in-law while he went on holiday. We left one of the flocks in a field with clover in the grass for just one day, as per instructions. Two of the sheep ate and ate, and eventually got so boated that they literally exploded (well, ruptured their abdomen) and died. Wool everywhere, although that may have been the crows attacking the carcasses. Very gross.

              You tell me sheep aren't stupid!

              1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

                Re: Next time

                I want to know if I've seen the first scene done by Aardman Animations. I don't think I saw the second.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: Next time

      And... invest in a lock on the door that no-one but you has access to until such time that the hardware/software is handed over?

      At least the Yank had the decency to fall on his sword. I was fully expecting him to go all "no, it's *your* fault because you didn't prevent me from getting into the room to clone the disks and start the PCs in the first place" on 'Ellen'.

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Next time

        The Yank should be happy that Ellen didn't DEC the s*** out of him

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Next time

        >And... invest in a lock on the door that no-one but you has access to until such time that the hardware/software is handed over?

        Or some sort of tag that locked out the equipment and allowed mutliple people to all fit their own padlock so the equipment can't be turned on/off until everyone is done and removes their padlock.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Next time

          "Or some sort of tag that locked out the equipment and allowed mutliple people to all fit their own padlock so the equipment can't be turned on/off until everyone is done and removes their padlock."

          Those are usually lever switches on an electrical box or breaker panel. If the computer was in a cage with some sort of lockout mech, that might work, but it's unlikely to be compatible with access rules.

        2. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Next time

          LOTO provisions generally only work for keeping equipment turned OFF not on.

    3. Coastal cutie

      Re: Next time

      They need the dog from the Stereo Underground pub quiz intro (an indie and punk show that goes out across BBC local radio in the south and beyond - most excellent it is too, you can find it on BBC Sounds)

    4. A____B

      Re: Next time

      Short of tattooing the warning to the inside of people's eyelids, I'm not sure that any sign would work.

      Many years ago we had to do a software upgrade to all the machines at a site. It was Windows NT (before AD) and yes, we had to go to each PC to do it.

      Now this site had over 300 individuals - each of whom was a 'special case' whenever it came to any set of procedures -- you know the types.

      The upgrade was planned for an overnight job and warnings sent out to all with a request to leave PC turned on, physically unlocked, but logged out.

      A week before, posters were put up round the offices; A4 posters were printed and put in the kitchen, above urinals and on the back of toilet doors (to read when sat down) ... We even printed an A1 sized poster and put it on a trolley in the entrance foyer so people had to walk round it (not sure if H&S would approve...).

      Some accused us of being a bit OTT.

      Come the day, about half a dozen PCs were turned off and security devices applied and one guy who was working late wouldn't move; it was a 15-20 minute upgrade and he could easily have had a short tea break, but no - he was far too 'special' and 'important'.

      Next morning, he and those who hadn't left their machines as requested couldn't log on. Their help desk tickets were noted but marked as minimum priority.

      Cue much complaining about "crap IT, crap support".

      Senior management were called in and started complaining about how much it was costing having these people unable to work and threats to call in HR as we were 'disruptive', 'uncooperative' and 'causing problems'.

      Thank goodness for our manager who just said "Yes, let's go to HR right now. I've a few questions ... You're paying how much? ... for people who can't read or understand simple instructions that the vast majority managed to follow? ... or have project planning and management so tight that your guy couldn't take a tea break late in the evening? have you considered your recruitment policy for staff or planners?"

      Sometimes you do get a good boss.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Next time

        A good boss indeed. An even better one might have kept the questions until he got to HR.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Next time

        The old adjutants lament:

        50% ignore the notice

        30% read it but don't understand it

        20% read it, understand it, and ignore it

        1. ShadowSystems Silver badge

          At YAAC, re: The old adjutants lament.

          I always heard it end with "...and the rest were allowed to keep their jobs instead of getting fed to the tiger."

          I needed to get a new tiger as the previous one died from gluttony. The company tried to send me a bobcat in a box. I sent it back with a note written on the outside "Comment card inside: Please read." I haven't heard back for some odd reason. =-)p

    5. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Next time

      "More bigger explicit signs so even idiots know better then to think they know better."

      I beg to differ.

      They got to try out an emergency shutdown scenario, they got extra time to do their work, and they got rid of an impatient but clueless asshat... all in one go.

      The sign was big enough to use him as the fall guy, but not so big that he would pay attention to it. In other words, it was exactly the size that it needed to be.

    6. short a sandwich

      Re: Next time

      Nuclear generation is literally the one man and a dog job. The man to monitor the equipment, the dog to stop the man 'adjusting' it. With maximum toothy prejudice if required.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Next time

      A month or two into a previous $JOB, I rocked up one morning to be greeted by lots of long faces and waving arms: "$BIGSITE is down, their network backhaul isn't working and they're losing a tonne of money in transactions."

      The network in this case being a redundant pair of lines that took their traffic to the outside world and dealt with the likes of O365, and all their card payments. After some diagnosis it turned out that the active/passive on the lines was broken and it had found a problem on the A, only partially failed over onto the B, and thereby broken everything.

      My "I'm new here and nothing is documented" get-em-working fix was "turn off the power for the A-side and hopefully B will work properly", which it did. Site super was happy, they were running again, we poked the network provider to get someone to come out on the never-never, and a sign was put on the A-side router saying "DO NOT TURN ON".

      I probably don't have to finish this post...

      Because, as is The Way, the site was cheap, the B-link was 1/10th the capacity of the A. This had been stated to the super, along with instructions to get everyone to keep everything off their network that wasn't directly related to taking card payments, to which they agreed.

      And lo, the next day I again rock up in the morning to be told that $BIGSITE is down, because obviously at some point in the interim some nugget has got upset that their mail-sync is slow, trundled down to the comms-room, pulled off the notice, and turned A-side back on to come up broken...

      1. SImon Hobson Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Next time

        Ah, THAT sort of customer.

        At a previous job we had a customer phone up to say there was a loud beeping noise from the server room (a.k.a. glorified cupboard with a few servers in it). Remote access to the software told us the UPS was overloaded and had gone into bypass - had they plugged anything in ? Absolutely not, no-one had touched anything, we'd obviously sold them a pile of manure and it was all our fault.

        Amazingly, the return of the UPS to normal mode, an apologetic call from the customer, and one of their managers realising that the fan heater was plugged into a socket clearly labelled as UPS maintained and for IT use only, we closely correlated in time.

  2. GlenP Silver badge

    A long way from being the same scale of devastation but we had an MFD engineer who set up a new machine, checked it was connected to everything, then cloned the setup from an existing machine without checking/changing the IP address.

    Cue shouts from the main office when they couldn't print as their "printer" just sat there saying, "Duplicate IP Address Detected".

  3. chivo243 Silver badge
    Go

    Had me going

    I thought the gear had been stolen... the all the other shiny units were humming along nicely! Wait, this wasn't BOFH!! However, I get the feeling Ellen might hold her own for a while!

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Had me going

      Simon might have been able to intimidate negotiate a better settlement at the end, perhaps with 2 or more months of additional meetings at an undisclosed island in the tropics, lots of adult beverages, and triple the bonus...

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    "but I would not report the damage back to my head office"

    And that is definitely how you get Manglement appreciation - you screwed up, but I won't tell. Thank you ! Thank you !

    Recovery from disaster results in ample time to finish the work properly. Well done.

    1. tinman

      Re: "but I would not report the damage back to my head office"

      'Negotiating' the extra two weeks was just the chef's kiss. Montgomery Scott would have been proud of her

    2. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: "but I would not report the damage back to my head office"h

      Doing a small scale roll out of some software (and a tiny bit of hardware) before it’s rolled out across the business. The system was produced by a US company that had a UK office for support and sales. We had them offer us to be the launch customer of their newest product which some idiot in management decided was a good idea. So these idiots send a bloke to install the software on a test machine by my desk. For something that is supposed to run flawlessly 24/7 it doesn’t we have daily issues and running a report kills it every time.

      Then there is a major issue where we expanded the testing to emulate our current live services. We migrated the data over and everything worked for 4 hours and then everything just stopped dead and fell over. We had a CRT monitor which showed 5 boxes on screen, if they were green then everything was fine but these were red and the clock in the box showed how long we’d been down for. Several people came in from the UK office of the software firm and worked into the night. They were talking to the USA offices and everyone was mystified as to the source of the issue. More people VPN’d in to try and help but it didn’t have any effect.

      Eventually after 4 days they came back to us and said they’d found the issue. There was a character in one of our live datasets that their system didn’t like. That had brought the entire system down, all five of our internal ‘brands’ had been affected despite their only being this one instance of it in one dataset. We paid them for the time of the bloke who’d set everything up but we told them we wouldn’t be continuing with their product. They protested that this was unfair but it didn’t do any good. We had already started work on an in house version that did a large part of the same thing and used another system for the rest. Nobody would admit to liking these people especially when one of our extremely talented dev team looked at the software that was being binned and laughed. He said it wasn’t really at the Alpha stage yet let alone Beta.

      Fast forward a few years and another newer manager suggests using these idiots again.

      They have a new software suite and this time we’re not the first people to have it thank goodness. However problems still rear their head.

      I had an issue with something during the testing phase. My area was being used for the test and I was supposed to be flagging any queries or issues. The head of the suppliers UK office was doing a customer visit to us to basically get a pat on the back for how wonderful their system was.

      I spotted him and went over did the least amount of small talk possible and then asked him to look at my issue. I pointed out that there were things I needed to change in a few raw files of a particular type, that I couldn’t do using the system. So I just asked where are these files kept on our servers please? He tells me that this can be done through the system and procedures to prove that it can’t. Embarrassed he admits he doesn’t know so he calls head office and asks to speak to a particular bloke who was key on our install. He doesn’t know either which is doubly embarrassing but he’s going to find out. It’s 3pm on Friday and I expected a call back before close of play at least.

      Well nothing happened, a call was made on Monday and he’s still looking at the problem. I in the meantime had a chat with other people in the business who have the system. They don’t like it and a promised feature doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do which they are annoyed about. When they raised the issue they were told that the feature is doing what it always has and we’re wrong is suggesting it was ever promised it did something else. So those guys set up a meeting with the firm including the bloke who had made the promise. They produced the email with the promise in it and asked for comments from the other side. There was a stunned silence where this bloke went red faced, said he thought it did, then admitted that he knew it didn’t. The firm are unrepentant though.

      All the testers decide to force the firm’s hand and we all say that the suite sucks, we should have nothing to do with it. The manager who initially suggested the firm for the second time says we’re not ditching them entirely. Part of the suite is fine and we’ll keep that bit the rest we’ll find someone else.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: "but I would not report the damage back to my head office"h

        The manager who initially suggested the firm for the second time says we’re not ditching them entirely. Part of the suite is fine and we’ll keep that bit the rest we’ll find someone else.

        So the real question is "how did the supplier pay him off/". This does smack of him/her not having your company's best interest in this.

        1. JimboSmith Silver badge

          Re: "but I would not report the damage back to my head office"h

          He’d used it at his previous place and was a huge fan. He didn’t want to bother with our existing perfectly good set up because that would have required effort on his part to learn. I think he’d rather have been golfing than learning new software. The suite was geared towards the largest (American) market and they weren’t keen to consider national differences. Plus if some new functionality was required then they just produced a little TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) program that added that feature. So heaven help you if one of those crashed and it was a vital one.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: "but I would not report the damage back to my head office"h

            "He’d used it at his previous place and was a huge fan. "

            I've come across that one before. At one point I and a BA put forward a case for adding warehouse management to our existing order-processing/stock management system. It wouldn't have been a big addition given what was already there. It was turned down. Presumably TPTB decided warehouse management wasn't needed. They also decided the business analyst wasn't needed.

            A few years passed and a new warehouse manager was appointed. He must have his favourite warehouse management system bought for him to run on the VMS box (something they hadn't foreseen was coming down the tracks). There was all sorts of sales weaselling going on about how it would be compatible with our Informix on Unix system . It had all the promise of conflicting versions of stock levels on the two systems.

            At that point manglement decided they didn't need me either so I didn't have to cope with the mess. It was some time into my post-retirement freelancing career that I cam across a similar - and possibly the same package on SCO and discovered what the weasels had latched onto to twist into their not entirely outright lie.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: "but I would not report the damage back to my head office"h

        "There was a character in one of our live datasets that their system didn’t like."

        Let me guess: £

      3. Chris 15
        FAIL

        Re: "but I would not report the damage back to my head office"h

        Ahh idiot manglers who won't back down even though their idea is proven to be useless.

        The world is full of them, and sadly full of idiot manglers higher up who fall for their nonsense despite those at the sharp end telling the truth....

  5. Bertieboy

    Dogs

    The mention of guard dogs reminds me of one of our colleagues who's idea (albeit 30 years ago) of the ultimate automated plant control system comprised the control system, a man and a big dog.

    The man's job was to feed the dog;

    The dog's job was to bite the man if he touched anything.

    1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: Dogs

      That's not original to your colleague. Google thinks it's from someone called Warren Bennis, but I'm pretty sure he nicked the line from a sci-fi author. Phil K Dick? Anyone remember the story I'm thinking of?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Dogs

        There is A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison - but that's a slightly different story, with a happier ending

        1. WolfFan Silver badge

          Re: Dogs

          Unless you’re the girl.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Dogs

            She went to live on a farm in upstate right ?

            1. keith_w

              Re: Dogs

              and she had good taste.

              1. Spamolot

                Re: Dogs

                Let me correct you - "and she tasted good."

      2. tinman

        Re: Dogs

        Sounds like.a variation of the old joke about NASA sending a man and a monkey up on one of the early space missions. The monkey was to pilot the rocket, the man was to feed the monkey.

    2. EVP
      FAIL

      Re: Dogs

      The man leaves the dog without any food. The dog dies. The man (factory owner's nephew, probably) is free to fiddle with every knob and button. Fail.

      An upgraded version: The dog is so big and hungry, that it has to be fed all the time. Otherwise, it bites the man. Works as planned.*

      *) Well, almost. The dog should be trained to bite any member of manglement who came nearby. The feature will be released in version 3, at an additional cost.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Dogs

        Airbus aircraft make a characteristic growling noise from under the floor when they push back.

        Legend is that since Airbus are so automated it's extra important that the pilot doesn't touch the computers, so they have a kennel with a spare dog.

        (It's a backup hydraulic reservoir or something equalising when the engines start)

    3. Eclectic Man Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Dogs

      Allegedly a TRUE story.

      A chap's neighbours have two large dogs. The neighbours go on holiday and the chap is happy to feed and water the dogs over the garden fence.

      After a while he notices that only one of the dogs is feeding at any one time.

      Curious, the chap goes round to discover what the other dog is doing.

      And there in a bedroom he finds the other dog, and, on top a large wardrobe, a would-be burglar, just out of reach.

      Hungry and dehydrated, the would-be burglar is relieved to be transferred to the custody of the police.

      1. Stork Silver badge

        Re: Dogs

        Heard a similar story from a breeder of Estrela Mountain Dogs. One morning two dogs were missing; he found a hole under the fence and the dogs in front of the neighbours house. The house had been empty and was being burgled, now the burglar didn’t dare leaving.

        We had one of the breed, they think they take care of huge territories and fences are minor obstacles.

        1. Sherrie Ludwig
          Devil

          Re: Dogs

          Husband's co-worker had an Old English Sheepdog. It was from a show ring line, not a working line, so breeding for a brain got left behind in pursuit of whatever look the judges wanted. While a lovely, if dopey, dog, it had massive separation anxiety and pitched a fit when the family members left for school/work every day. One evening, Dad comes home (Mom and kids had gone straight from school to after school activities) to find a stranger sitting in the living room, pillowcases of the family's belonging around him. Apparently, the dog was happy to see the burglar, followed him all around as he collected up the loot, but growled and barred the way when he intended to leave. Icon for what the burglar saw.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Dogs

      See today's Dilbert. Especially the punch-line.

  6. Sam not the Viking Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Einstein was right.

    We had a multi-million pound project where the machinery we supplied needed to be run in the correct sequence, according to a number of parameters. We saved the end-user a lot of money with a novel energy-efficient arrangement and avoiding a whole new building. In order to function properly, the control system needed to be robust with duplication and verification along the way. Costly, but necessary and it gave the consultants the impression they were contributing. When run in automatic control, it performed its function really well.

    So the end-user ran it in hand control.

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      Re: Einstein was right.

      Of course they did or else they would feel their job would be at risk

      As an old timer once told me, "We mustn't automate too much, we have to show them we're important"

      1. Scene it all

        Re: Einstein was right.

        The NASA Space Shuttle was capable of landing itself, provided a particular cable was installed. The NASA AstroNauts insisted that the cable *never* be installed and kept in a cabinet, so that a manual intervention would be required to 'enable' the auto-landing. Otherwise, why do we need these astronauts again?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Einstein was right.

          > why do we need these astronauts again?

          So they can run for $political-office$ because they are "heroes" and ensure funding for the next generation of vehicles. It's why every modern armed forces have so many more expensive jet fighters than useful kit.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Einstein was right.

            Or navies have more admirals than ships?

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Einstein was right.

              >Or navies have more admirals than ships?

              I think that's because admirals are much cheaper than ships and defence funding cuts never seem to get as far as the pink gin supply.

              But navies do suffer from importance = size of crew commanded. So a small highly automated stealthy missile platform capable of wiping out an entire fleet, but with a crew of 3 , never seems to get funding

  7. Mayday
    Mushroom

    Don’t know about you

    But if I see a sign in a nuclear facility on ANYTHING saying “do not touch” then I’m not fucking touching.

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: Don’t know about you

      As part of the interview process for anyone working there, they should leave the candidate in a room, next to button that says "Do Not Press" on it.

      If they don't press the button you can move onto the next stage of the interview.

      1. Plest Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Don’t know about you

        ....or just bolt chair over trap door with switch connected to big "Don't Touch Me" button! Idiot disappears down tube that dumps them on a mattress out back of the building. Send message to waiting room to invite in the next candidate and tells them to take a seat...

        I work code automation systems, I don't do anything manually!

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Don’t know about you

          dumps them on a mattress

          A MATTRESS?

          I'm sorry, I have no choice but to revoke your BOFH credentials. If you would have described it as a rat infested and feces encrusted mattress from a crackhouse that was so old it was slightly less soft than a granite countertop I would have let it go.

          1. WonkoTheSane

            Re: Don’t know about you

            I would've gone for a dumpster full of broken glass and full nappies.

            1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

              Re: Don’t know about you

              I would've gone for a dumpster full of broken glass and full nappies.

              Waste of the glass, after that it won't be usable for recycling.

              1. sianag

                Re: Don’t know about you

                You can recycle it as brown glass.

            2. Muscleguy Silver badge
              Headmaster

              Re: Don’t know about you

              That’s just a variation of the medieval practice of digging pits fitted with sharpened wooden stakes. It was traditional for the installing troops to shit on the stakes so injuries would fester.

              Used by Robert Bruce at Loudon Hill. The recent film was fairly accurate except King Richard was never there. The Scots knights were dismounted to encourage the English knights to charge them. Angled pits to either side fo the road, road sown with caltrops. Bogs either side. Scots archers on the hill behind so they can fire over their own troops.

              The Bruce was made king because he was clever.

              1. Dog11

                Re: Don’t know about you

                Used by the Viet Cong, too. Just because we've got new ways to kill people doesn't mean the old ways don't still work.

          2. herman Silver badge

            Re: Don’t know about you

            Correction: An old mattress, with the springs sticking out.

      2. Martin Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Don’t know about you

        I actually saw something like that happen. I was working at a manufacturing factory which had loads of little automatic trolleys on the ground which carried stuff from one place to the next along invisible magnetic rails. It was quite fun to watch them trucking along at about walking pace, either empty or carrying boxes. (And occasionally, they'd get confused and all end up in a pile against the wall - but that's a different story.)

        Anyway, a bunch of potential graduate employees were being shown round before their interviews. One of them thought it would be fun to step onto one of the empty trolleys and off the other side, rather than walk round them like most sensible human beings. No harm was done - the trolleys could easily cope with that. But his action was noted, and I don't think his interview lasted very long....

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Don’t know about you

          "And occasionally, they'd get confused and all end up in a pile against the wall"

          There's a story that one of the automated transit carriages at some airport (?Gatwick) went missing with a load of passengers and was discovered repeatedly going through it's automated carriage wash.

          1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

            Re: was discovered repeatedly going through it's automated carriage wash.

            And this was before AI?

            Which raises the question: Have OCD traits been observed in AI systems yet?

        2. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Don’t know about you

          Quite rightly he shouldn't have been given the job. Not so much because he stepped on to the trolley- though that's enough reason. But because he did so when he was under that kind of observation. i.e. too obviously stupid to be a good candidate.

        3. SImon Hobson Silver badge

          Re: Don’t know about you

          Not something I witnessed first hand, but told to me by a consultant that did a lot of work with IBM sites.

          He got taken on a jolly to see a warehouse that was the pride of the automation supplier, and I assume using a lot of IBM kit to track stuff. This was waaay back before such things were normal.

          So pallets of stuff came in, and an automated forklift would whizz it off down an aisle and put it where there was room - with the computer keeping track of where everything was. Worked great, and not being manned meant the forklifts could operate fast - which will be seen to be an important fact shortly.

          But, this was a seasonal business, and in the run-up to Christmas, suppliers would be sending every bit of stock they could - even if it was sending a shoebox of stuff round in a taxi. Now, a shoebox on a pallet all by itself isn't very space efficient, so the system had another trick up its sleeve. It could whizz the forklift off up the aisle - but with a human on-board who's job was to stack that small box on an existing pallet.

          The process was supposed to be: forklift stops, operator climbs out of safe cage and stack the box, operator returns to safe position, operator then presses button to say he's safe and the forklift can move again. But that was too slow, so the operators were expected to climb out onto the forks while the machine was moving, and press the button before climbing back into the cab. So moving between cab and forks while a high speed forklift was zooming up and down the aisles.

          Apparently, the typical career for such an operator was about 2 months before they told the company where to shove the job.

          One day, a forklift developed a fault, accelerated up to it's maximum speed and didn't stop at the end - it made itself a new door and fell over in the field next door. Fortunately no-one was on it, but the entire staff walked out that day.

      3. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Don’t know about you

        next to button that says "Do Not Press" on it.

        Lewis Carroll had a different idea... and yet the outcome was the same

        /me replaces the button with one that says "Press Me" - same effect

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don’t know about you

      never underestimate the stupidity of people...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: never underestimate the stupidity of people...

        Curiosity is not stupidity.

        Always doing what you're told is.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: never underestimate the stupidity of people...

          >Curiosity is not stupidity.

          Curiosity is wondering what would happen if you inserted a body part in some unfamiliar industrial equipment.

          Wisdom is observing what happens when somebody else does it first

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: never underestimate the stupidity of people...

            I do prefer to learn from other people's mistakes!

            1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

              Re: never underestimate the stupidity of people...

              Which is a good way to do it - you won't live long enough to make them all yourself.

    3. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Don’t know about you

      From my first chemical engineering lecture: If you're visiting a plant and hear something dripping on your safety helmet DON'T LOOK UP

      1. cantankerous swineherd

        Re: Don’t know about you

        do not look at laser with remaining eye

        1. PerspexAvenger

          Re: Don’t know about you

          A while back I was put through a CAT-scan to make sure my brain was there, or something, and as I was lying in the doughnut I was staring up at a little red light and a few mm away some text that, from my orientation, was printed upside-down.

          Given I was there for a few minutes, I lay there and sounded out D-O- -N-O-T- -L-O-O-K- -I-N-T-O- -L-A-S-E-R- -A-P-E-R-T... oh.

          Bit of a design flaw, if you ask me.

    4. Skiver

      Re: Don’t know about you

      When I worked at DEC as a field service engineer, one of my customers was a nuke plant. My policy was do not touch under any under any circumstances unless given explicit permission. Even the gear I maintained.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Don’t know about you

        Partner is a Chemist - never touch any door handles in the lab.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Don’t know about you

          How do you tell a physicist from a chemist in the bathroom?

          The physicist washes his hands AFTER using the toilet.

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Don’t know about you

          When you see someone wearing gloves in the corridor - think about what that means

          1. Muscleguy Silver badge

            Re: Don’t know about you

            I wear gloves in the corridor. Often to and from dissection demonstrations to the pupils. I would be happy to do this without gloves, I’m not squeamish at all. The gloves are so that afterwards I can take the right glover off so I can put my hand in my pocket to unlock the door of my cave (I have no windows and automatic lights).

            Gloves in labs are worn for two, sometimes overlapping, reasons.

            1. to protect you from what you are handling/working on.

            2. To protect what you are working on from you.

            If I have been wearing them for 1 but they remain pristine because I’m careful and have VERY steady hands then may decide not to require another pair and wear them while going to speak to a teacher.

            Back when I was a researcher we wore double gloves in the Hot Lab. With our finger monitors over the first pair. The nucleotides were working with could not penetrate two gloves with their radiation. Short lived things like 32P. Made the counter scream but had a use by date. We regularly got fresh nucleotides.

            These days a lot of that is done with fluorescence since the detectors have become very much more sensitive. The labs of my later career had no hot labs. I did not miss it.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Don’t know about you

              I occasionally have to service gear in cleanroom environments and that's double everything, not just gloves.

              Just for those who have never done this:

              It starts with a sort of non-fibrous set of pyjama-alike gear, an overcoat and a mask, and with that you enter the gray zone which is where final packing is done where you grab your cleanroom clothes, sealed in plastic. You leave your overcoat there, then cross a barrier where you either leave your shoes behind or add a cover to them, wash your hands, fit a new mask, put on a hair net (amusingly, there's no exception to that for bald people, but I digress) and put on your first set of gloves. Pro tip: make sure your hands are really dry or the gloves will be a struggle.

              With that you go through the automated doors with the badge that's strapped to your arm underneath your gear, and walk to the next area limit bench. That's where you open the cleanroom clothes bags and get into gear that covers you from head to ankles, with a zip that's seriously awkward the first time you use it. You then add cleanroom boots (a sort of elasticated sock with rubber sole that reaches over your calves) and swivel to the clean side. You rub your gloved hands with cleaner, then add another set of gloves and finally you fit a set of safety glasses - more diving style than reading. You are also required to wipe down any gear you bring along like network testers or cabling.

              The last stage is that you will be standing in a claustophobically small airlock while filtered air is blasted from top to bottom and back again (suction vent is at the top) to remove any fibres before it unlocks and you get to enter the cleanroom area itself.

              If all that sounds annoying, there's one more catch: if you wear glasses, condensation is really, really hard to prevent and you can't access them as they're under the safety glasses.

              Needless to say, other than physical requirements I tend to (a) do everything I can on remote and (b) have any misbehaving gear that isn't complex to remove put into the gateways that allow us to take things in and out so I can just have it in the IT department. Thankfully there are some reasonable intelligent users who can be trusted with removing or installing simple things like scanners or printers, but when it comes to computers there is often little option because they tend to be built into gear.

              On the plus side, where I work there are no dangerous chemicals, irradiation is done elsewhere and I don't have to be in the cleanroom that often :).

            2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Don’t know about you

              >1. to protect you from what you are handling/working on.

              That's why she is always infuriated with people walking around outside the lab with presumably the same gloves they were wearing in the lab, which can be assumed to be covered in $NASTY_CHEMICAL$

      2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Don’t know about you

        My policy was do not touch under any under any circumstances unless given explicit permission. Even the gear I maintained.

        And always mount a scratch monkey?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    nice story

    I couldn't fathom the answer before the end !

    Cool.

    Now, I feel nuclear power is really unsafe :( Maybe this is also what happened in RL to french EDF, with its fleet of nearly 32 out of 58 reactors out of the grid ...

    1. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: nice story

      Now, I feel nuclear power is really unsafe :( Maybe this is also what happened in RL to french EDF, with its fleet of nearly 32 out of 58 reactors out of the grid ...

      Then you're wrong. Nuclear reactors are watched very carefully. If 32 out 58 EDF's reactors are out of the grid, this is because they are in planned maintenance.

      The main problem is having relied for a long time on existing reactors without building new ones. The result is there: many reactors are ageing and require heavy maintenance, and no new ones were built to cover this, not even mentioning the need of covering new usages. There was so much anti-nuclear brainwashing by the so-called "Greens", so many newsfeed propagating the propaganda, so few educational efforts that now France has to reopen coal power stations which are an ecological disaster to compensate.

      1. Ken G Bronze badge
        Meh

        Re: nice story

        It's the safest means of power production we've created so far, much safer than wind energy and does much less damage to the environment than burning fossil fuels or producing solar cells.

        1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

          Re: nice story

          and completely ignoring the nuclear waste problem, 'cause that cost is shift over to the state. Worldwide unsolved.

          A solar cell going boom? A local problem within a square meter, no permanent damage. Batteries going boom? A few square meter, usually without permanent damage, a bit cleanup might be required (except when baldy implemented you lose your house, limited damage area). A large wind turbine going boom? Depending on the direction a few hundred square meter of trash cleanup. Nothing permanent, can be recycled.

          Nuclear going boom or just a little bit wrong? History tells us what to learn, you just need to listen. And don't forget those many little happy accidents which didn't make it to the news 'cause companies kept quiet instead of reporting it. And now switching to countries where the nuclear "control" is of no importance to the leaders.

          Fusion will make it a bit better once it works, but there is a waste problem as well. Just on a (yet) smaller scale and easier to control. And if the control fails the reactor shuts down instantly by design. But we are not there yet, will take at least 20+ years.

          1. tip pc Silver badge

            Re: nice story

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAOIH8HRdDo

          2. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge
            Stop

            Re: nice story

            They all tend to ignore the nuclear waste problem - since it usually goes into somebody else's backyard - usually arranged by bribing somebody high up in the food chain.

            1. GrahamRJ

              Re: nice story

              Re the waste, the most persistent waste is plutonium isotopes. The reason the UK has so much of it is that fast breeder reactors can use it as fuel, so other countries shipping us their waste would essentially have been powering the UK for free. But more stocks of uranium were found, and various environmental groups went batsh*t about building more reactors, so the UK government decided it would be easier just to sit on the stuff. One of these days we might get something done with it.

              Aside from plutonium, the rest have relatively low halflives. We're also not short of *really* deep mines where the stuff could be stashed, and vitrification is very effective at stopping it going wandering about.

              1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                Re: nice story

                "Aside from plutonium, the rest have relatively low halflives. We're also not short of *really* deep mines where the stuff could be stashed, and vitrification is very effective at stopping it going wandering about."

                There are some models that show some of that waste could be "burned up" in a LFTR reactor. It's all theory right now, but another good reason to move forward with modernizing reactor design. Just encasing in glass and burying it is the same as a cat covering up their deposits. It doesn't go away, it's just not seen anymore. Just for the disposal possibilities alone, I favor governments spending money on the research and spending less money giving people free stuff and paying them to have more kids. I point to the graphs showing quality of life vs electricity usage.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: nice story

                If I recall correctly, surveys indicated that the best geological conditions to store nuclear waste are found ..

                .. right under the Houses of Parliament in London.

                IMHO the best evidence that nature does have a sense of humour.

                1. A Nother Handle
                  Mushroom

                  Re: nice story

                  Parliament is quite close to the river Thames, but a leak of nuclear fuel there might improve the water quality.

                  1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

                    Re: nice story

                    The Thames is supposed to be a lot better since Joseph Bazalgette.

          3. Potemkine! Silver badge

            Re: nice story

            ALL energy-production means are polluting and are hazardous. There's no perfect solution.

            In history of nuclear power stations, there was one huge accident, in a power station whose design was known to be unsafe, tested in unsafe conditions, with most workers too afraid to say anything thanks to a dictatorial culture.

            Solar cell? It require dirty mining to be made, with consequences lasting a lot of time.

            Large wind turbine? Hundreds of tons of concrete left in the soil, with nobody taking care of it.

            Coal kills hundreds of people worldwide EVERY DAY, it modifies our climate, its effects will last for centuries but nobody seems to consider it's dangerous.

            In fact, replacing coal power stations by nuclear ones would probably save a lot of lives and provide enough energy.

            Fusion will make it a bit better once it works, but there is a waste problem as well.

            Which one? Fusion products helium, hardy a dangerous by-product.

            1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

              Re: nice story

              > Fusion products helium, hardy a dangerous by-product.

              Fusing two H atoms the current way with deuterium and / or tritium, you get one or more leftover neutrons. Also known as beta-radiation. Those end up in the walls of the reactor, making the reactor walls radioactive, and hot, and that generates the energy. Even without deuterium or tritium you'll end up with radiation. Have fun checking the truth in my words - they are real.

              Hundreds of people every day worldwide from coal? I'd say that is an understatement! There must be a lot more! One hundred is currently the COVID death-rate each day of UK or Germany alone. Walking on the sidewalk in a non-dangerous area with the sidewalk in good condition is deadlier than coal when looking world-wide.

              Radioactivity: It makes large areas inhabitable. The radioactivity from 1986 is still measurable worldwide, and kills at least as much as coal. The one from 2011 too. It is neither more safe or cheaper. Check those many World Radioactivity Maps

              I am surprised how many Brit seem to fall for lobbyists, believing when they say "it is safe". But there were quite a few bad decisions lately in Brit which they really really regret. They really really regret listening and trusting to that one guy, especially fishermen. But don't worry, we have more idiots than good here in Germany as well - COVID exposed them without mercy.

              1. adam 40 Silver badge

                Re: nice story

                Beta radiation is electrons.

              2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: nice story

                "Have fun checking the truth in my words - they are real."

                Your words are real. Their arrangement leaves a lot to be desired.

                1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

                  Re: nice story

                  What do you expect from a German? British politeness?

                  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                    Re: nice story

                    Accuracy.

              3. Richard 12 Silver badge

                Re: nice story

                Coal emits several orders of magnitude more radiation than nuclear power plants.

                If we held them to the same standard then we'd have replaced all coal with nuclear decades ago.

              4. MachDiamond Silver badge

                Re: nice story

                Walking on the sidewalk in a non-dangerous area with the sidewalk in good condition is deadlier than coal when looking world-wide.

                The problem with apportioning deaths to the burning of coal is the effects are long term and accumulate. Estimates have to be made taking into account air pollution percentages attributable to coal power generation. During the industrial revolution when many cities were horribly polluted with smoke, the death rate is well documented.

                Radioactivity: It makes large areas inhabitable. The radioactivity from 1986 is still measurable worldwide, and kills at least as much as coal.

                What large areas? Radioactivity is very easy to measure. Some places in the world have a background even more intense than that of Pripyat if you aren't digging trenches. The exclusion zone in Japan is as large as it is in an abundant application of caution. They are allowing some people to move back in. Older people aren't as worried about a higher rate of cancer 20 years in the future when they are 70. That should be compared to the vast amount of land covered in fly ash (that is also radioactive). One also has to temper the anti-nuke statements with the reality that the linear no-threshold hypothesis isn't a good model. Earth is radioactive. Humans have evolved on Earth and a certain amount of radiation is not harmful and could even be beneficial. There are issues with trans-uranics since they aren't naturally occurring. Pu is a poison more dangerous than its radioactive properties. Since it isn't present naturally, humans have zero tolerance for it.

                I found it hilarious that tidal and sea level maps were being totted as showing radiation from Fukushima.

                Nothing is 100% safe. We have to balance our needs and desires versus the risks. Even a completely hunter/gatherer lifestyle is rife with deadly peril. The environment is out to kill us on a regular basis. One season of drought can wipe out the population of a wide area if they don't see it coming and move. A large meat animal can turn and kill or permanently maim.

                1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                  Re: nice story

                  "Some places in the world have a background even more intense than that of Pripyat if you aren't digging trenches."

                  I was surprised to find that when my daughter was buying a house here in the Pennines that the building society required a radon check. I was even more surprised to find that we're entirely radon free here - it's not as if we're sitting on top of granite. And on the subject of granite, the carbon dating lab in Belfast used distilled rather than deionised water to get rid of the radon in the public water supply from the Mournes.

                  1. tiggity Silver badge

                    Re: nice story

                    @DoctorSyntax

                    A lot of radon check areas are related to coal mining ironically, some are to do with other minerals though (such as granite you mentioned), also plenty of lead mining etc in pennine areas with radon risk

              5. tiggity Silver badge

                Re: nice story

                Life is all hazards

                Grew up in a mining area where everyone used coal for heating with all the associated health risks (miners got free coal allowance, it was generous, more than enough for 1 average household & everyone had relatives or friends involved in mining, so could get a lot of their "spare" free and so not need to buy much of their own) .

                Mines closed now, though it is now a high radon area, so there's still that fun to deal with even though mining is over and most (not all) of the areas are now designated smokeless zone.

                So coal, the health risk that keeps on giving (mining increases radon risk)

            2. Pseu Donyme

              Re: Which one?

              The intense neutron flux causes significant amounts of radioactive isotopes to be created by neutron capture in atoms making up the reactor and its surroundings. Orders of magnitude less of a problem than fission products, of course, but still a problem that has to be dealt with.

            3. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: nice story

              "In history of nuclear power stations, there was one huge accident, in a power station whose design was known to be unsafe, tested in unsafe conditions, with most workers too afraid to say anything thanks to a dictatorial culture.

              "

              The other major incident might be blamed on a very hierarchical society as well with those lower on the rungs being encouraged to not say anything. This is in addition to a poor site design and little to no testing of emergency systems and procedures. Jim Al-Khalili did a really good program on that incident.

              Fusion can create radioactive isotopes of the materials used in the construction through processes such as neutron bombardment. It's not perfect and has been 20 years away for many many years. Even if they sorted out the issues this years, it would be at least a decade before the first one made it into commercial service.

              There is no drop in replacement for fossil fuel power plants and people shouldn't bash something like wind because it isn't. There will need to be an approach that uses the best option for a given area. Intermittent power should be used for things that lend themselves to intermittent operation. Ammonia production is a huge user of electricity. Why not build plants that produce Ammonia when the wind is blowing and add some battery backup so the system can gracefully and safely turn on and off? Those plants can be located immediately adjacent to the wind farm/turbine. If electricity rates were transmitted down the lines, people with EV's could dial in set points to charge when rates are cheap (meaning that supply is exceeding demand, usually). There's the battery back up for the grid and it means that the grid operator isn't turning off wind turbines when demand typically drops off in the middle of the night. It's not just EV's that can take advantage, but charging stations as well. Some are being built with battery storage so they can provide high power charging where it would be difficult to plumb in a suitably large connection to the grid. Most EV's only hit their max charging rates for a short period of time.

              1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

                Re: nice story

                Come come, you can't expect people to apply logic and reasoning to a subject where only hysteria and lies are considered reasonable !

          4. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: nice story

            "Nuclear going boom or just a little bit wrong?"

            History actually tells us, not a big problem. Even Chernobyl was basically inconsequential, looked at rationally. The evacuation of Pripyat was a mistake, in hindsight, and caused more deaths than the radiation would have. Fukushima was a complete non-problem.

            "And don't forget those many little happy accidents which didn't make it to the news 'cause companies kept quiet instead of reporting it."

            That's a loony conspiracy theory. No such thing is even possible. Stop listening to far right YouTubers.

            1. fajensen

              Re: nice story

              Even Chernobyl was basically inconsequential, looked at rationally.

              I believed Joseph Stalin died before Chernobyl? Anyway, he was a very rational guy!

            2. First Light Silver badge

              Re: nice story

              Chernobyl is still causing problems, not least for the untrained, uninformed Russian soldiers who are now dying of radiation poisoning after visiting and digging trenches in poisoned earth. Not to mention the Ukrainian workers who were kept inside at gunpoint for 24 days instead of being swapped out at 15 days to prevent radiation exposure. Not sure your sunny and flippant attitude to that disaster is in any way rational.

              Fukushima is still causing problems.

              https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/feb/18/un-to-review-japans-plan-to-release-fukushima-water-into-pacific

              When nuclear goes wrong, it goes really, really wrong for a very long time, and that is what grabs people's attention. Trivializing those issues doesn't help your cause.

              1. nintendoeats Silver badge

                Re: nice story

                Yet, even accounting for all of that, the worst engineering disaster by far is a dam failure. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1975_Banqiao_Dam_failure

                1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

                  Re: nice story

                  Oh, that dam failure is a nice comparison! Even though is it a baaad disaster: The area is not contaminated with invisible non-smelling radiation which will be there for the next 100+ years. Chornobyl area is a good comparison. It was 36 years ago, now some russian solder went a bit rough with the ground and suffer from something that happened in that area 15+ years before they were born.

                  1. nintendoeats Silver badge

                    Re: nice story

                    Right, which is why we don't generally let people into Chornobyl. Russia was stupid and caused the mess in the first place, Russia was stupid and didn't properly prepare their soldiers. Note that the common factor there is Russia.

                    I think the 100k - 250k thousand people estimated to have died in the dam failure would have much preferred to have taken their chances in Pripyat.

                    1. First Light Silver badge

                      Re: nice story

                      We will never know the full toll of the Chernobyl disaster, because no proper death count was kept and the tens of thousands of workers that came and went to clean up after the disaster and engage in construction, etc. were never followed up on. The Soviet government was committed to downplaying the disaster, as are some posters on here.

                      I'm not trying to make some competition here about what was the worst disaster ever, but I do find trying to minimize the destructive effect of Chernobyl an ineffective argument for nuclear power. Another poster has pointed out that the type of reactor matters in terms of safety, that's a much more effective argument than trying to dismiss what has been a nuclear clusterf**k for the generations, both literally and metaphorically.

                      1. nintendoeats Silver badge

                        Re: nice story

                        I make no bones about the fact that Chornobyl was very very bad. It is a fascinating and terrible event. But even the most aggressive casualty numbers you can possibly come up with pale in comparison to even China's own numbers related to Banqiao.

                        I agree that this is not as important as looking at the actual technology and why a Chornobyl-like event is virtually impossible with the types of reactors we actually use. However, if people are going to make the faulty argument that Chornobyl proves the danger of nuclear power, then I think it is valid to counter that the the worst engineering failure of all time is actually related to an alternative form of power. I don't think it proves anything beyond that, and I certainly don't think we should stop building dams.

                        I just don't think we should build dams like the Chinese did in the 50s, just as I don't think we should build nuclear reactors like the USSR did in the 70s. If we can agree on that, then there is very little reason to discuss either event in the context of actually coming up with a plan for building new power infrastructure.

            3. M.V. Lipvig Bronze badge

              Re: nice story

              Hate to derail your loony leftist propaganda train, but the right is notoriously PRO- nuclear power. "And don't forget those many little happy accidents which didn't make it to the news 'cause companies kept quiet instead of reporting it." is a loony leftist conspiracy thing.

          5. Ian Johnston Silver badge

            Re: nice story

            and completely ignoring the nuclear waste problem

            What nuclear waste problem?

          6. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: nice story

            You don't need fusion to have a safer reactor, at present there's a lot of development in Thorium based reactors which are so much safer that it illustrates how eager the US was in the 60s to get stuff to make bombs with that they simply abandoned any other idea (which they gave to the Chinese which, ironically, is now about to seriously threaten the dollar, but I digress).

            Apart from failing safe (as in a nuclear reaction that STOPS when things go wrong as opposed to one that continues to melt its way to the Earth's core á la Chernobyl and Fukoshima) there's also the fun fact that it actually uses some nuclear waste, is self regulating and converts over 99% of its fuel into energy as opposed to the shockingly low, below 1% of 'traditional' nuclear plants where the spent fuel then has to be reprocessed or indeed stored as waste*.

            The advantages of LFTRs and other Thorium based MSR reactors do not just lie in the fact that they're a lot safer, they're also FAR more economical. They can be built quickly as they need fewer and simpler security measures, they're a lot cheaper (the main cost of a nuclear plant is the funding that needs years before there's a return on investment) and they're far more economical with a fuel source that was is actually a waste product of rare earth mining (we throw away 30x as much Thorium as we'd need to power the entire planet and it doesn't need as much expensive refining as Uranium to be ready to act as fuel).

            There are multiple development going on in this area, but it's far to say that the Chinese are years ahead here: they set up a whole University just to study this topic, and the first commercially viable MSR went live there last year in October after Covid delays.

            * this is mainly because traditional fuel rods are pressed into solid pellets, so as soon as there is a reaction, the gasses that develop crack the pellets. Thorium reactors use a fluoride salt as medium which is liquid, allowing gasses to easily escape and be handled

            1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

              Re: nice story

              Thorium based reactors won't come as quickly as you might expect. Reason: Overall too expensive. Even with subsidy still too expensive. They will only exist to produce weapon grade plutonium, for example. So it requires "military need", where cost does not matter.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: nice story

                They will only exist to produce weapon grade plutonium, for example

                That is exactly what they are not very good at. As for costs, try reading it again. The main cost of a reactor lies in borrowing capital until it's ready to operate, and building a LFTR takes a lot less time exactly because it's much simpler and safer by design.

          7. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: nice story

            Just a little aside:

            I worked on Fast Breeders before I retired. They are closest to perpetual motion that we've ever invented. The Clueless peanut farmer Carter closed down the breeder program because he didn't understand it. Any byproduct waste has very low activity - higher order waste is recycled to make more fuel....

            The other way to minimise nuclear waste is to go with Thorium cycle. The byproducts have very short half-lives and most are non-toxic. Thorium Cycle has so many advantages over Uranium Cycle that it was also shut down by Carter!

            The "Greens" have a lot to answer for - their bizarre "new religion" will cause endless problems until they're all put back in their boxes....

            1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

              Re: nice story

              Indeed.

              To a certain extent, our "waste" problem is actually caused by various loud shouting pressure groups who have managed to get "fuel" relabelled as "waste" and turned a resource into an expensive problem. According to one expert at a lecture I attended a few years ago, we have enough wastefuel in stock to satisfy the entire lecky needs of the UK for around a century if we had the ability to use it.

              As a parallel, when oil was discovered, the only use for it was lamp oil. But it was found that there were lighter fractions which if left in the oil, would cause lamps to explode. So these lighter fractions were distilled out and poured into pits and burned off. Now we call the lighter fractions "petrol" and use them instead of calling them waste and having to dispose of them.

          8. sianag

            Re: nice story

            Fusion has been 20 years away for 50 years at this point, it's always 20 years away, no matter how much progress you put into it.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: nice story

          "It's the safest means of power production we've created so far, much safer than wind energy and does much less damage to the environment than burning fossil fuels or producing solar cells."

          When generating power in bulk, yes. That doesn't mean that using fossil fuels or solar PV isn't the best choice for a specific application. RTG's (Radioisotopic Thermal Generators) are horribly inefficient, but are very useful in deep space vehicles and sensing stations that are difficult to service. I had a nice chat with an engineer from Teledyne about using RTG's to power lunar colonies. Since a lunar installation could be serviced, the power conversion can be done with a Stirling heat engine which is far more efficient than using thermocouples and the heat from the process is also useful.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: nice story

        "If 32 out 58 EDF's reactors are out of the grid, this is because they are in planned maintenance."

        Original AC here.

        Nope, you're very wrong. Some are indeed in planned maintenance. But certainly not half+ of them !!

        Many are in unplanned maintenance, because some US based reactors were tweaked for no obvious reasons, 40 years ago, causing corrosion the original designs never experienced.

        It's largely unknown why they tweaked the emmergency bore fluid tubing circuit, aimed at extinguishing the reactors core, should anything catastrophic happen, but it was done, and created this.

        Source: Le Canard Enchaîné dated this week. No link as online reading for it is a payed service.

        BTW, thanks all for the downvotes ! Actually, my comment on safety of nuclear power was a joke. Apparently, a dozen of Reg commentards can't spot one, this friday.

        1. Hero Protagonist
          Alert

          Re: nice story

          “Actually, my comment on safety of nuclear power was a joke. Apparently, a dozen of Reg commentards can't spot one, this friday.”

          That should be your signal to tell better jokes.

        2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

          Re: nice story

          "Actually, my comment on safety of nuclear power was a joke."

          You have to use irony tags. Especially since 2016 when everything which once was meant ironical or as a joke turned out to be worst possible truth. And everything which was meant to be true and honest turned out to be the irony of real life.

          My irony detector broke down fully when COVID and those "Querdenker" popped up in Germany.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: nice story

        " There was so much anti-nuclear brainwashing by the so-called "Greens", so many newsfeed propagating the propaganda, so few educational efforts that now France has to reopen coal power stations which are an ecological disaster to compensate."

        There is absolutely no excuse for the amount of fossil fuels we've shoved up power-station chimneys during the whole of my adult life. None. The technology was there to use and to develop during that time. With a sensible approach to deployment we'd have had reactors a few generations more advanced than we have now.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: nice story

          "There is absolutely no excuse for the amount of fossil fuels we've shoved up power-station chimneys during the whole of my adult life."

          True. And until very recently, no safe limits set on the emissions. Coal fired power stations were pumping out enough radioactive particulates to have closed down a nuclear power station. And giving away/selling the "clicker" to be used as hard-core/pathways, a highly toxic mix.

          1. rivimey

            Re: nice story

            For "clicker" substitute "clinker", which is a congealed residue from burning coal that contains more impurities, like sodium, potassium and calcium. It typically forms sponge-like lumps that can have sharp edges when cool. As far as I know, such clinker is no more toxic than the coal it came from, and may be less so.

            Fly Ash is quite different, resulting from the burning of crushed coal. Coal is crushed to enable more complete burning, but the residue of this is typically a very fine ash that can cause significant health issues when breathed in, and can form dangerous slurries if wet. The ash, like clinker, forms with sharp edges but because it starts so small the individual particles are small enough to do real damage in the air and in water, being very abrasive. Properly disposing of Fly Ash is very necessary.

            As for radioactivity - well Carbon has several common isotopes anc the process of burning will often result in some localised concentrates forming. It is not significantly more dangerous than being in an area with granite bedrock.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: nice story

              "As for radioactivity - well Carbon has several common isotopes anc the process of burning will often result in some localised concentrates forming.!

              Carbon has one common isotope, 12, one fairly uncommon isotope, 13, and one more uncommon isotope, 14. It's only the last which is radioactive (weak beta) with a half-life of 5,000 plus years. C14 is produced at a fairly, but not entirely constant, rate in the upper atmosphere by the action of cosmic rays on nitrogen so its level in the atmosphere and hence in living things is fairly constant. Coal has not been a living thing for millions of years old and any remaining C14 would be well below the limits of practical detection.

              1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

                Re: nice story

                You deserve double, no triple thumbs up from everyone for pointing that out.

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: nice story

              For "clicker" substitute "clinker",

              Yes. My brain was saying clinker but my fingers typed clicker. I have no idea why :-)

            3. SImon Hobson Silver badge

              Re: nice story

              As for radioactivity - well Carbon has several common isotopes...

              You forgot about the uranium (and other stuff) that's found in coal and end up going up the chimney. I think you'll find that the C14 is insignificant by comparison.

        2. sitta_europea

          Re: nice story

          [quote]There is absolutely no excuse for the amount of fossil fuels we've shoved up power-station chimneys during the whole of my adult life. None. The technology was there to use and to develop during that time. With a sensible approach to deployment we'd have had reactors a few generations more advanced than we have now.[/quote]

          True enough.

          Forty years ago my day job was working on real reactors. This was in the UK; I only ever tripped one (twice) but it was just the little 100MW job we used to call the AGR.

          All of us tried at some stage to explain to politicians (and anyone who might actually listen) why we should be building more nuclear power stations, faster. But despite the clear and obvious science (yes, we knew about global warming in 1980 - the Keeling Curve had been around for twenty years and we were already looking at 340ppm) the politicians decided not to build any more nuclear power stations at all, which left me without a good reason to stay in the employment. It wasn't outstandingly lucrative but at that point it had been my life's ambition for at least a decade and I'd spent a good few years training especially for the job.

          Now that I'm retired, it seems for some reason we need to build more nuclear power stations.

          Somehow "I told you so" doesn't quite say it...

          But hey, you voted for them.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: nice story

            But hey, you voted for them.

            "them", being any party that's been in power since then, of course, which means the vast majority of voters voted "them" in. Those who never vote or have only voted for parties who never made it to power can hold there heads up high, point and laugh. Except the Greens, of course, who don't want any form of nuclear power! :-)

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: nice story

            Even without considering global warning there was every reason not to burn coal or other fossil hydrocarbons unnecessarily. They hae uses other than fuelling static energy plants which are not so easily substituted so conservation of finite supplies was always good sense.

        3. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: nice story

          "The technology was there to use and to develop during that time. With a sensible approach to deployment we'd have had reactors a few generations more advanced than we have now."

          Agreed. The problem is that it's boring to talk about something so mundane as electricity. Mostly this is because people are happy to be ignorant on the subject, even proudly so. Math is so hard........

          If something is boring, chances are that politicians aren't going to talk about it since it isn't going to get them votes. Certainly nowhere near the number of votes they can get if they promise to lower taxes AND hand out more free stuff. If it isn't talked about, it isn't important and nothing gets done.

      4. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: nice story

        "France has to reopen coal power stations which are an ecological disaster"

        It doesn't take much effort to find stories about how radioactive fly ash piles at coal power plants can be. Grabbing loads of something from underground and burning off the carbon has a tendency to concentrate what's left such as heavy metals. Of course, this is "Normally Occurring Radiation" so not as big of an issue. /s

    2. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: nice story

      Nuclear power is very safe. It's curiously self-regulating too... or at least the modern Pressurised Water Reactors (PWRs) are. AGRs (Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors - a favourite in the UK) and BWRs (Boiling Water Reactors - the 'cheap and cheerful' early versions of nuclear reactors) are different animals, as are the RBMKs from Russia (graphite moderated, water cooled). If anything, the RBMKs are the most unstable of the lot...

      Read the books "How to Drive a Nuclear Reactor" and "Atomic Accidents" - Both are very good reads and bookend each other beautifully. The former explains why PWRs are safe, the latter explains (amongst other things) why the three nuclear catastrophes (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima) ended up being catastrophes.

      1. logicalextreme

        Re: nice story

        I seem to recall reading somewhere that the safety profiles of various energy generation methods take quite a holistic view too, so it's not just operational safety and risk to the general public that's accounted for — construction accidents and accidents during maintenance and decommissioning are also taken into account and (presumably) totted up against the average total kWh generated, and nuclear tends to come out on top when doing this.

        It's probably quite anthropocentric though, and I'm not sure how spent fuel factors into it. I'd also take a lot of things with a pinch of salt as I imagine there's a lot of lobbying money flying around from parties with financial interests in any given energy generation field. Books sound good though, I'll put them on my list.

        1. Ken G Bronze badge

          Re: nice story

          Yes, offshore wind turbines don't "go boom" as the commentard above described it, but installing and servicing them is an inherently dangerous occupation as is decommisioning them and disposing of the blades.

          On the waste side, the quantities make a difference, nuclear waste is nasty but fits in a few oil drums, coal slag isn't so toxic but builds up on the side of hills. I am in favour of wind, wave and solar energy, I just think there is also a case for safe, modern, distributed nuclear power too and I'd rather have it than oil or gas.

          1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge
            Unhappy

            Re: nice story

            ...coal slag isn't so toxic but builds up on the side of hills.

            Tell that to Uncle Gweezy (Gwede Mantashe).

            Nothing will be done regarding coal slag until it affects uncle Gweezy in some way or the other. At the moment it is not his problem, so why should he worry?

          2. pmb00cs

            Re: nice story

            "coal slag isn't so toxic but builds up on the side of hills"

            And sometimes runs down them too.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberfan_disaster

            1. WhereAmI?

              Re: nice story

              Fifty-six years later that still rubs an unhealed and very raw spot in me. I was seven years old at the time and I recall the disaster like it happened yesterday. When the news broke the whole school went very, very quiet and my teachers seemed to find it very hard to take classes. I spent hours looking out of the main window next to my desk trying to imagine what it would have been like to see that mountain of (I have no words for it) racing towards me. So many dead children, so many of them close to my age.

              One of those things I can't forget, even if I wanted to. Requiescat in pace.

          3. anothercynic Silver badge

            Re: nice story

            Interestingly, coal has its own radiation issues in the sense that coal tends to contain thorium and uranium (both are actinides), and although in its 'raw' state coal is safe, once you burn all the carbon out of it and create slag, the slag tends to... emit radioactivity as the two actinides are concentrated down and the radioactive isotopes of both decay and emit radium, radon and other radioactive isotopes. There are estimates that *no* uranium needs to be mined for if you just go through all the coal slag and refine it from there.

            Apparently the amount of radioactive exposure downwind or in the vicinity of coal stations is 3-6x higher (~18 millirem) than at a nuclear powerstation (~3-6 millirem).

            The primary problem of nuclear waste is that some isotopes with high half-lives and strong alpha/beta/gamma emissions can build up over time (hence things being stuffed into barrels and buried for decades or molten into glass and then packed away for thousands of years). In the early days they thought that using fast neutron breeder reactors that can use *all* radioisotopes of the transuranic actinides as fuel (until the end result is a non-fissile actinide) would be a good thing (which it is), but then more uranium reserves were found and used, leaving nuclear fuel in the newer reactors glowing on for quite a while longer instead of burning them up.

          4. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: nice story

            "offshore wind turbines don't "go boom""

            Incorrect. They can go bang in spectacular and rather polluting ways, and do so on a fairly regular basis.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: nice story

              But they're out of sight and out of earshot so less likely to grab attention. It amounts to the same thing where policy is concerned.

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: nice story

                Search for exploding wind turbines for some exciting videos :-)

          5. fajensen
            Mushroom

            Re: nice story

            nuclear waste is nasty but fits in a few oil drums

            Why must the nuke bro's always lie?

            Just shows again and again that nuclear power is the enery "solution" for the high-functioning moron, the kind that can do pattern matching and scripted actions just well enough to have a decent career and therefore believes that others barely can understand their unique brilliance,

            .... so they dont have to make any effort at all.

            1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

              Re: nice story

              You argument is unassailable, and you have completely changed my mind....

          6. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: nice story

            "I am in favour of wind, wave and solar energy"

            So far wave energy hasn't been all that good. The sea just beats the heck out of those things from multiple directions and they don't last very long before needing maintenance or repairs. Someday, somebody might hit on a viable design so it's worth the investment as long as money isn't being wasted on boondoggles.

            I expect to have solar PV on my house this year provided I can get a new roof installed first. If I size it right and make sure I'm using it to it's fullest capacity as much as possible, it could have a big ROI. I can't do wind since the city won't allow even a small turbine. I see wind power as something that isn't a good fit for the grid but could be very useful for applications that can be run intermittently. That unreliability makes it very difficult to shoehorn into the rest of the grid. I pointed out in another post that if EV's can be sent spot rates and owners can set them to charge when prices dip, wind on the grid might be viable. I don't see that using wind power to pump water for pumped storage is a good primary use. It's not that efficient. It is a better way to store power than chemical batteries and also has the benefit of keeping more fresh water on hand. Wind power being used for pumped storage as a last option isn't a bad idea. I prefer that over just turning them off if the cost of the infrastructure has a chance on paying for itself.

    3. nintendoeats Silver badge

      Re: nice story

      That's totally missing the point. In an unclear situation, the reactor SCRAMmed. That's what it should do, that's how people stay safe. The only "disaster" is economic, just like Three-Mile-Island.

      This kind of thing increases my confidence in Nuclear Power. The system saw something that made no sense, and instead of throwing its hands in the air and yelling "undefined behavior", it erred on the side of safety.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: nice story

      "Now, I feel nuclear power is really unsafe"

      Maybe you felt that at the start and it's why you couldn't fathom the answer. (The rest of us couldn't fathom it because it turned on management doing something right.)

  9. JeffB
    Mushroom

    Prime example

    This is a prime example of a little bit of knowledge potentially being extremely dangerous

    1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: Prime example

      I thought it was an example of a man of action showing initiative when nobody else could get the job done.

      1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        Poe, poe me

        Loving the downvotes.

        1. nintendoeats Silver badge

          Re: Poe, poe me

          I think your humor was a bit TOO dry.

      2. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: Prime example

        /s tag.

        It took me a minute to get it. An /s tag would have helped.

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Prime example

      A little bit of knowledge can be useful. Saving time and money, getting the job done etc.

      BUT It requires one key bit of knowledge. Knowing what your limitations actually are.

      There's potentially nothing more dangerous than the idiot who doesn't know (or care) what he doesn't know.

  10. Martin Gregorie

    I've met something similar.

    In this case, back in the mid 70s, I was on a project in NYC, building an accounting system for a Long Island toy manufacturer, under contract to ICL(USA). The system was written in COBOL and being developed on an ICL 2903.

    Our team was small: two of us and two local American ICL employees, one was excellent, the other barely trained and wished on us for no apparent reason, but so inexperienced he could contribute little to the development effort apart from maintaining the COBOL copy library, doing backups and other system operational tasks. We were on a tight schedule and had no time or budget to train him. All went well for a month or two until he decided that he could 'improve' the copy library. The result was that, suddenly, our code wouldn't compile thanks to his changes. He was totally unrepentant (just like the guy who screwed with the Rainbows), so was out the door PDQ, but it took a lot of unnecessary effort to make that copy library usable again because, of course, it turned out that there was no clean backup of it.

  11. Dabooka Silver badge

    Great read

    Although this but surprised me; "And whilst simulating a reactor scram was not part of the tests"

    Now I know nothing of such systems or indeed testing but I would have thought it would have bene part of the simulation? Or was it just meant as not part of the tests at this time

    1. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: Great read

      I suspect the SCRAM was part of a different test series (such as catastrophic loss of coolant, increase in temperature beyond what it should be, a reactor vessel leak...).

      It's not that nuclear powerstations don't test that, but rather that it wasn't anything to do with the network management.

  12. Lis

    Ok hands up

    anyone who has seen a sign saying "wet paint do not touch" and touched it to see if it is wet. Then wiped their finger along a wall or whatever after finding that, actually it was still wet?

    Cheers... Ishy

    1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: Ok hands up

      Why touch it? Just sniff. Wet paint smells very different from dry paint.

    2. wub

      Re: Ok hands up

      "Then wiped their finger along a wall or whatever..."

      You're supposed to wipe it on the SIGN!

    3. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Ok hands up

      Not since my age went into double digits.

    4. lukewarmdog

      Re: Ok hands up

      And then licks their finger to see what flavour of paint it is, remembering too late that ice cream coloured paint wouldn't taste of ice cream.

  13. WhereAmI?

    I got to visit Wylfa power station on Anglesey about twenty-five years ago - literally just stopped on the off-chance there was a visitor centre or something similar. Turned out to be a far better visit than I could have ever expected. They suited me up, kitted me with radiation detectors and took me into the main power station itself where I spent a fascinated half-hour or so watching them pull a spent rod out of Reactor 2 (I think it was - so long ago).

    Of course, 9/11. There's a proper Visitor Centre there now and you can't get within half a mile of the main power station. The new Visitor Centre is good, but it can't compete with actually having seen the beast.

    1. Admiral Grace Hopper
      Mushroom

      When I was a child and wheedled my Dad into driving me up to Dounreay for a visit we were taken for a walk around the whole facility, including a stroll over the top of the reactor. Even if it were still open I doubt that we would be given such access today.

      1. anothercynic Silver badge

        Dounreay was an interesting place, albeit polluted to the gills... just like Windscale^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^HSellafield post... incident. Nothing like having radioactive 'stuff' washing up on the beaches around Dounreay... ;-)

        1. Korev Silver badge
          Alert

          > Nothing like having radioactive 'stuff' washing up on the beaches around Dounreay... ;-)

          The surf is very good around there, just don't forget to shut your mouth when you go under the water...

    2. ChrisC Silver badge

      I visited Wylfa perhaps 10 years before you, and the tours then were similar to how you've described them, other than I don't recall being given anything else (other than the dosimeter badge) to wear. As you say, there's nothing quite like being able to see it for real, with just a viewing window between you and an actual real life, and very much operational, reactor hall.

      1. WhereAmI?

        White overalls, blue hardhat and the dosimeter. And yes, a walk across the red-painted top of the reactor hall. I'm guessing I possibly got the 'special treatment' because I was the only one there. I was escorted by two employees, both female, which stood out because, well, they were both female and working in a very (at the time) male-orientated industry.

    3. WonkoTheSane

      In the late 1970's, I went on a school trip to Trawsfynnydd power station in Snowdonia.

      No "interesting" activity going on while we were there, but they still had us stick our hands in the detectors on the way out.

      Interestingly, it seems that Boris is now talking about building new reactors at both sites.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Pint

        I did Hinkley Point as a school kid & a return visit while on placement with Xerox to fix something, the first trip was the best.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          But you got paid for the second.

    4. ClockworkOwl
      Boffin

      Been to quite a few over the years, but the best was Berkley.

      I cycled there after hearing about an open day, and well I hadn't realised...

      There station had been shut down and whilst they were waiting for the fuel rods to cool, they had the place totally open (ish). So whilst any actively 'hot' areas like the cooling ponds or fuel handling areas were closed, you were left to wander freely around the reactors and over the charge caps etc...

      They also had a big marquee with lots of cool stuff like early solid state detectors with gamma spectroscopy.

      The Nuclear Electric reasearch labs were there as well so lots of boffins too.

      I seem to remember getting home quite late :)

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Coat

        I seem to remember getting home quite late :)

        Presumably giving off enough light to see your way home, in the style of the Ready Brek ads.

        1. SImon Hobson Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: I seem to remember getting home quite late :)

          Or the NTNOCN piss-take "Want your kids to glow in the dark ? Eat Windscale Flakes, central heating for kids."

    5. swm Silver badge

      I once saw an operating swimming pool reactor. It was a big pool of distilled water with the reactor elements way deep. I could see the cherenkov radiation as a deep blue halo around the active elements. With 20 feet of water between me and the reactor, no safety equipment was needed.

      1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

        For a simple reasons: Those reactor elements have enough distance to keep the chain reaction from starting. Those elements are burned out. The water is there to take the neutrons they still radiate. Depending on the reactor type those elements must stay there for five to fifteen years.

        Take away one of those three conditions and your element cooling installation will change the state. Either the water will change to gaseous state, or the elements will change to liquid state. Or both.

        The water is, btw, not really just distilled. It often contains neutron moderators/absorbers to store more elements in the same space, and the concentrations must be controlled. Which adds a fourth condition to the "don't take that away" list.

    6. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      I got to visit Wylfa power station on Anglesey about twenty-five years ago - literally just stopped on the off-chance there was a visitor centre or something similar.

      Ah, those were the days. I recall as a young child, [cough] decades ago, having lots of caravan holidays around Scotland. Dad used to just pop into one of the hydro stations and ask if they were busy. If they weren't they would usually be very happy to show us around - they took great pride in their stations and I recall them being spotless when I look back.

      Couple of years ago I was up there on holiday and noticed that they are all closed up (automated) and looked dirty from the outside. But the fish ladder at Pitlochry is still there.

      But I digress. Back when I was at school we got to go on visits to Sellafield and Caulder Hall. Back then we could walk across the pile cap floor of one of the Caulder Hall reactors. As you say, these days it's all razor wire and armed guards, and a visitor centre that's not even that close to the site.

    7. malcp
      Thumb Up

      "There's a proper Visitor Centre there now and you can't get within half a mile of the main power station."

      Come to the PWR power station at Sizewell in Suffolk - the VC is open again after COVID and you can take a guided tour of the station including a trip through the turbine hall - the engineering there is quiet impressive.

  14. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    This is the way... the Scotty way...

    However, "I shamelessly lied through my teeth, told the assembled team it would take me at least two weeks to reassemble the equipment, recommission all of our test and control equipment, and that I was declaring force majeure as per the contract, but I would not report the damage back to my head office."

    This is what Scotty would have done.

    1. tinman

      Re: This is the way... the Scotty way...

      I'll take that as an excuse to quote the Great Engineer...

      Captain Kirk: "Mr. Scott. Have you always multiplied your repair estimates by a factor of four?"

      Scotty: "Certainly, Sir. How else can I keep my reputation as a miracle worker?

      1. pirxhh

        Re: This is the way... the Scotty way...

        The accepted algorithm for software development estimates is "double the number, the swit h to the next bigger unit of time". So two weeks becomes four months..Surprisingly accurate, in my experience.

        1. dak

          Re: This is the way... the Scotty way...

          For testing, however, manglers always calculate back to what they thought the original development time should have been and then allow half of that.

    2. Caver_Dave
      Mushroom

      Re: This is the way... the Scotty way...

      I always tell those I mentor to multiply their estimate by 4, because the manager will always halve it!

      1. Yes Me Silver badge

        Re: This is the way... the Scotty way...

        My way of estimating manpower (sorry, this was many years ago) for software projects was: ask 3 programmers and add their estimates together (do not divide by 3). It worked pretty well.

        1. Killfalcon

          Re: This is the way... the Scotty way...

          This is a beautiful explanation for why my solo projects are always massively over estimate.

  15. billdehaan
    Facepalm

    Been there, done that

    No problem. The US tech had simply grabbed the disk from the PC running the testing and copied it to the other computers. "Obviously it worked because they are all up and running," he said.

    I had a somewhat similar experience, although thankfully lesser in scope.

    As in the article, I was working on a testbed simulator for a safety-critical system that was currently running in production. To be clear, this was a simulator to test an upgrade which had not been deployed yet.

    We had multiple client X machines that communicated with server Y. Many of the X machines were mobile, and field testing of the upgrade showed that many X machines intermittently either lost communication, or had communication errors (duplicated, out of sequence, or lost messages). Sometimes.

    The stationary clients were fine, but no one could determine the cause of the intermittent failure. The systems integrator said it was the hardware, the hardware vendor showed the hardware tests that proved the communications systems worked when stationary, so it had to be the mobility aspect, the mobility supplier ran pings and traceroutes showing it couldn't be them, so obviously, it had to be our proprietary protocol. Our protocol guys pointed out that we didn't even know if an X was mobile or stationary, so how could the protocol fail only on the mobile clients?

    To investigate the problem, I essentially wrote a customized ping command to test. My ping didn't use ICMP, though, it used our proprietary protocol. I made it a master/slave application, where the master would timestamp a message packet, give it a master sequence number, and send it to the client. The client would in turn timestamp the arrival time, give it a slave sequence number, and send it back. When the master received it, it would log it to disk. The operators could configure the protocol's send rate, packet size, etc.

    The idea was to try it in the field, identify which clients/mobility locations were the problem, and play with the frequency and protocol payload to narrow down what was going on.

    Of course, with all the time stamping and optimizations going on, there were several issues (time syncing was particularly troublesome), and although version 1 worked as a proof of concept, they wanted more features, so I got a budget for version 2.

    And then a field report came in. My tool had reported a catastrophic loss of communication in an entire range of client machines where there was actually no problem with the actual upgrade application. So obviously my tool was crap, the customer had no faith in us because we had no clue what we were doing, how could we be trusted with safety-critical systems, etc. I had endangered the entire multi-million dollar project, we would all be out on the street, our children would starve, and all because of me. The project manager wanted blood, specifically mine.

    Hmm. Send me the logs, I said.

    Looking at the logs, I noted that the master and slave packet formats were slightly different, which made no sense, because masters and slaves were paired. I was extending the packet format for version 2, but it hadn't been released yet. This looked almost like a version 1 master trying to communicate with a version 2 slave. So I asked them to confirm the MD5 checksums of the master and all slave versions in the field.

    Sure enough, there was a version 1 master, and the offending slaves didn't match version 1. What on earth had happened?

    It turned out that the project manager had been in our test lab, and seen a couple of the machines where I'd been testing version 2. He liked what he saw, so he made a copy of the software (the unreleased, work in progress software, which was being debugged) from the lab machine, and when he returned to site, he gave it to the field testers, who then ran with it.

    Not surprisingly, when this came to light (not to the customer, at least), there was a reshuffling, and there was a new project manager.

    I promptly added two more features to the software. First, during the initial handshake, masters and slaves verified that they were each running compatible versions, or they stopped talking. Secondly, I added a time/date check, and the software would only work for 5 days after compilation, after which it would post an onscreen message saying it was expired beta software. I disabled that check in the formal release, but it put a stop to project-ending reports from the field.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Been there, done that

      Love it.

  16. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Pint

    Well Done Ellen

    Obviously one of those people who can actually think on their feet - and endangered species!

  17. ColinPa Silver badge

    Fixing the wrong problem

    I spent two weeks out in Asia as part of a team who were fixing one or two major problems at a bank. We solved lots of problems. At the end of the last Friday afternoon we presented to management about the problems we had found, and how we fixed it.

    We finished the presentation and were heading towards the bar for a few beers, when someone timidly put their hand up, and said "but you haven't actually fixed the problem we asked you out here to solve". Coats off... laptops out.

    It was a "simple" configuration problem. 10 PM that night they put the fix into production. It worked. Back to hotel at midnight, bed and depart 0600 next morning... so no beers.

    From this I learned that it is worth walking round the techies at the beginning and getting their view of the problems. A common comment was "We've told management what the problem is, but they don't believe us"

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Fixing the wrong problem

      From this I learned that it is worth walking round the techies at the beginning and getting their view of the problems. A common comment was "We've told management what the problem is, but they don't believe us"

      Of course. Price determines value. Techies'* comments are priced according to techie salary scales which are well below those of manglement who are receiving the reports.

      Any consultant worth his salt knows to identify and ask those who know. They can then add value by boosting the price to something that can't be ignored.

      * Or any of the coal-face workers.

      1. Daedalus

        Re: Fixing the wrong problem

        Quite often the manglers will give you the stink-eye if you try to talk to the grunts. Or they'll tell your manglers to tell you to do what you're told.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Fixing the wrong problem

          Always the best indication that there's something to learn there.

  18. gatch

    Leave it to the professionals

    This reminds me of an incident that happened to me some years ago now. We were setting up a new regional office in a building the company had leased several floors. One of the tasks we had was to setup networked printers. We had configured the IP on several of the printers when my manager decided to show us how it should be done. He opened up the web GUI and proudly showed us how to remotely set an IP. Suddenly we started getting alarms that network communication had been lost to main office and nothing external was pingable. He had set the the printer IP to the router gateway IP. Worse, he did know which physical printer he had set. So we had go to printers on several floors to find the offending printer. Later I left the company because I didn’t get along with the manager. He was fired from the company 2 days after I left.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Leave it to the professionals

      Holy moly.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Leave it to the professionals

      "Later I left the company because I didn’t get along with the manager. He was fired from the company 2 days after I left."

      You must have been covering his mistakes very effectively until then.

  19. Daedalus

    Bad memories

    Once our little company was more or less joined at the hip to a large local corporation, so we had chunks of their stuff on site including a little DEC cluster. We would get OS updates from time to time on the main box. One time this lady, who we thought did not suffer from the corporation's particular brand of casual incompetence, dropped by, plugged in one of those beautiful DECtape cartridges, ran the update and left without doing a smoke test.

    Of course when we tried firing it up we were up the creek. I believe the DECnet address had something to do with it, but anyway there was enough grey matter on hand to recover things after a delay that we could ill afford. Unfortunately our owner/manglers were of the shrugging persuasion, so no retribution could be had.

  20. Daedalus

    Something about Americans.....

    I remember a UK TV show about some quasi-military obstacle course with clues and puzzles to solve where, when an American team got involved they took every opportunity to try to cheat. It's as if "Do this" and "Don't do this" were invitations to do the opposite for them. A guy I knew over here in the USA thought nothing of breaking into his high school to hit baseballs in the gym, damaging the walls and ceiling. Several friends look back on their wild antics with misty-eyed nostalgia. And they're the ones who survived!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Something about Americans.....

      The Krypton Factor?

    2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Re: Something about Americans.....

      > It's as if "Do this" and "Don't do this" were invitations to do the opposite for them.

      Sounds like good software testers to me!

    3. Dave@Home

      Re: Something about Americans.....

      Sounds like the Crystal Maze, given it was involving a team rather than individuals

  21. Nifty Silver badge

    I once worked on a SCADA system for the nuclear industry and while testing on a rig, found that while all my 350 odd sensors had values, all the ones above number 256 had static values even when you varied the simulated sensor output. It took several attempts to get the management to believe that something might be wrong...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Terminology

    At a prior job, we did some work for a couple of nuclear power plants. On one occasion my contact was slow in getting me some required information. When I finally got an emailed reply from him he apologized for the delay and said something like "we're having a bit of a meltdown here".

    Cue momentary panic umtil I realized that A) they were about 400 miles from my location. B) the prevailing winds wouldn't send fallout my way and C) if it was an actual reactor meltdown, he wouldn't be emailing me at all.

  23. Munchausen's proxy
    Pint

    Damn. I wish I had ever worked for her.

  24. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Boffin

    Thank the lord

    for log books....

    From a previous job:

    Morning arrived as I did at work... scene of destruction arriving at one machining cell... its dead and going to take some time to sort out ..... mangler of the day is having a rage fit blaming me for the foul up since I built the setup/programmed the machine the day before...

    But it was a new fangled machine with a PC type control... and I knew about the logging function and howto download the machine logs to a PC.....

    Dragged to a meeting later to sort out how much to yell at me for the expensive failure took a rather different turn than expected when I reported the highlights of the log analysis

    15.33 Switch to full auto run

    19.00 switch to single(this is for the regular QC check)

    19.15 back to full auto

    02.30 switch to single

    02.45 full auto

    02.45.02 ERROR MOTOR OVERLOAD : GROSS POSITION ERROR : EMERGENCY STOP

    Something happened during the night shift.....

    Further analysis shows that someone made an adjustment and typed 21.01 into a setting table then hit the start button at 02.45

    Then at 02.47 they typed 210.1 into the same setting table before turning the power breaker off.......

    The "Blame Boris" meeting went very quiet.

    I did suggest that I have a meeting with the night shift guy who tried to cover his tracks in the office with the dodgy window catch above the cunningly positioned running wood chipper.... sadly manglement vetoed that idea.... after a surprisingly long think about it ...

  25. martinusher Silver badge

    I've had a shouty boss once....

    As a rule (and as a bosslet) I don't go around screaming and shouting, threatening people and as you'd expect I really don't like it done to me. The work environment in this article is the epitome of 'abusive' -- I know timelines are tight, things are not working, people are under pressure, but you really don't get quality work done by threatening people. People make mistakes but if their work is done in good faith then that's just unfortunate (however I'd also had fired that fellow that ripped apart a working PC doing something or another "because his job was more important").

    I've had a boss scream and shout at me and generally be unpleasant. It was years ago and I don't think I had sinned that badly, just that his missus had dropped dead beside him in mid plane trip so I wrote it off as him having a particularly bad day. He did persist, I got hit up again for the same reason several months later so I quietly finished the project I was working on (....don't want to leave them any excuses .....nobody to point the finger at) and quietly left. He wasn't happy, but then the company was relatively terminal (this kind of mindset is usually associated with corporate death unless there's government agency paying their bills) so my leaving just moved things along a bit.

  26. ecofeco Silver badge

    It's always the Dunning-Krugers

    Innit?

  27. StargateSg7

    I may have re-iterated this story in other comments a while back BUT I do remember as an IT admin many decades back in our older Northern British Columbia data centre where we INTENTIONALLY blew up a very large 400 Kilovolt power line to test out a data centre fail-safe procedure which takes it completely off-line and have it automatically fail-over to another backup power supply.

    We surrounded said 400 KV breaker-circuit line with both Turkey carcasses and a large pork belly carcass bought from a local Canadian Aldi-like grocery store which we had to truck in for two hours via a very remote forest service road.

    Then we SMASHED the breaker switches so all the current would go through the failsafe grounding (i.e. grounds-out to basically to a set of giant-sized resistors and fuses) which then cooked our turkey and pork belly in an instant! It did so in SPECTACULAR FASHION by causing a massive arc-flash thus super-heating the liquids within the meats within mere tenths of a second to cause a massive steam explosion of quick-cooked meat of over 50 metres in radius into the surrounding snowy landscape.

    We ate very well that day! 400 kilovolts at some ungodly amperage flash-cooks meat to a VERY WELL and TASTY state!

    We received no discipline over such illustrious activities as there was no-one managerial to oversee our antics.

    There were MANY OTHER more-than-questionable activities at this remote location where some of us sysadmins lived onsite in shifts of one week on and then two weeks off or were trucked in daily via a long trip using 4x4 vehicles.

    One day I shall regale of said activities here, one of which is that CPU and Cabinet liquid cooling equipment and power supplies can be repurposed into fruit alcohol "Moonshine Stills" to create a large barrel of wonderful hard liquor!

    V

  28. Fursty Ferret

    I desperately hope that this is one of the occasional "made up on a slow day" articles because it provides an interesting insight into what appears to be the truly terrible architecture of US-designed nuclear power plants.

    1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      I say: Take away the "US-designed" in your post, and I'll agree.

  29. Potty Professor Bronze badge
    Mushroom

    Goodbye Basingstoke

    I was working for a large electrical manufacturer, and was sent to install some contactors in the control room at AWRE Aldermaston. The security guard who was sent to "accompany" us told us that in no circumstances were we to interrupt the 415V supply, we would have to make our connections onto live busbars. Not something I relished, but needs must. I asked why the supply was so critical, and he said that there was a reactor on the other end of that outgoing cable. To me, as an electrical engineer, a reactor is simply a coil of wire, sometimes with an iron core, that introduced a lagging factor into the current waveform. No, in this case, it was a nuclear reactor, and if the control power was lost, it could be "Goodbye Basingstoke".

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Goodbye Basingstoke

      No, in this case, it was a nuclear reactor, and if the control power was lost, it could be "Goodbye Basingstoke".

      But you make that sound like a bad thing...

    2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Re: Goodbye Basingstoke

      They expected you to work on a 415 V control power for a nuke without a fail-over possibility (triple fail-over please) and maintenance window? That indeed does improve my confidence in safety!

  30. Bruce Ordway

    cloned disks....same DECNet address

    I think I've met this person somewhere.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: cloned disks....same DECNet address

      Or someone exactly like them.

  31. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Idiots abound

    I've had a person break into a filing cabinet containing the office master and backup disks and various admin stuff, and empty the contents onto the floor because "he needed another drawer".

  32. Walter Fettich

    who knew?

    taking a disk out of a computer in the mddle of the night with a sign of "do not touch" would cause problems ?

  33. Nifty Silver badge

    Coincidentally there's a Netflix series on about 3 Mile Island. What makes it great is all that 70s era instrumentation in the footage, not to mention the sideburns!

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