July 23, 2024


Technological development

Button? What button? Oh … that button • The Register

Button? What button? Oh … that button • The Register

who, me? Ah, dear reader, once again it is time to greet the day with a tale from Who, Me? – the Reg’s welcome to the working week in which readers spill the beans on tech stuff-ups that may or may not have been their fault.

This week, meet a reader we’ll Regomize as “Larry” who was commissioned to install a room full of servers at a high-security facility.

Little did Larry know, however, that he really needed skills as an archaeologist to do this job right, because the facility he confronted was built in the 1960s.

Larry invited his fellow readers to visualize its original décor which boasted glorious wood panelling, magnificent orange and brown carpet tiles, and lots of mid-century industrial tat.

Of course the computers of the era were giant machines festooned with blinkenlights galore. And, as was typical for the time, a big red STOP button was present to bring it all grinding to a halt in case of emergency.

Over time, of course, fashions and tastes changed. The tat became tatty. The brown and orange carpet tiles were torn up and replaced with something else that was itself torn up and replaced.

And the wood panelling got painted.


Larry suspects that whichever contractor landed the gig of painting the room had a childhood grudge against the owner of the building. As he put it: “All the sockets, trunking, fire alarms, safety notices and emergency stop buttons were entombed under a carelessly daubed layer of emulsion.”

That’s right: even the emergency stop buttons. The result, Larry tells us, was “a comical magnolia plaster cast of a wall.”

And that is what Larry found when, some time after the redecoration job, he was called in to fit the room with the latest clutch of computers selected to call its four walls home.

First he had to install new cabling, which involved climbing a ladder to get to the trunking at ceiling level. That completed, he climbed down the ladder, folded it, and leaned it against the wall.

That action generated two sounds.

First came a click.

Next came the unmistakable sigh of many fans decelerating.

It turns out that, concealed amongst the layers of crud coating the computer-room wall, Larry’s ladder had found that old stop button … which still worked.

And not just worked, but controlled a circuit that had stuff connected to it. Important stuff.

As Larry was not an archaeologist, nor expected to posses such skills, he was not blamed for the unscheduled power-down.

The situation was resolved with a magnificent kludge: the layers of mess that hid the button were obviously too hard to clear, so a decision was taken to restore it to a bright red hue so it would at least be easy to spot.

Ever pushed a button you oughtn’t have pushed? Forgot to push one you ought? Don’t worry, we’re all friends here – tell us about it in an email to Who, Me? and we’ll share the embarrassment together.