Curiosity killed the CAD/CAM

It's the late 1980s and this pilot fish is part of a class being trained to use some new and very expensive CAD/CAM workstations.

"The students are mostly engineers designing big airplanes," says fish. "The first thing the instructor told us is to never, ever touch the floppy disk. And never, ever shut down the workstation. Only authorized and trained system admins are permitted to do that."

The class proceeds pretty much normally after that, except that one engineer keeps asking questions that suggest he doesn't really understand computers.

A few hours in, the class takes a break -- after which this same engineer announces that his workstation isn't working. The instructor checks it and, sure enough, the workstation is really and truly broken.

"What were you doing just before it broke?" instructor asks.

"Nothing," engineer replies, and the instructor moves him to another workstation.

Next day the class resumes, and this time it begins with the instructor holding up a slightly mangled floppy. Never touch the floppy, he tells the class.

Then he walks up to the same engineer and pointedly says, "Never touch the floppy again! Do you realize how much money you cost the company?" as the engineer sinks lower and lower in his chair.

It seems the repair techs examined the broken workstation overnight and figured out what happened. These workstations couldn't start up by themselves -- they needed the bootstrap code on the old-style 5-1/4-inch floppy disk to be started up.

This engineer, never having seen a floppy disk before, pulled it out of the drive, looked at it, then reinserted it upside down. Then, being curious, he proceeded to reboot the workstation.

"The floppy was single sided," fish says. "The floppy drive was destroyed trying to read the upside-down floppy. And it didn't stop there -- something about this event caused a power spike that destroyed the main board in the computer.

"For the rest of the class, the engineer was very, very, very careful working on the workstation. And he never again touched the floppy."

Never mind a floppy -- Sharky wants email. Send me your true tale of IT life at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll snag a snazzy Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

Get your daily dose of out-takes from the IT Theater of the Absurd delivered directly to your Inbox. Subscribe now to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

To express your thoughts on Computerworld content, visit Computerworld's Facebook page, LinkedIn page and Twitter stream.
Windows 10 annoyances and solutions
Shop Tech Products at Amazon
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.