Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment on "Obedience to Authority" in which volunteers were given the role of a teacher. As the teacher they were instructed to ask a series of questions to a "learner". Every time the "learner" got an answer wrong, they pressed the next in a series of buttons. Each button, they were told, administered a higher and higher voltage of electric shock to the learner. They were told that the shocks would hurt, and could even kill the learner. The learner was, infact, an actor, pretending that they were receiving the shocks.

Milgram's experiment was to see how far the volunteer would go.

Over 90% of the volunteers in the teacher role continued up the scale of buttons, until 450 volts, no matter how much the learner screamed, and begged for the experiment to be stopped.

Milgram concluded that obedience to authority is a "danger to survival inherent in our make-up", and that our conscious mind would prefer we inflict harm upon others, than be disobedient to an authority figure.

Paraphrased from an article on Obedience found at: http://www.mind-trek.com/reports/misc/obedienc.htm

A sign we in the IT industry see all the time - who hasn't walked past the server room, with all its monolithic racks humming away to themselves, and then you spot the new piece of equipment - it's soooooo shiny and new! And on it, scrawled in tech handwriting, is the little Post-it note saying "DO NOT TURN OFF UNDER PAIN OF DEATH"

Go on.

You know you want to.

It's so innocent - an untested piece of machinery, some unknown introduced in to YOUR network - you are the network administrator, aren't you? Why would someone put something in that you didn't know about? And how did they get it ON the network in the first place without downtime?

It can't POSSIBLY be a critical piece of equipment.


CLICK

Whhirrrr-rrr-...-rrr-rr-r........

*Silence.......................* (exactly one millisecond longer than the "there can't possibly be an error - someone would have called by now" safety threshold...


*Mobile phone* RING RING RING RING (incessantly and without remorse)

"Uh, IT Services..."

"What happened to the network - we have interbuilding connectivity, but why can't we access the internet... blah blah losing money blah blah 24-hour service level agreement blah blah international company blah blah customers blah bloody blah...."

*Mobile phone* - *Click* (off)


"Oh. Shit. Double shit. Double shit and a half. No, wait, triple shit."
Jokes aside, this has happened too many times to be funny. Invariably at the worst possible time. As a perpetrator of the system failure, you get something akin to That Icky Feeling When A Client Calls With A Downed Server And You Have No Clue How To Fix It. Because you did it.

Personally, to fix something essential, I crack open the appropriate boxen and REMOVE the power button or connectors TO said power button. Fuck the warranty. Cisco don't care that you've tampered with it - that's what the retail chain is for - go to your dealer - uh, I mean supplier.

I read a report of a psychological experiment done by some college students some years ago that seems to relate to this. The test was performed in a plain white room, containing nothing but a chair and a small table with a big red button on it.

For the control group, the students, wearing plain clothes, would recruit a subject, and explain that they were doing a study on boredom. They were told that they were to sit in the chair, and push the button when they got bored. Under these conditions the experimenters noted that most of the test subjects would patiently sit for long periods--sometimes for several hours—without touching the button.

For the experimental group, the students carried clipboards and wore white lab coats while recruiting the subjects, who would then be asked to sign a "release form". In this setup, the subjects were told they were participating in a "sensory deprivation experiment", and were instructed to push the red button if anything goes wrong. They were then placed in the same room in which the control group had been tested.

Interestingly enough, the students found that the subjects in this group all pressed the button in less than an hour--some even within 15-20 minutes. Additionally, many of the subjects actually manifested symptoms of sensory deprivation.

I work for a company that designs back-up power systems for data centers and hospitals. As my boss says, "Our job is to make sure that when the lights go out, the lights don't go out."

In every data center (or server room, or whatever the client calls it, it's just a pile of power load to us) there is something called an EPO, and is required by the National Fire Protection Code. EPO stands for Emergency Power Off. It is the real Big Red Button. When it is pressed, all power is cut on the power system level; that is, it is the equivalent of pulling the cords out of the machines. No more power available, everything is off. All you hear is the hum of fans spinning down.

Needless to say, most IT people for these clients protest the inclusion of an EPO in the first place. Their job is to make sure that these machines never turn off, so why should they allow a big button to turn them off? Basically, it's so that if there is a fire, and a firefighter comes in spraying water, he won't have 600 Amps at 208 Volts coursing through his heroic body. The EPO is there for a reason. It cannot be omitted.

So, the next best thing to eliminating a big power-off button is making it hard to operate. This makes sure that you don't have somebody accidentally leaning against the button that makes your company stop working.

There are plenty of methods for this. Some have an In Case of Fire, Break Glass enclosure over the button. Others have a series of keys that must be turned before a button can be activated. Usually, there is an auxiliary alarm that goes off whenever one of these preventative systems is activated, so you can stop them from dumping all the company's data in the nick of time.


It seems there was an ambitious security guard. A fire alarm had gone off in the server room. He went in, investigated, and found no fire. No problem there, check out everywhere else. No fire. Oh well, somebody overcooked a pizza in the microwave, no big deal.

But that damn alarm just kept going off. He had to find a way to shut it off. Back to the server room. How do you shut off that alarm? Any switches or dials? Well, there's the light switches... no good. Hey wait, here's a little box on the wall with no label (it was supposed to be installed the next day; the new EPO had just been installed two days previous). Hmmm, it has two key switches in it. Well, when all else fails, start flipping switches. He turned both keys.

The fire alarm did not stop.

He returned to his desk.

An example was later made of him.


This is a true story that was passed around the office in my first month of work. Apparently, the client tried to say that our system was faulty, and that the security guard hadn't hit the EPO. Then they all watched the surveillance tape, and saw him casually walk up to the box, turn both keys, and walk out. You could hear a pin drop in that room.

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