Lost little nodeshell, don't be sad.

Back in the early days of computing, it was often common to have computers that took up whole rooms and even entire buildings.

A recently declassified US Army Intelligence document tells of a secret computer installation, long since destroyed, at Fort Daniel Boone in East Catfish Holler in eastern Kentucky.

This installation consisted of a single large building resembling a coal mine head. However instead of conveyors, tungsten carbide drills and mine explosions, this was stuffed to the gills with vacuum tubes, immense electromagnet relays, DIP switches, and miles of cable.

The rest of the installation was designed around the computer. There were bunks between the relays, hammocks stretched from the cables, and a parade ground deep inside the building where the main shaft elevator would normally go. The engineers made sure the ammunition was kept well away from any vacuum tubes, however.

Now one evening, the officers held a wine and cheese party. A big batch job1 had been succesfully submitted and everyone wanted to celebrate. The colonel in charge of punching holes in paper tape had a bit too much to drink and started dancing on the table, and juggling hole punchers.

As it turns out, a particularly important vacuum tube was situated in a closet off of the Officer's Mess. This controlled the multiplexing of processor requests. It was a particularly cold February night, and the door to the closet was left open to provide warmth.

Sadly, the colonel stepped in a large cheese2 and slipped. Three hole punchers and a cheese went flying straight into the closet. A sickening crashing sound was heard.

Pandemonium ensued, but the commanding general quickly restored order3.

A quick look inside the closet revealed an astonishing fact: the cheese had landed inside the smashed tube. The hole punchers had somehow simultaneously gotten embedded in the cheese and landed on the main contact plates. Assumedly, current was running through the cheese, since a kind of ...brown... smoke emanated from the cheese, and a foul stench wafted out of the closet.

The general called down to the foreman of the night operations shift to check on the status of the computer.

"Why do you think there might be something wrong with the computer, Sir?" asked the foreman. "It's working fine!"

"Don't give me that h*rs*sh*t, Major! Colonel Klutz just broke the multiplexer-controller tube!"

"Doesn't seem to have hurt the thing, Sir. In fact, it seems to be running faster."4

"Well get one of the engineers up here to look at this thing, and send the chef up with some more (blacked out)! We need to get this batch job done, and I don't want to lose three weeks' worth of work to an out of cheese error!"


1Eleven miles of paper tape.
2The type of cheese was blacked out of the document.
3I guess that's why he was a general.
4And thus was born semiconductor technology.

While Gorgonzola's writeup is quite funny, the Out of Cheese Error was invented by Terry Pratchett for his Discworld series. In Interesting Times, students at the Unseen University (which teaches magic) build something not unlike an early computer, but using living animals instead of tubes: a colony of ants - and mice. One of the error messages this contraption produces reads ++?????++ Out of Cheese Error. Redo From Start.

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