Without context, it's nothing.
Without background, it's nothing.
Well, it dates back to the times of the Machine Room and the acolytes of the hardware. The days when you could spend over a hundred grand on a roomful of machinery, dozens of terminals, and have the thing do nothing but word processing.
"I reach in my pocket and pull out my Wang..."
-actual copy from a Wang ad
Hopkinton University, back in the late 1970s, had invested the money. The admin secretaries all shared terminals on a Wang multiuser text processing system, big-ass line printers hammering away behind the blank white metal door of the machine room. Approaching on their way back from the water cooler, or lunch, nipping into the sterile white brightly lit closet to retrieve their documents, rushing out again lest they become too familiar with the Ways of the Machine - or get too close to the Men of the Box, protogeeks in white coats and strange instruments who lurked underneath the blinding white lightboxes (anti-grues) and waited to fix the printer, unjam the feed, change the disk (eight inches of side-punched storage) or upgrade the software with mammoth 9-track magtape reels.
I was a janitor. I wasn't privileged to touch The Machine. I wasn't privileged to watch the admin women. I wasn't allowed to converse with The Men of the Box. I was, however, required to maintain the sterility of the Machine Room despite the constant spray of paper dust and ink motes that the Machine threw into the air.
I spent a lot of time in there.
Eventually, I became such a fixture, I was finding myself saving the Machine Room for the night, when only one system operator was there, when I could get the floor done without having to wait for the admin women to traipse through and spread my mop water everywhere. I started to find the peace of the geek in the room, temple to the microcircuit and eye-tearing green CRT. I started to hear the taptaptaptaptapBRRRRRRRRRRRTtaptaptaptaptap of the printers, the fluttering stutter of the daisywheel machines in my sleep.
There was a list posted on the door.
It contained a set of Error Conditions which required (REQUIRED) any user who saw them come up on their terminal to inform the Men of the Machine immediately. These were the days before reliable console logging; before tail -f, before splunk, before OpenView and Nimbus. Users had to come tell you when it broke, because if it broke it (by definition) couldn't tell you it had broke.
Base Application Re-init Failure. I shit you not.
Memory Overrun Off Deck.
Tape Reel Askew Pin.
There were dozens.
On my seventh night washing the Machine Room, I found myself humming a tuneless chant of the error codes, clearly visible for most of my mop circuit. I found that three repetitions of the entire list would get me exactly halfway through the room, the half without machine altars and shelves blocking my mop, the half near the door where the supplicants were to wait. Then I would wander among the metal icons of the printers, the disk drives, the output bins, and the tape racks and disk files, mopping away and trying to remember the error codes for the chant, because I couldn't see them from that side of the room.
The eighth day, the eighth evening, I was alone. I mopped, I dusted (no vacuuming, with its associated static, allowed). When I reached the main line printer in the middle of the room, I noticed there was a burning red light lit on its status panel.
I looked around.
I leaned my mop against a disk drive cabinet about the size of a three-drawer file and gingerly opened the hood of the line printer. There was an obvious problem. The print mechanism was jammed halfway across the paper, and the ribbon (a long cassette ribbon) had completely tangled up around it, falling beneath the print head in coils and loops, one before the mechanism and one after. The print head itself had swung through ninety degrees, into the maintenance position, protruding from the platen accusingly.
I stood and looked at it.
The printer looked back, the phallus of the print head forlornly poking out from the paper mechanism, two softball-sized tangles of ribbon hanging just beneath it.
I couldn't help it. I started to snicker. The machine looked at me both angrily and mournfully, unable to even defend itself or cover its shame.
I took my mop, moved to the door. The list was familiar, now, and two-thirds of the way down, I found it.
Carriage Overrun Center Kingpost.
I looked at that for a second, shrugged, and left a hand-lettered sign on the door.
WANG COCK FAIL.
I mean, the machine told me to. It's my job to be helpful about these things.
for Whiskeydaemon, who asked.