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Hall of Shame

  1. Mar 17, 2012 #1
    I was just writing in another thread about a stupid experiment I did when I was young. This made me think that it might be fun with a thread of such confessions from members. Most people have done stupid things; what I'm after is sheer stupidity; e.g. technology mishandled/misunderstood/destroyed, scientific experiments gone awkwardly wrong, mathematical ignorance, you get my points, things you're actually ashamed of.

    Here is your chance for confession and absolution! o:)

    To be fair, I should start with myself. I've done some really stupid things of course, and here is one tale which I'm particularly ashamed of:

    As a professional programmer I was once developing a dedicated installation software for another commercial software. As any good installation program, mine should be able to remove previous installations. I was very proud of my solution, it was lean and mean and written in C, and it used recursion for the deletion of files. It was fast as lightning, and I was working on a tight schedule.

    The problem was that something went wrong when I was testing it. My computer died. Just like that. Blue screen. Very strange, I thought I had gotten a malware, some virus. This was over 10 years ago, and we did not have any good backup system at the company, so it took me three days until my computer environment was reinstalled and up and running again.

    And then I finally started to look at my code again. I saw no problem, everything was fine. So I decided I had to debug it step-by-step. I followed the flow of the code, checked path variables and just before the recursion call, a call to another function which did what? Hey, it empties the path and sets it default to "C:\". Hmmm, why? And so I clicked "Enter" and bang, the recursion started again, fast as lightning it started to delete EVERYTHING from the computer again. :surprised
    I had programmed my own malware, and run it twice. And then I had three more days of computer maintenance.

    Ok, let the confessions begin...
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 17, 2012 #2

    BobG

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    My most misguided effort at scientific experimentation was done as a team with my next door neighbor. She was about 10 and I was about 9 and she could talk me into almost anything.

    We decided to dissect a toad. She obtained the functional equivalent of chloroform, with nail polish remover being the closest we could come to that (it works on insects), to be used as a general anesthetic for the operation. That way, with the toad alive, we could observe the heartbeat and lungs. The experiment was awesome and worked just as we'd expected it to - we really did get to see the toad's beating heart and lungs!

    And then the toad woke up. And then he jumped off the table... and started hopping away for his life. And then his intestines became caught on a stick. Yet, he still kept hopping on with his intestines extending further and further behind him.

    The toad reached the street by time my friend's 12-year-old big brother caught us and he really gave us hell for torturing a poor toad. And then the big brother did the only thing that could be done at that point - he got his bee-bee gun so he could put the toad out of its misery. Except that didn't actually work! He fired bee-bee after bee-bee at that toad and, still, it kept on hopping, trying to escape! It was horrible!

    He finally had to go get a cement block to crush it with. It only took a few slams of the cement block to solve that problem.
     
  4. Mar 17, 2012 #3

    BobG

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    And, speaking of computers, I did play a part in a coworker's misguided experience, even though it was really my coworker that belonged in the Hall of Shame and not me.

    It was the early days of offices having a personal computer and one of the first PCs with a hard drive (a Zenith Z-100). The software engineers made a rather strange choice for the 'format' command. To format a floppy, you had to enter 'format a:'. If you entered 'format' without specifying the drive, the command defaulted to formatting the entire hard drive - and my coworker routinely forgot to add that damn 'a:'!

    Fortunately, we had a good back-up routine, doing an entire back-up every 6 months, with an abbreviated monthly back-up that only backed up files that changed. It was still annoying, restoring all of our programs and files, not to mention re-entering any data that had been entered since our last back-up.

    My solution was to rename the 'format' command to 8 random characters. Then I wrote a Basic program that called on the renamed 'format' command and would automatically add the 'a:' if no drive was specified. Of course, given the history of my coworker's problems with that command, I couldn't resist a little humor. No matter what the operator entered, the Basic command would display messages warning the operator that his entire hard drive was being formatted and that he was losing all of his data. And, just to be thorough, the program deleted one somewhat large file, and then copied a different file to a new file with the same name as the deleted file - just to make sure the hard drive light would do some flickering.

    Worked great! Never had another problem with that coworker formatting the hard drive. I eventually moved into a different office, but in the same general workcenter. And the hard drive failed on the PC, meaning a new hard drive had to be installed and all of the programs and backed up files restored on the new hard drive - except I never backed up that Basic program since reinstalling the software meant the original 'format' command was reinstalled and it would take precedence over the Basic program anyway.

    Enter a new worker in my old office and my old coworker decided he had to show off my Basic program to the new worker. He told him to type in the 'format' command and hit 'enter'. The new worker knew a lot about computers, knew what would happen, and objected rather vociferously. But the old coworker insisted, saying this would be great! This will be the funniest thing you'll ever see!

    So the new worker finally did as he was told. And you know what? My old coworker was right! It was the funniest thing the new worker had ever seen! The screams and expressions of my old coworker when the humorous messages didn't appear and when it finally dawned on him that he was formatting his entire hard drive were priceless! The new worker couldn't quit laughing all day!
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2012
  5. Mar 17, 2012 #4

    PAllen

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    Introduction to Shockwaves
    ---------------------------

    Early highschool at the time. Brother and occasional friend into explosives as so many were in that bygone era. However, I was into 'designer explosives' developed from looking up reactivities and calculating, based on likely reactions, the precise ratios of chemicals for maximum reaction (using a milligram scale). Was familiar with a common home-brew explosive's chemistry, but disapointed in its exposive power. Figured out my own contact explosive which should be similarly sensitive, much more powerful; inactive in alcohol, active as soon as thoroughly dry. Unfortunately, the chemicals needed, even then, wouldn't be shipped by mail or sold at all to random person. Well, friend of brother who had minimal scruples acquired them in a manner that shall not be divulged. Experiments with 500 milligrams of explosive were resounding success. Jumped to 7 grams, set up as 7 separate 1 gram experiments on a large work table in our basement. (under a chunk of metal, on top of a polystyrene box, on top of a wad of aluminum foil, etc.). Using a long broom handle, stretching as far away as I could, touched the first 1 gm pile. Introduction to shock waves - I had not made 7 experiments but one bomb in seven parts. The house shook, I couldn't hear. Every experiment was a resounding success - heavy metal chunk on opposite side of basement, plastic box fragments all over room, none larger than 1/2 inch sliver, aluminum foil raining down in shreds. I had to be rushed to hospital to have my ears examined (fortunately all else fine). Eventually recovered full hearing.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 17, 2012
  6. Mar 19, 2012 #5
    I tried to design a menger sponge capacitor.

    I read something like "infinite surface area" and I immediately think I will make a capacitor with infinite capacitance.

    I worked out the formula for surface area/iteration, and thought of some ways to build it. I figured how big it would have to be to store charge at a really high voltage without dielectric breakdown, so that it could be an ~infinite energy battery.

    Then I realized I never considered the geometry and how it might affect the electric field, and so my infinite surface area didn't sound so promising. I didn't even want to start on the nightmare of trying to figure out the capacitance from that kind of geometry. Luckily, that stopped me before I tried to build one.

    I'm still interested in making capacitors out of fractal geometries, but I don't know if its feasible. The closest thing that tries to maximize surface on a small scale is a tantalum capacitor that uses powder grains to increase surface area.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2012
  7. Mar 19, 2012 #6
    Good golly Bob, that's absolutely disgusting.
     
  8. Mar 19, 2012 #7
    Also, my most embarrassing physics moment was when I was in high school and visiting a university to see if I'd want to go there.

    I got to sit down with a physics professor and my mom, and we talked about all kinds of great stuff.

    Then at the end he asked me if I had any questions. After having just read "The Elegant Universe" and starting to learn the concept of relativity, I asked him if it was possible to focus energy into a small space to warp the space-time since energy is equivalent to matter, and use this as a way to make anti-gravity as a form of propulsion.

    He just sort of looked at me with a weird look on his face, and I think he tried to spare me embarrassment in front of my mother and just kindly said "no, I don't think that will work".

    Only years later, I look on that and realize I basically asked him if we can make star trek warp drives. I guess this is the dangers of reading popular physics books for the layman. I still feel stupid for that one.
     
  9. Mar 19, 2012 #8

    lisab

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    My most embarrassing lab mistake: I was making a dark-colored solution that required stuff* to be added to a volumetric flask, water up to the line, and sit on a magnetic stirrer for an hour or so. (Some chemists would flinch at putting a volumetric flask on a magnetic stirrer, but that's another story...)

    I came back after an hour and was totally perplexed about the volume of solution in the flask. It was significantly above the marked line. How could it have expanded? There was no explaining it...I figured I must have screwed up somewhere along the line.

    As I prepared to start over, I made the embarrassing discovery that the added volume was due to the magnetic stirring rod still in the flask :redface:.

    *stuff = technical term for...you know...stuff :biggrin:
     
  10. Mar 19, 2012 #9
    Wow! Leaving a magnetic stirring rod in a flask.?!! You should be, and apparently are, totally ashamed of yourself for such an error.

    Ok, I've moved past it. I just hope that you have.
     
  11. Mar 19, 2012 #10

    jedishrfu

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    My favorite bad science experiment was when I tried to make a computer at home from nails and wire coiled around them to create solenoids. I wrapped electrical wire ten times around a nail (saving wire cause I figured I'd need a lot of solenoids) and plugged it into a wall outlet for the test not realizing that I really needed a DC source.

    It popped the house outlet fuse which I replaced and some clocks were off by ten minutes so I fixed them all except the one in my parents bedroom. My Mom figured it out pretty fast and asked me what happened and I couldn't lie.

    As I look back on it now, I recall having done a similar experiment when I was about 4 where I found an old frayed cord my Dad had removed from a broken lamb and tossed away. I went inside plugged it in and ran my hand down the cord to where the pretty sparks were. My Mom quickly buttered up my hand (1950's burn treatment recommendation)and took me to the doctors office.

    Young experimentalists never learn!
     
  12. Mar 19, 2012 #11
    Ah, experiments!

    I can think of plenty of stupid, small examples. You know, pouring cold water into a previously heated flask (don't do that, people); accidentally adding the wrong ingredient to a substance that was to create synthetic latex (we had 'foam' everywhere, it was quite hilarious, actually), and sneezing on a carefully calibrated frame we used to measure forces of some kind - among other things.

    Here's one example I'm particularly ashamed of. Years ago - I think I was 15 or 16 - I and a couple of friends did a chemistry experiment to see what the influence of light on a substance (I honestly don't remember what) was. Among other things, we wanted to know if there would be any changes in color. In our stupidness, we took pictures of the substance with a camera with a powerful flashlight. It wasn't until *days* after the experiment that someone figured out why all cases looked like they had been exposed to a ridiculous amount of light.
     
  13. Mar 19, 2012 #12
    The only reason I'm not sticking random objects in my wall sockets is because I'm living with other people. :biggrin:
     
  14. Mar 19, 2012 #13

    lisab

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    Lol...it was at a lab I worked at a long, long time ago. That particular procedure had been done the same way for years - kind of a "this is the way we've always done it" type of thing. But it was new to me, I was just filling in for the regular person who did it.
     
  15. Mar 19, 2012 #14

    DaveC426913

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    I took my 7 and 10 year old boys fishing in Shediac NB. My son caught an eel. We decided to bring it back to show mom, so I decided it should not suffer. This would be an excellent lesson in mercy for the boys.

    So I picked up the foot long eel to knock its head on the rock (that's how you kill a fish) and gripped it tight. But being slippery as - well - as an eel, it popped right out of my hands. I picked it up and and slipped right out. Again and again.

    Finally, I gave up trying to hold onto it and just lifted it up like a forklift with both my hands. Now I had to bash it on the ground. So I'm standing there, cupping a foot long eel in my hands, just sort of "dropping" it onto a rock. Over and over and over.

    Eventually, I find a stick (there were no rocks lying around) and start wailing away on this thing's head till it stops moving.

    I don't know if it's dead, so I decide it is best to be sure. I get out my knife and start trying to cut its its head off. Again, remember, I can't actually grip it to hold it still, so I'm just sort of sawing with the knife while the thing rolls back and forth on the ground.

    Eventually, I manage to somehow separate the one part of what is now a pulped mass of slime from the other part of a pulped mass of slime, and we somehow coax the whole mess back to the campsite to show mom.

    The kids never went fishing again.
     
  16. Mar 19, 2012 #15

    turbo

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    When I was a kid, our little town celebrated its sesquicentennial (in part) with a massive fireworks display. The field was just a couple of hundred yards from out house, and I wandered down there to watch the crew set up the display. They "timed" elements of the display by poking the smaller fuses through the much larger fuses made of gun-cotton rolled in brown paper. I thought that was pretty cool. The next day, I returned to the field and found about a 1' section of that fuse lying there. I took it back home and stuck the fuses of a couple of left-over Black Cat firecrackers into one end of that big fuse and lit the other end. Luckily, I had backed off a bit, and was standing in the "upper garage" (about a foot higher), because there was a horrendous explosion and I ended up on my back with my ears ringing. Never one to learn from such lessons, I went back to the field and scoured it until I found another section of fuse, and it had a hard lump in it. I found out later that the "lumps" were probably fulminated mecury (blasting-cap explosive), and had I lit the wrong end of the original piece of fuse, I could have lost a hand. That would have put quite a damper on my future avocation as a guitarist.
     
  17. Mar 19, 2012 #16

    Ivan Seeking

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    Some 30 years ago now, I shorted out Granada Hills Hospital, in California. It's a long story but suffice it to say that CT scanners were new and we didn't have good schematics for the subsystems yet. It was quite a moment when I hit the switch and the entire hospital went dark. Ooops!

    I was once playing with 30 KV in an effort to make a new type of speaker. I could hear something arcing and was trying to listen for the source. I got my face too close to circuit and took 30KV right up the nostril. Now THAT will clear your sinuses!
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2012
  18. Mar 19, 2012 #17

    Ivan Seeking

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    Oh yes, while designing a pwm cicuit that switched 180 VDC at about 10 amps [at about 100 KHz], I had made a mistake in the feedback which caused the output to quickly climb to max and then destroy the transistor. When it failed it failed dramatically and was at least as loud as a firecracker. As I burned through my reserve of IRF840 FETs in an effort to find the problem, my nerves grew more and more fragile. By the time I found the problem, my hand was literally shaking whenever I went to start the circuit!

    Thinking back, IIRC, the problem was the slew rate of the FET driver. There was too much slope for the switching speed. I believe the capacitance of the FET gate was too high for the drivers.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2012
  19. Mar 20, 2012 #18

    Danger

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    Does blowing a church off of the planet count as an "oops"?
    If it was on purpose? :uhh:
     
  20. Mar 20, 2012 #19

    DaveC426913

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    Only for your immortal soul...
     
  21. Mar 20, 2012 #20

    Danger

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    Whew! I'm safe, then. I don't have one of those.
     
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