Super Power Outage

Every now and then, for reasons that escape me, our equipment on the second and third floors at Teufelsberg would lose power. The lights, elevators, etc., would still work, but the power to the equipment in the racks would be down. The fact that the building in general would not lose power probably means these rare outages were scheduled events, but I honestly don’t remember. I do remember enjoying them. During the outages there was nothing for us to do except wait. They never lasted more than a couple of hours; most of us would get out a deck of cards, wander about the floor chatting with fellow team members, or go to the break room and burn a batch of microwave popcorn. On a side note, the microwave popcorn technology was far from perfected in the early 1980s, and the newly-constructed break room off of the hallway leading to the elevators nearly always smelled like a freshly burned bag of the stuff. Back to the power outages: The most remarkable thing about these experiences was how quiet the third floor would be while the power was down. The amount of white noise generated by the equipment and the air conditioning required to keep it all cool was impressive, so when all of the systems were up and running, which was damn near every minute of every day of the year, you didn’t really notice the noise; it was just the natural state of things. The second floor was quieter, which generally gave it a calmer feeling than life on the third floor. But when the power was out even the third floor was quiet, and you got a sense of just how much noise there normally was by virtue of its absence. You could sit in one subsystem and actually hear what was happening in the other dormant subsystems on the floor. That just wasn’t possible when the power was on. The regrettable end of these outages would be marked by a great chorus of clicking, blinking, and whirring all starting as if on cue, signaling it was time to put the cards down, finish the popcorn, put the headphones on, and see if World War III hadn’t started in the meantime.