What I Learned from Blowing Up a PC

I was already feeling just a little bit stressed.

Already that Saturday morning I’d finished sorting the clothes for our family holiday; made a detailed shopping list; left instructions on completion of the shopping, chores, organisation of the children and packing up of the car; gone into town to get my hair cut; phoned home to indicate that supervising children watching breakfast TV wasn’t on the list of things to be done; and left the hairdresser’s with hair still wet, unstyled, to avoid a parking ticket.

It was half past ten.  The clock was ticking but I still had time to finish what I had to do.  Ignoring the chaos at home I sped down to the office block where I worked, signed in at the security desk, noticed but didn’t stop to read a large poster about ‘TESTS’ with that day’s date on it, and crept through the silent, eerily half-lit building to my desk.

There was still Work To Be Done.  I had a letter to write, a piece of ministerial correspondence. I was working at the time as a civil servant, and part of the job involved drafting replies on behalf of government ministers to send out to other politicians, dignatories, members of the public and so on.  It was Important Work.  It was a Green Folder, and Green Folders were Important Work.

(The letters, draft replies and accompanying notes used to get passed around the office in a green folder, hence the name.  Although everything was done by computer even in the olden days of 12 years ago, they were still known as Green Folders.)

I settled down at my desk, in the half-light, and set about the work.  Half an hour later and my fingers were flying.  My brain was whirring and the words were pouring forth.  This letter was nearly done, I could send it off, switch off, and go home and rejoin the fun chaos.

Then… boom!

Okay, it was just a dull boom, more of a puff really, but as the computer sighed the screen went dead.  Black.  Empty.  Silent.

Don’t panic, I thought.

I checked the computer.  Applied all my technical expertise.  Switched it off, then on.  Then off, then on.

Nothing, nada, niente.

The machine was dead.

Don’t panic, I thought. You’ve still got time.  Use another machine.

I moved round the corner to another machine.  Switched it on and got back to work.  The draft was gone but the words were still flying around my head.  I could recreate it.  I could still finish the draft, add the notes, send it on, switch it all off and be back at home in time to resume the chaos fun.

The clock was ticking faster.  My fingers were slipping on the keyboards.  The words were jumbling as I tried to formulate the perfect sentence to get the dratted thing finished and sent off in time.  The clock kept ticking, but I was nearly there then…


That dull boom, or was it a thud or a puff… No matter.  I recognised the sound.  I saw what it did to the screen.  Dead.  Black.  Empty. Silent.

I started to cry.

Determinedly applied my technical expertise once again: don’t panic, switch off, switch on, switch off, switch on… but I knew what the outcome would be.

Nothing.  Nada.  Niente.

Fixed by Don Fulano on Flickr

No Green Folder for me.  Out of time to try again.  A broken machine on my desk.  And a silent, empty screen on my colleague’s work station.

I started writing notes of explanation, of apology and regret.  Offers to fix, and recompense, and do penance on my return.

But finally, regretfully, realising that I was out of time to do more.

I walked quietly back out of the building.  Noticed once more the poster at the front desk, just fragments of words… warning, testing, electrical surges, do not use… and emerged, blinking, into the sunshine of the day and the start of my family holiday.

And when I got back to work, some two weeks later…

Was there hell to pay about the lateness of the Green Folder?

Was my colleague spitting mad that I’d blown up her PC?

Was the IT guy standing over my desk, demanding an explanation?

Was there a bill from the Finance Department asking for compensation for the exploding PCs?

Not a bit of it.

Just friends and colleagues asking: “Did you have a good time?  Did you enjoy your holiday?”

And the friendly chatter and exchange of news, places, stories and photos before we drank more tea, and slowly got back to work.

Nothing else to show from the stress of that morning.  Nothing.  Nada.  Niente.

Except my own, vivid memory of that heart sinking moment when the screens went dead, and the lessons I hope I have learned.

Namely that:

  • Stress and machines don’t mix
  • Some office notices are meant to be read
  • When the universe tells you to slow down a bit, don’t push your luck and ignore her warnings… or
  • If you blow up one PC you shouldn’t try using another
  • People don’t really care about deadlines, or machines, or broken objects: they care about you
  • Holidays should always come before writing projects, whatever the colour of the folder


This story is from about 12 years ago… hopefully I’ve learned my lessons now.

Thanks to Robert Hruzek at the Middle Zone for the chance to look back and reflect on past errors and lessons learned.

For yes, this post is a contribution to the group writing project: What I Learned from Bloopers, Mistakes and Embarassing Moments

If you want to take part, there’s still time: the project closes this Sunday evening.

Photo Credit: Fixed by Don Fulano on Flickr

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15 Responses to “What I Learned from Blowing Up a PC”

  1. On July 10, 2009 at 10:35 am Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach responded with... #

    Love this part:

    Some office notices are meant to be read

    and REALLY loved this part:

    People don’t really care about deadlines, or machines, or broken objects: they care about you

    Excellent wisdom. Shared with my network!
    Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..Easily Save Your Loved Ones From Being Horribly Scammed - Covert Angel Time! My ComLuv Profile

  2. On July 10, 2009 at 11:28 am Brad Shorr responded with... #

    Joanna, This sounds very much like an episode from “The Office”. (Only on that show, every PC would have been blown up, not a mere two.)
    Brad Shorr´s last blog ..Business Model Innovation Comes before Branding and Marketing My ComLuv Profile

  3. On July 10, 2009 at 12:41 pm Robert Hruzek responded with... #

    Wow, I’m glad you didn’t work for me! :-D (Just kidding, of course!)

    Sometimes all the signs are pointing one way while we go barrelling down another, right? I hear ya! Sounds like you had some good friends at that office, though, and that always makes it easier.

    Thanks for the WILF entry, and a tip o’ the hat to ya!
    Robert Hruzek´s last blog ..What to Do When You Mess Up – Bad! My ComLuv Profile

  4. On July 10, 2009 at 12:59 pm Wilson Pon responded with... #

    Joanna, I’d learned a lesson, after reading your post: Always standby a laptop besides you, as you didn’t know when the desktop computer will blow up!

  5. On July 10, 2009 at 1:04 pm Paul responded with... #

    Great post Joanna!

    I can really picture you there at the terminals. Flicking the switch and looking at the clock. Flicking the switch and looking at the clock. Like a bad Pavlovian experiment ;)

    A friend of mine worked directly for one of the big bosses at his company. All of this boss’s instructions were ‘green folder’ priorities. At first, my friend would rush around like his life depended on it, working to incredibly short, always urgent deadlines.

    As time passed he realised that his boss wasn’t even reading/using most of the research or reports he was creating. In the end he did nothing until at least 3 or 4 requests for the same piece of work came in.

    No warnings and no reprimands ever came his way either ;)

    All the best,

    Paul´s last blog ..A Commuter’s Tale My ComLuv Profile

  6. On July 10, 2009 at 5:52 pm Lori Hoeck responded with... #

    My husband tries to teach his work-study students that if you have to learn a lesson, learn it the easy way by watching others make the mistake instead of learning it the hard way by living through it yourself. I plan to learn this from your post: “People don’t really care about deadlines, or machines, or broken objects: they care about you.” Thank you.
    Lori Hoeck´s last blog ..Three ways a narcissist can take control My ComLuv Profile

  7. On July 10, 2009 at 11:21 pm Kathy | Virtual Impax responded with... #

    The picture of the monitor impaled upon the post is totally priceless!!!
    If I had a dollar for every time I WANTED to do that to my PC - well, let’s just say I’d be aboard my 50 ft cabin cruiser with a cabana boy rubbing my feet.

    Instead of acting upon my natural (and more destructive) impulses - I tend to go with option C:

    “When the universe tells you to slow down a bit, don’t push your luck and ignore her warnings…”

    It’s a lot less expensive than impaling my computer on something sharp every time the mood strikes.

    Thanks for a great chuckle. It’s a situation to which all web workers can relate!
    Kathy | Virtual Impax´s last blog ..Perspective’s role in your marketing messages My ComLuv Profile

  8. On July 11, 2009 at 3:36 am Carla responded with... #

    Great words of wisdom. During the last few weeks I was working before I went on disability, I was in the middle of an MS attack and kept having to either go to the doctor or leave work early. Every time I went back to work the next day, I was expecting co-workers to be hopping mad and stressed out because they had to do my work or fix whatever errors I made the previous day. No, I got hugs, smiles and well wishes.

    “People don’t really care about deadlines, or machines, or broken objects: they care about you.”
    Carla´s last blog ..The Winner is… My ComLuv Profile

  9. On July 11, 2009 at 4:35 am Lillie Ammann responded with... #

    Great story and great lessons, Joanna. I have experienced dead computers, and it’s not fun!
    Lillie Ammann´s last blog ..Guest Post: 9 Ways to Promote Your Book Using Social Media by Beth Morrow My ComLuv Profile

  10. On July 11, 2009 at 8:20 am write a writing responded with... #

    Great insights Joanna!
    write a writing´s last blog ..How to Write a Conclusion My ComLuv Profile

  11. On July 11, 2009 at 11:37 am Fred H Schlegel responded with... #

    I’ve heard of machines knowing you were on deadline before, but exploding to keep you from meeting it… LOL.
    Fred H Schlegel´s last blog ..Shaking Up the MBA | Dirty Fingernails Entrepreneurship My ComLuv Profile

  12. On July 12, 2009 at 12:25 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hi everyone, thanks for the feedback on the post :-)

    @ Barbara, thanks for sharing this with your network. Writing this got me thinking about all the daft office notices we used to get sent, and how hard it was to work out which ones really were in your interest to read… Not an easy task though ;-)

    @ Brad, you’re a fan of The Office… but of course, I should have known :-)

    @ Robert, you know it’s funny, as I was thinking about this I was thinking about you groaning, the thought of daft cookies like me ignoring the warnings about electrical surges and the like (all a mystery to me I’m afraid) Thanks for another great WILF project Robert

    @ Wilson, I have a feeling I might just have blown a laptop up too ;-)

    @ Paul, I did eventually learn that lesson about deadlines and priorities, but it’s a hard one to swallow, especially when you look back on all the wasted hours and stress that’s gone into things that didn’t really matter… Though as you say, once you get there, work is a whole lot easier and more enjoyable

    @ Lori, what an interesting approach to learning - I’m definitely going to give that some thought / practice. Glad you enjoyed some of my learning here

    @ Kathy, yes I know what you mean, we’ve all felt like doing that to ‘the machine’ at some time or another. Much as we love the freedom and liberation web working offers, there are times when the attachment to the box can drive you nuts…!

    @ Carla, I’m glad you got such kindness from your coworkers. I do believe that people are basically good and kind… but it’s always gratifying to see it, receive it, enjoy it. Hugs to you :-)

    @ Lillie, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. You’re right, no fun at all!

    @ amna, thanks :-)

    @ Fred, I know, I can only really laugh looking back the way at the lessons I was being sent that day. Not just one exploding machine but two, yes eventually I got the message ;-)

  13. On July 12, 2009 at 4:48 pm Ulla Hennig responded with... #

    your post reminds me of the many times I made daft mistakes working with my pc at the office because things had to be done in a hurry. It is so easy to hit the wrong key or press the wrong button. I once caught myself looking at the monitor wondering why the printer did not do its work. Reason was I had forgotten to hit the OKAY button. Meh!
    Ulla Hennig´s last blog ..Klaipeda – Lithuania’s only Seaport My ComLuv Profile

  14. On July 14, 2009 at 6:38 am Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Ulla it’s so true isn’t it… more haste, less speed. If only we could remember that when we’re in a hurry!



  1. Middle Zone Musings » All Entries: What I Learned From Bloopers, Mistakes, and Embarrassing Moments - July 13, 2009

    [...] What I Learned From Blowing Up a PC, by Joanna Young at Confident Writing [...]

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