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Friday, February 18, 2011

Creative Time Bomb

A long time ago....

Some of the large, stage theater-style lights mounted way above the static board had been acting up. The building was over 30 years old, and the warranties on these lights just seemed to be up. Some burned out bulbs over and over, some just wouldn't work. It was time to replace them.

They picked a quiet Saturday night to start the project, and brought some scaffolding in to assemble over and around the consoles. The new lighting system to be installed required some sort of structural or cosmetic work up there to shield the lights from shining peripherally straight down on us, so they had to completely remove all of the old lights, build whatever it was they were building, and then install the new system. It was going to be an unusually noisy and dusty time in the control center for a while.

As soon as they were ready to start removing the lights, they had to kill the circuit. We had backup lighting set up already so we could continue to work around the project. Construction-style halogen floodlights on tripods.

Several hours later, for whatever reason any particular time is chosen for random things to happen, the panel circuit breaker carrying the backup lights had had enough and tripped. Darkness settled in, except for the slight ambient light from our computer monitors, desk lamps, and the fluorescent lights that were still on behind the static board, bleeding around the sides.

Well, crap. Small-scale outage, eh? The two guys on the scaffolding pulled out their flashlights and starting working their way down. Rich unplugged the tripods and then went to reset the panel, left the rest of us to disconnect some of the tripod lights so we could try it again. The construction grunts basically took that over, so Shawn and I just got to stand there and absorb the unusual situation of a darkened control room.

I looked at the static board to see how much I could make out without walking up closer to it. Not much. Then I noticed lots of points of light on the board. No, I had not been smoking anything.

The static board, you see, is a magnet-based board. However, once upon a time it was a pin-based board, so the entire surface area of the painted sheet metal was covered with a grid of pinholes spaced at 1/4". But the back of the board had some sort of protective gunk slathered on it, so you couldn't see the holes from the back.

Except I could see some. A lot. In a pattern. Of words. Someone had meticulously and carefully punched discreetly through the board to pierce the back cover material so light could come through certain pinholes, not obvious from the back (who ever looked there anyway?), and visible from the front only in this very unusual lighting configuration. It was two lines of words, and several feet wide. You had to move around to get the backlight lined up to see all of it.

"What the hell.... who is Fletch?" I asked Shawn, pointing to the board. It took him a second before he saw it. Shawn snickered as he read the board, but "Fletch" was a mystery.

Rich came back in, and we pointed out the extremely rudely-phrased claim made about Fletch's sexual preferences. Despite his constant joyless grumpy exterior, Rich just started to laugh and laugh and laugh. I thought he was going to get to tears.

Rich told us that a guy who somehow got nicknamed "Fletch", after the character portrayed by Chevy Chase, was frequently a buffoonish pain in the ass. He had retired from operations about five years prior, before Shawn and I arrived. A lot of people didn't like Fletch, he said.

Yeah, what was revealed was pretty strong evidence of that.

Rich was going to take a picture and mail it anonymously to Fletch, but we couldn't get the digital camera to see the pinholes, even when we tried for closeups so we could piece a collage together.

No one ever took credit for it among the crusties or the retirees.

Creative time bomb. FTW.


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