What’s Your (Beer) Emergency?

I was in Prague last week (Agile Prague and a client). One of the nice folks at the client explained that beer in Prague Is inexpensive. For years, in The Czech Republic, the beer is less expensive than water or a soft drink. (There is now a law that says the bars and restaurants have to provide a non-alcoholic drink that costs less than beer.)

Then he showed me a sign that he said meant beer emergency. I cracked up laughing. I didn’t think he was serious. He was. I took this picture of beer emergency.

That got me thinking. What kind of emergencies do you have?

Let’s see if we can agree on what constitutes an emergency. Here’s a reasonable working definition:

  • An unanticipated system state.
  • Often caused by low probability events that coincide and bam.
  • Or, sometimes, people make mistakes, create accidents and those accidents need to be solved now, not later.

If I apply this reasoning to beer, I would never have a beer emergency. I have had clothes emergencies.

I have certainly created work emergencies. Many years ago, I was a director at a company. Management needed the release to go out by a certain day, so we had mandatory dinner and overtime. Each of us directors took a day of the week where we stayed and ordered dinner for the entire R&D team. The idea was that after dinner, everyone would stay and work on the release.

We’d been doing this for weeks. We were all exhausted. My older daughter was two at the time and was between ear infections. No one in my house had been sleeping well for weeks. One memorable day, I stayed at work to organize and clean up electronic files to be ready for the next day.

We used Unix. I typed in the delete command, rm -r *.* which is a recursive delete. For some reason, the system asked me for the root password. I thought that was strange but fine. I gave it the root password and promptly started to delete system files. Yes, the system files on the main server, not my machine.

I killed the process, but I’d already deleted a substantial portion of the files. I called the sysadmin and told him what I’d done. I asked where the backups were; I was happy to start a restore.

Luckily, he was smarter than I was. He told me to go home and get some sleep and not to touch a thing. He then made me repeat it back to him. I promised I would not enter the machine room nor would  I try to fix anything.

I apologized, went home, and went to bed. It turns out that my mistake allowed everyone else to go home and catch up on their sleep. (If I’d been smarter, I would have done this on purpose the second week of this nonsense. I was not that smart.)

I had created an emergency. I had created an unanticipated system state via low probability events and my mistakes. As a result, we changed a number of policies: no directors had the root password anymore, and we stopped the silly dinner and work-until-you-drop idea.

Beer emergencies are not my thing. However, I loved learning about it and thinking about when I might have caused problems that required a beer emergency.

That’s the question this week: What’s your (beer) emergency?

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