The NLTSS Smoking Gun Award

by Norm Samuelson

The picture below shows The NLTSS Smoking Gun Award, also known as The Boot.

In any endeavor where people are working hard, trying to reach a goal, some times there are things that go just right, and other times things can somehow go wrong. This award was an attempt to celebrate the effort while acknowledging the occasional mistake.

There was one particularly memorable event that spawned this award. In the early days of development of NLTSS, mechanisms were not yet in place to maintain the status of the file system across a system restart (aka crash). Because restarts happened frequently in the beginning, members of the project found ways to automate parts of the process, to speed up restarts and thus minimize pain for developers and the few friendly users. Most of the developers used personal computers to connect to both LTSS and NLTSS. Jim Minton was a member of the core group of developers of NLTSS. Jim had created some macro keys on his PC to automate the process of reinitializing the file system. Jim had used those macros often in the early development of the system.

Eventually a mechanism was added to NLTSS to allow it to recover the state of the file system, and from that, the remaining state of the system at each restart. That change was of course a big hit with both developers and users, as it meant that the system came back up much more quickly, and earlier work was not lost at each restart.

Then one day, long after there was no need to reinitialize the disks on every restart, Jim accidentally hit one of those macro keys, wiping out the information on those disks. It was simply a bad keystroke, but the consequences were clearly worse than most bad keystrokes. Jim really felt bad about what had happened. He felt so bad that he wrote a touching note of apology in which he explained how things had gone wrong, and expressing deep regret for shooting myself in the foot.

After Jims apology, a few of us talked about an award for shooting oneself in the foot, and we quickly decided that a boot with bullet holes in it would be a fitting tribute. I took one of my old cowboy boots out in the hills east of Livermore along with a .357 pistol, set the boot at the base of a tree (with no foot in it), and shot a couple of holes thru it. I then gave the boot to Barb Atkinson, who took it home to her husband Mike. Mike reamed out the bullet holes (he thought they needed to be a bit larger for maximum effect), and mounted the boot to a board. He also added the label with the words NLTSS SMOKING GUN AWARD.

The award was presented to Jim, along with a certificate which recorded some of the reasons for the award. It was a touching ceremony. I dont think there was a dry eye in the place. We all had a good laugh about it.

This award was created to memorialize one such mistake, but it was so popular that it became a traveling award. Any time anyone made a major mistake that was deemed to be worthy of recognition, they were given the boot, along with a new certificate. The boot made the rounds within the project for a few years. I dont think anyone kept track of all the recipients.

After the NLTSS project was cancelled I left the group to take another job at the lab. At that time, the group gave me back my boot to help remember the good times we had working together, and how being lighthearted about the occasional inevitable mistake helped us work as a close-knit group without really going nuts. That spirit was an important part of our group, and is a large part of why I fondly remember my time in NLTSS development as one of the highlights of my career as a programmer.

Here is the certificate that came with the Boot when the Smoking Gun award was given to Jim Minton as described above.

The event of the disk erasing was also memorialized in this cartoon:

This cartoon is part of the NLTSS Chronicles.