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Serious Magnet Failure at CERN's New Accelerator

CowboyNeal posted about 7 years ago | from the smashing-atoms dept.

News 193

GrepNut writes "CERN is reporting that the giant magnets that steer the particle beam in the new and highly anticipated Large Hadron Collider have just failed catastrophically in a stress test, apparently due to a design oversight. It doesn't help that the magnets were designed and built by CERN's US competitor Fermilab." While safety precautions were followed, and no one was injured nor were any rifts in the space-time continuum opened, it's still a rather large setback for the project.

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What actually happened (5, Funny)

DJCacophony (832334) | about 7 years ago | (#18555627)

The part was destroyed and subsequently compressed into a singularity by the black hole that the device created.

Re:What actually happened (1)

MindKata (957167) | about 7 years ago | (#18556329)

Well, it would explain all the dark matter in the universe.

Technologically advanced planets, who get to the point where they build their own LHC style machine. Then at the point of understanding, all knowledge in the universe, they experience a Douglas Adams style moment, and then get crushed to the size of pea in a Singularity.

Re:What actually happened (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556373)

But could something the size of a pea be called a singularity?
After all, I can cut a pea in half.

Re:What actually happened (1)

l0cust (992700) | about 7 years ago | (#18556759)

Yeah but you two have to stand like next to each other and set the angles correctly before start peeing. Not that easy I tell ya.

Re:What actually happened (1)

2sheds (78194) | about 7 years ago | (#18556693)

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something more bizarrely inexplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

Re:What actually happened (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556367)

Uh...it's probably not a problem...probably...but I'm showing a small discrepancy in...well, no, it's well within acceptable bounds again. Sustaining sequence...

I blame (0, Offtopic)

nearlygod (641860) | about 7 years ago | (#18555635)

It's John Tidor's fault!

moron (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18555675)

I sure am glad you signed your post, because after reading such an unintelligent, innate statement, I lost so many IQ points that I forgot who made it.

Re:moron (0, Troll)

nearlygod (641860) | about 7 years ago | (#18555853)

What the hell is your problem? I didn't realize that jokes had been banned from slashdot... or did you just not get it?


Re:moron (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556045)

"or did you just not get it?"

It just wasn't all that funny

Before I wrote this post, I took a look at your post history. It appears that you are not just 'unfunny', but it seems that people don't think you are interesting, insightful either.

There were no injuries (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18555645)

But all credit cards within a 10-mile radius were erased.

Re:There were no injuries (5, Funny)

JackMeyhoff (1070484) | about 7 years ago | (#18555905)

Nevermind that, my metal impants caused me to be stuck to the ceiling for hours until it was finally switched off!

Re:There were no injuries (4, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | about 7 years ago | (#18555937)

Wouldn't strong magnetic fields, like one powerful enough to affect objects miles away, have an effect on organisms? In Larry Niven's Known Space universe (I'm thinking especially of "The Ethics of Madness" in Neutron Star [amazon.com] ) Bussard ramjets take a long time to get off the ground since the magnetic field involved would kill the pilot. But Niven never points to any real research into this, so I never knew if it was true or just a convenient plot point. Can any particle accelerators on Earth generate a magnetic field high enough to kill people?

Re:There were no injuries (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556137)

Well, theres iron in your blood. So it could possibly get quite unpleasant.

Re:There were no injuries (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556255)

MRIs have pretty strong magnetic fields & don't hurt you

Re:There were no injuries (2, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | about 7 years ago | (#18556927)

MRIs have pretty strong magnetic fields & don't hurt you

      Provided the EMT doesn't forget to take the oxygen cylinder out of the room....

Re: Big magnet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556779)

Can't find your car keys?

Try looking in Switzerland!

Back at Fermilab (0, Troll)

dduardo (592868) | about 7 years ago | (#18555649)

Scientists: Muhahahaha, that will teach those Europeans.

Re:Back at Fermilab (0, Troll)

Kensai7 (1005287) | about 7 years ago | (#18556299)

From 1998 to 2002, Fermilab conducted four engineering reviews of the magnets by experts from Fermilab, other US national laboratories and CERN. The reviews do not appear to have addressed these asymmetric loads. Tests at Fermilab were done on single magnets where such loads do not develop.

I get it, I get it! I presume these magnets are "export" versions as those faulty F16s Americans sell us Europeans now and then. :)

Re:Back at Fermilab (1)

dunezone (899268) | about 7 years ago | (#18556639)

Actually, I live in Batavia Illinois the town that Fermilab is located in. Its a neat place to go to but if you don't have the time or live to far just play Half-Life its like the same place.

Just reverse the polarity (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18555665)

...and make sure there aren't any redshirts around the next time you install it.

why is this not surprising? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18555683)

The part that failed was built by the Americans.

The piece of metal that brought down the Concord fell off of an American aircraft.

American build cars stop running at 1/4 the miles of a Toyota.

Somehow these things have stopped being very surprising...

Re:why is this not surprising? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18555755)

Keep dreaming, eurofag.

Oh, crap. (4, Interesting)

swschrad (312009) | about 7 years ago | (#18555987)

Fermilab has built electromagnets for many particle accelerators, including SLAC. They are apparently the only source. If you want something else, you have to go to TDK in Japan for fixed-intensity ceramic magnets.

According to an old neighborhood buddy of mine who is at SLAC, when he was in redesign of the linear accelerator in the 80s, those were the only two bids. For flexibility, they went with Fermi and electromagnets.

And they haven't failed yet.

While we're whining about cars, you can't keep headlamps and taillamps in a VW, wiring issues burn 'em out. nobody's perfect. that's why you negotiate warranties in the contracts for stuff.

no wonder you don't dare sign your name. which, BTW, is quite imperfect in itself. Can't stand on the courage of your convulsions, as a rabid right-wing wacko radio commenter used to say.

Important safety tip (5, Funny)

rheman1 (301503) | about 7 years ago | (#18555685)

How many time do I have to tell you: Don't cross the streams!

Re:Important safety tip (4, Funny)

truthsearch (249536) | about 7 years ago | (#18555817)

Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light. Total protonic reversal.

Right. That's bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks.

Oddone will speak again (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18555699)

Where would someone called Oddone work if not at a place that creates black holes.

worst case scenario (0)

Rhoads47 (1050834) | about 7 years ago | (#18555713)

Precautions must be taken to prevent an event that would tear apart the fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the ENTIRE universe. Granted, that's a worst case scenario. The destruction may be limited to merely our own galaxy.

Re:worst case scenario (1)

iknowcss (937215) | about 7 years ago | (#18556191)

Is destroying the fabric of space and time actually a legitimate fear? I mean Jesus, there are forces thousands of orders of magnitude greater than what our measly Particle Accelerators can produce. Shouldn't we be worrying about stuff that's in the center of our galaxy more than what a few sentient beings on a little blue marble can do with their sciency toys?

Re:worst case scenario (-1, Troll)

guruevi (827432) | about 7 years ago | (#18556633)

The difference is that the closest black hole in the universe is lightyears away (at least that is the current conception) and the universe seems to be balanced out perfectly so all the dangerous stuff that is floating around doesn't consume the whole universe. It's a careful setup of universal laws that keep it together, just like the ecosystem on earth did for thousands of years. Human's in their everlasting quest for knowledge and other 'enrichment' seems to be consistent in messing things up that work perfectly and make it a dangerous object. It happens at home when the man of the house thinks he can fix his own brakes and then seems to be messing around with it for several hours to the collection of us sentient beings messing up all types of natural systems including our own food and other supply chains (water, air, ...)

So that is why people don't trust scientists creating miniature black holes too close to their homes. First of all, we don't know what it is going to do (that's why it's called an experiment) and when we're messing around with atoms and other building blocks, we have always messed up to start off with (nuclear energy, first appliance was a bomb. Geneticly modified food, seems to be not so healthy after all)

Yore dead Freemen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18555719)

I never thought I'd see a resonance cascade, let alone cause one!

Got what they deserved (-1, Troll)

smchris (464899) | about 7 years ago | (#18555789)

Don't these people know the 6+ mile Boston "Big Dig" with only 2+ miles under the harbor has so-far cost almost as much as the 31-mile Chunnel? That they faked the books to hide substandard materials, it leaks like a sieve, and a chunk has already fallen loose and killed a motorist? It's just becoming an American tradition post-Challenger/Hubble/Star Wars that you got paid to do it multiple times until you get it right.

What were they thinking contracting one of the most important components to Americans?

Re:Got what they deserved (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18555835)

Ya, tell me what nation could have developed "Star Wars" the first time. In fact, you mention Challenger and Hubble. What other nations routinely put people or telescopes into space at all?

Re:Got what they deserved (1)

mikkelm (1000451) | about 7 years ago | (#18555949)

Globalisation means that anyone with a big enough budget can do pretty much everything mankind is capable of.

Re:Got what they deserved (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556321)

Globalisation means that anyone with a big enough budget can do pretty much everything mankind is capable of.

It also means never having to say you're sorry.

Mainly because it opens up a whole new class of other people to blame when it goes bad

But to be serious; in this case it looks like a case of overlooking a possible engineering problem. It's quite understandable, as things of this nature present some unique and new problems and sometimes present gotchas that only sometimes gets caught in time. The Huygens Titan Probe almost wound up being a very expensive paperweight until a single engineer caught on that the doppler shift of the radio signals might need to be compensated for. Hubble's main mirror wound up being ground incorrectly due to some chipped coating on an end cap of the null corrector and lack of testing. Other space probes, and some very specialized machinery in other fields, weren't lucky enough to have an engineer catch the gotcha in time.

The problems become obvious with hindsight but are understandably hard to forsee, simply because these sorts of things have either never been done before or are at a whole new order of scale and complexity. Some turn out to be simple bone-headed mistakes but most are, "We never even thought of that!" That sort of thing is truly global.

Re:Got what they deserved (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18555895)

What he says is exactly right - you might not like the message, but that doesn't make it wrong...

They never should have gotten the Americans involved. Period.

Re:Got what they deserved (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556229)

Oh hey wow, I didn't realize that somebody could reply to their own post until you did it just now.

Re:Got what they deserved (1)

Ruie (30480) | about 7 years ago | (#18555899)

In all fairness the "Big Dig" was not just the tunnel - but also a reconstruction of the in-city highway system to free up a chunk of land previously obstructed by the highway. Working inside a busy city did not come cheap..

But yes, lots of things were done inefficiently.

Re:Got what they deserved (3, Informative)

gathas (588371) | about 7 years ago | (#18556101)

I think the 2+ miles under the harbor was actually the most trivial part of the project, being completed well ahead of and opened earlier than the rest of the project. The real challenge was building the new underground roads and associated bridges, ramps etc. while keeping the existing transportation infrastructure operational (albeit in a limited form). They had to deal with building close to existing subway tunnels, dealing with soil that was all landfill, and hitting archaeological sites. The project was certainly wrought with corruption, but to imply that it was somehow inefficient by comparing the length of the roads developed makes little sense.

Re:Got what they deserved (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556107)

Oooo, a troll! Gotta get me bow and arrow and fryin' pan! Now where's the olive oil....

"What were they thinking contracting one of the most important components to Americans?"

Fermilab for some time stayed on top of the accelerator game (if they've ever really lost it) because their magnets made up for the radius/distance difference. Fermilab essentially builds the strongest magnets for these sorts of applications. The Europeans going to them was smart; they went to the best.

"It's just becoming an American tradition post-Challenger/Hubble/Star Wars that you got paid to do it multiple times until you get it right."

You are equating a construction project with unionized workers with high end particle physics testing and design that pushes the envelope.

The oversight was just that--an oversight. People do make mistakes, and unexpected things do happen. You are certainly not a scientist, because you'd know that most experiments have mistakes in them that are corrected later; the bigger the project, the more costly and noticeable the error, but they happen in all areas--you just don't hear about some bad gel run because it's not "news."

Should the oversight have been caught? Probably. But it seems to me that asymmetrical load testing not being performed should have been caught by anyone reviewing the paperwork of tests performed, and I'd be shocked if people on both sides of the Atlantic didn't have access to the tests done, and BOTH missed it.

One thing physicists certainly do care about besides results is something analogous--reputation. The Fermilab people are probably the most disappointed and shocked of the bunch, and all parties feel this--the Fermilab people because they built and tested the magnets, the CERN folks because they didn't check the paperwork carefully and the setback.

"Don't these people know the 6+ mile Boston "Big Dig" with only 2+ miles under the harbor has so-far cost almost as much as the 31-mile Chunnel?"

Yeah, because digging under the city with all the infrastructure above and nearby including property buyouts is similar to digging under the English Channel. Digging 2 tunnels is analogous to building a huge multilane vehicle passthrough. Building with reusable patented protected tunnel diggers essentially large face milling heads with minimum labor labor is akin to digging with conventional digging equipment.

Damn man, the two digging/tunnel projects aren't even analagous in the construction discipline, and you're bringing it up to a high end physics project MAGNET failure?

Yum, fried troll.

Re:Got what they deserved (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556463)

Don't these people know the 6+ mile Boston "Big Dig" with only 2+ miles under the harbor has so-far cost almost as much as the 31-mile Chunnel?

Hrm, maybe that has something to do with that the Chunnel is 2 miles of interesting parts and 29 miles of a simple tunnel? Not to mention that the Big Dig was a complete renovation of an old infrastructure while keeping the city running at the same time.

Not Magnet Failure (5, Informative)

AmIAnAi (975049) | about 7 years ago | (#18555827)

From TFA:

"The failure does not concern the magnets or the cold masses themselves, but rather their assembly in the cryostat."

I know we don't read TFA here, but is it too much for the submitter to get past the first paragraph.

Re:Not Magnet Failure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556097)

They have this thing composed of magnets and other stuff which they, as a whole, also call a magnet. The slashdot title is refering to the whole magnet. TFA's 3rd paragraph refers to the part magnets.

Not Magnet Failure?? (4, Informative)

IvyKing (732111) | about 7 years ago | (#18556125)

I've been involved in the design and construction of several magnets for NMR use - and the supporting structure is usually considered to be part pf the magnet - including the cryostat used in supercons.

The interesting part of the article was that the cryostat design was reviewed by CERN personnel, so the issue of asymmetric loading on the cryostat was overlooked by more than just Fermilab. Sounds like and "Oh shit - nobody thunk of that" moment.

Re:Not Magnet Failure?? (5, Funny)

kestasjk (933987) | about 7 years ago | (#18556249)

An "Oh shit - nobody thunk of that" moment which building a particle accelerator.. Promising.

Re:NoT magnetic but blond moment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556793)

Hey this is supposed to work in Europe...how many blonds are working on the site? Better use carbon nanotube superconductors next time! Better yet some nanotubes in the structure. Stonger than steel you know.

Re:Not Magnet Failure (1)

acvh (120205) | about 7 years ago | (#18556287)

not to mention this line from the same FA:

"At this point the consequences, if any, for the LHC schedule are not yet known."

Surely you can't be serious... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18555839)

"I am serious. And please don't call me Shirley."

Apparently... (4, Funny)

DiamondGeezer (872237) | about 7 years ago | (#18555857)

...they're going to boost the mass spectrometer to 105% (for the extra resolution). It should be fine just so long as they follow standard insertion procedure...but you don't need to know that - everything will be fine.

Re:Apparently... (2, Funny)

StarfishOne (756076) | about 7 years ago | (#18556561)

If only they had rerouted auxiliary power via the main deflector dish this wouldn't have happened.. don't they teach anything in high school anymore? =/

It all started when... (5, Funny)

kpainter (901021) | about 7 years ago | (#18555995)

"...research associate Gordon Freeman pushes a crystalline specimen into the beam of an over-charged anti-mass spectrometer, the experiment triggers a resonance cascade, which causes severe structural damage to the entire facility and severs communications with the outside world, and within much of the facility itself..." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Mesa_Research_F acility#.22The_Black_Mesa_Incident.22 [wikipedia.org]

Intelligent design at work! (4, Funny)

master_p (608214) | about 7 years ago | (#18556003)

God does not want us to dig a hole into His universe! that's why the new accelerator will never work!

No pictures, no interviews, no names (0, Troll)

heroine (1220) | about 7 years ago | (#18556065)

At least when NASA has a problem, they photograph it and show it to the readers. The lack of pictures, interviews, and names in the CERN press release is incredible. It is quite a different culture than we're used to.

Anti US Slant (2, Interesting)

laing (303349) | about 7 years ago | (#18556089)

The article seems to place the full blame on Fermilab's poor design. I will withhold judgement until all the facts are known. Did CERN provide specific requirements for asymetric load bearing capacity? If there were no requirements provided to Fermilab, then it would seem to me to be a problem at the CERN end.

Re:Anti US Slant (1)

PPH (736903) | about 7 years ago | (#18556483)

Maybe Fermilab is having problems obtaining H-1B visas to fill critical engineering positions.

Re:Anti US Slant (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | about 7 years ago | (#18556681)

Or maybe they got too many. Not all H-1B's are geniuses, nor are all Americans engineers are idiots, contrary to popular belief. Who knows. But this is going to be a finger-pointing session of Biblical proportions that will probably take years to shake out, and I expect it will spill over into the international politics / diplomatic scene and cause yet another U.S./European rift no matter who was actually at fault.

If the magnets were built to spec, and if proper engineering practices (such as design review) were performed, then it means that multiple minds on both continents missed something and both are responsible. Neither side will want to admit that of course.

Re:Anti US Slant (-1, Troll)

morcego (260031) | about 7 years ago | (#18556877)

Did CERN provide specific requirements for asymetric load bearing capacity? If there were no requirements provided to Fermilab, then it would seem to me to be a problem at the CERN end.

You see, this is the kind of "thinking" that really piss me off.

I'm pretty sure CERN didn't specific a requirement that the system should not turn into molten peanut butter is someone in a red dress walked by. But if that happened, Fermilab would have screwed up. No one is asking the system works under completely unrelated uses or circumstances here.

The project was not assigned for John Doe assembly line (which usually builds hair spray cans). It was assigned to someone that should (under reasonably expectations) know what they were doing.

kinda funny, really... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556151)

so why wasn't this tagged "ha ha" ?

Re:kinda funny, really... (1)

webmistressrachel (903577) | about 7 years ago | (#18556285)

Because, frankly, despite all of the posts about black holes above being modded "Funny", you can bet there are a lot of scared people examining the LHC right now, in the full knowledge that they don't yet have all the answers or the correct odds of creating singularities; if they did they wouldn't need the LHC for their research! Which means most of them, at Fermilab and CERN are taking all of our safety VERY seriously.

That is why there is no "ha ha" tag and I hope there won't be one.

Another fried troll on this very serious post. I hope somebody follows up with more detail right here on the front page. I hope this does not jeopardize the LHC project in the medium or long term.


Re:kinda funny, really... (3, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | about 7 years ago | (#18556863)

so why wasn't this tagged "ha ha" ?

      We're saving the ha-ha for when Switzerland disappears and the remaining crater is filled with a large strawberry shortcake with extra anchovies.

Give me a break (3, Interesting)

stox (131684) | about 7 years ago | (#18556187)

The forces induced in these magnets during a quench is obscene. Given the size of the LHC, I would guess that these are the largest such magnets ever fabricated. When pushing the envelope so hard, failures are going to happen. It amazes me that the public's quality expectations are so high for such work. If Windows was built to the same standards, it would have uptimes measured in centuries.

Re:Give me a break (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 7 years ago | (#18556385)

It amazes me that the public's quality expectations are so high for such work. If Windows was built to the same standards, it would have uptimes measured in centuries.

That's why software programmers are not engineers.

Re:Give me a break (2, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | about 7 years ago | (#18556797)

No, it's why software engineers aren't just programmers. The problem is that large mechanical engineering is done to standards that are well-understood and don't change that much. Software is much more of a moving target. Eventually, though, computing will become more mature, more stable ... and the job of engineer will take on more of its traditional meaning when applied to software development.

Of course, at about that time we'll have invented a true AI and people won't be programming anymore. Hopefully I'll be retired by then and can take up programming as a hobby.

However from deep in the mountain... (1)

Sfing_ter (99478) | about 7 years ago | (#18556241)

It's not my goddamn planet monkey boy!
I'll see you in hell Bucharoo Bonzai!

haha, it's a shame (1)

SuperDre (982372) | about 7 years ago | (#18556243)

LOL. it shows that you cannot rely on the americans.. hihi... We europeans are so much better ;) (just kidding, ofcourse this could have happened to any scientist, american or european)..

Scotty, I Need More Power! (1)

truckaxle (883149) | about 7 years ago | (#18556295)

I am imagining that just before failure the fellow at the controls was muttering...

"I'm Giving Her All She's Got, Captain ... She canna take much more of this, Captain"

"Smashing Atoms" department... (1)

dtjohnson (102237) | about 7 years ago | (#18556301)

...is wrong. Should be the "Oh Sh*t!" department. Seems like the same kind of situation as when the Hubble Telescope was launched with the bad mirror and it's likely just as bad news for the forward progress of scientific knowledge. Says the article: "failure to account for the asymmetric loads in the engineering design of the magnet appears to be a likely cause..."
    Sounds like it is a big problem, not a small one.

april fool start now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556311)

funny story!

Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556397)

A very close friend of mine worked for 30 years at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center designing their guidance system mangets. I don't think SLAC had any such problems.

Out of this World (1)

Fastball (91927) | about 7 years ago | (#18556413)

Anyone else reminded of the video game Out of this World [wikipedia.org] when they read this?

*pines for the days of playing video games*

What realllly happened (1)

bndnchrs (1044108) | about 7 years ago | (#18556459)

Brian Greene and his army of staunch string theorists realized their idea would be disproven and the Higgs would not be found, so they sabotaged the project to save their government funding.

Is there any chance (1)

Pyrrhic Diarrhea (1061530) | about 7 years ago | (#18556491)

that this thing can be refurbished and used as a chick magnet? I'm sure there are not a few /.ers that could use such a service.

Re:Is there any chance (1)

Dunbal (464142) | about 7 years ago | (#18556827)

that this thing can be refurbished and used as a chick magnet?

      Not many chicks will be interested in sex if they are accelerated to close to the speed of light. At least in your frame of reference.

      Of course we might be able to use it as a very very large MRI machine... perhaps seaworld can use it for its whales...

Right after ATLAS meetings (1)

scheme (19778) | about 7 years ago | (#18556525)

Interesting how this came out just a day after the ATLAS software and computing meetings in Munich concluded. I bet there are some interesting discussions happening there right now among the attendees that are still in town.

redundant (4, Insightful)

smoker2 (750216) | about 7 years ago | (#18556585)

Who the fuck tagged this "news" and "science" ?

It's on a news site in the science section !


That was no failure (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18556893)

The researcher tasked with inputting The Numbers lost his faith and didn't press EXECUTE.
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