Once upon a time I wrote a formatter for a new hard disk drive product. I was young and impressionable, and had once lost a bunch of work when I accidentally wiped a disk, and so this utility was paranoid and asked if you were really sure, absolutely positively bloody sure that you wanted to format the disk, and it did this by prompting and forcing you type in the phrase, “Yes Mother, I really want to format the hard disk.” Verbatim. Including capital-M Mother and the dot at the end. I was young, and was a jerk.
It was an interim tool anyway, just a hack to get our disk prototypes off the ground. A couple months later I wrote a GUI-based formatter and that’s what shipped to end-users. I forgot about the earlier utility. Childish things, and all that. As far as I know, only a couple of people in the s/w development group had had to suffer through my sick little joke, and they did so with complete empathy. Everyone has lost data to some bright moment of utter stupidity. (Oh shit, did I really just type Y, return? Did I really not back anything up in the last week?)
About a year later one of my cow-orkers visited the Taiwanese factory where they made the drives, and he returned with a curious story. It turned out that the official GUI-based formatter had a bug, and it didn’t work on the very first format of some (low) percentage of the drives. We’d only had a few of the drives to work with, and “factory fresh” wasn’t a test case we’d been able to do much with.
But we didn’t even know it was a problem, because the ever-resourceful folks running the factory saved the day without telling us. Somehow they acquired a copy of the original command-line based formatter, which did work on the troublesome “fresh” drives. And so, on a couple of lab benches in a small re-work area, some workers had been given cue cards and had been taught to type in the phrase “Yes Mother, I really want to format the hard disk.” Capital-M for Mom, and a dot at the end.
I don’t know if the workers ever found out what the phrase meant. I’d like to think they’d laugh it off, but somehow I doubt it.