In Indonesia, a mati listrik or an electricity black-out is a usual thing. We all know that the PLN or Perusahaan Listrik Negara (the State Electricity Company) gives a “byar-pet” (on-off) service and electricity occasionally shut down without any notice. In could happened for a few minutes but could also ran for half a day. In 2003, an underwater electricity cable that connects the Island of Java with Madura got busted and for a few days the Island of Madura get no electricity.

So, with that in mind, I would thought that The Netherlands would have a more advanced electricity power and a power-off would be so rare that it is virtually non-existent. However, I was a little bit surprised when one day (I forget the exact day), when I was working in my office room, the computer suddenly turned itself off and then reboot. Meanwhile at the same time I notice that the lamps are also turn off suddenly and–in a second–turned on again. I think, “Gosh, a breakdown of electricity! What a rare event.”

Because my computer is still rebooting, I went outside my room and–lo and behold–everybody in the Sterrewacht is doing the same thing! They went outside and walk around the hallway, talking with their colleagues, inquiring about the event. Suddenly the 5th floor hallway is packed with people and feels like a massive strike is going on. In a few seconds, the computer technicians went inside the hallway and open the password-locked server room and checked the server, while one of the faculty member said, “Whoops!” In a few minutes the lounge, which is just in front of my office, is packed with most of the Sterrewachters (that’s what we called ourself :D) who is waiting for their computer to reboot or just use this chance to have a quick coffee break. “So, did you managed to save your work?” I asked one my colleague, “Well…I’ve save it half an hour ago so I think I’m only losing at most half an hour work,” he replied while another colleague passed and said, “I didn’t.” Whoops, sorry about that, mate. One colleague is mentioning about a switch from one main power supply to another that doesn’t goes smoothly. He also added that this is not happening only in the building, but are also university-wide and even nation-wide.

In tens of minutes the lounge is once again empty as everybody walks out to go back to work. Meanwhile the computer guys walk around the hallway and checked whether everybody’s computer is working (we astronomers can’t live without computers). Forty-five minutes after the event, my computer is still rebooting so I have to ask the help of Erik Deul, one of the computer guys, who just happen to be walking in the hallway, to check for my computer. He turns the power off, turns it back on, check the BIOS setting, told me to wait again for a few minutes, and leave. It took another half an hour until it finally reboots.

Well…back to work then! It’s not every so often that there’s an electricity shut down and everybody gets a second coffee break. Once again I’m alone with my Fortran code.

Written by Tri L. Astraatmadja

After living for 10 years in Europe as a Master's student, PhD researcher, and a postdoc, in 2016 Tri L. Astraatmadja moved on to the United States for a second postdoctoral appointment at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington DC. He is now in his third postdoc at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD.

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