September 22, 2019, 12:12:59 am

NeXT Cube Story :( !

Started by Rob Blessin Black Hole, December 17, 2016, 10:10:20 pm

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Rob Blessin Black Hole

Happy Holidays  please don't do this to NeXT Cubes , I'll save them!

Thought it was an interesting tale for   cold weather reading.... :(

Date: Wed, 24 Mar 93 19:11:02 EST

From: simsong (To: druby)

To: druby

Subject: cube burning

Cc: edit

To:   Dan Ruby, Editor, NeXTWORLD Magazine

From:         Simson L. Garfinkel, Senior Editor, NeXTWORLD Magazine

Subject:NeXTCube Serial Number AA001032

Date:         March 16, 1993

Dear Dan,

       I am writing this memo to explain what happened to the case
our NeXTCube Computer, Serial Number AA001032.

       As you know, years ago, when NeXT first contemplated making
computers, Steve Jobs decided that machines should be in the shape of
a cube, and that they should be built from cast magnesium.  Although
magnesium is a relatively expensive metal, it is remarkably strong and
lightweight.  No doubt, this let NeXT save on shipping expenses,
although the added handling and manufacturing costs was one of the
factors which led to the cube's high cost.  At the time that NeXT
brought their system to market, the only other company to incorporate
a magnesium case was Grid, which was making a portable computer.  (I
am told that Apple also uses magnesium for the inside case of its Duo
computers, but I haven't been able to verify this fact.)

       As a former chemist, I was attracted to the NeXT's magnesium
case for a different reason: magnesium burns with a brilliant white
flame.  When I was in high school, I used to steal magnesium metal
from the chemistry lab and set it on fire in my backyard.  A two-inch
long strip would burn for nearly a minute, the white-hot flame slowly
turning the shiny grey metal into a plume of white smoke (magnesium
oxide --- a harmless material which is the main ingredient in milk of

       When NeXT announced that the first NeXT Cube was made of cast
magnesium, I am sure that I was not the only person who imagined what
fun could be had by setting it ablaze.  Of course, at more than seven
thousand dollars each, I doubted that anybody would ever actually
carry out the experiment.

       Anyway, during the fall of 1991, I interviewed Rich Page,
NeXT's then vice-president for hardware, for an article which we later
ran in NeXTWORLD Extra.  At the time, I asked Mr. Page if he could get
me an empty NeXT Cube case for the purpose of having such a burning.
Page smiled and said that he thought something could be arranged.  A
few days later, he called me up and said that I could pick up an empty
cube at NeXT's Freemont factory.

       My plan was to light the cube along its top edge.  I imagined
that the magnesium would burn brightly and the fire would move slowly
down the sides, a triumphant expression of the power of NeXT's
technology to set the world afire.

       I drove down to Freemont the next day and picked up the cube,
which was waiting for me behind behind the receptionist desk at the
factory.  Page had delivered exactly what I had asked for --- an empty
magnesium case, without any electronics, back plane, or rubber feet.
The case was also missing the NeXT logo, but you can't get everything.
I put it in the back of my Jeep and drove back to my apartment in

       Over the next few months, I tried to think of some way to
ignite the magnesium.  One idea that I had was to use a mixture of
potassium permaganate and glycerin, which bursts into flames and
produces an enormous amount of heat after just a few minutes.  I asked
a chemist friend if he could supply me with the ingredients: he
suggested that I simply use a MAP gas torch.  "It's hotter and easier
to control," he said.  Unfortunately, I left California before I was
able to carry out the experiment.  I left the cube with my friend
Sophia for safe keeping.

       A year later, Sophia told me that she was sick of keeping the
cube.  I came out to California and transferred the cube from Sophia's
house to your basement.  By this time, we had started to hear rumors
that NeXT might be discontinuing its cube in favor of the "NeXT
Brick," a RISC-based computer.  I started thinking that we might want
to use a photograph of the burning cube for the cover of that issue
that announced the NeXT Cube's demise.  The image of the burning cube
haunted my dreams.  I couldn't wait to do the deed.

       The day NeXT publicly announced that it was discontinuing its
hardware line, you called me up and said that it was time for us to
burn the NeXT Cube in your basement.  I was coming out to California
to attend the third annual conference on Computers, Freedom and
Privacy: it seemed like an ideal time to conduct the burning.  Getting
a torch would be easy, and now with the news peg, you told me that you
were willing to pay for the photographer.  The only problem, of
course, was where to do the actual burning.

       The whole time that I had thought about burning the cube, I
had not thought much about where we would actually conduct the
experiment: I had always assumed that we would go to parking lot, or
walk down to a beach, light the computer with a torch, snap a few
photographs, and then wait for the magneisum to burn itself out.  But
as I began to consider what would be really involved with the burning,
I realized that we would need to be more professional.

       The real reason for my concern was to protect the magazine
from legal liability.  As I've already said, magnesium burns with a
brilliant white flame and a tremendous amount of white smoke.
Although the smoke is non-toxic, I realized that the smoke might
attract the attention of a passing police officer or the fire
department.  We could then be fined for conducting an open-air burning
without a permit or causing a fire hazard or something like that.

       For these reasons, the week before I came out to California,
I started calling fire departments in the Bay Area to find out how we
could get a permit for burning the cube.  I must have called ten
different departments --- each one told me that they didn't give such
permits anymore.  I was also told that I would have to call the Bay
Area Air Quality Management District to get a waiver from the emission
laws, that to get the waiver I needed to file an application and have
a hearing, and that even then the waiver was not guaranteed.

       I also tried calling numerous analytical laboratories in the
Bay Area to see if any of them had the facilities and the necessary
permits to conduct the burning.  Most of the labs had faciities for
burning a few grams of magneisum, but nothing as large as a NeXT Cube.

       Finally, in frustration, I decided that I would go through
with my original plan --- driving out to the desert and setting the
cube off with a torch.  I imagined that we would drive east on
Interstate 580, find a desolate country road, and then drive north or

       It was then that I remembered that Lawrence Livermore
Laboratory, a Laboratory owned by the Department of Energy and run by
the University of California at Berkeley.  The Livermore Lab is a
located in Livermore, Califonria --- just 20 miles from San Francisco,
out Interstate 580.  I had been at the lab in 1989 for an article I
was writing for the Christian Science Monitor.  Back then, the people
in the press office had been very helpful.  I was sure that a national
weapons laboratory would have the facilities for burning a few
kilograms of magneisum.  They would probably have the necessary
permits as well.

       My next phone call was to the press office at Livermore,
which referred me to the community relations group.  I told the people
at the group what I wanted to do.  They had me call a person named

       Now, every time in the past when I had called a fire
department or a laboratory to tell them what I wanted to do, I had to
spend several minutes telling them what I wanted to burn, why I wanted
to burn it, why I was having a hard time finding a place where I could
do the burn, and a variety of other things.  It was a big hassle.  But
when I got Burt on the phone, I wasn't more than 10 seconds into my
explaination when he interrupted me and said "You want to burn a
flare, right?"

       "Uh, right, that's what I want to do," I said, quite surprised.

       "Well, we have a site that might work out just right for you.
Site 300.  We use it for testing high explosives.  What day do you
want to come out?  I'll check to see if the site is free on that day."

       I was overjoyed.

       "So, exactly what are you burning?" he asked.

       "Just a computer case made out of magnesium," I told him.

       "That's it?  No plastic, no wires, no PC boards?"

       "Nothing," I said.  "Just a case."

       "No rubber or chrome?  We need to know if there is anything
that might be toxic.  We have reports to fill out with the EPA just
like everybody else," he said.

       "No, nothing but the magnesium," I said.  Then, as an
afterthought, I added: "The case is painted.  Is that okay?"

       "What's in the paint?" he asked.

       I didn't know.

       "I need to have an MDS --- a Material Date Safety Shet --- on
the paint before I can let you burn it," he said.

       Great, I thought.  Where would I get that?  "No problem," I
said.  I promised to fax him the MDS within two days.  In the
meantime, Burt said, he would check into our using site 300.

       I remembered that there had been some traffic in the NeXT
news groups about the paint that NeXT had used on its computers ---
mostly it was from people who had purchased external disk drives and
wanted to paint them with the exact shade of black used by NeXT.  I
didn't have a copy of the archives on my computer, so I sent a message
to the BCS-NeXT mailing list; Charles Perkins wrote back.  Perkins had
gone to great lengths to ind out the exact shade of paint.  He sent me
the following information:

       Sparyon Paint


       4Next-Black (icon black)



Sprayon Paints had offices in both Ohio and California.  I called the
Ohio office; they said that the LAV-16/25216 describes a paint can,
but that people can fill it with whatever kind of paint that they
want.  A call to California had the same results.  Nobody knew what
"4Next-Black" paint was.  They said that I should call the

At this point, I called NeXT for help.  I told them that I wanted to
burn a computer and needed to know what was in the paint.  That's when
I learned that most of the people in the hardware division had by this
time been fired.  Somebody in hardware maintenance told me to call an
outfit called Chicago Metals.  He didn't have a phone number for them,
so I called directory assistance for Chicago and got a phone number.
A nice woman answered the phone; she told me that she was a jeweler.

I called NeXT a second time.  I told the person that there had to be
some right-to-know paperwork for the people who were applying the
paint to the cubes.  California state law.  Unfortunately, the person
responsible for the paperwork had been fired.  Finally, I got the name
of an engineer who had worked on the Cube's power supply.  He told me
that NeXT didn't paint its own computers --- the painting was done by
a finishing company in San Jose.  When I called up that company, I
told them that I had a potential environmental accident and that I
needed to know the exact paints that they had used.  (Well, perhaps I
was stretching the truth just a bit.)  The following day, a person
from the finishing company called me back with the Sherin-Williams
paint code.  A call to Sherin-Williams revealed that the paint was a
non-toxic water soluble paint.  They faxed me an MDS, which I refaxed
to Burt at LLL.

When I called Burt back, however, there was some bad news.
Livermore's head Fire Safety expert didn't want us burning the cube
outdoors: he wanted us to burn it in their "burn cell," a
brick-and-steel box that had been built specifically for burning
materials that might be hazardous.  The burn cell was equipped with a
sophisticated ventilation system for filtering the smoke and removing
any toxins.  The burn cell also had fire safety equipment around the
facility in case the fire got out of hand.

Livermore needed the names, social security numbers, and addresses of
everybody who would be inolved with the project.  At this point, our
art director Chuck found us a photographer named Eric who would be
free on the day that we wanted to do the burning, a Tuesday.  Eric
went out on Monday to take a look.  Everything looked perfect.  Eric
was especialy happy that we were burning the cube indoors, rather than
outdoors, since it was nearly impossible to see flames and fire in
direct sunlight.  The only thing that concrened that photographer was
the fact that we only had one computer to burn.  What if something
went wrong?

On Monday, the day before the burn, I was walking through the
NeXTWORLD of  offices, wondering if I could get a second computer ---
a "backup" computer.  Looking around the offices, I found an old Cube
that didn't see to be functioning.  It was missing a hard disk and a
CPU board.  I asked our system manager if I could borrow it as a
backup.  He said "sure."  I then went to Dan Lavin, just to get his

This was the fateful computer AA001032.

"No, you cannot burn this computer," Lavin said.  The system manager
overheard; he told me that he didn't realize that I wanted it as a
backup for a destructive test.

"But this computer is useless," I told Lavin.  "There's nothing here
that anybody can use."

An argument ensued.  I finally got Lavin's permission to take the case
of AA001032 as a backup --- provided that I first remove the chassis,
back plane, power supply, optical drive, and anything else of any
possible value.  I found a NeXT tool and proceeded to do just that ---
with Lavin's eager assistance.

On Tuesday morning I picked up Sally Chew, our managing editor, at the
train station and headed out to Livemore, where we rendezvoused with
Eric and his assistant, an attractive woman named Pam.  We went to the
badge office, had our IDs checked, and were given badges.  A few
minutes later we were joined by Harry Hasegawa, a jolly man who
appeared to be in his late 40s who was head of Livermore's fire
research group.  Harry was our official escort. He took us back to our
cars then led us through the Lab's security perimeter.  Everything
seemed to be going according to plan.

Livermore is a huge facility.  We drove a mile down the road, with
buildings on either side of us, then turned through a traffic circle
and finally stopped in front of a thirty-foot cooling tower.  Next to
the tower was the burn cell itself --- a metal shack about thirty feet
wide and 20 feet high.  The cell had two large metal doors on the
front.  The smell of an old fire permeated the area, like the small of
a campsite the morning after a large bonfire.

Standing next to the building was Kirk Staggs, a man in his mid-40s
wearing a T-shirt, blue jeans, with a long reddish beard.  Staggs told
me he was a mechanic and technician: whenever the fire research center
needed something built, they turned to him.  For example, he had built
the burn cell's ellaborate ventilation system which could be
controlled to let in a measured amount of air.  Next to the cell were
two wooden shacks which were supposed to simulate the inside of a
nuclear reactor: the group had been simulating what might happen at
different Department of Energy installations if the reactor's core
should happen to catch fire.

Inside the doors of the burn cell, I was surprised to find a computer
room --- at least, a raised floor with a lot of cables.  The fire
safety group was simulating computer room fires --- specifically,
fires underneath raised floors.  To start the fires, they pumped a
large amount of power through the wires with a huge power supply.  It
was the perfect setting for burning the computer.

Since we didn't know how brightly the cube would actually burn, Eric
suggested that we take a series of photographs of a cube in the burn
chamber with a flash, then take a number of photographs of the buning
cube.  We could then photographically superimpose the two images.  It
sounded like a good idea to me.

Eric and Pam spent the first hour setting up their lights inside
Livermore's burn chamber and positioning the cube.  Since my cube
didn't have the NeXT logo in place, they photographed the backup cube.
When we were finished with these shots, I took the spare cube and put
it back in the trunk of my rental car.

The day before I spoke with him, Eric had wanted to know all sorts of
details about how brightly magnesium burned.  "Bright," I told him.
Unfortunately, "Bright" is not good enough to set an exposure meter on
a Nikon F4.  Not satisfied with my answer, Eric had purchased a bar of
magnesium the previous day at a brazing supply company.  The idea was
to burn the magnesium bar and see how bright it was: that would then
tell use what ballpark to use exposure when we burned the computer

Kirk cut a few 2-inch segments from the bar, and place one of them in
the burn chamber.  He then drove around a fork lift, put a wooden
stage on the hoist, and set up a video camera.  Meanwhile, Eric and
Pam were setting up their camera equipment.  When everything was
ready, another Livermore worker suited up with fire-proof pants,
fire-proof coat and helmet, put on a respirator, and set the bar on
fire with a MAP gas torch.

All this time, I had been worrying about the mechanics of setting the
bar on fire with the torch.  In order for the bar to catch on fire,
part of the magnesium would have to be heated up past its ignition
point.  But the bar was so thick that I worried that it would conduct
the heat of the torch away before it heated up to the magic

As we watched, the blue flame of the torch licked the top of the
magneisum bar.  After half a minute, there was a distinctive orange
glow from the bar's center.  Eric had told us that the magnesium bar
was wrapped around a a ferrus core.  Slowly the bar began to melt.
Then suddenly there was a spark of brilliant white light.  The person
with the torch backed away.  There were a few more sparks, then a
steady white flame.

I knew that magnesium burned brightly, but I didn't know how fast.
When Eric asked me how long the cube would be burning for, I told him
"at least a minute."  This didn't inspire confidence in his ability to
capture the scene --- he thought that he would have just one chance,
and that would be it.  Since the largest piece of magnesium that I had
ever burned wasn't any larger than a pencil, I didn't know if a large
piece would burn quickly or slowly.  It turns out, though, that
magnesium burns very slowly.  The 2-inch segment took nearly five
minutes to burn completely.  When the fire finally went out, all that
was left was a caky white ash --- magneisum oxide, the same ingredient
that is in Milk of Magnesia.

"You could eat that stuff," I told Sally.  She made a sour face.

While the bar had burned, Eric had taken a series of photographs of
the burning bar with a Nikon camera and Polaroid film.  Now we peeled
back the paper on the Polaroid, and one of he Livermore employees. We
discovered that, while magnesium does burn very brightly, it is not
nearly as bright as sunlight is.  The first round of photographs were
dreadfully underexposed.  We set up a second bar of magnesium, set it
burning, and discovered that an f-stop of 3.5 with an exposure of
1/60th of a second with 100ASA film was just about right.

With these test shots out of the way, we started to think about
burning the cube itself.  When I had called NeXT to find out what kind
of paint they had used to paint the cube, one of the people I had
spoken with told me that the cube was made out of "magnesium alloy
which is specially designed to be difficult to ignite."  These words
came back to me as I stood in front of the burn chamber at Livermore.
What if we couldn't get the cube to ignite?  The idea stood out in my
mind like a sore thumb.

I looked at our first cube.  The NeXT Cube consists of a five-sided
piece of molded metal and a rear plate which is screwed in place.  I
realized that once we put the cube into the burn chamber, we wouldn't
be able to see the cube's back side.  That meant that we could burn
the rear plate first, as another test.

Rather than using standard screws, NeXT decided to fasten the rear of
their NeXT cube with a non-standard hex screw.  Fortunately, I had
brought my special "NeXT Tool" to remove the rear panel.  I took it
off and handed it to Eric.

"How about if we try to burn this first, just to get an idea?" I suggested.

"Great!  The more tests, the better," he said.

We put the rear panel into the burn chamber.  The panel is a square
piece of metal, 14'' on each side, and roughly half an inch thick.  We
stood it on end with a pair of bricks.  Then we hit it with the MAP
gas tource.

Nothing happened.

We kept the torch focused on the rear panel.  Slowly it heated up in
the spot where the flame lapped.  Soon the metal started to melt.
Then it puffed up with a white, caky ash.

"What's going on?" somebody asked.

We kept the flame on the spot.  After another minute, we saw that same
telltale white spark.  "It's caught!" somebody said.  The person
holding the torch backed away.

The flame sputtered for a few seconds, then it went out.  Something
was clearly wrong.

We tried again with the MAP gas torch, with similar results.  "We have
problems like this all of the time," Kirk said, trying to reassure me.
"Sometimes its really hard to get things burning."  He then walked
over to a storage shed and wheeled back an oxygen-acetylene torch.
"This should set it on fire," he said with a gleam in his eyes.

The acetylene torch bruned a lot brighter than the MAP gas, but the
results were similar.  The back panel glowed red, burned white,
sputtered a little, then went, leaving a caky white residue --- and a

"This is so NeXT," I told Sally.  "Everything works great in the
tests, then when you try to make it work for real, in the field,
nothing works.  They build a computer out of magnesium, and it doesn't
even burn!"

A drop of water hit my nose.  I looked up.  Another drop of water hit
my glasses.

"And now it's starting to rain," Sally said.

Everything was going wrong.  "I'm sorry!" I said.  "I forgot to fix
the weather."

Scott tried again with the torch.  He tried running the acetylene gas
without the oxygen: instead of a bright blue flame, he got a smoky
orange ball of fire.  But the results were pretty much the same:
another hole in the metal, but the fire wouldn't sustain itself.

I looked around the grounds.  Off in the corner, I saw something which
looked like an industrial charcoal grill: a three-foot circular basin
filled with gravel.  The purpose of the contraption, we had been told,
was for conducting large-scale flame tests.

"How about if we use the burner?" I asked.

"We can try, if you want," Kirk said.  "If it doesn't work, I don't
know what will."

It took two people to picked up the burner and placed it on the floor
of the burn cell.  Then Kirk went inside the building and spent
another fifteen minutes hooking it up to the natural gas pipeline.  It
was then that I noticed that the tube that brought the natural gas
into the burner was three-inches thick.  Just how much gas did this
burner use, anyway?  I was glad that we didn't have to pay for the use
of the lab's facilities.

Once the burner was hooked up, Kirk took a large kimwipe, doused it
with kerosene, lit it with the MAP gas torch and dropped it on the
burner.  Then he turned on the natural gas.  A moment later, a sheet
of orange flames lept three feet into the air.  Satisfied that the
burner was working, Kirk turned it off and got ready for the burning.

I picked up my cube (I remind you that the cube we intended to burn
was my own personal property), jumped up to the stage of the burn
cell, and gently placed the cube the middle of the burner.  Meanwhile
Eric, our trusty photographer, made sure that all of the cameras were
focused and ready to go.

Still, I was nervous.  What if the cube didn't burn?  What if the
natural gas flames weren't hot enough?  Eric and I decided to take the
rest of our magnesium bar --- the bar which had burned so well in the
earlier tests --- and put it in the back of the cube, just to give it
a head start.  "I feel like I'm working for NBC," I told him.  (It was
just a few weeks ago that the news had broken about NBC placing model
rocket motors on the underside of GM trucks in order to force the
trucks to explode during a photo shoot.)  Scott cut the bar into small
one inch segments, which I placed along the cube's inside edges.  I
then took two handfulls of magnesium dust and turnings and spread them
evenly along the cube's front inside wall.

It was starting to rain harder.  Eric started worrying abuot his
camrea equipment.  Sally found a large sheat of cardboard and held it
over the equipment, becoming a human umbrella.  Meanwhile we doused
another Kimwipe with kerosene, and dropped behind the cube.  Finally
we turned on the gas a second time.

Once again, bright orange flames leapt into the air.  Eric and Pam
were clicking the shutter release of their Nikons.

"Burn!" I shouted.  But only the gas heard me call --- all the cube
did was sit there. Eventually I started to see smoke, but it was just
the paint.  "At least we know that the paint is non-toxic," I
grumbled.  The paint started bubbling, then burned away, leaving the
black anodized magnesium alloy.  ("It's an alloy that is resistent to
burning," the voice of the soon-to-be-ex-NeXT-employee came back to
me.)  As the cube heated up more its top started to sink.  One of the
sides started to peel back.

Then I saw it.  A glimmer of white.  A spark.  Then a flame --- a
small flame, but a flame nevertheless, on the cube's left side.  A
white dot of fire, growing larger.  Eric's Nikon whirled.  A second
dot of fire started on the cube's right side.  "There it goes!" I

Both dots went out, leaving a caky white residue.

"It's not a very uniform alloy," Kirk said behind me.  In spots ---
the spots that were burning --- it was nearly pure magnesium.  But
other spots must have been filled with ... something else.  That alloy
that was resistant to flames.  Would this never catch?

The cube continued its slow collapse, the initial pattern repeating
itself.  The metal would pull back in a place, there would be a
momentary glimmer, burning white, and then the spark would go out.
Throughout the entire show, the bright orange flames surrounded the
cube on all sides.  It really felt like NBC.  The experience held
absolutely resemblance to what I had imagined: this wasn't triumph,
this was failure.  We couldn't even get the cube to burn!

And the rain was coming down even harder.

Eric kept shooting his camera.  "I'm sure that this isn't what you
want," he said, "but at least we'll get something."  Indeed, the
computer surrounded by the orange flames wasn't an uninteresting
photograph --- it simply wasn't the image of my dreams.

A few minutes later, what had been the case of a NeXT Computer had
been reduced to a smoldering pile of slag magnesium, with pock marks
of white ash, charred black metal, and the occasional white spark.

Then it happened.  A few white sparks appeared and didn't go out.
Then a few more appeared.  Then the white sparks began to spread.
White smoke --- a lot of white smoke --- began to rise from the
computer.  And then, very suddenly, the entire slag pile burst into a
blinding white flame.

"We have ignition!" somebody shouted.

I grabbed a pair of welding goggles to look at the pool of metal as it
burned more and more brightly.  The white ash was still forming, but
this time it wasn't putting out the fire.  Instead, the fire continued
to burn and burn.

But the photographs, I thought.  The photographs won't make any sense!
Yes, we finally had a burning NeXT computer --- the only problem was
that it didn't look anything like a NeXT computer.  There was no
recognizable cube.  The metal wasn't even black anymore --- it was
covered with white ash.  But it was hot, and it was burning, and it
was a magnesium fire.

That's when I remembered the backup cube.  The gas fire hadn't been
enough to set the first cube ablaze, but surely, I thought, this
magnesium fire would be enough to start the other one burning.

"If you take this with you, you're going to end burning it," Lavin had
said to me the night before.

"No I won't," I had promised him.  "It's just a backup, just in case
something goes wrong."

Well, something had gone wrong.  And now, I realized, we had a chance
to make something go right.

I looked at the burning pool of slag.  "Sally," I said after a few
seconds, "let's throw in the backup."

"I was just thinking that," she said.

Eric smiled.

I went to one of the Livermore's professional pyros.  "We want to put
the second cube on top of the fire.  Do you think that it would work?"

"Sure it would," he said.

I went back to the car and got the backup cube.  I handed it to Kirk,
who was still wearing the fire-proof pants.

"Wait a second," Eric said.  "Let's reload our cameras."

"Hurry," I said, looking at the magnesium fire.  He hadn't gotten
brighter in the last minute, which meant that it would probably start
burning out soon.

Eric and Pam reloaded their cameras.  I looked at my camera: I was on
the 36th frame.  I pushed the button on the bottom and quickly
reloaded my camera as well.  Finally we were all ready, and Kirk put
the second cube on burning remains of the first.

Ignition was almost instantaneous.  Within seconds, the intense heat
from the pool of burning magnesium had set the second cube's sides
smoking, then burning.  Once again I saw that tell-tale bright white
light with touches of green.  Flames trailed up the cube's sides.  The
cube's top sagged a bit, then smoked, then started to burn.  This
time, the object engulfed by fire was clearly a NeXT Computer.

"Yea!" said Sally, who was still holding the cardboard umbrella over
the hotograher's heads.

I clicked away on my camera.  Eric took pictures with his.  But the
whole emotional tone was wrong.  This wasn't the triumph of a burning
magnesium case, setting the world on fire.  This was a collapsing
metal failure, melting into a pool of fire and being consumed by it.
Perhaps it was a more accurate representation of NeXT's true reality.
After all, physics doesn't lie.  How were we to know, when we had set
out that morning, that in our brief four-hour experiment, we would
recapitulate NeXT Computer's experience as a hardware manufacturer?  I
looked at the burning cube.  White-smoke streamed upwards.  At its
base, red embers were emerging.  The back wall collapsed but the front
wall still plainly retained the Cube's original shape.  I chuckled,
then started laughing so hard that tears came to my eyes.  One thing
was definately clear:

"Ruby is never going to let us run these photographs," I gasped to Sally.

The second cube continued to burn, its sides falling into the slag
pile that had consumed the first.  "You know, we could make it flare
up by throwing some water on it," one of the Livermore engineers
suggested.  It seemed like a good idea to us, so he pulled out a
garden hose with a trigger nozzle and doused the fire with a few quick
spurts.  The water instantly turned to steam.  Thick clouds of white
smoke bellowed forwards, out of the chamber.  We were covered with a
fine white powder.

"Wow," Eric whispered.

We put some more water on the fire, with much the same results.
Eventually we were left with another pile of burning slag.

"Let's just let it burn out," Kirk said.  Eric and I agreed: there was
nothing left to photograph.

Eric started taking down his equipment.  When he was finished, Sally
put down the cardboard.  That's when she noticed that it had stopped
raining.  "Somebody could have told me," she said with a sour voice.
Finally, when we were out of the way, Kirk closed the burn cells'
two-ton doors.

"It should burn itself out completely," he said.  "I doubt that we'll
have anything that needs to be thrown out."

                               * * *

So that's how it happened, Dan.  We didn't intend to burn cube
AA0010032 --- but we were lucky to have brought it along, considering
the other problems that we had achieving ignition.  If I had to do it
again, I would have known to ask Rich Page for two empty cubes, one
for the photo shoot, and one for kindling.  And even if I didn't get
the second computer, if I had it to do all over again, you can be sure
that I wouldn't take the cube that was supposed to be installed
underneath your desk.

Rob Blessin President computerpowwow ebay
303-741-9998 Serving the NeXT Community  since 2/9/93