If you inserted the disk "upside down" the Apple //e would make a hideous noise like a vacuum cleaner.
Not sure what the 'vacuumer sound' should be. could it be that you're refering to the way the drive returns - and calibrates - to track. I would rather describe it as a fast clicking noise over some scratching.
Also, there was no different operation between "upside down" or not. Simply as the drive had no way to detect which was the'right' side (*1). In either case the II tried to read the disk. The difference may eventually have been that there was nothing to read on the back side (of the disks you used), resulting in an endless attempt to read.
There was effectively no room in the 256 byte ROM of the disk controller for a more sophisticated error recovery than to try again and again and again...
Why? To me what a shocking design;
Because it's an awesome simple design. The head ist moved across the racks by a spiraled disk. Turned in one direction the head moves outward toward track 35, when reversed it turns toward track 0. After power up/reset the head may be positioned at any of the tracks. So it needs to move in a way to get to a defined point - with track 0 being a desirable goal.
There is no way to tell on what track it is, so the computer moves the head back toward track 0. Now, they could have installed a sensor telling when track 0 is reached. Except, Woz tried to minimize parts and logic, so he devised a way to do it without a sensor and electronics. So the spiral disk was made in a way that the head simply hits a stop were track 0 is supposed to be. Now the controller can always turn the head back for full 35 tracks. It'll move until it hits the stop. after that the disk continues to move (until all 25 steps are done), but the slider moving the head just jumps the spiral track, as the head can't move anymore.
Splendid solution to solve an enginering problem without any logic, sensors and whatsoever, just a groove in a disk.
it scared the heck out of me as a newb. Was that usual to do that to a user?
I never really recovered from that; I was put off computers for the rest of high school.
If it got you off that easy, I guess there where other things for you to enjoy.
Why design a computer like that for newbs?
The computer wasn't designed for 'newbs' at all, it was designed as a computer for general use. A quite cost efficient design, which BTW saved Apple several times from otherwise disastrous failures.
*1 - A fact that many owners used to double their disk capacity - either by adding a second write notch at the opposite side or by adding a Protected/Standard/Unprotected switch to their floppies.