Computer Folklore from usenet net.rumours

Dan Flood Computer History, Computer Humour Leave a Comment

From: ajs@hpfcdc.HP.COM Sat Nov 10 14:40:39 1990
From: ajs@hpfcdc.HP.COM (Alan Silverstein)
Subject: Re: "The Devouring Fungus" at a bookstore near you
> ...a collection of anecdotes and stories about computer technology and
> the people who spend their time working with computers... This is the
> first time I have seen anyone collect so many of them together, and in
> such an amusing and readable way.
The following HUGE collection is probably shorter than the book, and not
so well edited, but it hasn't been posted in a long time, so here it is.
Let's see if 160Kb makes it around the Net. Enjoy.
Excerpts (edited) from net.rumor, March, 1986, with later
 additions, including a huge number from a rec.humor posting. I
 did some reformatting and a spelling check. Have at...
 / net.rumor / megaron!rogerh / Mar 7, 1986 /
The Tektronix 4051 (one of the first desk-top computers) had a
 microprocessor (6800 I think) deep inside it. Although the
 machine's native language was Basic, there were (undocumented)
 hooks to download and run machine code. The machine also had a
 synthesized bell. The result, of course, was that 4051 was one
 of the favorite musical instruments in some parts of Tek.
Anybody remember how to walk an IBM 1130's disk drives? I
 recall stories that the right program would start them marching
 across the room.
 / hpfcla:net.rumor / mit-amt!gerber / Mar 9, 1986 /
> Anybody remember how to walk an IBM 1130's disk drives? I
 > recall stories that the right program would start them marching
 > across the room.
A friend of mine once told me how he used to do just that at U
 of Delaware. He used to do it from a terminal room where you
 couldn't see the machine itself, but you'd know when it happened
 -- the disk would pull either its power plug or its connection
 to the mainframe off, and the machine would crash.
The TRS-80 Model 1 used to put out so much RF interference, that
 one way of adding sound to ANY program was to put a small AM
 radio right by the machine, and listening to the electronic
 "music". Some programs even used this trait of the trash-80,
 instead of connecting up the external speaker.
 / net.rumor / gilbbs!mc68020 / Mar 21, 1986 /
In 1978, a company in my area which specialized in fruit orchard
 temperature alarm systems (it being necessary to awaken the
 farmers to start the smudge pots and ventilators (giant fans) in
 order to prevent damage to the fruit) decided they wanted to go
 into the TRS-80 I peripherals business. They hired me as an
 engineering technician and programmer.
There I was, working on programs to drive the peripherals, and
 having even the simplest programs crashing and going haywire for
 no apparent reason. Being brought up to never assume it's the
 machine's fault, I spent several weeks trying to figure out what
 I was doing wrong.
The one day my boss asked me to go to the company next door and
 assist them with a problem (they built hydraulic lift units,
 like the ones you see being used in construction...turned out we
 built the electronic control boxes for their lifts). I walk
 into the shop, and am confronted by 12 extra heavy duty
 arcwelding machines (these guys were welding steel up to 2"
 thick!). After solving their problem, I traced the power mains.
 Sure enough, we were drawing our AC feed from the same source
 they were, no transformers between us.
A few hours, a couple of isolation transformers and caps later,
 and all of a sudden my code runs perfectly.
The boss still didn't believe it, when I showed him the finally
 working code... he had pretty much decided I was a flop as a
 programmer. They decided two weeks later not to go into
 computers... too volatile, they said.
 / net.rumor / catnip!ben / Mar 6, 1986 /
>> I was once told that the operating system for the Burroughs
 >> B1700, another computer well-supplied with lights, displayed a
 >> smile in its idle loop.
> Some Honeywell computers make "bird calls" over a built-in
 > speaker when idle. If the computer room sounds like a jungle,
 > then you're certain to get lots of CPU for your jobs.
Back when I was an undergrad at Oberlin College, I had the
 pleasure of working as an operator on their Xerox Sigma 9. The
 best part of the job was bringing down the machine. The console
 displayed "Thhhhhhats all Folks!!!", while the processor treated
 you to a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on the CPU alarm.
 / net.rumor / bgsuvax!drich / Mar 5, 1986 /
Speaking of doing things to power lines...I remember a story I
 heard from my circuits professor in Colorado. It seems that
 they received a computer from the government (I can't remember
 the make, but it wasn't anything I had heard of before). This
 computer was a bit of a beast. It ran off of 3-phase power, and
 had a disk that was between 3 and 4 feet in diameter. Well,
 several students were involved in setting up the disk drive one
 night, and when the professor left he told them that they could
 connect everything, but not to power it up until he checked it
Well, you know students...they wired it up and turned it on.
 For those of you who are not to familiar with 3-phase power, if
 you reverse any 2 out of the 3 wires, the polarity changes.
 Well, they managed to reverse 2 of the wires, causing the disk
 to spin backwards. Now, since the heads are designed to float
 on a cushion of air above the disk, they went down instead of
 up, and the disk ended up with a nice groove right down the
 middle. Needless to say, the prof wasn't pleased when he came
 in the next morning and found his nice new disk turned into so
 many magnetic shavings....
 / net.rumor / utzoo!henry / Mar 5, 1986 /
And then there's the old trick of manipulating an IBM 029
 keypunch so that it punches cards which are all holes. Great
 bookmarks; I still have a few.
Ideally you want to have a roomful of keypunches on hand,
 because the mean time between jams when punching those things is
 only a few cards. What would happen if one of them went into a
 high-speed card reader, I don't know. The mind boggles.
(For the benefit of the fuzzy-cheeked youngsters in the crowd,
 punchcards need a certain amount of mechanical strength to
 survive machine handling. All-holes cards are weak and tear
 easily. Normal punchcards are constrained to have [as I recall]
 at most one punch per column in rows 1-7, so that the central
 region of the card is mostly solid.)
 / net.rumor / utrc-2at!davidh / Mar 5, 1986 /
While working on a project at Litton Systems, I heard of this
 embarrassing moment.
One project (for the military) required that the military
 supplied technicians be taught how to service the computers they
 had bought. The lessons were proceeding well with the explicit
 instructions "Don't apply the power until we check it."
 Naturally, somebody jumped the gun. Immediately, 120V AC was
 applied across the core memory (yes, core, not silicon). The
 result? A pile of slag and a whopping replacement bill.
 / net.rumor / loral!jlh / Mar 5, 1986 /
I remember 4 or 5 years back when we were running all our
 microcode and state machine development on a PDP 11 under RSX11.
 Seems time for the annual preventitive maintenance came around,
 and one of the tests is to ensure the drive can read and write
 correctly to each and every block of a disk. The DEC field
 service tech looked at our rack of disks, saw one labeled 'Jay's
 scratch', and decided to use that for a disk. Well, you know
 engineers. A disk is a scratch disk until you put something you
 need on it, at which time it is the working disk. You also know
 engineers never re-name a disk once it has a label on it. Jay
 comes in the next day, mounts his disk, and reads out a bunch of
 E5's. Seems he lost about 3 months of work, only some of which
 he had listings of. I think the field service rep also caught
 hell for doing that to a customer's disk without asking anyone.
 / net.rumor / ucla-cs!davis / Mar 6, 1986 /
I was working in a somewhat large data center not to long ago.
 Seems the company thought they could save some money on
 maintenance costs by going self service. Well it seems that a
 year or two later another great cost savings idea was to hire
 C.E.'s that had only 6 months training in the electronics
 field!!! Well the time came to install a new super
 minicomputer, tape cabinet, and disk cabinet. Well they put the
 new C.E. in charge of the whole project. He connected the
 cables from the disk cabinet to the CPU, then connected the
 cables from the tape drive to the CPU. All set!
He plugged in the tape drive and then the disk cabinet to A.C.
 When he went to plug in the CPU he noticed that the electrical
 outlet was a different kind than that of the computer. But this
 C.E. was smart. He thought of a way that he could remove the
 plug and install a plug that would fit in the outlet. (Then the
 company would not have to pay for an electrician). Good Idea
 except that he switched the HOT and the GROUND wires when
 installing the new plug. As we all know computers are well
 grounded. Well the grounding also is good in cables that
 connect to peripherals as well as within the peripherals
 themselves. Of course this bright C.E. turned on the disk
 cabinet, tape cabinet, and CPU before plugging in the CPU plug.
You should have seen the smoke and sparks when he plugged in the
 CPU. The tape drive was shot, the disk cabinet was shot and the
 CPU was shot!!!!! At least none of the terminals were connected
 at the time. It took 4 C.E.s 1 week of constant work to repair
 the damage. Ever see a memory board with the chips blown to
 / net.rumor / terak!doug / Mar 5, 1986 /
> ...the teflon insulation reacted with the hot (molten) metal to
 > form HF gas. When the fire department turned on the sprinklers
 > in desperation: hydrofloric acid.
In 1970 ('71?) Fresno State's computer room was the target of a
 firebomb thrown by some protesting students. The fire
 department arrived and hosed everything down. The fire damage
 was negligible. But then the FD decided that since it was
 electrical equipment, they should be using CO2 extinguishers
Either water or CO2 would have been okay alone; but when the CO2
 was sprayed on top of the water, it formed carbolic acid [or is
 it carbonic, I don't remember]. Destroyed all of the equipment,
 the disks, and the tapes. Took about a year and a half to
 recreate their records from hardcopy.
At that time, our CDC CE told of a student demonstration in
 Canada where a university's CDC 3300 had been wrecked by
 demonstrators and sold as scrap. A CE reportedly bought the
 machine after observing that almost all of the damage was bent
 sheet metal and unplugged connectors. He supposedly set up a
 service bureau in his home. I'm not sure I believe this story.
 / net.rumor / bbncc5!jr / Mar 10, 1986 /
> I also remember sending a print file that contained about 1000
 > logical end-of-records (and nothing else) to a remote line
 > printer. It took about 5 minutes for it to transmit and print
 > nothing.
When MCIMail first went on the air, they charged for hardcopy
 mail delivery by the character (actually, 5000-character unit).
 You could mail yourself or a friend a few reams of paper for $1
 by sending a file of formfeeds. They fixed their charging when
 we pointed this out.
Also, their password-generator occasionally spits out somewhat
 racy words (they have the form consonant-vowel-consonant-...
 -vowel, 8 characters in all). The generator checks for most of
 the obvious bad ones, but it seems a few must slip by the
 censors. We suggested that they ought to charge extra for the
 racy ones, on the grounds that they would be so much easier to
 remember. This idea was rejected, though its originator got
 such a password for the thought.
 / net.rumor / linus!sdo / Mar 11, 1986 /
> Is it really true that someone working for a bank or a large
 > company diverted megabucks into his or her personal account by
 > adjusting a program that figured out people's paychecks or
 > interest payments so that it always rounded *down* to the
 > nearest penny, never up, and then deposited the extra parts of
 > pennies (mills) into his or her own account? I heard this story
 > several years ago, but now I need to know if it's really true.
 > So if you know the name of the bank or the company and the
 > approximate year this person was caught,
Not only is it true, it has also happened a lot more than just
 once. In fact, this is one of the simplest computer scams
 going. One of the cleverest ones I ever heard about involved
 someone working for a company (a fruit company, I believe) who
 had the computer change (just slightly) the recorded times (and
 prices) of the company's transactions on the commodities
 exchanges. His profits came from the slight changes (say,1/16
 of a point) in the contract prices that occur all the time
 during a normal trading day.
I have seen several books which talk about these and other
 schemes in detail. Unfortunately, the names and dates are often
 not revealed as most companies are loath to have the general
 public find out the ease with which these types of crimes can be
 carried out, as well as the difficulty of discovering them once
 they have occurred. One of the most revealing items is the fact
 that computer criminals are almost always caught only because
 discrepancies in their lifestyles are noted (e.g. buying a
 40-foot yacht on a $20k salary). In fact, the longest running
 crime I heard about, which involved a programmer (I believe) in
 a prominent New York bank, went on for close to 10 years. The
 culprit escaped detection so long because he had a $30,000-a-
 month gambling habit and was losing his illegal income as fast
 as he got it. He was finally caught when his bookie was
 arrested as part of a police 'sting' operation, and his name was
 found on the books as one of the largest customers.
As for finding more out about such things, all the information I
 have came from browsing through the MIT engineering library for
 a few afternoons, so I imagine that any good college library
 should have at least some material on this. Good luck in
 finding out some actual names and dates, however!
 / net.rumor / utah-cs!peterson / Mar 13, 1986 /
My mom (a CPA) was on an audit of a large S & L several years
 ago where they caught somebody doing this. As I recall, the
 person was getting away with around $10-20K a year with the scam
 (not quite "megabucks", but still pretty healthy).
The roundoff error was pretty much invisible to the auditors.
 The tricky part for the crook was actually writing the check (or
 funds transfer) so he could collect the money. This was what
 showed up on the books someplace and resulted in him getting
 / net.rumor / hpcvla!john / Mar 14, 1986 /
> One of the most revealing items is the fact that computer
 > criminals are almost always caught only because discrepancies in
 > their lifestyles are noted (e.g. buying a 40-foot yacht on a
 > $20k salary).
There are exceptions. During the fifties a military clerk
 working for the NSA had a wreck in his hydroplane. Since he had
 access to a lot a top secret data they assigned an agent to
 watch over him while he was under anesthesia to ensure that he
 wouldn't babble anything. It wasn't until later when he
 disappeared and moved to Moscow that anyone thought to ask how a
 low paid clerk could afford to buy a hydroplane.
 / net.rumor / ucsfcca!dick / Mar 26, 1986 /
I've resisted for many days, but I give up. My friend Doug used
 to work in a bank, in the OLD days. Their master file was on
 punched cards, with FOUR accounts per card. After Doug had
 programmed the daily update and put it in production, the bank
 examiners came to him saying, "We have noticed a drop in
 revenues in the minimum-balance account." Doug explained his
 program: "...and when the average balance for the month is
 below the minimum, the surcharge is applied." They said, "No,
 no! When the current balance has EVER fallen below the minimum,
 the surcharge should be applied." Doug said that didn't seem
 very fair, but they made the rules and he would fix the program.
Months later, the examiners came round again, quite
 suspiciously. They told him that they had noticed another drop
 in revenues in the minimum balance account. Doug explained that
 he had fixed the program, but he would surely look into the
 matter right away. After examining his program again, he went
 into the computer room to check the actual deck of cards that
 the operators used. He soon discovered the problem.
He had added four patch cards to the end of the deck, one for
 each account on a master file card. Three of them were gone.
 It seems that as the deck was used day after day, the last card
 had gotten grubbier and grubbier. Eventually, the card reader
 would not feed it. But the program seemed to work fine anyway!
 Then the new last card died, etc.
The bank examiners were satisfied. Doug was relieved. And now
 we all know that patching is not the right way to go.
 / net.rumor / unisoft!tim / Mar 14, 1986 /
A fellow I worked with once told me a horror story that happened
 when he was working as an operator at MIT.
The system they were using had recently been converted to using
 a new type of coated fiberglass disk, to replace the old, heavy
 metal-platter kind. No problem there. Well, the system they
 had this "Emergency Stop" plug on it that you would pull when an
 emergency occurred (they assumed it was for, say, a flood in the
 machine room). One late evening, a couple of the operators were
 sitting around being bored, and decided to see what would happen
 when they pulled "Emergency Stop". Immediately after pulling
 it, they heard a strange sound in the disk cabinet. Looking
 over, they saw an arm emerge from the side of the cabinet, on
 either side of a platter, and CLAMP down on the platter.
 Apparently, this wasn't made for use with fiberglass platters.
They were picking splinters out of the walls for days.
 / net.rumor / petsd!cjh / Mar 14, 1986 /
This disk drive got troublesome hardware glitches, usually just
 after the end of the "normal" working day. Which, for the
 programmers, was prime time, of course.
The glitches happened just when a very good-looking woman on the
 cleaning crew walked past the drive. She usually wore tight
 slacks, and a longish blouse... there was friction between the
 layers of clothes as she walked, and the static charge
 occasionally jumped to the disk drive.
 / net.rumor / atari!dyer / Mar 15, 1986 /
NBS was running version 6 Unix on a PDP-11/45 with four RL02
 packs. It took nearly half a day to backup the system. Half a
 day to copy four 10 megabyte packs?
The operators (who didn't know any better -- they'd been given a
 canned procedure) were typing in DD commands to copy from one
 pack to another. They were using a buffer size of ten BYTES....
 / net.rumor / bu-cs!bzs / Mar 14, 1986 /
Ok, my two quickies...
Several years ago I was working on a portable real-time system
 we had custom built (using an LSI-11/1, 4KB, home-brewed O/S.)
 There were two of them in the universe and were working hard on
 two separate research studies. Filled my heart with glee when I
 went to lift mine and out of its guts poured several ounces of
 coffee...(not me, never found out who.)
A couple of years ago I was drinking coffee in my favorite
 coffee shop (maybe I should just stay away from the coffee!)
 when their phone rang, they shouted from behind the counter that
 it was for me, there was an alarm going in one of the machine
 rooms and I should get right over there.
Ran over to find an operator standing there with a finger on the
 Halon hold button, we had a two zone alarm going so it was about
 to dump the tanks (I remember the operator looking very pleased
 at their current career choice). It didn't look like there was
 any fire, so I began running around pulling up floor tiles
 (after, of course, disabling the fire system) looking for the
 offending sensors, 90Db going off in my ears. Suddenly I notice
 this bad stinging pain in my arm, great I'm thinking, the big
 one, just what I need to finish a perfect day. Well, it wasn't
 that bad, fortunately someone else in the room noticed the bee
 on my shoulder...
I could go on.
 / net.rumor / proper!carl / Mar 16, 1986 /
A bulletin board service in Oakland, CA, (Sunrise Omega-80) lost
 a drive when an ant walked across one of the disk drive heads as
 it was stepping.. Smeared the disk, the drive wasn't too good
 either, and the board was down for several weeks..
 / net.rumor / tekchips!jackg / Mar 17, 1986 /
Speaking of 7094s, I once worked at an installation that had two
 of these. The "console printer" on these computers was a large
 machine that looked (and maybe was) a 407 accounting machine.
 The 7094 didn't have any kind of internal clock but the 407 did
 and its patch panel was wired up so every time a line was
 printed on it, the time was appended at the right margin. Thus
 elapsed time of a job could be determined by looking at the time
 printed when the $JOB card was printed and when the EXIT message
 was printed.
Someone found out, however, that the timer did not advance while
 printing was in progress, so the times were a little inaccurate.
 To get a free run on the computer, all you had to do was keep
 the 407 continually busy and the timer would never advance. A
 program could issue a print to the printer every so often (not
 very often due to the slowness of the printer) and never be
 billed for a cent. It did drive the operators crazy though
 because everytime a line was printed on the 407, they went over
 to look to see if it was telling them something significant to
 the running of the job.
 / net.rumor / bbncc5!jr / Mar 19, 1986 /
> The glitches happened just when a very good-looking woman on the
 > cleaning crew walked past the drive.
Reminds me of the Arpanet site that used to crash frequently
 right around the end of the day. Seems the cleaner plugged the
 floor buffer into a convenient 100AC outlet - the one inside the
 IMP cabinet.
 / net.rumor / mmm!mrgofor / Mar 19, 1986 /
A while back I was the tech support person for a minicomputer
 OEM. Our customers were located all over the SF Bay area, we
 were located in Sunnyvale. Since the customers were spread
 around, I usually tried to diagnose and fix problem over the
One day a Berkeley customer called me to complain that there
 were sparks and bad smells coming from the computer. I assured
 him that that was ridiculous - computers don't generate sparks.
 He said that it sure did - every time he tried to plug in his
 modem. I told him to try it again while I was on the phone, so
 I could try to diagnose the problem. He laid the phone's
 handset on the table rather than putting me on hold (it wouldn't
 reach over to the computer, but it was in the same room).
 Things were quiet for a few seconds, and then I could hear a
 loud yelp that made its way across the computer room and through
 the phone. He came back on the line and said the computer had
 bit him.
Clearly, this was an on-site job - not something I could
 diagnose from his description - so I drove up to Berkeley. When
 I got there, I saw the flat ribbon cable that connected the
 modem to the terminal interface - the power wire was on the
 edge, and for the whole length of the cable the plastic
 insulation had melted off, leaving the bare wires. Hmmm, I
 thinks to myself, what could cause such a thing?
I whipped out my handy-dandy volt-o-meter and tested the outlets
 to which the various pieces of equipment had been connected.
 All were 110 volts -- looked good. It finally occurred to me to
 check the polarity of the sockets -- and sure enough -- they
 were wired wrong. It was a very old building, and whoever had
 done the latest wiring in the computer room was obviously no fan
 of consistency. The modem and the computer tried to share a
 common ground, but in reality there was a whopping potential
 difference between them, and when they were hooked up, sure
 enough, the computer generated sparks and bad smells --
 something computers are not generally supposed to do.
 / net.rumor / mmm!mrgofor / Mar 19, 1986 /
Okay, one more computer "horror" story -- this one's kind of
We were trying to sell a $60,000 system to a family-run company
 whose "computer expert" was in his 60's. We had a program
 called "Biosum" that would calculate the biorhythms for two
 people and add the sine waves together and tell you how
 compatible the two people are.
The day of the biggest demo, the customer brings in his mother
 (head of the clan) to see what the company is going to be
 shelling out their money for. The customer wanted to show his
 mother something fun on the computer, so we fired up Biosum.
 Unfortunately, the mother had been born in the 1800's, and you
 know how sloppy BASIC programmers are when it comes to date
 conversions - especially 18 year-old programmers who think "20
 years ago" qualifies as ancient history. When the program asked
 for her birthdate and she typed it in (she was just starting to
 get a thrill out of the machine), the program crashed very
 ungracefully. Talk about embarrassing...
They bought the system anyway, but I don't think the matriarch
 ever really liked it.
 / net.rumor / mmm!mrgofor / Mar 19, 1986 /
This story did not happen to me, and I disremember where I heard
 it, so it may not be true, but it's interesting nonetheless,
There was a computer system that was experiencing intermittent
 power failures that were proving impossible to track down.
 Every means of recording device and electrical filter was used,
 but to no avail. The power failures always seemed to happen
 soon after lunch time, but for no apparent reason. After months
 of agonizing work, the technician finally figured it out:
The room on the other side of the wall from the computer room
 was the men's bathroom. The grounding for the computer room
 circuits went to the water pipes that serviced one of the
 toilets. The building was rather old, and the toilets were in
 some need of repair. It seems that when one sat on the toilet
 seat, the weight of the sittee would cause the whole
 construction to lean forward a bit - not much, but enough to
 cause the marginally attached grounding wires to separate from
 the water pipes as the pipes bent along with the toilet - voila
 - the computer re-boots.
I bet that was a hard one to track down!
 / net.rumor / mhuxt!evans / Mar 14, 1986 /
I know of a case where a spider decided to set up shop a few mm
 in front of a CCD array. The spider rapidly figured out that
 the inside of an imaging device wasn't a very good restaurant
 and left -- but only after depositing a few strands of spider
 silk. One of these strands would periodically interrupt the
 optical path of the CCD causing interesting images. Of course
 this was an intelligent machine, so no one ever looked at the
 raw images -- not for at least a week that is...
 / net.rumor / ti-csl!tgralewi / Mar 14, 1986 /
On the same lines as the "120 test", I once knew a repair tech
 that had a "perfect" system for finding the problem when a
 machine blew fuses. He kept putting larger and larger fuses in
 until something else blew.
 / net.rumor / utzoo!henry / Mar 19, 1986 /
Pat Hume, one of the very senior profs in CS at U of T, once
 told the story of how he broke the FERUT. FERUT was FERranti U
 of T, one of the first computers in Canada -- a great
 vacuum-tube monster. It had something like a ten-step procedure
 for powerdown. From time to time this machine got modified.
 One day Hume was the last user of the day, and the time came to
 shut it down. Somebody had added an extra step to the shutdown
 procedure, presumably as the result of some modification, but
 either the writing was illegible or the instructions weren't
 clear. He did the best he could, and smoke started coming out.
 He hastily finished the powerdown procedure, and called
 Ferranti. They naturally said "your service contract is nine to
 five, we'll be there tomorrow morning".
Next morning, the Ferranti technical crew showed up and spent
 all morning in the machine room. From Hume's description, one
 got the impression of technicians half-inside the computer
 briskly hurling parts out. Hume, a rather junior professor at
 the time, sat in his office all morning waiting for the word on
 the multi-million-dollar computer he'd broken. People walking
 past in the hall would look in with pitying expressions.
Towards noon, the Ferranti senior man walked into Hume's office
 with a double armload of parts, dumped them on his desk, and
 said "that's it". Machine restored to operation, junior
 professor not having to contemplate spending the next fifty
 years paying back its price... But the really cute part was
 that the machine's reliability was markedly better after this
 episode. He'd managed to apply just enough stress to blow out
 all the marginal parts.
 / net.rumor / decwrl!moroney / Mar 19, 1986 /
Here's another example of what steel wool in the wrong places
 can do to a machine:
And yet another flooring story...
(Being a hardware engineer at heart, I still shiver when I think
 about this one.)
Seams there was a cleaning lady that was assigned to the floor
 that had the computer on it (a Zerox SIGMA 5 if it really
 matters). Well, one day she decided that the heal marks in the
 raised tile floor just had to be cleaned up. After seeing that
 the soap and wax did not take all the marks out, she then tried
 steel wool!
The customer had to replace the whole machine.
Since the cooling fans draw from the bottom, all the evaporating
 wax was sucked up through the machine. The soft coating on the
 PC cards and backplane made a good home for all the small pieces
 of steel wool that flew by later.
 / net.rumor / decwrl!moroney / Mar 19, 1986 /
Yet another old classic war story.
It seems that there was a certain university that was doing
 experiments in behavior modification in response to brain
 stimulation in primates. They had this monkey with a number of
 electrodes embedded in it's brain that were hooked up to a
 PDP-11. They had several programs that would stimulate
 different parts of the monkey's brain, and they had spent over a
 year training the monkey to respond to certain stimuli.
Well, eventually the PDP developed problems, and field service
 was called in. Due to some miscommunication, the field service
 representative was not informed of the delicacy of this
 particular setup, and the people running the experiment were not
 informed that field service was coming to fix the machine. The
 FS representative then booted up a diagnostic system I/O
 exerciser. After several minutes of gyrations, the monkey
 expired, its brain fried.
The moral, of course, is "Always mount a scratch monkey."
 / net.rumor / sdcrdcf!dem / Mar 21, 1986 /
This was told to me by a fellow co-worker who worked for another
 large main frame manufacture previously.
It seems they delivered a new machine to an overseas site and
 during installation every time they applied power to one of the
 memory bays they blew every circuit breaker in the computer
 room. After resetting the circuits they again applied power to
 the memory bay with the same results. Since this was a new
 machine they crated it up and shipped it back and got a
When they got the damaged memory bay back the started to tear it
 down to fine the cause of the short. Well what they found was a
 small hole about 3/8 in. in diameter going from top to bottom
 through some of the memory arrays, which cause a very effective
 short. After a lot of research they found the cause.
It seems that after the memory had passed test and evaluation
 and quality assurance the bay was crated and put in the
 warehouse to await delivery. At some time during its storage an
 electrician was hired to do some work and since it was a secure
 building the security guard had do go with him. The electrician
 at one point said that he had to go back down to his truck to
 get a drill and the guard asked why and the electrician said he
 needed to drill a hole right here (pointing to a spot on the
 floor). The guard then responded by pulling out his sidearm and
 proceeded to blow a hole at the appropriate spot which happened
 to be right above where the memory bay was being stored.
The last he knew the guard had been reprimanded and re-assigned
 to another of the security agency's customers.
 / net.rumor / rebel!george / Mar 22, 1986 /
> I once heard about a Xerox tech who opened up a malfunctioning
 > copier and found a dead mouse lying on its back, spread eagled,
 > right smack dab in the middle of it.
Some time ago I worked for a large minicomputer vendor who also
 had a problem installation in a warehouse. I vividly remember
 the frequent soft disk errors. When the FE went to investigate
 the large 3330 type drive, it didn't take too long before he
 found the cause. A field mouse had gotten into its large
 tread-mill style blower. Thereafter we (unofficially, to be
 sure) referred to that drive model as the mouse-a-matic.
 / net.rumor / uthub!koko / Mar 21, 1986 /
> The modem and the computer tried to share a common ground, but
 > in reality there was a whopping potential difference between
 > them, and when they were hooked up, sure enough, the computer
 > generated sparks and bad smells - something computers are not
 > generally supposed to do.
This reminds me of a nasty accident I had in the Power
 Electronics Laboratory. I had a terminal connected to a
 6809-based microcomputer board. The board was in turn connected
 through an interface, driver circuit and isolation transformer
 to an SCR power module. The module was connected directly to
 the 117-volt line, which was protected by a 50-amp breaker.
In the course of debugging the circuit, I had connected an
 oscilloscope -- isolated, of course -- to the circuit. I
 connected one channel, with its ground wire, to some point in
 the power circuit. I had other channels of the scope connected
 to the microcomputer interface. I understood that the
 microcomputer ground now became hot, but this was okay since the
 microcomputer power supply and terminal were both isolated -- or
 so I thought. Then I turned on the 50-amp breaker switch to
 energize the power circuit. BANG!!!
A large current, enough to pop the 15-amp breaker supplying the
 computer and terminal, went from the power circuit, through one
 set of scope leads, through the scope, through another set of
 scope leads, through the computer ground trace, through the
 ground wire in the RS-232 cable and into the terminal. The
 goddamn terminal had its RS-232 signal ground strapped to the
 earth ground in the 117-volt line. The current blew a trace on
 the computer board. When it finished off that path, it
 proceeded to find the path of next lowest resistance -- the line
 driver and receiver chips in the computer board and the
All four chips, plus some TTL chips in the terminal, were burned
 out. But one of those chips had a hole blown right through it!
 I could see remains of the substrate through the hole.
 Fortunately, the 15-amp breaker tripped before anything else was
 damaged. But the 15-amp breaker was slightly damaged -- it
 tends to stick a little upon turning on. (I left my mark in the
All of this goes to prove that that third wire in the line cord
 does not always promote safety. In this case, it created a
 hazard. From now on, I will always use a ground cheater for
 terminals when working in that lab.
 / net.rumor / rlgvax!jsf / Mar 27, 1986 /
I have two quick but nasty stories. These are true so for
 everyone who has been defending horror stories in net.rumor by
 saying there all folk lore, sorry.
Back in the summer of '84 I was setting up a PC lab at my
 school. We were converting an old chem. lab, and of course had
 to make some major modifications, including installing air
 conditioning to handle the heat. After setting up about 50 Dec
 Pro 350s we had the normal break in trouble but soon everything
 settled down and ran fine until about mid October.
I came in one Saturday morning to open the lab and found it a
 little warm, but didn't think anything about it. After cramming
 close to 100 freshmen into the lab to work on their homework,
 the temperature reached close to 90 and 3/4s of the machines
 were down with random hardware errors. Seems that building
 services had decided on Friday afternoon that it was time to
 turn off the air conditioner, and fire up the heat for the
 winter. They had of course locked the door behind them, and we
 had riveted all the windows shut that summer to prevent theft.
 The whole lab was down until late Monday when we finally
 convinced building services that we would need our air
 conditioner all winter.
The cause of the second one was a little more difficult to find.
 Recently one of our customers was having trouble with a group of
 terminals getting periodic line noise, sometimes to the point of
 locking up the comm processor. After finding nothing wrong in
 the hard or software a team of crack support people went to
 site. There they found a bunch of RS232 lines almost 600 ft.
 long that ran through an elevator shaft. Every time the
 elevator came by with it's big electric motor on top the RS232
 line would pick up the RF noise like any good antenna and drive
 the comm board insane.
 / net.rumor / burl!rcj / Mar 24, 1986 /
> Is it really true that someone working for a bank or a large
 > company diverted megabucks into his or her personal account by
 > adjusting a program that figured out people's paychecks or
 > interest payments so that it always...
The most amusing incident I've ever heard along these lines (I
 *think* I read it in the book _Computer_Crime_) involved a guy
 who modified a payroll program for his large company. The
 program processed an alphabetically-sorted list of employees, so
 he would shave a few cents from each account as he processed,
 then make the results into a check for the last guy in the list
 -- which happened to be one he had set up with his mailing
 address on it. The name was really flaky, started with "Zy" or
 something like that. Anyway, his employer decided to do a
 morale-boost/public-relations move by awarding a trip or
 something neat like that to the first and last employee in the
 personnel/payroll database....It didn't take them long to link
 the non-existent employee at the end with the programmer in
 / net.rumor / ajs / Mar 29, 1986 /
This is the truth as I know it, but with enough mystery to
 constitute rumor.
Back in college I knew a real whiz, the sort of guy who cut his
 computer classes because he was off consulting for Large Unnamed
 Companies, but passed them anyway. Well, once he showed up with
 a substantial bandage on his elbow, covering stitches, after
 being gone a couple of days. He wouldn't say much, only that
 he'd been standing too close to a disc drive when it exploded,
 and that his job was destructive testing.
Later he told me a story of how he'd purposely blown a large
 system, which the experts at the company said couldn't be done,
 as part of this testing. He said he downloaded some software to
 a system in a locked room thousands of miles way, and saw the
 results on closed circuit TV.
The system had a CPU in the middle and a line of disc drives on
 each side. He claims he caused the drives to blow up, starting
 at the outsides and working in, at just the right times to
 propagate a combined shock wave into the CPU. If that wasn't
 enough, just as the shock wave arrived, he had the CPU power
 supply do something nasty which smoked the circuits.
Apparently this was all production hardware, so naturally the
 company (supposedly one of the three-letter-acronym giants)
 didn't want word to get out.
I think this guy was the same one who told me a gory story about
 a high-speed removable-cartridge disc drive with a cover
 interlock. When the drive was spinning you couldn't open the
 cover. The story is that the interlock was broken, but an
 operator didn't notice the disc was still spinning when he
 lowered a pack removal cover on it. He was holding the cover by
 a center handle that immediately went to high RPMs, and you can
 imagine the rest.
 From: mcgregor@hpccc.HP.COM (Scott McGregor)
 Date: 22 Sep 86
 Subject: hpf.jokes for Sep 86
 Newsgroups: hpf.general
True story from my own past.
I worked for a small business dp timesharing and software
 development firm in Stamford, Connecticut in 1976. We were so
 successful in OEMing DEC PDP-11s with our business software that
 year that the owner decided to give himself a treat. He moved
 out of his nondescript office suite and moved into a penthouse
 suite in a professional building. In fact, he proudly
 announced, we'd be the highest point in Stamford and have a
 great view.
Well, we moved in (quite a struggle since the elevator only went
 to the floor below) and started processing again, and within the
 weak started to notice a larger than usual number of soft
 crashes. Then we had a hard disk crash. Naturally we suspected
 that things had been jarred in the move or coming up the stairs.
 We had a FE come in and check it out and repair the disk. The
 FE didn't find anything wrong. The same thing happened the next
 week; we lost a hard disk and suffered numerous soft crashes
 which we tracked down to faulty disk reads. FE came out, and
 looked for the problem and couldn't find it when all of a sudden
 he detects a surge on our power. So, we are told we need a
 clean power line.
Next week we have an electrician in and get a clean line pulled
 up 14 stories. But still we have these hard and soft disk
 failures. Frustrated, we have the FE call in a specialist. The
 specialist comes in doesn't find anything right away, then
 suddenly "blip" detects a surge on our ground!? So, they tell
 us we need a clean ground. We get an electrician and tell him
 this, and he looks at us strange but puts in a new ground. Next
 week same thing; lots of soft disk errors and this time we lose
 two platters on our 11/45 (recently arrived 11/03 with only
 floppy disks is cruising just fine though).
We're really frustrated now, our MTBF (which we report to our
 customers in the monthly service level report) is in the toilet!
 The owner is hot about this. DEC local FE and specialist can't
 figure it out. Finally, they call in an engineer from Mass. He
 strolls through our front door walks over to where the 11/45
 (including disks in same cabinet) is, right next to the window.
 He doesn't even look at the computer, just stares out the window
 for a few seconds. Finally, he turns to us and says,
 "Interesting, by the way, can you tell me what those antennas
 are for?" as he points out the window at the other side of the
"I don't know, just TV antennas I guess" says my boss. The
 engineer asks us to call maintenance just to check. Meanwhile
 this engineer is showing the local FE and specialist how he can
 get blips on his scope from the venetian blinds, his tie clip
 and just about everything else. Turns out the antennas were
 microwave and radio paging antennas. This being the high point
 in Stamford made it an ideal site (in fact the antenna rented
 for 10X the price of the penthouse suite!). Everytime some
 doctor was paged in Stamford, the antennas would send out a
 signal that induced a current in everything around. Being only
 20 feet away everything in our office was hit especially in our
 hard disks which used a magnet and induction coil to position
 the heads over the proper track! Some signals would cause the
 head to over or undershoot the specified track causing the soft
 crashes, while others cause the head to actually hit the
 platter. The floppies on the 11/03 weren't affected because
 they didn't use induction coils.
They had to move the office down to the first floor where it had
 a view of... the parking lot! (However, in fairness to the
 11/45 and its disks I must also say that it later did a long
 stint at one of our customer's sites, in a "Polyfill" factory.
 The fibers in the air were so thick that the filters on the air
 conditioner had to be cleaned daily or it would actually burn
 out--but the 11/45 and disks functioned smoothly (I, however got
 a raging sore throat and sometime will find I have some lung
 From: jimd@hpcvra
 Date: 24 Sep 86
 Subject: Re: hpf.jokes for Sep 86
 Newsgroups: hpf.general
I once got to visit the data processing shop for Frito-Lay
 headquarters in Dallas, Texas (there's a Dallas in Oregon, too,
 you know). They are a huge IBM shop...
The favorite war story at Frito-Lay was about the arrival of a
 new 308x (not sure of exact model) mainframe. It was one of the
 first that IBM shipped - possibly a beta-unit. The guts of the
 machine are liquid-cooled - when you look inside the machine you
 see what look like liquid cooled heads from a modern motorcycle.
 In any case, the machine literally melted down one night.
 Turned out that the cleaning crew decided they needed some water
 for window washing... The spigot for the coolant supply was
 mounted on the top of the cabinet and equipped with a standard
 looking water valve!
 From: robin@hpulexa.HP.COM
 Date: 25 Sep 86
 Subject: hpf.jokes for Sep 86
 Newsgroups: hpf.general
It seems a customer was having trouble with the floppy drive on
 his 9836 computer. He would write his files to disk every night
 before he went home to find the next morning the disks were
 unreadable. This went on for a few weeks so he decided to call
 HP. After the usual telephone interrogation the CE decided he
 would have to go on-site.
The CE tried to read the customer's floppy to no avail.
 Assuming a damaged disk, they tried a new one. To test the
 drive the CE initialized a new floppy, installed it into the
 drive, wrote a file only to read it back perfectly. Being a
 good CE he cleaned the heads on the disk drive, ran the
 diagnostics and sure enough, everything looked fine. Since both
 he and the customer were satisfied no problem existed, they
 decided the disk PM was worth the trip.
The next day the customer called the CE back because his disks
 were unreadable. The CE went back to the customer site and
 again, the disks were unreadable. He reviewed the command
 sequence used to create the files and all was correct. They
 cleaned the heads again, ran the diagnostics only to discover no
 problems. A new, initialized floppy worked fine. Just in case
 the diagnostics had gone awry, the CE, over the next couple of
 weeks, began to replace parts of the two drives. (Intermittent
 problems are always the most difficult to expose.) Finally the
 customer had two brand new drives only to find he could not read
 his disks.
The CE, becoming very frustrated, asked himself,"If I were a
 floppy disk why would I become unreadable?" EUREKA!!
It seems that every night, so that he would not forget to bring
 his files to work the next day, the customer would put them in a
 convenient place-right next to the door. HE HAD THEM STUCK TO
 THE FRIDGE WITH A MAGNET!! Of course the CE checked the
 immediate area of the computer for anything magnetic, but who
 would have thought...
From: JWH109@PSUVM.BITNET (Jack Hsu)
 Date: 25 Mar 89
 Subject: Computer folklore summary [revised]
 Newsgroups: rec.humor
To all those people who wanted the past computer folklore
 tidbits that were posted to the net months ago, here is a
 partial list of all the computer folklore that was posted.
 Because this file was so huge, I removed the signatures and most
 of the headers. I did keep the userid of the people who
 submitted the article and the date of submission. There is also
 a brief description of what is contained in each article (I
 admit that some of the descriptions are rather stupid, but what
 do you expect from a guy who was both doing this on his spare
 time and often editing things at 3:00 in the morning.) I hope
 this will brighten everyone's day (as well as devour a large
 part of you disk.)
 From: pt@geovision.uucp (Paul Tomblin)
 Subject: IBM 3270 myths
 Date: 28 Jan 89
I started there:
1) A computer kept crashing, and every time service was called,
 it worked fine. It turned out that one of the users would come
 in, sit down at the console and put his papers and stuff on the
 top covering the cooling vents. When it crashed, he'd pick up
 his stuff and leave, removing the evidence. Service people
 didn't figure this one out until they decided to watch him work
 to see why it crashed.
2) We had an IBM cluster controller controlling some 3270
 terminals. We paid $5000 for an upgrade that would allow more
 users to be connected to the controller. The IBM service rep
 came in and REMOVED a board, that was put there to deliberately
 slow things down.
3) (This one happened to me) A Northern Telecom 3270 terminal
 caught fire, with flames coming out of the top. I guess I was
 doing some hot stuff. I was not putting stuff on top of the
 terminal cooling slots.
4) Somebody working on an Airline Reservation System, trying to
 get maximum response out of the machine, was looking at a OS
 listing and found a delay loop that was executed by a timer
 interrupt every 100th of a second. Removing it brought the
 performance up, but they had to replace one of the chips in the
 machine that wasn't fast enough.
 From: jackg@tekirl.TEK.COM (Jack Gjovaag;6160;50-321;LP=A)
 Subject: GE 415 and 425 stories
 Date: 31 Jan 89
...the GE 415 and 425 CPUs were identical except that the 415
 had an extra wire that slowed the clock down a bit. To upgrade
 to the 425, after paying your money, the wire was removed. Some
 users knew about this and one of them made up a realistic
 looking letter supposedly from GE saying something to the
 effect: "CAUTION. Do not remove the wire from pin 4AB to 7FL
 in the CPU enclosure. This wire is located approximately 7
 inches up from the bottom of the backplane in bay 2 and should
 not be removed by using a GE 112-3 wire unwrapping tool, first
 not removing the wrapping from 4AB, then pulling the wire from
 under the other wiring to its bound end at 7FL, followed by not
 unwrapping the bound end from 7FL. Not removing this wire will
 result in the normal clockspeed which is 1.6 times slower than
 with the wire removed and will not cause corresponding increases
 in system throughput." Naturally most of these wires got
Another interesting but kludgy fix to a problem came from a user
 of an IBM 7044. The 7044 had a HALT instruction that stopped
 the CPU clock. The user was doing some realtime processing or
 something of the sort and didn't like the idea of the CPU ever
 being able to stop itself. He asked IBM how much it would cost
 to disable the instruction and they gave him some large quote
 which contained the implicit message "We don't want to do it and
 this price is set high enough to make you change your mind about
 the request." The user didn't want to pay the money so he fixed
 up a photodiode over the light on the console that was on when
 the CPU was running and hooked it up to a solenoid that would
 push the RUN button whenever the light went out. The cost was a
 couple of dollars.
 From: (Larry Moss)
 Subject: Apple II and magnets
 Date: 2 Feb 89
I heard one story about a guy that was using an Apple IIe at
 work a few years ago. He was ready to give up with computers
 because every disk he ever tried to use would lose all of the
 files on it.
It turned out that he kept little reminder notes attached to the disk
 drive - with magnets.
 From: aem@ibiza.Miami.Edu (a.e.mossberg)
 Subject: TRS-80 story
 Date: 3 Feb 89
Back when TRS-80s had just come out, my friend bought one. One
 day we were in a Radio Shack, and one of the guys working there
 gave a diskette to my friend. My friend folded it up and put it
 in his pocket....
 From: new@udel.EDU (Darren New)
 Subject: Smoking Computers
 Date: 3 Feb 89
Speaking of smoking computers, this is absolutely true... I was
 there. I was working at a high-school and the soon-to-be
 computer teacher had just taken one of the TRS-80 model I's
 home. About half an hour later we get a call:
 "Is the computer supposed to smoke when I turn it on?"
 "NO! Of course not."
 "Then should I turn it off?"
He had plugged the power supply into the video connector and
 fried every chip in the machine. Win some, lose some.
 From: (Tim Philip Cadell)
 Subject: Another TRS-80 story
 Date: 4 Feb 89
When I used to work at a Radio Shack store, we got a call one
 day from a man who was trying to load a program (Blackjack, I
 believe) off of tape into a TRS-80 Model I computer and run it.
 A friend of mine went to the phone and told him that after he
 loaded it, type "R U N" and press enter. He got a syntax error
 and after reading it back, it turned out that he had typed "Are
 You In?" and pressed enter.
 From: peggy@ddsw1.MCS.COM (Peggy Shambo)
 Subject: Stick Mac keyboards
 Date: 4 Feb 89
This is a true story (honest!):
A friend was having a problem with a sticky keyboard for his
 Mac. He was talking to another friend who off-handedly
 suggested putting into the dishwasher to clean it up. So, my
 friend did just that! Needless to say, the keyboard didn't
 function any too well after that. :-)
 From: peggy@ddsw1.MCS.COM (Peggy Shambo)
 Subject: Shattered disks
 Date: 4 Feb 89
Yet another true story:
I was at GE Consulting's Training and Education Center in
 Albany, NY taking a course on the PC. Well, there were some
 inexperienced PC users there, so we had to go through the
 "basics" for them (ie, the do's and don't's of disk handling)
Well, according to the instructor, there had been one student
 who had driven up from Bridgeport, CT (corporate offices are
 there). He had stayed at a nearby motel overnight, leaving his
 briefcase in the trunk of the car. (Oh, let me add that it was
 sub-zero weather at the time of this incident). In the morning
 he arrived at T&E, opened up his briefcase, took out a floppy
 disk, inserted into a drive... then *c-r-a-c-k*!!! It
 shattered into little pieces.
 From: (Robert Garvey)
 Subject: How not to label disks
 Date: 4 Feb 89
Heard a story about a company whose PC software was being blamed
 for the consistent failure to read backup data off floppies.
 Unable to determine the cause, they finally sent someone to sit
 beside the system's user the entire work day. Nothing unusual
 was seen until the very end of the business day when the user
 took the floppy out of the drive and started to label it. A
 blank label was put on and the disk inserted into the carriage
 of an electric typewriter...
 From: Michael Polymenakos <I78BC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU>
 Subject: The novice salesman
 Date: 5 Feb 1989
How about the young computer salesman giving some client a
 demonstration of the new electronic word-processor? He loads up
 a large document, and says: "watch this!". He hits a couple of
 keys, and converts every "i" in the document to an "a", making
 the text unreadable.
"And it you can change it all back, just like this" he
 proclaims, subsequently converting all "a"s back to "i",
 including those that had been "a"s originally.
Of course, it happened to a friend of a friend of mine.. :-)
Another one my father told me:
My dad was an electronics engineer in Greece, for a company that
 imported various high-tech lab equipment. One of them (A HP
 spectrophotometer, I think) was controlled by a special built-in
 computer, running optional proprietary software. Each optional
 package was copy protected. To enforce that, installing the
 package could only be done by a tech-rep; after the
 installation, the disks were automatically erased, and the
 program was kept in battery-backed RAM.
Anyway, at some point the computer lost all its programs. A
 call had to be made to Germany, for new disks to be sent as a
 replacement. My dad could not find the reason for this, and he
 was really surprised when the client called again, with the same
 problem next week. Call Germany again, install the disks again,
 then next week guess what happened: The lab calls again. But
 there was a definite pattern: The lab always found the system
 down on a Wednesday morning. Obviously, whatever went wrong
 happened on Tuesday nights only....
After more than a month of downtime, someone realized that the
 cleaning lady came to the room every Tuesday night. Someone
 went to check her and found out that she carried a nine-year old
 kid with her. The kid had discovered the machine's on-off
 switch, with a few buttons next to it. When the machine was on,
 pressing those buttons made cute sounds (audible warnings!)
 which are supposed to alert you to the fact that holding the
 button down for a few seconds would completely reset the
 machine. I guess the kid thought of it as an oversized musical
 instrument. The mom turned the machine off before she left,
 erasing error codes etc. No-one knows how much this story cost
 the lab in downtime.....
 From: buck@siswat.UUCP (A. Lester Buck)
 Subject: Nuked punched cards
 Date: 5 Feb 89
When I was a freshman in 1971, all mainframe jobs were submitted
 on cards. And there was a snack room with microwave oven just
 down the hall. Well, we were waiting for our jobs to run and
 were bored, so one of my friends had the idea - What does a
 microwave oven do to a card deck? We got a deck of blank cards
 and cooked them for a while. It is a simple physics problem to
 show that uniformly heating a sphere leads to MUCH higher
 temperatures at the center compared to the edge. Of course, the
 card deck *looked* perfectly normal, but inside it was charred,
 black and brittle.
No, we never submitted such a deck. We took pity on the
 operators and the poor card reader... (And with dozens of
 drawers of card decks to chose from, it would have been easy to
 cover our tracks.)
And then there are all the stories of "rewind and break tape"
 macros, (almost) all discovered accidentally. Or the FORTRAN
 print statement that did a line of underlines without advancing
 the paper, repeated that oh, 100 times, then did 100 form feeds.
 The operator was untangling that printer for some time...
This school did have a very well-followed honor system, and it
 was considered extremely bad form to affect anyone else
 From: fpu@taux01.UUCP (32764 fpu account)
 Subject: Spelling mistakes
 Date: 5 Feb 89
When I was a junior, I worked as a summer student in the
 Amsterdam branch of a multi-national computer company. The PR
 department there published a poster advertising the world wide
 quality of its products; the poster had the word "quality"
 written on it in 20 different languages.
The Hebrew word for quality, which contains five letters,
 appeared in the poster with three spelling mistakes.
 From: tmca@ut-emx.UUCP (The Anarch)
 Subject: The equipment next door
 Date: 6 Feb 89
This tale is true, I was there.
The DEC users group here occasionally has Q+A sessions with a
 representative of said company which sometimes become complaint
 and apology sessions. I remember one particular complaint from
 a Physics professor who claimed that his microVax was having
 problems with its tk50 tape drive and he had lost a fair
 quantity of data when the drive allegedly mangled a tape
 (magnetically, not physically). Some discussion ensued and the
 professor griped that he also didn't like the way that the
 screen display "flexed" every time they turned the equipment on
 next door.
It turns out that the "equipment next door" is a largish Tokomak
 fusion reactor - the electromagnets in the thing have to be seen
 to be believed. (And this man is a physics professor - phew!)
 From: loughry@tramp.Colorado.EDU (J. Loughry)
 Subject: MBA formatting lesson
 Date: 6 Feb 89
Once upon a time in the MBA factory...
About fifty prospective MBAs were learning how to run an IBM PC.
 The computer lab had a bunch of nice hard-disk equipped
 machines, with 1-2-3 and dBase and Word, etc, all lined up in
 front of a video projector.
"Today we're going to learn how to use DOS to format a disk.
 Everybody have their floppy disk ready? Good. Put it into the
 disk drive. (No no, it goes in the *other* way...that's
"Okay, now to format a disk, you use the command FORMAT C:"
...and they all typed it in.
 From: mercer@ncrcce.StPaul.NCR.COM (Dan Mercer)
 Subject: Faulty satellite link
 Date: 6 Feb 89
My favorite story is about a satellite link that went haywire
 every Friday at 3:00 PM. The company that owned the link
 immediately blamed the software in their communications
 controllers. Systems analysts were dispatched on site, and try
 as they did, they couldn't find a software bug that could be
 responsible. Finally, by dumb luck they found it. A bunch of
 factory workers let off at 3:00 started their weekend with a
 parking lot beer party and threw their empty cans in the
 satellite uplink. A shift of security guards fixed that.
 From: cyosta@taux01.UUCP ( Yossie Silverman )
 Subject: Listening to memory
 Date: 6 Feb 89
I have two stories to relate. Both have to do with IBM machines
 (the large variety):
1) Back when core memory was in use one could "listen" to the
 memory with a transistor radio. A game among system
 programmers was to access memory in such a manner as to
 produce recognizable tunes on the radio.
2) Printers produce a buzzing with varying frequency depending
 on the text being printed (this is because of the rate at
 which the hammers strike the slugs in the print chain). The
 same system programmers would also compete to see who could
 print a job that played specific (and known) tunes.
One further story that comes to mind. It is said that specific
 models of IBM mainframes had a bug whereby "branching backwards
 over a page boundary to a paged out page would leave the
 supervisor bit turned on in the PSW in the stored PSW". I never
 was able to verify this but it makes some sort of sense when you
 look at the hardware that IBM uses.
 From: hollen@spot.megatek.uucp (Dion Hollenbeck)
 Subject: Stars and Stripes
 Date: 6 Feb 89
While a student at UCSD in the middle 60's I had the opportunity
 to work many late nights in the computer punch card room on my
 physical chemistry lab calculations. One late night when the
 computer operator was obviously bored, he invited me into the
 sanctum sanctorum - the computer room. The computer was a CDC
 3600 and had a curving console about 8 feet long with several
 hundred lights and switches (in those days, there was no such
 thing as terminal input). On the far wall was a bank of a dozen
 1/2" tape drives with vacuum column tape tension control.
He loaded up a deck into the card reader (the only command input
 device) and started it. For the next 1/2 hour the computer
 PLAYED the Stars and Stripes Forever and assorted Sousa marches,
 using the tones on the console (every light had its own tone)
 for the high low notes and the tape drives for the low notes.
 At the same time, all the lights on the console were blinking on
 and off. Since I am now a full-time programmer, I finally
 appreciate the work it must have taken a system level programmer
 to do that. Talk about primitive audio devices!
 From: vail@tegra.UUCP (Johnathan Vail)
 Subject: Faulty IC's
 Date: 6 Feb 89
A friend worked for a company that made IC's. It seemed that
 every few months their yields would go down to about zero.
 Analysis of the failures showed all sorts of organic material
 was introduced into the process somewhere but they couldn't
 figure out where. One evening someone was working late and came
 into the lab. There he found the maintenance crew cooking
 pizza in the chip curing ovens!
 From: (Daniel Hinojosa)
 Subject: Printer chain problems
 Date: 6 Feb 89
A friend of mine told a story of one of these printers he and
 another friend destroyed in a most interesting manner. These
 printers had, it would seem, a sort of chain that held all of
 the characters. I guess they held about three complete sets of
 the alphabet plus special characters.
These chaps read the chain and created a file in their system
 that had all of the characters of one pass in it. They gave the
 command to print the file. Upon doing so the printer starts to
 spin the chain, then SMACK! Trying to print all of those
 characters at once while the chain was moving, didn't quite
 work. The fellow said they found the print characters in
 various parts of their office for years thereafter.
 From: BVAUGHAN@pucc.Princeton.EDU (Barbara Vaughan)
 Subject: The MBA interface
 Date: 8 Feb 89
In 1972, I was assigned the task of writing an interactive user
 interface for a statistical analysis program written in FORTRAN
 IV. I was told that the users were "MBA types; not very
 quantitative and with little background in statistics." ( I
 hope this is no longer true of MBA's.)
Anyway, writing such an interface in FORTRAN IV was no picnic,
 but I tried to make it very friendly. Plain English questions,
 examples of correct answers, range checks to determine validity
 of responses, helpful error messages.
One of the first users to test the program said that it kept
 bombing out on question 3. "Enter number of thingamabobs (Valid
 responses 1 to 5):". I asked what her response had been and she
 said "Five". Puzzled, I asked if I could watch her run the
 program. This is what I saw: ....(Valid responses 1 to 5):
That's when I realized what nonquantitative really meant. Even
 though FORTRAN IV had no character string handling capability
 (you had to declare your characters as INTEGER or REAL), I had
 to write a routine to read all keyboard input as characters,
 convert to numbers, and add a friendly message to explain what a
 number was.
 From: jbs@rti.UUCP (Joe Simpson)
 Subject: Fried circuit boards and other stories
 Date: 8 Feb 89
A friend of mine used to work for Northern Telecom, and said
 this story circulated there:
A team of installers was installing a DMS-10 digital telephone
 switch somewhere in Tennessee. They had it set up and had been
 testing it all day; everything seemed to work okay, so they left
 early in the evening to go barhopping and rabble-rousing, as NT
 installers are said to be wont to do.
Next morning they came in only to find that the switch had
 failed during the night, and a couple of circuit boards were
 fried to boot. They replaced the boards, tested it all day, and
 left again that evening. Next morning, same result. This went
 on for a couple of days, and finally one of the installers
 bunked down next to the DMS-10. Along about midnight, in came
 the cleaning lady with a feather duster, and proceeded to dust
 everything in the room, including the exposed circuit boards.
When I was an undergrad at UNC, I spent a little time in the
 graduate department's graphics lab. When one of the grads was
 showing us the hardware, he pointed out a large rubber mallet
 sitting beside one of the cabinets. He said that the connection
 between the chips' prongs and their sockets sometimes became
 poor, and often when the system acted up the cure was to bang on
 the cabinet with the mallet to reseat the chips. He also said
 anytime they had a photo of the lab taken, they made sure the
 mallet was visible in the picture, and sent a copy to DEC, who
 apparently knew exactly what the mallet was for.
 From: (John R. Levine)
 Subject: Printing a line
 Date: 8 Feb 89
...The letters on the print chain are all scrambled up. Each
 time the chain moves, some fraction of the letters on the chain
 will be in front of the place where those particular letters are
 supposed to print, so the printer fires just those hammers.
 Then the chain moves, some more hammers fire, etc.
The particular hack that Mr. Hinojosa and I described
 reprogrammed the printer so it would think that every letter on
 the line was correctly placed and so fire all the hammers at
 once. That makes quite a lot of noise (normally, only 10 or so
 of the 120 or 132 hammers go off at once) and moreover turned
 out to use more power than the printer was prepared to supply
 thus blowing the fuse and causing other problems.
 From: jbs@rti.UUCP (Joe Simpson)
 Subject: Where's the off switch?
 Date: 8 Feb 89
I worked one summer in a COBOL shop (no, that's not supposed to
 be the funny part) that had a Sperry/Univac mainframe. The
 operator's terminal was on a desk that was backed up against the
 CPU cabinet. One day the system went down hard, and I walked
 down to the machine room to see what was up (or down).
The operator (fortunately for his job security, the son of the
 company's vice-president), said he had no idea what had
 happened, that it seemed the power had gone off. We checked all
 the circuit breakers to no avail. Finally, he said the last
 thing he remembered before the power went was crossing his legs;
 I looked under his desk and saw, completely unprotected, set
 into the cabinet at just above ankle height, a power switch. It
 was "OFF". Some brilliant engineering, that.
 From: (Lee Carter)
 Subject: Backup your disks
 Date: 8 Feb 89
Various stories that customer engineers have told us:
1.) An office secretary was presented with her first PC and
 given large amounts of instruction on how to operate it.
 Just before he left, the C.E. asked the secretary, "What
 must you do every Friday?" to which the secretary replied
 "Copy my data disks so I don't lose any information."
 Satisfied, the C.E. departed. One week later there was a
 phone call; "I can't read my disks!" so the C.E. went back
 to the secretary. Sure enough the data disks were corrupt
 and unreadable. "Have you got copies of these disks?" --
 "Yes" -- "Can I see them please?"
The secretary opened her desk drawer and removed several
 sheets of paper. Curiously the C.E. examined them to see
 each was a perfect photocopy of the data disks....
2.) A site had an HP3000 installation with a number of large
 300Mb disk disk drives. One week, two of the drives
 crashed, so they called an engineer. The engineer examined
 the drives, and noticed a little pile of sawdust on the
 floor by the side of them. Needless to say, there is no
 wood in the construction of these drives and the floor was
The engineer repairs the drives and leaves, sorely vexed.
 The same thing happens a couple of days later - same two
 drives crash, engineer calls, sawdust, etc. This pattern
 repeats until one day they notice a maintenance man, who has
 a long plank of wood, walk into the computer room, wedge the
 wood between the two drives (the gap between them was juuust
 riiight!) and then proceed to saw the plank in half with an
 enormous rip-saw....
 From: prabhu@mitisft.Convergent.COM (Prabhu Venkatesh)
 Subject: Need a 10 ns delay
 Date: 8 Feb 89
Real, real, true, swear-by-God story:
A friend of mine was repairing a Russian EC-20 computer in
 Bangalore, India. He found an insulated wire soldered to a pin
 of a chip. Looking for the other end, he traced and he traced
 and he traced -- 10 feet of wire, and the other end was soldered
 to an adjacent chip!
As it turned out, they needed a 10 ns delay between the two
 From: (the Mitchell)
 Subject: What does a floppy disk look like?
 Date: 8 Feb 89
I was in a PASCAL class a long time ago (please, no flames about
 PASCAL). This was in the days of double density drives for the
 new kid on the block, the IBM PC. Anyway, we were all supposed
 to have a work disk for saving our files. When the prof asked
 everyone to get their disks out, someone stood up and said that
 their disk didn't look like what anyone else had. This persons
 disk looked like a disk, and not a square. Which is exactly
 what you get when you rip off the packaging off a diskette - you
 get the disk.....
 From: cetron@wasatch.UUCP (Edward J Cetron)
 Subject: Walking computers, another story
 Date: 8 Feb 89
...Seems I was a young hotshot programmer-type and was working
 in the corporate research unit of a big company (lets see, it
 makes LOTS of bandaids). Well, it was the first time I ever
 used a machine with a disk drive in a room that I could find
 (much less have permission to enter). Never having had a
 computer with version numbers before (this was RSX-11M 3.0 --
 dating myself huh?) I never purged my directory. Also given
 that I was hacking an immense Data-entry and retrieval system in
 Fortran-IV (more dating (-: ), TKB would do intense things to
 the drive, which was fragmented beyond belief.
This tended to upset the system manager, one Mark Googleman, no
 end, since he'd have to move the beast back into position.
 Since two hackers on one machine naturally tend to competition
 (could you crack into the machine, get priv'ed, and log the
 other off BEFORE they noticed and logged you off?) and I was
 embarrassed when confronted with the proof that this was my
 fault, I naturally bluffed my way out explaining that I was
 doing on purpose.
Well, one thing led to another, and it became a ritual to leave
 taped papers to the floor with one's name on it in the computer
 room. The object was to spend as much time from 9:00pm until
 7:00am WITHOUT ENTERING THE COMPUTER ROOM, running programs,
 doing TKB's etc, in order to move the RP's in a fixed manner.
 In the morning, the person with the disk drive closest to their
 name won the pool of money.
I had slowly become the "hardware champion" until one day Mark
 managed to program the tape drive for Christmas carols... sigh,
 I was so devastated that I didn't even take up his challenge to
 make the RP's perform accompaniment......
 From: dlm@cuuxb.ATT.COM (Dennis L. Mumaugh)
 Subject: UNIX vs. IBM
 Date: 7 Feb 89
The headline would be: UNIX crashes IBM system.
It seems that we had obtained an UNIX system and were using it
 for the first time. In those days UNIX was brand new and the
 rest of the world had never heard of it.
Any rate, we had attached our PDP-11/45 to an IBM 370-155 system
 running JESS-2. This meant the PDP-11 pretended to be a RJE
 card-reader/printer/punch station. Things were going quite well
 and the Bell Labs software worked great.
Then one day we found that our RJE line was disconnected and the
 IBM people refused to allow us to talk with the IBM machines.
 The reason, they claimed, was that most of the time that UNIX
 submitted an RJE job the IBM would promptly crash with no error
Finally it was determined that when the IBM people had sysgen'd
 the line they claimed it was a 2780 with a 80 character line and
 we were a 2770 with a 132 character line. This didn't cause
 problems unless our line and the next adjacent line both
 submitted jobs at once.
But I thought it amusing that DEC equipment could crash an IBM
 system at will.
 From: smadi@rlgvax.UUCP (Smadi Paradise)
 Subject: How does a computer work?
 Date: 7 Feb 89
I have not witnessed this one, but some of my friends did.
Some computer-illiterate visitors were shown the CDC6400 at the
 Hebrew University of Jerusalem. One of them asked, how does the
 machine do all these wonderful things? Their guide joked that
 it has a small man inside.
While he was speaking, a CDC technician (the late Rachmim Moreno, a
 small man indeed) had just finished some routine maintenance and
 stepped out of the machine.
Another story, which took place on April 1st 1984:
I was requested to present Unix software tools to the Software
 Workbench undergraduate course. After talking about grep, SCCS,
 lex and what not, I described an experimental expert system that
 creates applications by combining UNIX tools. Given an English
 description of an application, the system produces user manuals.
 Given an ``O.K.'', it would go on and produce the actual
The system was a success: it kept some of the students busy for
 a long time. Here it is, reconstructed from memory:
#!/bin/csh -f
 echo "What should your application do?"
 echo "Type a short description followed by a control-D"
 cat > /dev/null
 echo "Working... here is the user's manual:".
 /usr/games/festoon | some sed | nroff -man | more
 echo "Is that O.K? If not, please describe what's wrong."
 exec /usr/games/doctor
 From: oppenhei@aecom2.AECOM.YU.EDU (Michael Oppenheim)
 Subject: Computer illiterates
 Date: 7 Feb 89
I have an XT compatible with a hard drive but no printer, so
 people often use my machine, save their work on floppies, and go
 to the library or computer room to print.
One fellow, a non-computer literate, wanted to do a paper on my
 computer. I showed him how to use the word processor and how to
 save it on a floppy. Later, I went with him to help him print
 it. As we were leaving the dorm, I noticed he was empty-handed.
"Where's the disk?" I asked.
"Why? Do we need it?"
 From: (David Arnold)
 Subject: Showering with a keyboard
 Date: 7 Feb 89
...Sounds like an old hall-mate of mine from college, who would
 clean his keyboard by taking it into the shower with him.
 Either that, or just tear it down and clean it with Bacardi 80
 proof. That poor computer managed to struggle on for several
 From: (Dave Platt)
 Subject: Altering the memory test
 Date: 7 Feb 89
There's another great story involving computers-that-have-
 lights. This one involves Ivan Sutherland, co-founder of Evans
 & Sutherland (the pioneering computer-graphics firm), developer
 of Sketchpad (the very first computer-graphics tablet device, I
 believe), and winner of the "Father of Computer Graphics" aware
 some years ago.
While in college, Sutherland worked with one of the very
 earliest Von Neumann architecture (stored-program) computers...
 I've heard this specific machine referred to as "THE Von Neumann
 machine". This computer had a very limited amount of memory
 storage. Rather than using ferrite cores, RAM memory, or such
 modern devices, it used "storage tubes"... tiny little CRTs
 similar in operation to the tubes used in some "storage screen"
 graphics terminals (anybody used a Tektronix 4010 lately?).
 These little devices would store a rectangular array of bits in
 each tube. It was actually possible to SEE the bits by looking
 at the phosphor-coated target area in each screen.
One of the disadvantages of this storage technology (aside from
 low capacity) is that the tubes have a limited lifetime.
 "Burn-in" eventually occurs (as owners of Tektronix storage
 scopes can attest) as the phosphor structure ages and breaks
 down, and eventually the tubes must be replaced.
The engineers who maintained this computer had some
 special-purpose diagnostic programs, which would run "ripple
 patterns" through memory and would look for bit-patterns that
 weren't stored properly (a similar test is done when diagnosing
 memory problems in most computers). With the Von Neumann
 machine, though, it was often possible to identify tubes that
 were on the way downhill, simply by looking at the array of
 tubes in the cabinet and seeing which ones had a dim or uneven
 appearance during the ripple test.
One day, Sutherland [and a cohort, I believe] substituted a
 program deck of their own devising for the memory-test deck that
 the engineers used. This substitute deck did not run the usual
 memory test; instead, it loaded a certain specific bit-pattern
 into memory and then halted the machine.
During the next routine-maintenance period, the engineer reset
 the machine, booted the deck, and the program immediately
 halted. Puzzled, the engineer reset and rebooted again, and the
 same thing occurred. Suspecting that some portion of memory had
 failed so completely that the program could not run, the
 engineer opened the panel to the storage-tube rack.
There, shining out at him in carefully-lit bits, was a
 four-letter word.
A sign soon appeared in the computer room... "Programmers will
 NOT mess around with the hardware-diagnostic program decks!"
[Disclaimers: it has been 15 years since I heard this story, so
 I've probably forgotten some of the details and have gotten
 others wrong.]
 From: frk@frksyv.UUCP (Frank Korzeniewski)
 Subject: Upper/Lower case mix up
 Date: 6 Feb 89
Several years back I was working at a HMO and we had a lot of
 8080 micros using ADM3A dumb terminals. These terminals were so
 dumb that all they had were upper case character sets.
 Eventually, upper managment was talked into upgrading them to
 the ROM's with upper and lower case characters.
Well, one day we received this big three foot square box from
 the terminal manufacturer. Everyone was puzzled as to what they
 could be sending us. The person with the order said he had
 asked for 30 lower case options. The ADM3A terminal has an
 upper and lower clamshell like case. When the box was opened we
 found they had sent us 30 lower halfs to the terminal case.
 From: clw@hprnd.HP.COM (Carl Wuebker)
 Subject: Revenge of the Whiz Kid
 Date: 6 Feb 89
One time, in a college library, I ran across a book of computer
 folklore. It had a story about a young whiz kid hired as a
 computer programmer, who didn't like the way that computer
 operators were ordered to blindly follow directions. So he took
 a scratch removable disk pack apart, replaced the platters with
 phonograph records, and put it back together. Then, from his
 terminal, he called for it to be mounted. The operator could
 tell that the disk pack was different (plastic is lighter than a
 disk platter) but mounted it anyway, destroying a disk drive.
In the late '60s, Georgia Tech went to a computer registration
 system. In Spring, 1969, George P. Burdell (the mythical
 Georgia Tech student created during the war years) was
 registered for every class on campus. I've heard that he aced
 them all, too.
Finally, in the early '70s, Georgia Tech installed a Univac
 1108, so we heard all the Univac stories. One of the stories
 revolved around an operator, sitting sleepily at his computer
 console about 2am, watching the backups. The status messages
 disappear from his screen, a large (CBS-style) eye appears on
 the screen, it winks, and then the screen pops back to normal.
 Those were the days of fast memory and memory mapped screens, so
 its possible...
Just one more. On that same Univac, a friend discovered a
 security hole. It seems you could checkpoint (stop and save) a
 job to tape to, say, shut the machine down for maintenance. You
 could later restart the job from the tape at the exact point you
 stopped it. My friend discovered that you could checkpoint the
 job, change the privileged mode bit (guard mode, supervisor mode
 etc. -- the thing that prevented students from breaking into
 the machine) to 1, and restart it -- as a privileged job. He
 was found out, though -- operators became suspicious when they
 went from 0 checkpoints per month to several check-point tapes
 per day.
 From: (Lehtim{ki Erkki)
 Subject: Wrong instruction
 Date: 6 Feb 89
Our company bought a text processing package and a salesman came
 to us to install it. He had some difficulties in the first time
 to install it, so he decided to delete all his files and start
 over. But alas, instead of typing "DELETE [...]*.*.*" (Yes,
 it's in VAX/VBMS), he typed
DELETE/NOLOG [*...]*.*.*
A few moments later I noticed that I had much more disk quota
 left than i should have and noticed that all my files with
 DELETE privilege for same user group had gone. And for
 everybody else too.
 From: (John R. Levine)
 Subject: Computer antics
 Date: 7 Feb 89
...Aw shucks, we did this with a PDP-8. The accumulator was
 displayed in fairly large incandescent bulbs on the front panel,
 which needed high powered drivers. Turning the bits on and off
 made plenty of radio noise. I've heard legends of PDP-9
 programmers who would routinely leave a radio on the console as
 a debugging aid.
...There was a legendary card deck that, when run through an old
 electromechanical accounting machine, would print out an
 American flag while playing the Star Spangled Banner.
Speaking of printers, here are two silly stories from about
 1969. At that time they used 360/20s as RJE terminals to the
 360/91 mainframe. The '91 crashed all the time, so while
 waiting for the '91 to come back up we would toggle in little
 programs from the console, or laboriously punch an up to 80 byte
 program on a card, then use the "load" button to read and start
 the program. There was constant competition for the most
 interesting single-card program. My best was an expensive mimeo
 machine that read in a deck of cards and listed it over and
In one case, we experimented with the Universal Character Set
 buffer in the printer. The 1403 printer had interchangeable
 print trains, but different trains would have different
 character layouts. The UCS buffer told what character was at
 what position on the train. When it printed a line, it would
 see what characters were at the right position, fire the
 appropriate hammers, move the train ahead one position, fire the
 appropriate hammers, and so on until the entire line was
 printed. So as an experiment, we filled the entire UCS buffer
 with the same character, then printed lines of that character.
 It printed about a page and a half real fast, then the cover
 opened about half way (it automatically opened whenever the
 printer ran out of paper, to warn the operator and dump
 ever-present coffee cups on the floor) and then blew a fuse. We
 cleared out. It hadn't occurred to us we could blow fuses with
In another case, we experimented with the carriage control tape.
 Things like "skip to new page" or "vertical tab" were
 implemented with a loop of paper tape that had 66 rows, one for
 each line on a page, and 12 columns. You could do a skip to
 channel 1, and it would advance the paper and the tape until it
 found a hole in column 1. By convention, column 1 was top of
 page, column 2 top and middle of page, but you could program it
 any way you want. We tried various combinations and everything
 worked just fine until we tried a skip to channel 12.
 Unfortunately, there weren't any punches in column 12, so the
 paper just whizzed through the printer at full speed. We pushed
 the printer stop button. Nothing. We pushed the CPU stop
 button. Still nothing. Finally the CPU System Reset button
 stopped the printer. Being good ecologists, we fed the paper
 back into the feed box, then ran.
 From: (Randal L. Schwartz @ Stonehenge)
 Subject: Party line problems
 Date: 9 Feb 89
Back in the early days, I was using an ADM-3 from a friend's
 house (hi Greg Jorgenson!) with an old acoustical-coupled
 modem. The modem was attached used on the house phone... a
 party line (!). We were accustomed to getting bumped with funny
 little noise characters when the party-liners would try to
 pickup the phone for a call, but otherwise tied up the line for
 the usual hours-on-end we hackers are known for.
One day, we picked up the phone to make a call, and found that
 the party-liners were on it (two female voices). Since we had
 nothing better to do, we decided to listen in. The conversation
 went something like:
Voice 1: Did you just hear that?
 Voice 2: Yeah, it was a click. Must be our party line.
 Voice 1: A party line? Does that mean they are listening to us?
 Voice 2: I don't think they can. All I can hear when they are
 talking is some beeps.
We scrambled to hang up the phone to cover our instant
 hysterical laughter. Little did they know... :-)
 From: (Mark Robert Smith)
 Subject: How to fix an IBM
 Date: 9 Feb 89
Yet another true IBM story:
My girlfriend's father is a service tech for IBM. He had one
 computer that would periodically lock up for no apparent reason.
 He tried replacing all sorts of boards, drives, and other
 hardware to no avail. Finally, he called in the specialists.
The specialists arrived with many special tools, and in one case
 a very special tool. In an old style case, in a custom-molded
 velour covered interior, sat the Vibra-matic -- a rubber mallet.
 They had brought this as a joke, but....
It turned out that the power supply wasn't completely welded to
 the ground, and the vibration of the machine caused intermittent
 power failures of extremely short duration. This was fixed, and
 tested with the specialists banging on the chassis with the
 Vibra-matic while my girlfriend's father stuck his head inside
 to look for vibration. Luckily the owners of the machine never
 saw them.
 From: (Vance Bass)
 Subject: The customer is always right
 Date: 9 Feb 89
Heard recently from an IBM field service manager:
A huge travel agency in Florida (a major booker of Caribbean
 cruises for blue-haired retired ladies) recently bought an IBM
 3090 to handle the reservation database. When the deal was
 consummated, the proud new owner asked IBM to install it in a
 big glass room right behind the receptionist's area so all the
 customers could see the flashing lights and spinning tape reels
 as they walked in -- a testimony to the modernity of the agency.
Good idea, except there are no blinking lights on a 3090. So
 the service manager offered to build some. They hired a
 theatrical designer to come up with a suitably futuristic "set",
 got curved glass walls to minimize reflections, and installed
 the mainframe behind the "real-looking" facade. The customer
 declared that it was exactly what he had in mind, regardless of
 what the actual computer looks like.
Moral: the customer is always right.
 From: loughry@tramp.Colorado.EDU (J. Loughry)
 Subject: Foiling benchmarks
 Date: 10 Feb 89
(This is just a rumor, but it's a *neat* rumor....)
It seems (allegedly) that certain Microsoft compilers are smart
 enough to figure out when they are being benchmarked. Any time
 the parser sees the "standard" 10,000-prime-numbers algorithm,
 it dumps that section of code and substitutes a set of
 hand-tuned, gut-level machine code designed to do that one thing
 as fast as possible! I don't think it actually just printed
 them out from a table, but you get the idea....
Also: (this is true)
One has to be careful when trying to benchmark optimizing
 compilers. These things *are* smart enough to notice that while
 you're doing all those expensive floating point calculations,
 you're never actually doing anything with the answer... so the
 compiler just figures it all out once, and replaces all the
 calculations with a simple assignment.
Prime Computer once had a compiler optimize their competitor's
 benchmark down to a single NOP -- and for several years they
 gleefully used this "performance" figure in their ads.
 From: curtc@pogo.GPID.TEK.COM (Curtis Charles)
 Subject: Looking for passwords
 Date: 9 Feb 89
Back in the good ol' days of card readers, a game we discussed
 was how to obtain passwords. Jobs were submitted by setting
 your deck of cards on a counter. An operator would grab all the
 jobs on the counter, run them through the reader, and return
 them with their output later.
We're talking CDC hardware here, so various combinations of
 6-7-8-9 or 7-8-9 punches indicated End of Job, or End of Record.
 Well, there was a magic combination (6-8-9?) that was
 interpreted as "read binary, and ignore other control punches
 except the magic combination."
So, the devious programmer submits two jobs, the first has a
 program to read binary data, followed by a 6-8-9 and (for the
 operator's consumption only) a 6-7-8-9. The second job just has
 a 6-8-9 to switch the system out of binary mode. The two jobs
 are placed on the counter is such a way that the first job will
 be the first one through the card reader and the second job will
 be the last one through the card reader, with other students
 jobs in between. Viola', you've got a whole list of accounts
 and passwords.
Of course, the operator might become suspicious when 10 jobs go
 in and only one comes out. Or, he might scramble the order of
 the jobs left on the counter defeating the plan. I'm not sure
 anybody actually did this, but it strikes me as an easy way to
 breach security.
 From: (Dave Platt)
 Subject: Operating system comments
 Date: 9 Feb 89
Another subclass of computer folklore is the occasional barbed
 comment that one can find when reading through source code.
 Operating-system programmers seem particularly prone to witty,
 shamefaced, or other slightly-off-center comments in their code.
Some examples come to mind (some of the details may be
 incorrect; it's been a long time since I read any of this code):
1) DEC RSX-11M (???) operating system. System fault handler
 module. If a bus-check fault occurs (indicating possible
 hardware problems with some device on the bus), the O/S traps
 to a fault-handler routine that tries to identify the
 offending hardware and reset it. If, while attempting to
 recover from a bus-check fault, a second such fault occurs,
 the system traps again... this time to a routine which
 simply masks off all processor interrupts and hangs in a
 tight loop. It's necessary to manually reset the machine to
 unhang it.
The comment on the loop reads, "The death of God left the
 angels in a strange position."
2) There are a couple of comments in the output-symbiont (print
 spooler) code in the old Xerox CP-V operating system. At the
 top of a long block of convoluted and otherwise undocumented
 code, there appears a taunting:
"See if you can figure out what I'm doing here."
Somewhat further on, there's a really dubious code-construct
 (I don't recall just what was being done), adorned with the
"I'm ashamed of this"
3) In the synchronous-terminal (BISYNC) module in the CP-6
 operating system's communications software, there's a routine
 that constructs synchronous data blocks (the ones that start
 out with the characters "syn, syn, dle", and so forth). The
 code comment reads
"With a SYNC SYNC here...
 and a SYNC SYNC there..."
The module is labeled "EIE_IO".
4) A related module, which was responsible for driving the Unit
 Record Peripheral printer, was labeled "Y@URP".
 From: werme@Alliant.COM (Ric Werme)
 Subject: Printer music
 Date: 8 Feb 89
At Carnegie-Mellon, the standard carriage tape had an empty
 channel. An easy way to get on the bad side of the operators
 was to use the right character as a FORTRAN print control
 character. (The tape was designed so that the printer
 implemented nearly all of the FORTRAN carriage control
 features.) It was never a problem until someone wrote a SNOBOL
 program and forgot to print a space at the beginning of each
 line. The operator wasn't near the machine at the time and 1403
 fed the paper faster than it could stack!
...I hereby claim the best sound of any printer music. At
 Sanders Technology, a defunct company that pioneered the letter
 quality dot matrix printer, I decided to come up with some real
After a disappointing start, I designed some fonts that were
 variable numbers of vertical bars in 1/2 inch wide characters.
 The printer's horizontal resolution was 0.001", better than
 laser printers, but not good enough for decent music. I had to
 compute line spacings in 0.0001" units and round to the nearest
 0.001". About an octave and a half would fit in a 2Kb PROM
 (this was before 16K ram chips made down-loaded fonts
Next I arranged "A Bicycle Built for Two", since that was the
 first song a computer ever played (you've heard it in the movie
 2001). It also was a hack on Daisywheel terminals, our main
 competition. It was impressive. And attracted a fair amount of
 attention at the trade shows.
I later did three Christmas carols, and even a version of Le
 Marseilles (sp?) for a potential French customer.
Since the only real language we had was Fortran, I wrote TECO
 programs to generate the font from a source file of frequency
 and character bindings, and another TECO program that read a
 simple music language and generated the lines of text needed to
 play the song. Not only could I set the meter, the program had
 to reverse the order of the characters for the right-left
I still have two of those printers. NH Mensa prints its
 newsletters on one. Unfortunately, I'm running out of ribbons
 and the pins are beginning to crack. Smart printer. Does its
 own justification, handles proportional fonts, mixed fonts, all
 sorts of stuff. Its control language is readable, inspired by
 runoff. Between the printer, a CP/M system and a screen editor
 (written as a macro for a TECO variant), who needs an IBM PC?
 Subject: Broken off switch
 Date: 9 Feb 89
...It seems that, with an empty disk pack, a properly written
 program would cause the read/write head/arm to reach out of the
 machine into the open air. One programmer decided to see if he
 could get the machine to turn itself off that way. The next
 morning, maintenance was called to fix a broken on/off switch.
 From: (Brent Sterner)
 Subject: 8 in octal
 Date: 9 Feb 89
Back in my undergrad years, a fellow student had access to the
 departmental PDP-8. He also had access to the academic center's
 machine room, and somehow acquired the PDP-10 sign from that
 system. The PDP-10 sign was hung proudly on the PDP-8,
 particularly when a tour was being given. When asked about the
 sign, his reply was: "Octal".
 From: (Andrew Arensburger)
 Subject: Scheduling algorithms
 Date: 9 Feb 89
Peterson and Silberschatz (_Operating_System_Concepts_, Addison-
 Wesley, 2nd edition, p.121) point out the importance of good
 scheduling algorithms when one is designing an operating system:
"Rumor has it that when they closed down the 7094 at MIT in
 1973, they found a low-priority job that had been submitted in
 1967 and had not yet been run."
 From: haynes@ucscc.UCSC.EDU (Jim Haynes)
 Subject: Design check
 Date: 9 Feb 89
One of the design engineers at G.E. kept an electric vibrator
 in his desk. I think it was originally an engraver, not a
 massager or sexual vibrator. Anyway, when we seemed to have
 intermittent problems in a machine he would plug in the vibrator
 and touch it to each circuit board in the suspect area while
 running a diagnostic program.
At that time G.E. had a small enough number of machines in the
 field such that when a customer's machine was in bad trouble and
 the regular field engineers couldn't fix it, the company would
 pull together a small group of engineers and programmers who had
 participated in the design of the hardware and software and send
 them to camp out at the site until the problem was solved. So
 that's where the vibrator probably found the most use.
 From: haynes@ucscc.UCSC.EDU (Jim Haynes)
 Subject: Accountant problems
 Date: 9 Feb 89
...That reminded me of a story in Norbert Wiener's
 autobiography. During World War II he was in charge of a group
 of people who ran desk calculators to solve ballistics problems.
 The people were called "computers".
He always had trouble getting enough computers to handle the
 workload, what with the military manpower situation. Once when
 the Army couldn't get scientific computers they sent him a bunch
 of accountants. He said these would carry out every calculation
 to two decimal places and no more! (They thought only in
 dollars and cents.)
 From: (Ronald J. Notarius)
 Subject: Problems with security
 Date: 9 Feb 89
I used to work in the Computer Lab at the Community College of
 Allegheny County, Allegheny Campus. CCAC-A has a 3 file server
 Novell Network in place. For most of the Fall, they were
 constantly losing the hard drives in the Network during holiday
 breaks -- you could be assured that one or more of the file
 servers went down during a 3-day weekend, for example.
The first thought was that power to the lab was being turned off
 on the long weekends, so the power to the file servers was wired
 such that power stayed on and could not be turned off except at
 the circuit breaker. Didn't help; turned out that the problem
 was a well-meaning security guard who thought that the servers
 were accidentally left on, so he turned them off. Next
 solution? Hot-wire the power supply switches...
So now they discovered that the guard was pulling out the power
He no longer works in that building...
 From: peggy@ddsw1.MCS.COM (Peggy Shambo)
 Subject: Operator problems
 Date: 9 Feb 89
'Way back when I used-to-wuz a computer operator, we had a BIG
 RED button on the operator's console for an emergency powerdown.
 Well, one night one of the operators accidentally dropped
 something onto it, and *vooom*... no system. The next day he
 was explaining how he did it... and *vooom* hit the button...
 no system. So they built a little arch-shaped Lucite cover over
 the button. So what happens then? The one and the same
 operator was showing how it could be hit anyway... and
 *vooom*... no system!!!!
Last I knew, he still worked there... but in customer support..
 no longer on the console... I wonder why? :-)
 From: dougf@dougf.Caltech.Edu (Doug Freyburger)
 Subject: Computer dates and other stories
 Date: 8 Feb 89
My office-mate years ago at JPL lived through this:
When the Viking Mars probes where launched, no one thought
 they'd last very long in Mars oribt, so the programs saved a few
 bytes by ignoring leap years and hardwiring 366 in (1976 was
 leap). The next year everyone was called in to rewrite their
 systems for downloading to Mars with a 365 day year.
Better yet, both spacecraft were still going strong in 1980 and
 most of the crew were long gone to other projects. Everyone had
 to be called back for another download to Mars. It pays to
 include leap year in your code.
From personal experience:
I remember a Lunar-Lander game written in PDP-11 TECO that used
 VT100 cursor keys. The entire program looked like your terminal
 was at the wrong baud rate (standard TECO programming form). It
 ran without change on the old PDP-10 still surviving at college
 and later on the brand-new VAX, as well as 3 different O/S
 versions of PDP-11 without change.
From rumors of ancient DEC history:
The system programmer group writing TOPS-10 used to love fancy
 TECO programs and had a weekly contest for them. One guru
 working on FORTRAN compilers would read them carefully but never
 enter one. They thought he was just concentrating on compilers.
 Then one week he submitted a macro that did FORTRAN compilation,
 complete with optimization. The TECO program took days to run,
 but it worked. Apparently he had written a PDP-10 instruction
 set emulator in TECO and feed the compiler to it!
 From: (usenet news)
 Subject: More code documentation
 Date: 10 Feb 89
One day I was scanning through some code for MYS (the Michigan
 Terminal System) (don't remember what I was looking for), and I
 saw my all time favorite comment.
There was a kludge to get around something or other which was
 used by IBM. The two word comment next to it was: DAMN IBM
And I just saw it related to a change IBM made which it never
 notified anybody of. ("Well, just because we told you the bit
 would always be zero doesn't mean it will be.")
 From: abhijit@pyr.gatech.EDU (Abhijit Chaudhari)
 Subject: Why you should back up your disks
 Date: 10 Feb 89
A friend of mine was very excited after finishing a really hard
 Pascal assignment. To show off his joy, he started waving his
 5-1/4" floppy disk (we were using IBM PC's) for all the world to
 see. Not being satisfied with showing us the floppy in the
 jacket, he removed the jacket and now had a floppy in one hand
 and the jacket in the other. The next instant a pigeon flying
 overhead decided to relieve itself; and the excreta fell
 straight through the ovular slot (on the envelope) and landed
 onto the mylar. Needless to say, that was the only copy of his
 From: haynes@ucscc.UCSC.EDU (Jim Haynes)
 Subject: Interesting OS commands
 Date: 10 Feb 89
The Burroughs B5500 operating system had two-letter console
 commands for everything. One of them was EI, documented in the
 operator's manual as: EI
The system replies with EIO and performs no other function.
or words to that effect. This was taken out late in the life of
 the system, and the EI command was eventually used for something
 useful. Also, on a system crash the console TTY would type out
(I've ported this feature to all our Unix systems, in loving
 memory of the B5500.)
In the GE635 operating system, there was a section of code
 dealing with allocation of the multiple processors. The
 comments read
Which reminds me - once I tried commenting an assembly language
 program in the usual style, one comment per instruction, with
 the comments being in iambic pentameter. I gave it up pretty
 quickly, as I'm not a poet. Has anybody ever done something
 like this and done it well?
 From: meo@stiatl.UUCP (Miles O'Neal)
 Subject: Random messages
 Date: 10 Feb 89
I had gotten a program from a friend that delivered a random
 message from a file. These messages tended to be ridiculous or
 to make fun of computers we were using. The Gould S.E.L we had
 just gotten in had a (deservedly, IMO) reputation for being all
 screwed up. So I put messages in the file such as:
and set up the system-wide login procedure to execute the
 "fortunes" program when anyone logged in. Unfortunately, I was
 late the next morning, and it seems a new guy (who had always
 been protected from "this JCL stuff" before) had logged in,
 gotten the above message, and spent 1/2 hour looking through the
 documentation for the hex code for the O.S.
When I got in, each time I tried to login (on 4 separate
 systems), the following appeared on my terminal:
Miles, you're FIRED!!!
and I was then unceremoniously logged out. (I wasn't fired...)
 From: (Nasser Al-Ismaily)
 Subject: Interesting program documentation
 Date: 10 Feb 89
Told to me by my girlfriend:
On her second year in college a professor came to their class
 and was telling them about his new students (freshmen). When he
 asked them to comment all their programs, this is what he got:
- "This program is very nice"
 - "This program is very difficult"
 - "This program is very interesting"...
 From: (Ronald J. Notarius)
 Subject: Blowing up a power supply
 Date: 10 Feb 89
In the process of trying to hook up a hard drive a few weeks ago
 (minus documentation, of course), I was given some incorrect
 instructions over the telephone, resulting in a loud "crack!"
 from the IBM-PC's power supply. My "assistant" panicked,
 "omigod we just blew up a power supply!" I assured him not to
 worry, I had insurance.
Two hours later, after finally managing to open up the power
 supply, I discovered (to my immense lack of astonishment) that
 the fuse had blown.
Of course, IBM has soldered the fuse in place. How often to you
 blow a fuse in a power supply?
The insurance company is insisting on buying me a new PS. I
 won't argue with them...
 From: darin@nova.laic.uucp (Darin Johnson)
 Subject: Problematic printouts
 Date: 9 Feb 89
Actually, the print chains are not in alphabetical order. They
 are magically ordered by some arcane formula. Some of the
 printers are designed so that the hammer will strike the
 character just as the correct character is at the correct place
 in the line (the chain rotates at very fast speeds). Often,
 many characters will get printed at the same time, and no more
 than 2 rotations of the chain are ever needed to print a line
 (which is why they are fast). Presumably, the right set of
 characters on a line will cause all the hammers (132) to strike
 at the same time (while the chain is rotating).
I had related a story like this to a friend in college and
 (unknown to me) had decided to try it. He spent a night
 carefully going over the chain and determining the proper
 sequence to send. The next evening, he decided to print his
 file, and had me watch (only one line was printed). The job
 printed and we ran downstairs. The printer was still rocking
 slightly. Opening up the cover, the chain was still intact, but
 had come completely off the drive that held it. We tore out the
 offending sheet of paper with the incriminating line (smudged
 and garbled) and complained to the operator on duty that the
 printer was broken again. I don't think my friend ever tried it
 From: billd@celerity.UUCP (Bill Davidson)
 Subject: Hidden program responses
 Date: 9 Feb 89
...A few years ago I worked for a *VERY* small company called
 Metalsoft which made software for sheet-metal punch machines.
 Prior to my joining the company, the software department
 consisted of one person (my boss), Voldi Way, who was 15 years
 old. The only product we had then was a NC program editor which
 Voldi wrote in BASIC to run on an IBM PC (it actually was pretty
 nice for the price in spite of all this).
I was there to help design a full CAD/CAM system to
 automatically write NC programs, but I still had to help support
 the old program. Voldi put a few "undocumented features" in
 this program which he never told anyone about, including the
 president of the company (well... I knew, but *I* wasn't going
 to say anything).
In any case, one morning someone at a sheet metal shop far away
 (I think Atlanta), called a file f*ckoff or some such thing and
 the editor responded with, "My, are we having a bad day? You
 really should try to relax more," or something like that. The
 NC-programmer then called the president of our company (Carl)
 and said he had cussed at the computer and it had *answered*
 him! Carl said, "No it didn't," and claimed over and over again
 that it couldn't do that.
After he got off the phone he came into our office and started
 asking questions at which time Voldi and I both began laughing
 hysterically. It took dozens of users about 8 months to notice
 this "feature", which had around 100 words that it recognized,
 and a few dozen responses including some that made the computer
 unusable for 10 to 15 minutes (like telling the user that it was
 formatting the hard disk). Needless to say, the feature
 disappeared in the next release.
 From: peggy@ddsw1.MCS.COM (Peggy Shambo)
 Subject: The eccentric genius
 Date: 11 Feb 89
I used to work at a Honeywell installation, where we had a
 super-genius of a systems engineer, affectionately known as
 "Gentle Ben". This man could read system dump the way most
 people would read the funny papers (or the net?). He was the
 core of systems intelligence.
But as super-genius people are sometimes labeled "eccentric",
 Gentle Ben was not an exception:
Smoking in the computer room was verboten, and he knew it. But
 he would light up right at the operator's console, take a few
 drags, then suddenly remember something and dash off, stuffing
 his *lit* cigarette into his coat pocket... then wonder where
 the burning smell was coming from.
Drinking was also a no-no in the computer room, but Ben would
 stop by the coffee machine on his way into the computer room and
 walk in with his cup in one hand, his cigarette in the other.
 On several occasions he was observed to place his cigarette
 *into* the coffee cup (still with coffee in it) and a few
 minutes later, while engrossed in problem solving, take a sip of
 the coffee... cigarette and all... and not even notice!
 From: (Michael Hermann)
 Subject: Programmming awards
 Date: 10 Feb 89
At Calgary, the computer science department has an award called
 the Williams Cup (as in old stained coffee cup), which is given
 yearly to the student who hands in the most imaginative
 rendition of a regular programming assignment. Anyway, as the
 story goes, the cup was awarded to a student who'd done a desk
 calculator assignment. Seems that the prof hadn't specified
 that you had to do it in decimal, so his/her program did math
 with _roman_numerals_.
The clincher for the award must have been his/her programming
 style, since of course, the documentation was in _latin_.
 From: larryh@tekcae.CAX.TEK.COM (Larry Hedges)
 Subject: Problems with PC's
 Date: 10 Feb 89
A women (I heard it was a women) bought a PC from a computer
 store, and after a week or so the computer store received a
 call. She complained that every time she tried to boot up the
 computer, the boot up procedure would fail with error messages.
 The computer salesman came over to her house to fix the
 computer. He said, "OK, give me your system disc and we'll try
 to boot this turkey up. She walk over to the refrigerator where
 the floppy disc was positioned with a magnet and handed the disc
 to the salesman.
 From: daemon@felix.UUCP (The devil himself)
 Subject: How many floppies can you put in a drive?
 Date: 10 Feb 89
I once worked at a company that released a version of UNIX on a
 series of seven floppies for installation on micros. These
 micros tended to be sold into doctor's and lawyer's offices
 where there were never any computer literate folk (and the
 vendors were always scarce when the end users needed them).
 Hence we had many amusing phone calls on our 800 line placed by
 secretaries trying to load UNIX.
One afternoon the following awaited us on our return to lunch:
"I'm following your instructions exactly, and I am still having
 a problem. I have placed floppies 1 through 6 into the floppy
 drive, but I can't stuff floppy 7 in no matter how hard I try!"
Our directions said "Insert next floppy". We forgot to say
 "Remove floppy and insert the next".
We spent the rest of the afternoon seeing how many floppies we
 could stuff into a floppy drive.
 From: tmv@mruxb.UUCP (Thomas M VandeWater)
 Subject: Resourceful secretaries
 Date: 10 Feb 89
While I was a grad student at UC Berkeley, the following
The airconditioner where a few of the mainframes were kept was
 being repaired, hence some of our UNIX systems were unavailable.
 A secretary asked a friend of mine the reason she could not
 print out her thesis. "The airconditioner is broken," she
Anyway, the next day while I was at the printer, a HUGE fan was
 blowing on the printer and a note said "KEEP THE FAN ON, THE
Can't blame the secretary for her ingenuity!
 From: berman-andrew@CS.YALE.EDU (Andrew P. Berman)
 Subject: Rogue maniacs
 Date: 10 Feb 89
This supposedly occurred at Princeton to a grad student who
 later became an assistant professor....
Some grad students were annoyed with this particular grad. He
 was known for being a rogue-maniac. They were using a UNIX
 system. The other guys used a security hole in Mail to obtain
 privileged status. They altered rogue a bit to check if this
 person was playing the game, and to make the game much easier if
 it was him. The next time the poor guy played it, he won. But
 his name didn't appear on the high score list.
I think they also screwed up vi to check if he was using it and
 to reverse all the commands if he was...
 From: ncb@execu.UUCP (Nelson C. Bishop)
 Subject: How not to edit programs
 Date: 10 Feb 89
After the first the first relase of IFPS/Personal a call came in
 to our hotline.
"IFPS suddenly stopped working!"
 "Well what was the sequence of events?"
 "I was trying to load a large model and ran out of space, so I
 edited ifps.exe (the executable) and cut out half of it so my
 model would fit."
 From: (Patrick J. Flynn)
 Subject: Computers and the navy
 Date: 14 Feb 89
...There is a related story about the first naval vessels to use
 computers. The storage medium was drum memory, and some
 officers underestimated the gyroscopic properties of large,
 massive, rapidly rotating cylinders when they executed course
Officer: Hard to Port!
 Helmsman: Aye aye, sir!
 Drum: *SMASH!!!*
 From: (Michael Lloyd)
 Subject: Slip ups at quality control
 Date: 13 Feb 89
Anyone remember the Act Sirius 1 machine? It was expensive,
 powerful, and pre-PC, and totally failed to take off (despite
 impressive graphics).
Anyway, the story was reported that many users complained of
 inability to boot off the supplied system disks. The response
 was always the same -- the user must have caused magnetic
 damage. Apparently, they claimed that a common source of this
 was to leave the disks next to an old (mechanical bell)
 telephone for more than six rings!
Eventually the truth came out - they were indeed shipping blank
 system disks! Someone in Quality Control went quite red!
 From: donb@hpcuhb.HP.COM (Donald Benson)
 Subject: How to dry a floppy
 Date: 14 Feb 89
Someone I know well got his floppies wet in a leaking car trunk.
 Since they were drying slowly, he tried spinning them up in the
 drive (the reasoning being that the shell would puff out
 slightly and let air circulate.) The drive squeaked a while,
 then became silent. But it still wouldn't read. The tech said
 he had never seen the drive belt fall off before...
8" floppies take a week to dry.
 Subject: Fixing a tape drive
This may not be overly funny but I get a major kick out of it.
 A long time ago, I was a computer maintenance tech in NORAD's
 Cheyenne Mountain Complex working on the long gone Philco 1000
 and 2000 systems. For those who have never owned one of these
 cuties, they were designed in 1959 (I think) and were
 constructed of discrete transistors, as ICs hadn't been invented
 yet. We're talking room size machines.
The tape drives were a mix of transistors and vacuum tubes
 (6AU6's, 12AU7's on the picker cleat driver, 807's in the servo
 amps, I think). Since the tubes needed a warm up period and the
 transistors didn't, the tape drive power supplies had a
 complicated startup sequence using some largish relays.
One day, I got a call about a tape drive (transport in those
 days) that was acting very bizarre. As soon as they hit the on
 switch, the tape reels would take off in opposite directions and
 stretch the 1" tape down to a little thread about 1/16" in
 diameter before it broke. (The motors were slightly larger than
 a car's starter - no joke)
As I entered the computer room, I was met with several high
 ranking types scratching heads. I listened to the complaints,
 watched the transport go crazy for a bit, and went to work.
 Without saying a single word, I shut the machine off and hit the
 left side of the power control panel (directly over the power-on
 sequence relay) with my fist. I re-loaded a tape, turned on the
 power and watched everything come up OK. I turned and left,
 still without a word.
I later heard the comments about what was said... Still later,
 I got a letter of commendation for the whole performance,
 believe it or not.
I think I am prouder of that one moment than anything else that
 comes to mind.
 From: tcsc@tcsc3b2.UUCP (The Computer Solution Co.)
 Subject: Offensive mailing labels
 Date: 10 Feb 89
In 1968, while attending a large, midwestern University, I
 worked in the Department for Administrative Research. While
 providing design and programming assistance to the Alumni
 Records department, we ran into an interesting problem.
The Alumni Records office desired to embed all kinds of
 information into the key value used to identify each of the
 school's alumni. This led to a very long, unwieldy key value.
 When mailing labels were printed, both the key value and a
 special code used by the mailing machines was required on the
 top line of the label. We ran out of space on the label.
Not to worry! This fancy computer (a "brand new" IBM 360/50
 running OS/PCP) could transform a numeric key value into an
 alphanumeric value by converting the alumni-record key from the
 too long base-10 number to a shorter base-36 number. Just use
 all of the letters and digits!
Just as we sat back to congratulate ourselves on serving the
 user's needs with the clever application of technology, we got a
 call from the mailing house...
"Our delivery man just returned from the Post Office. They
 won't take your mailing. It looks like somebody tampered with
 your list. You better get down here right away!"
There, on top of one of the trays of mail was a label with the
 converted alumni record identifier. It read something like ...
 | 123FUCK69A4 MM 43210** |
 | ... |
The mailing was instructing Miss Beasley to mark all further
 correspondence to the office of Alumni Records with her "new
 computer identifier code" shown on the label. Needless to say,
 the Office of Alumni Records failed to see the humor in it all.
 We thought that at her age, Miss Beasley (Edu. 29) might
 actually take the "computer's mistake" as a complement!
Thereafter, we were instructed to add the "DIRTY-WORD-ROUTINE"
 which performed a table lookup of every word which a committee
 of about a dozen of the raunchiest people in the department
 could come up with. But what about short phrases? And how
 about maintenance of the table? Whose budget does this come out
A student programmer, invited to a meeting to "see design in the
 real world" made an unwanted suggestion. Just convert to
 base-31 and don't use vowels. It worked. The next year, they
 changed the alumni records identifier again. I graduated.
 From: res@ihlpb.ATT.COM (Rich Strebendt)
 Subject: SDS 920 stories
 Date: 13 Feb 89
...This posting brought back to mind my experiences with an SDS
 machine one summer at a NASA base I worked at. I believe the
 machine was an SDS 930, but I may be mistaken.
It did not like to have its main memory cabinet door closed
 (crashing after a few moments if anyone had the timerity to
 close it!), so it always sat there with one door partly open.
It had a card reader that was interesting. It read the cards
 length-wise (column 1->80) rather than width-wise (row 9->12).
 So, if the cards were a little out of spec (low bidder on a
 government contract), it would either read two cards at a time,
 or eat one card at a time. When one was eaten you could recover
 it from inside the reader -- neatly folded into a many-creased
 accordian that was cute to look at but impossible to read.
The previous poster also mentioned that their machine did not
 like to awaken in the morning. Here at the Indian Hill location
 of Bell Labs we had one machine that did not mind awakening, as
 long as it was not Monday. It hated Monday mornings. It was
 one half of a duplex pair of IBM 360/67's. Each Monday the
 machines would be IPLed and each Monday the Left Half would come
 up all ready to work, while the Right Half balked and struggled
 and refused to come up for at least another hour. The Comp
 Center staff tried all kinds of things to try to cure or get
 around the problem (let it run all weekend, lie to it and tell
 it that Monday was Tuesday, etc.), but it had that habit as long
 as I can remember working on it.
 From: haynes@ucscc.UCSC.EDU (Jim Haynes)
 Subject: Mount St. Helens
 Date: 14 Feb 89
...Randy Rorden told me about another happening of this kind at
 the same company, when Greg was not there. They got a disk
 drive in for repair and the filter was clogged with fine gray
 abrasive dust. He asked where it had been, and found it had
 come from an office in Yakima, Wash. At the time of the Mt.
 St. Helens eruption!
 From: bobc@killer.DALLAS.TX.US (Bob Calbridge)
 Subject: Reading Colecovision cartridges
 Date: 13 Feb 89
On another level of computing, a couple of years ago I designed
 and built a board for my S-100 system that would treat
 Colecovision game cartridges as if they were mapped input
 devices. This way I was able to read the object code onto disk
 and eventually into memory. I would then dis-assemble the
 program to find out how they worked. I don't recall which game
 it was, but near the end of the code was the text reading
 something to the effect of:
"If someone at Atari is reading this, please say hello to Jim
The name is made up, but you get the point. Similarly, you
 could find some names scattered in the code that never showed up
 in the game itself, and I seem to recall (though I'd have to go
 back and check) someone actually including a love note in the
 code as a dedication.
 From: wwp@homxb.ATT.COM (W.PATTERSON)
 Subject: School pranks
 Date: 13 Feb 89
The following story is true. The names have been changed to
 protect the innocent.
A computer repairman was one day called to a grade school to
 repair their no longer working computer. When he opened up the
 processor, he found a thick coating of white dust covering every
 component within, i.e. backplane, mother board and all other PC
 boards, housing walls, etc. He had never seen any coating like
 this in any other computer. The repair of the processor
 involved simply blowing out the dust.
A few days later he was on another service call within the
 school for another computer. Walking by the room that contained
 the unit he had previously fixed, he decided to peek into the
 room to see how it was doing. What he saw explained the white
 dust. He saw several boys beating the chalk board erasers next
 to the fan in the unit, and watching the unit suck the dust
 From: sukenick@ccnysci.UUCP (SYG)
 Subject: PDP-10 mistakes
 Date: 13 Feb 89
The science division in CCNY had a PDP-10 ("DEC System 10", that
 is) for general use. One problem was that people were
 complaining that they were logging in and all their files were
 gone! The problem was simple: what happened when they logged
 out previously.
To logout, the command is KILL or K and an option. K/I would
 log you out after querying you about what to do with each of
 your files. K/F would happily log you out fast and keep all
 your files. K/D would happily log you out and delete all your
 files... the D key is right next to the F key...
 From: ddb@ns.UUCP (David Dyer-Bennet)
 Subject: More PDP-10 stories
 Date: 13 Feb 89
...Here's a folk tale. The person who told me says he was
 there, and I believe him.
Several/many years ago, when Tops-10 was the most exciting
 operating system at DEC (that is, before Tops-20), and when
 ANF-10 was considered networking (hmmm... I guess it still
 would be), some interesting hacks were perpetrated. My favorite
 two stories:
The ANF-10 nodes were PDP-11's, some serving as terminal
 concentrators, some as front-ends to the 10's. A person made
 some modifications to the code to run in the terminal
 concentrator version so that, if you asked to be connected to a
 node that wasn't currently available, it would respond "That
 node is not available. Would you care to play Adventure while
 you wait?", and was in fact prepared to play adventure if
The "reverse video" hack: this was done "to" a particular
 person that people didn't much like. The terminal concentrator
 code was changed to make his terminal work backwards. "Home"
 was the bottom right corner. Carriage return returned you to
 the rightmost column. Line feed moved you up a line. And so
 forth. The terminal escape sequences were parsed, interpreted,
 and reissued suitably modified.
I probably once knew who the perpetrators (and victims) were,
 but it's all lost in the mists of time for me now. Sorry for
 not giving proper credit.
 From: (T. Tim Hsu)
 Subject: Definition of double capacity
 Date: 12 Feb 89
A friend of mine from Akron University once told me this
While working as a lab consultant, he was approached by a woman
 (a business major) who was having problems with an IBM PC drive.
 So he goes over to the machine to examine it. It seems that the
 drive performed correctly, but took ten times longer than usual
 to retrieve the proper information. Upon examination of the
 drive itself, he noticed TWO diskettes had been shoved into the
 drive (which happens to be a difficult feat). Her explanation?
 "I thought it would double the capacity."
He also told me about the time someone put a 3.5" disk into a
 5.25" drive... They had to take the machine apart to retrieve
 the broken pieces.
 From: (Michael Meissner)
 Subject: Copying tapes
 Date: 11 Feb 89
One day about 3 years back, a problem was reported with one of
 the AOS/VS system programs, which is fairly routine. The person
 in development asked the customer support person (in a different
 city) for a copy of the tape that demonstrated the problem.
 Evidently, the customer support person was still learning the
 ropes, because he/she put the tape on an office copier, and sent
 up a photocopy of the tape (rather than a magnetic copy).
We all got a laugh out of it. To make things even better, the
 OS person was able to tell from the paper label on the tape that
 not enough information was supplied, and that we would have to
 ask the customer for the requisite info.
 From: larry@kitty.UUCP (Larry Lippman)
 Subject: Fun with paper tape
 Date: 12 Feb 89
During the 1970's my organization used quite a bit of punched
 tape. In fact, in a storeroom there are still about a dozen
 VERY expensive rolls of unused metallized mylar punched tape
 which we used for creation of, ahem, archive tape records. The
 definition of "archive" media sure has changed, huh?
We still have a thermal punched tape splicer, along with a rack
 that has a high-speed Remex tape reader and punch. None of this
 stuff has seen use in at least five years, but I have not had
 the heart to order its disposal.
I did, however, concede to changing times, and junked our
 Decision Data 8020 interpreting card reader/punch about 4 years
 ago when we axed an PDP-11/44. I remember when that card
 reader-punch was ordered in 1974 at a cost of around $8K. It
 was our only card device which was shared among development
 systems when necessary. We even designed a custom interface
 using an 8080 with software driver so that it could run on
 either an 11/03 QBUS or on UNIBUS. We wanted interpreting
 capability, in addition to having a standalone keypunch (which
 the 8020 would also do), so we never bought any native DEC card
In one lab where we had two ASR-33's, which have now been gone
 for several years, a piece of oiled punched paper chad will
 STILL worm its way out of the baseboard moulding every once and
 a while. Unfortunately, more than one chad box was accidentally
 dumped -- so the floor has been well "seeded" over the years.
 From: (Hans Aberg)
 Subject: Troubles with computer music
 Date: 12 Feb 89
A computer musician who lives up in Ithaca, NY, told the
 following story:
He tried out his Macintosh MIDI equipment, and everything worked
 perfectly. In those days, in the early mid-eighties, one had to
 rely on 512K, and an external disk drive (no hard drive).
Then he went up to Chicago (?) for a performance for an
 audience. He picked up all the equipment on the stage -- it
 didn't work at all.
So the next couple of hours he tried to figure out what is
 wrong, and the audience started to show up...
But then, Aha!, somebody discovered that the external disk drive
 was placed on the left side of the Macintosh -- not on the right
 side, as it should according to the manual. The Mac has its
 transformers on the left side, and their magnetic field
 interfered with the drive.
So they moved the drive over to the right side, everything all
 of a sudden working perfectly, and the performance was carried
 in land.
 From: jackson@adobe.COM (Curtis Jackson)
 Subject: Misc computer stories
 Date: 11 Feb 89
...A disgruntled employee at NavOCEANO (Naval Ocean Office, I
 believe) across the street from me when I worked at NORDA (Naval
 Ocean R&D Activity) decided to get even with the locals.
There was a large Univac installation there, and some
 ultra-high-speed card readers. He hollowed out an entire box of
 punch cards (about 2.5 feet of cards, for all you youngsters)
 and filled them with old old old bananas. He then submitted
 this deck as a job. The operators were used to multi-box jobs,
 so they usually just picked up the entire box of cards and
 dumped them in the high-speed readers. It took over 3 weeks of
 maintenance before the reader was working reliably again, and
 the control room reeked of banana for weeks afterwards...
When crucial data on tape was lost at my university, the gurus
 in the computer room would retrieve as much data as possible,
 then fill in the gaps by soaking the tapes in a solution that
 made the individual bits show up as 1 or 0 (dark or light) under
 a magnifier. They'd then hand-assemble the missing sections
 from the visual inspection.
I once spent an entire night (over 12 hours) trying to get my
 compiler (working up to that point) to work again so I could
 work on it some more for my compilers course. At the end, I had
 reduced the problem down to a program (C code) that basically
 declared an integer "i", said "i=5", then printed "i". The
 program printed a floating-point number... I was so angry I got
 the idiot who had been mucking around with the C compiler from
 Bell Labs in the lab at 7am on Sunday morning to fix the damned
Our aged PDP-10 finally died one weekend when we had an
 unusually hot Sunday (there was no operator support on Sundays
 until 6pm) and it turned out the fall leaves had never been
 cleared from the AC vents by the university physical plant. The
 temperature got over 100 degrees F in the computer room, and the
 old CPU on the 10 wouldn't even whimper afterwards.
It's amazing how many of us remember the "Good Ole Days" --
 didn't you hate patching paper tape? Yeecchhh.
 From: sfisher@abingdon.SGI.COM (Scott Fisher)
 Subject: Various office stories
 Date: 11 Feb 89
No joke. I have seen at least one letter sent to the software
 support group of a DBMS company that said, "I have included a
 copy of my disk as per your request," only to find a photocopy
 attached to the letter. They did copy both sides, at least.
This is the same company (my wife worked there) where an irate
 customer couldn't save his records to disk. The error message
 he reported would only have appeared on a full disk, but he
 claimed that he checked the space remaining and it was "okay".
 Turns out that the program he ran to check remaining space on a
 disk drive returned the amount of free space, expressed in
 Kbytes. A full disk, therefore, returned the string 0k (where 0
 = zero).
Then there was the customer who complained because the new
 software release wouldn't print. This customer just *knew* he'd
 caught the software company in a bug and he was demanding his
 money back. My wife stepped through the whole process, set up a
 duplicate system on her end of the phone, and spent a fair
 amount of time duplicating his situation. At last she
 determined that the only possible failure was that his printer
 wasn't on line.
"I've managed to duplicate your error message," she finally told
 him after about three days of this.
"Aha! It *is* a bug, and you'll finally admit it! Are you
 going to refund my money?"
"Well, we'll see," she said. "First, look on your printer and
 see if the little green light marked 'on line' is lit."
"No, it isn't. What does it mean if it's not on line?"
"Well, it's like the lights are on but nobody's home..."
He never asked for his money back again.
 From: dlm@cuuxb.ATT.COM (Auntie Dion)
 Subject: Alfred E. Newman
 Date: 11 Feb 89
I was at UoM from 1967-1975...
The operating system was derived from the University of Michigan
 and had the peculiarity that every job required output, both
 printer and punch. This was even if the job bombed completely.
 An ABEND was okay as it gave a core dump, but a bad set of cards
 wouldn't result in anything, so... The systems people arranged
 in this circumstance to insert a computer picture of Alfred E.
 Neumann, with the caption, "What me worry", into the output
 stream. Also, each compilation that didn't succeed resulted in
 a card placed in the punch stream with "FAILED" in block
The day came when the Board of Regents toured the computer
 center with its several million dollar computer. As a Regent
 was looking at the printer it just so happened that a bunch of
 jobs in a row all failed, leaving the line printer printer about
 20 pictures of Alfred for the Regents to view.
The FAILED cards we'd collect and paper our offices with.
 From: dlm@cuuxb.ATT.COM (Auntie Dion)
 Subject: More code comments
 Date: 11 Feb 89
The Version 6 UNIX kernel source had two very wonderful comments
 (realize UNIX has extremely few comments):
In the first it is discussing the mechanics of what in
 retrospect is the point where, in C, the CPU switches kernel
 stacks and resumes executing a previous process. The comment is
 about 8 lines long and ends, "you are not expected to understand
Then there is the comment, "The return value of this function
 has special significance," and it returns either 0 or 1, not
 very special.
 From: dlm@cuuxb.ATT.COM (Auntie Dion)
 Subject: Starting up computers
 Date: 11 Feb 89
Long before there was DEC we had an SDS 920 computer. These had
 printed circuit cards with gold plated contacts and gas tight
 connectors. They were a bitch to reseat. You had to pound them
 into the socket with a mallet. One day, as were were reseating
 the card a senior executive wandered by and saw what was
 happening and said, "I've heard of kicking coke machines but
 this is ridiculous!"
The same computer also must have been pregnant as it had
 "morning sickness". In the morning when we turned it one, it
 wouldn't work until we let it warm up for a half an hour.
Then there was the time it broke. Most of it still worked but
 the shift instructions wouldn't work, we called it a shiftless
Then there was the Army tech that was lazy and dropped a screw
 driver [so he says] from the Supply bus to the AC line and fried
 every transistor in the computer. In shipping it back to the US
 of A for repair, it was accidentally pushed off of a loading
 dock. We learned about how to do auto body work on a computer.
Poor SDS 920, last I heard it was still serving our country in a
 nameless rural area and the technicians go out to Radio Shack to
 buy transistors to repair it.
 From: cramer@optilink.UUCP (Clayton Cramer)
 Subject: Excessive Use Of Computers?
 Date: 22 Feb 89
A recent sign of the extensive use of computers in areas
 heretofore not considered as needing a computer:
One of the EEs that works here asked me for some help
 figuring out how to read a 3.5" floppy disk. "I tried it in
 a Mac, but it couldn't read it." "What sort of computer did
 it come out of?", I innocently asked. "A Brother knitting
Knit one, pearl two, write FAT to disk, service mouse
 interrupts, knit one, pearl two...
 From: clw@hprnd.HP.COM (Carl Wuebker)
 Subject: How to bug an operator
 Date: 19 Feb 89
 In the early 1970's at Georgia Tech there lived a Univac 1108
 running under the Exec 8 operating system. The 1108 had
 commands that began with an @, and they would hang up the
 terminal until you were done. So, for example, an:
@MSG,W Operator, please mount tape 1234...
would send a message to the operator, but wouldn't return
 control to your terminal until the operator replied. Anyway,
 some fellow at Univac got the idea of double-@ commands, which
 would allow you to play through while the single @ commands were
 working -- kind of like the & feature of Unix.
@@MSG,W Operator...
would allow you to go on, but required the operator to answer a
 console question. After our "new" OS was installed, the Rich
 Electronic Computer Center published a bulletin about how to use
 this new feature. Soon afterwards, a student filled a file with
 4K of these operator reply statements and started it...
Results -- the operator's console was flooded with messages, all
 of which required a reply. He had to bring the machine down,
 dump the memory, and reboot. The next morning, the system staff
 went through the dump and removed the student's login from the
 From: (Trent Wohlschlaeger)
 Subject: Fixing a keyboard
 Date: 21 Feb 89
True Story:
I worked as a student "computer consultant" for Austin College
 (no, not UT) during my undergrad years. One Saturday the entire
 Organic Chem class was in trying to do some simulated analysis
 of compounds. A (minor) friend and (major) crush of mine walked
 in to find all the terminals in use, so I took her down to the
 machine room to allow her to use one of the terminals there.
I think the terminal was an ADM-something with a detached
 keyboard. At any rate, the keyboard started acting up, causing
 the program to simulate all sorts of tests she didn't want.
 After jiggling the cord several times, which fixed the problem
 for about 1.5 minutes each, I finally stated that it needed
 "manual adjustment", picked the keyboard up, lowered it a
 carefully eyed 2 inches, and dropped it to the desktop.
It worked fine for the next 4 hours until I left. She looked at
 me as if I was some sort of computer god. Of course, she still
 wouldn't go out with me!
 From: lan@bucsb.UUCP (Larry Nathanson)
 Subject: Excessive computerphobes
 Date: 21 Feb 89
While a counselor at a computer/circus camp (I won't get into
 elaborating on it, or I'll forget the funny story - inquiries
 taken by mail) a few years ago, there were a few campers that
 would choose only one program. One girl "Natasha" was extremely
 interested in the high wire, and deathly afraid of the computer
 rooms. Room 1 was around 25 PC's, Room 2 was //e's, and Room 3
 was a bunch of Mac 128's... (That was HIGH tech then....)
Anyway, on the last day of the two week session, it's the
 nastiest thunderstorm Inland Conn had seen, which means the
 kiddies are all indoors for the day... The highwire is swinging
 like the surface of the pool, and the trapeze is spewing debris
 all over the fields... Most of the campers are rather content
 to be indoors, and after MUCH coaxing, we get Natasha to draw a
 picture on the "cute little harmless computer"...
Wouldn't you know it -- Natasha has just finished her cute
 little doggie picture and she gets daring, and figures out that
 the "A" symbol means letters, and she's going to title her
 creation... All of a sudden there is a HUGE CRASH -- lightening
 strikes the transformers outside... As she touches it, the
 keyboard starts smoking, and the image of her picture melts down
 the screen, with black smoke pouring out of the vents on top.
 This poor girl was so traumatized that she'll NEVER touch a Mac
 so long as she lives!
By the way, the lightbulbs overhead exploded, the //e
 motherboards were OK, but their power supplys were black inside,
 and smelled like a campfire... they all had to be replaced.
 Half/2 the Macs were wrecked violently -- smoking keyboards,
 etc... the other half just needed new fuses... And the grand
 finale -- the IBM's were a total loss, and some of the IBM color
 monitors had flames coming out of the top...
I was told Natasha ran so far it took a half hour to catch
 her... As I remember it, I got a fire extinguisher, and was
 having a blast dousing the IBM's... However, knowing
 "selective" memory being what it is, I was probably crouching
 under a bench somewhere...
 From: (Georges Lauri)
 Subject: Abusive users
 Date: 20 Feb 89
...I used to work in a company doing workstations for stock and
 commodity brokers. These things are their bread and butter: if
 they don't work, they can't do *a thing*. They thus tend to get
 frustrated easily.
One of them calls, and says, "No matter what I type, it doesn't
 work". Get the machine exchanged, the keyboard is hopelessly
 damaged. A couple of days later, the same thing happens. We
 discovered that the guy used his *telephone handset* to bang on
 the keyboard to flip pages.
The competition -- obviously from similar experiences -- had
 keyboards encased in sheetmetal, with very tough springs; these
 people only hit one key at a time anyway, and didn't touch type,
 so that was OK...
In a similar vein, a frustrated customer had, on a bad trade,
 *ripped* his console from the data feed -- the back panel was
 still hanging to the wall outlet. We got bit by this again when
 we introduced mice on our systems: now *they* were getting
 banged up by people using them do dial the phone!!
To solve all these problems, we had to install routines to
 detect keyboard banging (lots of keys pressed too quickly in
 succession) and mouse banging (that took some work) and beep
 *real loud* -- they'd get embarrassed and not do it anymore.
 Abuse management -- a whole new area in user interfaces!
 From: (Dave Lord)
 Subject: Orientation dependent systems
 Date: 20 Feb 89
One of the guys who used to work here had been a field engineer
 for many years. (That means he used to repair computers.) One
 of the machines he used to work on was one of those large
 beasties, about 5 feet high and six or seven feet long. To get
 at the innards you opened up the hinged doors on the sides. The
 "memory unit" was also hinged and to work on it you had to open
 it out so it was at a 90 degree angle to its normal position.
Anyway, there was this particular machine that was getting
 _lots_ of memory errors. But of course when they opened it up
 to test it, it worked fine. They tried various things like
 cleaning the vents, cleaning the connectors and replacing
 various parts, but to no avail. When the memory unit was folded
 out at a 90 degree angle it worked fine, when it was closed it
 got memory errors. Finally, in desperation, they closed it up
 and turned the whole processor so that it was at a ninety degree
 angle to its original position. Supposedly it never had a
 problem again.
They explained to the customer that the machine had "East-West
 From: gmw1@CUNIXD.CC.COLUMBIA.EDU (Gabe M Wiener)
 Subject: Novice engineering students
 Date: 20 Feb 89
Several years ago I was working as an instructor at a computer
 camp. I was assigned to teach the introductory class in TTL
 logic and peripheral design. So there I was, explaining the TTL
 high and low states. "Five volts represents the 'high' state or
 a binary 1, and zero volts represents the 'low' state, or a
 binary 0." And I went on and on explaining the various TTL
 Gates (AND, NOR, NAND, etc). Finally, I got to the Inverter (or
 NOT gate). I explained that if you put 5 volts into it, you'll
 get 0 volts out, and if you put 0 volts into it you'll get 5
 volts out. To this, one person replied:
"Wouldn't that thing be awfully useful during a power failure?"
 From: dmt@ptsfa.PacBell.COM (Dave Turner)
 Subject: Operator mistakes
 Date: 18 Feb 89
Whenever we used to make major changes to our operating system
 or transaction processing system we were required to repeat a
 prior day's business to prove the the system was ready for
Until about 10 years ago, we would do this by copying all the
 databases and tapes for a day and run a series of tests on
 Saturdays. All the production terminal operators would be at
 their terminals typing exactly the same things that they had
 typed on the day being repeated.
All this was very expensive and error prone. Usually the tests
 would cause a crash a few minutes after they started.
On one memorable day in 1976 the test was running very smoothly.
 The computer room was filled with onlookers: operations people,
 systems programmers, bigshots, vendor representatives, etc.
The console operator was continuously displaying the status of
 the system. One common command was to display all the jobs in
 the system:
$dj 1-999
Everyone was pleased that the test was going so well until
 around 4 PM when all the jobs suddenly stopped running.
Concern turned to elation when the console operator confessed
 that he had mistakenly typed:
$cj 1-999
Which *cancelled* all the jobs in the system!
 From: (ferguson ct 71078)
 Subject: Computer welding
 Date: 18 Feb 89
...The 4th-hand version of this story I heard regarded the first
 mounting of a large capacity disk drive on a ship. The teller
 (known to occasionally exaggerate) claimed that the disk was a
 particularly high volume model for its era and was about three
 feet in diameter (I have difficulty believing this). He claimed
 that the gyroscopic forces for such a large rotating mass were
 sufficient to warp the ship's decks as the ship rocked and
 heaved while underway.
A first-hand story: this one actually happened to me. When I
 was a student at the University of Texas, I was employed at a
 computer lab programming one of the early generation desktop
 computers. The machine was an 8080 (later Z80) CP/M machine
 with an S-100 bus in an IMSIA (sp?) cabinet. The IMSIA cabinet
 was about the size of a modern IBM-PC but about twice as high.
 The chassis was aluminum with a steel cover. The power cord for
 the system entered the cabinet through the rear and was
 connected directly to a terminal strip (two parallel rows of
 screws in a heavy piece of bakelite). The terminal strip was
 mounted on the backplane of the cabinet which was a sheet of
 aluminum about 1/8" thick.
Well one day I was merrily typing away on a terminal when an
 hair-raising event occurred. A jet of fire and sparks spewed
 out of the rear of the computer cabinet accompanied by brilliant
 ultraviolet light. It was as though someone had started up an
 arc welder inside the computer. The lab filled with ozone and
 smoke. The welding continued for about a two full seconds
 before it ceased of its own accord. It took a couple of minutes
 to get my heart out of my throat and get up the nerve to unplug
 the machine. When I examined the computer I found a 3/8" hole
 in the aluminum backplane of the computer which had obviously
 been torched out. The desk was covered with molten globules of
 aluminum which hardened into little pills.
The computer lab was in a building filled with engineering labs
 which contained all kinds of heavy equipment. Apparently one or
 more large machines had been switched on or off and a hell of a
 big power spike had come down the line. Evidently one of the
 screws in the computer's terminal strip was just a little bit
 too long and the tip of the screw was just a little bit too
 close to the aluminum backplane of the cabinet which was
 grounded of course. This closeness allowed the power spike to
 arc between the tip of the screw and the backplane. The arc
 continued until the hole it was melting in the backplane grew
 too large to sustain the arc.
The amazing part of this story was that the computer was
 completely unharmed save some cosmetic damage. Even the fuses
 were intact (they were "downstream" from the terminal strip).
 Furthermore, the building fuse hadn't blown. Basically, after
 about ten minutes to get my nerve back, I plugged the computer
 back in, cleaned the aluminum pills off my desk, and went back
 to work like nothing had happened. Try that with your Taiwan
 clone! (Later on I trimmed down all the screws in the power
 From: kfir@bimacs.BITNET (Yuval Kfir)
 Subject: What is the definition of "crash"
 Date: 17 Feb 89
I was told the following story by a friend, but the details are
 probably mixed up -- if someone remembers them correctly they
 are welcome to put me right. It happened at an ILA conference
 (those are the Hebrew initials of called in English), two or
 three years ago: Some time after the conference began, a man
 came up hysterically to the DEC representatives (where DEC's
 display was on), and told them that the computer had crashed.
 Without even thinking, they told him, "Just reboot it then,
 what's the problem?".
"No, you don't get it -- I was just unloading it from the van
 here, and..." (I think it was a VAXstation, God rest its soul).
 From: jml@holin.ATT.COM (John Lynch)
 Subject: Getting free credit
 Date: 17 Feb 89
I recall a story from the 1970's, told by a friend at the time,
 about a phone bill.
The local phone company, NJ Bell, would include a keypunch card
 with your bill. The card included the standard information
 about the customer and the bill amount. This friend of mine
 took the phone bill card to keypunch and added an overpunch to
 the the bill amount making it a negative number. He sent in a
 check for the regular amount with the altered card. When he
 received his next month's bill there was a credit for his
 payment and a credit from his previous balance due.
He never told me if the phone company ever caught on or not.
 From: tom@iconsys.UUCP (Tom Kimpton)
 Subject: Why you don't say yes automatically
 Date: 17 Feb 89
When we were first porting UN*X to our hardware we often had
 crashes that would leave the file system in a state of disarray.
 Going through the fsck routine of being asked if we wanted to
 clear the file, etc., got to be a hassle. So one of the
 programmers added a "-y" option to fsck that would print out yes
 to the question (so you could see what was going on),
 automatically clear the file in question and continue.
It was very handy. It cut reboot times down dramatically.
 Until the first time "/" was corrupted: Directory "/"
 corrupted, do you wish to remove? YES Directory "/" removed.
 "-y" was removed forthwith.
 From: meo@stiatl.UUCP (Miles O'Neal)
 Subject: A good way to waste a programmer's time
 Date: 17 Feb 89
The *old* Compucolor (or whoever Intecolor used to be) computers
 were pretty nice for writing neat games in; their BASIC was very
 flexible and graphics-oriented. A friend (hi, Nick) at Tech and
 I were playing around, getting the computer to do all kinds of
 neat (to us, then) stuff, and Nick found a very obscure feature:
 ANY character could be placed in a comment. So we wrote a
 program that did all kinds of neat stuff on the screen, and then
 stopped for a moment (with keyboard locked) displaying, "Read
 the code and see if you can figure this one out!"
The memory mapped display was fast. The code was as compact
 (i.e., spaghetti code) as we could make it, crammed onto 1 LONG
 line, followed by a comment that had as its first characters the
 ones to return to beginning of line and clear to eol, and then
 the following:
10 REM Read the code and see if you can figure this one out!
When you tried to print the source to the screen, it happened so
 fast the eye registered nothing but the final comment. A lot of
 grad students (not to mention undergrads) wasted a LOT of time
 trying to figure this one out!
 Subject: How to damage a keyboard
 Date: 17 Feb 89
There was a letter to the editor of BYTE in its early days that
 went something like this:
"You said in your beginners column of <month/year forgotten>
 that nothing I could enter at the keyboard would harm my
 computer at all.
"Well, I entered a Coke at the keyboard, and believe me it did
 some kind of damage."
 From: kevinf@cognos.uucp (Kevin Ferguson)
 Subject: Why you don't put program developers in PR
 Date: 15 Feb 89
DISCLAIMER: So help me God, this is the absolute truth. I
 should know, because I was there.
Many moons ago (1982), I was on contract as a P/A to one of
 those credit card companies that shall remain nameless. I was
 attached to the project that was completely rewriting the
 billing process. The approved implementation included a massive
 number of database tables that the Credit Department would
 maintain to control their billing cycles, appearance of the
 statement for different types of customers, interest charge
 calculation, and so on, ad nauseum.
Well, as the project trundled on toward completion, the end user
 became aware of the manpower effort that would be required to
 initialize all of these tables. (In retrospect, their reaction
 was really quite excessive.) Our illustrious Project Manager
 said at the time, "No problem. We'll just promote the TestBed
 environment." I'm sure that you can imagine our reaction, as
 the mischievous minds of programmers tend to generate humorous
 testing environments.
Sure enough, despite all of the programmers's and testers's
 objections, the TestBed environment was promoted to Production
 "...with those changes that are deemed necessary by the Credit
 Department." Apparently, they did not catch all of the
 "necessary changes" because in the first week, the Credit
 Department mailed 1,500 statements to delinquent customers with
 the Reminder Notice: "Pay up, or we'll rape your wife."
Judging by the memo that was distributed to the MIS Department
 following this debacle, the rest of the organization failed to
 see the humor in this.
 From: emoffatt@cognos.uucp (Eric Moffatt)
 Subject: Student pranks
 Date: 13 Feb 89
This reminds me of a particularly nasty trick we (myself and a
 fellow named Mike something) played in High School (1972?). In
 our FORTRAN course all of the students's card decks were packed
 in boxes and shipped out to run at some magic computer elsewhere
 in the city; turnaround was about 2 days. Well, Mike was
 somewhat of a system hack and had "discovered" that there was a
 way to read all other JCL (yep, IBM) in a deck as data. We just
 had to try it out.
I wrote a super simple parser (scan a line for READ, WRITE,
 DO...) and an output formatter which did a fair job of
 duplicating the real compiler's output. We just slipped the
 "special" JCL in at the start of the deck and viola... the
 students received realistic looking compiles but with fake error
 messages like, "READ statement in wrong place" or, "You cannot
 WRITE here". Well, the inst 

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