back to article Experimental 'insult bot' gets out of hand during unsupervised weekend

It's that time of the week again, where Reg readers 'fess up to IT errors and jokes that went awry, in the hope of some catharsis. Since it's a Bank Holiday for those in the UK, today we've chosen a tale from "Gary" in which some harmless fun got out of hand over a weekend. Back in 1984, Gary was working in the research arm …

  1. big_D Silver badge

    Costly? No...

    But I was on a VAX tuning course in Reading. The course was okay, but not really teaching me anything new on the first day.

    So, my neighbour and I decided to have a bit of fun and were logging people on the course off at random - we had our own server dedicated to the course. Then we were battling each other, seeing who could log the other off quickest.

    We then broke for coffee and when we came back, I ran up a short script. The script was "innoquous" enough, it would list all logged on users into an array and any that weren't me got logged off. I ran it once, it worked perfectly. I then changed it to be a self-submitting batch job. Nobody could log back on, it was funny... Until I accidentally logged myself off (I had multiple sessions on multiple VAXes open and logged off the "wrong" session.

    Anyway, what I hadn't thought about was, during the logon process, your username doesn't appear in the userlist, just a process id with "<LOGIN>". Oops. The script was busy terminating all the people logging on, including myself.

    The lecturer saw the funny side, we then went into the server room attached to the lab and tried to log onto the console... You go it! No dice. In the end, we had to power down the machine and reboot!

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      Re: Costly? No...

      A briefly former colleague got marched out on his first day for a similar stunt.... so you got lucky with your lecturer ;)

      1. BillG

        VAX/VMS Hacker Fun Times

        VAX/VMS had so many holes, even with a non-admin account you could do some nasty things, such as reading coworker's emails (child's play). Or spoofing other users on PHONE.

        This Reg comment is for those of us with a non-admin account that exploited holes in VAX so freakin' outrageous, that I/we won't post them here for fear the statute of limitations might be eternal. And/or, we never got caught and we are afraid old co-workers might be on El-Reg.

        1. GX5000
          Big Brother

          Re: VAX/VMS Hacker Fun Times

          miss the days @dec...

          They still track all of you so no worries.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: VAX/VMS Hacker Fun Times

          A long time ago, I did a stint as a contractor for a long gone company who made telecoms equipment at a plant in Liverpool. The department had a VAX running VMS for various purposes and I had a user account on it.

          When you logged in on a terminal, the interface was so simple that you could easily simulate the log in process with some DCL script. I couldn't resist the temptation and planted my log in simulator on the department manager's terminal when he had logged out to go for a meeting.

          When he next tried to log in, he got the standard response that you'd see if you mistyped your password. My script then silently quit and returned control to the actual log in screen. In operation, it was completely indistinguishable from the real thing and I was watching as he logged in a second time without giving it a second's thought.

          His face was a picture when I got him to look at the contents of a new file in my account!

          It was even more of a picture when I showed him how the script could even circumvent the VMS equivalent of the Windows 'three finger salute' before logging in.

          He took it quite well!

          (I had been there some time and knew the bloke well. My little hack wasn't illegal in those days either, as long as I didn't do anything with his credentials of course.)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: VAX/VMS Hacker Fun Times

            Plessy / GPT, I assume?

            1. big_D Silver badge

              Re: VAX/VMS Hacker Fun Times

              I remember having to come up from Southampton to GPT in Coventry. The managers were always happy to see me, because it meant they could take me to the company golf club for lunch and get their silver-service lunch for free.

              One manager was very miffed, when I told him one day, that I needed to go into town at lunch to pay some bills. He even offered to let me go in to town early, on company time, so he could get his lunch!

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: VAX/VMS Hacker Fun Times

            I did exactly the same thing at university, but in csh script on their unix mainframe. Suffice to say I was very lucky that my second university was both understanding, and more prestigious.

      2. I Am Spartacus

        Re: Costly? No...

        I was, briefly, a lecturer at DEC in Reading and London. I had to march someone off a course.

        It was a DECNet IV Internals course, if I recall, and was one that was on the US Restricted list. That meant that everyone had to sign an agreement that they would not give anything the learnt to those peskie Russions/Syrians/Koreans/Cubans etc. Anyway, they way it went was that I handed out the forms, and the course notes, did an introduction before coffee, when I collected and checked the forms.

        Well, one idiot had signed the form Mickey Mouse.

        The training superintendent had got out of bed the wrong side that day, and was not amused. So joker boy was sent home to his company to explain why he had been thrown off the course.

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Costly? No...

          We had a factory on the Isle of White with several hundred VT100s installed (offices and production hall). We had a lightning strike and there was a corridor stacked from floor to ceiling long one wall with dead temrinals. Because of the Coco agreement (I think it was called something like that, related to I Am Spartacus's story above) the terminals were defined as highly advanced technology that couldn't be exported.

          That mean we couldn't simply throw them out, they had to be destroyed completely and that witnessed by a member of HMG and a certificate signed. Luckily there was a junk yard next door with a metal press. All the terminals were placed in the press and crushed.

          1. PM from Hell

            Re: Costly? No...

            The actual restrictions were CoCom, the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls organized to restrict Western exports to COMECON countries.

            During this period I once had to get an export licence from the American Department of Defence for an IBM RD6000 as it was classed as being powerful enough to run ICBM simulations for design purposes. It had more processing power than the combined CPU's of the 7 mainframes I had installed in the datacentre and more total Ram (an incredible 64 MB).

    2. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Costly? No...

      >I was on a VAX tuning course in Reading

      You can tune a vacuum cleaner, who knew?

      1. Francis Boyle

        Not only can you tune a vacuum cleaner

        you can play it as well.

      2. Shadow Systems

        At Korev, re: tuning a vacuum...

        You can tune a vacuum but you can't tuna fish. =-)p

        1. Giovani Tapini

          Re: At Korev, re: tuning a vacuum...


          1. PM from Hell

            Re: At Korev, re: tuning a vacuum...

            Well your comment was a bit fishy

    3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      They should have just bought Abuse

      Abuse (Don't Ask Software, 1981)

      Apparently quite valuable to collectors, EUR 149,90.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Costly? No...

      Run once ... I wrote a small batch file to send out a form mail to 81 users. It worked: sending 81 mails to each user ... "Didn't you test it?" "Well, I sent a mail to myself and it worked ... "

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Costly? No...

        I wrote a small batch file to send out a form mail to 81 users. It worked: sending 81 mails to each user

        Back in the mists of time I wrote a bash script which ran as a cron job to check a mailbox every 10 or 15 minutes (or whatever it was) and forward any received emails to a mailing list. This was so long ago that finding properly designed and suitably tested software (ie what I later learned to call a listserv) wasn't an option in the limited time I had available. I set this up for the Very Important User in my organisation and tested it. He was happy with the results, and I have to admit I was reasonably comfortable with it although I knew the testing had been limited. Unfortunately, the timing necessitated that it must go live on a Thursday afternoon when I had the Friday and Monday booked off to go visit my girlfriend for the first time in achingly too long, so I threw caution to the winds and agreed to make it live.

        When I got back four days later I discovered the the VIU had given me a mailing list of 26 equally-VIUs in his international field of expertise but three of these supposedly intelligent fuckers had given him incorrect email addresses (or he had just copied them down wrong). You can imagine how pleased they all were with the geometric increase in 'recipient does not exist' messages everyone received combined with the 'Stop sending me this shit!' messages they all contributed to for four days.

        1. TonyJ

          Re: Costly? No...

          "... combined with the 'Stop sending me this shit!' messages they all contributed to for four days...."

          And people still do this, like mindless sheep.

    5. Gerhard Mack

      Re: Costly? No...

      I had some lab admins in high school play the kill the other admin game where they would both log in to the Novel server and kill the other guy. Unfortunately, one day they rushed in, sat down and managed to send the kill command with exactly the wrong timing and caused a deadlock. Both PCs were useless until the Novel server was rebooted.

      1. theblackhand

        Re: Costly? No...

        "Both PCs were useless until the Novel server was rebooted."

        Probably completely useless information now:

        1. Drop to debugger:


        2. Put the dead process to sleep:

        EIP = CSleepUntilInterrupt

        3. Exit the debugger:


        All going well, you might be able to shutdown cleanly following that....

    6. Tegne

      Re: Costly? No...

      After writing COBOL code onto gridded paper on a local College programming course we were then allowed to attempt to compile it and debug it once it had been keyed in by some faceless admin member.

      Our time on each terminal was limited so I used this time to do pretty much anything other than what I was supposed to do.

      I discovered that you could copy in a new copy of VAX/VMS equivalent of the autoexec.bat file into anyone elses root folder so decided to see what would happen if I copied in a file containing a single command 'Logout' (or whatever the equivalent was).

      Much glee was had as my fellow students were immediately logged out the next time they tried to connect.

      Much less glee was had when I tested whether the same would work with the Admin account. It did.

      There was quite some cursing from the tutor as he failed to log into his account for the rest of the lesson...

  2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    At University at Durham (and Newcastle)..

    ..they ran a slightly obscure OS on their s370 called MTS (the Michigan Terminal System).

    Unusually for a mainframe OS of the time (I was there in 1978 on), it drove interactive terminal sessions, and our use was controlled by accounting limits. Not surprisingly, these limits were, well, limiting.

    I found two ways around this. One was that if you allocated a temporary disk (which allowed you to borrow disk for that session,but which disappeared when you logged out), and then explicitly relinquished it, the space would be added to your permanent disk allocation!

    The other was that when a new year started, the initial passwords on the subsidiary computing students accounts were predictable, so you found one, but didn't change the password. You then watched for any activity. If after a suitable time you did not see the account being used (which was possible, as subsid. students tended to swap courses) you could then appropriate the account.

    This was how I managed to get enough interactive time to become (I believe) the first person (at Durham, anyway) to complete with a perfect 500 point score, the version of the original Colossal Cave adventure with the Repository ("A crowd of dwarves burst through the hole in the wall, shouting and cheering..." or something similar).

    Strange, almost immediately, the game stopped working at Durham. Coincidence?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: At University at Durham (and Newcastle)..

      The other was that when a new year started, the initial passwords on the subsidiary computing students accounts were predictable, so you found one, but didn't change the password.

      Queen's Belfast used to do a similar thing. A script allocated 200(?) new accounts at the beginning of the year, of the form "aaaannnn', and assigned passwords through a predictable algorithm. If there were only 160 new students that year you knew the alphabetically last 40 accounts & their resources were there for the taking by whoever changed the password first. After a while, most of the hackers had 10-20 extra accounts available.

      As for "Colossal Cave" adventure, I once got summoned to the computer centre manager's office and shown a large pile of fanfold paper and asked if I knew what it was. A quick check showed it to be Colossal Cave adventure, from Jack Pike, which I had reworked to fit in the 25Kwords we engineering students were allowed. It was in my user directory, with the data file in one of the 'borrowed' accounts, from where a couple of friends and I (I thought) played it at break times. When I admitted I knew what it was, I was then asked why that one program accounted for 90% of billable computer time over the previous month... Apparently someone had told the CompSci students about it.

      Somewhat to my surprise I was simply asked to restrict access to my friends & I, or it would be deleted.

      1. Tony Gathercole ...

        Re: At University at Durham (and Newcastle)..

        Queen's Belfast used to do a similar thing. A script allocated 200(?) new accounts at the beginning of the year, of the form "aaaannnn', and assigned passwords through a predictable algorithm. If there were only 160 new students that year you knew the alphabetically last 40 accounts & their resources were there for the taking by whoever changed the password first. After a while, most of the hackers had 10-20 extra accounts available.

        Been on both sides of this one. As a student in the mid-1970s it was fair game to collect as many PPNs (can you guess which OS?) as possible to extend the miserable CPU and storage allowances handed out to even full degree Computational Science undergrads - things got better in the final year when I unaccountably failed to close down the staff account I'd been allocated for working on a departmental project over the summer vacation; pissed-off the post-grads when they realised that I'd also been allocated a full Electronic Computing Labs (ie support staff) account on the ICL 1906A (:ECLAJG) running George 4.

        Later, working for Trent Poly, I wrote the system that took extracts from the student course registration database and pre-loaded the accounts at the start of each course year. I'm hoping that I'm remembering correctly that the default was to allocate a pseudo-randomly generated password. However, whatever it was any degree of security would have been negated by the fact that each student was given a card with their username and password printed on it! I know for a fact that these were (mis)appropriated by all sorts of nefarious characters from various departments! (We had ways of watching you...)

    2. Steve the Cynic

      Re: At University at Durham (and Newcastle)..

      ..they ran a slightly obscure OS on their s370 called MTS (the Michigan Terminal System).

      Unusually for a mainframe OS of the time (I was there in 1978 on), it drove interactive terminal sessions, and our use was controlled by accounting limits. Not surprisingly, these limits were, well, limiting.

      Ah, yes, MTS. I remember it well. I passed two years as a beginning student at RPI (the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, aka "the Tute Screw", in Troy NY) in 1984-1986. The student mainframe, an IBM 3081D (for "dual" = dual processor, nicknamed "Sybil"(1)), ran MTS instead of an IBM OS, and yes, we had accounting limits turned on, even for class-specific accounts. It was annoying when I had some time free during the day and I could burn through my current batch of CPU-time pseudo-dollars without the slightest difficulty in an hour or so of compile-run-edit-compileagain.

      (1) See for why that might be.

      1. JohnnyS777

        MTS was at Simon Fraser University in the early 80's.

        I had a job for a year in a physics lab at SFU and they didn't turn off the accounting for us, even though we were supposed to have unlimited processing: They just set it to a huge limit. IIRC, students would get about 10 bucks or so for a course, depending on the expected programming work required. Since I was a researcher, my max was set to 100,000 dollars. So I could run whatever FORTRAN number-crunching I wanted and never lose a research run because of hitting the limit.

        We had limited terminals in the lab, so I'd often go work in the large student computer lab which always had a few terminals free and lots of co-eds. When you logged off the terminal, it flashed up a number showing how many dollars were left in the account. Once I logged out and a student behind me gasped and asked "How many courses are you TAKING???"

        We got a good laugh out of that!

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: MTS was at Simon Fraser University in the early 80's.

          Since I was a researcher, my max was set to 100,000 dollars.

          My limit was always a negative number one short of two to a certain power. It was embarrassing how many CS students couldn't work out why.

          1. Anonymous Coward

            Re: MTS was at Simon Fraser University in the early 80's.

            My limit was always a negative number

            Nowadays they call it student debt.

        2. gregthecanuck

          Re: MTS was at Simon Fraser University in the early 80's.

          Ahh good old SFU. Took an APL course there in the summer of 1979. Still have the manuals somewhere. There's a skillset never put to use in real life! :)

    3. Giovani Tapini

      Re: At University at Durham (and Newcastle)..

      I am reminded of the Kobayashi Maru - sometimes cheating pays!

    4. I Am Spartacus

      Re: At University at Durham (and Newcastle)..

      Ahh yes, MTS ar Durham.

      I was there 77-80. And managed to crash the mainframe whilst we played. There were so many holes in MTS it was more of a colander than an OS.

      1. MrXavia

        Re: At University at Durham (and Newcastle)..

        My Secondary school (mid 90's) was very insecure with passwords...

        The head of IT at the time decided that we students kept loosing our passwords too often so they were assigned to us and we were blocked from changing them, I objected and convinced him to let me enter my own password, but not before I worked out how they assigned the passwords, which meant I had access to everyone's account if I wanted it... I even saw the admins password, he was so slow typing it!

        Lucky for them I never misused my knowledge.. I just helped the odd friend log in when they forgot their password...

  3. beep54

    screw ups

    That is so much more funny than when I accidentally submitted a batch of cards that generated an infinite loop of printing mostly empty pages. Now, those were really large pages then. I just giggled at the process for a bit before telling the operator, uh, you need to terminate that one please.

    1. Christoph

      Re: screw ups

      One of the computing students had just been made lady vice-president of the student's union. She left one of her programs lying around in the punch room long enough for someone to insert some extra cards. The operators had to abort the program to stop it printing endless pages filled with "Long live the lady vice-president".

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: screw ups

      At school that was our (real) challenge. Punch cards had to be stacked and sent off to a distant computer centre, returning a week or so later with the errors to be corrected. But whatever our official project the real aim was to hide code that put the distant machine into a loop, without the code being picked out and intercepted before it was run.

  4. Danny 14

    our apprentice was tasked with cataloging and recycling the old redundant hardware. one cycle we had a pallet of about 100 dell d510 laptops, all old and well out of warranty. we also had a shrink wrapped pallet of brand new boxed 5430s ready to be unboxed and imaged.

    it doesnt take a genius to figure out what happened.

    luckily later in the week the apprentice couldnt find the boxes laptops (it was on his job list) and we managed to get in touch with the recyclers and get them back. that only cost us 50 in van fees.....

  5. iron Silver badge

    "Since it's a Bank Holiday for those in the UK"

    No, it's a Bank Holiday for England and Wales so not the UK.

    1. David Neil

      Working at a Scottish bank

      Got the day off

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So what's the story about the two different holidays? Which lot decided to be different and why?

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Not sure who, but I'm pretty sure that the aim is/was to have the same number of public/"bank" holidays across the union however when one part of the union insists on having an additional day off, they have to drop one of the existing days to keep the total the same.

      2. Tony Gathercole ...

        Birthday boy

        Once upon a time the August Bank Holiday was uniform across the UK on the first Monday in the month, then for some in-explicable reason (something to do with evening out the bank holidays through the year) in England and Wales it was moved to the last Monday.

        I know this for I was born on the bank holiday Monday when it was in the right place in August. Mind you, my late Mother used to claim that I'd never done a stroke of work since ...

      3. agurney

        "So what's the story about the two different holidays? "


        In England, everyone's on holiday on the same day, everything's shut and the roads are gridlocked as everyone tries to head to the beach.

        Holidays in Scotland are staggered, so, for example, Glasgow's on holiday but, say, Paisley isn't, meaning the day trippers have somewhere to spend their cash, the load on the popular destinations is spread over a few weeks, and the roads aren't as congested as much of the country is still working a 9-5.

        There are a few downsides, for example if you work in an area that has different holidays to a child's school.

        1. Just Enough

          Scotland wide

          "Holidays in Scotland are staggered"

          Local holidays in Scotland have nothing to do with bank holidays. Scottish bank holidays are Scotland wide.

          1. agurney

            Re: Scotland wide

            "Local holidays in Scotland have nothing to do with bank holidays. Scottish bank holidays are Scotland wide."

            you would think so, but it's not that simple as Banks in Scotland do not always close on Scottish bank holidays, and neither are they statutory holidays.

          2. Stevie

            Re: Scotland wide

            Holidays in Scotland are staggered.

            It's the whisky. I blame the whisky.

            1. Danny 2

              Re: Scotland wide

              We used to have regional holidays (the Glasgow Trades, the Edinburgh trades a fortnight later).

              In my first electronics job I was taught only to get drunk on the day before a work day, never before a holiday. I know in England you drink when you get a day off - up here we are professionals, we only get drunk when our hangover falls on a workday, our employers pay for that.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          > Holidays in Scotland are staggered,

          I thought staggering was simply the result of how the Scots tend to spend their holidays....

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Rubbish. Scotland does not have regional bank holidays. Don't let the truth get in the way of a rant. P.S. England has regional holiday periods also.

      4. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ

        "So what's the story about the two different holidays? Which lot decided to be different and why?"

        we all have the same number of bank holidays accross the UK, but Scotland has two bank holidays for new year, They have new year and the day after new year so they dropped august bank holiday

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Why Britons are so obsessed with banks to name even holidays after them???

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. TeraTelnet

      And Northern Ireland.

  6. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    replace 'b' with 'w' in 'bank holiday'...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So is that 10 days you do it, or 10 days you get a holiday from it?

      1. Just Enough

        an anarchic term

        "Why Britons are so obsessed with banks to name even holidays after them???"

        The basis for the holidays were that all the banks closed for the day. If the banks were shut that meant many businesses couldn't do business. So they took the same days as holidays. This meant other companies couldn't work. So, by the end, everyone effectively got the day off.

        It's an anarchic term nowadays, of course. Banks don't all shut (although most branches will) and many companies work right through them, though maybe with a skeleton staff. Employees often get the option; Take the bank holiday, or get another day off in lieu.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: an anarchic term

          "It's an anarchic term nowadays, "

          ITYM archaic :-)

          1. Alistair

            Re: an anarchic term


            ITYM archaic :-)

            Considering the back and forth in this thread on the subject it seems pretty anarchic to me. Perhaps chaotic is more apropos.

            1. Stevie

              Re: an anarchic term

              I'll bet LDS is happy someone explained all that to him.

              Hey, LDS, apropos of nothing, did you see that X-Files episode where Mulder distracted the vampire pizza delivery guy by throwing sunflower seeds all over the floor so he'd have to pick them all up?

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: an anarchic term

            "ITYM archaic"

            Given the typical effect on transport the original fits pretty well.

        2. big_D Silver badge

          Re: an anarchic term

          Here, in Germany, they are Feiertage (celebratory days would be the closest translation).

          But the downside is, they all have a fixed date, with the exception of Easter. Which means that they can (and do) fall on weekends, including Sunday. That means that most establishments are closed anyway. But you don't get any other day off instead.

          The worst case scenario is Christmas Day on a Saturday, you get Saturday and Sunday free (Christmas day and 2nd Christmas Day (Boxing Day in the UK), which means you work until Friday (usually midday) and then back to work on Monday. That combination also means that New Year also falls on a weekend, so no extra day off.

          Reformationstag (church reformation) is now a public holiday, but it is the 31st October, which coincides with Halloween, so many schools and kindergardens are moving Halloween celebrations (where the teachers and kids go round trick or treating) to 1st or 2nd November instead.

          1. ICPurvis47

            Re: Feiertage

            I fell foul of a Feiertag whilst on holiday in Austria some years ago. I had very carefully planned an itinerary that took in two steam hauled railways and a long distance tram ride out of Innsbruck, but failed to realise that the Thursday on which I set out happened to be some religious holiday, and there was only a Sunday service on the local and regional railways (the Intercity was still on schedule). Upshot was that the first local train did not appear, so I missed the first regional and the first Intercity, and the whole thing came unravelled from there on. I only managed to catch the lower half of the Zillertal steam excursion back to the main line, and then had to start my return journey in order to get back in time for the last local train, or I'd have had to wait until the following morning to get back to the hotel.

            1. PM from Hell

              Re: Feiertage

              I got caught out on a contract in Germany. TMobile were booked to install a couple of ISDN lines to put my test centre on the network and the visit was booked on a holiday. I was assured that TMobile would attend even though the business the building was in would be closed. End result 12 hours sat in an office waiting for TMobile who never turned up followed by a phone call to TMobile customer services the following day who told me I should have just ignored the appointment letter, reminder letter and the reminder reminding me we would pay a default charge if there was no access, "because everybody knew the visit would not take place". I then had to re-book the installation and yes that did mean waiting for a new order form to arrive by snail mail, signing the new order and faxing it back. Oh yes, German efficiency cannot be beaten. I was PM on a Euro Conversion project and had my hire car trapped in the city car park for 4 days as they could not take card payments or notes after their conversion (mine went fine) and the car park bill increased slightly faster than my collection of euro coins was growing. I finally managed to retire the car when my hotel received a delivery of coins from the bank.

  7. Mephistro

    When I was eighteen...

    Other four guys and me were "hired" as IT "interns" in a medium sized company. The company's owner wanted to start an IT dept. and develop it's own software on the cheap. We were given access to a Pick multi-user system that used serial VT-100 compatible terminals, and left alone with it for a week, to 'learn the ropes' including both the OS and the programming language (Something called "DataBasic", which was, in short, a dialect of BASIC with some embedded SQL-like capacities).

    The first thing that happened was that the intern sitting in the console nearest to the server thought it would be funny to disconnect the serial cables of other users at random intervals. It took the rest of us two frustrating hours or so to discover the trick, using a communications log file kept by the server.

    That day, when leaving, I grabbed one of the system's manuals and took it home with me. Thanks to said manual I learned that the system allowed sending messages from one terminal to another, that said messages could use extended attributes (text colour, text width, any ASCII characters, etc.) and that such messages could be automated using the DataBasic language.

    So the next day I made a very short and simple program that at intervals would send to the fucker practical joker's terminal one of the following:

    - A backspace once per minute.

    - A carriage return once every three minutes.

    - A clear screen once every five minutes.

    - A disconnect control sequence every 10 minutes.

    The first three sequences weren't recorded in any log, but I added some randomness to the fourth, as not to make the trick too obvious. I also sent all the messages using black text on a black background, so the victim couldn't see the messages.

    The poor sod spent all the day swearing aloud while trying to troubleshoot his "technical issues" and later staring suspiciously at us for growing periods of time. 8^)

    Miraculously, the next day, the issue "vanished by itself", which left the joker even more baffled.

    Needles to say, the guy never tried one of his jokes on us again!.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: When I was eighteen...

      VT131's were an interesting variant on the VT100, they would accept a "return screen" command, and would then dump selected areas of the screen back to the serial port, where they appeared as if typed on the keyboard.

      With a carefully crafted email message you could send an escape sequence that would clear screen, write text to it, request it be repeated back, and then clear screen again. Write up a message that sent something like <clear>DELETE<cr>EXIT<cr>REBOOT<cr><clear> and send it to the system admin, and all he'd see was a flicker and a blank screen, followed by a system reboot, after which there was no trace of the offending message. Of course there were worse things to do than reboot, you could have a user send arbitrary email messages to anyone...

      DEC eventually fixed VMS mail to strip control characters...

      1. fajensen

        Re: When I was eighteen...

        On older “wyse” CRT “smart” ascii terminals, one of the magical esc-sequences would set the line scan frequency to zero.

        Dumping a raw binary on such a terminal would often yield a quite satisfying ‘Blam’, the spillage of coffee and loud swearing, all accompanied by a happy cloud of grey smoke.

        One could dump files to other terminals using a message feature of the OS. These features combined eventually caused the extinction of the Wyse species of CRT terminal.

        1. Nick Kew

          Re: When I was eighteen...

          Bit later than that (and at a "should've known better" age), but I still recollect with mild regret the time when things like "cat fart.wav >> remote:/dev/audio" got tightened up. Not so far off the time xhost ceased to be permissive by default.

    2. spold Silver badge

      Re: When I was eighteen...

      In another case of IBM VM/CMS and Rexx at about the same age, and as a trainee programmer, I read one of the system manuals and discovered there was a privileged system call that would ring the bell (yes the little old fashioned type) on the operator console - and a little testing found this wasn't properly restricted.

      People would frequently write little Rexx Execs to do amusing things like use the MSG command to send colleagues screen messages that were 10 characters high (such as something filthy when you knew there was a manager in their office), childish I know. Anyway embedding the above function in an Exec and sending it to friends as an updated new MSG Exec soon got the bells a ringin'!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Accounting on Super-comps

    This one reminded me of when I was into super-computing.

    I was asked once to develop a small tool (TCL/TK) to create utilization graphs for

    the super-comps. They were super expensive Crays, back then ...

    The first graphs showed something very bizarre: one process, rshd, showed 50% utilization of one whole system, over the course of one month, day and night. 50% ?????

    After investigation, we quickly arrived at one engineer, doing the following:

    - iterate millions time on the calculation

    - every iteration, rsh to the super to perform a single iteration

    The bloke was apparently too stupid to do the loop on the super, rather than on its workstation !

    We laughed a lot, back then, but this was really a huge ressource loss !

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. Stevie


    The Unisys OS2200 OS has a built-in line editor. For a long while it was the only editor Unisys offered for that line, and despite Clever Young Things trying unsuccessfully to excise it, it is still there today. It is packed with juicy features.

    One feature is an internal messaging facility that allows people to send each other "mail". It works by provisioning a specially-named file that the editor looks for on loading, displays the contents if found and deletes.

    I once told a colleague about a contract I worked where someone figured out they could catalog a file of the right name and put a write key on it so the editor couldn't delete it making for an "eternal" message. I also informed him of the response, where the victim did the same but made the first character of the key underscore, which for arcane VT protocol reasons would mean the entite key would not display on the screen, hiding its existence from the viewer.

    You guessed it. Next day I had a non-dying message with the secret give-away I had not confided (but didn't need, since it didn't take Sherlock Holmes to deduce who the genius hacker was, and How The Trick Was Done).

    I grinned and got busy. The trick worked because the terminal treated the leading character of the key as unprintable because the character encoding of file details in the system were non-ASCII. I sent a print of those details to an ASCII file and read that, where the key was shown in all its glory.

    Then I retaliated responded. I did the same basic trick to the joker, but lodged a batch request to run the file catalog each morning at 6am.

    The boob got an anonymous message that he eventually figured out how to delete. Next day, same story. And the next.

    He came in early and got messaged. He stayed late, watched me go home, came in early and got messaged. Finally he waved a white flag and I rescinded the batch request.

    The best part is that this only worked because of my victim's mindset; he was fascinated by the tech side of our business but sneered at the operational side. Had he propery thought it through my method would have been obvious.

  11. spold Silver badge

    Bank Holidays...

    I'm surprised an extra bank-holiday has not been scheduled this year given the boiling weather. Memories of bank holidays frequently involved rain and crawling along in big traffic queues (usually behind several touring caravans) - rather a tradition really.

    Oh for the August bank holiday weekend then statistically speaking (as in statistically speaking 6 out of 7 dwarfs are not Happy) it has rained on 10 out of the last 30, or approx. 33% of the time. Scheduling a few extra should fix any water shortages.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Bank Holidays...

      Call them "drought days" and you'll guarantee rain.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Bank Holidays...

        Call them "drought days" and you'll guarantee rain.

        But don't overdo it and appoint a minister for droughts. That way you get floods.

      2. hplasm

        Re: Bank Holidays...

        It will rain on them - you can bank on it...

  12. Wanting more

    costly in paper

    We had a cobol report that had a slight bug in the code. It sent the malformed report to the printer. 18 boxes of paper later (at 5 reams per box) the operator decided that something was probably wrong and killed the print job. Next morning the print was delivered back to the office on a large overflowing trolley, fortunately it wasn't my bug. It was simplex printed so we had plenty of spare scrap paper for the next 10 years.

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    arcade games on a shared mainframe

    Long, long ago at university (OK, the early 80's) some social engineering to get the campus mainframe programming manuals, the resulting hacked together realtime keyboard polling support and the observation that the interpreted BASIC used by most non CS courses was run at very high priority to cope with the inefficient interpreter quickly led to arcade games sucking 60%+ CPU time per instance. Text graphics on serial terminal instances on a machine able to hand 100+ sessions.

    A lot of accounts were lost to the resulting purge. Luckily those in the know had 3+ stolen accounts each to hold the files. Then someone wrote a disk driver that 'borrowed' the free sectors on the system drive as a shared 3way RAID1 drive and AFAIK the admins never worked out where the files were hidden. Cue discrete agreement to police our abuse to outside work hours.

    Happy times.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    VAX/VMS Warfare at Strathclyde

    VAX/VMS might have been full of holes in the early days but constant warfare between Physics and Chemistry at Strathclyde made sure all bugs were killed immediately and was pretty solid around 1990. It was a fairly comfy system with 5 VAXen in a DEC cluster which made for impressive uptimes. Unfortunately there was a lot of demand for CPU time, and as we know all is fair in love, war and PhD studies so a lot of underhand tricks were pulled to grab as much computing power as possible. The reason I am anonymous may or may not have anything to do with that.

    The VAX Trek series originated in this era:

  16. StuntMisanthrope

    Back in another non-cooperative kickstarter.

    I'm on a public holiday. That's the difference. The bills arrived electronically. But the maundy did not. It seems to have got lost in transcript. But I'm not quite sure how.

    There was a time. When a band could get a loan for studio time or you could ask nicely since it was the weekend.

    It's awry and the ratings charts are unable to raise a cheer. #checkandbalance #westcoast

  17. -tim

    Where is that window?

    We had a lab full of shiny new Sun 4 workstations. I found out that there was no protection of the window position of other peoples sessions and I could detect which window was active. The result was a program that moved their active window towards the edge one pixel every second. In the days of 1024 pixel screens, it didn't take long for it to be very annoying.

    1. Nick Kew

      Re: Where is that window?

      D*** you tim, I remember being on the wrong end of that wheeze.

      Can't remember what revenge I took. It may have been sending some mail from "you" to people less techie than ourselves.

  18. DemeterLast

    Ahh, runaway MUD bots

    Programming a MUD was my first experience with actual programming. BASIC had nothing on the weird but satisfying LPC of the LPMUDs. You did learn awfully fast about cleaning up after yourself when you made wandering mobs. My first badly programmed one ended up pegging the RAM usage on the server.

  19. MarkB

    " it was fair game to collect as many PPNs (can you guess which OS?) "

    I remember my PPN as 1206,1206 when I worked on TOPS-10 in the late 70s and early 80s, but I have a feeling the PPN concept was used on other DEC operating systems.

  20. Citizen99

    The customary El-Reg reference: Adams, Airplane, Dilbert, Pratchett, Python,,,

    Wowbagger, the Infinitely Prolonged.

  21. Paul Barnett


    once, in the early days of my exploring what unix could do (AIX in this case, I think), I found myself needing on a regular basis starting two xterm sessions at the same time . I know, I thought, I'll create a shell script to do it. Not a problem, until I chose to name it 'xterm' - oops.

    (something like:

    #! /bin/ksh

    xterm &

    xterm &


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