back to article Real-time tragedy: Dumb deletion leaves librarian red-faced and fails to nix teenage kicks on the school network

Another week is upon us, and while April continues to be an uncertain beast, we will always have Who, Me?, and another story from the more sinful niche of The Register's readership. Today's tale comes from "Sam", who whisks us back to his teenage years in the 1990s, and a network of Windows 95 machines in the school library. …

  1. Ol'Peculier
    1. Kane
      IT Angle


      At what?

      1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

        He just needs his dried frog pills!

        He meant "Kool"!

        1. Precordial thump Silver badge

          Ook! (Librarian)

          1. Antonius_Prime

            How dare you! My mother is a saint!

  2. Edwin

    My uni had similar rules :)

    Of course, there the admins were more knowledgeable, so they had a boot floppy that would wipe a disk and initiate a fresh install from the network. The process took about 20 seconds after boot to start and half an hour to complete. If you were caught gaming, they would lean over your shoulder, insert the floppy, hit 'reset', wait the 20 seconds or so and then reclaim the floppy.

    In later years, the machines could be booted from the network and wiped without the benefit of a floppy.

    1. Captain Scarlet

      Re: My uni had similar rules :)

      Ah yes the PCI add-in card, which meant at my colleague a virus was going round and reinfecting every Windows 9x machine which was rebooted, of course there were W2k machines which were used by the health and beauty courses that were unaffected.

      1. BebopWeBop

        Re: My uni had similar rules :)

        which were used by the health and beauty courses that were unaffected.

        of course......

      2. Antonius_Prime

        Re: My uni had similar rules :)

        These wouldn't be boxen that would be booted maybe once a week for excel & word classes and never used again, would they?

        Full of enough fruit at the time to make the entire computer department jealous?

        While the computer classes which needed the processors, RAM, HDD space and GC capabilites were stuggling along on what could be compassionately called "pc's" because they were too far from water to be called anchors and too far from landfill to be called scrap?

        If so, we may have attended similar colleges...

        1. Captain Scarlet

          Re: My uni had similar rules :)

          Possibly, even included outdated technology such as ISA cards when everything at that point was using PCI (Only had to look into using ISA cards 3 times after college), couldn't do SCSI as HRC didn't have any working SCSI devices.

        2. Jos V

          Re: My uni had similar rules :)

          It was also great to bring the dang computers to their knees running Orcad/Pspice/Ultiboard.

          Was still good fun times though. My "home rig" would take days of calculating/designing the PCB, only to find out you needed to make a "minor" change and redo it.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: My uni had similar rules :)

      Or boot from the network and not have any internal storage at all.

      Always amusing to listen to someone attempting to bullshit their way to having a hard disk to put their games onfor sound business reasons.

      1. molletts

        Diskless netboot

        My secondary school did that with their first suite of PCs. Over 10Base-2. With 1MB of RAM and swap over the network.

        If the Design & Tech department wanted to use Corel DRAW!, they had to book the suite for an extra period beforehand to allow it time to load and become (relatively) usable.

        I got banned from using them about 5 minutes after the suite was opened because I fired up Turbo C++ from a floppy disk, which Miss Hitler our esteemed and universally beloved technician immediately classified as "hacking". There was much more fun to be had on the old Acorn computers anyway.

    3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: My uni had similar rules :)

      True admins are the bane of gamers everywhere.

      1. It's just me

        Re: My uni had similar rules :)

        Us true admins were the ones running the quake server on the network for lunchtime and after-hours "network latency testing" and ops team-building.

        1. veti Silver badge

          Re: My uni had similar rules :)

          Yeah, I'm reasonably sure the server slowness I've been noticing during our lockdown is caused by the IT team playing Counterstrike (or whatever the game du jour is).

        2. Edwin

          Re: My uni had similar rules :)

          Your comment doesn't conflict with the 'true admins are the banes...' comment.

          A true admin differentiates between users that know what they're doing (and are therefore allowed to game) and users that don't (and are therefore not allowed to game).

          To the uninitiated, that differentiation could be viewed as somewhat arbitrary, of course ;)

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: My uni had similar rules :)

            "A true admin differentiates between users that know what they're doing (and are therefore allowed to game) and users that don't (and are therefore not allowed to game)."

            Users who know what they're doing don't halt the network for everyone else.

            Users who don't..... draw attention to themselves.

        3. Trbonja

          Re: My uni had similar rules :)

          True that! Windows NT sucks as a game server as it could not run more then 8 player slots in Quake 3. Linux, on the other hand, was sooooo much better - 20 slots Quake 3 server was glorious for lunch time frag fest.

        4. swm

          Re: My uni had similar rules :)

          In the college where I taught the rule was you could play any game (networked or not) but had to stop if there was anyone who wanted to do real work and there were no spare machines around.

          The sys admins were the heaviest game players.

  3. Ol'Peculier

    Oh for Bob's sake... I meant Oook, obviously!

    1. OGShakes

      Give that Librarian a Banana

      1. OssianScotland

        And, for Io's sake, don't use the M word!

        GNU TP

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I did once work with a helpdesk level 2, who decided that the best way to fix a Windows 2000/3 server running out of disk space would be to delete those pesky files in C:\Windows\System32. Very useful when its a domain controller. Even more useful when it was the only DC on that domain (3 servers, 30 Wyse terminals and a couple of laptops).

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Similar

      Even more useful when it was the only DC on that domain

      Which is why you always have a backup DC!

      1. Mark #255

        Re: Similar

        This brings back long-suppressed memories of reinstalling a DC's HDD, which was serving a small research group in my Physics department, all done on a shoestring budget.

        All the data had been copied off, but NT 4 could recognise a fresh install, and all the trust relationships would get b0rked.

        So I brought in a frankenPC from home, installed NT4 Server on it, made it backup DC, then promoted it to Primary DC (taking much longer to do than to type).

        Then came the reinstall on the actual server, with an actual Server licence, and the backup DC/promotion dance once more.

        It was definitely beer o'clock by I'd finished that.

  5. Empty1

    In the dim and distant past as a college admin, I found "deep freeze" and it was a life saver for everything except a small lab of Autodesk pc's

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There used to be a way to unfreeze/refreeze the PC's with a tool called "deepunfreezer".

      Then again, a Linux boot disc would also load things in, because the BIOS was never locked down.

      Many a game of the DOOM Legacy sourceport was played.

  6. cantankerous swineherd

    back in the good old days some bright lads at my polytechnic (remember those?) figured out how to shell out from the networked TurboC++ we used for programming assignments and then get to hensa (Higher Education National Software Archive) at Lancaster uni. can't remember the gory details but there wasn't a web browser to be seen!

    1. BebopWeBop

      I'm pretty sure they used a text based 'browser' that was not dependent on HTML. Maybe Synapse? I am sure someone will correct me.

      1. Paul Cooper

        No, HENSA (which I remember well) prefated the www - I forget the protocol used to download stuff, but it was one of the pre-WWW things that we all used!

        1. storner

          probably gopher

          Those were the days...

        2. Steve Todd

          Perhaps it was on JANET, the UK's X25 academic network. I can remember having a lot of fun on that myself.

          1. Klimt's Beast Would

            I've just had a massive


            Mainframe hosted text based game, mid(?) 1980s, played though my Dad's VT131 (I think).

            "You are in a corridor.There is a dwarf with an axe..." I don't remember much more but I looked it up and I think it is Will Crowther's “Colossal Cave Adventure”*

            Oh, we also used to chat first thing in the morning when he was on sabattical on the other side of the planet. I feel faint. I'm going to lie down now.


            1. Martin

              How to get Colossal Cave installed

              Well, in these lockdown days, it seems an excellent reason to revisit it!

              On any Debian-based linux, (including on an RPi), go to the command line and type:-

              sudo apt-get install bsd-games

              Then type:-


              Welcome to Adventure!! Would you like instructions?

              And off you go. That'll keep you occupied for the next few weeks.

              (What do you mean, you don't have a linux system?)

              1. Elfoad Regfoad

                Re: How to get Colossal Cave installed

                Try it without the hyphen.

                $ adventure

                Command 'adventure' not found, but can be installed with:

                sudo apt install bsdgames

                sudo apt install colossal-cave-adventure


                1. Martin

                  Re: How to get Colossal Cave installed

                  Hmm. I definitely need the hyphen.

                  I did actually check it on a Kubuntu system and my rPi before I typed in the command here.

                  What distribution are you using?

                  1. paulll

                    Re: How to get Colossal Cave installed

                    No hyphen for me on kubuntu...

                    1. Martin

                      Re: How to get Colossal Cave installed

                      Well, that's embarrassing. I've just checked again. It definitely doesn't need a hyphen.

                      I'm going to blame that on lockdown brain fade :)

                  2. Elfoad Regfoad

                    Re: How to get Colossal Cave installed

                    i'm running ubuntu 18.

              2. Klimt's Beast Would
                Thumb Up

                Re: How to get Colossal Cave installed

                Arrrrghhhh! Errrrghhhhh! OOorrrrrrghhhhh! I am transforming......

                Yup. I'm getting quite weepy now. Absolutely nothing to do with the bottle of Côtes du Rhône I've finished. Sniff. Thanks very much!

              3. Aus Tech

                Re: How to get Colossal Cave installed

                You don't need a linux based machine to play Adventure. There has been a MS-DOS and/or Windows command prompt version available for many years. I seem to remember tuning the settings for a single floppy version, something like 25 years ago. It ran much better if it was installed on the C: drive of DOS 3.3, preferably in the C:\Games directory.

              4. swm

                Re: How to get Colossal Cave installed

                The original Adventure game was a FORTRAN program which you could compile and run. Unfortunately it was dependent on the word-length of the machine for strings. Many derivative copies were made fixing this problem for various word-lengths. The original source is kicking around the net somewhere.

                After its amazing success Bill Crowther made a more extensive version which he sold to try to make some money off of it.

                An excellent program.

          2. phuzz Silver badge

            JANET still exists, and is one of the largest networks in Europe.

            1. veti Silver badge

              Except that it's no longer in "Europe".

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Close but no cigar

                Except that it's no longer in "The European Union".

                TFTFY. Although I could have put 'Except that it's no longer in "The Franco-German Supporters Club"

                Europe is the continent - we did not leave the continent. We did (allegedly) leave the EU.

        3. Mr Humbug

          My rather vague recollection of acquiring stuff from there (when it was called the Public Domain Software Archive - Janet's address for it was I think) was that I used to browse the folder structure with a terminal emulator. Then a command on my account on my university's mainframe would transfer the file to 'local' storage so that I could download it to floppy (5.25 inch of course) using Kermit and take it home where I could finally PKUNPAK it (before Phil Katz invented Zip) and see if it did what it was supposed to.

          All this means that I'm old and my recollection may be faulty.

        4. Rich 11

          I forget the protocol used to download stuff, but it was one of the pre-WWW things that we all used!

          Gopher, FTP or Veronica. Once HTTP was defined and before the Mosaic/Netscape beta was released you could also use Lynx.

          1. rototype

            I'm pretty sure it was something to do with the Muppets, or maybe just that damned annoying frog...

        5. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I remember having to use SPAD to access the library at sunsite, which allowed you to telnet back out. That was the workaround...

    2. Keith Langmead

      I remember doing similar in my Uni days on the library catalog machines. They all run Libertas which was from memory was a simple text based Unix system allowing you to search for books, so black and white screens, basic etc, but also rarely used by students. If you knew how you could break out of it and get to the shell to access other systems via telnet. So while students queued up for access to a PC, those of us in the know would grab one of those machines out of sight of the librarians, and use it to access things like BBS, MUD, and Unix based email.

      1. irrelevant

        Upvote for the MUD reference. To young to be at uni, my only use of JANET was to get through to Essex, Bangor or whatever else we could find a copy. Later on I even paid for my own PSS account for a bit to connect through..

        1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge


          I was at Bangor with the guy who successfully extracted it from Essex and loaded it on our DEC-20! Endless ours wasted. It was so witty....

      2. Alistair


        Oddly -- there are still quite a few about.

        /me hides since he might still have a character or two on one or three of them....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: MUDs

          (looks over his shoulder at the tiny server on the other side of the room, quietly running one...)

          Yes, there's still some MUDs around.

    3. M. Poolman

      Hensa sure brings back memories, also from a poly, although I don't remember it being blacklisted. I seem to remember accessing it via ftp. One of the great things about was a good selection of Amiga software. I downloaded both gcc and LaTeX for the Amiga, (split over about 10 floppies if I remember correctly).

      1. l8gravely

        This was my biggest regret about my Amiga, never getting a C compiler for it. But at the time Lattice C was stupidly expensibe and there was no GCC available. This is of course the A1000 in '85 as I recall, then my A2500 on Uni. Or college as we called it here on the left side of the pond. Good times.

        Remember the Fred Fish disks? With tons of freeware? Amazing stuff.

        1. M. Poolman

          Amiga C compiler

          There was a free compiler for the A500 called NorthC, gcc was available for the A1200, but I'm not sure about earlier Amigas. With either, it was a problem getting hold of the header files to access various OS and UI functionality. I seem to remember that the price of Lattice C with a full set of header files cost more than the hardware itself, and can't help wondering how much this had to do with the Amiga's ultimate demise.

          1. rototype

            Re: Amiga C compiler

            I remember seeing North-C on my flatmates Amiga 500**, as I recall the icon was a picture of an oil rig - very witty.

            ** this was one of 4 machines that we networked together with RS232 cables (the other 3 were Atari STs) so they could play games together. Couldn't join in though, my 'puter was an old RaIr Black Box running MP-M (Multi-user CP-M) with a Getronics green screen terminal (back in the day when Getronics actually made stuff, not just contracted to repair Dells), so I couldn't join in - although I did have WordStar, SuperCalc and dBaseII on it (and a massive 10MB full height HDD!!!).

            1. M. Poolman

              Re: Amiga C compiler

              I got that from a Fred Fish PD library floppy. The developer actually had his personal telephone number in the docs, I rang it once and a slightly fed up sounding better half answered it and shouted up the stairs in a rather resigned tone of voice "Stevie, North C!".

              You tell that to the youngsters today and they won't believe you.

        2. Aussie Doc

          Fred Fish

          Our local Amiga/Commodore Computer Club had the complete collection (with regular updates, of course) and there wouldn't have been a member who didn't have every single disk.

          Wasted many an hour trying out some of the weird utilities as well as the quality graphic games.

          Sad that he died so young.

          Nice list of disk here

          MissileCmd anyone?

  7. BebopWeBop

    Well, you have to admit it encouraged creativity! In fact, they may well have spent more time working out how to get around restrictions than playing the games.....

  8. juice

    Let's be honest...

    What this really means:

    "With the aid of AltaVista and some freeware tools, he reduced the footprint of the game from a 650MB CD down to a mere 5MB."

    ... is that he downloaded a nocd crack.

    Looks like C&C needed about 30mb of hard drive space - all the video and music (Red Book? I've got vague memories of playing the soundtrack in my CD player!) was streamed off the CD.

    And while I haven't checked[*], I'm guessing that there was at least some single-player files you could safely delete if you just wanted to go head to head.

    So, yeah. Run the crack, have a few rounds of "does the game start after I delete this file?" and then fire up the shareware version of Winzip and run it in split-disk mode to get the data onto the floppies. Then you'd just have the fun of swapping disks to install onto the school computer, while crossing your fingers and hoping that disk #4 of #5 hadn't spontaneously developed a bad sector.

    Time consuming, but not that complicated.

    To be fair, we did something similar at university - there was a hidden network drive, which just happened to have a full copy of Doom installed. The weekend when my friend was gifted the knowledge of how to access this drive was a very fun weekend indeed...

    [*] C&C, Red Alert and Tiberian Sun are available as freeware these days, directly from EA. Or at least, they /were/; with the imminent release of the newly remastered versions, the link to download ye olde games has mysteriously vanished from their website. Finding the ISOs from an alternative source and testing the above process is left as an exercise for the reader...

    1. druck Silver badge

      Re: Let's be honest...

      Or instead of deleting large image files, simply replace with one with the same name and dimensions, but entirely black so it compresses well. For video, edit down to a single frame.

      1. juice

        Re: Let's be honest...

        > Or instead of deleting large image files, simply replace with one with the same name and dimensions, but entirely black so it compresses well. For video, edit down to a single frame.

        That'd be tricky - video games tend to merge their assets into a single archive file - often with proprietary code and/or hacks to maximise performance (e.g. fixed offsets), especially back then when disk i/o was far far slower than it is today. Similarly, image and video tended to be in non-standard formats; Bink and Smacker were (are?) popular at the time, and images tended to be in a format which could support alpha channels.

        So you'd have to decompile the archive, hack the video/audio/sound files and then glue everything back together, while also making sure that you don't trigger any tamper checks.

        To be fair, people did occasionally do stuff like this, especially back in the days when games ran off floppy; especially on the Atari ST, crackers would often use compression and other tricks to cram multiple games onto a single floppy.

        In fact, there's a tale about Operation Wulf on the Amiga/Atari ST[*]; the original, commercial release came on multiple floppies. Some enterprising cracker figured out how to squeeze the entire game into a single floppy, much to the amused chagrin of the game's publishers, as if the original developer had managed to do the same, it would have measurably reduced the distribution costs...

        [*] Or possibly, it's sequel, Operation Thunderbolt? Again, digging out the exact details is left as an exercise for the reader!

        1. AIBailey

          Re: Let's be honest...

          Your memory does you credit - taken from ST-Amiga Format, issue 13 (1989), an article on software piracy:

          "There is a story doing the rounds of a lad who hacked into Ocean's Operation Wolf, which in ST format comes on three disks, removed a bug on level five which caused the game to crash when a particular object is shot and compressed all the code to fit on one disk. Disks aren't cheap - Ocean would have been extremely happy to have left two disks out."

          Of course, the original ST version would have been on single-sided floppies, where the cracked version would be double sided.

          1. juice

            Re: Let's be honest...

            > taken from ST-Amiga Format, issue 13 (1989), an article on software piracy

            I think my knowledge of this came from a similar Retrogamer article from sometime in the last decade, so my memory isn't quite as fantastic as it could seem ;)

            Interestingly, a bit of clicking around threw up a forum post which might have been from the cracker in question...


        2. SimonC

          Re: Let's be honest...

          I think Tiberian Sun? Or possible RA2, required you to do that, I'd completely forgotten! A 2kb compressed file would expand to be 700mb so the game was content that the file was present and accounted for. It wasn't about piracy, it was just about wanting to occasionally play 4 player games with only one copy! Tib Sun was the only one my group of friends didn't have a copy each, and with good reason... the game was pretty poor.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Let's be honest...

      The C&C games where still being sold via Origin until recently (as a complete set from the original C&C + expansion packs, Red Alert + expansion packs & #2 & 3, all the later C&C games and Renegade the 1st/3rd person shooter that should have rewrote the FPS/TPS genres but failed in a big way). All for the princely sum of £9.99 (which I paid gladly for the lot!). The early games didn't like the 2160p resolution of my monitors without some ini file "hacking" to add the resolution options to the settings. The later games though looked fantastic in 2160p on a RTX2070 with everything maxed out. Looking forward to the remasters although they still look extremely dated in comparison to Tiberian Sun & Generals (which I would love to see running with Ray Tracing & DLSS enhancements). This might be the excuse to turn Renegade into what it should have been with Ray Tracing

      1. juice

        Re: Let's be honest...

        > The early games didn't like the 2160p resolution of my monitors without some ini file "hacking" to add the resolution options to the settings.

        It's been a while since I've tried playing the original C&C, on an ancient-at-the-time 1ghz Thinkpad, which was still at least an order of magnitude faster than the 100mhz P1 that I originally played C&C on :)

        If memory serves, there was a patch-hack to bump the resolution up from 640*480 to 1024*768, which then meant you could see more of the map.

        In fact, it was this wee beastie, which did a number of other useful things, such as porting over extra levels from the console versions and making it easier to access the hidden jurassic-park maps:

        Given that I've got more thumb-twiddling time than usual, maybe it's time to fire C&C back up for another session...

    3. SimonC

      Re: Let's be honest...

      Actually, it was a tool called RAMIX or RAMIXER (Sam forgets), a tool that Sam definitely used to strip out the cutscene animations, music, missions, and other non-essential files. The game would boot up to the menu, and wouldn't crash - trying to start single player wouldn't work, but multiplayer worked fine and it didn't complain about the music.

      You could use -cd as a command line argument to point to where the CD was, something most C&C games supported.

      There was no piracy as Sam owned every game - his group all did - and C&C came with two CDs, one for each faction anyway. :)

      1. juice

        Re: Let's be honest...

        > There was no piracy as Sam owned every game - his group all did - and C&C came with two CDs, one for each faction anyway. :)

        I'm sure Sam and his friends owned enough original copies to cover the entire group ;)

        As to the tool; I'm guessing it was RA-MIXer, as available from here:

        (Which also suggests that they were playing C&C sometime after June 1997, since that's when RA-MIXer got the ability to update MIX files...)

        I'm mildly surprised that C&C would run with missing files; sanity checks on things like that are part and parcel of most anti-piracy mechanisms, and by 1995, the games industry had been embroiled in a hard-fought battle against crackers for more than a decade.

        Still, this was 1995, when hard drives were small (the 540mb ceiling had only just been breached) and CD writers were rare and even more expensive (The May 1995 Infoworld issues lists blank CDRs at $8.99 a pop. And if you so much as breathed while writing, you'd end up with an expensive coaster!).

        So I guess they might have relied on the fact that the game was too big to fit on a 1995-era hard drive, little dreaming of the fact that their game would prove popular enough to be reverse engineered...

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Let's be honest...

          "So I guess they might have relied on the fact that the game was too big to fit on a 1995-era hard drive, little dreaming of the fact that their game would prove popular enough to be reverse engineered..."

          I remember games such as the Scot Adams adventures loading into all available RAM on a TRS-80, making it difficult to copy and a standard 18K RAM device. Increasing the RAM cost a LOT. But the 7-bit upper-case only video RAM could be upgraded to 8-bit for a much more reasonable price and someone wrote a copier program which loaded and ran from the now 8-bit video RAM. The other option was dual cassette "ghetto blasters", but again, still relatively rare and expensive, or just having two cassette players and hoping the source tape was am early enough generation copy that the destination copy would work. But that depended on a black art of getting the tone and volume settings correct for the likely two completely disparate cassette players you owned or borrowed.

    4. Captain Obvious

      Re: Let's be honest...

      I still play Red Alert - my all time favorite game. I love the 2D vs the 3D crap as it was easier to control the units with the slick overhead view. Usually play Russia as the Tesla Coils are awesome.

      Never liked Red Alert 2 and regular command and conquer was good - but Red Alert hits the sweet spot.

      You can download it to play online still from

    5. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Re: Let's be honest...

      You did not need a crack for DOS C&C. I made a small network install of command and conquer DOS as DOS-RAR selfextract, all you needed was to change a little config file so it wouldn't complain. So your mighty-oh-so-high "so he downloaded a no cd crack" is moot. You did not know what really was, and all you have to offer are wild guesses. And you are not the only one who was doomin' around.

  9. Duffaboy
    Thumb Up

    Ah Altavista

    I loved that search engine

  10. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge


    As found on any bootable floppy at the time. It shouldn't have been that hard to get the systems up and running again.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge


      But only by those who knew enough not to delete it in the first place.

    2. Rich 11


      As found on any bootable floppy at the time.

      "Any?" Don't forget that we still walked around with disk boxes of our fave utils booting up under DOS 3.1 or DR-DOS 5 at the time, while you'd want MS-DOS 7 to properly support Windows 95.

      1. Aussie Doc

        Re: COMMAND.COM

        ...all whilst walking on broken glass in the snow.

        Tell kids today and they don't believe you.

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Our IT professor had us stumped for a long time

    At my first uni our PCs were still on DOS - this was way back in the late eighties. I think it was DOS 4.0, in any case it was a version where you could put the disk prompt in color and many other things.

    The first time I got my hands on those PCs I obviously wanted to have a look around the C: disk, but I got an error each time I tried to cd to a directory. It took me ages to finally grep that, with the prompt embellishments, our professor had managed to rename "C:\" to " C:\".

    Simple, yet devilishly effective.

    Of course, when he had noticed that I had discovered the ruse, he gave me his trademark stern look and made me promise not to tell anyone - promise which I honored scrupulously.

    1. KarMann Silver badge

      Re: Our IT professor had us stumped for a long time

      Maybe it's not clear because it was split across two lines as I see it, is there indeed a space before that second "C:\"?

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Damn formatting. If you make your browser window smaller, you'll see it properly.

        Yes, that was the trick, but it was not just a space, it was ASCII 240 if I'm not mistaken, which is actually a transparent block.

        That much more devilish, don't you think ?

    2. Rich 11

      Re: Our IT professor had us stumped for a long time

      He renamed a one-letter drive allocation to have two characters, and got that to work in an OS which didn't yet support spaces in the file system? Sorry, but it sounds a bit iffy to me. It implies the design oversight (if that's what it was) must also have been supported when parsing files like config.sys and the PATH environment variable.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Our IT professor had us stumped for a long time

        Maybe he just managed to get the command prompt to process the incorrect string and reject the original, leaving all other programs to use correct paths. If your main environment is said command prompt, it could hold people back for a while, assuming "cd .." repeatedly wasn't supported yet.* It'd be kind of like the classic prank where a hidden directory is placed in someone's home directory, it is set as the first path directory, and a binary named ls is placed there which runs a real ls and modifies the results for maximum confusion--neither prank stands up to concerted efforts, but both are confusing for quite a while.

        *Sorry, I'm young enough that I didn't really use DOS. I don't know if either assumption would have functioned in that environment.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Our IT professor had us stumped for a long time

      "I think it was DOS 4.0, in any case it was a version where you could put the disk prompt in color and many other things."

      The prompt command allowed some customisation but for colour and other clever stuff you needed ANSI.SYS loaded by the CONFIG.SYS. (or NANSI.SYS or other improved equivalents.) IIRC that was possible from MS-DOS 2. My DOS prompt, at least from MSDOS3.3, used NANSI.SYS and stored the current cursor position, moved the cursor to column 1, line 25, displayed the date and current path in bright yellow on a red background then restored the saved cursor position, giving me a status line at the bottom of the screen similar to what I'd had on "proper terminals" :-)

  12. chivo243 Silver badge

    Ghost is the name

    put the floppy in, restart, password.... 30 minutes back to normal.

  13. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    shareware DOOM FTW

    1. NibblyPig

      We tried to get Quake to run on some of the computers, but it errored saying it required a 'maths co-processor'! Whereas C&C ran fine. Go figure!

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Quake used a software 3D engine that required a maths coprocessor (which was becoming standard in many CPUs at this time).

        C&C used a sprite based rendering engine, no heavy 3D calculations required.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        In related, more modern news, I can run Half-Life 2 just fine... but my computer struggles with some Flash games. Quality of code makes a BIG difference!

  14. trevorde Silver badge

    Fat Mac

    Back in the day (1986), one of the blokes on my engineering course monopolised the Fat Macs (512kB RAM!) to do Mandelbrot simulations. He left big notes on them about "DO NOT TURN OFF - RUNNING SIMULATION". We rebooted them because we wanted to play our dungeon crawler (name escapes me). AFAIK, none of his simulations ever finished.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Fat Mac

      If you're going to use a shared machine you should be prepared to sit there until the program completes. It would have been a learning opportunity for him.

  15. Will Godfrey Silver badge


    I do love a story with a happy ending.

  16. Patched Out


    I taught myself Turbo Pascal back in the early 90's using the book "Fractal Programming in Turbo Pascal". I created my own Mandelbrot set generating program, but because I only had a 286 computer without a co-processor, calculations could take days. When I created the program, I had the foresight to modify the header of the graphic format used to store the image to include all of the image generating parameters and an index of the last pixel calculated. If I had to shut off the computer before an image was complete, opening the image in my program at a later time would result in it restarting right where it left off.

  17. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Just read..

    starting with a game called something like "Command".

    And the voice in my head just screamed "Noooooo".

    But yes, sighs.

  18. holmegm

    Played Quake (I think it was) with fellow students on some classroom computers at a naval shipyard. Can't remember if we brought a CD in or simply downloaded it.

    Ah, that network was lightning fast! Good times. Stupid of us, but good times.

    The civilian instructors apparently had some software that showed them all of our screens in a grid ... they simply showed us some screenshots, told us to knock it off, and nothing more was heard about it.

    1. diguz

      remote control

      you reminded me of my middle-school, they had a w95 lab with a "server" (it was just a 486 machine running some custom sw) could take control of one or multiple "students" (p1 75hz workstations)... in that building I was one of the handful of people who knew how to use the whole shabang... god how much i laughed when my classmates screamed "my pc is haunted, it's telling me that i'm a moron!" when said words "magically" appeared on a word document.

  19. The Mighty Spang

    ah yes there were times at work they went round and audited the machines

    the solution? zip up your game files in an encrypted zip file, then zip that up in an encrypted zip file.

    batch file to do the unzipping and a when the game exited, delete the local game files.

    and later when they tried to foist SMS onto every machine, taking our control away we just recomipled MSGINA to not execute any SMS hooks. what did they expect? we were developers lol

    1. Anonymous IV

      Re: ah yes there were times at work they went round and audited the machines

      Your story about ZIPping some files twice reminds me that there was a theory going the rounds at the time probably on FIDOnet, that you could reduce the size of any file to the absolute minimum amount possible - 1 byte (or maybe even 1 bit!) - by recursively ZIPping the files, then its ZIP, then the ZIP of the ZIP, then...

      It didn't take much intellectual effort to determine that this theory was flawed, but its proponents were adamant that it would work!

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: ah yes there were times at work they went round and audited the machines

        I used an archive file format the name of which I cannot remember at one point which did work like that, at least to an extent. I think it would stop compressing further after about three runs. My guess was that the algorithm in use had some limits to ensure compression didn't take very long leading to inefficient choices being made. People liked sending files over slow connections at the time so this three-run trick got quite a bit of use.

      2. The Mighty Spang

        Re: ah yes there were times at work they went round and audited the machines

        the reason for the double zip was that you could still see the file names and their size even though you couldn't read the data. then definatelynotsharewaredoom.wad would be a bit obvious :)

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: ah yes there were times at work they went round and audited the machines

        "It didn't take much intellectual effort to determine that this theory was flawed, but its proponents were adamant that it would work!"

        Wasn't there some trick where you create a tiny zip file which unzipped recursively to fill all available disk space? You should have sent them one of those.

        1. KLane

          Re: ah yes there were times at work they went round and audited the machines

          Yes, there is, but I won't give the source (not hard to find, but why help?) They are quite often used to get revenge on script-kiddie level hackers.

  20. Kalkyrie

    Joining the system

    My college simply got the A-level students to do the sysadmin for the computer network, in exchange for giving them free access to install computer games.

    Combine that with the technology department not being used that much, and there was a *lot* of time for Command and Conquer when the computer room wasn't being used.

    [I'm assuming the real sysadmin-ing was done by the teachers. I hope.]

  21. VicMortimer Silver badge

    Was never a problem for me

    Back in junior high school, I essentially ran the computer lab. Sure, I was a student, but I'd decided that the state computer curriculum was kind of shit, and I'd redone it. I then did teaching sessions for the teachers who were supposed to teach the classes, a few days ahead of where they were in the lesson plan.

    Anyway, I also spent my lunch and "study hall" periods in the lab, supervising the machines. Games were allowed, and if you didn't bring your own floppies from home, I had a few things in my case that you could play, plus any game in the MECC library was available.

    Of course, there was no network, no hard drive, and unless you took a hammer to it, you weren't going to do anything to those Apple //es.

    In college, there were some restrictions on what software the lab Macs could run, but I had a nice collection of patches to fix them, and a password grabber that would snag any connections to the lab server, I just had to come back later and retrieve them. I had admin access to almost every lab server. The lab admins actually liked it, it made their job easier when ResEdit could run. They didn't know about the passwords.

    (The statute of limitations ran decades ago, so that story can now be told.)

    And now I'm the asshole admin, saying "no, you can't install that, it's got malware in it".

  22. Ribfeast

    Back at MIT (not the good one, the other one in NZ) in late 90's I remember the PCs in the various labs has LS120 "superdrives" which took a standard floppy as well as 120MB disks. A bit like a zip drive.

    Games were banned, but they obviously overlooked the fact that an install of Quake fit rather nicely on the LS120 disks.

    Had many hours of fun playing against other students.

    Whenever a lecturer or admin peeped into the room, many PCs would mysteriously reboot. They suspected it, but never caught us.

    One time we heard them bounding down the hall towards the room in advance, in a vain attempt to try and catch us :)

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Back at MIT (not the good one, the other one in NZ) in late 90's I remember the PCs in the various labs has LS120 "superdrives" which took a standard floppy as well as 120MB disks. A bit like a zip drive.

      Problem there is that the LS120 discs were exorbitantly priced. Not many people bought more than 1 and the entire device became obsolete as soon as affordable CD writers and media appeared.


  23. earl grey

    Pah, you kids

    Back in my day it was a slab of damp clay and a stick.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Pah, you kids

      Stick? We begged for a stick. Had to sharpen our finger nails

      1. Aussie Doc

        Re: Pah, you kids

        You 'ad finger nails?

  24. Conrad Longmore

    Bah, students...

    Back in the day when most games ran in DOS mode 13h I worked at a college, I wrote a small TSR that simply intercepted the requests to change graphics mode and if it was 13h the computer threw a generic error and then rebooted. I named it something generic and stuffed it in the DOS folder. I don't believe any of the students figured out how it was done.

    I also wrote a wrapper around the FORMAT command because students - either accidentally or deliberately - would do a FORMAT C: which of course would render the machine unusable. If they tried that then it would make the most ghastly alarm noise in the middle of their class and earn them a bollocking.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Bah, students...

      Not so sophisticated. I was teaching in secondary school when the BBC Micros started to become available. Since if I set the machines up for the afternoon session before I went to get a bite of lunch ( not wanting to trust to leaving it to the last minute) they'd go in and mess it all up. I decided to train the kids. I left all the machines with a little programme running that left the screen blank ( or with a do not touch message) but any touch of any key would lead to random flashes,alarms and warning messages. Worked very well.

  25. Lord of Fries


    Those were the times...

  26. wallaby

    Nearly got busted

    I was working at a large (not so now) aircraft manuf through the 80s and into the 90s

    The network at the site I was based at was token ring. I had a store \ build lab where I used to hide away most of the day, in there I set up 2 PCs with network doom which we usually played after hours. One boring afternoon myself and the PFY decided to have a deathmatch, fired up the PCs and started playing. 10 mins later we get a panicked call from the help desk, something was flooding the network with IPX packets and they had had complaints that things were running slowly... realising it was us I said Id fire up my network diags and hunt the culprit down. Needless to say I sorted the problem but totally failed to find the offenders and hand them over.

  27. afrihagen

    I remember failing a couple of exams by playing Larn.

    First round about 4 weeks to play through, second time 4 days.

  28. adam payne

    Oh the memories of our old school network and the various models of 486 with Windows 3.11 / Netware.

    I remember being able to get to the dos prompt through the help section of Word and attrib -s -h -r following soon afterward.

    Soon to be followed by editing control.ini / win.ini to change screensavers from the boring marquee screensaver that endless scrolled the name of the school.

  29. ChrisBedford

    Yeahhhh... cute story

    ...but I wonder if it really happened. Sounds like one of those "I wish it had happened this way" anecdotes that turns out w-a-a-a-a-y too well to be real.

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