back to article This PDP-11/70 was due to predict an election outcome – but no one could predict it falling over

Monday has arrived, and with it a tale of election predictions past courtesy of The Register's Who, Me? Our story takes us back to the 1970s and concerns the exploits of "Neil", a systems manager who is sadly no longer with us (but still merits the tender affections of the Regomiser). A national broadcaster of the time was …

  1. tip pc Silver badge

    The elevator did it

    People nowadays have no idea how sensitive electronics used to be.

    Remember when you couldn’t use anything electronic on a plane in case it interfered with the planes control systems.

    Remember when audio systems used to make a noise when your phone received a text or phone call.

    How about wifi failing when someone turned the microwave on.

    1. Mongrel

      Re: The elevator did it

      In retail it was the tills going wobbly when the fluorescent lights turned on or set up too close to the exit RFID scanners

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: The elevator did it

        We had a theft prevention system in use at our record library, consisting of magnetic strips on the CDs and a gate that customers had to enter or exit through. The 'workstations' (a lofty moniker for 286 pizzabox systems running DOS, LanTastic and a homebrew registration system) had to have LCD monitors installed as even mono CRTs did not deal well with the (de)magnetising units that were essential to the process. This was early 1990's, so non-CRT screens were not exactly commonplace and most of them were still horrendously expensive. Fortunately we'd found a few cheap-ish grayscale EGA LCD screens that were discounted because Windows 3 was starting to catch on and people wanted something better than grayscale EGA. They may even have been lacking drivers, but under DOS they worked fine and they served us well for several years.

        1. HPCJohn

          Re: The elevator did it

          Magnetised monitors? You've never been to CERN then have you? Back in the days of CRT monitors I worked underground in one of the CERN experiments. We had a 1.5 Tesla magnet which you could walk into. We just had to tilt otu heads to the side to read the text on the CRTs...

    2. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: The elevator did it

      I remember listening to the radio while my Sinclair ZX81 executed code; distinct patterns of noise depending on what the computer was doing.

      1. Caver_Dave

        Re: The elevator did it

        I once worked with someone whose MSc project was making music from executing code in a similar manner. He might have been brilliant, but did that really demonstrate his coding skill?

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          I remember watching a guy[1] toggle in code on the front panel of an Altair 8800 that allowed it to play "Bicycle Built for Two" or "Fool On The Hill" over a transistor radio placed on top of it. Took the guy half an hour or so to program the machine. One of the people in attendance was heard to comment "that's probably the best use I've seen for a personal computer yet ... "[2]. It was late 1975 or early '76, at an early Homebrew Computer Club meeting.

          [1] Steve Dompier?

          [2] Roger Melen? Has been a LOT of water under the ol' bridge ...

          1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

            Re: The elevator did it

            Are you sure it wasn't Roger Mellie? Later a stalwart of Viz!

          2. Luiz Abdala Bronze badge
            Pint

            Re: The elevator did it

            People these days collected (17?) or so floppy drives to play the theme of Mario Bros...

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c52JQHVVqFM

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: The elevator did it

              There is HP scanner that had a test mode that moved the scan head back and forth that played Beethoven.

              https://youtu.be/NJQ2LpUYqqE

        2. keithpeter
          Windows

          Re: The elevator did it

          The Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol had a retrospective exhibition of digital art from 1970s/80s/90s. There was a personal computer programmed to play tunes through a transistor radio placed near it. The output peripheral was actually the CRT monitor - i think the scan coils because medium/long wave. A video 'demo' was looped that had been written to produce the audio in the radio. Quite a nice piece.

        3. juice Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          > I once worked with someone whose MSc project was making music from executing code in a similar manner. He might have been brilliant, but did that really demonstrate his coding skill?

          Learning how to force the machine to run at specific "physical" frequencies for specific periods of time sounds like it requires at least a bit of skill :)

          Then too, things like this probably helped to pave the way for the various "airgap" attacks which are based on monitoring EM disturbances when computers are doing things...

        4. Version 1.0 Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          I made my first IMSAI play music on an AM radio, that was so long ago I can't remember what the tune was, it was loaded via the front panel but maybe I can boot it up again.

        5. Steve Todd Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          I know someone who, for their B.Sc. project, took audio sample data and converted it to music notation, this on a BBC Model B. THAT took some skill on that hardware.

      2. big_D Silver badge

        Re: The elevator did it

        My ZX81 was plugged into a 4-way socket, each individually switched. Turning the power on and off on socket 3 (empty) caused the ZX81 on socket 1 to perform an interrupt that stopped programs executing.

        Great for hacking games for unlimited lives or removing collision detection from the code.

        1. TireIron

          Re: The elevator did it

          The ZX81 external Ram extension pack was a nightmare. the slightest move of the ZX and you have a crash. A slab of blue tack helped keep it in place but eventually I got the the soldering iron out and hard wired the damn thing on. A lot of soldered wires later and worked fine.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: The elevator did it

        TRS-80 "Android NIM" specifically used that noise as the sound effects. IIRC You were instructed to tune a shortwave radio to around 2MHz and place it next to the computer

        1. HPCJohn

          Re: Switching on the "monitor stand"

          I got sound from my TRS-80 by toggling the Cassette OUt line.

          Attach a speaker to it an place into a hole cut ina yoghurt pot. voila

      4. Raphael

        Re: The elevator did it

        In about '99 I used to own an old Mini, and when I used to drive to visit my girlfriend (now wife) out at her folks farm, they could tell when I was about half a kilometre away because a short in the distributor cap would cause interference on their TV.

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          Let me guess - an AC Delco dizzy cap? My experience across several cars was that, whilst a lot of Delco stuff was better than Lucas, they couldn't make a dizzy cap that would last between services. Bosch were even better, but tended to be significantly more expensive than my meagre budget could stand.

      5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: The elevator did it

        "I remember listening to the radio while my Sinclair ZX81 executed code; distinct patterns of noise depending on what the computer was doing."

        Even prior to the ZX80, there were programs for the TRS-80, at least, which were intended to play "music" through the interference on MW/AM radios by doing various loops to create the notes. No doubt there were other similar things pre-dating that too, eg singing printers, singing disk drives etc on mainframes.

      6. swm Silver badge

        Re: The elevator did it

        I wrote a program in 1965 that played telstar on a radio next to a GE-235 mainframe. The computer had a MOV instruction so adjusting the length of the move made for a convenient variable time delay.

        The CDC 1604 had the top 3 bits of the accumulator wired to a speaker and the diagnostics could play Bach.

      7. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The elevator did it

        IIRC, you had FAST and SLOW mode. When you were in FAST mode, it didn't update the screen while it was doing stuff.

        I did type in a program from a magazine, you could play tunes on the keyboard, as it used various FAST/SLOW commands to produce the notes.

    3. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: The elevator did it

      My screen still flickers when the mobile phone is too close to the USB-C/HDMI adapter.

    4. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: The elevator did it

      I used to work on a GEC4000 that could spot lightning 30 miles away, despite being quite far inside building with lots of stuff you would think shielding, though of course it could have been serial line for one of the other computers acting as an aerial. As the summer storms used to come up from France is was often a lot better than the weather forecast as to what was going to happen. Friday afternoon - blank screen. hot humid air, sunny skies? Reboot and see if you can get to a a good save point and then leg it home and down the pub on the docks to have a beer or two while the storm rumbled over the sea full of lighting and eventually a cold wind would spill over the quay which would signal the time to get into the pub and order 4 pints so you could have something to drink in the lightning flashed dark as the power went out.

    5. Mike 137 Silver badge

      "People nowadays have no idea how sensitive electronics used to be."

      They still are.

      ECL had a noise margin of 150mV. TTL had at least double that (asymmetric) but although the more modern CMOS technologies have twice that noise margin (around 1.45V) at equivalent supply voltages, the move to much lower supply voltages reduces this proportionately. With the now quite common 1.8V supply, the CMOS noise margin falls to 0.52V, which is about the midpoint between the two TTL thresholds (0.3V low, 0.7V high). Given the much higher impedance of CMOS, the chance of noise pickup is much greater, so we're quite a bit worse off than with TTL.

      1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: "People nowadays have no idea how sensitive electronics used to be."

        But everything now is surface mounted, double-sided boards or all of the transistors in a single packaged IC. Therefore the tracks (aka antennae) are much shorter and generally routed with some consideration to where the ground plane is, which all reduces the amount of pickup.

        (De-)couple that with better understanding and availability of decoupling, twisted pairs, isolating transformers and you have much better immunity.

        1. whitepines Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: "People nowadays have no idea how sensitive electronics used to be."

          Similarly, shielding for EMC works both ways -- reduces noise getting out, by reducing radiators and general coupling to the outside environment. Those same changes reduce external noise getting in and causing havoc, so even with more sensitive circuitry the overall lower coupling wins out.

          There's also the fact that high speed signals nowadays are run on impedance controlled striplines with low impedance values, versus the old point to point relatively high impedance type wiring. It's much harder to induce a signal level transient in a properly terminated differential pair at 70 ohms than a single TTL trace that might as well be a aerial for anything above a few MHz.

        2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

          Re: "People nowadays have no idea how sensitive electronics used to be."

          These days when I design SMT boards I always add ferrite beads on every incoming and outgoing line including the power supply lines.

        3. Steve Todd Silver badge

          Re: "People nowadays have no idea how sensitive electronics used to be."

          4 or more layer circuit boards with dedicated ground and power layers also helps a lot.

      2. swm Silver badge

        Re: "People nowadays have no idea how sensitive electronics used to be."

        By actual measurement the TTL threshold was 1.0 volts. While still in spec the noise from nearby TTL would often toggle TTL circuits. ECL, on the other hand, drove terminated transmission lines and was a much quieter logic family. The transition time from one to zero was ~ a nanosecond but TTL would swing 3 volts while ECL would swing about a volt. TTL was a very noisy logic family.

    6. big_D Silver badge

      Re: The elevator did it

      Elevators, micro waves, fridge generators turning on and off, these stories are very common among older geeks.

      Explosion danger was one though, at one company, they sent some project guys to a flour mill to work and the client set them up in the main hall, which had a lot of flour dust hanging in the air, as well as causing breathing difficulties, flour dust can be very explosive. The H&S guy wandered through the hall, saw the computers under a direct flour feed pipe and dust coming out of the pipe joints (normal).

      He quickly evacuated the project team and had the power to the PCs cut. Luckily, there was no explosion, but the project team were a little white faced, and that was not caused by flour dust!

      Another time, I worked for a plastic producer. They had a sulphuric acid store, where tanks of acid were kept. The PC they had was playing up, so I went to look. The motherboard and the drive were both badly corroded. As company policy was no data to be stored locally, I just swapped the PC out.

      That was when the user told me the network had stopped working months ago and all the data was local... I managed to recover most of the data off the pitted drive.

      1. tip pc Silver badge

        Re: The elevator did it

        When I heard that story ~ 20 years ago it was about a custard factory. And is a true story.

        http://www.amalgamate-safety.com/2018/06/26/horrible-health-and-safety-histories-dust-explosions/

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_explosion#Notable_incidents

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          There's a reason for the phrase "explosion in a custard factory".

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: The elevator did it

        It is easy to demonstrate the explosive nature of flour. Take a six foot length of 4" PVC pipe. Drill four 3/4" holes around the circumference of one end, about 2" from that end. Place a votive candle on the ground, and put the pipe over it. Light the candle through one of the holes. Dump a scant 1.5 tablespoons (10g) of sifted[0] flour into the open end. On a calm day, the minor explosion[1] can be fairly loud, and the resulting smoke-ring can rise & expand far more than you might think. All sizes are approximate. I've never actually measured anything when doing this, yet it always works despite my lack of care and attention.

        NOTE! While I've never had an issue playing with this toy, nor have I ever heard of anybody getting hurt or doing damage to anything, this may be illegal in your jurisdiction. Most such toys tend to get lawmakers upset, probably because they are always vaguely afraid that somebody, somewhere, is having fun. Needless to say, children LOVE it :-)

        [0] If you don't sift the flour, it might fall as a clump & extinguish the candle.

        [1] Depending on pipe size, hole size & number, the grind of flour, the quantity of flour how well it is dispersed, and other variations, the noise can range from a mild "pop" to a dull "thud" to a deep "bang". Experiment. That's what science is for, right?

        1. DJO Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          the resulting smoke-ring can rise & expand far more than you might think.

          Ah, self raising flour!

        2. Jim_E
          Mushroom

          Re: The elevator did it

          A long time ago teaching science I had a large coffee tin with a spark plug soldered into the side of it. A teaspoon of flour, lid firmly on, induction coil attached to the spark plug, shake the can, trigger the coil from a distance. The resulting bang, flying lid and fireball impressed the kids no end.

          1. Morrie Wyatt
            Mushroom

            Re: The elevator did it

            These types of schoolroom explosion go back beyond my father's youth.

            (And I have a 14yo grandson.)

            Back then it was the gas tap in the chemistry lab. Two holes pinched into an empty coffee tin. Into one was fed a rubber hose from the gas taps (used for bunsen burners) and the other (upper) hole left open.

            Turn on the gas, wait a bit then light the gas coming out of the upper hole. Turn off the gas and remove the rubber tube. Stand back and wait until the stoichiometric ratio was reached, then BOOM, off went the lid to the delighted juvenile cackling of the assembled miscreants.

            OH&S would be all over such activities these days of course.

        3. swm Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          Mr. Wizard Science Secrets has a section on how to make a flour bomb.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The elevator did it

        "Elevators, micro waves, fridge generators turning on and off, [...]"

        Macerator in the toilets. Rubber shoes on nylon carpet tiles.

        1. Martin-73 Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: The elevator did it

          These are a few of my least favourite things

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          The "What if ... ?" aspect of destructive testing was one of my favorite games for several years. I've measured 115,000V after running a standard vacuum cleaner over the floor of a SillyConValley shipping & receiving department. Lots of very small particles moving quickly through a plastic tube caused the static buildup. The next stop on the cleaner's schedule was the stockroom, with shelves & shelves full of static sensitive parts. Much hilarity ensued.

          I once measured 61,750ish volts on an empty, unused Styrofoam coffee cup set down on an isolated table after a colleague walked across a nylon carpet wearing Nikes ... Was an example, just to prove the point.

          In other news, the average secretary can generate upwards of 85KV walking down the hall to get a cuppa, but myself walking alongside her came up static free. Seems my unmentionables were made of cotton, hers were made of silk and petrochemicals. Her heels were leather, my soles were high-carbon rubber.

          Along the same lines as the above, most gas(petrol) station pump fires seem to be caused by females with man-made fiber underwear getting back into their cars after starting the fuel flow ... and then not grounding themselves before getting close to the fumes surrounding the fuel-flap when completing the scenario. (Yes, in the enlightened state of California we're actually allowed to fuel our own cars.)

          1. Andy A

            Re: The elevator did it

            In the UK the filler nozzles have their catches removed so as to avoid this problem. Even pumps for diesel, though the explosion risk is almost non-existent. They may still exist on pumps dedicated to the really heavy stuff, where hundreds of litres are involved.

            Virtually all filling stations are self-serve, but there's no unattended fuelling.

        3. Troy Tempest

          Re: The elevator did it

          As late as 2004 we had a "computer room" located next to the lift motor room.

          People began to accept "random server reboots" 0800-0915, 1200-1400 and 1700-1800.

          I guess people accepted the need for lunch and to go home ...

    7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The elevator did it

      "People nowadays have no idea how sensitive electronics used to be."

      Or how electronically vicious they could be.

      Back in the '50s the Beeb experimented with stereo broadcasts on Saturday mornings. One channel was broadcast over TV sound (don't bother to ask which channel - the Beeb and ITV only had one each) and the other over the Third Programme. Unless you were rich enough to have one of the new-fangled FM radios the Third was a weak signal on medium wave AM.

      TVs were CRTs and the EHT was generated by a whacking big transformer driven by the sawtooth (more or less) waveform of the horizontal scan. The harmonics generated by that mess extended will into the medium wave so the sound on that channel was swamped by the howl the interference generated despite being only a couple of miles or so as the signal flies from the transmitter.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The elevator did it

        Or how electronically vicious they could be.

        ..and electrically. In 1970 our online service used mainly Teletypes on dedicated telegraph lines to customers. Comms panels had patching jacks. IIRC the signalling system was 80-0-80 volts.

        1. Martin-73 Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          Yep, some parts of the system used 100-0-100 too if i recall. Even telephone systems had 100v available for various bits of apparatus toward the end of the electromechanical era.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: The elevator did it

            Here in the States, $TELCO ring tone is 90V@20Hz ... it's well worth avoiding, but will definitely wake you up in the morning.

          2. Vasten_the_Barelegged

            Re: The elevator did it

            > some parts of the system used 100-0-100

            In the 1980s, at my first real job, the receptionist had a large manually-plugged in switchboard, straight from the 1950s, maybe even the 40s. It was so out of date, even then, as if you wanted to make a phone call you had to lift your extension, the receptionist would answer, you then asked for an outside line, she plugged you in, and off you went. I was having trouble getting the director to agree to replace this board with a modern PBX, and, young pup that I was, I realised the guy was so shallow, he actually got a power thrill from commanding the poor receptionist. He changed his mind when I pointed out that poor Mandy the receptionist was getting a power shock each time - the plugs, covered in fabric braided cable, were so shoddy that she literally got a shock from the board.

            We got our own back on the old bugger. We managed to get one of those new fangled modern facsimile machines installed to replace the telex. We took to calling it a fassi-mile, and old git duly announced to the Board, as though it was his modernising approach, that he'd has a "fassi-mile" installed, to the boggling looks of the directors.

            How did I last 18 months there? In hindsight, it was the start of my time in IT.

      2. Contrex

        Re: The elevator did it

        I remember these experiments well. We had a Philips portable radio and living in Herne Hill (London) could pick up the Third from Droitwich pretty well. As long as the radio was more than 1 metre or so from the 405 line TV, there was no pick up of interference.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          Maybe it depended on your TV - Droitwich is a long way away from Herne Hill. Where I lived was about 2 - 3 miles of open air to Holme Moss which, according to my cousin-in-law who worked there, had its own MW transmitter for Third, something low powered, 20 watts sticks in my mind, with the aerial suspended from one of the guys.

          Our radio was pretty ancient. Does anyone remember the trick of having the choke of the HT filter double up as a speaker magnet?

      3. Great Westerner

        Re: The elevator did it

        The 1950s BBC stereo radio experiment.

        I remember those experiments so well. First the organisation it took my father to get the TV and the radiogram (am I getting too technical?) in the same room.

        Eventually it all worked, after a fashion and my father invited a neighbour in to experience the stereo effect. After listening for a while he said that he could not tell any difference to the mono transmissions.

        After adjusting the sound levels to try and improve the effect we eventually remembered that the neighbour was deaf in one ear.

        It was agreed that this might have something to do with the problem

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          Looking back on it it seems we trusted to luck that the speaker polarities matched. I suppose the advantage of a portable would have been that you could just turn it round if they didn't.

    8. S4qFBxkFFg

      Re: The elevator did it

      "Remember when audio systems used to make a noise when your phone received a text or phone call."

      ISTR reading that this no longer happens because the phones have changed frequencies, not that the audio systems are less sensitive - I remember it happening in the pre-smartphone days, but not recently (and there has been commonality in the audio equipment over that time).

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: The elevator did it

        It happened with GSM phones, not AMPS ones. The first time I encountered it I was on an AMPS phone call and the guy next to me had a call come in on his GSM phone. It nearly blew my eardrum

        It's not less to do with the frequencies and more to do with baseband plus better shielding, but it will happens

        1. Mike 16 Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          Further reading:

          http://www.windytan.com/2013/01/the-gsm-buzz.html

          One of many very good articles on electronics and radio.

          (No, I have no connection to the author)

        2. Martin-73 Silver badge

          Re: The elevator did it

          Indeed, with a nokia 5110, my 97 car stereo sounds like galloping horses. Same exact stereo on 3 or 4G instead of 2G... silence.

      2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: The elevator did it

        These days it's much easier to put a ferrite bead in every line on the board, this used to be a royal pain in the ass to do and the ferrites would often fall off and break, nowadays it's just a little SMT chip applied with zero effort to the design.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The elevator did it

          "[...] a ferrite bead in every line on the board [...]"

          The EELM 2nd generation KDF9 had a nesting store cpu architecture. The top three cells of the nesting store were in a modular rack plug-in box with perspex sides. Inside you could see the pretty matrix of tiny ferrite cores threaded with different colour thin wires for read/write.

          It was a multiple unit width - so occupied several slots in the rack. Plug it into the wrong position and the wires would fuse - and all the ferrite beads would be at the bottom of the module. Literally dropped bits.

          In 1967 the 3rd generation System 4-70 mainframe had many large cabinets to hold the ferrite store totalling 1MB. Soon after that the System 4-72 used "plated wire" ferrite technology that reduced the memory to one cabinet.

    9. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: The elevator did it

      We used to have Thanksgiving dinners in the '70s, where everyone would be gathered around the TV watching whatever parade and/or sporting event.

      Then grandma would use her electric knife to carve the turkey, which would completely kill TV reception.

      1. cybersheep

        Re: The elevator did it

        yes, put your phone in GSM mode and pop it near the radio/speaker and you should still hear the same interference.

    10. Someone Else Silver badge

      @tip pc -- Re: The elevator did it

      How about putting an AM radio (remember those?) next to a "minicomputer" and listening to the "music" it played when it ran a program.

      1. Luiz Abdala Bronze badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: @tip pc -- The elevator did it

        My old man had a car where the ignition coil became completely unshielded to the AM and short wave radio over time... You could clearly hear the spark firing order through the radio. It also made it impossible to listen to anything on the radio beside the ignition coil.

        It was easy to diagnose when a spark plug failed through the gap in the noise over the radio. Because it was a 305 V8, "meh, we still got 7 cylinders firing until we get home".

        Pulling each one of the spark plug wires, one of them made no difference to the now rattling and gurgling idle.

        Not just computers benefited from EM shielding.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: @tip pc -- The elevator did it

          If it didn't exist before, the noise was probably a bad ground somewhere. Most likely the chassis to engine block grounding strap was removed for access to something (or aesthetic reasons), and never replaced. Or, if you live in a place where they salt the roads, the chassis side corroded to the point of being useless. Restore/replace the strap, perhaps inventing a new chassis connection point; the block side should just need cleaning. While you're under the hood, clean the battery terminals and replace the plug wires.

          1. Luiz Abdala Bronze badge

            Re: @tip pc -- The elevator did it

            Oh yes, the car had all levels of disrepair in the cable harness, and we had it rebuilt shortly thereafter, including ground lines.

            The radio was usable again after it.

    11. NorthIowan

      Re: The elevator did it

      I remember an old wireless phone I moved into my home office started making a tick sound every once in awhile. When I kept track it was something like every 1 minute and 50 seconds. Finally realized it only happened when I had my cellphone on. I assumed the tick was when the cellphone checked into the local tower to say it was still in the area.

    12. bigtreeman

      Re: The elevator did it

      Stan, our ageing sage technician could tell if a circuit under test failed by listening to the RF interference on his radio.

    13. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: The elevator did it

      I still quite miss the "doooooo-diddle-dup-diddle-dup-diddle-dup" coming through a speaker just before my mobile rings. Back in the late 90s, when I got my first mobile (I resisted them for quite a long time), I could make my elder relatives wonder if their phones were broken by answering before the ring-tone sounded at their end!

    14. Great Westerner

      Re: The elevator did it

      I won't name the airport or the airline concerned but I will relate that ther was an irregular problem with the link between two offices.

      It was finally traced to the data cable under the runway which failed in its transmission if a plane taxied over it with the microwave oven in operation.

    15. HPCJohn

      Re: The elevator did it

      Now it can be told.. I worked in a frather famous Soho effects and animation house. One of our very expensive effects suites had clients in payung $$$. The suite was run by a $$$ SGI Origin 2000 machine with fancy graphics pipelines.

      Cue me in the machine room, needing a serial terminal to log in. I start a serial terminal ont he laptop and plug into an RS-232 port on the SGI Origin. Which promptly reboots.

      Cue sound of running feet and the server room door bursting open...

      Turns out there was a process sitting waiting on that RS-232 port. For what I do not know.. but as soon as it received any data the machine reboots.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: The elevator did it

        "Turns out there was a process sitting waiting on that RS-232 port. For what I do not know.. but as soon as it received any data the machine reboots."

        Probably looking for an APC UPS comms link ... and I'm only half joking.

  2. Admiral Grace Hopper Silver badge
    Windows

    Performance Upgrade

    We were convinced that the painfully expensive performance upgrades performed by the grizzled bloke in a lab coat that ICL sent us consisted of 11 hours of tea drinking and sandwich eating concluded by a single wire being cut with a pair of tin snips to remove the performance-slugging circuit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Performance Upgrade

      depending on the system it could be even worse. for 2900 systems an upgrade could require a new CPU,/ main board or just a microcode upgrade. It was standard to re-run the factory trials test though and that did take 10 hours plus, you would normally get a new cabinet door badge as part of the upgrade though.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Performance Upgrade

        "you would normally get a new cabinet door badge as part of the upgrade though."

        I remember someone discovering that the numbers on the VAX doors could be swapped around so they did the nominal upgrade themselves.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Performance Upgrade

          Swapping the badges on the cabinets is a time hono(u)red method of hazing the Brass/Boss and/or testing the newbies.

      2. Andy A

        Re: Performance Upgrade

        My first job was with an ICL 1901T, with 24K words of core store.

        It was physically fitted with 32K, but that extra 8K cost money, so... snip!

        Rumour had it that certain models in the ICL ranges differed only by the position of a jumper wire. We suggested that some sort of coin-in-the-slot mechanism to gain extra speed might rake in a bit of cash.

        The 1901T had a Teletype console, which was fitted with a speaker and associated volume control. Experienced ops would turn up the speaker and retire to quieter parts, wedging the computer room door open a tad. They could recognise the sounds of certain long batch jobs completing.

    2. aje21

      Re: Performance Upgrade

      Ah, you forget the most important part - changing the stickers on the outside to the correct colour for the new level of performance (apparently a much harder job than the actual upgrade).

      IIRC the machines were too expensive so they did slower versions to recoup the development costs - so the upgrade was just undoing the delay introduced to make the cheaper version. In modern times this has happened with CPUs when there were too few defects to give the cheaper versions so they just fused off some good bits (and it was even possible to undo this on certain Athlon models).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Performance Upgrade

        you are absolutely right, rather than design protoype and then build 4 or 5 different machines which would then require swapping out at some point the target design was the highest spec machine which was then 'slugged' through microcode to produce the desired performance level for each machine. Theoretically the tapes with the mircrocode on were unique to each cpu serial number but I'm not sure that was really true.

        There were also some marketing limitations on which features you could purchase for each CPU range.

        1. Julz Silver badge

          Re: Performance Upgrade

          The microcode was absolutely unique to each set of 'cpu's' (pain in the arse when boards were changed). There was also logic built into the systems that could not be circumvented that implemented the slugging. If all was not hunky dory, it would default to the most restrictive slug. Again, a pain in the arse if you had an inquisitive customer.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Performance Upgrade

        "In modern times this has happened with CPUs when there were too few defects to give the cheaper versions"

        Once it was discovered this was going on it became "widely frowned upon" and the cheaper versions tended to either be discontinued or the "more expensive version" discounted

        1. RM Myers Silver badge
          Unhappy

          Re: Performance Upgrade

          This is still happening with GPU's - check out the stories on the EVGA RTX 2060 KO. Nvidia had RTX 2080 gpu's that they either couldn't sell, or they had minor defects. They ended up modifying them so they could sell them as RTX 2060 gpu's, but they accidentally forgot to fuse off some functionality, making it run like a 2060 for gaming, but 2080 for some productivity tasks. Evidently this was unintentional, and Nvidia senior management was highly pissed off because it proved that they were selectively downgrading parts, undercutting some of their justification for the higher prices on top end parts.

          1. Luiz Abdala Bronze badge
            Boffin

            Re: Performance Upgrade

            GTX 1070's and 1060's are expressely GTX 1080's that failed one or more cores during the QA.

            I thought it was widely known, ever since each generation of gpus came with 3 or more "flavors".

            And overclocking was also born from this: someone discovered that several cheaper Intel chips were actually the same physical object as the higher speed parts, all you needed to do was to overclock the whole motherboard and have speedier memory to be able to handle the overclock, because the chips themselves were locked, while saving a few bucks.

            Intel admitted to this years later, releasing "unlocked" extreme chips, where the core clock is decoupled from the motherboard/southbridge/northbridge/whatever speeds (and thus everything else remains at regular pace) and you can overclock the chip alone at your heart's content, depending of how much support you have on the board to do that.

            1. RM Myers Silver badge

              Re: Performance Upgrade

              Widely assumed, but not "proved". This definitely proved it, thus why the CEO hit the roof.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Performance Upgrade

        "[...] the machines were too expensive so they did slower versions to recoup the development costs [...]"

        IIRC Sales to the Eastern Bloc required a mandated slug.

    3. iron Silver badge

      Re: Performance Upgrade

      Intel and Cisco still use that model to gouge their customers for "upgrades".

      1. herman Silver badge

        Re: Performance Upgrade

        Tesla does the same with their cars.

        I wonder how SpaceX does it.

        1. knottedhandkerchief

          Re: Performance Upgrade

          At school in the 70's a classmate had an early TI scientific calculator.

          He had a basic model of course. Opening it up, he noticed there were unused pads on the PCB, the only difference between the basic model and a higher model was the buttons provided. Cue the addition of little button switches to unlock the missing features...

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Performance Upgrade

          >Tesla does the same with their cars.

          Tesla was even worse.

          There is a government payment for electric cars. But they didn't want the tax-payer to fork out for rich B'stards buying luxury cars so they set a price limit.

          So Tesla sold a version of their car for $(incentive limit - 1) with range limited in software to almost nothing. But you could then buy a software upgrade which restored the full range and cost exactly the difference between the incentive meeting price and the retail price

        3. swschrad

          Re: Performance Upgrade

          $200,000 to launch. oh, you want the astronauts back? $500,000.

    4. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: Performance Upgrade

      Back in the late 90s I remember a service shop that would snip the little system speaker wire, when they couldn't fix a driver problem... internal speaker would chirp ever two seconds... I couldn't believe my eyes when a friend showed me.

    5. james_smith Silver badge

      Re: Performance Upgrade

      "... concluded by a single wire being cut with a pair of tin snips to remove the performance-slugging circuit."

      Had something similar with a DEC Alpha machine back in the late 1990s. We wanted to max out the RAM, so a smartly besuited engineer arrived and proceeded to cut a couple of jumper wires on the mainboard. It turns out that when you leased such a machine from DEC it came fully loaded, but with certain hardware options disabled if you hadn't paid for them.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Performance Upgrade

        "Had something similar with a DEC Alpha machine back in the late 1990s. We wanted to max out the RAM"

        vs Commodore, who actually punched holes in the motherboards of the CBM/PET series to prevent people adding ram to lower spec machines

      2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: Performance Upgrade

        I used to set the PDP11 interrupts up with a simple wire wrap mod under the buss.

      3. Dagg

        Re: Performance Upgrade

        IBM had the same thing except it was controlled by a software patch.

    6. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge

      Re: Performance Upgrade

      When we had a Xerox Desktop Publishing system installed at the engineering company where I worked, the installer came with a huge box of 5¼ floppies to install and configure the software. We were given a list of what functions were available, and the cost of having each one installed, and we picked what we thought would be needed and were billed accordingly.

      Some time later, we decided that we needed a couple of extra functions, so a maintenance engineer came along and logged in, ticked the relevant boxes on the installation list, and logged out. I asked how this was possible, to be told that all the necessary software was actually already installed, it just needed a tick in the right box to activate it.

      About a year later, I needed another function to be switched on, so I tried to log in using the original password, but it had expired. After quite a bit of cogitation, I realised that, if I were to disconnect my workstation from the server and reset the date to the previous year, the old password would let me in, I could switch on whatever I liked, and then reset the date to the correct year and reconnect to the server.

      Over the next couple of years I switched on nearly all of the functions on my particular workstation, and no-one was any the wiser.

    7. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Performance Upgrade

      40 years or so I had a Suzuki motorbike, can't remember the exact model but it was the lowest spec version that omitted simple things like a brake light switch for the front brake so it only triggered on the back.

      Except that the switch was there, the plugs were on the wiring loom, they just only connected them on the higher end bikes! That took all of 5 minutes to fix once I noticed.

      1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Performance Upgrade

        To be fair, the practice of deliberately disabling certain parts of the hardware depending on the price paid is no different in principle to the common practice of disabling features in a program depending on the type (price) of licence you bought.

        1. John R. Macdonald

          Re: Performance Upgrade

          @Cynic_999

          A dive computer I used for years was sold like that. All the features were factory installed as disabled and for each extra option you paid for, you were given a key, to enter in the system setup menu, to unlock that feature.

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Performance Upgrade

      The Univac 1160s were used in a bid to to US federal government to replace some old computers used to read punched cards or something else old and slow. The request for bids wanted something just good enough for the job. Uncle Sam didn't want to over pay.

      Well the 1160s were too fast, but they used microcode. So Univac made slow microcode to use to win the contract. But, per the contract, it had to be a normal order able feature. So all customers could order their 1160s with slow microcode if they really wanted to.

    9. JQW

      Re: Performance Upgrade

      At a former workplace we acquired a job lot of discontinued old servers as there was still demand for spares. These were Intel processor based, but not PC architecture, and only ran one obscure and forgotten operating system. I forget the precise details, but there were two models of these servers, with memory expansion boards for one model retailing at about four times the price of the other.

      We stripped these servers down to extract the memory boards, and noticed that they were identical, right down to the model number. Further examination of the recovered boards revealed an un-marked option jumper, set one way on the cheaper boards, and in the opposite way on the expensive ones.

      The same vendor charged had also charged a 400% premium on SCSI drives - the hardware would only recognise drives that had been pre-formatted with a special signature. We found a fix for that - a hidden menu option on the system's diagnostic tape.

    10. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Performance Upgrade

      "[...] concluded by a single wire being cut with a pair of tin snips to remove the performance-slugging circuit."

      EELM 3rd generation System 4 initially had declared a large range of models from 4-10 (in increments of 10) to 4-70. These would be offered with various operating systems - card based for the lower end, disk based for the top end. The machines all had the same RCA (IBM360 compatible) architecture.

      Unfortunately the hardware designs of the different models were farmed out to various parts of the much merged company (EELM = English Electric, Leo, Marconi).

      With delays the initial production range shrank to 4-30, 4-50, 4-70. The 4-30 was a beautiful piece of work by Marconi that apparently wasn't cost-effective. The 4-50 was a clone of the RCA Spectra 70/45. The System 4-70/72/75 were designed by a combined LEO 3/KDF9 team. IIRC the 4-60 was a slugged 4-70 or 4-72. The mythical 4-90 was overtaken by the merger with ICT to form ICL - although probably had some influence on the ICL 2900 series.

    11. Diogenes

      Re: Performance Upgrade

      A tradition as old as IBM - in Daddy Watson's day when they only sold card reader/sorters and printers.

      The field upgrade to double the speed was to physically move the drive belt from one pulley to the other,

  3. Chris G Silver badge

    But

    What did it predict and how close to the eventual reality was the prediction.

    1. the Jim bloke Silver badge

      Re: But

      politician won..

      voters lost..

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: But

        Sadly that one doesn't need a computer to predict, nor indeed does it have any uncertainty involved.

    2. Yes Me Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: But

      "Our story takes place during testing for coverage of an upcoming election where the computer was going to be the first ever to predict the outcome based on early results."

      Um, no. That was a Univac I in the 1952 US presidential election. I read it on Wikipedia so it must be true.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But

      I presume that it predicted that the government got in!

  4. jake Silver badge

    Another elevator story.

    Picture a data center in the basement of a tall building in San Francisco's financial district. Card punch up against a wall, near the ancient Otis heavy goods lift. Every now and again, at seemingly random times, the punch generated errors for a couple characters. Nobody could figure out why, not even IBM's field circus dudes.

    Until IBM was traipsing in and out one fine weekend, upgrading who knows what hardware, as only IBM could. Someone (ahem) noticed that the gibberish was being generated about ten seconds before the elevator doors opened.

    Turned out that the motor for the lift was drawing so much current when it first started that it was inducing errors in the punch on the other side of the wall. Nobody put two and two together prior to this because the lift rarely went into the basement (that level was key-protected) ... until IBM was in and out that morning.

  5. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    I remember writing code for several PCs with different Matrox frame-grabbers and image processing boards (PIP-1024A or B, and the more powerful MVP-AT/NP boards). In software, the diversity was solved by cordoning off the diversity of hardware platforms in separate libraries that were linked as needed. This worked fine in the medical microbiology lab, where I developed the code. However, once the department of dermatology had got themselves a shiny new MVP-AT/NP in their lab, and wanted to run my code, things constantly crashed, or froze. It turned out, this happened only when using a huge beast of a power supply for their mercury vapour light source for their Leitz fluorescence microscope. Bit of a bummer, as the code was intended to capture and analyse fluorescence microscopy images. The power supply produced so much RFI that the MVP-AT/NP electronics borked if you used any of the hardware image processing accelerator electronics. In microbiology we used Olympus microscopes, with a much smaller, more modern power supply, feeding the same type of mercury lamp with no issues at all. I had to write a separate MVP-AT library that didn't use any of the hardware acceleration to get the code to work in the dermatology lab.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Been there although it was XBOs (xenons) that we used rather than HBOs. It was actually the spike needed to fire them up that was the problem so it was just a matter of switching them on before boting up.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

        We tried that, but the RFI was still too strong.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Imaging is probably more sensitive. We were just doing spectrophotometry.

  6. Gerhard den Hollander

    Woking

    We used to have an office in Woking, next to the trainstation. 4 times an hour, whenever the train left the station, it would send powerspikes into our building. You would see the lights dim and then brighten before getting back to normal. Same powerspike would sometimes take down a computer, which could usually be fixed by a reboot. Even after supplying most machines with a UPS the spike would sometimes be too strong for the spike-limiter (or whatever it was called) in the UPS and take down the machine.

    In other days, we had dual monitor setups for most of our users, even in the mid-90s ... big 24inch sun monitors that could do 1920x1200. When you turned on both at once, they would both go through their de-gaussing step at the same time, and could happily be bouncing of each other for minutes before one of them would give up and they would both stabilize.

    Even more fun after a powerfailure, and you restored power only to remember slightly too late that you hadnt switched off all the monitors. The powersurge of more than a dozen of these beasts starting up would immediately trip the breakers

    1. james_smith Silver badge

      Re: Woking

      I had one of those monitors at my first proper programming job, attached to a SparcStation that only had an 8 bit framebuffer. The colour palette used to change as I'd switch application windows, inducing a near weekly migraine.

      1. Quando

        Re: Woking

        I've got a huge old 1600x1200 19" CRT monitor in my loft (put there on the basis of 'might still be useful' at some point when I was upgrading), made a lovely chunky noise when powering on and de-gaussing.

        Unfortunately a few years ago we had a loft ladder put in, which had the side effect of narrowing the loft entrance...and that monitor is now staying in the loft.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Woking

          bet it was fun getting it up there!? back in about 1998/99 I bought myself a 28" widescreen Panasonic CRT telly. Delivery men delivered and left. Being keen to get it setup I had to get it up my very narrow and steep stairs to my lounge that was on the 1st floor, nearly killed me but being only 28 I managed, not sure I would now being nearly 50!

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Woking

            The only reason there is still a telly in the house is because I can't be arsed to move the thing out of here ... it's a 1988 32" Trinitron (Stereo! WOW!). She still works quite nicely as a monitor (with help from Myth TV), the internal tuner died a couple dozen years ago.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Woking

              Bought a new TV recently - went to the shop, but all I could see were the seven foot screens. Bit too big (and expensive) for our place, so asked the assistant.

              Apparently, 40 inch TVs are classed as "small" nowadays....

            2. Louis Schreurs Bronze badge

              She still works

              A televisonset is an it, not a she. Same for ships and locomotives. They are all an it. Not a she.

              Even when ships can have sister ships, a ship in itself is an it.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: She still works

                "A televisonset is an it, not a she. Same for ships and locomotives. They are all an it. Not a she."

                I cannot even begin to describe how very, very wrong you are.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Woking

          Wasn't a Nokia was it?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Woking

        colour palette used to change as I'd switch application windows

        There used to be a fix for that, damned if I can remember what it was, though. It involved making all the windows use the same colour table.

        1. james_smith Silver badge

          Re: Woking

          Creating a custom .Xdefaults file would fix some of the palette issues, although tracking down all the resources was tedious and some apps had hardcoded resources...

      3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Woking

        >The colour palette used to change as I'd switch application windows, inducing a near weekly migraine.

        With the advantage that you could click in another window and what you were viewing in Mosaic became indecipherable

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Woking

          From what I remember, a lot of the stuff I viewed in Mosaic was indecipherable.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Woking

      "The powersurge of more than a dozen of these beasts starting up would immediately trip the breakers"

      Showing that you had a fire hazard and inadequately setup wiring.... (and probably the wrong breakers, B curve instead of C curve)

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Woking

        "Showing that you had a fire hazard and inadequately setup wiring...."

        As we all did, when computers were becoming ubiquitous in the office. Took a couple decades for the wiring to catch up ... and many offices aren't there even today.

      2. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: Woking

        Had a house we did wiring in where the kitchen lights would trip the breaker... turns out the previous owner was a BIG fan of downlights. I counted 27 lights in the kitchen alone. The upgrade to LED's resulted in a fairly enormous surge when the lights were put on (due to the bulk reservoir capacitor in the GU10 lamps).

        Solved by fitting a C6 instead of a B6. (the loop impedance readings were adequate to allow this, and the kitchen's being redone next year)

  7. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    victim to the more extreme slings and arrows of RS-232 connectivity

    I remember some Force(?) 68K VME boards that had over-sensitive RTS/CTS lines. If you left them connected to the modem cable at the card end, but unconnected at the terminal, the voltage generated from cross-talk on long data lines could cause all sorts of weird effects. Terminals would seem to work fine until some pattern of data on Rx/Tx would cause a modem line to drift just far enough to act as an XOFF and everything would seize up. Took a while to figure that one out.

    1. skotl

      Re: victim to the more extreme slings and arrows of RS-232 connectivity

      I had exactly that with Rair Supermicros in the late 80s. We would lay out looooong RS232 cable to the terminals and configure the O/S to have a VDU on the end of each port.

      The problem was if the customer removed a terminal and left the RS232 cable dangling then we would get crosstalk/interference that would flap the pins on the UART, causing the board to be flooded with interrupts. This caused a slowdown over a five minute period until the machine hung entirely.

      Restarting it would mean every display showing the start of the "Welcome to Rair M/PM" message getting displayed and every terminal hanging.

      Our solution? To tell the customer over the phone "Remember when it was all working and then you changed something (unplugged a terminal)? Well go back and undo what you did". A technique that still applies 35 years later...

  8. Paul Johnson 1
    Coat

    Field engineers...

    How do you recognise a field engineer with a flat tire? He's the one swapping all the wheels to find out which one is flat.

    How do you recognise a field engineer with an empty fuel tank? He's the one swapping all the wheels to find out which one is flat.

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Field engineers...

      I always make the point of asking our FE's when I'm training them on troubleshooting techniques to identify the three most powerful metrology/diagnostic tools that they have available to them.

      A depressing number aren't able to answer that one correctly (the answer being the two mark 1 eyeballs just above their noses, and the couple of pounds of grey mush directly behind them).

      But not quite as depressing as the customers who spend two weeks trying to fix a tool issue by endlessly looking over data and test runs etc before calling you in on an "urgent machine down escalation to top management", but haven't actually left their desks and gone and looked at the damn thing (often to then find the cause in minutes when they notice something visibly amiss).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Field engineers...

        A colleague was once called out to a time-sharing bureau (those were the days!) that had problems with a steam-driven GPO dial-up modem that was not auto-answering calls. The company had called Honeywell and they had sent an engineer over from France, who had hired a datascope and spent a week trying to figure out why he could see incoming calls but the modem refused to answer

        He walked in, listened to the guy for a few moments, walked over to the control panel and flicked down the 'auto-answer' key.

        1. l8gravely

          Re: Field engineers...

          "time-sharing bureau" is just "AWS" spelled out.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Field engineers...

            Nothing new under the sun.

  9. herman Silver badge

    Telephone dog circuit

    A long, long time ago in a land far, far away, a farmer complained that his phone would not ring, except in the early mornings when his dog would bark and then the phone would ring?!?!

    Turns out that it was a grounding problem and that when he tied his dog to the phone earth spike over night - the ringer voltage through the dog's chain, would make the dog pee, completing the circuit.

    1. EagleZ28

      Re: Telephone dog circuit

      That poor dog needed a new pet human...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The big clue was that the PDP was downstairs with the operators on the floor above. Long interface cables with unterminated pins can cause havoc, even with decent shielded cable.

    Back in the early days of Kilostream leased lines we had problems with the Kilostream modems going into loopback because we had ordered long fully wired X21 cables for some sites but the kit wasn't terminating the loopback pins. They were acting like aerials and any noise would flick the modem into loopback.

    I think they (BT) learned a lesson (obviously we weren't going to be the only ones affected) and later modems were fitted with an option to ignore the loopback interface and only act on the front panel (or remotely activated)

    1. BenDwire Silver badge
      Boffin

      They =/= BT

      It wasn't BT who learned the lesson, it was the manufacturer of the kit - i.e. Marconi Communications, whose R&D department was housed in the little village of Writtle where the first regular wireless broadcasts were once made (2MT). As a very PFY I did my apprenticeship there, and got involved in all sorts of testing. I recall having banks of Trend RS-232 testers running for days thrashing a multiplexer that I'd built up out of 74 Series TTL - four eurocards worth IIRC. They gave me a permanent job afterwards and I became quite the expert on all things serial, even designing a dual UART in a custom gate array. Those were the days ...

      Thankfully years of alcohol abuse has dulled the memories...

      1. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: They =/= BT

        I'm sure you remember sufficient amounts to fill a memoir with good stories. :-)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: They =/= BT

          "I'm sure you remember sufficient amounts to fill a memoir with good stories. "

          You have to wait until everyone else involved had died.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: They =/= BT

            "You have to wait until everyone else involved had died."

            Not necessarily ...

  11. Unicornpiss Silver badge
  12. Joe Gurman

    Maybe that was the first time in the UK....

    ....that computers were used to produce an election night forecast, in the States, been there, done that in 1952:

    https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2012/10/31/163951263/the-night-a-computer-predicted-the-next-president

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Maybe that was the first time in the UK....

      U.S. elections are weird. The U.K. managed pretty well to cover elections with something called a "Swingometer". But I don't see the point anyway in staying up at night to hear results, unless you expect to have to leave the country suddenly and so you need to know.

      Clive James wrote U. K. TV reviews for over a decade, and a lot of them were converted to a sort of epistolary history of them medium; I could get mine out to see most of the election TV shows described, and whether and how they had computers in.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Maybe that was the first time in the UK....

        In the UK an EELM KDF9 was used by ITV to process the 1964 general election results. Presumably that was making predictions as the counts were announced.

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      UNIVAC

      Yeah, OK. I've tweaked it to avoid confusion. Don't forget to email corrections@theregister.com if you spot anything wrong.

      C.

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  14. WorriedAboutThis Nation

    My God, that takes me back.

    In the 70's, I was a filed service engineer, looking after loads of 11/70's

    I will never forget 012737 !!!!

    1. jake Silver badge

      "I was a filed service engineer"

      Worked to the bone? Felt needled? Sounds like a raspy job. They must have run you through the mill. Bastards.

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  18. This post has been deleted by its author

  19. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    IBM printers had an upgrade that basically consisted of cutting a link & possibly swapping out a EPROM.

    In my past I had a Amstrad IRD510 satellite receiver, I found out that you could make it function as the next model up, with control voltages on the pin to bring in the 2Ghz bandwidth (That was also a later onboard mod, rather than external unit), my plan was to use the missing 7 segment display's for the channel as the control logic between to activate a to bring a DiSEqC 22KHz LNB switch between Sky & the D2MAC channels on Hot Bird (TV1000 - See what I did there?).

    The ZX Spectrum had a 16K & 48K version, people took to opening the machines to solder in more RAM, found the expected empty banks already populated.

    Rather than investigate the issue on the production line, with 48K machines only showing 16K, Uncle marketed them as a cheaper 16K version.

    Icon - Disappointed kids who paid out pocket money for the upgrade.

    1. Martin-73 Silver badge

      Ah that lot takes me back... having sky digital put in when it first came out, and the guy saying he had to take the existing analogue dish away as part of the free install deal. I pointed to the 1.4m dish with multiple LNB's on a special boom to allow the same dish to hit multiple sats, yep including 13 degrees east, as well as 19.2 for Astra and a few newsfeed satellites which could be interesting in the wee small hours.

      He said 'ah, yeah... i'll just say it fell to bits on removal'

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And in the good-ole-days of DVD regional coding, you could PAY EXTRA to have a DVD player that played the cheaper US discs as well as UK (Euro?) coded discs

      First one I bought simply came with a sheet of paper explaining how to enable enable 'universal' from the remote (I don't think I even had to pay. I asked about it and was given the sheet of paper)

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Pint

        Back In The Day

        I got my first few hacks from DVD Reviewer & became a full-time commentard.

      2. Andy A

        My DVD player was purchased at Singapore airport. It was ready "chipped", because it had to be usable anywhere in the world.

        Because possessing such a device in the USA is an official Abomination, contravening the DMCA, the player for use on the International Space Station had to have special arrangements.

        The player was supplied by a UK company, and transported in a Diplomatic Bag all the way to the Shuttle for launch to orbit. I assume it was also hidden in a box marked "Tractor Spares" to avoid drawing unwanted attention from the local law officers.

        Under US law, in addition to not playing non-region 1 disks, a US-supplied player would have to be switched off when not over US territory. It would count as "aiding a foreign power to circumvent the encryption".

  20. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    You had to.. didnt you

    Quote

    "Ever saved the day thanks to your trusty pair of wire-cutters, or fallen victim to the more extreme slings and arrows of RS-232 connectivity?"

    Yes.... and I'd rather not be reminded of RS232 problems thank you very much <breaks down sobbing again>

  21. davebarnes

    Probably not a VT-100 as they were not available until mid-1978.

    The original list price was $1900 USD and we sold zillions at that low price.

    1. MrNigel

      ....and then they ruined it with the VT-220 with those stupid F1-5 keys you couldn't do anything with. Still it did teach me the intricacies of termcap/terminfo hacking.

  22. Dr. Ellen
    Boffin

    More horizontal than an elevator -

    I worked at a nuclear physics lab in the Sixties, where we had a CDC 3100 mainframe. The mains power was somewhat noisy, but the real problem was a door. It was intended to keep radiation out of the control room, and it was HEAVY - solid Ferrocrete about six feet thick. It ran on rails, and was driven by an electric motor, and every time we opened or closed the door the computer would complain bitterly. So the lab finally got a rotary converter - a motor/generator set with a decent amount of flywheelage. No matter what went into the motor, clean power came out of the generator, and everybody was happy.

    1. harmjschoonhoven

      Re: More horizontal than an elevator -

      AFAIR, the Electrologica X8 of the Utrecht University (happy memories) was also fed by a rotary converter. It allowed a save shutdown in case of a brown out.

      Math students were allowed to run any pet program, as long as the execution time was 30 seconds or less (and did not use the plotter). Input was by paper tape, output on 132 column line printers. The turnaround time was one day, which made you check your code very carefully. Yes, my first program (Algol 60) succeeded at the first try.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: More horizontal than an elevator -

        One of the UK universities devised an efficient scheduling algorithm for students' computer batch jobs. If there was capacity in the computer to run the job immediately - then it was done. Otherwise the student's box went to the "out" table - and the student eventually had to re-submit it.

        It was important that the students didn't know the algorithm - otherwise they could have stayed by the "out" desk and kept re-submitting until it was run.

  23. Scene it all

    Was talking on the phone just today to a verterinary radiation oncologist, when her phone audio went all garbley. Then it stopped and she said "Sorry, I walked too close to the radiation safe." (which I guess is where they store all the nasty stuff) It was leaky enough to scramble her phone. COVID19 is not the only reason to stay out of doctor offices...

    1. Unicornpiss Silver badge
      Alert

      Radiation safe..

      I feel it's much more likely that her cell phone was getting its signal through the walls of the office and when she walked in front of the heavy shielding, it blocked the signal. I think it would take nearly a lethal amount of radiation to affect the actual electronics, or be ionizing enough to interfere with the signal.

  24. logicalextreme Silver badge

    I'm not afraid to say

    that I pretty much couldn't follow that story.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "And the solution? Going through multiple panels of DB-25 connectors; opening the shells, and cutting the wire to pin 20 (used for modem control).

    Election night was saved."

    Or, here's a thought: take the stairs for the rest of the night, and treat the elevator as out of order.

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  27. SteveCarr

    I see where they went wrong - they *should* have used the vastly superior PDP-10 (aka DECSystem-10)!

    The 10's were mainframes, the 11's sadly mere bit players

    1. Vometia Munro

      tbf to the 11, it booted the 10, kept an eye on its health and did the trivial I/O that the 10 was too important to bother with!

      I recall hearing the (probably apocryphal) story of Ken Thompson et al wanting a 10 to develop Unix on and being turned down because it was too expensive so he'd have to make do with the spare 11 they had lying around. Probably nonsense, but makes for an interesting "what if?"

      1. jake Silver badge

        They actually used a 10 before they got the 11 ...

        The "spare, laying around" computer was a 7, which they used for the initial simple sketches of what they wanted[0], but the machine was too old, slow, and small to do what they needed ... so they begged/stole/borrowed time on another department's 10 to develop the file system, shell, editor and various low-level tools. This is roughly when the UNIX name was coined.

        That dried up, but yet another department bought an 11 and allowed them to borrow it to continue development on what they (the other dept.) thought was going to be a text processing machine. Along the way, the programming language "B" was invented, which (with the move to the 11) morphed into "C" and the entire project became portable.

        The rest, as they say, is history.

        [0] They were working towards a better clone of the working environment they had experienced on Multics ... not just the computer environment, but also the human collaboration environment. The sense of community that permeates un*x culture today was there right from the start, built in as one of the design tenets.

        1. Vometia Munro

          Re: They actually used a 10 before they got the 11 ...

          Interesting that there was more to it than I realised! I shouldn't be too surprised at the 10's involvement as they lent themselves to so much interesting and innovative stuff at the time. A slightly expanded version of "whatever it was I vaguely remember I heard" is that he wanted either a 10 (of his own, presumably) or a System/370, but the latter made me doubt my memory and/or source as I'm not sure the timeline is right, and it seems to be a bit of a radical departure from what I presume to be quite a non-IBMish background (though tbf CP has a not dissimilar ethos to Unix).

          I didn't quite "get" the sense of community behind early Unix development until fairly recently: I mean I did in a sense having experienced an element of it when in college and read plenty about it, but it was seeing a documentary-type video from about 1980 of the numerous people both developing and using it for their day-to-day work that really made the whole "bigness" of it stand out to me. Suddenly the PDP-11 wasn't just a 16-bit machine, an older, littler version of the Vax (my college's herd of them was my first experience of "proper" computing) but something that fostered exciting, innovative projects and the same sort of people who variously created and used them.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh the days of one line per terminal - and making up your own cables

    back in the 80'2 / 90's I managed a tech support team. w would often have to make up our own cables for the job or find out there was an issue with the spec used when buying them from a specialist.

    The main problem was that issues never seemed to show up during testing, but always did just after installation.

    that would often mean having to modify 200+ cables in an evening to get around the problem. Don't forget this was pre internet so the only information had would be from hardware providers, who often had their own interpretation of interface standards. We could always make it work and stable in the end but had some very late nights with burnt fingers re soldering d-connectors.

    The craziest evening was when we came to install a new front end processor, the one it was replacing had just died so we had to bring the install forward and it had to happen that night. when we laid out the cables under the floor they were all precisely 6 inches short. we could have routed the cables direct but they would then have had to cross the hi ampage mains cables powering the mainframe kit, and we knew the interference we'd get from that. The only solution to guaranteeing a service the following day was to make up 178 12 inch long serial cables. Luckily we had enough D connectors in store and half a dozen people in the team who were adequate with a soldering iron.

  29. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  30. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  31. Concrete Gannet

    Happy days

    Those were the days. Jumper pins 4 and 5, and jumper pins 6, 8 and 20.

    This book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0137498705/ had details of how to make over 800 different devices work with the RS-232 "standard".

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