back to article A floppy filled with software worth thousands of francs: Techie can't take it, customs won't keep it. What to do?

A blast from the past, and possibly the future, as a Register reader regales us with a tale of carnets in the pre-Maastrict Treaty era. Welcome back to Who, Me? Our reader, Regomised as "Ralph", was working for a company specialising in price-reporting and dissemination systems for exchanges ("Commodity, Stock, Metal, …

  1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Alert

    A lighter, a French Official

    what could go wrong?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJNauH4ZrIw&t=64s

    1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      Meh

      Even in the 1980's

      They could have phoned it in thus by passing customs. In grad school starting around 1980, we used to write code for our PDP 11/34 on our Atari 800's at home, then connect by modem to upload & compile the code remotely. Obviously we could have just used the Atari's as terminal emulators (which we did as well), but it worked better to edit locally as then multiple people could be working on code at the same time. (PDP only had one modem.) We even wrote our own error correcting file transfer Atari BAISIC/PDP FORTRAN routines that could also resume the transfer where it left off if the line dropped.

      1. Manolo

        Re: Even in the 1980's

        Did you read teh story?

        They did the whole shebang with a floppy through customs in order to be able to invoice it.

        1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: Even in the 1980's

          Yes I read the story. You didn't need a floppy to invoice for software delivered in France in the 80's. That rational is bogus.

          1. ridley

            Re: Even in the 1980's

            You did if you needed a record of something being imported in order to raise an invoice, as per the story.

            1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

              Re: Even in the 1980's

              A record, yes. A floppy, no. Been there then, done that then.

              But hey, in this day and age, actual experience disqualifies one it seems.

              1. bigphil9009

                Re: Even in the 1980's

                So it might not have to have been done, but it sounds like it was done. The story is fun, and on the balance of probability it is probably true, so let's just enjoy it for what it is.

                I suspect the downvotes are primarily from people who want to read a light-hearted story and not subsequently be lectured on how it should have been done, no matter how creative that lecture is :)

                1. heyrick Silver badge

                  Re: Even in the 1980's

                  "so let's just enjoy it for what it is."

                  An instruction manual for how to deal with officialdom now we're pretty much back to that pre-treaty state...

              2. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

                Re: Even in the 1980's

                I agree with you entirely. I worked in Amsterdam and our company sold software all over Europe. No floppies required. As you say, what value is there in experience!?

              3. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Even in the 1980's

                It may not be a legal requirement but if its an organisational requirement its often simpler to provide a tape cartridge full of hex dumps to give the Accounts payable team something physical to raise a goods receipt note against even if all the delivery was virtual. I've also had similar issues with vendors who needed to send install media for software which had already been installed remotely. Ironically because they couldn't produce the install files on a cartridge which would fit into a slot on any of our (new then) unix servers. Oh those were jolly times. For those old farts like me you can probably remember being told by the Microsoft licencing team that you had to keep the install sets for every copy of DOS and Windows installed. I literally had to organise a skip for large PC deployments so we could get the install media securely stored (transported to landfill and buried). I did have the landfill cell location and would have happily provided a shovel for Microsoft's software licencing team. As I was managing a County Council IT team I actually had an agreement with the waste site manager that our secure waste (tapes, old HDDs etc would be buried at the bottom of a new cell. Shortly afterwards we purchased our first secure shredder which could eat a hard disk or cartridge in a few seconds. Secure recycling service have taken a lot of fun out of equipment decommissioning.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Even in the 1980's

        Downvoted for not reading the story, but I'm so tempted to upvote you for using an Atari 800 for creating/editing PDP11 code and using it as a terminal emulator :-)

        1. gnasher729 Silver badge

          Re: Even in the 1980's

          Points for using an Atari computer? At my university, I wrote the software so that you could edit Fortran programs on our 6 MHz Z80 based CPM system and then that system would _pretend_ to type it at maximum speed into a terminal for our CSC Cyber 175.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Even in the 1980's

            6MHz??? Luxury!!

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Even in the 1980's

              My poor OSI 8P DF (8" dual floppies) only had a 2 MHz 6502.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Even in the 1980's

            Up hill both ways you say? In the snow? And did you complain - NO! Character building it was, made you the *pronoun* you are today!

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Even in the 1980's

          Uucp and uuencode were available in the 1970's, and xmodem must be from about the same era. I was also using a BBC micro as a terminal emulator (I wrote my own full VT52 and Tek. 4010 emulators) in the early 1980s, and transferred software through rs232 as hex dumps using BEEBs many times.

          But I do understand the article. I just thought I'd mention existing file transfer programs that were widely available.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Even in the 1980's

            Yes. UUCP, UUencode, xmodem and kermit all came about over a couple of years, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Not surprisingly, this was about the time that AT&T was forced to allow direct-connect modems on their lines, leading to modems becoming much smaller and cheaper than the old acoustically coupled versions.

            This lead directly to Community Memory[0], Fidonet, BBSes and the like ... followed almost immediately by Delphi, TheWELL, BIX, and Compuserve (and Q-Link (AOL), yadda yadda yadda) ... and a little known thing known as dial-up Internet access.

            The rest, as they say ...

            [0] Edit: Community Memory was earlier. I'm concatinating time again.

  2. Dr_N Silver badge

    Minitel

    3615-CUM giving some indication of what Minitel was really used for.

    1. Xalran

      Re: Minitel

      It was used for more than that, but yes it was a large part of it.

      There's a few important things to know about the minitel.

      It was basically a VT100 with a modem that you connected to a phone line.

      Then you dialed the (in)famous 3615 ( or other numbers in case of private servers, like the one we used to have at work ) and entered a code. ( there was also 3616 and 3617 services. 3615 were free the other two were pay services and in some cases quite expensive )

      It could be CUM, it could be SNCF ( to buy a train ticket ), it could be lots of things... from the weather forecast, to being able to send emails, to checking your bank account, and much more.

      Minitel was free for anybody that asked for it as long as they had a phone line, so it was in many houses.

      That's one of the reasons why Internet didn't really appear in France before ADSL showed up.

      1. Potemkine! Silver badge

        Re: Minitel

        IIRC, 3613 was free, 3614 was at small cost, 3615 could begin to be expensive, and 3617 was very expensive.

      2. regadpellagru

        Re: Minitel

        "It was basically a VT100 with a modem that you connected to a phone line.

        Then you dialed the (in)famous 3615 ( or other numbers in case of private servers, like the one we used to have at work ) and entered a code. ( there was also 3616 and 3617 services. 3615 were free the other two were pay services and in some cases quite expensive )"

        Yes, and 3615 costed shitloads of money, and was routinely used by crooks. It basically was a scam.

        "That's one of the reasons why Internet didn't really appear in France before ADSL showed up."

        In fact, the 3615 service was pushing so much money to France Telecom they never wanted to deploy any internet service. At all.

        Until the minister realized how late France was into internet and forced them to move on.

      3. Lotaresco

        Re: Minitel

        "it could be lots of things... from the weather forecast, to being able to send emails, to checking your bank account, and much more."

        I recall stopping at a truck stop on a long haul drive down the Loire valley. I was astonished by the queue to use the Minitel. It was all truck drivers who were "tramping" and used Minitel to find loads in the area of a drop off so they didn't have to return with an empty truck. It seemed like a great use of resources.

  3. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Sorry, but all I could think of here was- why the f*** hadn't the back office who are paid to do that sort of thing organised the method of payment etc before engineers were dispatched to do the grunt work?

    It's History now, but - well- what a way to run an industry.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "sorry, not possible to pay money to England without proof of import'"

      "OK, we'll switch it all off."

      Not impossible to arrange payment when that happens.

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Facepalm

      I work for a multinational corporation. We have hardware developers in several EU countries. Moving prototypes and parts among the various countries is a paperwork nightmare. And we are expected to manage it. That's right. We engineers are instant import/export experts.

      It works about as well as you might expect it to. And, between the parcel companies and various countries' customs, it takes ages. Not accounted for in the schedules, of course, because that would show that our multinational development effort is far less efficient than our corporate overlords would like to think it is.

      1. Terry Barnes

        There is no paperwork or customs between EU countries. That’s kind of the point.

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          There is no paperwork or customs between EU countries. That’s kind of the point.

          Only between the Schengen area countries, with the rest there still is but minimal compared to non-EU countries like the UK.

          1. NeilPost Silver badge

            Schengen is people, not goods. So no problems with any of this to say Éire which is not part of Schengen.. and formerly the UK until Brexit nobbled it.

        2. therealmav

          Kind of the point of Maastricht. Did you read the bit where this was ‘before Maastricht’

        3. JulieM

          Not today, no. But there was, in the days when French money was still in Francs.

        4. 2+2=5 Silver badge
          IT Angle

          Are you really sure there's no paperwork when trading within the EU?

          > There is no paperwork or customs between EU countries. That’s kind of the point.

          I invite you to have a look at the trade statistics between Germany and its trading partners. Not because the values are particularly interesting but to think about this question: if there is no paperwork at all then where does the raw data for trade statistics between Germany and its fellow EU members come from?

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Are you really sure there's no paperwork when trading within the EU?

            For other countries I don't know for sure, but for the Netherlands I can tell you exactly. All companies are required to supply all kinds of information to the Central Office for Statistics (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, aka CBS). I imagine most other European countries have something similar.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        We're having the same issue, multinational company and sending hardware between countries is an absolute nightmare of paperwork now with significant delays.

        Previously I could just rock up at dispatch with equipment, a sheet of paper with the destination address, insurance value and the goods would be there a day or two later, now it takes three different departments to authorise the dispatch, provide invoices as proof of value, carnet forms if it's to come back, invoices if it's not coming back and all the rest of the associated red tape, even then the delivery takes minimum of a week after all that's sorted.

        Brexit is utter bullshit.

    3. NeilPost Silver badge

      “ Ralph returned to England and, with his MD, came up with a cunning plan. Deciding that the "software" was the main thing of value, they lumped in all the costs of the job (installation, hardware, training, etc) and ascribed a value to "the software" that was well into six figures.”

      With that track record... was the company acquired by HP and signed off by DeLoitte?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A cigarette letter was produced with a flourish

    Presumably that would be a french letter

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A cigarette letter was produced with a flourish

      Ah, mais oui!

      1. Boork!

        Re: A cigarette letter was produced with a flourish

        Why, yes you may, sir! Much obliged!

    2. John Arthur

      Re: A cigarette letter was produced with a flourish

      For the official that would be une capote anglais then.

    3. a pressbutton

      Re: A cigarette letter was produced with a flourish

      You will tell that joke only once.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: A cigarette letter was produced with a flourish

        Officer Crabtree stayed on after the war in deep cover posing as a French customs official

        Good moaning

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A cigarette letter was produced with a flourish

      You have to pronounce it a la Clouseau.

  5. swm Silver badge

    I remember when transporting software from US to Canada on a magnetic tape was charged import duty. So they punched the software onto punched cards. OK, since the cards were punched, scrap paper so no charge.

    With the internet billions of dollars cross the border without customs being aware. Welcome to the information age!

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      re: Welcome to the information age!

      The internet makes the US obsession with inspecting devices at the border even sillier.

      1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

        You mean one can transport weapons, bombs, drugs, anmals & humans over the Internet? Who knew?

        1. jason_derp Silver badge

          Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

          Been that way for a while now.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

          You mean you can transport them by smartphone? Who knew?

        3. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

          The comment referred to customs checking "devices". You find me a way to hide a human in a laptop which can be detected by installing malware on it and I'll concede the point. Otherwise, read the comment you reply to.

          1. spireite Bronze badge

            Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

            I'm sure looking at some of the catwalk models these days, you could fold them and slide them into a CD slot.....

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

              Its amazing how almost any topic has space for a misogynistic comment.

        4. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
          Black Helicopters

          Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

          There is the related case of export of a "non-exportable weapon" in book form...

          Where the source code for PGP was published in book form and was protected under first amendment rights...

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Good_Privacy

          (see under "Criminal investigation")

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

            I wore the PGP-in-perl T-shirt out of and back into the USA on maybe a dozen flights from '91 to '93 without anybody even blinking at me funny. Later, I occasionally carried a copy of Bruce Schneier's "Applied Cryptography" book containing source examples in the text (which did not fall under the export restrictions) and the disk containing the very same source, which was bound into the cover (and very definitely did fall under those restrictions).

            This kind of security theater may be worth the paper it is printed on, but not much more.

            I stopped trying to get arrested on principle when I grew up and had a kid of my own to take care of. Priorities & all that. Today, she tells me I shouldn't have wimped out ... but she did take the shirt and the book into "show and tell" occasionally, as examples of governmental stupidity.

            My Grand daughter (not quite 11 yet) wanted to do the same show and tell, with the same shirt and book ... and then snip off a corner of the shirt to turn into gun cotton to demonstrate how easy real munitions are to make. I nixed cutting up the shirt (too many memories), and recommended snipping a bit off of another tshirt instead. Her school nixed that option, because children aren't supposed to know such things, and IT WOULD BE DANGEROUS!!! (the school's CAPS and punctuation). Model rocketry is banned for the same reason, much to her deep dismay.

            Just ten years old and she's already on "watch list" for her school district because she knows too much. What kind of useless milquetoasts are her generation going to become, anyway?

            1. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

              Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

              Well before the widespread information age, my son (now mid-40s) did a science fair project of designing a nuclear bomb. It rather upset a physicist who was one of the judges because it came very close to being a workable design. My son was in 7th grade at the time. (He'd gotten the required mass of the fissionables to within a factor of two, working from publicly available sources.)

              1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

                That isn't quite as close as a grad student at an American university came. He was the first to have a paper graded "T" (for Top Secret), he even had the explosives and detonation correct.

              2. JJKing
                Thumb Up

                Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

                I hope you son won that project.

              3. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

                As a roughly 7th grade in the early 1980's I was forced to sign the UK Official Secrets Act form as I apparently already knew too much about something. The whole affair, conducted by people with hand guns on show, scared the crap out of me.

                Anonymous and lacking details for obvious reasons.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

                  Here's the fun thing about the OSA: you don't sign up for it as you are already subject to it, like it or not. You are merely made to sign a form by various entities so they have proof that you are aware of its existence. Not that "Ich habe est nicht gewußt" even counts in court, but this cuts off even that route and acts as a reminder that the OSA exists.

                  This is why it always amuses me when some people they would never sign it..

            2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

              Just ten years old and she's already on "watch list" for her school district because she knows too much. [future employment at SpaceX or NASA].

              Here's a 7 year old with similar interests...

              https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-leicestershire-56541534

              https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/56567199

              Elizabeth hopes to become an astronaut one day, and US company Astrobotic will be helping her get that little bit closer - the company will be taking her YouTube sticker to the Moon on their Peregrine lunar lander later this year.

              Who knows, fate may mean your grand daughter designs a rocket which carries that aspiring astronaut.

              In the mean time, Elon Musk, if you are listening (or if someone can ping him on Twitter...) - how about inviting Jake's grand daughter to a SpaceX factory tour?

              1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

                Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

                Elon already has enough explosions without adding gun cotton to the mix.

                1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
                  Mushroom

                  Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

                  SpaceX factory tour>

                  Boca Chica Explosive Testing Facility

              2. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
                Pint

                Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

                Thanks for those links - love to see kids get into this stuff, especially 'special' kids.

                It's quite personal to me.

                Have one on the house.

            3. JJKing
              Thumb Up

              Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

              Way to go your family; bloody impressive. Please pass on my adoration of their spunk (can I say that now and not be accused of anything negative) from a 64 year old male.

            4. MrBanana Silver badge

              Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

              I have an RSA produced tee shirt, with the algorithm printed on it. Also passed though USA security a few times and disappointed that no one noticed. I suppose it is no different to having E=MC2 on your tee shirt and being accused of having a nuclear weapon.

            5. Potty Professor
              Boffin

              Re: re: Welcome to the information age!

              I was put on the watch list at school when I was 11 as well. Just before I was due to take my 11+ exam, our teacher, Mr. Isbester, turned up in class with a brightly painted coffee can, the type where the lid slides snugly over the outside of the body of the can. He proceeded to empty a similarly brightly coloured ball of string out onto the desk, and picked it up by one end so that it unravelled to touch the floor. It was coloured with alternate red, white, and blue sections, 22 of them in all, and it was about the same length as he was tall (about 5'6") He carefully selected one of the white segments and showed us that it was exactly the same length as the diameter of the can, and so were all the others. He then wrapped two turns of the string around the can and held the can up horizontally, so that the string dangled down on either side. He then asked the class how many times we thought that the string would wrap around the can, guesses ranged from "about 10" to "about 15". I stuck my hand up and said "Exactly seven". Izzy gave me a hard stare (a la Paddington) and said "What makes you say that?" I explained that, as there were 22 segments on the string, and using the approximate value of Pi, that meant it would fit around the can 7 times. "Who told you about Pi?" I replied that my father had explained it to me, to which Izzy said "We can't have dads teaching you lot stuff like that, I expect he'll be after my job next". I said I didn't think so, he is perfectly happy where he is. "And where is that?" "University College, London" I replied. Izzy shrugged and said "Well, I suppose I'd better finish the experiment", and counted the turns as he wound them on. "There you are, Professor Purvis, you are absolutely right, but don't let that go to your head." From then on, I was known as "Prof.", a nickname I carried right through my school years and on through College and Polytechnic, until I finished with an MSc.

              Izzy adopted a catchphrase from the then new Sooty and Sweep show on the television. Whenever he showed us something interesting, he would dress it up as a magic trick by waving his hands over it and saying "Izzy, Whizzy, Let's get Busy". We soon modified that catchphrase to be "Izzy Whizzy keeps us busy".

      2. onemark03 Bronze badge

        US obsession with inspecting devices at the border

        Uncle Sam knows this. It's done anyway to deter idiots.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Times change

      In the early 80s we imported the SPICE simulation system from the US to the UK, on magtape. At the time there was duty & tax to be paid on the import of the physical medium, but no mention of it for the software, the rules hadn't caught up with valuable intangibles like programs. I had the job of copying the software to a new tape, so that the original could be re-exported within the 2-3 week window which meant we had nothing to pay.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Times change

        Spice source was free - just the cost of the medium and transport.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Times change

          "Spice source was free - just the cost of the medium and transport"

          The concept of free software was not widely known or understood ~30 years ago.

          Back then, a customs goon at LHR was keen to charge me duty on a box of Minix floppies I'd picked up in the USA. He decided the amount to charge me was going to be a penalty plus some percentage of the price he'd pay for Minix in the shops. It took a lot of explaining that (a) he couldn't buy Minix in any shop; (b) the software was free - in all senses of that term. It eventually dawned on him it was more bother than it was worth and the import duty on a handful of notionally blank floppies wasn't enough to matter.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Times change

            I bought Minix 1.5 at the Stanford University Bookstore on University Avenue in 1991. It came on 5.25 floppies "bound" into a three-ring binder with instructions for installation, some simplistic "how to" info on the tools provided, and the complete printed out kernel source. Useful as a teaching tool, but little else ... I bought it just to help support the cause, I already had it running on my home machine.

          2. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: Times change

            No, Spice came from a university, in those days Uni software was free, copyrighted bur free. Others may have prayed on others ignorance but where I worked we got a copy of Spice for a the price of Tape and Postage. It was hard to find out who you actually needed to contact pre-internet but if you could find the right people you were OK, Many brokers would offer to get you stuff for a fee but in universities you normally knew from conference papers pretty much who to contact and they shared stuff pretty freely. It was only when the PC took off the idea of free software disappeared and had to be replaced.

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: Times change

          Depending on where you were, there was no need for tape ... Spice was one of the first things available from the Berkeley FTP site, in the pre-TCP/IP early-mid 1970s.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Times change

            It may well have been a very long and very expensive international phone call to download it though. Depends on what, if any, connectivity was available back then.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Times change

              As I said, it depended where you were. For example, UCL had what we later called a mirror of the Berkelely FTP site. I should know, I helped 'em set it up and keep it synced. There were similar mirrors in Finland and Sweden. It was a BSD thing.

            2. Stoneshop Silver badge
              Holmes

              Re: Times change

              It may well have been a very long and very expensive international phone call to download it though. Depends on what, if any, connectivity was available back then.

              A fellow student was so keen on getting a particular utility that was listed in either Byte or PC Mag but not available on any local BBS, that he dialed up international straight to the source.

              At 2400 baud, because that was the speed of his modem.

              And requiring four tries to get it downloaded in one piece and uncorrupted.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Times change

                The 2400 baud sort of gives it away that that was in the days before zmodem allowed a transmission resume.

                That reminds me of a friend of mine who had a fairly popular BBS. In those days, it was deemed an act of decency if you uploaded 5..10% of the volume you downloaded, but not all did. He had an interesting solution to that: with frequent abusers, he aborted the connection several bytes from the end which would force the user to start downloading all over again on reconnect. It sometimes took three to four times before they worked out that this wasn't bad luck but deliberate.

                The later emergence of zmodem and its resume function spoiled this somewhat :).

                1. Stoneshop Silver badge

                  Re: Times change

                  The 2400 baud sort of gives it away that that was in the days before zmodem allowed a transmission resume.

                  AFAICR, some time between late 1983 and early 1985, based on where each of us was living (he wasn't a direct friend of mine, but we had a common connection). So indeed before ZModem, and Wackypedia tells me 2400baud was Brand Spanking New in 1984 so that fits too.

            3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

              Re: Times change

              Physical connectivity wouldn't have been a problem for the company I worked at, but FTP from a VAX running VMS 2.1 would have been trickier. We had external X.25 access, IIRC, and did eventually get a gateway to the Internet a few years later, but didn't have it back then. Magtape was easier.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Times change

        A friend of mine got pulled over by US Customs because of the reel of half-inch magtape sticking out his hand luggage.

        Customs guy: what's on your tape, data or softtware?

        Friend: why do you need to know?

        Customs guy: if it's software, you need to pay import tax and duty. if it's data, you don't

        Friend: it's data - it's input for testing a compiler

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Times change

          I brought a box of cards from England to the US many moons ago and had a similar conversation. I told the guy that I used old, useless cards as note paper (true!), but he wasn't buying it. I could see this was going to take forever, so I offered to shuffle the cards several times, so they'd be completely mixed up and useless. He agreed. Nobody ever said customs agents were all that bright.

          I still have that deck, which contains an autographed copy of Bourne's ALGOL 68C version of Conway's "Life" :-)

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Times change

            "Nobody ever said customs agents were all that bright."

            Interesting bit of knowledge he had though. Not that many people outside the field then knew what punched cards where, let alone that it might matter what order they were in.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Times change

              More people knew about them than you might think. Dropping a card deck was a common plot twist in movies & television as early as the mid 1960s.

              1. Tom 7 Silver badge

                Re: Times change

                It was a common happening in our computer lab.You get to a certain point in programming and go 'wow I can do this and this and this' but you cant because of rubber bandwidth.

              2. Norman Nescio

                Re: Times change

                Which is why operators (or other people with appropriate access) would use a marker pen and draw a diagonal line across the top of the deck. This made reconstituting a dropped deck a great deal simpler.

                If the punched cards had sequence numbers, there did exist machines for automatically reordering messed-up stacks.

                The illustration in this Wikipedia article on the use of punched cards in programming shows an example of the diagonal line.

          2. Herby

            Re: Times change

            Punch cards, and shuffling them? Of course I can do that. No problem. Oh, what are those numbers in the last columns?

            A quick trip to the sorter later, and all is well with the world.

      3. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

        Re: Times change

        Reminds me of a time in the 90s when we had a system installed on a military platform. It was the sort of platform where the weight of everything had to be accounted for.

        We had a software update to do one day, so rocked up with a floppy disk, did the job then went to leave. Our host first went through the checklist of equipment that had been fitted or modified that visit. Since it was just a software install, we thought the "how much does the new equipment weigh?" question was an easy zero answer. But no, our host said the auditors wouldn't like that as everything must be accounted for and they didn't understand the concept of software only. We had an amusing few minutes speculating about how the change of bits on the disk might change the energy states of magnetic parts and reached a compromise. The platform kept the disk and we put in a figure of 10grams.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A reel of tape valued at £1M

    I had to look after a reel of tape, containing a "completed" software application, purported to be worth £1M. The system was never implemented and as far as I know the tape contained nothing more than odd "pieces" of source code. The software formed part of a larger sale and lease back of hardware and software.

    The system became material in a later court case, which became famous long after my employment.

    https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200001/ldjudgmt/jd010118/intern-1.htm

    That reel of tape - well - it's now in Spain.

    AC, because they never called me to give evidence, but probably should have.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A reel of tape valued at £1M

      Automony?

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: A reel of tape valued at £1M

      I purchased a pallet load of used 5 drawer SteelCase filing cabinets from a company called "Weirdstuff Warehouse" back in 1989. There were a dozen in all, arranged in a 3x4 grid on the pallet. One of the employees allowed as to how they had come in with a bunch of office equipment from a small engineering campus that Unisys had just closed in South City (South San Francisco).

      None had keys. Knowing that it's easy to pick and then replace[0] a lock in this kind of cabinet, I was pretty happy to pay $40 apiece. The way I figured it, I'd sell 10 for $120 each after replacing the locks ($20 per), for a nice tidy profit of $480, plus two "free" locking file cabinets, which was what I needed for my startup.

      It turned out that the lower three drawers of the center two cabinets were full of half inch mag tape. Half were labeled "Sperry", and the other half were labeled "Burroughs", and from the labels they contained system images, source code and some kind of corporate data. Being the curious type, I eyeballed the contents of a couple at random. They contained what was written on the tin.

      I have no idea why they were "hidden" in the middle of the load like that, but I have my suspicions. Rather than jump through hoops to return them to Unisys, and having no use for the code, I bulk erased them and re-used the tapes. I wish now I had kept them :-)

      [0] Yes, once open I could easily cut new keys, but the replacements are so cheap that it's not worth my time.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: A reel of tape valued at £1M

        > It turned out that the lower three drawers of the center two cabinets were full of half inch mag tape. Half were labeled "Sperry", and the other half were labeled "Burroughs",

        I was hoping for something more exciting! But it has reminded me back in 1987 or so when Sperry was looking to merge to save it from bankruptcy, we did have fun inventing new names for various possible megers: Sperry + Burroughs to become Spurroughs and Sperry + Univac to become Spunivac.

        1. qwertyuiop

          Re: A reel of tape valued at £1M

          ISTR that shortly after the merger there was a joke going round, coined by disgruntled former Sperry employees, that the new company should have been called Rabbit Computing because the managers all came from Burroughs...

    3. Mog_X

      Re: A reel of tape valued at £1M

      Back in the early 90s our company had successfully migrated one of the key applications from an old platform.

      At the post-implementation party one of the key people was presented with a reel tape from the old system as a present. He got a bit inebriated that night and was found by Plod in a semi conscious state, still clutching the reel.

      They thought that they had stumbled upon a major hacking incident and called our IT director to say as such. It took a few hours to straighten everything out and our guy didn't get in any trouble (although the story stuck with him for the rest of his days there)

  7. Nifty Silver badge

    This brought back memories of transporting removable minicomputer disk cartridges between the UK and Germany. They were delicate and the best way was to stuff one in your suitcase inbetween the clothes.

    1. Potty Professor
      Boffin

      Border crossings

      I once had to transport some very heavy current switchgear from UK to our pilot installation in northern Germany. They were too big and too fragile to transport by lorry, and the working fluid would have eaten an aluminium aeroplane, had it leaked out, so I had D&T make me a bespoke box body for my trailer, and towed them across with my car (Mk 3 Cortina estate). I did not speak any French at that time, so Customs at Calais and De Panne were rather difficult. It seems that (at that time) there was duty to pay on electronic equipment, but not on electrical. I went into the Calais Customs Office and tore a Post-It Note from its pad and attached it to the light switch on the wall. I wrote on it "240Volts AC, 1 Ampere" before switching the light on and off several times. I then took the Customs Official out to the car, opened the trailer lid, and stuck a Post-It Note onto one of the switch units. I wrote on it "6 Volts DC, 25000 Amperes" and said "Klunk, Klunk" very loudly whilst feigning switching it on and off. The Customs Official understood that this was a switch, and did not contain any electronics, so he signed the Carnet and sent me on my way. I had to repeat the whole pantomime again at De Panne, but not at Genk, as the Customs Officials there spoke enough German to understand my fractured German. I had to go through the whole procedure again on the way back with the (by now scrap) replaced switches in my trailer.

  8. John Arthur
    Happy

    UK to Netherlands

    In the 1980s I used to swap files with a friend in The Hague by posting floppy disks. Posting to The Hague was fine but in the other direction the UK customs opened (and resealed with a note that they had done so) every floppy coming from The Netherlands. We had no explanation; all we could think of is that they were looking for pr0n. The customs guys must have been pretty mystified to find Excel files with directions and distances for our next motorcycle tour of France! I was pretty pleased when we got email!

    1. Francis Boyle

      Re: UK to Netherlands

      They were definitely looking for pr0n. And were no doubt very disappointed.

  9. Jason Hindle Silver badge

    Thank goodness for the internet

    Otherwise we’d be back to this situation right now.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Thank goodness for the internet

      Don't worry. 51% of our population voted for it all to come back......

      1. Jason Hindle Silver badge

        Re: Thank goodness for the internet

        Presumably the ones who can’t make money through online delivery...

    2. TeeCee Gold badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Thank goodness for the internet

      You've never done business in France I take it? It never went away.

      The description; "deliberately obstructive, hidebound, petty-minded, bolshie bastards" is pitifully inadequate.

      1. Citizen99

        Re: Thank goodness for the internet

        But with a mournful, puppy-eyed look of regret ...

  10. matthewdjb

    Ideas and information. Far more dangerous.

  11. Shadow Systems
    Flame

    Use fire? Yes...

    Talk about it before the various gag orders & statutes of limitation expire? Nope.

    Now if you'll join me over at the pub across the street, I'll show you a fun little trick involving a match stick, a small squeaze bottle of isopropyl alcohol, & a metal file cabinet drawer. Just as an experiment mind, I am absolutely not admitting to anything.

    *CoughCackleGrin*

  12. nwillc

    Lost at Sea

    Worked one job in civilian oceanography where some of the funding came from the US Navy. Whenever so much as a printer they funded was retired, we were supposed to go through hoops and fire with the Navy to prove that it wasn't a military asset. Eventually, we learned that we could just mark things "Lost at Sea" and that would appease them. Never had to throw the stuff overboard either, though it was tempting.

    1. John McCallum

      Re: Lost at Sea

      One wonders what else was "Lost at Sea".

    2. MGyrFalcon

      Re: Lost at Sea

      I had a friend who was in the US Navy many years ago and as the story goes...They had a computer system on the ship that was just horrible. Everyone hated it, it wouldn't work right, etc. One day my friend waltzed behind it with a hand full of crushed steel wool shards and blew them into the fan intake. That of course killed the offending kit. I don't know if they claimed it 'Lost at Sea', but he said they did take it up to the flight deck and pushed it off the back while underway.

      All hearsay, though he claimed to be directly involved. Good story if it was true.

      1. PRR

        Re: Lost at Sea

        "...a computer system on the ship that was just horrible."

        I've read of a captain ordering a 'flotation test' for an evil computer. True, the story is science fiction but the author was an experienced sea captain. "The Sister Ships", A. Bertram Chandler, in Alternate Orbits, 1971, aka The Commodore at Sea, 1981.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lost at Sea

        "they did take it up to the flight deck and pushed it off the back while underway"

        That shows a lack of imaginiation. Since this presumably took place on an aircraft carrier, why didn't they use one of the catapults?

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Lost at Sea

          You wouldn't want to run over one.

          Hard to explain that kind of bow damage.

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge

            Re: Lost at Sea

            Bah, just put the engine in reverse. And warn the escorts that they should keep away from the area ahead of the catapults a bit, but be alert to any gear that might happen to stay afloat and perforate it as appropriate.

        2. keith_w Bronze badge

          Re: Lost at Sea

          you don't need to be an aircraft carrier to have a flight deck. Any ship that a helicopter flies from has one as well.

      3. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: Lost at Sea

        At DEC there was an internal Notes file named WAR_STORIES, which had several such tales. One in particular that I remember was about a piece of quite secret experimental lab kit at some army base that Had To Be Accounted For Or Else.

        OF COURSE it could not be found during one of the regular inventory checks. And not during the very deep and thorough inventory check that immediately followed. So a lot of papers had to be filled out, going up and down the administrative chains as required, and after collecting all the right signatures in the end it was declared destroyed, allowing it to be struck from the inventory.

        Shortly after the device reappeared, under a tarp in a nearby storeroom that wasn't part of the secure lab environment.

        It was decided by the lab chief that no, they were not going to declare the unit unlost. Not with the even bigger amount of paper movement the entire situation would invite. So the small group of people who had come to know the device was unlost then decided on making the reality to be in line with the device's administrative status, through the combination of night, a pit in a secluded corner of the base, a rather large amount of thermite and an angle grinder (twice, both before and after the thermite)

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: Lost at Sea

          "Allamagoosa is a science fiction short story by English author Eric Frank Russell, originally published in the May 1955 issue of Astounding Science Fiction" says Wikipedia, and quite like your story. Perhaps not coincidentally.

          An item on a military starship's inventory is unidentifiable and not located, the "offog". With effort, a story is concocted of how it was lost. This causes greater trouble.

          Ah, Wikipedia goes on: "James Nicoll has commented that it is 'apparently based on an urban legend'. In fact, it is essentially a science-fictional retelling of a traditional tall story called 'The Shovewood'."

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge

            Re: Lost at Sea

            Possible, though the content of that notesfile tended to be first hand experiences, or "$name from our branch office here in $location_code".

            As FS tech I had to visit military sites too, though not very often and not, like one US colleague who just stopped as he had to re-tie a shoelace, suddenly looking at the business end of two firearms. In my case I had to disassemble[0] any RA81 HDAs that had failed, taking the platters out to leave onsite, so that the shell could be shoved back into the logistics channel satisfying that part of the process. At some point there was a sizeable stack of platters in the corner of the computer room, and curiously I asked how they were going to dispose of those. The sysadmin then went over to his desk and handed me a presse-papier, which was a blob of metal with one side cut flat. "Those platters, plus thermite. We'll let you know when the next session is."

            [0] bit of a bugger, as the HDAs came from Kaufbeuren with the shell halves bolted together using metric fasteners, outside torx bolts to boot, where my toolkit was meant for the US-sized stuff holding VAXes together.

            1. Norman Nescio

              Re: Lost at Sea

              Hmm, you might be the DEC FS tech that told me that story a long time ago. We had 'quite a few' RA81s. I had a very nice visit to Kaufbeuren, including the high-speed drive on the autobahn from Munich, and lunch at the plant, which included beer (!), the explanation being that the German workforce would refuse to work if they could not have beer with their lunches.

              Our on-site engineer was invaluable. He mentioned his 'baptism of fire', when he had been newly trained on a particular piece of DEC kit (could have been the HSC50), where the training video made it look easy: open up the cabinet, identify the failed card by the indicator LED, replace card, and away you go. In his case, he gets called out, confidently opens the cabinet to find....no indicator LED on any of the cards. A 'while' later, after most of a new HSC50 is sent from Reading, he finally got things working again, and became less trustful of the training videos.

              1. Stoneshop Silver badge

                Re: Lost at Sea

                Hmm, you might be the DEC FS tech that told me that story a long time ago.

                Possible, though not at the Kaufbeuren plant then as I've never been there. Did have a few courses in the Munich training centre, on disk and tape kit. Also Highfield a couple of times, and Galway for the VAX9000. Video-based training and most of the sysadmin stuff and software troubleshooting was done locally in Nieuwegein.

    3. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

      Re: Lost at Sea

      Lost at sea, that good old fallback!

      I used to work in oceanography, and was doing some joint work with the US. I once had a load of old sonobuoys that had life-expired and needed disposed of. Being a young Brit newbie who didn't know any better, I followed all the regs to get them properly disposed of, especially accounting for the fact that they contained small explosive charges (think car airbag deployment). Cost a bit of money for a specialist company to render them safe for disposal etc. etc. but job done right, pat on the back from management, that sort of thing.

      A while later I caught up with my US opposite number who had the same issue. They just saved them until their next sailing, and laid and excessively dense sonobuoy field on the way out. Now why didn't I think of that?

    4. irrelevant

      Re: Lost at Sea

      Reminds me, many years ago, we had a customer in Accrington where the building had a canal hard alongside, with the accounts office overlooking.

      There was one particular printer that was forever giving problems; some big heavy duty thing that weighed a ton, but I swear it was broken more often than working. Anyway, I arrived one day for another task, and it was gone, replaced by an Epson, IIRC. I asked what happened to the old printer, and was gestured towards the still-open window... It must have made quite a splash!

  13. yorkshirespud

    Surely the standard answer to non payment is “No problem, we’ll start loading all the equipment back into the van” ...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In the early 90s, a large US company was having difficulties getting equipment into Saudi Arabia for a commercial contract. Customs officials would demand not only monetary bribes but also US Visa sponsorships, in respective of relatively inexpensive but vital shipments. As they were also supplying the US military in Saudi Arabia, the company managed to organise that the shipments for their commercial contracts joined shipments for the US military, that were supplied in the USA and then brought to US military bases in SA on US military transports, bypassing SA customs control. A colleague would drive to the US military base and leave with the equipment for their commecial contract, without the involvemnt of any Saudi officials.

    1. edris90

      Us military supply lines have always been a smugglers haven.

      1. GrumpyKiwi

        The US armed forces are strictly amateurs compared to those of Australia and NZ.

        There has never once been a campaign where they didn't head home with more equipment than they arrived with.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Fortified fuel?

          I was told by a former sergeant of how the RAF out in Cyprus used to keep back pairs of drop fuel tanks from use. Periodically when a Tornado was flying back to Blighty they would all club together and fill one of these pristine tanks with brandy and the other with sherry IIRC, thereby sidestepping customs duty charges on quite a large scale. Of course, this endeavour wasn't without its risks; on one occasion the pilot hit a patch of turbulence over Germany and immediately jettisoned the tanks, much to the disappointment of all concerned. Anonymous to protect the innocent from the guilty.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        That reminds me of Radar in M*AS*H. He posted a Jeep back home, one part at a time from "unaccountedable" inventory :-)

        1. MarkSitkowski

          I believe Johnny Cash reported a similar incident in "One Piece at a Time"

          1. Potty Professor
            Facepalm

            Security?

            My father worked for a munitions factory in south London during the war, he was an "His Majesty's Inspector" and they made gunsights, reconnaissance camera lenses, and bombing predictors (including the famous distance device for the Dam Busters). Their security was, of course, extremely tight, but not, it appears, watertight. Dad and a couple of his mates decided to test the system by smuggling something really heavy out one evening. They tied a length of rope to an anvil and passed it over Dad's shoulder so the anvil was suspended between his knees. He then donned a heavy trench coat and his two mates helped him stagger out through the gates. Security Officer stops them and asks what's wrong with him? they replied that he was feeling unwell, and that they were taking him to the local doctor's surgery. A few yards away from the gates, they stopped again and revealed that they had just smuggled an anvil out through the Security Gate, and what were Management going to do about it?

  15. x-IBMer

    Not your data anymore

    I worked for a national Gov department of statistics whose charter included a clause about data privacy, basically any data that came into our possession was immediately 'classified' and could not be released in an un-redacted form via any means other than our proper channels. One day we received a tape from another government agency containing some data that would go into our processing and eventually form part of one of our published reports. Later that same day, a courier arrived from the other agency with a request to have a copy of the tape just submitted made and returned to them - their original had become damaged somehow. Unfortunately we could no oblige, as the data had already crossed our threshold and was now beholden to the legislation under which we operated. We could not give back a copy of the data to its original owners. Never found out what they did without their own data in the end...

  16. Imhotep Silver badge

    A Cunning Plan

    I'd never heard of Minitel, so that was an interesting rabbit hole to follow. Who knew? Well, the French, obviously, but...

    1. WanderingHaggis
      Thumb Up

      Re: A Cunning Plan

      A bit like ceefax and in graphics mode just as slow. But brilliant back in the 80s.

      The French customs ah <old f**t mode>I remember it well --- along with the french "system D" (short for demerde or debrouille) -- the stamping of passports by customs was really interesting too, I had several stamps stating I had left France but none to say I had ever entered. </old f**t mode>

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: A Cunning Plan

        A bit like ceefax

        That's quite stretching it.

        The main difference is that Minitel is interactive: you can enter data into forms if they're present on a page, where ceefax is strictly one-way. Plus, while ceefax pages can contain links to other pages those can't load on demand; they only become available to you as that page appears in the data stream.

        Maybe you were thinking of Viewdata?

        1. Richard Cranium

          Re: A Cunning Plan

          Maybe you were thinking of Viewdata?

          Or Prestel or was that the same thing?

        2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: A Cunning Plan

          Or Prestel? Minitel really took off because they were offered free as replacements for phone books. Add that to the inevitable porn services that were soon added (chat lines, mostly implemented by 'bots) and it was enough to kick start the whole process. BT tried to sell Prestel as a premium service, but could never satisfactorily answer the "what would I use it for?" question.

          1. Norman Nescio

            Re: A Cunning Plan

            Prestel is what kicked off the Computer Misuse act 1990: or rather it was the fact that someone accessed Prince Philips Prestel mailbox, and at the time they could only be charged under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act - which was appealed, and the Crown lost(!). The very public lack of suitable legislation meant the Computer Misuse Act came into being.

            Details in the Wikipedia article Computer Misuse Act 1990

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A Cunning Plan

        We hit a similar issue, returning from France by ferry with my wife travelling on a non UK/EU passport. British passport control were unhappy with the fact she'd not got an exit stamp from UK. Being Brits (and either pragmatic or lazy) they decided, after a few minutes and a bit of head-scratching, that as she'd got her original entry stamp to UK the lack of exit stamp was a failure on the part of passport control (in fact, to board the outbound ferry, none of us were even asked to show our passports when we left for France).

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: A Cunning Plan

          A bit of a cheat because it's the UK&I Common Travel Area, but the only documentation I proffered to get into the UK from Dublin a few years ago was my Hong Kong ID card.

          1. Norman Nescio

            Re: A Cunning Plan

            Strictly, the Common Travel Area (UK, Ireland, IOM and CI) applies only to British and Irish citizens.

            Irish information: Citizens Information Ireland: Common Travel Area between Ireland and the United Kingdom

            Common Travel Area rights can only be exercised by citizens of Ireland and the UK. If you are not a citizen of Ireland or the UK, you will not be able to exercise Common Travel Area rights.

            British information: GOV.UK: Common Travel Area guidance

            Under the CTA, British and Irish citizens can move freely and reside in either jurisdiction and enjoy associated rights and privileges, including the right to work, study and vote in certain elections, as well as to access social welfare benefits and health services.

            1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

              Re: A Cunning Plan

              Hey, I self-identify as British, ok? :)

  17. TeeCee Gold badge
    Flame

    Kill it with fire?

    I always wondered who invented that.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Kill it with fire?

      Probably became a meme started by the enemies of the Minoans, post Thera.

  18. Medieval Research Council

    Customs at JFK airport wanted to charge me per foot of a 2400' tape until I pointed out that it was a used tape not new, and after some searching through their books they couldn't find a rate for used tape and let me take it away. Another time a TV set modified in the UK to pretend to be a colour terminal, which were extraordinarily expensive in 1980, took a long time to get through even with wires hanging out of the back and a British mains plug. As it was in a box that had COLOUR (sic) on every side it was of course stolen the first night it was in the office in New Jersey. Phone call to Stevenage the next day was "Please send another, and a mains transformer too."

  19. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

    Sampling French customs...

    A story told my sister by a work colleague...

    A company he had worked for was sending source code decks of *cards* of large FORTRAN programs to a company in France. The programs would fail to compile (throwing all manner of errors) when they got there. Eventually, after several rounds of this, they sent a programmer carrying the box of cards. He was rather horrified when the French customs inspector decided to take a few of the cards from random places in the deck as "samples" to keep. did explain the problem, though.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Sampling French customs...

      the trick to detect this was to diagonally stripe the top of the deck with a pen (preferably two pens) and explain the deck as a "book"

      the story is likely to be apocryphal though

  20. juice Silver badge

    Not quite the same, but...

    A relative acted as an international sales manager for a British manufacturing company, which involved a lot of flying around the world.

    Including the USA, sometime relatively shortly after 9/11. Which meant that the security theatre was jacked up to maximum.

    On entering the security checks for a flight back from the USA to old Blighty, my relative was checked by a security guard, who checked all of his stuff, including a Palm PDA (or somesuch). And the security guard took out the stylus from this PDA and unscrewed the tip to reveal a little steel pole, which could be used to poke the reset button on said PDA.

    Much to my relative's bemusement, as he wasn't aware of this feature. And he was even more bemused when the security guard declared that this tiny steel pole was a lethal weapon and that he therefore couldn't take said stylus onto the plane.

    My relative found this ridiculous, and therefore ended up in a full blown argument with said security guard, which only ended when their superior officer rocked up and laid down an ultimatum: either you board the plane without the stylus, or you don't fly home. At which point, my relative gave up and surrendered the stylus.

    Perhaps surprisingly, the customs people promised to post it to him, and it did indeed eventually return via mail. I can't help but wonder if this was an implicit acknowledgement that the superior officer knew that their minion was being over-zealous, but couldn't lose face by admitting it...

  21. MarkSitkowski

    At one point in my career, I was responsible for supporting the company's application development office in France. On arrival at Roissy, my luggage went into the X-ray scanner and, on its arrival at the other end, several gendarmes surrounded me, with exhortations to "Put up your 'ands", while pointing their mitraillettes at me. The customs guy rummaged through the case, and triumphantly produced several reels of half-inch computer tape, at which point the gendarmes lowered their weapons, and explained "Sorry, they looked like magazines for a Kalashnikov"....

  22. Wilco

    And now we get to enjoy the joys of French customs once again, thanks to Brexit! Well done tory geniuses.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      So take the ferry to Belgium or the Netherlands (or from Ireland to France), no French customs involved that way.

  23. Caver_Dave

    F1 and customs

    I worked from the mid 1980's to early '90's for most of the Formula 1 racing teams supplying timing systems, speed traps, the first in-car telemetry, etc. and travelled extensively over Europe (usually in the middle of the night).

    The company car was a long-bore Granada and used to attract a little attention, especially to bored customs officials in the middle of the night. Opening the boot for them to find boxes of strange, and expensive looking equipment used to light up their faces. I would just show them the Pit Pass for the F1 test I was going to, to immediately divert their attention and get me a hasty wave through. (Obviously I showed a Ligier pass on the way into France and a Ferarri pass on the way into Italy.)

    I did have the carnet and other paperwork, but I can't remember ever having to show it in Europe.

    1. Lotaresco

      Re: F1 and customs

      "I worked from the mid 1980's to early '90's for most of the Formula 1 racing teams"

      I'm surprised we haven't met. I did similar at the time, although mostly from an address at Woking Business Park.

      1. Caver_Dave

        Re: F1 and customs

        I wrote all the assembler code for the Acteltime (the small white timing computer), made the timing beams, in-car telemetry for Arrows (Eddie Cheever and Derek Warwick were the first to use it) and all the ancillaries.

        Your probable employer was sponsored by TAG and because of that was the only team I didn't supply.

        If you went to the tests, then you would find Dougie (Arrows), Simon (Williams), etc. with their timing beams and computers set up around the track somewhere. Exit of the Parabolica at Monza for instance.

        1. Lotaresco

          Re: F1 and customs

          "Your probable employer was sponsored by TAG and because of that was the only team I didn't supply."

          Indeed it was for the team whose boss was famous for not putting a wheel back properly on Jack Brabham's car, causing some harsh words to be said. He seemed to learn from it since he became fanatic for good pit lane procedures.

          The actual application we were looking at was re-using some military stuff to squawk compressed data streams back as the cars passed the pit lane. Superseded these days by work I suspect you did to get continuous coverage around the circuit.

      2. dinsdale54

        Re: F1 and customs

        It's obvious why you haven't met. He was travelling in the middle of the night. You were Woking 9 to 5.

    2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: F1 and customs

      "first in-car telemetry"

      Wasn't that a couple of decades earlier than your era? I seem to recall some very simple system was at least tried at an astonishingly early date - fifties? - but perhaps it was a Le Mans car or something.

      Anyway, tell us more :)

      1. Caver_Dave
        Boffin

        Re: F1 and customs

        It was the time of limited fuel. The two options where race at the front (which looked good for the driver) and then run out of fuel (which looked bad for the team), or conserve your fuel and get the opposite effects. One particular driver "could not read the fuel gauge" to radio back the values! So a 'spy' (according to the driver) or 'assistant' (to everyone else) was needed in the cockpit.

        The display was fed by the ECU and I hooked onto those data lines to gather the data (and as no-one else was doing it) I just sent the data out over a simple radio modem constantly (with error correction). You could get 3 copies of the data received down the pits straight at Silverstone for instance. Different frequencies for each car.

        ==> boffin icon as it was as simple as I could make it!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: F1 and customs

        Or, better yet, get El Reg to pay you to write it full length.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The trouble with the British...

    ... is a failure to recognise when an official is soliciting a bribe, perhaps because UK has been relatively successful in minimising that (although I'm led to believe that local government planning officers can be encouraged to take a more agreeable attitude to some proposals).

    My wife originates from a country where bribery is normal (or even essential) and defends it on the basis that "it gets things done quickly and effectively" and argues that we do give tips and a bribe is merely a tip given in advance of provision of the service. What would you prefer, she asks, the inconvenience of a trip to the police station, a 2 hour wait in a roomful of drunks, druggies and pickpockets, a load of paperwork and a $50 fine or a $10 on the spot "fine" to the traffic cop with no paperwork and you're back on your way in a matter of minutes?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The trouble with the British...

      (although I'm led to believe that local government planning officers can be encouraged to take a more agreeable attitude to some proposals)

      I was asked once to give a bribe to a local planning officer to get a planning application through. I asked the little snot if he wanted to repeat that at the police station next door. Unsurprisingly the planning application and a revised planning application were refused.

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: The trouble with the British...

        These days they're a bit more careful, and you have to appoint one of their mates as a director of your property development co.

      2. TrumpSlurp the Troll

        Re: The trouble with the British...

        Eastern European friend asked how much it would cost if stopped in his car by the Police.

        I didn't think that would work, but I've never tried it.

        Allegedly one problem is when the police aren't paid a decent wage and are expected to make do with other sources of income.

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: The trouble with the British...

      perhaps because UK has been relatively successful in minimising that

      Cash for Questions, Appointments to Quangos, Elevation to the Lords, Knighthoods and other gongs, Chumocracy, - it's a crowded house at the top of UK politics.

      The latest ruse seems to be to start waving the Union Flag at every opportunity as a means of pacifying the populace.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The trouble with the British...

        The soothing NLP of "fair play" and "best civil service in the world" on constant repeat traditionally kept the populace docile and uninterested but lately the politicians have forgotten their side of the bargain, i.e. it's more difficult to sweep rampant open corruption under the carpet. Oddly enough the majority of the media just doesn't want to take an interest in it though, along with anything else that seems a little too uncomfortable for the government.

      2. 2+2=5 Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: The trouble with the British...

        > The latest ruse seems to be to start waving the Union Flag at every opportunity as a means of pacifying the populace.

        It's far more banal than that: it's copying the Americans. Some media PR pipsqueak with zero imagination has finally noticed - only 30 years after the fact - that most American politicians have a flag in their offices and has decided for 'reasons' that ours must do the same.

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: The trouble with the British...

          Transatlantic flag waving (mildly NSFW)

          Cross ThamesChannel flag waving (NSFW, or Home!)

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

          It was not long ago that flag waving by the general public was mostly confined to when the Queen was visiting or it was left up to British Airways to fly the flag around the world. Alas, British Airways, whilst is still the Flag Carrier airline for the UK, the company is ultimately owned by a holding company in Spain.

    3. Caver_Dave
      Unhappy

      Re: The trouble with the British...

      As a Chairman of a Parish Council, I can say in my experience that the whole planning process is a total farce.

      As an objector (usually, but not always) on behalf of my Parish, I get 3 minutes to talk at the start of the meeting before being cut off (literally placed on mute in these Zoom days). The District Councils' Planning Officer then gets to present all his information (no time limit) and interact with the Planning Committee for the whole of the meeting. We can't even respond to their lies (recently an application in my village was promoted by the PO to help support the local shop and bus service, neither of which we have had for years!)

      If the applicant is ruled against by the by the Planning Committee they can go to appeal. If the objectors are ruled against we would have to go to the High Court (£70-80K) and the only grounds we can use is that the Councils processes were not followed correctly - not that the Planning Officer told blatant lies.

      Planning Officers hold all the power and even Planning Ministers have been shown (court case last year) to allegedly take bribes (in that case a donation to their political party rather than individually. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-53007018 )

    4. juice Silver badge

      Re: The trouble with the British...

      > What would you prefer, she asks, the inconvenience of a trip to the police station, a 2 hour wait in a roomful of drunks, druggies and pickpockets, a load of paperwork and a $50 fine or a $10 on the spot "fine" to the traffic cop with no paperwork and you're back on your way in a matter of minutes?

      There's so very many problems with this attitude, it's hard to know where to begin.

      In the first instance, if you know that you can generally break the laws with impudence, you're likely to become increasingly blase about them. This time, it might just be a $10 "fine" for running a red light. The next time, it might be $40 to the cop and $200 to the guy whose car you hit, to cover the cost of repairing his car door. Hey, no reason to get the insurance companies involved, right?

      But the time after that, it might be a dead kid on the floor under your car, because you weren't paying enough attention. Better hit a cash machine to pay that one off!

      The next problem with this is that it's not just "victimless" crimes which can be bought off, but cascades all the way up to racist attacks, murder and rape.

      And it also leads to problems in the wider society, such as protection rackets, etc.

      I've no doubt that there's been times in my life where things could have been smoothed over with a little application of hard cash. But for me, that's more than balanced out by the benefits of living in a society where money doesn't trump the law!

      (even though if we're honest, money always has something of an advantage, even if it only lies in the fact that it means you can afford better lawyers. And the UK's reputation is looking increasingly tarnished, thanks in no small part to the way that the currently incumbent government is throwing money around with some increasingly tenuous justifications. But still...)

  25. Lotaresco

    How F***ing much?

    software worth thousands of francs

    So that would be about £1 then?

    1. Lotaresco

      Re: How F***ing much?

      For the avoidance of doubt, in 1960 there were 1,400 FFr to the £.

  26. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Back in the dark ages (well, early to mid 1980s, so dark enough), our school bought a state of the art (for then) computer network, We had a series of Research Machines 480zs hooked up to a RML 380Z, which was acting as a file server (IIRC). We also had a couple of BBC B's, which weren't really used much by this point. These stayed in one room for a year or so, then our computer teacher decided he wanted the network expanded to the whole building.

    He knew that the head wouldn't give the funding to get a professional company in to do this, so, knowing we (as fifth formers) were required to get involved with a work experience project, either in the school, or in a company outside it, and knowing what geeks we were, he suggested to me and a couple of friends that we propose a project to extend the network. Which, we did.

    I'm not great at Electronics, am happy enough installing sockets, but a friend of mine was a dab hand with circuit design. He designed and assembled dozens of sockets with dual BNCs (I know you can just solder on the sockets, but IIRC, he added noise filtering to each socket, I think he also added something that acted as a termininator if nothing was attached to the socket). It was a great project because not only did it contribute something to the school, we were also required to install sockets in every classroom in this building. This involved a *lot* of drilling. Something which we tried to minimise for most teachers, but every one of us had at least one teacher we hated. They got the full force, as they'd been ordered to co-operate by the head, so they couldn't stop us.

    It took about a week to do this, and at the end of the project, we were testing the network. OK, so network gaming wasn't really a thing, so we couldn't have had a multiplayer game, but we tried various games we found on the server (that I don't think we were supposed to know about, but we discovered that by flipping a couple of dipswitches on the back of the 480Z, we could make it an Administrator's machine). We also found a chat/messaging application. We'd taken a couple of 480zs, with their monitors to different rooms, and tested the network. We fired up the chat program on both machines and started chatting. Then, my friend started typing something to the other machine, pretending to be the teacher. He got a response along the lines of "Why are you pretending to be me?", which we took to be a joke. Unfortunately, the teacher himself turned up a few minutes later, having actually typed the message himself. Note: There were only about 20 rooms in the building, 1 of which was already the computer room, so it's not beyond the realms of possibility he just went door to door.

    We all got a bit of a bollocking, but my friend, who had actually changed the ID of his workstation to appear to be an Administrator, and did pretend to be the computer teacher, got a detention.

  27. atheist

    Something similar happend to me too

    I'd requested a CD to be sent from the US to Ireland, internally within the company, for a project for a bank.

    Customs rang me looking for tens of thousands of Irish Punts. I escalated to the sender and local managers.

    What the senders got concerned about was why the valuation was only a half million dollars, when worth so much more. It was the maximum amount the customs form allowed.

    Eventually, the managers resolved the issue, and I got the CD. I don't know if Customs were ever paid.

  28. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Similar situation

    In the late 1990's I received a panicked call from the accounts department. The outside auditors had arrived to sign off on the annual accounts, and were demanding to physically see various items listed on the assets register. One item was an asset valued at a high 6 figure amount. It was a CAD software suite used to design integrated circuits. The Cadence software was 100% genuine (as was its value at the time), but physically existed on several SunSparc workstations, and so it and the associated licences were just digital files on the same workstations. The workstations themselves would not be acceptable as they were listed as a separate (and far less valuable) asset. I thought of producing the backup tapes, but there was no obvious proof that those tapes contained the software in question. I suppose it would have been possible to produce the paperwork showing the purchases etc, but the auditors, who had not quite caught up with the digital World and were not quite sure what "software" was, were expecting to see a physical asset of some sort.

    So I used some graphics software to print a few snazzy labels, put the labels onto some CDs, and the CDs into some ostentatious-looking CD cases I found lying around. I then ushered the auditors into the room containing the firesafe from which, after putting on some white cotton gloves, I delicately and reverently extracted the "valuable" disks - which fortunately satisfied the auditors.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Similar situation

      Auditors ...

      Those who can, do.

      Those who can't, teach.

      Those who flunk that, manage.

      Those who can't manage that, audit.

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: Similar situation

      The outside auditors had arrived to sign off on the annual accounts, and were demanding to physically see various items listed on the assets register.

      If that was the late 1990's you should have asked for the asset numbers of the rocks they had been living under for the 10 years at least since software licenses for that kind of stuff came into being. VMS started requiring software licenses for the OS and layered products from version 5 on, and while you could show the output of $ LICENSE LIST, you also got nice paper certificates with the registration codes to put in a binder and hand over to the auditors.

  29. Tron Bronze badge

    Modest proposal.

    - How much is the software on this disk worth?

    It has no monetary value. It is an update that fixes a bug. We are obliged to supply it for free.

    Regarding the original story - you should maintain remote access to your code until you get paid. If they don't pay, the software stops working until they do. It's not just the bad guys that can do that.

  30. Mike 40

    Welcome to the Brexit Sir!

  31. A_Melbourne

    Porsche in France

    I tried to get my Porsche registered in France. It was registered in Luxemburg. I was resident in Paris.

    I went to the customs office in Paris to enquire as to how to do this. The functionary asked for proof that I owned the car. I showed him the owner's manual. He confiscated it and said that I must pay the customs fees for importing the car before he will return the manual.

    I left the office and never came back. I had the car registered in the UK with no problem.

    1. Lotaresco

      Re: Porsche in France

      "I showed him the owner's manual. He confiscated it and said that I must pay the customs fees for importing the car before he will return the manual.

      Do you mean the owner's manual or the carte grise (certificate d’immatriculation)? The owner's manual is a worthless pile of bumf created by the manufacturer that tells you not to drink the battery acid and how a steering wheel works. If you lose one you need a pay a dealer a few Euro to get another one. It doesn't prove ownership of the vehicle. The CG (or Luxembourg equivalent) is an important document that proves that the vehicle is registered. It isn't proof of ownership either. It's actually illegal to be resident in France and to have your car registered in another country, so you were lucky that all he did was seize some paperwork.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Porsche in France

        The carte grise/registration document isn't proof of ownership either. This story doesn't pass the smell test.

  32. AlGodet

    The farce started…

    … with Brexit, one mustn't forget :)

  33. Juan Inamillion

    Not entirely unrelated...

    In an earlier life I was a recording engineer in a London studio. Large multitrack (2" 16 or 24 track) analogue tapes were starting to be moved around different studios and eventually overseas, particularly the US. (Much much cheaper to send someone with a tape to New York and record a band there than to ship the band to the UK!).

    However, US customs suddenly cottoned on to the fact that these tapes contained 'product', albeit unfinished music tracks, albums etc. So they started to charge import duties based on some figure that they thought these were worth. The courier would then have to make frantic phone calls to make payment. Anyway someone worked out that the courier should say that the tape was only a backup tape (there's your IT angle) with only an intrinsic value of the cost of the tape. Amazingly this worked....

    1. Lotaresco

      Re: Not entirely unrelated...

      "Much much cheaper to send someone with a tape to New York and record a band there than to ship the band to the UK!"

      The current version is to take a laptop to the artist and get them to record in their own studio. A friend did that for one of Mr Sting's albums, taking the laptop to wherever Sting was in the Caribbean at the time.

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