back to article Terminal trickery, or how to improve a novel immeasurably

Start your week the right way, with a Who, Me? reader confession and an improvement made to some bodice-ripping fiction. Our tale comes from a reader we shall call "Anne", because that is not her name but she understably wants to remain anonymous. Anne was gainfully employed as a contractor for an automotive accessory …

  1. Chris G

    Novel interference

    You don't need an outside agency to mess with the words you have written; I have been writing a couple of novels for years, every time I open one up and re-read it before adding more, I find a lot of rubbish that I can't possibly have written.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Novel interference

      It's not unique to novels. Even here typing gets corrupted between clicking Submit and its reappearing in larger font as a posted comment.

      For anything longer it's advisable to take a newly cooked bit of prose and leave it to rest as they say on the cookery programmes.

      1. Blofeld's Cat

        Re: Novel interference

        "... take a newly cooked bit of prose and leave it to rest ...

        Indeed. It is also surprising how much corruption happens to a "perfect" report left overnight to cool.

        "Where did the second copy of paragraph xyz come from and WTF is that chart?"

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Novel interference

          I was taken to task in a project board about the fact that 2 pages had been repeated in the 150 page test strategy I had written in 2 weeks to cover a cross national retail project. In those 2 weeks I had never been given network access, was working perched on a shelf in a basement as I had no desk or late at night in a hotel with no internet access.

          The whole thing was written on my laptop and I had never been able to see a printed copy

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Novel interference

        And Muphry's Law comes into force when you try to correct the trypos and introduce mor!

        1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Novel interference

          thankyou thankyou thankyou

          All of you lovely people. You can't imagine just how reassuring these comments are to an 'elderly'

          1. herman Silver badge

            Re: Novel interference

            "thaknyou thnakyou thankyuo" - TFIFY

        2. mark4155

          Re: Novel interference

          Try this for size

          "Our tale comes from a reader we shall call "Anne", because that is not her name but she understably wants to remain anonymous."

          Even our esteemed El Reg UNDERSTANDABLY gets it wrong occasionally

          Keep up the grate work! Mark.

          1. Helen Waite

            Re: Novel interference

            My boss thinks I am understable.

          2. Malcolm Weir

            Re: Novel interference

            Also, ".. _and_ she understably..." would be better Englishing.

        3. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. jake Silver badge

        Re: Novel interference

        The time between posting and then reading your own 'orrible prose and discovering spleling errors, syntax mistakes big, and other pterographical errors (thus demonstrating to world+dog how much of a feather brain you are), is called the ohnosecond.

        The best proofreader is anybody but the Author. The second best proofreader is an overnight fermentation. Spall chuckers don't work.

    2. b0llchit Silver badge

      Re: Novel interference

      Maybe there is an equivalent of for writing novels? It could solve your mess when you find your peak.

      1. Down not across

        Re: Novel interference

        I resemble that xkcd. I do recall one morning (after a heavy night out) discovering I had, apparently, finished some bit of code I was writing (at home for own purposes mind). Worked flawlessly. Had no recollection of touching it previous night. As I recall it was quite elegant (or incomprehensible ...or both).

        1. dvd

          Re: Novel interference

          I remember a period when I was on pain medication for my bad back. It wasn't anything really strong; just stronger than over-the-counter stuff.

          I was a programming god. I could bash out elegant code that worked flawlessly. It seemed to release the imagination and damp down the self doubt.

          The dosage was critical, though. To little and I was just my normal level of day to day idiot. Too much and I would turn out a really special class of gibberish.

          1. Chris 239

            Re: Novel interference

            @dvd.. I'm the same with beer and golf.

            1. Down not across

              Re: Novel interference

              Seems to apply to darts and snooker as well. I suppose suitable amount of alcohol relaxes away any tensions.

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: Novel interference

                My highest ever Space Invaders score was after a few pints. Although I suppose the ubiquitousness of those devices in pubs of a certain era meant the theory got put to a lot of testing.

          2. Montreal Sean

            Re: Novel interference


            Years ago I wrote a paper for my college "Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology" course.

            Wrote it through the night, finished in time to hand it in on the deadline. Did incredibly well, got an A.

            It was a very fine balancing act of just the right amount of vodka to keep me buzzed through the night.

          3. Scott 53

            Re: Novel interference

            You will enjoy the film "Another Round".

        2. Martin

          Re: Novel interference

          I've had the more common variant. Down the pub for a couple of pints, then back in the office in the afternoon - and suddenly, I realize how to solve that tricky problem that's been puzzling me for the last couple of weeks. Spend the afternoon bashing out the code and getting a clean compilation. OK - great. Good afternoon's work, ready to test on Monday.

          Monday. Spend the morning undoing the utter rubbish that seemed so good on Friday afternoon.

      2. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: Novel interference

        I don't drink, but a similar effect can be obtained with a heavy flu and medication.

        I have no recollection of writing that code, I don't even understand that code, but damn it works well.

        My pet theory is that a certain degree of cerebral suffering is necessary in order to flip the brain into a mode capable of truly understanding the innards of the machine.

    3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Novel interference

      Using Word, aren't you ?

    4. David 132 Silver badge

      Re: Novel interference

      I find a lot of rubbish that I can't possibly have written.

      I remember reading an interview with Neil Gaiman - or it might have been Sir Terry - about the writing process for Good Omens.

      Because NG was in the USA at the time, and ST was in the UK, they would take turns to each fax the other the bit they’d written while the other was asleep.

      Which worked fine until they found marvellous bits of prose in the growing document that both would swear they hadn’t written.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

        Re: Novel interference

        This is because the discworld became Turing complete, along with the fact so many people wanted to believe in it that it spontaneously came into existence at which point the unseen university folk were able to reach across to Terry's computer and add details they thought were lacking.

  2. Martin an gof Silver badge

    Black magic

    Back at university in the 1980s with VT220s connected to VAXen for pretty much all computing purposes, one of our classmates discovered he could abuse the chat facility to freeze other users' screens. Some people thought it was a kind of black magic, though most of us just thought he was an annoying twit (and then asked for the secret formula).

    He also invented a script he called "JIF", which could be used to delete your historic files in order to claim back a small amount of room in your minuscule quota. VMS automatically kept (IIRC) up to 10 older versions of your files, making a new copy each time you saved. While very useful in some circumstances, this quickly ate up large amounts of disc quota as effectively each file was ten times bigger than you thought it was. JIF was a much more useful utility, and did quite a lot to demystify VMS for those of us who had only recently graduated from 8-bit machines at home.


    1. druck Silver badge

      Re: Black magic

      At our university it was VT220s to an old Prime mainframe. We explored just about every control sequence for mischievous purposes, including ending the victims session by ending with a stty 0 > /dev/ttyXX

      1. Jan 0 Silver badge

        Re: Black magic

        <pedant mode> Errm, Pr1me made minicomputers. I think they claimed to be the first minicomputer with virtual memory.

        1. druck Silver badge

          Re: Black magic

          Yes you are right, I think it was a Pyramid there anyway, the Prime was at a different site.

          1. Martin

            Re: Black magic

            A Pyramid? Well, that explains how the Ancient Egyptians were able to do all those incredible astronomical calculations.

    2. Rudy

      Re: Black magic

      VMS's DCL command line had a built-in utility to remove older versions of files: PURGE/KEEP=n, where n was the number of previous versions you wanted to retain. If I recall correctly, that is: it was a looong time ago!

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: Black magic

        I don't remember exactly how it worked (I might even have a printout on fanfold in the attic somewhere) and I dare say PURGE was involved (haven't used VMS since leaving university so it's all been shifted to long-term storage, which is gradually bit-rotting out of existence), but for some reason the utility this bloke wrote was significantly more usable than the way we had previously been doing it, and many of us crafted our own versions which dealt with the particular mix of files we individually created.


      2. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Black magic

        Yes, purge was the command and purge/keep kept the desired number of historical copies.

        I once made a mistake... I had to change some code. I copied the original code to a .COBOL backup file, then proceeded with my edits. 2 days later, the changes were finished and ready to sign back in, the working copies had been purged... So I deleted the backups, you know, the .COB files! GAH! Another day and a half of coding got it all back again, with some improvements I noticed as I was recoding what I'd done before.

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: Black magic

          I once purged on a multi-directory alias. The most recent copy of every single file across all the aliases was moved to the first one. All I can say was that I was very glad that the session history was there (I immediately saved it down) and then I manually moved the damn files back into the correct directory.

          I didn't do that a second time...

      3. Sok Puppette

        Re: Black magic

        Pretty sure you could also set some kind of process attribute to limit the number of versions it would create. It has been a while...

        1. CliveS

          Re: Black magic

          SET FILE/VERSION=x where X is the number of versions to keep. Doesn't address the maximum version number of 32767 though.

    3. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Black magic

      We were supposed to log out of or disconnect our sessions when we left our desks. One day, I went to the loo and, when I came back, one of the admins, a mate, had left a PostIt on my terminal, to say "write out 1000 time, 'I will always disconnect my terminal when I leave my desk'".

      I whipped up a blank text file, wrote the text into the file, used a quick macro to copy it 1,000 times and saved the file.

      I then called up the admin using VAX phone. While it was ringing, I called up the shell and readied a command to type the file. As he answered, I piped it to the phone chat window... Cue a thousand lines of scrolled text filling his terminal.

      We had a good laugh about it at the game evening after work.

    4. AndyMTB

      Re: Black magic

      Ahh yes, generation numbers mycode.for;34 What anguish when I moved to Unix, before I got into the habit of saving the original file with a datestamp, at least until I discovered sccs.

    5. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Black magic

      Wasn't the DCL command to delete old versions called PURGE? Used with wildcards, who needs a script?

      We were forever telling students to purge their older versions to recover some disk space on our PDP-11 running RSX11-M with DCL. We eventually showed them how to set up a logout script that would do it automatically.

      But I think there was a setting, or maybe an environment variable which conditioned how many versions would be kept. A long time ago, and I can't remember clearly.

    6. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Black magic

      VT220s sere seriously fun terminals to hack.

      Not many people knew that the function keys would double up if you used shift (giving you F13-F24), or that you could re-program the character sequences that were generated, Or, that you could trigger the keys remotely....

      Similarly, the terminal ID could be re-programmed (on the -220 and later terminal, although not on a -100), which would respond to an ident command (ESC[c or ESC[0c) with the re-programmed string.

      Both of these techniques could be used to make someone appear to type something that they didn't.

      Also, the VT220 (I think that this was on a -220, and not just the -220 compatibles that we used) had a 25th status line, which if sent the correct sequences, you could write to. That was really infuriating to do, as neither a normal clear screen command nor scrolling the screen would not touch it, and if you didn't know the correct sequence to clear it, you would need to power-cycle the terminal (or go into setup and do a terminal reset operation).

      Also you could really confuse some people by setting up scroll regions so that the writable part of the screen appeared to shrink.

      Of course, if this was a UNIX system, the first thing that you did when logging on was to do a "mesg n", which took off the write permissions on the tty entry in /dev for other users, which would prevent non-privileged users from writing to your terminal.

      1. Kubla Cant

        Re: Black magic

        Most of these escape-sequence tricks were ANSI features, though a few of them wre DEC extensions.

        There was a set of routines in the VMS Runtime Library that you could use to write fancy screens with scrolling regions and text decoration. It was about as close to a GUI as you could get on a character-cell display like the VT220.

        1. CliveS

          Re: Black magic

          That's be the SMG system services that did all manner of screen management. You could do some very clever things withSMG, but by Cthulhu was the resultant code a pain to maintain.

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Black magic

          The VT100 terminal was one of the first to follow the ANSI x3.64 standard, and other DEC terminals followed on by adding features. Most manufacturers who made ANSI compatible terminals added their own features using ANSI command structures, but none of these made it into the standard.

          The IBM PC console implementation of the ANSI X3.64 standard is very incomplete.

          I never really understood the Command Sequence Introducer (CSI). Who actually chose ESC-[ (7-bit CSI - although there were others) as the main flag to say that the following data was an escape sequence. It seems a bit of a bizarre choice, but then I gues it had to be something that was unlikely to appear in a byte stream.

          Before VT100 and ANSI, terminal sequences was a bit of a free-for-all. If you want a smile, then dig out the /etc/termcap file from a BSD tape later than 2.3 or thereabouts. Some of the comments about different terminal command sets may amuse you, the writers were either exasperated or funny by nature. Unfortunately, a lot of these comments were taken out before termcap and/or curses made it into Linux, although if you look, there are still a couple.

          The difference between VAX/VMS and UNIX is that the OS routines in VMS were DEC terminal specific. It would be difficult to use a terminal other than a DEC/ANSI compatible on a VMS system. On UNIX, termcap and terminfo meant that if you could write a description of the terminal command set, you could use screen based applications on them.

      2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: Black magic

        The issue I saw with the VT range was that keys could send multiple ASCII characters down the RS232 line to the UART when just one key was pressed (e.g arrow keys) so the terminal interfaces had to be interrupt driven, just "sampling" the UART interface always resulted in characters being dropped.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Black magic

          This was not a problem (in fact not a problem at all) with just the DEC terminals.

          Unfortunately, the range of commands that you could implement using just single non-printing characters would effectively have crippled the terminal, leading them to be very 'dumb' with no cursor addressing or other advanced features.

          All terminal manufacturers had multi-character key sequences, and I speak from experience having been the termcap, terminfo and curses SME at many places I worked at. Manufactures such as Wyse, Lear-Siegler, HP, Beehive, Heathkit and many others I could name all had their own multi-character function keys sets.

          As I said before, look at the /etc/termcap from a BSD system to see a pretty good snapshot of pre-ANSI terminals across the ages,

          I would be pretty worried if the code that you were using to read the UART could not keep up with the speed of the serial line, because things like modems have existed for ages, and would squirt characters in at the line speed.

          When you look at mini-computers, generally the handling of the UARTs was offloaded to dedicated hardware, so the CPU would not be interrupted for every character.

          In fact, RS-232 was designed to be asynchronous, with the character timing loop being triggered by the leading start bit transition, so that the monitoring hardware can be idle and interrupted when needed when data was arriving. It would be tremendously wasteful if it were implemented any other way,

          1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: Black magic

            One further point. There were problems with multi-byte function keys, but not with lost characters.

            The problem is that how does the computer know whether a sequence of characters has been generated by a function key, or typed. The answer is that it would time how long it would take to receive the complete sequence of characters.

            But this caused problems. If you use a terminal or terminal emulator with some networking products, like a terminal concentrator or even from one system to another, quite often typed characters were buffered until either several had arrived, or until a timeout. This meant that a sequence of 4 or 6 characters could arrive with no gaps, even though there were appreciable gaps (measued in 10's of seconds) between them being typed.

            One place I worked used HP2392a terminals (very nice, but quite expensive) and some cable modems (Itil, Itec or something like that). The HP terminal used simple 2 or 3 character function key strings, and someone had written terminfo entries for all of the keys on the keyboard, including "Clear Display", which was mapped to the terminfo key "ed". In vi had the function of clearing from the cursor to the end of the file.

            Unfortunately, the sequence generated was "ESC" "J". Anybody knowing vi will know that in command mode, "J" joins the current line and the next line together.

            We had one person who used this quite frequently, and got into the habit of typing "ESC" to leave insert mode (as we all do to make sure we're in command mode, don't we) followed by "J". Where this was buffered by the cable modem, it arrived at the other end with no gap between the two characters, and vi promptly deleted the rest of the file in the buffer (because it saw it as the "Clear Display" function key).

            This person was getting more and more annoyed as time went by, until I sat down and had a think about the problem, and finally worked out what was happening. So I generated a new terminfo entry with the mapping for this key deleted. Not many people think about this, but it is possible to have a private terminfo file over-riding the the system one, which is what I did for this person.

            In a similar but opposite vein, sometimes long escape sequences can be broken into two network packets with a gap in between, causing curses/vi to think that function key presses have actually been typed. IIRC, this can be fixed using the TIMEOUT ksh environment variable (not to be confused with TMOUT), which can be used to set the time in miliseconds that is allowed to be treated as a single key press.

            I believe that there is also a terminfo setting to specify this as well.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Black magic

              Note that although it looks on first blush like termcap was an evil pain in the ass, in reality it was the only way we had to make disparate systems work together in the days before standards.

              A guy I knew at Berkeley suggested treating it as a game instead of a chore that needed doing. He was right ... Life became much less stressful when grafting odd-ball bits and pieces onto the growing network. Thank you, Bill Joy.

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: Black magic

            "look at the /etc/termcap from a BSD system to see a pretty good snapshot of pre-ANSI terminals across the ages,"

            As of slackware-current (the upcoming Slackware 15.0 release), Slack will no longer ship termcap in the standard /etc package set as it is no longer used in Slackware, (or any(??) other Linux distro for that matter) ... However, it is still included with ncurses for those of us who still have to (or want to!) muck about with old kit.

            In older versions of Slackware, see /etc/termcap-bsd for the complete file. In 15.0 and up it is in /etc/termcap (subject to change, as -current is in beta).

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm a word wrangler...

    I started writing stories in middle school (6th to 9th years for you mainky gits) and would amuse myself by writing fantasies about dungeons, dragons, dwarves, elves, hobbits, trolls, etc. I'd create fictional worlds, populate them with said fictional(?) races, and weave intricate tapestries of silliness that would have made any punster proud. This was my hobby and practiced constantly, so when a teacher would assign a writing project on a topic, they invariably had to tell me "Please keep it under a half dozen pages?"

    Before such requests became the norm rather than the exception, I could turn a "two page report on $topic" into something a paid-by-the-word author might submit in an attempt to get filthy stinking rich. Worse was if it was on a topic about which I was fond, because then I might wax poeticly for page after page after page. Every little dust mote of minutia, every little tidbit of esoteric trivia, every bit of verbal vomit I could regurgitate all over the page. And since I was typing it all up on my computer (Commodore 64 using PaperClip) I could copy & paste, reorder, splice, tweak, & torture it all until it felt right before hitting print and ripping a copy off the dot matrix printer.

    I'd hand over a "rough draft" of ~50 pages of single spaced, 12 point type with 1 inch (~2cm) margins before most of the other students had even figured out WTF to write about in the first place. When the teacher would comment on the fact that I had typed my rough draft, I'd smile, shrug, & explain "I think better that way."

    So one day my English teacher gives out our final projects which are to be major discertations on weighty topics requiring much research, editing, revisioning, and _WORK_ to make sure we can't just "spit something out the night before & call it a day". (Restrains the smirk) The topic she hands me is not only one of which I'm fond, it's one near & dear to my heart: the history of heavier than air flight. When I saw my topic I probably squealed like a school girl with a valentine from her favorite crush.

    My *first draft* hit nearly 500 pages. I had to cut it back so far that I was afraid it would die from constant consenent dehydration. The "rough draft" I handed in was still over 100 pages long. My teacher had an absolute, utter, unabashed, unmitigated, complete & total shit fit. She said something about assigning a discertation "not a damned epic novel!" To which I said I'd be back after lunch that day. (The school had an open campus, I lived a short bike ride away, so the trip took less time than it took for most students to even make it through the lunch line in the cafeteria.) I come back & drop the *unedited* 500 pager on her desk. "That, Mrs. Evans, is what it was _before_ I neutered it. If you want ''epic'' I'll go back to this one (taps the mountain of papers) and keep going until the project is due in six months."

    I do believe she would have spit out her non-false-teeth had she been able to.

    We both agreed I'd NOT use the unedited version, go back to the revised one instead, and would kindly refrain from "going through any major dissiduous forest tracts" with future submissions. (Chortle)

    Later on I realized that I can write for fun, I can sometimes write for love, but I can't write for profit to save my life. The moment I have to submit something to some blinkering moron whom turns my story into an ocean of red ink, scribbled changes that make no sense, or otherwise destroys what I've written, I get so depressed that I want to go on a moron-murdering-mega-mnemonic-matriculating-masterful-merry-go-round. (Sighs)

    I could create entire worlds for D&D adventures with/for my son & friends, I even started drawing the fantasy maps to go along with such realms, but I couldn't stomach crushing my creations into published pulp phiction... (Sorry)

    Besides, it's also why I'm posting anonimously: if I stay hidden behind the curtain, I can keep pulling levers, twisting knobs, grinding gears, churning & burning & barfing up idiotic posts like this one in the secure knowledge that you won't drag me outside to stick my head in a poor porcine posterior. (Runs away)

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: I'm a word wrangler...

      AC, while I fully respect your decision to stay behind the curtain, I'd like to tell you: it's a pity.

      Usually, I wouldn't even get through the second paragraph of much shorter comments. But with yours I'd happily read on further, much further than it lasts.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm a word wrangler...

        OP here. Thank you for that. If I ever figure out how to work the forum section I'll probably start a thread to post the occaisional bit of story. In the mean time join me across the road at the pub for a pint. You'll need to hurry, there's a cat streaking out the door to get there first. (Grins & laughs)

        1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

          Re: I'm a word wrangler...

          To the pub?! Is this the moment where I regret having moved to the continent?

          Click <Create a new topic>, select a section such as <chew the fat>, add title "AC's Stories" or something and start writingentertaining us.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I'm a word wrangler...

            I found the first part (add topic) but got no further. Maybe my browser is too old to render the site properly. (Sighs, shrugs, & pouts like a whiney little git)

            I don't know where you reside so replace "pub" with tavern, bar, watering hole, caravanasari, or any other phrase you desire that means "place where folks gather to enjoy a drink". I'll buy you the first round, but after that you'll be on your own tab. (Because I loathe Tab, I'm a Pepsi drinker. Nyaaahahahahahaha)

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I'm a word wrangler...

              OP replying to myself to update the thread. I found the bits mentioned by Evil Auditor, but the forum pukes up a "too long" error when I tried to post. It looks like I'd have to break them down into ~900 character chunks, post each chunk as a nested reply to the TLP, until the entire story was made available. Given the smallest of the files is 50+Kb, that's a metric fuck ton of nested posts. (Sighs)

              Please accept my apology for not starting the "Word Wrangler Story Corner" TLP in which I intended to post said stories. I wish I could, but the board is a bit too limited by max post length requirements.

              To the staff, if you decide to make an acception then please email me. I'll start up said TLP & begin posting said stories for your & everyone else's annoya... errr, enjoyment. (Grins)

              Thank you all & I'll leave a stack of cash with the pub to cover you all getting enough drinks to drown a thirsty dwarf.

              1. My-Handle Silver badge

                Re: I'm a word wrangler...

                I began writing while I was in a summer job during my university years (the job was deathly boring due to lack of actual work). I found I had quite the taste for it, though I rarely had the time to do justice to any of my ideas. Over the years I've completed one novel and a brief series of short stories, but I've done worldbuilding for nearly a dozen different settings, written innumerable snippets, sections and set-pieces and generally had fun letting my imagination romp around in any setting it found itself.

                If you ever get a Register reader's story corner site up and going, I would happily put a few of my meagre offerings up alongside yours.

                1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

                  Re: I'm a word wrangler...

                  Let's hope El Reg has an open ear for reader's story corner...

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: I'm a word wrangler...

      Yes, we've noticed.

    3. TaabuTheCat

      Re: I'm a word wrangler...

      Anonymous? You are clearly amanfrommars, unedited. I claim my five pounds.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm a word wrangler...

        OP here. I am not AMFM. Even I can't make heads, tails, nor any other bodily part you might care to mention out of his posts. (Grins & sticks out tongue)

        I'll stand you a pint instead if you make it to the pub across the stree- HEY! Get back here you cheat! I didn't say go yet! (huffs & puffs for the door)

      2. DJV Silver badge

        Re: I'm a word wrangler...

        No, he isn't - this one made sense and was definitely quite amusing as well.

        Of course, I'm just wondering how many forests would need to suffer if he was asked to write a novel instead of just a couple of pages!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I'm a word wrangler...

          OP here. I'll give you a hint. One of my stories is currently sitting at a file size of 1,260Kb as a plain text file. Written with Windows notepad, because MS Word is overkill, bloated, & shits itself at random for no apparent reason other than "cuz I feel like it!"

          Some of the smaller ones are under 100Kb, but those tend to be story ideas that got derailed by other (better?) ideas, absorbed into other (better?) ideas, or scrapped for (any? better?) ideas. Still fun to read, but not as indepth as the others.

          If I figure out how to post to the forum (Thanks Evil Auditor!) I'll probably have to keep it to the tiny ones as the board doesn't like megabyte plain text dumps to forum posts. (Sheepish grin)

          1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

            Re: I'm a word wrangler...

            > 1,260Kb as a plain text file

            Frank Herbert, Dune, Book 1, 1'172 kb pure ascii.

            Larry Niven, Lucifers Hammer, 1'252 kb pure ascii.

            Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge, 1'451 pure ascii.

    4. Manolo

      Re: I'm a word wrangler...

      I am not a native English speaker, but shouldn't "any major dissiduous forest tracts" be "deciduous"?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: I'm a word wrangler...

        That's a very assiduous comment.

        Would a dissiduous forest be a trumpian thicket?

      2. Jonathan Richards 1

        Re: I'm a word wrangler...

        Yes, it should. Word Wrangler has a way with words, and with creative orthography. I will imagine that 'phiction' is intentional, but I think that WW should have noticed that El Reg gives the wiggly red underline of disapproval, quite understandably, to poeticly, discertations, consenent, dissiduous, anonimously, occaisonal, caravansari and acception. Perhaps this is partly why submissions to an editor come back with plenty of red ink!

        See icon -->

        1. Shadow Systems

          At Jonathan Richards 1, re: the wiggly red lines.

          I'm the OP AC that started this whole mess. (Waits for the rain of thrown rotten vegetables, dead fish, & wadded up napkins to stop pelting me.)

          The only thing I can offer as to having ignored the little red wormy bits peppering my prose is that my screen reader doesn't even know such things exist. Font faces, pitch, colour, or any other aspect of the words beyond the plain text gets ignored so it can read the plain text aloud. If I had to AltTab over to a dictionary file & look up every word that I was unsure about, I'd never get anything posted at all. I'd be black & blue from all the times the site poked me to ask "HEY! Are you still awake over there?" (Sighs)

          *Gives the barkeep another mortgage to my house to pay for the next round of drinks*

          Drink up. Now that I'm no longer posting AC in this thread, I can come join you all at the bar for a drink of my own. =-)

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: At Jonathan Richards 1, re: the wiggly red lines.

            Mr. Systems, are you familiar with Usenet? Contrary to popular belief, it is still alive and well. Some suspect it is one of the three things that will survive the heat death of the Universe.

            The other two are tardigrades and Kieth Richards, of course.

        2. ricardian

          Re: I'm a word wrangler...

          It was only recently, after using MS Word for umpteen years, that I realised that MS Word underlines problem words in two different colours to distinguish between spelling errors and grammatical errors. The joys of being red/green colour blind

    5. Chris G

      Re: I'm a word wrangler...

      You may post as AC but I recognise your writing style and enjoy your 'named' posts too.

      Can't see why anyone would downvote this post.

      1. Cederic Silver badge

        Re: I'm a word wrangler...

        Distaste at excess verbosity?

        I have published fiction. It's terse, taut and every word matters; some people prefer that.

        (I did not vote down the word wrangler. Other writing styles are also valid.)

    6. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: I'm a word wrangler...

      That was a very entertaining history of your word smithing,

      I'm ashamed to admit my favorite bit , that nearly coffee'd my keyboard, was the use of the word "shit-fit"

    7. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: I'm a word wrangler...

      Upvote because while I've never turned in 100 pages edited down from even more (I was using EDWORD on a Beeb, I don't think it'd have been capable), my five hundred word essays usually ran to several thousand words, or tens of thousands (multiple editor files) if it was something that interested me.

      Bastard always marked me down for not fitting his arbitrary limit. But, what could I delete? Everything written was an important facet of the subject...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm a word wrangler...

        I've always had the exact opposite problem. (Probably comes from being an engineer.) Essay is supposed to be 5 pages long. After 3 pages, I've said everything I have to say on the subject. Why should I fill another 2 pages with literary vomit just to fit an arbitrary limit?

    8. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Re: I'm a word wrangler...

      I read it all. You manage to tell it wordly, but without making it boring-to-snoring. You manage to tell so I understand what it is about without inconsistency, weird style and does not require several re-reads. So you've already got a few good points. Waiting for the next story!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For us it started one day when the HP1000 disk crashed again. The HP service engineers were based in a city two hours away from us, so one of us used the front panel switches to enter a little program that flashed the blinkenlights in a seeming random pattern. We were rewarded with a suitably shocked SE when he eventually arrived: "it's gone tilt", he said.

    During the scheduled preventative maintenance sessions, one of the steps was to set a RAM test running, after which the SE work go and check out wiring in the back of the cabinets. At this point my colleague tricky Trev would flip a switch on the front panel that sets the RAM test into continuous mode, so it would wrap around...

    One of the things that wasn't mentioned in the HP1000 article the other day is that RTE6 had a 5-letter executable name length - hence the eternal quest for punchy mnemonics - which in our case led to the creation of programs named "ME" and "METOO". And yes, sending stuff to each others' terminals was quite common - baud rate changes being a particular inducement to rage.

    Perhaps our grandest stunt was the disk pack swap. Our grand HP1000 computer room had an incubus in the form of a little commercial HP3000 system, which one day was deemed worthy of a real disk drive - one of HP's 400MB "washing machines" (so named because the powerful linear motors would rock the whole drive"). This was delivered in a crate, with the disk pack in a separate box. Everyone waited for the day when the service engineer would arrive to commission the drive - especially tricky Trev & I who had quietly replaced the 400MB pack with an incompatible one from the HP1000 system!

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      I remember an HP SE arriving to remove the shipping strut from a new tape drive to find I'd already done it. At that time TORX screws were new and fairly uncommon but I happened to have a set of bits in my screwdriver set. That was the set with the Intel Inside sticker. It fell off the back of some tower box I was working on and stuck rather more firmly to the screwdriver lid so I left it there.

  5. Sgt_Oddball

    I really should have dug deeper into them...

    Pretty sure it was a VT220 system the Halfords I used to work at had (as a spry 18 year old on the parts counter because I could actually identify and find whatever lump of junk a customer brought in to get a replacement for).

    I never really could be bothered with trying to break it since this was in the early 2000's and it was already creaking badly as it was. That and I could have run that store after learning every different department's job roles.

  6. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    Remote logon to random machines on the campus and, depending on the mood, entering either «shutdown -h +1 "you're losing all your work in 1 minute"» or «shutdown -h now». We didn't even bother to clear the log files; in our youthful arrogance we believed that no one would go and check them. And no one did.

    Ok, maybe not as harmless a fun as can be. So remember, kids, don't do this at home. Or anywhere, for that matter.

    1. Lord Kipper III

      A common practice in my undergraduate days 30+ years ago running PAFEC jobs on our university MULTICS system. With deadlines due too many of us would be on and slowing things down. Some would be over confident, set the job running then go to the students union/pub only to return to discover that mysteriously their job had ceased to be. Can't possibly think how that could happen.

      Skill now practised as a tool to stop my youngest son playing Minecraft on the desktop at meal times. He's not figured yet that I can connect to the Linux machine using SSH from my Chromebook and remotely shut the machine down.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      I was on a DEC training course in Reading, VMS Administration. I'd been a VAX programmer for a few years, but it was decided I should also get some mad admin skillz as well...

      The first day of the course covered the basics, which I already knew - before joining my employer, I'd had a summer job working for an oil exploration company, working in administration and FORTRAN programming.

      We then got onto the force logoff part of the day and, as expected, people were randomly logging the others off the system - it was a training machine, dedicated to our classroom.

      I had a brainwave, wrote a few lines of DCL and ran it... It produced a list of logged in users and, if the username wasn't mine, it logged the user out. At the end of the run, it then re-submitted itself as a batch job, so it ran constantly. Oh, what a laugh...

      The best bit was, whilst you were logging on, you had an entry with the username <LOGIN> and a process ID, so, everybody was being killed off, before they could even log on! A hoot!

      Then, idiot that I am, I accidentally logged myself out! Not so funny now!

      I couldn't log back in. Nobody could log in. The instructor took us into the backroom behind the classroom, sat at the console and started to logon directly at the console... BLAM! Session killed. Login, session killed, login, session killed. In the end, we had to perform an emergency stop and reboot the server.

      The instructor was very good about it. I had no come back over the incident.

      1. I Am Spartacus

        Ahh, DEC training courses in Reading. I did the System Internals and MACRO32 courses just after leaving Uni. So much fun can be had when you have the source code, the training and the manuals to a VMS box.

        Based days of my life!

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Unisys in Foxhills, Milton Keynes was good as well.

          When I was there, it was the first public TV showing of The Blues Brothers. All throughout the residential halls, all you could hear was The Blues Brothers Band that night. The next morning, at the breakfast table was the only person on the course over 50, moaning that he didn't get any sleep last night, because the neighbouring room was playing some music at high volume! :-D

          1. big_D Silver badge

            Oops, that should have been Fox Milne, not Foxhills.

        2. The other JJ

          Fond memories of RSX-11M-Plus System Management, Internals and Drivers and Macro-11 at Shire Hall. One of those had a great fun female instructor who introduced us to the pub just over the motorway.

          Stop press: I lie, the first was at Fountain House in the centre of Reading.

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Back in the days of Linux 0.99pl13, I used to do fork bombs... except mine had a generation limit, so they'd swamp the poor 66mhz machine, root would log in (slowly) and the problem would be gone.

        I was beaten pretty soundly when I was found out.

      3. Rob Daglish

        I remember an NT4 training course where a colleague remotely edited the registry on my server to pop up a login message - saying something like “This machine has crashed and needs rebooted. Please restart now”. After the fifth or sixth time of me swearing, I saw him sliding under the table unable to contain his laughter…

  7. AlanSh

    I had to do this for real once

    Some time ago, I was in the oil surveying business and we had a great product which could show where oil wells had been drilled (they don't just go straight down. We had a trade show in Bahrein and got our computers transported so we could show off our wares. Of course, the main computer got dropped off a lorry and the cards went straight through the backplane (Data General Nova 3 - I said it was a long time ago!).

    So I spent 2 very long nights connecting the VDU up to something that could manipulate it ( think I went and bought an Amstrad thingy from a local store - but it was a long time ago and memory fades) to show off what the results would look like on the screen plus some lovely exploding flowers and suchlike to draw the customers in. It seemed to work and we did get a few nice orders from it.


  8. jake Silver badge

    We annoyed each other with this kind of crap ...

    ... for a short time at Uni. Then we started working on what would become 2BSD. I would never even dream of doing it as a professional. Other user's screens are sacrosanct, to say nothing of their actual files.

  9. Rufus McDufus

    Sun workstations were good fun too My first job was as a support guy in a university computing department. Our "office" was in the server room (which might explain why I'm almost deaf). There were glass windows everywhere so we could see most labs. It was fun to pick a victim and make their display turn upside down, or make it snow/screen static/spiders running round behind the windows etc. I'm sure they all found it absolutely hilarious too.

  10. Robert Sneddon

    Rabbits and ferrets

    A Uni I worked at a long time back got a cluster of minis and serial terminals to replace the old punched-card-masticating mainframe that had catered for the student and academic computing workload previously. The minicomputers were very new -- rumour had it they had serial numbers starting 0001, 0002 etc. and the OS was similarly fresh from the oven and only half-baked.

    A group of first-year students, doing Maths IIRC, discovered these wonderful toys and, being infantile to the extreme, proceeded to break them on a monotonously regular basis. For example the Rabbit team wrote scripts and later programs to create a subdirectory in the file system, copy itself into that subdirectory then launch an instance and create a sub-sub-directory, digging its way down until something broke. The Ferret team wrote scripts and programs to go after the Rabbit programs and kill them before something broke. The Rabbits usually won and then the people running the computing department had to go round and reset the computers which had gone Bonk!

    Eventually the Problem Children were taken aside, it was made clear that they were getting in the way of people doing Real Work on their shiny toys and they should desist. The computer manufacturer, having heard of these exploits thanks to the error reports the Uni sent them donated another mini to the Uni as a crash-test-dummy machine since the information they were getting back was quite valuable for their OS developers. The Problem Children were allowed to indulge themselves on this firewalled machine, the academics and other students could get uninterrupted machine time on the cluster and everyone was happy, that is until the end-of-year exams when the Problem Children all failed to pass. Sad trombone.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rabbits and ferrets

      I really like the manufacturer's solution - get great error reports from folks dedicated to breaking the machine, for only the cost of one machine (not having to pay the testers). And, as a bonus, it helped the university.

      Nowadays, the university and manufacturer would probably try to prosecute the students, which hurts the university's image and the manufacturer wouldn't get the error reports that lead to a better product.

      1. swm

        Re: Rabbits and ferrets

        When I was writing the Dartmouth time sharing system (phase II) the rules were that you could try to hack the machine but please tell how you did it so we could fix the problem. Students from Bates College were quite adept at finding holes.

  11. DarkwavePunk


    Back in the mists of time when I was at Uni we had Wyse or similar VT* style terminals. I found the escape sequence code that would completely reset one of those terminals. Naturally I downloaded the source to the Unix "wall" command and modified it to just send that code to everyone who didn't have "mesg n" set. Which of course was pretty much everyone as "mesg y" was default. So if feeling full on stroppy teenager, I could nuke nearly everyone's session on a whim. I grew up - and became a sysadmin...

  12. Jay 2

    Remote? Yes. Control? No.

    In my second year of university some labs popped up with Sun SPARC IPX workstations. One of the things they had that some of the previous SPARCs hadn't was a floppy drive... which could be ejected by any user that could log on. So obviously there was a spate of floppies being ejected and possibly somewhat trashed as they had proper filesystems on that really should be un-mounted before ejecting.

    Similarly at some point in my first two years at university some people found out that you could quite happily also log onto someone else's SPARC and cat a file to /dev/audio. If you were being playful it would be a .au of something like the James Bond theme. If not then it would be a system binary. Either way there was nothing the victim could do aside from sit there and protest their innocence.

    1. -tim

      Re: Remote? Yes. Control? No.

      Sunview would allow any logged in user to manipulate window positions. The 'w' command would helpfully point out the window id on the workstation user was using to edit code. We had a program that would move the window one pixel a second. On a 1024 pixel wide screen, it didn't take long for that to be annoying particularly when it was moved mostly to the right and slightly down.

  13. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    A Jive translator ?

    Found one :

    And so, uh course, dey wo'ked out which terminals wuz visible and began doin' similar wahtahmelluns t'de staff in de lab. Sheeeiit. "Sequences uh multiple inverse, non inverse and bell characters would create quite some stunnin' result," said Anne happily. Slap mah fro. Right On! De users – probably some little less happy. Slap mah fro. Right On!

    De IT Managa' would be called but, plum as he arrived, de terminals would be set back t'no'mal. Den, plum as he tried t'leave, wahtahmelluns would go 'wrong' once mo'e. What it is, Mama. Right On! All it lacked wuz de Benny 'Sup, dudell soundtrack.

    1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: A Jive translator ?

      I'm pretty sure I shouldn't have laughed at that.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: A Jive translator ?

        The black guy who passed me a copy in 1987ish (hi, Tim!) thought it was potentially funny, but needed some work. It hasn't changed much since then, and seems quite dated today. If anyone cares, it's called "jive" or "the Jive filter".

        It's a simple string substitution program. There are versions for Pig Latin, the Swedish Chef, ValSpeak and others, including a VNSFW variation that translates almost anything into dialog for a porn flic. If you go looking for this last one, don't say I didn't warn you about the V.

        1. GrumpenKraut

          Re: A Jive translator ?

          And then there is the hitlerizer.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A Jive translator ?

      I recall Bruce using a latex jive translator on a draft of his quantum optics phd thesis before handing it in to his supervisor for a bit of light checking.

      Consequently, Prof G. was somewhat concerned, albeit for only a short time, because his initial thought was that Bruce had manually retyped his entire thesis :-)

      Not sure what it did with the equations, though.

    3. -tim

      Re: A Jive translator ?

      The original was about 250 lines of Lex with a small C wrapper written in 1986 and posted under the name "Adams Douglas" along with valspeak. There was a hacked version of jive called jibe that fixed up a number of words to work better with AT&Ts text to speech system.

  14. aerogems Silver badge

    In what seems like another lifetime, I worked at a burger chain where they had just rolled out a new touchscreen interface for all the POS terminals. Turns out the whole thing was being controlled by a MS-DOS server stuffed in the back drive through window booth.

    Don't remember how, but I stumbled across a hidden menu for changing the date and time on the terminal. One particularly slow day working at the front counter, I pulled up that menu on an unused register and just left it there to see how the manager on duty would respond when they saw it. Turned out leaving that menu up caused the POS system from sending orders to the kitchen. As the gods of mischief are wont to do, it just so happened business picked up a bit around that time and there was much confusion as the drive through people kept looking for orders and the kitchen staff was just standing around claiming they hadn't received any orders. Eventually someone notices the menu up on one of the registers, cancels out of it, and then all hell breaks loose as the last 20-30 orders start showing up in the kitchen all at once. I, of course, did my best innocent whistling routine after. In my defense, I had no idea that would happen. I naively thought that the POS system was at least well designed enough that an issue with one terminal wouldn't cause the entire system to fall over. I was still young and ignorant to the penny pinching ways of the corporate world. I also later learned that there was a direct chat system between the server in the store and the franchise home office, but since there was a CCTV camera that would catch anyone using that system in its view, I knew better than to mess with that one, but the fun I could have had impersonating one of the managers...

    1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge


      "I naively thought that the POS system was at least well designed enough that an issue with one terminal wouldn't cause the entire system to fall over."

      These days the POS design is of similar quality, but there are many more cameras.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Progress

        Why do you think they call it a POS? You didn't really think that stood for Point Of Sale, did you?

  15. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid

    Idle hands etc.

    Once, we had someone from our cusomer organisation seconded into our team. All in the interests of closer collaboration etc. Only problem was that the person they sent to us was, well, how can I put it politely? challenged in the talent department. They were also well endowed in the apathy arena too.

    We gave them a user account on our local Linux network and off we went. Being only a small local network, we all had superuser rights (except the secondee of course). It soon became known that they spent most of their time playing solitaire or whatever else KDE had at the time. Remotely logging in to their machine as root and a quick bit of PS showed the full story.

    Every now and again we'd remotely kill the process for whatever mind numbing game they were playing. It was fun for a while watching the confusion on their face. It then became a game between the rest of us to be the first to kill it once they'd restarted it.

    Then we thought they might get suspicious so we would set the kill command on a delay, just enough to get up, walk across the lab to the kettle and watch the fun from another angle.

    We never owned up, but after a few days of this, they stopped playing games and knuckled down to some proper work.

  16. Martin

    In a machine room...

    A prank that happened to me. I've told this one before, but it bears repeating.

    I was in a machine room. No-one else there, dead quiet, and I'm deep in concentration. All the computers had flat-screen terminals attached to them for convenience. (It was a bank - they just liked spending money.) Anyway, one of the sysadmins saw me on a security camera, and decided to have a bit of fun. So he made the machine behind me beep a few times until I turned round, then he popped up an xterminal and typed "Hello, Martin...."

    I will admit to a slight HAL shiver...

  17. Wexford

    My first exposure to multi user systems at uni was a delightful learning and discovery experience, including that one could cat to /dev/ttyXX.

    One fun bit was to construct a text file "Talk request from xxx" or whatever the format was, then cat an appropriately modified copy of this to two users' ttys such that each thought the other was sending them a talk request. There was a strong chance that at least one of them would "respond", leading to exhanges of "what, huh, why did you send that talk request, no YOU sent it..."

  18. FlippingGerman


    Anyone feel like letting me know what was said there in decades past?

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