back to article The IBM System/360 Model 40 told you to WHAT now?

A Register reader is tripped up by the curse of software updates decades before Patch Tuesday was a twinkle in Microsoft's eye. Some things never change. Welcome to Who, Me? Our story this week comes from "Ivor" courtesy of his experience with punched cards and the IBM System/360 Model 40. This particular bit of kit was aimed …

  1. Roger Kynaston

    No rude but I always laughed

    I had a problem with inetd services on a Sun box and started looking at the start script in /etc/init.d. I always loved the comment: # Why oh why did we mess with inetd?

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: No rude but I always laughed

      I believe they actually had a good reason to mess with /bin/true. The original implementation was an empty file. The OS interpreted that as a command to do nothing, which it completed successfully. AT&T added a copyright notice as a series of sh comments but missed out the magic sequence to identify the file as a sh script. Apparently Solaris saw a non-empty file with no magic to identify the interpreter so AT&T's updated implementation exited with an error until it was fixed.

      We are very lucky that diligent GNU programmers implemented /bin/true as a C program with command line options. If Larry can demand billions for rangeCheck imagine what Darl McBride would have wanted for an empty file that wasn't his.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No rude but I always laughed

        We are very lucky that diligent GNU programmers implemented /bin/true as a C program with command line options.

        And this is why Linux ended up with train wrecks like systemd.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: No rude but I always laughed

          "And this is why Linux ended up with train wrecks like systemd."

          Linux (the kernel) has absolutely nothing to do with the systemd-cancer. Various brain-dead distributions of GNU+Linux, on the other hand, choose to use it (for reasons that they have never satisfactorily explained).

          Thankfully, there are plenty of GNU+Linux distributions that run better/smaller/faster and less buggy inits with much, much less feaping creaturism than the systemd-cancer.

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: No rude but I always laughed

        implemented /bin/true as a C program with command line options

        Which don't work. "man true" says there's a --help and a --version option, neither of which actually output anything like they're supposed to. At least here on my Devuan box.

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: No rude but I always laughed

          You need to call it as /usr/bin/true. "true" is a shell builtin, which is what you get if you simply type the command "true" without specifying a path.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: No rude but I always laughed

            My Ubuntu box suggests that it's version 8.30

            The source must be a wonderful philosophical history of the nature of truth since the days Warty Warthog

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: No rude but I always laughed

              Not really. It's written in straight forward C with minimal embellishment. You can read it for yourself, it's included in the Coreutils package. Here's the archive going back to 5.0, when Fileutils, Shellutils, and Textutils merged back in '03..

        2. MacroRodent

          Re: No rude but I always laughed

          > "man true" says there's a --help and a --version option,

          It definitely needs adding option --false, to invert the returned status code. Then we don't need the false command, and would allow writing chrystal-clear shell code like

          while ! true --false; do



          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: No rude but I always laughed

            The source for false is the same as the code for true. Only the names are changed.

            To be more precise, the code for false.c consists of two lines:

            #define EXIT_STATUS EXIT_FAILURE

            #include "true.c"

            Well, it would be two lines if it weren't for ElReg's dismal handling of whitespace.

          2. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: No rude but I always laughed

            Looking to expand the obsfucated C contest with an obsfucated shell script contest, are we?

            1. phuzz Silver badge

              Re: No rude but I always laughed

              I have colleagues who could win that without even trying...

      3. midgepad

        Re: No rude but I always laughed

        Where is Mr McBride, now?

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: No rude but I always laughed

          Wiki, the well known bastion of all that is true in the world, suggests he is currently CEO of Shout TV Inc., whatever the hell that is. Not even Wiki knows, from the look of it. Sounds like a good place for him.

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

            Re: No rude but I always laughed

            Shout Factory TV, its a offshoot of TubiTV, has some nice* UK Content, Danger Man, Thunderbirds, Space:1999 & Sapphire & Steel amongst its content.

            *Best enjoyed with icon of a evening.


            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: No rude but I always laughed

              Not Shout Factory TV

              Shout TV Inc.

              Crunchbase sez "Shout TV enables users to play and compete on mobile phones during live sports and entertainment events."

              Looks to me like he's still separating fools from their money.

            2. David 132 Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: No rude but I always laughed

              I automatically upvote any mention of Sapphire & Steel.

              Joanna Lumley & David McCallum were awesome. And boy, how that show managed to be incredibly spooky with the most primitive special effects (in the first multipart story, the effects were pretty much just a spot of light travelling across the floor... still gave me goosebumps...)

  2. ColinPa

    how did that escape?

    Go back 40 years .... I was told nth hand of a product running on the mainframe, which had a problem which was very difficult to solve. He put some "temporary" debug code in along the lines of

    * We can never get here. But if we do we are in deep trouble. Phone John on 01962......

    WriteOperator "We can never get here"

    Normally all the code was inspected before it went into test; to stop bad code and comments from escaping. Temporary code was not reviewed as it was not shipped.

    6 months later after the product had shipped the phone rang - it was a customer "is this John ? We've had a problem, and the source says to phone you..."

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: how did that escape?

      "Temporary code was not reviewed as it was not shipped."

      I think I see your problem ...

    2. MarkB

      Re: how did that escape?

      I think I've mentioned before that some of my colleagues forgot to replace "OutOfCheeseError" before the product was shipped.

      1. Red Sceptic

        Re: how did that escape?

        Thank you for the Monday morning @Pratchett reference! Duly upvoted.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: how did that escape?

        Excellent PTerry reference.

        And while we’re at it, this recent SMBC cartoon (which is completely off topic) also brought a smile to my face since I recently read through all discworld novels again :

    3. MiguelC Silver badge

      Re: how did that escape?

      I've told this before, but it's just so relatable... I once saw a message on a mainframe terminal stating something very much like "if you reached this point you're fucked"... The original coder was no longer working there but we confirmed his statement!

      1. Tom 7

        Re: how did that escape?

        Being a believer that laziness is the mother of invention and working on computers I tended to write bits of code that help in debugging, checking for memory leaks etc. That also included a list of naughty words that I may have typed into comments so they could be searched for on saving a file. This of course caused great offence to someone who thought they could audit (i.e. copy and steal) others code. As the reason behind it was clear to most people I didnt get my arse kicked but the anti-social climber lost a lot of brownie points for breaching computer security rules.

        That I had writted!

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

          Re: how did that escape?

          Does it also tell you that the time was eight o'clock?

          Bluebottle It's writted on this bit of paper, what is eight o'clock, is writted.

          Eccles I know that my good fellow. That's right, um, when I asked the fella to write it down, it was eight o'clock.

          Bluebottle Well then. Supposing when somebody asks you the time, it isn't eight o'clock?

          Eccles Ah, den I don't show it to dem.

          1. yoganmahew

            Re: how did that escape?

            But how do you know what time it is?

            I have it writted on a piece of paper!

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: how did that escape?

        "if you reached this point you're fucked"

        an error message that is as useful as most, while being far more accurate

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          Re: how did that escape?

          And in the intervening decades we've moved on from that to


          Something went wrong.

          That's progress, is it?

    4. ShadowSystems

      Re: how did that escape?

      In a previous employer who shall remain unnamed to prevent getting my arse hunted down & given a right swift kicking, I was but a lowly PFY in the Networking Group. A coworker in the next cubical over was a member of the Programming Group. I remember him having made a similar addition to the code snippet he'd been working on, using his work number & extension as the contact details.

      Fast forward six months & his phone starts ringing off the hook. He was out on Family Medical Leave (his wife was expecting) & so nobody was there to answer his line. I finally got Sick&FekkinTired of listening to it give it's shrill call, ring until it went to voice mail, then chirp when a message had been recorded. I turned the ringer off, threatened the phone with a hammer if it didn't STFU with the chirping, and got back to work.

      Two weeks later he comes back as a new proud papa & is all smiles & happiness & light. Right up until he noticed that his VM box was full & he would probably need a week just to shovel it all out.

      His smiles turned to groans as he started listening (wearing a headset thank the deities). I distinctly heard him whimper "Why the FUCK did I ever leave my number in that piece of shit?"

      I had to excuse myself to the bathroom so I could laugh myself silly. =-J

    5. David 132 Silver badge

      Re: how did that escape?

      > Phone John on 01962......

      Honestly, I'm more impressed that a full 40 years ago, John was able to foresee 1995's PhONEday and presciently insert a 1 into his phone number!

      Upvote for your anecdote. I just had to be "that guy" and show my usual pedantry :)

  3. jake Silver badge

    Who among us ...

    ... never patched binary code to change text strings into something pithy?

    As a grad student I was near constantly yelling at the freshmen who thought they were being clever in a way that nobody had ever been clever before ... The advent of Usenet brought some relief from this (at the expense of those of us actually using Usenet), but that only lasted a month or so. Until Delphi, followed by AOL, allowed the Great Unwashed in to revel in the Eternal September ... but that's a rant for another day.

    A pint for the old fogies who can commiserate ... The rest of you kids, get orf me lawn!

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Who among us ...

      Back in the days of the Commodore 64 I'd memorised a short BASIC program that I could type into any shop's demo 64. It would first copy the ROM and RAM, POKE a couple of locations to keep it there and then change the SYNTAX ERROR message to something far less pleasant. Then I'd hang around looking at other computers while kids would bash on the 64's keyboard with the inevitable result that they'd get a syntax error - except, of course, they didn't...

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Who among us ...

      The disk utilities for the Atari 800 were all uppercase, which irritated wee little me, so I found how to change that in the disk image and make it propagate to newly-formatted ones.

      I then went to Atari Summer Camp, where it surprised one of the counselors (I'd totally forgotten about it)

      I got to meet Dr. Alan Kay as he was Atari's Chief Scientist at the time. He offered me a job, but then Atari went bust (along with a bunch of other companies) in the Great Video Game Reckoning.

    3. BenDwire Silver badge

      Re: Who among us ...

      A pint for the old fogies who can commiserate ...

      I can't admit to what I changed, or why, as it falls way short of my later moral standards!

      Cheers Jake

    4. I Am Spartacus

      Re: Who among us ...

      Back in the day when our Uni had an IBM 360/158, as did the company where I worked as a summer intern. When I was the intern I ran a JES2/HASP job that failed, but did so in a very interesting way - it printed a message on the system console. So, as students we decided to try this out on the Uni's computer to see if it did. And yes it worked.

      So we managed to print "Big Brother Is Watching" on the system console.

      And that is how we caused the unionised system operators to walk out and how we all looked at one another when questioned and said, "no, not me".

  4. longtimeReader

    Found in translation

    A colleague changed an error message that would NEVER need to be printed - it was in one of those cannot-possibly-happen clauses after several other error conditions had been detected and reported - so that it simply printed "Merde!". Of course, it showed up almost immediately after shipping the product. And the customer complaint was that they didn't understand the problem since they were not running with a French locale.

    1. David 132 Silver badge

      Re: Found in translation

      As ever, there is an XKCD for Precisely This Situation!

  5. tiggity Silver badge


    Much like it may seem like a good laugh, it's never worth putting in potentially offensive messages (or method names etc) as (even if you think it should never occur / never be seen) invariably the message will be seen somewhere (be it in the frontend, error log etc.) and it just looks unprofessional & you will get hassle from it, especially if a customer end user sees it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unfortunately

      Error messages...ha. I use 70's porn star names for test user accounts, or I did until my boss found out...

      anonymouse just because.

    2. Yes Me Silver badge

      Re: Unfortunately

      Well, the old (ancient) Wylbur interactive system on certain IBM/360 MVS systems had a hidden feature. If it annoyed you, and you chanced to type FUCK WYLBUR at the command prompt, WYLBUR would exit, discarding whatever you had been working on. On its way out, it would of course say NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT.

      Not an urban legend, I tested it.

      I don't know if this feature persists in the open source version of WYLBUR; I don't have an MVS system handy to try it.

  6. Zenubi

    Easter eggs

    About 5 years ago while doing some website admin training at a company whose website I looked after I showed said admin how she could change system / user messages via the localisation feature and how one could include tokens such as user names and how messages where tied to roles.

    I did this as an exercise after she asked what the localisation system was for. Tuition moved on and I thought no more about it.

    About 2 years later I got a a call from the companies MD demanding to know why, when he tried to delete some users, the website told him by name that he did not have the intelligence to carry out this operation and that he should employ a proper admin and not be such a cheap *******.

    Turns out he had made the website admin redundant and she had left some "Easter eggs" for him (and other execs) some of which were very rude and probably impossible.

    She exhibited a high degree of Bofh'ness so I hope she went on to have a nice career.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Easter eggs

      I remember finding a Java applet that played Asteroids. It was very small and easy to hook up.

      I had a link to the "terms & conditions" in the company website, and at the end I put an "Exit" and a "Play Asteroids" button.

      It took something like 2 years before I got a call from a Sr. VP going "Whut?" - obviously no one reads the T&Cs

  7. Sequin

    My boss asked a client we were building a system for what it should do if somebody tried to access a function that they shouldn't. "Tell them to bugger off!" was his response.

    The system was only running for a day or two before the first complaint came in. Mind you, we did get it to play the Monty Python theme whille it slowly painted "BUGGER OFF!" in large letters over the whole screen! (This was in pre-gui days)

  8. Admiral Grace Hopper

    Ah, they'll never see this error message

    9 or 10 IFs down the error trap I thought the code had reached the point where the only thing that could cause it would be a bad hard disk and that something or someone else would have picked that up before my code did.

    "If you ever see this message, RUN TO THE HILLS! The only thing that cause this is Hell boiling over, the sky falling on out heads or those idiots finally pressing the button. Don't stop to kiss your arse goodbye, just run!".

    Ten years later a former colleague rocks up my desk with a hand full of music-ruled fanfold which by now was a long since forgotten thing. "Did you write this?". Turned out that a bad sector on the disc would knock out the database but not the whole ICL EDS drive.

    1. Tom 7

      Re: Ah, they'll never see this error message

      I still remember the joy of finding the (IIRC) longjump so that any case list of problems could have the impossible exception added at a later date.

    2. midgepad

      A different sort of source error...

      I wonder how they'd have reacted on reading "Danger, drop and run!" on a small metal tube.

      Discussion and demonstration best avoided.

  9. trevorde Silver badge

    Password generator turns sweary

    Boss at a previous job had a role at an ISP where one of his jobs was to write a password generator for their users. It all worked very well until it was demoed to some prospective Japanese investors whereupon it proceeded to output profanity after profanity in Japanese! AFAIK, they didn't invest and the password generator behaved perfectly afterwards.

    1. Admiral Grace Hopper

      Re: Password generator turns sweary

      Never assume, always check.

      I once had the job of compiling a file of all the swear words I could find in English, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic for use as a prohibited words list for a password generator in a government system. Pre WWW this was a fun exercise.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: Password generator turns sweary

        Like Scunthorpe?

        1. Anonymous Custard

          Re: Password generator turns sweary

          Back in the uni days used to travel there a lot on the train via Penistone.

          It ended up being christened the sperm run...

          1. Admiral Grace Hopper

            Re: Password generator turns sweary

            I do a very pleasant run out on my motorbike through Penistone that heads North, then East, then South through the Forest of Bowland down to Clitheroe. It has a pleasing symmetry.

      2. David 132 Silver badge

        Re: Password generator turns sweary

        My password is "Belgium".

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: Password generator turns sweary

          Seems safe. No one in the Galaxy would dare to utter it... except for those ignorant people who don't even know what it means. (...which I've forgotten... actually I don't think it's anything, but I thought it might be related to cricket, and you may see why.)

          But it does hash to 5318008. :-)

    2. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: Password generator turns sweary

      To be fair though... who would ever think someone would use "iamaplonker" as their own password?

  10. tip pc Silver badge


    I understand the allure of doing something daring and it not being discovered, whenever I’ve tried I’ve vs always been caught out so don’t bother trying anymore!!!

    If I was lucky enough to have never been caught then maybe i would have persisted but I now just mash the keyboard or write “test-test” repeated for the length required, it comes the same as putting something ‘daring’ in there with the bonus of it being obvious it shouldn’t be there if ever discovered (probably by me at silly o’clock when something is busted).

    It is truly stupid to put something that could be career limiting in something that someone could see if I’ve got the config wrong if someone else amends it after me.

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      Re: Stupid

      We've all been young and stupid. Hopefully we outgrow both.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Stupid

        Growing old is inevitable. Growing up is optional!

        1. cantankerous swineherd

          Re: Stupid

          stay pretty, die young...

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Stupid

            I was born ugly, so I intend to live forever.

            Or die trying ...

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Stupid

      "but I now just mash the keyboard or write “test-test” repeated for the length required, it comes the same as putting something ‘daring’ in there"

      Personally, I put in something explicitly relevant to whatever it is I am doing at that point in the code. Might as well make it useful, instead of nonsense.

      Yes, I actually make use of meaningful comments, too. How'd ya guess?

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: Stupid

        I like to use meaningful text, the first time. The fifth or sixth, it's harder to be original - generating log or e-mail notifications, for instance, to see which one has worked. I think I resort to lists, such as the phonetic alphabet.

        Likewise, I wouldn't want to write a "test" message on a public forum that only says "test", but I wouldn't invest a lot of effort that is likely to go straight down the drain.

  11. Tom 38

    On a very old website..

    We had a search page which took some time after submitting to produce results, so in the C apache handler (I told you it was old), we would write out part of the page, with a message saying that the search was happening and please wait a little while, and then follow on with the rest of the page redirecting to the results once they were actually ready (this was the "solution" to just waiting until the results were ready and displaying them, which left the user on the search page and able to keep hitting the search button and submitting multiple requests).

    And then came IE 4, which refused to display our message. It turned out that it was waiting for at least 8kb of content to be sent from the server before it would start rendering the content on the screen. My solution to that as an eager young developer, 6 months on the job, was to put the script to the Monty Python "spam" script in to an HTML comment, followed by variations of the word "spam" in capitalisation and geekcode - 5p4m sPAm $pAM etc. Worked perfectly, everyone's a winner.

    10 years later*, I get an email "We've been hacked" and "Tom, CVS says you made this commit..". A client had got fed up with waiting for their search and hit stop in a way that had exposed the python's skit in full

    It got replaced with the rather dull but less prone to inflame excitable clients "Padding for Internet Explorer" repeated a thousand odd times.

    * Which goes to show, the shiny bits of the website had been rewritten several times in to python, then python + javascript, (its now react I think), but the boring functional part still uses that original search code in C - too scary to update, too reliable to warrant replacement.

    1. Tom 7

      Re: On a very old website..

      You could flush the output IIRC.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: On a very old website..

      That's not geekcode, that's leetspeak.

      It's arguable which is the least useful ...

  12. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
  13. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

    Corollary to this are those little graphics/messages that chip designers etch into their products which should under normal circumstances never see the light of day; e.g. on a silicon wafer which then gets packaged into a ceramic SMD. It's amazing what you see when you mill off the ceramic and examine the silicon under a microscope; everything from 'Tom Was Here' to the Simpsons to eh - something much ruder.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      DEC used to put "DEC for when you care enough to pirate the best" on silicon that were exported to countries with a localised attitude to copyright

    2. G.Y.

      A memory chip was once designed. They expected the Russians to steal it, so it had a message "when you care enough to steal the very best ..."

    3. jake Silver badge

      Making their mark ...

      Many HP and TI calculators had hidden embedded mini-games. Likewise, many HP printers had "design team" type easter-eggs as well as the normal test page. My HP 54600B oscilloscope has a tetris game built into it. My HP 54622D 'scope has Asteroids. My HP 54645D 'scope has the design team alongside a picture of a badger (!!), and also a game called BUGS! as well as a hidden hardware hacking menu.

      Tektronix test equipment has all kinds of weird easter eggs. I had a logic analyzer with a pong game, and another with breakout. Both are long gone, and I don't remember the model numbers. My 2232 oscilloscope has a wizard riding a skateboard, and my 1751 digital 'scope can display fish swimming.

      As I don't go out of my way to collect kit with such 'eggs, I rather suspect that such distractions are quite common ... perhaps the rule rather than the exception. I even have a fscking coffeepot (Mr. Coffee PRX30) that'll display the designer's name, and has a hidden "diagnostic" mode that displays the temperature in degrees C. The mind boggles ...

  14. Chairman of the Bored

    Read canaries ... How I became Director of the Secret Police

    Back when I worked for good old Uncle Sam, my team would write numerous formal technical reports. The review process was interminable, it seemed there were more signatures required for TR release than needed for the missive we sent King George in 1776.

    This raised an important question- were any of these esteemed leaders actually reviewing anything?

    We decided to use stack (read) canaries - if the reviewers called us on the carpet when they found something outrageous, we knew 1) they might just be functionally literate, and 2) they actually read the paper

    After all, we would back out all the substitutions when we were done, right? Except for that one time we forgot.

    That's when the lab sponsoring our work learned that instead of my real title I'm the Director of Secret Police. The Applied Physics Lab became the Applied Political Lab. The table of acronyms spelled out the meaning of FUBAR. SAPFU, FOAD. Apparently one of our investigators has the improbable name of Will E. Wanker...

    1. ColinPa

      Re: Read canaries ... How I became Director of the Secret Police

      My sister was a nurse in the community. Before she started work each day she had to fill out where she was going, what she was expecting to do, and how long it was expected to take.

      When she got back she had to enter on a DIFFERENT system where she had been, what she has actually done, and how long it took.

      The first month she carefully filled in the data.

      Then she started adding comments like "Does anyone actually read this stuff".

      She tried putting garbage in but the system checked for valid numbers, and fields had more than n characters. So that was easy.

      When she retired, she said that no one had every spoken to her about the data, despite being told it was needed.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Read canaries ... How I became Director of the Secret Police

        She was juts lucky that it was never needed -

        We shared an office with a company that did a "phone in before visit - phone back after" system for district nurses, after that estate agent got murdered by a client she was showing a house to.

        1. midgepad

          Re: Read canaries ... How I became Director of the Secret Police

          The details on returning, of who had not murdered her, are redundant to that use-case.

      2. G.Y.

        Re: Read canaries ... How I became Director of the Secret Police

        In one monthly report, I wrote "X had to stop work on Y (which is on the critical path to V.2) and start masturbating the Z". No comments back.

        A few months later, I wrote "The ayatollahs of X have shown us our un-islamic ways'. They told my boss "Make G behave"; I replied, & he did too (all the way up the chain) "The M-word is OK, and Ayatollahs are not?". THAT'S when someone read my old monthly report.

        My immediate boss had a good excuse: his native language in Hebrew, and they don't teach that word in school. He shared my opinion about X wasting his time

      3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: Read canaries ... How I became Director of the Secret Police

        OK but... I recently read this about someone putting silly data in reports to see if it mattered... then going on leave...

    2. stiine Silver badge

      Re: Read canaries ... How I became Director of the Secret Police

      One of my college friends, while at a previous and different college, had a writing class. Papers were due on test day, so while they were taking their tests, the professor was grading their papers, or so he said. What the class saw was him flipping through their papers one page after the next. He decided that the prof wasn't actually reading them, so in the middle of his next 8 page paper, he inserted the words 'peanut butter' into the middle of the sentence in the middle of the page. The next due date arrives and as he's taking his test, the professor is flipping through their papers. At the end of class he gets his paper back with "A-, peanut butter?" written on the top of the first page. It turns out the professor had an eidetic memory and could read a page at a glance.

    3. Arbuthnot the Magnificent

      Re: Read canaries ... How I became Director of the Secret Police

      A company I worked for instituted a fabulous (*) system of internal self-study training. For each level you passed you got a pay increment, but the levels got increasingly more convoluted and impractical to pass - you had to print out the material as hard copy and fill it in, then get a manager to authorise it. By the time you hit level 5 or something it was about 100 A4 sheets. We had one manager who had somehow been promoted up from the warehouse, he was a big burly chap with hands like coal shovels but not, shall we say, one of life's great thinkers. I printed out the relevant bumpf, filled in the first and last few pages and waited til this lad was duty manager. Sure enough, he flicked through the first and last few pages, signed it and filed it, and I got my few extra shekels a month.

      * not really fabulous

  15. Keith Oborn

    Been there-

    Many years ago I worked at a newly launched National Newspaper whose name began with "I"

    The prepress systems all ran on Sun kit.

    Guy in Ops was writing a bit of text flow code - basically picking stuff up from wire services and formatting it a bit.

    This was done in C, and he put in copious printfs so it talked to him while he debugged it.

    Came the time that it was all working, so he removed the last printf. It stopped working. Put it back, working again.

    We all gathered round and there was muttering about "mysterious compiler timing glitches" and other guff.

    So he tried to find out the minimum number of characters it had to spout in order to work. The answer was 8.

    It went into production, happily picking up and munging stuff that was presented to it.

    The ops people were disconcerted that a stream of messages appeared on the console saying "Fuck it"

    8 characters: F U C K <space> I T <return>

    1. Anonymous Custard

      Re: Been there-

      The prepress systems all ran on Sun kit.

      Given the context, that caused me to pause and ponder if you meant Sun as in Microsystems or as in Page 3...

      It's been one of those mornings...

  16. TeeCee Gold badge

    When you really need an error.

    I once wrote a financial reporting system on the System/38. One month, the reports were all very obviously wrong and it fell to me to look into why my POS had screwed up. Trawling back through the job logs I found that the data extract and update had gone pear-shaped and had exited while logging all the diagnostics necessary to determine exactly why it had gone pear-shaped. I'd spent quite a bit of time trapping all the potential errors and producing useful output for same. I called the Senior Operator over:

    "See here? It failed, told you it had failed and produced a load of diagnostics. Why the hell didn't we get to hear about this?"

    "Well it didn't actually fall over, so we wouldn't have bothered to look at the output."


    I stormed off to fix the problem, make a small tweak and rerun the processes. Some months later I got a call at home:

    "This job of yours. It just tried to exclusively allocate the system library!"

    "Did it fail?"

    "Yes, of course it bloody failed!"

    "Good. I'll look into it tomorrow."

    1. stiine Silver badge

      Re: When you really need an error.


  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Splash screens

    Not really the same, but for the internal --really never show this to the client-- versions of our software, i always make sure the splash screens are obviously not suited for outside distribution.

    (either by hand scrawling the new version over the old logo in the style of some of the early monty python CDs, these days by using Terry Pratchett related pictures, and a few years ago it was pictures of trees).

    So we passed a copy of the software to one of our sales staff from a remote office , again explaining that this was for internal use only.

    two days later we get an angry phone call from a different sales person in the same office, steam coming down the line, asking why we put a ``picture of a sad tree'' on our software as there is no way he can show this to a client ...''

    "indeed .. that's why ...."

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Splash screens

      Back when splash screen first became fashionable my company added a rather bland one of blue sky with clouds just to keep the marketroids happy. Our German office complained about the blandness and demanded that it should be made more interesting so one of our techies volunteered to do it. He was Dutch, born shortly after WW2, thus with a cultural lack of gruntlement vis a vis the Germans. The new splash screen for the German office was a blue sky with clouds and a Lancaster bomber.

  18. Grumpy Rob

    Fun Police

    More than 10 years ago I had to write a noddy web service to extract some data from a back-end system. It was called with an HTTP POST, and because 99% of the time at this client stuff didn't work because of firewall rules I implemented the GET as well - it returned the message "This is a web service - use the POST method you idiot!". So easy to check if the web service was running and the firewall rules hadn't been screwed up *again* - just point a browser at the service.

    I was gob-smacked when years later, after a new IT outsourcing crowd had been installed, I was told that the message was offensive and I had to change it. In vain did I point out that it would never be seen by anyone but IT staff doing testing. Gone are the "good old days" when everyone knew about the original BOFH and Xtank, magic and more magic,.. and had a sense of humour.

    I *did* smile when, a loooong time ago, I was working on some B2B software that printed barcodes. To modify the barcodes you had to log in as admin with password "xyzzy" (1 point for knowing where that comes from), and then got some extra menu items. Another smile when I selected "Help", and got the message "Yeah, like I had time do *that* too!".

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: Fun Police


      "There is no help for the helpless."

      // Some Data General system or other...I'm thinking a text editor...

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