* Posts by John R. Macdonald

89 posts • joined 16 Feb 2009


Worried about the Andromeda galaxy crashing into our Milky Way in four billion years? Too bad, it's quite possibly already happening

John R. Macdonald

Re: Job interview question

Wondering why the Brexit talks are still dragging on.

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

John R. Macdonald

Re: Performance Upgrade


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

COBOL-coding volunteers sought as slammed mainframes slow New Jersey's coronavirus response

John R. Macdonald


I've done the same in PL/1, which has my preference over COBOL.

The safest place to save your files is somewhere nobody will ever look

John R. Macdonald

Re: Endless recycling


I had a former colleague who liked using that technique. We soon got used to seeing her lying on the floor with a core dump, file printouts and source listing spread out. Fortunately she wore pants as she was prone to kicking her legs to assist thought.

Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, where to go? Navigation satellite signals flip from degraded to full TITSUP* over span of four days

John R. Macdonald

@Kubla Cant

Wait till you get to New Zealand!!

I don't have to save my work, it's in The Cloud. But Microsoft really must fix this files issue

John R. Macdonald

Re: Poor education


I had a somewhat similar learning experience with COBOL in the late 1960's on a 360/30 with 32K memory. My mentor, who was also an experienced assembler programmer, walked me through the compiler generated assembler listings explaining how and why various COBOL coding techniques affected the final size and speed of the program.

14 sailors die aboard Russian cable spy, er, ocean research nuke sub after fire breaks out

John R. Macdonald

Re: 14 less commies

Russia gave up on communism in 1991. Do try to keep up.

A Register reader turns the computer room into a socialist paradise

John R. Macdonald

@Nick Kew

The joys of an APL session using a 2741 terminal hooked by POTS to a mainframe at the other end of the country in the early 1970's ...

Cryptic APL and line noise are visually similar.

Not very bright: Apple geniuses spend two weeks, $10,000 of repairs on a MacBook Pro fault caused by one dumb bug

John R. Macdonald


I was pulling the 'turn the brightness down all the way' prank on my coworkers using 3279s around that time.

Planes, fails and automobiles: Overseas callout saved by gentle thrust of server CD tray

John R. Macdonald

Re: airport security

@A K Stiles

Same here, multiple return flights to Turkey with a similar gadget in my wallet with no problems either in Europe or Turkey. Fly back from Egypt and Egyptian security confiscated it because there is a 1.5cm "blade" on one edge.

Egg on North Face: Wikipedia furious after glamp-wear giant swaps article pics for sneaky ad shots – and even brags about it in a video

John R. Macdonald

Re: No such thing as bad publicity.

Groupe Publicis has its headquarters in Paris, on the Champs-Elysées and has 80,000 employees not 9,000, throughout the world (100+ countries).

'Software delivered to Boeing' now blamed for 737 Max warning fiasco

John R. Macdonald

Re: The interface between aircraft automation and human pilots is an immature science

If you are talking about the AF296 demo flight it crashed in Alsace not Paris. 3 people died and and 127 survived.

Sinister secret backdoor found in networking gear perfect for government espionage: The Chinese are – oh no, wait, it's Cisco again

John R. Macdonald
Big Brother

Re: Keys

"Gentlemen do not read each other's mail."

US Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson

NASA fingers the cause of two bungled satellite launches, $700m in losses, years of science crashing and burning...

John R. Macdonald

Re: Aluminum

Napoleon III actually.

Owner of Smuggler's Inn B&B ordered to put up a sign warning guests not to cross into Canada

John R. Macdonald

Re: Just waiting for the inevitable


If the only French drivers you know are Parisians, consider yourself lucky.

FYI: Get ready for face scans on leaving the US because 1.2% of visitors overstayed their visas

John R. Macdonald

Re: Blame Canada

Last year a French woman visiting her mother in Canada inadvertently entered the US while jogging on a beach and spent 2 weeks in a US immigration jail.

User secures floppies to a filing cabinet with a magnet, but at least they backed up daily... right?

John R. Macdonald

Re: On a side note

Had the same problem with glorified accounting machines that used tape cassettes as storage medium. A cassette written by machine A was not always readable by machine B even if both machines were in the same office. The read/write heads were not always calibrated identically on different machines.

Motion detectors: say hello, wave goodbye and… flushhhhhh

John R. Macdonald

Re: Emotionally scarred by toilet

Many many years ago I was backpacking in Afghanistan and when the intercity bus stopped at a rest stop for lunch I asked where the toilets were. The Afghan waiter looked at me quizzically then waved lazily at the desert. I walked in the indicated direction and looking down found out he was right.

John R. Macdonald

Re: Emotionally scarred by toilet


The French toilets you describe are called, in France and elsewhere ... Turkish toilets despite being a 12th century Belgian invention (Bert Vandegeim)

Overzealous n00b takes out point-of-sale terminals across the UK on a Saturday afternoon

John R. Macdonald


Maybe it's just me but I wouldn't call an AS/400 a mainframe.

Hello, tech support? Yes, I've run out of desk... Yes, DESK... space

John R. Macdonald

Re: Ah c'mon


I don't. I've personally seen someone freak out when the mouse reached the edge of the pad.

John R. Macdonald

Re: Set up Guide?

Like some fearless users who think the Windows directory and its subdirectories are a mess and need to be rationally organised. You know, put all the .dll's in the dll subdirectory, the .exe's in the exe subdirectory and so on.

Ex-Mozilla CTO: US border cops demanded I unlock my phone, laptop at SF airport – and I'm an American citizen

John R. Macdonald

Re: Banking On Trust

"Do Not Disturb"

John R. Macdonald

Re: Banking On Trust

Surely you put the "Do No Disturb" thingy on the door first.

John R. Macdonald

I remember reading a story about a Westerner, a long time ago (60's?) in Moscow, being hauled in by the KGB who showed him pictures of himself cavorting with a young Russian lady. The guy sorted the pictures into two piles, pointed to one of them and asked the KGB men if he could get extra prints to show to his mates back home. The KGB then concluded he couldn't be blackmailed into working for them.

How many Reg columnists does it take to turn off a lightbulb?

John R. Macdonald

Re: Hotel lighting

I know one restaurant where the staff give you a small torch with the menu so you can read it.

If I could turn back time, I'd tell you to keep that old Radarange at home

John R. Macdonald

Re: Data transmission problems at month-end

I've heard about cheap perfume wreaking havoc on at least one early mainframe.

Rookie almost wipes customer's entire inventory – unbeknownst to sysadmin

John R. Macdonald


IIRC a mainframe manufacturer, one of the seven dwarves at that time, did something similar. You could 'upgrade' to a faster, and more expensive, machine simply by connecting a wire.

Never mind Brexit. UK must fling more £billions at nuke subs, say MPs

John R. Macdonald


There is no civilian police force in rural France. The Gendarmerie fill that role (but not all gendarmes have police powers). Actually it's a bit more complicated than that but I'll let you do your own research.

Concerning "We don't have a quasi-military organization enforcing civilian law in the UK. " Doesn't some of what the SAS does, or has done, come pretty close to that?.

John R. Macdonald


Of course because the Gendarmerie ARE military.

'Can you just pop in to the office and hit the power button?' 'Not really... the G8 is on'

John R. Macdonald

Re: Does a running gun battle to the airport count?

Back in the 1990's. a former colleague told me that he went to an interview for a well paid IT gig in some unnamed place in the Middle East or darkest Africa (can't remember which). After all the technical and pecuniary questions had been answered, he was casually asked if he knew how to handle an AK-47 and if so, would he be amenable to being a squad leader for co-workers with similar skills, 'just in case'.

He declined the job.

Grad sends warning to manager: Be nice to our kit and it'll be nice to you

John R. Macdonald

Re: This is normal in every human endeavor.

@Rich 11

Pulled a similar trick on the kids of a friend of mine who were visiting. I was living in Paris at the time in a flat with a great view over the city, including of course the Eiffel Tower. At midnight I pointed to the illuminated Eiffel Tower, said 'Out!' in a loud voice and snapped my fingers. The lights on the Eiffel Tower obediently went out. Cue two very impressed young'uns.

Sysadmin sank IBM mainframe by going one VM too deep

John R. Macdonald

Re: CP == Hypervisor


You're talking about nowadays. I was talking about yonder years, in the previous century, when MVS was called MVS. A time when z/OS and z/VM didn't exist.

John R. Macdonald

Re: CP == Hypervisor

The service bureau I worked for was a MVS and VM shop. All new releases of both VM and MVS were tested under VM.

My VM sysprog friends joked that running MVS under VM was the only proper way to run MVS. Which is now how I run MVS (rel 3.8J), as a guest system on VM/370R6 , using the Hercules emulator on my PCs.

(for those so inclined, there is even APL on MVT available for the Hercules emulator).

Throw in THE (The Hessling Editor) and/or SPFLite and you're back in the heydays of IBM mainframe computing.

Tech rookie put decimal point in wrong place, cost insurer zillions

John R. Macdonald

Re: Lloyds

Not to mention that Packed Decimal arithmetic is more efficient than Zoned Decimal arithmetic on S/360 type architectures as no conversion is required. (Seeing you mentioned PL/1 I assume this was on an IBM mainframe).

John R. Macdonald

Along those lines

Regarding the penultimate paragraph I remember a mainframe operations supervisor for an insurance company telling one of his underlings that his job, as supervisor, was making sure the said underling was doing his job properly.

In my last job for a major IT services company, I also saw the flap that resulted when the wrong exchange rate was used for the nightly batch run on a stock exchange application that serviced stockbrokers spread all over the country.

Sysadmin hailed as hero for deleting data from the wrong disk drive

John R. Macdonald

Oh no!!

A long time ago a mate of mine worked in a very high end audio/video store. An amateur group he knew asked him to duplicate the single demo cassette (I did say it was a long time ago) they had made, using the fancy equipment he had access to, before they negotiated their first contract with a record label.

The battle scarred veterans reading this can easily imagine how well that ended...

France gives les citoyens the right to cock up official paperwork

John R. Macdonald

Re: tax returns - auto filled

PAYE is being introduced next year in France. (one year later than planned). No tax on income earned in 2018 (conditions apply). Housing tax (taxe d'habitation) is being phased out for people who qualify (roughly 80% of the taxable population).

John R. Macdonald

Re: tax returns

So many people were pulling that trick on tax returns the rule was changed several years ago and the tolerance is now 5% maximum..

'The capacitors exploded, showering the lab in flaming confetti'

John R. Macdonald

Did I really do that?

Back in the early 1970's, wandered one slow evening into the main computer room to chew the cud with the operators on duty. I looked for a place to put down the 3 cm thick fanfold printout I was carrying and plopped it onto the top of the IBM mainframe, which had the unfortunate result of making a shaky circuit breaker inside the CPU trip and the mainframe then shut down.

No real harm done. Open a panel, flip the CB upright, close panel, power on, re-IPL the system and restart the running jobs.

BOFH: Putting the commitment into committee

John R. Macdonald

Re: 80 columns


One didn't always enjoy the luxury of card sequence numbers. A diagonal line drawn across the card deck with a marker pen helped in that case.

That minutes-long power glitch? It's going to cost British Airways £80m, IAG investors told

John R. Macdonald

Re: 80million?

Not to mention on Ryanair you may even get to enjoy a lap dance.

Please do not scare the pigeons – they'll crash the network

John R. Macdonald

Re: Tape drive fun

A couple of similar war stories: Early 1970's the company decides they need a picture of the mainframe computer room for a company publication. Bring in professional photographer, run an all-tape sort job so as turn on all those pretty lights on the tape drives. Photographer takes his picture ... and the flash triggers a sensor somewhere causing an emergency shutdown of the whole mainframe.

A bank where I was a contractor in the 1970's started suffering an outage every, say Tuesday, morning, at 9:00 on a segment of their network. It took six months to find the root cause which was part of the cabling for that segment was buried next to a railway line. Every Tuesday morning an exceptionally heavy goods train would come rumbling down the line at 9:00 causing vibrations that knocked out that segment.

Tech industry thumps Trump's rump over decision to leave Paris climate agreement

John R. Macdonald

Re: Trumpy the clown

@Ivan 4

NASA certainly disagrees with you concerning Arctic ice:

Since 1978, satellites have monitored sea ice growth and retreat, and they have detected an overall decline in Arctic sea ice. The rate of decline has steepened in the 21st century. In September 2002, the summer minimum ice extent was the lowest it had been since 1979. Although the September 2002 low was only slightly below previous lows, it was the beginning of a series of record or near-record lows in the Arctic.

You can read the whole thing here:


BA IT systems failure: Uninterruptible Power Supply was interrupted

John R. Macdonald

Re: If it got interrupted...


One installation I worked in, learned the plastic cover and label thingy the hard way (the hapless third party support techie who pushed the BRB instead of the door opener was banned permanently from the site to boot)

‪WannaCry‬pt ransomware note likely written by Google Translate-using Chinese speakers

John R. Macdonald

Re: More to the point

Isn't Cantonese the official language in Hong Kong, not Mandarin?

US military makes first drop of Mother-of-All-Bombs on Daesh-bags

John R. Macdonald

Re: "In summary then: we're fucked."

@John Smith

Actually Wahhabism goes back to the 18th century and it's the Saudi Kingdom's state religion.

BOFH: The Boss, the floppy and the work 'experience'

John R. Macdonald

Re: Being on a placement myself...


RPG was the main language on the 360/20 for commercial applications. BAL was available of course and, if you had the necessary hardware (12 (!) KB memory and a disk), a subset of PL/1.

Russia and China bombard Blighty with 188 cyberattacks in 3 months

John R. Macdonald

Re: Defence vs Defense

Very likely ;-)



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