back to article Sysadmin sank IBM mainframe by going one VM too deep

Welcome to another glimpse inside the dark-curtained (in)box that is "Who, me?" – El Reg's confessional column in which readers seek penance for sins of the past. This week, meet "George", who many years ago was one of two sysadmins in the office products division of a three-letter computer company. And was bored. Bored, bored …

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  1. Dwarf Silver badge

    But you could issue commands to the VM hypervisor by prefixing your input with a special character, the default being a hashtag #.

    Its not a hashtag, its a hash. A hash was around well before someone added bit to it for some social media platform.

    Incidentally, since we call it a hash in the UK, but the Americans call it a pound and the social media companies are US based, why don't they call it a poundtag ?

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      On my UK keyboard, I have a pound symbol (Shift+3=£) , a dollar symbol (Shift+4=$) and a hash key (#). What does a US keyboard have? What do US people call a real pound (currency) symbol?

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        My US keyboard "has" a pound sign, as Shift-3 is #, but Shift-4 is still $, and we don't have a "£" key, so I had to copy-paste it from your post.

        We do call £ "pound" and this weekend I had to tell someone about the pound/shilling/pence system, as he was wondering about the "weird 3 part prices" in his vintage catalog.

        Also, my uni statistics teacher insisted it was called "octothorpe" as it had eight pointy-bits, and he was extremely pedantic. He's the only one to ever use that term.

        1. Woza
          Headmaster

          I must admit to having used "octothorpe" in user manuals - he's got company!

        2. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

          "Also, my uni statistics teacher insisted it was called "octothorpe" as it had eight pointy-bits, and he was extremely pedantic. He's the only one to ever use that term."

          I've come across "octothorpe" in the world of fonts.

        3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          "He's the only one to ever use that term."

          Octothorpe was coined by AT&T who invented the symbol so I wouldn't be surprised if they use it sometimes. Why leftpondians call it a pound sign is just an indication of their strangeness.

          1. kain preacher Silver badge

            Octothorpe was coined by AT&T who invented the symbol so I wouldn't be surprised if they use it sometimes. Why leftpondians call it a pound sign is just an indication of their strangeness

            It is believed that the symbol traces its origins to the symbol ℔, an abbreviation of the Roman term libra pondo, which translates as "pound weight"

            Coined yes, invented um no # was around for some time

          2. This post has been deleted by its author

          3. vtcodger Silver badge

            "Why leftpondians call it a pound sign ..."

            Because # is sometimes used as an abbreviation for a unit of weight/mass = to 453 grams still in use in the US. ("lb" is a lot more common in practice).

            The US hasn't had a currency called the pound for about 240 years. Canadians switched from pounds to dollars well over a century ago.

            1. onefang Silver badge

              "The US hasn't had a currency called the pound for about 240 years."

              And USA has been officially metric since the 1860s, but no one told the people. Too hard to learn a new system or some such excuse.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                ... but no one told the people

                The French devalued the franc in 1960, one new franc replacing 100 old francs. (And in due course, the by then not-so-new franc was replaced by the Euro.) But some of the older generation still discuss house prices in old francs (leading to confusion and/or panic in youngsters).

            2. jake Silver badge

              FWIW

              My local feed store still uses # for weight. And M for thousands ... So #M2 HogFin is a ton of hog finishing chow.

          4. Wzrd1

            "Why leftpondians call it a pound sign is just an indication of their strangeness."

            Well, that bifurcation of language occurred because those on the right side of the pond entirely failed to properly document the shared language until the year after a tax protest spiraled out of control into treason, which out of desperate self-protection, turned into a revolution.

            As in 1777, the language was finally documented, but those on the left side of the pond were embargoed and blockaded.

            At least until a load of "wine" arrived from France - just in time, as the lefties were losing...

          5. Byron "Jito463"

            Strange, and proud of it! ;)

        4. Sam Liddicott

          At one point British Telecom called # "gate" much to the bafflement of every single one of their customers.

          1. nowster

            Except when they called it "square" in their System X voice prompts.

            1. IHateWearingATie
              Thumb Down

              And their old conference call system - confused me no end the first time I used it

              "Enter your conference code and press square". WTF?

              1. Martin an gof Silver badge

                square

                Actually, come to think of it, I think there's an ancient telephone in the attic which has "#" printed on the key in such a way that it does look like a square at first glance - it's not canted across, and the "sticky-out-bits" are very, very short.

                M.

          2. Nick Kew Silver badge

            @Sam Liddicott

            Would that be when # was the standard prefix to get an external line from an office network?

            1. DropBear Silver badge
              Trollface

              Re: @Sam Liddicott

              Seeing as how "#" looks like "not equal" only twice as much, the party hereby decrees that it was always called "doubleplusunequal".

              1. keith_w

                Re: @Sam Liddicott

                in mathematics, it's the symbol for Equal but Parallel

            2. Martin-73 Silver badge

              Re: @Sam Liddicott

              # for an outside line? was this some keysystem abomination? 9 was standard here.... a LD (rotary) phone can't dial #

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: @Sam Liddicott

                "a LD (rotary) phone can't dial #"

                Mine can. A, B, C, D and *, too. Mind you, I had to add a little circuitry & a couple buttons to the ol' WD500 ... but that was hardly rocket surgery.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Also hekje

            In the Netherlands called a "hekje", a little gate.

            1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

              Re: Also hekje

              It was used in "The Hobbit" on the 48k Speccy as a window in the goblins/elves dungeon :)

              1. SonOfDilbert

                Re: Also hekje

                > It was used in "The Hobbit" on the 48k Speccy as a window in the goblins/elves dungeon :)

                Perhaps it should be renamed, 'Goblin Window'?

            2. Guy Geens

              Re: Also hekje

              Also, in Belgium: "spoorwegteken" - railway sign (try typing a row of them). Admitted, it's been a very long time since I heard that one.

            3. Olivier2553

              Re: Also aquare

              In Thailand, it is commonly called "square".

          4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            "At one point British Telecom called # "gate" much to the bafflement of every single one of their customers."

            I once heard someone refer to an exclamation mark as pling, which confused me somewhat!

            1. Martin an gof Silver badge

              Surprised no-one's mentioned "sharp" yet, as in the musical symbol which is almost - but not quite - the same shape.

              I, too, always assumed that #="pound" was just one of those things because US and UK keyboards differed, but if it might have been "gate" then maybe pound could be because it looks a bit like a fenced-off area :-)

              "Pling" was common in the 1980s ISTR. I think I first came across it when Acorn-types needed a quicker way to pronounce the indirection operator ("?" was used for bytes, "!" for 16 bits IIRC) and started using "query" for "question mark".

              Also, going back to the Bell thing, the 10+2 telephone keypad was actually a subset of the DTMF thing, I think. DTMF had (as the name implies) two tones. Each tone had four frequencies for a total number of combinations of 16. 12 (3x4) were used in the telephone keypad and the other four (ABCD?) did "other things" if you could generate them...

              Just vague memories, quite possible entirely wrong :-)

              M.

              1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

                Surprised no-one's mentioned "sharp" yet, as in the musical symbol which is almost - but not quite - the same shape.

                Indeed.

                I'm reminded of the TV advert from the 1970's for Harp lager "Harp stays sharp to the bottom of the glass" which wrote the name as #arp

                1. Jude Bradley

                  and you could clean toilets with it, hence the name "Harpic".

                2. GOM256

                  Surprised no-one's mentioned "sharp" yet ...

                  In France, the # symbol is always known as "dièse" - the musical term "sharp" - regardless of context. By the way, before Napoleon thought counting in tens would be easier, the French currency was Lsd, just like in Britain: Livre, sol or sou, et denier, with the same 12d to the s and 20s to the L. "Sou" persists to this day: je n'ai pas un sou - I have no money. And silk stockings are still measured in denier, though I leave it to someone else to explain the link.

                  Now, who still calls a slash a solidus?

                3. NogginTheNog

                  #arp

                  Except I always read that as “sharp-arp”. Similarly the boyband 5ive will always be “Five-ive” to me.

              2. David Jackson 1

                <quote> Pling was common in the 1980s ISTR. I think I first came across it when Acorn-types needed a quicker way to pronounce the indirection operator ("?" was used for bytes, "!" for 16 bits IIRC) and started using "query" for "question mark"." </quote>

                Pling was 32bits on the BBC Micro and later on Risc OS. Since integers were 32 bits you could do things like

                DIM fred 16

                !fred = 100

                fred!4 = 200

                fred!8 = !fred + fred!4

                B% = fred!8

                PRINT B%

                etc as I recall.

              3. bobajob12

                Your memory matches mine. The DTMF ABCD tones were used as a way of doing extra control on the call, eg in the US military's old system (autovon) they could indicate the priority of a call.

              4. onefang Silver badge

                "DTMF had (as the name implies) two tones. Each tone had four frequencies for a total number of combinations of 16. 12 (3x4) were used in the telephone keypad and the other four (ABCD?) did "other things" if you could generate them..."

                ABCD is correct, you can buy keypads at electronics shops that have all twelve keys. There's likely apps for that.

                1. jake Silver badge

                  "There's likely apps for that."

                  Buttsets come to mind. I recommend Fluke.

              5. jcitron

                You beat me to it.

                "Surprised no-one's mentioned "sharp" yet, as in the musical symbol which is almost - but not quite - the same shape."

                When I was five years old, I started piano lessons and noticed the similarity in shape.

              6. aqk
                Paris Hilton

                C-sharp?

                Never heard of "C-sharp"?

                Oops... it's a Microsoft language! No decent Reg user would ever program in this!

            2. DrAJS

              I guy I used to work with referred to the "_" symbol as an underbar.

              1. Chris Parsons

                Me too... Common in the Stratus world.

            3. Daniel 18

              "I once heard someone refer to an exclamation mark as pling, which confused me somewhat!"

              That's a new one.

              I've mostly heard it referred to as 'bang' or 'shriek', depending on context / language.

              1. David Woodhead

                Shriek!

                In ICL-world in George 3 it was known as a shriek, and denoted a temporary file.

                CE !

                AS *LP0,!

                LO :LIB.PROGRAM FRED

                RM

                ER !

                Create a temporary file; assign it to printer 0; load FRED; run it; delete the temporary file.

                Blimey, that dates me.

            4. simonnj

              'I once heard someone refer to an exclamation mark as pling'

              One of my lecturers must have done the same as when using vi I often think to myself 'colon w q pling' as I type :wq!

              It's the only time I use the term.

              1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

                One of my lecturers must have done the same as when using vi I often think to myself 'colon w q pling' as I type :wq!

                I thought in that usage "!" was pronounced "bang".

                1. jake Silver badge

                  :wq! is indeed pronounced colon doubleyou queue bang. Just trips off the keybr0ad when typed out, doesn't it?

                  Kind of a dangerous thing to train your fingers to be used to, though. I prefer ZZ ... :w to write, :w! to force a write, :q to quit (with prompt to save changes), :q! to force quit with no save, :wq or ZZ to write and quit, :wq! to force a write and quit. Note that ZZ doesn't need the :, nor does it have an option to force a write if you're editing a so-called "read only" file, making it somewhat safer than :wq! in day-to-day life.

            5. bobajob12

              Back in the 1980s I seem to recall BBC Basic instructions referring to ? as "pling" and ! as "bang". Made for some weird looks when I started shell scripting on UNIX.

            6. Mine's a Large One
              Thumb Up

              Ha!! I knew I wasn't making it up!!

              Back in 6th form Computer Science, my teacher used to refer to the exclamation mark (!) on the BBC Micro as "pling", and it stuck with me. If I need to say it - say spelling out a command or something - I still say pling today (it's quicker than saying "exclamation mark"). People just look at me blankly...

            7. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              I once heard someone refer to an exclamation mark as pling

              Also known as a 'shriek' or 'bang' symbol.

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