back to article Idle Computer Science skills are the Devil's playthings

Ah, the sweet, sweet smell of Monday. What better way to start your week than combining it with the latest confession of wrongdoing from The Register readership in the form of our weekly Who, Me? column. Today's blast from the past comes from a somewhat unrepentant reader we shall refer to as "Charles". Take yourself back to …

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  1. My-Handle

    Hire immediately

    But give him plenty of work to do and keep a close eye on him.

    I'm always happy to work with someone who can learn of their own accord, even better if they learn for learning's sake. And, to paraphrase Nanny Ogg, it's better having them inside pissing out than outside pissing in :)

    1. sorry, what?
      Stop

      Re: Hire immediately

      I recall one of my fellow graduate intake starters doing the same on a company DEC 10 during the lunch break on our second day of training, having just started work, and running it up on every terminal in the terminal room. He was caught. They fired him on the spot.

      So, "hire immediately" as long as the developer doesn't continue to do that sort of thing post-hiring!

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Hire immediately

      I was looking for the option of "hire them, and then make them clean up the mess they just caused".

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Hire immediately

        Don't necessarily hire them, but assign Charles as an unpaid assistant to the BOFH.

        Those cables ain't gonna pull themselves under the raised floor.

        If he keeps his nose clean until he graduates, ask the BOFH if he should be hired.

      2. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: Hire immediately

        AOL!

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Hire immediately

      The problem presently, and it is an abiding enigma and expanding conundrum which shows no signs of being able to be commanded and controlled, is that a failure by that and those most vulnerable to catastrophic loss of a failed and increasingly revealing remote narrative control to hire and/or pay an exceedingly generously danegeld sum to that and/or those able to easily disrupt and/or destroy bigger picture stories [and upon which all realities depend upon for their survival in an ignorant and unquestioning belief system/early primitive preprogramming of live assets/liabilities?:-)] ...... in order to immediately compensate one for a certain loss of future earnings even if one chooses to play nicely to the tune of others with an engaging and acceptable revised narrative program, is a natural viable and valuable available option?

      Quite whether nowadays, whenever so much is so easily disrupted and/or destroyed and/or held to ransom because of increasingly obvious catastrophic exploitable intelligence/program/OS vulnerabilities, one would choose not to do anything further in the field and just enjoy the fruits of one's danegeld labour in a system so comprehensively compromised, is an interesting question to consider before not answering.

      "Whoever controls the media, controls the mind" …. Jim Morrison

      “The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself… Almost inevitably, he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable.” —H.L. Mencken, American journalist

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: Hire immediately

        "an interesting question to consider before not answering"

        Quite.

      2. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

        Re: Hire immediately

        Oh dear. I actually understood that. Either amanfrommars is a bit more lucid than usual or the white coated, benevolently smiling lads with that lovely padded room are already on their way for me.

        1. Cxwf

          Re: Hire immediately

          I’ve got a problem. I find this one ALMOST comprehensible, but not quite. So do I struggle to make sense of it and risk wasting my time? Or follow my usual policy of skipping his posts completely, and risk missing the most insightful post he’s ever made?

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

            Re: Hire immediately

            To be fair they're all pretty well thought out and to the point. It just takes a certain mental approach to decipher :)

            1. Vincent Ballard

              Re: Hire immediately

              Where by "mental approach" you mean "consumption of psychoactive drugs"?

              1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

                Re: Hire immediately

                "Where by "mental approach" you mean "consumption of psychoactive drugs"?"

                Only to get you started :P

                1. Martin-73 Silver badge

                  Re: Hire immediately

                  Consumption of 2 things made this a thumbs up post for me. Ethyl Alcohol, and a thesaurus

            2. cream wobbly

              Re: Hire immediately

              Mental? I'm completely off my rocker and I didn't get it.

          2. Jonathan Richards 1

            Martian meanderings

            Once in a while, I punt my theory that the logorrheic martian is somebody's prose generator script, maybe with its output lightly polished by an evolved primate. I've certainly seen prose generators that produce results with similar comprehensibility.

    5. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Hire immediately

      We had students like Charlie. The ones who phoned the computer centre and owned up were thanked, told not to do it again, and the underlying bug was fixed. The ones who ran away leaving someone else to clean up the mess were hunted down and had a very painful interview with the CC director. They also usually got a ban for some weeks or months.

      1. hmv Bronze badge

        Re: Hire immediately

        I was going to say - there isn't a choice on the list that reflects what would happen in Academentia in the 1990s. A ban for a few weeks, or a 'quiet chat' (I once had once of those with Swansea University's BOFH - nothing malicious; just an accidental fork bomb).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hire immediately

          Well, I actually managed to take down the entire support desk* of a major ISP back in the 90's.

          Myself and a colleague were attempting to test a customer line (2mbps!!) and our ping tests from our BSD laptops weren't really doing the job.

          So, we decided to run a little script to do the job for us, and every iteration spawned another process to, well, help out with the chores so to speak.

          *Everything was going splendidly for us, but it became apparent from the cries of consternation around us that something was amiss. By the time the in-house support trotted along to 'fix' the local switches we had definitely decided that we might have possibly had something to do with the disruption.

          In an amazing turn of co-incidence, the moment we stopped the scripts running the network appeared to 'resolve' its little tantrum and all was well. We kept our heads down and got on with our work, checking the 5 minute line stats on the customers router for one thing :)

          About an hour later I got a call from the senior network god who offered me an opportunity to 'learn how to soak-test a customer connection without taking down the entire network'. Training subsequently given and ne'er a bad word was said.

          Needless to say we learnt our lesson(s) and were a *lot* more careful after that. Ah...them's were the days.

          1. Down not across Silver badge

            Re: Hire immediately

            About an hour later I got a call from the senior network god who offered me an opportunity to 'learn how to soak-test a customer connection without taking down the entire network'. Training subsequently given and ne'er a bad word was said.

            That reminds me of some network chaps, while troubleshooting issues, made the mistake of debug all ...

            .. on a core router.

            Powerful learning experience that is, and hence I don't recall anyone doing it twice. The more surprising thing is that even with the stories, it did happen more than once.

            1. Killfalcon Silver badge

              Re: Hire immediately

              "debug all ...

              .. on a core router."

              What would that do? Log every action taken for every packet through the router? That sounds like a bad time for all concerned.

              Back when I did tech support for actuaries, I ended up doing a league table for largest log file. Nobody got past 50 million rows, but I had to write a custom file parser to find out what the guy who got to 48million had even done...

              1. Down not across Silver badge

                Re: Hire immediately

                "debug all ...

                .. on a core router."

                What would that do? Log every action taken for every packet through the router? That sounds like a bad time for all concerned.

                It would attempt to display debug information on everything. In most cases it will peg the cpu and the router will become unresponsive and only recoverable by powercycling it which is not what you want at an ISP.

                The only use for debug all without further specification what you want to debug (say an interface for example) is when you've been debugging various things and want to turn all debugging off with no debug all.

                1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

                  Re: Hire immediately

                  It *is* possible to run the command to turn it off, but you have to make sure you make no typo's and have a lot of patience (assuming you are already logged in of course)

                  1. stiine Bronze badge
                    Facepalm

                    Re: Hire immediately

                    Been there. Done that.

                    I think it took 30 minutes for the console to catch up and let us know that the device was still operating...

                    Like was said above: Never again.

          2. Louis Schreurs

            (2mbps!!)

            Never came across a network definition of 0.002 bit per second.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: (2mbps!!)

              That's about right for some bits of rural Aberdeenshire...

              1. ricardian

                Re: (2mbps!!)

                And most of Orkney's North Isles (Westray, Stronsay, Sanday, Eday, North Ronaldsay)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hire immediately

          Swansea University was where I wrote my first screen-scraper in 6502 assembler (they used BBC Model Bs as terminals for the Prime) to get the logon details for anyone who used that machine.

          I had a "well done, don't do it again" chat that I still remember fondly.

          1. hmv Bronze badge

            Re: Hire immediately

            Oh! That was you was it?

            Sounds like a year or two before me. The Prime was in it's last year of life in my first year. Waiting 20m for a 5-line Pascal program to compile :(

          2. big_D Silver badge

            Re: Hire immediately

            I got one of those chats, although it wasn't my fault.

            Another student had sabotaged my mates program and they had a small fisticuffs sessions in the corridor. As a witness, I had to join my mate in the professor's office for a "chat", which involved the prof saying the other student was a git, here, want a fag and a glass of scotch?

        3. StargateSg7 Bronze badge

          Re: Hire immediately

          Today in America (depending upon the state!), it would a FELONY abuse of computer systems, and if you're a LUCKY bastard of a student, the judge will only give you 3 to 6 months in the County Jail, a $10,000 (7000 Euros) fine and cell where Billy, Bubba, Carlos AND the GUARDS will probably have their way with you since county jails are usually far less controlled than the state or federal prison system. Afterwards, you get 1 to 2 years probation which has LOTS of restrictions on what you can do and which places you can goto! Screw that up and they send you back again for 1 to 3 years in the steel barred pokey!

          If you're the UNLUCKY BASTARD with an ornery judge AND/OR if that computer system was doing FEDERAL work (i.e. funded by or doing computing for a federal agency), then your arse is in the kablooie! They fine ya $250,000 US (around 175000 Euros!), and send you to a federal lockup for between 5 to 25 years and you serve the ENTIRE sentence because there is no parole in the Federal system. THEN you get 5 to 10 years probation afterwards AND if you screw that up you go back again and LIKELY get a 2nd Strike and Your Out Sentence (i.e. Life! - you only leave in a pine box!)

          In America, you can kill someone and still get only 15 years in the hard-time pokey. Screw up a database system across state lines or at a federal agency, and it could be a 25-to-LIFE SENTENCE for you! And since they TEND to send you to a Max or even Super-Max Penn for computer abuse, you get put in with the big time killers and armed robbery felons, dealing with fellow prisoners where every square inch of their face is tattooed and they tend to be 180cm+ tall and weigh 100 kg+.

          Since MOST techie/nerds are slight in stature, YOU BETTER HOPE you don't get put into general population, cuz your rear end is gonna be all raw, red and bleeding after the first day and the next and the next until the end of your sentence OR until ya finally hang yourself in your cell!

          .

          1. Louis Schreurs

            Caps

            Sure your post would be a nice read, but bit doubting ‘cause downvotes, but that use of caps made me skip and post this comment.

            1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: Caps

              SSg7 is ONE of our resident KOOKS, of the variety ADDICTED to random BLOCK capitals. Skipping SSg7's posts USUALLY means nothing more than missing A BIT of entertainment.

              1. Martin-73 Silver badge

                Re: Caps

                It actually made sense and was reasonably accurate. But made me nervous as to which side of the argument he was on

      2. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Hire immediately

        I'm inclined to be sympathetic and go with the hire option. The type of person who tries something like this and ends up breaking the system as a result is usually the type of curious person who will figure out how everything works and use that knowledge for good. However, I don't think I can do that because of two major problems:

        The first problem is that he knew what would happen. If he ran his initial directory bomb long enough that he couldn't recover, that would be just fine and I'd think he should be hired. But he already knew that running this wouldn't help anything and wouldn't be self-limiting. Running it in parallel didn't really produce anything different--it just increased the amount of work needed to clear it up. That doesn't sound like curiosity to me. It sounds like pointless disruption.

        The second point has already been made, which is that I'm a lot more likely to consider someone nicely when they've confessed. I've dealt with plenty of people who have done a lot of damage, realized that, and contacted me to give me all the information they have that will help me fix it. I really respect those people; I know that, if we have a problem later when we're working together, they won't hide things from me and they're not going to have some problem letting me help out. By extension, anyone who doesn't confess and leaves me to discover, diagnose, and clear up their problem after they've just left it there is going to find themselves lower on my to-be-hired list than anyone who has confessed or hasn't caused me a problem.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hire immediately

      I learned shell script and wrote a login emulator at my first university, while doing a non CS degree, and they weren't very impressed, to say the least. But it did make me realise I was studying the wrong subject, and give me the opportunity to do computer science at a much better university.

      1. spodula

        Re: Hire immediately

        Yeah, i did that as well on our Uni vax. Thaught i was so clever at the time. (Obviously I wasnt).

        Fotunately (for me), i didnt actually deploy it. I suspect that would have been last-straw territory.

        I think i was on a list of troublemakers, as i was smart enough to cause problems, but not smart enough to be any good at it, and the Vax Sysasmin at BIHE really knew his stuff.

        Other things i managed was writing scripts with busy-wait loops (inadvertently), doing strange things with directories, and logging on someone who was banned for doing nothing but playing MUDs all day as well as lots of things i dont want to admit.

        Saying that, i did teach myself C and C++ and write a chess program in DCL on that box as well.

        Frankly, looking back at it, as i wasnt even a computer science student (Electronic Engineering), i was suprised i wasnt just kicked off it.

        1. Dr Dan Holdsworth Silver badge
          Black Helicopters

          Re: Hire immediately

          To be honest, the list of potential trouble-makers was probably an informal one compiled by the local technicians very early in an undergraduate's career at a university. At the time I was at university in the early nineties, universities were not engaged in the current "bums on seats" education method and could thus afford to be choosy with their students.

          Thus on the biological sciences course I was on, dissection practicals were introduced fairly early on, the better to identify and get rid of those nitwits who signed up to a zoology course without being prepared to work with dead animals (later on, when "Bums on Seats" was an overt policy, I did hear of zoology students objecting to being told to do dissections, and asking if instead someone else could do the actual dissection whilst they took notes. To his credit, the head of zoology simply said "No, do the practical or not, and if you don't you don't get a mark for it").

          The duffers, the stupid, the incautious around sharp blades and hot things were rapidly identified in those early practicals and the informal list made up; subsequently this would determine career pathways for many an undergraduate.

        2. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Hire immediately

          A mate was an op at Plessey on the night shift. He was bored.

          He wrote a space invaders on the VAX in DLC, using a spawned process for each sprite and the main routine killing the processes as the sprites got hit.

          That was harmless. What wasn't so harmless was another night op getting bored (what is it with night shift and boredom?), he ended up playing Essex MUD, using the modem over the PSS network... That was costly, back then, on its own. Only he was playing a complete team and had 6 sessions going.

          Luckily he was good friends with the person responsible for the telephone bill, who managed to spread the 3 figure cost across various projects. Slapped wrist and told not to do it again!

          1. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge
            Boffin

            Re: Hire immediately

            Back before I had a computer of my very own, I had access to the mainframe at work via a bunch of teletypes in a small room down on the ground floor. I used it for various work-related chores, programming in BASIC which I had learnt at college. Soon after we were married, my wife and I had a joint bank account (we both had cheque books), and I decided that it would be a good idea to keep track of our account balance, so I wrote a sort of crude spreadsheet program and stored it in my allocated storage space on the MF.

            I only ever accessed this program during the lunch break, so it did not impact my working time, but one day I was summoned to the Head of my department and told in the very strongest terms that I should not be using Company computer time to track my bank account. I was instructed to remove the program from the computer and not do it again, on pain of excommunication (from the MF).

            Some time later, we bought a Spectrum for home use, and I started using a modified version of my spreadsheet to control our household finances.

        3. cynical bar steward
          Big Brother

          Re: Hire immediately

          So this sysadmin from BIHE, whom you praise so much, where, or when do you think they gained their skills? Well I'll tell you, spending time at Wigan Technical college hacking their systems! It honed the apparent psychic skills for detecting who was up to "no good". The games were regulated, I learnt system programming too, which became the mechanism to control access to the games on the EE department's PDP, (POLLY) then a discrete area on SYBIL (the EE's VAX). When I renamed the other VAX from VAX to BASIL I didn't make many friends with the academics either.

          Nonetheless I saw the value in education, this idle time was self education so I tried to demonstrate some concern for security to those who let me be custodian of this newly formed network and also marvelled at some of the ingenuity I saw with students discovering this new playground.

          Don't forget, the academic calendar left a few summer weeks, which was also the sysadmin's playtime in education. I was (and am ) CITSNIC , and still playing, sorry, working with VMS (OpenVMS) even on the odd VAX.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hire immediately

      I'd be careful about hiring such folks. Some ikkle firsties turn to the Dark Side because they're bored, and others turn because they're little shits.

      The first sort can be quite useful. Find them something to work on that stretches them and interests them - but don't give them any extra privs though, just in case they do turn out to be a little shit.

      The latter sort, they'll cause trouble just because they can, and some of them even revel in being told off. I knew of one kid who actually celebrated his 25th bollocking from the director of studies. His usual MO was pretending to be a terminal server to grab credentials - I used to enjoy breaking his little toys and crashing them back to his login prompt, then I'd prove that I'm a little shit too by winding up the operators. Who knew that sending "Hey there you useless tape monkey, come and get me!" as a request to the system console would upset them so much?

    8. Down not across Silver badge

      Re: Hire immediately

      I'm always happy to work with someone who can learn of their own accord, even better if they learn for learning's sake. And, to paraphrase Nanny Ogg, it's better having them inside pissing out than outside pissing in :)

      While I don't disagree with Nanny Ogg, the main reason I would not hire Charlie is that when he realised it all went bit wrong, he didn't have the guts/integrity to own up to it.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Hire immediately

        the main reason I would not hire Charlie is that when he realised it all went bit wrong, he didn't have the guts/integrity to own up to it.

        Exactly. He knew what he did and did it intentionally. If was something more of an honest mistake where he ,mistyped or didn't know he messed up, that's different.

    9. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Hire immediately

      Plus 10 points for ingenuity, minus 100 for malice.

      In his second adventure, having discovered how destructive his script was, he deliberately used it to bring down the whole system. He would have to be extraordinarily talented to make it worth the risk of employing such a psychopath.

    10. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      IT Angle

      Re: Hire immediately

      Hire immediately, but put him at a desk in the basement, and regularly threaten to take his way-to-prized Swingline stapler.

    11. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge
      Flame

      Re: Hire immediately

      I thought about that for a moment, but a simple "while (true) {mkdir a; cd a;}" loop isn't exactly clever. If he could genuinely say he wanted to see how deep he could go before the OS skinned his script alive, but he already knew it wouldn't stop him. Into the pit with this miscreant.

      1. Chris King Silver badge

        Re: Hire immediately

        "Into the pit with this miscreant"

        Someone mentioned Nanny Ogg further up the thread, I was thinking more along the lines of the Patrician's scorpion pit - lower the bad ones in head-first, and the last thing they will see are the words "NEXT TIME, READ THE REGS".

      2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: Hire immediately

        And fixable with a while (true) {cd ..; rmdir foo}

        I had to do this when testing some filing system code to ensure 'copy foo foo/foo -r' type code was trapped and gave a 'can't copy foo inside itself' sort of error.

    12. Bill Gray
      Headmaster

      Re: Hire immediately

      "...to paraphrase Nanny Ogg, it's better having them inside pissing out than outside pissing in :)"

      Minor note: I would be confident that Lyndon Johnson's comment about mollifying a political opponent enough to turn him into an ally ("better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in") probably came before Nanny Ogg's.

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