back to article How an over-zealous yank took down the trading floor of a US bank

Good Monday morning, Reg readers, and welcome once more to Who, Me? – our regular trip down memory lane for those with something to get off their chest. This week, we meet “Alan” who once took out an entire trading floor at an arm of a US bank. Back in 1996, Alan had just graduated from a software engineering degree and had …

            1. G.Y.

              ANY Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

              I am told lots of Russian keyboards have "ANY" (in Latin characters) handwritten on the space-bar (Russian has no definite article)

              1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

                Re: ANY Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

                "I am told lots of Russian keyboards have "ANY" (in Latin characters) handwritten on the space-bar (Russian has no definite article)"

                If translated there are several ways of doing it which would not involve a possible confusion (you might write "press any out of keys", just as you would write "take any out of books".

                If untranslated the problem is more with word order. In Russian if the noun comes first it tends to be treated as definite, whereas if it comes last it's indefinite (Stakan na stole, the glass is on the table, versus Na stole stakan, a glass is on the table.) So yes, "Press any key" could be read as "Press the 'any' key" but it's a little bit of a stretch.

                So my guess is that Russian IT people have simply got used to the abysmal standard of error messages and may simply be taking precautions. Computing is Anglocentric enough without factoring in poor syntax as well.

                1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                  Re: ANY Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

                  "press any out of keys"

                  Obvious response: which are the "out of" keys?

          1. DJSpuddyLizard

            Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

            Because when confronted with a message on a screen, people's understanding becomes astonishingly literal.

            I thought that as IT people, we're all astonishingly literal anyway? Specifications don't really work otherwise.

        1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          Re: Why ...Press F1 to continue... was stupid

          This is pre-dates USB by a long time. Hotplug hardware was somewhere between rare and fictional so plugging the keyboard back in could break the keyboard, motherboard or both. As the hardware did not support hotplug there was no reason to have the software handle it. If the hardware survived then the firmware in the keyboard controller could hang so the machine would need a power cycle anyway.

          Now imagine you have got your server almost ready to install on site. You remove the keyboard and video card because no-one will be typing on that machine, switch on and the damn thing beeps at you. You read the manual for the motherboard and discover the beep code means the BIOS has not detected the video card and refuses to boot. You put the video card back in and try again: the machine hangs. Attempt three with a monitor shows the infamous "Keyboard not detected. Press F1 to continue". After summoning a horde of demons to hunt down and sandpaper the programmer responsible you dust off a coffee stained keyboard and rip the keycaps off it so the machine will boot (and the customer will not press the wrong button).

          Years later, Microsoft came up with: "Mouse not detected. Click here to change."

          1. Acme Tech Support

            Re: Why ...Press F1 to continue... was stupid

            Had to set up some display screens, so used some old PCs that were laying about. Didn't want anyone messing about with them, so disconnected the keyboard. And get the error message come up.

            My solution was to remove one of the back plates., take the keyboard apart and remove the PCB. Wrap it up in tape and feed it through the gap and fasten it inside the PC. The cable would still be connected to the PS2 socket so it would detect a keyboard and boot up. Added advantage is that it saves space!

        2. not.known@this.address Bronze badge
          Black Helicopters

          "Press 'F1' to Continue" and "Click 'OK' to continue"

          IBM PCs and their "Keyboard not found - press F1 to continue" and its very irritating cousin "Mouse not found, click 'OK' to continue" are funny on the way that clonking your funnybone or touching an HT lead when messing around under your car bonnet with the engine running, is funny. As in, you have to laugh because screaming obscenities loudly is not considered acceptable behaviour in the modern work environment.

          As the OP has obviously never experienced either of those errors, we should take pity on him or her and explain that you could swap the "broken" keyboard or mouse to another PC and all would be fine on that one, and the keyboard or mouse that had been working without problem 'over there' would also give the same error when attached to the offending machine.

          As a Conehead in a previous life, I found percussive maintenance often resolved the issue...

        3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

          "Plug in a keyboard and press F1 to continue booting"

          I think it more likely to have been the result of a specific error message and the automatic concatenation of a standard phrase to any boot-time non-fatal error message.

          The Intel board on my Mythtv box does something similar. It has a setting in the BIOS for running keyboard-less but on boot still reports that there's no keyboard and that the error is "logged" (where? - no don't tell me I'm not really interested) but carries on booting which seems to be the only effect of the BIOS setting.

      1. tim 13

        Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

        Still happens. "A USB device has stopped responding. Click here for more information"

        Guess which USB device had stopped responding....

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

      My god... what were people thinking back then...

      In that era you could blow a motherboard on a PC by (un)plugging a PS2 mouse or keyboard in

      We need an icon for greybeards -->

      1. Giovani Tapini

        Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

        @Korev

        We need an icon for greybeards -->

        I don't feel like grey beard yet..

        I am also fairly sure if I did grow a beard it would be of all colours and look like a pile of lightly rotted grass...

        1. onefang Silver badge

          Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

          "I am also fairly sure if I did grow a beard it would be of all colours"

          My beard used to look like that. Now the red and brown hairs have faded to grey, as have some of the black ones, the blond ones are hard to tell if they are now gray or not. No grey anywhere else though.

          1. james 68

            Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

            @onefang, lucky you. Up top I've got salt and pepper going on, down under though.... slap a red hat on it and it'd look like an ugly santa impersonation. Only reason I can think of is how when some people get a sudden shock their hair turns white. Truth be told over the years it has seen things, things that would terrify H.R.Geiger so perhaps I shouldn't really be surprised.

        2. Nick Kew Silver badge

          Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

          I don't feel like grey beard yet..

          That's OK. We welcome diversity here. Beards of all colours and even non-beards welcome.

          I agree with Korev: there are times when a greybeard icon would be useful here. And of course it would be open to honourary greybeards as well as us literals.

          1. onefang Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

            "Beards of all colours and even non-beards welcome."

            Non-beards? Don't we usually call them PFYs or women?

            1. HieronymusBloggs Silver badge

              Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

              "Non-beards? Don't we usually call them PFYs or women?"

              I believe assumption of gender is frowned on nowadays.

              1. onefang Silver badge

                Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

                PFYs can be any gender, and this is the Internet, women can also be any gender.

      2. Tim99 Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

        @Korev. We need an icon for greybeards -->

        Some of us have looked like this for a while now; but in my case it might be because I used and programmed Windows stuff, on and off, since MS released 2.0 (I avoided 1.0).

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

      Having replaced terminals on all kinds of running Sun gear before, during, and after that time frame, I'm fairly certain that unplugging the keyboard wouldn't cause a kernel panic. And having just pulled the keyboard from a running Sun 4/50 down in the machineroom/mausoleum/morgue/museum, I can fairly confidently state that that still doesn't cause a kernel panic.

      1. Little Mouse

        Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

        Just a few days into my first proper job the unix sysadmin wanted to show off the insides of the shiny new Ultrix mainframe to me.

        Unfortunately, removing the backplate caused an instant loss of power. Oops.

        I learned a lot of lessons that week...

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

          Unfortunately, removing the backplate caused an instant loss of power. Oops.

          I learned a lot of lessons that week...

          Lessons like "power interlock switch on the cabinet"? Very valuable lesson. Also slamming one's fist in frustration on the cabinet would sometimes trip those switches.

      2. Andrew Moore Silver badge

        Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

        That could have been fixed in the OS at a later stage.

      3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

        And having just pulled the keyboard from a running Sun 4/50 down in the machineroom/mausoleum/morgue/museum, I can fairly confidently state that that still doesn't cause a kernel panic.

        Surely it'd depend on the OS, though?

        Memory and Wikipedia both claim the 4c architecture ran SunOS (BSD-based) and Solaris 2 et seq. (SysV plus chunks savagely ripped from BSD). Or you could run stock BSD on it. And apparently there are Linux distributions, though I doubt a bank would have been using that in '96.

        And then there's the question of OS version. And could the 4c's firmware be updated? (I haven't had one of my own since, oh, 2002, maybe. So I've forgotten many of the details. I did like those pizzaboxes as personal workstations, though, back in the day.)

    3. Tinslave_the_Barelegged Silver badge

      Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

      Huh! Who remembers the early days of the 80286, which had the A20 gate in the keyboard, meaning one way of speeding up the machine was the replace the keyboard with a newer one.

      1. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

        Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

        Who remembers the early days of the 80286, which had the A20 gate in the keyboard

        You left out an important word here: "controller". The original IBM PC/AT used the keyboard *controller* (not the actual keyboard) to manage the gate that suppressed access to what was later called the "High Memory Area".

        The reason was that the 80286 had what amounted to a bug in its implementation of "real address mode", where the CPU itself did not suppress the carry out of A19 in the addition that calculated the physical address from the segment:offset virtual address. (It made the emulation of an 8086/8 faulty, in that FFFF:0010 was not the same address as 0000:0000.)

        1. aelfric

          Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

          Actually I'm pretty sure the keyboard controller was used to get the 286 out of protected mode by giving it a reset. There was no instruction capable of exiting protected mode on the 286 as Intel had assumed that once you went in, you would never leave.

          There was then a bit of a dodge in the 386 that meant you could set up extended segment selectors in protected mode which were not cleared on exiting back to real mode, this gave you access to 4GB of memory from real mode. It was a bug, but people started to use it and then Intel guaranteed to keep it there for all future versions of the x86 architecture. So yes, along with Gate A20, I assume it is still there in current CPUs and chipsets!

          1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

            Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

            > ... Gate A20, I assume it is still there in current CPUs and chipsets!

            Nope, Wikipedia says: "Intel no longer supports the A20 gate, starting with Haswell." (in 2013).

      2. MarkET

        Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

        Gate A20 was for DOS compatibility with machines having more than 1MB of RAM. Where does speed / keyboard come into this?

    4. steviebuk Silver badge

      Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

      If it was a classic cherry keyboard then they probably didn't want the keyboard nicked :) and thought "Lets make the system go down if the keyboard is removed. That will then make everyone notice and we won't have a stolen keyboard on our hands".

      I'll get my coat.

    5. DougMac

      Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

      It wasn't a kernel panic, but the Sun machines had a tough time differentiating between Stop-A and the keyboard being unplugged. Stop-A was a means to break out into the rommon to debug the kernel, and was reasonably difficult to preform, and was introduced into an era when machines were built to be serviced by kernel systems programmers to find kernel bugs. Then continued on long past the day when this was useful.

      It was just unfortunate that the Stop-A procedure was confused a bunch by the keyboard being unplugged too.

    6. Prof. William Waterman Sherman

      Re: Unplugging the keyboard = kernel panic ?

      Unplugging the console keyboard on SPARC hardware generates a BREAK signal. That doesn't panic the system, but drops it to the firmware monitor prompt. Plug the keyboard back in, type "go", and it will resume operation.

  1. lybad

    stdin?

    And I refuse to believe he didn't know about stdin after completing a Software Engineering degree....

    1. David Roberts Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: stdin?

      Mmmmm......I could be persuaded, depending on the course and the Venn diagram of course material and real life.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: stdin?

        Even DOS had stdin, stdout and stderr ...

        1. stiine
          Unhappy

          Re: stdin?

          re: Even DOS had stdin, stdout and stderr ...

          Jake, surely you know better, every Microsoft error message was a Network Error*.

          * - No, I'm never ever going to forgive Bill Gates for that.

      2. Chris King Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: stdin?

        Some SE courses wouldn't have intersecting circles, believe me.

        I worked at a place where students on a so-called "Informatics" degree could avoid programming altogether right up until their final year, and even then they only did Visual Basic.

        Seriously.

        I confiscated their old Linux box because a departing lecturer thought he could trust the students with root access - as you can guess, it wasn't long before the Conch was smashed and Piggy was killed.

        1. anothercynic Silver badge
          Angel

          Re: stdin?

          Yes... @Chris King is right... I know this is true because a class colleague of mine ended up at a fancy uni studying for a B.A. Informatics degree, whereas I was at the equivalent of a polytechnic and got a diploma for the exact same thing. Where they studied on all the theory of everything that is business administration, we got dumped in the deep end with our first COBOL classes within two weeks of arriving there and not even knowing where to switch the workstation (an ancient, even for that time, Olivetti one) on.

          To add more fun, some machines had the old 5.25" 360K drives, whereas others had the more modern 5.25" 1.2MB ones, and... even more fun, the third-year lab had... *GASP* 386es with both 5.25" *AND* 3.5" 1.44MB drives! That lab was always busy... with DOOM players.

          It was bizarre to have my class colleague begging me to teach her COBOL at the end of her second year, where I was already having loads of fun with things like ADABAS/NATURAL, Pascal and C (COBOL? Who dat?). Her course was 4 times the price of mine, yet here I was teaching *her* stuff that her lecturers didn't bother to teach them!

          Yeah. Now she's a house wife (nowt wrong with that, but a bit of a waste of 3 years at uni). I'm messing about in science, aviation and IT. Funny how that works.

          YEAH POLY! POLY FOREVER. :-D

          P.S. And yeah, I am of the vintage where dodgy hardware things are all too familiar... and this story is not unplausible at all.

    2. boltar Silver badge

      Re: stdin?

      "And I refuse to believe he didn't know about stdin after completing a Software Engineering degree...."

      Nothing much in the story adds up. Seems more like a yarn dreamt up down the pub by Reg journos to make some copy rather than a real event to me.

      1. JetSetJim Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: stdin?

        >Nothing much in the story adds up. Seems more like a yarn dreamt up down the pub by Reg journos to make some copy rather than a real event to me.

        You've cottoned on to The Register's entire business model

        1. Denarius Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: stdin?

          Jim,

          No, entirely plausible if one is old enough. As for degrees, perhaps the value and quality rotted in Pom Land before Oz. I worked with an intelligent fast learner with a shiny new degree who had only been taught javascript. To his credit he picked up Perl quickly and was useful in a Unix environment. What happened to Cobol, Assembly (any hardware) and C ? Yes, I have retired, why do you ask ?

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            Re: stdin?

            No, entirely plausible if one is old enough. As for degrees, perhaps the value and quality rotted in Pom Land before Oz.

            Back then, yes I quite agree. A degree back than just showed that you could learn new things as the colleges didn't even try to teach it.

          2. Trilkhai

            Re: stdin?

            As someone who was in college at the time, it doesn't strike me as entirely plausible, either. C was a requirement for getting even a 2-year/Associate CS degree in '96, and stdin was definitely part of the course I took at a community college in '95 for fun.

  2. Steve Button

    what about the STOP key?

    Seems very unlikely that unplugging the keyboard would cause a panic, and even plugging it in again the panic does not just "go away". It's possible that it caused a hang, in a similar way to the STOP key on a Sun workstation IIRC. And plugging it in again, might well un-stop the workstation.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: what about the STOP key?

      Mine just logs an error and continues on, happily toggling transistors without a care in the world. As you would expect from a network aware multi-user system that supports remote logins. In fact, many (most?) pizza boxen ran headless as a matter of course, as did a lot of the lunchboxen (such as the IPX) but it was routine to attach a console to them occasionally. Or to use a KVM switch to move between them.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I once had a music CD with the Sony copy protection. It said "will not play on PC or Mac". Just out of curiosity, I popped it into our departmental Sun Server. = instant kernel panic. I quickly took it out again and was hard at work fixing the machine when the management arrived to find out what happened.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      I once had a music CD with the Sony copy protection. It said "will not play on PC or Mac". Just out of curiosity, I popped it into our departmental Sun Server. = instant kernel panic.

      An excusable event, assuming that the Sun Server didn't carry a sticker saying "will not play with a Sony CD"

      1. Nick Kew Silver badge
        Coat

        An excusable event

        Insofar as coopting any server as an entertainment machine is excusable.

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          "Insofar as coopting any server as an entertainment machine is excusable."

          You obviously have no understanding of "Business informatics" and MBAs.

          Seriously...you didn't think Crystal Reports was there to improve the running of the company, did you?

    2. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

      Many many moons ago, somewhere around 1995 or 1996, I accidentally (really) tried booting an already-installed Slackware 3.1 (I did say it was many moons ago) Linux(1) with an audio CD in the CD-ROM drive.

      It was a proper Red-book audio CD since none of the later "innovations" about CDs were widespread at the time I bought it (which was, in turn, some time before 1995 - I bought my first CD player in 1987, ffs), and the 1.2.5 or maybe 1.2.13 kernel didn't like what the CD-ROM drive told it during the pre-init hardware detection phase, and promptly panicked.

      I took the CD out and rebooted and all was well. Needless to say, I never again left a CD in the drive at boot time.

      (1) A development machine for $JOB. Running Linux. In 1995. fvwm, tcsh, and a Pentium with the FDIV bug.

      1. Paul Shirley

        I think as late as WinXP a damaged audio CD was capable of causing chaos, on a good day just stalling the PC for seconds, sometimes totally locking up. The Windows CD subsystem was an epic clusterfuck for most of it's existence.

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