back to article Official Secrets Act alert went off after embassy hired local tech support

Welcome to yet another instalment of On-Call, The Register's week-ending column in which we share readers' stories of extreme sysadminnery performed under extreme duress. This week, meet “Lee” who told us he used to work for a British government department that operates lots of offices overseas, usually in embassies. Lee was …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One such trip involved “four of us sitting around a cage full of monkeys, feeding them fruit”

    They weren't relatives of the Foreign Secretary were they ?

    1. Chris King Silver badge

      Re: One such trip involved “four of us sitting around a cage full of monkeys, feeding them fruit”

      It's not the first time El Reg has reported force-feeding of fruit to make an offender pass their contraband more quickly:

      1. ridley

        Re: One such trip involved “four of us sitting around a cage full of monkeys, feeding them fruit”

        Ahh Mr Haines, you are sorely missed.

    2. John G Imrie Silver badge

      They weren't relatives of the Foreign Secretary were they ?

      Which one?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One such trip involved “four of us sitting around a cage full of monkeys, feeding them fruit”

      Years ago I received a call from a worried colleague who was concerned that the contents of an email he'd sent had leaked. It was an email he'd sent to a close friend at another firm advising that he'd been made redundant. He had been quite senior at his firm before they'd merged (i.e. been taken over) with us. He was part of the merger synergies (i.e.cost cutting) that the firm had publicised. He'd lost out because compared to his opposite number in our firm he was paid better, had far better benefits and was contractually entitled to a bonus. He'd been told not to make it public yet for various reasons (i.e. scaring his valuable clients off). Word had leaked out about his departure and he was concerned that his redundancy money would be at risk.

      I said that he had little to worry about as his boss and the HR director who were the ones who would be making decisions on this had been out for a "liquid dinner". They'd had one too many bottles of vino (etc.) and not enough food and were both easily blotto by 21:30*. They'd both mislaid their Blackberries that night and hadn't noticed until the next morning (it had been a fun evening apparently). The things had already been given the full remote security wipe** whilst these two were making attempts made to locate them. Then came the admission that the auto locking timeout was set to 15 minutes for one of them and they were red faced that company secrets may well have been purloined. *We already knew when they had got too drunk to care because that was when someone had called the "If found" number attached to the back of them. It was established who had lost them and where fairly quickly. We therefore also knew where they were and when they were lost. Someone had handed them in to reception at the private members club they'd been dining in. They'd been placed in the safe overnight awaiting their collection when the member and guest had sobered up.

      **Couldn't take any chances.

      1. IsJustabloke Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: One such trip involved “four of us sitting around a cage full of monkeys, feeding them fruit”

        "when someone had called the "If found" number attached to the back of them"

        HR director had previous for getting lost eh? Surprised he let you stick a number on his back though...

        1. JimboSmith Silver badge

          Re: One such trip involved “four of us sitting around a cage full of monkeys, feeding them fruit”

          I've worked for a firm where the drinking culture was ingrained in the fabric of the firm. My first company phone a Nokia 6310 had the mobile number printed on the back of the thing in huge type. I never had one with if found please call this number. The excitement of having a work phone was dulled when I realised that the person who had had that number before was one of the sales guys. So for two days I mostly received calls from his clients who were obviously drinking buddies too asking whether I was free to get "Rat Arsed". I asked for a different number after that.

          1. Anonymous C0ward

            Re: One such trip involved “four of us sitting around a cage full of monkeys, feeding them fruit”

            I'd have gone and got rat arsed, personally.

    4. hammarbtyp Silver badge

      Re: One such trip involved “four of us sitting around a cage full of monkeys, feeding them fruit”

      They weren't relatives of the Foreign Secretary were they ?

      That sir is a scurrilous slur on the Simians bloodline

    5. Scroticus Canis Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: One such trip involved “four of us sitting around a cage full of monkeys, feeding them fruit”

      Sounds like "just another meeting with the users (or directors)" to me.

    6. PNGuinn Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: One such trip involved “four of us sitting around a cage full of monkeys, feeding them fruit”

      "They weren't relatives of the Foreign Secretary were they ?"

      One would have hoped they were the Prime Sinister, the FS and the rest of the cab'init ... but one can dream ....

      >> We need an icon containing, amongst other things, a cage of monkeys, some fruit and a large fan. I'm sure fellow commentards could make good use of it ....

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Same UCS types that'll handle 'Snooper's Charter' data?

    'You are living in a Black Mirror episode and you don’t care'

    https://www.newstatesman.com/science-tech/privacy/2016/10/you-are-living-black-mirror-episode-and-you-don-t-care

  3. Blotto

    AnD that’s the level of competence of the people they employ to work on top secret information. No wonder the public have such little faith in the government looking into ever more of our data.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Unhappy

      No wonder, when an "official scold" and a year without promotion is the only punishment for something that had the potential to compromise the embassy network(s) and expose government data to other, possibly hostile, interests. If I'd done that with my company laptop I'd have been demoted or fired, but no doubt the UCS cretin will end up as a cabinet minister with a fancy pension. They don't live in the same world as the rest of us.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        'when an "official scold" and a year without promotion is the only punishment'

        That's paradise, I assure you. I work with UCS's too (great term, by the way), and if one of them is unable to do something with their IT kit then it's us who get the blame, whether it was an actual fault or just user error - "Well, WHY does the computer LET them do that?! That YOUR fault, IT!". If a UCS or, heaven forbid, a politico, has an IT issue it triggers a root and branch witch-hunt for someone to blame, usually ending up with the engineer who was trying to fix the issue.

        UCS getting blame? a scolding? That doesn't usually happen....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I was told to get down to a government IT building immediately - lugging my HP4972 lan monitor on public transport. On arrival it was after normal office hours. In the days before mobile phones I had to stand on the street in a threatening area of the city waiting for someone to realise I had arrived and open the door. Inside the building were a team of other specialists assembled in a hurry from various projects.

          The reason for the panic? The government minister in charge of that department was having response problems with the networked word processing application. He was trying to write his speech for the upcoming party conference.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        No matter how incompetent

        the UCS will never be an MP, there is a major difference in philosophy (and usually income) - incompetence on its own is not enough.

        If they claw up high enough and over a long enough period of time for the story to disappear they may of course get a lordship...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          get a lordship...t

          ..like Sir Humphrey then

          1. IsJustabloke Silver badge
            Headmaster

            Re: get a lordship...t

            "..like Sir Humphrey then"

            who is a Knight not a Lord

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        an "official scold" and a year without promotion

        I'm still not aware what I did wrong, but it must have been fecking serious. I've not been promoted in YEARS!

        1. I'm Dugly

          My grandparents told me about promotions.

          I worked for the Canadian version of the FCO for 20 years. Promotions came rarely: it wasn't unusual for lifers who were nearing retirement to receive a couple of promotions during their entire career, perhaps every decade or so. I was assigned to one of our embassies in a (shytehole) developing country when a long-awaited promotion finally materialized, and calculated that it resulted in an increase of C$1.38 per pay. Those were the moments that made the decision quite easy to give up the lifestyle in favour of doubling my salary plus a previously unknown thing called a "bonus".

          There are a lot of silly gits in the foreign service - it's still difficult to consider them as diplomats. Political appointees as diplomats are absolutely the worst people on the planet.

    2. chivo243 Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      @Blotto

      This is the results of nepotism, and back room shenanigans. Uncle Donny, I'm looking at you!

    3. JimboSmith Silver badge

      At a party in the Westminster area where you would expect to find the odd civil servant I was talking to a bloke for a while. I was talking to him because he was a bit more interesting than anyone else I'd met so far. He was working he said for the FCO and couldn't go into more detail about his role because of the Official Secrets Act. He did say his job just involved doing a lot of things you'd find in a non governmental office. I was trying to tease things out of him but he wasn't budging and he flatly denied being in the "Executive Branch". Anyway after a few more drinks I did get out of him a story about where someone had 'lost' their government issue BlackBerry. This was in an unnamed foreign country and had happened at the airport after landing. The strong suggestion was that the local security service had purloined the device. There had been another almost identical situation before and the FCO were now wise to this. If you flew into that country your BlackBerry was a new issue and therefore wouldn't have anything classified on it or I think be provisioned to access anything classified yet. There were also rules/guidelines for security in that country that were enhanced compared to the normal rules applied elsewhere.

      He never mentioned any monkeys but I have heard from someone else of a micro SD card being accidentally swallowed by someone. 64GB of irreplaceable data being vomited up does not sound like fun.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Coat

        "a micro SD card being accidentally swallowed by someone. 64GB of irreplaceable data being vomited up does not sound like fun."

        64 GaggaBytes?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "AnD that’s the level of competence of the people they employ to work on top secret information."

      Have you seen how badly they pay permanent employees?! You only work for the government if you cant get a job in the real world.

  4. coconuthead

    "We are awaiting a data dump from the monkey."

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      If they put some fibre into the monkey, then they'd be able to get the data out easily

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Some fruit contains silicon, bananas do if I remember correctly. Biological systems are good at self assembly. Job done.

        1. patrickstar

          Grasses (the kinds you walk on, no the kinds you smoke) contains silica, to deter animals from eating them. Causing a very predictable evolutionary arms race between the teeth of grazers and the stuff they're grazing on.

  5. macjules Silver badge

    Too many stories like that one.

    I know about the incident with the monkeys, if it is who I think it is then "Lee" was a living legend in government IT. The incident with the WiFi is all too depressingly familiar, especially having flown across the planet to do this then your head of department challenges your expenses for "8,000 rupiah for 4 beers for team at Jakarta Aiport" (about 50p).

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Too many stories like that one.

      The incident with the WiFi is all too depressingly familiar

      Another favorite trick of those who are soo important they need a laptop rather than a static PC, is to plug it into a switched off wall socket and half an hour later ring the helpdesk with a completely unhelpful "It just went black! out of the blue! " type diagnoses.*

      A sufficiently experienced I.T grunt , who is fluent in "User" , will put all these pieces together quickly , will know the user has laptop , maybe ask one question for confirmation like "are you 20 minutes into a meeting?" and then tell the user to switch the wall socket on.

      In the middle of the I.T grunt efficiency scale , someone will plod over there an hour later , tut , switch the plug on for the user , and walk back to desk muttering about idiots. Or if done on the phone , will spend an inordinate amount of time talking about buttons and lights before establishing there is no power , by which time the user is getting irritable and not particularly receptive to a queston like "are you sure you plugged it in?" YESS!!! . Mid range I.T grunt will then assume psu issue and schedule a walkover rather than face further conflict by insinuating , correctly , that the user dosent know how to use a plughole.

      At the far end of the I.T efficiency scale , that will not be got around to , until the user has again moved , probably to a working plug socket , and will say "its alright now" and the mystery is never solved.

      *the user will of course have been completely oblivious to popups saying , in english (or whatever the user's chosen language is) , things like "Battery is low , plug your laptop in" , and will in fact deny any such messages ever appeared.

      1. macjules Silver badge

        Re: Too many stories like that one.

        UCS standard:

        1) The wall socket power switch being off is NOT your problem. It is an infrastructure issue.

        2) Because you typed your password with the CAPSLOCK key down means that you need a new computer. Likewise forgetting your personal safe combination (MoD and FCO) is not your problem.

        3) Sellotaping your confidential gateway ID to the top of your stapler is recognised as being ok to do.

        Don't get me started on Capita standards ...

        1. handleoclast Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Too many stories like that one.

          Sellotaping your confidential gateway ID to the top of your stapler is recognised as being ok to do.

          It's not only OK to do, it's the only thing to do. You can't staple the ID to the top of the stapler, can you? So of course you have to sellotape it.

          You IT types always miss the bleedin' obvious.

        2. Hans 1 Silver badge

          Re: Too many stories like that one.

          Don't forget the Windows admin sellotaping the backup CD to a note reading: "Please restore these onto laptop, thanks." and calling the poor IT prole.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Too many stories like that one.

        "*the user will of course have been completely oblivious to popups saying , in english (or whatever the user's chosen language is) , things like "Battery is low , plug your laptop in" , and will in fact deny any such messages ever appeared."

        The thing is, I've had that happen to me on Windows...

        Take laptop out and use it forgetting to plug it in, then half an hour later it dies with no warning... not sure why as sometimes I get a warning at 10%, othertimes I am in the middle of something and it just turns off!

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: Too many stories like that one.

          " not sure why as sometimes I get a warning at 10%,"

          Actually I get that with Outlook Meeting notifications. I've managed to go 20 years in I.T. withouth having to learn how to use the extra bullshit on the email client , but now people are making me have appointments and meetings etc.

          and , 90% of the time the first I hear about an appointment is "x hours overdue"

          1. xeroks

            Re: Too many stories like that one.

            I missed so many meetings because of this. Turns out Outlook notifications and windows 7 do not play well together.

            The "by design" action of the notification popup is for it to be hidden behind any other windows.

            So: it pops up with something your not worried about.

            You continue doing some work.

            Something important triggers the popup to update - but is still hiding behind the thing you're working on.

            Good news is that there's a fix. You can add a simple macro to outlook to make sure the popup is always on top. Works well for me.

            https://superuser.com/questions/251963/how-to-make-outlook-calendar-reminders-stay-on-top-in-windows-7

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Too many stories like that one.

          "half an hour later it dies with no warning..."

          Yes, but presumably you have enough $clue to check the power and not scream at IT.

        3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Too many stories like that one.

          "The thing is, I've had that happen to me on Windows."

          Much the same on Linux. If the battery's on its way out it doesn't fail gracefully. 90% to 12% to off can take seconds. It's one reason why I decided to replace SWMBO's ancient laptop rather than throw good money after bad on a new battery.

        4. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Too many stories like that one. @AC

          The problem with laptop batteries is that if they are at the stage where they can't even provide power for 30 minutes, at the end of that period, the voltage will take a sudden dive, effectively crashing the laptop.

          As the warning is based on either the battery history and/or the voltage delivered by the battery, it often does not give the system enough time to spot and report a battery issue before it's too late!

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Too many stories like that one.

        "In the middle of the I.T grunt efficiency scale , someone will plod over there an hour later , tut , switch the plug on for the user , and walk back to desk muttering about idiots."

        We make a point of noting that we had to switch the wall socket on, in the trouble ticket.

        And if they didn't create a trouble ticket (this kind usually don't) then one will be created for them.

        Some people are repeat offenders. It's all grist for the mill when they start slagging off IT to senior manglement.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Too many stories like that one.

          "We make a point of noting that we had to switch the wall socket on, in the trouble ticket."

          My job is all remote site contract maintenance. User errors get properly reported and signed off because we can then charge them for the call out at non-contract rates. That tends to focus the minds a bit so repeats don't often occur.

    2. Chris King Silver badge

      Re: Too many stories like that one.

      Challenging expenses. My last employer tried that exactly once on me...

      Claim comes back with a snotty note: "REJECTED - RECEIPTS DO NOT MATCH CLAIM"

      So, I drop the head of Finance a quick e-mail:

      "Dear Sir

      With regard to your recent note, I would like to point out that on the day of the claim I spent seven hours travelling, followed by seven hours on-site recovering the central file and print server after it crashed. If you're going to quibble over the price of a sandwich and a cup of coffee from a greasy spoon cafe, then I can either (a) Eat at more expensive restaurants just so I can get a receipt, or (b) I'll just send apologies for absence to every off-site meeting and make us look like the insular mob we truly are. Please advise me how you wish me to act on future events".

      I didn't get an apology or an explanation, but my claim was paid in full and all subsequent claims went without a hitch.

      He who lives by the snotty memo, dies by the snotty memo.

  6. Jabba

    Monkeys!

    I worked for large drugs research company about 20 years ago on the helldesk. They did testing on primates (who, incidentally, were better treated than the staff). We had contractor who was completely useless, he would break more than he fixed so we suggested he spent the rest of his contract "feeding the monkeys" , which he did and that was the last we saw of him. Needless to say our workload dropped considerably...

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Monkeys!

      "we suggested he spent the rest of his contract "feeding the monkeys"..."

      You put him on Help Desk? Harsh!

      Or did you mince him up...

    2. A K Stiles
      Coat

      Re: Monkeys!

      When you say "That was the last we saw of him", presumably the "we" doesn't necessarily cover "everyone, ever again" like the Lock, Stock & 2 Smoking Barrels pigs / knife through butter sense of "feeding the monkeys" ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Monkeys!

        I thought in Lock, Stock the monkeys were "Northern" - I am not entirely sure that's a fair comparison.

        The question is, was he fed to the Monkeys, or just feeding them....

    3. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Monkeys!

      We had contractor who was completely useless, he would break more than he fixed so we suggested he spent the rest of his contract "feeding the monkeys" ,

      Would have been a good one to use for the totally useless helldesk contractor I had to work with once, except that the company developing and producing veterinarian medicine didn't deal with them (at least, not as research subjects). But having to clean up real bullshit would have been quite suitable for her; her only contribution to the process was taking problem calls and converting them into incomprehensible Dunglish.

  7. MrMur

    It all makes sense now... Seems like I have been "officially scolded" for the last 20 years!

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
      Unhappy

      me too. I was about to post the same thing.

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Bah!

        Hmm. "Scolding" does not seem adequate for the general suckage I have to put up with. I think I've been officially given sixty lashes.

  8. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Holmes

    Curious...

    1. Was the USB drive successfully recovered?

    2. Was it readable?

    "And this is our secure data-wipe facility"

    "Umm, it's a cage full of monkeys"

    "That's right, we feed your data to the monkeys, and their digestive juices do the rest"

    "Why do you do that?"

    "Mainly for the entertainment value of watching opposition spies collecting the monkey shit in the forlorn hope of recovering the data"

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Curious...

      I think even during the world wars, it wasn't unusual to go through the leavings of agents and even hospital bins full of severed and gangrenous body parts in order to find any intelligence if you thought it was a possibility.

      And I don't think any USB drive would be affected by a journey through even the toughest digestive system... it would have to be stuck in there for weeks to degrade to the point it was unrecoverable if you REALLY wanted it, and it would be unpowered so no chance of short-circuit, etc. You'd literally have to wait for the stomach acid to etch its way through to the memory chip itself, which is unlikely in the normal course of things.

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Curious...

        Hence the fruit, to encourage stomach emptying and what the ads call 'digestive transit'.

    2. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Curious...

      USB drive full of secret data goes in to cage full of monkeys.

      Wait (long enough).

      USB drive comes out containing complete works of Shakespeare...

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Curious...

      The Red Army did not provide its soldiers with toilet paper during the Cold War. In contrast the British army has packets of bog paper in with the rations.

      However onionskin paper used by the cypher department is very soft and absorbent apparently. So it was common practise to try and get to sites occupied by HQ units during military exercises and collect all that lovely stuff from the latrines. As the saying goes, if you can't take a joke, you shouldn't have joined.

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: Curious...

        The Red Army did not provide its soldiers with toilet paper during the Cold War. In contrast the British army has packets of bog paper in with the rations.

        There was a story that eastern bloc personnel took to using old one-time pads as bogroll, because it was better than anything else they had at their disposal. Poor western agents then had the job of retrieving these used items so that they could be used for decrypting historic radio intercepts.

      2. PNGuinn Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Curious...

        And what tasted better? The rations or the bog paper?

        Enquiring minds etc ...

    4. phuzz Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Curious...

      A USB drive will quite happily survive a trip through the washing machine.

      1. elgarak1

        Re: Curious...

        Multiple trips.

        I have data.

      2. Baldrickk Silver badge

        Re: Curious...

        A USB drive will quite happily survive a trip through the washing machine.

        Though experience has taught me that impacts can definitely have an effect.

        Once had someone else throw one of my USB drives at a wall. Upon trying to use it again, I found that one of the directories on the root of the drive now pointed to the contents of a different directory...

        thankfully, there wasn't anything important on it that wasn't stored elsewhere.

        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: A USB drive will quite happily survive a trip through the washing machine.

          I do not understand why clever young things think that getting unpowered circuit boards wet will hurt them.

          Provided you take care drying them so that mineral deposits don't form between tracks there is usually no problem.

          I was also once treated as a madman when I told a group of colleagues that I had washed an LP in water after finding it had been stored "carelessly" and was filthy and in danger of being scratched if a disc preener was used on it.

          I decided not to tell them about the time I fixed a persistent back-skip with the careful application of a safety pin, and only had a small "pop" on one revolution afterwards. (Caravan, "Cunning Stunts", "Show of our Lives", damaged by idiots fiddling with the anti-skate and then leaving album playing unattended for an hour). But I'll tell you.

    5. Chris King Silver badge

      Re: Curious...

      "Mainly for the entertainment value of watching opposition spies collecting the monkey shit in the forlorn hope of recovering the data"

      For added giggles, let it be known that the data might be on a microdot rather than a USB stick. That will require far more in the way of sifting and much closer inspection.

    6. Daedalus Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Curious...

      On the robustness of USB drives....

      Look into the plug part of the thumb drive. See the plastic tab with the contacts on it? There's a pretty good chance that you are looking at the chip package itself. All the rest is just for show. Yeah, the chip will survive.

  9. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    What were top secret files doing on a USB in the first place? Were they being smuggled out to be hidden under a pile of leaves?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > "What were top secret files doing on a USB in the first place?"

      Waiting to be left on a seat in a train/in a taxi ;)

  10. wolfetone Silver badge
    Pint

    This should've been a story line on The Thick Of It. Imagine Malcolm Tucker ripping in to Terri after taking her laptop down Tottenham Court Road to fix the broken WiFi.

  11. Stuart Castle

    Thankfully, as a tech support box, I've never had to fish a USB stick out of monkey shit, but I did have to clean a rather expensive microphone (nearly £500 to replace) when a user returned it, and it came back so slimy I could barely hold it without it slipping out of my hand. I never found out how it got like that. The user claimed he had never even taken it out of the photographer's metal case we leant it to him in.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      I suspect the substance may have been KY jelly with mixed secretions.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @ Muscleguy ; That would be explained by the fact the user in question literally talked out of his arse.

  12. Alan J. Wylie Silver badge

    Many Years Ago

    I was visiting a government establishment that had problems with its PDP-11 (yes, that long ago).

    It was the sort of place where they had two different colours of line printer paper - one for secure state, and one for when they had visitors, and all the secure printout had to be locked away before we were allowed in.

    We read in the memory diagnostics paper tape and ran it. It was unclear whether it was a memory board problem or the backplane, so we turned the computer off, unplugged the memory board, moved it to a different slot, turned the computer back on, toggled in the load address on the front panel and ran the diagnostics again. At this point one of the locals asked why we hadn't re-loaded the paper tape. "It's core store" we answered "non volatile". At which point panic took hold. "You mean that the top secret contents of memory don't get lost when we power off?"

    We went away with after giving them the instruction that could be toggled in to wipe memory ("MOV -(PC) -(PC)" IIRC) and leaving them to re-write their procedures without making it too obvious that they had previously had a gaping hole in them.

    1. HPCJohn

      Re: Many Years Ago

      Alan, I learned to program on a PDP 11-75 runnign RSX 11M which my Dad managed.

      Did they reallyl have ferrite core stores?

      1. Richard Tobin

        Re: Many Years Ago

        We had a PDP 11/40 with 32k (words) of core and 96k of semiconductor memory. On one occasion decorators pushed the Big Red Button by mistake, shutting off the power. When we turned it back on, the system resumed (because the OS was all in core), but the programs in higher memory all crashed immediately.

      2. Alan J. Wylie Silver badge

        Re: Many Years Ago

        Did they reallyl have ferrite core stores?

        Some of them did. I can't remember which model they had - the one back at our office was an 11/45. WIkipedia confirms that the '45 could have core.

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Many Years Ago

          I worked at Data General, but used PDP-11s in uni. They most certainly did have core, because, for a while, it was denser and less expensive than semiconductor memory. Not to mention "available". Semiconductor memory only became commonly available in the mid- to late-70s.

          I still have a core module form a Nova, somewhere in "storage"...

          1. Stevie Silver badge

            Re: Many Years Ago

            "Semiconductor memory only became commonly available in the mid- to late-70s."

            Shenanigans!

            The early 1900 series computers had (possibly germanium) transistor memory and nil cores, and they were obsolete by the mid to late 70s (despite the ravings of people who used them).

            The IBM 1301 we built from scrap at school in, what, '71 had cores on barn doors. Re-read the "scrap" part.

            Cores were heavy, prone to all sorts of failures if you stood too close or were elected to open the "fan" of barn doors to cool them down and were wearing too much metal. Not to mention they drank current like it was going out of fashion. We used to power up the IBM using a three-ring binder to throw the first switch on account of the fireball that would engulf your hand if you didn't, though some of that was caused by all the incandescent light bulbs inside the main console display.

            Happy days. Quite prepared me for running the 1955-vintage NMR spectrometer in the basement* of the University of Climate Scandals with its Flash Gordoneque controls and orange oscilloscope display. Leaping from one side of the room to another to fiddle with this or that control that had to be far enough from the four-foot cubical magnet to not perturb the field. Lab technicians would walk in and drop a box of retort stand claws on the magnet when your spectrum was three quarters done just to be gits. Oh how we laughed.

            * - The basement was of course at ground level, ground level having been redesigned as on the second floor and accessed by raised walkways at UEA. I remember the School of Environmental Science had a boat outside which would be covered in enthusiastic "crew". They would pass out when the real chemists dumped solvents down the sinks upstairs because ENV parked their boat trailer over a storm-drain in a natural dip. Oh how we laughed.

            1. Mike 16 Silver badge

              Re: Many Years Ago

              --- The IBM 1301 we built from scrap at school in, what, '71 had cores on barn doors. Re-read the "scrap" part. ---

              How much core would a disk drive have had, then? ( OK, the original 5Meg RAMAC (IBM 350) had a sector buffer of IIRC 100 characters, (possibly in the 305 CPU, rather than the 350 disk drive) but it also had tubes/valves. ) And how much memory (built of discrete transistors) would the 1900 (ICL, aka Ferranti FP6000?)) have had? I can imaging a fair bit of "register" memory built with transistors, but "store" made that way (in 1964) would have been prohibitively expensive.

              Just curious... (and exercising my pedant neurons while waiting for my ride on a rainy day :-)

              My own recollection is the semiconductor memory was _available_ in the mid/late 1960s, but was not all that _affordable_ until the mid/late 1970s. Some folks care about cost. (and reliability, which for affordable DRAM was an early issue, while SRAM was yet more expensive).

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Many Years Ago

                "My own recollection is the semiconductor memory was _available_ in the mid/late 1960s, [...]"

                The new English Electric System 4-70 mainframe in 1967 had threaded ferrite cores - 1 MB occupied several 6 feet high cabinets. IIRC the slightly later 4-72 had "plated wire" memory - which was still magnetic but it reduced 1MB to fewer cabinets.

            2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

              Re: Many Years Ago

              The early 1900 series computers had (possibly germanium) transistor memory and nil cores,

              I remember using a 1906S at uni in the late 70s, it had plated wire memory, which was like core but faster. Didn't see semiconductor memory until we had Apple IIs and VAXen to play with (and 6800 development boards, great days)

            3. Alan J. Wylie Silver badge

              Re: Many Years Ago

              The early 1900 series computers had (possibly germanium) transistor memory and nil cores, and they were obsolete by the mid to late 70s (despite the ravings of people who used them).

              In 1987 Computer Weekly ran a "Win-A-Computer" competition for schools. The entry I was involved in didn't come first, but as a "consolation" prize, an (IIRC) bakery company who was disposing of their ICT 1902T offered it to our school. It was the time of my "A" levels (the award ceremony was the day of my Physics exam), so I never saw it arrive at the start of the next term, but my brother did. It was never got to work properly, and when my brother left he took the core store box with him. It's now with The National Museum of Computing.

              https://planet.davewylie.uk/castlerigg/

              1. Alan J. Wylie Silver badge

                Re: Many Years Ago

                In 1987

                Opps - sorry - typo - should have been 1977.

      3. Mike Pellatt

        Re: Many Years Ago

        The early PDP-11's were all core store. On the Unibus along with the peripherals.

        My 3rd year project was programming one, as the peripheral processor on a PDP15/76, to get a GT-11 display accessible from the '15. That was fun. I sort-of did it. Enough to not disturb my getting a Desmond, anyways.

        18-bit word length on the '15 mapped into the 16-bit word length on the '11. Or the other way round. I forget. It wasn't pretty.

        Under (then) Dr. Bob Spence, IC, 1976

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Many Years Ago

          "18-bit word length on the '15 mapped into the 16-bit word length on the '11. Or the other way round. I forget. It wasn't pretty."

          You have it right :-)

    2. swm

      Re: Many Years Ago

      At my college we had several NOVA computers used as printer controllers. Rather than put input devices on all of them we loaded the code into a "master" machine with a tape reader, copied the contents to another core plane and then carried that core plane to the printer controller NOVA. Saved buying a lot of tape readers and the users couldn't load other stuff via a tape reader.

      This was really a core dump/load.

  13. JJKing Bronze badge
    Facepalm

    Some people.

    I was 55 and my "boss" was a 21 year old PFY. Each time a staff member logged a Wi-Fi connection fault he would tell them the laptop would need to be sent away to have the motherboard changed. I on the other hand just turned the Wi-Fi button back on. Even logged it in the SharePoint Helpdesk that he never read.

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Some people.

      Cattle prod. Now.

      1. Pedigree-Pete Bronze badge
        Coat

        Re: Some people.

        Time to employ the loosely latched full height 2/3rd story window then and/or spade, lime and rug. :) PP

    2. 2Nick3 Bronze badge

      Re: Some people.

      I had a coworker who's Thinkpad had the WiFi switch glued in the On position by the site IT guys. He never noticed it, but was happy that his "internet stuff" didn't quit on him any more.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Some people.

        "accidentally hit WiFi button on the side of the laptop and turned it off" etc. Glue! Brilliant idea, except that some keyboards turn the wifi off by a thick finger hitting cntrl while an f key is being pressed. Cue mysterious loss of wifi, panic calls etc.

        It's a f***ng stupid bit of keyboard design that allows any non-obvious loss of function to be triggered by a small error. There's a reason why it took 3 keys to do a reset.

  14. adam payne Silver badge

    Some people just need to not use computers full stop.

  15. Valerion

    Not quite the same distance

    But once I had to fly from London to Edinburgh at the crack of sparrows, whilst quite phenomenally unwell, hire a car, and drive a couple of hours north in order to install some software. Said software ONLY worked on Windows 2000. Not XP, not ME, not Linux, only Windows 2000.

    The customer had to get a new PC to run this, so I checked three times with them that they had got Windows 2000 on it. They assured me their local specialist had indeed installed Windows 2000.

    After a lovely short flight that I spent puking in the plane bathroom, and then a very lovely drive through some very nice scenery, punctuated by more puking, I arrived. You already know it wasn't running 2000. Instead it was running ME because "it's basically the same thing, but cheaper".

    So I turned around and went home again. By this time I'd finished puking so it wasn't all bad.

  16. Smody
    Unhappy

    Good thing it wasn't a U.S. office.

    Instead of feeding it fruit, they would have used a butcher knife. (And yes, I'm USAn).

  17. eswan

    >One such trip involved “four of us sitting around a cage full of monkeys,

    >feeding them fruit” because one of the simians had swallowed a USB

    >drive that contained classified files.

    You should always mount a scratch monkey before copying files.

  18. CSYBERGIRL
    Devil

    Official Secrets Act

    Isn't that a Chloe(acute) thing? Don't let on I played Commando days before "Christmas" (pandering to the crucified).

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019