* Posts by jcitron

129 posts • joined 9 Jul 2014

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So you locked your backups away for years, huh? Allow me to introduce my colleagues, Brute, Force and Ignorance

jcitron

Re: Macintosh

Oh the other thing with those Syquest drives...

If there happened to be another one lying around, the platters from one would not work in the other. The discs tended to work only with the device they were formatted in, causing some rather frustrated customers who brought their artwork to the printer for printing only to find out that the printer couldn't read their discs!

So much for portability!

jcitron

Re: Seen in the wild

I had a similar thing except with video. I was using a Varityper Epics 20/20 typesetting system which had a minicomputer, terminal, and output device. All three devices were connected together with a proprietary cable that connected up the three units that made up the system. The system was used in home office. Our cat liked to chew on plastic, and had an affection for computer cables.

One day the terminal had blinking dots on the screen that would come and go, flicker, and then everything was fine. Outputting stuff to the 6830 was awfully slow as well. Instead of taking a minute to output a full advertisement, it was taking up to 10 minutes. Then everything was fine... Accessing the mini to save jobs was slow as well. Then again I was writing to a 20 MB, yes a 20 MB, Miniscribe full height drive so that was not necessarily the fastest device.

I checked the connections to the devices and everything was snug, and I went as far as to open the terminal and re-seat the memory and the multiple CPU's in the terminal, which was all socketed. This was all on multiple boards covered with 4164 DRAM chips and 68k processor boards. In the troubleshooting process, I did find a bent pin on one of the DRAM chips and fixed that, but all that effort didn't seem to do anything different. Occasionally still there was a flicker and blinky dots and lines.

I left it alone since the 6830 outputter decided it was going to work, and the minicomputer part was working fine until one day I saw the culprit. In walked my rather fat and quite old cat. He sauntered over to the fat RS422 cable and had a chew... I chased him away, and sure enough the cable was completely eviscerated with holes all over it, some of which were deep enough to puncture the foil ground sheathing underneath!

A call to the company and $750 later, the cable was replaced. The blinking lines and dots went away, and all the other devices were back to their high speed again.

jcitron

Re: Seen in the wild

The same happened to me the other day as well as I was moving some cables around. I swear that electrons jump over the tiniest gap between surfaces and that keeps things running until the disconnect is completely made.

jcitron

Re: Seen in the wild

Yes! I had that happen myself. A tenant moved in upstairs from where my family had their business. My bro and crew were wired up at the time with 10BaseT coax. We ran the cable up into the ceiling and along the wall in our storage closet and down the other side. We had not choice and couldn't run the wire in the wall due to the walls being made of brick due to the space being an old textile factory, otherwise, that would've been the better option.

One day things didn't work as you said stuff was a bit slow. I got called at work to go take a look. The new tenant had taken over my family's storeroom without asking and put his file cabinet on top of our network cable even though the cable was place tightly against the wall. The cable was no longer round and looked like an old TV aerial that would be tacked to the wall.

jcitron

Re: Crazy Hammer Guy

I had an XT with a similar issue and used the same technique to boot up. Eventually the drive died and I replaced it with a new one.

jcitron

In the early 1990's a small video-training company I worked for had a 2 1-GB Seagate SCSI drives RAIDed together at RAID 0 for video editing. I know it's RAID 0, but these weren't for permanent data and only for video editing before the content was written to tape.

Anyway. The drives would heat up and sticktion would kick in when the drives were turned off. I told the user not to turn the drives off, but he would and then the next morning it was my job to get the RAID working again.

I would repeatedly power up the drives and turn them off and bang the box on the floor a few times while they were spinning. Eventually, there would be a scrunchy sound and the drives would come to life and everyone was happy until the process was repeated again. The drives were replaced eventually with much bigger 9 GB drives and these new drives never had that problem.

Take DOS, stir in some Netware, add a bit of Windows and... it's ALIIIIVE!

jcitron

I supported an ECRM VR30 Imagesetter connected to a Harlequin RIP running on a Windows 3.1 box. on a rather old-school, well kind of state of the art system in 1990. Box its self was a 486 DX50 EISA motherboard, 640K RAM, 512 MB HD, a proprietary SCSI card, and a 3COM 3c509 network card. That network card was a pain to setup too. That required editing the net-bindings in the net.cfg file in order for the COPSTALK driver to find it.

Windows 3.1 sat on top of DOS with Microsoft networking drivers, along with COPS-TALK - aka Cooperative Printing Solutions Mac-AppleTalk emulator, which was needed to print to the RIP since the box had to emulate a Linotronic 330 imagesetter and that only had an AppleTalk interface. COPS also gave the few Mac users file sharing capabilities with the PC's in the office too so it was a win-win in that regard.

With 640K of RAM, there was about 50K left after loading all the drivers, and I wondered if the RIP software would run at all with such a tiny amount of RAM. I'm not exaggerating here, it was only 50K left! I inquired why I couldn't load any drivers high, and use WFW to replace the Windows 3.1 sitting on DOS with Microsoft Networking. The ECRM tech said that it was due to the drivers not working when loaded high, and that WFW was too busy chatting on the network, which caused buffer under runs on the imagesetter due to the SCSI interface timing out. A buffer under run is something we didn't want because the film cost $250 a roll, and the boss would not be pleased to hear that we were wasting film.

Once loaded, however, we said our prayers to the Oracle and left chicken entrails on the ground in front of it to ensure it would run, and it did. The setup was pretty stable and ran like a champ for the next 20 years. We finally retired the VR30 and RIP when film and chemistry got too expensive and the chemistry spoiled before we could use it all. At that point, we switched to a Postscript L3 Xante printer.

Remember the 1980s? Oversized shoulder pads, Metal Mickey and... sticky keyboards?

jcitron

Re: IBM AT Keyboard for the win

A friend of mine used to do this with his Sun keyboards as well.

If we do that today to our keyboards, the key caps won't have any printing on them. In the old days, the manufacturer used solvent based inks that "bite" into the plastic surface. This kept the ink on the keys even when cleaned.

Today the key caps are cheaply pad-printed using acrylic based inks that don't bite into the plastic and come off very easily. My cat scratched some of the letters on one keyboard once, and I ended up wearing some of the letters off of a keyboard just by typing on it. Being a touch typist, this didn't bother me, but it sure confuses some people.

jcitron

Re: Same here

Yup it's a Windows thing.

I too never saw it anywhere else.

jcitron

Re: Sugary coffee + keyboard membrane

Very familiar... I worked for a video terminal manufacturer - probably the one that made the terminals you were using. (kidding!) The terminals had very expensive keyboards with them that would periodically be sent back for repairs.

We would take them apart, put the circuit boards into a tank filled with DESOL which is used for degreasing circuit boards before wave soldering (safe stuff --- yeah right!), put the key caps into an ultrasonic cleaner, and when everything was clean, we would reassemble them. They were as good as new and ready for the customers again.

Then one day I got a box of keyboards from a customer. These must've sat in their tech's office for a year at least. They were nicely tagged with "Don't work", "Broke", and "Dead". Oh how helpful. When I opened the box, there was a faint odor of Lipton's Cup A Soup, but I didn't pay attention until I discovered that one of the keyboards was stuck. I mean stuck to a point where nothing moved, and if it did, the keys stayed down.

I opened up that keyboard and found the source of my Lipton's Soup smell. The innards were completely filled up with chicken noodle soup. The yellow bullion stuff had enfused everything. After the DESOL bath and new keycaps, even that keyboard was brought back to life.

jcitron

Yeah that caustic soda eats through everything.

I've seen the damage from soda drinks myself. It's pretty bad.

The place I used to get my car repaired had "tough" computers with a vinyl cover over the keyboards. I suppose the cover worked well if the users were touch typists because it was so grimy and greasy that the keycaps were invisible.

jcitron

Re: Not soda but...

A user I supported lost his laptop to a bottle of wine. He was flying from Denver to Boston and the plane hit turbulence. The flight attendant stumbled and managed to flood his laptop. It was trashed and the company didn't have any accident insurance on their equipment. We pulled out the useful parts like the DIMMs and the hard disc and tossed the rest.

jcitron

Re: Not soda but...

I got a panic call from the CEO of an old company I worked for. I could hear roaring sounds in the background. He explained that was driving with his wide open DELL laptop out the window because he spilled coffee into it and wanted to dry it out!

When he arrived shortly afterwards, the laptop was intact. I had expected him to drop it on the way in somewhere on the turnpike. We powered it up and believe it or not, the machine worked fine afterwards - he didn't use any sugar in his coffee.

The poor old soul of a machine ran for years afterwards. We replaced many machines, but he didn't want to part with this one.

jcitron

The batch password reset is really familiar.

Back in the early 1990s, I worked for an investment firm that used software on their PCs to emulate 3270 terminals connected to a remote IBM data center. For the IBM system, I was responsible for updating and uploading new user and password reset lists in the JCL batch language. It was a total pain in the backside too because the text had to line up exactly.

jcitron

Seen that before. Cats...

I've had a cat destroy a musical instrument. Pissed inside on the soundboard because she could. She was plain dirty and found a new home sadly after the damage was done to this and to someone else's bed because she could.

In general cats are more destructive than dogs I think because of this and chewing. Dogs chew too, but it's big obvious thing unlike a cat which can chomp a wire or two and drive us nuts as we go looking for the damage. I had a cat eat an expensive RS-422 cable clear through the grey vinyl outer wrapping to a point the wires inside were showing.

Cats also sleep on warm things and can and will zap electronics. I recently lost a keyboard that way, and just before I warned a friend of mine, she lost her laptop due to the same reason.

Not a death spiral, I'm trapped in a closed loop of customer experience

jcitron

I love National Grid!

Your lights go out in your neighborhood. Simple POOF! while you're in the middle of something so you're kind and call the electric company to let them know that the lights are out. In the olden days, one could call the electric company and tell them the power is out. Okay, no problem and the truck would go around and find a tree branch down or bouncing on the wires.

Well it don't work that way anymore! In order to get the power restored, you need to enter in your address and your account number, which of course you can't see because it's dark and you've faffed around for candles, but they're only stubs. If you can see it, it's about the size of ants and can barely see it enough anyway in the dark. Even if you have your address, it doesn't matter. They want your account number as well.

Finally after stumbling around for an hour, you then call and wait, and wait, and wait... and wait with them telling you that you can check the online app for status and to report outages there too, but wait you can't do that either cuz you need to be able to see the account number, the one the size of ants, in order to enter on the mobile app.

One day with the power going out in the afternoon, we tried their mobile app. It's pure crap. The interface sucks and it's awkward making me wonder if it must've been cobbled together by the CEO's son while at programmer's boot camp or something. The app works sort of... and you need that bloody account number for that too.

What's wrong with KISS? Power's out, call, get it fixed.

Take your pick: 0/1/* ... but beware – your click could tank an entire edition of a century-old newspaper

jcitron

Re: Guess back in the days when every byte counted

I learned to write Z80 Assembly code in that editor!

I got smart and "cheated" and used WordStar in non-document mode. It was so much easier.

jcitron

I remember those. They were quite noisy!

jcitron

Re: photoplating

It sure is sad that this grand industry has disappeared. I worked for my family graphics business for a bit. From the mid-1980s until 1992, I was a typesetter. The business did well until the 1990s recession, and then customers failed. That was what I think the first strike on the printing and graphics industry because customers then started going in-house to save money. Laser printers and desktop publishing was first coming out in full force, and output from a typesetter wasn't needed anymore. Shortly after this, the lease ran out on the Varityper, and the leasing company didn't want it back. It soldiered on for a few years as we looked for a replacement, and ended up getting an ECRM imagesetter. We had to keep up with the times. Today, that setup is long gone, dad is retired, and my bro has moved on to other things. The need for film got to be so low that the chemicals would spoil.

In the end, I think the overall quality has gone down too in the industry because people don't care whatever the output looks like. Our local papers are rife with typographical errors. There is no care or pride in what's produced, and everything is about a quick splash and get it out.

jcitron

Re: "But I never experimented on a live system again"

Yes!

I used this many years ago to format a 5 MB hard disk connected to a Visual V-1050. There wasn't much confirmation of what was going to happen! It just happened.

Very scary days!

jcitron

This system sounds way too familiar.

The setup here sounded very familiar! Back in the mid-1980s, I repaired Ontel terminals when they became part of Visual Technology. Among their many OEM customers was Olivetti for whom they setup a word-processing system that ran CP/M, although I didn't need that for testing and instead used an Ontel O/S based machine connected to the terminals.

The terminals had what were called at the time word-mover-controllers. These cards did what we do today in memory except it was all shift-registers and static RAM for text buffers used for cutting and pasting text. These cards were a beast to work on too because of all the loops and clock dividers on them.

A few years later, I worked for the family graphics business. My bro ran one of those photostat cameras mentioned in the article, and I ran a Varityper Epics 20/20 typesetting system. I would "set" the type in galleys and the output was then covered on the blank side with wax or rubber cement. These galleys were then pasted down on Strathmore boards and my bro shot the photostats and sometimes films for the local print shops.

What was interesting is the Varityper had built-in filters to handle input from WordStar. In the 1980s, I had a Visual V-1050 that had that among other programs. One day we needed some additional help handling some coupons. Using my V-1050, my sister typed up the text in WordStar and I used the Varityper telecom package to import it from the V-1050. It worked perfectly and this was our backup terminal for a few years.

Sacked NCC Group grad trainee emailed 300 coworkers about Kali Linux VM 'playing up'

jcitron

Re: hardware problem ?

Yup. Excellent advice which I had to remember to do after I reimaged my laptop. Like most days in my life I get interrupted a gazillion times, came back and put in my tools thumb drive, then watched as my AV software decided I had naughty bits on it and wiped the stick for me.

jcitron

Re: I know it's unlikely

A coworker pranked another in an office I supported with a wireless keyboard and mouse. Periodically words would be changed in emails or documents, and the victim's mouse would move randomly.

I got a call from both the prankster and the victim and played along with it for a few months. Eventually the victim discovered the wireless dongle when he went to plug in a thumb drive.

Reverse Ferret! Forget what we told you – the iPad isn't really for work

jcitron

Re: Oh FFS

Not really. A few years ago the place I worked for added on a layer of data encryption on top of already slower machines. The 4GB laptops were slow enough handling those huge Excel spreadsheets, database applications, remote connections, and other things, and the EPE made it worse. The users complained all the time about the slow machines even when new out of the box.

The sales engineers and R&D folks, however, could not demo software using these 4GB laptops. One guy had a embarrassing machine lock up from what I was told, which may have cost the company a contract. After that the SEs were given special treatment with their nice Precision Workstation machines with 16GB while everyone else got the lower end Lenovo laptops the company would normally buy.

Being in IT, I was able to procure a "sample test machine" for myself. The faster processor and more memory really helped get past that bottleneck caused by the EPE. There was barely a chatter on the hard disk when opening up huge spreadsheets or other applications.

Underpowered hardware, just like any inadequate tool, makes for an unproductive environment, which actually costs a company in the long run. Sadly management and bean counters don't see it that way and will cut everything to the bone.

jcitron

I have a Dell XPS 18 Windows tablet PC, which I use to display sheet music instead of me having to flip pages while working on some large complex works which always have the page turns in the wrong place. The large screen is quick, and easy to see and responds quickly to my finger swipes needed to turn the pages in Acrobat. I tried an iPad for the same thing, but the ant-sized fonts on it made the text too small to differentiate between the fingerings on the music. Is that a 3 or a 5?; A 1 or a 4?

And by the way, a crappy 'droid tablet was worse too because it was not only too slow, and didn't always respond to the finger swipe needed to flip the pages. There's nothing worse knowing you have an impending page turn coming up, attempt to turn it and nothing happens!

Techie was bigged up by boss… only to cause mass Microsoft Exchange outage

jcitron

Re: Exchange seems to feature a lot

Yup. Lotus notes runs on "stuff". I supported a few of those in the past and periodically they would fall over with smiley faces and stuff on the console. At first I thought it was the ancient hardware they ran on then I left that company and low and behold the same thing used to happen on their boxes too. I would get a call that "Notes can't be reached", and I'd take a walk down the hall to press the reset button.

CC:Mail wasn't much better and that used to get the smiley-faces and stuff on its screen as well. A more than periodic fresh brains and we'd be up and running for another day or two.

But on the other side when the company split from its parent that ran CC:Mail and notes, I ran an Exchange 5.5 server for 10 years and never had a problem with it. It's quirky, but once you understand the setup, it's not bad.

I haven't used it in about 10 years, having retired in 2012, so I've forgotten a lot but it wasn't bad once it was up and running, and it's one of those pieces of software you don't do anything with unless you have to. You let it do its thing outside of periodic maintenance required and of course doing anything AFTER a successful back is a must as that guarantees there won't be a problem.

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

jcitron

Re: @big_D

This is very familiar. I worked on Visual and Ontel terminals with motherboard and option boards like that. The difference was sometimes only an EPROM change or a jumper clip or add to change the model from one to another.

At the last manufacturing company I worked at, they made digital proofing systems that either had 2400 dpi imaging and ran at a normal speed, or some that had 2540 dpi with a turbo speed. The difference in cost was quite substantial, but the change was only a switch flip on the motherboard and a different EPROM.

There are many other examples of this even in recent years. There are some video cards by NVidia that could go from GTX gamer video cards to their Quadro professional series cards by adding a jumper or resistor and cutting an etch on the back of the board.

jcitron

Re: @big_D

One of these:

http://www.righto.com/2017/04/1950s-tax-preparation-plugboard.html

They are quite amazing beasts with all the switches, relays and mechanical parts.

I saw one of these in the hallway of a company I worked at as it was being carted off to scrap. I didn't know what it was at the time, sadly. You're right it was about the size of a VW Beetle!

jcitron

Ah yes. I discovered that myself the hard way.

That scary old system with 'do not touch' on it? Your boss very much wants you to touch it. Now what do you do?

jcitron

Re: 6 point plan?

That's what I ran into at a former company. Their legacy business system, not quite as old as some in the article but pretty old nonetheless, was in dire need of replacement in the late 2000s.

The company never budgeted anything IT-related and had even let the support contract go on the software, let alone hardware. The system was kept running with tape, wire, and squirrels running in cages. I left before replacing anything and the last I heard they're still running this ca. 1998 HP Proliant 5000r server and scrounging on E-bay for hard disks.

Oh well. That's their problem now and not mine. ;-)

Boss regrets pointing finger at chilled out techie who finished upgrade early

jcitron

Re: Oh so familiar

It definitely is.

In a former company I was at, the internet services were turned off rather suddenly one day. My boss blamed me for not checking the routers, etc., and I told him everything was fine.

He said "Call AT&T and find out what's going on. Yeah I know... AT&T, but anyway I called. After waiting a few minutes on the phone, the representative tells me that the services will work fine if you pay your bill!

Oops!

The boss didn't say a word and the next day we were up and running again.

Sysadmin misses out on paycheck after student test runs amok

jcitron

Re: or in the case of a hospital

I had an issue with cleaners knocking a cable out of the back of one of the VAXs that connected to an LP27. I would come in on my shift and find the jobs stuck in the queue, and while troubleshooting the problem, before calling DEC for service, I found the loose cable. The problem was I wasn't around when the cleaners were there most of the time, and then one day we crossed paths and the problem was solved.

2-bit punks' weak 40-bit crypto didn't help Tesla keyless fobs one bit

jcitron

Re: Problem-solution dichotomy

My old Toyota Celica remote lock FOB could unlock Saturns across the parking lot. It was funny seeing other cars blink simultaneously when mine did. The first time it occurred I thought it was one of those weird timing things when a bunch of things happen at the same time. Then another time I was at the market and parked next to a Saturn. When I opened my old Celica, the Saturn unlocked too.

Oops!

jcitron

Re: Problem-solution dichotomy

Remotely unlocking?

Sure when it's pouring rain beyond cats and dogs and you need to make that beeline for the driver's seat. I had an older-style car that needed to be unlocked manually, and more than once spent time fiddling with the keys as I tried to get in. I admit that I'm not the most coordinated soul, but still the convenience of just opening the door saves time.

The other situation is when you've got a ton of shit to put in the boot. I open my Jeep and pop the back hatch from my kitchen window, take the crap I need to carry with me and all I need to do is put it in and close. This works especially well when it's pouring or snowing miserably.

Keyless entry, well I see that as a mistake ready to happen and has already happened. My cousin left her fob at home, made it to work and couldn't leave so much for that grand idea. Another time she started her car and gave the fob to her husband who drove off to work in another direction. Unless the thing is attached to other keys, I can see this as an ongoing problem.

You'll never guess what you can do once you steal a laptop, reflash the BIOS, and reboot it

jcitron

Re: Again.. How many people turn their machine off?

Wake on LAN is a BIOS setting actually. I turn mine off on my desktop and All-in-1. I neglected to turn it off once and got awakened by a system update so now it's the first setting I change on the power management page in the BIOS.

I can see this being useful if the PC is in a corporate environment and the IT department pushes out system updates across the LAN, or needs to turn on servers remotely after a power down, but for genera home use it's not necessary.

Good luck to the people that take my All-in-1. They'll be dreadfully disappointed because all that's on that is Xodo PDF viewer and PDFs of sheet music. It beats turning pages while playing the piano!

My desktop gets turned off daily. It takes a less than 30 secs to boot, and few seconds to reload a browser after logging in. The browser I use, Opera, can be configured to reload last pages and tabs anyway so that's no biggy.

The Reg takes the US government's insider threat training course

jcitron

Re: how fucked up is that

That might explain the "attitude" when we call some government agency for assistance such as the Social Security office, or dealing in general with the DMV and the state tax office.

A flash of inspiration sees techie get dirty to fix hospital's woes

jcitron

Re: Dirty

Yes absolutely spot on here!

I had splits in my fingertips from using antibacterial goop on my hands when I was working from cleaning my hands after working with user's PCs. Yuck is beyond describing that. I've since retired and don't miss that!

Oh to save a few bucks/quid, get a Rocket. They're about $20.00 US on B&H or even Amazon. It's a squeeze-bulb in the shape of a rocket and it's a lot cheaper in the long run and nicer for the environment too. I've got one and it does a nice job getting the dust clumps out of fans and the crevices inside the case.

Definitely do this outside as you recommend.

jcitron

Re: Noisy phone lines in building

This sounds like a bigger nightmare coming with the old wiring and cut-off grounds. We purchased a house that had wiring like that and we hired an electrician to update the wiring for us. After pulling about 10,000 feet (not exaggerating) of dead lines out of the ceiling, and finding some cut-off live ones too, we're finally safely wired up. That wasn't all. To add insult to injury, the basement wiring was a single lamp cord wired to the wrong side of the fuse box!

But the telephone issues were interesting. When we first moved in, we used modems for internet service. We would dial out only to be kicked back, as you noted above, from 56K to 2400, or other times we couldn't get out at all. One day while the modem was dialing, we heard a local radio station interference on the modem! We called the local phone company office and the tech came out and did something on the pole to fix the problem, which I don't recall. In the end he said that it didn't surprise him, and was shocked that we got anything to work at all given the age of the phone lines in the city.

jcitron

Re: Noisy phone lines in building

I had that issue as well caused by an elevator (lift). The office admin's desk was located just to the side of the elevator and every time the elevator was called, and the motor kicked in, her display would wobble and bounce. It was interesting to watch, but probably annoying for her. We moved her to the other side of the lobby and away from the motors and that solved the problem. The phenomenon was quite fascinating actually and made me wonder white kind of effects the EMF was having on other things around nearby beside her NEC monitor.

Having worked with CRT video terminals in the past, I saw a rather interesting thing with displays not mounted properly in the chassis for the destination country. Due to the earth's magnetic poles and pull, the image on the CRT can be off kilter if, for example, the image is aligned for somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, but the display is sent to somewhere below the Equator. The good thing is today this is all obsolete due to CRTs going away and being replaced by LEDs. Still way cool how the magnetic fields can affect them.

jcitron

A panicking user because of a rotated desktop!

Yes That CTRL+ALT+arrow-key inadvertently sent a user in my office into a total panic. I was out at lunch, across the parking lot at the local sandwich shop and got a call on my cell phone. The shear panic in her voice at first made me think her PC caught on fire...

A boss pinching pennies may have cost his firm many, many pounds

jcitron

Re: Developer PC

This sounds terribly familiar. I worked for a life insurance company that used a similar setup. The computer room had a bunch of '386s for production, but developers got the old '286s. The network was ArcNet and there was a special network concentrator on the back wall of the computer room.

Their client server system was a bunch-o-Novell servers running TriMark software, aka Magic PC database with the HDD-less clients connected to it.

jcitron

A UPS is a perk

I worked for a small company back in the mid-1990s that developed CBTs.

We had been compiling a training program series and it was time to burn the master disc. The process took about 45 minutes to burn a disc since this was a P-90 and the CD-R was only 2x speed. Rather than wait around for the disc to burn, we would head out for lunch at the local pizza joint located across the parking-lot and come back in time to check the disk. This time, however, the disc had failed the burn about 90% of the way through due to a buffer under run issue.

I checked through the system, the hard drive was fine, I defragged it again, and there was no file sharing enabled. As I was checking the available hard drive space, the lights dimmed, and the system locked up. The dimming lights coincided directly with the A/C kicking on.

I mentioned to the boss that I found the problem and it's related to the power in the office, and we needed a UPS at least for this system.

The boss said that a UPS is a perk and we could live without it. The problem was we couldn't live without the UPS because the main development machine was glitching and rebooting randomly every time the air/con went on in the office. He wouldn't budge...

The boss got antsy and got on my case again about the failing discs. At $15 a pop back in the early 1990s, he was shelling out about $900 a week in CD-Rs for nothing because the failed discs were nothing but gold-colored coasters. I told him we need a UPS, but he still wouldn't shell out $350 bucks for one of those small APC units that weigh a ton and always have that flickering neon power switch.

After yet another failure, he decided I was doing something wrong and set out to burn a disc himself. He put his gold disc into the drive and started up the software. It was some special software we used then, and not anything like we have today. He hit the Burn button and he was so proud he could do it. :-)

Then it happened! At about 50% of the way through, the A/C kicked on and the lights dimmed. The disc continued to burn for a few seconds then a Buffer Under Run failure message showed up on the screen.

He didn't say anything, but the next day I had my "perk to protect the system and never had a problem afterwards.

Sysadmin sank IBM mainframe by going one VM too deep

jcitron

Re: pound

Yeah us Yanks have to fiddle with the Character Map thing in Windows (if one uses Windows) to get the real pound symbol.

ALT-key plus 0163 = £

I got used to doing this when I worked in desktop publishing. My old Varityper was easier to use because had special escape sequences to create ligature characters such as ü ö, etc., as needed. The £ symbol was {command-key} and L at the same time. There was no need to do the cumbersome ALT+code.

Back when I was a tech working on video terminals, there were some that had a compose key which made special characters even easier.

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.

Microsoft might not support Windows XP any more, but GandCrab v4.1 ransomware does

jcitron

Re: And people still use XP

I've supported more than a few machines like that as well. Here's one which was run by a small graphics company and print shop.

An RIP and controller box running proprietary software on Windows 3.1. The RIP software controlled an imagesetter for printing films for the printing industry. The PC hardware was an old EISA based system with a 486 DX-50 and 512 MB of RAM. 512MB hard disk, and a 3-Com Ethlink card with a Thin-net connector.

On top of Windows 3.1 was Microsoft's network add-on and then on that was COPS-Talk. COPS-Talk, aka Cooperative Printing Solutions network software provided the AppleTalk drivers to support the output device so the RIP could "publish" the printer as an Apple-compatible printer on the network as a Linotronics 330, although it really was an ECRM VR-30.

The VR-30 its self was connected to a proprietary SCSI card, which needed the EISA bus. Since I haven't seen this setup in about 6 years, I've forgotten what the SCSI spec was, but it was some powered SCSI line with the VR-30 being terminated internally.

I was, and I am still amazed today, that this setup even worked. By the time all the software loaded, there was less than 720K of RAM left for any processing.

This hardware was bought new in 1992 and was still in operation as far as I know in 2012!

User lubed PC with butter, because pressing a button didn't work

jcitron

That's right I still have an antique with those drives.

My Visual V1083, aka Commuter Computer, has those push-button floppy drives. It's been sometimes since I repaired those systems, like 32 years, so I can't remember the manufacturer. I think they were Teac floppy drives, but I might be confusing them with the ones in the Visual V1050 CP/M Plus machines which were built a bit earlier.

IT worker used access privs to steal £1m from Scottish city council

jcitron
IT Angle

So where was the system audting in this?

It's hard to believe that this kind of thing could go on this long without being caught sooner. If the IT department was run properly, then there would have been safeguards in place such as account auditing.

When I worked for a life insurance company many years ago, the systems were logged, tracked, time stamped, and access was audited for any access required for personnel information and anything involving funds including accounting.

There were also specific users who had access to the specific systems, though administrators and other MIS/IT staff could access specific system areas, but in no way, shape or form, were IT people allowed near the accounting or personnel side of things (HR actually). Anyone, including IT staff were audited and the audit files were sent off to be examined on a frequent basis.

Even my old company, now closed due to the Great Depression of 2007-2009, had an auditing system implemented. This tracked all user logins and system access, though in the simplest form, and was recorded in the event viewer since we were using Windows NT 4.0 (shudders) at the time.

Perhaps this is the right way to do things, and the local city government, being local city government, did not think this far ahead, and placed too much trust in their IT staff.

Sysadmin jeered in staff cafeteria as he climbed ladder to fix PC

jcitron

Re: So ... I suppose you never worked in computer operations.

The promotion was well beyond just helpdesk actually, though the position was part of the helpdesk support team. I was moved from computer operations to Network Engineering, which involved the much higher echelons of Novell server support, network monitoring, etc.

This was all long before the days of IT and the "network admin" as we know it today. The team that I joined were the ones who were on call that got the reports and pages (yes a pager!) from the computer operations people when a server decided to crap on a hard drive, usually during the 3rd shift in the middle of a snowstorm, for example. We did not look down upon the computer operators and they were treated as part of the team, which they were as they played a critical role in keeping the company on track.

But the main point is computer operators do more than "just change tapes". That is part of the job, like every job including a network administrator being responsible for nightly backups. The responsibilities we had at the time went far beyond that, as I told.

Using proper user-management techniques and administration, accounts can be locked down and managed as needed rather than applying a all-in-one blanket approach, which you do. Why did you do this originally? Was the company that unsecure and being hacked so that the networks needed a lockdown? You didn't really explain this as this could have been a one-off situation which required this due to a high-security issue and legal implications.

Managing users is not difficult. It's one of those things that takes time to do the right way, with some thought and pro-active preplanning in addition to properly set IT policies. An Ad-hoc setup where everyone is given admin rights, has a password of PW12345678 which never expires, is truly bad. (The retired IT guy in me will have nightmares thinking about this latter point!).

Believe me I have been in both environments, and the former is much easier to work with from the get go. The latter is nasty and causes more work for the support staff, as well as opens up the company to legal trouble as well. A small company I worked for had this kind of environment, and after some management changes, I was promoted to a higher position within that company, which allowed me to enforce the "newer" security changes. This involved not only a buy-in from management, but also the users as well. There was some flak from the user-base initially, but after some training and policy enforcement, the understood the implications.

The biggest part of this was the user-training, which is also quite easy to do, but time-consuming, and lacking in a lot of organizations. Just because people "know" how to use a computer,doesn't mean they know how to use a computer in a corporate environment. The wing-it-on-the-fly setup with all having admin-rights, might work for Joe and Mary home-users who like to share photos with each other on their home NAS, but in a larger corporate environment things need to be a bit more secure, as you should know.

But anyway you are right on the BYOD stuff. Scary crap it is especially if the IT policies are not set properly, let alone the support issues which I mentioned on another post. This goes right along with that new Internet of Things (IoT), which allows remote control and access to all kinds of hardware.

jcitron

Re: So ... I suppose you never worked in computer operations.

@jake

"And no, I'm not a "BOFH". Do any of you lot even know what an Operator is? An operator is the flunky who swaps out tapes during late night backup runs. An operator keeps the admins in coffee and the printers in paper and ink. An operator counts supplies in the stock room. Most operators are interns these days. If you're a machinist, an operator deburs and degreases parts. Operators are rarely given jobs more important than remembering "one lump or two". The whole concept of an operator having admin access to corporate equipment is laughable."

I suppose by this statement you never worked as a computer operator. There's a lot more to this than you think. Admin rights is also necessary for many tasks which would be impossible to perform otherwise.

From 1988 to 1994, I was a computer operator for two organizations. My responsibilities went well and far beyond taking inventory, and mounting tapes, and sorting the printed reports, though this was part of the job.

In the first company, I was responsible for backing up 3 VAX 11/780s, 1 VAX 8350, 2 VAX 11/750s, and 2 Sun OS systems. The 3 VAX 11/780s and the 8350 ran VMS while the two engineering lab 11/750s ran Ultrix. The two early Sun systems ran of course their Sun OS with one actually being an Interleaf publishing system and the other for R&D and CAD.

On the VMS clustered machines, I submitted batch jobs, monitored the processes, and ensured all jobs completed successfully because there were dependencies of each job, which meant if one failed, then another would not complete.

In addition to the daily operations, I had what we referred to as additional projects. These projects included repairing printers, monitors, and video terminals. This in part was due to my skills as a hardware technician initially, and having come from the company that made the video terminals originally. I went through a closet full of dead equipment and with an oscilloscope, DVM, and some schematics, I was able to repair everything but two terminals which were totally fried inside due to a lightning strike on the building.

Other projects included replacing network equipment, running cables as needed, and even rewiring the punch panel. The previous operators were careless and had wires stretch haphazardly across the panel. My job was to carefully reroute these and re-punch them down.

When I wasn't monitoring the VAX batch jobs, I was also assisting the R&D department with their own proprietary Convergent Technologies workstations. These systems had an array of plug-in modules, which also needed swapping out, replacing, and repair. I did not have schematics for these, but was able to Frankenstein a few out of the scrap units.

The various printers not only needed their paper and ribbons, but sometimes the print heads needed replacing, or sometimes other parts. Two of these printers were those huge DEC LP27 band printers which would jam up, and require parts to be replaced. This usually occurred on weekends of course and the weekend operator would page me to come in and help repair one of these beasts.

Other projects came up from time to time including writing queries and building reports in Datatrieve32 and writing the batch jobs to submit these to the queue.

So why would we need admin rights?

Well we would need to do system shutdowns, cancel submitted jobs, add users to the systems, perform standalone backups and so many other tasks, which would be impossible without having admin rights.

Like all jobs these rights were given to us with the understanding of the implementations and consequences of things going wrong. Did we ever have a rogue employee? No. Never on my watch after I was promoted to lead operator.

In my final operator's position before I was promoted to helpdesk support, I ran a MicroVAX 4000 along with a massive cluster of Novell servers, and a remote IBM mainframe.

Our job description in this company involved daily backups of course, adding and removing users from the Novell server as required, clean up files, reboot and shutting down servers, workstations, and running batch jobs. All of this and a lot more, which I'm now forgetting with time since it's been 20 or more years since I was there.

In this job we were proficient in VMS, IBM MVS/TSO, SNA network printing, and Novell administrator roles. (I know I can hear you laugh because of the kinds of systems, but remember this was late 80s and early 90s).

The MVS/TSO system ran special batch jobs which required editing of the batch files prior to submission, and adding and deleting users. Being the MVS/TSO environment, the formatting had to be 100% accurate, otherwise, the job would fail. No extra spaces, nothing out of alignment. Absolutely perfect.

Since this was a financial institution, there were very specific SLA requirements set forth by regulations. Specific reports, checks, and letters needed to be printed and mailed by specific days. With these strict requirements, we had to maintain a nearly 24/7 363 day online availability. The systems were only taken down, usually during holidays, to perform maintenance and hardware replacement as required. With this availability requirements, we monitored the systems for failures and remained on call at all times. It was our responsibility to report problems to the on-call support person as well as to hardware manufacturers to replace failed equipment such as DEC and at the time Novell.

In addition to running batch jobs and performing backups, we too had special projects or specific areas of responsibility. My so-called pet project was documentation. Our manager developed a documentation server, which was to eventually contain every job that we ran regularly. The template was further refined and shared with the DBAs who needed special jobs run during the day.

Like many projects, this lead to others including report management and printing, and overall through my guidance the department went from an error prone operation to one that had a 99% success rate. The department also became proactive as we became aware of what was needed, and aware of the inter-operations of each and every task and job that was submitted on the systems. In doing this, I earned a company award and a nice little extra sum in my pay.

Again during this time there were no rogue employees and no need to limit our access to the systems. When an employee did leave, whether to move to another company position or changed employment, their user accounts were terminated according to security protocols. This is how all user accounts should be managed.

So yeah, we only make coffee?

jcitron

Re: So ...

I also developed a connection too with management doing stuff like this. The good people seasoned executives see that you and others like us see outside the box and have problem and critical thinking skills which go well for solving day-to-day problems.

Now that I am retired, I still get periodic calls from these people. Many of them are now retired as well, but call on me to help them with their computing needs. When I was in need of a new job, because the company was closing, the CEO of the company put together a nice recommendation letter, which landed me a nice job very quickly too at another company.

So in the end, it pays to be nice to people, and not stomp all over them. Sometimes you need to be firm, yet, show that human side as well. This world works both ways.

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