Preface And Disclaimer

OK, I should start by saying that, contrary to the title, I Am Not A Hacker. Well, just this one time, long, long, ago, on a computer that doesn't even exist any more. And when it did exist, it had about as much computing power as your average $5 pocket calculator.

It's just that sometimes, when I become philosophical, I wonder what would have happened if...

Anyway, on with the story. It's been close to 30 years now, so forgive me if some details are a little vague (some names have been changed ...). But let me assure you, the story is 100% true - this is not fiction - I don't have that much imagination.


Background - The Computer, and the Players

The Computer was an IBM 1800, a normally used process controller for laboratories and such, for control of laboratory equipment. It was then being used as a terminal server, controlling maybe a dozen teletypes, which were scattered around campus, and were used in various student labs and classrooms for Computing.

We were Student Assistants ("SAs"). There were maybe 6 adults, pitted against 3 students. Not even in numbers, but we were more than a match for the adults.

The Adults:

  • Computer Center Director and Instructor, Harris (a pretty kewl guy but an adult).
  • Computer Administrator, Harry.
  • Computer Operator and Manager, Tom.
  • Maybe 2 or 3 keypunch (data entry) operators.

The Students:

  • Newest member of the group, Chuck, a Sophomore, having finished a brief 1 month computer course, and newly recognised by Harris, the teacher.
  • Oldest member of the group, Keith, a Junior.
  • A previously recognised student, Tom, also a Sophomore, who had been recognised by Harris at the start of his Sophomore year.

Don't confuse Tom the Adult with Tom the Student, OK?

Anyway, this being one of the earlier years of computing (I graduated from college in 1973), Harry and Tom would run the various tasks of college administration during an early business day, starting at maybe 6:00, finishing anywhere from 10:00 to 14:00.

  • Tom, who I think was a retired farmer or something, would come in at 6:00 and take over Our Computer (well WE thought it was OUR computer), and run daily backups of the college database. When there wasn't scheduled end of month tasks, Tom could sometimes be persuaded to start a half hour or so late, if we were still hard at work, on a student problem, at 6:00.
  • Harry would get in at 8:00, and start the college administration data processing jobs.
  • Sometime before or after lunch (varying depending upon the amount of work to be done), Harry and Tom would unload the administration disks, lock the disks securely in the Vault, load the faculty / laboratory / student programs, bring the teletypes online, and then vanish from the Computer Center.
  • As soon as Harry and Tom vanished, we took over.


Day 1 - The Beginning Of The Exploit

Keith, Tom, and I were sitting in the Computer Center after hours doing whatever Student Assistants did, and trying to think of other things to do. The Computer Center was then in the basement of one of the dormitories, which was another story, not entirely computer related.

And one of the other two (I was not so imaginative on that day, my time came later) observed that the system Password File was a straight text file, and he knew where it sat (on one of the permanent system drives), for it was accessed throughout the day and night, whenever the online system was active. So we thought how much fun we could have peeking in all of the private faculty / student files, if we could write a program to open the Password File.

Well, this was not really a 5 minute project. It actually took us several days of experimenting, as the file was in EBCDIC, and the terminal system used ASCII (or was it vice versa). There was translation and transposition (one format stored two characters / word, reversed) of characters, so there was a bit of coding to do. And we did spend time with homework, occasionally.

Since reading the Password File involved EBCDIC to ASCII translation and transposition, we wrote the bulk of our hack in IBM 1800 Assembly code. The system was not terribly stable, and whenever we did something really stupid, we would get the equivalent of a Black Screen Of Death, which was then called a MLTP EAC (so named because an unrecoverable system error was characterised by MuLTiPle entries into the Error Alert Control program).

Anyway, sometime after Day 1, we had ourselves a hack. We were pretty proud of it too. But that was only the beginning.


Day 2 - The Exploit, Such As It Was

OK, we (Keith, Tom, and I) had ourselves a hack. What did we have?

Well, in those years, and running on the IBM 1800, was a scripting language called NUTran (for Nebraska University Translator). Nutran was an equivalent of BASIC, which was in its early years too. BASIC comes into play, in this story, later. NUTran supported the existence of 99 text files, each file which could hold some number (details escape me but not terribly high) of lines of code, which would be the private library of anyone so deemed by the college as being important enough to have a file. In reality, anybody who would speak to Harris, Harry, or Tom, with any seriousness, could have a file.

One numbered file = one password. The passwords being setup by Harry or Tom, and stored on punch cards in a pack stored in the Vault (with the mirror copy left on disk, for validating access to one of the numbered files). Come to think of it, we may have had access to the Vault, I seem to remember knowledge of where the Key was in Tom's office was a pretty commonly known secret. But we had no interest in the Vault, just the Password File.

So, of those 99 files, what did we find? Maybe a dozen or so professors, and another dozen or so students, had files (some left behind after graduation). This was a pretty small college (less than a thousand students IIRC), and there wasn't even a full Computer curriculum (my major was Physics, later changed to Physics / Computer Science, emphasis remaining as Physics). No scandalous secrets, certainly nothing compared to what we have today. A couple professors had games, one may have had some interesting phone numbers, maybe half a dozen may have had class notes. No exam forms or answers, no naughty pictures (graphics were just a dream then), no nothing really. Ho hum.

But entertainment being what it was at the time, we enjoyed our first few days of The Hack. We were nerds (the name nerd was just coming into existence then), and proud to have found a secret that we could enjoy. So we enjoyed ourselves.


Day 3 - My Version Of The Hack

As I said previously, I was the Junior member of the trio, so Keith, Tom, and I didn't really spend all of our spare time together. Nor did we spend all of our time in the Computer Center. And on many evenings, I would be the only Student Assistant in the Computer Center.

And one evening, my imagination kicked into gear.

Why stop at reading the files? Why not assign myself a file (set a password for an unassigned file)?

In terms of complexity and effort, if the original hack was a 7, this was maybe a 3.

All I did was take the original program (on punch cards), run it thru a deck duplicator, and modify the copy. It took a small bit of effort to add code reversing the original (read where we would write, write where we would read) - code developed jointly by the 3 of us. Adding to the first hack, I soon had code that would take my input, and either retrieve the current password for a specific file, or write a new password for that file. Later, I added code so I could run it from a teletype (now there was some imagination).

Anyway, this was My Hack. And I was pretty proud of it, except I couldn't share it, at least not with Keith or Tom, I was pretty sure they'd disapprove. Maybe even tell on me.

Nope, this was My Secret.

For a while.


Day 4 - Caught: Not My Secret Anymore

So how did Keith and Tom find out about My Hack?

I have no idea. All I remember one evening when they were in the Computer Room, then left to go watch TV for a bit, and of course, didn't invite me. So they left, and I started playing with My Hack. I had more ideas how to expand upon it, and I was hard at work when they strolled back into the Computer Room. Obviously they wanted to know what I was doing, and I wasn't too skilled at denying anything of interest. Actually, I was a little scared - again, I was sure that they would be angry, and they might even Tell On Me.

Actually, they were amused, and even more so to tell me that they had been watching me for a while - apparently since shortly after I started My Hack.

So now there were three of us, all enjoying My Hack. And I was now an equal member of the trio.

Anyway, shortly afterwards, the New Science Building was completed, and the Computer Center was relocated to its new, and showy, location. Part of the move involving connecting the computer network, and here is a key feature in the story.


The Campus - Relocating The Computer

It wasn't a large campus - maybe half a dozen blocks wide and long - and a fair amount of green space. If I recall correctly, maybe 3 or 4 classroom buildings with a dozen or so teletypes. Wiring between the computer and the various teletypes was simply long runs of twisted pair bell wire, running between the buildings.

I never saw the wires themselves, I was never into that. I was so deep into the computer itself, some nights I didn't leave the Computer Room til Tom (the operator) came in at 6:00 and chased me off. As a Student Assistant, I had the use of a small SA room (later a small office), so I didn't have to leave the Computer Center. But getting computer time between 7:00 and noon or so was pretty unlikely, and I did go to class too.

Anyway, the teletype wiring became a key player in this story. In the old Computer Center, there was the computer, and somewhere in the back of the computer was a box where a couple loops of bell wire was connected. Connected to the bell wire, in one or two loops, were the dozen or so teletypes.

Now this connection of bell wire directly to computer was not stable - there were occasional breakdowns, and some teletypes never worked consistently. Depending upon how the individual teletypes were connected, and which teletypes were on at the same time, you would have significant current or voltage fluctuations, which resulted in instability. A teletype turned on could affect a whole loop, and other teletypes.

When the Computer Center was relocated, from the middle of campus to one end, rewiring the new location was a major effort. New bell wire was run from each of the 3 or 4 classroom buildings, to the new location. As part of the move, Tom (the student), who was an electronics wiz, was asked to design and build a custom switch for the teletypes, to stabilise the current / voltage levels between the teletypes and the computer. So he did, and his custom unit, using a massive array of relays, did an awesome job of making both the current and voltage flowing thru the bell wires consistent.

As part of the design, Tom included one extra teletype connection, a hard terminal that did NOT go thru the relays in his custom switching unit. He had to have some unit to test with, that did NOT go thru the switch, after all.

We placed a single teletype just inside the door of the SA office, a scant 3 feet away, and connected it to the hard terminal in the computer. I'm sure that he demonstrated his switch, and the hard terminal, to Harris and the other adults. My guess is that it simply slipped their minds. A lot happens in a year, and as teletype instability became a memory, the teletype control switch became just another box in the Computer Center.


The New Computer Center

As I said previously, this was one of the early years of computing. In those days, any organisation that had a computer wouldn't hide it in a windowless basement room. Not windowless anyway.

Some time after Day 4, the Computer Center had been moved into the newly built Science Building, and occupied a major part of its second floor, right between the main entrance, and a side entrance that led to a bridge hallway connecting the new Science Building with the old Science Building. The main Computer Room was maybe 900 square feet, with a glass window across the entire front side, broken only by a single door (no man-trap either).

In the middle of the Computer Room stood the IBM 1800:

  • A large console with card reader and system typewriter.
  • A large Line Printer.
  • The central processor, memory, and disk drives were three separate cabinets, each the size of a very large refrigerator.

This was a well-displayed exhibit, and frequently the College President or a Dean would escort a distinguished alumnus thru the New Science Building, and proudly point out The College Computer Center, and the Computer inside. When this happened during evening hours, the Student Assistants inside would invite the guests into the Computer Room, and would give an impromptu tour. We eventually even worked up a suite of programs to run, showing how useful the Computer was; some programs would even produce some printout or other artifact which we would present to the Alumnus as a Souvenir. This, of course, made the College Administrator quite proud, so we were encouraged to do this. After a while, we would even be warned when a tour was to take place, so we could be sure and make ourselves available.


Day 5 - We Involve Non Computer Students

By the time I became a Junior, there were other, newer, students to invite into our little group of nerds. The college was all men thru my Sophomore year; during my Junior year, they started admitting Women, and during my Senior year, actually seeing a Woman Student became normal. Of course, as a nerd, seeing one was about all we got to enjoy.

But when we worked in the new Computer Center, occasionally one would wander thru the hallways, usually escorted by a Boyfriend of course. :(

Anyway, during my Junior year, seeing a woman in the computer center was a rare event. It would happen occasionally, just often enough to make our imaginations run normal. We weren't monks after all, just nerds.

One evening, Art (we will call him that, as I don't remember his name) walked into the computer center, carrying a thick printout. Art had just moved from another college, where they had a similar network, but one which used BASIC, instead of NUTran. Art had been working on translating this one program from BASIC into NUTran, using a teletype outside the computer center.

Not knowing NUTran, and just barely undertanding BASIC, he was having no luck. Well, Art was a nerd, too, so we worked on this together. Bob (a junior nerd who had joined us recently), Tom and I knew NUTran, and Art sort of knew BASIC. And the 4 of us together translated Arts program into NUTRan.

Why were we so interested on working on one little program (OK, it wasn't that little either)? Well, let me clue you in on the title:

High School Sex

Are you clued in now?

As simulation programs go, it wasn't much, certainly by today's standards. It's successors would be Adventure, Dungeons and Dragons, and, more relevantly, Leisure Suit Larry. But at the time, it was just what we needed (NOT).

You could be a male High School student, with any of a dozen or so interests, and make any of a dozen or so propositions to any one of a dozen or so young girls (imaginary of course), all of differing virtue. Depending upon the relative nerdiness of your character (determined by your interests), the manner in which you conducted your date, the relative virtue of the girl, and a random number generator, you would achieve (or not) your goal, and score a varying amount of points in doing so. Need I say more about the game? I don't think so.

Anyway, besides having the problem of not knowing how to code his program (BASIC into NUTran), Art had a second major difficulty. He had no way of storing his code, all he had access to was the teletype, and not always that, as other students used it for more legitimate pursuits.

Do you see where this is leading? I thought so.


Day 6 - My Hack Becomes Practical

You haven't forgotten where this started, have you? My Password File hack was not the only exploit which I (encouraged by others) had going. But it was the most useful, and thanks to Art, became celebrated throughout the student body.

OK, I exaggerate. Maybe a dozen or so non computer nerds even knew of the hack, or its usefulness. As I said before, nobody cared. Harry and Tom would occasionally add or change a password, and setup a file for legitimate use. But Bob, Tom (student), or I would always know when a file had been assigned, and we took care to only assign our own files that Harry and Tom (adult) didn't assign.

Anyway, we assigned a file to Art, for his game (High School Sex) development. And Bob, Tom, and I worked on our own versions of HSS. Now I had assigned myself a couple files, in addition to the one which Harry himself gave me when I became a major player in the Computer Center. All SAs were given a file, as a rite of passage. I was given file #003 (#001 and #002 were some professor and Tom, respectively).

There were probably a half a dozen versions of HSS in the system, each being developed by someone different. I stored my version in my personal file #003. Maybe only a dozen knew about "See Chuck" if you want a file, but at least twice that knew about HSS. Various versions of HSS were known to be played more or less, on different teletypes (and that would be another hack, which we enjoyed, to be described in the future).

Boy, were we dumb. We were lucky, too, until our luck ran out.


Day 7 - Our Luck Ran Out

One morning, after a long evening studying in my dorm room - I didn't go to the Computer Center every evening, and the previous evening I hadn't - I casually strolled into the Science Building.

My planned morning:

  • up at 7:00.
  • Eat breakfast before the crowd hit the cafeteria.
  • Stroll to the Computer Center.
  • Get a program (a legit program) in the SA office and work for an hour or so.
  • Have a cup of hot tea, and chat with Harry, Tom, or whoever was in.
  • Class in whatever at 9:00.

This did not happen.

I just entered the Science Building, and was intercepted by Bob, who was simply freaked out. Bob proceeded to warn me to not go into the Computer Room unprepared for the situation. He described the situation (not this objectively though):

  • Bob had been the SA on duty the previous night.
  • Zed, one of the junior nerds (even nerds like to have somebody to look down upon), had spent the entire previous night hanging around the Computer Center.
  • When Bob left for the night, and locked the Computer Center, Zed had stayed behind.
  • Zed had spent all night PLAYING HIGH SCHOOL SEX, and had left the building during the very early morning hours.
  • Zed had left dozens of feet of teletype paper, hanging from the teletype outside the computer center, from his game playing.
  • Wade, the senior Physics professor, had arrived early that morning, had walked by the computer center, and had seen all the paper hanging from the teletype.
  • Wade was NOT thrilled by the content of the paper.
  • Wade had gone straight to Harris with the paper that he found.
  • Harris had an early morning meeting with Harry and Tom (adult).

The upshot of all of this was that Harris and the rest of the adults were now aware that Something Was Going On in the student population.

Wade was a staunch member of the denomination of faith which owned the college, and he was not pleased by this unacceptable behaviour which was obviously taking place.

Harris made the pronouncement to the adults, and the SAs, in a very brief meeting.

  • Lock down the teletype system.
  • Harry was to do a minimal amount of administrative work, and be finished by 9:00.
  • Harry was to bring up the student system, lock out the teletypes (excepting the one in the computer room), and proceed to examine each file, one by one, until the perpetrators of this unacceptable behaviour were identified.

Fortunately, Harris had no suspicion that any SAs were any part of this behaviour. At least, as I listened to him, I could detect no clue. He had to be a pretty good actor anyway.

As Harris finished his pronouncement, I remembered that I had some code which was due for an assignment later that day. So I strolled in to the computer room, and back to the SA office in the back. I guess I was a better actor than I let myself believe.

The only reason why any action by me was at all possible was thanks to Tom (student), and the teletype switch with the hard connection. The hard connection, to the teletype in the SA office, the one which Harris, Harry, and Tom did not know about?

I was worried, because I know timing was everything now. I had maybe 15 seconds - the amount of time it would take for Harry to walk across the room from the teletype controller to the computer room teletype - to login and delete the contents of File #003 (My Personal File). Obviously, I couldn't do anything while Harry was in front of the teletype controller (which was right next to the SA office), I had to wait until after Harry had headed back towards the teletype in the computer room.

So I just walked in to the computer room, past Harry at the teletype controller, said something insulting (acting normal), walked in to the SA office, opened a file cabinet, pulled out a pack of punch cards, and did my darndest to look busy.

Harry walked back to the computer room teletype (fortunately for me, one with no view of the SA office). I dropped the cards, walked up to the SA office teletype, signed in, and cleared file #003, and then several other files, including Art's file, and all others which I had assigned (thank heavens I kept a log of files assigned). Then I ripped the paper off the teletype, grabbed a stack of paper, strolled out of the computer room, and on to class. No I didn't actually go to class, I went to the Men's Room, I will let your imagination write the rest of that tale.

Essentially, Harry never found a copy of High School Sex in any of the files. All files were cleared, before I went to the Men's Room. But if file #003 was empty when he checked it, it hadn't been empty for very long.


Day 8 - Graduation or Thereabouts

Tom (student) and I did have additional conversations with Harris and with Harry, about that particular morning, in the days before graduation. Harry had been a little curious about so many empty files. But this was a faculty / student system, and they (the administration) only assisted in supporting the faculty / student system.

Detailed support, for faculty / student system code, was up to the SAs. And SA involvement, in this case, had cleared the offensive code, and avoided a disaster. Harris simply reported to Wade, and to the rest of the faculty, that no evidence was found of any unacceptable behaviour on the system.

Oh yes, we got even with Zed.


Day 9 - Getting Even With Zed - Part 1

Like I said previously, this was a college, not a monastery, and there was always something going on. As any adult will tell you "This, too, will pass". So the dire consequences of Day 7 soon faded into memory. Harris never launched any intensive investigation, he was simply relieved that Harry found no unaccptable code in any of the Private Files, and things returned to normal.

So maybe a couple days after Day 7, Bob and I were hanging in the Computer Room, and Zed (you do remember Zed?) strolled into the room, quite innocently.

Zed wanted to know

What happened to the game that I was playing? I can't get into the file that it was in.

Apparently, Zed had slept late on Day 7, having gone to bed at maybe 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. Then, after rolling out of bed in time for dinner, he returned to his room, watched TV until midnight or so, went to the Computer Center, found it locked (we would generally lock up at 23:00 or midnight or thereabouts), and decided to play HSS again.

Since all traces of HSS had been wiped from the system, but Zed had nobody to ask, he did not have any idea how much trouble he had caused. Well, Bob, Tom, and I took extreme pleasure in bringing Zed up to date, and we pulled no punches. We took a good long time doing so - half an hour at least. When we finished, Zed felt very chastised, and pretty embarrassed too. We all shared a common bond as nerds, so we didn't want Zed to feel too bad about the situation, so now Zed was part of our group. Somewhat anyway.

Bob, Tom, and I knew that Zed was not really part of our group, we still had to Get Even with him for the trouble that he caused. We couldn't play HSS any more - there were no copies anywhere. All of our spare time on Day 8 was spent, very diligently, in re visiting the entire system, and assuring ourselves that, even if Harry had missed even one single clue about what had been there (he hadn't), we would be very sure that there wasn't even one tiny remnant of HSS anywhere (and there wasn't).

So, there being no HSS to play, and having been the ass who caused that to be the case, Zed was to feel our wrath.

How to get even with Zed?


Toms Boot Sequence Hack

Tom found an ingeniosly simple Hack to the Computer.

The IBM 1800, being a very primitive device, did not boot directly from memory and disk. The Bootstrap sequence which we all currently take for granted:

  1. Push Power button.
  2. Wait a few seconds.
  3. Log on.
  4. Watch the computer autostart half a dozen key applications.
  5. Done.

was just a dream. We had to:

  1. Turn computer on. Not a small Power button, this was more like the typical huge ass Power Lever in a SciFi movie, requiring a significant arm movement.
  2. Activate the Boot sequence switch (behind the main front door on the Processor box).
  3. Load the Boot deck into card reader.
  4. Push the Boot button (beside the Boot sequence switch on the Processor box).
  5. The Processor contained very primitive Boot Code.

    • Read The Primary Boot Sequence card.
    • Load the contents of that ONE card into memory.
    • Execute the contents of that ONE card. That contents being an 80 column, 12 row punch card, essentially, 960 Bits, or 120 Bytes of code. How much code could YOU write in 120 Bytes? Most modern programs are written in Kilobytes or Megabytes. Remember, the IBM 1800, with Translation Sequence Executive (aka TSX) had a grand amout of 24K of physical memory.
    • The 120 Byte boot program contained code to read the following 6 to 8 cards, load them into memory, and execute their contents.
    • The 720 to 960 Byte Secondary Boot Sequence contained the code to read the TSX Operating System from disk, and start everything going.
    • As a final detail, I point out that a 600K disk was approximately 2 Feet in diameter, 4 Inches thick, and weighed 20 pounds or so. The IBM 1800 Disk Cabinet (as I said, the size of a very large refrigerator) contained 3 Disk Drives, being used as TSX - 1, TSX - 2, and NUTran.

  6. The System Console (essentially an IBM typewriter, wired to the Processor) would spring to life, and type a couple introductory comments informing us that we were doing an Initial Program Load.
  7. TSX would load NUTran, the Teletypes would spring to life, and the college computer users would get to work.

Anyway, Tom one day realised the possibilities for the Primary Boot Card. What if, instead of Reading the following 6 to 8 cards, it was to simply Punch those 6 to 8 (and any additional) following cards? The IBM 1800 Card Reader did double duty as a Card Punch, for things like outputting compiled code to cards. So, Tom wrote a simple 120 byte program to punch all cards in the Boot Sequence deck, 80 columns by 12 rows, and having written his program, had it punched onto a card.

Tom produced several copies of his pseudo Primary Boot Sequence card, labeled each as Boot Master, and substituted his card for the PBS cards on the Main and Backup Boot Decks. The Boot Decks were kept next to the system console, and were well used - in a typical day, maybe several times, for recovery from a MuLTiPle Error Alert Control sequence. The instability of Microsoft code is nothing, compared to IBM 1800 TSX.

Tom's code was very simple. Lace all cards, 12 rows by 80 columns, until the computer was reset and the code was cleanly wiped from memory. If a Secondary Boot Sequence deck was loaded, that would be laced, along with any Backup and Second Backup decks, and anything following. And, of course, his custom card would be laced, thereby destroying the evidence. A devilish bit of work that was.

But Tom's work was only the secondary part of our prank in progress. I provided the primary part of the prank.



While Tom had been writing his latest prank, I had, independently, developed one of my own.

As I said, the IBM 1800 equivalent of a Black Screen of Death was a MuLTiPle Error Alert Control event. A MLTP EAC event, which we called simply "MLTP EAC", involved the system executing the Error Alert Control program, and during that execution, generating a second error. EAC was not written to be reentrant, so, if it was executed twice before completing the first, would retreat to the MLPT EAC sequence of code.

An MLTP EAC sequence would simply, oh so simply, take an 8 character (4 word) section of memory, and type that 8 characters on the system console. That 8 characters was coded, by TSX, as


The MLTP EAC message intended to simply inform the operator of the computer that an unrecoverable system error has occurred, and a hard system boot (Power Off To Reset) was now required.

Now, there was nothing magical about that terse 8 characters. It was coded into the system, when the system was compiled. TSX being very primitive, it took not a lot of work to locate and patch those 8 characters, and I wrote a pair of programs:

  1. Customise the "MLTP EAC" character string to one of our own choosing.
  2. Generate a MLTP EAC sequence (ie, crash the system).


My MLTP EAC Hack, Combined With Toms Boot Sequence Hack

Bob, Tom, and I combined Tom's latest Hack, and my latest Hack, into a devious sequence.

  • Generate a system error.
  • Generate a second system error simultaneously.
  • The MuLTiPle EAC code would spring into action.
  • The System Console would type out my variation of the dreaded "MLTP EAC".

    **** ***

  • The victim of choice would, innocently, load Tom's hacked Boot Sequence card deck into the card reader (card punch) hopper, and attempt a hard system boot.
  • The victim would enjoy (!!) the confusion of wondering What The Hack Was Going On, when, instead of simply reading a total of 7 to 9 cards and springing into action, the system would read the first, then spring into action punching (lacing) each card, one at a time.
  • Note that the noise generated by the card punch was quite noticeable when it was merely punching data into a series of cards. Lacing (punching all 80 by 12 holes into each card) was significantly louder, when we tested the theory of Tom's earlier. A most satisfying clamour ensued.


Day 9 - Getting Even With Zed - Part 2

So having combined my Hack, and Tom's Hack, into one nicely integrated prank, who do you think was the victim?

Poor Zed, the newest Student Assistant.

Bob, Tom, and I waited for the evening when Zed was scheduled as Student Assistant in Charge. We loaded our combined prank into the system, and into the Boot Sequence Card Deck Holder. We then, each separately, bid Zed a good night, and a good luck for your first evening Being In Charge Of The Computer (Ha Ha).

None of us actually went back to our rooms, or even left the building.

We simply got together around the corner, in the area where sat the Teletype upon which Zed had previously done his dirty deed. And from that very teletype (poetic justice indeed) we launched our revenge.

  • I executed my code to generate a MLTP EAC event.
  • The System Console typed out the cryptic (hacked) MLTP EAC message
    **** ***

  • Zed sprang into action, and loaded the (hacked) Boot Sequence card deck.
  • The hacked Primary Boot Sequence card executed lacing of the following Secondary Boot Sequence deck, the Backup Boot Sequence deck, and any additional Boot Sequence Decks that Zed could contrive to find.
  • Bob, Tom, and I reappeared in the Computer Room, and had a good laugh at poor Zed, unable to bring the computer back to life.
  • Ha Ha.

The joke was on us too.

A Punch Card, as you can see in the Wikipedia article, is a small and thin piece of cardboard. Examine the illustration at the top - the yellowish brown rectangle labeled "FORTRAN STATEMENT". See the 80 columns, and 12 rows? Try to imagine those 80 x 12 (760 holes) all punched. Removal of all 720 bits of cardboard would, typically, weaken the card significantly.

Now the IBM 1800 card reader / punch unit did not handle cards delicately. Almost daily, it would mangle one or more cards placed into its care, with very few cards having anywhere near 720 punches in them. So, it stands to reason, any card punched with all 720 punches (laced) would be subject to destruction.

So, Bob, Tom, and I returned to the Computer Center, and we discovered Zed with the card punch open on all sides, and him deep into its innards, trying to unjam the punch. With all of the bits of punch cards, torn to shreds by the punch feed mechanism, having jammed themselves into the nethers of the punch device, it required considerable effort by all of us to clear the Card Reader / Punch out so it would feed cards again, and allow us to Boot.

At least we had done our prank late at night, way after any Dean or College President would be making a tour of the premises. So our latest prank never became known by anybody. And we all had a laugh at Zed, though the laugh was upon all of us.

These are merely my reminisences, to date. There will be more here. And I have no doubt that Bob, Keith, and Tom could add their own. Maybe Art and Zed, too.

And we were model students (ha ha ha). Is there, then, any wonder how dangerous the computing world has become in the succeeding 30 years or so?


A Poor Student's Swimming Pool, and the Computer Center

Of my readers who have read this far, how many of you are familiar with the climate in central Virginia, USA? It's nowhere as hot or humid as the true tropics, but to college students in the middle of the 20th century, it was pretty bad. The dormitories of the college had been built some 100 years or more previously. The basement of one which housed the Computer Center, totally lacked air conditioning (excepting the main computer room).

Of the dozen or so buildings on campus, maybe one, the college administration building, had air conditioning. And no swimming pool. There was a river, some 5 miles or so away, which was used by some lucky students who had cars. The rest of us sweated it out during the Virginia spring and early summer.

So one evening in the computer center, with all of the windows open, a fan blowing hot air all around the computer work room (not the room which housed the computer), and all inside dripping sweat, we noticed that the walls were sweating. And the wall sweat grew thicker, until it was like a gentle rain.

OK, one of the toilets overhead (a 3 floor dormitory with a dozen or so 2-student rooms / floor) was obviously having problems. So one of the SAs decided to stroll upstairs and see where the problem was, before calling a plumber for emergency service. We were well aware that the IBM 1800 had no tolerance for water.

And Keith, IIRC properly, came back from his stroll with an incredible tale. He was heading up to the second floor, and was met by a 2 foot wall of water rushing down the stairs, and by then gushing into the computer room too. And here is the tale.

Each dormitory floor, housing maybe 12 2 student rooms, had communal bathrooms, one / floor. Each bathroom was a cavernous place, with a row of a dozen or so sinks against one wall, and toilets against another. And showers in a separate small room off the main room.

The bathroom had 10 foot ceilings, and was let's say 40 feet deep (from the door to the outside wall), and maybe 30 feet wide. In the front of the bathroom (next to the hallway door) were the showers, half a dozen showerheads sticking out of the wall, in a small room with 5 foot high cinderblock (waterproof) walls. The doorway to the shower room was a simple hole in the cinderblocks, with a foot high threshold, to stop water from leaking out into the main bathroom (ha ha).

So here you have a 5 foot high room, with open walls, and a doorway with a foot high threshold. In a room used by 25 or so overheated students in a Virginia early summer. And one student looked at the shower room, and saw a swimming pool. It didn't take a lot of work, just 3 or 4 bedboards placed over the doorway, the drains in the floors plugged up with sheets, towels, and whatever clothing was available, and all the cold water turned on fully, and the room filled up quite nicely. As the water filled up the room, the water pressure held the bed boards in place. And a dozen or so lucky students could enjoy paddling around a 10 by 20 foot 4 foot deep swimming pool.


As I said, the bathroom main room having a 10 foot ceiling, and the shower room walls being 5 foot high, that left a 5 foot gap over the walls which was used for entrance to the swimming pool. And it worked quite well, until one of the students (or maybe more than one) got out of control.

And dived into the pool.

The 4 or so bed boards (1/4" plywood), covering the shower room door, weren't designed to hold the weight of, say, 1,000 cubic feet of water. So what do you think happened?

Crack went the bed boards, and sploosh went the water.

Luckily, the bathroom was overhead of the computer work room and offices. The room where the computer itself sat got only a trickle of water, as it came gushing into the basement, and down the drains there. But it took several weeks before the walls dried completely. And carpenters, electricians, and plumbers were involved in the following week or so too.