Hideous ladder climber leveled by a custom DOS prompt • The Register

Who I? The work week is upon us again, so what better way to mark it than with another of the reg‘s weekly stories of readers getting away with it after perhaps not doing their best work.

This week we continue our current theme of pranksters poking fun with the story of a college researcher who exacted sweet revenge on a passive-aggressive brown-nosed twerp.

Our hero – because that’s what he is – should be regonomized as “Joshua”. In 1987 he worked in the chemical engineering department of a university. Given Thatcher-era budgets, the department had only one PC for its research project: 640 KB RAM, 10 MB hard drive, and a four-color monitor. On this powerhouse, Joshua wrote code in Fortran 77, which was then offloaded to a compiler to create executables.

Depending on the complexity of the code for a given part of the project (and allowing for debugging and occasional crashes), it was possible to build maybe three executables per hour. In other words, it’s slow going.

This modest pace was enough for another team member to arrive. Nominally younger than Joshua, this new guy we call “Toad” thought highly of himself and took every opportunity to ingratiate himself with superiors – usually at Joshua’s expense. I think we all know the guy.

Joshua and Toad had to share one PC (see Thatcher-era university budgets above) and given the workload, this meant time had to be managed very carefully. Our man Josh tried to be flexible and accommodating, even on weekends. Toad, on the other hand, somehow managed to commit himself so fully and inflexibly that he would have to use the computer when Joshua needed it.

Which would have been annoying enough, but what made matters worse was Joshua’s suspicion that Toad was playing games when he should have been running code. Remember the era we’re talking about here – that’s someone’s important university research being shoved around in four suits by Q-Bert.

Things came to a head when Joshua had a number of important builds that needed to be done by Monday and Toad knew about it. Joshua was planning to work the weekends, but by the time the PC time roster came out, Toad had booked both days.

Toad was not present on Friday afternoon. So before Joshua went home for the evening, he edited the DOS prompt.

If you remember, the DOS prompt would normally tell the user what directory they are in and ask them to enter a command. So: C:\>.

But with a simple tool, the prompt could be changed at will. In this case it became: NOT NOW THANKS I DON'T WANT TO PLAY.

When Toad walked in the next day, that was the news that greeted him. He hit enter a few times to see if the infernal machine would break out:

NOT NOW THANKS I DON'T WANT TO PLAY

NOT NOW THANKS I DON'T WANT TO PLAY

NOT NOW THANKS I DON'T WANT TO PLAY

NOT NOW THANKS I DON'T WANT TO PLAY

Then, frustrated, he went home and left the computer free for Joshua to get some work done.

Of course, on Monday this harmless sabotage was paid like hell, and Joshua was severely attacked. In response, he pointed out that the computer remained fully functional, of course, regardless of what the DOS prompt said. What’s more, if Toad really was the computer genius he claims to be, he could have reset it very easily.

The matter was resolved with lingering unease. Which was absolutely worth it.

Have you used your powers for chaotic good against the forces of slimy evil in the workplace? Tell us everything in an email.

https://www.theregister.com/2022/10/17/who_me/ Hideous ladder climber leveled by a custom DOS prompt • The Register

Rick Schindler

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