Wednesday, July 4th, 2007 - 12:34 PM

Removing games…

It’s story time.

Once upon a time in high school, I had a really cool computer science teacher named Clarence Whetten.

Our computer lab consisted of a Unix system with 4 Meg of RAM and about 30 dumb terminals. As I understand it, Mr. Whetten approached a local company (ICON, where I later worked as an intern briefly) and convinced them to donate the system.

At the same time, people in the nearest high school were using Apple ][ computers and having a much less interesting (in my opinion) experience.

Because we were all using the same computer, we could interact with other users in very cool (and not always desirable) ways. A mischevious user could write to other users’ terminals. As I learned, a mischevious user who was not currently enrolled in a computer science class could lose his account that way. A single student could hog more than her share of CPU or RAM, and other users would check the process list and say “hey, cut that out!”

Among other things, the environment emphasized the importance of writing efficient code.

A little while after school ended (with a reasonable time buffer to allow students to stay after and get a little extra work done), a scheduled “cron” job would turn on public access to games.

When a student demonstrated trustworthiness and skill (or something), Clarence could be convinced to grant “root” access, allowing that user to perform administrative tasks (and occasional mischief such as turning on games when they weren’t supposed to be on). Eventually, I became one of those privileged users.

One day a fellow student was pestering me to turn on games, and I finally got sick of it, so I decided to play a trick on him. I called him over, typed a command to REMOVE games, then took the terminal offline, pressed enter, then put the terminal back online, quickly erased the command, and hit enter again.

He freaked out. I thought it was pretty funny, but after he told everyone in the room, I had to I reveal my trick. One of the other students quickly double-checked and said “no, they really are gone!” I checked too, and sure enough… they were! Apparently I had blown the trick somehow. CRAP!

I did not earn popularity points that day, but I probably learned a valuable lesson. I wonder what it was.

I wasn’t actually the one who ended up recompiling and reinstalling the games. That was a friend of mine. From time to time, he reminds me about the time I removed all the games. He did it recently, so I thought I’d write the story.

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