strangest systems I've sent email from

Mark J. Blair nf6x at
Wed Apr 20 13:05:50 CDT 2016

I don't think this is particularly strange, but back in college I had UUCP running on my Amiga 1000, and I set it up to dial in to the Sun SPARCstation IPC (IIRC) sitting on the computer support help desk at UCI. I was one of the help desk staff, and had permission from the bosses to do it. I had to hack up the on that system to route things properly, and back then there were no m4 macros to help out. Raw hacking was a harrowing experience! I think I had my Amiga dial in to poll for email every 10-15 minutes, and I hacked the code to blink the power LED when I had new mail waiting. That way, I could tell at a glance if I had new mail even with the monitor off.

One of my friends who also worked the helpdesk also dialed in the same way. The pay was nice, but the real reason I wanted the job was because of perks like a key to the machine room and access to computers unbound by such silly limitations as process and disk space quotas, or not having the root password. I could mount my own tapes and pull my own printouts off the line printer (though I'd naturally use the Imagen laser printer instead). When it came time to do some simulations of a utility-scale power transformer design for a power engineering class, I didn't need to fight over Sun 3/60s in an engineering lab like most of the other students. Nope, I ran my sims on the Convex C-240 supercomputer! They probably would have run just as fast, if not faster, on the Suns since I wasn't doing any vector math, but it was a "just because I can" sort of thing.

Once, while our boss was away on vacation, my friend and I rolled a decommissioned VX-11/780 down the hallway from the machine room and crammed it into his very small office. We powered up some blowers to make it seem like it was on, and also put an unguarded DEC Correspondent on his desk, on which we typed stuff to make it look like we were trying to boot the VAX. I wish I was on shift when he arrived at work! I'm told that his reaction was delightful.

Another later boss, in a different branch of the same computer support department, once got similar treatment with a TU-77 tape drive. That wasn't my doing, but I like to think I was an inspiration.

Boy, do I wish I had that 11/780 and TU-77 now! I think they were slated to be sent down to Mexico or something like that.

Speaking of the C-240, I personally found it very useful when I had a graveyard shift computer operator job. The machine room had its own A/C, and the main building A/C would be shut off overnight. The building A/C would turn back on at 6AM to get the computer science building ready for morning classes at 8AM. With the sudden cooling surge, the computer room temperature would plummet, right at a time when my metabolism was already pretty much shut down from the fatigue of staying up all night. When that happened, I would often curl up in a shivering fetal position on the floor right behind the C-240's power supply cabinet, in the path of its blower exhaust. I experimentally determined that was the warmest easily-accessible area in the machine room.

Good times, good times.

Mark J. Blair, NF6X <nf6x at>

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