4.0084 Poem (92)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Sat, 19 May 90 20:13:45 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0084. Saturday, 19 May 1990.

Date: Thu, 17 May 90 23:23:08 -0500
From: Alan D Corre <corre@csd4.csd.uwm.edu>
Subject: Poem

The following poem was written in 1977. At that time I was using an
interactive SPITBOL program which had been prepared for me on the
UNIVAC 1100. The system had timeouts; if you left the terminal idle
for five minutes, you were thrown off, and had to wait a long time to
get back on. My programmer explained that you could defeat the timeout
with a wait program, of which there were several. You entered the
command @FARBLE and everything was fine. He did not specify, or I
failed to understand, that this had to be done at the operating system
level. Entering an at-sign at the beginning of a line while a SPITBOL
program was active could bring dire results, as I discovered. Late one
evening I was running my program, and I decided to take a break. I
typed in @FARBLE. The terminal seemed to tremble at the affront, and
all hell broke loose. The screen was flooded with things I did not
understand. I entered all the commands I knew which were supposed to
stop things--@END, @@TERM, EXIT, ctrl-D--but nothing worked. I tried
to phone my programmer without success. Eventually I gave up, switched
off the terminal and went home.

The next morning I returned at 8 a.m. and switched on the terminal.
The program was still there. It apparently had run all night and
finally stopped. I called the programmer, and this time I got him. I
told him what had happened, and for some reason he found it quite
amusing. He was giggling uncontrollably, when I innocently told him the
final message on the screen. "It says MAX PAGES." His mirth vanished.
I heard a gulp at the end of the line, followed by a pregnant silence.
"MAX PAGES?" he exclaimed. "MAX PAGES?? Nobody EVER reaches MAX
PAGES!!!" Well, almost nobody. I had reached that distant bourne, and
in so doing spent almost $5,000 of computer time. The reason I got
such a bargain was that that stupid loop had been executed a billion
times in the wee hours at ten percent of normal cost; if it had been
daytime, I should have spent $50,000.

Two little addenda. Two weeks later, I was going through some CVs as a
member of a committee awarding some grants. One candidate recorded
that two years previously he had been granted $500 of computer time.
He had it on his CV, and I had spent ten times that at one swell foop!
A week after that I was again sitting at my terminal, chastened but
persistent. A student sitting at the next terminal happened to key in
by accident an unpublished code that caused his machine to start
spitting out in excruciating detail a list of every single file on the
system. He turned to me in horror. "What can I do?" he pleaded. With
aplomb, I leaned over, pressed the break key, and typed on his
keyboard the magic symbols which had been burned into my neural eprom
the day after that fateful night:


The unwanted output stopped, the machine reported


and meekly awaited the next instruction. The student turned to me
gratefully. "Thank you so much," he said, wiping the cold sweat from
his brow. "Don't mention it," I replied. "It's easy when you know how."


I only meant to FARBLE
As other users do,
But you kept right on going
And ran the whole night through!

I only meant to FARBLE
And take a spot of tea,
But sure enough, you looped the loop,
And almost spent five G.

I didn't mean to garble
Or set your bits awry.
You really were not nice to me--
You SPITBOLed in my eye!

No order could restrain you
You laughed at @@TERM
You wouldn't take an EXIT
You really made me SQUIRM!

And now the Dean is puzzled,
Perhaps a bit impressed,
"My, what a lot of lolly
In *DICT to invest!"

I've dreamed of living grandly
And spending like a sheikh.
How strange that I should do it
When I was not awake!