Still a few bugs in the system

Flash waaaaay back to the late 1970s, when this pilot fish has just acquired his first desktop computer: a mammoth, three-cubic-foot monster with a retail price that just about matches a new VW Beetle.

"It had two 8-inch floppy disk drives and three different CPUs, so it would run any operating system then extant," says fish. "I connected it to a terminal and set it to work in my spooky old writing/art-photography studio, where its sole function was word processing scripts and poetry, printing out to a fancy NEC daisy-wheel printer that was connected by a parallel cable nearly as wide as my hand."

Fish has bartered services for the computer, but the nearly-new printer -- which also costs as much as a car -- is on semi-permanent loan from a wealthy client whose own techs never could make the thing work with his computer, but who didn't want to throw the printer away.

Fortunately, fish has his own tech -- a brilliant young nerd who's willing to slave over anything remotely technical in fish's studio just because fish will let him. Against all odds, the young tech soon has all the cranky parts of fish's computer working together.

But the tech still has to come every day when fish turns on the computer, because it refuses to work until the tech has changed some values in memory.

"He asked me baleful questions that clearly implied he thought I was doing stuff to the computer," fish says. "Then he took to leaving the computer on all night so it would work for me in the morning.

"I swore I had not touched it, and he swore somebody clearly had -- somebody that didn't know what they were doing."

But one afternoon they're both in the studio when another friend comes in -- one who borrowed fish's darkroom the night before. The friend angrily tells fish he'll never spend another night in the old building again, that his studio is haunted and fish probably knows it and should have warned him.

Fish is skeptical. But the young tech decides to try an experiment.

That night, they leave the computer on as usual. But this time, the tech also leaves the huge ring-bound manual for the computer on the desk next to the keyboard, open to the section on the memory monitor.

"The computer was fine the next day," says fish, "and although we eventually put the manual away, the computer never failed again in several years of use.

"Of course, mindful of Archy and Mehitabel, I waited for a message to show up in the word processor, but there never was one."

Feed the Shark! Send me your true tale of IT life (and really, it doesn't need to have aged for 35 years) at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll get a stylish Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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