Not the buffer overflow you were thinking of

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It's the end of the 1980s, and this cash-strapped department is still using original-model IBM PCs when a help-desk pilot fish gets a call: "The PC crashed and it's beeping!"

"They didn't keep me with the rest of the staff -- my cube was across the ravine," says fish. "So I bundled up and trekked across the historic foot bridge over to the main offices.

"The PC wasn't beeping. It did say 'Buffer Overflow.' What buffer? Tried Ctrl-Alt-Del...nothing. But the big red switch restarted it fine.

"Glitch? Gamma rays? I asked them to call if it happened again.

"Couple days later, same again. This went on for a week.

"One day I came over to get my paycheck, and it did it while I was standing there. Beep-beep-beep-beep... 'Buffer Overflow.'

"I saw the binder with 10 lbs. of financial printouts sitting on the keyboard. I told the user to keep stuff off the keyboard!

"I later learned that IBM had a lovely auto-repeat type-ahead keyboard, but the original PC, Model 5150, only had something like 16 characters of key-code buffer. Once that overflowed, even Ctrl-Alt-Del would not get through.

"I also learned that the user had already noticed that taking the binder off the keyboard silenced the beeps. He'd been doing that before I got there, and not telling me."

You know what's not overflowing? Sharky's in-box. So send me your true tales of IT life at You'll snag a snazzy Shark shirt every time I use one. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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