Echo chamber

A truly useless feature bollixes things up.

Pilot fish gets a panicked phone call from the central control supervisor at a busy international airport. The VT420 dumb terminals are double-displaying every character typed, so that “exit,” for example, is being displayed as “eexxiitt.” Of course, when users hit Enter after typing “exit,” they get an error message regarding the unknown command “eexxiitt.”

The terminals are used to enter commands to do things such as starting up and shutting down the central control software — thus the panic.

Fish takes a look and sees that there’s a setup menu that lets you control the behavior of the terminal. One of the menu options — about three levels deep — is “Turn on Local Echo.” The sole purpose of Local Echo is to repeat each character typed on the keyboard.

One orderly shutdown and software patch later, the problem is solved.

And a few days later, the “how” is explained in an email fish receives from the central control supervisor. Seems some of the operators grew bored watching the fully automated system do its thing, so they started hacking around the dumb terminal and accidentally turned on the Local Echo feature. Oh, well, these things happen, right?

Not if fish’s manager can help it. He gives fish the task of documenting every terminal setting with their correct values, to send to the supervisor.

“That,” laments fish, “took about three hours of my time. No good deed goes unpunished, eh?”

Sseenndd yyoouurr ttrruuee ttaalle — oh, sorry! Sharky wants your true tale of IT life. Send it to me at sharky@computerworld.com. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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