Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The more you know or a McGuyver moment.

 

Years ago, back in the late 1980′s I taught two short stints in the state prison system for a nearby college. One summer I was to teach basic computer programming on the Commodore 64 computer for a summer semester. By today’s standards, the C=64 as it is commonly known as is an obsolete relic. Actually back then, they were on the way out also.

The semester went along fairly smoothly and I was beginning to enjoy the semester. The inmates were fairly sociable and behaved well. That probably would not be so true now. As you could not get me back in there for any amount of money. Anyway, one day a student accidentally locked up the computer because the program he wrote when he ran it failed in some way. The student/inmate became very agitated and upset because he declared he had lost all his work. Of course fear tends to multiply and the whole class started in the same mode of hysteria. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable and nervous.

I went over to the students computer and said everything I could to calm him down. On the old C=64 you could reset the machine without losing all the work, but you still had to type in a command to keep the program. Fortunately I knew this trick from being in that same situation once before. Everyone was watching with anticipation to see what would happen next. I pulled out a paperclip and reset the machine. Something that was not really recommended, but it was better than any alternative that might happen to me. Then I typed the code to keep the program. Then I saved the program to the disk drive. I asked him to re-save his program so he would feel more at ease. He did that and went back to work again on his program fixing his errors. Fortunately everything went back to the usual calm. It took a wee bit longer for my heart to stop racing.

Of course everyone who had been watching in anticipation asked me how to do it. I made some excuse not to explain so that the equipment would not get damaged and to not make a habit doing it. After that they were like putty in my hands. The rest of the semester went smoothly. Sometimes knowing what seems to be unimportant things can save your life. Being a hacker is not so bad sometimes.

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