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Destroying Godzilla and other tales?

5. $Destroy *FTN OK

posted Nov 2, 2010, 8:59 PM by Jeff Ogden   [ updated Nov 7, 2010, 7:52 AM ]

The May 1996 issue of the UM IT Digest (the farewell to MTS issue) under the heading "Some Days Were Better Than Others" told this story:

A professor was giving some visitors a tour of the Computing Center facilities one day and paused at the system console. Wanting to demonstrate some of the failsafe features that were designed into the system, he said, "Watch what happens when I try to destroy the Fortran compiler." Unfortunately, the system was not as failsafe as he anticipated, and the Fortran compiler was indeed destroyed. This impromptu lesson uncovered a bug that the MTS programmers were able to fix and thus avoid subsequent disasters.
    --Bernard Galler

This was before my time, but I had heard a similar story elsewhere.  But the story I remember was a little different. The person involved wasn't a "professor", but someone on the Merit staff, possibly Dick Wagman.  And I'm not sure that the problem was at the Operators' console.

Don Boettner has a better memory than I do:

Originally, the destroy command was just "$destroy xxx" and then it would ask you to confirm this before it would do it.   Many (impatient) users complained at this, so Mike added the immediate option "$destroy xxx ok"  which would just do it without asking for confirmation.   Unfortunately, his addition bypassed the place where it checked if you had access to do this (this was before shared files, so I think it was just checking if it was a public (*xxx) file that the user was "MTS" or some such).

It was indeed Dick Wagman who decided to test this by issuing  "$DESTROY *FTN OK"  and then was appalled when it did it.  I remember that Bartels [UM Computing Center Director] was so infuriated by such irresponsibility (in picking such an important file) that he ordered Wagman's account suspended immediately.  

After the usual Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth, *FTN was restored and eventually Wagman's account was too.

Andy Goodrich and Mike Alexander remember this pretty much the same as Don. Mike says it didn't have anything to do with the operators' console and he suspects that there were a few rebates given out that day.

[Bernie, Dick, Don, Andy, Mike, and I (Jeff) are or were all from UM.]

4. A few more stories: Grebler, Jokes, jjj, Jon Nightingale's travels, ...

posted Nov 2, 2010, 7:45 PM by Jeff Ogden   [ updated Nov 7, 2010, 9:03 AM ]

I don't think I ever saw this myself, but Don Boettner confirms that in the early days of MTS, if you tried to use the $DESTROY command with a device rather than a file name, you'd get the message "IBM frowns on the willful destruction of hardware".

For a time at least the MTS Editor had a "jjj" command that when entered would respond with "Take a break". According to Andy Goodrich who added the command, "jjj was Jill Janice Jackson, who when Clark Lubbers would get riled up would always say 'Clark, take a break' ".

And before the justify command was implemented in the MTS editor, entering the command would give the response "No way Tolkin". Again according to Andy, this "was a play off of Don Boettner's place holder for commands, which was 'Not yet, Rosen, not yet', because Bob Rosen was always asking him for new commands. Steve [Tolkin, a member of the UM Computing Center staff] bugged me for the justify command, so I put in the initial response for it before the code was there, but only for Steve's userID."

For Scott Gerstenber's userID (WSG.) when lines were deleted from a file, the editor would display "1 line is pushing up daisies" or "<n> lines are pining for the fjords" rather than the usual boring messages that the editor displayed for everyone else.

And I remember:

$DISPLAY  GRELBER  (which would get you one of a large number of insults)
$DISPLAY  JOKE        (which would display one of a large number of {really | mostly} poor jokes)

Grelber started out as a program. It think it came from UBC. Later it was added as an option on the $DISPLAY command. Grelber is the insulting inhabitant of a log in the enchanted forest in the Broom-Hilda comic strip and on TV. Some examples of GRELBER and JOKE output are included below.

Only $DISPLAY GRELBER and $DISPLAY JOKE are still present in MTS, c. 1996. Although if I remember correctly, a few of the jokes had to be edited or removed because they were considered to be in poor taste.

And this next item isn't a joke or a bug, but ... :

  "GOD" does not exist or is unavailable,
  enter replacement or cancel.

[Don, Andy, Clark, Steve, Scott, and I (Jeff) are or were all from UM.]

Still more stories

In the stories that follow Ralph and Jon are from UBC, Gavin is from UM by way of Durham.

Ralph remembers ...

From: Ralph Sayle Date: November 6, 2010 4:26:00 PM EDT
To: Jeff Ogden
Subject: Re: GODZILLA is invincible and cannot be destroyed?

Grelber and Joke were UBC additions...

As I recall, $Disp Joke started as a joke. I was rewriting Msgcc and added a @joke operator as a joke for GREadie. Somewhere I had found a file of jokes which I saved for the future. Since @joke was a joke, it didn't stay in Msgcc. Gone but not forgotten as it reappeared a few years later in the Display command.

Grelber came about from a little fun program written by JNightingale to randomly put phrases into a sentence. ARunnals spent a bit of time to generate the vocabulary and thusly we had The Grelber who was willing to insult anyone at the touch of an "enter key".

MHayward, who wrote FullScreenMessage ($FSM), was a bit "upset" at the thought of the computer insults, so he generated a Nice vocabulary. "My but you are a most wonderful person in the whole universe".

As usual, there was an internal joke so if it was MHayward who did the $Disp Grelber, it dropped into Nice mode. <Fame>

Later I heard they were ordered to be removed by a UBC manager as they were "unprofessional".

Hey! Poor jokes!!!! That's a bit unfair...  [how about if I change it to read "mostly poor jokes"? -Jeff]

Gavin remembers Jon Nightingale's automated trip reports

From: Gavin Eadie
Date: November 6, 2010 5:46:21 PM EDT
To: Ralph Sayle
Subject: Re: GODZILLA is invincible and cannot be destroyed?

Was it the aforementioned JNightingale who went on vacation leaving Grelber to 'send back' daily trip reports ?

Jon isn't here to defend himself and Ralph remembers some more

From: Ralph Sayle
Date: November 6, 2010 9:26:02 PM EDT
To: Gavin Eadie
Subject: Re: GODZILLA is invincible and cannot be destroyed?

Yes it was JNightingale or as we call him, Jon...

He left and the messages started to show up; Spent the night in scary motel in St Helena but I did have an excellent moose sausage salad in a corner store/gun shop.

Then the messages started to get weird as if he was aimlessly lost in America, bouncing from coast to coast or border to border.

Then, I think, *Autostart conked out or Jon came home.

I think he then sold his program to the government & they still use it to generate press releases.


# display joke
  He became a bus driver so he could tell people where to get off.
# display joke
  Waiter! Waiter! Do you have frog's legs?
  No, it's my underwear that makes me walk this way.
# display joke
  They laughed when I discovered a new kind of dynamite, but when I dropped
  it, they exploded.
# display joke
  When the librarian asked him if he wanted a heavy book or a light one,
  he answered, "It doesn't matter - I have my car outside."


# display grelber
  What useless and bird-brained drivel appears before me??  Take a
  long walk on a short pier you distressingly insignificant lunatic!!!
# display grelber
  What utter and bird-brained idiocy can this be??  Remove yourself
  from this location you unbearably retarded ignoramus!!!
# display grelber
  What hopeless and bird-brained idiocy appears before me??  Remove
  yourself from this location you amazingly offensive freak!!!
# display grelber
  What dreadful and moronic drivel have you perpetrated now??
  Terminate this interview immediately you distressingly spineless

The JOKE and GRELBER example output above was produced on MTS by Gavin Eadie on 7 November 2010. Thanks Gav.

3. Other true stories: Spelling lessons, politeness, analog time, pizza delivery, halloween, and a nod to Star Trek

posted Nov 2, 2010, 5:28 PM by Jeff Ogden   [ updated Nov 7, 2010, 7:59 AM ]

The stories that follow are all from Josh Simon's "Michigan Terminal System: Anecdotes" Web page.  I think all of them are true. Do others agree?

Spelling Lessons and More

Electronic mail was handled by the $MESSAGESYSTEM. Since the University of Michigan was (and still is) an institution of higher learning, $MESSAGESYSTEM insisted that you spell correctly. The $MESSAGESYSTEM command RETRIEVE was used to retrieve your messages from the master database. (Like cc:Mail and some other e-mail systems, each message was stored exactly once, and your mailbox contained pointers to those messages you sent or received. Once a message had 0 recipient-pointers and the Sunday evening purge rolled by, the message was removed from the system completely.) However, if you misspelled the command, you would be admonished:

 Didn't your momma ever tell you: I before E, except after C?

Unfortunately, in the very late 1980s, this feature was removed in the name of increasing friendliness to users. RETREIVE became a synonym in the $MESSAGESYSTEM command grammar for RETRIEVE. However, the *KERMIT program did correct your spelling well into the 1990s.

At one point, $MESSAGESYSTEM also provided lessons in polite conversation:

 Tsk, tsk, you'll never get to medical school with language like that.

[This option is still present in MTS, c. 1996.]


You could ask the system for the time ($DISPLAY TIME), date ($DISPLAY DATE), or both ($DISPLAY TIMEDATE), and it would tell you. However, for people who had trouble with the concept of digital clocks, you could ask for it in analog:

     The big hand is on the four and the little hand is just past the twelve.

[This option is still present in MTS, c. 1996.]


There was a program on MTS called *PIZZAZDELIVERY that was ostensibly a way to order pizza delivery from several local merchants, using the "MTS dollars" you'd been alotted for CPU time to pay for it. It would go completely through an order process, and even print out a receipt. Many, many students waited in vain outside a computer site for their pizza...

[I vaguely remember that *Pizzadelivery only existed on or around April 1st. -Jeff]

[You could get a pizza delivered to the UM Computing Center or NUBS without too much trouble, but you had to use a phone to place the order and you had to use your own real money to pay for it. -Jeff]

(Submitted by Ray Ingles.)

Which Host on Halloween

While not strictly related to MTS, it is a Merit Network anecdote.

When you connected to the Merit computer network (the network of universities, colleges, and schools within the state of Michigan, connected to what was then known as CICNET in the Midwest; Merit was later known as MichNet), you received a Which Host? prompt. This was your instruction to enter the name of the remote host you wanted to connect to (such as UM for UM-MTS or UB for UB-MTS). On October 31st, however, in honor of Halloween, the prompt was changed to Witch Ghost? (This was later scrapped as it caused automated scripts that looked for "Host?" to fail.)

[We can't really remember if the "Which Host?" prompt was changed to "Witch Ghost?" or to "Which Ghost?".]

[Picky note: MichNet was the name of the statewide network in Michigan operated by Merit. Neither the Merit Network nor MichNet were connected to CICNET. Merit and CICNET shared a connection to NSFNET in Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan and Michigan State University were members of both Merit and CICNET, later MichNet and CICNET shared high-speed leased data circuits between Ann Arbor and East Lansing. -Jeff]

Editor Fun

While in $EDIT mode, typing "computer" at the editor command prompt would elicit the response "working!". This was actually documented, somewhere, as being there to test the operation of the edit mode command parser. [Or perhaps it was really a tribute from Viktors Berstis to the original Star Trek TV series?]

[Sadly this command and message are no longer present in the MTS editor, c. 1996.]

(Submitted by Jonathan Sell and Lyndon Nerenberg.)

2. Even MTS can't divide by zero

posted Sep 20, 2010, 7:10 AM by Jeff Ogden   [ updated Nov 3, 2010, 4:14 PM ]

From: Doug Wade <@UBC>
Date: September 20, 2010 2:40:04 AM EDT
To: Jeff Ogden
Subject: Re: MTS - I need help

One thing I forgot to mention:

There have been comments about *pizzadelivery and the command $destroy godzilla but nobody has commented about what happens if you entered the command $calc x/0. I laughed when it said "Even MTS cannot divide by zero".

This message is still displayed in MTS, c. 1996.

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1. GODZILLA is invincible and cannot be destroyed!

posted Sep 15, 2010, 6:10 PM by Jeff Ogden   [ updated Nov 7, 2010, 7:38 AM ]

There are several stories on Josh Simon's "Anecdotes" page that I recognize, but I didn't recognize this one and wondered if it was true. It still isn't clear.

In MTS, the $DESTROY command was used to destroy (remove, delete) files. However, if you had a file named GODZILLA, you couldn't actually get rid of it in one step:

 "GODZILLA" is invincible and cannot be destroyed!

To remove this file, you had to $RENAME it first.

Tom Valerio and Don Boettner both believe that this story is true.  Don also points out that $DESTROY #GODZILLA, where # is the file name character, would allow the invincible GODZILLA to be destroyed without the need to rename. And I'd guess that putting the ccid explicitly on the front of the file name would work too ($DESTROY ccid:GODZILLA).

George Helffrich, Andy Goodrich, Mike Alexander, Alan Ballard, and I don't remember this. We know that MTS c. 1996 does not operate this way. Mike Alexander searched the MTS D2.0 to D5.0 distribution "tapes" looking for the string GODZILLA and didn't find anything. Mike also looked at the source code for the $DESTROY command in these distributions and didn't see anything along these lines.

So at this point it is unclear if this is a true story or an urban legend.  Personally I'm leaning toward urban legend.

[Tom, Don, George, Andy, Mike, and I (Jeff) are or were all from UM. Alan is or was from UBC.]

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