Who, Me? Welcome to Who, Me? The Register's open-all-hours confessional for readers who really need to get that one dastardly deed off their chest.
Today's tale comes from a reader whom the patent-pending Reg randomiser has elected to call "Javier", and is inspired by the antics of Ben, notepad and an innocuous file called
Javier's confession concerns the benefits of the odd bit of binary bothering and takes us back to 1997, the era of PM Tony Blair, the Mars Pathfinder, and a brief return to the charts of Things Can Only Get Better.
It all seems a very long time ago now.
"The saga," Javier told us, "started in September 1997 when I noticed a colleague scrabbling about on a few PCs and looking for some source code to a DLL which he had created."
Being very much Somebody Else's Problem, Javier didn't pay it much attention.
The code in question was to control a signal generator via an IEEE-488 bus. Greybeards might recall the standard from its brief life as an interface bus for early microcomputers, or as something used to hook up testing gear. Indeed, in this instance it was being used to enable the automated calibration of some equipment.
"We sold one set of this equipment to a foreign country and prior to the completion of the sale, the other two engineers in the team left," recalled Javier.
In hindsight, he pondered just how much those escapees knew. But, back in the day, "I ended up being 'volunteered' to go to said country for field support while they got going."
It all began swimmingly: "Customer personnel at said country were somewhat averse to doing much work and I frequently arrived on-site in the morning to find no-one around and left after an hour or so to top up the tan in the hotel country club."
Sadly, it was not to last. On Javier's last day on-site, the customer finally decided that, hey, perhaps it would be a good idea to play with the calibration gear.
To the not inconsiderable consternation of all present, "the kit wouldn't talk to the signal generator."
It transpired that the serial number of the signal generator was incorrect, which in turn "led to the revelation that during development, someone had hard-coded our signal generator's serial number into the DLL and was using it to check that the signal generator was connected."
Remember the panicked hunt for the source code? It had been because of this: "We had borrowed another signal generator and it wouldn't work."
Lacking backup from the UK and with no internet, Javier was stumped. What to do? The DLL would not play ball due to that pesky serial number.
"I ended up having to edit the DLL using WordPad and replaced our serial number with that of the customer," said Javier. "Fortunately, it was coded as a string and it worked."
WordPad, for the uninitiated, was the replacement for Microsoft Write, the very basic word processor bundled with Windows. It took a bow with Windows 95 and lingers on to this day. We're impressed that Javier managed the edit without the app spraying the file with all manner of nastiness.
He promised to send the customer an update as soon as he got back to the office and could amend and rebuild properly.
"I never did manage to do that as I also found the source code missing..."
Ever saved the day with a last ditch binary edit? Or confidently issued an "of course I can fix that" only to find the original code had disappeared with an organisation purge of Visual SourceSafe? The kindly Vultures at Reg towers are waiting for your email. ®