Loathsome eighties ladder-climber levelled by a custom DOS prompt

This wasn't WarGames – it was far more serious

Who, Me? The working week is upon us again, so what better way to mark it than with another of The Reg's weekly tales of readers getting away with it after perhaps not having done their very best work.

This week we're continuing our recent theme of pranksters making merry fun with the tale of a university researcher who took sweet revenge on a passive-aggressive brown-nosing twerp.

Our hero – for that is what he is – shall be Regomized as "Joshua". In 1987 he was working in the Chemical Engineering department of a university. Thatcher-era budgets being what they were, the department had but one PC for his research project: 640KB RAM, 10MB hard drive and a four-color monitor. On that powerhouse, Joshua wrote code in Fortran 77, then offloaded to a compiler to produce executables.

Depending on the complexity of the code for any given piece of the project (and allowing for debugging and occasional crashes) it was possible to produce perhaps three executable files per hour. Slow going, in other words.

That modest pace sufficed until another team member arrived. Nominally junior to Joshua, this new guy, who we'll call "Toad", had a high opinion of himself and took every opportunity to ingratiate himself to the higher-ups – usually at Joshua's expense. I think we're all familiar with the type.

Joshua and Toad had to share the one PC (see above re: Thatcher-era university budgets) and given the workload this meant that time had to be managed quite carefully. Our man Josh tried to be flexible and accommodating, even coming in on weekends. Toad, on the other hand, somehow managed to be completely and inflexibly committed such that he had to use the computer at the times when Joshua needed it.

Which would have been annoying enough, but making matters worse was Joshua's suspicion that Toad was playing games when he should have been running code. Remember the era we're talking about here – this is someone's important university research being jerked around by Q-Bert in four colors.

The matter came to a head when Joshua had a series of important compiles that had to be done by Monday, and Toad knew about it. Joshua planned to work the weekend, but when the roster for time on the PC came out Toad had it booked both days.

On the Friday afternoon, Toad was not in attendance. So before Joshua went home for the evening, he edited the DOS prompt.

Normally, if you recall, the DOS prompt would default to telling the user what directory they're in and inviting them to input a command. Like so: C:\>.

But by a simple expedient, the prompt could be changed to whatever you wanted. In this case, it became: NOT NOW THANKS I DON'T WANT TO PLAY.

When Toad came in the next day, that was the message that greeted him. He hit return a few times to see if the infernal machine would snap out of it:

NOT NOW THANKS I DON'T WANT TO PLAY

NOT NOW THANKS I DON'T WANT TO PLAY

NOT NOW THANKS I DON'T WANT TO PLAY

NOT NOW THANKS I DON'T WANT TO PLAY

Then, frustrated, he went home – leaving the computer free for Joshua to get some work done.

Of course, on Monday there was hell to pay for this bit of harmless sabotage, and Joshua got a stern talking-to. In response, he pointed out that of course the computer remained fully functional, regardless of what the DOS prompt said. And what's more, if Toad were really the computer whizz he made himself out to be he could have changed it back very easily.

The matter was resolved with lingering discomfort. Which was so totally worth it.

Have you used your powers for chaotic good against the forces of smarmy workplace evil? Tell us all about it in an email.

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