20 Feb 2009
The first Twitter?

Long ago, on a VAX cluster far away, I was systems manager. phone was among the many utilities available, and was quite handy for chatting with other users on the cluster. Students seemed to enjoy it a lot, so much so that some would randomly phone other users just to say “hi”. Unfortunately, college faculty and administrators don’t always take well to random interruptions, and so the word came down from the Administration that students should not be allowed to use phone.

The easy fix would have been to set terminals to nobroadcast by default, and let anyone who wanted to receive calls to enable it at will, or permanently enable it in their login profile. But this was a case of an Administration’s technical solution to a social problem. So, losing the argument, I put an ACL entry on the phone execuitable to deny access to anyone in the student group.

Now, students are a determined lot, and they came up with a simple workaround. VMS, unlike UNIX-like systems, generally runs commands in the same top-level login process; and you can set various attributes for that process, including a name — set process/name="Hey, I'm in the AC lab!", for example. Heh. Then you can use the command show users (or specify a particular user) to see all the process names on the system….

So, at any random time, you could loop show users to see users displaying a Facebook-like status via process names or even carrying on dynamic Twitter-like conversations.

DCL allows abbreviations and command aliases, so avid users could define short commands to set and show processes; it wasn’t as tedious as seeing the fully spelled out commands makes it sound.

There’s really nothing new under the sun, just different ways of doing the same thing over again, albeit in fancier dress; a change in degree, not in kind.

Category: humor, Life-Society, Nostalgia
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