Writing


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Long ago, back in the early days of my career, there was a point where my desk and the desk of another employee were both pushed back in a corner. There was a small walkway out to the rest of the office, and we actually liked it that way. It was relatively cool and quiet back there, and we could concentrate.

Unfortunately, it also created a choke point that could be clogged up and filibustered by someone who would show up and not take the usual social hints to shove off. Yes, our office had one of those people who would show up and start bloviating about how Windows NT (yes, I told you this was a long time ago) was so good, and how Linux couldn't do this and couldn't do that, and how Microsoft would rule all eventually. Did I mention that the two of us back there were the only Unix-ish people in the entire place? Yeah.

Somehow, I was not the usual target of this person's attentions. Unfortunately, my neighbor and friend was. He'd get the brunt of the blather and had no way out of it.

Well, then, one day, an idea came to me. We all had desk phones, and we had them all set to distinct rings so you could tell who was ringing. I picked up the handset of my phone without putting it to my ear, and blindly dialed the yapping person's four digit extension. Instantly, about 20 feet away, his distinctive ring went off. This made him detach from the conversation and headed back to his desk. Then I just hang up, making him think he "missed it" or "it went to voicemail". Whatever.

This worked because he didn't have a display phone and I knew it. There was no way for him to go back in a log to see who or what was ringing him. He'd also never think to ask the phone folks to dig through call logs. That was that.

I told my friend what had happened and he was delighted and grateful. This happened a few more times over the year or so that we worked together: the blathering would start, I'd look over, he'd nod, I'd do the phone trick, and then it would be over.

But then, one day, my neighbor was gone, and now I was the target of the verbal diarrhea. It's not like I could exactly start poking at my phone, right? It would be super obvious, and he would figure it out.

What to do, what to do. I needed to get some work done. Plus, it was really irritating and annoying. Nobody could do that call for me.

Well, I got lucky. Since this was ages ago, we still had actual modems on a few of my machines, back from when we had analog dialups. They had ports on the company switch just like anyone else, and could dial internal numbers, external numbers, you name it. They weren't used any more, but they still existed. You just had to have access.

As the sysadmin there, I had access. I was in the dialout group so I could open the ttys to the modems without jumping through sudo type hoops.

I could type a few things blindly without looking at the screen too much, and it boiled down to this:

$ tip ttyA00 atdt 2345

Not exactly hard to do, right? For the younger folks who have never poked at a modem or always had an autodialer program, that's AT to get the modem's attention, D for dial, and T for touch-tone (because there's also P for pulse, a whole other story), then this person's extension.

It rang, and he waddled off to check on things, just like before.

Me? I just hit enter inside the tip session and the modem hung up. Click.

As for the Windows person? He never figured it out.