Halt and Catch Fire and ancient computer culture

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Spending too many hours staring at ancient assembly language (SEL/Gould Macro Assembler for the 32/87, running under MPX-32) brought to mind an old bit of often-mimeographed humor which may date back to the 1970s, if not earlier: A list of fictitious assembly language instructions, including

HCF (HALT AND CATCH FIRE)
BOB (BRANCH ON BUG)
FLI (FLASH LIGHTS IMPRESSIVELY)
JTZ (JUMP TO TWILIGHT ZONE)
KCE (KILL CONSULTANT ON ERROR)
LAP (LAUGH AT PROGRAMMER)
LPA (LEAD PROGRAMMER ASTRAY)

And here's another trip down random-access memory lane: The Jargon File version 3.1.0. Born in 1975 at Stanford, this collection of computer geek jargon made its way by FTP across the nascent ARPAnet to the MIT AI Lab, went dormant in the mid- to late-80s, then was reborn in 1990 and gave birth to a book version (The New Hacker's Dictionary). The linked version is from October 1994, but here's a version from 2000.

Fellow geeks: What's your favorite ancient bit of tech humor or insider geek culture? Tell us about it in the comments.

[Regarding assembly language, for you non-programmers: Imagine having to describe a simple act, like turning a door knob, as a series of commands to each individual muscle in your fingers, hand, arm, and shoulder. A simple action on your computer is accomplished by what may be a lengthy and complex series of simple instructions to the machine's brain -- the central processing unit (CPU). Those simple instructions are represented in somewhat human-readable terms by mnemonics. Programmers would have to know these mnemonics to write a computer program. Another program, called an assembler, would turn these arcane mnemonics into even more incomprehensible 1s and 0s understood by the CPU. Nowadays, programmers use somewhat less arcane computer languages to describe what the computer is supposed to do, and a program called a compiler turns a program written by a human into 1s and 0s for the CPU.]

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5 Comments

XonOFF said:

I always liked this one:

There's only 10 kinds of people in the world....
Those who understand binary, and those who don't.

Here's some I just made up:

ALW (Act Like Works)
FHL (Fetch Hard Liquor)
STB (Smoke The Box)
DRW (Drop Random Word)
SFH (Send For Help)
STP (Shoot The Programmer)
RRS (Run Real Slow)
DRB (Do Random Branch)
AUI (Add Up Incorrectly)
SSI (Subtract Something Important)
MWL (Make Work Late)
GID (Get Incorrect Data)

Mike B said:

My favorite was "It's a PICNIC problem."

Problem In Chair Not In Computer

Good stuff, XonOff and Mike B! PICNIC reminds me of the name of Dustbury's category about computers and technology -- PEBKAC -- problem exists between keyboard and chair.

Beau said:

Wow, that's cool stuff. Sometimes I wish I would have been born when computers were just getting going..

The earliest language I ever worked with was in 9th grade. I had a computer class and we spent two quarters on PASCAL.
Of course, we ├╝ber-geeks would spend most of our time inserting easter eggs into the code.
When the teacher would reach a certain part of the program or entered a certain value... we'd make it do all sorts of neat things... make random giberish, tell the teacher that the martians were coming.. etc...

I still do that today at my job (all in good fun, of course)... :) And usually when an easter egg is triggered... it rickrolls the poor soul...

Ron said:

I remember an undocumented op-code that caused all the output and bidirectional pins to toggle. I thought that was the origin of HCF. Is that lost to antiquity? It probably existed for one rev of a CPU. Non-intel. I was working at 3Com in Mountain View CA, so maybe 1983 or 84.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 13, 2010 11:39 PM.

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