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ATDT relief (rachelbythebay.com)
524 points by discreditable on Dec 12, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 143 comments

Oh man, this reminds me of a time that I got into trouble. We had a phone system (Isotech 228, IIRC) that had these boxes call OPXIs that let standard telephone equipment connect to the phone system. They provided talk battery and ring voltage.

We had a modem tied to an OPXI, which required that our dial strings in Telit (remember that? I liked it better than Procomm) start with "91,", which was 9 for an outside trunk, then 1 to select a trunk, then a comma for a pause. Then the phone number of the BBS site.

The OPXI messed with the newer modem speeds. One Friday I decided that we didn't really need the OPXI if I bridged the modem with the fax line, so I did.

I didn't tell anyone. That was a mistake.

Monday morning I showed up for work and my boss (the chief engineer and president) called me into his office. Uh oh.

He said, "Did you remove the OPXI from the modem line in the lab?" "Yes." "Why?" "Because we didn't need it."

He then told me about how he came in on Saturday, finished up some PCB artwork and went to dial into the board fabricator's BBS to upload the files (long distance), and kept getting failures to connect. He tried it a bunch of times before he heard banging on the front door. He went to the front and there were multiple police officers outside. They said there were multiple 911 hangups from this location and wanted to know why. He swore that he was the only one there and there were no 911 calls. They then wanted to come in and look around the building, so he let them.

After they left, he put it all together. The dial strings were set up to dial 91,1-areacode-phonenumber which dialed 911 emergency without the OPXI in the path.

He verified that the OPXI was no longer in the loop and was ticked off. He knew immediately who did it.

He said, "Things you do to systems other people use can have unintended consequences. Please think those things completely through in the future."

Good advice, and I still hear his voice in my head today when I'm reconfiguring something.

That reminds me of my younger days in Champaign-Urbana, which had a hopping BBS scene in the 1980s. I had a FidoNet node and I was going to make a file request from a BBS in Québec. I queued the file request, went to sleep... and was awakened by the sound of cops bashing on my apartment door at about 2 AM.

At the time, E911 wasn't a thing, and the local PD had the number 333-8911. Guess what the local number was for the BBS? I had FUBARed my nodelist processor configuration, and it was stripping off the 1-819- [I think it was 819]. Oooops.

Needless to say, the node didn't get restarted until I fixed the problem.

Once as a kid, staying at a hotel, I tried to call some family staying in Room 117. For whatever reason, the call didn't go through. I glanced again at the instructions on the phone, which said "please dial a 9, then your number". So I did. The police showed up fifteen minutes later.

And while "9" is a bad special prefix, the "91" in your story has to be the worst possible in the US.

> And while "9" is a bad special prefix, the "91" in your story has to be the worst possible in the US.

Possibly the only worse prefix would just be straight-up "911." 91- is just unimaginably dumb.

Our building once leased out a portion to a call center based in India. India's country code is "91" and to get out on the PBX was "9". But this old junky Nortel system would outpluse immediately when it saw the dial string "911". So when ever someone would try to dial "9911XXXXXXXX" it would immediately outpulse to our local PD when the dialed digits equaled 911. And whenever the outbound caller heard the PD pickup, they would get scared and just hangup.

Ugh. Those were good times.

Yep, I misdialed a friend's number once and hung up before completing the seven digits, then mistakenly let my parents answer the phone when we got the call back a few seconds later. Needless to say my parents were pissed and chose to believe that I was pranking rather than accept that I was simply an idiot.

"One Friday" has never been the start of a good work story ;)

Wait, you mean that in `git push -f`, the `-f` is not the Friday flag?

Of course not. "Friday" isn't universal. Clearly, `-f` is the "Finally" flag

> He said, "Things you do to systems other people use can have unintended consequences. Please think those things completely through in the future."

Sounds like you had a good boss. I expected the story to end with you getting fired. My current boss is like yours, which is why I joined the team.

Worked at a small regional telco in the 90's. Many of our customers were in the 810 area code and one day a minor change was made in the call records they read into the billing system. It started interpreting 81 as a country code and tried to bill people for calling Japan. Fortunately IIRC this was caught before the bills went out.

And this is why 9 is a terrible default for PBX systems. Hell, it probably was the default before 911 came into wide use.

I think that's the most important lesson that people should learn. If a huge number of calls all start with "91" then something has already gone terribly wrong.

Where I grew up in LA, one of the local exchanges started with 991. I had a lot of friends with 991 numbers, and in fact, our second line, for our modem, was also a 991 number.

There were a lot of misdialed 911 calls in our area.

Ouch. So this would have worked correctly if you had also removed the '91,' from the dial string within Telit?


I think you meant 'Telix', not 'Telit'.

Yes! Thank you. I've worked with Telit devices recently (which also have an AT command set) and my brain got it wrong.

I have this substitution issue with some regularity, very frustrating. Last Friday I sent out an 'all hands' for our company with info on the job for the week of the 10th of September... even did it wrong twice in one mail.

this kind of thing is why pbx callout prefix is normally 7 these days, instead of 9.

Maybe he should have been mad at whatever asshole decided to put the first 2 of 3 digits of 911 in the dialout code, jeez.

I read ATDT -- thought "Oh, the Hayes command to dial - wonder what it means now." Great story. Good memories.


That command set is still in use! I was working with it just last week to control an LTE module.

AT commands are still in use inside your smartphone. On an iPhone, when the main CPU wants communicate with the baseband chip to make a call or send SMS or whatever, it literally sends AT commands.

In fact, one of the earliest iPhone jailbreak exploits relied on a vulnerability in the AT command interpreter inside the baseband.

Commands that have to prefixed with AT are still in use. Most of the actual commands after the "AT" part are not recognizable to someone who knows dial-up modems; they have nothing to do with the Hayes set other than the AT prefix/misfeature.

Yeah, that's what always confused me about it when I worked on GSM phones back in the mid-2000s - if you're going to overload an old protocol so heavily, it's time for a new one.

Probably nostalgia! That would be good enough for me.

At commands are used for many nonmodem things too.. Bluetooth adapters, zigbee adapters, HC12 transceiver, other various proprietary devices tied to a UART in addition to LTE, GSM/GPRS (I guess technically some of those are modems but they’re pretty far removed from the original design)

Absolutely! While it's not my preferred method of control, you can send AT commands encapsulated in SMS to update/troubleshoot BGAN terminals.

Iridium modems use it too!

Its embedded into GSM modules; Phones need it to do anything, to check firmware versions, to send and retreive SMS messages, to make calls etc. I used it to control the 3G dongle I had (basically, a GSM module in a stick). Most times the device will act as a serial device.

Also used in the esp8266 when it's configured in wifi-serial mode.

This irksome AT prefix is still jused in mobile modems, all the way up to LTE. You'd think they'd drop this "Simon Says" sequence once and for all from the commands; they would work just fine without it.

Why can't I just type !GSTATUS instead of AT!GSTATUS?

  Current Time:  555877           Temperature: 29
  Modem Mitigate Level: 0         ModemProc Mitigate Level: 0
  Reset Counter: 14               Mode:        ONLINE         
  System mode:   LTE              PS state:    Attached     
There should be an AT command to disable the AT prefix.

The AT prefix is to get the ATtention of the /serial/ device, which modems almost always are in some respect.

I don't know how much low level serial protocol programming you have done, but in my experience, there is possibility of random line noise, and such. This is why generally these low level protocols have both PREFIX and POSTFIX for commands.

In the case of Hayes commands for modems, the prefix is AT, and the postfix is carriage return and line feed.

> how much low level serial protocol programming you have done


The AT prefix, as such, does nothing whatsoever for error detection or recovery. If we add an AT prefix to an N-character command, the possibility of corruption in the N-character command part is exactly the same as before. Now, the AT also has to be correctly received, too.

An example of a textual protocol whose framing actually means something is the Mobitex MASC: http://www.mobitex.com/resources/masc/MASC_Guide.pdf

MASC frames have a checksum and length field in addition to the framing (frames start with ^ and end with a CR). MASC also dictates the use of 7 bits with even parity; so parity checking is possible by both endpoints. Still, that leading is a fluff feature that contributes nothing; the protocol could work fine with frames just being sequences of non-CR characters terminated by CR.

Modems usually have a solid connection to the host, often a short one; it's the actual end-to-end traffic that is susceptible to corruption; not so much the local commands between the host and modem. These modern LTE modem is often integrated onto the same chip as the host processor which is sending it the AT commands.

> The AT prefix, as such, does nothing whatsoever for error detection or recovery. If we add an AT prefix to an N-character command, the possibility of corruption in the N-character command part is exactly the same as before. Now, the AT also has to be correctly received, too.

I did not claim it does any such thing.

In historical contexts, and even in some modern contexts, the data stream may include random noise data.

If we did not have a state machine looking for "AT" before beginning command processing, then we would potentially process some of this line noise as a command, which could potentially be bad.

Mmmm maybe I'm missing something, but... what's preventing the rest of the command from being corrupt? Imagine two commands, CM and DM. CM is good and DM is bad. Noise gets in and changes ATCM into ATDM. Boom.

Unless you have error detection / correction, etc, I don't think the AT would add anything else to the equation :-?

Consider instead that you do not have a prefix command, but you poll the line and there is data, so you retrieve it.

Now what do you do? Well, you check the first byte and see if it's a valid first byte for a command. There are hundreds of them, so basically every uppercase ASCII character should do.

In the happy path, you get a byte stream like "DT 1234\r\n".

Sometimes, the data stream has noise in it, so you get bytes like "%$DT 1234\r\n".

There are no commands that start with "%" or "$" so you can just drop it.

However, in the unhappy path, you might get bytes like "CMDT 1234\r\n".

CM is a valid command! But "DT 1234" are not valid arguments.

If only there was a way to get the ATtention of the parser before parsing commands...

Don't get me wrong; it's useful to have an AT command which responds with OK. That way we know that we are in the modem's local command mode rather than online.

(More or less; there is the obvious ambiguity of something on the remote end also responding to AT with OK.)

This useful AT just doesn't have to be a prefix of every other command.

  OK         # I have the attention of the modem)
  DT5553535  # dial this number now that I have your attention)

I hosted an international Mailman list that blew up on my dialup Linux box in the mid 90s. Every inbound message was expanded to a batch of thirty recipient outbound messages, for a very busy phone line. I also had busy squirrels that every few months would degrade my line, especially in the winter when the phone line boxes offered some warmth.

One night I came home late to find a police car parked outside my house. The officer told me they got a 911 call from my house. They wanted to "look around", to verify that I didn't have some woman locked in my house or anything. Standard procedure, they said. I have no idea how long the police car waited for me to return.

Sure enough, the dial string at the time included embedded 9-1-1 so if just the right digits were dropped, it was a 911 call.

1997 : I used a text-to-email gateway and hooked it up to procmail doing a sleep 300 followed by an ATDT to my cell phone.

Whenever I wanted to get out of somewhere, I went to the bathroom and texted to the gateway.

5 minutes later my cellphone rang with a “very important call” :)

Back in the day when I actually had an office a guy from across the hall would come and lean on the door jamb and talk at me, endlessly if I let him. Mostly cynically about the company. I came up with my solution: After a couple of sentences I would just look back at my computer and start typing, and not respond. He'd go back to his office and play Tetris.

My mother has always suggested being "busy", with as little specificity as possible. "I'm sorry, I'm afraid I'm not available." The nice thing about this excuse is that it doesn't wear out: one can always be "too busy".

> the blathering would start, I'd look over, he'd nod, I'd do the phone trick, and then it would be over.

A coworker and I had a similar arrangement at the last office I worked at :)

I live in fear that I am that person.

If you're aware enough to wonder, chances are pretty good you're not.

Used to work with a guy who was similarly boarish and oblivious, he'd comment on his email to the entire office, every damn morning. Interesting wikipedia minutia? Whole office. I quit in large part to get away from this person.

I do this sort of thing compulsively (announce minutia to the poor souls trying to work around me) and then feel incredible shame about it later. For me it's probably related to my ADHD, since that's an impulse/executive control disorder, so this behavior matches the pattern of being unable to resist the impulse, and then later I feel anxious/guilty/embarrassed about it. It'd be a lot easier to manage if I had an office with a door, or even a cubicle.

I might try to get a remote job so I don't have this problem. I feel terrible about it but can't seem to quit. I must be so annoying to my coworkers, who I quite like. Maybe I'm starved for social interaction. I'd like to say sorry to you for your coworker on behalf of all of those like us.

Just my two cents, but if I was your coworker and you told me the situation, I can virtually guarantee that my annoyance would instantly transmute into some degree of sympathy and tolerance. It goes a long way to know that you're aware of the problem and feeling some stress yourself. Suddenly it isn't something you're inflicting on me because you're oblivious.

Also, it could help break the social barrier and lead to them being honest with you when they feel annoyed.

"OC, you're doing it again! :D"

I suffer from this too. I try to keep to myself and act normally but it doesn't always work. It's easy to lose this restraint, especially when conversation turns to topics I enjoy. I end up saying way too much to people who are likely not interested, realizing it immediately afterwards and feeling regret. I learned to recognize some social cues so I can try and stop myself before it does too much damage. I also learned to talk about topics others enjoy instead.

This is a sign of ADHD, which I have also been diagnosed with. It shows up on the diagnostic criteria and adult self-report:

> How often do you find yourself talking too much when you are in social situations?

> When you’re in a conversation, how often do you find yourself finishing the sentences of the people you are talking to, before they can finish them themselves?

> How often do you interrupt others when they are busy?

Have you confirmed that it's related to your "ADHD" and you're not just inconsiderate and annoying?

Not trying to sound like a douche, but honestly just putting on some headphones would probably stop this supposed "executive control disorder".

If you're not trying to sound like a douche, don't put ADHD in scare quotes. Yes, it was over-diagnosed in the 90s, but I brought myself in and was diagnosed as an adult in 2009.

Maybe watch this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSfCdBBqNXY&feature=youtu.be if you don't think ADHD is real.

No, I don't know for certain if this is related to my ADHD. I might just be inconsiderate and annoying. I'm speculating, because it's a behavior that I have spontaneously manifested, observed, criticized myself for, and yet still do. It fits in the category of "executive control" and "impulse control" and those are the things that ADHD impairs.

And I already wear headphones most of the day when I'm in the office because music helps me focus and otherwise I start listening to the conversations around me. Listening to music while I work (and when I studied when I was in school) is one way I have managed my disorder throughout my life.

You learn how to deal with this in time management classes.

Coworker won't leave? Stand up, walk to kitchen and get a drink of water, chit-chat for a minute and then say well I have to get back to work, see you later.

That is a funny story. I used to dial into BBS' with modem commands. You could learn the screech patterns pretty well to know if something goofed before the computer did. Modem command sets are still quite prolific and if you ever mess with a M2M LTE module you will be right back in it.

I can still hear the screech pattern in my head, and I know exactly what you mean about knowing before the computer. There was short repeating pattern and if it repeated too many times (more than about twice IIRC) then the game was up, time to redial.

Iridium satellite phones and embedded modems use a very thoroughly documented AT command set.

Hilarious! Even better than what I thought the link was for.

I honestly thought the article was going to be about the absurdity in determining a modem configuration string. Back in the late '90s, all modems shipped in default configurations that only worked for very old configurations. They all needed to be configured to do things like hardware handshaking, and tell the computer that the other end hung up.

These drove dial up BBSer's nuts, because every vendor used a different AT code just to set the modem to a normal configuration.

I always wished there was something like ATmodern to standardize on.

The worst were pages that compiled large numbers of random modem init strings for different modems. They just got copied around from page to page with no context as to what they did, nor why. They often wound up being worse than factory defaults.

My own private ATDT relief was the day our phone company upgraded their systems and I could finally start using ATDT instead of ATDP, making the dial time so much shorter and significantly raising the chance to be the first dialer when someone finally logged off from any of the heavy loaded BBS lines from the redialing list.

Communications was really sucks, but we were lucky enoguh not to know it back then.

I remember always tuning the DTMF timings (duration/spacing) to make the dialing as fast as the phone company could reliably allow. Even to this day when I hear the DTMF tones playing at the default speed, it pains me and makes me want to go adjust the dial command (ATDT) to speed things up.

I did this!

I also had a USR Courier with a button on the front that could be reprogrammed to do anything. I reprogrammed it to dial my favorite BBS, so I could turn on the computer, press the button, and by the time AUTOEXEC.BAT had finished and Telix was launched, I'd already be connected.

ATS11=50? 25?

Yes, I think I typed that before every dial.

Imagine being stuck on pulse dialing and waiting in silence hoping the other side picks up.

I kinda miss the little "winking" noises the modem relay would make when it dialed. It was kinda soothing.

I used it as a ringtone, not long ago, inspired by a posting on HN that described in details what the different sounds mean.

1. Reactions were not good, even from my geekiest acquaintances.

2. Worst, turns out this sounds are all around us, from fax machines to POS communication for credit card verification. I became too aware of the sounds and false-positively checking my phone too often so I changed.

Boy, talk about memories. My fondest one is when we finally got a Western Telematic console server I could dial into from home to troubleshoot a down server. This instead of having to get up when the pager wouldn't stop beeping at 3am, drive half an hour to the datacenter (I use that term loosely--it was an office in a run-down office building), unplug and then plug back in the server, check that yep it's back up and running, and then drive the half hour back home.

I don't recall the details but it seems like that WTI console server used Hayes commands somehow.

We're definitely spoiled now. However, I feel like there's so many more things which "page" these days, and less tolerance for downtime. Did you track "4-nine" uptimes back in the day?

This was such early days in web hosting that nobody thought that was an option. It was a little like the early days of Twitter where you just assumed the web site would be down as often as not.

Makes me wonder how many modems are still sitting in some company's closet, forgotten but still hooked up and able to be used if you know the right tricks.

Several billion are being carried around right now in people's pockets, actually: the baseband processor in mobile phones use ATDT/Hayes commands to talk to the host processor(!).

It's quite interesting how the command set has been extended for modern needs, for example see: https://www.u-blox.com/sites/default/files/u-blox-CEL_ATComm...

I kind of wish I'd never read that. Every time something like this comes up I remember a quote from A Deepness in the Sky [0] and shudder at the thought that we will be stuck with crappy software forever.

[0] " There were programs here that had been written five thousand years ago, before Humankind ever left Earth. The wonder of it—the horror of it, Sura said—was that unlike the useless wrecks of Canberra’s past, these programs still worked! And via a million million circuitous threads of inheritance, many of the oldest programs still ran in the bowels of the Qeng Ho system. Take the Traders’ method of timekeeping. The frame corrections were incredibly complex—and down at the very bottom of it was a little program that ran a counter. Second by second, the Qeng Ho counted from the instant that a human had first set foot on Old Earth’s moon. But if you looked at it still more closely. . .the starting instant was actually some hundred million seconds later, the 0-second of one of Humankind’s first computer operating systems. "

One of the things I love about that book is how he attacks below their layer of abstraction. This is a pattern you see over and over again in real life, people build a secure system at one layer, but don't consider all of the implications of the layers below. Indeed there is so much complexity hidden in those abstractions that it takes experts years to learn enough about them to understand the attacks. The people who do work in those layers aren't interested in security, they're just trying to get the things to work in the first place.

Spectre/Meltdown are a good example of what happens when (after a couple of decades) the security guys finally understand what the architecture looks like at that level and start looking for vulnerabilities.

This is also why you should be wary of devices and especially device drivers. This is why binary blobs in drivers are such a butt clencher. And then you're talking about drivers that are stupendously large and are more or less attached directly to your web browser.

It isn't as though being open source solves that problem, look at things like Heartbleed.

They may not solve the problem, but they do you allow you to solve the problem.

Kind of. One of the problems with being attacked from the lower layers is that it can be outright impossible to defend against in some cases. In other cases the defense involves significant tradeoffs, usually in performance.

Not realistically unless I have a lot of experience with driver programming. After all, I can technically hand-edit the machine code of a binary blob too.

> After all, I can technically hand-edit the machine code of a binary blob too.

Signed binaries make that a lot harder.

And how does source code help that? I can resign a modified binary just like I can a freshly compiled one.

I think of this every time I watch a package manager compile the dependencies of dependencies of dependencies of dependencies [...] of the thing I am actually using.

Ha, I recall that passage, it made an impression on me as well.

And they are an attack vector: https://atcommands.org

Yes, it was used to jailbreak some of the early iPhone models.

> jailbreak [...] iPhone

Also used in voting machines which "aren't connected to the internet" (!)

e.g. https://freedom-to-tinker.com/2018/02/22/are-voting-machine-...

Some of these GSM modems have AT-commands to upload & run sophisticated, persistent LUA scripts. (Scripts that can can make tcpip connections over GSM, communicate to host hardware via I2C or uart, send SMSs, etc). The possibilities are wide ranging, using officially supported features; no hacking necessary.

see: https://simcom.ee/documents/SIM5320/simcom_lua_application_n...

some land-mobile radios (tetra) too.

I need to keep an old IBM Thinkpad alive with WinXP for its internal modem for the express purpose of... maintaining the DoorKing entry gate in our neighborhood.

The gate installer charges $350 to make remote changes to the gate programming otherwise. It has to be updated at least twice a year because daylight savings (which the 'dorking' as I like to call it don't do).

It still manages to connect at 28.8 over my voip line at home, but just barely.

edit: turns out to be xp not win7!!

My IT department maintains an old WinXP box and a single POTS line so that I can dial in to a very large machine (about 30 feet tall, ten feet wide) once a month.

The company that makes the machine is willing to upgrade to a fully wireless solution, but it would require a dedicated microwave link. That's actually cheaper than paying for the phone line, but "microwave link" is scary, and management won't approve it.

Call it a “wireless modem” and see if that helps

I'm not sure if it's worthwhile to pursue, but the doorking model I have at home has an ethernet port, if your facilities permit, you could connect over that instead of over the modem. (I don't know how terrible their IP stack is though; I don't have enough pairs going to the device)

Also: they're kind of overpriced in my opinion, but you can still buy USB based hardware modems, which would allow you to move this to a newer computer if needed, without having to worry about modem drivers.

Quick suggestion: image that drive and save the image, and if it's old enough to be PATA/IDE instead of SATA then hang on to a few drives from old laptops if you still have any.

There are IDE-to-CF adapters so one of those and a CF card should work as a drive if no spare IDE HDD's are available.

There is some kind of modem hidden in every fax machine https://fahrplan.events.ccc.de/congress/2018/Fahrplan/events...

They are starting to go away faster as people clean out closets and kill legacy connectivity and branch office servers. Plenty of unknown POTS lines are in old datacenters though!

Judging by what I've seen - many.

My company still uses modems for some things, we have devices that are configured via serial, they can act as a primitive getty, enough to do modem control anyhow - and so we dial in.

I tried to buy an old Hayes modem from fleaBay recently out of nostalgia.

Nope. The working ones i good condition are going for what they cost when they were new!

I once wrote a program to send data for free anywhere in the world, by dialing another machine and then hanging up. The remote machine's modem would say RING. With the right excruciatingly adjusted and slow timing you could send binary data insanely slowly. Start bit, then 8 data bits, maybe check bit, something like that. Let's just say it never took off. Something on the order of 0.1 baud.

Why not be honest and direct?

I'm senior enough, prior military and give few enough fucks that I have been able to try this repeatedly. I've tried various gradiations between polite and asshole, and in various situations.

At best, you get various promises to not be loud. You'll get maybe a day of relief, and then it's back to it again. You can be relatively harsh, and it's still temporary. You can also lobby to be pushed off to a corner where you're not exposed to the loudest people. At worst, you can _really_ piss people off; I raised enough of a stink that I know that one guy wanted me fired.

Some people have a very strong need to interact socially. One time I was on a long ride in a HMMWV and most of us were silent as we were relatively tired. One guy was one of those compulsive talkers, and on a lark, I timed how long it was before he started talking. After almost exactly 6 minutes of silence he would start talking and then trail off, it was very regular.

I think if you have someone like that, I think your best strategy is not to avoid them, but to fulfill their need on your terms. Invite them to go get coffee with you, or go for a walk. And then when you're done, hopefully that triggers their social cue to get back to work. If it doesn't, you can remind them, "well, I've just been out for five minutes, so I don't want the boss to think I'm fucking off work."

Because it doesn't always work. I had someone try to get me fired because she came into my office and said "do you have a minute?" and I said (because I was legitimately busy with something important) "No".

She was enraged that I didn't drop everything I was doing to listen to whatever problem she had, and went to complain to my manager, blithering about rudeness, and me not being a "team player".

Since my manger was the one who had assigned me the important work, he told her in polite manager-speak that I had done the right thing and that she should try again later if she still needed my help.

Someone asking you if you have a minute for something work related vs someone chatting your ear off about non-work related things isn't the same thing.

You are right, it is not.

The interruption and the resulting loss of productivity because of it however is the same in either case.

Focused work without interruption must be respected and enforced when needed. If you are bored at work, go ask for more work to do, I'd say.

Or do as I did when I was still in offices many years ago: politely and without raising your voice just ask the room directly: "Anyone up for 10 minutes coffee break?". If nobody would respond then I would still go at a balcony drinking my coffee alone. Nobody is mandated to listen to my blabber and I understood and respected that. It's rather amazing how many people didn't though.

My response was to

> Why not be honest and direct?"

In fact there was a guy at my previous job who would be much like that. The person who had been doing my job said he had had a word with his (and my) boss and asked him to come in one day and pointedly ask him to do something. Boss threw in a bonus and after he had gone out asked mr chatty to stop bothering him as he had so much work to get on with.

In my opinion, saying just "no" it's quite harsh. That can create distance instead of building team (respect, trust, good manners etc.).

In such situations I usually say something like "I'm very sorry but I'm extremely busy. Could you send me email with your issue, please? I'll come back to you as soon as I solve the problem".

It generally does work, unless they're psychopaths. Who would turn down a reasonable request to focus on work? You could also offer up another time to continue the conversation.

The same type of person that would be that inconsiderate of other people’s time in the first place. For many people that are that bad at reading social cues it won’t be interpreted as a reasonable request.

That's not even true. They may be bad at reading social cues (ie face expressions) but would respond to direct communication about the need to focus on work.

The level of bluntness one would need to get through to the typical blowhard described here is higher than many people are comfortable exercising except as a last-resort, bridges-burning nuclear option.

Certainly in the UK we'd tolerate all sorts of social torture before dreaming of "causing a fuss", although I appreciate OP is in the US!

To me this is just so sad. With a bit of empathy you can actually tell them that you are busy or not in the mood. It only gets awkward because or if you try saying it without saying it, if you show them you feel uncomfortable (in what could be a completely natural interaction between people in the same group who spend a significant amount of time around each other). The other person probably feels a bit lonely if they try to find somebody to talk to repeatedly. Of course, the direct approach works best if there actually is empathy, in the story here the only feeling shown for the other person is a pretty negative one.

I’m a non-claravoyant person and now a US->UK immigrant to boot. I often wonder how many people secretly hate me for doing something I’d be happy to change. Sigh...

Welcome! This should be all you need to thrive and succeed in our dangerously-repressed passive-aggressive culture:


There is a skill to giving feedback and a skill to receiving feedback and exercising both is emotional/communicative labor. Lots of people:

1) Have Unskillfully given feedback and seen that backfire on them or have no effect.

2) Given feedback to someone who unskillfully interpreted/listened to it and reacted badly.

3) Can’t be arsed to do the work of communicating clearly——possibly its hard for them to organize their conflicting feelings into words——They threfore choose to suffer rather than advocate for themselves.

4) Are afraid of the very very small but nonzero possibility of another person reacting with violence to them—and therefore remain silent rather than advocating for themselves.

Potential consequences, or perceived consequences, or just social anxiety.

Women in the industry are often punished for this.

> 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.

Of course, the guy could also be punished for the same behavior

I honestly don't think this is unique to women / I wonder if this isn't one of those stereotypes foisted on them.

The coworker (who was the target) in her story is male. I'm male, and I've had this very problem with male coworkers. (And nothing about this has ever struck me as having anything to do with sex or gender. As it is, most of my coworkers are male, so it's probably more a reflection of that than anything else.)

And to the parent's point of "why not be honest and direct?", at the point at which such things are being written… honesty and directness have been tried, and have already failed. Some people, even told bluntly "Sorry, I need to get some work done." will keep on…

Well, then he'd tell everyone you were standoffish and not sociable. Obviously, you are not a cultural fit or a team player.

Perhaps you have never worked with the type of person described in this post. They are relentlessly oblivious. Oversharing and monopolizing your time, every day, all day.

I quit a job to get away from someone like this who was in a management role.

Who else went through this:

"Star Wars? no that's not right"

"Modems? no nobody writes about those anymore"


Back in the BBS days, sysops would enter chat to say they are doing maintenance and taking down the bbs. Then you would see +++ and DISCONNECTED

For fun, I started coding ansi sequences, that would say the sysop entered chat, that the sysop was banning you for some really lame reason, and to never call back, then showed "+++" and disconnected, and then a lot pauses to make it look legit. I had fun creating ansi pranks.

BBS and Modem days, such fun.

Oh yeah. WinModems. FU.

Conversely, Shampage was a tool much loved by sysops themselves.

The Hayes Modem technical reference is available at Archive.org.


But I have an original spiral-bound paper copy - if you want it, email me and I'll send it to you. Include the Fidonet ascii-art dog in your email.

We used to use modems for almost everything. I even contributed a small piece of code to the kermit project a long time ago, maybe 1989 or so? A kermit script could have made this easier to do with 2 keystrokes... http://www.kermitproject.org/

At $work, we have a command line application that initiates phone calls, but behind the scenes it uses a SOAP API to talk to the telephone server, which uses SIP to talk to the phone on the desktop.

Quite a bit more overhead involved there... :)

The bad date rescue call sprang to mind. Looks like there's an updated version of this trick: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/chelsea-handler-gotta-go!/id...

Glad I'm not the only one who did that to get rid of the annoying co-worker! Ah, those days were great!

This reminds me of when I used net send to flirt with women in the computer lab. I thought I was so cool.

I still have an analogue modem attached to my PC at home. I use it with NCID to get caller ID info flashed on to my screen and TVs for incoming calls, and to dial outgoing calls from my address book.

The best thing though, is the black-list to which I shunt various telemarketer, etc numbers.

Don't forget ATV0 (I think....memory is hazy) to set the modem speaker volume to zero (silence) before dialing. :)

This brings back some memories. I got my first modem in December, 1988, 30 years ago.. 1200 bps!

+++ ATH

We had a bloviater guy at one company. I used to get up after ten minutes or so and go to the mail room, then call the guy in the next cube and say "this is your rescue call".

Nice try. Totally outclassed by smack-my-bitch-up.sh though


   434 Points
   123 Is
    25 mes
And yet only one comment suggesting the direct approach... You'd have an easier time finding Waldo.

Is this low-grade nerdery really any easier (or smarter) than just saying, "Yeah, yeah, NT is great, Unix sucks, now I've got work to do."

Whats up with this new writing style on HN? This entire article could be summarized as "You can do ATDT 12345 to dial a phone number on a modem, and I used it for pranks round my office in the 90's."

All the detail about the coworker, the social cues, etc. doesn't really add insight nor entertainment value, but pads out 1 sentence into 1 page.

Journalists used to use that style when paid by the word and they didn't have much to say, but rachelbythebay isn't paid like that, so why is she writing as if she is?

It's a sort of anecdote called a "story", written on someone's personal blog. I too am astounded at the lack of dry, dispassionate reporting that I've come to expect from the otherwise dour, yet gripping world, of personal blogs.

It's her personal blog. She's probably writing first for herself, and second for anyone who is interested in hearing her reminisce about whatever Major Software Company she worked at.

Sometimes you just wanna tell a story about a thing that happened, you know? "Me and my officemate kept on tricking this guy who endlessly droned on about how useless our specialty was."

Yeah, it's also not a new writing style for HN, her blog posts have been popular here for quite a while.

The details make it more entertaining and a better read.

Yeah but then how would I entertain myself at work rather than actually getting stuff done?

If you prefer HN articles to be boiled down to their basics, you might like this site: http://n-gate.com/

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