3. Other true stories: Spelling lessons, politeness, analog time, pizza delivery, halloween, and a nod to Star Trek

posted Nov 2, 2010, 5:28 PM by Jeff Ogden   [ updated Nov 7, 2010, 7:59 AM ]
The stories that follow are all from Josh Simon's "Michigan Terminal System: Anecdotes" Web page.  I think all of them are true. Do others agree?

Spelling Lessons and More

Electronic mail was handled by the $MESSAGESYSTEM. Since the University of Michigan was (and still is) an institution of higher learning, $MESSAGESYSTEM insisted that you spell correctly. The $MESSAGESYSTEM command RETRIEVE was used to retrieve your messages from the master database. (Like cc:Mail and some other e-mail systems, each message was stored exactly once, and your mailbox contained pointers to those messages you sent or received. Once a message had 0 recipient-pointers and the Sunday evening purge rolled by, the message was removed from the system completely.) However, if you misspelled the command, you would be admonished:

 Didn't your momma ever tell you: I before E, except after C?

Unfortunately, in the very late 1980s, this feature was removed in the name of increasing friendliness to users. RETREIVE became a synonym in the $MESSAGESYSTEM command grammar for RETRIEVE. However, the *KERMIT program did correct your spelling well into the 1990s.

At one point, $MESSAGESYSTEM also provided lessons in polite conversation:

 Tsk, tsk, you'll never get to medical school with language like that.

[This option is still present in MTS, c. 1996.]


You could ask the system for the time ($DISPLAY TIME), date ($DISPLAY DATE), or both ($DISPLAY TIMEDATE), and it would tell you. However, for people who had trouble with the concept of digital clocks, you could ask for it in analog:

     The big hand is on the four and the little hand is just past the twelve.

[This option is still present in MTS, c. 1996.]


There was a program on MTS called *PIZZAZDELIVERY that was ostensibly a way to order pizza delivery from several local merchants, using the "MTS dollars" you'd been alotted for CPU time to pay for it. It would go completely through an order process, and even print out a receipt. Many, many students waited in vain outside a computer site for their pizza...

[I vaguely remember that *Pizzadelivery only existed on or around April 1st. -Jeff]

[You could get a pizza delivered to the UM Computing Center or NUBS without too much trouble, but you had to use a phone to place the order and you had to use your own real money to pay for it. -Jeff]

(Submitted by Ray Ingles.)

Which Host on Halloween

While not strictly related to MTS, it is a Merit Network anecdote.

When you connected to the Merit computer network (the network of universities, colleges, and schools within the state of Michigan, connected to what was then known as CICNET in the Midwest; Merit was later known as MichNet), you received a Which Host? prompt. This was your instruction to enter the name of the remote host you wanted to connect to (such as UM for UM-MTS or UB for UB-MTS). On October 31st, however, in honor of Halloween, the prompt was changed to Witch Ghost? (This was later scrapped as it caused automated scripts that looked for "Host?" to fail.)

[We can't really remember if the "Which Host?" prompt was changed to "Witch Ghost?" or to "Which Ghost?".]

[Picky note: MichNet was the name of the statewide network in Michigan operated by Merit. Neither the Merit Network nor MichNet were connected to CICNET. Merit and CICNET shared a connection to NSFNET in Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan and Michigan State University were members of both Merit and CICNET, later MichNet and CICNET shared high-speed leased data circuits between Ann Arbor and East Lansing. -Jeff]

Editor Fun

While in $EDIT mode, typing "computer" at the editor command prompt would elicit the response "working!". This was actually documented, somewhere, as being there to test the operation of the edit mode command parser. [Or perhaps it was really a tribute from Viktors Berstis to the original Star Trek TV series?]

[Sadly this command and message are no longer present in the MTS editor, c. 1996.]

(Submitted by Jonathan Sell and Lyndon Nerenberg.)