The overlooked computer room at school that became my "office" for a while

VIMH's comment on an unmarked restroom that is largely unknown reminds me of a story from my college days.

Since my final project involved computational geometry, I was granted a key to the rooms in our department which had the computers with fancy graphical displays. (The term "fancy graphical display" is a relative one, mind you. By today's standards they would be pretty lame.) Use of the computers in these rooms was normally reserved for faculty and graduate students. During my wanderings through the department building, I discovered that there was a small storage room in an unused corner of the basement that contained not only the boxes piled high, like you might expect, but also one graphics display terminal.

I was pleased at my discovery and even more pleased to discover over time that nobody ever came to visit. I had stumbled across the forgotten computer room.

After a few weeks, I moved in a small tape cassette recorder (that being the fanciest audio technology I could afford at the time) so I could listen to music while I worked. Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto became the mental soundtrack to my final project. Initially, I stowed the tape recorder in the corner when I left the room, but I gradually became lazy and just left it on the table next to the computer.

This is normally the part of the story where our hero's casual mistake leads to his downfall: A custodian discovers the tape recorder, reports it to the administrator, and our hero is kicked out of the department for misuse of school facilities.

But that's not what happened. As far as I remember, there was only one time another person paid a visit to the overlooked computer room while I was working in there. He jiggled the door handle, found it locked, and waved apologetically. (He was probably not even somebody authorized to be in the room, because if he were, he would have had a key.)

Comments (9)
  1. Anonymous Coward says:

    Oh, that's one of my favorite concertos!  A friend introduced me to it when he gifted me a CD of the 1951 Horowitz recording.  As he handed me the gift, I heard him say, "I thought you might enjoy some rock music."–it wasn't until I opened the gift wrap that I realized what he meant by "rock".

  2. lefty says:

    Secret passages, hidden rooms…  next thing you know Dan Brown's going to have a book out on some mysterious Microsoft Conspiracy to rule the world!

    Watch out when he gets to the chapter that reveals the Time Machine.

  3. visual says:

    That reminds me of a semester in college where couple of us engineering students discovered a room with a computer that was gifted to the university.  We were working on a PDP-11 20 learning assembly, and took the wrong door.  In there was a HUGE main frame, took up 3/4 of the room.  And a grad student.  He says "Hey, want to see something?"  So he showed us how to run it.  

    This was in the days of you only got x amount of dollars in computer time to write your programs.  You had to submit your programs to the operators who ran them on the mainframe and gave you the printouts and your stack of cards…

    Well, this thing ran Fortran, and Algol if I remember.  So we would write our programs on the old behemoth in the back room until they ran right, then submit it to the mainframe.  Turn them in with one run.  The teaching assistant could never figure out how us three got all of our assignments done in one try, every time.  ;)

    That went on for a whole semester.  I came back at the start of the next semester to find the room empty.  The grad student graduated, and the dean of the computing school decided they needed the room.

    then there was the other PDP that had a vector graphics screen and a cool Star Trek game…

  4. Leo says:

    @lefty: The chapter you're thinking is "System Restore" :)

  5. Alex Grigoriev says:

    Whose performance was that? My favorite is Lazar Berman with London Symphony/Andre Previn.

  6. Cheong says:

    My story involves a Solaris SPARC workstation computer room that noone use for the most of time.

    Not only I can utilize all the 4 dot matrix printers to print notes/homeworks (we only have dot matrix printers in computer rooms at that time, so you could imagine how difficult it was to print things in Windows computer room at exam weeks), I also got to play freeciv at times.

  7. Neil says:

    At University the main computer rooms would be locked at night which made hunting for a free terminal on which to play multi-user games (not available during the day) tricky. Fortunately other departments weren't quite so careful with their computers, in particular there was one room of BBC Micros that was usually left unlocked. I was even able to resolve the minor problem of a lack of a VT102 emulator by writing one (the Acorn Archimedes port of which was much simpler to write).

  8. Bill says:

    Reminds me of a time in college when I had a part time job as a "labbie" in a networking lab students didn't know about. After a semester and a half of being paid to study and do my homework there I arrived one day to find my door code no longer unlocked the place. Went home. Came back the next day to find the room empty. Never bothered to find out what happened!

  9. Falcon says:

    George Costanza, after getting caught faking a handicap, which helped him get a job, then refusing to leave before the end of his contract:

    "Hello Margery, George Costanza. How are you sweet heart? Listen, can you give Mr. Thomassoulo a message for me? …Yes. If he needs me, tell him I’M IN MY OFFICE! Thanks."

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