Tag Archives: hacker

Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals

Originally posted January 3, 2014:

After the reorganization at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma during 1987, a bunch of new faces showed up at the plant.  I mentioned in last week’s post that we had a new plant manager, Ron Kilman (See Post:  “From Pioneers to Power Plant Managers“).  In that post I also mentioned that the PC age was rapidly growing and I had bought a computer of my own and was eager to learn more.  The Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey had retired, and was replaced by a guy named Tom Gibson.  Tom was a good supervisor who was willing to think out of the box.

Tom gave me one of my first assignments directly by calling me to his office.  Well, Leroy had never really called me to his office before.  When Leroy wanted to chew you out, he was happy to come down to the Electric Shop and do it, so I didn’t really know what to expect by being “called to his office”.  Believe me… it wasn’t the last time he had “called me to his office.”  But it was the most satisfying time.  Mainly because this time, when I arrived, Tom’s face wasn’t beet red with anger like it was on one later occasion.

This is what Tom told me to do…  He said that we needed to install computer terminals all over the plant.  They had a chart where they wanted the terminals to go.  There were about 15 locations all over the plant including the coalyard which was about 1/2 mile from the main plant.  Along with those, there were a bunch of IBM Network printers that needed to be installed with the terminals.

Then Tom told me the best part.  He wanted me to do it all myself.  Then he told me an even better part…. He said, (and I quote) “I want you to learn everything you can about this computer stuff.  I think it will come in handy.”  As my friend Stephen Todd at Dell would say, “That was the ‘Keys to the Kingdom”.  I told him I would be glad to do everything he asked.

That last part later came back to haunt Tom…. but he did tell me…. learn “everything” I could about the computer.  When he was referring to “The Computer”, he was talking about the company mainframe, a Honeywell system that resided in Oklahoma City at Corporate Headquarters.

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

The Terminals I was going to install were called “Dumb terminals”.  they weren’t computers, they were just monitors with a keyboard that connected directly to a switch back in the telephone room that was connected via a microwave link directly to Oklahoma City and the Honeywell system:

A DEC terminal like this.

A DEC terminal like this.

So, when I returned to the electric shop, I began my “hacker” apprenticeship.  One that would later allow me to harass Gene Day in the Control Room, confuse Dick Dale in the warehouse, cause headaches for the IT department downtown, and finally cause the President of the Electric Company to personally call our Plant Manager Ron asking who was this guy Kevin Breazile!  Hence the reason for Tom Gibson’s beet red face a few years later.  But that is another story for another time.

I had two things right away that I had to figure out.  How was I going to run cables from the telephone room in the office to each of the places around the plant that needed a computer terminal and what are these funny connectors and what do I need to do with them?

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

Ok, so I figured they plugged in the back of the terminal and then there was a Cat1 cable (no, not a Cat3, a Cat1) that plugged into that, and needed to plug into a jack in the wall that I was going to have to install.  They called these funny connectors “Hoods”.  The 25 pin Hoods that we used were blue.  We had 9 pin hoods also that we used for the actual PCs that the clerks and the chemist were using.  They had an emulator program to make them act like a dumb terminal:

 A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

In an early post called “Power Plant Men’s Club Prizes and a Story of Luck” I explained how I have always been cursed with being very lucky.  Well, that’s what some may call it, but I prefer to believe that one of my best friends St. Anthony helps me out at certain times.  Well, this was one time when I asked for his assistance.  St. Anthony of Padua is considered the Patron Saint of lost items.  So, I asked him to help me figure out how I was going to do all this work in a reasonable amount of time.

St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua

As is often the case, St. Anthony pointed me in the right direction.  This particular day, he told me to tell my problem to Charles Foster.  My close friend and one of the two Electric Shop foremen (not mine.  I was working for Andy Tubbs).  So, during lunch I told him what Tom Gibson told me to do, and showed him the blueprints where they wanted the terminals placed throughout the plant.

One of the places that needed a terminal was right there in the electric shop office.  Charles looked around the office and said, “You know what?  there used to be an old intercom system in this office that I think goes up to the telephone room.  In fact, I think all the intercoms that were originally installed in the plant went to the telephone room.”

An old intercom sort of like this only in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

An old intercom sort of like this only older and in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

I vaguely remembered the intercoms when I was working as a summer help as there used to be an old box sitting in the garage when I worked for Stanley Elmore.  They were later cut out and removed, because it wasn’t really practical and so it wasn’t used.  Charles told me to start there, because there were intercoms everywhere.  In the control room, the warehouse, and even in the coalyard!  And definitely in the office area.  This was just what I needed to hear.  My work was already half done.

I pulled the cables out from under the desk where they had been cut and checked them out.  There were definitely enough cable pairs to do the job.  In most places I had to install both a terminal and a printer, so I had a lot of dual wall jacks just for this job:

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

There were some places where the intercom system didn’t go where I needed to install either a dumb terminal or at least connect a computer.  So, I was looking for any kind of alternate way to install the jack without having to run cables all the way from the telephone room to these locations.  So, I went out and bought a book about networking so that I could learn more about what was really going on.  If I had bought it a few years later it might have been called “Dumb Terminals for Dummies”, but the Dummies books hadn’t come around yet.

I have since thrown that book away after using it for years to prop up the corner of our sofa bed for the times when my mom would come and visit and she would sleep on the bed, only it had a broken bracket, and the Networking book was just the right thickness to level the bed…. But there was one page in the book that I found that allowed me to hook up dumb terminals in places where there was only a phone line.

You see.  When the phone lines were run throughout the plant, they used a three pair cable.  Well.  A phone really only uses two wires (or one pair).  so, this left 4 more wires not doing anything.  The only problem was that the dumb terminal used 4 pair, or 8 wires…

An RJ45 Cable

An RJ45 Cable has 8 wires

So, when I was reading the networking book, I ran across a diagram that made me stop and stare.  I like to think that I was holding a half eaten apple in my hand and I had just taken a bite when I stopped mid-bite and stared.  It would have been a nice picture to remember sort of like when the apple fell on Newton’s head.  Only we didn’t have cellphones with cameras in those days, so no one was around to take my picture.  The diagram I saw was this:

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

What?  This showed 4 of the wires are nothing but grounds….  The network cable only really uses 4 of the 8 wires.  Which means I only needed two pair.  And guess what?  The phone lines run all over the plant were 3 pair with only one pair being used!  So, I was able to install the computer jacks right next to the telephone jacks and use the same cable that the telephone was using, and they all tied back to the telephone room where the main computer switch was located that connected to the Mainframe computer back in Oklahoma City through something called a Memotec X.25 Modem.

So, now that I have gone through all this detail to tell you how I was able to quickly install all these terminals and printers around the plant in a way as if it is exciting (because it is to me).  I know that many of you are so bored out of your gourd that you have already stopped reading before you have reached this sentence….  I suppose those of you that are still following along are wondering “Why?”

Why would we want to install all these dumb terminals throughout a power plant that connected to the Honeywell Mainframe down at Corporate Headquarters?  Well.  It was because all the plant operators, mechanics, welders, machinists, electricians, instrument and controls and heavy equipment operators were going to start using it to do stuff.  Yeah.  All of us were being introduced to the computer age.  From the janitor on up.

Each printer had 4 character ID that identified it, so if you were looking at a work order on the terminal, you could choose to print it.  You just had to know the 4 character number and you could print the work order out on any computer in the company.  Usually, this meant, you wanted to use the printer that was closest to you.  But if you wanted to print something out for the warehouse, as long as you knew their printer ID, you could send them a printout of some part that you wanted them to retrieve for you.  Then call them up and tell them you printed something out on their printer.

Ok.  So the average Joe didn’t see much benefit, but it did get them used to seeing computer monitors all over the place, which at least helped them in the future when the real computers showed up.  Right now, they were just “Dumb Terminals” and that’s what a lot of the operators and maintenance people thought… they are just dumb…

I, on the other hand was in hog heaven.  You see.  I had called downtown to the IT department and asked to get a user name so that I could log directly into the mainframe.   After all, my supervisor Tom had told me to learn “everything” I could about “this computer”.  So, I took him up on it.  I quickly was learning UNIX commands, though at the time, I didn’t know that’s what they were called.

I began learning the Computer language called “A” before I realized there was a “B” language and a “C” language, and that C was the one that was really used at the time.  As it turned out the mainframe had manuals for everything right on it.  That is how I was able to cause so much trouble the next few years.

Oh, and one more interesting thing I discovered on the mainframe.  It had this interesting feature called “Email”.  Yeah.  Only, after figuring out how to pull up a list of all the emails on the system I found that there was only a handful of people that actually had e-mail addresses.  So, the only person I would email on the mainframe was an engineer named Craig Henry.

Craig Henry. Engineer and Gentleman

Craig Henry. Engineer and Gentleman

I had met him briefly once, but in the next few years, he was a valuable source of information.  Email seemed like a great idea, but what good was it if there was only a few people you could send an email?

As for Craig Henry… As Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Rains in Casablanca, “This is the beginning of a Beautiful Friendship.” Come to think of it… Craig Henry sort of reminds me of Claude Rains…  I must admit, I learned a lot more from him than he ever learned from me.

Power Plant Networks to Condor Passwords

It had been established early on at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma that I was generally a troublemaker.  All three of the Plant Managers that managed the plant during my tenure can attest to that.  One Plant Manager, Ron Kilman, who reads this blog has been learning over the last couple of years, just what troublemaker I really was, as he reads these posts (oh.  He knew I caused trouble when he was there, but not everything).

I was the “computer guy” at the plant.  Though I was an electrician, the IT Support Department in Oklahoma City, 75 miles away deferred daily computer issues to me.  The IT Networking Department had me run all their networking cables all over the plant, as I have mentioned before.  Anywhere someone wanted a computer installed, I was the only person at the plant that would be assigned the task.

Even though I usually tell you stories about great Power Plant Men and their outstanding achievements, today, I must confess will be solely about myself.  It will illustrate why I never could categorize myself as a “True Power Plant Man” like all the Heroes of Power Plant Fame.  Even though there are countless ways I can demonstrate this, I will focus on the Plant Computer network and the role I played.

I was pretty much a self-study when it came to computer networks.  A few trips to Hastings Bookstore, and I had enough Networking books to be dangerous.  Though I never took a test to be certified, I read the Novell Netware 4 CNA (Certified Netware Administrator) manuals.

Novell's Netware 4 Administrator Guide

Novell’s Netware 4 Administrator Guide

I also read books about different ways people hack into networks, such as the book, “Hacking Exposed”.

 

A good book to read in the bathroom

A good book to read in the bathroom

After pulling the 100 pair telephone cable from the back of the main switchgear to the coal yard by myself for the most part, and crawling through the ceilings in the office area stringing network cable through the rafters and punched down all the wires connecting them to the switches in the telephone room, I sort of felt like I owned the computer network at our plant.

After the server rack was installed, and the Novell Netware was up and running, then suddenly, I realized that the networking people downtown didn’t want some electrician poking his nose into their network.  This was different than the mainframe.  When we just had the mainframe, I had free reign to reek as much havoc on the system as I wanted…. Of course…. I never wanted to do that, it just happened sometimes.  I chocked those times up as learning experiences.

The networking people downtown in Corporate Headquarters at that time had one major weakness….  They couldn’t administer the network remotely (this was 1995 and Windows servers were something new).  So, when something needed to be done on the server at our plant, they had two choices.

They could get in a car (or truck) and drive 75 miles to our plant, then spend 10 minutes working on the network at our plant, then drive 75 miles back to Oklahoma City during going home traffic.  Or, they could call me and have me connect them to the server using a modem and PC Anywhere (A software that allowed a person to remote into a computer and take control of it).  Then from a computer on our network, they could log into the computer and access the server.

 

PC Anywhere software

PC Anywhere software

Needless to say, about once each week, I would go up to the engineer’s office to a computer that they would dial into. The computer had PC Anywhere installed and I would start up it up and grant them access to take control.  While they were doing this, I would be talking to them on the phone.  I could watch everything they were doing.

I could see the username they were using to log in, but like today, I couldn’t see the password they were using as it just came across as asterisks.  I really wanted to be able to access the network myself.  I thought it would help advance my knowledge so that when I did take the Netware CNA tests, I would have some hands on experience.  I really wanted to become a Network Administrator.  I guess I was sort of a Network Administrator Groupie at the time.  I looked up to Network Administrators like they were guru’s with special knowledge.

I talked to the networking people in Oklahoma City to see if a lowly electrician like me could have some kind of limited network administrator account on the network so that I could learn about networking.  I told them I was studying to become a System Administrator.  They looked into it, but never came back with anything.

I had read about how hackers would capture passwords by capturing keystrokes from the keyboard.   I had done something like this, only the other way around when I was writing little DOS prank programs that changed the values on the keyboards so that when you pressed an “A” it would come out as a “B” instead.  I had one that would turn your caps lock on and leave the cap lock light off.  I would have it on a timer, so that it could randomly make you type everything in CAPS in the middle of your sentence.  You know… just fun little things like that.  I suppose today, these would be categorized as viruses, if I had made them so that they would propagate across the network.

I knew how to manipulate the keyboard using things called “Interrupts”.  So, I just reversed that process and using Debug, I was able to create a small assembly language program that would capture all the keystrokes from the keyboard and log them to a file.  I had learned Assembly Language from Peter Norton, the same guy who later created Norton’s Utilities and Norton’s Anti-virus.  Here is my book:

 

Peter Norton's Assembly Language Book (1986)

Peter Norton’s Assembly Language Book (1986)

So, one day when the network guy from Oklahoma City dialed into the modem I tested the program to see if it would capture keystrokes even though they weren’t coming directly from the keyboard, but from PC Anywhere.  To my surprise, when he had finished doing his task, and had logged off, I opened up the log file, and sure enough, all the keystrokes were logged.  I could plainly see where he logged onto the server by typing in his username and password.

The password reminded me of a friend of mine from High School, because his e-mail address was Condor… something…. The password was: condor.  So, I quickly logged into the server using the username and password and created a new Network Administrator account called something like:  “Admin_sa”  I gave it “God” access.  So, after that I could log into the network and look around to see how the system was configured.

I know this was underhanded, and today would be highly illegal, but back then, all this network stuff was new and I was learning this along with the rest of the IT department downtown.  The only difference was that I was an Electrician at a Power Plant many miles away.  I only used that new Administrator account a few times to look at configuration settings as I read through the Netware books.  I never changed any settings or did anything devious…. at least not when we were on the Novell Netware Network.  I think the thrill of capturing a password and setting up my own account was enough.

My philosophy changed later when we moved to a Windows NT Network.  That had so many holes in security that it deserved to be played with.  It wasn’t too long later that the Netware Network was replaced, which made all my studying for the Netware Administrator useless.  I couldn’t understand at the time why we would want to move away from such a secure network to one that had such a bad design that it left itself wide open to hackers (even today, 20 years later Microsoft still has to patch their servers every month!).

I could quickly write a Word document that would reformat your hard drive just by opening it up.  In fact, Charles Foster one time asked me if I could come up with a way to install AOL on his aunt’s computer in California (or some such place), who knows nothing about computers.  So, I created a Word document (since she did have Word on her computer already. and added a macro to it, that installed AOL and other software, and all she had to do was double click on the Word document icon.  By the time it opened up to where she could read it, it had installed all the software she needed.

Once we were on the Windows network, the attitude of the IT network people changed.  They were more flexible.  They could maintain the network from downtown, so they only called me when they needed someone to log directly into the front of the server, which I did for them whenever they needed it.  They began to feel more comfortable with me over time, and the support people downtown sort of granted me all the access I needed at the plant.

I think the reason I finally gained the trust of the IT Support team was because I would listen to their personal problems.  This was something I had learned as a kid.  I used to go around the neighborhood and make friends with all the dogs.  That way, when we were playing hide and seek in the middle of the night, I could creep around behind houses, and the dogs wouldn’t bark at me.  They would come up to me wagging their tails.  It gave me a great advantage.  So, by letting the IT Support people tell me about their personal problems, they would trust me.  And then when I asked them for favors, they were happy to help out.

At that point (when we were on the Windows Network), I could sit in the Electric Shop and access every computer in the plant.  For a few things, I had to actually visit a computer, but for a lot of things, I could just access the computer remotely.  I have a few stories that I will tell this year that will give you some insight into how I used this power to better mankind…. well, I suppose it depends on how you look at it.

Later on, when I went to work for Dell in 2001, I put away all my “trouble causing” hacking stuff and decided that now that I am working in IT, I should join the Good Side of the Force.  That didn’t mean that I didn’t do some fun stuff.  Actually, some of the really good hacking stuff I had learned at the plant became very useful when I was in IT and could create applications on my own using the knowledge I had gained.

There was one time at Dell that I had to hack into database files that had crashed in order to extract the data.  I would never have had the confidence to even try that if I hadn’t first learned programming from the ground up at the Power Plant.

I think it was Leslie Hale, a consulting manager from Concur (an expense reporting application) ask me at a Concur conference in 2010 how I hacked all of our credit card account numbers from their database when they were encrypted.  He said his team had been trying to figure out how I could have done that so quickly.  They normally charged $30,000 to migrate the credit card account numbers from their on-premise system to their hosted application.  Of course, they have the encryption keys.  I told them, I could do it myself by tomorrow and save the $30,000.  They didn’t believe me, until the next day I uploaded a file to them with all the employees and account numbers.  Dell was happy they didn’t have to pay the $30,000 for something that should have been part of the migration costs already.

I know I often caused our plant supervisor’s a few mild stomach ulcers.  I think they just kept me around because either they felt sorry for me, or they thought that some day I might actually come to something.  I finally left the plant in 2001 to pursue a life in IT at Dell.  The journey to that end is another story, to be told later.  Without all the support I received at the Electric Company, I never would have been able to make that change in my life.  It all began one day when the Electric Supervisor, Tom Gibson told me in 1988 that he wanted me to learn all I could about computers.  I guess, that was the moment when I began “expanding my bubble.”

Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals

Originally posted January 3, 2014:

After the reorganization at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma during 1987, a bunch of new faces showed up at the plant.  I mentioned in last week’s post that we had a new plant manager, Ron Kilman (See Post:  “From Pioneers to Power Plant Managers“).  In that post I also mentioned that the PC age was rapidly growing and I had bought a computer of my own and was eager to learn more.  The Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey had retired, and was replaced by a guy named Tom Gibson.  Tom was a good supervisor who was willing to think out of the box.

Tom gave me one of my first assignments directly by calling me to his office.  Well, Leroy had never really called me to his office before.  When Leroy wanted to chew you out, he was happy to come down to the Electric Shop and do it, so I didn’t really know what to expect by being “called to his office”.  Believe me… it wasn’t the last time he had “called me to his office.”  But it was the most satisfying time.  Mainly because this time, when I arrived, Tom’s face wasn’t beet red with anger like it was on one later occasion.

This is what Tom told me to do…  He said that we needed to install computer terminals all over the plant.  They had a chart where they wanted the terminals to go.  There were about 15 locations all over the plant including the coalyard which was about 1/2 mile from the main plant.  Along with those, there were a bunch of IBM Network printers that needed to be installed with the terminals.

Then Tom told me the best part.  He wanted me to do it all myself.  Then he told me an even better part…. He said, (and I quote) “I want you to learn everything you can about this computer stuff.  I think it will come in handy.”  As my friend Stephen Todd at Dell would say, “That was the ‘Keys to the Kingdom”.  I told him I would be glad to do everything he asked.

That last part later came back to haunt Tom…. but he did tell me…. learn “everything” I could about the computer.  When he was referring to “The Computer”, he was talking about the company mainframe, a Honeywell system that resided in Oklahoma City at Corporate Headquarters.

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

The Terminals I was going to install were called “Dumb terminals”.  they weren’t computers, they were just monitors with a keyboard that connected directly to a switch back in the telephone room that was connected via a microwave link directly to Oklahoma City and the Honeywell system:

A DEC terminal like this.

A DEC terminal like this.

So, when I returned to the electric shop, I began my “hacker” apprenticeship.  One that would later allow me to harass Gene Day in the Control Room, confuse Dick Dale in the warehouse, cause headaches for the IT department downtown, and finally cause the President of the Electric Company to personally call our Plant Manager Ron asking who was this guy Kevin Breazile!  Hence the reason for Tom Gibson’s beet red face a few years later.  But that is another story for another time.

I had two things right away that I had to figure out.  How was I going to run cables from the telephone room in the office to each of the places around the plant that needed a computer terminal and what are these funny connectors and what do I need to do with them?

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

Ok, so I figured they plugged in the back of the terminal and then there was a Cat1 cable (no, not a Cat3, a Cat1) that plugged into that, and needed to plug into a jack in the wall that I was going to have to install.  They called these funny connectors “Hoods”.  The 25 pin Hoods that we used were blue.  We had 9 pin hoods also that we used for the actual PCs that the clerks and the chemist were using.  They had an emulator program to make them act like a dumb terminal:

 A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

In an early post called “Power Plant Men’s Club Prizes and a Story of Luck” I explained how I have always been cursed with being very lucky.  Well, that’s what some may call it, but I prefer to believe that one of my best friends St. Anthony helps me out at certain times.  Well, this was one time when I asked for his assistance.  St. Anthony of Padua is considered the Patron Saint of lost items.  So, I asked him to help me figure out how I was going to do all this work in a reasonable amount of time.

St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua

As is often the case, St. Anthony pointed me in the right direction.  This particular day, he told me to tell my problem to Charles Foster.  My close friend and one of the two Electric Shop foremen (not mine.  I was working for Andy Tubbs).  So, during lunch I told him what Tom Gibson told me to do, and showed him the blueprints where they wanted the terminals placed throughout the plant.

One of the places that needed a terminal was right there in the electric shop office.  Charles looked around the office and said, “You know what?  there used to be an old intercom system in this office that I think goes up to the telephone room.  In fact, I think all the intercoms that were originally installed in the plant went to the telephone room.”

An old intercom sort of like this only in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

An old intercom sort of like this only older and in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

I vaguely remembered the intercoms when I was working as a summer help as there used to be an old box sitting in the garage when I worked for Stanley Elmore.  They were later cut out and removed, because it wasn’t really practical and so it wasn’t used.  Charles told me to start there, because there were intercoms everywhere.  In the control room, the warehouse, and even in the coalyard!  And definitely in the office area.  This was just what I needed to hear.  My work was already half done.

I pulled the cables out from under the desk where they had been cut and checked them out.  There were definitely enough cable pairs to do the job.  In most places I had to install both a terminal and a printer, so I had a lot of dual wall jacks just for this job:

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

There were some places where the intercom system didn’t go where I needed to install either a dumb terminal or at least connect a computer.  So, I was looking for any kind of alternate way to install the jack without having to run cables all the way from the telephone room to these locations.  So, I went out and bought a book about networking so that I could learn more about what was really going on.  If I had bought it a few years later it might have been called “Dumb Terminals for Dummies”, but the Dummies books hadn’t come around yet.

I have since thrown that book away after using it for years to prop up the corner of our sofa bed for the times when my mom would come and visit and she would sleep on the bed, only it had a broken bracket, and the Networking book was just the right thickness to level the bed…. But there was one page in the book that I found that allowed me to hook up dumb terminals in places where there was only a phone line.

You see.  When the phone lines were run throughout the plant, they used a three pair cable.  Well.  A phone really only uses two wires (or one pair).  so, this left 4 more wires not doing anything.  The only problem was that the dumb terminal used 4 pair, or 8 wires…

An RJ45 Cable

An RJ45 Cable has 8 wires

So, when I was reading the networking book, I ran across a diagram that made me stop and stare.  I like to think that I was holding a half eaten apple in my hand and I had just taken a bite when I stopped mid-bite and stared.  It would have been a nice picture to remember sort of like when the apple fell on Newton’s head.  Only we didn’t have cellphones with cameras in those days, so no one was around to take my picture.  The diagram I saw was this:

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

What?  This showed 4 of the wires are nothing but grounds….  The network cable only really uses 4 of the 8 wires.  Which means I only needed two pair.  And guess what?  The phone lines run all over the plant were 3 pair with only one pair being used!  So, I was able to install the computer jacks right next to the telephone jacks and use the same cable that the telephone was using, and they all tied back to the telephone room where the main computer switch was located that connected to the Mainframe computer back in Oklahoma City through something called a Memotec X.25 Modem.

So, now that I have gone through all this detail to tell you how I was able to quickly install all these terminals and printers around the plant in a way as if it is exciting (because it is to me).  I know that many of you are so bored out of your gourd that you have already stopped reading before you have reached this sentence….  I suppose those of you that are still following along are wondering “Why?”

Why would we want to install all these dumb terminals throughout a power plant that connected to the Honeywell Mainframe down at Corporate Headquarters?  Well.  It was because all the plant operators, mechanics, welders, machinists, electricians, instrument and controls and heavy equipment operators were going to start using it to do stuff.  Yeah.  All of us were being introduced to the computer age.  From the janitor on up.

Each printer had 4 character ID that identified it, so if you were looking at a work order on the terminal, you could choose to print it.  You just had to know the 4 character number and you could print the work order out on any computer in the company.  Usually, this meant, you wanted to use the printer that was closest to you.  But if you wanted to print something out for the warehouse, as long as you knew their printer ID, you could send them a printout of some part that you wanted them to retrieve for you.  Then call them up and tell them you printed something out on their printer.

Ok.  So the average Joe didn’t see much benefit, but it did get them used to seeing computer monitors all over the place, which at least helped them in the future when the real computers showed up.  Right now, they were just “Dumb Terminals” and that’s what a lot of the operators and maintenance people thought… they are just dumb…

I, on the other hand was in hog heaven.  You see.  I had called downtown to the IT department and asked to get a user name so that I could log directly into the mainframe.   After all, my supervisor Tom had told me to learn “everything” I could about “this computer”.  So, I took him up on it.  I quickly was learning UNIX commands, though at the time, I didn’t know that’s what they were called.

I began learning the Computer language called “A” before I realized there was a “B” language and a “C” language, and that C was the one that was really used at the time.  As it turned out the mainframe had manuals for everything right on it.  That is how I was able to cause so much trouble the next few years.

Oh, and one more interesting thing I discovered on the mainframe.  It had this interesting feature called “Email”.  Yeah.  Only, after figuring out how to pull up a list of all the emails on the system I found that there was only a handful of people that actually had e-mail addresses.  So, the only person I would email on the mainframe was an engineer named Craig Henry.

Craig Henry.  Engineer and Gentleman

Craig Henry. Engineer and Gentleman

I had met him briefly once, but in the next few years, he was a valuable source of information.  Email seemed like a great idea, but what good was it if there was only a few people you could send an email?

As for Craig Henry… As Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Rains in Casablanca, “This is the beginning of a Beautiful Friendship.” Come to think of it… Craig Henry sort of reminds me of Claude Rains…  I must admit, I learned a lot more from him than he ever learned from me.

Power Plant Networks to Condor Passwords

It had been established early on at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma that I was generally a troublemaker.  All three of the Plant Managers that managed the plant during my tenure can attest to that.  One Plant Manager, Ron Kilman, who reads this blog has been learning over the last couple of years, just what troublemaker I really was, as he reads these posts.

I was the “computer guy” at the plant.  Though I was an electrician, the IT Support Department in Oklahoma City, 75 miles away deferred daily computer issues to me.  The IT Networking Department had me run all their networking cables all over the plant, as I have mentioned before.  Anywhere someone wanted a computer installed, I was the only person at the plant that would be assigned the task.

Even though I usually tell you stories about great Power Plant Men and their outstanding achievements, today, I must confessed will be solely about myself.  It will illustrate why I never could categorize myself as a “True Power Plant Man” like all the Heroes of Power Plant Fame.  Even though there are countless ways I can demonstrate this, I will focus on the Plant Computer network and the role I played.

I was pretty much a self-study when it came to computer networks.  A few trips to Hastings Bookstore, and I had enough Networking books to be dangerous.  Though I never took a test to be certified, I read the Novell Netware 4 CNA (Certified Netware Administrator) manuals.

Novell's Netware 4 Administrator Guide

Novell’s Netware 4 Administrator Guide

I also read books about different ways people hack into networks, such as the book, “Hacking Exposed”.

 

A good book to read in the bathroom

A good book to read in the bathroom

After pulling the 100 pair telephone cable from the back of the main switchgear to the coal yard by myself for the most part, and crawling through the ceilings in the office area stringing network cable through the rafters and punched down all the wires connecting them to the switches in the telephone room, I sort of felt like I owned the computer network at our plant.

After the server rack was installed, and the Novell Netware was up and running, then suddenly, I realized that the networking people downtown didn’t want some electrician poking his nose into their network.  This was different than the mainframe.  When we just had the mainframe, I had free reign to reek as much havoc on the system as I wanted…. Of course…. I never wanted to do that, it just happened sometimes.  I chocked those times up as learning experiences.

The networking people downtown in Corporate Headquarters at that time had one major weakness….  They couldn’t administer the network remotely (this was 1995 and Windows servers were something new).  So, when something needed to be done on the server at our plant, they had two choices.

They could get in a car (or truck) and drive 75 miles to our plant, then spend 10 minutes working on the network at our plant, then drive 75 miles back to Oklahoma City during going home traffic.  Or, they could call me and have me connect them to the server using a modem and PC Anywhere (A software that allowed a person to remote into a computer and take control of it).  Then from a computer on our network, they could log into the computer and access the server.

 

PC Anywhere software

PC Anywhere software

Needless to say, about once each week, I would go up to the engineer’s office to a computer that they would dial into. The computer had PC Anywhere installed and I would start up it up and grant them access to take control.  While they were doing this, I would be talking to them on the phone.  I could watch everything they were doing.

I could see the username they were using to log in, but like today, I couldn’t see the password they were using as it just came across as asterisks.  I really wanted to be able to access the network myself.  I thought it would help advance my knowledge so that when I did take the Netware CNA tests, I would have some hands on experience.  I really wanted to become a Network Administrator.  I guess I was sort of a Network Administrator Groupie at the time.  I looked up to Network Administrators like they were guru’s with special knowledge.

I talked to the networking people in Oklahoma City to see if a lowly electrician like me could have some kind of limited network administrator account on the network so that I could learn about networking.  I told them I was studying to become a System Administrator.  They looked into it, but never came back with anything.

I had read about how hackers would capture passwords by capturing keystrokes from the keyboard.   I had done something like this, only the other way around when I was writing little DOS prank programs that changed the values on the keyboards so that when you pressed an “A” it would come out as a “B” instead.  I had one that would turn your caps lock on and leave the cap lock light off.  I would have it on a timer, so that it could randomly make you type everything in CAPS in the middle of your sentence.  You know… just fun little things like that.  I suppose today, these would be categorized as viruses, if I had made them so that they would propagate across the network.

I knew how to manipulate the keyboard using things called “Interrupts”.  So, I just reversed that process and using Debug, I was able to create a small assembly language program that would capture all the keystrokes from the keyboard and log them to a file.  I had learned Assembly Language from Peter Norton, the same guy who later created Norton’s Utilities and Norton’s Anti-virus.  Here is my book:

 

Peter Norton's Assembly Language Book (1986)

Peter Norton’s Assembly Language Book (1986)

So, one day when the network guy from Oklahoma City dialed into the modem I tested the program to see if it would capture keystrokes even though they weren’t coming directly from the keyboard, but from PC Anywhere.  To my surprise, when he had finished doing his task, and had logged off, I opened up the log file, and sure enough, all the keystrokes were logged.  I could plainly see where he logged onto the server by typing in his username and password.

The password reminded me of a friend of mine from High School, because his e-mail address was Condor… something…. The password was: condor.  So, I quickly logged into the server using the username and password and created a new Network Administrator account called something like:  “Admin_sa”  I gave it “God” access.  So, after that I could log into the network and look around to see how the system was configured.

I know this was underhanded, and today would be highly illegal, but back then, all this network stuff was new and I was learning this along with the rest of the IT department downtown.  The only difference was that I was an Electrician at a Power Plant many miles away.  I only used that new Administrator account a few times to look at configuration settings as I read through the Netware books.  I never changed any settings or did anything devious…. at least not when we were on the Novell Netware Network.  I think the thrill of capturing a password and setting up my own account was enough.

My philosophy changed later when we moved to a Windows NT Network.  That had so many holes in security that it deserved to be played with.  It wasn’t too long later that the Netware Network was replaced, which made all my studying for the Netware Administrator useless.  I couldn’t understand at the time why we would want to move away from such a secure network to one that had such a bad design that it left itself wide open to hackers.

I could quickly write a Word document that would reformat your hard drive just by opening it up.  In fact, Charles Foster one time asked me if I could come up with a way to install AOL on his aunt’s computer in California (or some such place), who knows nothing about computers.  So, I created a Word document (since she did have Word on her computer already. and added a macro to it, that installed AOL and other software, and all she had to do was double click on the Word document icon.  By the time it opened up to where she could read it, it had installed all the software she needed.

Once we were on the Windows network, the attitude of the IT network people changed.  They were more flexible.  They could maintain the network from downtown, so they only called me when they needed someone to log directly into the front of the server, which I did for them whenever they needed it.  They began to feel more comfortable with me over time, and the support people downtown sort of granted me all the access I needed at the plant.

I think the reason I finally gained the trust of the IT Support team was because I would listen to their personal problems.  This was something I had learned as a kid.  I used to go around the neighborhood and make friends with all the dogs.  That way, when we were playing hide and seek in the middle of the night, I could creep around behind houses, and the dogs wouldn’t bark at me.  They would come up to me wagging their tails.  It gave me a great advantage.  So, by letting the IT Support people tell me about their personal problems, they would trust me.  And then when I asked them for favors, they were happy to help out.

At that point (when we were on the Windows Network), I could sit in the Electric Shop and access every computer in the plant.  For a few things, I had to actually visit a computer, but for a lot of things, I could just access the computer remotely.  I have a few stories that I will tell this year that will give you some insight into how I used this power to better mankind…. well, I suppose it depends on how you look at it.

Later on, when I went to work for Dell in 2001, I put away all my “trouble causing” hacking stuff and decided that now that I am working in IT, I should join the Good Side of the Force.  That didn’t mean that I didn’t do some fun stuff.  Actually, some of the really good hacking stuff I had learned at the plant became very useful when I was in IT and could create applications on my own using the knowledge I had gained.

There was one time at Dell that I had to hack into database files that had crashed in order to extract the data.  I would never have had the confidence to even try that if I hadn’t first learned programming from the ground up at the Power Plant.

I think it was Leslie Hale, a consulting manager from Concur (an expense reporting application) ask me at a Concur conference in 2010 how I hacked all of our credit card account numbers from their database when they were encrypted.  He said his team had been trying to figure out how I could have done that so quickly.  They normally charged $30,000 to migrate the credit card account numbers from their on-premise system to their hosted application.  Of course, they have the encryption keys.  I told them, I could do it myself by tomorrow and save the $30,000.  They didn’t believe me, until the next day I uploaded a file to them with all the employee and account numbers.  Dell was happy they didn’t have to pay the $30,000 for something that should have been part of the migration costs already.

I know I often caused our plant supervisor’s a few mild stomach ulcers.  I think they just kept me around because either they felt sorry for me, or they thought that some day I might actually come to something.  I finally left the plant in 2001 to pursue a life in IT at Dell.  The journey to that end is another story, to be told later.  Without all the support I received at the Electric Company, I never would have been able to make that change in my life.  It all began one day when the Electric Supervisor told me in 1988 that he wanted me to learn all I could about computers.  I guess, that was the moment when I began “expanding my bubble.”

Power Plant Networks to Condor Passwords

It had been established early on at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma that I was generally a troublemaker.  All three of the Plant Managers that managed the plant during my tenure can attest to that.  One Plant Manager, Ron Kilman, who reads this blog has been learning over the last couple of years, just what troublemaker I really was, as he reads these posts.

I was the “computer guy” at the plant.  Though I was an electrician, the IT Support Department in Oklahoma City, 75 miles away deferred daily computer issues to me.  The IT Networking Department had me run all their networking cables all over the plant, as I have mentioned before.  Anywhere someone wanted a computer installed, I was the only person at the plant that would be assigned the task.

Even though I usually tell you stories about great Power Plant Men and their outstanding achievements, today, I must confessed will be solely about myself.  It will illustrate why I never could categorize myself as a “True Power Plant Man” like all the Heroes of Power Plant Fame.  Even though there are countless ways I can demonstrate this, I will focus on the Plant Computer network and the role I played.

I was pretty much a self-study when it came to computer networks.  A few trips to Hastings Bookstore, and I had enough Networking books to be dangerous.  Though I never took a test to be certified, I read the Novell Netware 4 CNA (Certified Netware Administrator) manuals.

Novell's Netware 4 Administrator Guide

Novell’s Netware 4 Administrator Guide

I also read books about different ways people hack into networks, such as the book, “Hacking Exposed”.

 

A good book to read in the bathroom

A good book to read in the bathroom

After pulling the 100 pair telephone cable from the back of the main switchgear to the coal yard by myself for the most part, and crawling through the ceilings in the office area stringing network cable through the rafters and punched down all the wires connecting them to the switches in the telephone room, I sort of felt like I owned the computer network at our plant.

After the server rack was installed, and the Novell Netware was up and running, then suddenly, I realized that the networking people downtown didn’t want some electrician poking his nose into their network.  This was different than the mainframe.  When we just had the mainframe, I had free reign to reek as much havoc on the system as I wanted…. Of course…. I never wanted to do that, it just happened sometimes.  I chocked those times up as learning experiences.

The networking people downtown in Corporate Headquarters at that time had one major weakness….  They couldn’t administer the network remotely (this was 1995 and Windows servers were something new).  So, when something needed to be done on the server at our plant, they had two choices.

They could get in a car (or truck) and drive 75 miles to our plant, then spend 10 minutes working on the network at our plant, then drive 75 miles back to Oklahoma City during going home traffic.  Or, they could call me and have me connect them to the server using a modem and PC Anywhere (A software that allowed a person to remote into a computer and take control of it).  Then from a computer on our network, they could log into the computer and access the server.

 

PC Anywhere software

PC Anywhere software

Needless to say, about once each week, I would go up to the engineer’s office to a computer that they would dial into. The computer had PC Anywhere installed and I would start up it up and grant them access to take control.  While they were doing this, I would be talking to them on the phone.  I could watch everything they were doing.

I could see the username they were using to log in, but like today, I couldn’t see the password they were using as it just came across as asterisks.  I really wanted to be able to access the network myself.  I thought it would help advance my knowledge so that when I did take the Netware CNA tests, I would have some hands on experience.  I really wanted to become a Network Administrator.  I guess I was sort of a Network Administrator Groupie at the time.  I looked up to Network Administrators like they were guru’s with special knowledge.

I talked to the networking people in Oklahoma City to see if a lowly electrician like me could have some kind of limited network administrator account on the network so that I could learn about networking.  I told them I was studying to become a System Administrator.  They looked into it, but never came back with anything.

I had read about how hackers would capture passwords by capturing keystrokes from the keyboard.   I had done something like this, only the other way around when I was writing little DOS prank programs that changed the values on the keyboards so that when you pressed an “A” it would come out as a “B” instead.  I had one that would turn your caps lock on and leave the cap lock light off.  I would have it on a timer, so that it could randomly make you type everything in CAPS in the middle of your sentence.  You know… just fun little things like that.  I suppose today, these would be categorized as viruses, if I had made them so that they would propagate across the network.

I knew how to manipulate the keyboard using things called “Interrupts”.  So, I just reversed that process and using Debug, I was able to create a small assembly language program that would capture all the keystrokes from the keyboard and log them to a file.  I had learned Assembly Language from Peter Norton, the same guy who later created Norton’s Utilities and Norton’s Anti-virus.  Here is my book:

 

Peter Norton's Assembly Language Book (1986)

Peter Norton’s Assembly Language Book (1986)

So, one day when the network guy from Oklahoma City dialed into the modem I tested the program to see if it would capture keystrokes even though they weren’t coming directly from the keyboard, but from PC Anywhere.  To my surprise, when he had finished doing his task, and had logged off, I opened up the log file, and sure enough, all the keystrokes were logged.  I could plainly see where he logged onto the server by typing in his username and password.

The password reminded me of a friend of mine from High School, because his e-mail address was Condor… something…. The password was: condor.  So, I quickly logged into the server using the username and password and created a new Network Administrator account called something like:  “Admin_sa”  I gave it “God” access.  So, after that I could log into the network and look around to see how the system was configured.

I know this was underhanded, and today would be highly illegal, but back then, all this network stuff was new and I was learning this along with the rest of the IT department downtown.  The only difference was that I was an Electrician at a Power Plant many miles away.  I only used that new Administrator account a few times to look at configuration settings as I read through the Netware books.  I never changed any settings or did anything devious…. at least not when we were on the Novell Netware Network.  I think the thrill of capturing a password and setting up my own account was enough.

My philosophy changed later when we moved to a Windows NT Network.  That had so many holes in security that it deserved to be played with.  It wasn’t too long later that the Netware Network was replaced, which made all my studying for the Netware Administrator useless.  I couldn’t understand at the time why we would want to move away from such a secure network to one that had such a bad design that it left itself wide open to hackers.

I could quickly write a Word document that would reformat your hard drive just by opening it up.  In fact, Charles Foster one time asked me if I could come up with a way to install AOL on his aunt’s computer in California (or some such place), who knows nothing about computers.  So, I created a Word document (since she did have Word on her computer already. and added a macro to it, that installed AOL and other software, and all she had to do was double click on the Word document icon.  By the time it opened up to where she could read it, it had installed all the software she needed.

Once we were on the Windows network, the attitude of the IT network people changed.  They were more flexible.  They could maintain the network from downtown, so they only called me when they needed someone to log directly into the front of the server, which I did for them whenever they needed it.  They began to feel more comfortable with me over time, and the support people downtown sort of granted me all the access I needed at the plant.

I think the reason I finally gained the trust of the IT Support team was because I would listen to their personal problems.  This was something I had learned as a kid.  I used to go around the neighborhood and make friends with all the dogs.  That way, when we were playing hide and seek in the middle of the night, I could creep around behind houses, and the dogs wouldn’t bark at me.  They would come up to me wagging their tails.  It gave me a great advantage.  So, by letting the IT Support people tell me about their personal problems, they would trust me.  And then when I asked them for favors, they were happy to help out.

At that point (when we were on the Windows Network), I could sit in the Electric Shop and access every computer in the plant.  For a few things, I had to actually visit a computer, but for a lot of things, I could just access the computer remotely.  I have a few stories that I will tell this year that will give you some insight into how I used this power to better mankind…. well, I suppose it depends on how you look at it.

Later on, when I went to work for Dell in 2001, I put away all my “trouble causing” hacking stuff and decided that now that I am working in IT, I should join the Good Side of the Force.  That didn’t mean that I didn’t do some fun stuff.  Actually, some of the really good hacking stuff I had learned at the plant became very useful when I was in IT and could create applications on my own using the knowledge I had gained.

There was one time at Dell that I had to hack into database files that had crashed in order to extract the data.  I would never have had the confidence to even try that if I hadn’t first learned programming from the ground up at the Power Plant.

I think it was Leslie Hale, a consulting manager from Concur (an expense reporting application) ask me at a Concur conference in 2010 how I hacked all of our credit card account numbers from their database when they were encrypted.  He said his team had been trying to figure out how I could have done that so quickly.  They normally charged $30,000 to migrate the credit card account numbers from their on-premise system to their hosted application.  Of course, they have the encryption keys.  I told them, I could do it myself by tomorrow and save the $30,000.  They didn’t believe me, until the next day I uploaded a file to them with all the employee and account numbers.  Dell was happy they didn’t have to pay the $30,000 for something that should have been part of the migration costs already.

I know I often caused our plant supervisor’s a few mild stomach ulcers.  I think they just kept me around because either they felt sorry for me, or they thought that some day I might actually come to something.  I finally left the plant in 2001 to pursue a life in IT at Dell.  The journey to that end is another story, to be told later.  Without all the support I received at the Electric Company, I never would have been able to make that change in my life.  It all began one day when the Electric Supervisor told me in 1988 that he wanted me to learn all I could about computers.  I guess, that was the moment when I began “expanding my bubble.”

Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals

Originally posted January 3, 2014:

After the reorganization at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma during 1987, a bunch of new faces showed up at the plant.  I mentioned in last week’s post that we had a new plant manager, Ron Kilman (See Post:  “From Pioneers to Power Plant Managers“).  In that post I also mentioned that the PC age was rapidly growing and I had bought a computer of my own and was eager to learn more.  The Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey had retired, and was replaced by a guy named Tom Gibson.  Tom was a good supervisor who was willing to think out of the box.

Tom gave me one of my first assignments directly by calling me to his office.  Well, Leroy had never really called me to his office before.  When Leroy wanted to chew you out, he was happy to come down to the Electric Shop and do it, so I didn’t really know what to expect by being “called to his office”.  Believe me… it wasn’t the last time he had “called me to his office.”  But it was the most satisfying time.  Mainly because this time, when I arrived, Tom’s face wasn’t beet red with anger like it was on one later occasion.

This is what Tom told me to do…  He said that we needed to install computer terminals all over the plant.  They had a chart where they wanted the terminals to go.  There were about 15 locations all over the plant including the coalyard which was about 1/2 mile from the main plant.  Along with those, there were a bunch of IBM Network printers that needed to be installed with the terminals.

Then Tom told me the best part.  He wanted me to do it all myself.  Then he told me an even better part…. He said, (and I quote) “I want you to learn everything you can about this computer stuff.  I think it will come in handy.”  As my friend Stephen Todd at Dell would say, “That was the ‘Keys to the Kingdom”.  I told him I would be glad to do everything he asked.

That last part later came back to haunt Tom…. but he did tell me…. learn “everything” I could about the computer.  When he was referring to “The Computer”, he was talking about the company mainframe, a Honeywell system that resided in Oklahoma City at Corporate Headquarters.

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

The Terminals I was going to install were called “Dumb terminals”.  they weren’t computers, they were just monitors with a keyboard that connected directly to a switch back in the telephone room that was connected via a microwave link directly to Oklahoma City and the Honeywell system:

A DEC terminal like this.

A DEC terminal like this.

So, when I returned to the electric shop, I began my “hacker” apprenticeship.  One that would later allow me to harass Gene Day in the Control Room, confuse Dick Dale in the warehouse, cause headaches for the IT department downtown, and finally cause the President of the Electric Company to personally call our Plant Manager Ron asking who was this guy Kevin Breazile!  Hence the reason for Tom Gibson’s beet red face a few years later.  But that is another story for another time.

I had two things right away that I had to figure out.  How was I going to run cables from the telephone room in the office to each of the places around the plant that needed a computer terminal and what are these funny connectors and what do I need to do with them?

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

Ok, so I figured they plugged in the back of the terminal and then there was a Cat1 cable (no, not a Cat3, a Cat1) that plugged into that, and needed to plug into a jack in the wall that I was going to have to install.  They called these funny connectors “Hoods”.  The 25 pin Hoods that we used were blue.  We had 9 pin hoods also that we used for the actual PCs that the clerks and the chemist were using.  They had an emulator program to make them act like a dumb terminal:

 A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

In an early post called “Power Plant Men’s Club Prizes and a Story of Luck” I explained how I have always been cursed with being very lucky.  Well, that’s what some may call it, but I prefer to believe that one of my best friends St. Anthony helps me out at certain times.  Well, this was one time when I asked for his assistance.  St. Anthony of Padua is considered the Patron Saint of lost items.  So, I asked him to help me figure out how I was going to do all this work in a reasonable amount of time.

St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua

As is often the case, St. Anthony pointed me in the right direction.  This particular day, he told me to tell my problem to Charles Foster.  My close friend and one of the two Electric Shop foremen (not mine.  I was working for Andy Tubbs).  So, during lunch I told him what Tom Gibson told me to do, and showed him the blueprints where they wanted the terminals placed throughout the plant.

One of the places that needed a terminal was right there in the electric shop office.  Charles looked around the office and said, “You know what?  there used to be an old intercom system in this office that I think goes up to the telephone room.  In fact, I think all the intercoms that were originally installed in the plant went to the telephone room.”

An old intercom sort of like this only in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

An old intercom sort of like this only older and in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

I vaguely remembered the intercoms when I was working as a summer help as there used to be an old box sitting in the garage when I worked for Stanley Elmore.  They were later cut out and removed, because it wasn’t really practical and so it wasn’t used.  Charles told me to start there, because there were intercoms everywhere.  In the control room, the warehouse, and even in the coalyard!  And definitely in the office area.  This was just what I needed to hear.  My work was already half done.

I pulled the cables out from under the desk where they had been cut and checked them out.  There were definitely enough cable pairs to do the job.  In most places I had to install both a terminal and a printer, so I had a lot of dual wall jacks just for this job:

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

There were some places where the intercom system didn’t go where I needed to install either a dumb terminal or at least connect a computer.  So, I was looking for any kind of alternate way to install the jack without having to run cables all the way from the telephone room to these locations.  So, I went out and bought a book about networking so that I could learn more about what was really going on.  If I had bought it a few years later it might have been called “Dumb Terminals for Dummies”, but the Dummies books hadn’t come around yet.

I have since thrown that book away after using it for years to prop up the corner of our sofa bed for the times when my mom would come and visit and she would sleep on the bed, only it had a broken bracket, and the Networking book was just the right thickness to level the bed…. But there was one page in the book that I found that allowed me to hook up dumb terminals in places where there was only a phone line.

You see.  When the phone lines were run throughout the plant, they used a three pair cable.  Well.  A phone really only uses two wires (or one pair).  so, this left 4 more wires not doing anything.  The only problem was that the dumb terminal used 4 pair, or 8 wires…

An RJ45 Cable

An RJ45 Cable has 8 wires

So, when I was reading the networking book, I ran across a diagram that made me stop and stare.  I like to think that I was holding a half eaten apple in my hand and I had just taken a bite when I stopped mid-bite and stared.  It would have been a nice picture to remember sort of like when the apple fell on Newton’s head.  Only we didn’t have cellphones with cameras in those days, so no one was around to take my picture.  The diagram I saw was this:

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

What?  This showed 4 of the wires are nothing but grounds….  The network cable only really uses 4 of the 8 wires.  Which means I only needed two pair.  And guess what?  The phone lines run all over the plant were 3 pair with only one pair being used!  So, I was able to install the computer jacks right next to the telephone jacks and use the same cable that the telephone was using, and they all tied back to the telephone room where the main computer switch was located that connected to the Mainframe computer back in Oklahoma City through something called a Memotec X.25 Modem.

So, now that I have gone through all this detail to tell you how I was able to quickly install all these terminals and printers around the plant in a way as if it is exciting (because it is to me).  I know that many of you are so bored out of your gourd that you have already stopped reading before you have reached this sentence….  I suppose those of you that are still following along are wondering “Why?”

Why would we want to install all these dumb terminals throughout a power plant that connected to the Honeywell Mainframe down at Corporate Headquarters?  Well.  It was because all the plant operators, mechanics, welders, machinists, electricians, instrument and controls and heavy equipment operators were going to start using it to do stuff.  Yeah.  All of us were being introduced to the computer age.  From the janitor on up.

Each printer had 4 character ID that identified it, so if you were looking at a work order on the terminal, you could choose to print it.  You just had to know the 4 character number and you could print the work order out on any computer in the company.  Usually, this meant, you wanted to use the printer that was closest to you.  But if you wanted to print something out for the warehouse, as long as you knew their printer ID, you could send them a printout of some part that you wanted them to retrieve for you.  Then call them up and tell them you printed something out on their printer.

Ok.  So the average Joe didn’t see much benefit, but it did get them used to seeing computer monitors all over the place, which at least helped them in the future when the real computers showed up.  Right now, they were just “Dumb Terminals” and that’s what a lot of the operators and maintenance people thought… they are just dumb…

I, on the other hand was in hog heaven.  You see.  I had called downtown to the IT department and asked to get a user name so that I could log directly into the mainframe.   After all, my supervisor Tom had told me to learn “everything” I could about “this computer”.  So, I took him up on it.  I quickly was learning UNIX commands, though at the time, I didn’t know that’s what they were called.

I began learning the Computer language called “A” before I realized there was a “B” language and a “C” language, and that C was the one that was really used at the time.  As it turned out the mainframe had manuals for everything right on it.  That is how I was able to cause so much trouble the next few years.

Oh, and one more interesting thing I discovered on the mainframe.  It had this interesting feature called “Email”.  Yeah.  Only, after figuring out how to pull up a list of all the emails on the system I found that there was only a handful of people that actually had e-mail addresses.  So, the only person I would email on the mainframe was an engineer named Craig Henry.

Craig Henry.  Engineer and Gentleman

Craig Henry. Engineer and Gentleman

I had met him briefly once, but in the next few years, he was a valuable source of information.  Email seemed like a great idea, but what good was it if there was only a few people you could send an email?

As for Craig Henry… As Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Rains in Casablanca, “This is the beginning of a Beautiful Friendship.” Come to think of it… Craig Henry sort of reminds me of Claude Rains…  I must admit, I learned a lot more from him than he ever learned from me.

Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals

After the reorganization at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma during 1987, a bunch of new faces showed up at the plant.  I mentioned in last week’s post that we had a new plant manager, Ron Kilman (See Post:  “From Pioneers to Power Plant Managers“).  In that post I also mentioned that the PC age was rapidly growing and I had bought a computer of my own and was eager to learn more.  The Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey had retired, and was replaced by a guy named Tom Gibson.  Tom was a good supervisor who was willing to think out of the box.

Tom gave me one of my first assignments directly by calling me to his office.  Well, Leroy had never really called me to his office before.  When Leroy wanted to chew you out, he was happy to come down to the Electric Shop and do it, so I didn’t really know what to expect by being “called to his office”.  Believe me… it wasn’t the last time he had “called me to his office.”  But it was the most satisfying time.  Mainly because this time, when I arrived, Tom’s face wasn’t beet red with anger like it was on one later occasion.

This is what Tom told me to do…  He said that we needed to install computer terminals all over the plant.  They had a chart where they wanted the terminals to go.  There were about 15 locations all over the plant including the coalyard which was about 1/2 mile from the main plant.  Along with those, there were a bunch of IBM Network printers that needed to be installed with the terminals.

Then Tom told me the best part.  He wanted me to do it all myself.  Then he told me an even better part…. He said, (and I quote) “I want you to learn everything you can about this computer stuff.  I think it will come in handy.”  As my friend Stephen Todd at Dell would say, “That was the ‘Keys to the Kingdom”.  I told him I would be glad to do everything he asked.

That last part later came back to haunt Tom…. but he did tell me…. learn “everything” I could about the computer.  When he was referring to “The Computer”, he was talking about the company mainframe, a Honeywell system that resided in Oklahoma City at Corporate Headquarters.

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

The Terminals I was going to install were called “Dumb terminals”.  they weren’t computers, they were just monitors with a keyboard that connected directly to a switch back in the telephone room that was connected via a microwave link directly to Oklahoma City and the Honeywell system:

A DEC terminal like this.

A DEC terminal like this.

So, when I returned to the electric shop, I began my “hacker” apprenticeship.  One that would later allow me to harass Gene Day in the Control Room, confuse Dick Dale in the warehouse, cause headaches for the IT department downtown, and finally cause the President of the Electric Company to personally call our Plant Manager Ron asking who was this guy Kevin Breazile!  Hence the reason for Tom Gibson’s beet red face a few years later.  But that is another story for another time.

I had two things right away that I had to figure out.  How was I going to run cables from the telephone room in the office to each of the places around the plant that needed a computer terminal and what are these funny connectors and what do I need to do with them?

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

A Modular DB25M to RJ45 Adapter

Ok, so I figured they plugged in the back of the terminal and then there was a Cat1 cable (no, not a Cat3, a Cat1) that plugged into that, and needed to plug into a jack in the wall that I was going to have to install.  They called these funny connectors “Hoods”.  The 25 pin Hoods that we used were blue.  We had 9 pin hoods also that we used for the actual PCs that the clerks and the chemist were using.  They had an emulator program to make them act like a dumb terminal:

 A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

A Serial RS232-DB9 9-Pin Female to RJ45 Adapter

In an early post called “Power Plant Men’s Club Prizes and a Story of Luck” I explained how I have always been cursed with being very lucky.  Well, that’s what some may call it, but I prefer to believe that one of my best friends St. Anthony helps me out at certain times.  Well, this was one time when I asked for his assistance.  St. Anthony of Padua is considered the Patron Saint of lost items.  So, I asked him to help me figure out how I was going to do all this work in a reasonable amount of time.

St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua

As is often the case, St. Anthony pointed me in the right direction.  This particular day, he told me to tell my problem to Charles Foster.  My close friend and one of the two Electric Shop foremen (not mine.  I was working for Andy Tubbs).  So, during lunch I told him what Tom Gibson told me to do, and showed him the blueprints where they wanted the terminals placed throughout the plant.

One of the places that needed a terminal was right there in the electric shop office.  Charles looked around the office and said, “You know what?  there used to be an old intercom system in this office that I think goes up to the telephone room.  In fact, I think all the intercoms that were originally installed in the plant went to the telephone room.”

An old intercom sort of like this only in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

An old intercom sort of like this only older and in a box that sat on the desk and it had more switches

I vaguely remembered the intercoms when I was working as a summer help as there used to be an old box sitting in the garage when I worked for Stanley Elmore.  They were later cut out and removed, because it wasn’t really practical and so it wasn’t used.  Charles told me to start there, because there were intercoms everywhere.  In the control room, the warehouse, and even in the coalyard!  And definitely in the office area.  This was just what I needed to hear.  My work was already half done.

I pulled the cables out from under the desk where they had been cut and checked them out.  There were definitely enough cable pairs to do the job.  In most places I had to install both a terminal and a printer, so I had a lot of dual wall jacks just for this job:

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

A dual RJ45 Wall Jack

There were some places where the intercom system didn’t go where I needed to install either a dumb terminal or at least connect a computer.  So, I was looking for any kind of alternate way to install the jack without having to run cables all the way from the telephone room to these locations.  So, I went out and bought a book about networking so that I could learn more about what was really going on.  If I had bought it a few years later it might have been called “Dumb Terminals for Dummies”, but the Dummies books hadn’t come around yet.

I have since thrown that book away after using it for years to prop up the corner of our sofa bed for the times when my mom would come and visit and she would sleep on the bed, only it had a broken bracket, and the Networking book was just the right thickness to level the bed…. But there was one page in the book that I found that allowed me to hook up dumb terminals in places where there was only a phone line.

You see.  When the phone lines were run throughout the plant, they used a three pair cable.  Well.  A phone really only uses two wires (or one pair).  so, this left 4 more wires not doing anything.  The only problem was that the dumb terminal used 4 pair, or 8 wires…

An RJ45 Cable

An RJ45 Cable has 8 wires

So, when I was reading the networking book, I ran across a diagram that made me stop and stare.  I like to think that I was holding a half eaten apple in my hand and I had just taken a bite when I stopped mid-bite and stared.  It would have been a nice picture to remember sort of like when the apple fell on Newton’s head.  Only we didn’t have cellphones with cameras in those days, so no one was around to take my picture.  The diagram I saw was this:

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

The pin configuration for an RJ45 connector

What?  This showed 4 of the wires are nothing but grounds….  The network cable only really uses 4 of the 8 wires.  Which means I only needed two pair.  And guess what?  The phone lines run all over the plant were 3 pair with only one pair being used!  So, I was able to install the computer jacks right next to the telephone jacks and use the same cable that the telephone was using, and they all tied back to the telephone room where the main computer switch was located that connected to the Mainframe computer back in Oklahoma City through something called a Memotec X.25 Modem.

So, now that I have gone through all this detail to tell you how I was able to quickly install all these terminals and printers around the plant in a way as if it is exciting (because it is to me).  I know that many of you are so bored out of your gourd that you have already stopped reading before you have reached this sentence….  I suppose those of you that are still following along are wondering “Why?”

Why would we want to install all these dumb terminals throughout a power plant that connected to the Honeywell Mainframe down at Corporate Headquarters?  Well.  It was because all the plant operators, mechanics, welders, machinists, electricians, instrument and controls and heavy equipment operators were going to start using it to do stuff.  Yeah.  All of us were being introduced to the computer age.  From the janitor on up.

Each printer had 4 character ID that identified it, so if you were looking at a work order on the terminal, you could choose to print it.  You just had to know the 4 character number and you could print the work order out on any computer in the company.  Usually, this meant, you wanted to use the printer that was closest to you.  But if you wanted to print something out for the warehouse, as long as you knew their printer ID, you could send them a printout of some part that you wanted them to retrieve for you.  Then call them up and tell them you printed something out on their printer.

Ok.  So the average Joe didn’t see much benefit, but it did get them used to seeing computer monitors all over the place, which at least helped them in the future when the real computers showed up.  Right now, they were just “Dumb Terminals” and that’s what a lot of the operators and maintenance people thought… they are just dumb…

I, on the other hand was in hog heaven.  You see.  I had called downtown to the IT department and asked to get a user name so that I could log directly into the mainframe.   After all, my supervisor Tom had told me to learn “everything” I could about “this computer”.  So, I took him up on it.  I quickly was learning UNIX commands, though at the time, I didn’t know that’s what they were called.

I began learning the Computer language called “A” before I realized there was a “B” language and a “C” language, and that C was the one that was really used at the time.  As it turned out the mainframe had manuals for everything right on it.  That is how I was able to cause so much trouble the next few years.

Oh, and one more interesting thing I discovered on the mainframe.  It had this interesting feature called “Email”.  Yeah.  Only, after figuring out how to pull up a list of all the emails on the system I found that there was only a handful of people that actually had e-mail addresses.  So, the only person I would email on the mainframe was an engineer named Craig Henry.  I had met him briefly once, but in the next few years, he was a valuable source of information.  Email seemed like a great idea, but what good was it if there was only a few people you could send an email?

As for Craig Henry… As Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Rains in Casablanca, “This is the beginning of a Beautiful Friendship.” Come to think of it… Craig Henry sort of reminds me of Claude Rains…  I must admit, I learned a lot more from him than he ever learned from me.