Fake System Qual Message

Back in 1982, personal computers and workstations weren't prevalent, and system software concentrated on large timesharing machines. The technology used in primitive workstations was, well, primitive. The first wave of qualifying exams to consider such small systems was just beginning, and this is a spoof of those beginnings I did back then.

From inferno.lucid.com!lucid.com!rpg Mon Jun 21 15:40:07 1993 
Received: from inferno.lucid.com by looking.clarinet.com id aa04560; 21 Jun 93 15:40 PDT 
Received: by inferno.lucid.com (4.1/SMI-4.1) id AA02522; Mon, 21 Jun 93 15:39:26 PDT 
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 93 15:39:26 PDT 
From: "Richard P. Gabriel" <rpg@lucid.com> 
Message-Id: <9306212239.AA02522@inferno.lucid.com> 
To: funny-request@clarinet.com 
Cc: tbc@col.hp.com, arg@lucid.com 
Subject: System Qual 
Status: RO 

A friend noticed the following message pass through the wires recently and thought it looked familiar:

Dated: 2 September 1982 
							 
1 Pick from the following pictures the one which most accurately represents a 
computer: 
     A. <a picture of a Cray-1> 
     B. <a picture of a S-1 Mark IIA> 
     C. <a picture of a DEC 2060> 
     D. <a picture of a 3 foot spool of coaxial cable> 
							 
Answer: D. 

with the explanation:

I stashed this away while reading an ARPA bulletin board in school a decade 
ago.  It was posted by a Xerox PARC hacker (you know, the guys who invented 
 EtherNet) as a test called "the systems qual." 

I wrote this fake system qual in May of 1982. The context was that I was at the CS department as a research associate at Stanford when several grad students failed the system qual which that year was given by Keith Lantz. These particular students were trying to do dissertations in timesharing. At the time it was possible to fake e-mail from anyone you wanted, and so I posted a message (reproduced below) from Lantz to ``protest'' the ``computational correctness'' that the distributed computing community was apparently trying to establish. I kept my identity secret for fear that Lantz - at that time a relatively powerful force in CSD - might retaliate.

I think now the heat is probably off, so you can attribute the message to me. To my mind, the header of the message is as good as the test itself. Note that the ^O is the standard ascii glyph for a lower case beta in the Stanford ascii character set we used at SAIL. Lower case beta was used by our mail system as a means to show the start of a message and to identify a line that would appear in the table of contents of the mail file - the idea was to indicate the sender and the header. Gene Golub was chairman of CS at the time; ``John'' is John Hennessey. The question marks in Sue Owicki's question are other SAIL characters corresponding to mathematical quantifiers, set membership, etc.

^O31-May-82  2046        Lantz@Mt-St-Coax (WireNet)      Systems Qual 
Mail-from: COAXNET host SU-8080 rcvd at 19-May-82 2039-PST 
Date:  9 Apr 1982 1837-PST 
From: LANTZ at SU-COAXIAL 
Subject: System Qual 
To: "CSD.GOLUB@SCORE": 
cc: Reid at WIRE-CITY 
Remailed-date: 19 May 1982 2030-PST 
Remailed-from: Keith A. Lantz <CSL.LANTZ at SU-COAXIAL> 
Remailed-to: Mail-Server at SU-SHASTA-COLA 
Remailed-date: 19 May 1982 2030-PST 
Remailed-from: Mail-Server <MAIL.SERVER at SU-SHASTA-COLA> 
Remailed-to: Mail-Server at MT-ST-COAX 
Remailed-date: 19 May 1982 2030-PST 
Remailed-from: LANTZ-MAIL-SERVER 
Remailed-to: Lantz-Bit-Bucket at SU-SHASTA-COLA 
Redistributed-To: SU-BBOARDS@SCORE 
Redistributed-By: Lantz at Mt-St-Coax 
Redistributed-Date: 20 May 1982 
Redistribution-from-Header <LANTZ at SU-SCORE at SUMEX-AIM at MT-ST-COAX> 
Forwarded-by: MAILSER@SCORE 
Forwarded-to: BBOARD at SU-AI 
Forwarding-Date: 20 May 1982 

In response to the message sent 18 May 1982 1341-PST from GOLUB@SU-SCORE

It seems odd that you are upset that there are several people who have failed the systems qual for the last time, and from the amount of mail flying about the last few days I suppose we'll have to do something about this. Nothing can be done until John gets back in town (Thursday) so you'll just have to sit on the edge of your seat. But here is a sample of some of the questions we asked on the qual, just so you know we were fair:

1. Pick from the following pictures the one which most accurately represents 
a computer: 
     A. <a picture of a Cray-1> 
     B. <a picture of a S-1 Mark IIA> 
     C. <a picture of a DEC 2060> 
     D. <a picture of a 3 foot spool of coaxial cable> 
							 
     Answer: D. 
							 
 2. What is the limiting factor on the speed of paging on modern computer 
 architectures? 
							 
 Answer: the number of meters of coax between your 8080 and your floppy disk. 
							 
3. Name 100 advantages of personal machines over timesharing machines. Name 
1 advantage of a timeshared machine over a personal machine. 
							 
There was a lot of complaints about this question, and we admit it was 
intended as a trick. Several of the people who passed spent over an hour 
trying to think of the advantage of timeshared machines. 
							 
4. What is the primary design consideration in designing a modern computer 
system? 
							 
Answer: How to maximize the ratio of coax to silicon. 
							 
5. What was the most important invention for modern computing? 
							 
     A. ECL and high speed logic 
     B. Advanced cooling technologies 
     C. Video Disks 
     D. Cache memories 
     E. Coaxial cable 
							 
Answer: E. 
							 
6. What is the most important function of a modern operating system? 
							 
Answer: the mail server. 
							 
7. What is the most important measure of the sophistication of a modern 
operating system? 
							 
Answer: the complexity of the mail headers it produces. 
							 
8. What is the most reasonable power dissipation in modern computers: 

     A. equivalent to a 2000 megaton nuclear device (e.g. CRAY-1) 
     B. equivalent to the output of the Hoover Dam (e.g. S-1 MARK IIA) 
     C. equivalent to a room full of toaster ovens (e.g. a DEC 2060) 
     D. equivalent to a sexually satiated male mosquito in a room 
         at absolute 0 (e.g. a single board 68000 connected to 90 miles 
         of 300 ohm coax). 
							 
Answer: D. 
							 
(The next question is from Sue Owicki) 
9. Define: A is `strongly hyperhyperimmune' if A is infinite and there is 
no recursive f such that (Forall u)[W(f(u)) intersect A = empty] & (Forall u)(Forall v)  u > v => W(f(u)) > W(f(v)) = empty]. 
							        
     A. show that if A is strongly hyperhyperimmune then A has no 
         infinite retraceable subset. 
     B. show that if A is strongly cohesive then A is strongly  
         hyperhyperimmune. 
							 
Answer: A - obvious; B - immediate corollary of A. 
							 
10. What are the design considerations in a modern display? 
							 
Answer: it must display 10^49352 points per inch and run at least at 
2 baud (to support the new, high speed 8080's out on the market). 
							 
11. Describe the new generation of `supercomputers'. 
							 
Answer: the MC68000 is... 
							 
12. Name the institutions where the most progressive computer systems work 
     is being performed. 
							 
Answer: Bells Labs (C and Unix) because they are part of the phone company 
and, hence, like copper wire; Xerox (Altos) because they have cornered the 
world coax market. 
							 
13. What units are used to measure the performance of modern computers? 
							 
Answer: TIPS - Thousandths of Instructions Per Second. 
							 
14. (Methodology) Why is it that large computers (e.g. Cray-1) are no 
longer of interest to systems people? 
							 
Answer: They run too fast to understand and to use coax effectively. Running 
one of these computers on an ultra-high speed network (3 megabit net) would 
swamp it. 
							 
15. Where are the reliability issues centered in modern systems? 
							 
Answer: UHF connectors. 
							 
16. Define a `large program'. 
							 
Answer: A program that is more than 1/2 a page long or that has fewer than 
10 lines of declarations for each line of code. 
							 
17. How many programs have you written? 
							 
Passing answer:  < 10 
Failing answer:  > 15 
Conditional:     10<=x<=15 
							 
18. What is the largest program that you have ever heard that a real 
computer scientist has written? 
							 
Answer: A mail server. 
							 
19. Why is synchronization research better performed on small, modern computers 
connected by a network? 
							 
Answer: The coax slows things down so much that you don't have to worry  
about deadlocks. 
							 
20. Some people say that extremely large programs (> 500 lines) require very 
large computers. How do you answer them? 
							 
Answer: If they knew what they were doing they wouldn't need a large 
machine. The fact that they write such large programs means they are doing 
the wrong thing. 
							 
21. What should we do with people who believe in huge timesharing machines 
that run like hell and who want to write gigantic programs? 
							 
Answer: Fail them on the systems qual.