The most interesting Tuesday night so far?

It all started when I offered to make a console cable for the HP 9000 Server that was acquired by Termisoc. Initially I discovered that it had a 25 pin serial port marked “modem”, which we could probably attach a null modem cable to and then plug the other end into a laptop running Hyperterm or minicom. Except when I took my null modem cable round, I discovered it was the wrong gender for the port! We started off with the idea to hack our own gender changer with 2 25 pin D-connectors, but this was rapidly ditched when we didn’t know which connections we could get away without connecting – would you solder 25 connections onto two fairly small plugs if you didn’t need to? Thought not!

On Monday night I found out that Rich had found the pinout for the actual console port on the HP 9000, which uses a 6pin Mini-DIN connection, much like a PS/2 socket. I then decided that we would be better off getting hold of a PS/2 extension cable and then soldering a 25pin D-connector onto 1 end so that we could connect that to a PC. The instructions Rich found only gave the pin-outs between a 6pin min-DIN and a 25pin D-connector, I later found that we could have used a 9pin D-connector!

So, after 2 visits to Maplin’s, I arrived at the TermiHouse with a PS/2 extension cable, a 25 pin D-connector and a 25-9pin D converter. With help from Gem, I started off by working out which pins on the PS/2 plug were connected to which colour wires in the cable and drew a diagram of this. I then needed to get information from Rich as to the pin-out of the cable I was going make – I discovered after a bit of checking that I had drawn my colours diagram upside down – a fact that would come back to haunt me later. Having compared both diagrams, I had a plan! Because my soldering is very uncoordinated I asked Gem to do the soldering for me and she set about making the connections with the 25pin D-connector.

We had organised to go to the monthly BCS lecture that evening (which was about IP over satellite given by a bloke from BT Goonhilly) and so it was a race against time to get this cable to work before we had to leave. We got to the lecture on time, but we failed to get a working cable! The lecture was (for me) very interesting and I think nearly everyone learned something from it. I think it was a very difficult lecture to give, because it is a subject which is very difficult to talk about without using a lot of jargon and given that most people in the audience probably didn’t know much about satellite comms, I think the presenter did very well.

After the lecture we all decided we needed drinks and food, so after some debating we went to the Fresher and Professor and ordered their biggest most expensive pizza, complete with potato wedges and garlic bread! I was most impressed, because this was the first time I had ever eaten a pizza in a pub, prepared by the pub! Whilst we were there, we were joined by members of the Poker Society (from the Uni) and probably quite a few random’s! It appeared that they were having a very strange social which involved visiting Plymouth’s student nightspots, whilst gaffer-taped together at the wrist in a very long chain! They also appeared to be on a scavenger hunt for cleavage photos – Gem obliged them with a photo! Just before they left, they tried to get us to join them as part of their chain, but we politely refused; we had a server to get back to!

We returned to the TermiHouse to consider the problem of why our console cable was not working. Marvin, our HP 9000, affectionately named by Ben, was booting, but nothing was being echoed to the terminal. First we checked the cable for continuity, and it was fine. Then we decided that it might be a problem with the terminal software (we had been using Hyperterm on my IBM ThinkPad), so we installed minicom on Gem’s Debian Laptop. We then spent quite a while trying to work out how to get minicom to talk directly to a port. It was all in vain… I realised we had wired the cable incorrectly, because I hadn’t transposed my diagram correctly.

By this time it was at least 11pm if not later and I was very grateful to Gem for soldering the connector a second time! This time, we knew we had the correct pin-out, but we still weren’t sure of what to do with minicom. We decided to switch back to Hyperterm. After rebooting a few times (my Windows installation was acting up again!), we managed to get something echoed to the terminal, it was garbage, but it was something – WOW! We realised that the problem now was that we didn’t have the correct terminal settings. If you decide to go out and hack your own console cable to connect an HP 9000 – remember this: 9600baud, 8-N-1, VT100J emulation!

At last, we had meaningful output from Marvin – it was so exciting! It booted into HP-UX 9 and we were presented with a login prompt – oh dear, we had no idea of any usernames or passwords. We had assumed that this box had come from The Royal Bank of Scotland, but that would prove to be incorrect.

Following instructions from the comp.sys.hp.hpux FAQ we booted into single user mode. Sadly, we were not able to hack the /etc/passwd file and change the root password, we were presented with a prompt to insert a backup tape or call some extension number. Someone had obviously locked this box down to prevent things being changed.

Sadly that was as far as we got. From fiddling around Rich discovered that it probably didn’t belong to RBS after all. On booting it normally he saw something about the BBC Network Accounting System being called at start-up. We couldn’t find anything about this on the net. The time on the server was set to September 1998 when we first turned it on, so we assume that Marvin’s working life ended quite some time ago. How it came to be acquired by the Computer Shop in Plymouth we will probably never know.

I left the TermiHouse at approximately 2:45am, I was very glad that I have no lectures on a Wednesday!

We have now acquired information from Simon Waters (a former HP admin) which might allow us to boot Marvin into a different run-level and bypass this security measure. I hope so after all the time I have spent messing around with it and all the money I spent in Maplin – and still they didn’t offer me a credit account! They did give me a 5% discount for being a student though, which was nice.

Until the next time… hack safe kids, hack safe!

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