Cratch Monkey N. As In "Before Testing Or Reconfiguring, Always Mount A Scratch Monkey", A Proverb Used To Advise Caution When Dealing With Irreplaceable Data Or Devices.

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scratch monkey n.

As in "Before testing or reconfiguring,
always mount a scratch monkey", a proverb used to advise
caution when dealing with irreplaceable data or devices. Used to
refer to any scratch volume hooked to a computer during any risky
operation as a replacement for some precious resource or data that
might otherwise get trashed.

This term preserves the memory of Mabel, the Swimming Wonder
Monkey, star of a biological research program at the University of
Toronto. Mabel was not (so the legend goes) your ordinary monkey;
the university had spent years teaching her how to swim, breathing
through a regulator, in order to study the effects of different gas
mixtures on her physiology. Mabel suffered an untimely demise one
day when a DEC field circus engineer troubleshooting a
crash on the program's VAX inadvertently interfered with some
custom hardware that was wired to Mabel.

It is reported that, after calming down an understandably irate
customer sufficiently to ascertain the facts of the matter, a DEC
troubleshooter called up the field circus manager responsible
and asked him sweetly, "Can you swim?"

Not all the consequences to humans were so amusing; the sysop of
the machine in question was nearly thrown in jail at the behest of
certain clueless droids at the local `humane' society. The moral
is clear: When in doubt, always mount a scratch monkey.

[The actual incident occured in 1979 or 1980. There is a version of
this story, complete with reported dialogue between one of the
project people and DEC field service, that has been circulating on
Internet since 1986. It is hilarious and mythic, but gets some
facts wrong. For example, it reports the machine as a PDP-11 and
alleges that Mabel's demise occurred when DEC PMed the
machine. Earlier versions of this entry were based on that story;
this one has been corrected from an interview with the hapless
sysop. --ESR]