The Corporate Runs
Do You Trust Authority
Rob was depressed. He tried to put the best face on it, but he could tell his wife was disappointed when he cancelled their dinner plans. He hung his head while almost mumbling into the receiver.
"It's the development team, sweetheart. They don't get out much, and they certainly haven't been seen during daylight hours for months."
Rob always had a hard time perpetuating the myths -- even if they were true.
"E-mail? They stopped answering e-mail from marketing years ago. Listen, there's a very important press conference tomorrow, and I have to make physically sure that the demos are working." He paused, wanting to be the good guy.
"You know, every now and then my boss has to force this kind of thing to remind everybody which one of us is boss."
Earlier in the day, Rob's tri-weekly staff meeting was interrupted by an urgent phone call from his manager.
"Rob, the demos for the press conference are busted. I thought you said this stuff was good to go. But we can't connect to the host for the Rollo's Rent-A-Car data so we can feed it to the Shark Insurance front end! The whole script revolves around the hit-and-run scenario."
"What kind of problem do you seem to be having, sir?"
"Very funny; don't call me 'sir.' And I don't seem to be having a problem. I get an error when I click on the ambulance that is supposed to bring up the insurance form. Some hex-numbered error saying I'm the wrong persona."
"I wouldn't want someone questioning your persona, sir."
"Do your best, private."
"But there's one thing: The dev team that worked up the demo doesn't come in until after 10 o'clock tonight. It may be hard to reach them. And my wife, well, she's been planning this dinner tonight for a really long time."
"You're just going to have to come in. Which team are you working with to get this demo running?"
"It's the Cuspidor project."
"Oo, nasty crew. Quite a bitter bunch of guys. You need a snorkel to swim through the attitude up there. And naive. Weird mix of bitter and naive; never could figure that one out. Kind of like a stray dog, wouldn't you say? I think one of them writes that college-level pulp-fiction column for our Web site. Hey, isn't that the one who stuck you with something?"
"Yeah! You're right! Stabbed you with a pen, in the... the..."
"...the leg. The project lead stabbed me with a pen in the leg. Listen, I would rather you didn't send me up there tonight."
"Up there" was the fifth floor corridor that ran along the northeast side of Building 39. Commonly known as the "Alley," it housed the development team with the code name Cuspidor. Entering the building required a special employee-only encoded badge. Being accepted into the Alley required a whole other level of fortitude.
"Well, sure, I can see why you wouldn't want to go -- but we don't have a choice, Rob. That demo has got to work tomorrow, or the whole script for the press conference is sunk."
At 10:45 that night, Rob sat in his car in the underground parking garage. He adjusted the shin pads under his khakis one last time before taking the elevator ride to the fifth floor. As the doors opened, Rob encountered a baby-faced peroxide-haired tough pouring gasoline out of a gallon container into a generator in the middle of the hall. The kid looked up.
"Are you the fire marshal?"
Rob was immediately distracted by the kid's tongue stud. Then he realized it was his turn to talk: "Uh, no! No, not the fire marshal. I'm looking for Tripper. Is he around?"
"Do I look like the receptionist?"
"No, of course not. I'll just check myself."
The kid was capping the gas canister as Rob walked down the hall past the TV and Nintendo rig, past the office dedicated to the espresso stand with the barista just warming up the machines and boiling the milk, past the foosball and pool tables. He then passed the office where an upright acoustic piano was being played by a thickly bespectacled mop-top whose head lurched just above the keys as he performed a somber piece that Rob recognized from a James Bond movie, but in fact was Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21.
"Behind you," said a voice very matter-of-factly behind Rob's right ear. Rob did a quarter turn just fast enough to dodge the towering unicyclist gliding by.
He found Tripper leaning against a wall covered with a velvet black-light poster of Jimi Hendrix. The dev was tapping the flat side of a well-worn cricket bat against his forehead in a steady rhythm while reciting: "Fox, baker, niner, eight, fox, baker, niner, eight." On the other side of his office were four flat screens, each with a browser open displaying the same message: "The server has encountered error 0x8000FB98: the user name 'Prince Machiavelli' is not a valid persona." In addition, the last screen had a debugger open to the hex dump with the value "98 FB" highlighted in reverse and blinking.
"Fox, baker, niner, eight", tap, tap, tap, tap.
"Uh, hey Tripper. Sorry to interrupt..."
Tripper stopped reciting and tapping, letting the bat rest on his forehead. He closed his eyes and said, "If this isn't news about tunneling admins through the firewall, I don't think you want me to acknowledge you right now."
Pushing ahead, Rob, continued: "Yeah, again -- sorry to interrupt, but we're having some problems with the demos you prepared for us last week, and we have to show them tomorrow. It seems we can't get at the data in the rent-a-car database."
"Oh, is this that stupid hit-and-run scenario? Don't you think that whole thing is a little morbid?"
Rob couldn't help glancing around the office -- aluminum foil taped on the windows, and lit with three black lights and four LCD screens.
"Hey, wait a minute!" Tripper held the bat out in front of Rob's face. "Aren't you that marketing weasel with the leg?" he asked, pointing his bat in the general direction of Rob's knee. "Listen, I'm really sorry about that whole thing. It's okay now, right?"
"Look! It's okay! The leg is fine! What about getting access to the data?" Rob's torso and neck stiffened as he pushed the words out.
At that moment the generator down the hall roared like a hurt lion and the floor began to rumble as in a stampede of elephants. Rob shut his eyes to stop the room from spinning when an even higher, whiny motor started screaming away, all sounds fighting for aural superiority. Rob stepped inside the office slammed the door behind him, shaken, on edge, stiff as the door he was holding up.
Tripper had to raise the volume to talk over the still pervasive reverberating noise "Oh, that's Satoya. New kid. He agreed to buff all our snowboards but the last time he tried it he blew away all the circuits in the building. All the code servers went down -- it was a real mess. Anyway, what error messages are you getting from the demo's data store?"
"Huh? Oh, error message, " Rob was almost shouting. "Yes, something about invalid persona."
"What? You're kidding? You're getting that too? That must mean it's coming from the data center!" Tripper started frantically pounding on the wall to the office next to him. "Hey Boz!" he screamed, "try changing roles on Machiavelli and see if it's those reactionary net-ops at the data center again! Holy shhhh..."
They stood around for what seemed like an eternity when the door started opening, pushing Rob against the wall. Boz, whose head was wrapped with ski goggles and FAA regulation ear-protecting headphones, stuck his face just far enough in the door to give Tripper a smiling thumbs-up and then duck back out of the office.
Tripper then lunged for his phone, speed dialed the data center, and spent the next few minutes yelling into the receiver. Rob managed to catch a few phrases while he gathered his composure, doing his best to track the conversation over the buffing cacophony.
"What do you mean you changed the access rights? You can't just up the certs to level three through the gateway without telling everybody! That's a big deal! You broke a lot of things! When did you do this?... You're kidding! No wonder none of my code works if all my admin privileges are being revoked from you guys! What kind of wanna-be-fascist... Hey, don't lecture me on security! As far as you're concerned I am your trust authority!"
On like this it went until Tripper had said his piece (four times) and seemingly vented his wrath.
Rob hung around just long enough for Tripper to log into the data center with his new privileges, access the demo's data. Rob felt confident when he saw that one accident form was indeed confirmed to arrive at the fictitious insurance company, police headquarters' fax, rental car agency, ambulance dispatcher, lawyer's beeper, chiropractor's appointment calendar, neck brace supplier's inventory and physical therapist's e-mail.
With his problems solved and work unblocked, Tripper was downright cheerful, even playful -- but none of that put Rob at ease as he was trying to brave the hallway to get out of the Alley once and for all. Tripper reached under his workbench and from the darkness pulled out a pair of ear-protectors and threw them at Rob who quickly put them on, mouthing an honestly grateful "Thank you."
Rob left Tripper dancing in his office with his bat as he made it quickly down the Alley and chose to trot down the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator -- just as the fire sprinklers dropped from the ceiling and started sputtering water on their way to full out spray.