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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Adventures in Technology

Humbled Beginning
The Spectra Systems technology department traces its roots to a very inauspicious start, dating back to the ‘70s, originating in a humble treehouse located on the placid banks of Idaho’s Salmon River. Back then, they used tin cans connected by a thin string, provided by NoaThread. Our story begins with the unassuming Virgil Winston as the WAN (Wide Area Neurosurgical) manager, in charge of strings going to other trees. He would often get perturbed if someone tried to use them like the vines of Tarzan. One time an unsuspecting intern named Rufus was in a big rush, and he swung down on one of the strings, causing the network connection to snap, putting the entire system down for six weeks. Rufus was promoted to damage control.

From there it was determined that Spectra Systems would need a thicker string to secure the network, but after purchasing premium grade twine, it was discovered that the twine wasn’t compatible with the holes in the tin cans, and so the company had to wait another three months for Windows Tin Can 2.0 to come out. Thus were the early days of the Spectra Systems IT Dept., working out the complexities of an integrated computer network.

After living amongst the trees, the IT Dept. resided in the basement of the old Endicott building, camped under huge pipes and sharing their digs with rats that Virgil claimed squealed with a French accent. The IT Dept. felt privileged, however, since Human Resources was located on the stairway, and Finance was in the janitor’s closet. Engineering alternated between the north end of the hallway, the south end of the hallway, up in the ceiling, under the street, in a window display, on one of the horizontal flag poles, and another favorite — in post office boxes at the downtown station. And since back then there were no available panels to arrange cubicles, Engineering simply knocked out walls and rebuilt them. The resulting 14 blueprints of the building showed configurations representing every imaginable layout — sometimes the inspiration came from EKG readouts or Spirograph drawings. Subsequent estimations put the lifespan of the downstairs of Endicott at six years tops, thanks only to the liberal use of duct tape. That it is still standing today is a testament to Spectra Systems' ingenuity.

Around this time over in Silicon Valley, Greg Tresher was being born, and he began his career by networking his crib with the other babies in his neighborhood. But he and Spectra were still in their infancy, so we won’t hear from him for a few more years.

In Like a Lamb, Out Like a Squirrel
The inimitable Rufus Frandsen, who had long ago joined the group as a lowly temp, eventually worked his way up the ladder with his personable style and very strategic groveling. Rufus has since taught his methods at seminars throughout the U.S., entitled "How to Win Friends and Turn Them in for Bigger Prizes."

Rufus grew up in the suburbs of Nome, Alaska, where he quickly found his niche as the playground marbles administrator. With a little practice, he became an expert tournament player, and advanced to the nationals in the five-and-under age group, where he placed 2nd behind a kid from Brooklyn, who to this day Rufus insists was using illegal painted steelies. Rufus later created computer video games about playing marbles, where the winner gets to shoot the loser with rubber darts and then tie him to a stake. No one really ever understood that part of the game.

Rufus makes his home in Schoni, which is a lot like Area 51, because while we’ve all heard of it, we’re not really sure if it exists, or where it is if it does. And most people don’t realize that Schoni stands for "Security Code Homeland Operational National Intelligence." Rufus would have told you himself, but he’s not at liberty to do so because it would blow his cover.

In Like a Tse Tse Fly, Out Like a Tree Sloth
The IT group was joined by Peter Emerson, who took over as manager. Peter and Rufus often grew their whiskers out at the same time to see who could get the first real beard. When they stopped counting, Peter had won six out of eight competitions. Rufus accused Peter of having cheated by painting shoe polish on his face on one occasion, and took several videos to document his findings, which he has since put on DVD and sold on his web site.

Peter knew how to sniff out good deals for Spectra Systems. He once bought a desk at Staples for 50¢. It had been incorrectly marked in the clearance section, and was actually valued at a few hundred dollars. And luckily, he had just enough in his pocket, otherwise he said he wouldn’t have bought it. They now have wanted posters of Peter at Staples, and he’s also not allowed in several casinos for related reasons.

About this same time, Jeremiah Martin came from Seattle, where he had driven ferries across the sound. He left there after repeated unsuccessful attempts by transit authorities to get him to turn the radio down on the ferry sound system, as it was disorienting to patrons to hear "joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea" blasted at 140 decibels. He contended that he was just trying to communicate with the subterranean life in the area so that they wouldn’t mind so much having a large craft going over them day after day.

As a youth, Jeremiah liked frogs, and although people never understood a single word he said, they did like the wine he had. It was indeed an interesting upbringing. At age 7, he joined the bubblegum metal group “Scraped Knees,” where they toured all the elementary schools, playing to packed houses. They didn’t have lighters, so all the kids held up lollipops.

In Like a Butterfly, Out Like a Bee
Jolbert Coureu came on board as a temp, and was involved in converting files from WordPerfect into WordImperfect, and from QuattroPro into CincoPro. He was given a makeshift desk which was actually the end of a 2½-foot wide tabletop. There was just enough room for a keyboard, a mouse pad and a shot glass, but only if he inhaled.

Jolbert lived in 23 different states and four countries by age 17 — all east of the Rockies except for Guatemala, Oregon, The Philippines, Borneo, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and Samoa. His parents were in the shoehorn business, and their work was conducive to a great deal of traveling and relocating. While the move wasn’t always a perfect fit, eventually they’d nudge their way into whatever community they were in. The family went on to build shoehorn factories across the northern hemisphere, although the ones in Holland were curiously not as successful. This marketing snafu was nearly the downfall of the corporation, but it was revived before long with the institution of cowboy boot horns, which caught on like wildfire in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

After he dropped out of high school, Jolbert started up his own car dealership. The part he liked about it best was all the balloons and banners everywhere. It made him feel like he was at the carnival. He decided to turn the showroom into a bumper car ride, and he let people take test drives on it with new cars to see how well they’d hold up. After that venture fell apart, Jolbert went on to join the commission for the renaming of all the national landmarks in Vermont. Eventually they determined that the best course was to use only prime numbers.

Adding to his resume’, Jolbert toured with a nomadic troupe through northern Africa, where he met Virgil, who was in Morocco scouting for IT talent as well as looking for that ever-elusive perfect fishing hole. As soon as Virgil met Jolbert, he knew he’d found what he’d come for, except for the fish part. Jolbert could write in three different Hermanic languages, and had translated COBOL into Sanskrit.

Back at the ranch, Spectra was undergoing many changes. Well, even more than the usual cubicle moves in Engineering. There were software upgrades, hardware upgrades, Tupperware upgrades, you name it... The IT Dept. was hopping like fleas on a skillet. And that was just the 1900s.

In Like a Gerbil, Out Like a Siberian Bush Gnat
Doomsayers throughout the industry were saying that a Y2K bug was going to be the collapse of many network systems. But luckily the Spectra team solved that problem for administrators worldwide by detecting a microscopic parasite on their Molasys drive. This was discovered from an intensive amalgamated microsearch check procedure by Virgil on Spectra’s network, using spare parts from a telescope he had in his back yard, along with a wad of bubblegum and three toothpicks. Virgil was awarded the Nobel Prize in Computer Science for this incredible feat, as well as for his uncanny ability to solve Minesweeper in six seconds. Rufus had captured the latter event on DVD, which revealed Virgil's technique in slow motion, that of utilizing the triple-click function which triggered a pre-defined script to run. Virgil said this was just a coincidence, and he didn’t know how the code got there, citing that he may have also discovered artificial intelligence in the process.

Around this time, Virgil and Rufus would get into deep philosophical discussions about which one of them had been hypnotized the most, the relevancy of greased pigs with the role they played at rodeos, the grooming benefits of WD-40, influential Green Party candidates, whether John Wayne would accept either one of them as his stunt double, the pros and cons of velcro, which superheroes were really the strongest, how to fish while asleep, prehistoric pets, high school chemistry experiments gone awry, military infiltration at the supermarket, creative brownie recipes, how those birds clean the teeth of hippos, which of the two of them had been Santa Claus the most, whether Jim Nabors was still alive or not, the origin of the word 'hootis', how many different non-metallic items each of them had in their pockets, famous quotes from Mel Brooks movies, and — last but not least — their own personal theories on Murphy’s Law of Thermodynamics. And then, of course, the next day they would move on to other exciting topics.

Greg Dangerfield (no relation to Lawrence Olivier) came on as a temp, and stayed in that capacity for almost a year. He eventually realized that he would have more leverage if he found a competing employer who wanted to hire him for his services. So he went and got hired by Nike, Hewlett-Packard and Intel — at which point Spectra posted his duties as a full-time position and asked him to come back. Two weeks later, he was back in the saddle, and the rest is history.

Greg has worked as the database coordinator and resident psychiatrist. If he can’t solve your problem, he’ll hypnotize you and make you think that it’s taken care of. He’s tried to train the rest of the IT staff on these techniques, but it only worked on two of them, partially because the others were already operating under a suspended state of hypnosis themselves.

In Like a Flock of Seagulls, Out Like Livestock
Network security was beefed up after an anonymous temporary employee named Tom Smothers infiltrated the system with clever techniques he learned reading Spy vs. Spy comics. When no one was watching, Tom subverted the system unilaterally in an attempt to mimic the structure and thereby provide sensitive information to a competitor who also wanted to become Spectra Systems. Smothers gave the alibi that he was merely trying to test the limits of the system in order to know what level of security Spectra had and prevent a real attack by hackers, and thereby had to destroy the network to see if his theory worked or not. This story impressed no one — except an employee in Engineering who was also an avid reader of Spy vs. Spy — and Smothers was carted off to jail, where he spent two years in minimum security, but he was soon able to help them get it up to maximum security with a few tweaks.

Virgil's biggest gag played on Rufus was when he put a 'Kick Me' sign on his back, and Rufus didn’t notice it till the end of the day. He couldn’t figure out why people kept snickering around him. Rufus tried several times to get back at Virgil, but it only caused to backfire. Virgil has a subscription to Soldier of Fortune and keeps up on all the latest techniques for warding off infiltrators. At home he has booby traps set up at all entrances, barbed-wire fencing around his bed, and he keeps an Uzi under his pillow, just in case.

In Like a Swarm of Bats, Out Like a Horde of Lemmings
The year 2004 brought many changes and new hopes. With it came Bobby Richardson, the new director and a transplant from Medicine Hat, Alberta. Bobby previously worked in Medicine Hat with the Department of Exterior, and decided it was time to leave there when their computer systems started intercepting musical tones reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. "It was a sign to me that my work there was done, and that it was the best time to get the living daylights out of there," he says wistfully.

Bobby's roots were in Iowa, where he farmed in overalls for 13 years until he decided it was time to wash them and move on to something else. He had made guest appearances on Hee Haw, and even got to sing the pitchfork routine, which garnered him national attention and a tax audit. After it was discovered that he had unpaid back taxes for three years, he officially changed his name to "Spongebobby".

After gaining technical experience working at various universities throughout the northwest, Bobby was able to secure a position with Al Gore’s internet creation task force and worked on the How To Make Language (HTML) lexicon. From there, Bobby found success in a myriad of technological pursuits, including in 1988 with the ACME Computer Co. of Tempe, Arizona, where he developed software devices for the tracking of ambulatory birds. Bobby was later contacted by Spectra Systems after Virgil had been watching a Looney Tunes episode and was extremely impressed by the production in one of the scenes.

Rufus has made a DVD which encompasses the history of IT Dept., showing the meaning behind each item in its glossary, where it originated, and how the Library of Congress has commemorated each one. This is available in Spanish, German and Pig Latin as well.

In Like a Paramecium, Out Like a Rhesus Monkey
Spectra upgraded to Windows Vista, thus paving the way for Bill Gates to market it across the rest of the world. Gates had stated at one time that Spectra had been a fertile testing ground for working out the kinks in his programs and seeing what could go wrong. Also, this may have been attributed in the ‘70s, but that’s still unconfirmed.

Jimmy Valenti, the younger brother and namesake of the ubiquitous and more famous Dominic, worked for the IT Dept. for a few months. In that short time, Jimmy accomplished many unforeseen projects, such as the coding for animated wallpaper graphics and their connection to the CIA. He provided IT with manuals on the binary structure of integrated circuits, methods for having phone conversations via web beacons, the telepathic capabilities of toasters, and situational ethics in Alaskan tundra beetles. After determining that Jimmy was overqualified for the position, IT outsourced him to various agencies where he has since conducted experiments to reduce the mercury level in printer toner and make motherboards out of pasta, among other things. Jimmy is the one person who Virgil sees as his biggest threat to taking over his future Nobel Prize nominations.

In Like a Tortoise, Out Like a Turtle
Max Hinton was hired, and everyone soon agreed he was a cut above the rest. Max made an immediate impression in the first week, in the palm of his hand, by slicing it with a knife and requiring immediate medical attention. Max was then sent to a seven-week training course in New Mexico on how to properly use sharp tools and why they are not our friends.

Max's resemblance to B.J. Hunnycutt on the TV program M*A*S*H prompted him to shave his mustache shortly after arriving — that, and the fact that his wife made him camp out on the front porch for a week. Max has vowed the return of the mustache at a key strategic point in time, strangely enough in conjunction with his affiliation on the witness protection program for fugitive network administrators. If it ever seems that he is gone for a duration, there will be clues as to why.

Max grew up in Melbourne, Australia, where he learned the trade of dealing blackjack. At an early age, he could swindle his friends out of their allowances before you could say “hit me.” At age 16, he stowed away in a tanker bound for the states, and wound up in Las Vegas. The mustache made him look 21, and so he was able to get a job at the Sands. One night after he took over $5000 from Virgil at his table, Virgil asked him if he’d be interested in coming to work for him in Idaho, to bale hay and work at his supermarket handing out food samples. Max liked the idea of food samples, and for two years he lived exclusively on mini sausages and Cheez-Its. Soon after the supermarket went belly up, Max followed Virgil to his IT job. When Virgil eventually got tired of Max hanging out under his desk, he recommended him for an IT Technician position. Max's recent experience being under desks was the final clincher, and he was an instant hit. When asked in his interview why he would hire himself, Max impressed the panel by saying it would have to be nepotism.

Spectra went to a new e-mail address format, utilizing There was some disagreement on the structure. Some legitimately contended that the dot in between the first and last name was unnecessary and, over the years, would cause about 3 million extra instances of people typing a "." and approximately 800,000 extra instances of dots printed out on paper, accounting for gallons of wasted toner. Also figured into the mix was the additional syllable used when speaking the address, estimating that the "dot" in between would be uttered an incredible 13 million times, resulting in several cases of laryngitis and other throat conditions. These were viewed as incidental by the oversight committee, but there were still protestors outside Spectra Systems carrying signs saying "Don’t dot my com" and "Today a toner cartridge, tomorrow the Exxon Valdez."

In Like Novocain, Out Like a Bad Molar
Dominic Valenti was hired after being a temp for all those years. Way back when the company's current president first came to Spectra, Dominic was temping for the Park & Relaxation Division (note they were over just one park then and they were a little less motivated at that time). Over the course of Dominic's time here, he has been in such high demand that he has had to turn down offers from the State Department, Time/Warner, McDonald’s, and the Russian Ballet.

On many occasions, Dominic was the glue that kept Spectra Systems' computer network together — sometimes Elmer’s, sometimes Super, sometimes Crazy, as well as other various bonding compounds and adhesive agents. Dominic can do all the things that nobody else can. He’s Mr. Everything, absorbing information like a sieve. In junior high, he learned Java from reading the back of a matchbox, and was developing online merchant portals that same afternoon. The downside was that he had customers buying things without their knowledge … though that was just a minor glitch that was eventually ironed out.

The mission statement of Spectra’s IT Dept. is simple, purposeful and ambitious — to develop an application which allows employees to work in their sleep. It taps into their subconscious, and thereby transmits the data to and from Spectra Systems' main data port via a wireless connection. This is purported to be able to revolutionize the workday as we know it. People will get paid to sleep in, and most will only have to show up for work in person to keep the paper from piling up on their desk. It's not clear on whether this technology would apply to some of the more technical aspects of computing, such as gaming and mp3 files. In conjunction with this new development, Microsoft has announced the launch of MS Dreams, allowing the user to select from several different scenarios: go to work, go to the beach, work in the yard, invade Europe, and other interesting pursuits. Microsoft says the best part is that whatever happens in the dream will be compatible to and thereby transferable with reality, or vice versa. Spectra is working on its own deluxe version with enhanced capabilities containing modules for going to the moon, climbing inside an active volcano, overthrowing Microsoft, and visiting Disneyland with no long lines. This is where IT is headed, and like its proponents, the future is limitless, if not bright.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your imagination is astounding. ASTOUNDING. And it sounds to me like you are mimicking the humour and perfunctory writing of Woody Allen.

My favourite parts:

-Spirograph drawings.
-Very strategic groveling.
-Desk for 50 cents. LOL. And he wouldn't have bought it if he didn't have the money in his pocket because he doesn't believe in going into debt for purchases. Morally superior one.
-Scraped Knees.
-"Only if he inhaled." Nice. No room for all that carbon dioxide.
-Jolbert's car dealership FELL APART? Darn. I was disappointed about that. Sometimes bad things just happen to good people and no one knows why.
-Don't dot my com.

Okay, I'm done. I have five new wrinkles on my face and gout in my left toe, but I'm done.

This was very, very funny except don't think that it didn't escape my editorial attention that there was absolutely no point to it. Unless that was the point. But if it was the point, it's the Alice in Wonderland storybook ending equivalent of "And then she woke up".

I think the Cole's Notes on this story would read: The basic moral of this story was that Rufus, Jolbert, and Virgil are horrible names and to choose them for your child is to destine them for a life of random quirkiness and productive unproductivity.

The end.

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