Wednesday, July 30, 2008

“Hey Brian, we have a problem.”

I look up from my desk to see Alan, my assistant leaning in the door to my office. What's new, I wonder.

“You need to see this. Now.”

Oh great, this can't be good. I wonder what the dimwits up stairs have done now. Sooner or later, the guys with initials in their titles will figure out that we actually have a clue about what we're doing and quit trying to make us “better” at our jobs. Better always means lots of meetings, some headaches and maybe a sleepless night or two before we sneak back to doing things the way we always have.

“Channel 13.”

I really wish they'd figure out a way to keep people from stealing code while still allowing the FEED into the building. I hate not being able to access my tech FEEDs.

I follow Alan down the hall to the conference room. He has the TV on one of the 24 hour news networks still around. Footage from one of the SecureCams of a man walking into a McDonald's with an AK 47. He hoses down the whole place. They follow this with a clip of the man being drug out on a stretcher. His eyes are wide open but clearly not seeing. He ticks his head to one side repeatedly like he was having a seizure; the same seizure over and over again. A terminal feedback loop?

“Any reason to think that's us? I mean, it's not like someone's real brain doesn't break every once in a while.”

“Keep watching.”, he responds coolly.

The next story makes my heart drop. A woman in Duluth had run her entire family through a wood chipper. The scene is something out of a nightmare. There's still a leg sticking out of the feed port of the chipper. Red and small chunks are sprayed all over the bushes on the other side of the machine.

“When did the last Update go out?”, I ask.

“Twelve hours ago.”

“That's an awful long delay.”

Usually conflicts are immediate. Even if they're not, we usually catch any bugs long before an Update FEEDs.

“Daniels called down.”, Alan informs me, “He wants us to find out if we've got a bug and quick. He didn't sound happy.”

Of course he didn't sound happy. His programmers screwed something up that may cost Ment-ronics real money. Now, he's going into full CYA mode...which means he's going to try to blame us. I will NOT let that happen.

Of course, if it was a bug, then one of my guys HAD missed it. We all had.

“Damn it.”

I go back to my office. I need to make some calls. It's Saturday and most everyone is off. I only came in to grab my sunglasses.

Resource Conflict

Huh? What's that?

Rebooting in ...3....2....1

Systems Check......Online

“What'cha need Alan?” I ask my assistant who is leaning in my office door.

He stares at me blankly for a moment. He looks like I just said something funny.

“The news?”, he finally answers.

What about the news? Oh, crap! Is that ours?

Five people. Out of a division of 30, five people could be bothered to show up to help with this. There are times I really hate people. Daniels called again. He really is near panicking. He's got all his programmers coming in to help. I already know this, however, since one of his guys, Debbie, is standing in front of me. She came down to help troubleshoot the Update. She's still new and doesn't know that Daniels' folks and mine aren't supposed to play nice together.

Still, I'll take her over Steve any day of the week. She's his replacement. Upgrade really. She's easier to look at and a thousand times more competent than he was. He was never what I would call Top Shelf anyway but he had gotten to the point where all he did was play WOW: D all day long. He was too stupid or smug to even pull up a programming window to open if a boss walked in. Daniels sent him packing six months ago. One of the few times I've ever agreed with Daniels on anything..

“Thanks for the help, Debbie.”

“No way I wouldn't be here. If this is us...we screwed up bad.”

Sooner rather than later she needed to learn that around here, as a programmer, you never, ever admit to a mistake. It just isn't done.

“Everybody here is going to get the Update...fresh and clean. Then we'll...”

Resource Conflict

“What now?”, I grumble.

Rebooting in ...3....2....1

Systems Check......Online

“Then we'll....what?”, Debbie from Programming was looking at me asking.

“Then we'll what, what?”, I have no idea what she's talking about. Programmers aren't really used to interacting with other people.

“You were just telling me how we were going to troubleshoot the Update.”

“Troubleshoot the Update?”, was she drunk, “On a Saturday?”

She stares at me like I've lost my mind. I just came in to grab my sunglasses. Why would I want to spend the day troubleshooting an Update that had already gone out? Especially with this head ache coming on.

“Brian, what's the plan?”, Alan asks me.

There's five of our Shooters standing in the conference room behind him. On the TV, images of a blood stained wood chipper fill the screen. Holy crap!!! I forgot where I was, what was going on. Talk about a brain fart.

“Everyone gets a clean install of the Update.”, some groans, “I know. Just back up your implant now and when we're done you can overwrite that image back to it.”

Most people had a lot of stuff loaded on to their implants. Music players, videos, photos of family members, some games. Deleting everything and starting from scratch sucked.

“After the clean install, we add the standard suite to two of us, the power user suite on two of us and the newbie suite on two of us. Debbie and I get nothing. She's not one of us, and at least one of us needs to be unaffected. Then we wait 12 hours and see what happens.”

We can't help but watch. After all, it isn't every day that the world goes mad. In Las Angeles there were riots spreading though Compton and Watts. Detroit was apparently burning to the ground, thousands were hurt or dead. In Texas, a refinery worker had rammed his car into the facility causing a massive explosion. It had even knocked down buildings in the nearby town. There were even unconfirmed reports of a company of Marines and a company of soldiers trading shots down at some military base in the south. The reports were overwhelming.

In just under 30 hours since our Update had gone live nearly twenty percent of the population, about Ment-ronics market share, had gone fruit-loopy.

“Well, anybody showing any problems?” I ask Alan.

“Nope. All our diagnostics are normal.”

“Then it can't be our Update, can it? By now, people were shooting up McDonald's and chipping their families. The worst we've had is an argument over what to put on the pizzas we had delivered.”

“Maybe we just don't have the right suites installed. There's a thousand combinations and any one of them could be causing this.”

Thanks for the pep talk, Alan.

“We have simulations...they're close. What's different here as opposed to the wild?”, I ask.

“Any number of things. It could be some badly programmed open source stuff. We update our suites from drive while most people use the FEED.”

“The FEED?”

“That couldn't cause this, could it?”

“There used to be viruses that lived totally within the protocols for the old Internet. It's possible to add a bit of data here...a bit there.”

“How do we find out? Send someone outside to use the FEED?”

“Not if I can avoid it. I know a guy over at InterMind. I'll give him a call and see what he thinks.”

I pick up the phone and search my contact list for Corey at InterMind. Do I even have a home number for him? Yes! Good.

Resource Conflict


Rebooting in ....3....2....1

System Check.....Online

“Hey, Brian!” a voice on the other end of the phone greets me. Who is calling me?

“Uhm, hey. How's your Sunday?”

I hate when people do this. I check the screen on the phone. Corey at InterMind? Why would he be calling me on a Sunday?

“I'm still alive and not in a riot. How about you?”

Not in a riot? What does that mean?

“I, uh, I've got a screaming head ache.”

There's got to be some aspirin or Tylenol in my desk somewhere. Oh come on!!!

I slam my drawer closed.

“Crap. Someone stole my painkillers.”, I think, out loud apparently.

“I bet you guys are really kicking yourselves.”

“Over what?”

“Steve Abati.”

“I don't miss him one little bit.”

“Really? You guys must have some really strong programmers if this is the type you let go.”

“You guys hired him!?”

“Steve's sharp. He comes in early, works late every night. He's even caught some problems with the other programmers code.”

I guess getting canned straightened him out.

“Is this stuff you guys?”, Corey asks.

What stuff? Can't people TALK and make sense anymore?!

“What stuff?” I ask.

Why is Alan standing in my office. Why are there Shooters here today? And a Programmer?

“There's a “glitch in the matrix” somewhere. Is it you guys?”

Glitch? The murders! The riots!!! How could I forget?! What a brain fart!!

“The FEED?”, Alan prompts.

“Oh, uh, yeah. Corey, we've been running tests here for the last 13 hours or so. We've got no issues either live or in the simulations.”

“So what do you think the issue is?”

“Well, we don't have the FEED in's blocked.”

“You think it's us?!”

“I don't know. When was your last update?”

“I don't know, Brian. I don't have that stuff at least not at hand. This is your mess. We're just the network.”

“There used to be TCP/IP viruses.”

“We've never even been able to create a FEED virus ourselves...and believe me we've tried.”

“Look, I know how it sounds. Could you just find out when the FEED's last download was? Please?”

“It was sometime Saturday. Wait a minute....let me look”, I can hear the clicking of a keyboard, “Yeah. It was 10 am Saturday.”

Two hours before Mr. Mc Donalds and Woody.

“Look, that was just two hours before this all started.”


“It's possible, right? Not probable, but possible?”

“Yeah. Yeah, it is.”, the tone in his voice is down, like the thought that I might be right just hit him., “I'll look into it.”

He hangs up on me. On ME?! Like I'm not having a bad enough day already!! People killing each other, locked into work on the weekend, a screaming headache and I keep forgetting things I ought to remember....

Three times. Three times in the last day I have completely lost track of what I was doing. No, four. Oh no. No!!! I've completely blanked out four times....since my Update. Is that even possible?

What was that? I look over at Alan who is staring at me like I'm Robin Williams. He looks up at the ceiling just as I'm about to think I'm hearing things.

“Fire crackers?” he asks the ceiling and the programmers above it.

“It wouldn't surprise me.”

It's not uncommon to hear Shooters cuss. In fact, it should probably be in the job description. I think nothing of hearing the Shooters outside my office let loose. Why is Daniels down here? What does he want NOW?!

“Brian.”, he says in monotones, staring at me wild eyed.

Is he bleeding?? Is that a gun?!!

Oh no!! He's infected! I start to dive under my desk.

“The guys....”, he can barely speak, “I came back from getting some Chinese and found them....Tim...”

“Alan, take the guys and go upstairs. See what's going on.”

I can't believe this!! Just what I need right now!!

“Daniels, could you, uh, give me the pistol?”

Why does he even HAVE a gun?

“I shot him. I killed Tim.”, he walks, no shuffles forward and lays the revolver on my desk, “He killed them all. Tim killed my guys.”

Alan runs past my office and I can hear him throwing up somewhere. Greg, one of the other Shooters stands in my door. He's pale and looks shaken.

“They're dead. All of them I think.”, Greg takes a deep breath, “I don't think most of them were shot...they's bad.”

BAD?! No this isn't bad. Bad is a flat tire on the way in to work. Bad is a Tim Burton movie. This is a DIASASTER!!

“Call the cops. We need to let them... Is that thunder?”

The sky is bright blue and cloudless. It ss a beautiful summer day. Oh, no.

“Look! Over there!!”, Debbie says, pointing out a window to the east.

I had caught a glimpse of it as it rolled up over the top of the Frasier Building. Now, she and the others were seeing it. A black cloud filled with orange, pushing towards the sky. Some thing had exploded. I guess the cops won't be coming to TV cameras in here, just SecureCams.

This has to end. Now. I don't care what Corey thinks. The FEED is causing this and it needs to stop now.

I flip through my contact list, there has to be someone who can help. My Dad was a HAM radio operator until they shut them all down. He knew a guy in the FCC....what was his name? We used to go fishing out on his farm? Tom!! Tom Koenig!!

Ah-ha!! A number.

He answers more quickly than I expect.

“Tom. Brian Tam here.”

“Brian!! How's your Dad doing?”

“He hates retirement with a passion. Look, I'm short on time. Have you been watching the news?”

“Sure have. It's awful isn't it?”

“I think I know what's causing it.”, I explain where I work, what the last 33 hours have been like and give him my prognosis.

“So, you want me to shut down the FEED? I don't have that kind of power.”

“Just shut it off for here. If it isn't the FEED, nothing's going to change. If it IS the FEED and we shut it off, they'll just sorta shut down.”

“Shut down?”

“I don't know exactly. I've only read some of the theories about a total FEED failure. The point is, if I'm right we stop the killing. If I'm wrong, a couple hundred thousand people don't get streaming video of it on their implant...they have to settle for cable.”

“Yeah, you're right. Let me see what I can do.”

We're all standing around the TV in the conference room. Tom had come through. The FCC was going to shut off the local transmitters for the FEED. If I am right, we should know immediately. As we watch, the growing mob of people here in town stop, one guy with a shopping cart raised over his head poised to go through a plate glass window. They stand there for a moment and then collapse to the ground like those goats that fall asleep when scared.

“It's the FEED. There is a bug in the FEED that corrupts our wetware.”, Debbie states the obvious.

It doesn't take long before the President is on TV. He announces that he has signed an executive order to shut down all FEED transmitters until a fix can be found. All over the country the images come in as transmitters go off. Rioters, fall to the ground, asleep with their eyes open. One man, braining a woman with a cobblestone stops. His eyes roll back into his head, he drops the stone from limp hands and he slumps off of her onto the bloody pavement.

“Is it over?”, one of the Shooters asks.

“Yeah, I think so.”, I answer.

My email is signaling. Who would be sending me an email right now? Save the country and I don't even get a moment to rest.

It's from Corey. He sent me some code. It's base code from the FEED!! Why would he send this to me? Oh, the Feds were raiding InterMind's offices. He needed to get this out. Why?

Wait. What's this line of code here? It doesn't do anything. Sloppy programming. Who did this, a drunk monkey? It should be digitally signed...huh. Steve Abati. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. He's not such a catch now, is he Corey?

I send the Shooters and Debbie home. Not much we can do right now. Not with only one, rookie programmer. Daniels is sitting slumped against the wall of my office. Pouting, I think. So he killed Tim? It's not like the guy didn't need it? Sheesh. WHy am I thinking like that? I bowled with Tim sometimes.

Down the hall, I hear the music that the news channel plays for breaking news. I glance at Daniels, still pouting, and I head down to hear what there is to hear. It's the head of the FCC.

“Due to the strategic importance of the FEED to both the national infrastructure and national defense, the need for such a system is clear.”

NO!! They're going to turn it back on?!!!

“The current system, for obvious reasons, is incapable of performing the tasks that are crucial to recovering from this crisis. As a result, the President has accepted an offer from Ment-ronics to allow the use of their new, high security, FEED system. It is a completely new protocol and can not be affected by whatever plagued the old FEED network. At first, the use of the new network will be limited to government officials and first responders.

"The new system requires a patch from Ment-ronics. It will be installed by hand. Once it is installed in all affected citizens then FEED transmitters will be switched back on in a few trial cities. The “reboot” will be gradual. We ask for your patience.”

We are now the sole proprietor of the Wetnet. InterMind's not going to like that one little bit. We have a patch for the FEED transfer? Was that what Daniels had his guys working on during all this? Couldn't be. He's not smart enough or brave enough to think that far ahead without orders. It couldn't have been done in the last 8 hours, the programmers are all dead. The cops and the morgue will get here as soon as they can..that's what they told me at least. What does this mean?

It means I need to take a look at our code. I don't believe in happy coincidences or in programmers that plan for their own, or another's, mistakes. Both are pure fiction.

I can't get into the source code from down here. I'm going to have to go upstairs. Well, I can't say I haven't wanted them dead before...Stop that!

Wow. The brutality of it all stuns even me. Maybe if my head wasn't about to explode I'd care more but as it is, I just have to know when that patch was written.

It doesn't take long to get to a usable computer. I just have to be careful not to slip in the mess. Oh, here we go. It was written a week ago? By....Daniels? He hasn't touched a line of code since I've worked here. Why this?

A TV somewhere up here catches my attention. The lawsuits are already pouring in. InterMind is being sued for trillions,TRILLIONS, of dollars in damages. Their CEO has come out accepting responsibility for a glitch. They are claiming it was in the transmitters themselves. Sure they would. They're desperate to not go bankrupt and keep us from taking over the Wetnet. They're done. And they know it.

Things are not adding up. Why would you write a patch to fix a FEED virus a week before it hits? How could you? Maybe, it doesn't fix the virus as much as just over writes it and installs our protocols over it. It was meant to switch new users over to our FEEDs. Still...

I pull up the source code for our latest Update out of the server. It could take me weeks to go through it all, line by line. Why am I even looking?

That's why. Look at this mess of code. I scrolled through just glancing at the code when I came across a section that looked like a hoarder's living room. Who writes code this jumbled? Oh, yep, there it is. Steve again. I'm so tired of cleaning up his messes. Didn't he ever hear about deleting useless lines....

Resource Conflict

NO!!! Not now damn it!!!

Rebooting in....3.....2....1

Systems Check......Online

Huh. What is this? Wow, this is some really bad writing. All style no substance.

You know, this almost looks like programming. They showed us some in school. I wonder if I can still make it out...It's been awhile.

Hmmm. Why did someone highlight this line? That's odd. I don't think that does anything.

Wait. I KNOW that line. I've seen it before...

AHHHG!!! I can't think with this head ache!!! It feels like there's a dwarf in there with an air hammer!! It's like the time the FEED got a loop-back error...

“THE FEED!!! That's where I saw that code!!”, I think out loud again.

"It's possible to add a bit of data here...a bit there." I can hear myself saying to Alan earlier. That's what they had done. Part of the code in our Update, the other part in the FEED's protocols!!

Oh no. Oh dear God no.

What was that noise? Ah, God that burns!!! Why...why am I bleeding?

Turning around, I see Daniels standing in the door way of the office I'm in. Ohhhh, this burns! He's holding that pistol...

“It was us.....WE did this!?”, I gasp as I fall to the floor.

He's walking towards me. I can see him but all I can do is lay here in this mess and burn.

Resource Conflict

Rebooting in....3....2....1

Systems Check.....Offline