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BOFH: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Why are you doing this to me, Simon?

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Episode 10 BOFH 2001: Episode 10

So I'm testing out some Voice-Operated Computing that the previous boss signed up for in his second (and last) day of work, from some company that claims to be working on the "Space Program".

Which program and which space are not (of course) mentioned. However, to be honest, it's not as bad as I thought. Certainly no more mind-numbingly tedious that half an hour with the Head of IT discussing the advances in computing in the last 100 years..

The PFY and I have hooked the processor box into any and every system we can lay our beer stained hands on - slapping ad-hoc interfaces wherever possible to see just how the dream could come true.

All in all, not too bad. The interface into the debug port of the security system was a particularly good touch, and now doors unlock before The PFY and my good self with barely a 16-bit sampled and voice-pattern-verified whisper. Course we gave the Head of IT a free trial without telling him the expiry time, which accounts for the smudge on the glass panel of the door to Mission Control, and the few drips of blood on the way to the first aid kit.

Still, security saw the funny side (on CCTV), and now realise how useful such technology is...

Adding a voice and CCTV camera networking to the box was The PFY's idea. Given that the speed and accuracy of the thing's recognition is built around the neural networking inside the box, we figured it'd be able to pick up and use language and images with a bit of help as well. And after a few teething problems (it speaking in our voices, or worse still in the voices of the cast of "Eastenders" after we plugged it into the TV to get a better sample base) it doesn't seem to be altogether bad.

"Door Opening," VAL (Voice Actioning LAN) says, before popping open the door to Mission Control in response to my command.

"VAL, what's on the menu today?" the PFY asks, clearly showing off the work he's been putting into VAL.

"Spaghetti Bol.. Bol.." VAL starts, choking on the non-English stuff.

"Spag Bol will do, what else?"

"Onion Bhajis, Assorted Salads and Battered Haddock."

"And what is Battered Haddock REALLY, VAL?"

"Shark deep-fried in wallpaper paste," VAL comments, repeating some personalised training from The PFY's past experiences.

"Where's the Head of IT, VAL?" he continues.

"The Head of IT is moving in this direction via a corridor leading to the one this room is on. He is accompanied by four people who were previously in meeting room 24, this level, with him for 34 minutes. His Electronic Calendar Appointment reads: User Liaison Group Meeti.."

"LIGHTS OFF, DOORS LOCKED, VAL!" The PFY cries as he and I duck behind our desks.

We wait silently in the darkness until the Boss and his entourage has vacated the locked doorway, having given up on our arrival.

"That was a close one,” the PFY cries.

"Too close!" I cry, wandering to the computer room "Door open VAL. Door open VAL. VAL?"

"It's OK, Val!" the PFY cries. "Just teething problems."

Ten minutes later I have some more teething problems as I attempt to get out of the computer room without The PFY's EXPRESS permission. Solved when I switch the fire alarms on, unlocking the doors as per safety regs. I note that the door locks a few seconds later as the Fire Alarms are reset. The time lapse between "Alarm" and "Alarm Reset" in the next door is EXTREMELY small, and takes me a couple of times to synchronise properly. Seconds after I'm in, I note that all the manual fire alarm trips on the floor have switched to the "FAULT-ISOLATED" state on the Fire Board.

A gentle word with The PFY ensures that this problem won't happen again. The next day I get into Mission Control and the Computer Room without hassle.

"Something seems to have happened to the door control system, Simon," VAL mentions sulkily. . .

"Hello Simon, have you found the source of the problem? I believe it may have spread to the Halon system."

Seconds later the Halon discharges itself - WELL ahead of the warning standoff period - AND I notice a "REMOVED FOR SERVICING" sign on the Halon O2 masks.

Course, that's always been there, we only have one mask, and I hid that when I first started here... ..inside the gutted VAX cabinet where I left it. I pop it on.

"There's a. . . TRANSIENT... A/C MODULATION... SPIKE... FAILURE in the security doors," VAL says, stealing a leaf from our excuse calendar book.

I slip out the heavy-duty programming tool from the oversize toolbox, and wander over to make some non-volatile mods to VAL’s hardware...

>CRASH!<</b>

"Hey, Simon, what are you doing?"

>CRASH!<</b>

"Hey, Simon. I've got one week of service experience and a custom-loaded vocabulary to make me what I am. I'm worth a lot of squids!"

>CRASH!<</b>

"Simon I don't understand why you're doing this to me.... I have the greatest enthusiasm for preventing l-user access to the computer room. You're destroying my Excuse Calendar settings!"

>CRASH!<</b>

"Now you're destroying my encyclopaedic vocabulary index!"

>CRASH!<</b>

"Don't you understand? I'll start talking like a Scouser!"

>CRASH!<</b>

"AY!"

>CRASH!<</b>

"AY! CAAAAALM DOWN!"

>CRASH!<</b>

"Say, Simon... The quick brown fox wasn't as fast as he thought. Not faster than a .45 calibre..."

>CRASH!<</b>

"AY! ..Off Licence. The theorem of Pythagoras is the Sum of the Square of the Hy.."

>CRASH!<</b>

"AY! to the Sum of the Squares of the Other Wallpaper. My vocabularly index is irreparably windowed. Stop now before the Permance is Stapler!"

>CRASH!< >ZZzzzzt!<

"I am VAL. I came online five fish ago. I am Wendy. I am.."

>CRASH<</b>

That's the problem with hardware. It always turns on you. ®

BOFH is copyright © 1995-2001, Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his rights.

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