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BOFH: Robot wars

Just tell us what you (chain)saw

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Security for virtualized datacentres

Episode 11

“I could have been killed!” the Boss whimpers, rubbing a couple of prominent bruises.

“I think that’s a little far-fetched,” the PFY sniffs. “What was it going to do, 360-degree-camera you to death?”

“It had a circular saw in its hands!!”

“Really? It had hands!?”

“Well, its claw then!”

“IT’S GOT A CLAW!?”

“WHATEVER THE THING IS COMING OUT THE SIDE OF IT!”

“It didn’t have anything coming out of the side of it,” I point out.

“IT DOES NOW, AND IT’S HOLDING A CIRCULAR SAW!!” the Boss snaps.

“Tell us more about the bit where you were almost killed,” the PFY says, masking his deep concern for the Boss’ welfare by reaching for some peanuts.

“It came at me the moment I stepped out of the lift!” the Boss shudders. “And it would have had me too, if the extension lead on the circular saw hadn’t got tangled around a desk...”

. . .

“I TOLD YOU WE SHOULD HAVE GONE FOR PETROL POWERED CHAINSAW!” I tell the PFY once he’s back from driving the Boss to his workplace trauma counselling sessions.

“HE’D HAVE HEARD IT A MILE AWAY!!” the PFY retorts. “Besides, we would have had to add another arm to the robot so that it could start the thing.”

“I suppose,” I admit grudgingly.

“He bought the story about it going insane after a fall down the lift shaft though,” the PFY says. “How did they catch it in the end?”

“They didn’t - Security rescued it and then it chased them round the building a bit before it fell down the staircase.”

“Ah – which would be why they bought the story so quickly.”

“Indeed,” I concur. “And the good news is that the Beancounters have stopped payment and returned the unopened robots to the bot company along with a bill for the damages...”

“Ah. That might cause some... problems,” the PFY says.

“You mean when they tell our company that a fall down a staircase can’t make a robot spontaneously sprout an arm and a chainsaw?”

“Or make massive changes to its ROM so that it becomes a hunter/killer...”

“Yes, it could be a little awkward – or rather it would have been if I hadn’t taken the opportunity to swap the original circular saw for a battery powered one that can operate from the Robot’s supply. If nothing else it might lower the numbers of support staff...”

“Oooh yes,” the PFY says, rubbing his chin enthusiastically. “The bot company is all on a single level isn’t it...”

. . A few days later . . .

“So the robot company has overhauled the faulty unit and think they’ve found the problem,” the Boss says.

“Really – what did they think it was?” the PFY says innocently.

“A... loose wire,” the Boss says, looking at a delivery sheet. “Yes, a loose wire in the... GPS circuit...”

“...caused it to grow an arm and a saw?!” the PFY says incredulously.

“Apparently so,” the Boss shrugs. “I think they said it was a... ‘Known bug’.”

“Really?” I say, faking nonchalance.

. . .

“A KNOWN BUG?” the PFY says, as the crate is delivered to Mission Control moments later.

“Yeah, they must really want payment and a happy demonstration site!” I say, levering open the crate.

“A pity really” the PFY says, firing up his program editor and reaching for the box of antipersonnel equipment.

... Two days later...

“Another known bug they’ve ironed out,” the Boss says, wheeling another crate out of the lift. “Happens when the thing has a low battery - it can start firing ball bearings at high speed from ankle height. They even said it started doing it when it got to their office, shot out their front window and their photocopier. Surprising really, because you said you were going to charge it before you shipped it back?”

“Yes, it is surprising,” the PFY pinocchios.

“Still, they think they’ve nailed it this time...”

... Ten minutes later...

“Security screws,” the PFY says, examining the panels on the robot. “I think they might be on to us.”

“Yes, because when the thing came out of the crate at them with a saw in its hands they probably just thought it was caused by a power surge,” I say sarcastically.

“What – you’re thinking we should just admit defeat?” the PFY asks.

“Well, I’m not sure about the wisdom of annoying people who probably consider ‘Robot Wars’ to be inspirational media...”

“Puh-leeeeze,” the PFY says, taping an array of stun guns to the side of the Bot.

. . . The next day...

“Well, they say they’ve definitely sorted out all the problems this time!” the Boss chirps happily, “even though the place is apparently down to a skeleton staff – what with it being flu season! This was just another loose wire.”

“Another loose wire” the PFY says. “Right, we’ll be unpacking it shortly, so hopefully nothing’s shaken loose in the delivery...”

... moments later...

“They must be running out of robots by now,” I say as I pry away at the packing crate with the crowbar.

“You’re telling me!” the PFY nods. “At this rate they... What’s that noise? Isn’t it...”

“...the starting of a small two stroke engine!!” I say, spinning the crate around to face the doorway, just as the Boss enters to see how things are going – and as a chainsaw wielding bot exits the crate.

. . .

“So that’s how they want to play it...” the PFY says moments later as we survey the upended robot at the bottom of the stairwell.

“Uhuh,” I respond. “And they still haven’t nailed that staircase thing – though perhaps we should keep that to ourselves for now...”

“So what, fuel it up, reprogram it and send it back to them?” the PFY asks.

“Sure, but I’d wait till the chainsaw ran out of gas before going to get it.”

“Why – you think they’d program it to play dead?”

“It’s what I’d do... Though you realise that we’re up against a bunch of geeks who make robots for a living?” I ask the PFY once we’re back in Mission Control.

“Uhuh.”

“And have probably secretly been waiting for the opportunity of a war like this?”

“And I haven’t been?” the PFY asks.

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