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BOFH: Pepper-packing bot plot

Spray you, spray me

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Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

Episode 13

Isn’t it always the way that the moment you get down to doing something important that requires a large part of your concentration, some idiot rolls up with an inane problem that just can’t wait?

Like now, for instance, when the PFY and I are trying to quietly drill a small inspection hole in a recently delivered crate to see if there’s something inside which we might not want rolling around Mission Control...

“My desktop background isn’t working any more,” the user whimpers. “It used to work but now it doesn’t.”

“Really?” the PFY asks, turning the brace and bit very, very quietly. “What was the picture?”

“It was a still from the new Harry Potter.”

“Which series?” I ask, feigning interest. “The first seven books or the second seven?”

“There’s no second seven!”

“Of course there is. The second series is where Harry and Hermione bring their kids up at Hogwarts.”

“No, Harry marries Ginny!”

“Oh that – that was a dream sequence from when Harry doesn’t die. In actual fact the all the Weasleys are all killed at the beginning of the second series.”

“B... by the spirit of Voldemort and the Cruciatus Curse?”

“Nah, Harry by accident. He accidentally switches a tanning booth on and the poor Weasleys go up like ants under a magnifying glass.”

“You’re lying!”

“No, it’s true!” the PFY says. “I’ve got a mate who does typesetting for the editor’s preview editions of books. He told me about it - and he’s even sent me the whole preview set.”

“Where?” our user gasps.

“They’re in this crate here. Hang on, we’ll go and get a crowbar and we’ll get them out for you,” the PFY says, as we head to the door.

Seconds later the sound of creaking wood can be heard as the Potter-spotter pries away at the crate anxiously, not wanting to wait...

. . .

“Railgun powered Shuriken launcher,” the PFY says thoughtfully, a few minutes and a loud crash later. “Interesting.”

“Not as interesting as this,” I say, cautiously prodding the bot at the bottom of the stairwell before removing several security screws in the bot’s lid.

“What?”

“Tadaaa,” I say, withdrawing a small video camera hidden in the base of the bot. “This baby was timed to start the moment the bot was activated...”

. . . moments later at Mission Control . . .

“So they unpacked it in an empty carpark building,” the PFY says, gazing at the video footage. “What a sneaky idea!”

“Yep,” I say. “And see how they use the armoured window in the stairwell doors to observe what happens when they push a store dummy out on a wheelie chair. Ingenious! This calls for some serious thinking. Get me some lager!”

. . . a day later. . .

“So what’ve you come up with?” the PFY asks expectantly.

“A master plan!” I respond proudly. “Upon activation the Bot does... nothing!”

“Nothing?”

“Yep. Then, when it notices a change in light intensity - ie, when someone approaches - it starts puncturing these.”

“Cans of... cheap.. pepper spray,” the PFY says disappointedly.

“Yeah. Whadya think?”

“It’s a little...”

“Crap?” I suggest.

“Well... yeah.”

“Indeed it is. You’ll note that the pepper spray cartridges are a very cheap eastern European variety, poorly secured and will probably fall from the Bot’s grip the moment the first can is punctured. In terms of attack value it’s next to worthless.”

“So why...”

“Because when the attack fails the bot will, as we know from our video footage, be loaded into the back of a van and taken back to their labs for some re-engineering.”

“And will reactivate once it gets into their building – BECAUSE YOU PUT A GPS IN IT!!!!” the PFY gasps.

“Precisely...” I smirk.

“I knew...”

“...precisely what it’s not going to do. No, the robot DOES have a GPS in it which IS integral to the plan - but it’s not triggered by locational information.”

“Not triggered by locational information...” the PFY says thoughtfully, knowing that if he can’t work it out he’ll be paying for tomorrow night’s drinks. “Uh... ELEVATION!”

“Nope..” I reply, thinking happy free lager thoughts.

. . .

“The BLOODY BLACKWALL TUNNEL,” the PFY says disgustedly as he hands over a fistful of notes to the Barman.

“Yes indeedy,” I say. “Nothing quite like the absence of all GPS signals to indicate that a vanload of robo-geeks – in a confined space – has just entered a busy road tunnel with no safe means of escape.”

“Which is where the non-eastern-European tear gas canister came in,” the PFY sighs as the barman gestures for some more notage to cover the ridiculously expensive imported hand-fashioned lager that I’ve just become accustomed to...

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