Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/09/21/bofh_episode_32/
BOFH: In search of the lazy atom
It's more scientific than car key gnomes
"That's that stuffed then," the PFY sighs, looking up from his screen.
"What, OpenOffice?" I ask, having read the recent blue whale news.
"No, no, an experiment I was doing."
"What's that then?" I ask, peering over his shoulder. "... Actually what IS that?"
"This is a view down an electron microscope."
"All sorts of stuff."
"What's it looking at now?"
"No idea, I just sent them a bunch of stuff and got them to load it on the webscope."
"I'm trying to locate something."
"What? And how did you get someone to put something in an electron microscope for you?"
"I'm looking for a certain atom. And I just sent them some samples in an envelope and said it was related to cheese virus outbreaks."
"Yeah, well, the microscope's in Switzerland."
"It's a government facility, they don't load stuff for the public."
"But they loaded it for you?"
"No they loaded it for doctor Bjorn Snuffstrisse from the Ministry of Cheese."
"The Ministry of Cheese?!"
"A new department aimed at protecting the cheese industry from adverse... uh... stuff," the PFY rambles, waving his hand about distractedly.
"I see, and you're looking for...?"
"And you realise that you can't actually see a single atom with an electron microscope?"
"I know, but I can see the effects of it."
"Right. And what is this actually about?" I ask.
"You know when you push your car lock remote when it's still in your pocket and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't?"
"And if it doesn't it just WON'T, until you drop what you're carrying and get it out of your pocket - and then it works perfectly."
"And you know how you swipe your card to get to the computer room and sometimes it just doesn't work, while other times it's just fine for weeks?"
"And when you type in your password and it doesn't work, so you type it in again and it doesn't work and you type it in SLOWLY and it still doesn't work, but then you type it in quickly again and it does?"
"I think there's a scientific reason. I... think it's because there's a 'lazy' atom in the mix."
"A... lazy... atom?" I say, dubiously.
"Yes, it's like a sort of resistor in the circuit of atomic life. It impedes the work of other atoms and generally stops things happening."
"A bit like the Director's PA?"
"No, it's a dynamic entity, it actually does work to avoid work!"
"Yep, that's her!"
"No this atom becomes involved in things outside of it's molecular bond, it affects things that it has nothing to do with."
"Have you not met the woman?!"
"LOOK," the PFY blathers. "It's an atom, I'm sure of it!"
"So it's a hitherto undiscovered atom - so obviously with a large atomic number? Hmm. Actually if it's really heavy then I'm positive it's the Director's PA! You could name it Angela too! Or Angelanium!"
"It doesn't have an atomic number, it's dynamic!"
"It's any atom. Any atom at all - it becomes lazy."
"Ah, you mean like it has no protons or something odd? But even if it did exist, what could you possibly achieve by finding it?" I ask, while slowly typing 'straightjacket' into eBay."
"I could build a detector!"
"So I can detect where the atoms come from. It could light up when an atom is present. Then you'd know when IT devices would fail."
"If you built one you could put it on Angela's desk! She could use it as a desk lamp!"
"You're not taking this seriously!"
"You're right. Car remotes fail because water gets in the remote or the button gets pressed down when you sit on your keys - and the battery goes flat. Or you press the wrong button. Swipe cards don't work because every six weeks or so security sends someone around to clean them with a dirty cleaning card and it takes a couple of swipes to get rid of the grime they deposited."
"But my password - it doesn't explain my password!"
"You password stops working because every now and then I disable your account briefly - you know, for giggles."
"So you're saying there's... no... lazy atom?" the PFY sniffs.
"Nope! No lazy atom, no lazy molecule, just a lazy PA. She's good tho. You could study her - she's a bit like a black hole in that work falls into her and pops out in some parallel universe. Hey, she could radiate your lazy atoms!"
"Lets see, she uses the same door, she's used my keyboard and she..."
"She's been in your car?" I gasp.
"I was young, I needed the money! I didn't inhale. I was very, VERY drunk at the time."
"You've been irradiated with lazy radiation!"