Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/07/26/verity_stob_dorothy_l_sayers/

Lord Peter views the logfile

Top hole, Bunter

By Verity Stob

Posted in Verity Stob, 26th July 2010 09:02 GMT

Stob "What is design? Dorothy Sayers (English writer and dramatist - quoted by Brooks) suggests that design has three phases" - InfoQ reviewing Fred 'Mythical Man' Brook's latest tome.

I had never realised that the famous crime writer Dorothy L Sayers was one of us - VS.

The morning sunshine, filtered, as it were, through London's Green Park, shone in on the second floor flat at 110A Piccadilly. It bounced playfully off the open, over-polished lid of the baby grand piano, scattered the too-blue hues of a cut glass bowl of centaurea cyanus in a dancing pattern across the ceiling, and fell on the protective glass doors of the large, crammed bookcases on the far wall, providing glimpses of the treasures inside: a Second Folio, the Beardsley-illustrated edition of Malory's Arthur You Legend, and, best of all, the serried ranks of Knuth's L'art de la programmaçion informatiq in their original Norman French.

A young man, resplendent in a silk dress-gown with a peacock motif,  was perched delicately on the end of the Chesterfield, his flaxen head bent over a strange musical instrument. A tray of crumby breakfast plates lay on an occasional table at his elbow.

Suddenly, the room was filled with melody: one of the less well-known sonatas by Alexander Scriabin in the fiendish key of seven sharps. The young man sighed, and put down the vuvuzela  - an original by Robert Reid of Newcastle, with a mother-of-pearl mouthpiece and exquisite detailing on the bell.

'Damn this thing! I can't squeeze a single note out of it. I take it, Bunter, that terrible row means you have in your inimitable way successfully fixed the doings of the thingumajig? If so, I suppose you had better answer it, fun though it is to play Peter-the-Hermit.'

'Very good, my lord', replied the man called Bunter, raising his voice so as to be heard from the pantry. He switched off his soldering iron and picked up the source of the offending noise, deftly closing its case over its freshly-replaced aerial and answering it in a single movement.

'Hello. Hello caller! This is Mayfair 15. You have reached the currently stationary but theoretically mobile telephone of Lord Peter Wimsey. This is Mervyn Bunter speaking. How may I be of assistance?' He listened intently for a few moments. 'Yes, sir. I am sure his lordship would be delighted to oblige. His lordship will meet you as suggested. Goodbye.'

'What's that, Bunter? Who was it on the blower at eight ack emma of the day? What did he want?'

'It was Chief Inspector Parker, my lord, wishing to know if you could see your way to meeting him at the Yard this morning. He says he has a lost murderer that will interest you. I took the liberty of saying that your lordship will be with him in 90 minutes.'

'Did you, by Jove? Well, quite right too. Can't waste away the morning tootlin' my vuvuzela. I had better have my bath and toddle along.'

'Yes, my lord. Shall I put out the malacca cane with the heavy silver top and concealed sword?'

'Actually Bunter, I better have the gent's folding brolly with 2TB memory stick concealed in the handle. One has to move with the times, what?'

'Yes, my lord,' said Mr Bunter stolidly.

* * *

'Charles, there you are! What's going on?' Wimsey had been escorted to a development room on the third floor and abruptly abandoned by the whiteboard. 'This doesn't look like a murder.'

'Thanks awfully for coming, Peter,' said Parker. 'This is Miss Kimberly. She will explain everything.'

Miss Kimberly was a severe looking woman in her fifties, dressed sensibly and unostentatiously, topped off with grim, grey bun of hair and a pair of spectacles of the 'severe brow' type that make it appear that the wearer is always frowning.

'I'm sorry, chief inspector,' said this formidable lady, 'but I am not convinced this is sensible. I am sure Lord Peter is very good in his way, but is he an MCPS?'

'MCPS?' repeated  Parker, stupidly.

'Microsoft Certified Peer's Son.'

To look at the bland expression of polite interest on Wimsey's face, one would have garnered no clue that he belonged to one of England's great Unix families, who had never so much as knowingly used Internet Explorer, much less installed Windows.

'Perhaps this dear lady has a point, Parker. I don't see how I can help here. Besides, this isn't bringing the cause of justice forrader. Wasn't something said about a murderer?'

'Geoffrey "the gnasher" Peterson,' said Parker promptly. 'I entered him into MOBS last week, and now he's vanished entirely. Miss Kimberly tells me that that this is quite impossible.'

It was Wimsey's turn to query the acronym.

'Murderer hOlistic Behaviour Simulation,' explained Parker. 'Experimental new system. Just a fancy name for a criminal database, if you ask me. That's what all this is about.' He gestured vaguely at Miss Kimberly and her toiling team of Visual Studio jocks.

'Oh, I see,' said Wimsey, whose attention inexplicably seemed to have been caught by a scrawl in one corner of the white board. 'Funny sort of word, "holistic". Not in itself a bad word, but its presence in a sentence is a pretty good hint that all is not well, and should give you pause for thought. To ignore it is like choosing not to notice, while down a deep mine, that your pet canary is indulging in forty winks on its back.'

Miss Kimberly had been visibly losing her patience during this speech. 'I'm sorry chief inspector, but if that is all, I do need to get on. We've got a stand up meeting in five minutes...'

'Just one moment,' said Wimsey mildly. 'Would I be correct in supposin' that this here diagram represents the current state of the system, as you have implemented it so far?'

Miss Kimberly assented to this suggestion.

'And this bit here, this bit in the corner, is the singleton that controls the record numbering?'

Miss Kimberly assented once more.

'And the whole thing is, I take it, written in multi-threaded Visual C++?'

Miss Kimberly agreed for the third time.

'Well, really Miss Kimberly! I do think you might have laid off the singletons in a multi-threaded design. No wonder friend Parker here is losing all his murderers.'

Miss Kimberly flushed. 'That is a quite a preposterous suggestion. That singleton is protected by a double checked locking mechanism. It is impossible that more than one thread could...'

'Well, yes, provided you aren't runnin' it on these vulgar multi-core processors. Because if you are, you are going to need some sort of memory barrier to stop them interfering with each others' what nots. Aren't you?'

Miss Kimberly's complexion veered alarmingly from pink to white, and then back to pink again. Then, abruptly, she turned on her heel and rushed out, her footsteps disappearing down the corridor.

Thus deserted, embarrassment closed in on the two men like a pea-souper.

'Look, I'm terribly sorry about that, trampling all over Miss Kimberly's feelings in my seven league boots. He only does it to annoy, because he knows it teases.'

'Lord, don't be a juggins, Peter, she'll be right as rain in five minutes. What is the cure, by the way? Whack a volatile qualifier on all the resource pointers?'

'That's the ticket. Listen, Charles, I think it would be a good plan if I made a noise like a hoop and rolled away before she comes back. Besides, I've got a lot on, today. I'm meeting Freddie Arbuthnot for a spot of luncheon so he can discuss some optimisation his quants want, and this afternoon  I am supposed to be helping Lady Mary with the SEO on her new microsite.'  Wimsey paused, heavily. 'You know, Charles, I'll tell you what.'

'What, then?'

'Sleuthin' used to be so much more fun in the old days,' said Lord Peter Wimsey, sadly.®