Original idea by Jean-François Gillot and Benoit Rigaut
Written by Jean-François Gillot
Translation: John Pym
The scene is a corridor. People wearing white coats are hurrying to and fro, mouse and lead draped around their necks. Under their coats, T-shirts, jeans and training shoes. We are in the computer emergency room. In the middle of the corridor there is a reception desk, where a girl sits. Her name is Katy.
A young man arrives, wearing a tie.
"Hi," he says rather shyly.
"Hi, " replies Katy. "How can I help you?"
"My name is Todd Stricher, I've come to do a student traineeship in the computer emergency room."
"Ah, you must be Engineer Rigaut's new student. I'll call him for you. Engineer Gillot," she said to a man walking past.
"Yes Katy? Hi," he said to the young man.
"May I introduce Todd Stricher, Engineer Rigaut's new student."
"Welcome to computer emergency. I'm Engineer Gillot, head of department. I'll quickly show you round and then we'll try and find Engineer Rigaut. I think he's debugging an old SUN that's losing memory."
As he followed, Stricher listened to Gillot, amazed at his quick-talking,
fast-walking manner. Gillot carried on talking, asking questions as he
"What year are you in at College?"
"What can you do?"
"Well, I once had a summer job in the computer department at J.M. Penney's, and went on a course in SimpleText."
"OK. Now listen, you're in computer emergency now. You gotta work fast and good, and sometimes in no-hope situations. Sometimes we pull off miracles, other times we lose whole processes. It's tough, but that's life. Can you handle stress? This room is PERIPH 1, its where we work on peripherals. Over there you have the debugging rooms DB 1 and 2, and this room here is HARD 1, where we do all our big hardware ops. Over there is the rest room. Go there as soon as you can, 'cause you never know when you'll have time to go again. Over here is the analysis room. Did you ever use 'top'?"
"Doesn't matter, you'll learn fast. Your supervisor, Engineer Rigaut, is a specialist in systems processing, Internet, Java, you name it. He'll teach you all there is to know. There he is now. Forest, come and meet your new student, Todd Stricher."
"Hi Stricher, I'm Rigaut. Got yer mouse?"
From the end of the corridor we hear Katy cry: "Support's bringing
up an HP station, Fatal Error!!"
"Stricher, come with me!"
They rush to the entrance. Two men push a trolley through the double
doors. On it is perched an HP unit.
"What've we got?" asks Rigaut, taking the trolley.
"She's brand new, she was under pine and then just went into Fatal Error. She's losing memory fast and her xload is up to 78% and rising fast."
"DB2's free," shouts Katy from the end of the corridor.
"What have you given her?" asks Rigaut.
"Network shutdown and kill-15 all non-vital programs."
By this time they are already in the room. They move the trolley up next to the table in the middle of the room. The walls are covered with shelves full of disks and peripherals.
Everyone is standing around the machine. Rigaut, the man in charge, orders: "Right, after three, lift. One, One Zero, One One. Hummpf. OK, that's it. Thanks guys."
The support crew leaves. Rigaut and Stricher stay by the table, two
technicians in attendance. Giving out orders, Rigaut takes the mouse from
around his neck and tries to hook up.
"I want AFS - mount the debug disk - top and su standard. Jeez, where's that goddamn mouse port? Now don't be scared little station, we're gonna get you through this!"
One of the technicians says: "xload's at 99%!"
Rigaut: "OK, let's reboot, nice and easy."
Technician: "It's back up to 99% and the were losing a dangerous amount of swap space."
Rigaut: "OK, reboot again."
Rigaut: "Fuck, it's not working. OK, reboot, but hard this time."
Technician: "She's stabilizing, we're getting swap space back."
Rigaut: "OK, she's gonna make it. Start up xeyes and Netscape in 2.0b3, and we'll leave her under xcpustate."
He takes back his mouse and leaves the room, followed by Stricher. Katy is waiting for them. "We've got an old Mac refusing to mount his disk in HARD2, and a laser with no paper in PERIPH1." Rigaut issues his orders: "Stricher, take care of the printer and then join me in HARD2."
Stricher isn't too sure what's going on, everything is happening so fast. Engineer Rigaut, seeing him rooted to the spot, shouts from the end of the corridor: "Stricher, into PERIPH1, second door on the left! Katy, go help the poor guy!" Katy comes to the rescue. The two of them enter the room.
"Have you ever reloaded a printer feeder before?" Katy asks.
"Er, actually no."
"You'll see, there's nothing to it. Take the tray there. Give it a good sharp pull. Don't be afraid, you won't hurt it. That's right. Now open her up, gently does it. Take some new sheets and start filling her up, but not too many. OK, gently as she goes. Now shut the tray and push the tray back in. There you are. Way to go!"
Stricher, his face flushed with pride, admires the printer. As he does,
a look of concern comes over Katy's face.
"Wait, there's something wrong," she whispers. "She's not started up."
"What's this red light here?" the student asks.
"Damn, she's gone into paper jam! We're going to have to open her up. I'll do it, watch closely."
She presses the button and opens the unit with care.
"You see, you have to take the sheet out very carefully, being sure not to rip it. And you really have to watch out just here - on one side you've got the vital organs and on the other side it's red hot. We should really have turned the power off before opening her up, so we're running the risk of a toner failure. There, that's better, you can close her up now."
Hardly had its cover been secured than the printer started up again, delivering a handsome cover page. Katy shows it proudly to Stricher. She realizes he's gone as white as a sheet.
"Was that your first time you have opened a laser printer?"
"Yes, it was quite an ordeal."
"Don't worry, it happens to all of us. You'll get used to it. Now, take a few deep breaths and go and join Engineer Rigaut."
Stricher walks slowly out of the room and heads toward HARD2, where Rigaut and a technician are bustling around a disk box laid out on the main worktop. Wires hang listlessly from the table.
"Ah, there you are. Did it take you that long to reload the feeder?"
"There was a paper jam! We had to open her up."
"I bet you threw your guts up," said Rigaut, smiling to the technician. "Look how pale he is!"
They burst out laughing. Then, clicking from right to left on the screen
of a Mac wired to the disk, Rigaut went on: "OK, they've brought us
an old SCSI disk that was refusing to mount on its Mac. What do you think
we should do?"
"Find out its past history?"
"Good. It had to be reformatted twice when it was younger. Classic. What then?"
"I dunno. Check its SCSI number?"
"Done that, it checks out."
"Take a look at the Mac. That might be the cause of the problem."
"Congratulations, Stricher. Thanks to you we would have lost a disk. In our trade we have to diagnose quick and good. With disks, you should always check the fragmentation rate. This one was at 98%. It was a close call. But they got it to us in time and now we're defragmenting it. Come and look, and mind you're not sick again!"
Rigaut and the technician howl with laughter again as Stricher approaches the screen.
"You know what," Rigaut says to him. "Gillot's operating on an old 286 in HARD1. Go and have a look. Defragmentation takes a long time, there's nothing else for you to learn here."
Stricher goes into the next room. As before, a lump of metal sits in
the middle of the room with a ton of cables bulging from its sides. Gillot
is hard at work on it, helped by a technician.
"What's going on?" the student asks.
"Some guy tried to install Windows 95 on his 286. What a jerk! The poor thing only had 50 Mega hard and 2MB RAM. Blew it right away! We're going to lose it - we can't even get it to reboot."
He is interrupted by the technician: "I've lost the mouse!"
"Right, we're going in," the engineer replies. "Let's try and hook her up to an external clock stimulator to slow down the CPU. Go on, Karl, unscrew the lid. Give him a hand, Stricher."
"But what good will that do?" the student asks.
"It's a long shot," Gillot replies. "But if we can stimulate her on an external clock, we'll be able to slow down the CPU and trap a system interruption. That way we can stop the CPU without doing any harm, clean the disk, reload the DOS and wind her gently up again. She should come round without remembering a thing. Stricher, take the oscilloscope and monitor that clock for me."
"OK, I've cleared the quartz for you," Karl says.
"Soldering iron," orders the engineer. "I hope this'll hold..."
"Short circuit!!!" shouts the technician. "The chip's burned out!"
"Dammit," Gillot curses. "We did what we could. Karl, the power unit looks in good shape. Call the owner and ask for permission to transplant. It'll save the life of an old PC waiting for a donor."
Stricher is transfixed, speechless.
"Come on, it's been a tough morning. Take a break Stricher," says the engineer kindly.
Stricher, dead beat, walks out of the department for a few minutes to get some fresh air. He sits on the steps and holds his head in his hands. He doesn't even hear Engineer Gillot sit down next to him.
"You OK, Stricher?"
"Well, not exactly..."
"Not easy, huh?"
"Well, let's put it this way, so far today I've seen a PC croak before my very eyes, I got sick when we opened up a printer with paper jam, and if we had followed my diagnosis of the SCSI disk that Engineer Rigaut was treating, it would have been a goner too. I don't know if I'm right for this job."
"Stricher, we all went through that when we started. You've just got to learn. You will learn. Don't lose faith."
He taps him amicably on the shoulder and returns to the department. Stricher listens to him go.
Hardly does Gillot get through the doorway than he turns round and shouts: "Stricher, get in here. We've got a virus attack on a cluster. Risk of Internet-wide contamination. We need your help."
Stricher rushes after the engineer. As they enter DB2, Rigaut already
has his mouse connected to a console. "Hurry," he shouts. "Each
of you, grab a console. I've already reconfigured the router linking the
cluster to the Internet and managed to avoid contamination. But I've left
accesses for us. Stricher, you take 'er.nbc.com'
"But what do I do?" stammers Stricher.
"Ping, Telnet and root login. The password's 'I love Unix', without any spaces."
15 seconds later, Stricher shouts triumphantly: "I've got it. I did AFS and top. There's a weird process in there with a 10% xload. It's called 'Fool'."
"Well done, Stricher," says Rigaut. "You've found the virus. Right, let's zap him. You..."
"Oh shit," Stricher interrupts him. "He's attacking a process that's about to fork!"
"Kill -9," shouts Gillot. "And if you can't save both processes, save the child!"
Silence descends, interrupted only by mouse clicks and the sound of
fingers on keyboards. Suddenly, Stricher cries: "I've done it. I've
kicked him out and saved both processes!"
"I've got him out too!" says Gillot. "How about you, Forest?"
"OK, fine my end too. We cracked it. Good job, Stricher. You've deserved a coffee."
Each one picks up his mouse and drapes it around his neck. Stricher,
Gillot and Rigaut leave the room and head off towards the drinks machine.
Sipping his coffee, Gillot says reflectively: "What bastards, those
viruses - attacking a process about to fork..."
"Yup," said Rigaut meaningfully.
"...But what the heck, you managed to save them, didn't you Stricher. Both parent and child. Well done...Stricher, Stricher???"
But Stricher is elsewhere, nose down in his coffee, eyes shining absently... when you think about it, it's not such a bad job after all.