Fried Chicken Hacked My Firewall
short story, 2007
Cray II Super Computer. Image courtesy of Rama, Creative Commons license.
This is a short story about breaking up, self discovery, and relearning love. It uses computer and technology metaphors not only for humor, but because they are surprisingly succinct. A glossary of terms is included at the end.
After my wife left I blamed it on the trojan horse she had downloaded. However, I too had downloaded him years before and given him root access to my CPU. What can I say? I was naive and he'd been the best man at our wedding, so it didn’t seem strange to me if they hung out together. In fact she was a little bit of an introvert, so I encouraged it.
See her and my hardware was starting to get outdated and was in dire need of an upgrade, and as I was about to learn: Sometimes it’s easier to buy a new system altogether than go to the trouble of a lengthy installation process. After all some things simply are not backwards compatible. We tried going open source, hoping that a little new blood would compile us and get us talking in the same language again, but she just couldn’t handle having other developers touch my source code. So after six years of being daisy-chained together, we broke up, and I was now my own administrator.
Alone and melancholy, I would power down for days, but upon reboot found myself fragmented and infected. In hopes of a cure or at least a distraction I gave out my static IP address to strangers around my network; phishing for something to improve system performance. Gains were sometimes seen, but no matter how much RAM was added or how much they overclocked the heck out of my motherboard, integrity was always an issue. Daring the network to give me a virus, I would download and install programs recklessly without a shell. Emails, once a pleasure of mine, were replaced with brief instant messages. I started hot-swapping multiple times during a single session. I was the leech who would never seed.
I interfaced with newer, younger machines only to find that while our interface devices were more than compatible, (let me tell you) we had tremendous software issues. These slick, newer models seemed to have so much larger hard drives than I did, but their vast terabytes of disk space were completely empty; save for their fledgling operating systems which were barely out of beta. I was fragmenting myself into pieces, lending out my hardware at the expense of instability and system crashes. And in the end left with nothing but virtual memories.
Then I met her through a friend, and after a few drinks she hopped onto my LAN and we render farmed each other’s source material until we reached state-of-the-art image quality. This older model was intriguing. Her gallium arsenide-based circuits were both unique and dangerously powerful, as if touched by Seymour Cray himself. As time progressed I began re-prioritizing my queue and optimizing my algorithms around her integrated circuits.
However, despite how good everything felt, I would not give out my software licenses. I was afraid of over-extending myself and having them revoked. and so it seemed like we were communicating over an Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. I was able to download freely from her at breakneck speeds, but my uploads were dial-up caliber at best. I had a firewall around my heart.
This mismatched throughput lasted until we celebrated Columbus Day. She asked me to come over and when I did I found an oven full of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy. There was some ingredient. Some kind of flavor. I felt we were building a new nostalgia with every bite. With it I was able to taste the savory feeling of an overdo surrender. I put down my fork, took a deep breath and felt her without touching. I had rediscovered WiFi.
Glossary of Terms
Trojan Horse is a computer program which looks appears safe but can compromise it's security, often by opening back doors in the system, opening itself up for attack.
Root is the term for the superuser or administrator account on a multiuser computer system. This is the top level with all the permissions and none of the restrictions of the lower accounts. If you have root access, you have total control.
CPU stands for Central Processing Unit, it's like the brains of the computer. You know when they say, "Intel Inside"? That's what they are talking about, the CPU.
Backwards Compatible is a term for when you get a new computer and it is able to run the old programs and games your old computer could.
Open Source is a practice of writing software where the software's code is made public allowing anyone to work on it's creation, versus the conventional commercial model, where one company hires the developers to make it. For example, Wikipedia is open source.
Compiler is a program that translates written computer code from multiple computer languages into one language.
Daisy Chain is a technique where multiple computers are connected in order to run an intensive program and share the workload between them, it’s team work!
Fragmented is a term used to describe the status of a computers hard drive. When files are deleted off of a hard drive it leaves blank spots on the disk. Like going up to a shelf of books and randomly pulling half of them off. This is why we defragment our hard drive; it takes those remaining books and pushes them all together onto one shelf, nice and organized.
Infected is what you say your computer is when it gets a virus. Oh and a virus is a malicious program that makes your computer do crappy things.
Static IP Address Your IP address is like your computers phone number. If it is static, that means it is globally unique and doesn't change.
Phishing is the term for sending out mass emails, messages, phone calls, requesting personal information from strangers. This is often done through deception. Like one would "fish for a compliment", one to can email thousands of strangers "phishing for their credit card number".
RAM stands for Random Access Memory, but thats not really important, what’s important is that RAM is like the short term memory of your computer, and if you have too little RAM your computer takes a long time to remember its stuff.
Overclocking is when one forces a computer component, like a motherboard, to run faster then it was designed to. This can make the computer perform at unprecedented levels; it can also lead to hardware failures, and sometimes fires.
Shell is something that lies over a program, like a skin. When you install programs in Windows it starts the install shell, which is like a sandbox so that way the computer checks out the program first before it installs.
Beta is a stage in the development of software, before the final product, where the developers allow the public to run the program while they are still fixing many of the bugs; no guarantees are made about its reliability. Beta programs often have numerous problems that are still being worked out, detected.
Virtual Memory is what your computer makes when it runs out of RAM. See your computer has a short term and a long term memory. the short term is called RAM and it's quick, but small. The long term is your hard drive and it is a little bit slow, but really big. If your computer needs more RAM than you have available, like when watching movies and surfing the web, your computer makes what is called virtual memory. This is where your computer temporarily treats some of the long term memory (hard drive) as if it is short term memory (RAM).
LAN stands for Local Access Network, it's like a small grouping of computers, connected together.
Render Farming is like daisy chaining, where you connect multiple computers for the purpose of running one intensive program. Often this is used in digital graphics so that you can reach higher levels of image quality quicker than a single computer.
Gallium Arsenide Based Circuits Most computer circuits have been made out of silicon, however gallium arsenide has certain properties which make computer circuits run faster. Seymour Cray’s super computer company first implemented this in the 1980's. It wasn't until recently that silicon chips have been able to reach the speeds gallium arsenide did 20 years ago.
Seymour Cray was a super computer maker. His computer's, especially the Cray 2, are regarded as not only fast, but beautiful works of art. He employed unconventional means to reach unprecedented speeds. Including gallium based circuits, and cooling systems through submersion in liquid. Seriously, the Cray-2, it's sexy, like insanity wrapped in simplicity, see image at top.
Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line or DSL is a way to connect to the internet. Often this connection is asymmetric, you are able to download from the internet quickly, while uploads speeds, the speed you submit information from your computer to the internet, can be very slow at times.
Firewall is the term for hardware or software that protects your computer by automatically denying outsider access to your computer.
WiFi stands for Wireless Fidelity, it's basically a method for connecting to the internet without having to plug anything in.