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The Pressman
2010-10-03, 11:20 PM
There are many art threads, but it's nice to read.


I'll start it off with one of my short stories.


The Depths of Space and Corporate Litigation


In the end, I would realize just how insignificant I was in the Plot, but that all just tied into my original reason to go into aerospace: my understanding of how small we were in comparison to outer space.
I first realized how small we are in the universe during a planetarium tour in high school. Surrounded by the soft susurrations of soothing New Age music, awed by the soft light of millions of stars, I saw how insignificant we were in the grand scheme of things. It was this that led me to astrophysics and aeronautics. I wanted to find out all I could, and somehow increase my stature in the cosmos by making a mark on the way we saw the heavens.
All of this passed through my head years later many as I gazed up at the skies on one soft summer evening, surrounded by silence. It helped me to take breaks from research, in order to relax and think of things other than albedo and axial tilt. On this day, I was concentrating on the specific spectrographic content of the recent Saturn missions. In the cool night air, looking up at the skies, I felt removed from the hectic lab, with its deadlines and colleagues, and instead calmed by the wind soughing in the distance. However, it was not to last.
"What exactly do you propose you're doing out here?" shouted my supervisor a few minutes later, as she barged out of the building. "Here we are, right before a major deadline in a peak season, and you're out here stargazing?"
"Might I remind you that that is, in fact, our goal, and, it might even be said, our primary objective?" I replied.
"Nevertheless, we still have to meet deadlines. Believe you me, I'd like nothing better than to take a good look at Ursa Minor and Betelgeuse once in a while, but unfortunately, we have to fit our schedules into those of the uninitiated."
"Fine, fine. I'll come back in."
And so I did. After I got back to my desk, I saw that a fresh new load of data had been loaded into the "IN" tray of my desk. As I got to work, I saw that some of the new data from the Ares 1-X rocket had been received. Ah, aeronautics, my first love. As I fed them through the simulator, I had time to reflect on what exactly we were doing. Here we are, going forth to explore the heavens in small metal tubes, powered by the combustion of volatile powders and gases, and yet we still don't have a full understanding of what really is at the bottom of the deepest ocean. Even though we explore the nothingness of the vacuum, we don't explore the virtual anti-vacuum of our oceans' deepest depths.
All of this hit me, and I then was brought back to the surface by the sound of my simulator completing, a couple minutes after it had started. When I looked back at it, I saw nothing that could even possibly be interpreted as borderline or even suspect.
Now, in a different time, different universe, different person, different place, this might have gone on to mean that the numbers had been fudged as to appear perfect and without fault, but keep in mind, this is the Astrophysics and Aeronautics Research Department at Ojvenbelk Astronautics, and most of us hope for something as interesting as a case of scientific espionage just to stave off the threat of death by paperwork asphyxiation. Naturally, this means that these numbers, these numbers of golden accuracy, these numbers that fall smack-dab in the middle of expected tolerances, are nothing but normal, but highly interesting, perfect numbers. Or not.
A few hours later, those papers were in a sponge paper envelope headed for the Data Recombination Department at NASA for evaluation and use by the team that originally launched that rocket. And all of this before I get to go home.
Returning to my desk the next day, I saw that a small paper note had been affixed to my computer screen. "Please recheck the numbers on the Ares 1-X from yesterday." Ah, well, but it was to be expected. I mean, really, hypothetically, these were the kind of results that statisticians hope for, but in truth, any numbers that perfect are either faked or so improbable as to be almost impossible. However, when I ran the numbers again, the result was the same. Tolerances nominal, fuel levels normal, and all temperatures perfect. This was odd, considering that in most science, experiments and trials are often the part of the scientific method that is most often way off mark from expectations. In this case, though, all of the numbers were on the spot, exactly as the equations had predicted.
"Hey, did you run those numbers like I had asked?" It was my supervisor, stopping in for her contractually obligated daily employee rendezvous. "I don't want to impinge on your accuracy, but having all of them fit the tolerances raised some red flags at NASA."
"Yes, but they're still all coming up roses. I really have no idea why or what is causing it." Granted, this was what I would've said whether or not I had fabricated the numbers, but in this case it was the truth. "I ran all the simulations, and all of the numbers did, as you said, fit all of the tolerances as closely as if they were, dare I say, doctored."
"Yes, I saw that too. But of course it's impossible."
"Of course. Impossible" But neither of us could miss the unmistakable twinge of doubt in the other's voice.
Weeks passed. At first, we didn't think that anything would come out of the numbers, but as the days went by, more incidences piled up. On some days, the simulations would run the same from the data piped in from Cape Canaveral, regardless of the data content, and the JPL techs sometimes wouldn't give us straight answers when we inquired upon the status of the new test engine. All of this, combined with the surprisingly taciturn response of the usually open management of Ojvenbelk Astronautics to our inquiries about the issues, convinced us that something was up.
It was during the month after the first Ares test results that some of my colleagues and I decided to take up the issue with our supervisor, Anna Van Der Leck.
"Listen, just what exactly is going on here? We run these tests, they come up perfect. Not once, not twice, but every time. How can you explain this?" said John Sayers, the resident physicist. "How can we explain these away as just so much coincidence? Every coefficient, all of the sensor readings, all of them within tolerances. What excuse can the directors offer for this?"
"Listen. I don't know why all of those numbers and evals keep coming out the same. I've tried to inquire with the higher ups, but the entire project file has been restricted to JPL personnel and the directorship. Believe me; I want to know the reason for this just as much as you do."
As the months crept by, the numbers stayed the same. Eventually, it became too much to bear, and the entire Astrophysics and Aeronautics Department marched into the Directorship Building of Ojvenbelk Astronautics. After a few minutes' tussle with the security guard, we were admitted into the inner sanctum of one of NASA's top contractors.
At Ojvenbelk Astronautics, our corporate system was as such: at the top, instead of a single CEO and other officers controlling technology and finance and such, we had a committee of Directors that collaborated on all issues, with a separate chairman for each issue. This worked well, and usually kept the business moving. Secondly, we had managers of the different departments, thirdly, we had supervisors to oversee the employees, and at the bottom, us, the humble employees. So as you can imagine, an entire division of lowly statisticians and analysts marching into the offices of the Director contingent may have posed a problem to the security guard.
To illustrate his feelings about this quandary would lead to a stream of thoughts somewhat like this:
Huh, looks like a bunch of lower level engineers. I wonder what they're doing here.
Wait, they want an audience with the Directorship? But why?
What do I do? They're peons; they're not supposed to request audiences with the top brass. How do I explain this? What do I do, WHAT DO I DO?!!!
As you can see, trying to reconcile this led to confusion, which led to frustration, which led back to confusion after we intervened with careful use of words like "consternation" and "indubitably".
Five minutes later, we were led by a secretary into the assembly hall of the Directorship. The first person to speak in the awkward pause that followed was David Tschichold, the Director who chaired the Research Committee.
"And what exactly is the problem?"
"I'll tell you what it is. For the past month or so, my division of this department has been working with flawed data. All of the secure data pipes from Canaveral and Kennedy are both being loaded with system-blocking algorithms that feed false information into our simulators. Also for the past month, my team has not had access to the project files due to "mainframe restructuring". What I want to know is why we have not had the correct data, the correct info, or even the correct tests available at our disposal." This was the "Fearless Leader" of our Statistics Department, Albert Miedinger.
"What is going on that you feel should be placed in a restricted filebase, triple firewalled, and then weaponized into a Trojan horse databank? I nearly killed the Internet the last time I tried to access the files on, not to put too fine a point on it, my project." This was Greta Lissitzky, our tech guru and webmistress. "What is it so vital we don't know that you're willing to destroy the entire ICANN database in addition to our own database? I mean, having confidential files is one thing, but weaponizing them and locking them with mutation strings, that is most definitively another."
And so the rants continued, each division having its say, until Leslie Gerstner, the Director who chaired the Committee on Finance, had this to say:
"All right, all right, we get the picture. But what do you want us to do about it? The data pipes come from NASA, we get the file storage from a subcontractor, and all of the test and data storage is provided by a third party backup provider whose name I cannot disclose." From Lissitzky came a strange coughing noise that sounded remarkably similar to someone saying "Google" whilst pretending to choke.
"And as you can see, there really is nothing that we can do. Thank you, and goodbye."
As we left the building an hour after we had entered, I wondered what exactly could be happening. But then I saw it. Recently, while mired in the midst of an economic recession, the company had amped up the competition between it and its main competitor: Frutiger Aerospace, a European company run by engineers who used to work at the North Korean space agency, but defected and fled through China. If Ojvenbelk Astronautics wasn't able to deliver the analysis to NASA on time, who would NASA turn to but Frutiger Aerospace, one of the best companies in the field. In the end, it was a simple idea, but how could it be backed up? The data pipes were, to the company, beyond reprehension, and if the company made a move on Google, the company was so rich that they could sue the ass out of Ojvenbelk before we had a chance to blink. No, the only real chance of finding something out about Frutiger was via the third party file storage service. This was what I then planned to do.
Later that day, I explained my plan to my cubicle neighbor, Alex Himmelsvej.
"So what do you think the most vulnerable part of the file server is?" I asked him.
"What do I think? Listen, Garamond, this plan of yours isn't only dangerous to the file servers, it's dangerous to you, your career, my career, heck, even our entire company."
"But really, what can be done? I mean, look at the circumstances. 'Frut Loops' over there has been stealing our data, and all we can do is watch?" He took my riposte in stride, and countered with an excellent parry.
"But why should we, emphasis on we, try to stop it? What can we do? We have less power in this issue than an oyster cracker has against a sandblaster. If we try to stop it, we'll only end up hurt."
Faced with an impasse such as this, I had no choice but to take my case elsewhere. I tried my boss, Anne.
"I know how you feel, but I really can't do anything at the moment. I mean, it makes sense, that Frutiger would want our contracts, but I can't even imagine how that could help our case. For example, imagine that you're the Directorship Chair on Business. A lower-level supervisor and a lowly peon come up to you and say that one of their biggest rivals, Frutiger Aerospace, was hijacking our government data line, stealing our data, and colluding with Google to mess up this one, relatively unimportant contract? If I were that Director, I'd think that the supervisor and her subordinate were mad! There's just no right way to explain it!"
"I see what you mean. But how can I explain it without sounding like I've gone round the bend? If it turns out like you just said, there is no right answer."
"Well, I have an idea. Try this…"
We then worked out a plan, over the course of several days, that would bring Frutiger's plan to its knees. It was perfect in its preparation. It was precise in its execution. All we needed was three people to complete the crew. The fact that Van Der Leck and I would be part of it was a non-issue. In the end, we decided to ask Lissitzky, Sayers, and Eric Renner, resident chemist, to help us. All of them heartily agreed.
The Plan began exactly three months after we had first noticed the tainted data. It began with us going to the offices of Frutiger Aerospace, posing as consultants. After Sayers conclusively proved that we knew what we were doing, mainly by using words longer than eight syllables, we were admitted into the main lobby. After all, could you say, with confidence, that "Re-altercating our prime inter-corporate temporary disestablishment aggression plan" is a bad thing?
A few hours later, we had finagled our way into the inner sanctum of Frutiger Aerospace, and had eventually received an audience with their CIO, Harold Cabarga. Only Renner and I would be meeting with Cabarga, and the others would be, shall we say, getting lost at times inopportune to Frutiger, and quite serendipitous for us.
"So, Mr.…Miegen, you said that you had some important information to tell me?"
"Yes, I believe I do. In October of this year, analysts at Ojvenbelk Astronautics began noticing that some of their numbers were fitting the tolerances exactly. At the same time, all of the files on the project were suddenly encrypted, and placed behind the electronic equivalent of five brick walls, nine tons of solid steel, and approximately eighty-three Faraday cages. About two days later, certain test programs were deleted from Google's private servers for companies looking for that extra touch in computer security. Now, at the moment, we don't have anything that conclusively links all this together and places the blame on someone, but I don't think that Messrs. Brin and Page over in Mountain View will be too happy to find out that whoever they thought was a top executive at Ojvenbelk Astronautics was actually an agent of, shall we say, a company suffering from an acute case of not being Ojvenbelk Astronautics, hmmm?"
Cabarga was now visibly perspiring, and tugged at his collar to relieve the tension in his tie that suddenly seemed to choking him. "I don't believe, that is, I don't follow, I mean, ohhhh noooo." He sprawled back in his chair as if suddenly hit by a massive weight.
Renner spoke. "Given the fact that you have not actually admitted anything, I'll just let you sign this legally binding contract that I have here, and call it even, mm'kay?
"Of, of course. I'll, I'll just get a pen."
Meanwhile, while Renner and I were discussing business matters, Lissitzky and Sayers were at the door of the server room for all of Frutiger Aerospace. Anne Van Der Leck was on the outside, occupying the guards, and distracting them from the veritable "cause for alarm" currently occurring outside the server room. When Lissitzky and Sayers made it into the room, they quickly booted up the server terminal. However, in the meantime, Renner and I had finished with Cabarga, and were making our way to the server room.
"What are you going to do with all their data?" was my question to Lissitzky. For some reason, her answer, specifically the, "Oh, I don't know..." part, didn't make me comfortable.
Eventually, we made it out of the building five hours later with the only records that the CEO, CIO, CFO, and CTO of Frutiger Aerospace had ever worked there. There was a feeling to it of completeness, and quite a few smug smiles spread through the workforce of Ojvenbelk Astronautics during the week after the heist. Now, the only challenge remained in explaining it to the Directorship.
"While we can't fault your intentions, we do have to remark on the method of execution. The fact that it occurred under all corporate radar, and involved direct blackmail of a high-ranking Frutiger executive, all makes the entire business rather suspect." This was Brian Tolmer, the Director who chaired the Committee on Information, Ethics, and Intelligence, while the Committee investigated our case three weeks later. "I really can't thank you enough, but at the same time, feel somewhat obligated to point out that everything that you did could fall under corporate espionage if placed under the lens of the law. However, I can say that all of this was actually orchestrated by a third party, and that the aforementioned third party is the only legal entity that can be held accountable. This would also preclude you being anything but dumb pawns in this game, so stay quiet. Now, I believe that is all. Meeting adjourned."
As we left the hour-long meeting, I wondered about what had just occurred, and marveled at just how well it had turned out. Even so, at the end of the day, I'm just glad that I, Max Garamond, have something to come back to that isn't as changeable and vacillating as the world of business: The Stars.


Crappy, I know, and rather too self-serving and melodramatic, but I thought it was entertaining.

GO!