Ross M. Miller
Posted July 22, 2004
I reviewed everything that was
said in the Aquarium on my walk back to the hotel. I felt that Ken had
made it a point not to lie to me, but that didn’t mean that he
wasn’t withholding important information. I knew, for example, that
Ken wasn’t just hanging around Oxford, he was there as a Rhodes
Scholar. Such an omission might just be patrician understatement, but it
could also be an indication that Ken felt no need to be entirely open
As for the relative hiring practices of
The Lowell Group and GFF, and its pension fund in particular, the
differences were greater than Ken was willing to admit. While women were
still scarce in the upper reaches of the hive, several reported directly
to Joe Conway at the pension fund. For professional women who lived in
Scarsdale and wanted to juggle job and family, White Plains was a more
practical place to work than Manhattan.
With the wind whipping off the water,
it was getting cold as well as dark. My fellow pedestrians consisted of
little more than the occasional jogger and dog walker. Just before I
turned to cross the bridge that led to the hotel, I looked back at the
Boston skyline in which the round building where I had spent the better
part of the afternoon was still front and center.
Then it hit me. Alaska was a silo.
To stay under the hive’s radar, I
made sure that Alaska generated just enough income from its patent
portfolio to cover its cost of operations along with an extremely
generous bonus pool plus amenities that at one time would have been
considered lavish. Some patents, like Randy’s big one, were given
away. Others were simply never licensed. Several of our patents were
infringed upon, but legal action was selectively taken.
Alaska, if operated as a profit-making
business, could easily be worth more than The Lowell Group. It was a
safe bet that any new owner would, over time, do to the place what GFF
did to its Research Lab; however, it would have no trouble netting
billions from Alaska's patents in the process. If the hive ever looked
closely enough, they would see this. Roland must have known, but did
anyone else? I thought through the implications during the remainder of
The hotel was really jumping upon my
return—conventioneers who wore their name badges with no shame seemed
to be everywhere. My elevator was full, but at least I had the news on
the elevator’s video monitors to distract me while it stopped at
nearly every floor. No stock quotes, no GFF news. The world was as I had
Zero had not yet returned with the
equipment necessary for getting at the data on Karen’s backup drive
and there was no indication of where Tara had gone. Randy, however, had
left a note that read: “Swimming with the Seals.” I found it next to
one of our many phones, all of whose red message lights flashed
throughout the dark suite in slow unison.
We had two messages. The first was from
the hotel’s general manager inviting us to a private cocktail hour
with him. The second was from Roland requesting that I call him. I
dialed into GFF’s telecommunications system and had Alice track him
down for me.
Roland sounded serious. “How did it
go this afternoon?” he asked straight out.
“We’re making progress and we’ll
be back there tomorrow.” I saw no reason to tell Roland about Ken, his
suspicions, the Aquarium, or the penguins. Moreover, I knew that it was
better to surprise Roland with good news than to disappoint him and so I
did not mention that we had gotten two hundred gigabytes of data out of
“I’ll be back in Boston
tomorrow,” Roland said. “A car will pick you up from Lowell when we
need you. Perhaps you can join us for lunch. Hopefully, you’ll be onto
something by then.” Except for Mike (to whom few rules applied), it
was GFF executive etiquette never to tell anyone to do anything;
instead, the desired course of action—even if everybody knew it was
impossible to achieve—was merely suggested. Finally, since Roland was
not one to refer to himself in the plural, there was no telling who
would be with him.
The only response that I could give
Roland was: “We’ll do our best.”
“Just remember, do whatever it takes
to get to the bottom of things. Do it fast. And don’t hesitate to call
if you need anything.”
“Okay. See you tomorrow. Gotta go.”
It was time to go down and check in
with Randy. In my rush to the stairs, I saw Zero ambling down the hall
with a bellhop in tow. Zero had the look of a triumphant soldier and the
bellhop was toting the spoils of war—two large boxes and several
“You wanted servers, I’ve got
servers,” Zero greeted me.
“Great. I just spoke with Roland and
he’s getting impatient. Do you need my help setting things up?”
“No thanks,” Zero half-laughed.
“I can manage. Everything should be up in an hour.”
“I’m going to fetch Randy and you
can keep you eyes peeled for Tara. We have a long night ahead of us.”
I turned into the stairwell, vaulted
down the dozen or so flights of stairs to the health club, and found
Randy lapping the pool. He had set several records at USC and came
within a hair of qualifying for the Olympics. He was doing the
backstroke and saw me as soon as I opened the door to the pool area.
Before I could walk to the end of his lane, he swam there and popped out
of the water.
“I’m practicing seal turns,”
Randy said, heading over to get a bottle of juice and a towel.
“That’s about all this pool is good for. Next time, try getting a
“What next time?” I said. Randy had
a point—the pool was almost exactly the same size as the abode for the
Aquarium’s seals. “Just don’t practice drying yourself off like a
seal,” I said, looking first at the puddle forming near Randy’s
distinctive feet and then at my suit, which I never had the time to swap
for something more casual.
“Why don’t you join me for a shvitz?
“When did you start speaking
“Yiddish? I thought it was Sanskrit.
Anyway, hang out in Hollywood long enough and you pick up a lot of
“I’ll join you,” I said. “But
on one condition.”
“And that is . . .”
“You don’t do the monologue from Your
Friends & Neighbors. This isn’t an audition.”
“But you never know who’s
“My point exactly.”
It was getting close to seven o’clock
and the attendant was the only other person around. I got a key from her
and we headed into the men’s locker room. Randy fiddled with the steam
room’s controls while I undressed and hung my clothes in the
full-length locker assigned to me.
I quickly gave Randy an account of my
rendezvous with Ken that included the frequent eruptions from the
incipient penguin orgy. I intentionally omitted any mention of silos or
of how I thought Alaska might figure into things and referred to nothing
by name just in case someone was listening.
I had just begun to sweat when Randy
said, “I go for penguins. You should have brought some back to shvitz
with us. I hear that penguins are excellent poached.”
I snapped my towel at Randy in an
effort to wipe the Cheshire cat expression from his face, but he only
snapped back at me harder.
“On a more serious note,” I said,
“Zero has returned with the goods. By the way, where’s Tara? I last
saw her with you.”
“She was down here with me and left
just before you got here. Four ounces of Lycra-laced nylon can stretch
pretty thin. She had an idea or two and went upstairs to grind out some
“I suspect that she’ll be grinding
a lot more before we’re done here.”
By this point, we were both perspiring
freely and I was so stoked by the events of the day that I was beyond
relaxation. It was time to shower, get dressed, and go back to work.
I was buttoning up my shirt when Randy
said to me, “You know, this is really turning out to be a real gas.”
“If you think that this is a gas,
Fresh from our showers, Randy and I
hurried back upstairs. Our first stop was Zero’s suite to see how he
was doing. As we entered, Randy said, “If you had brought
back a penguin, at least you’d have somewhere to keep him.”
Oblivious to this remark, Zero launched
into a status report. “The first server is up. The backup drive is
mounted and I’m copying it to the server’s hard drive.”
“Superb,” I said, “when you’re
done, you can move them into my suite, network the machines together,
and have everything copied over onto the mirror server while we’re
eating dinner. Have you looked at the backup yet?”
“A bit. The main encryption key that
Karen gave me works fine for getting access to the disk itself, but I
don’t have the password necessary to open the databases. Without that,
the disk is a very expensive doorstop.”
“Do you have her number?” I asked.
“Why don’t you give her a call?”
“I’ve not only got her number, I
have the PIN for her voice mail.”
“You don’t say?” Nothing Zero did
surprised me. The only way that he could secure everything in Alaska was
to be aware of any conceivable way to break into our systems, voice mail
“Yes, it’s 7673283. I used her
phone to make a call while she went off to deal with some crisis. It’s
one of those phones with a redial capability and when I was making a
call I just happened to see the last number she entered. The better
systems are programmed to stop recording the numbers once a connection
is made, but not Lowell’s.”
“Well, I strongly advise against
going into her voice mailbox. There are some lines that I’d rather not
cross without a very good reason. But we can still call her.”
Zero’s call was forwarded to
Lowell’s help desk where no one was authorized to give him the
“I’m sure that they can find
Karen—page her or something. Do you want me to I say that it’s
urgent?” Zero asked while the help desk put him on hold.
“Not yet. Just leave a message to
have Karen get back to us.”
Randy cast me an admiring gaze and
said, “Classic Sun Tzu.” He knew that I was counting on Karen not to
return the call today. Then, her group would go into tomorrow’s
meeting thinking that because she hadn’t given us the password that we
were unable to get at the data.
“I guess that we can just crack the
password,” Randy said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Is
“Not a thing in the world,” I said.
“She gave us the backup and permission to use it. Why don’t you
enter her voice mail PIN? She should know better than to recycle her
passwords, but it’s worth a try.”
Zero keyed in 7673283. Invalid
“There’s something strange about
this number.” Zero said.
“Well,” I said, “we know it’s
Zero brought up a new window on the
server while the copying process continued. He re-entered the number,
and nonchalantly said, “That’s it—roseate or rosebud.”
“Huh?” I said.
“On a telephone keypad, the numbers
spell out either roseate or rosebud.”
“I’m putting my money on
rosebud.” Randy said.
Randy was right. Although Karen had
enough sense not to use rosebud directly, Zero fired up a program that
tried all logical variants and the winner was “rosebud1941.”
“How long did that take?” I asked.
“A little under six seconds,” Zero answered. “If
we had to try every reasonable password without narrowing it down first,
it could have taken minutes. Or hours, if Karen is smarter than she
seems, which I doubt.”
“Amazing,” I said. “ With the first password
cracker I wrote for my Trash-80—or was it my
VIC-20—I was lucky to get anywhere in under an
“Ancient history aside,” said Zero, “the real
problems lie ahead—Lowell’s sloppiness won’t help us when it comes
to making sense of their data.”
“Be thankful that we don’t have to figure out what
rosebud means,” Randy said with both eyes on the door. “But you’re
right, Zero, we can’t count on such smooth sledding the rest of the
Copyright 2004 by Ross M. Miller. Permission
granted to forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250
words or less provided a citation is made to RiggedOnline.com.