A great short story
Life was good for Jeremy. He'd just landed a good job with interesting coworkers in a nice, newly-remodeled office. His cubicle was at the perfect distance between the elevators, bathroom, and snack machines. His boss respected him, his coworkers wouldn't hesitate to help him, and it was work that he genuinely enjoyed.
In fact, the only things Jeremy could complain about were minor — the coffee sucked, the vending machine didn't have Whatchamacallits, and the keycard-protected doors were slow to open. It hadn't really registered with him until he was jogging down the hallway, late for a meeting, and found himself waiting for 10, 20, 30 seconds for the door to open after he swiped his keycard. The embarrassment was eased when another coworker showed up even later than Jeremy, complaining that "the damn door took like a minute to open!"
What he couldn't really understand, however, was why the delay was so variable. Sometimes he'd swipe his card and hear the door click unlocked in less than five seconds. Other times, and often when he was already running late, it'd take 30 or more seconds. Rumors circulated on how to get the doors to open quicker. Some employees would swipe the card quickly, others slowly. Some would just swipe once and wait, others would furiously swipe their cards over and over while waiting for the door to unlock. Sometimes by sheer luck the door would open instantly, cementing the behavior in the employee's mind.
When Jeremy was working late one night, he heard a distant click. Probably someone else in the office working late or maybe someone in the cleaning crew. Every few seconds, another click. Again, probably the cleaning crew going back and forth for new toilet paper or something. Jeremy was too absorbed in his work to care, though it was starting to get distracting. After a few hours it had become Jeremy's personal Tell-Tale Heart, driving him more and more crazy with click after incessant click. Jeremy *click* could hardly *click* maintain a coherent *click* thought with all the *click* distracting clicks.
He'd had enough. Jeremy locked his workstation, and got up to buy a snack. As he turned to go back to his desk, the door clicked again. OK, I'm going give whoever is doing this a piece of my mind, he thought to himself. The office was almost entirely dark; only areas with lights or desk lamps on or were still visible — the elevators, the break room, and Jeremy's desk. He opened the door that had just unlocked, looked down the hallway and saw nothing.
As soon as Jeremy turned around to go back to his desk, the door clicked again. He spun around immediately to look. No one. Is this thing just opening on its own? He examined the card reader and swiped his card. With a typical delay of 15 seconds, it unlocked. He traced a line from the card reader to the reception area just on the other side of the door, and upon further investigation discovered that it ran into a floor-level cabinet which was obscured by a trashcan and some stacks of paper and folders.
Clearing the crap out of the way, he opened the cabinet and saw a computer and monitor covered in a thin layer of dust. Jeremy turned the monitor on, and saw what looked like a log of some sort — each line with an eight digit number and a timestamp. At the bottom of the list, he saw one timestamped just a few seconds ago. Comparing his card to the log, it was his card number. Prior to that, the last swipe had been over three hours ago. The earliest entry was from about 8:00 the previous morning.
After staring at it for a few seconds, he'd figured it out. Technically, the doors were working fine — card swipes were validated and recorded properly. Each time it unlocked corresponded with a single swipe. The problem was that cards had been swiped faster than the system could handle, so new swipes were being queued. So many were queued up that it was still processing swipes from 8:00 AM the previous morning, the situation worsened by impatient employees swiping their cards multiple times in a row. The doors would be locking and unlocking long into the night.
Jeremy was about to turn around and shrug it off — it's not his job to worry about the doors, anyway. But the clicking kept breaking his focus, so he decided to see what he could do. The software's UI was next to useless, and Jeremy couldn't figure it out at all. The log file seemed to be a key piece of the equation, so eventually he decided that he'd rename the file and see if it cleared things up any.
Jeremy took a deep breath and renamed accesslog.txt to accesslog2.txt. Immediately, a startling clatter of doors locking shut echoed throughout the floor. Jeremy bit his lip and walked over to the nearest card reader. He swiped his card and instantly the door clicked unlocked. Trying it again, it unlocked immediately. His solution had worked!
The following morning the buzz around the water cooler among those that noticed the improvement was that some anonymous hero had fixed the doors. Others couldn't put their finger on what it was exactly, but they knew something was right with the world that morning.
The real WTF is that the system seems to be running on Windows and without any security at all. :)
But the computer was in a cabinet covered in crap and dust - that must be the best form of security ever !!
Originally Posted by webman
Hmm, you're right, I suppose a lot of people would think twice about touching a system that's caked in dust :P
There might be a serious message there; software is often designed and tested with about 3 records in the "database" - when that grows to 6 million records it all falls to pieces! (eg some kind of serial access to that file would mean it copies the whole file and writes the new record, just like the days of tape but this doesn't scale beyond a few hundred records.)