Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Day the Internet Died

It happened at 3:14pm on Wednesday, October 6th, 2010. It was a day like any other day. Millions of people across the country were at work. A vast majority of them were bored, because it was 3:14pm on a Wednesday. One of the most bored, Bob Singleton, sat at his computer in his six by six standard office-gray cubicle. He was a mid-level manager of the inside salesmen at Sparteck Industries in Sandusky, Ohio. It would later be uncovered that his computer terminal, in the northwest corner of the third floor, in the nondescript concrete and glass office building at 3rd and West, was ground zero for the largest electronics melt-down the world had ever seen.

As I said, Bob was bored. Google’s home page was on his screen. He was searching for himself. He was searching for cat videos. He was searching for videos of dads getting hit in the groin by their son’s Wiffle Ball bats. Those videos cracked him up. Then it occurred to him… What if he asked Google to search for Google? What would happen? That could be funny. With his two index fingers, he typed g-o-o-g-l-e, and at 3:14:28 on 10-06-2010, he hit “Enter.”

Google diligently began its search.
0.0032 seconds later, the search engine back-traced the search string because its findings led back to the original search criteria. Then it started over. As the search repeatedly produced the same unanswered question, the search engine began using more and more server bandwidth in an effort to solve the problem, something the Google engineers had designed into the program without ever having thought of this one simple scenario. The search engine was stuck in a logic loop – sometimes called a “divide by zero” error – and there was no exit ramp on the circular path. The circle just kept getting bigger.

At Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, the ballooning bandwidth being used for one search set off alarms that had previously never been heard. One Google accountant was so shocked, she assumed the building was under attack from Bing, and leapt from a second story window. Fortunately, she landed on one of the many corporate bean-bags used to make Google seem like a really cool place to work, unencumbered by “the man.” Ironically, as an accountant, she knew all too well the truth. She had always scoffed at those bean-bags, but not today.

Three seconds before the Google servers did the digital equivalent of eating themselves, the engineering manager on duty figured out what had happened, but it was too late. Google was offline.

The chain reaction that followed was cataclysmic. Google Chrome was offline. Minutes later, Microsoft Internet Explorer went down because nearly 99% of all applications rely on the Google Toolbar. The engineers would later discover that even Bing was using Google Toolbar, much to the chagrin of Microsoft. Windows was immediately rendered useless, although the engineers never did figure out if that was due to the crash, or just another Windows bug.

With Microsoft and Google down for the count, all mobile devices except for the iPhone went offline. Skype, texting, and even the camera functions quit working. All digital cell tower traffic ceased, rendering even the least-used function of the mobile devices, the phone, totally useless. Apple’s iPhones and their other super-cool small white devices lasted another 2-1/2 minutes, but finally succumbed to the meltdown due to the ill-fated Microsoft Office Applications recently integrated into the otherwise pristine machines. There were unconfirmed reports that some non-Wi-Fi enabled iPads kept working during the catastrophe, but the forensic engineers could neither confirm or deny those rumors after the fact, primarily because no one really knew what they were for in the first place.

With all mobile devices gone black, millions and millions of young adults, ages 16 to 28, were completely offline for the first time in their lives. Their reactions ran the gamut from unbridled panic to catatonic paralysis. Most just began wandering helplessly in the streets, attempting to text each other on blank, black screens, weeping softly. No one was really sure how to help them, because they were unable to communicate their needs verbally, and their handwriting was completely illegible.

The nation had gone to Electronic DEFCON-5 in a matter of 7-1/2 minutes.

When President Obama was alerted to the situation, he was conveniently already in the Situation Room, dealing with another Biden tongue-slip debacle. After being briefed on the loss of the internet, he thought for a moment, then calmly commanded, “Get me Gore.”

“Brilliant!” his staff exclaimed. After all, Al Gore had invented the internet, so he would surely know how to fix this problem.

No one was sure how to call him, since all the mobile phones were dead. Then, someone remembered that the oval office had that really cool red desk phone. No one had ever used it, but they knew it was used in the past to make calls, somehow. After several attempts to dial his number, no one could find the “send” button with the little green phone receiver on it. They gave up after realizing they only had Gore’s mobile number anyway, so they wouldn’t be able to call him, even if they could figure out how to use the ancient phone. There was a lighthearted moment of discovery, however, when several of the staff members finally understood what the little green symbol was, after seeing the desk phone’s receiver, and finally making the connection. They also finally realized why they were called “mobile” phones, after seeing the cord running from the desk phone to the wall.

By that time, a senior Pentagon official had summoned his aide and they used the hand-crank radio in the corporal’s Hummer to broadcast a short-wave radio call for SOS. Earl-John Bullox from Hogsweat, Illinois, a 43-year veteran Ham radio operator was the first to receive their distress signal.

Upon receiving his official orders to track down Al Gore using the Ham radio network, Earl-John sprang into action. This was the day that he and his short-wave compatriots had been training for their whole indoor, weird, socially handicapped lives. Seven hours later, after networking with thirty-two Ham radio operators and exchanging three different recipes for grits, Earl-John patched Al Gore through to the White House.

Gore had been in a bar in Massachusetts, attempting to “interview” a cocktail waitress for his next documentary, “An Inconvenient Masseuse.” He was now in Thurmond Crummly’s basement Ham radio base/bomb shelter, talking to the President, and having to remember to hold the button down and say, “Over.”

After skillfully dodging the issue at hand for a few minutes, he was finally forced to admit that he actually had nothing to do with inventing the internet. When pressed further, he also admitted that he had no idea what Google was, no idea how Microsoft Excel works, and that he had real doubts that global warming is even a thing.

That was it. By 10:30pm all hope was lost. The internet had been off for nearly half the day. Life was simply not worth living any longer. There were people who hadn’t even seen one YouTube video all afternoon. It was over.

But before anyone was able to commit hari-kari, a ray of hope came crackling over the short-wave. At 11:10pm, Bill Gates made contact with the President through Earl-John.

“We’re completely blacked-out here in Washington, but I might know someone who can help. Someone off the grid.”

“You’re in Washington? Come over! We can hang out.” replied the President.

“The state, sir.” said Bill.

“The state of what?” asked the President.

“Never mind. His name is Elbert DeGroot. He lives in Lynnwood, Washington with his mother.”

“Where’s Lynnwood? I’ve never heard of it. Is that near Georgetown?”

“Can you put someone from the Pentagon on, sir?”

Elbert DeGroot, was the unknown former classmate and friend of Bill Gates and Paul Allen. After a bitter dispute over a Hardy Boys t-shirt, they kicked him out of their “Three Amigos Computing Club” just weeks before they launched Microsoft.

As a result, Elbert would not be caught dead with a Microsoft product, or anything related in any way, shape, or form to those bastards, Gates and Allen. He was still running a Commodore 64 with his own proprietary version of DOS, and he was fond of saying that anyone who needs more than 64Kb of RAM is a wuss. “Old 64,” as he referred to his machine, was connected to the world with a modem that had a telephone cradle for his rotary phone. He rarely used the modem, however, since the only other computer he could communicate with was one he had built for his brother, and they hadn’t spoken in years due to a bitter dispute over a Hardy Boys lunch box.

When the military envoy arrived at the DeGroot home, Elbert’s mother showed them to his room. After admiring his extensive Star Wars action-figure collection, they got to the point. The world needed his help. He would have been quick to dismiss them, knowing he would be helping his enemy Gates, but Elbert was a smart man. He could see that this was his ticket to computing stardom. The world would finally bow down to the greatness of DeGroot. He alone could save the world. And maybe later, the military guys would want to go out for pizza and talk to girls.

He quickly wrote a five-line program in Basic. He grabbed his rotary phone and dialed Google’s 1-800 number. He kept dialing “0” for the operator. When the senior-officer-in-charge questioned what he was doing, he simply held up his hand. Elbert DeGroot knew damn well that he would never get an operator. He also knew that on the eighth try, he would be dumped into the company’s general voicemail box.

You see, Elbert DeGroot, while totally unknown to most of the world, was actually quite famous in one small segment of society. He had invented the infamous corporate “general voicemail box.” He had originally developed it out of spite after the success of Microsoft. It was intended to be a cruel trick on the world that had otherwise abandoned him. What he hadn’t counted on was its wild popularity with large American corporations. When they learned of this new and handy way to ignore their customer base while giving them a cheery-voiced, yet completely false shred of hope that their call was in fact important to the company, they snatched it up.

Elbert Degroot was a rich man. He lived with his mother in his 20,000 square-foot mansion on a 45-acre estate. By all accounts he was almost as rich as Bill Gates himself. He was the billionaire on the Forbes list that no one ever recognized.

But, this was his chance to gain some real respect from the world that had done him wrong so many years ago. When the buttery voice of the Google girl came on the line, announcing that he could leave a message (that no one would ever hear), he set the receiver down on the modem cradle and hit the impossibly large enter key on his ancient keyboard. The five-line program sprang to life at a blazing seven kilobytes per second, and the Mighty DeGroot back-doored into the Google servers and interrupted the fatal infinite logic loop with a single command: “Quit.” Take that, Gates!

By midnight, the Google engineers had re-booted the servers, and everything was back to normal. As often happens in these situations, the NSA “locked down” on the whole mess, and the powers that be decided that no one could ever know about what had happened or how it was fixed, for obvious national and recreational security reasons. Elbert DeGroot would remain the most anonymous rich man in the world. Damn Hardy Boys t-shirt!

As for Bob Singleton from Sparteck Industries in Sandusky, Ohio, the man responsible for the whole mess… After his computer quit working, he just left the office and went to the bar to catch the game. When he got to the office the next day, everything was back to normal. It’s good to be Bob.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2010 Marc Schmatjen

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