The Psycho Webmaster From Hell: #3

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The Psycho Webmaster From Hell gets a hair-cut

A quiet Wednesday. I'm in the office handling design-and-build calls. The sales team here at Acme Web, Inc., periodically get phoned by users who ask for various improbable things. So of these calls are forwarded to me in my part-time capacity as The CGI Programmer From Hell; it's my job to call the marks back, convince them that they need to buy a custom enterprise support groupware solution with HTTP compatability -- whatever that means -- then bill them $16,000 for two hundred lines of buggy perl.

This particular customer's an odd fish. I asked Betty, our front-line dragon and general-purpose luser filter: "So what'a the big deal with mister Borman, then?"

Betty hummed and hawed. "Nigel thinks he could be a good programming prospect." Nigel is one of our no-help desk people. He's very good at stringing out those $200-per-hour support sessions, though he does usually end up pestering me for an answer when the customer finally gets balky. "This guy, Borman, rings up. First thing he asks is, do we know what this internet thing is? Second question is -- get this -- are we connected with the wobblies?"

"Yes," I say, thinking of my workstation's monitor cable.

"Oh no!" Betty looks shocked. "I told him ..."

"Never mind," I say wearily. "I'll give him a call."


#define <polite.h>

"Hello, I'm calling from Acme Web, Inc., for Mister Martin Borman. Is he available, please?"

"Sieg Heil! Borman speaking!"

Yeah, I guess there's something odd about this fish.

"I understand you want to discuss our consultancy services with respect to developing and maintaining a corporate presence on the world wide web" I say, reading from my prompt sheet. "How may we be of assistance?"

"You are the internet people?"

"Yes," I say, guardedly.

"We want to conq^H^H^H^Hjoin the internet." (I can hear the backspaces in his speech, honest.) "You can perhaps tell us how to go about this task, yah?"

"Yes." I reach for my neck-ease pillow. I can tell this is going to be a long one.

"Good. Perhaps to start. What is the internet? (I have you understand only recently been instructed to find out how to make use of ze information superhighway.) Is it like CompuServe?"

"No." I grimace as my neck gives me a warning twinge, indicating precisely how it's going to feel after I've spent two hours on the phone to this bozo explaining that if you want to stretch the information superhighway a bit further than it was ever meant to go then CompuServe is maybe the Moscow underground. My mood, not good to begin with, is now warming up for a downhill skiing session.

"Ah, good. There are too many jews on CompuServe. Anyway, the internet. Who runs it?"

"Nobody runs it. It runs itself." (Apart from InterNIC and the IETF and those drones who charge $50 a hit for registering your ICBM coordinates ...) "Perhaps you'd like to tell me what you want to achieve on the internet, and what your budget is?"

"We want to achieve world domination, a final solution to the jew-mormon- stockbroker-English monarchist conspiracy, and a thousand year Reich. As for what it will cost, do not worry your little head about it. We have ze cargo of U-946 which reached Argentina in 1945 carrying der Fuhrer's gold, and when we have conquered the world you can have Poland. Or Panama. Or somewhere beginning with 'P' -- anywhere beginning with 'P'. (We don't like places beginning with 'P', in case you had not noticed."

"I see. So how would you define your corporate identity, in a word ...?"

"Nazi." He pronounces it with heavy satisfaction. It is at this point that I realize, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am dealing with a certifiable lunatic -- even if he's a lunatic in shiny black boots and a peaked cap with more money than sense.

"Ah. You do realize that there is a certain, um, image problem, associated with that, er, political strain of thought? Nothing that a little combined marketing/advertising campaign and some really cool dynamic HTML pages can't fix, of course, but you have to admit that you're going to have an uphill struggle selling this to the web-surfing public?"

"Yah, you are right. However, we have a cunning master plan. According to Forbes magazine, the average internet user is white, middle-class, male, aged between twenty and thirty five, right-wing, and does not have a life. Oddly enough, this profile fits exactly our own recruiting requirements. We therefore intend to sell Nazism on the internet by appealing to the typical internet surf-"dude"'s desire to be something special. Nazism can be fun! You, too, can shoot communists! Wear a gaudy uniform! Have people salute you wherever you go! And TALK IN GOTHIC BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS!"

"Right." I wave across the room at Betty, the finger-jive signal for "I'm gonna be on the phone for two hours, can you get me a double espresso".

"It is a marketing concept whose time has come," Borman enthuses. "We have the correct audience profile, the right uniforms, and the ideal campaign with which to spearhead our drive to power. Last time, we rose on the backs of the lower middle classes during a period of economic uncertainty and depression in Germany. This time, we will rise on the backs of the geek classes during a period of economic uncertainty and depression across the entire world. All we need is a toe-hold on the world wide web, and the future shall be ours!"

"Well, can I interest you in a T3 line, a Silicon Graphics Reality engine to run the web server on, plus our services in full-time remote server administration? Plus design, programming, and implementation of your entire site?" I ask him.

"How much will that cost?"

"Oh, about two million bucks," I say, mentally tripling our usual consultancy fees -- if you're going to dine with the devil you ought to use a solid gold spoon, and besides, Betty is jewish. (Plus, I can't see the ACLU or Greenpeace keeping their account with us if we go with this guy.)

"Good! Excellent! Then we shall proceed! When can you fly out to see me?" he asks.

"Where are you based?"

"A small village up the Piranha river, in Brazil," he says. "But don't worry, we have an airstrip, guards, and a satellite uplink! So you'll be able to work on-site and we can discuss our plans for global conquest at length."

"There's a 20% deposit up front," I say, really beginning to get annoyed. "Plus we'll have to bill you for travel and off-site time. You realize my on-site consultancy costs $5000 a day?"

"Wire me your company's bank details and it will all be taken care of," he says airily. "When can you come?"

I gulp. "How about next week?"

"Capital! I look forward to meeting you, then! Seig Heil!"

"Aargh," I say as I put the phone down.

Let's see. 20% of two million, up-front, plus three days on-site consultancy, comes to ... if this is real, the Boss will be extremely happy.

On the other hand, I am going to have to get a hair cut and shave if I want to come out of this alive. I've been working on this mane for a couple of years. Hmm.

"Is anything wrong?" asks Betty.

"Yeah." I stare at my workstation gloomily. "If this bastard pays up, it looks like I'm going to have to get a hair-cut."

* * *


Well, the $400,000 deposit didn't turn up, but then, we haven't negotiated a full brief yet, and the Boss From Hell is notoriously cagy about open-ended contracts. (Last time we took off on a $5,000 job with only a one-page note defining it they kept moving the goal-posts until we discovered that we were actually under contract to host this year's SuperBowl web site -- fifty million hits in a day -- and their lawyers were going to hold us to it.)

However, Borman did send me an air ticket, and once word got back to the Boss about how much this job was worth he had me escorted to the barber's shop under armed guard and didn't let me out until I resembled a marine. Worse: he brought in a tailor and had me fitted for a - gack - SUIT. This was going a bit far, I thought, and I tried to impress this upon him with imprecations, threats, and general ruinous grumbling, until he conceded that he would let me choose the fabric.

So it was that I found myself on a rickety DC-3 crammed with villagers and their livestock, flying into the back of beyond wearing a three-piece suit finished in urban camo (with kevlar waistcoat), my briefcase stuffed with two laptops, a toolkit, more cables than an old-time Cray, and some tuna sandwiches (not to mention my trusty LART[*]).

We bumped along the roughly patched airstrip, coming to a halt outside the terminal building in a cloud of dust. There was much squawking and shoving as the cattle butted their way out of the commuter plane; then I found myself in what passed for an arrival hall, looking for someone who could be Borman.

There were a few people hanging around, including a thin, blonde, tall guy wearing black (except for his mirrorshades). "Excuse me, are you Martin Borman?" I asked.

He stared at me icily (I think): "And you're Lord Haw-Haw?" he sneered, then turned away. Behind him I saw a rotund little geek in coke-bottle glasses bouncing up and down agitatedly, waving a placard saying ACME WEB, INC. I wandered over to the geek. (Grey over-washed t-shirt splattered in what looked to my coffee-trained eye to be Luak stains; receding chin; bad teeth; flyaway hair.) "Who are you?" I asked.

"I'm Martin," he said, staring up at me. "Are you the internet guy I spoke to?"

I noticed that he was wearing a very discreet swastika badge, half-hidden under the overhang from his beer gut.

"I think so," I said. "So. Where do we start?"

"Have you eaten today? There's a diner nearby."

"That would be a good idea," I say, grinding my teeth. Suddenly we're surrounded by a rush of passengers; a 747 from Japan has just landed. "Let's get away from here. I thought you said you had a base in the middle of the Amazon jungle?"

"Yes, but that's only for military manoeuvres," he says. We head for the limo rank at the front of the main SFO terminal building and chill out as it chauffeurs us into San Francisco.

The scene: a restaurant table. I'm sitting there with a notepad, a cup of Java, and a slightly glazed expression while Borman pumps me for information about the internet.

"So, the internet has no ... dictator?" he asks hungrily.

"That's correct. It's totally decentralized." (In point of fact there's a well known net.cabal who run everything via such compromised agencies as the NSA, the NSF, the various European networking agencies, and so on, but I'm not about to tell him that I moonlight as one of their hit-men. He might not appreciate it.)

"Good. So we can initiate a nazi marketing project immediately without expecting any overall sanctions if someone takes a dislike to us."

"Well, you probably know that selling nazi merchandise is illegal in Germany, and as the Israeli's are on the net you will probably want to take precautions against assassination, but we have a nice side-line in bulletproof waistcoats."

"Excellent. Now, what I have in mind is something like this: we start with a chain letter. It's going to be called ACHIEVE GLOBAL HEGEMONY FAST. Basically, when you receive it, if you want to join you set up a cell. (At the same time, you report to the guy above you who sent you the letter.) You then send out copies of the letter with your own name on it, until you recruit five people to be in your cell. Then you get yourself a uniform. We have a good deal with a cheap factory in Hong Kong. Anyway, when there are enough cells, we send out a call to arms, and you go out on the streets in uniform with your colleagues and voila! It's a dictatorship!"

"Yeah, I see. But what incentive is there to join?" I ask.

"Ah, well, you understand that the sooner you join, the higher up the pyramid you are! The person at the top" -- he puffs out his chest -- "gets to be Fuhrer and live in the White House, and can send B1's with cruise missiles to deal with anyone who annoys him. People lower down the ladder have peaked caps, medals, and really long titles. But if you're late and join at the bottom, you get to be a private and muck out the privy."

"You've been giving this a lot of thought," I say.

"Yes! Actually the idea occured to me after I had lunch with a friend called David Rhodes, but adding a political ideology to it was all my own idea."

"Are there any other elements to your campaign?" I ask.

"A couple. I've been reading up about those discussion groups you have on the internet. We're going to post this to ALL the newsgroups, EVERY day, and set the reply address to point to our mail-to-spam gateway, so that if anyone replies it posts the reply to ALL the newsgroups. That should raise our profile, shouldn't it?"

"I'll say." I grit my teeth to stop my jaw spilling in my lap. I have met lusers before, but this guy is awesome. He's like some kind of hideously evil uber-luser; the ultimate life-needing nerd on a mission from hell to turn the entire world into something unspeakably similar to Microsoft. I mean, it's like someone set up a selective breeding program using Canter and Seigal as one set of grandparents, and Doctress Neutopia and Ludwig Plutonium for the other lucky couple.

"Anything else?" I ask.

"Well, there's going to be the web home page. NAZISM FOR PLEASURE AND PROFIT, in large blinking fonts with some really cool gifs of swastikas and dollar signs. We're going to have an interactive shopping-trolley system for selling copies of Mein Kampf, a Hitler's quote of the day CGI program, and a load of German neo-nazi computer games to download. And a really big picture of me, wearing my uniform."

"What exactly do you do for a living when you're not being a nazi?" I ask.

"I work for Taco Bell," he says, innocently.

"Oh?" I ask. "And what do you do for them?" I add, eying up the stains on his t-shirt.

"I keep their accounting mainframe running," he says.

(Bingo! What do you get when you cross a fast-food servitroid with a cobol programmer ...?)

"Listen, if I were you I'd forget about this conquering the internet business," I say kindly. "You're already doing far too much damage to the world as it is. Keep up the good work, and let me know when you've got a purchasing budget. Like I said, a 20% deposit up-front and we'll do the job."

"Well, that might be a problem." There's a little furrow between his eyebrows. "We figured you'd be able to defer the deposit until later, then take, say, an extra 20% plus get to call yourself OberGruppenFuhrer SS?"

Silence for a minute. Finally, I speak. "Want another coffee?"

He nods expectantly, so I stand up and get him another coffee. He's so naive. On the way back to the table I drop the tablet in it. "Are you going to do it?" he asks.

I nod and, satisfied, he sips his coffee. Then his eyes glaze over.

I nod to myself, again. "I never said what I was going to do," I mutter. Then I return to the airport for my flight back to ACME Web HQ.

The moral of this story is quite simple. I am a complete bastard. I really WILL do business with the fourth reich. I really WILL spam on a regular basis, incite racial hatred, and attempt to bring about world war three, if I can make a profit at it. And make no mistake, there's something eerily saleable about nazism. (How come the bad guys always get the best uniforms?)

But there is one inviolate, cardinal, rule in this game that you break at your peril. I mean, what can I say? I told him, clear as a bell, twice, and he didn't pay attention. And it's not as if he couldn't have gone along, seeing what he did for a living. So he had to die, as an object lesson for the others.

Twenty percent in advance. It's the law: no deposit, no web site. (And the rest of the payback is for making me get a haircut.)

[*] This is probably going to be cross-posted, so I'll say this once for those of you who don't hang out on the right newsgroups: LART == low-bandwidth active recidivism tuner. Capisce?

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