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June 05, 2006

The Microsoft Code: Chapter 6

Continued from Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5.

The level 71 developer looked over at RobertLa. "Any idea what this means?"

In front of them was a one-slide Powerpoint deck, whose only contents was one text box:

"LLIM37 hE", said the level 71 developer, accenting the first syllable. "Too long for a license plate. And why is the H in lower-case?"

RobertLa put his face right up against the screen. "That font—I think I recognize it." He pulled a small ruler and a magnifying glass out of his pocket, and began measuring stroke lengths of the characters. "Yes, definitely! It's the font called—"

"Market?" asked the level 71 developer.

"What?" RobertLa said with astonishment. "You're also a fontologist?"

"No," said the level 71 developer. "But if you click on the text, it shows you the font name in the little drop-down box up here."

"Oh. Well, Market is famous for a few things. Note the characteristic overhanging top piece on the capital E, and the 3 that sort of looks like an upside-down E. In fact…wait a minute. Can you rotate that text box 180 degrees?"

"I get it. Like when you used to write upside-down text on your calculator," replied the level 71 developer. "It should be easy to rotate, I think it's here on the Format menu, you just choose Font or Paragraph. Hmm, there is no Paragraph choice. And Font isn’t it."

"Maybe it's on the Edit menu, under Object."

The level 71 developer clicked a couple of times. "Object just highlights it. It's probably somewhere on the Format menu. Is it Alignment? No, that's just left/right/center." He scratched his nose.

"Let's try the Text Box option on the Format menu," suggested RobertLa. "Great, it's a modal dialog with tabs. What about the Position tab?"

"No," said the level 71 developer after selecting it. "Hey, what about the Text Box tab. Of course, we'll have a dialog called Text Box and then put a tab called Text Box on it. Oh look, you can rotate the text by 90 degrees, but not 180 degrees."

"I think that means rotate each letter, not the whole thing," said RobertLa. "What about the Size tab?"

"The Size tab? Why would rotation be on a tab called Size? Never mind, here it is on the Size tab. Let's see, I can click the little up arrow 180 times, how convenient…" The level 71 developer highlighted the number and type in 180, and the text promptly turned upside down.

RobertLa read it over his shoulder. "It says the number 34 and then the word LEWITT."

The level 71 developer frowned. "And it was in a font called Market. Does that matter?"

"Hang on," said RobertLa. "There's a cafeteria next to building 34. Sort of like a market, right?"

* * *

As they entered the Building 34 cafeteria, their eyes were drawn to the giant abstract painting on the far wall, 50 feet long and 20 feet high. Intrigued, RobertLa leaned down to read the tag that described it.

"Look!" He squeaked excitedly. "The painting is by an artist named Sol LeWitt! And see that lowercase 'a' following the ID number? Someone told me that was used for paintings that were donated to Microsoft anonymously."

"Anonymously!" said the level 71 developer. "You mean it could have been donated by the—"

"By the Priory of Redmond, yes." RobertLa was reading the rest of the tag. "It also says that the painting was done directly on the wall, which means it can't be moved. So it will always be here."

The level 71 developer was looking at the painting. "You know, the Powerpoint slide had the letters in yellow and purple. And see how the painting has stripes of various colors, including yellow and purple? I wonder if there is something coded in there."

RobertLa stared at it. "Well, the painting is divided into panels. The purple and yellow parts up in that top left panel don't look like much…maybe a number 8. Then the next panel just has a diagonal yellow line in it. And the next one has a 2 in it."

"OK," said the level 71 developer, warming to the game. "The next panel has a vertical purple line, and the next one has a vertical yellow line."

"Those could be two number 1s, "said RobertLa, "And the purple and yellow lines in the last one look like a 0."

"So if we put it together, we get 8, then a slash, and 2, 1, 1, and 0." He did a double-take. "It looks like a Microsoft office number! 8/2110! Quick, we need a machine on the corporate net!"

RobertLa pointed. "There's an intranet kiosk over there."

They hurried over. The level 71 developer quickly brought up a Remote Desktop connection to his dev box, then went into Outlook. "Hang on. How can I figure out who is in office 8/2110? Man, in the old days of wzmail you could just grep through the--"

"Never mind that," said RobertLa. "I think you can find it in the Address Book. Just click on Properties…no, not that one. No, not that one either. That one there. Now look in that file!"

A single name came up in office 8/2110. "It's Mini-Microsoft!" yelled the level 71 developer. "Argh, no it's not. The person in the office is a woman, and we know that Mini-Microsoft is a man."

RobertLa thought for a second. "But the painting is old, right? So who used to be in that office?"

"Good point," said the level 71 developer. "You know, my friend is working on a project in Research that runs the Wayback Machine archive crawler against the Microsoft internet. Supposedly started a while ago." He clicked inside his Remote Desktop. "He sent me the URL…here it is."

He quickly connected to the page. "See, they would have the old *trax data…so let's go back as far as we can. Look, it's got data from 1994! So who says Microsoft missed the Internet. Anyway, let's see. 8/2110 used to be occupied by…" He stopped, then let out a loud laugh.

"What is it? Did you find who Mini-Microsoft is?" asked RobertLa. "Let me see!"

"See for yourself," said the level 71 developer.

RobertLa began to laugh also. At that moment, VirgilI ran up, accompanied by a man with greasy hair and a nervous tic. "Hey, did you guys figure it out? Do you know Mini-Microsoft's real identity?"

The level 71 developer pointed at the screen. "We figured it out, all right. There he is, boys." He smiled. "And all you have to do is run up and get him."


Posted by AdamBa at June 5, 2006 11:39 PM

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Kind'a didn't like the ending...

I was hoping for you to throw a real supprice, like "Mini-Microsoft" been woman. And not just a woman, but the wife of Bill Gates.

I'm sure a lot people will check what room 8/2110 really is ;)

Posted by: Ivan at June 6, 2006 01:30 AM

Seriously... You mean I read all that for just:
"And all you have to do is run up and get him."
Come on!

Posted by: Andrés at June 6, 2006 06:14 AM

I don't get it :(

Posted by: armadillo at June 6, 2006 10:00 AM

Is there going to be a movie?

Excellent piece of writing, Adam, very entertaining.

Posted by: Drei at June 6, 2006 10:07 AM

Anti Climatic,

where was the betrayal? the love interest? and the twist?

Posted by: JP at June 7, 2006 08:50 PM

Clever. I wonder how many people figure the answer out :)

Posted by: Larry Osterman at July 5, 2006 09:32 PM