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June 06, 2006

'The Microsoft Code' Complete

Since it's a pain to click between the individual chapter posts, here is the story in one piece. It's unchanged, except I fixed a couple of typos.


Renowned test manager JacquesS staggered through the narrow aisle of the stress lab. He lunged for the nearest computer he could see, a Dell. Grabbing the keyboard, the thirty-six-year-old man quickly typed a command to restart the machine, and selected an old Windows XP SP1 build to boot.

As he had anticipated, once the old, unpatched release booted up, a warning flashed on the screen indicating that he was prohibited from connecting to the Microsoft corporate network. He knew that in a building near the eastern shore of Lake Sammamish, an alarm was going off, and someone would soon be dispatched to investigate the potential security breach.

The test manager lay a moment, gasping for breath, taking stock. My network logon still works. A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not touch the computer again."

JacquesS froze, turning his head. The man was silhouetted in the door to the lab, with his body keeping the door from closing. "You should not have run that command." His accent was not easy to place. "Now tell me where it is."

"I told you already," the test manager stammered, kneeling defenseless on the floor of the lab. "I have no idea what you are talking about!"

"You are lying." The man stared at him, perfectly immobile except for a glint in his sleep-deprived eyes, and a nervous tic that made him tap his thumb and forefinger together repeatedly. His hair was slightly greasy. "You and your brethren possess a secret that is not yours."

JacquesS felt a surge of adrenaline. How could he possibly know this?

"Tonight the secret will be revealed and order restored. Tell me where it is hidden, and you will maintain your corporate network access."

JacquesS held up his hands in defense. "Wait," he said slowly, "I will tell you what you need to know." The test manager spoke his next words carefully. The lie he told was one he had rehearsed many times…each time praying he would not need to use it.

When the test manager had finished speaking, the man smiled smugly. "Yes. That is exactly what the others told me."

JacquesS recoiled. The others?

"I found them too," the man taunted. "All three of them. They confirmed what you have just said."

It cannot be! The test manager’s true identity, along with the identities of the three dotted-line reports on his virtual team, was almost as sacred as the secret they represented. JacquesS now realized that they had all told the same lie before their accounts were suspended. It was part of the protocol.

The attacker laughed. "When you are off trying to convince Volt to hire you, I will be the only one here who knows the truth."

The truth. In an instant, the test manager grasped the true horror of the situation.

The man smirked. "My work here is done. Thanks to your little reboot stunt, your account has already been terminated. Within 15 minutes your cardkey will cease to work. You’ll be paying full price for Office for the rest of your life!" Then he was gone.

Suddently, now, despite all the precautions…despite all the fail-safes…JacquesS was the only remaining link, the sole guardian of one of the most powerful secrets ever kept at Microsoft.

Shivering, he pulled himself to his feet.

I must find some way…

He summoned all of his faculties. The desperate task ahead of him, he knew, would require every remaining second of his Microsoft career.

* * *

RobertLa awoke slowly.

Where the hell am I?

He realized he had fallen asleep at his desk, head slumped over his keyboard. Touching his hands to his forehead, he could feel the imprint that the keys had left on his skin. That must be the impression of the backspace key just below his hairline, and there was the Shift key near his eyebrow…or was that the Enter key?

As he was trying to decide, he realized what had woken him up: There was a ringing sound in his office. He struggled to find the source. Was it is cell phone? Or his Windows Mobile device? Or was it a real telephone? Suddenly he remembered that he had set up Outlook to play a phone ringing sound when email arrived, a decision that had seemed amusing at the time.

Squinting at the screen, he saw the last remnants of the translucent envelope as it disappeared behind the taskbar. He tried in vain to catch it with a mouse click, but was forced to Alt-Tab over to Outlook instead. There was the email. He read it, but it made little sense. He was being summoned to a lab somewhere on campus.

* * *

When he arrived at the lab, there were two people there.

One was a man roughly his height, age, weight, and eye color, who introduced himself as VirgilI from the security group. The other was lying on the floor, clutching something in his hands, mumbling incoherently about his Lifetime Average Review.

"What’s going on here?" asked RobertLa.

VirgilI flipped open a tablet PC and read from the screen. "According to our logs, his name is JacquesS. He’s a test manager in the team that owns this lab. About half an hour ago he rebooted this server," He tapped the offending machine gingerly with his toe, "to an unpatched build of XP SP1." VirgilI shook his head slowly. "I don’t get it. We send out mail all the time telling people to turn on Automatic Updates."

RobertLa stared down at the man on the floor, who was starting to drool. "Anything else on him?"

VirgilI shrugged. "Seems pretty normal. Been here 6 years. Uses MSN Search about one-third of the time, Google the rest. Fills out the MS Poll and manager feedback. Looks like a find upstanding test manager. Nothing wrong until today. Of course we had to cut off his account and cardkey access after the stunt he pulled."

"Was he having performance issues? Maybe he was trending to an 'Underperformed' score on his annual review?"

"I doubt it." VirgilI pointed down. "See that thing in his hand?"

RobertLa looked closely. It was some sort of statue, with a golden shape on the top. "I have no idea what that is."

VirgilI looked surprised. "That, my friend, is a Gold Star award. You’ve never seen one? Maybe you should switch groups. But anyway, if this guy just pulled in a Gold Star, no way he was worried about a bad review."

RobertLa raised his eyebrows. "Maybe he just flipped out. Maybe his dev and PM were trying to add features without consulting him."

"Well, if he flipped out, he still had time to do this." VirgilI handed RobertLa a Post-It note pad. On the top sheet was written one of the most amazing things RobertLa had ever seen in his life.

* * *

Across campus, the man with the greasy hair and nervous tic hurried towards his goal. All four had concurred, before they lost their network access. He played back the events in his mind, how all four had desperately tried to buy back their blue badges by telling their secret. Each had told him the exact same thing—-that the secret was ingeniously hidden at a precise location on the shore of Lake Bill, near some of Microsoft’s ancient buildings.

He was getting nearer. Douglas firs surrounded him, the last remnants of the original forest that used to occupy the site of Microsoft’s campus. He ran towards the front entrance to Building 2, then veered left to pass under the elevated walkway to Building 1.


RobertLa stared at the Post-It note pad. On the top sheet, in a hurried scrawl, were the words:


He recoiled at the sight. What was his name doing there, in the middle of a crime scene? He looked at VirgilI. "Any idea what the first part means?"

VirgilI shook his head. "No. Given what the second part says, I was hoping you would know."

"Did you contact Waggener-Edstrom?"

"Why would I do that?" VirgilI asked.

"They’re Microsoft’s PR firm. The note implies that you should call them and they should email me."

VirgilI rolled his eyes. "We’re treating this as an internal issue for now. No press, no PR agency. Look, this guy just won a Gold Star and then he goes and puts a giant self-inflicted wound in his career. I don't know who could scare him like that, but somebody with that kind of power would have to be pretty high up in management."

RobertLa considered the note. "Excavate green herbs." It made no sense. They were in the middle of Microsoft’s heavily-landscaped main campus; as far as he knew, there were no herbs growing anywhere nearby. "Maybe we’re supposed to find new employees named Herb."

"And then what? Dig under their desks?" VirgilI snorted. "No, it means something else."

RobertLa looked around the lab. The computers were all running different operating systems and applications, the better to put stress on the network. Each display showed variations on the typical Microsoft server application design: tree hierarchy on the left, central area with a graphical representation of the system; actions on the right. One machine, however, showed something different: just a plain black window with a few white characters displayed near the top, following by a blinking cursor.

He peered in. "What’s this? An old DOS machine?"

VirgilI looked over at the machine. "No, it’s running that newfangled PowerShell. Used to be called Monad…we got involved when somebody claimed they had cracked it. Turned out to be total bunk, but I remember what the product looked like.

RobertLa had a vague recollection of the incident. PowerShell was going to ship with some server product…was it SQL Server? Or maybe Exchange. Yes, it was Exchange…suddenly he snapped his fingers.

"Excavate green herbs…I’ve got it! It’s an anagram for ‘Exchange Server Beta’". This machine is running the beta of Exchange 12, that’s why it was a PowerShell prompt. JacquesS was directing us to this machine!!" He looked at the machine excitedly, but could discern nothing unusual about it. On a whim he pressed up arrow to see if JacquesS had left a command in the history buffer, but it was a new window.

VirgilI approached the machine. The monitor, as with all lab monitors, was covered in dust. Really a terrible environment, anybody with allergies would have an immediate attack. He saw that someone had made a feeble attempt to clean this particular monitor, but it was a weak attempt, it looked as if a child had attempted to draw on the screen…wait, there WAS something written on the dust.

"Robert, come over here…see if you get the light striking the monitor just the right way? There’s something written in the dust!"

Now RobertLa could see it too. But if he was hoping that the writing would clear up the mystery, he was wrong. What was written on the monitor only added to the confusion.

* * *

Susan sat at her desk, gazing idly out the window. Her job as an administrative assistant wasn’t the most exciting, but at least her office afforded her a nice view of Lake Bill. The new parts of campus were largely bland; Lake Bill, in the open area between Buildings 1, 2, 3, and 4, had a pleasing asymmetry to it, as if it really had existed before Microsoft decided to construct its new headquarters around it.

Here came a man walking alongside the lake. A typical Microsoftie, greasy hair and a nervous tic. He seemed to be looking for something. Had he left a juggling ball somewhere? Parked his unicycle for later retrieval? Now he was nearing the large rock that jutted out into the lake near Building 2. Wait a minute. Susan felt her pulse quicken. Was he really doing what she thought he was going?

With a shock she realized that he was. Skin tingling, nerves jangling, she got down on her hands and knees and retrieved the sealed envelope taped to the bottom of her desk. The man who had visited her right after she moved into the office hadn’t explained much. Just left the envelope and some simple instructions.

Susan tore open the envelope and looked down at the paper inside. Four numbers, all five digits. Internal Microsoft extensions. She pressed the button to turn on her speakerphone, then thought better and picked up the handset. Trembling, keeping an eye on the man by the lake, she began to dial the first number.


VirgilI was scratching his nose. "Doesn’t make any sense to me either."

On the screen, written hastily in the dust, was the following:

5     8
13   21

RobertLa couldn’t figure it out. "That symbol in the middle…it looks like a Templar Cross! You know, the Knights Templar were formed in 1119 to protect pilgrims coming to Jerusalem. They were allowed to set up their headquarters on the Temple Mount. Rumor has it that they were really trying to dig up the Holy Grail, and I heard…" He paused for effect, "That they found it!"

VirgilI was looking at him patiently. "That’s nice. Myself, I was thinking it looked like a plus sign."

RobertLa looked slightly crestfallen. "Hmmff, I suppose so. What about the numbers? Wait, those numbers appear in the middle of the Fibonacci sequence! Do you know that Fibonacci was a name given to him after his death…his real name was Leonardo da Pisa! That’s right, he was from Pisa, where they have the leaning tower. And do you know that Leonardo introduced the Arabic decimal system to Europe? Imagine that, he introduced Arabic numbers to Europe and here are a set of Arabic numbers…what can that mean?" He began pacing around the room, muttering to himself.

"Well," said VirgilI, "I don’t know about that. But I was thinking. There are four numbers, and a plus sign. Maybe we should add the numbers together."

RobertLa stopped pacing. "OK, what do they add up to?"

VirgilI thought for a second. "Let’s see, carry the 1…13 times 2 is 26…the answer is 47."

RobertLa was shocked. "47! Do you know there’s a secret society at Pomona College dedicated to the number 47? And that the artist James Turrell graduated from Pomona College? And that Turrell is building a mysterious observatory in Arizona?"

VirgilI appeared nonplussed. "Is the observatory being set up so it can monitor the Knights Templar if they remove the Holy Grail from the Leaning Tower of Pisa?"

"I hadn’t thought of that," said RobertLa excitedly, "But it’s a definite possibility."

VirgilI shrugged. "Well, whatever. But I don’t know what the number 47 has to do with Microsoft. There’s no Building 47, for one thing."

RobertLa was still thinking about James Turrell and the Knights Templar. "I wonder why the numbers are arranged the way they are. Sort of like an X pattern."

"I was wondering the same thing. An X…hmmm…what does an X mean?"

RobertLa said, "The time you usually see an X around here is in front of a hexadecimal number."

VirgilI looked at RobertLa with something approaching respect. "That’s actually an interesting idea. Let’s see, if it’s really hex 47, then in decimal that would be…" He stopped, stunned. "No way. It can’t be."

* * *

"They've been RIFfed!" Susan stammered into the telephone in her office. She was leaving a message on a voicemail system. "Please pick up! They've all been RIFfed!"

The first three phone numbers on the list had produced terrifying results--someone from a moving company cleaning out an office, a co-worker raiding someone's former office for whiteboard markers, and an ominous message that the phone number was no longer valid. All three contacts had been terminated by Microsoft. And now, as she called the fourth and final number—the number that she was not supposed to call unless the first three could not be reached—she got an answering machine. The outgoing message was brief: "This is the stress lab. Leave a message and we'll get back to you."

"Someone's trying to lift the rock!" she pleaded as she left the message. "The other three are gone!"

Susan did not know the identity of the four men she protected, but the private phone numbers stashed beneath her desk were for use on only one condition.

If someone ever tries to lift up that rock—which is ridiculous, it's a giant rock, who could lift it, but I digress—it means the upper echelon has been breached, the faceless messenger had told her.One of us has been threatened with termination and been forced to tell a desperate lie. Call the numbers. Warn the others. Do not fail us.

It was a silent alarm. Foolproof in its simplicity. The plan had amazed her when she first heard it. If the identify of one was compromised, they would tell a lie that would start in motion a plan to warn the others. Tonight, however, it seemed that more than one had been compromised.

"Please answer," She whispered in fear. "Where are you?"

"Hang up the phone," a voice said from the doorway.

Turning in terror, she saw the man with the greasy hair and the nervous tic. He was holding a discarded motherboard that had been waiting in the hall for PC Recycle to pick up. Shaking, she set the phone back in the cradle.

"They are ex-Microsoft," The man said. "All four of them. And they have played me for a fool. Tell me where the secret is."

"I don't know!" Susan said truthfully. "That secret is guarded by others." Others whose cardkeys are dead!

He advanced, his fists gripping the motherboard.


VirgilI let out a low whistle. "47 hex is 71 decimal. I don't believe it."

RobertLa knew a lot of numeric symbolism, but had never come across anything significant about 71, especially relating to Microsoft. "What's so special about 71?"

VirgilI shot him a look. "You don't get out much, do you? Look, you must know about the Microsoft career levels. Junior people are in the low 60s, then if you keep getting promoted you might wind up at level 70. Right?"

RobertLa nodded.

"OK, so then what happens after level 70? What if you get promoted from that?"

RobertLa had heard some vague rumors about this. "I think you jump up, don't you? To level 80 or something?"

VirgilI grinned. "Right, that's what they want you to think. But it turns out that there is one guy who got promoted from level 70 to level 71…nobody knows why…but he's the only level 71 developer in the company. And I know who he is."

"And do you think he's at work now?" RobertLa said, wonder filling his voice.

"I'm sure he is," replied VirgilI. "If you're level 71, I don't think you leave the office much."

* * *

The level 71 developer was indeed in his office, which was a clutter of plaques, Lego models, obsolete manuals, and empty Diet Coke cans. He was seated at his desk, wearing a polo shirt that showed five colored balls on the front, with the words "April Fool's Day 2006" underneath.

"Hi guys," said the level 71 developer. "What can I do for you?"

VirgilI quickly explained the situation. The level 71 developer rubbed his jaw and thought for a moment. Then he said, "I think there's something I should show you."

He burrowed through the papers piled on his desk, pulled one out, and handed it to RobertLa. It had a geometric pattern of some sort on it. Looking closer, he saw the following:

VirgilI peered at it. "If you squint at it sort of funny, it looks like the word 'Microsoft'. Is that the new logo or something?"

The level 71 developer smiled. "Right, it says Microsoft. But when I turn it over, what does it say?" With a practiced flip of his wrist, he rotated the picture 180 degrees.

RobertLa recoiled, stunned. He could feel his breath shortening, his pulse quickening, his eyes watering. A sick feeling began to radiate outward from his solar plexus. His knees felt weak and he could feel beads of sweat forming on his brow. A burning sensation grew in his eyes, and his heart began to beat faster. He gasped. "But this can only mean…it must mean…"

"Well, nothing much, actually," said the level 71 developer. "I just thought it was cool. Anyway, what were we talking about…oh right, JacquesS. I don't know him…but now that you mention it I might have gotten email from him."

RobertLa moved behind him. "It would have been sent not that long ago. It's probably still in your Inbox."

"In my Inbox?" the level 71 developer snorted. "No way. I've got an Outlook rule for email from people in test who have direct reports that I haven't sent email to in the last 14 days. Don't you have a rule like that? Don't you use Outlook rules? I can't believe it when people don't use Outlook rules."

RobertLa looked down, feeling embarrassed.

The level 71 developer swiveled in his chair and looked at VirgilI. "Well, you must use Outlook rules, right? I've got a rule for everything. See, it just puts it in one of these subfolders. It's really easy, I think people don't use Outlook rules because they're scared of them…" He was scanning his Outlook folder list, still muttering about rules.

"Do you have Desktop Search installed?" asked VirgilI. "Then you could probably find it pretty fast."

The level 71 developer waved his hand dismissively. "I don't need that. I just need to find the folder where I put it…hang on, let me try searching in Outlook."

VirgilI snorted. "Please. At least use the Advanced Find. The default Find just puts up that little box. I don't know what it really does."

"I agree," said the level 71 developer. "OK, let me search for email from JacquesS…of course it won't let me search on his email address, I have to type his name. You know, back when I started, we didn't even know people's names, only email addresses! Those were the days. That reminds me of something—"

RobertLa interrupted. "This is fascinating, but did you find the email yet?"

"Hang on…yes, here it is. OH!" He put his hands to his mouth, aghast. "It had no subject line! Boy, he's lucky, I was just about to add a rule about that. When people don't put a subject line on an email I just think—"

VirgilI leaned in. "What does the email say?"

The level 71 developer double-clicked on the empty subject line. "Here it is. It says…ummm…I'm not sure what that means."

Neither RobertLa nor VirgilI could tell what it meant either. On the screen in front of them glowed a single line of text:



"This makes no sense," said VirgilI. "JacquesS goes to all the trouble to give us a disguised message to come see you, sends you a message with the last gasps of his email account, and it contains the phrase 'omit firm scion'? What the heck does that mean?"

The level 71 developer snorted. "Well, around here the 'firm scion' would be Bill Gates. And 'omit' is pretty obvious. Sounds like he's one of those bloggers who wants to get rid of Bill."

RobertLa said, "Oh right, I've heard of those guys. There's a site they all get together on to complain about management. I forget what it's called--miniature something-or-other."

VirgilI spoke, his voice steely. "You mean Mini-Microsoft." He smacked the back of one hand into the palm of the other. "We've been tracking that guy for a while...one time we picked up his signal at the Redmond library, we had that place surrounded in 5 minutes, but he got away. Must have snuck out through the sewer line." He chuckled. "Well, just keep flying around, my little mini-butterfly. Someday your gossamer wings are going to touch the nasty, sticky spider web we have spun for you, and then kapow! You're keister will be mulch in 10 seconds flat. We'll see who's the punk then!" He stopped, realizing that RobertLa and the level 71 developer were both staring at him with their mouths open. "Uh, never mind. Just an internal security issue. Thinking out loud, you know. Everything OK, guys?"

The level 71 developer blinked. "Sure, everything's fine. I've just never seen someone rip a wooden patent plaque in half with their bare hands before."

VirgilI looked down. "Sorry about that." He adjusted the collar of his shirt. "Ever since they changed the review plan from 'goals' to 'commitments', I've been a little more into my job."

"Well, moving right along," said RobertLa. "The phrase 'omit firm scion' seems like a pretty shaky link to Mini-Microsoft."

At that moment VirgilI's cell phone rang. He looked at the screen. "Excuse me, I need to take this." He stepped into the hall and closed the door. They could see him talking animatedly on his phone. At one point they faintly heard him say, "What? With a motherboard?" When the conversation was over, he stuck his head back in the office. "I've gotta run over to Building 2. Like the French say, Rémi et Aline sont dans le jardin avec Pipo."

The level 71 developer looked surprised. "What?"

"I don't know why," said VirgilI, "but whenever I get into one of these situations, I always feel like speaking a foreign language."

"But what does it mean?" asked RobertLa. "I haven't taken French since third grade."

VirgilI laughed. "Third grade. Hah! Well, let me tell you, this is…oh wait. Actually, that was from third grade. Wrong quote, never mind! Listen, keep thinking about that email from JacquesS." He disappeared down the hall.

RobertLa looked at the level 71 developer. "I don't trust that guy. He seemed pretty keen on finding Mini-Microsoft."

"I agree," said the level 71 developer. He lowered his voice conspiratorially, although they were the only two people in his office. "Personally, I kind of like Mini! Says what some of us are thinking, you know?"

RobertLa shrugged. "Well, I'm stumped as to what to do next."

The level 71 developer considered for a moment. "Describe to me exactly what JacquesS wrote on the Post-It Note."

"It just said 'excavate green herbs,' which pointed us to a machine running Exchange Server Beta, and then under that it said 'Email RobertLa.'"

"That's all? You're sure? Did he scribble anything in special black-light pen?"

RobertLa thought for a second. "Wait. It didn't just say 'Email RobertLa'. It said 'P.R. Email RobertLa.'"

The level 71 developer looked stunned. "It said P.R.? Not P.S?"

"Yes, I'm sure it was P.R." replied RobertLa.

"I see," said the level 71 developer, slowly.

"You don't think we should have contacted Waggener-Edstrom?" asked RobertLa nervously.

The level 71 developer laughed. "Waggener-Edstrom! Seriously, I think I know what P.R. means."

RobertLa raised his eyebrows.

"OK," the level 71 developer continued. "So I was sitting in a whirlpool at the PRO Club, and these two men in the next whirlpool over were talking about something called the Prieuré de Redmond."

"Oh no," said RobertLa. "Don't you start speaking French too."

"Relax," said the level 71 developer. "I means the Priory of Redmond."

RobertLa's eyes widened. "The Priory of Redmond? The secret society? I know they exist to guard something, but I never knew what it was."

"Right," agreed the level 71 developer. "Well, listen up then. These two guys were saying that the Priory's secret was the identity of a certain anonymous blogger…the blogger known as Mini-Microsoft."

"Oog," said RobertLa. Suddenly he snapped his fingers. "Omit firm scion—it's another hidden message. It's an anagram for Mini-Microsoft!"

The level 71 developer nodded. "That makes sense. JacquesS sent me the message so when you got here, you would recognize that it was a clue to the identity of Mini-Microsoft. He must have know he was about to get 86ed from Microsoft, and he had to pass the secret on to someone else. But according to what I heard about the Priory, there were supposed to be only four members who knew the secret. If he was telling you, it means the other three must have been downsized also! Unless you're in the Priory...are you? Is there a Priory email alias I can check if you're a member of?"

"No, I'm not a member of the Priory." RobertLa wondered why JacquesS had chosen him. "Well, it's a good thing VirgilI didn't realize what was up. Luckily he seems to be a few features short of spec complete, if you know what I mean." He looked back at the email on the screen. "Wait. Doesn't that email have an attachment on it?"

The level 71 developer swiveled his head. "Dang it, it does. Geez, it's because he sent the email in HTML format, the attachment icon is tiny. Didn't he know that Rich Text makes the attachment obvious? I can't stand people who put attachments in HTML emails. And hey, it's a Powerpoint slide deck. Great, nothing like Powerpoint to explode your storage requirements. Look, the thing is 100K and I bet it has one slide in it.

The level 71 developer was correct. The deck did only have one slide. In fact, the slide only had two words in it. But as RobertLa and the level 71 developer looked at what it contained, they knew that the situation had just gotten murkier, not clearer.


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 6, 2006 10:22 PM

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An absolute riot - with all the overblown drama of a real Dan Brown novel. A masterpiece. And I'm sure I'm not getting half of the inside jokes about MS.

Posted by: John Conner at June 15, 2006 11:21 AM

SO WHO IS IT??? pant pant!!!

Posted by: DeepICE2 at June 17, 2006 11:57 PM

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."

I've been laughing for 20 mins now. Great one

Posted by: Seshadri at June 19, 2006 12:29 AM

Prob not my best day, so i really couldn't figure out the ending. any help??

Posted by: at June 21, 2006 07:54 PM

Well, Bill's office used to be in building 8 years ago... :-)

Posted by: Al Billings at June 21, 2006 11:01 PM

gr8 stuff
I was writing similar stuff on my network class experiance .. more on the lines of "Digital Fortress" .. already written the first 2 chap ..
will post the complete story soon :p

Posted by: Paggi at June 22, 2006 05:16 AM

What a post! I am still laughing. Being at M$ makes the humor a little special :)

Posted by: prashant at June 23, 2006 03:58 AM

> "In my Inbox?" the level 71 developer snorted. "No way. I've got an Outlook rule for email from people in test who have direct reports that I haven't sent email to in the last 14 days. Don't you have a rule like that? Don't you use Outlook rules? I can't believe it when people don't use Outlook rules."

Alas, you cannot really use Outlook this way. When it is connected to Exchange, there is very limited amount of space for rules. You simply cannot fit rules elaborated enough to do such things. Also, lately even the rules that fit, work sort of shaky for me...

Posted by: Al at June 23, 2006 11:42 AM

'He seemed to be looking for something. Had he left a juggling ball somewhere?'

Hilarious - reminds me of some people I have worked with at MS. This certainly picks up on the MS culture.

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