Monday, June 25, 2007

Best Noise Ever

First: an apology. I have several articles in the works, but none that I've had the time and concentration to bring to fruition and post. So this is a simple non-sequitor.

Back in the day when Mike and I shared an office, we tried to lighten the effects of stressful duties by taking time now and then for chess (taking a break from thinking to do other thinking - a lot of people didn't get this). Mike is good, and well read on the subject - he'll deny this, but only because the volume of works he's digested on the subject is < 1% of works available on the subject; but this still puts him ahead of 99.025% of the population. And he practices.

It was his interest to cultivate a worthy opponent, someone capable of presenting a challenge for him as he sought to master the various principles he studied. This means he also distilled the theory behind those principles and gave me some excellent tutoring as I tried like mad to keep up. Eventually I learned the subtleties of the playing field beyond the simple list of moves I'd always been aware of prior. Having a patient and skilled opponent was an excellent experience for myself, and I eagerly soaked it up.

So it was that we had a chess table in the office. At first this was a simple pedestal supporting a shallow box with a "3-1" style game board and sundry pieces within to support the same. The set was glass Staunton, attractive and simple. Being on a pedestal, however, and in a fairly small room, it frequently met with casual impact and predictable results. Most if it was inconsequential, a game aborted and pieces scattered. Finally, the shallow tray broke from its column (it was sat on, as someone adopted a squatting stance during conversation unaware of it behind them) and a pawn was decapitated.

It was replaced with a slightly larger de-coupled version - same clear/frosted motif of glass Staunton, but now free-standing. We assembled some decommissioned servers to hold it up, but it wasn't a terribly good fit (it needed to be on its own as we couldn't sacrifice the desk space). Eventually we happened upon the perfect item: a Foundry BigIron 8000 Switch (fully populated). This $250,000 (at the time) chunk of hardware was intended to be used by the company after moving to a larger building across the parking lot. While said building was still under construction, the switch was stored in the NOC general office. It was with their blessing that I purloined it for my own use, promising to turn the sensitive bits toward the wall and be very nice to it generally.

And it really was perfect - just the right size for the board and captured pieces on either side, black and somewhat imposing with an overtly technical aire about it. It was also solid enough to be unaffected by a casual bump, and obviously important enough not to receive a hard one.

Times were good, and the chess continued.

Then one day, in walks the CTO. He had apparently not been aware of the storage arrangements I'd made with the NOC, and stopped mid-sentence when he noticed what was serving as our table.

"Is that a...!"

This man is capable of firing off a pretty hefty blue-streak, and did so with such frequency that he liked to make sure incoming candidates in IT could take it. He would burst in during interviews, let something colorful about the current state of operations fly, and violate many an HR clause in the process; solely to ensure that they'd survive there if offered the position later.

In this case, he was speechless. I guess there was a "G" sound from somewhere in his throat near the beginning, and most of the vowels were a derivative of the letter "A", but that doesn't adequately describe what came out of him. And it wasn't just what was said, either - he took an involuntary step backward, eyes widening, face contorting into mortification and grief, and arms raising defensively.

He strode quickly out of the office and utterly refused to set foot in it again while we remained in that building (another six months).

I miss that chess table.