The Rat's e-work strategy backfires

As the wired one's workload escalates and Mrs. Rat pressures him to take time off for the family, the national holiday has become i-Dependence Day.

Connectivity has turned into a curse for the Rat. He can be reached nearly anywhere by masters and underlings alike, so they're almost duty-bound to nag him about something every waking hour of the day, and some nonwaking ones, too.

As the holiday approached, the Rat expected to be pinned down by the daily changing demands of his boss du jour, who couldn't be bothered with newfangled things such as phones. E-mail? Way too bleeding-edge. Instant messaging? A paradigm too far. So telework on July 4 was clearly not an option.

Another patriotic concept that seemed foreign to the Rat's micromanager from hell was time off.

"No, I don't care how many leave days you've accumulated or extra hours you've put in," the boss announced. "Two of my senior people managed to get in vacation requests before I arrived, and I can't operate minus another for a whole day. Maybe at Christmas'put in for it now, and I'll place you at the head of the queue for conflict-checks."

Meanwhile, Mrs. Rat had planned the family's holiday, which involved an early escape on the third. "We have miles to go before we sleep," she reminded her shaggy spouse while sharpening her dewclaws.

The Rat suddenly saw how to resolve his dual dilemma. At Apple Computer Inc.'s latest developer conference, the boys from Cupertino, Calif., had unveiled iChat AV, an audio-video conferencing version of Apple's instant messaging client, plus iSight, a portable videoconferencing camera. But the iChat software would work with any FireWire-compatible videocam, and that little detail underlay the Rat's plan for self-liberation.

First, he set up his videocam in his home office and recorded a 10-minute clip of himself typing and making random comments. Then he used iMovie to create a six-hour loop of the tape.

With a refurbished PowerBook, some old clothes and masking tape, he built a stuffed-shirt version of himself with the flat screen for a head. A necktie around the LCD's base acted as the mount for a clip-on iSight camera and completed the tenuous illusion.

"I don't think this is going to work, Dad," the eldest ratling told the effigy at the dinner table. The senior rodent, iChatting from the den, disagreed. "Believe me, this is as lifelike as anybody will look in the office on July 3rd."

So, as the crowd thinned in the command bunker, the Rat deployed his doppelganger, with a live feed of the office bouncing back to the family burrow. That night, the camera caught the boss wandering into the command bunker. He saw the doppelganger hunched over the keyboard, face lit by LCD glow.

"Still here?" the manager asked the stuffed shirt.

"Mm-hmm," replied the videotaped Rat.

"Well, that's dedication," the boss nodded. "Tell you what -- go ahead and take tomorrow off. I'll be at a barbecue with the assistant secretary anyhow. And Happy Independence Day."

"Roger that," replied the taped Rat.

And then the PowerBook's battery died.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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