Packet Rat: The Big Apple bites back

The Rat

'There's no hot water in this hotel,' Mrs. Rat complained. 'Our first trip away from the ratlings, and we've got no hot water.'

'Relax,' the Rat replied. 'At least we know nothing else can go wrong. I mean, what are the odds?'

The whiskered one had been brushing up on the science of probability, thanks to his latest government boondoggle. Taking yet another lead from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's former master of destruction, John Poindexter, the Rat was developing a Microsoft Bug Analysis Market for futures betting on the source and severity of the next big security flaw in Windows and other software.

To assist his research, he had convinced his backers in the Anything Goes Directorate that he needed to investigate how real futures markets work in New York City. With the ratlings housed at his in-laws' for a few days, the furry one and his better half were hoping to mix a little pleasure with work.

Except the hotel booked by his agency's e-travel system had come up short of hot water on a Thursday morning in August. Sure, a cold shower got the Rat out the door to visit the financial district that much faster. The indifferent response from the hotel's front desk about the lack of hot water, not to mention the lack of broadband Internet, did little to reduce his rapidly rising blood pressure.

As he dashed out the door, the Rat urged his spouse to buck up. 'Remember, we've got theater tickets for tonight!'

It was time for a little recreation, he mused as he left the hotel. The latest Microsoft bug debacle had been escalating on a daily basis. The MSBlaster worm and its cousins had brought down the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration's online renewal system, the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet and many commercial sites.

Meanwhile, the Rat's Homeland Security Department backers were becoming more and more insistent that he deliver something'anything'to help them brace for future bugs.

So the cyberrodent hit the Street and its many metropolitan-area annexes, gathering tips and tricks wherever he could. He even sniffed packets from the wireless network at the Wall Street McDonald's in search of market dynamics mojo.

He finally hit pay dirt, not at the AMEX or NYSE, but in a backroom sports bookmaking joint in the Bowery, where homegrown software was taking bets by e-mail, Web and a voice response app. He managed to acquire the technology after displaying his federal ID and repairing a misbehaving network card for the bookie.

As the day wound down, he met his better half near their hotel. The two headed underground and boarded a subway train for Broadway.

And then everything went black.

'I'm sure it's just a transformer somewhere,' the Rat reassured the missus as they stood in a darkened subway car. 'We'll be on our way as soon as they finish some rerouting.'

They waited. And waited.

'You know what I could use right now?' Mrs. Rat asked her wilting spouse.

'What, dear?' he replied, fanning them both with his handheld computer case.

'A cold shower.'

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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