Packet Rat: Bolt from the blue leaves the Rat's systems grounded

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

If you believe the old myth that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, the Rat has new evidence to set your hair on fire.

A thunderstorm hit him by surprise last week, almost literally, while he was wrapping up a bit of lawn work. As the skies opened, he made a dash for the burrow's front porch and joined the family to watch nature's light show.

There was a bit more entertainment than anyone expected, however. A bolt of lightning struck the front yard, throwing a fountain of dirt and stones into the air. The flash and a deafening thunderclap sent everyone scrambling for cover.

Ears ringing, the Rat dusted himself off and ran into his lair to see how his surge suppressors had held up.

They'd done fine. The bolt hadn't even caused a surge. That was the good news.

The bad news was that the lightning had still managed to fry a router, a switch and the network interfaces of several computers, and gaussed a few monitors.

'So, this is what electromagnetic pulse is like,' sighed the wirebiter. The magnetic field from the lightning, which struck the ground less than 10 yards from his wiring closet, had induced enough voltage in the network wires to turn his servers and other hardware into so many paperweights.

It also fried the peripheral interfaces on the desktop system that hosted all his experimental coding. The computer would boot, but the USB keyboard, printer, FireWire external drive and Ethernet connection were all toast.

The peripherals themselves still worked'when plugged into another computer. His experimental coding was trapped on the hard drive, and he had no way to get at it aside from a drive transplant.

'Well, look on the bright side,' his spouse said. 'That equipment was fully depreciated already. Now we have some more tax write-offs for next year.'

The cyberrodent gnashed his teeth. The various pieces of computer and networking hardware in his home lab were like his children'well, perhaps stepchildren. The mere thought of having to replace the heart of his home data center left the Rat feeling ... polarized.

After cycling through the early stages of grief, he decided to go check up on his various electronic charges at work, as he could no longer monitor them remotely. The car wouldn't start, so he pulled out his mountain bike. His iPod wouldn't play, either, with its innards magnetically realigned. So, in silence, he pedaled toward the Potomac.

A few hours later, Mrs. Rat heard rapping at the door. She opened it to find her spouse, slightly charred.

'Just call me Sparky, the living lightning rod,' he said, wafting smoke from his whiskers. He held up his partially melted house key.

'Are you all right?' gasped Mrs. Rat.

'I'm fine,' he mumbled. 'I just need to find a well-insulated room to hide in.'

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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