Mr. Claws comes to town and ratlings hack merrily into the holidays

It was to have been a quiet holiday. At the Rat's household, in the interest of sanity,
no Tickle-Me Elmos or Nintendo 64s appeared under the tree.


With the ratlings home from school for almost two whole weeks, the last thing the Wired
One wanted was to listen to them molest a Muppet or fight over whose turn it was to
control Mario.


Instead, the Rat-a-Claws gave educational gifts: interactive learning CD-ROMs and a
node on the burrow LAN for each little one. That way, schemed the Rat, they would stop
leaping into his lap at the command center and begging him to bring up the Power Rangers'
home page or e-mail the BeetleBorgs.


Once they had their own digital distractions, the Rat reasoned, he finally would get
enough peace and quiet to balance his digital checkbook. That was the plan. But then the
Rat discovered that he had to provide tech support to his offspring.


Of course, the ratlings weren't the first family members to try to turn him into a home
help desk.


The Rat's father decided he no longer needed a Novell NetWare administrator for his
office network once he made the Rat a member of his Friends and Family circle. And unknown
cousins have begun calling at dinnertime for daily Hypertext Markup Language lessons.


But children's software is a far different matter. The Rat intentionally chose simple
interactive titles and tested the software for compatibility and bugs well before the
ratlings opened their resealed boxes.


These elementary products seemed bulletproof, far more so than other software the Rat
has installed lately.


To further cover his furry hindquarters, he installed security features on the little
guys' computers to safely fence them in.


Each of their systems got Microsoft Windows NT with user-level file security to prevent
errant mouse clicks reformatting the hard drives.


But the Rat should have known better. These are, after all, his children. After playing
all the possible combinations of Freddi Fish and its CD-ROM counterparts, the ratlings
proceeded to hack through NT security with a program they pulled down from the World Wide
Web.


The Rat is still trying to figure out how they breached the firewall. The six-year-old
claimed the three-year-old did it.


The first clue that something big was afoot came when the Rat, seeking refuge from bowl
games, retreated to his lair.


The six-year-old tugged at his leg and cried, "Daddy, I can't get my new Java
applet to run right. It keeps crashing the Web server."


Then came louder yells for help:
"Daddy, why is this URL invalid?" "I PGP-encrypted the hard drive and
forgot the key." "Um, Daddy, will you help me reinstall NT? I tried Linux by
mistake." "Daddy, what does ROT-13 do? Oh, never mind, I found out."
"Daddy, what's your Impac card number?"


Blocked, that is, until he learned that a new media company wanted to buy the rights to
their Web site content. Next week, the ratlings are showing Dad how to do Internet
electronic data interchange transactions.


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


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