PACKET RAT

Cyberrodent plugs in smart-house toys for a snow day's respite

R. Fink

When last month's winter storms shut down the federal government tighter than a Jesse Helms filibuster, the Rat found himself trapped in the burrow with his better half and children.

Between the Y2K flu running its course and the winter weather, the ratlings had been home almost continuously, with only a few scattered half-days of education to show for most of January.

Needless to say, Mrs. Rat was close to the edge of sanity. For three days, to keep up her spirits, she had been reading a book about the tribulations of Ernest Shackleton's 1914 Antarctic expedition.


'His ship got trapped in the ice, and he and his crew were stranded in Antarctica for 15 months before they escaped by longboat,' she said, gripping her cocoa cup with whitened knuckles.



'Sounds like William Weld's ambassadorial nomination,' remarked the cyberrodent, scanning through his backlog of e-mail and watching the Weather Channel.

Sounds of bickering filtered through the ceiling as the two ratlings yet again went at each other out of sheer boredom, but the whiskered one ignored them. 'When you're done with that book, dear, I've got one on the Donner party for you.'


The younger ratling scurried into the kitchen. 'Can we go outside? I wanna play in the snow.'

Keep 'em busy

'No,' Mrs. Rat snapped. 'It's 10 below with the wind chill. Go hack into microsoft.com again if you're bored.'

'But, Mom,' he whined, 'I can't. Bro's hogging up bandwidth reading Steve Case's e-mail. And every time I log on, he does a remote reboot on me.'


Sensing impending maternal detonation, the furry one stepped in. 'OK, go get your brother and meet me in the front hall.'

Minutes later, the Rat returned to pour himself another cup of coffee.

'Where are the kids?' asked his better half.

'I flushed them out the airlock,' he replied. 'I wrapped them in layers of Gore-Tex and banished them to the frozen wastes. And I told them they weren't coming back in until dinnertime.'

'But there's nearly 2 feet of snow, and it's 20 degrees out there,' Mrs. Rat replied.

'They wanted to play in the snow; they're gonna play in the snow,' he said. 'Besides, a little exposure to the elements will build character. I put the door on autopilot. That should keep them occupied. Let's go sit by the fire and relax.'


Ten minutes later, the ratlings were pounding at the door.

'What is it, children?' replied the Rat's custom-built Household Automation LAN, fondly known as HAL.

'Uh, HAL, we're done playing. Let us in.'

'I'm sorry, children. Your father has instructed me not to do that,' the door's system responded.


'C'mon, HAL, open the bay doors, please?'

'I'm sorry, children, but I've been instructed not to open the door unless the temperature reaches 18 degrees,' HAL said.

The older ratling looked at the porch thermometer. 'But it's 17 degrees Fahrenheit now, HAL. I'm sure Dad would want you to open the door.'

'Father Rat did not specify temperature units. I am programmed to default to temperature units in Kelvin.'


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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