The Rat, despite long beard, is virtually generous

Once again, Santa Rat is making his list and checking it twice. And with the ever-growing power of Web search engines, it isn't too hard to find out who's been naughty or nice.

The current economic climate obliges the whiskered one to be a bit more modest in his gift-giving this year'not to mention that he'll be skipping all further trips down chimneys until the whole Taliban thing is over.

When he snuck in the back door at a recent agency holiday party dressed in a Santa suit, he got shot with a stun gun and strip-searched.

'Sorry about that,' the embarrassed security team leader apologized afterward. 'But the long beard, the fake snow ... You can understand how we jumped to the wrong conclusion.'

The latest round of mail scares has had one positive effect: a better excuse for everyone who fails to mail holiday cards on time. And given the current economy, one need not drop nearly as much cash for the trappings of holiday largesse as in the past. The gray market, for example, is awash in Aeron chairs and Porsche Boxsters at a fraction of their original prices.

Although the economic downturn hasn't yet had an impact on his take-home pay, the Rat's entrepreneurial side ventures have suffered over the last year. So, in the spirit of the holiday season, the Rat plans to remind the recipients of his tokens that it is in fact the thought that counts.

For example, the oldest offspring asked for, among other things, a Nintendo GameCube and a FIFA 2002 soccer game. Given his performance to date on the Rat's family dashboard metrics'a handy evaluation technique the Rat borrowed from Electronic Data Systems Corp.'the No. 1 ratling qualifies only for a chunk of low-sulfur anthracite. But Dad has a big heart, so he's giving his son a reality-based gaming system instead: a soccer ball.

For the extended family, the Rat has found a significant way to cut down on gift shipping costs and the awkwardness of delivering actual presents in person. Instead of holiday loot, he's sending them cards informing them he's made donations on their behalf to various relief funds. Of course, he's keeping the receipts to deduct from his own taxes. If they had to deal with all that paperwork, it wouldn't be a gift, now would it?

That doesn't mean everyone on the furry one's list is going to have their expectations realigned'particularly if those expectations fall in line with the Rat's own.

For instance, Mrs. Rat has asked her spouse to spend more time supervising their now toddling daughter. And he's happy to oblige, as it justifies buying a WiFi wireless Ethernet base station and a PC Card for his notebook PC, so he can stay online from the nursery.

Mrs. Rat also asked Santa for a new cell phone with e-mail. She's getting it, too, as long as the Rat can upgrade his to wireless Web service.

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

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