Shapes And Shadows #1
Dear Diary, I am starting to wonder if I am being monitored as I sit here at my work station. Not just monitored in the sense of senior members of the staff keeping a tiny fraction of an eye open to make sure that their underlings are not committing murder, rape and pillage when they should be toiling. No, I mean monitored in the sense of unseen [by me] random, intermittent or even constant surveillance to check for deviations from my employer's accepted code of behaviour.
My suspicions were aroused by a recent assignment handed to me by 'The Feck', which is our totally unaffectionate name for Pierson Day, the Sentinel & Advertiser's deputy editor. His constant cry is recorded in his nickname.
I am now beginning to suspect that The Feck is keeping a check somehow on my personal projects to find out if any of them contains the seeds of something which can be used in the paper. Or better, which can be used against me personally to my great detriment.
Take the business of the Ottral Convenience as an example. The Feck consigns me, along with others, to the paper's archives from time to time. There, a delightful young lady called Jackie is bringing the back issues of this paper, and several defunct rivals, into the electronic age and making them available to the Sentinel & Advertiser's staff at their work stations, in the first instance. Paid-for access by members of the public also seems likely in the future; but that is by the way.
The job of helping Jackie with the cross-indexing work is generally viewed as a punishment detail as it has to be performed with great discipline and accuracy. But I have found consolations in the depths. No, not the obvious ones in Jackie's arms, although I certainly would not turn down such an opportunity should she ever give her steady boyfriend the old heave-ho. No, I have found sequences of related stories, which I have explored for my own not-so-guilty pleasure during working hours.
One such was the affair of the Ottral Convenience, an old, dark tale of death and superstition. Unravelling it and tracking down its appearances in the S&A and the defunct rivals, and certain alternative sources to which I have access, was a somewhat lengthy but enjoyable business. And no sooner had I completed this self-appointed task than The Feck was demanding from me, a filler article on that very subject!
With a feeling of profound irritation at the interruption, the writer clicked on the OK button.
|The Ottral stuff. Is it reliable?|
Feeling even more irritated, the writer clicked on the Reply button and wrote:
'I have reproduced the infor in the sources accurately.
If the source material is inaccurate, then we are screwd.'
Leaving his typos intact, which was a usual convention, he clicked on the Send button.
Dear Diray, our private projects are considered to be harmless diversions, or even small, permitted actis of rebellion, aimed at keeping the intellect stimulated amid the grinding realities of the newspaper industry. We need to sparkle a little after grinding out the standard turgid prose our readers have come to know and love.
I am now forced to ask myself whether I can be bothered to continue with my personal diversions if they are to be treated as sources of potential benefit to the paper. The whole point of our personal material is that it is intended to preserve3 our sanity in an often turbulent and insane working environment. But if it is just fodder for exploitation, what his the bl#@dy point?
"Are we having lunch together today?" Sally Lee, the writer's ethnically diluted Chinese neighbour, asked her question at a level which was calculated to travel just to the adjacent work station.
The writer nodded. "As long as the Feck keeps his distance. I've just had a threatening message from him."
"Does he ever send any other sort?" laughed Sally.
"Come to think of it, no. But he's asking questions about a piece I knocked out for him. Which could be a sign he wants it completely rewritten five minutes ago. And that's the sort of job he likes to spring on people as they're about to disappear out the door for lunch."
"Someone getting paranoid in his old age?"
"Someone facing up to the realities of working here. So, in answer to your question; yes, if the Feck will let me."
"We'll just have to try and sneak out," laughed Sally.
The writer made a conscious effort not to look like someone who was ready to pack up and run as his normal lunch time came around. He was considering diversion strategies such as sending someone a bogus e-message commanding that person to report to Pierson Day's office for a conference but he felt sure that the message would be tracked back to himself.
Then he became aware of things happening nearby.
"It'll take about an hour," Jill Day, the chief executive assistant to the editor-in-chief was telling Sally Lee.
"It'll have to be squared with Pierson," Sally said apologetically.
"I'll sort him out," Jill Day said with all the authority of the editor-in-chief's sister-in-law and intermittent mistress. "So I'll see you after lunch?"
"Okay." Sally Lee began to tidy up her work and prepare to log off.
The writer bashed Ctrl-Alt-H on his keyboard, which had the same effect as a mouse click on the Read Later button. Then, as Jill Day was opening the door to her namesake's office, the writer logged off and left his work station to the mercy of his screen saver. Sally Lee was carrying her jacket and her handbag, and she seemed to be heading for the exit independently. They left the building feeling like prisoners of war sneaking out of Colditz Castle.
Sally Lee headed straight for her appointment with Jill Day when they returned to the newspaper's somewhat tatty headquarters. The building was in a period roughly mid-way between redecoration cycles. When he tapped the mouse to send his screen saver to sleep, the writer got a pop-up box with the news that:
|You Now Have 18 Unread Messages|
The writer began to 'do his messages', knowing that most of the 18 people had conspired to waste his life. The first message had been copied to him when sent to its main target. After about ten seconds, he consigned it to the 'read later' option. No sooner had he clicked his mouse than another message popped up.
|Your Read Later Box Is Now Full|
The writer clicked on the OK button. The mail system had been programmed with a set of parameters to tell it when Read Later messages were so old that they were unlikely to be of any use. Most of the messages copied to the writer as a matter of form and moved to his 'Read Later Box' ended up being condensed out of existence.
|Your Local Mail Trash Bin Is Now Full|
Again, the writer clicked on an OK button. The next 11 messages were all copies and all of no immediate interest. Starting to lose the will to live, he left the rest of them unread and tried to remember what he had been doing before he had rushed out of the building one jump ahead of the Feck-Monster.
Dear Diary, when it comes to degrees of sadism that are right off the scale, the inventor of the S&A messaging system is in the Nobel Prize category. Never in the field of human torture was so much pointless information sloshed around to so little purpose.
And I, for my sins, seem to have been singled out for special attention. Every correspondent, and his or her dog, tags me as a secondary recipient of their trivia. Yea, my box floweth over amnd I must condense
The writer sensed an approaching presence and switched documents.
"Where the feck've you been?" the Feck-Monster demanded.
"When?" The writer played dumb.
"For the last hour."
"Having lunch for most of it. Why, what did I miss?"
"This Ottral stuff." Pierson Day ignored the cliché. "Where did you get it?"
The writer aimed an index finger in the general direction of the basement.
"What, lying about on the floor?" The Feck-Monster was in one of his deliberately obtuse moods.
"In the archive," the writer told him with the patience of a genius explaining the obvious to an idiot.
"You found all that in the archive?"
The writer shrugged. "Where else? I mean, that's what archives are for, storing stuff like that for people like me to dig up. Well, most of it. I did consult some secondary sources, too."
"So how come no other fecker has come up with anything like that?"
The writer shrugged. The correct answer to the question, he knew, was that everyone else had got on with their cross-indexing jobs, usually as slowly as possible as a protest at being shoved in the archive for half a day, and not allowed themselves to be seduced by the chance to read the material which they were supposed to be making available to a wider audience.
"Right, then." The Feck-Monster stalked back to his lair, leaving the writer with no sort of satisfactory outcome to the interview.
|You Now Have 9 Unread Messages|
"How totally fascinating," the writer told the pop-up box just before he zapped it.
|You Now Have 10 Unread Messages|
The pop-up box received the zap treatment again.
|You Now Have 11 Unread Messages|
The pop-up box was having another of its attacks of petulance. The writer sensed that someone was trying to get in touch with him. As if in confirmation, his phone started to ring.
"Stop ignoring my bloody messages," a familiar voice told him as soon as the receiver reached his ear.
"I thought some people had forgotten we have office telephones," the writer said.
"Obviously not everyone. Check your messages."
The writer obeyed.
|Dont' let the s#d push you around.|
J.B. Rules OK!
Death to everyone else!
His three most recent messages all said the same thing. The writer looked across the newsroom in the direction of Jeff Boon, the roving sports correspondent, who was making one of his rare visits. Boon usually arranged to do most of his work outside the Sentinel & Advertiser building.
Boon waved to him cheerily before he gave his attention back to his work station. The writer chose to ignore the rest of his messages and get on with something more interesting.
Dear Diary, it is a common device to insert typographical symbols into the works of e-messages as a means of frustrating attempts by the company to monitor their content. The messages are scanned for key words and pass freely through the system if such flags are absent.
But given the power of modern computers and the limitations of the symbols on a keyboard, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that all possible variations of the key words may be included in the scanning translation table, viz F#ck, s#d, J#ckie, J@ckie, Jacki#, Jack$e and so on.
If the management truly wishes to check up on e-messages, a more sophisticated system of concealment is required. And yet, the truly alert security officer would be aware of the possibility of such concealment and set a trap for excessive use of what are clearly non-words employed for the purpose of evasion.
The secret of getting one jump ahead of that sort of debvious thinking
|You Now Have 10 Unread Messages|
Assuming that Jeff Boon had another urgent message for him, the writer allowed the system to show him his latest communication. It proved to be a lengthy report, which had been copied to him as well as a long list of other members of the newspaper's staff. The writer consigned it to his 'Read Later Box', knowing that there would be plenty of room in his oubliette after a recent condensing operation.
Dear Diary, I am fast coming to the conclusion that there is a conspiracy to drown me in irrelevant material. Why else would my so-called work colleagues send me so much dross? The only explanation that a reasonable person would find is that they wish to deflect me from my writing assignments.
Again, the question 'Why, oh why?' arises. I can conclude only that they are driven by jealousy. They see me achieving successes and they can't stand it. And so they attempt to overload me with dross, deflect me from my real work and reduce my perceived value in the eyes of the management.
And why would they want to do that? Simple. The bastards want to get me the sack. Once I am history, they will not have to aim for the high standard of my work. They will be able to
"You're in the archive again tomorrow morning. Got that?" The Feck-Monster had attempted another sneak attack but it had failed utterly in its object of catching the writer in the act of skiving.
"Right, I'll rearrange my schedule accordingly. Unless you've done it?" The writer refused to be down-hearted.
"Trevor can take over some of your stuff. He's not doing anything important at the moment."
The writer turned his head to look at Trevor Mercur to make sure that he was eavesdropping and that he had caught the news.
"And keep your eyes open for stuff like the Ottral business," the Feck-Monster added. "We're always up for local-interest fillers."
"Right!" The writer maintained his façade of bogus enthusiasm until Pierson Day had moved on to intimidate someone else.
"I bet your tomorrow morning's dead boring," Trevor Mercur fixed a poisoned glare on his colleague.
The writer consulted his 'to do' list for the next day. "I'm at the magistrates' court. Filling in for you, in fact. On the assumption that the crime correspondent has more important things to do that hang about there to see if anything amusing comes up."
"Oh, well, at least it gets me out into the real world." Mercur turned back to his work station looking a little more gruntled.
Dear Diary, here I am in the archive, condemned to another half-day of unrelenting work tempered only by the presence of the delightful Jackie.
I have been wondering where the surveillance cameras are placed down here and whether it would be possible to set up a laser system which would blind them, temporarily or even permanently, when they point in my direction. And whether it would be possible for me to strike back at the watchers in such a way that I can get away with it.
I feel that any decent society would give its citizens a licence to strike back against intrusion - and have this right written in to its constitution. But, unfortunately, we live in the sort of world in which spying on others is the national hobby of most nations; and compulsory in the rest.
Even so, I feel that resistance is a duty, if only for the sake of maintaining a decent level of self-respect and
"You don't really think they have cameras down here, do you?" Jackie had managed to sneak up on the writer because he had not thought to include her on his list of persons who had threat-potential.
"You just wait," the writer told her darkly. "One day, your every move will be logged by some bloody automatic surveillance system or other. When the technology becomes available, you don't think bosses - all bosses, not just ours - and the government will be able to resist using it? All these CCTV cameras watching roads and car parks and shopping precincts are only a first step on the road to global Big Brotherism."
"We ought to call you Paranoid Pete. Except your name's Marin. Where did that come from?"
"They won't admit it, but my parents are always looking for unusual names in the credits for TV programmes and I reckon they saw a name like Marin J. Smith as the best boy of a film. Or they went through a list of common names and they started dropping letters. So I could have had a brother called Albet or Oger or Staney."
"So you would have been called, ... what?" Jackie gave up the hunt.
"Martin would fit the scenario."
"I don't really see you as a Martin," Jackie decided after studying the writer.
"Why, what's wrong with being a Martin? It's as good a name as any."
"I don't think it's exotic enough for you."
"Oh, I'm exotic, am I? Maybe my parents should have gone the other way and added a letter. Called me 'Martian'."
"You're certainly not commonplace. You know all sorts of useful stuff. Talking about that, I've sorted out ... what did you call them? My lumpen paragraphs. I hope they're more digestible now."
"So you're ready for the next step?" The writer delved into his pocket for a folded leaf torn from a spiral-bound reporter's notebook.
Jackie retired to her own work station to study a list of things in her novel which the writer found hard to grasp or inconsistent. They were all areas for rethinking and rewriting. The writer had also provided some tips on grammar and style.
"This is going to keep me busy," Jackie decided after a period of silence.
"It's about the last of it, though," the writer told her. "You're on your own as far as the content goes. The rest is window dressing - although it's important to make the product look as attractive as possible - but the content is you, your voice, what you have to say for yourself and it shouldn't be diluted by my input, okay?"
"Okay. I think it's starting to come together very nicely now."
"Glad to be of service." The writer resumed to his cross-indexing with a glow of virtue.
"By the way," Jackie added, "I gather you haven't got any brothers. What about sisters?"
"She's called Adele."
"That's a real name," Jackie objected. "You know, one people have heard of."
"It's also Adelaide with the 'aid' dropped out."
Jackie pulled a face at him. "I think some people are dead good at twisting the facts to fit a daft theory," she scoffed.
Dear Diary, I have been wondering if the surveillance system watches Jackie as well as me, or whether it is there only to watch me.
I lean towards the conclusion that any misconduct on her part would be ignored as Jackie is too valuable to sack for working on her book in the firm's time and, therefore, there is no point in watching her. Which makes my good self the sole target for the watchers.
Jackie has been on the job too long for anyone to be able to step efficiently into her shoes. It is possible in theory but everyone knows that a hostile takeover of her type of job always runs into major problems.
She has achieved a position of small power, which is essential in any society which has the structure which obtains currently in ours.