BY TY LIM
How I wished I could be back in San Francisco. I used to complain about how the city smelled of urine and feces. The hipsters and other urbanites hanging out at some trendy restaurant or bar. It all seemed fake. Disgustingly fake. I especially hated the crowded MUNI train, and the packed Embarcadero station at 5pm.
Oh I wish I was back there right now.
It was March 28, 2016, and like every day, I make my way to the Bart station on Embarcadero. I rush out the door of my office just so I can make it home to a one bedroom apartment in Palo Alto. There wasn’t anyone waiting for me at home. In my freezer was several tandoori chicken food dinners. Dinner alone was something of a habit, if not a necessity. After spending several hours in front of a computer at work, I come home to do it all again so I can spend another several hours working on my own projects.
Today was going to be different. I felt something different because she walked into the MUNI train car I was standing in. She barely made it through the now closing doors of the train car. She couldn’t find a seat but some guy with a chival- rous disposition decides to give up his seat for her. Even I could tell that he had an anterior motive, but she nodded and thanked him, and immediately buried her face into her IPhone.
The train moved away from Embarcadero station and headed back up to street level. A big jolt shook all the passengers in the car. I hung to the rails with a tight grip. I bumped her shoulder as she was typing a text. I apologize, but she ignored me. She was looking for an emoticon to send in a text. I could barely read what
she was typing. The one word I did make out was dinner. Probably typing a text to her boyfriend about plans tonight. I thought to myself how I wished I was sending a text like that, but nowadays, I answer to Slack posts which were usually about fix- ing some piece of code or hanging out at AFK’s in San Jose playing GoldenEye.
I thought to myself at the time, I don’t even have a shot.
When the N Train pulled up to 4th and King, She got up glanced my way for a bit, and walked out. I was wondering where she was going. I followed her out the door, and she ran across the street to the MUNI station. She kept looking at her cell phone, but wasn’t headed into the CalTrain station. I kept staring at her, then I realized, I’m gonna miss the next bullet train to Palo Alto. I decided that I would part ways from my nanosecond crush. Rushing home to a freezer full of frozen In- dian food than trying to introduce myself to a girl who I knew would shoot me down.
By the time I got home, it was around 7 pm. As usual, I heated up a Tandori Chicken dinner from Whole Foods, and sat my but down in front of my worksta- tion. I thought to myself about how normal people ate dinners with their families at around this time, and have lively discussions about their day. Instead, I’m in front of my computer about ready to upload the latest version of my application to my github repo.
The application I finished writing helped identify the structure of a dataset and apply the best type of sorting algorithm. It took an adaptive approach to how it analyzed the dataset and would instantly change the sorting algorithm during the analysis and storage of the data.
This application was great for sorting through unstructured and structured data. I had thought it would be cool to apply this type of application in the analy- sis of SETI data from the Aricebo radio telescope. It would be awesome if it actu- ally found a signal from outer space.
It took me 2 years go finish this thing, and now it will soon belong to the world. I wanted to open source so that people could improve on what I wrote. I took a page from Linus Torvalds when he open sourced Linux back in the 90s. I guess in a way, I wanted to be just like him.
Down deep inside, I knew that I had to change my lifestyle. Coding into the wee hours of the night is not exactly experiencing life. I need a change, I need to do something.
The status bar for the upload finally completed. I can see that the new version is uploaded. I wonder which smug internet troll will comment on this first. I am hoping that someone sees this, and starts making suggestions.
I take a spoonful of tandoori chicken and take a bite. I do love Indian food, maybe next time I’ll make it out to an actual restaurant instead of being the her- mit coder that I am.
Just for kicks, I decided to hit refresh on my browser. There’s one pull request from my repo. Wow, I wonder who that was. I sat there staring at the pull request counter. I thought to myself, I hope it works.
I finished my dinner, and started getting ready for bed. My life has been one project after another. My current boss, Charlie, wants me to automate code deploy- ments for their builds. He’s been having issues with all of his dev ops personnel writing one off scripts to handle the deployments, and some of these guys just slap shell scripts together and consider it done. Some of these guys are pretty good, and others are just plain idiots. He put a deadline of next week to finish, I told him I’ll get it done in by the end of this week. I don’t know what I said it, I think its be- cause I’m smug that way. I guess I’m too confident of my skills, and have this in- sane eagerness to please people. I have to stop doing that.
I toss my dinner container to one side, and started putting together the Puppet modules for work. Pleased that the new version of Homer was uploaded to github. That’s what I was calling my sorting algorithm. I came up with that name early in the project because I had made so many mistakes, I kept saying D’oh. So, Homer was released to the world, and now I can concentrate on making some money.
It was at around 5am that I got woken up. Skpye on my Ipad was ringing. Who the heck would be calling me at 5am. I’m hoping this isn’t Charlier. He can be such a douchebag sometimes. His impatience and lack of any understanding of how anything technical is put together just sometimes pisses me off. I have a low threshold for stupidity.
I clicked the answer button on my IPad. The caller ID says it was unknown. Oh why did I answer the fucking call. I’m hoping this isn’t some Nigerian diplomat asking me to smuggle money out of the country. At 5am in the morning, it probably was.
“Hi, is this sortThis888 who wrote Homer?”
“Yea, this is he.” I said with a groggy voice. I just realized, I put my skype ID on the comments section of the code. I guess I did that so I could talk to someone other than write an email or answer a Slack post.
“Do you want to switch to webcam? Or do you hacker types want to stay in the shadows?” She sounded cute is what I thought. She wants to see on the webcam? My t-shirt has curry stains, and I haven’t shaved in 6 months, much to the chagrin to my mother. I’m glad people over at Apple hasn’t perfected an IPad that could smell, because I’d smell pretty ripe right now.
“Yea, one sec” I told her. Reluctantly, I hit the webcam feature, and before me was this woman wearing glasses, and a NASA t-shirt.
“Hey sleepy head” I was amazed at how cute she looked. In the back of my mind I was hoping she was lying right next to me saying those words. I could only be so lucky.
“So your the guy who wrote this sort algorithm?”
“Yea, finished the alpha last night. I’m guessing your the one pull request.” I said in a matter of factly tone.
“Yes, I’m your one and only pull request. Your a pretty good coder, Mr. Terrin- ger.”
What the fuck? She knows my name. I instantly go into Holy Shit mode. Inside me I’m panicking. If she found out my name, what else does she know about me?
“David, may I call you David?”
“Uh, shit lady, you already know my last name, go for it.”
I wanted to sound tough over the phone, but down deep inside, I wanted to hang up the call and use a pre-paid card to leave the country.
“Well David, its like this, I need your help. My name is Jennifer Talbot, and I work for a special division of NASA researching new types of propulsion systems.”
“Well, Ms. Talbot, may I call you Jennifer?” I always loved the name Jennifer. My high school crush was named Jennifer.
“You may call me Dr. Talbot.”
Well, shit lady, you called me by my first name.
“Okay, Dr. Talbot, what do you want? It is 5 in the morning.”
“Okay, David, here’s the deal, your sorting algorithm, works, works really well. We have this dataset that consists of extremely unstructured data and there’s just no way to sort through the data, and act on it as quickly.”
“And, your application was the only one that was able to get through 80% of the dataset before it failed. All other attempts we’ve made only reached 10%. We need your help.”
I feel like Obi-Wan watching the recording of Princess Leia where she’s asking for his help. Where’s my light saber, I thought to myself. Better yet, I want my Mille- neum falcon.
“What if I say no?” I have an utter distrust of anything associated with the gov- ernment. I don’t care how cute she looks.
On the webcam, I can see Dr. Talbot pull out a folder. She takes the first piece of paper and shows me a picture of myself in the top left hand side. “This is you right?”
“What’s going on lady? What do you have there?”
“This David is your file from Scotland Yard. It says here that in 2005, you hacked your way into a bank in Canada, and stole something to the tune of $100 Canadian dollars.”
I lay in bed silent. There’s nothing I could say at this point. I have a bad feeling where this is going.
“David, please don’t say no. I don’t want to have to let this leak, especially now that you have this amazing freelance career.”
“You’re blackmailing me?”
“This is how desperate we are, and I know you have an utter distrust of the gov- ernment. Shit David, I don’t blame you. But you don’t understand, this is impor- tant.”
“Look, Dr. Talbot”, I said with a very sarcastic tone. “fuck you for blackmailing me like this, and my deal with Scotland Yard was to have this info not be leaked out as long as I showed them where the money got transferred to.”
“Look Novus Noctis” Oh shit, where did she get my handle from? “that is your handle right? We know you had that money for at least a month, and somehow you were able to use it to generate some level of revenue from it before you gave it back. Did you tell Scotland Yard that bit of info?”
This chick is trying my last nerve. How is she getting this info on me?
“In about 5 minutes, there will be a knock on your door. That’s my security team. They are going to take you here to Mountain View, Hangar One. I’ll fill you in once you get here. I would offer you money, but I understand that isn’t what mo- tivates you. Trust me when I say this, you don’t want to run from these guys, and when you get here, everything will get explained.”
Despite my fake bravado, I was scared shitless. Should I run to Russia and pull an Edward Snowden?
Who the fuck is this bitch? My anger and fear was swelling within me. Curiosity was starting to pervade my thoughts. What exactly does she want from me? Fear of the unknown also snuck in there too. She knows a whole heck of a lot about me, and all I did was post some sorting algorithm.
“David, I’ll see you soon”
She hung up the call, and immediately I heard a knock at the door. I guess this is it. I don’t have much of a choice, either I run out the window and grab my bug- out bag, or I answer this door. But there’s no where for me to go, they would be
monitoring the airports, and probably have every camera from here to Timbuktu covered.
“Who is it?”