Pushed to the Edge of Survival

Important note: The following pages are preliminary. They have not been vetted/edited/edited/criticized/proof read/deleted/laughed at by anybody except the author. Please read at your own grammatical risk.

Friday, May 18, 2012, 4:31 p.m. Gabe Alexander needed one last meeting and then he was on vacation. What Gabe couldn’t possibly know was that his simple vacation would save the lives of every single person on Earth. How could he have known? How could anybody have known?
Gabe had arrived at the conference room early and was daydreaming about what a wonderful time he would have on the cruise. Gabe kept thinking about how nice the Alaska air would smell and how good this trip would be for his family. Just one last meeting.
The team arrived and sat down at the conference table. This movement broke Gabe out of his wonderful vacation thoughts, and he asked, “Who’s the new guy?”
“Umm, my name is John Fuller, I’m an intern.”
“Cool, glad to have you here. My name is Gabe, and I’m the lead designer on the RAID Five project. But, given how this project is going, I will probably be demoted to toilet cleaner or something.”
The group burst into laughter, and Gabe said, “Over there is Ramon. He is helping in the design layout. Over there is Gustavo, who’s helping with design. Over there is James. He works with production. And this is Rachel. She works with the important stuff. You know, budgets, money, and keeping us employed.”
Rachel said in a mildly sarcastic voice, “It’s called forecasting. Budgets are for people who get their credit card taken away.”
The group laughed, and Gabe said, “OK, so that’s everybody except Satto. He is the always-late project manager.
“Let me bring you up to speed on what has been going on. Computix Systems has this old line of computer mainframes. Inside is a RAID controller on an ASIC. In case you aren’t aware, a RAID controller operates several hard drives at the same time. Also, in case you don’t know, an ASIC is a custom integrated electronic circuit, or IC. That’s what we do here.”
John asked in a confused voice, “Sort of like a Pentium?”
“A Pentium is a lot more complex than an ASIC, but that’s the general idea. Anyway, Computix Systems deleted their design by accident. Normally, Computix Systems would simply use their own bright people to re-make their design. However, they’re busy with other projects and somehow Silicon Serpent managed to get the contract. By the way, you’re an intern for Silicon Serpent.
“Before all this, the greatest project engineer ever, Tim, interfaced with Computix Systems, got all the specs, and coordinated the project. Unfortunately, Tim’s wife got cancer, and he had to take some personal leave.
“As head designer, I took over the project management tasks. One of the things I did was to convince Computix Systems to slightly alter their design. This change resulted in improved performance, reduced cost, and, most importantly, reduced development time.” Ramon, Rachel, James, and Gustavo hollered their approval.
Gabe made a big sigh and said, “Well, our head of marketing made Satto the project manager for an unknown reason. Part of the project manager’s job is to sit in on their marketing meetings and I never did. So, it kind of makes sense to have a project manager.
“Satto’s designed the Tiger Two graphics processor for the Blackberry cell phone. It had endless delays, endless bugs, and worthless documentation. Anyway, within a week of him taking over, there were tons of changes and he forced us to scrap my entire design. Now, Computix is upset, we’re way over budget, and the schedule is blown.
“Today is another pointless meeting to discuss some new changes that Satto has come up with. We’ll listen to him and then discuss how senseless his changes are. Afterwards we’ll discuss how much time it’ll cost, and James will inform the team that this schedule slip is unacceptable. We’ll then discuss the cost increase, and Rachel will tell us that no matter what anybody says, the company doesn’t have the budget for any of this. We took Ramon and Gustavo off other projects to help us get back on track.
“That kind of brings you up to speed. Do you—”
Satto Tonegawa dramatically opened the door, and he boldly walked inside. He was a short, wiry man with thinning hair, and he dressed in a silk pattern shirt. Satto never smiled and didn’t join in the typical company environment camaraderie. He looked around in disapproval at the people assembled and slammed a stack of papers on the desk. Gabe knew he was in a bad mood. Please make this quick. Just a few more minutes and my vacation can start!
Satto spoke in an angry, loud, high-pitched voice. “I listened to everything you said! I want you all to know that none of what this man has said is true! The Tiger Two is an extraordinary, successful product used in billions of cell phones all over the world! As for the RAID Five project, we would be ahead of schedule, except all of you refuse to do any work!”
Gabe said in a sarcastic voice, “Billions of cell phones? The Tiger Two has never been in production. Plus, how many workarounds did it have?” Satto looked at Gabe in defiance and Gabe he continued, “You had over a thousand. My last project had two, Ramon’s Delta II had eight, and, Gustavo, I think the Cornerstone Revision C had none.”
Satto grasped a thick red binder with anger. While gritting his teeth, he said in a deeply controlled voice, “You are well aware that the Tiger Two requires another revision to address those minor inconsistencies.”
Gabe shook his head and said in an annoyed voice, “Minor inconsistencies? You had 12 revisions to get it right. Twelve! Your design got worse with each revision. Finally, Blackberry pulled the contract, and we lost millions!” Satto stood up and slowly walked around the room to collect his thoughts. Gabe watched his angry display. This is almost over. Just a few minutes more.
Satto slowly spoke while gritting his teeth, “This isn’t why we’re here today. I have been in discussion with Computix Systems and we agreed on these changes.” Satto handed out some neatly-bound pages. Gabe, Ramon, and Gustavo began looking at them.
Gustavo was the first to speak. “You are changing all the logic processing? Umm—I don’t understand this part. What’s a ‘quad to delta’ converter?”
Ramon picked up the conversation and said confidently, “You are using matrix logic? Matrix logic is for doing graphics or computations. Not a disk controller.”
Satto cut the two men off and said in an overly dramatic, loud voice, “I have made my decision! You will carry out my orders! There will be no further discussion!” He picked up his binder and started to leave.
Gabe spoke up, “You’re scrapping every single instruction and then putting in some sort of emulator? OK, we will have to start from scratch, and this will take at least six months to sort out.”
James interrupted, “We have to get to production ASAP. Six months will not fly no matter what anybody says.”
Satto turned in anger and said dramatically, “My revisions won’t take six months!” Satto straightened himself and took measured paces around the room. The assembled people wondered what he would do next.
Satto suddenly stopped walking and spoke slowly with slight pauses in between each word, “We will use the Tiger Two processor, as it is well understood and make minor modifications. Therefore I have carefully described how to utilize the matrix instructions. This will save us time and get us back on schedule. Gabe, I forbid you from conveying this meeting with Al. He has personally approved of my decision! There will be no further discussion!” With that, Satto left with his arms folded.
The team looked at each other and Gustavo said, “Use a graphics core in a disk controller? Talk about apples and oranges!”
Ramon said, “That’s not going to work. The logic scheme would be completely different. Plus, it isn’t in the spec. Computix Systems would eat a plateful of crow before doing that. And by the way, the Delta II only had three workarounds, thank you very much.” The group laughed.
Gabe got up, walked to where the intern was sitting, and said to John, “Not bad for your first day? I got a plane to catch, and this will take me two hours to write up and email to Uncle Al.”
John looked confused and stammered, “I thought Mr. Satto said not to? He is my boss. Right?”
“OK, Al Horne, or Uncle Al, as the inner circle calls him, runs the company. When this project slipped, I asked Al if I could copy him on important emails.”
Gustavo got up to leave and asked, “Gabe, what are you going to do?”
“Write an email, get on a plane, not think about this place for a week, and have the most relaxing vacation ever.” The group laughed and left the conference room.
Back at his cubicle, Gabe wrote out a long email describing all the changes and their impact. He also backed up all his work on a portable hard drive. Gabe knew that taking confidential information off-site was strictly against company policy, but it concerned him that Satto might compromise his work in his absence.
Gabe heard somebody walking toward his cubicle. Satto yelled, “Because of your actions, I have rescinded your vacation! You are to work here all weekend if you value your job!” Gabe kept typing and didn’t look up. Satto asked in an animated, louder voice, “Did you hear me?!” Satto watched Gabe calmly type, and he said in a wildly dramatic voice, “You will answer me!”
Gabe raised his eyes over the screen and looked at Satto. He quietly said, “I don’t answer to you. I had this vacation approved by Gloria a long time ago. If you had left the project alone, it would’ve been finished two months ago, and I would be halfway finished with some new project.”
“Stop typing!”
Gabe briefly looked up and said, “There is an old saying. ‘You can attract a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar.’ You should think about that.” Satto looked furious, started to speak, and then stopped. Gabe looked at him for a moment and returned to typing. Satto made a huffing sound and dramatically stormed off. Gabe shook his head and wondered why such an abusive person was still employed at a wonderful company.
Gabe finished the email, put his portable hard drive in his gym bag, and said out loud, “Vacation officially started! Yes!”
Gabe walked toward the exit and a confident voice asked, “Working late?” Gabe turned to see Al Horne walking his way. Al was a big, intimidating guy in his mid-sixties with a gray crew cut and a white shirt with a thin, black tie. Gabe always thought he looked like a combination of a linebacker and a rocket scientist from the Apollo program.
Gabe could see that Al was relaxed. He said in a friendly voice, “Hi, Uncle Al, I’m guessing you have looked at my latest email.”
“Yes, yes, I did. Satto came by and we chatted about your performance. He wants me to fire you.” Gabe nodded his head with the knowledge that Satto had threatened to fire him multiple times. It came as a relief that he would never see Satto again.
Gabe made a deep sigh and replied, “That’s very unfortunate. I liked working here. Is this my last day?”
Al looked at Gabe and placed his hand on a nearby cubicle, making small circles with his index finger while looking off into the distance. He thought for a long moment, and asked in a faraway voice, “Do you know how we got the Computix Systems contract?” Gabe shook his head, and Al answered, “I play golf with Nick Stanley. He is the vice president of development at the mainframe division. I have been carefully letting that hack of a player win for the last four years, hoping to get some decent business.
“Finally, that SOB threw us a bone, which was, in reality, us saving his pencil-thin neck. When you ran the project, do you know what that fool said about you?” Gabe shook his head. Al said in a raised voice, “He said nothing! That chicken-choker is a perfectionist. He is always criticizing everyone and everything. Always going off on how I make my putts. Always saying I slice to the left when I play straight. Saying nothing is the highest compliment that worthless excuse of a man can give. When Satto took over, I started getting calls. I got calls at home, in the car, and even when I was on the can! You know what the worst part?”
Gabe shook his head, and Al answered, “All of Nick’s high-minded complaints were completely on target. That schmuck actually held back his true opinions, out of professional courtesy!
“I’m tired of making excuses! I told Satto to get off the project. Now, I want you to have a nice vacation and don’t worry about this place. When you get back, we’ll get everything back on track. Gabe, you do good work and we’re happy to have you here. Say hello to Lydia, Christy, and Victoria for me.”
Gabe was floored and said, “Wow, that’s a big relief. Thank you, Uncle Al. Have a wonderful weekend.” Al nodded and walked away. Gabe felt good about going on vacation. He was also amazed that Al had remembered his family’s names. On the way home, Gabe wondered if Al remembered their names or looked it up in the personnel files. Either way, it doesn’t matter. I’m not doing anything technical for a whole week!
Copyright © 2019 Bill Conrad