Jeremy Elson
February, 1992


Tuesday. Eleven in the morning. I'm there, hunched over the computer. The date isn't really important, because that's where I always am. Have been for months. It's this special project of mine, you see. Keeps me very busy, and takes a lot of time, and it's all I've been working on.

Today I should be done. All of my work should pay off today. The University should be pleased. They like it when their professors publish, and I haven't published in a while. Just a couple more problems to iron out. I lift my fourth cup of coffee and grab the printout that's under it, then realize that it's the wrong printout. I throw it over my shoulder, knocking over yesterday's last cup of unfinished coffee which spills onto one of my reference books.

I turn back to the screen and scrutinize my program. "Damn! That's it..." I hiss, "Yeah, that should just about do it..." I add the correction and tell my computer to begin putting my program together. The program is really big, and this always takes a while. I hop through my office, trying to get out the door without stepping on the old printouts and books and pizza boxes. I go to the coffee maker outside but I can't find my mug. I go back to the computer and find the mug there with fresh coffee already in it.

I lean way back in my chair with my hands behind my head, and smile. I wait. Wait longer. It's going very slowly today. Suddenly -- beep -- the computer tells me that electronic mail has just arrived.

I switch to the mail program and bring it in. It's from a user named "ajemimah." I lean back in my chair again, stare at the ceiling, and rub my brow for a moment. I don't remember anyone named ajemimah. I read the message:

From: ajemimah
  To: mdavis
Subj: sorry

    Hi, sorry about the load on your workstation, but I was just
using your computer for a big project, and it took a lot of CPU
time but it should be OK now.  Sorry again.  Good luck with your
I sit back in my chair and furrow my brow again. I check the load on the machine and it seems to be back to normal, so I go back to watching the progress of my program, which has just completed its compilation cycle.

I run the program and get up for another cup of coffee. I stare out the window for a while, and accidentally knock an old Styrofoam cup full of two-day old coffee on to my jeans. I get up, clean my jeans off, and come back to the terminal. The program has now been running for fifteen minutes, and I glance at the status bar. It says the program is four percent done.

"FOUR?" I scream. I sit down again, hunched over the keyboard. I tap out a few quick commands and the system tells me that 98.4% of the CPU time is being taken by a process run by "ajemimah."

The computer beeps. More mail. Again from ajemimah. Another copy of the same letter. It beeps again and delivers the same letter again. And again. More beeping. More letters. The beeping gets faster. The letters pile up. All of them are exactly the same.

I write a letter of my own: "I don't know who you are or who you think you are, but you'd better log out of my machine now or I'll have to get rid of your account." I send it to ajemimah, but the computer gripes and beeps again.

sendmail: Error: user ajemimah unknown
I stare at the screen, saying nothing. I start to type something and stop. I stare at the screen blankly for what seems like a long time. The computer beeps again:
Message from Talk_Daemon@dms813.cs.jhu.edu at 12:32:
talk:  connection requested by ajemimah@dms813.cs.jhu.edu
talk:  respond with:  talk ajemimah@dms813.cs.jhu.edu
Ajemimah wants to talk to me, live. I do nothing but continue to stare. The computer beeps again. I hit a couple of keys, telling it that I don't want to talk to ajemimah. I switch my computer to "private" mode so that no one can talk to me or even try to talk to me. I go back into the editor and tell it to load my program so I can make one last change. The editor tells me that my program is gone.


I turn on a session log. Now everything that's typed should be recorded. I enter the command to talk to ajemimah. The connection is established.

just what exactley do you think youre doing?

I think I'm a grain of sand blowing in the winds of time.  But I'm
trying to lower my cholesterol.

who the HELL is this???

What's the difference?

Im tracing this connection.....youd better tell me where my pogram
went and maybe ill be nice enough to forget this whole thign.

My mother was an integrated circuit.  My father was a resistor.
What I'm saying is he didn't like change.  He always told the clerk
to keep it when I was a kid.

look my friend youd better shape up pretty damned pronto or i
really will make sure yoiu get into serious trouble

Can you trace?  What will you trace?  Why do you trace?  I am my
own beginning, my own end.  You have no power.  The wall socket is
dead.  You have a short circuit.  The third pin is missing from
your plug.  Gomers go to ground.


One man's ceiling is another man's floor.  But I don't live in an
apartment building, so my ceiling is just filled with bird crap.
On the outside.  On the inside I don't know.  I never bothered to
I close the connection. My boss walks in.

"You said it would take another hour, and it's been two. What do you have for me?"

I stare. He stares back.



"What do you have?"

"Some guy. A hacker."

I tell him how I've been spending the last two hours.

"That's the silliest thing I've ever heard. No one can do that without root privileges, and this guy doesn't even have an account."

I try to show him my session log. It's gone too.

"Look, Mark, if you need an extension, just say so. Why bother making up this story? I'm disappointed in you."

He leaves. I go home for the day. That evening I connect to my work computer from home. My program is there, intact. I try to run it, and it works. I log out and go to sleep. The next morning the boss is waiting for me in my office and I show him the final version of the program. He says it's okay and tells me to clean up my office. New mail arrives as he is walking out the door. It's from ajemimah. I delete it without reading it.

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Story by Jeremy Elson, written in February 1992
Web page last modified on 1 June 1998