Best of RAH:
A Skein Is Only 360 Feet
by Greg Borek
This story first appeared in the February 1995 issue of Random Access
Copyright © 1995 Greg Borek, All Rights Reserved.
Boss! Hey, boss! Got a minute?
That's great, that's great! Listen to this. Knock your socks off.
The boys in research were playing around with a "chkdsk" file. You
know, one of those fruit-loopy "file0000.chk" files chkdsk.com makes
from the lost scraps on a hard disk. Following?
That's great. Now Binkleman,... you know, Binkleman? The weird one
Studman hired? Nothing to look at, but a brilliant, diseased mind.
Anyway Binkleman says he's always suspected that there was some sort
of pattern to these files. Paranoia in capital letters or what? So
guess what he does?
No, even worse. He starts playing around with the bits in the file:
shifting every other character 24 bits left, the other characters 18
bits right, subtracting 27, and passing the result through a
substitution cypher using "peach flavored werewolves" as the key.
Scoobey-do, guess what he comes up with? Listen:
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that...
Know what that is?
Gibberish, I know. Rechecking his work, he realized he should only
be shifting every other character only 22 bits, not 24. Wow! What
a bonehead play! Guess what he comes up with then? I'll read it:
To be, or not to be, that is the question;
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,...
And stuff like that. It goes on for pages and pages.
I know, I know...a complete waste of time. I told him, "Lad, you're
barking." A bit strong I know, but one must be firm with the young
ones or they don't learn. He went off and started in a completely
new direction based on...guess what?
That's right, a 4th order Bessel function. Great guess. Wrong, of
course, but wonderful potential this Binkleman. Multiplying each
byte by the Permeability of Free Space, 4 * 10e-7 Wb/Am, then
dividing by the speed of light times absolute zero C yielded...guess
what? Come on, guess? Listen:
2 cups flour 3 egg whites
6 oz. butter 3-1/2 oz. granulated sugar
1 pinch salt 1 qt. fresh blueberries
3 egg yolks
Preheat the oven to 375. Mix all the ingredients...
...and so on, including serving instructions and nutritional
information. Might as well be a Crime Bill. Nonsense at it's worse.
What do you make of that, huh?
Yes, other than a recipe for a rather yummy blueberry pie, complete
gibberish. Can you believe the things these guys will come up with?
Now don't be to hard on him. I might have made the same mistake
myself in my younger days on one of those nights when I lost yet
another drinking competition. But here is where the story gets
interesting. I got involved. I knew the answer to this conundrum
was not far off. "Use you brain, not you fingers, Binkleman," I
said. What would be a likely thing to try next?
Calcium tetraborate, CaB4O7! Yes, that's exactly what I thought at
first, but I made the same mistake. See it? No? Well, when we did
it the wrong way we got:
- Children below the age of 7 should use the microwave with a
supervising person very near to them. Between the ages of 7
and 12, the supervising person should be in the same room.
- The child must be able to reach the oven comfortably; if
not, he/she should stand on a sturdy stool.
- At no time should anyone be allowed to lean or swing on the
See the flaw in the equation? A square hectometer is only 2.471044
acres US but 2.471058 acres British. When we put in the correct
value the answer plopped out right in our laps, without so much as a
"By your leave". We got something clear as the lint in your
No, this is really hot! Listen to this, if you can:
People of Earth. Your puny planet is about to invaded by the
infinitely superior forces of the HotCrossedBuns Star Empire.
Resistance is futile. Make peace with whatever deity you
worship. You have only until February 1, Earth date when
the first icing and raspberry sauce ships will land in
Taledo, Ohio, USA,...
Damn. You're right. Taledo's spelled wrong. I must have screwed up
the math. Shit, I thought I rechecked my math. I must look like a
real Herbert. Sorry to waste your time like this.
Greg Borek is a C programmer with a "Highway Helper" (okay, "Beltway Bandit"
- but don't tell his boss we told you.) in Falls Church, VA. He has previously
been mistaken for a vampire. Greg can be reached via e-mail at:
If you don't care where you are, then you ain't lost.