June 02, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 14)

I once worked in an office with an evil copier machine. I’m not saying that it was cantankerous and seldom worked right, like jamming beyond hope when you most needed it or randomly crumpling and shredding your only original. I mean this thing exerted an evil influence on people who used it. We’re talking Stephen King storytime stuff. I’ve thought about this over the years, and it’s the only explanation that makes sense, because I’ve known other copiers and never… well, read on.

Ramstein, Germany. I’d been assigned there for a year or so, and without changing desks I’d worked for the Electronic Information Systems Division (EISD), then the Computer Systems Organization (CSO), then the Information Systems Services Office (ISSO), and rumors were flying that yet another name change was in the works.* Our mission hadn’t changed one bit, just the hats we wore and how we answered the phones. It got so silly that I came up with a new name for us: the European Integrated Electronic Information Organization. Yepper, E-I-E-I-O.

My first memorable encounter with the copier was when I was standing around it with another NCO and our section leader. Our section leader was a newly promoted Captain, and (rightfully) proud as a peacock about his new rank. As we were talking, I said something about the “Lieutenant” out of habit. He immediately interrupted me and, pointing to the bars on his shoulder, reminded me of his new status. Instead of apologizing or just acknowledging him and getting on with it, the evil influence of the copier took hold of me and I heard myself say:

“Well Sir, you’ll always be a Lieutenant in my heart.”

You can imagine how well that went over. But you can see what I mean about the evil copier, right?

Our organization was a tiny part of the Communications Squadron, and we were attached to the comm guys not because we fit in there, but because we fit in even less anywhere else. The comm folks hated us because we were computer pukes, not communications, and both sides were quick to make the distinction. Mostly, we went our way and did our thing and the less we had to deal with the rest of the squadron the better we liked it.

Which worked great until we got the idea to form an office softball team for the base league. We talked about it and decided to do it for fun – no serious win-at-all-cost attitudes for us. And then word came down from on high that the squadron already had a team, and that we were invited to try out for it, and they might send their ‘leftover’ players to our team, but we could not be in the league independently. Screw that, we entered anyways, under an assumed (organizational) name: E-I-E-I-O. Had shirts and hats made and everything, and caught major hell halfway through the season when we showed up to play our parent squadron in a scheduled game.

Back to the copier. Like most small office photocopiers, probably more unofficial stuff was copied than real work-related documents. The Air Force decided to combat the waste by placing a tiny transparent sticker to the underside of the glass, so that every Xeroxed page was marked in the upper corner with a letter and number code showing what copier reproduced it. Every copier on Ramstein had it’s own tiny little ID code.

Most of us ignored it and went on using it anyways. One weekend I went into the office for something and found the NCOIC (my boss) at the copier, making stacks of personal copies. Yet another clue about the evil influence of the machine. Well, maybe not, because the NCOIC then showed me that by unscrewing this and this and this you could lift the glass out, rotate it 180 degrees and the sticker wouldn’t show up anymore! Wow, my boss showing me how to circumvent the system for personal reasons. Evil copier.

About the time we were getting our stern talking-to about our unauthorized softball team, a group of us were sitting around drinking and bullshitting, when inspiration struck. I can’t claim credit for the idea, because I honestly don’t remember who thought of it. Like I said, we were drinking.

But I absolutely am responsible for the implementation, because when it comes right down to it, what good is a stupid idea if you don’t have the balls to make it happen, eh? So early Monday morning, my partner in white-collar crime and I lifted the glass on the Xerox machine, turned it over, and by carefully scraping with a knife blade, we removed the letter/number code and replaced it with rub-on letters that spelled out EIEIO. It was a near perfect match, and because the mark showed up on every copy (and had for months), nobody even paid attention to them any more.

A couple of weeks later, we realized that it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out who was responsible for the symbolic ‘bird’ we were sending out with every copy, so we changed the decal again. Who knows what possessed us to do this? Wait, it was the copier!!! I tell you, that thing was evil.

This time we changed the copier code to read “FOAD”.

For the innocent, that stands for “F__k Off And Die”. It’s also a valid hexadecimal number (make the ‘oh’ a zero) if you’re a real computer nerd, which is interesting but hardly relevant.

We held our breath, and waited for the shit to hit the fan. And waited. And waited. And it didn’t, because nobody noticed.

Several months later, my compadre and I were called into the Captain’s office. He “knew” we had changed the sticker, but he couldn’t prove it. He was throwing a fit because copies from our machine were headed out all over Europe, and each and every one had a cheerful little “FOAD” in the corner. We played appropriately dumb, but I did admit that I’d noticed the sticker before. He almost stroked out when I told him I assumed it meant “For Official Authorized Duplication”. I was full of shit, and he knew it, and he knew I knew he knew it (and so on), but there wasn’t much he could do about it other than to suggest that the problem better be taken care of. Sometime in the next few days, someone mysteriously changed the label again by scraping it clean and from then on our photocopier was the only Air Force copier in Europe without it’s own little number of the beast.

* I know for a fact that ‘EISD’ is correct, but the others might not be spot-on. If nothing else, they give you an idea of the acronym-hell that the Air Force can be.

Posted by Ted at June 2, 2004 06:10 AM | TrackBack

cool story.

Posted by: SpaceMonkey at June 2, 2004 10:53 AM

I have no doubt that you deserve full credit for the idea just as much as the implementation. :)

Posted by: Dawn at June 2, 2004 07:32 PM
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