The Emperor’s New Specs

February 25th, 2017

There once was an Emperor. That in itself isn’t terribly interesting, nor, in fact, was the Emperor himself. Which did bother him to no end, since Emperors were supposed to be interesting, wise, and, above all, very Emperor-ish. Which, alas, he was not.

He still tried to carry himself about his Empire in a very Emperor-ish way, from town to town, trying to get people to treat him as an Emperor should be treated. Which most everyone did, actually. However, this was not so much because he carried the air of an Emperor as much as he had those who displeased him put to death, or imprisoned for a very long time. Either way, the incentive was there for most people to treat the man with a great deal of respect.

This Emperor had a hobby, which was computer systems. Not writing them, for that seemed quite beneath him. Certainly not using them, since that implied that he needed something in order to accomplish something else (which was, in his mind, quite un-Emperor-ish). And although he considered designing them, he quickly tossed that idea away when it was suggested that he actually study to learn the black art of system design. So, as hobbies go, this was a most peculiar one. He limited himself to commanding subjects to create various aspects of systems, designed to do various things in various ways. And then he waved the subjects off, not to see them again until they were complete.

One day, he decided he needed a system. He brought in the Royal System Designer, and had a conversation that went something like this:

“M’Lord, you wish a system?” (This, for those of you a bit on the slow side, is the Royal System Designer speaking)

“Yes. I want a Royal System to track the number of Royal Butterflies there are in the Royal Garden.”

“Of course, M’Lord. Should this be real-time or batch driven?”

“Waste not my time with your petty questions! Be gone and be done!” This, of course, was an example of his Emperorish wrath.

And so the Royal System Designer went off to his (or her, this is a non-sexist tale) designers cubicle, and fretted. Wow, what fretting went on there. He (or she, remember) called all of his (yup, or her) fellow System Designers together. He (last notice about the pronoun thing) told them about his troubles. He asked for their advice. He watched the dust settle as they all vanished, saying such sagely advice as “update your resume,” “insurance paid up?” and, of course “just buy Microsoft.”

Because, of course, unfortunately, none of them knew what it actually was that the Emperor wanted done. Which made it terribly difficult for them to accomplish anything meaningful, since the definition of meaningful was locked up in the mind of the Emperor. And his mind was very unaccustomed to being unlocked, and so, most people had very little success in satisfying the Emperor’s desires.

The Emperor grew despondent. Why, he wondered, could no one create a system that he enjoyed? Perhaps his land really was populated by incompetents, as his father had warned him.

But he desperately hoped otherwise. Well, desperately for him, anyways. And so, he decided in Emperor-ish fashion (you’ll hear that term a lot here), that the people of his land were of no help to him. He had to go to lands outside of his own, for those lands were populated with people smarter than his. He realized this from reading brochures that ambassadors from these lands had left with him. The brochures said that their people were smart, plus they were in color. Some even left small metallic discs that, when placed into his computer, ran programs that also agreed with the brochures and the ambassadors that their people were, in fact, very smart indeed. In fact some of the discs were cut into the rectangular square the size of a business card. This proved, thought the Emperor, that not only were they smart, but they could handle cutting tools as well. He declared a “Royale (it’s fancy…notice the “e” at the end…this makes it fancy) Systems Design Contest” to be held, inviting people from these lands to demonstrate their smarts.

And people came from near and far. They came from small, nearby lands. They came from countries that seemed to be everywhere. They came from places that he’d never heard of.

And he stood before them, and addressed them. He stated, quite regally, “Good people, I bid you to go forth and design for me a system. I simply must know the number of butterflies in my royal garden. This is my will, and that means it will be done.”

One of the strangers asked, “Have you done an ROI on this need?” He was quietly escorted out.

Another stranger asked, “Should this be real-time or batch driven?” He was also escorted out, although with a bit more noise.

Similar questions were asked, with similar results. Since this scribe is not paid by the word, we will not regale the kind reader with all the details. Suffice to say, the room was emptying fast.

Finally, there was one stranger left. He felt conspicuous, being the last one left. He didn’t mind. It was a good kind of conspicuousness he was feeling. The kind when you’re the last person left in a game of musical chairs.

Of course, he intended to be the last person. He wanted to be the last person. And he had a simple strategy. Ask no questions. Challenge no statement.

The emperor looked at the remaining stranger, taking stock of this quiet stranger. Despite the Emperor’s history of being able to intimidate and cause the death, mutilation, torture and constant spamming about insurance and mortgage rates of just about everybody, the stranger didn’t blink. The stranger stood, slowly, silently, palm pilot, pager, cell phone, notebook computer, pocket tape recorder and watch that tells time in 4 different time zones all moving vertically upwards with him. He spoke 4 words.

“We can do that.”

The Emperor was ecstatic. He leapt to his feet. He declared to all within hearing (the total number being zero, except for the large bulky people whose job it was to escort the other folks away) “The Search is Over! I have Found my Champion!!” To most people, this sounds like good news. However, it was greeted with a certain level of disenchantment by the aforementioned large bulky people, who had just worked out a particularly impressive way to toss the last gent out, only to find it unneeded.

Strange things began to happen. The stranger began to move. His lips fluttered, uttering arcane statements, words that made no sense to the Emperor. Papers floated by, with much printing. Words involving and invoking parties, and parts of parties. The Emperor dispelled the papers with his royal seal (which he then rewarded with a fish). Emails flashed by the Emperor, which he ignored, returning his interest towards his other emails which described various insurance and mortgage deals (along with more earthly delights).

Time passed, as did much money. Meetings were held. Agendas were discussed. Baselines were established. Models were presented (disappointing the Emperor tremendously when Cheryl Tiegs didn’t show). At first the flow of activity pleased the Emperor. He concluded that meetings meant progress.

But after awhile he tired of such things. PowerPoint presentations left him feeling both powerless and pointless. Trips to his garden left him feeling inner rage at his inability to count his wonderful butterflies. They seemed to hover nearby, teasing him as only butterflies can tease an Emperor. Hedgehogs, by comparison, can be very adept at teasing. However, they lack the hovering ability (this is something that hedgehogs take very personally, and hate when people point this out, by the way).

Finally, the system was declared ready. The stranger arrived with a large box, which was moved into the middle of the Royal Garden. Guests of the Emperor were seated in grand, wonderful and ergonomically correct chairs, each of which had 16 controls each of which were guaranteed to do basically nothing. The stranger stood before the Emperor, and with a grand flourish, began his presentation.

“As we all recall, we were given the wonderful responsibility of developing a system whereby the Royal Emperor could easily determine the number of butterflies in his Royal Garden. I am proud to say we can now deliver this system.”

And with that, (and after passing out t-shirts to all in attendance) he pulled a rope, which opened the box.

Out of the box sprang fifteen college interns, each armed with various cans of aerosol cans and butterfly nets. Immediately, they began attacking the butterflies, who all suddenly wished they were hedgehogs. Within minutes the carnage was complete, and the interns, carrying the bodies of the fallen butterflies, ran out of the garden.

The stranger stood in the middle of the Royal Garden, facing the Emperor, who was only starting to notice what had happened.

“Your highness,” the stranger proudly proclaimed, “you can be assured that there are no butterflies in your garden.” He then produced a final invoice, bordered in gold for a nice touch, and left the garden, humming the song “Innagaddadavida” in a quiet, breathless voice.

The End

(Bob’s note: I actually wrote this well over a decade ago. I happened to run across it, and realized I hadn’t posted it on our current blog. So that’s why it’s here. I was concerned that I would have to update it. There seemed to be 4 items worth updating:

  1. Replacing “just buy Microsoft” with “Google” or “Apple”
  2. Updating Cheryl Tiegs with whoever is popular today
  3. Cutting down the number of devices the salesman had when he stood
  4. Peppering the article with the word “cloud” at seemingly random places

But that would require work)