806: Tech Support
Title text: I recently had someone ask me to go get a computer and turn it on so I could restart it. He refused to move further in the script until I said I had done that.
Cueball runs into some problems with his network connection and contacts his ISP's tech support for help. The customer service agent is not very helpful, giving clearly pre-scripted advice that has nothing to do with Cueball's problem. Cueball gives up and asks to speak to someone more knowledgeable about the technology. Noticing the stuffed penguin and the bearded dude with swords — signs of a GNU/Linux geek — the agent transfers him over to an engineer, who immediately recognizes the problem and fixes it. Then she tells him of a secret word (shibboleet) which, if he speaks on the phone, will transfer him to a tech-savvy person able to help him. At this point Cueball wakes up and unfortunately, the incident turns out to be a dream.
"Shibboleet" is a portmanteau of "Shibboleth" and "Leet". Shibboleth is a Hebrew word that directly translates to "part of plant that contains grains", and loosely translates to "seed pod". The word has a different pronunciation depending on where in Israel you were born, in the Gilead mountains or near the Ephraim tribe; as a result, Gileadites would use the word to distinguish themselves from Ephraimites. Leet refers to "leet-speak", a practice of character substitution and abbreviation common across the Internet (or "teh 1n73rn3t", as you would say in leet).
- [Cueball is on the phone, and holding up some networking hardware.]
- Cueball: ...restart my computer? I know you have a script to follow, but the uplink light on the modem is going off every few hours. The problem is between your office and the modem.
- Cueball: My computer has nothing to do with... okay, whatever, I "restarted my computer."
- Cueball: It's still down, and even if it comes back, it's going to die again in a few hours, because your—
- Cueball: I don't have a start menu. This is a Haiku install, but that's not import—
- Cueball: Haiku? It's an experimental OS that I ... oh, never mind.
- Cueball: I'm sorry, but this won't get fixed until I talk to an engineer. Can you look around for someone wearing cargo pants, maybe a subway map on their wall?
- [The tech support person on the other end is wearing a headset, and looks around.]
- Tech: There's a chick two phones over with a stuffed penguin doll and a poster of some bearded dudes with swords.
- Cueball: Perfect. Can you put her on?
- Tech: Sure.
- [Cueball is now talking to the engineer.]
- Cueball: Hey, so sorry to bother you, but my connection—
- Engineer: Yeah, I see it. Lingering problems from a server move.
- <type type>
- Engineer: Should be fixed now.
- Cueball: Thank you so much.
- Engineer: No problem. Hey, in the future, if you're on any tech support call, you can say the code word "shibboleet" at any point and you'll be automatically transferred to someone who knows a minimum of two programming languages.
- Cueball: Seriously?
- Engineer: Yup. It's a backdoor put in by the geeks who built these phone support systems back in the 1990's.
- Engineer: Don't tell anyone.
- Cueball: Oh my god, this is the greatest—
- [Cueball wakes up.]
- Cueball: Wha—
- Cueball: ... Dammit.
- The word Shibboleet is formed by combining the terms "shibboleth" and "leet".
- Leet is an internet/hacker/gamer term for elite or skilled. See also "1337", which means "leet" using "leetspeak" substitutions of numbers and other ASCII characters for letters.
- A shibboleth is a word that a person unfamiliar with the language will not pronounce correctly, and thus may be used as a test to detect them. The origin of the term is the Biblical account of a battle in chapter 12 of Judges, in which the defeated Ephraimites could be prevented from trying to hide their identity by challenging them to say "shibboleth" (river); the lack of the "sh" sound in the Ephraimite dialect would give them away. Shibboleth is also a SAML-based access management application (see http://www.shibboleth.net)