Silicon Follies

Chapter 45: The bad news -- WHIP gets whipped by pundits

By Thomas Scoville
Published August 18, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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"Aw, shit."

Paul already knew the news was bad. His engineering group manager had been sending out e-mails rebutting the articles and postings that had sprung up in some of the nerdier corners of the Web, but this one was different.

There was something about seeing it committed to paper. Even in the middle of the electronic age, dead trees still had an impact that HTML couldn't touch. The story sneered at Paul from the front page of Information Weekly. He read it and cursed.


"[WHIP] is not quite there, yet," reports the director of Rand Corp.'s Center for Research Informatics (CRI). "Until the technology hardens and stabilizes, it will not be a good candidate to supersede existing protocols."

Such reports appear to be dampening the electronics market's enthusiasm for the new technology. Error recovery and scalability are also emerging as serious issues. But most worrisome to the industry at large continues to be the WHIP protocol's stability. Allan Erman, an analyst at DataSearch International, summarized the concerns. "This stuff is barely out of the garage, and already they're proposing next year's extensions. Where does that leave customers who want to buy this year? People have had it up to here with instant obsolescence."

Even more worrying was that some of the industry's forward scouts had discovered NEMSIS. Already, enthusiasm for the outlaw WHIP knockoff was building. The previous week's IW had featured a piece on the burgeoning Free Bits movement -- the band of network-roving programmers who threatened to invert the laws of electronic capitalism. Wedged in between paeans to the movement's troll-like hacker chieftains was the sub-heading, "WHIP Without Hype." The article had praised the NEMSIS effort for its modesty of purpose and Zen-like simplicity. Paul had ripped it out and pinned it to the outside of his cubicle, his yellow highlighting emphasizing the most relevant -- and, to the engineering staff, infuriating -- passage:


NEMSIS may not have all the features of WHIP, but it achieves about 80 percent of the functionality -- at twice the speed, in a quarter the space, with near flawless runtime execution. Oh, yeah: It's free, too. With such no-nonsense appeal, we wouldn't be surprised to see a whole new crop of NEMSIS-compliant devices by early next year. Already several telecommunications giants have launched serious efforts to validate the feasibility of the NEMSIS network utility constellation.

The pundits had baldly stated what the WHIP engineers could not: On the silicon battlefield, less was more. WHIP was sinking under the weight of marketing's post-hoc ornamentation. And there was no path back to simplicity. Once you bloated, you stayed bloated.

Worst of all, Paul had the unsettling feeling he might bear some responsibility for the current state of things. After all, NEMSIS' project leader and patron saint was also his best friend. And Paul had unwittingly aided and abetted by talking around the edges of the WHIP NDA over Chinese food.

But, curiously, Paul felt no particular remorse. And in a perversely recursive pang of conscience, he felt guilty about not feeling guilty. After all, WHIP was already well on the path to destruction independent of Paul's intervention -- ever since management had made the decision to dilute the code-base with its flabby extensions to the protocol.


And when it came right down to it, the NEMSIS guys were better engineers anyway -- with or without Paul's unintentional help. If WHIP was doomed, NEMSIS was merely accelerating the pace of decline. That part, at any rate, was pure Silicon Valley; everything happened a lot faster here. In this case, that would be a mercy.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


"Merde, alors." Vero glared at the invoice.

Laurel paused from her goat cheese and walnut constructions -- creamy, nut-encrusted little pucks that sat center stage in Guerrilla Gourmet's signature salad. "Hey, honey, what's all the fuss?"

"This customer -- we have done many jobs for them, and they don't pay and they don't pay. And now they pay with this --" Vero waved some flimsy certificates in the air with considerable disgust. "They pay with company stock. 'Cash flow problems,' they say. Sixteen employees, and they say they pay all of them in stock, too. So we are supposed to be happy." She spun the papers across the table with an annoyed continental backhand. "And they are not even publicly traded. So now we own 500 shares of -- " She slapped at the pile, retrieving a certificate, and scanned the face. "Network Synergy Solutions," she spat. "So, what do we do, make soup out of these?"


"Oh, let's!" Laurel enthused. "Then we'll have chicken stock, beef stock and stock stock!" Vero's sour mood began to crack; the two women laughed giddily.

Laurel wiped the goat cheese from her fingers and gave Vero a mischievous look. "No, wait -- I've got a better idea: We can frame them. They can be mementos of life in the Silicon Valley. In 20 years they'll give us a big laugh."

Vero's Gallic dander abated in the cheerful light of Laurel's lighthearted suggestion. She rolled her eyes, shrugging. "Bof," she exclaimed with an ironic little French smirk. "Guerrilla Gourmet is now the high-tech bigshot."


But she couldn't resist a final shot. Narrowing her eyes, she curled her lip and muttered half-darkly, "Network Synergy esphce-de-con."

Thomas Scoville

Thomas Scoville is either an Information Age savant or an ex-Silicon Valley programmer with a bad attitude. He is the author of the Silicon Valley Tarot.

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