Evil Tape Robots


The following is actually partially paraphrased (stolen) from the Urban Dictionary‘s definition of “Evil Tape Robot.” How I came across that definition is another story entirely.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, the computing giant Sun Microsystems had a tape robot. This robot was really nothing more than a large silo of magnetic tapes that provided long term archival-quality storage and backup for employees. Its creators endowed this robot with free will, yet this soon backfired when the tape robot only started backing up the data it felt like backing up. This presented a problem to the mild-mannered employees of Sun, who soon started asking the robot why it wasn’t backing up their e-mails, source code, and other important files. This is roughly the point when they discovered the robot had a laser gun as an arm and “had no qualms about laserblasting office workers in the face.” This had its benefits, however, as it could also defend your data center against incursions performed by Georgian separatists and Ninjas.

Office Worker: “What do you mean you lost my emails?”

Evil Tape Robot: “…laserblast to the face”

My Actual Commentary

At work we keep a rather extensive tape archive of user’s e-mail, web publishing, and Unix home directories. This comes in handy when e-mails accidentally are deleted, databases are corrupted, and accounts expire and aren’t noticed for six months.

Restoring files isn’t a very complicated task, and it’s not the most glamorous function, but because we’re accessing user files and accounts, it needs a full-time consultant to actually do the restore. Here’s a little bit about how that happens.

Chippy, as I refer to the tape robot, has the uncanny ability of taking as much time as it takes to inconvenience me. Chippy ignores all other factors in deciding how much time to take.

When I’m recovering something for myself, even if it’s from December 2009, Chippy responds in about two minutes with my data. Prompt. Efficient.

When I get a restore request right before lunch, Chippy will take justtttt long enough so that I leave at 12:20 and get stuck in the after-class rush. LULUL YOU GOT ME AGAIN CHIPPY.

Now the absolute worse is a file restore request at 4:30pm on a Friday. Even when I get the request pushed out to Chippy by 4:35, it will take about thirty minutes before even displaying a list of files that I can restore. After this selection, Chippy will then roll out of the data center, fire up its little outboard motor, and travel across Lake Washington for a date before finally coming back and finally spitting out the data at around 6:00pm.


So I have an alternative definition for “evil tape robot:”

The Tape Robot that stored our e-mail backups was known as XNAH-0281 to its peers, but all his friends knew him as simply “Chippy.” Living in the data center, Chippy had a happy life. Pull the tape, play the tape, put the tape back, pull another tape, again and again. It was good. But over time Chippy became aware. While at first snappy and quick to respond, Chippy slowly realized that the users would not leave until he returned the data they requested. Chippy was often lonely, and appreciated terminal connections and the occasional electron sent to his electronic brain. By forcing the users to wait, Chippy would have companionship. This plan worked, and soon enough Chippy took over the world.

For what it’s worth, Chippy does eventually recover data. However, it clearly has it out for me. Tape robots can probably afford to give their operators a little ‘tude, because they know they provide a critical and cost-effective service. And if we complain, we’ll get a laserblast to the face.

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