Mission: Insignificant

Published 20 years, 1 month past

Upon arriving at NOTACON, I discovered two things in quick succession: they didn’t have Internet access out of the conference network when I arrived, and I had neglected to grab screenshots of the Zen Garden designs I wanted to talk about.  This was intolerable—those designs needed to be seen in order to make the point.  My own stupidity had caused the problem, but hopefully my savvy could fix it.

Kat had come downtown with me to go to lunch, and over dim sum I planned out my strategy.  All I needed was three minutes on an open network.  And fortunately for me, I knew where to find one: the main branch of the Cleveland Public Library.  The reading garden there is covered with an open wifi network.

With lunch over, we headed back into downtown.  As we crossed East 9th Street, I had Kat slow down and pull over to the curb as I pulled out my laptop.  “We can’t stop here,” said Kat, pointing to the street signs.  I looked out my window and realized we were in front of the Federal Reserve Bank, not the Library; I’d told her to slow down a block too early.  Odds were that if we stopped here for any length of time, we’d be the focus of some unwanted attention.  Kat slipped forward a block as I fired up MacStumbler.  Faint network signals flickered across my display panel as we drew close to the garden, and then there it was: CLEVNET.

“We can’t stop here either,” said Kat, but I urged her to do so anyway.  As we came to a halt several yards past the garden, CLEVNET disappeared from the monitor.

“Back up,” I said, intently watching the display and catching a glimpse of Kat’s disbelieving look out of the corner of my eye.  We rolled back slowly, stealthily, but nothing was coming through, and the garden was locked up for the season.  We were getting too close to a bus stop, teeming with people, and I still wasn’t getting any signal.  We were going to have to try another approach.  We circled around the block, coming at the installation from the rear.  Kat looped past a van and pulled into a service entrance right next the garden.  Bingo!  CLEVNET was back.  “Good!” I barked.  “I’ve got the signal.”

“Hurry up,” Kat muttered as I fired off a prepared bookmark group and started grabbing screenshots.  One minute down; I had about a third of the screenshots I needed, but the rest of the pages were still loading.  My fingers drummed impatiently on the keyboard housing.  The next page finished loading: I took the shot and closed the window.  Another three pages loaded at once, and I got them as well.  Two minutes, and I was half done.  I glanced around to see if anyone had noticed us.

Suddenly, we caught a break and the rest of the pages all finished loading within a few seconds of each other.  I grabbed each in turn, my fingers flashing back and forth between the trackpad and the keyboard, capturing and closing windows as fast as possible.  Five left… almost there… three.. two… stay on target…

“Okay, let’s go!” I said triumphantly, flipping the laptop shut.  “Got ’em all.”

Kat eased us away from the curb, moving off at a relaxed pace so as not to draw any attention.  As we turned toward the north, we shared a glance and a quiet laugh.  We’d gotten in, gotten the data, and gotten out in the space of less than five minutes.  Perfect.  Just the way I’d planned it.

When I was unable to get the laptop onto the conference network for my presentation on High-Powered Style, every pulse-pounding minute of the heist paid off tenfold.

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