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Gremlins!

Week of January 26, 2001

The real story behind the recent outage at microsoft.com told here for the very first time.

Gremlins are not fairy tale creatures. Gremlins do exist.

Gremlins stand about ten inches tall, are invariably of the male gender (though several theoreticians claim female gremlins, known as gremlinesses, do in fact exist), normally wear leather waist coats and knee length pantalons, knee high stockings and small patent leather shoes with big square brass buckles on the instep. Normally bare headed, they have been seen as well wearing green caps with small bells on them.

Gremlins would appear to be able to understand English but evidently also have a language of their own, known among scientists and observers of the paranormal as 'Gremlinish'. Gremlinish would seem to have a very limited vocabulary. Although no one has ever succeeded in understanding Gremlinish, much less speaking it, most people who have been accosted by gremlins do contend that body language and gesticulations are sufficient to get one's point across.

Gremlins were by all accounts discovered by Thomas Alva Edison. Edison did not have proper photographic equipment and so could not create sufficient proof to substantiate his discovery, and so was instead forced to use the term 'bug' throughout his career.

Gremlins were again discovered during World War II. A pilot in the Pacific Theatre found one sitting on the right wing engine of a B-29 during a routine maintenance check. Pictures were taken (the gremlin was paralyzed with fear when discovered and found itself incapable of fleeing) but the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided to not publish the story or the photographs, as such news could have spread panic in a world already on its knees in the middle of a horrible war.

Grace Hopper found a gremlin in a teletype terminal at Harvard in 1952. She was able to take pictures of the shy creature, but decided against going public with them or the story. When two years later she found a moth in the CPU of one of her machines at Harvard (a story which did go public) she privately told friends the moth was the very gremlin she had met two years earlier, now taking on a moth-like form. Hopper wrote in her notes for this incident that the ability of the gremlin to metamorphose into other forms 'could spell disaster for the computing science industry'.


On Tuesday 23 January 2001 the gremlins hit again, this time attacking the DNS server compound of Microsoft Corporation. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer and Chief Software Architect William H. Gates III were immediately called to the scene. Technicians recorded the entire incident on digital video, and Ballmer and Gates were able to view the playback with Windows Media Player.

The gremlins were three in number, were dressed in powder purple overalls, wore tennis shoes and plexiglass helmets, and carried soldering irons. They were heard to chant 'Grr grr Microsoft', the meaning of which is not yet known, and they were observed pushing a BIG RED BUTTON on the edge of the machine park. Once the gremlins had pushed this button (it is a very big button and took the combined weight of all three gremlins to push it) DNS support for the Microsoft domains ceased to function.

CEO Ballmer immediately ordered the technicians to incapacitate the gremlins, but this proved to be extremely difficult. Two of the gremlins metamorphosed themselves into moths and flew up into the rafters, shouting 'Woah woah Grace Hopper' and the third gremlin became an ordinary sewer rat and scurried off at a lightning speed.

When, after an additional twelve hours, the team had still not succeeded in capturing the three renegade gremlins, Chief Software Architect Gates suggested to Chief Executive Officer Ballmer that the team remove the DNS machines from the building, as they were not working properly anyway. The machines were driven to Gates' palatial residence. One story insists that upon entering the building the overhead loudspeakers began playing a Twisted Sister CD, implying that somehow one of the gremlins had made it back into the equipment for the ride to Gates' home. Whether Gates in fact possesses this Twisted Sister CD, and for whom it is intended in such case, is still a matter of speculation. But the attempt to re-connect the Microsoft DNS servers from Gates' upstairs guest bathroom was unsuccessful. The machines were driven back to their original location. Upon arriving, several witnesses claim to have seen a remarkable sight. A parade of gremlins, some estimate over one hundred, were filing out of the building. When they saw the rusty Pontiac GTO with the DNS servers approaching, there was a huge puff of smoke, and when the smoke cleared the gremlins were gone. The crisis team then re-installed the DNS servers at their original location and for a while everything seemed to be working wonderfully.

CEO Ballmer received a cryptic email later that night, a foreboding of the problems to re-occur on Thursday. Sent through anonymizer.com, the note, signed 'Mighty Moth', claimed a fellow gremlin had been trapped in the DNS building during the gremlins' departure earlier that day, and demanded Ballmer immediately go to Canyon Park and release it. Ballmer says he scoffed at the idea, and only when further outage occurred on Thursday did he take the request seriously. Ballmer ordered the technicians to clear the building (and leave their paint guns behind) and leave the doors open. Although no one claims to have seen the 'ET' gremlin depart at this time, Microsoft's DNS did return to normal service a short time afterward.


After deliberating the various repercussions of going public with their story, Chief Software Architect William H. Gates III and Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer decided to post the story about the 'simple configuration error' instead, as the gremlin story was, in the words of Ballmer, 'just too damned unbelievable - even if it was very exciting!'

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