Though it's taken a little more than a decade, Paul has finally been able to live down his reputation: it's been a full year and no one has referred to him as "the guy who ruined The Merge." It's not that Paul is eager to stir up memories of his great blunder which, in all likelihood, will make him "that guy" again for the next ten years; he just wanted to share his story in the hopes that other young and eager consultants will listen and not succumb to his fate.

It was the eve of The Merge, a day that two companies (Intertrode and Initech) and Paul's consulting firm had been planning for months. All of Initech's customer data and transaction processing was to be moved into Intertrode's Unix-based Enterprise Resource Planning system.

Paul had been on-site at Initech for the past several weeks and planned on staying there throughout The Merge. He just finished up checking every last detail on Initech's side and, instead of calling it a night and getting some sleep before the big day, he dialed in to Intertode to make sure everything was ready on their end. It was except for one small detail: directory gobbledygook.

Gobbledygook, for those unfamiliar with it, is a technical term that refers to the end result of a noisy modem connection, a Unix shell, and a buggy ERP system. For whatever reason, when these are brought together, a random bouquet of ASCII characters get dumped into whichever directory is currently selected. This leads to a big mess whenever someone tries to list the contents of the unfortunate directory.  At best, a few bizarre file names are seen; at worst, the connection gets disconnected and locks up the client.

Since Paul didn't want any gobbledygook-related trouble on Merge Day, he decided to clean up the directories. He couldn't figure out how to remove the strangely-named files by name, so he devised a clever work-around: a script that would create a temporary folder, move all the respectably named files into it, and then delete whatever was left with the "rm *" command.  Presto!  No more gobbledygook.

He was very pleased with his new method and started looking in all corners of Intertrode's file system for more gobbledygook to clean. The script ran perfectly everywhere he ran it. Everywhere, that is, until he discovered gobbledygook in the root directory.

It seemed simple enough.  Just like before, run the script to move the good stuff into a temp folder, remove the gobbledygook, and then move everything back. As any garden-variety Unix guru might imagine, he never got past the first step. His terminal locked up within a second or two and bathed the otherwise dark room with an eerie turquoise glow.

Paul was all alone in the Minitech building, itself a solitary structure surrounded by moonlit fields.  Everyone else had gone home hours ago. A chilling realization must have emerged, and become clearer with each flash of the pulsating, yet now lifeless, cursor:

"Oops.  Uh, it must have been using those files...

There was nothing more Paul could do that night.  The Intertrode server was in another state (in two senses of the word) and was too great a distance to drive. Anyone Paul could contact for help was asleep.  The only thing he could do was leave a strenuously apologetic voice mail for his project manager, and get some sleep himself. As if it's possible to sleep after effectively destroying a company's ERP server the night before The Merge.

Bright and early the next morning, Paul was back at Initech with nothing to do but sit around and wait for a call from his project manager, Intertrode's data center technician, or any one else he desperately called for help. He did his best to greet Initech employees as they arrived for work with a feeble smile. It was the best he could do to mask the dread he, and soon everyone else, would be feeling.

The technician finally called him back at seven o'clock in the morning. He had already rebooted the server and it didn't come back up. Funny that. Luckily, the technician was able to turn a key on the server and get a maintenance shell up and running. It wasn't the normal maintenance shell, though; most of the commands Unix folks take for granted were no longer available.

Paul had an idea where he could find them. In theory, they all made it into the temporary directory before the OS seized. Over the phone, Paul talked the technician through this bizarre new FrankenUnix and they were able to make some progress. Not good progress, just some. Each breakthrough revealed more and more hurdles to overcome. It was like playing Maze Craze and trying to solve mazes with only a small portion of the maze being visible.

Eventually, they were able to get the server up and running. But none of the other file systems would mount. Merge Day - or any other business for that matter - was not going to happen. Paul was completely screwed.

While all this phone-debugging was happening, the president of Paul's consulting firm caught wind of their dilemma. Like Gandalf arriving at Helm's Deep, he arrived at Intertrode with a battalion of IBM consultants. Well, technically, it was just him, but he had the knowledge of an entire army of consultants. And the phone number for IBM's Platinum Support line.

After several hours of fearlessly battling the FrankenUnix, the president was able to get the other file systems mounted. The ERP system, though a bit crippled, came back to life. Intertrode was back in business and, a few weeks later, was able to perform The Merge.

To this day, the ERP system has not fully recovered from the great OS shuffle. There are still a few lingering problems, ranging from bizarre permissions to random "disappearing file" glitches, but Intertrode has just committed to switching to a brand new ERP system. Forgiven a long time ago, Paul will be leading up the switch project and, this time, promises to let the gobbledygook be.

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