Rubber chickens and purple boxes

Chicken and meRubber chickens have their place in technology.

During my first gig as an administrator in the mid 1990s, we brought in Wam!Net, a Minneapolis-based company, to link our office to dozens of remote printing facilities across the U.S. This was before Internet connectivity and FTP were common-place technologies in business.

With as $12,000 annual contract, Wam!Net installed a big purple box with a whopping 400 MB/hour pipe in our office. Today, that’s like the mojo wire of the 1970s that could transmit a page of text over the telephone in only 18 minutes.

wamnetpurpleboxThe purple box was nothing more than a small server with a router and battery backup system but it was cool as hell. To transfer files to remote locations, we simply connected to the Wam!Net box from our Macs and dragged files into the appropriate folder. Within a day or two, we could connect to any other Wam!Net customer and begin transferring files.

The branding for this company was highly recongizable—everything was purple. Their network equipment was purple, their Ethernet cables were purple and even their swag was purple. I wish I still had my canvas hightop sneakers with the big purple bang ( ! ) on them. This company really paid attention to detail.

So, how does this all related to rubber chickens?

We had a problem with our Wam!Net connection and the company had to send out a technician to work on our purple box, which we kept on a table in our supply closet. I think we kept it there because we didn’t want our own network folks to know we had it. They wouldn’t want it connected to their network.

I went to chat with the techncian while he was working on the big purple box and during our conversation he asked me, “Have you ever seen the rubber chicken?” I told him I didn’t understand his question.

He motioned for me to walk over and stand where he was working inside the box. It was mostly empty for its size and he pointed to each piece of equipment and told me what it did. But strapped to the inside of the box was a small rubber chicken. It was six-inch version of the classic rubber chicken.

The technician had been testing me.

“We put a rubber chicken in every Wam!Net box we install,” he said. “The customer is told never to open the box and always call tech support. Those that do open the box see the rubber chicken and can’t help but ask about it. That’s how we know they’ve been inside.”


Be sure to read my update to this story: Even more rubber chickens and purple boxes.

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