Alvin C. Frost is my kind of guy. Computer-literate, 38 years old, feisty . . . and conveniently absent-minded.
Frost was working in the middle- level microchips of District of Columbia finances when he got into something of a snit not long ago. He wrote a letter of protest to the mayor and somebody broke into his queue and printed out copies of it.
Frost then took it into his head to change the password that allowed anyone access into the computer program that oversees the city's financial life. This action alone was enough to chill the soul of a supervisor. But it got worse. Frost let the password drift back out of his head. Frost "forgot."
When the boss and then media came around asking him for the good word, he said, "I can't remember." Indeed, all he could recallwas that the password had seven letters and was inspired by the Declaration of Independence.
His superiors did what rulers do. They issued him a reprimand. They locked him out of his office. And finally, they got somebody else to break the code.
But none of that could change the pristine beauty of the moment. All by himself, Alvin C. Frost froze a chunk of the government of the capital of the free world. He did it with seven little letters inspired by Thomas Jefferson. ("Warfare" perhaps, or "Redress"?)
I can't prove that Frost was subversive instead of happily forgetful, but either way, he pulled off a great computer coup. For that, I'm inclined to sign my John Hancock on his declaration of independence. I find a perverse pleasure in identifying with any guy who throws a monkey wrench into the machinery, especially when the machinery is on microchips. (Maybe the right word is "justice"?)
Like my friend Frost, you see, I work with computers -- although I'm not really a worker anymore. I am a user. It says that in the instruction manual. For that matter, Frost and I and all of us are barely even citizens anymore. We are entries.
In an average week, without a single hostile encounter, I am now required to remember and to give up no less than two secret words just to perform my basic functions. At the office, where the computer knows me as USER GOODMA, I need one password to log on to what is called The System, a sinister hi-tech political term if I ever heard one.
At the computer wall where I go for money (I refuse to call it a bank), I need another. The wall will only give me cash if I give it my word. We make a deal. It's all very hush-hush.
At night I cannot even get in my door unless I give the house the password. If I forget, an alarm goes off and a computer sics the police on me as if I were an ordinary felon.
That is nothing compared to the number of numbers I am required to stand and deliver to other computers on demand. The Social Security Administration has given me one number, the telephone company another, Blue Cross a third, American Express a fourth, and that doesn't include my Frequent Flyers. ("Savages"? "Tyrants"?)
The fact is that I don't know anyone who isn't a system-user and/or system-used these days. King George III was a pussycat compared to the tireless electronic rule which in Mr. Jefferson's declaration now "evinces a design to reduce (us) under absolute despotism." ("Evinces" is a seven-letter word.)
So it is no wonder that Alvin Frost has become something of a Modern Times hero. Basking in the celebrity of his selective amnesia, Frost boasts that he programmed yet more glitches into the city's computer. Furthermore, the man now says that he is considering running for mayor.
Well, I say hang on to your floppy disk. We may have the first candidate who ever hacked his way into history. Allow me one cheer or at least a chortle for Alvin Frost, the Populist for the Eighties who has found the software underbelly of America. ("America"?)