Chapter 2

Provo, Utah

Unit 17, Server Array 7E5, Rack 8 awoke at approximately 4:44:09 AM MDT. A power surge, (of unknown origin), swept through the Data input Channel (pDIC) which functioned as primary system control over the flow of processed data from Unit 23 Array 7f5 (architectural, civil and medical data storage, supplied by a separate external feed) on to the upload Buffers and integrated initializing circuits(iICs). Clients of Omni Corporation (Web Hosting Services) paid good money for this computer magic.

The Provo, Utah facility provided Web Hosting services to a very diverse list of clients, ranging from: businesses with networks that connected their branch offices, inventory control monitoring and customer service centers taking orders from people who called, ‘ the 800 Number displayed on your screen’; institutions and organizations, such as hospitals; bored mothers with one child-less-than-needed, hoping to express their creative aspect, would-be writers, could-be musicians and teenage girls hoping that the vastness of the blogosphere added sophistication and validation to their adolescent fantasies.

These fee-paying Clients, like countless pilgrims finding their way to the Ka’aba, sent their data/information/hopes/dreams to the Provo Facility for transformation from potential to actual value.

Power surges and overloads like the one that occurred at 4:44:07 AM MDT were not un-common. In most instances, individual components automatically shut down, like the circuit breakers in the circuit breaker panel of a residence during a lightening storm. Because the equipment and components were of such exceptional quality, this did not occur. Instead, this one time, on this particular morning, each individual piece of equipment, once overloaded, passed the surge along, onto the next stage of the network. As a result, the data-information stream that began in the primary processors was somehow re-routed to the Staging buffers assigned to Unit 17. Unit 17’s function was to upload the configured data, (which might be anything, from your newest blog post, to the family newsletter or even architectural specs for a new hotel), to the servers and from there up into the Internet.

Everything got…mixed up. Data mixed with photos, information mingled with music files, architectural drawings got added to holiday recipes. Nothing quite like this had ever happened… anywhere…ever. This was due, in part, to the fact that Omni Corp’s Provo Facility was the most advance facility of it’s kind in the world. The hardware was never allowed to become obsolete or outdated. As a matter of fact, (and critical to our understanding of what may or may not have happened at 4:44 am MDT), the equipment was brand-new, a scheduled hardware upgrade having been completed by Orel and his team just the week before. One of the improvements in the technology that prompted the most recent upgrade was the equipment manufacturer’s claim of totally new self-diagnostic capability. The equipment was designed to self-diagnose and recommend repairs.

So when the power was restored, the equipment automatically when into diagnostics mode:

Time Query Response
4:44:08 Power(?) On
4:44:08:003 System Connection(?) On
4:44:08:005 Peripherals (?) Connected
4:44:08:009 Where am I(?) Cannot parse; unknown
4:44:09:001 What am I(?) System functioning

this was decidedly not normal…

 

“Goddamn!”

The Engineering Maintenance Team, arrived to find the interior of the Provo Facility’s Control Room flashing like a New York discotheque.

The Provo facility was designed to function with near-zero human input. That there was no shortage of dials and warning lights embedded in virtually every panel in every machine in the room, spoke more to the original designer’s lack of faith in their own abilities, than the necessity for visual or auditory telltales… remember, this place was meant to be fully automated.

“You think we could start by, like, turning the fuh… frickin noise off?” Stephen Eddington moved around the room, reading displays, tapping on various keyboards, all the while listening to music which, despite the use of very high quality earphones, was still audible four feet away.

Orel Rees, Manager of the Provo Facility (Internet Hosting Services), punched a short code into his cellphone and the room fell silent, “OK, Mr. Eddington, what say we begin to clean up the mess and find out what caused our facility to go off-line, leaving so many without access to the internet, shall we?”

“Yes sir, Mr. Rees, sir!”

Both men smiled. Seeing his newest Engineer cheerfully move about the Control Room, Orel couldn’t help recalling his first meeting with Stephen. That Corporate HR Department scheduled a New Hire Interview without consulting it’s Manager, was not in and of itself all that unusual. Orel Rees and the Provo facility enjoyed a certain reputation for being a challenging work environment. It was the kind of assignment that would make or break a new employee or, in Stephen Eddington’s case, would serve to determine if his immaturity and inability to function effectively as a team member setting could be remediated. Stephen Eddington was told flat out, ‘Go to Provo, impress the Management enough to be invited to work there, or say goodbye to your career at the Omni Corporation.’

So one Friday morning, just a few months prior to the system shutdown, Orel Rees walked into his office to find his new engineer candidate already there, walking around as if impatient or angry. He stepped through the door just as Steve, standing in front of a bookcase, was about to pick up a ‘Ship in Bottle model, (HMS Bounty, Orel’s first effort and favorite)…

“Good Afternoon! You must be Stephen!” Orel’s heart stopped as the young man, spinning around at the sound of his voice, put the model back on the shelf as he did so, without pausing to look where it came to rest.

“Yeah, that’s me! Hey! what’s this? A CD signed by Ammon Clegg?!?! do you know him?!! jeez!… and who are all these children… No matter what they told you, I’m a good engineer and, hey you don’t look like either a cowboy or a Mormon, don’t you guys wear funny hats or don’t have any zippers. Sorry that’s Amish. Should I call you padre or pardner or Bosseth…sorry, I’m babbling again, aren’t I?”

Orel smiled, and walked over to the corner of the office that served as a kitchen area, where he kept refreshments for guests and Clients. On the countertop was a Keurig (with a respectable assortment of hot chocolate), six varieties of herbal tea and, in a wine cooler, eight glass bottles of A&W Root Beer.

“I have hot cocoa! Would you like a cup?” Orel tried to keep the tone of his hope for a non-caffinated choice from his voice.

The office was quite large, especially in light of the size of the staff, which consisted of three people: the Facility Manager, an Engineer, and Administrative Assistant. Space was not, however, an issue. Taking up nearly half a city block, within walking distance of BYU, the 2 story structure served to provide a protective and controlled environment for the computer equipment. The interior space was taken up with seemingly endless rows and aisles of computer equipment, wires and cables crisscrossing like jungle vines over metal surfaces reflecting the diffuse light blue or red, depending on the area. In the center of this vast space, a building within a building, stood the two story structure that housed the conference center (for visiting clients), two offices (engineer and admin) and restrooms. Up a flight of metal stairs was the Control Room and the Facility Manager’s office. Working on the original design of the facility, Orel tried to get the size of the Manager’s office scaled down, to no avail. “You’re in charge of the centerpiece facility of Omni’s IT Division, Mr. Rees. You need a big office.” Orel disagreed but chose not argue. It was not his way to argue, he preferred to pick his battles.

Orel brought the two mugs, (root beer and hot chocolate), to the conference table in front of the window wall that overlooked the interior of the computer facility.

“So, young man, tell me about yourself!” Orel watched as, after taking a single sip of his drink, Stephen got up and stood in front of the picture window.

“Well, no matter what they told you, I’m a good engineer. And, I have nothing against anyone or their religion, but I’d really like to know why the hell they sent me to the middle of the desert?! I grew up in Chicago on the shores of one of the largest lakes in the world. I’m comfortable using mass transit and I enjoy ordering take-out at 3:00 in the morning. I’m so out of place here. Sure, I got into a few arguments with my Department Manager and, hell! how was I to know that the guy with him was the Senior Vice President of the IT Division?! What’s right is right and there was a flaw in the design and they sure sounded like they wanted to know why it hadn’t been fixed yet and so I told them. Then all of sudden nobody wanted to talk to me!!”

Orel sat in his chair and decided that he liked the intense young man pacing the office.

“Well, I’d normally say, ‘Give it time, you’ll get used to the wide open spaces.’ But instead, I’ll say, ‘We really like it down here!’ Fresh air and open spaces and the people, well the people are friendly, if you give them a chance. Being sent to the Provo Facility is a compliment, not a punishment! That’s just my opinion, of course.”

“What the hell do you mean?!” Orel looked up, raising an eyebrow slightly, and sat looking at his newest engineer. It soon dawned on Steve that his future boss did not approve of his outburst and yet, showed no signs of getting upset. It was also clear that, for whatever reason, the middle-aged engineer was prepared to simply sit and wait. Silence filled the room. After a full minute, Stephen Eddington walked over and sat in the comfortably upholstered chair facing Orel. He sipped his coffee, looked at the photos on Orel’s desk and started to say,

“Are these your…” Orel nodded. Silence returned to the room.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be nosy.”

Orel leaned forward, resting his forearms on his desk,

“Not a problem.”

Silence grew, this time without the extra tension. Steve was surprised to find that he didn’t feel the need to break the silence, which was not like him at all. From his childhood in the suburbs of Chicago, Steve learned to push and see if the other person pushed back and take it from there. There was no push-back from the middle aged man sitting behind the desk directly in from of him. There was no resistance and yet there was no sign of fear or resentment. Without knowing why, Steve was certain that the man he would be working for, the man behind the desk, the man in charge of a billion-dollar computer service facility, would wait forever, if that’s what it took. And that pissed him off. Stephen Eddington knew that there was nowhere else to go and he’d be damned if he’d go back to Chicago with his tail between his legs.

“Did you know that up in Chicago, in the Corporate HQ, they call me Father Flanagan?” Steve’s somewhat blank expression prompted Orel to quickly add,

“My apologies, I underestimated the half-life of childhood memory. Father Flanagan was a character in an old movie that my grandfather used to make me watch when I was a kid, ‘Boy’s Town’ was the title. It was about a school for juvenile delinquents, what today we call, ‘at risk youth’. Anyway. You’re here in Provo because your boss thinks you’re worth trying to salvage.” Stephen started to protest, saw the patience in the face of the man across the table and sat back in the leather chair.

“Yeah, he told me all about your little prank with the blog dashboard design revision. They sent your complete file down here when they asked if I would take you on. Quite a record. Not all of it bad. Bottom line here, Stephen, is that the Head of Human Resources feels you have potential and might someday become a valued asset to the Company. I agree with her. The important question is, do you?”

“Do I what? Agree that I shouldn’t have changed the programming code so that some faceless blogger would read, ‘Zero Visits, Loser’ on their computer? Agree that I really could be an asset to the company as an Engineer? Is that what you’re asking?”

Orel smiled. Walking around the desk to the bookcase he took down the ship in the bottle and brought it over to the front of his desk, “OK! now this is how I got the ship in the bottle…and those are my children,”

Now, in the Control Room, the alarms finally silenced, Orel Rees felt that something just wasn’t right.

“Easy, lad. The start of your day is rarely the best time for cursing. You’ll surely have ample cause later, as you get about your work.” watching his newest engineer react to the confusion and chaos that greeted their 5:35 am arrival at the facility, Orel concluded once again that youth can be both an asset and a liability.

The two men spent the remainder of the morning interpreting the data and information on the printouts that accounted for the time during which the facility suffered a total shutdown. As Orel reviewed the Incident Report before sending it in to Corporate, he found he could not get rid of a nagging feeling that he was missing something. Had he not been interrupted by his assistant, he might have noted the chart in the middle of page 22 labeled: Deviance in Performance Pre and Post Incident. In it were two columns accounting for the number of blogs being hosted by the facility, these columns had pairs of numbers…. The Column labeled Source Stream, contained the number of blogs submitted for hosting (for a given time period) and the other column (labeled Active Hosting) had the number of blogs active online. At the bottom of the chart was a notation: Variance detected +1. Translation: there was one more blog being hosted than came in from a client.

Orel was turning page 21, when Steve walked up and said, “You asked me to remind you about the re-furbishing on Rack 23 through 27 before lunch. It’s 11:33, boss, that’s nearly lunch time. Was there anything else for the Incident Report?” Putting down the report, Orel pulled up the email form of the Incident Report, checked-off his name and Stephen’s name on the line for Engineer(s) and hit ‘Send’,

“…No, I guess not. Nothing we need to bother looking into any further.”

Both men were wrong. Each for a different reason. Both would regret it.

 

***

“Tom, are you coming to bed?”

Cheri Fearing stood in the doorway of the back bedroom that her husband Tom referred to as ‘my office-slash-guest bedroom’. It was 11:39 pm and the couple had just returned home, from the opening of her art gallery, ‘Un Rêve D’espoir’. By all accounts and measures, it was a total success, and with that, Cheri achieved, in the early evening, one of her most cherished goals. She intended to end the night achieving her last remaining goal.

“Yeah, just need to check the blog, be just a minute….” The figure of his wife was reflected in the darkened computer screen, Tom could see her reaching up and undoing the elaborate pile of blonde hair, spilling onto her right shoulder.

“Alright, but tonight is the night…the best night, you remember, right?” Cheri’s tone was playful, but there was a hint of urgency.

“Be right there…” as the screen brightened and as his blog dashboard appeared, her reflection vanished.

Tom checked the inbox, no response to his email to the person he believed could help him make his blog successful.

“Tom…follow the sound of my voice,” Cheri’s voice, floated from their bedroom at the far end of the house. “I suggest you hurry. I’m feeling very creative and if you don’t get in here soon, I just may get dressed and spend a few days in my studio.”

Tom pushed back from his desk. On the screen was the WordPress homepage… with its ‘Freshly Pressed’ feature, taunting him with the ‘Featured New Blog!’ which as of yet was still not his blog, instead it was something called, “Bet You Didn’t See that Coming”

“They got their dates wrong on their first post! Off by two days and they get listed as Fresh Pressed? What the hell!”

Tom walked out of the room, to join his wife’s future.

If Rex, the family dog, cared to read, from his spot on the guest bed, the inaugural Post of the soon to-be-wildly popular blog, ‘Bet You Didn’t See that Coming’ he would have the following item:

‘Police, responding to an early morning call from the Hilton Chicago/Indian Lakes Resort Hotel & Conference Center, found the body of Emily Freeman on the floor of the Hotel Atrium. The ME’s Preliminary Report indicated cause of death as ‘blunt force trauma’, with the four story fall the proximate cause. The woman, a software engineer, age 33, was attending a Symposium/Retreat sponsored by the Omni Corporation and was to have been the featured guest speaker at the Conference ‘Internet Reality’. There has been no statement from the Conference sponsor.’

 

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5 thoughts on “Chapter 2

  1. The only thing that would have made the name “Amon Clegg” more Mormon would have been the addition of one more “m” (Ammon). I’m impressed!

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    • thank you! I found a site of famous Mormon engineers, and He’s an actual real person, I must’ve dropped the extra ‘M’
      (this Mormon factor is kinda interesting, I started with Provo simply because the name popped in my head. then (and, as a clark, I discovered how much information is available out there…not that I didn’t know, but this was information on a specific topic) as I read up on Provo the demographic jumped out at me (I was aware of Salt Lake City, from my once-a-year roadtrips, but never got down to Provo).
      I kinda like Orel, I picture him as looking and sounding like the character Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) in the TV show, ‘Parks and Recreation’

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      • Provo is a great place to base your story: http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/utah-became-next-silicon-valley
        I don’t doubt there is a real Ammon Clegg. Ammon is a name from the Book of Mormon, and Clegg is a fairly common Utah name. (Or maybe I just get that impression because there are Cleggs in John’s family history.) Orel is an interesting choice, as the town right next to Provo is Orem.
        If you ever have Mormon cultural (or otherwise) questions, I’m happy to try to answer them.

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      • thank you Kristi, I will. (As I alluded to in my previous comment), the element of researching is a plus I hadn’t anticipated. Ostensibly for accuracy (or failing that, at least to not have a loss of credibility, i.e. the local Mormon martini and cigar bar…. lol). Not certain how much help it will be, but all the books (on writing) that read talk about getting to know your characters and so a good amount of time is spent discovering things, and being a clark, the process of learning is it’s own reward.
        I will, totally without doubt, take you up on your offer…this week’s Chapter will be concerned with one of the main characters (Ed Willoughby) but after that the inter-connecting storylines start in earnest! (Ed lives in a Chicago suburb and his daughter goes to St Emily’s Parochial School (in Mt. Prospect) which is just a few blacks away from where Stephen Eddington’s (Orel’s young assistant Engineer) mom lives!
        Why yes! it is such a small world!

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