Chapter 7

(Still Sunday)

The story of how Ed Willoughby got involved in blogging was interrupted when the waiter came to their table. Ed ordered tea and Tom Fearing, not wanting the waiter to feel un-appreciated, asked for a re-fill of his coffee. As soon as the coffee and tea arrived, Tom looked at Ed with a ‘please go on’ nod of his head.

“To be honest, it was more that Barry Audette introduced himself to me.” Ed sipped his tea and continued, ” It was late one night. The computer lab was empty and I had just about finished a mid-term project, when I heard:

“Hey, man, anyone using this Terminal?”

Ed Willoughby looked up from his work and glared at the bearded young man standing at the cubicle adjacent to his, trying to understand why this person was talking to him, seeing how he was almost finished with his work. He then looked closer and realized that he had piled his own books on the chair of the adjoining terminal station.

“Oh, yeah, sorry, those are mine,” Ed got up, gathered his books and knapsack and, looking around, noticed that the cubicle to his right was vacant and put everything on the chair.

“Thanks!”

The new arrival threw down his knapsack and, much more carefully, placed his violin case, standing on end, on the desk against the cubicle divider. He sat down, took ear phones from his pocket, put them on and turned on both the computer terminal and the ‘Discman’ (which he’d placed next to the terminal’s keyboard) and started typing. Unfortunately for Ed, his new neighbor liked to sing along with whatever it was that he was listening to, which sort of defeated one of the more practical and valued purposes of earphones. Ed tried to ignore the, ‘dah dah…dih dih, dah dah…dih dih, dah dah dih dih dih dih …dih’ sounds and concentrate on his assignment. The sound coming from the adjacent cubicle was completely not ignorable. The more he tried to pretend it was not a distraction, the more rapidly his frustration and anger grew.

“Excuse me? Could you turn that…” Getting no reaction, Ed stood up and leaned over the acoustic tile-divider until his face was directly in front of his new neighbor, “Could you turn that down a little? Trying to work here”

The young man, at first appearing startled, began to laugh. Turning down the volume of the music, he reached over the divider and offered his hand, “I’m Barry Audette…pleased to meetcha”

“Ed, Ed Willoughby, likewise… hey, what is it you’re doing?” Looking at the terminal, Ed could see mostly text rather than the usual single, non-punctuated programming code.

“What? this? it’s my web log.” Barry seemed shyly eager for Ed to ask more about what he was doing.

“What’s a web log?” Ed decided that he’d accomplished as much work as needed for one night and could afford a little diversion. Ed Willoughby was nothing if not organized. All of his school work was meticulously planned and scheduled. Receiving his MA in Accounting at the end of the next Semester, and then his CPA, was an integral part of his Plan for a Happy and Successful Life.

“Well, if you’re gonna be nosey,” Barry laughed his good-natured laugh, “a web log is kind of a cross between creative writing and an online news article, written like it was an ongoing story… half made-up, half true… all on line. There’s a lot of people on the internet doing it, must be hundreds, even thousands of us. You oughta get online and try it!”

“Well, I did get an A in Composition and Creative Writing in my undergraduate days, but I’m not sure if I have the time.” Ed was on a schedule and believed that he would allow nothing to delay or interfere with his timetable. Ed was not always correct.

“That’s great! I’ll introduce you to the others in the group. You’ll enjoy them… a real creative bunch. Emily and John… Hey, when you finish up with whatever you’re doing, let’s stop by the Rathskeller and see if anyone’s around. If not, then let’s totally plan to get together tomorrow, when the whole group will be there, at about 12:30 for lunch.”

 

“Will you gentlemen be staying for lunch?” Tom stared at the attractive girl. He appeared quite disoriented. Of course, Ed thought, it didn’t help that the last time he was asked about food, the questions came from a waiter.

“Shit! Look at the time! It’s nearly 1:00!” Tom frantically swiped open the tablet that sat next to his coffee, “Damn! My flight leaves at 5:00, and it’s a two-hour drive to the airport. I’m running out of time!”

“Hey, why get yourself all worked up? You now know how I got introduced to blogging, which I might add, is a story that few people know,”

Ed Willoughby looked across the table, at his audience-of-one, and wondered again, why this meeting was so important. Sure, he told this Fearing guy the story of how he met Barry Audette. He was about to tell him about the others, the group of students who would become known as the Hermes Consortium, but even that was obviously just the start of the real story. The incredible success he and the others achieved with their on-line journals and stories, their web logs, that’s where this Tom Fearing should be focusing his questions.

As if he had spoken aloud, the oddly intense man sitting across from him leaned over the table and said,

“But you don’t understand! I came here to learn what allowed you to go from being just another bored graduate student, -with a major in Accounting, no less, to become a pioneer of the pastime of writing web logs! That’s why I’m here,”

Tom Fearing’s voice, originally quiet and deferential, acquired a certain forcefulness. It conveyed a strength in conviction very much at odds with the initial impression he made when they met. Ed felt a change in the attitude of his audience, even as he told the story. The jokes about becoming a ‘Samuel Johnson’ seemed, somehow, not so silly. Clearly Tom Fearing’s enthusiasm for hearing Ed Willoughby’s story was growing.

Sitting in a hotel restaurant in his hometown, across from a total stranger, a total stranger who traveled halfway across the country in the hope of getting him to talk about his past, was odd enough. That it was the past that Ed had expended a great deal of energy to cover and hide, caused Ed to question his decision to drive here on this November Sunday. That this information was being sought so earnestly was flattering, to be sure. However if he were to be perfectly honest with himself, his memory of those days in the 1990s was a little…frayed, even un-reliable. The fact of the matter was that he, Ed Willoughby, had a gift for telling stories and that had made him a natural for the new, internet-based web log writing. Now that he thought about it, the others, for all of their diverse fields of academic study, were pretty darn good at spinning yarns too. It was only reasonable they would find success, and be celebrated, in those very early days of the internet and the nascent blogosphere. Nothing really all that remarkable. And yet, as often as Barry would talk about how Arthur C Clarke was more right than he realized, no one of the group objected. It was Barry Audette who suggested that perhaps, the inverse corollary of Clarke’s famous saying about how a sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic, might, in fact, serve to open a door…which it surely did, to the surprise (and eventual regret) of everyone in the group.

The real secret behind the rise in popularity of what came to be known as ‘the Hermes Consortium’, a secret that was little understood even by the members themselves, that would be the story.
It was not really something he felt ready to share, just quite yet.

“Maybe I do understand,” Ed said with an uncharacteristic modesty.

“But, I don’t have time! I need to… never mind.”

The silence grew. Tom thought about home and Cheri and a family and almost said something. He didn’t.

The silence continued. Ed thought about home and Diane and the family and felt something tell him that he must remain silent. He didn’t.

“Well, look, maybe we can continue this conversation. What you said about Samuel Johnson? It seems to me that you have something of a hook for a blog, I might be open to helping you with something like that. You know, now that I think about it, it might be fun to do something with the early days. Totally fiction, mind you…maybe a screenplay or something… Yeah, I might be persuaded to come out of retirement for something like that!”

***

“Holy!!! SH…smokes!” Stephen Eddington stood at the bottom of the stairs, looking at a miniature world in the finished basement of the home of his boss, Orel Rees.

Stephen had arrived, a bit early, for a Sunday Afternoon dinner and was greeted by nine-year-old Orel Jr at the front door.

“Mommy!!!! There’s a man at the door!!!” The child ran into the interior of the house, leaving Stephen standing in the open doorway.

“Come in, please! Stephen, isn’t it?” Theresa Rees appeared in the hall with her son, suddenly shy, hiding slightly behind her. “I’m Theresa Rees. I believe that my full-time engineer and part-time little boy husband is in the basement. I’ll show you the way, if you promise to have him bring you back up here in 30 minutes! You like Italian food? Orel said that you’re from Chicago? You’ll fit right in then! My husband and family, are born and bred Utahns and Mormons but I’m an Italian girl who grew up in Mt Prospect, Illinois. It’ll be good to hear someone speak without an accent, ya know?”

Stephen smiled and let himself be led through the kitchen, which smelled a lot like home, his real home, not his apartment in Provo.

The basement was in near-total darkness when Stephen reached the bottom of the stairs. At precisely that moment, Orel Rees, Senior, working from his command center on the far side of the darkened basement, started his pride and joy, his model railroad. The first effect was the sound of a train whistle, followed by the small shining light on a train moving over a scale model trestle bridge. Once the desired effect was established, Orel used his controls to gradually bring up the indirect lighting, the first bank of lights illuminating a mural of a mountain scene on the far wall. The overall effect was quite impressive, one of sunrise over the foothills of the Rockies, from the perspective of the approaching model train.

“What you do you think?” Orel Rees asked with obvious pride in the incredibly detailed model railroad layout which occupied three quarters of the basement.

“I’ll repeat myself, ‘Holy smokes!’ Stephen was fascinated, not only by the exquisite detail of the various model trains, but the realism of the scenery and environment. The amount of time spent achieving such an effect was impressive.

“Did you bring that incident report?” Orel worked several controls so that a train appeared out of a mountain tunnel immediately to Stephen’s left and stopped directly in front of him. Seeing a flat-bed type rail car, Stephen took a thumb drive from his pocket and placed it on the car, at which point, the locomotive began to move, traveling past a scale model abandoned goldmine, around to where Orel sat. Pulling a laptop from a shelf behind him, he plugged in the thumb drive and pulled up the incident report. Scrolling to page 23, he read the table that took up most of page.

“So what do you make of this?” Orel pointed at the laptop’s display, specifically a chart at the bottom of the page,

 

[~ Total Input/Blogs to upload: 22 Total Output/Blogs Uploaded – Active and Hosted Online: 23 ~]

 

“I don’t know! I knew a guy in grad school that said he knew someone who worked on computers in the old days. You know, back when the small ones were the size of a refrigerator? Anyway, he told me that this guy said that he once had a computer that was programmed to perform six functions. Suddenly, for no reason, it started to run seven. Something about the computer’s routines, which is what they used to call code in the old days. Did you know that?”

Seeing the look on Orel’s face, Stephen laughed and continued, “Sometimes routines would perform different tasks, even new tasks, without having been re-programmed. Weird, but I kind of believed him. Anyway, the idea that a program might alter its own code and remain operating is not totally unheard of. To also have it add a new function, is a little more unlikely, but in principle not all that different, you know? Never seen it in person. What do you think?”

“Well, we have an old saying, ‘The simple inherit folly: but the prudent are crowned with knowledge’.”

“Well that’s pretty old-fashioned sounding advice, but I think I get it.” Stephen looked up suddenly from the incident report, “Hey!! Wait a minute. Is that some kind of Mormon saying?”

Orel laughed, “I had you going for a minute there, didn’t I? No, don’t worry I won’t assign a special team to come to your door. My religion is part of my personal life, and work is work. Besides, we prefer attraction rather than promotion as a way to grow the ranks. You’re ok with that, right?”

“Yeah, sure. I knew a Mormon kid in college, was a helluva engineer. He had trouble with the dormitory life though. I think he ended up transferring out… back home, might even have been here at BYU! Talk about your small world!”

“So what do we do about this anomaly?”

“I think we should talk to Corporate, let them know that we have something that might be interesting, in a theoretical sense, if nothing else,” Stephen held a recently acquired respect for the Corporate Chain of Command that might otherwise be mistaken for fear. Given his recent transfer, he might be forgiven the defensive tone of his opinion.

Later that evening, Stephen found himself wondering why his boss, a person who exemplified ‘by the book’ in his approach to work, said, “I think that we might be better served if we keep this little oddity to ourselves, at least for now.”

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3 thoughts on “Chapter 7

  1. Excellent way to put background information into a piece – dialogue. Give me more about the Arthur C. Clark statement – what is his actual famous saying? Very interesting and believable about the inexplicable activity of the computer. I think I have first hand knowledge of that after these past weeks.

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    • Certainly! One of his ‘three laws’: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

      so, what Barry Audette was implying by the reverse corollary was that magic might, in turn be found within (and subject to) technology…. or something lol I’m not saying* that someone in the Hermes Consortium made a pact with the devil but….

      *I truly have not yet decided if that needs to be an explicit element in our tale, considering that maybe, if I do it right, the Reader will be left that decision

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  2. Now! this story is getting even more interesting. Tom is a strange fellow, non? He seems a little…desperate? Kind of a tease with the part about how the group got started, the Hermes Consortium . Maybe it’s a little early, but I don’t know that I like this Ed guy very much 🙂 Looking forward to Ch. 8. Bring on Chapter 8!

    Hey Val! thanks for asking about clarification about the Arthur C. Clarke statement. Was wondering myself 🙂

    Like

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