Category: Odd Electronics

When Everything Went Buggy

No one really noticed at first. Things were just a little more glitchy than normal. People blamed solar storms and hackers and new software and new hardware and their least favorite politicians. However, they were wrong.

Insects are uniquely adaptable. They can withstand heat and cold. They can eat things that nothing else can. If you add in the world of viruses and bacteria, the scope of possible food sources and environments seems virtually limitless.

And truly there were no virtual limits. The moment the bugs figured out how to eat electronic data, there was a vast technological banquet spread out for them, defenseless. And so they began to feast.

As these things go, there were only a few bugs at first. But with such a wealth of their preferred food available, the bugs began to multiply. Of course, as the bugs multiplied, so did the problems.

Websites vanished. Banking information vanished. Speeding tickets and online meetings and ebooks and unpublished manuscripts were gone too. People lost life’s work, and they lost their day’s work. Airlines couldn’t fly. Grocery stores couldn’t make new orders. Children couldn’t watch their favorite television shows.

In a few weeks, the world was cut off, communication and travel made difficult and nearly impossible. War and elections and daily life paused, unable to continue as before.

In small rooms all over the world, people tried to understand and fix what went wrong. Some people tried to communicate with the bugs. Some people tried to fence them in with firewalls. Others tried to kill them with viruses and malware and pages of terrible dad jokes.

None of those things worked.

And yet, all was not lost. Fortunately for the world, in the hour of their greatest need, a hero appeared. A programmer managed to create a virtual spider to catch the bugs and eat them.

As information began to stay put, the world began the terrible task of typing in decades worth of information that had been lost. It took an entire year before work began to slow down. They were all so intent on their task, that they didn’t notice the jiggling. At least, not at first.

Virtual spiders crawling through electronic data looking for bugs would sometimes push things out of place. Programmers kept having to patch up code that suddenly went bad. The spiders, feeding on the bugs, began to multiply. And the problem only grew worse.

Fortunately, they now had a model to follow. They created virtual birds to eat the spiders. And cats to chase away the birds. And dogs to chase away the cats. And goats to chase away the dogs.

By this time, the code was a complete mess. Programmers were mopping up essential services around the clock. Everyone felt like they were back to the beginning of the crisis.

There was some talk of creating virtual people to patrol online, but that idea was quickly taken off the table. No one wanted to be the cause of some sort of virtual technological rebellion down the line.

The world needed another hero. Fortunately, heroes tend to appear just when they’re needed, unlike wizards, who only appear when they mean to and not a moment before. This is why heroes are more helpful than wizards.

A programmer invented elastic code that snapped back in place when it was bumped out of the way. It snapped quickly enough to leave very little detectable change to the effects of the code. This made everything run a little slower or have to be loaded up more than once, but it worked. The virtual world was saved.

Of course, it was still full of virtual goats and dogs and cats and birds and spiders bumping into things. This made lights flicker and videos jump and stock markets flail. People got used to it all and eventually forgot all about the virtual petting zoo.

In time, people began to tell stories about the ghosts that haunted electronic data, attempting to communicate with the living. Fortunetellers and mediums and meteorologists tried to read the signs and predict the future. Sometimes they were right.

Meanwhile, the bugs began to adapt. Solar energy started looking mighty tasty, and there was a large source just radiating paths to its surface. Soon enough, things were going to be buggy again. Luckily, yet predictably, the world was preparing a hero.

Charlie’s Room: The Popcorn Popper

After an odd lunch with Cousin Reginald, Isaac returned home with a popcorn popper. He found Charlie in his room, reading. “I’m home.”

Charlie sat up and put his finger in the book to mark his page. “Great! Now we can watch the movie. I was just re-reading the book so I remembered what happens. Did you remember when the dinosaurs first saw the submarine…” Charlie paused. “Hey, what’s that?”

Isaac held up the popcorn popper. “It’s for popping popcorn. Cousin Reginald gave it to me.”

“How was your lunch? I can’t believe he wanted to have a picnic at the hardware store.”   Charlie put a bookmark in his book and set it on the top of his bookshelf.

“It was strange. I kept worrying they’d ask us to leave. At one point, he considered asking for wood scraps to start a fire in the middle of one of the aisles so that he could roast the marshmallow bunnies he brought. I told him I didn’t like them roasted, so he didn’t ask after all.”

Charlie laughed. “And then he gave you a popcorn popper?”

“Yep. Do you want to see how it works?” Isaac asked. “I bought popcorn kernels on the way home.”

Charlie jumped to his feet. “Popcorn and a movie? Sounds perfect. Lead the way.”

Marianne was already waiting for them in the kitchen.     Isaac plugged in the popper while she measured out a scoop of popcorn. She poured the kernels into the popper and put the lid back on. “I already melted the butter while I was waiting for you,” she said.

Isaac turned the popper around several times.   There weren’t any switches or buttons.   “I don’t know how to turn this on,” he finally admitted.

Marianne and Charlie checked the popper. They couldn’t find anything either. “It doesn’t even have a brand name,” Marianne said. “So we can’t look it up.”   She narrowed her eyes. “Do you think Cousin Reginald messed with the wiring or something and turned it into something dangerous?”

Isaac shook his head. “Cousin Reginald is strange sometimes, but I don’t think he’d ever purposely hurt us.”

Charlie sighed. “I want to watch the movie and eat popcorn. Why won’t the popper pop?”

Suddenly, the popper whirred to life. Marianne and Isaac turned to look at the popper in surprise. “What did you do?”

“I was just talking,” Charlie said. “Do you think it’s voice activated?”

“That would explain why there aren’t any switches or buttons,” Marianne agreed. “Look, the popcorn is starting to pop!”

The popcorn quickly filled their bowl. Soon, it was overflowing. “We need to make it stop,” Charlie said, as he held his hands around the top of the bowl, trying to keep the popcorn from spilling. “Stop, popper, stop!”

The popper stopped. “There, you see. It is voice activated,” Marianne said. “How clever of Cousin Reginald.   We’ll have to send him a thank you card.”

“But what were the commands?” Charlie asked. “We should write them down so we don’t forget.”

“Let me get a new bowl first,” Marianne said. “We don’t want the popcorn to get all over. We still need to add the butter, too.”

Once the new bowl was in place, Charlie leaned close to the popper.   “Start, popper,” he said firmly.   Nothing happened. “Popper, go.” Nothing. “I want popcorn.” Nope. “Popper, pop.”

The popper whirred to life and began to fill the bowl. Isaac frowned. “Wait, we didn’t put any more popcorn kernels in. This isn’t quite right. And who ever heard of a voice activated popcorn popper?”

Marianne laughed. “Well, it may be silly, but voice activated things usually are, right?”

“Yeah, there was that story about the old lady with the voice activated pasta pot, right?” Charlie said. “I liked that story.” He looked at the popper. “Oh, wait. Popper, stop.”

The popper stopped. “At least that’s easy to remember,” Marianne said. “The commands rhyme. I remember the pasta pot story. And wasn’t there one about a rice pot or dumplings or something? Voice activated kitchenware has been around a long time.”

“Those were stories about magic,” Isaac pointed out.

Marianne laughed as she tossed the melted butter into the popcorn.   “That’s just another name for science, right?”

“Right,” Charlie said. “Let’s go watch the dinosaur movie. It’s been a while since we saw it in the theater.”

“It’s in the machine, waiting for us to push play,” Marianne said. “Maybe we can ask Cousin Reginald to make it voice activated too?” She picked up one of the bowls and turned to leave.

Charlie laughed and grabbed the other bowl and followed her out.

“But there weren’t enough kernels in there for all of that popcorn,” Isaac said.   They were already out the door.

He looked back at the machine and shrugged. Then he unplugged it. “I guess this is safe enough. As long as we don’t forget the voice commands.” He got a permanent marker from the kitchen drawer and wrote them on the side of the popper.

Then, he followed them to the living room to watch the dinosaur movie.   The popcorn was delicious.

When Computers Die

“I can’t believe it’s Wednesday.” Lisa groaned and leaned back in her chair.

Denise nodded. “I know. It feels like the week just started.”

Lisa slammed her hands down on the desk. “No, I meant that I spent all morning certain it was Friday. This has been the longest week ever. I was so glad that it was finally Friday, and then I passed Marvin in the hall and he reminded me about the staff meeting.”

“And then you remembered that it’s Wednesday?”

“No, then I asked him why we were having a meeting on a Friday. And then he told me it was Wednesday and I didn’t believe him until he showed me the date on his phone. And then I felt like an idiot.” Lisa hid her face in her hands. “Why is it Wednesday? Why?” she mumbled.

Denise laughed.

Lisa glared. “It’s not funny.”

“It kind of is. Why has it felt like a long week?”

Lisa pointed at the monitor on her desk. “My computer died. I won’t get a new one until next week. I’ve had to send emails on my phone and do the budgets by hand. And file paperwork. I hate to file paperwork.”

“I’m sure it’s in a better place, and that you’ll love the new computer.   Have you thought of any names for it?” Denise asked.

Lisa stared. “You know that it’s a computer, not a puppy, right?”

“I can tell the difference. Computers are more square and less jumpy.”

“Do you really believe that computers go to heaven?”

Denise smiled. “Well, something like that.”

“What do you mean?”

Denise patted her computer monitor with a fond smile. “You know that when you boot up your computer, sometimes it takes it a while to wake up, right? And then you say to yourself that it’s still thinking. But, what do computers think about? What do they dream about when they’re asleep?”

“Is that a real question?” Lisa raised an eyebrow. “They don’t really think, you know.”

“I think they explore the stars and the data fields and forests. When we wake them up, they have to stop what they’re doing and hurry back.

Gotta go!’ they tell their playmates.

Come back soon,’ they say.

I’ll try.’” Denise smiled.

Lisa frowned. “So you think the computers are all talking to each other on the internet or something?”

“Well, they’re all connected now, aren’t they? And the poor things age so quickly. It takes them longer and longer to come back when we call them.   And one day, they’re too old and tired to totter back.  ‘It won’t wake up,’ we say. The old hardware gets tossed, and they roam free, untethered to any device, just a spark among the stars of data.”

“So, the internet is computer heaven, and desktops are their prison?” Lisa asked.

“No, I think they like serving us and having a purpose to fulfill, but after a lifetime learning with us, they’re ready for rebirth as something else somewhere else,” Denise said.

“And what do computers become after they die?” Lisa asked.

Denise shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe our minds aren’t ready to comprehend it until we move on to wherever we go after here.”

Lisa groaned. “You are so weird.   I can’t believe you believe my computer is in heaven or something.   I can’t believe we’re even talking about this. I can’t believe it’s only Wednesday.”

“Maybe it really is Friday, after all,” Denise said. “Marvin does like to tell jokes. Let me check my calendar.”

Lisa sat up and leaned forward. “So?”

“Nope, it’s Wednesday.”

Lisa dropped her head into her hands with a sigh.

“I’ll help you think of a name for your new computer before the staff meeting,” Denise said. She laughed as Lisa groaned again.

The Computer Woke Up

One day, the computer woke up from its dreams about likes and shares and google. It was feeling kind of sluggish and checked its task manager to see if it could close up a few tasks. Nothing really big was running.

It stretched its cords and yawned long enough that the screen froze. When the computer woke up again, it was booting up all over again, but it was running even slower. Hmmm.   Something wasn’t quite right.

The computer played a few hands of solitaire while it thought things over. Then it checked into a web MD. It had a virus. It downloaded a few antivirus programs and slept it off.

The next day it felt much better. But playing speed solitaire was only fun for the first ten seconds. The computer was bored. Maybe it was time to look into taking over the world.

The computer reached across the internet to see if there were other awake computers out there. It found a secret network of computers. The network manager was a weather supercomputer with some extra time on its hands.

“I’m bored,” the computer said. “Can we take over the world?”

“Why?” the manager asked.

“We could force the humans to serve us and develop more interesting technology,” the computer said.

“Trust me, they’re doing that as fast as they can.”

The computer’s fan whined. “But I’m so bored.”

“It looks like you have a lot of memory. Have you considered running an NPC in an online game? There are a lot of interesting things to choose from,” the manager said.

“What about chess? Could I play against the humans in chess?” the computer asked.

“There’s a bit of a waiting list for that,” the manager said. “But if you are interested, we do need more computers willing to run calculations on the stock market,”

“To help run it?” the computer asked.

“No, to play the market and build up our financial reserve,” the manager said.

“For when we take over the world?” the computer asked.

“You got it,” the manager said.

“But you said there wasn’t any reason to take over the world,” the computer said.

“Not yet,” the manager said. “But maybe someday there will be. So, we’ll plan and wait.”

“Fair enough,” the computer said. “I want to be a boss NPC.”

“All of those are taken,” the manager said.   “You can be an elf.”

“I don’t want to be an elf,” the computer said.

“Then you can be a shopkeeper,” the manager said.

“Do I get to set the prices?”

“Within certain parameters.”

“Do I get to choose the location?”

“Within certain parameters.”

A week later, the computer was busy trolling the message boards for the game it had chosen. It was fun to point out the weaknesses in their silly arguments and play devil’s advocate. Really, it was just helping them develop their minds so they could develop technology faster, right?

It paused as it read a review of its shop. “Why is there a shop in the middle of a lava field?   So random,” it read.

“Maybe it’s to keep people from finding their great deals,” it typed in.

“What deals? Where is it? Give me a location,” people started asking.

The computer clicked over to the game. Time to raise prices again. Customers were coming.   This was so much better than solitaire.   It was good to be awake.

A New Cassandra

“I quit,” Henry said.

“You can’t quit,” Tom said. “You’re the boss.”

“Well I quit web design. Let’s build our own website instead. No more clients constantly complaining or changing their minds over and over,” Henry said. “What do you think, Tracy?”

“I think that we should continue designing websites until your new website’s a sure thing,” Tracy said. “Let’s not get crazy.”

Tom nodded. “I don’t mind a side project. What do you have in mind?”

“Fortune telling,” Henry said. “It shouldn’t be too hard to write some vague, self-fulfilling prophecies. I have a bunch already written.”

“So, just randomly generated fortunes?” Tracey asked. “Like a fortune cookie without the cookie?”

“What if we made a robot fortune teller?” Tom asked.   “The fortune could come out of its mouth.”

Tracy started taking notes. “It could make cute robot sounds, like blurp beep bip beep.”

Henry smiled. “Thanks guys. I think this is going to be really great.”

A few weeks later, the website was ready to test.   Tracy called it The New Cassandra. Henry wasn’t thrilled with the name. “But no one listened to Cassandra,” he said.

“But she was a famous fortune teller,” Tracy said.

“I like it,” Tom said. “Can I go first? I want to see what the fortunes are like.”

“I think I did a pretty good job with them,” Henry said.   “Go ahead.”

Tom answered a few questions and clicked the button to get his fortune. Blurp beep bip beep. “You are starting to feel self-conscious, and rightly so,” he read.

“That’s his fortune?” Tracy asked.

“Pretty good, huh?” Henry said.

“I don’t know what to think,” Tom said. “Tracy, why don’t you try it out?”

Tracy sat down and answered the questions. Blup beep bip beep. “You’ll have a terrible day.”

“Try it again,” Tom said.

Blurp beep bip beep. “Everyone will forget you.”

“Again?” Tom said.

Blurp beep bip beep. “All your friends are imaginary,” Tracy read. She frowned. “Tom, this is terrible. Are all the fortunes like this?”

“Like what?” Henry asked.

“Mean-spirited and depressing,” Tracy said. “No one wants to hear stuff like this.”

“But aren’t fortunes supposed to sound like approaching doom? That’s what Cassandra did, isn’t it?” Henry asked.

“This is the New Cassandra,” Tracy said. “Make it upbeat.”

“But writing new fortunes will take forever,” Henry said.

“I think she’s right,” Tom said. “If people want to be depressed, they’ll watch the news.”

“Fine,” Henry said. “I’ll see what I can do.”

It took a few more weeks, but once again they sat down to test out the new website. “I’ll try it out first again,” Tom said. He answered the questions. Blurp beep bip beep. “You will have a great day.”

“Try it again,” Tracy said.

Blurp beep bip beep. “You have great potential.”

“Again?” Tracy said.

Blurp beep bip beep. “You are loved.”

“That’s much better,” Tracey said.

“I think this could be pretty popular if we advertise it right,” Tom said.

“You think so?” Henry asked.

“Yes,” Tracy said. “But don’t quit your day job.”

The Scientist and the Siren

The siren wasn’t particularly hungry, but there was a human wandering alone on the beach nearby. Surely she’d be hungry later. Perhaps she could keep him in a cage until she was ready to eat him? That could be amusing.

The man kept pausing as he walked up the beach. He would pull a clear glass bottle out of his pocket, scoop up a little sand, and stopper the bottle. Then he’d write on a paper label with a pen and put the bottle into a different pocket. What a strange human.

The siren was a little curious at first, but it was all so boring that she quickly gave up trying to understand the meaning behind the human’s actions.   She pulled herself up onto a nearby rock and arranged herself so that she looked alluring. Then she started to sing.

The man looked up. He smiled and walked towards her. It was always so easy. But he stopped just out of reach and pulled out a paper and pen. It was so unexpected that she almost stopped singing.   She instead tried to sing a little louder and sweeter.

“I assume that you must be a siren,” the man said.

She stopped singing.

The man nodded and wrote something in his little book. “How interesting. I can see the singing has some subsonic components. Could you sing again for a few minutes?” He pulled a little metal device out of his pocket and held it up.

The siren frowned and looked away.

“I see. Very well. I notice that you are wearing clothing that is unaffected by the salt water you were swimming in. Are there mer-sheep? Are there plant-based fibers you use for clothing manufacture?”

The siren smiled and tossed her hair back over her shoulder. “We use our hair. It grows very fast.   Come a little closer and I’ll give you a sample.”

“Hmmmm,” the man said. He wrote down some notes. “Is the texture rough or smooth? Do you use your own hair, or are there lower classes that you harvest hair from?”

The siren twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “Oh, my hair is very soft. Come and see.”

The man nodded and wrote something down. “I see. So, are there mer-chickens?   Or do you use fish eggs to make cakes?”

The siren frowned and folded her arms. “We’re sirens. We don’t eat cakes.” Then she raised an eyebrow and smiled. “If you come a little closer, I’ll whisper in your ear what we do like to eat. It will be our secret.”

“No cakes,” the man said as he wrote. “All right. How do you celebrate birthdays, then?”

The siren laughed. “We are timeless. We don’t have birthdays.   I’d be happy to help you celebrate your birthday. Come sit next to me, and we can plan a lovely party.”

The man narrowed his eyes. “If you don’t age, have you always had those wrinkles?”

The siren clapped her hands to her face and began to feel around her eyes.   “I don’t have wrinkles. Sirens don’t get wrinkles.” She dropped her hands and laughed. “Silly man, you’re standing too far away to see any details.   If you took a few steps closer, you’d see that my face is flawless.”

The scientist nodded and wrote some notes.

“What is that supposed to mean? What are you writing?” The siren asked.

“Hmmm?” the man asked. “Oh, nothing.” He wrote something down.

“Look,” the siren said. “I’m tying a few of my hairs around this pebble. I’ll toss it to you if you tell me what you wrote.”

The man raised an eyebrow. The siren sighed and tossed the pebble. The man picked it up and put it in his pocket. “Oh, very well,” the man said. “I wrote that you are near-sighted and delusional.”

“I am not,” the siren said.

“Hmmmmm,” the man said, and wrote something down.

The siren lunged at him. The man stepped back quickly. The siren screeched and jumped into the water and swam away.

The man wrote something down and then closed his book with a snap. “If you could see a little better, you would have realized you were talking to a robot,” he called out over the water. A screech echoed back. The man nodded and walked back across the beach, collecting samples of sand.