Sunday, February 13, 2005

Pecaw's Gift / Chapter 11 - Cluster 641

Vern Rylan sat at his desk reading over the latest technical journal that had been left in his mail slot. He had a sliver of cold dill pickle in his hand and a large bite of ham on rye pushed into the corner of his mouth when the pager went off. “Call 4725, Call 725.”, the static made it hard to understand the message. He reached down and cupped the little black beeper with his hand and tilted his head just enough to hear it. Flipping the off switch, he took a few more bites of his sandwich and lay the computer update material aside.

He picked up the phone and punched in the numbers, “This is Rylan, what’s up?”
Swallowing the last of his hit and run lunch, he concentrated on the voice at the other end of the telephone. He closed his eyes just a little harder, as if by doing so he could better see the problem being described.

“The guy said it was just putting it’s own numbers. . .” Vern opened his eyes and looked toward the ceiling, shrugged just a little to indicate his belief that the problem was most likely the idiot at the keyboard.

“Okay, tell you what . . .” , he glanced at his watch, “I have a project to work on later this afternoon that will tie me up for the rest of the day. Why don’t I just run up and take a look at it right now? Let me grab my tool box and I’m on my way.” He was not one for putting things off. He took a floppy disk out of his file box, read the label to make sure it was the right disk, and grabbed his brief case. He took a second look back and smiled as his eyes absorbed the picture of his family that he had hung on the grayish/lavender fabric
partition of his work station.

Vern headed down the hall towards the elevators; but turned instead into a small recess that enclosed a back stairwell. He had no trouble clipping two or three steps at a time. He had a bounce in his step and was enjoying the chance to get in some leg work. When he had the opportunity, Vern would play basketball. He had the energy of a sixteen year old and would get together with a few of his friends to play a little “two on two” after work. His narrow frame along with his smooth face disguised his age by at least five years. He had a natural smile, almost a smirk that broadcast a self confidence, both at work and at play. His hands slid along the stainless steel banister as he vaulted his way up the stairs. Just as he reached the door, he swept his hair back and pulled his tie up to look more professional. He swung the heavy metal door back and eased himself across the highly waxed corridor. A young nurse walked past him as he made a side step move, pretending to set up for a rebound shot; trying to collect himself at the same time. A boyish grin crept over his whole face and he just said , “Hello.” His hand gripped the brief case handle a little more as he tried to hide a hint of blush.

Vern found his way quickly to the back of the lab room where the accountant had been working. He immediately began by checking all the cable connections, flipped the power on and waited for the pleasant humming that the hard drive made as the computer “booted up”. He then reached into his brief case and pulled out, what he liked to tell people was his, “tool box.” Talking out loud to himself, not bragging; but expressing his enjoyment at having learned a profession well, he slipped the diskette into the floppy port. “ ‘Vee have vays to make you talk!” He had a terrible German accent, but he was having fun. His fingers raced back and forth above the keyboard striking each pad with lightning accuracy. The information flashed dizzyingly on the monitor as he traced the inner workings of the computer. He would follow the directory on one side of the screen with his finger for a moment, enter a few keystrokes and it was off and humming again; searching for some sort of problem either on the hard disk itself or in the programs that were encoded onto the disk.

He sat with his forearms resting on the edge of his knees. His legs were arched, only the balls of his feet touching the floor and chair legs. As the information on the screen would appear, he would nod his head in agreement, “Yea, that’s more like it.” The little pulse lights on the mother board were blinking off and on with each request of the disk drives.

He decided that he would check out the location of any bad spots on the hard disk.
The counter blinked off in sequential order the hundreds of grid placements that the hard disk had assigned as “usable” or that had been marked as “bad”.

“Cluster 641”, the warning line began to flash in bright red against the white background box, “DANGER NOW”. The disk utility program had found a problem area. Now all he had to do was find out what had been stored in that area and move it to some other part of the hard disk. He ran another part of the program and found that the damaged cluster had stored part of the accounting files. Satisfied that he had found the source of the problem, he went back and had the program mark the location on the hard drive so that it would not cause any further problems. He put his “tool box” back in its protective jacket and was about to turn off the computer.

“1 2 3 4, 1 2.” The monitor display caught Vern’s attention as the numbers mysteriously jumped out at him. “What’s this?”, he laughed out, “This
machine must not have heard of my hundred percent success rate.” He reviewed what he had done and could not put his finger on any reason why the computer had gone crazy.

Snapping his fingers, as if he had forgotten something simple and then remembered it, he
checked to see if the internal modem had possibly been engaged. Pulling the cover and a
quick look at the boards inside gave him no relief; it had no modem at all.

“1 2 3 4, 1 2.”

Vern picked up the telephone and called the office back, tapping his fingers lightly on the edge of the desk. “Jack”, a pause and light laugh as if he had been snipe hunting like the first time he went to Boy Scout camp and the older boys left him out in the woods , “This has to be one of your best. How’d you do it this time? ‘put some kind of hidden program in just to have some fun with me? Well that’s one for you.”

“Not me Vern, I tell you it’s not my doin’.”

“Come on Jack, tell me how you did it. I’ve checked this thing from top to bottom and what ever you did to it isn’t showing up on my tests. Just tell me so I can get on with it.” Vern was looking down at his legs to see if one was longer than the other. Jack was forever playing practical jokes on people; not the kind that might hurt or embarrass, but more like gentle reminders that not all of life is to be taken so seriously.

“Honest Vern, I have no idea what your talking about; but, if you like I’ll take the
credit”. Changing the subject, “Come on down here and get some of these drip monitors
fixed so I can seethe floor.”

Vern thought for a moment, “Last time I looked there were only two monitors Jack, must be a pretty small floor.” Jack liked to exaggerate a little bit too.

" Okay, so when are they going to be fixed; or are you gonna’ play with that computer all day?" Jack wasn’t angry, but he was friends enough to be able to jab a little in a sarcastic way.

“Well if your not making this happen I may be here for a while. Your sure. . . .” dragging his words just to make the point, “. . . your not involved with this in anyway, shape or form?”

“I promise; and anyway I couldn’t fool you on a computer, on the basketball court; yes, the computer; no way. You still on for a little round ball later on, aren’t you?”

“Uhhhh. . . yea; be down in a while.”, putting the phone down and looking a bit unsettled he turned his attention back to the monitor. Vern was pretty sure, now, that Jack was clean. “But how’s it doing that?”


Vern switched off the computer and unplugged it; wrapping the cord around the base. He wrote, “Broken” on one of those yellow stick on note pads and affixed it to the
monitor screen. He had too much work scheduled to fix it just now. He wanted to leave it until he had the time to really get into it. He reached to his mouth, as if to take from his lips an imaginary corn cob pipe. “I shall return!”