Sunday, March 27, 2005

Chapter 27 / Borrowed Genius

“Daddy’s home, Daddy’s home!” The evening meal was just on its way to the table as little Julia shrieked out the joyful tune. Running to greet him as he got his lead
foot into the house, she forgot all about the show that was on the television.

“How’s my girl today? Did you color me any pictures to take to work for my art
collection?” Vern encouraged her to develop her talents. He had lots of crayon
masterpieces in a folder at his desk that he often showed friends.

“Not today; I got to play on my friend Marcy’s Nintendo. It was fun watching the little man jumping all over. Can you get us one too?” Julia had asked many times
for an Nintendo; all the same she asked again.

"I don’t think so, honey.” Vern was not a big fan of the “Children’s Game” computers; having the opinion that kids should not be entertained by such expensive toys. He felt that they would be better off if they actually played; got down in the dirt themselves. “Can you give me a big kiss anyway?”, as Vern bent over to accept the enthusiastic hug from his daughter.

“You should see the one Marcy has! You don’t even have to touch the buttons”
Julia was moving her hands rapidly, as if to finger paint the air. “It does what I do and makes all those funny noises.”

"Sounds like fun.” Vern had no idea what she was talking about as he walked with Julia to the table and greeted his wife, Sherry. He was ready for a sit down meal
with his family.

“Why don’t you tell me about it during dinner?”

“Good to be home; they had the left lane torn up all the way from Bammel to
Nineteen Sixty. I like to never got past the light there by the Park and Ride. Some little old lady was half way out in the left turn lane blocking a bus that cut wide. She was afraid to back up and he couldn’t . . .”

“Glad your home, I know how frustrating it can be.” Sherry handed Vern one of the children’s plates for him to take to the table. She wanted him to forget about the outside world as quickly as possible; the steam from the spaghetti sauce passed under his nose and he forgot what he was going to say. The limited time they had together was too valuable to waste on reliving rush hour traffic.

“Smells good, you know how I love spaghetti.” Vern drew in a deep breath as he let the plate hang a moment longer.

“Mitchell had a rough day. I think he has another tooth coming in. I gave him some Tylenol. He had a light fever most of the afternoon. Poor dear; he’s sleeping now.”

“Did you put some of that stuff on his gums? You know. . .” Vern had rubbed his thumb across Julia’s gums many times as the need arose. It seemed to help; but the
ointment was much more humane. It had a minty taste and numbed numbed the tender buds that were inflamed.

“Yes dear.” Sherry looked at Vern, reminding him who it was that maintained the house while he was at work.

"Just asking.” He knew it was time to sit down and be quiet. Sherry smiled and the sarcasm left her face. “Julia. . .,” his head turning, but his eyes still held for a
moment on his wife. “. . . your turn to say the blessing on the food.”

Folding her arms and bowing, “Father in Heaven . . .”, the words tapering off as she whispered and mumbled the next words; not quite sure of how to properly offer up
the prayer.

“Thank you for this meal.” Vern supplied the next line waiting for her to hear and repeat them.

“Thank you for this meal.”

After a few silent moments, “Thank you for our family and bless Mitchell that his
teeth won’t hurt him.”

"Thank you for our family and bless Mitchell’s tooth.” Vern was about to add
another line as Julia quickly added, “. . . in Jesus Name. Amen!”

“That was very good Julia.” Sherry glowed with pride. Her little girl was growing up so quickly.

“Mommy, will you cut mine for me?”, pushing the plate to her right.

“Sure.” A few quick strokes and the job was done. It was much easier for Julia to spoon up short strands than to attempt twirling them onto a fork. Vern attacked his plate, twirling mouth size portions at a time.

“I wish I could do that.” Julia pointed at Vern just as he engulfed a monstrously
large fork full; one strand unfurled, dangling onto the plate. Vern slurped it in; eyeing Sherry as he felt the two of them watching.

“Vern Rylan. Is this what your supposed to be teaching your daughter?” Sherry
scolding, but not really pushing.

“Tell me some more about your friend’s game.” Vern kept his eye on Sherry as he worked quickly out of the jam. Sherry let him off the hook and grinned.

“Mario runs and hits the coins, gets the mushrooms to get big, flowers to get fire
balls and jumps up and down under the bricks hitting them with his head.” Julia’s hands flashed across the table in small arcs as she talked.

“What does that do?” Vern was not familiar with the game enough to understand
the correlation of movements.

“It makes Mario do things. You know; jump up and down, run and . . .” Julia’s hands jerked and bolted as she continued to illustrate how the game was played.

“Looks. . ”, Vern thought, “. . . interesting.” He glanced over to Sherry to find her reaction. Her eyebrows peaked and sank; it meant nothing to her either.

“Can we have one too; please?”

“I’ll talk to your Mommy about it later. Finish your dinner.” Vern did not want to commit; and yet at the same time he wanted to know more about it. He had not played with computer games in a long time. He had several floppy disks of Share Data games. He just didn’t have that much time to spend on them.

“I saw something like what she’s talking about at the mall last week. There was a
young boy standing in front of some kind of electronic board. He was flailing his arms as if shadow boxing. Every time he would throw a punch; the cartoon boxer on the television would emulate his move. It was a lot of fun.” Sherry recounted the event throwing a mock punch; then pointing to an imaginary monitor screen, outlining the image a foot or so in front of this unknown device, as if Vern could see it also.

“That’s it Mommy, that’s just like I was ’splainin.” Julia began the game once more; her hands darting in and out above the table.

“Well I’ll be . . .” It wasn’t often that something new in the computer market got
past him. “I guess I’d better start going to the mall more often.” The rest of the meal was for the most part uneventful. Vern finished and helped clear the table. The dishwasher was broken so he and Sherry helped each other wash and dry the dishes. Julia got ready for bed; taking a book from the shelf and then grabbing her Teddy. Each evening prior to the night prayer, Vern or Sherry would read a short story to her. It was a relaxing time.

“Read me this Daddy.” Julia had picked up one of her favorite books,

“The Berenstain Bears In The Dark”.

“We read that only last week. Wouldn’t you like to hear a different story?” Vern tried to pick out another from the twenty or so odd books on the shelf.

“I like this one.” Julia had made up her mind.

Vern began, “The Bernestain Bears In The Dark, by Stan and Jan Berenstain.” He held the book open to let Julia enjoy the pictures as he turned each page. The story
explained that Brother Bear had picked out a book at the library. Vern played the part of Papa Bear; making sure to act out all the story. As the story progressed, Papa Bear took Sister Bear up to the attic to show her the shadows on the ceiling. Vern formed his in the shape of a fist. He had intended to make the shadow look like a man’s face on the wall behind Julia; instead it just looked like a blurred fist.

“A, that’s the letter A”. Julia exclaimed as she recognized the first letter of the alphabet. She had seen it on Sesame Street. “See Daddy, A”. Julia formed her hand
into a little fist; thumb firmly planted on top of the index finger. The two watched the
shadows on the wall. Vern still wanted to make his look like a man’s face. Julia rattled off half the alphabet with ease before he gave up. The idea occurred to him that it might not be so hard to pick up “Signing”. He watched as she zig zagged the letter Z ever so quickly in the air with her index finger.

“Finished! Can you make the giraffe again for me?”

“What are you two up to in here?” Sherry had dished out a small bowl of ice cream for them all to enjoy. “Are you still trying to show your Daddy how that game works?”

“Bingo !” Vern leaped up and clapped his hands as all the pieces came together in his head.

“I’m sorry; but I think I missed something there.” Sherry stood wide eyed as she
watched the “touch down dance” complete with slamming the ball into the end zone.
Vern had either lost his mind or was taking the Berenstain Bears to a new dimension.
“I CAN have it by Friday !”

“What in the world are you talking about?”

“It’s kind of hard to explain. I need to get to the mall before it closes.”, grabbing the car keys and his wallet from the kitchen counter. “I’ll tell you all about it when I get home.” Vern ran out the door, locked it and was gone.

“Is Daddy going to buy us an Nintendo?”

“I’m not sure.”, Sherry stood bewildered, “I’m not sure”.

A few short miles and Vern was at the shopping mall. He went straight away to the toy store. Sure enough, there in the display window was the latest addition to the
Nintendo game system. It was a hands free game controller. Vern quizzed the salesman for a few minutes and had him demonstrate it. It only took a few minutes to write up the sale. Vern wrote out a check and handed it to the clerk.

“I’ll need to see a driver’s license, Sir.” Vern handed him the license. The clerk studied the picture, glancing at the date of birth and then again at Vern.

“You look much younger.”

“Yea, I’ve been told.” Vern rolled his eyes as the high school aged clerk held onto the license for a moment too long.

“Here’s your receipt; enjoy.”

“I will.” Vern was tempted to add, “Party on dude.”; but held his tongue. He was tired of the casual abuse inflicted on the language. Movies had made every effort to
glamorize the style, as if by doing so it would make it acceptable.

The drive home seemed to drag. The same road was somehow much longer as his
thoughts turned to assembling his project. He had read the owners guide while at the store. His knowledge of computer components and his wild imagination had pieced all of the intricate and necessary parts together as one. He felt confident that by morning’s light he would have a functional unit. While at the mall he had purchased a book on basic sign language for the deaf. He could spend the rest of the night learning sign language. Sherlock Holmes had learned to play the violin, or at least would have us believe that he had mastered it in a matter of hours. Vern had only to learn an entire language in one night; make that half a night. The rest would be needed for programming the information into a usable package.

“I’m back. Could you help me with this?” Sherry was almost afraid to look.

“How much did all this stuff set us back?”

“Don’t worry, its for work and I can get reimbursed on it.”

“Since when did they start buying Nintendo games at the hospital?” Sherry was
more than a little skeptical as she queried Vern.

“Its not what it looks like, at least not yet.” Vern took each piece out and removed the protective wrapping. Placing them on the dining room table and hooking them all together, they looked just like they had at the toy store. He turned it on and walked himself through the basics. After he was satisfied that all the components worked he turned it off.

“Well. . .” Sherry was waiting to here the explanation, something that would convince her that he was not off his rocker.

“You know that I’ve been working with that guy, the one who was in the coma?” Sherry nodded, not saying anything, as she turned her ear for the rest of the story. She knew that Vern had spent several hours; off the clock, working on some special project.

“Well, he has a roommate that is a deaf mute. I think I can put together a way for
the computer to read his signs. This game controller board can be hooked up to my lap top. I can write a program that will recognize and convert those signs into English.”

Vern was talking faster than Sherry could hear.

Vern stopped long enough to get his portable computer from the desk. He looked at the connection configuration on the game controller and was able to match it with one of the printer ports on the back of the computer. He started up the computer and with a few simple commands, convinced the computer to accept the new device.

“Here goes nothin’ !” Vern stood in front of the new game controller screen. As he had done earlier in the evening with Julia; he signed the letter A . They looked over
to the monitor to see the result. There on the screen was a fuzzy image that esembled the shape he had made.

“Honey, could you direct that lamp shade this way to back light my hand as it passes in front of this screen?” Sherry made the adjustment and he tried again.

“That ought to do it.” He typed in another command line, then another and then another.

Sherry knew that it was time to leave him to his work. “Good night Dear.”

“Good night; I’ll only be a while. This is working better than I had expected.”

Sherry knew better; but decided to let him continue without pointing it out. He would be up all night as she set the alarm and went to bed.

Vern paged through the signing book and was able to get all the letters of the
alphabet into the memory of the new program. He would stand in front of the screen, the light behind him gave it extra contrast. Then he generated the image onto the monitor, giving the computer a command to recognize it as whatever he had signed. Then he would go back and make a sign that was already in memory. He tried the letter M .

The computer flashed the sign and cleared the screen as commanded by the program. The monitor then displayed the letter, M , while at the same time
pronouncing the letter. The voice was from a standard computer board, not as clear as the VSP synthesizer. It had no depth or tonal qualities, just a flat monotone expulsion resembling a human sound.

“It works, by golly it works. Now all I have to do is hook it in with the voice synthesizer. I won’t be able to do that ‘till tomorrow.” Vern talked to himself while he
was working.

“Now let’s see what this thing will do with some of these other signs.” Vern looked through the front of the book for something simple. He made both his hands form
what looked like the letter A and brought them together until they touched. He instructed the computer to recognize the sign as the concept “with”. He then made the sign and waited for the computer to respond.


“All right !” Vern entered a few pronouns as he read from that part of the book.

“I , They, That. . .” After making each sign he would type in the necessary recognition
commands and test the computer for accuracy. It was going smoothly until he entered the word “Himself”. He formed the letter A and, as the book directed, pushed it toward the screen in several short jabbing movements.

“Body blow! Body blow! Body blow!”, the tiny speaker blurted out before Vern could enter a recognition command. Some kind of built in code had been triggered in the game controller screen.

“What the . . .”

The alarm clock went off in the master bedroom at precisely the same moment. "Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding . . .”

Vern laughed, “I must have one heck of a right jab. Lucky for him the round ended.”

“ ‘ You still up?” Sherry wandered down the hall holding the alarm clock. “It’s time for you to get ready for work.”

“Huh, okay. I guess this can wait.” Vern blinked a few times and realized that he had spent the entire night working.

“Does it work like you wanted?” Sherry was almost afraid to ask.

“It has a few bugs in it; but for the most part, yea. It works great.” Vern put a few signs to the test and the computer spit out the corresponding words.

“What was that about a body blow?”

“Just a minor bug that I’ll figure out later.” Vern had a grin on his face as he
threw “himself” into his work.

“Body blow!”