Category Archives: Stories

The Day Henry Broke the Internet – A Short Story – Part 2

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Henry was pale.

We heard an Arts major swearing behind us.  They have dreadful language, Arts majors.  “What the **** is wrong with this iPad?”

Henry bolted over to the girl, and stared at the screen, horrified, numbers pouring down its Retina display and mixed in the middle of it all, the dreaded words “acquiring node”.

“Switch it off, switch it off, switch it off!”  Henry tried to grab the iPad out of her hands and turn it off, which was probably not wise.

“Hey, get off!” she yelled, and grabbed back.

“Switch it off!”

“Okay, okay!”  She pressed the power button and the tablet screen flicked off.

“No!  That’s not enough, it’s gotta be powered down, now!”  Henry cried.

I left him to it, and looked around the café.  There were only a handful of other students and staff there, but they were all using computers or phones or tablets, and they were all, every one of them, staring at their screens in consternation.  I raced around and asked them – ordered them – to switch them off.

Under a minute later, Henry and I met in the middle of the café.  All the computers and phones and tablets were off.  We were safe.  Weren’t we?

No.  Over at the counter, we heard the barista talking to himself.  “What is up with this thing?”

Henry and I looked at each other.  I beat him to the counter.  Scrolling down the cash register screen were, of course, the digits from hell, and as I watched, not one, but four “acquiring node” messages scrolled past, seeming to bump into each other in their hurry to make their way up and off the screen.  I started to realise it was too late.  Mechanically, I reached over and switched off the cash register, as everyone in the café watched.

Henry stumbled out of the coffee bar and into the wide world.  It was early, and not many students were around, but those that were, were fighting their phones and tablets.  “Oh no,” Henry breathed, “It’s made the jump to the campus WiFi.”

I took charge.  “Henry, we’ve got to get to Campus IT and get this switched off before it gets off campus.”

“Oh man, I am in so much trouble…” Henry, at a loss for once in his life, obediently followed me as I ran, leaping up the stairs and diving through the shortcut behind the Engineering department (even in this crisis, my mind briefly flicked over to Jenny – she smiled at me last night!), and arrived, out of breath at the IT building just as an IT tech was making his early way into the building.  I realised I knew him, slightly, through interactions in the PC labs when the lab computers inevitably went down.  But I couldn’t remember his name.

“You’ve got to switch off the campus WiFi, like, right now,” I panted.

“What?  Don’t be silly!  Why would we need to do that?” he prevaricated.

“Just pull out your phone,” I said.  Sure enough, the phone’s screen was filled with numbers.  “It’s a virus,” I explained, “and it’s spreading rapidly!”  I thought that more detailed and accurate explanations could wait, though Henry stared at me, aghast, when I said the word “virus”.

I caught the words “It’s not a virus, it’s a worm…” muttered under his breath.

 

But that was enough to convince the tech.  Gerald, that was his name.  Together, we ran to the network management centre, burst in, and stopped, horrified.  Every screen in the room was filled with numbers, scrolling past faster than we could read.  And of course, “acquiring node”.  As I looked, I saw one computer that seemed to be spending most of its time acquiring nodes, and its screen was filled with the dreaded message, and only the occasional number, scrolling past faster than we could read.  At this rate, the entire University network would be down in minutes.

I just hoped the firewalls would stop Bang from escaping the University.  But I was none too confident.  Knowing Henry, he’d probably designed in a firewall bridging routine.  He always did create perfect code and account for every possibility.  Okay, almost every possibility.  He missed a big one this time, I thought ironically.

Gerald looked, accusingly, at me and Henry.  Henry just slumped against the wall shaking his head and looking as green as a VT420 terminal.  It was up to me then.  “There’s no time to explain,” I explained.  “We’re just going to have to shut down all the computers and disconnect the Uni from the Internet to stop the virus spreading.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!  I can’t do that!  That’s way above my pay grade,” Gerald flustered, “I’m calling in my boss.”

He pulled out his Samsung phone, stared at the numbers marching across its screen, and tossed it aside.  “Here’s hoping the PABX is still going,” he muttered.  Picking up a nearby handset, his shoulders slumped with relief when he heard a dial tone.  Immediately, Gerald speed-dialed the head of Campus IT.

“Better try and bring in the professors, I reckon.  This is going to take some big brains to solve,” I suggested.

Gerald glared at me.  “Way ahead of you, kiddo.  Why don’t you go look after your mate?”  He dialled number after number, explained briefly to each the crisis, hung the phone up, and turned to look at us.  “Boss has given me the go-ahead to disconnect the campus network.  Sit here, and don’t touch anything.  I’m going to unplug the fibre now.”

He stalked out of the room.  Henry looked up at me.  He was just as green as before.  “I think I’ve broken the Internet,” he whispered.

“Nah, I don’t reckon it’ll be outside the Uni network,” I reassured him, “we’ll just be expelled, not arrested.”

Moments later, Gerald strode back into the room, followed by his boss, who’d turned up with his tie unfastened and his shirt half buttoned.  Clearly Gerald had been able to impress a sense of urgency upon him.  He too stopped dead in the entrance, staring at the Network Operation Centre’s various computer screens, all filled with rapidly scrolling numbers, except that one that was filled with rapidly scrolling “acquiring node”.  I was really starting to hate that phrase.

“What on earth?  Who is responsible for this?”  He swung around and bore down on us.  “Second year students?  Have you been messing with my network?”

I cringed, but Henry mustered his courage, stood up and said, “Actually, sir, that’s not precisely correct.  Through an unfortunate series of events, and in fact my completely accidental overlooking of a key …”

“I don’t have time for this,” cried Head of IT, “What I want to know is how are we going to fix this?  Have you quarantined the network?”  This last to Gerald.  Yeah, okay, Henry did sound a bit weaselly that time.

“Yes, fibre links are disconnected, WiFi has been shut down, it should be contained, sir,” responded Gerald immediately.

“Okay, so how do we get this damned virus off my network?”

Henry felt obliged to pipe up again.  “Technically, sir, it’s not a virus, because it isn’t attaching to other executable files, but rather is more like a worm, a bit like the Morris worm from 1988 …”  I remembered the Morris worm, unleashed on a young and unsuspecting Internet by a less-than-cautious graduate student.  Thinking back to the Computer History class from the previous year, I could see that Bang bore some distinct similarities.  I just hoped Bang wouldn’t infect 10% of the world’s computers!  More worrying to me was the fact that the fact that the creator of the worm, Robert Morris, was prosecuted for releasing the worm.  But there’d be time to stress over that later.  Henry was continuing, “It continues on by piggybacking on the TCP handshake when connection is established.”  Which made no sense to me.  I should probably remind you that I am going on my own memory here, and I’ve probably got the technical details all wrong.  It was complicated, anyway.

As Henry spoke, the NOC telephone rang.  Gerald grabbed it.  It was the University Vice Chancellor, calling because not only could he not use his mobile phone, or his desktop computer, but his car had stalled, on the street, on the way into the University, with the same horrid numbers scrolling up the multifunction display in the car.  In fact, he was calling on his wife’s ancient Nokia phone which she refused to give up and which to him was looking a more attractive device by the second.  Henry and I looked at each other.  If Bang had made it onto his car computer, it was definitely out in the wild.

From there, a tidal wave of events took us, and flung us headlong across the pages of history, all in one fateful morning.  A television was wheeled into the NOC, and we watched a harried presenter in a makeshift studio (their normal studio computers had crashed, of course) report one network after another succumbing to Bang.  Henry watched, silently.  It was clear that he’d recovered a bit, because he was no longer green, more of a 1984 Mac white.  He was also clearly thinking.  I watched, also silently, as events unfolded, like a train wreck, too horrible to look away from.  Airports were shut down.  The stock market was offline.  While some telephones were still working, and most power networks were still up, the companies responsible for those systems were unable to perform even the most basic tasks.  All around the world, computers were busy calculating Henry’s fantastic factorial.

Eventually the Vice Chancellor made his way onto campus, on a hastily borrowed bicycle.  He clearly had no idea who I was, and just as clearly knew very well who Henry was.  Funny that.  He convened a crisis meeting, and invited both Henry, as author of the crisis, and I, as honorary co-author apparently (an honour I was anxious to forgo), to sit in and listen.  Professor Eisenfaktor was there, as the guru in the department, and frowning at Henry he started with a simple question: “Just how does this worm” (he accepted the term without blinking) “replicate?”

For the third time, Henry started to explain.  “It piggybacks off the SYN packet during the handshake, and … “ and my eyes glazed over, again.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know how it replicated.  The less I knew, the better.  “… and the program uses a distributed parallel multiplication algorithm to calculate the next factor, based on the work by Bunimov in 2003.”  Henry paused and looked at Professor Eisenfaktor.

“Yes, yes, I know who Bunimov is,” growled Eisenfaktor.  “Continue.”

“And anyway, the end of the story is because the program is self-healing, I managed to overlook the fact that it has no way to stop it short of turning off the computer and disconnecting from the network so it cannot be reinstated,” finished Henry.

Professor Eisenfaktor surprised me then by praising Henry.  “That is remarkable,” he enthused, “a self-replicating, self-healing, resilient, cross-platform, distributed computing worm, all written in one evening?  How many hard problems did you solve without realising it?  You’ve got a bright future ahead of you!  Assuming you survive this, of course,” he continued, somewhat less encouragingly.  “But now, you have created this crisis.  To think that no one had spotted that flaw in TCP.  So obvious now, is it not?  Ach!”  (He tended to lapse into a more Germanic turn of phrase as he got more excited – this kept us amused during lectures.)  “As I say, you have created this crisis, and now this crisis you shall solve.”

“Ah, I am not sure that is all that wise, Professor,” the VC cut in, “this young man, while meaning well, no doubt lacks experience and I would feel more comfortable if he took merely, say, an advisory role, in any action or steps which we as a University corporate may take in addressing this, which I may say without exaggeration, existential crisis.  I have no doubt that even at this minute, the source of this virus, ah, worm, is being hunted down, and I am sure that the authorities will be anxious to speak to this young man in very short order.”

“Precisely,” retorted Professor Eisenfaktor, “and I think you underestimate young Henry here.  How long has that flaw in the protocols been there?  Decades!  And in one evening, Henry, purely in the interests of furthering his, if I may say so, extraordinary algorithm project, has not only identified this flaw, but perfectly and precisely utilised it in the creation of this wondrously beautiful replicating worm, what was it called?  Bang?  What a clever pun!”  The Professor was obviously getting a bit excited, and even I was starting to get the idea that what Henry had created was, indeed, extraordinary, both in its technical beauty, and in the way it so effortlessly overwhelmed the entire planet’s computing infrastructure.

“No doubt Henry has a suggestion?” the Professor finished, looking at Henry quizzically.

“Well, actually,” started Henry, uncharacteristically but perhaps unsurprisingly diffidently, “I do.  I believe I can create a program that follows Bang, in its footsteps as it were, and both kills Bang on each system it encounters, and closes the hole in the protocol at the same time.”  He paused.

“Go on,” the Vice Chancellor prompted.

“Um, there’s not much more to say, really,” said Henry, “except that I thought we could call the program Crash.  Crash Bang.”

“Right.”  The VC did not seem amused.  “Well, why don’t you and um, your friend, go back to the library and start doing whatever it is you need to do.  But don’t you put that computer online until after you have cleared it with the Professor.”

Henry and I stood.  I glanced at the television.  The President of the United States was now on screen, talking about the crisis, although we could not hear him as the sound was muted.  I gulped.  Well, if Henry hadn’t been noticed when was growing up, he’d certainly be noticed now.  I’d probably end up notorious as well.  I wondered if we’d both go to jail, or worse.  The entire world was grinding to a halt.  Banks had closed their doors.  Supermarkets were not admitting customers.  Leaders were telling their populace to stay at home and prepare for disaster.  And yet, despite this, some phones were still working, and we still had electricity.  I didn’t know what would happen if the power went out.  I wasn’t sure Henry had enough juice to finish his Crash program.

I’m sure you know the rest.  Henry went on to write Crash, even faster than he’d written Bang, and the Vice Chancellor himself held off the police until he’d finished.  Solemnly, Henry turned on his WiFi, Gerald switched the Campus WiFi back on, and we watched, entranced, as one after another, the numbers flicked off screens, replaced briefly by a smiling face – Henry thought it appropriate – before restoring the computer, tablet or phone to its usual duties.  One by one, networks around the world restored themselves.  And in the process, the security hole in the protocol was patched, automatically.  And then the Federal Police asked Henry, and I (poor innocent I) to please come with them for a little chat.

All’s well that ends well.  Henry is now pretty famous, and some of it has even rubbed off on me, though I don’t think I deserve it.  Although many clamoured for a prison sentence, Henry escaped conviction, because, as his lawyer said, it was a simple bug and anyone could see he didn’t have a malicious bone in his body.  But Henry and I were both banned from the Uni’s labs for the rest of the semester, which I thought was quite unfair, given I hadn’t done anything.

Henry was mostly disappointed that in the rush he didn’t find out what factorial result Bang had reached before being shut down.  But then as he said, even if he knew the answer, it’s not like we could have recorded it anywhere for posterity.  Not without using all the computers in all the world.

The Day Henry Broke the Internet – A Short Story – Part 1

“He’s wrong, you know,” stated Henry, decidedly.

“Um what?” I said, intelligently, as I dazedly looked up from my iPhone.

“Professor Eisenfaktor is wrong.  He said BigInts were essentially infinite.  But they’re not at all.  BigInts are limited.  They’re limited by design by the memory on the computer.”

“Ah ha ha,” I laughed weakly. We were making our way out of the lecture theatre, Henry leading the way as usual, weaving mysteriously through the ragged masses of students, somehow unconsciously finding the shortest path through the crowd, and simultaneously looking over his shoulder and firing commentary at me about the obvious shortcomings of the lecture.

Me? I was happy just to wander out in his wake, checking Facebook as I went. I didn’t really feel a big need to debate the lecture but knew that Henry did have that need. So I humoured him.

“That’d be a, um, pretty big number, wouldn’t it?” I stated cautiously. “Like, why’d you need to work with numbers that big?  An integer with four billion digits?” (I wasn’t just a pretty face.)

“That’s not the point, and you know it. The entire premise of his lecture is flawed. He introduced these BigInt algorithms to us as an alternative for classical integer overflow problems, didn’t he? Well he just moved the boundary conditions. He didn’t fix the problem at all!”

I didn’t quite know what to say in reply to this, so in an unusual fit of intelligence, I said nothing at all.

Undeterred, Henry plowed on. “Who knows what uses there are for huge integers?  I mean, look at cryptography.  Large numbers are a cryptographer’s bread and butter.  And you know how often those crypto systems fall to brute force attacks?  Moore’s Law man!  It’s inevitable and at some point the Prof’s system will also stop meeting our needs.  But … what if …”

Henry abruptly stopped, creating a substantial eddy in the flow of students, as I carefully moored myself next to him. It wasn’t like Henry to ever stop so I was pretty curious to see what would come next.

“Here!” came next, followed by a textbook and a pile of notebooks, tossed into my arms, which I expertly caught. “See you later.”

“Hey? Where’re you going? We’ve got Expert Systems now,” I blurted.

“I’ve got something to figure out. Say hi to Prof Dexter for me,” Henry flung back as he disappeared into the crowd.

I shrugged, used to Henry’s ideas by now, and made my solitary way to Professor Dextor’s Expert Systems, resigning myself to figuring out what on earth the Prof was on about without Henry’s impatient yet insightful interpretation to guide me.

After I’d struggled through Professor Dexter’s Expert Systems, my brain filled with forward chains, backward chains and half understood inference engines, I headed for Henry’s favourite hideout.  The library, of course.  I desperately needed his help to make sense of the lecture.

Now, I’m sure you’ve seen The Social Network movie, right?  Okay, well, Henry is so much like Mark in that movie.  Totally brilliant, totally focused.  Always buried in an idea, solving, creating.  But that’s where the similarities stop.  To be fair, the Mark of that movie is focused and brilliant but he’s also a total jerk, yeah?  And Henry’s about as nice as they come.  Absent minded as hell, oblivious to his own intelligence, but drag him away from his oversized brain and he’s incredibly generous and my best mate.

He and I started Uni together, and by that I mean, at the same time, because he was of course light years ahead of me.  We’d grown up together in a small rural town, not too far from the city, but just far enough that Henry’d never been noticed.   His mother was always talking about his brilliance, but who listens to mothers?  In high school, we’d been the two geeks hiding in the computer lab – that is, the two old Macs sitting in the corner of the classroom – coding away at teenage game projects, Henry leading, myself following, contributing an idea here or there, and happily doing the hack coding.

He’d been noticed at Uni though.  After acing his first year without seeming to ever pay attention, and at the same time getting a reputation for being the student who could be relied upon to correct the lecturer if they made a mistake – I must hasten to add, gracefully, and with tact – Henry’s professors none-the-less were somewhat afraid of him, even the intimidating brainbox that was Professor Eisenfaktor.  It would start with a raised hand, and the lecturer would say, “Yes, Henry?” (after their first run-in, they never forgot his name), and Henry would reply, “I’m really sorry, but I’m not sure that’s entirely correct.  You see, …” and he’d descend into a complex and yet one hundred percent correct explanation of just where they’d gone wrong.

And credit where it’s due, too, to the lecturers, because Henry had a gift for elocution and explanation, which meant that the whole class would listen, and a light would come on in their collective brains as Henry effortlessly reconstructed the lecture.  Instead of pandering to their egos, and shutting him down as they so easily could have, the faculty got together in a meeting (I call it the “What do we do with Henry meeting”) and ended up with a concerted plan to encourage him.  That takes guts, to accept that a student may be able to take that lecture you took hours preparing, and actually make it hang together, and make it look so easy.  So I took my hat off to them.

No doubt, if they can nab him, they’ll have him lecturing First Year by the time he’s in Honours.  If they can keep him on topic, anyway.  And assuming he doesn’t get snarfed up by someone like Defense Signals Directorate.

Anyway, where was I?  That’s right, getting to the library.  Henry was in the library, in his usual corner, with a pile of books next to him as he hammered away at his MacBook with its Tux stuck over the Apple.  Beautiful hardware, but who’d run an operating system designed for Arts majors?

“Hey,” I said, “can I ask you a question?”

Henry glanced up at me.  “Oh, great to see you!  Did you know how amazing the early hardware guys were?  They did ridiculously cool things.  Like, look at this guy, Howard Aiken, he’s my new hero.” (Henry had lots of heroes.) “So he built this computer which could do calculations automatically, and the processors were driven by a 15 metre shaft off an electric motor.  How cool is that?  Way cooler than this thing!” he said, as he patted his notebook affectionately.  “What was your question?”

I dived into the morass of Expert Systems with Henry, and within a couple of minutes he had me straightened out.  You see?  Great guy.

Henry was instantly back into his computer.  I still didn’t know what he was up to, and was loathe to interrupt him again, so I started looking through the textbooks piled up haphazardly next to him on the desk.  “Computational Complexity”.  Nope, that didn’t help.  “Self-Stabilization”.  What?  “Combinatorial Optimization: Algorithms and Complexity”   Okay, I admit it, I was way out of my depth.  Just then Henry grabbed another book off the pile, flicked through a few pages, emitted a satisfied grunt, and with his pen, started circling paragraphs and drawing diagrams.  In the library textbook.  Whoa.  That was really not the done thing.

“What’re you doing?”  I stuttered.

“What?  Nothing, just this book makes so much sense!  She’s brilliant.  She’s like my new hero, see, look at this.”  And he flipped the book around and I stared blankly at the paragraphs of text, now annotated with Henry’s scribblings.  Curiously, I looked at the cover.  “Distributed Algorithms” by Nancy Lynch.  I had never heard of her.  I was no further on in trying to figure out what Henry was up to.  But I was used to that feeling.

In any case, it didn’t matter.  Henry and I had promised to meet some other students for board games after class (yes, we are that geeky) at the English-style pub around the corner from the campus.  I didn’t tell Henry, but I had a double-purpose for going to that board game meet-up, because there was this girl there, Jenny, you see, studying engineering, and I was pretty sure that she liked me.  Not quite sure enough to ask her out, but I was working towards it.  Henry would be oblivious to that, of course, but he did seem to enjoy board games.  I dragged Henry away from his computer, told him off again about the book, and Henry acquiesced and shoved his MacBook into his backpack, shrugging it on and following me (for once) out of the library and down towards the pub.

As we crossed the road, Henry started muttering to himself, pulled his phone out of his pocket, and started tapping away on it.  Of course.  Not on Facebook like any normal human being would be, but writing code.  How on earth do you write code with your thumbs?  I have no idea; I have enough trouble writing coherent English.  He’s a freak, I tell ya.  But we made it into the pub, found the players, and got our drinks and counter meals sorted.  Henry looked up from his phone for a moment, and unexpectedly said, “Do you know, I think I’ll sit this one out.”

“Your funeral,” said Chris.  Chris and I and Jenny and a few others settled down for some good old-fashioned Risk – we always start the night with an easy, light game so that we don’t intimidate newcomers.  Henry, back on his notebook, hammered away in the corner.

Several hours later, hopelessly defeated in Kamchatka, out-negotiated in Diplomacy, I threw in the towel.  I looked up from my dismal position and caught Jenny smiling at me.  That made it all right.  But I still didn’t have quite the courage to actually, really, talk to her.  And I had to find Henry.  Henry had found a power point – another of his magical talents – and was sitting on the floor beside it, still coding.  He’ll probably be coding all night, I figured, so I dragged him out of the pub and back to our student digs, and took myself off to bed.  He’s a big boy now, he can look after himself, I told myself sleepily and somewhat guiltily.  I knew his mother was hoping I’d look after him – she knew all too well what he was like when he got a bee in his bonnet.

I woke up in the morning, and found Henry fast asleep on the floor in the lounge room, his computer next to him.  I tried to make my way stealthily past him and into the kitchen, but I wasn’t quite quiet enough, and he sat up and looked at me a little blearily.

“What time did you get to sleep, you ninny?” I asked politely.

“Um, not too late, about 5ish, I think, but you’ve gotta see this,” Henry fired back.  He reached over to his computer, typed in one word – bang – and pressed Enter.  The screen instantly filled with numbers, scrolling past much faster than I could read them.  “Isn’t it awesome?”

“Yeah, but what is it?”  Even I could have whipped up a program to fill my screen with random numbers in an hour.  There had to be more to it.

“So I solved the Good Professor’s problem, the finite space problem.”  With a flourish, he announced pompously,  “I hereby introduce you to Distributed Infinite-Precision Integer Arithmetic.  DIPIA for short.”

“Great!  What is it?”  I asked, no further ahead.

Henry was used to my witty repartee, and didn’t hesitate to elucidate.

“BigInt in the Cloud.  Networked Bigint.  Unlimited Bigint.”  I was starting to see an inkling.  “But man, I’m hungry,” he abruptly cried – he had of course not eaten his counter meal last night – and leapt up to head out the door, again tossing his computer into his bag as he went.  I knew he wanted to head somewhere with coffee.  He liked good coffee.  It was another of those little foibles: I mean what sort of Uni student is fussy about the coffee he drinks?  I followed him to the hip coffee joint which opened early under the quad, and served coffee and bagels and orange juice, and WiFi.

The barista poured our coffees almost as soon as we walked in.  Yeah, regulars.  Henry pulled out his computer, and launched into a lecture.  Behind him, I was fascinated by the numbers scrolling up the screen.

“It’s a factorial generator!” Henry proclaimed, “and I figured out how to do arbitrary mathematical functions on BigInts in a distributed algorithm. Factorials are a great way to test BigInts because they get so big so fast, you see, and plus that meant I could call the app Bang, like the factorial sign, exclamation mark, you know.”

I nodded weakly.  Henry liked puns.  I watched his screen as the numbers continued to scroll past. “Wait for it, … wait for it … there!” exclaimed Henry, jabbing the screen with a handful of bagel.  I just made out the words “acquiring node” buried amongst the chaos of digits as they scrolled up and off the screen.

Just then my phone buzzed.  I pulled it out of my pocket, and was shocked to see numbers scrolling down its screen.

“What have you done!?” I cried.

“Isn’t it cool?” Henry asked.  “My computer started to run out of space, so it acquired a proximate node and offloaded onto that.  It finds the closest nodes on the network for minimal latency, to optimise the synchronisation and hand-off.  Of course, your phone is a bit slower and has a bit less memory so it won’t be able to contribute to the algorithm at the same rate, so I had to work out synchronisation and load balancing and … “

I was with him, almost.  “Do you mean that you wrote an iPhone app as well as a Linux app?  All last night?”  As I asked him, I tried to unlock my phone but the numbers kept scrolling past.  I held the power button to switch it off.  I was relieved that the phone switched off, as normal, but nearly as soon as I switched it on again, the numbers started scrolling past.

“Yeah, an iPhone app, and an Android app, and Windows and Mac clients as well.  It’s not too hard.  I got stuck with the automated deployment of the client until I figured out how to piggy-back onto the TCP handshake…” At this point, I must apologise because he went really technical and it was way over my head.  I’m not even sure I got that much of it right.

“So what’s it doing?” I asked, worriedly.  As I asked, another “node acquired” message scrolled past on his screen.

“Well, it’s calculating factorials, of course!  The best part is, the algorithm is resilient and self-healing so even if I turn off my computer, it won’t lose data and will continue on your phone … and probably my phone too I guess…” He paused and pulled his phone out of his pocket, and sure enough, numbers were scrolling past.

“Wait, so it jumped onto my phone because my phone is on the same WiFi as your laptop, right?”

“Right…” said Henry, a worried look on his face now, because he was way ahead of me, of course.  “Turn it off.  Quick.”  As he so ordered, he powered down TuxBook and his phone, and again I switched my phone off.  “Do you think we got to it fast enough?” he asked.

I caught up.  “Has it spread, do you mean?”  I was really worried now.  “Man, Henry, you’ve really done it this time.  Oh man.”

continued

It’s a Mud Life

There are multiple routes to the school my children are attending. I travel to and from the school to pickup my kids on a small 100cc motorbike. So, you say? Well, there is one slight problem.

Mud.

Preferred Route (photo by AW)

Lots of mud!

Preferred Route (photo by AW)

Those two photos (thanks to AW for those), and this one below, are of my Preferred Route. The truck in this next picture is a cement pumper, and it was there to fix one of the bigger holes by pumping concrete in. It didn’t make any appreciable improvement, although the sludge turned grey instead of brown.

Preferred Route

Now I’ll show you my first alternate route. I like this route because of the cows. The calves are pretty cute. But they are kinda in the way.

First Alternate Route

The next few photos show what is probably the best car route. (We don’t currently have a car).

Preferred Car Route

But possibly not the best motorbike route.

img_5200

Fortunately, there are ways around the Big Puddles for motorbikes.

Second Alternate Motorbike Bypass

Second Alternate Motorbike Bypass

Those Big Puddles are *deep*. I went through one once and got soaked from head to toe, literally. I even have a picture to prove it.

marc-damp

I didn’t say it was a good picture!

To finish with, I’ll show you the truck route. You can see one in the background of this picture. Yes, it is bogged. This photo was taken just a couple of days after this road was all smoothed out. Then it rained again.

The Truck Route

Mud is the parent topic du jour at school pickup time, pretty much every day. And my off-road moto skills have improved dramatically recently 🙂

The Digger — by Hannah

Once upon a time, the Durdin family were going for a little walk. Everything was lovely. The weather was beautiful and everyone was happy. It was a great time to go for a walk.

Richmond Bridge

We saw a digger and went to investigate.

The Digger

As we got close, all of a sudden, the sky went dark and the digger woke up!

The sky went dark

It started to chase us! Peter and I ran away from the digger.

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But the digger started chasing us all over town. We ran through a tunnel. Half way through, Peter discovered a puddle. This was a problem.

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Peter and the Puddle

He could not resist splashing in the puddle with his Bright Red Boots!

The digger was gaining on us. Quickly we grabbed Peter and rushed out of the tunnel.


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We hid in a big willow tree and hoped the digger would not spot us.


But the digger did. So we ran. We soon reached another tunnel.

The Tunnel

 

This one was a little smaller and we hoped the digger would get stuck. But it didn’t. So Peter scrambled for his life up the steps to join his sister.

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I scrambled after him, and Dad followed, the digger snapping at his heels.

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The digger forced us to the entrance to a maze. Perhaps we’d lose the digger here! Peter went first.

In the maze

Even though we were in trouble, I still laughed at his cuteness as we raced through the maze.

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Eventually we got through the maze, with Peter’s amazing sense of direction helping us. But unfortunately I think Peter had passed his sense of direction onto the digger, because it was still just behind us.

I told Peter to climb up on a stump. Surely the digger wouldn’t be able to climb up here!

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We all climbed up after Peter.

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But Peter wanted to get down.

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So we all had to hop down after him. We ran and ran, wondering where to go next. My sister and I scrambled up a tree, and dad and Peter went down to the river.

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Splitting up was the answer! The digger didn’t know which way to go. So it exploded.

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After that, we decided to have a look around. We saw some amazing views.

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bridge

THE END

Daniel Higginbottom and The Penguin

Another Five Things Story, for my girls.  Just need an illustrator now and I can retire.

One of the girls (I honestly can’t remember which) gave me these five things to incorporate into the story: Talking Penguin; magic stone; tree; red eel; blueberry bush, and a special request that Daniel Higginbottom make an appearance.  If you can bear to read it, here’s the result.

The first episode, Daniel Higginbottom and the Hairbrush, is buried in my blog about my holiday with Hannah.

Daniel Higginbottom and The Penguin

Talking Penguin; magic stone; tree; red eel; blueberry bush

Daniel Higginbottom woke up, got up, and got dressed.  He got into his normal, boring work clothes.  Then he ate his normal, boring breakfast cereal and read his normal, boring newspaper.  After brushing his teeth, with his normal, boring toothbrush, he got into his normal, boring, brown car and drove to his normal, boring office at the government’s Treasury Building, where he worked as an accountant.

He drove into the carpark under the office building, and took the lift up to his office, and here he stopped being quite so boring, because he immediately saw a note on his desk saying, “Come to my office at once.  S”.

He knew who S was.  Do you?

Without delay, Daniel strode down the hallway to S’s office, and knocked upon the fancy door.  “Come in,” came the call, and Daniel opened the door and walked into the office, treading upon the deep pile carpet and coming to a standstill in front of the fine walnut and oak desk behind which, in a large and comfortable chair, sat S, the Spy Master.

“Daniel, I have a new mission for you,” started the Spy Master.  At this point, no doubt you realise that Daniel was not quite what he seemed.  In fact, Daniel was a really truly spy.  And he’d already had many missions, including most recently one to the neighbouring kingdom to capture nothing less than a talking hairbrush!

While we were learning a bit more about Daniel, the Spy Master had continued talking, so we’ll have to go back a bit so we don’t miss anything.  “This mission will be as hard as any you have ever undertaken.  You must travel in our top secret spy plane to the next kingdom but three, and there locate a priceless magic stone, which we believe will be guarded by a talking penguin!”

Daniel was a little nonplussed.  Why did he keep getting missions to, well, not to put too fine a point on it, steal magical objects from other kingdoms?  Magical stones, magical hairbrushes?  Well, he was not one to argue, and of course this was his job.  So he took a deep breath, turned on his heel and strode straight back to the lift, and down to the carpark.

On the way down in the lift, he closed his eyes, and composed himself, and when he opened them, he was no longer Daniel Higginbottom, but now was Fred Smith, spy extraordinaire!  I know that Fred Smith sounds like a very boring name, but Daniel was smart, and knew that a good cover name had to be boring so that people would not suspect that he was a spy!

Even though Daniel-Fred was smart, he knew he had to have something special to drive.  A spy simply couldn’t drive a boring brown car.  Nothing less than a red sports car would do.  And a red sports car was what Daniel jumped into, and tore out of the car park in, on his way to the airport.

At the airport Daniel parked in a secret car park just for spies (no, I’m not telling you where it is), and raced over to the hangar where the top secret spy plane waited, engines fuelled and turning over, for him to climb into.  As he stepped into the cabin, the door closed behind him and the plane eased its way out of the hangar and taxied straight to the nearest runway and took off.  Spy planes get some special treatment at airports.

Soon, all too soon, the plane was descending to land in the next kingdom but three.  Daniel had read his dossier on the mission and flushed it down the toilet in the airplane.  He hoped that wouldn’t cause any problems but he simply couldn’t have it falling into enemy hands.

At the airport, the top secret spy plane, now posing as a fairly ordinary business jet plane, taxied to the business terminal and Fred (as we must now call him), looking like a normal and simply too-boring-for-words businessman, walked through the terminal and picked up his rental car – not a red sports car, sadly, but a too-appropriate-to-be-quite-nice expensive sedan car.

Fred drove to his hotel, and as the day was already drawing to a close, ate dinner and went to bed.  How boring!  The next morning, one might have thought that he’d forgotten his real job as he ate a boring breakfast while reading a boring newspaper (although not his normal paper as that could have given him away).  But behind his newspaper, Fred’s mind was racing.  How could he find this magical stone?  Where would a talking penguin be kept?  And why had he never heard of either of these things?

After some thought, and after finishing the comic section of the newspaper, he decided to go to the zoo.  He dressed in some zoo-going clothes (don’t you have special zoo-going clothes?), climbed into his too-appropriate-to-be-quite-nice expensive sedan car, and drove down to the zoo, which was quite some distance from his hotel and the airport.

It took him no time at all to find the penguin enclosure, and after making side trips to the lions, the badgers and the emus, to make sure any potential tails would be well and truly lost and confused, he entered the enclosure.  He stood watching the penguins, which seemed like completely normal and completely untalkative penguins, and wondered what to do next.

Suddenly he became aware that the man standing next to him was behaving surreptitiously.  And surreptitiously handing him a note.  Daniel—I mean Fred—took the note equally surreptitiously and the man surreptitiously wandered away, not looking anything like someone who had just engineered a clandestine note pass.  Fred used his spy skills to read the note without being noticed.

To the rear of this building lies a blueberry bush.  Under this bush lies a door.  This message will self-destruct in 10 seconds.

“Oh dear,” thought Fred.  He’d encountered self-destructing messages before and they were always a real pain – sometimes literally!

Sure enough, the note caught fire and burnt up rapidly, without smoke, and basically disappeared.  Fred was ready though and let it drop as the last piece disintegrated, and saved his fingers from being burned, this time.

When he was sure that the coast was clear, Fred exited the building and quickly located the blueberry bush.  Glancing around, and seeing no one watching, he reached under the bush and found the trap door that he now expected.  As the door opened with a quiet whoosh of escaping air, he did stop to ponder just how that man knew he’d be in the penguin enclosure, and whether he should be trusting this stranger, or not!  Maybe he had learned something from his previous adventure (see  Daniel Higginbottom and the Hairbrush)!  Or had he?

As Fred had no other leads or ideas, he climbed into the open trapdoor, and rapidly descended the tall flight of steel rungs to the bottom of the well.  The trapdoor hissed closed above him, and glaring electric lights clicked on, one after another, all the way down the long corridor that opened up in front of him.

A deep hum could be heard.  Fred figured that perhaps that was the pump equipment for the penguin enclosure.  (See, I told you he was smart.)  Without a pause, he strode down the hall way, now looking kinda spy-like, because you simply can’t look ordinary, no matter what you do, when striding down a secret passage hidden under a blueberry bush.

Soon he came to a door.  It had a porthole in it, and Daniel carefully peeked in.   SNAP!  A glimpse of jaws filled the porthole and disappeared!  That looked suspiciously like a penguin’s jaw, thought Fred-Daniel.  This was clearly his destination.  “This is just a little too easy,” he thought.

He looked into the porthole again.  No sign of the penguin now, but the room was quite dark.  Easing open the door, he squeezed in the gap, and quietly closed the door again.  He turned on his toothpaste, and with the light examined the room.  He stood in a large room, with a big pool at one end, and a bench with what looked like aquariums to one side.  Apart from that, on the far side of the pool, was a small pedestal with something glowing and pulsating gently sitting on top.  No prizes if you guess what that was!

But between the pedestal and Daniel was the pool, and in the pool was what certainly appeared to be a ferocious penguin.  Never one to be frustrated long, Daniel (we might as well forget his Fred persona for now) crept over to the aquariums and looked in.  Expecting fish, he was surprised to see them filled with red eels instead – and had an idea!

Carefully he pulled out a plastic spondoolickle from his spy toolkit, and gently used it to capture a single wriggling red eel.  The eel looked decidedly electric and dangerous!  He carried the eel over to the big pool and just as he was about to drop it in, was interrupted by a cry!

“Mon, what are ye doin’!  Ye’ll kill that poor eel!”

Daniel didn’t miss a beat.  He looked straight at the penguin, and sure enough, it was clambering out of the pool and waddling straight for him.  It was a very large penguin indeed, he saw now, as at it came closer, and grabbed his spondoolickle with his flipper, and carried the poor eel back to the aquarium.  Daniel now did miss a beat.  That was so unexpected that he stood there somewhat flabbergasted.

The penguin dropped the eel back into the aquarium, and as the eel swam gratefully away, the penguin turned and slid on its tummy back to Daniel, pulling a gun out of its side as it slid!  All of a sudden Daniel realised that this penguin wasn’t a penguin at all, and as the penguin handcuffed Daniel’s hands behind his back, he wondered how he could have been so easily fooled by a man in a penguin suit.

The penguin-man pushed Daniel out the door, and down the electric-light-corridor, and into a cell.  The door slammed closed and Daniel sank to the floor.  It wasn’t that long ago that he had been stuck in a cell but this time he didn’t expect any quick escape.  How on earth could he have been so foolish?  How could he have trusted that man from the enclosure?  And why didn’t he secure the room with the eel and penguin before proceeding?  It was all in his spy-craft course.

Time passed.  Daniel thought upon his mistakes, but could not stop thinking about that man from the enclosure.  So much hinged on his presence – how did he know about Daniel?  And how did he know about the blueberry bush?  Surely … maybe … no, Daniel couldn’t figure it out.  He’d nearly nodded off to sleep when he heard a scratching noise at the door.

With a creak the door swung open.  And there stood the man from the enclosure!  “Follow me, and don’t make a noise,” he hissed.  Daniel followed him.  After all, given the choice of a sleep in a dark, dank cell, or escaping with an unknown and potentially dangerous stranger, which would you do?  Okay, perhaps you’d stay in the cell, but Daniel was a spy!

They raced back along the corridor, and ducked into the penguin-eel room.  It was now deserted, apart from a large number of red eels swimming in aquariums.  Daniel dove into the pool, swam across to the pedestal and grabbed the pulsating stone, while the penguin-enclosure-man waited.    Then, back out, up the rungs of the ladder in the well, and out the trapdoor under the blueberry bush.  It was nearly dark, and the zoo was closed.  The penguin-enclosure-man led Daniel to the zoo wall, where they quickly found an overhanging tree, and with standard spy-skills they swung over the wall, no problems.

The man led Daniel to a motorbike, and they both jumped on and raced away.  Too late, Daniel realised that he could have run to his car and left.  But, yes, it was too late.  They zoomed through the city and finally turned into a garage.  The garage door closed behind them, and they both climbed off the motorbike.

“Wait here,” instructed the penguin-enclosure-man, and he walked through a door.  Daniel waited.  What else could he do?

Moments later, the man returned, with a gun.  “Oh of course,” thought Daniel, “that would have to happen.”  The man grabbed the pulsating and glowing stone from Daniel and disappeared through the door again.

Daniel looked around.  What resources did he have?  What could he use?  He examined the door and realised it wasn’t a fortified door but just an ordinary old house door.  It was locked, but he could pick that lock in seconds.  Now he was on a roll!  He grabbed a lock-pick from his spy kit, picked the lock, in seconds, and jumped back on the motorbike.  Revving it up, he drove down the hallway that was visible behind the wide open door, and into what looked like a lounge room at the end.  The penguin-enclosure-man was in the room, handing the stone to a woman.  Daniel drove the motorbike between the astonished pair and reached out and grabbed the stone!  Without slowing, he drove the motorbike straight through the big glass window and, engine roaring, jumped onto the street!  As he landed the motorbike, bending his knees to absorb the shock, he revved the engine again and pulled a big skid as he roared off down the street and to freedom!

As he ducked and wove through the late evening traffic, he thought back to the woman he’d seen.  He’d caught only a glimpse in the seconds he’d been in the room, but he could have sworn it was Madelina Brompton!  But there was no time to consider the implications, for in his rear view mirror, he saw a rapidly approaching black car, chasing him down!  Just as well he was on a motorbike.  Redoubling his ducking and weaving, he opened up the throttle and made a beeline for the airport.

How do you make a beeline for the airport?  In a plane it’s easy, but it is anything but easy on a motorbike, in traffic, with a black car chasing you.  But it was not for nothing that Daniel was a spy, and he finally raced into the airport, quickly parked the motorbike, raced through the terminal and out to the top secret spy plane (posing, as you recall, as a fairly ordinary business jet).

As he hurtled up the stairs to the plane, he heard an almighty crash in the distance and looked back to see the black sedan smashing through the airport gates and onto the tarmac far away on the other side of the airport.  The top secret spy plane taxied out of the hangar and down to the runway.  But this time it was a fairly ordinary business jet, and had to wait.  The car came closer and closer.  Daniel muttered quietly under his breath.  Surely he’d be safe!  Finally they taxied onto the runway and started taking off, with the black car chasing behind the plane!

Racing down the runway, engines screaming, the plane shuddered as it tried to take off.  The driver leaned out of the car window, as it chased dangerously down the runway after Daniel.  He was shaking his fist, which Daniel thought was strangely ineffectual and as the plane finally lifted into the air and he relaxed in his ever-so-comfortable top secret spy plane chair, he looked down at the rock now sitting on the table in front of him, still pulsating and glowing.  What was the rock for?  What made it so special – apart from the pulsating and glowing, that is?  He’d probably never know.

They landed without incident at their home airport, and Daniel drove his red sports car back to the office, went back up the lift and went to see S.  As he handed the rock over, S said, “Well done!  I am somewhat surprised that you came back with this rock, but good work all the same!  Take a couple of days off and enjoy yourself!”

Daniel went back to the car park, got into his boring brown car, and drove home.  A couple of days would be good, but he wasn’t sure if it was enough time to think through all that had happened on this very action-packed mission.

THE END