Once upon a time in Depression-era Kansas there was a little
black boy named Zachary X (pronounced "ex" not "ten") who lived
on a farm. He was an orphan, a cheap device to garner your
sympathy. (Actually his parents were still alive, but had been
caught on the Underground Railroad during a fare increase, and
didn't have enough money to get off. This story had eventually
been made into a song about white people called "Charlie on the
MTA".) He lived with his Aunt Angela and Uncle Eldridge, who
were Kansas dirt farmers. They were doing very well at this.
What with half the topsoil in Oklahoma blowing in every week, the
dirt crop was the best in years. The dirt silo was filled to
overflowing, and the couple had been forced to hire three goofy
hired men to handle all the work.
Before this, Zachary had lived with a different aunt and uncle on
their pancake ranch in Texas. He had not liked that as well.
First of all, for some reason he didn't understand, the rest of
the family did not seem to get along with Uncle Tom and Aunt
Jemima. And he had to let old Mrs. Butterworth kiss him hello,
which got his cheek all sticky and yucky. His new home was much
more fun. Aunt Angela and Uncle Eldridge had many outside
activities and belonged to several clubs, and there was a steady
stream of interesting people at the farm, like that funny old Mr.
Zachary spent most of his time playing with his extremely
primitive (we're talking 1937, remember) personal computer and
reading his favorite series of books. His little dog Jojo, a
pedigreed Lithuanian sardine hound, helped him with the
programming. Jojo could talk (although only Zachary could
understand him) and could program in three languages: assembler,
Dogtran IV and the strongly-typed (with meaty nuggets for extra
protein) Dogula 2. But I am afraid that Zachary kept all the
really interesting projects for himself, and stuck Jojo with all
the dog work.
Zachary saw the world in monochrome, because of a childhood
disease which can only be cured by a blow to the head from a
flying window frame. (Naturally, the cure rate for this disease
is rather low, and most of its victims also suffer from multiple
Zachary's favorite books were those about the magical world of
the Forbidden Zone. He had the entire set: The Wonderful Wizard
of Zone, the Enchanted Land of Zone, Patchwork Girl of Zone,
Patchwork Plot of Zone, Zone Messiah, Children of Zone, God
Emperor of Zone, Chapterhouse of Zone, Hitchhiker's Guide to the
Zone, Restaurant at the End of the Zone, Zone Vs. Godzilla,
Stallone Zone IV, Pragma Paige and the Honey Tree, and many
others too numerous to mention. But now Ripoff House has
collected them all in one terrific collection, not available in
any store with any sense. Now how much would you pay? Don't
answer yet because I'm not listening! (Sorry, I got carried
Anyway, Zachary often daydreamed of going to the Zone some day.
Once he fell into the pig pen and one of the pigs ate his brand
new graphics board. In his depression, he sang a heartrending
and unforgettable ballad called "Over the 640K Barrier."
Unfortunately, I don't remember the lyrics.
Then one day the skies grew dark. When Kansas people yell
"Twister!" they don't mean the game from Milton Bradley.
Zachary awakened from his nap and listened to the voices around
him. "To the storm cellar!" shouted a voice, closer now. It
was his uncle El. Auntie Ange replied, but the answer was gone
with the wind.
This was a new concept for little Zachary. What kind of man was a
storm seller? How did he carry them? How much did he sell
them for? Zachary wanted to find out. He ran for the front
door, followed by Jojo. Outside the wind blew, and there were
dark clouds down the road. That must be where the storm seller
But as he drew closer the winds begin to blow harder, until they
almost blew him off his feet. He began to be a little bit
frightened. What if this was a storm which somehow escaped from
its cage, a wild and dangerous storm? Perhaps Uncle El wanted to
complain to the storm seller for letting it loose. Zachary
discreetly turned back.
When he reached the house, no one was there. He was carrying
Jojo now, so that the wind would not blow him away. He decided
the best thing was to hide under the bed until the storm went
away. But he was not quite quick enough. One of the windows was
suddenly blown from its frame, striking Zachary in the head and
knocking him unconscious.
AND NOW, A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR ...
"Try new ..."
THANK YOU, BUT THAT WAS TWO WORDS.
BACK TO OUR DIALING FOR DOLLARS MOVIE!
When Zachary regained consciousness, he saw the world in color
for the first time in his life. He counted the pixels: 640 by
200, IBM Extended Graphics Adapter standard. That was good,
because it meant he could run Windows. He felt the top of his
head, where he now had a very painful Windows interface (all
Windows interfaces are painful, it is merely a question of
degree) the size of a hen's egg.
Outside, the world looked like an MGM musical. The scenery was
brightly colored and obviously artificial. (That's what the Zone
is like.) The house was surrounded by little tiny people, and
one big one who asked him, "Are you a generally pleasant and
friendly witch, or a crabby, difficult and potentially dangerous
BUT MEANWHILE IN ANOTHER PART OF THE ZONE
Pragma Paige placed the diskette into the drive and brought the
first file onto the screen. It wasn't what he expected.
"'Twas brillig and the slithy developers ..."
Quickly he looked at the second file:
"How doth the little crocodile
debug its shining code?
And transmit Email all the while
from node to node to node?"
"This isn't anything to do with PC mail," he said grumpily. He
was still annoyed over the degrading events of a previous
episode, and of course a scene in which the PC gets all the best
lines is always rather thankless. Also, he was puzzled.
Technical note: Pragma's brain runs under Virtual Human 3, a
paged multitasking environment. Fortunately his memory is large
enough to run both ONEmiffed and ONEpuzzled without a lot of
paging. A number of users of VH1 Release 3 reported severe
problems with thrashing, especially when running memory hogs like
Trivial Pursuit Expert, Life-of-the-Party Simulator or PS/2
(Pseudo-Intellectual Release 2). These problems were handled by
making a note in the Brainware Release Bulletin in very small
"I'm puzzled," he said, continuing the trend of this episode
toward banal dialogue.
Technical note: "Dialogue" is in fact the correct word, as we are
discussing intertask communication within Pragma's brain using
USO standard protocols. These protocols specify a twenty-layered
architecture which includes the seven ISO layers, plus the ozone
layer, several layers of vanilla-flavoured egg creme, a
bricklayer and several others too technical to be described
here. (The interface between the Presentation layer and the
layer of egg creme would be an issue of the IEEE Journal all by
"This isn't the data I saw put onto the diskette in Paris." In
the background, the orchestra struck up a medley of tunes from
"An American in Paris," but Pragma ignored them. "It's been
turned into silly parodies of Lewis Carroll." He printed out the
contents of the diskette and headed over to the newly constructed
PC Mail Development Complex. When he arrived, however, two men
with sledgehammers were going at one of the walls as though they
were being paid by the hour. "What's going on?" asked Pragma.
(Let's face it, you would have done the same thing.)
"Oh, we're not doing PC Mail any more, so the buildings are being
torn down to make way for a software factory." (In fact the
decision was not yet irrevocably made, hence the two guys with
sledgehammers instead of a wrecking ball.)
"Not doing PC Mail any more? But what about me?"
"Well, I don't know. We've only got the two sledgehammers. I
guess you'll have to go find your own."
"What I really need is a drink," said Pragma, even though he was
a teetotaler (actually, he did not total his own tees, but had a
Lotus spreadsheet to do it for him automatically) and proceeded
to go over to Wreckable Ed's for a few Jalapeno Surprises.
(These are made from 1000 proof vodka in which jalapeno peppers
have been soaked for several weeks. They are best served at a
bon voyage party for your brain.)
You thought the dialogue was silly up to now? Well, when Pragma
arrived there was a woman sitting at the bar. "Hi there," said
Pragma. "What's your sine?" He thought that up himself, so
don't blame me for it.
"That depends," she said, "on what your angle is."
"Zero degrees," said Pragma. (Meanwhile a waitress had come and
collected his Component Drinking Plan and Master Drinking
Schedule, and was getting the required signatures.)
"Just as I thought," she retorted, using a real retort, something
Pragma had not seen since college chem lab. "A degenerate
"Too true," replied Pragma.
MEANWHILE IN comp.unix.programmer:
THE GO TO BLAZES CONSIDERED HARMFUL
Pragma awoke gradually, and found himself in a haystack behind
what appeared to be a barn. "Let's see," he said to himself as
he consulted his Component Plan, "if I'm on schedule (which of
course I always am) this should be the outskirts of Bialystok."
He found that he only remembered bits (or booleans, if you don't
like dealing directly with the hardware) of what had happened at
Wreckable Ed's. He remembered asking some woman what her sine
was, and that the conversation had gone off on a tangent after
that. Finally, he had tried to pay her a compliment, but it was
a one's compliment and turned out to be incompatible with her
hardware. She had angrily accused him of trying to divide by
zero and stormed out.
But that hadn't stopped him. After all, what was he, a man
or a peripheral device for graphical input? He had gotten off
his stool and -- that was it! He had gotten off his stool and
fallen on his head. And now he was somewhere in the steppes of
wherever Bialystok is. (75% of high school students in Florida
said that Bialystok was the capital of South Dakota, and that its
principal export was the South American rutabaga. How can a
megastudent be wrong?)
He got up and stretched. The latter was was a mistake
because it made him taller and thinner, so that his clothing no
longer fit. Suddenly a lion ran by.
The lion was followed by three other figures: a young black
man, a robot (or someone like him) and a man who appeared to be
made of straw. But apparently the lion was too fast for them,
and they finally gave up the chase.
"What was that all about?" asked Pragma, knowing he would be
sorry later that he had asked.
"That lion was trying to sell me a minicomputer, but the minute I
started asking any technical questions he turned pale and ran."
"What were you asking? Competitive analysis type questions?
That might have made him nervous."
"No, nothing like that. Things like what character sets were
supported and could I get 300 megabyte drives."
"Hmm. Who are you guys, anyway?"
"I'm Zachary X. This is Strawman McTentative, a planner
without a plan. And this is Ironout Newbudget, who used to be an
accountant until he rusted up."
"You're not a robot, then?"
"No, I used to be flesh and blood like yourself, only
good-looking. But when hard times came, my deparment had to take
a 20% budget cut, so we all had one leg each cut off and replaced
with mechanical legs, rather than lay off any whole people. It
was the financially viable thing to do. Then the next layoff
came, and the next, and finally we all ended up like this. Even
that would have been all right, I suppose, if I had stayed out of
"And now we're going to Integration City to see the Wizard,"
"You're certainly taking the long way around," said Pragma.
"This is White Russia." Zachary X looked a little nervous, and
Ironout glanced reprovingly at Strawman, who had been giving the
directions. Strawman looked apologetic.
"Well, when we get there I'm going to ask the Wizard for a
new brain," said Strawman.
"And I suppose you're going to ask him for a heart," said
Pragma to Ironout.
"Well, it's lucky I ran across you people. I'm going to
Integration City myself, and it would have taken me all day to
walk there. But with four people we can do it in six hours."
And so they could.
After the others were done, Pragma asked the Wizard a
question. "Can you tell me how to recover a Unix file that I've
"Sorry," said the Wizard. "I'm not that much of a Wizard."