Hollywood.bomb, Chapter 9

Trying to get back to that mythical "one chapter a week" average that I promised at the beginning.  Speaking of beginnings, if you want to start reading there, use this page to get there.


Chapter 9
"I’ll email my code to you this weekend," Frank said to Stu as they both prepared to leave for the day.  "You can look it over and integrate it with your pieces before Monday.  Once my part’s done, yours shouldn’t take long at all."

As a rule, ADD strictly forbade weekend and evening work, except in case of project emergencies.  Their motto was, "Anthony works enough extra hours for all of us."  For the sake of everyone’s sanity, however, every project team was given the leeway to determine what constituted an emergency.  After two days, Frank and Stu had made some good progress on the prototype and would clearly be done in time to meet the requirements of the bakeoff.  Frank knew that he wouldn’t be able to relax until it was completely done, though, so he had decided, as usual, to invoke the emergency provision.  No one ever challenged him when he did this, because they figured that if keeping Frank happy didn’t qualify as an emergency, nothing did.

 "OK, I’ll come into the office tomorrow morning."  Stu thought through his schedule.  "I can finish my errands after that, I suppose, if I bring the trailer."

Frank frowned.  "It’s not worth coming all the way in here.  It should only take you half an hour to do.  Just pick it up at home and send it back to me when you’re done."

"Can’t.  I can’t get email at home.  I’ll come in, it’s no big deal."  Stu began gathering his things and loading them into the pannier bags for the ride home.

Frank refused to let it go.  "What, are you finally making the switch to cable?  Cancel your DSL account before the phone guy actually showed up?  That’s a loser move every time, right, Moore?"  He tossed a wad of paper at Mark, who was packing his own bag so that he could walk out with them.

Mark batted the paper away and grinned sheepishly, "Yeah, I had to go for a week with no connectivity.  They never make it to the first appointment."

"No, that’s not it," Stu got up to leave and Frank and Mark followed him.

"What, then?"  Frank asked, "Did your cable modem die?  Network card problems?  Wireless router on the fritz?"

Stu sighed as he pushed the button for the elevator, then leaned against the wall as though bracing himself as he said, "I don’t have Internet access at home.  Or a computer, for that matter."

Frank laughed.  "That’s funny, an engineer without a computer.  No, seriously, what’s the problem?  Is your home machine just too slow to do hard-core development on?  Are you ashamed of it?  It’s OK; we all fall behind Moore’s Law at some point.  I’m sure you’ll be able to upgrade now that you’re working here."

Stu let out a second, longer sigh.  "I’m serious.  There are no computers in my house."

Frank froze half in and half out of the elevator, then leaped in to keep the doors from closing on his backpack.  "What?!?  What are you, some kind of Luddite?"

Stu cleared his throat.  "Neo-Luddite, actually.  At home, I don’t use any technology invented after 1920."

Frank snorted, "And I’m a neo-vegetarian.  I won’t eat any steak that hasn’t been aged at least 3 weeks."

Stu smiled quietly and said, "That’s a new one.  I’ll have to remember that," but he clearly wasn’t joking.

Frank rolled his eyes, but Mark was fascinated.  "So, you don’t have a TV, either, I guess.  What about a stereo?"

"I don’t have a big stereo, but I do own a radio," replied Stu.  "I only listen to NPR, though."

"Why, was NPR invented before 1920?" Mark asked.

"No, I just like the jazz."

They arrived at the garage, and there was silence for a few moments as they exited the elevator and walked toward the bike racks.  While Stu began the complicated process of unwrapping several fathoms of cable from his recumbent bike, Frank began muttering to himself with increasing volume.  Finally, he kicked the bike rack, winced, and carefully set his foot back down, heel first.  "How can you live like that?" he snarled over the pain.  "I mean, come on, you’re an engineer!  We live for gadgets!  What do you do with your free time, knit?"

Stu thought about it for a moment as he coiled the cable and attached it, along with his bags, to the back of his bike.  "I guess I’m just happier leaving it at the office.  I think technology has made life complicated enough without inviting it into every aspect of my day.  I still have plenty to keep me busy:  reading, working on my bike, gardening, not to mention my other projects.  I don’t need to stare at a flickering screen for another couple of hours every night after doing it all day."

"Why did you become a software engineer, then, if this is how you feel about modern technology?" Mark asked.  "You couldn’t be more dependent upon high tech here without implanting it in your body."

Here he gestured meaningfully at Frank, who bristled defensively.  "Hey, I’m still working on the power supply, OK?  I won’t try that again until I can eliminate the external battery pack!"  He paused.  "Good point, though.  Why not work on a commune or something?"

Stu shrugged as he put on his helmet, "It’s what I was good at in college.  Go figure."  He settled into the seat of his bike, pushed off, and gave a little wave and a goodbye ching-ching from his bell as he rode off into the evening gloom.

***

"You should have seen Frank.  I swear that the top of his head was about to just flip open, like the lid on one of those fancy trash cans, and spray agitated brains all over the place!  He just couldn’t grasp the idea that anyone would want to live without a computer in their house.  I was ready to catch him, just in case he shorted out completely and collapsed on the way to the T.  He just kept talking to himself, saying, ‘Not even one?  Not even an iPod?  How does he keep track of phone numbers?  How does he know where he’s supposed to be?’  Man, he was shaken."  Mark accentuated his point with a shake of his empty soda can, rattling the pull tab that he had dropped into it when he finished the drink.

"Mm-hmm," Kelvin replied, glancing up briefly from the complicated sketch of a multi-geographic N-tier hardware architecture that he had been working on for the past twenty minutes while Mark talked.  "I don’t suppose he was so rattled that he wasn’t able to work, was he?"

The none-too-subtle hint was, nevertheless, too subtle for Mark.  "Oh, I doubt it.  Just the opposite, more likely.  He probably went home and drowned his sorrows in code.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he had rewritten the entire prototype, reconfigured his network, and rewired his pants by now."

"Just as well.  I want to prove I’m right, but not by default."  Kelvin paused as footsteps approached the open door of their workroom.  "Shh, he’s coming."

Mark cocked his head to the side as he listened.  "No, it’s not him."  At Kelvin’s questioning look, he elaborated, "Those kinetic fibers in his pants make a particular ‘swip-swip’ sound when he walks.  Sit next to it for a year or two and you come to recognize it."  Just then, Stephen came around the corner.

"Steffy," Kelvin nodded solemnly.

"Kelly," Stephen nodded back.  "Hey, is something going on with Frank?  I just saw him, and…  Hey, you shaved your beard!  I’ve never seen your chin before!"

Kelvin looked at Mark with surprise.  "Hey, you did!  I hadn’t noticed.  What’s wrong, did you get a lice infestation or something?"

Mark fingered his newly denuded chin, clearly uncomfortable with the scrutiny.  "Yeah, I figured it was time for a change."

"A change?" asked Stephen.  "You’ve had that beard as long as I’ve known you!  It’s like a member of the family.  What kind of change could this be?"

"Well, I was doing some research on Google about this whole ‘sacred feminine’ thing, and I stumbled across an article about men hiding their true selves behind facial hair.  Something about trying to get back to our Neanderthal roots and subjugate women with our beards because they can’t grow them."

"Most women, anyway."  Kelvin shuddered.  "Remember Sandy?"

 "Sandy was a woman?" asked Stephen.

Mark cut them off.  "Anyway, it seemed pretty silly to me when I read it, but I kept thinking about it.  Finally, I decided that, gender issues aside, it was time for me to expose myself to the world."  He thought about that statement for a moment, while Stephen and Kelvin retained admirably straight faces.  "Wait, that didn’t come out quite right.  I decided to stop hiding behind my beard, and let the world see the real me, all of me.  Yeah, that’s better."

"Congratulations on your new face.  It’s a pleasant change," said Stephen, and meant it.  Behind the facial shrubbery, Mark had fine features, if a bit plump, and he had removed ten years of apparent age along with his beard.

"Thank you.  Now, what about Frank?  Is he OK?"

"I haven’t spoken to him yet, but I saw him enter the building ahead of me earlier, and he was limping.  You don’t think he tried another self-directed implantation again, do you?"

Alarmed, Mark stood up. "I hope he didn’t go that far.  I’ll go check." he excused himself, leaving Kelvin to explain Stu’s revelation and Frank’s reaction to Stephen, who could only shake his head.

"That’s a new one to me, though it’s a logical extension, really.  You have no idea how many time I have considered ‘losing’ this beast down the toilet," he said, waving his smartphone.  "Just because we can be accessible 24 hours a day doesn’t mean we should.  Speaking of which," he added as it began to vibrate in his hand, "it looks like our West Coast friends have gotten hold of my cell number.  Great, now I have to remember to turn this off when I go home at night.  This is Stephen," he answered as he left the workroom, leaving Kelvin to his diagram.

***

"I said, ‘We have a new boss!’" Thomas’ voice came faintly over the telephone.

"Are you calling me from inside a tunnel or something?  I can barely hear you," yelled Stephen.  After several fruitless minutes of trying to hear Thomas over the general hubbub of the office, he had finally ducked into an empty conference room and closed the door.  Even with his phone’s volume turned up to the maximum, Stephen could barely understand anything that Thomas said.  "Maybe I should call you back from a land line!"

"No need to shout.  There, is that better?"  Now his voice was louder, but it sounded muffled and scratchy, as though he were holding a paper napkin over the phone.

"Not really.  I can still barely understand you.  What were you saying?"

"This damned thing.  Here, oh screw it.  I’ll just put you on speaker phone."  Suddenly, Thomas’ voice boomed in Stephen’s ear, so loudly that Stephen almost threw the phone across the room in his haste to pull it away from his head and lower the volume.  "How’s this?"

"Better."  Stephen rubbed his ear.  "What was the problem?"

"Oh, it’s this new headset I got.  It’s the same model as Robert’s, but there seems to be something wrong with mine.  No one can ever seem to hear me."

"I think the round end’s supposed to go in your ear and the pointy part is supposed to point toward your mouth.  Now, what were you saying before?  Something about a new boss or new bras, I couldn’t tell which.  I’m sincerely hoping it’s the former."

"It was ‘boss.’  Trust me when I say that we wouldn’t rely on your fashion sense for the other issue. Now that we’ve started adding staff, Robert and Brad decided that they needed to focus on the creative side of the business, not to mention their other side ventures, so they hired a new CEO.  Didn’t even consider looking internally, I suppose."  Thomas sounded hurt.

"Well, I guess that makes sense.  How many people have you added since we were there last?"

"About 50, mostly administrative and financial.  Everyone has assistants now, even Connie.  It’s getting a little crowded in here."

"Your assistant has an assistant?  What does she do?"

"I don’t know; she’s Connie’s responsibility."  Now that Thomas was on the speaker phone, Stephen could hear two women talking in the background, though their voices were too low for him to understand.  "Filing, I suppose, or making coffee.  Or maybe just chatting!"  His voice rose significantly on the last sentence, and the women’s voices were cut off by the sound of a door slamming.  "It doesn’t really matter.  The point is, we have another chef in the kitchen, so you’ll need to make sure he likes what you’re cooking."

Stephen stifled a sigh.  "I’m not even sure whether we’re all using the same recipe at this point.  Can we try to keep him out of the kitchen altogether?  We don’t have time to keep another executive happy right now."

"Can I tell him you said that?"

Stephen surprised himself by actually considering the question.  "No, probably not, though I may have to tell him myself before this project is over.  Just let him know that we’re already on a tight schedule, so changes at this point would be… difficult."

"Tell him yourself.  He starts next week and you’re scheduled to meet him Monday morning.  He’ll want a status update, I’m sure."

This time, Stephen did not stifle the sigh.  "I don’t suppose any of you plan to talk to him first?"

Thomas laughed, not entirely nicely.  "No, we wouldn’t want to steal your thunder."

"Is this to get me back for calling you at 8:00 in the morning the other day?"

"You mean 5:00 in the morning?  Maybe.  And you’re a bad actor, by the way.  ‘Oh, is it too early to call?  I forgot about the time difference.’  Right.  I got the point, though, and I have solved the problem of the time zones now."

Stephen chuckled quietly.  Whatever it takes, buddy.  "Really?  How did you do it?"

"I got another clock.  Now I have two hanging on the wall, one labeled ‘Los Angeles,’ and the other ‘Boston.’  It’s kind of cool, like a newsroom, and now I can just look up and see what time it is there whenever I need to reach you."

"That should do it.  Anything else I should know about before we come out?"

"Nothing more for now.  Just be ready.  This new guy has run about 20 other companies, so he knows what he likes.  I just hope that one of those other companies made software too, or we’re all going to have to start wearing overalls to work."  After some fumbling noises, Thomas found the speakerphone button and hung up.  Stephen sighed again as he put his phone back in his pocket.  He wasn’t sure what that last bit about the overalls meant, but it didn’t sound good.

***

Later, Stephen decided to check on Frank and make sure that he was all right.  Mark hadn’t come back to find him, so he assumed that no lasting damage had been done, but it never hurt to be sure.  When Frank got upset, he could be, frankly, stupid.  As he walked around to where the Brothers and Stu sat, he saw that Frank wasn’t there.  Mark and Stu were at their desks, though, and seemed to be involved in a running conversation as they worked.

Mark called to Stu, "OK, what about electric lights?  Can you use them?"

"Electric lights were invented in the mid-1800s, and I’m not fond of working by candlelight," Stu replied.  "Too hard on the eyes."

"Hmm, OK.  What about buttons?"

Stu looked up at him.  "I’m not Amish, Mark."

Mark blushed, "All right, just checking."  He paused to think.  "What about a telegraph?  Could you use one of those?"

"Why would I want to use a telegraph?"

"I don’t know, maybe you had a friend who was trying to learn Morse code so that he could join the Coast Guard."

"In that case, then yes, I could use a telegraph.  But I would have to place it in a shed outside my house."

Mark stopped typing and stared hard at Stu, "You’re making fun of me, aren’t you?"

"What do you think?"

 Stephen decided this was a good time to interrupt.  "Have you two seen Frank?  Is he OK?"

Stu beat Mark to the punch.  "Define ‘OK’ in Frank terms."

Mark elaborated after shooting Stu a dirty look.  "He’s fine, but he’s in a Mood.  He didn’t try any new experiments on himself, if that’s what you’re wondering, but he also didn’t finish the prototype.  He seems to have been distracted by something else all weekend."

"What about the limp?"

"Oh, that came from the bike racks in the garage.  He, er, stubbed his toe rather forcefully when we walked out with Stu on Friday."

Stu was concerned for the first time.  "He didn’t break his toe, did he?  If I’d known he’d react like this, I would have tried to find a better way to tell him.  Not that it really should affect him, of course, but I don’t want his toes on my conscience."

"Don’t worry about Frank," Mark reassured him, "he’ll calm down.  He always does, eventually."

Just then, Frank stalked around the corner.  Seeing all of them there, he hesitated before continuing over to stand in front of Stu’s desk.  His approach was heralded by the rustling of noise-reducing headphones being lifted from desks and firmly settled on heads, followed by the dim cacophony of twenty different rock songs playing at argument-drowning volumes.  Mark’s conversation had been entertaining, but Frank’s tended to be long and bloody.  "OK, Mr. Techno-Ambivalence.  I researched this Luddite thing on the web, and there are no rules that say you can use some technology and not others.  It’s butter churns and wooden pegs or nothing.  So what’s the real story?"

Stu looked up at him calmly.  "I’m Reform."

Frank was puzzled, "What does that mean?"

"It means that we believe that you can set your own limits and still be within the principles of Luddism.  There are Orthodox Luddites, who cling to a very strict interpretation of the traditions.  Ironically, they seem to be the ones who get the most press.  I assume they all have webmaster friends.  I find Orthodoxy too self-limiting, as some advances in technology can actually be more freeing than encroaching.  Plus, if I worked on a farm I fear that the conversation wouldn’t be nearly as stimulating as it is here."

Shockingly, Frank had no ready reply.  He had been ready to catch a fake and had discovered a nuance.  Frank and "nuance" rarely shared a room, so the effect left him imbalanced momentarily.

Smiling behind his beard, Stu returned to his work.  "I’m thrilled that you’re interested in Luddism, though, Frank.  You’d be a great addition to the fold.  In fact, you’re only one or two radical doctrines away from becoming a Cyborg Luddite yourself."

Now Frank cycled through several reactions -- appeased, insulted, incredulous, and several others -- before settling on grumpily curious.  He looked to the others for support before asking, "What’s a Cyborg Luddite: half man, half horse cart?"

Stu chuckled, but kept typing.  "Not quite.  Cyborg Luddites believe that technology’s incursion into our lives can only be limited by using technology to protect our privacy.  Much like the members of the English Church who rewrote popular drinking songs into hymns, they think that the Devil’s tools are best suited to stopping him.  Think of it as the backfire approach to technology:  burn the field before the wildfire can do it for you, absorb the technology before it can control you.  You’re just as likely to hasten the end as delay it, but maybe a mind more brilliant than mine can find a way to make it work."

This, Frank decided, was definitely a compliment, as well as a challenge.  "Well, maybe I just will."

Stu didn’t look up as Frank stomped off, followed closely by both Stephen and Mark, who were already trying to get him to promise not to attempt self-surgery.  "Let me know how it turns out."


Continue to Chapter 10

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