The Boston VIADUCTS Disaster


EMP Love

Edward's presentation at the 7th Annual X Technical Conference had gone much better than he had expected. His technology for bringing X to the visually impaired was so simple that nobody else had even considered it (other than one depraved GUI guy back home).

After the standing ovation, Edward returned to his seat in a daze, only to be surrounded by still more questioners. At the break, he finally managed to get away, but only by crawling under several stalls in the bathroom, then making a run for it.

On his way to lunch, he stopped at a novelty shop for some Groucho glasses. Thus disguised, he was able to eat his lunch in relative peace. As always, the shrimp and chocolate croissants at Au Bon Pain were excellent. Elated at the way things were going, he had 3 of them, and washed them down with a double cherry & artichoke cola.

As he entered the conference hall, he was waylaid, despite the glasses, by a large, overly-dressed man he immediately pegged as a marketing type.

"Allow me to introduce myself, Mr. Keiths," the suited character purred. "My name is Droid. Sales Droid. And I wish to speak with you about your VIADUCTS product."

"Well, Mr. Droid..."

"Please, call me Sal."

"It isn't a product. It's only a prototype. It's beyond the proof of concept stage, but it still has a few bugs to be worked out."

"My dear Eddie (may I call you Eddie?), I don't see how you can have anything at all! I've an engineering background, you see, and while using a popup pin for each pixel is a rather ingenious idea, I simply don't believe you could drive all those solenoids (which is all they really are) with readily available power, much less keep them from interfering with each other given their close proximity.

"Besides, there's only so much you can do with Braille. How does it tie in with X?"

Edward noted the wolfish look on Sal's face, exactly as he had expected. "If you come to the BOF tonight, you'll see the prototype, Dro (may I call you Dro?), and you can play with it yourself, and see what you think."

Droid flushed at the reduction of his name. "There is no such BOF on the program!"

"No, we added it this morning, after a few people who had read the paper requested it. I originally planned to give demos just to a few friends, but with all the hoopla, it was the only way to get my phone to stop ringing. The time and place are on the BOF board next to the literature table.

"By the way, Dro, who do you work for?"

"A small startup in Atlanta, called Electro Magic, INC. A few ex-professors from the Georgia Institute of Technology started it. We specialize in electromagnetic user interface technology."

"Oh, yeah, I know about you guys. Okay, guess I'll see you tonight."

"One more thing, Eddie. If this thing is, somehow, what you say it is, we will wish to discuss a very lucrative business deal with you."

"Whatever. See you tonight."

In a thoroughly annoyed mood, Edward was thinking so hard of vile deaths for all Sales and Marketing types that he almost walked into an open elevator shaft despite the cones, tape, and other warnings. Only a quick grab by a couple of the MIT X Gurus saved him.

"Wow. Thanks, Donna. Thanks, Bob. I can't believe I didn't see that."

"Are you OK? You really seemed spaced out." Donna eyed him critically. "Do you need to rest? We have a lounge area."

"No, thanks, I'm fine. I just had a run in with an S&M type, and he really got me hot and bothered."

Bob, misinterpreting the reference to S&M, and thinking back to Edward's escapades at the Marriott bar a couple of years before, merely shuddered, and decided not to pursue the line of conversation which readily sprang to mind.

"I`ll be OK. Really. Thanks a lot, though."

"No problem, Edward. See you later." He and Donna moved on towards the ICS room to harangue Chris about a bug (he claimed it was a present he had left them) in his protocol that turned widgets inside out whenever their backgrounds were set to OliveDrab.

Edward, already lost again in his plans for Droid, turned around and walked into a pair of closed elevator doors; the repairman had apparently finished. His nose seemed rather annoyed with him, but was basically unharmed. The masses were approaching, business cards in hand and questions in their prickly eyes, so he took off for the gym to await the next session.

The room for the BOF was packed with people. "Place your weak hand on the screen, and your other hand on the mousekeypad. Press any key or button, and note how the screen changes. Can you feel it?"

"Wow! Yeah, let's see, I move the mouse, and I can feel the cursor move, too! OK, I click here, and... Oops. Thought that was iconify, but I guess it was maximize."

"Hey, people with perfect vision have to get used to GUIs, too. Just be glad you aren't on a NeXT, where an X in an icon means one thing under NeXTStep, and another under twm."

"But this isn't a GUI anymore. How can it be graphics when there's no sight involved?"

"Okay, so call it a TUI - a Tactile User Interface. And since it's only a prototype, we can call it a PTUI!"

As several people groaned, someone pushed through the crowd, ending up tightly up against Edward's side. He glanced over, and got a kiss for his effort. "Tony! When did you get here?"

Tony laughed. Her laugh often left large rednecks quivering in their tracks, but it delighted Edward. "Just now. I called your room several times, and finally just wandered over, hoping I'd find you. And here you are!" She kissed him again.

"Yes, here you are." Edward groaned inwardly as Droid's voice shattered the most excellent evening he was having. "And I have brought someone to help me test your prod... prototype."

Droid ushered forward a smiling girl of 15 or so. "This is Teresa. She's been blind most of her life. She has always wanted to be able to use a computer as well as her father, Dr. Arrogant, of the Georgia Tech Computer Science Department. He's helped her a great deal; we'll see what you can do for her."

Edward grinned back. "Howdy, Teresa. I had your dad at Tech. He knows his stuff. Has he taught you about Motif?"

"Sure, Edward, all the time. I can see a little, but I have to keep my nose on the screen, and I'm real slow. How did you get along with Dad? He can be a real twit in class, I'm sure."

"That sounds about right. Here, put your weak hand on the screen, like this...yes, and your other hand goes here, on this thing I call the mousekeypad. Now, Dro, you watch on this video monitor, which is in parallel with her VIADUCTS monitor, and see what she can do."

After about 10 minutes, Teresa had, with some frustration and many giggles, mastered the system. She was still slow at typing, but proficiency at that requires time with any radically new keyboard. Otherwise, she was flying around the screen like any crazed hacker playing with a new graphics toy.

"Edward, this is incredible! I never thought I'd be able to do anything like this!" She was so happy she was close to tears, so Edward figured it was a good time to give her a break.

"Well, Mr. Droid, what do you think now?" Edward could barely keep the sneer from his voice.

"Well. I must say I'm impressed. Here, Teresa, dear, come stand over here. Yes, just there." Droid sat down. "Now, let me see. Hmmm. This VIADUCTS monitor is awfully hot, Eddie. Is it going to hold up?"

"I told you this was a prototype. It wasn't meant to stand up to prolonged heavy usage such as Teresa gave it. Not that you did anything wrong, Teresa. In fact, you have given it a more thorough workout than anyone else to date. Would you like a job in my research lab?"

Teresa blushed. Beaming, she quickly answered, "Yes, of course! And please... call me Terri?"

Edward laughed and squeezed Tony's hand as he realized he now had a (brilliant) groupie. "Of course, Terri. Tony can take care of the details when we get back. Have you met her yet?"

The sudden increase in the VIADUCTS's hum grabbed their attention. Droid was doing his best to stress the system. Not using either hand on the monitor, whose needles were clacking ferociously, he stared at the video monitor instead, his hand on the mousekeypad nearly a blur as he selected and cut and pasted and dragged and dropped at a crazy rate. The VIADUCTS needles rose and fell as windows appeared and disappeared, raised and lowered, moved and stretched and shrunk. Out of the corner of his eyes he watched the VIADUCTS.

Edward looked thoughtfully at the VIADUCTS. "Hey, Dro. I think that's enough. The monitor needs a rest, and then some of these other people want to test it. Hey, Dro!"

Droid finally stopped. He extracted a sheaf of papers from his coat, and handed them to Edward. "This is amazing. Just amazing! Here, look at this contract. We want this technology, and we want it now." He resumed beating on the system. "I've already signed it. If you sign at the bottom, we get nonexclusive first rights to the technology, and I get this prototype. There's a check attached to the contract for fifty thousand."

Edward thought about it for only a second. Georgia Tech could claim exclusive ownership of the technology, but that would be Droid's problem, not his. He signed both copies, and stuck one in Droid's pocket. "It's yours. But I'm warning you, slow down and let it cool off.

"OK, folks. It's past time for the BOF to be over. Let's all head to the bar. Drinks and dinner are on me!" His arms around Tony and Terri, Edward led the shouting crowd towards the door. An incredible hum, followed by a massive explosion, froze them in their tracks. They all spun around.

The shell of the VIADUCTS monitor was still in place. Vast quantities of evil smelling smoke poured from it. Flames danced about the power cords. Droid was no longer seated in front of the monitor.

They found him across the room, with about a million ("1,036,800," Edward automatically calculated, soto voce) wire needles pinning him to the wall. The mousekeypad dangled from his lifeless right hand. Blood was everywhere. The room was horribly silent.

Edward moved beside the body. There was no pulse. Almost without thinking, he ran his hand over the needles pinning Droid's body to the wall. "What a thoroughly revolting root window pattern," he muttered. He vaguely remembered someone from Project Athena posting it in talk.bizarre.

"Is he...dead?" Terri barely managed to whisper the words.

Edward looked horrid. "I think so. I told him to ease up. Terri, I'm...I'm sorry! I don't know what...what else to say!"

A relieved smile played across Terri's lips. "He was the biggest jerk I ever met. Dad said he was bleeding the company dry. The pig even tried to get me to share a room with him here at the hotel. Don't apologize to me, Edward!" She reached out, found his hands, and pulled him to her. She planted a passionate kiss right on his lips. Those in the room who weren't retching, applauded.

Tony grinned maliciously. After a quick nibble on Edward's ear, she whispered, "that's it; go for the jailbait, babe. I bet they still remember you down at the station!"

Edward rolled his eyes, stuck Terri's hand in the hand of a nearby friend from Atlanta named Ken, grabbed Tony, and headed towards the door again. "Come on, everyone, dinner's still on me!"

By the time they were finally seated (which required all the tables in the bar, as well as a few extras), Edward noted happily that his friend Ken had taken Terri's mind off of him. Ken needed the distraction as much as Terri. The unexplained spontaneous thermonuclear explosion of Daryl, Ken's girlfriend, had left Ken devastated. Maybe the night wouldn't be a total loss.

Halfway through dinner, Edward suddenly slammed his glass onto the table. His fork danced into his lap, but he hardly noticed. Grimacing, he stared into the distance.

Tony looked worriedly at the exhausted genius. "Honey, don't worry. You tried. I was there, remember? Everyone told the detective, right? It wasn't your fault!"

"It isn't that," Edward sighed dejectedly. "It's just that I had such plans for that twerp." He drained his glass, and scooped up a bite of mashed potatoes with his hand. Suddenly he smiled.

"Of course, this way, they don't lock me up again!" Smearing the potatoes fondly in Tony's hair, he snatched Terri's root beer and drank deeply. It was going to be a good night after all.

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Last updated: 17 Aug 1994

Copyright 1993-1994 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved.

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