Computex 2014

https://download.taiwantradeshows.com.tw/files/model/photo/CP/2014/PH00013391-2.jpgEarlier this month, Computex 2014 wrapped up in Taipei. And while this trade show may not have all the glitz and glamor of its counterpart in Vegas (aka. the Consumer Electronics Show), it is still an important launch pad for new IT products slated for release during the second half of the year. Compared to other venues, the Taiwanese event is more formal, more business-oriented, and for those people who love to tinker with their PCs.

For instance, it’s an accessible platform for many Asian vendors who may not have the budget to head to Vegas. And in addition to being cheaper to set up booths and show off their products, it gives people a chance to look at devices that wouldn’t often be seen in the western parts of the world. The timing of the show is also perfect for some manufacturers. Held in June, the show provides a fantastic window into the second half of the year.

https://i0.wp.com/www.lowyat.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/140602dellcomputex.jpgFor example, big name brands like Asus typically use the event to launch a wide range of products. This year, this included such items as the super-slim Asus Book Chi and the multi-mode Book V, which like their other products, have demonstrated that the company has a flair for innovation that easily rivals the big western and Korean names. In addition, Intel has been a long stalwart at Computex, premiered its fanless reference design tablet that runs on the Llama Mountain chipset.

And much like CES, there were plenty of cool gadgets to be seen. This included a GPS tracker that can be attached to a dog collar to track a pet’s movements; the Fujitsu laptop, a hardy new breed of gadget that showcases Japanese designers’ aim to make gear that are both waterproof and dustproof; the Rosewill Chic-C powerbank that consists of 1,000mAh battery packs that attach together to give additional power and even charge gadgets; and the Altek Cubic compact camera that fits in the palm of the hand.

https://i0.wp.com/twimages.vr-zone.net/2013/12/altek-Cubic-1.jpgAnd then there was the Asus wireless storage, a gadget that looks like an air freshener, but is actually a wireless storage device that can be paired with a smartphone using near-field communication (NFC) technology – essentially being able to transfer info simply by bringing a device into near-proximity with it. And as always, there were plenty of cameras, display headsets, mobile devices, and wearables. This last aspect was particularly ever-present, in the form of look-alike big-name wearables.

By and all large, the devices displayed this year were variations on a similar theme: wrist-mounted fitness trackers, smartwatches, and head-mounted smartglasses. The SiMEye smartglass display, for example, was every bit inspired by Google Glass, and even bears a strong resemblance. Though the show was admittedly short on innovation over imitation, it did showcase a major trend in the computing and tech industry.

http://img.scoop.it/FWa9Z463Q34KPAgzjElk3Tl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9In his keynote speech, Microsoft’s Nick Parker talked about the age of ubiquitous computing, and the “devices we carry on us, as opposed to with us.” What this means is, we may very well be entering a PC-less age, where computing is embedded in devices of increasingly diminished size. Eventually, it could even be miniaturized to the point where it is stitched into our clothing as accessed through contacts, never mind glasses or headsets!

Sources: cnet.com, (2), (3), computextaipei.com

Cyberwars: NSA Building Quantum Computer

D-Wave's 128-qubit quantum processorAs documents that illustrate the NSA’s clandestine behavior continue to be leaked, the extents to which the agency has been going to gain supremacy over cyberspace are becoming ever more clear. Thanks to a new series of documents released by Snowden, it now seems that these efforts included two programs who’s purpose was to create a ““useful quantum computer” that would be capable of breaking all known forms of classical encryption.

According to the documents, which were published by The Washington Post earlier this month, there are at least two programs that deal with quantum computers and their use in breaking classical encryption — “Penetrating Hard Targets” and “Owning the Net.” The first program is funded to the tune of $79.7 million and includes efforts to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” that can:

sustain and enhance research operations at NSA/CSS Washington locations, including the Laboratory for Physical Sciences facility in College Park, MD.

nsa_aerialThe second program, Owning the Net, deals with developing new methods of intercepting communications, including the use of quantum computers to break encryption. Given the fact that quanutm machinery is considered the next great leap in computer science, offering unprecedented speed and the ability to conduct operations at many times the efficiency of normal computers, this should not come as a surprise.

Such a computer would give the NSA unprecedented access to encrypted files and communications, enadling them to break any protective cypher, access anyone’s data with ease, and mount cyber attacks with impunity. But a working model would also vital for defensive purposes. Much in the same way that the Cold War involved ongoing escalation between nuclear armament production, cybersecurity wars are also subject to constant one-upmanship.

quantum-computers-The-Next-GenerationIn short, if China, Russia, or some other potentially hostile power were to obtain a quantum computer before the US, all of its encrypted information would be laid bare. Under the circumstances, and given their mandate to protect the US’s infrastructure, data and people from harm, the NSA would much rather they come into possesion of one first. Hence why so much attention is dedicated to the issue, since whoever builds the worlds first quantum computer will enjoy full-court dominance for a time.

The mathematical, cryptographical, and quantum mechanical communities have long known that quantum computing should be able to crack classical encryption very easily. To crack RSA, the world’s prevailing cryptosystem, you need to be able to factor prime numbers — a task that is very difficult with a normal, classical-physics CPU, but might be very easy for a quantum computer. But of course, the emphasis is still very much on the word might, as no one has built a fully functioning multi-qubit quantum computer yet.

quantum-entanglement1As for when that might be, no one can say for sure. But the smart money is apparently anticipating one soon, since researchers are getting to the point where coherence on a single qubit-level is becoming feasible, allowing them to move on to the trickier subject of stringing multiple fully-entangled qubits together, as well as the necessary error checking/fault tolerance measures that go along with multi-qubit setups.

But from what it’s published so far, the Laboratory for Physical Sciences – which is carrying out the NSA’s quantum computing work under contract – doesn’t seem to be leading the pack in terms of building a quantum computer. In this respect, it’s IBM with its superconducting waveguide-cavity qubits that appears to be closer to realizing a quantum computer, with other major IT firms and their own supcomputer models not far behind.

hackers_securityDespite what this recent set of leaks demonstrates then, the public should take comfort in knowing that the NSA is not ahead of the rest of the industry. In reality, something like a working quantum computer would be so hugely significant that it would be impossible for the NSA to develop it internally and keep it a secret. And by the time the NSA does have a working quantum computer to intercept all of our encrypted data, they won’t be the only ones, which would ensure they lacked dominance in this field.

So really, thess latest leaks ought to not worry people too much, and instead should put the NSAs ongoing struggle to control cyberspace in perspective. One might go so far as to say that the NSA is trying to remain relevant in an age where they are becoming increasingly outmatched. With billions of terabytes traversing the globe on any given day and trillions of devices and sensors creating a “second skin” of information over the globe, no one organization is capable of controlling or monitoring it all.

So to those in the habit of dredging up 1984 every time they hear about the latest NSA and domestic surveillance scandal, I say: Suck on it, Big Brother!

Source: wired.com

Judgement Day Update: Google Robot Army Expanding

Atlas-x3c.lrLast week, Google announced that it will be expanding its menagerie of robots, thanks to a recent acquisition. The announcement came on Dec. 13th, when the tech giant confirmed that it had bought out the engineering company known as Boston Dynamics. This company, which has had several lucrative contracts with DARPA and the Pentagon, has been making the headlines in the past few years, thanks to its advanced robot designs.

Based in Waltham, Massachusetts, Boston Dynamics has gained an international reputation for machines that walk with an uncanny sense of balance, can navigate tough terrain on four feet, and even run faster than the fastest humans. The names BigDog, Cheetah, WildCat, Atlas and the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), have all become synonymous with the next generation of robotics, an era when machines can handle tasks too dangerous or too dirty for most humans to do.

Andy-Rubin-and-Android-logoMore impressive is the fact that this is the eight robot company that Google has acquired in the past six months. Thus far, the company has been tight-lipped about what it intends to do with this expanding robot-making arsenal. But Boston Dynamics and its machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts, which are being led by Andy Rubin, the Google executive who spearheaded the development of Android.

The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care. And considering the many areas of scientific and technological advancement Google is involved in – everything from AI and IT to smartphones and space travel – it is not surprising to see them branching out in this way.

wildcat1Boston Dynamics was founded in 1992 by Marc Raibert, a former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And while it has not sold robots commercially, it has pushed the limits of mobile and off-road robotics technology thanks to its ongoing relationship and funding from DARPA. Early on, the company also did consulting work for Sony on consumer robots like the Aibo robotic dog.

Speaking on the subject of the recent acquisition, Raibert had nothing but nice things to say about Google and the man leading the charge:

I am excited by Andy and Google’s ability to think very, very big, with the resources to make it happen.

Videos uploaded to Youtube featuring the robots of Boston Dynamics have been extremely popular in recent years. For example, the video of their four-legged, gas powered, Big Dog walker has been viewed 15 million times since it was posted on YouTube in 2008. In terms of comments, many people expressed dismay over how such robots could eventually become autonomous killing machines with the potential to murder us.

petman-clothesIn response, Dr. Raibert has emphasized repeatedly that he does not consider his company to be a military contractor – it is merely trying to advance robotics technology. Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts, but that it did not plan to move toward becoming a military contractor on its own. In many respects, this acquisition is likely just an attempt to acquire more talent and resources as part of a larger push.

Google’s other robotics acquisitions include companies in the United States and Japan that have pioneered a range of technologies including software for advanced robot arms, grasping technology and computer vision. Mr. Rubin has also said that he is interested in advancing sensor technology. Mr. Rubin has called his robotics effort a “moonshot,” but has declined to describe specific products that might come from the project.

Cheetah-robotHe has, however, also said that he does not expect initial product development to go on for some time, indicating that Google commercial robots of some nature would not be available for several more years. Google declined to say how much it paid for its newest robotics acquisition and said that it did not plan to release financial information on any of the other companies it has recently bought.

Considering the growing power and influence Google is having over technological research – be it in computing, robotics, neural nets or space exploration – it might not be too soon to assume that they are destined to one day create the supercomputer that will try to kill us all. In short, Google will play Cyberdyne to Skynet and unleash the Terminators. Consider yourself warned, people! 😉

Source: nytimes.com

The Future Of Education

Hi all, and welcome to the third and final installment in the “Envisioning Technology” series. Today, it’s the “Future of Education Technology” that’s up for all to see. Much like their speculative work on Future Tech and the Future of Medicine, they present us here with an infographic that shows the interrelated fields of educational technology and how growth in one will inevitable lead to change in others.

On the one hand, we see a gradual transition from the Classroom (i.e. traditional educational environment) to the Studio environment, where a peer and group dynamic becomes the focus, rather than classic teacher-student transmission. In the final environment, learning becomes Virtual, divorced from any specific geographical context – i.e. it happens wherever you are, not just in a classroom or academic institution.

Also, through an incorporation of various education and education-related technologies, six steps are discerned within this process. As usual the entire process is traced from the present day to 2040, with many of the necessary technologies already in existence or in the process of development.

As a teacher, I was rather fascinated to see this, as it illustrates much of what was being espoused when I was still in teacher’s college. Back then, the concept of the post-modernist classroom was all the rage, even though there were many who insisted that this movement had passed.

Intrinsic to the concept was the deconstructing the traditional learning paradigm and even the classroom environment. Openness was the new rule, individuation the new philosophy and building on a student’s existing knowledge and experience, rather than simply handing them the curriculum and evaluated their assimilation thereof.

Naturally, many of us felt the same about all the concepts and ideas that were being thrown at us, in that they seemed highly idiosyncratic and theoretical. Missing from just about all the articles, studies and lectures we heard on the subject was mention of how this was to be done. Lectures on applied technology and new methods, on the other hand, seemed much more effective. Whereas the theory seemed to be commenting on trends that were happening, or still needed to happen, these lectures seemed to be showing us how.

Kind of makes you think… and in a way, I’m reminded of what men like George Orwell said. In 1984 (Goldstein’s Manifesto, to be specific), he claimed that the advent of modern industry and education had removed the basis of class distinction and elitism. By the 20th century, when totalitarian philosophies emerged, humanity was closer to the state of true equality that Marx predicted than ever before. Granted, that road has been fraught with bumps and attempts at subversion, but the general trend seems pretty clear.

Perhaps we’re seeing something of the same thing here with the emergence of IT and what people like Foucault, Derrida and Habermas predicted. The breakdown of singular standards, the opening of discourse, the plurality of perspective and opinions. Perhaps they weren’t just speaking off the cuff or stuck in an esoteric bubble. Maybe they were just picking up on trends which were yet to come to true fruition.

Makes me think, at any rate. But then again, that’s the point isn’t it?

Evil Clown Commercial!

Ever wonder where Stephen King got the idea for the evil clown from IT? I’m betting it was watching commercials like this as a child. Perhaps his mother made the mistaken decision to hire one for his eight birthday… Who knows? Point is, I’m glad we don’t make our kids suffer through this kind of creepy crap anymore.

Clowns… shudder!

Via Anarchist Coloring Book

Remembering Ray Bradbury (1920 – 2012)

Ray Douglas Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012)

Yesterday, one of the greatest sci-fi minds of the 20th center, Ray Bradbury, died at the age of 91 after a lengthy illness. His publisher, HarperCollins, were apparently the ones to break the news to the world. Best known for his seminal dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury quickly joined the ranks of authors like Orwell, Huxley, Clarke, and Asimov, in that he was a speculative author who’s predictions rapidly came true.

Amongst such things were the emergence of ATMs, wall-sized televisions, interactive entertainment, and live broadcasts of fugitive car chases. In addition to Fahrenheit 451, he also penned the Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Something Wicked this Way Comes, and over 600 other works of fiction, articles and essays. As such, his influence and legacy are truly immeasurable.

So, in honor of this sci-fi great, whom I waited a very long time to read, I shall delve into his best known works and try to explain exactly why they were so enduring and influential. Let’s start with the book that earned him his reputation in the first place:

Fahrenheit 451 (1953):
This dystopian piece of speculative fiction takes place in the late 20th century, when American culture has degenerated into a form of brutal escapism. Nuclear war looms on the horizon, books have been banned, and for the majority of people, cocooning in their homes in front of their wall-sized monitors seems like the perfect distraction.

The story takes place from the point of view of a Fireman named Guy Montag, who’s job consists of located offenders and burning their books. This is the role of firemen in the future, who instead of fighting fires are responsible for starting them. Montag is unhappy with his life and suffering from a deep sense of disquiet.

Until one night when a young woman named Clarisse shakes up his worldview. Whereas most people in Montag’s world seemed numbed and dead, she is vital and alive, and questions just about everything. Shortly thereafter, she dies in a tragic accident, which shakes Montag’s world up even more.

He too begins questioning the rules, he steals books from jobs he is meant to pull, and begins reading them. Realizing he is now in violation of the law, he seeks out other offenders for answers. This brings him into contact with Faber, a former English professor that Montag knows can help. In time, Faber is convinced to bring him into this confidence and reveals that he is part of a circle that is dedicated to the preservation of written knowledge.

Eventually, Montag is found out and must flee. His boss, it seems, has known for quite for some time what he is up to but extended him some courtesy because he knows what he’s going through. More enlightened than the average person, Montag’s boss explains to him why books have been banned and why they must destroy them. Rather than the result of forced censorship, the process was entirely voluntary. People chose mindless entertainment, distraction and fast cars over reading, reflection and learning.

Montag’s escape from his house and the police becomes the subject of the evening news. He manages to elude the authorities and meets up with the reading circle down by the river. Interestingly enough, he flees the city just in time to witness being destroyed from a nuclear attack. It seems the build-up to Armageddon has finally ended and nuclear war has come. Montag leaves with the group, who’s mission now has become one of preserving civilization as well as literature.

What was enduringly brilliant about this book was not so much the predictions about technology or the emergence of book banning, but the reasons for it. Capturing the zeitgeist of his age, Bradbury essentially felt that a shocked and fearful society would seek escape by the most convenient means available to them. And whereas most dystopian novels involve ignorance and illiteracy being forced by a brutal regime, Bradbury believed that the process would be entirely voluntary. In this respect, he captured the same essence as Huxley, another dystopian critic who believed man’s appetite for distraction would be it’s undoing.

The Martian Chronicles (1950):
Though written before Fahrenheit 451, the MC gained notoriety more slowly, but eventually became recognized as one of the great works of science fiction. A collection of loosely based stories rather than a single novel, the book follows the future history of colonization on Mars, dealing with all kinds of speculative, existential and scientific questions.

The overall structure of the book comes in three parts, punctuated by two catastrophes. The first is the near-extinction of the Martians, while the second is the parallel near-extinction of the human race. In first part of the book takes place at the end of the 20th century and details mankind’s efforts to reach Mars, and the various ways in which the Martian natives keep them from returning. However, towards the end (in the story “—And the Moon be Still as Bright”) it is revealed the majority of the Martians have died as a result of a plague brought from Earth.

This opens Act II, taking place in the early 21st century, where humans begin colonizing the Red Planet. On occasion, they have the opportunity to make contact with the surviving Martians, but mainly are concerned with building a second Earth. However, many settlers begin to pack up and leave as looming nuclear war on Earth causes them to want to get back and be with their families. The outbreak of this war signals the end of Act II and the opening of the third act.

In the third and final act of the book, all contact has been lost with Earth when the nuclear war takes place. As the war passes, those humans who have survived on Mars have began building a distinct civilization and having children who have only known life on the Red Planet, effectively becoming Martian themselves. This prospect allows the book to return to its beginning, as it is suggested that new waves of colonists will soon be coming and conflicts are likely to emerge as a result.

This book was not only brilliant in that it addressed a great deal of scientific and existential questions that are sure to come when actual colonization begins (if ever). It also managed to capture a sense of timeless truth and lessons which come from real history, or the “Age of Discovery” as its known. These included the destruction of native inhabitants, the push-pull factors which lead to colonization, severance from the homeland, and eventual adaptation as new people begin to embrace the new environment as their home.

Much like KSR’s Mars Series, this book should be required reading if ever any Ares missions get underway!

The Illustrated Man (1951):
Much like the Martian Chronicles, this book is a collection of short stories linked by a common theme. Through its exploration of humankind, the recurring theme is one of conflict between cold mechanics and technology and the basic nature of human beings. Many of these stories have been adapted into film over the years and been used in schools as educational tools. Some examples include:

“The Veldt” – in this story, we see a family who’s children have become terribly attached to the houses’ high tech nursery. Like a holodeck from Star Trek, the children use this to create virtual environments – in this case, the predatory environment of the African veldt. When the parents threaten to take it away, the children lock them inside and they are apparently consumed by the lions. thought it is not outright said, it is implied that the children have reprogrammed the unit to become real and have been “feeding” people to it for some time.

“The Other Foot” – in this exercise in turnabout, we learn that Mars has been colonized solely by people of African descent. When they learn that a rocket is coming from Earth with white travelers, they decide to institute a system of racial segregation similar to that of the Jim Crow Laws of the American South, in retaliation for the wrongs of history. However, when the rocket lands the traveler tells them that most of the Earth has been destroyed in a nuclear war and the people realize that discrimination is harmful in all its forms. They rescind their discriminatory laws and welcome the new crew as equals.

“The Man” – A group of space explorers land on a planet to find the population living in a healthy state of bliss. Upon investigation, they discover that an enigmatic visitor came to them, who they eventually conclude was Jesus (or some other religious persona since He was never named). Some decide to spend the rest of their days rejoicing with the natives, while another decides to continue on in his spaceship in the hopes of catching up with this person. While he spends the rest of his days in hot pursuit, always one step behind and never quite catching up to him, the other learn that “he” is still on the planet with them. Hello metaphor!

The Exiles” – taking a page (no pun!) from Fahrenheit 451, this story revolves around the concept of burning books and the immeasurable nature of knowledge being lost forever. It begins with stating that numerous works of literature have been banned and burned on Earth. The fictional characters of these books are portrayed as real-life entities who live in a refuge on Mars. These characters are vulnerable however since once all the books on a character are destroyed, that character vanishes permanently. When the group of characters learn that some people are coming for them, they stage a counterattack, but are foiled by the astronauts who burn the last remaining books from Earth, unknowingly annihilating the entire colony.

“Marionettes, Inc.” – A man attempts to escape his marriage by replacing himself with a robot to fool his wife into thinking he hasn’t left and tells a friend about it. The man comes back and tells the robot to go back into the box, and the robot disobeys him saying he has fallen in love with the wife. The robot then proceeds to put the man in the box and replaces him for real. Sound familiar?

“The Illustrated Man” – The namesake of the book, this story involves an overweight carnival worker is given a second chance as a Tattooed Man, and visits a strange woman who applies skin illustrations over his entire body. She covers two special areas, claiming they will show the future. When the first is revealed, it’s an illustration of the man strangling his wife. Shortly after this comes to pass, the carnival workers run the man down, beat him, and look at the second area, which shows an illustration of the same beating they are doing. Can you say self-fulfilling prophecy?

Most of these stories would probably sound familiar in one way or anther, but that’s because they’ve been adapted, copied and referenced by countless pop culture sources. I myself recall watching “The Veldt” in school and being chilled by its eerie and dystopian tone. “Marionettes Inc.” has been adapted into comedy format numerous times, and the theme of prophecy and fulfillment in “The Illustrated Man” has inspired countless stories, not the least of which are The Butterfly Effect and perhaps even PKD’s Minority Report.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962):
A somewhat off-beat work for Bradbury, who’s works consist mainly of speculative sci-fi, this fantasy/horror novel has nevertheless become a household name for fans of the dark and weird. Set in modern a day Midwestern town, the story revolves around a visiting carnival and its mysterious director, Mr. Black.

Enter into this the story’s protagonists, two 13 year old boys, Jim Nightshade and William Halloway, who witness the arrival of the carnival and become immediately enthralled with it. They quickly realize that everyone who works there has been lured into Mr. Dark’s service through the promise of being able to live out their fantasies. For most people, these involve become younger, a gift he confers on several characters through his “magic” carousel.

In time, they come to realize that Mr. Dark holds these people under his sway and has a tatoo of each of them on his body, a symbol of his control. Charles Holloway, William’s father, looks into Mr. Dark’s past and realizes he can be defeated through love. It is unclear what this entails, but after the boy’s are kidnapped, he comes to the carnival and begins destroying it’s structures and Dark’s protectors by expressing laughter and joy. He and his son use the same tactic to eventually bring down Mr. Dark and bring Jim back from death, who was stuck on the carousel and rapidly aging.

Though different from most of his other works in terms of genre, this story did contain many elements which were present in his other stories. For example, the concept of the carnival and the tattooed man was the basis of “The Illustrated Man”. The nostalgic feel of the story was also to be found in his novel Dandelion Wine, and is often paired with this novel as presenting both the lighter and darker sides of childhood. And of course, the novels resolution, where good prevails through purity of heart, is to be found in many of Bradbury’s works.

Because of its focus on good versus evil, childhood, and coming of age, this story was to have a profound effect on several authors, the most notable of which is Stephen King. Citing Something Wicked as his inspiration, King attributed a debt to Bradbury for helping to write It and Dreamcatcher.

Final Thoughts:
In the end, Bradbury was known for many things: originality, depth, vision and genius. But the thing that sticks with the most about him was his views on the preciousness of literature and knowledge. Basically, he expressed several times over how when something is lost, it’s lost forever. I can only assume then that he would take great comfort in knowing that he left the literary legacy that he did. Though he may no longer be with us, his works will live on and serve to inspire many generations to come.

I think this is a lesson we could all draw from. Though our time on this Earth may be short, we have the ability to leave our mark and ensure that some trace of us stays behind. So make those footprints people, write those manuscripts, and most importantly, tell the people you love how you feel. Do not leave things unsaid or undone, because someday, we will be gone…

So than you, Mr. Bradbury, for your many, many contributions. You did it right, and now you go on to join the other greats of your time. Rest In Peace.

Data Miners – Chapter 11

Wednesday morning.

It’s been another hasty ride to work to get in on time. Prad hasn’t showered since Monday and is feeling the grime encroach on him again. His head is reeling from the dual assault of purple haze and not enough sleep. Working through code this morning is difficult, proceeding at one keystroke per minute. He has no desire to be looking at TPS reports right now or anything in Macro format for that matter. The few hours of sleep and the buzz he got from his last joint have not cured the case of busy-brain he contracted last night. He was hoping the light of day might make things a bit more clear, but if anything, it’s made it worse. Whereas the busy-brain kept him from sleep last night, it is now keeping him from work.

By ten thirty, he examines how much work he’s actually done and decides it’s futile. He half-wishes he brought the book with him just so he could peruse it. Then he wouldn’t be so fixated on it! Somehow, the mind had a way of obsessing over the things that the body didn’t have immediate access to.

He needs a distraction. Minimizing his work in his task tray, he pulls up his email and checks to see if anyone has written to him since yesterday. Sure enough, they are a couple new hits in his Inbox. One from Sa’id, one from the adult dating site, and even one from Angie. A few spam mails between, more offers for downloadable software and movies. He’s too excited to move these to his spam folder and goes right for the one from Angie. The subject line says it all.

>To: Prad123@yahoo.com
>From: AngCpr@gmail.com
>Subject: Bit weird huh?

>Hey Prad. Sorry for the misunderstanding last night. Had no idea you got a copy of Germaine’s book too. I suppose I can understand your >confusion, it was a bit weird of him to just start reaching out like that, right from the blue? Anyway, no worries, Scott and I kind of got a kick >out of it. We were also a little worried after you left, figured you might have been embarrassed. One other thing, have you heard anything about >the dear old prof? I was kind of wondering if he was still with us. It might be nice to find him and say hi one last time.

>Anglmrk

Prad feels incredibly warm and giddy inside all of a sudden. He notices she didn’t use his first name, but oh the tenderness implied in that email! And the fact that she thought to write him the morning after! The time on it indicates that she wrote it less than an hour ago, most likely while bored at work. He reads it again and notices the mention of Scott, the royal we that follows in his wake too. He could live without that, but even the presence of that five letter fun stopper can’t spoil his mood now. He opens up the one from Sa’id next. A sense of fraternal duty tells him he should do this before composing a gushy response to the boss-lady.

The subject line of Sa’id’s email is quite telling. He notes instantly the diminished punctuation and grammar as well. Clearly a step down from Angie’s message.

>To: Prad123@yahoo.com
>From: SdN72@hotmail.com
>Subject: thanks dude!

>hey dude thanks again for the ride home last night woke up with a wicked hangover how bout you. My landlady sez i made terrible noise last >night must have been when i woke up to puke my guts up good time all around though. shit that things got a bit heavy there for some people >isn’t it hate to see our people not getting along but have you heard the news? The fecking feds just made a release bout the whole dangle thing >and say that they think the >whole thing was faked but wont say nothing about how they got them or where the leak came from. dumbasses >huh only make things worse for themselves! ps what was with that whole thing in Angie’s room why were in there second time around i mean I >know what you were doing the first time pervert! take care, can’t wait for five oclock to roll around

>Sandngrr

Now he feels momentarily sidetracked. He did not hear that, must have left the radio off in his car this morning, or had it tuned to music. He really can’t remember. The only other time he ever catches the news is on the web, or by word of mouth. And on both fronts he’s been a little out of touch, at least for the last twenty four hours.

The email from the dating site now looms in his field of vision like a burning bush. He desperately wants to check it, to see who took an interest in his profile and what they look like/have to say for themselves. But he doesn’t want to keep Angie waiting. A message from her in his Inbox is like finding her at his front door, or so he imagines. Leaving her waiting would be nothing short of criminal. Going back to Angie’s message, he hits the Reply button and begins composing. He does his best to emulate the proper style with which she emailed him, not to mention the tone he established last night. If acting mature gets her to email him, he’ll ride that pony to the ends of the earth!

To: AngCpr@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Bit weird huh?

Hey Angie. Don’t worry about it. It is I who should apologize for breaking in on you like that. I suppose these things happen. Sad to say, I can’t tell anything new about the prof. Last I heard, he got diagnosed and decided not to go the treatment route. Sad huh, but what can you do? One question though, are you absolutely sure he was the one who sent those books? I suppose it stands to reason, but why didn’t he send a real note or at least a return address? Oh well, talk to you soon. Take care, say hi to Scott.

Thaiwrrr

He grabs the mouse, his finger poised above the “Send” button. That’s when he realizes that his own inquiry is worth following up on. Not just idle chit chat, someone really ought to see if anyone else who was in their class or studied under Germaine at MIT also got copies of that book. He checks his address folder to see if he has any old email addresses. He’s still got the names of a few old friends there, but most of the addresses are old IST accounts. Prad shakes his head. Those accounts probably haven’t been used in over five years. Someday soon he must do a cleanup of his contact folder.

Luckily, he still has some hotmail and yahoo accounts for some people he used to hang out with: Lena, Mark, Josée, and Andrea. They were all pretty cool, but not too cool. They hung around with him, after all. If ever he were to be completely honest, he would admit that they were the people he fell in with because of his inability to get in with the truly cool crowd. Nevertheless, they are all MIT alumni and people who studied under Germaine. Surely they would be on his contact list if he wanted to start sending gift packages around. Clicking on the box beside each of their names, he adds them all to the recipient’s field before typing off a friendly generic message.

Hello all, sorry to drop in on you like this after such a long absence. But something’s come up with I feel concerns us all. I am, of course, referring to Professor Germaine’s illness. I’m sure you’ve all heard how our dear teacher is not long for this world. Last I heard, he’s got a few months tops before he… you know. Well, it may be that he’s decided to reach out to some of us before that happens. Angie and I both received copies of the millennial edition of Ghost in the Machine, the one with his foreword. We’re not sure, but we think he sent them to us. As fellow alumni sts, I was wondering if any of you got similar packages. If so, did it come with a note that contained more than just simple instructions? Angie and I would appreciate any info you have, as it would resolve this dilemma for us.

Thaiwrrr

He hits “Send” and moves onto his last message. It’s about time too. A response of this kind can only be exciting. His palms would be sweaty if he were a lesser man, or just a little cleaner. His pores are too clogged right now, luckily his armpits and crotch appear to be overcompensating.

>Prad123, you’ve received a profile message from Kittyhawk69:
>“Hi. Liked your profile, I think Asian guys are super hot! Come check >me out!”
>Follow the link below to see the full message and access their profile:

Prad immediately clicks on the site’s link to have a gander. Sure enough, for her pic, Kittyhawk69 lives up to the name. Her preferences send his heart into another tail spin: Hot chat, one on one, threesomes, toys and discreet relationship. His mind and libido begin the age old dance, the former insisting she’s a dude, the latter telling the former to shut up.

Yep, he agrees, too good to be true. But what harm can a little extended chat, via webcam to confirm she’s actually a woman, followed by a little meet and greet at a neutral site do?

You could end up with a disease, or finding a penis tucked under her ass! His mind tells him. But what has his mind done for him lately other than keep him in this dead end job? Another look at her preferences, cross-referenced with her other pics, ends the debate quickly.

Shut up, mind!