Artwork: ghost


Author: FOD '24
As seen in: README #

My story begins with me working as an engineer on one of the first computers in the world, when a bug gets stuck in the machine. Early computer pioneer Grace Hopper was there, and was no help whatsoever, but took one look at the situation and coined the now famous phrase ‘computer insect’ to describe the malfunction. We all marveled at her quick thinking, but we had a problem to fix.

First, we tried using long twigs to poke it out but then they all got tangled up in the ticker tape, badly mangling our program and making the computer turn all of the multiplication signs into the letter å, which threw our math off dramatically for everyone except for the Scandinavians in the lab who started to mistake the equations for their friends’ names.

At this point, our Norwegian intern 2å7rbjorn and I set out to try and get the insect out using the power of deductive logic. How can we get the insect out? Get something to eat it. What loves to eat insects? Geckos. Bingo. Just put a gecko into the machine.

We made the mistake of picking a really smart gecko, though, and as soon as we released him into the ticker-tape input port we realized our misstep. We heard him slowly make his way up through the machine, then we began to hear a series of clicking sounds and realized that he was messing with the ticker tape. The machine began to slowly grind back into action, and began to print out an output, but as soon as we read it our blood began to run cold:

> please put more bugs into the program

This was exactly the opposite of what we wanted – our machine had been taken over by a power-hungry and regular-hungry gecko, who would stop at nothing to put more bugs into our program. This would never stand. With nearly 10 kilobytes of computing power, we represented the linchpin of our nation’s entire strategic defense system. The team was all divided, but I wanted to try and avoid 2å7rbjorn putting a really smart snake in, because that would only make this whole affair take even longer once the smart snake realized we had access to a functionally infinite supply of geckos. I jumped over to the input terminal and typed out a response.

> come out or we’ll put a smart snake in the machine
> ‘the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting’
-Sun Tzu

Woah. This gecko was smarter than we even realized. As we marveled at its wit, it slowly slipped out through the output port and we returned it to its little tank.

2å7rbjorn stretched his mouth out in a grin and said, ‘this is almost as crazy as the time me and å45åå3rbjorn slip-slided off one of the slipperiest hillsides in Oslo!’ I wanted to retort sarcastically that the fate of the free world didn’t depend on his slip- sliding, but I held my tongue because he was the only member of the team that knew assembly language, which back then was what all the computers used. The rest of us knew rudimentary JavaScript but this was the mid ‘50s so it wouldn’t be on the scene for a while.

It was time to run some tests.

> 4 x 5 
> *error*

Oh, right.

> 4 å 5

The computer began to whir furiously, and after nearly five minutes of computation spat out the result.

> 20

Whew. Our nuclear missile system was functional once again.