Here’s a story of Patrick’s I found in an unexpected location. It’s dated 19 Feb 1997 and, as was his style, employs a pun.
The Piper, as Helmut came to be known, first appeared on Internet as Harlequin in a red and blue Joker outfit. He danced onto your screen like a Court Jester, bells a-jangle, while wise-cracks rose from his lips in balloons pointing to where they came from. His flute was alternately a weapon firing dried peas popping the balloons like Double Bubble in a a teen queen’s lips.
He was trailed by a kangaroo wearing a sandwich board saying “A better mousetrap.” Two baby ‘roos in her pouch waved flags which under zoom proved to spell “double” and “click”, a subliminal message causing a certain number of forefingers around the world to twitch, condemning their mice to destruction.
The Piper fired a volley of dried pinto beans off to the left and it was a shot heard ’round the world.
At first, no one reported the damage. Almost everyone had suffered a crash of his system at least once before, and this had all the earmarks of a locked system. It was only after a tremendous run on new Genius mice re-wired for lefties that some statistics nut in the hardware futures racket became curious and sent a query out on the ‘Net.
The response was overwhelming. His inbox was so loaded that at first he suspected a denial-of-service attack was underway, one of those avalanches designed to stuff the hard disks to the bursting point and crash computers all over the land. Once he had witnessed all the telephone listings of the major cities of the world pouring into the e-mail system till the servers themselves were unable to deliver the mail.
But this was no avalanche as such. These were legitimate replies to his query. If all told the truth, left mouse handlers around the country had been in danger. A virus had been delivered, and was spreading, much as the bubonic plague was spread by rats. Once a mouse was infected, every point of contact, every cursory glance spread the corruption.
But only those mice who lived on the left of the keyboard were affected.
He himself was right-handed, and shuddered to think what could happen if the Piper took a pot-shot at the dexterous mice. He brooded on the prospect for days, depriving himself of his daily trip to his usual connections, browsing up and down his favorite places and bookmarks with the modem unplugged. There had to be a way to avoid the seemingly inevitable scourge. If the popular dancing Piper decided to attack the mice on the right, that would be a real disaster. The Piper might of course single out the trackballs first, or the Thinkpad center sticks, but he was bound in J’s opinion to return. He was a serial killer, and he would continue until caught or until braggadocio brought him down. For it was obvious that the Piper was a vain hacker, a clown, an evil dreamer with the mind of a punster.
Finally, he felt he had a solid plan, and dropped a piece of e-mail in his outbox for Bill Gates. Also going out was a letter to his patent lawyer in Baltimore. New hardware was hard to develop in competition with the big guys, but a small peripheral worth less than fifty bucks could almost be a one-man industry. Best would be to sell the patent, and let somebody else develop and hawk the goods.
On second thought, not one hundred percent trusting his lawyer, J pulled the missive to Bill Gates back out of the box and changed the address from recipient 1, to a group of some fifty. If anybody tried to rip off his idea, plenty of witnesses would get him a good settlement.
Alas, it was not to be. All night he had dreamed of the Pied Piper spelling the rats into the lakes hidden in the bottom of caves, every splash ringing like silver and gold in his mind. He awakened with hope and a gleeful tune whistling through his lips. He ground some espresso, listened to the roar of its rise in the pot, turned off the flame, and collected the newspaper from the foyer. He did this every morning, mostly for the thrill of the smell of coffee on reentering his apartment, but the whistling was new, evidence that he was more than his normal cocksure.
Imagine then, his dismay, when he opened to the inner pages, the ones dedicated to the latest bargains in the computer world. How many times had he opened these pages only days after he had purchased more megahertz and more megabytes, only to find that twice the speed and size now cost half as much, and you got a color printer and free camera in the price.
But this was devastating. Right there it was, in the middle of the page, his invention of yesterday. The pointing board. No moving parts. ‘The finger writes, and having writ…’ The mouse with no balls. There it was , and five dollars more than he was thinking it would be worth.
All of a sudden he sympathized with the Piper, who was going to have to make a better mousetrap.
Patrick Meadows 1934 – 2017.