VirileMail - Chapter 6[edit | edit source]

Mind wandering[edit | edit source]


I did not sleep that night. My hope was that I could make use of Geisler's promise of a special job to help move me away from the madness of the VirileMail project. I wanted to make sure I did not forget what I had seen on the missing video tape.

Trying to stay awake, I spent the night watching the video tape of my ranting about the routing table and altered video data from the computer net at work. I spent hours wondering who could have stolen the missing tape. I knew that logically I was the only suspect.

As the night dragged on, I was at times inflicted with extremes of hunger and thirst. I had several of the "panic attacks" with sweating and severe anxiety that I now associated with attempts to think about specific topics such as the fact that "Janek" seemed to live inside our server array rather than in Europe.

What could that mean? I wondered: why would someone want us to think we were dealing with a person rather than a sophisticated piece of software? Was this all part of Dr. Gajduskova's effort to keep secret the amazing powers of her software until patent protection was assured? If so, did Geisler know what was going on? That might account for his mysterious wink, but only if Geisler knew that I had discovered the "Janek secret". For a fact, I was having trouble remembering what I had told Geisler myself and there was always the chance that Chloe had told Geisler about my that I had been unable to verify now that the data in the routing tables had been altered.

I started wondering if Chloe was well aware what was going on and had been instructed to keep myself and her other team members in the dark. Could Chloe have taken the missing video tape? Could she have altered the routing table data after I had discovered the unusual data path leading to "Janek"?

Maybe I was my own worst enemy. Chloe knew I was infatuated with her. Had she selected me to be on her project team because she knew I would not question or challenge her? I could picture Dr. Gajduskova asking Chloe to find a suitable dupe who would be on duty when the VirileMail software was loaded onto our server array. In my mind, I pictured her saying, "No problem! There's this hopeless nerd Joe who is one of our net admins; he has a crush on me, so I can wrap him around my little finger."

No! I did not want to think such things about Chloe. I shouted, "THIS IS NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL!" I knew that Chloe was not really in control of the situation. But what did that mean? What the hell was going on? It was more than some stupid software development project. I'd spent hours fantasizing about the company being the target of some kind of industrial espionage, but that explained nothing. Either I was insane or some mysterious force was able to take control of me and my co-workers.

It was frightening there, all alone that night. Something in my mind kept beating at me: don't sweat it...everything is are just are just hungry...don't sweat it...

Was I hallucinating? Is this what auditory hallucinations were like? Some "voice" just outside of normal perception, telling you the same thing repeatedly? "You are not crazy. This is perfectly normal. Just go to sleep, you will feel better if you just eat something and get some sleep." Was I schizophrenic, hearing things?

I went on the Internet in order to search and see if "Janek" was a real person, but I ended up searching for a psychiatrist. Maybe all I needed was someone to talk to. I found a local psychiatrist with an online appointment system and signed up for a session with Dr. W. T. Klein.

When I shut down my computer, it was again time to rewind the video tape. While rewinding, I surfed the television channels. I saw Jeff Goldblum in some movie and stopped surfing. It was a movie I had never seen before, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". I was slightly amused by the idea that my co-workers were acting like "pod people".

When that long night was finally over, I shaved and looking in the mirror, I imagined how Chloe would react in panic if she saw face was terrible, like something taken from a living dead movie. I'd never been so sleep deprived. I figured Dr. Klein would be thrilled to encounter such a deranged patient.

Geisler[edit | edit source]

I was ready for work far too early and spent a couple hours driving around killing time. I realized that I had not been driving with my usual aggressive wildness for the past week. My mind started manufacturing excuses: I had been too was not safe to drive fast when tired. I shook my head and tried to stop myself from making excuses. Something had changed during the past week. Everyone associated with "VirileMail" was behaving quite abnormally. Until I could get to the bottom of it, I could not trust myself. Just like everyone else on the project, I was a master at explaining away the unusual and ignoring insanity. Maybe my left-brain, the one working with language, was obsessed with making verbal excuses for unexplained behavior. Far past just being tired, with a severe headache and feeling like I was getting very sick, possibly mentally ill......I was in great shape for work and my first ever personal meeting with the boss in his office.

At last, I got to work and headed directly to Geisler's office.

“Hi there. Give me a minute and I will be with you,” Geisler said.

“OK,” I answered.

I waited and had a chance to look at the objects in his large office. All the furniture was antique. I would never have guessed this aspect of Geisler; he always seemed to be up to date in all subjects related to technology, he did not look like an antiquity lover. He was an expert in Computer Science but almost everything in his office was from the XIX century! It seemed strange to me that these kinds of antiques could still attract technologically-oriented people.

While I was visually exploring the objects in the room, I also noticed that Geisler seemed to be very focused on typing something into his computer. The sound of his fingers at work finally made me stop daydreaming about the motivations of antique collectors. There was something familiar to the sound being made by Geisler's fingers. This was the fastest words per minute rate of typing I had ever heard, even beyond what I had seen for Chloe.

Somehow my mind had been prepared to not take notice of Geisler's super-human typing ability, but now that I had noticed, I knew that this odd behavior meant that he also suffered from the strange illness that had infected the VirileMail team. As soon as I had I reached that conclusion, my mind started suggesting excuses: on the other hand, maybe it was just normal to type like a maniac if you were a great computer scientist or a working programmer. No! The other half of my mind knew it was strange that the VirileMail project changed people and something had made everyone on the project start to type abnormally fast and work like mad to complete project tasks...even when nobody had defined those tasks! And there were other things like the panic attacks and the uncontrollable sweating.

What I needed to be sure of was that the phenomenon of abnormal memory losses was real. I had clear memories of seeing Chloe sweating the way I did. Moreover, I could still remember the video tape evidence, so I was not completely mad, was I? But what if I was sick and could not trust my own recollections? Sitting there, amazed by Geisler's typing, my self-doubts grew. What was the missing video about? Suddenly I could not remember that, but I did remember that it was important to remember. Then, worst of all, I started sweating! Would this crazy nightmare never end? It felt very good, a sensation of complete relief, when Geisler finally finished his typing and started talking to me. I was tired of thinking about the same things repeatedly and getting nowhere...I was ready to hear about my new "job"....I welcomed anything to break the sick pattern of my thoughts.

“OK. About the special job I need you to do for me...." Geisler seemed to take note of the dark circles around my blood-shot eyes and the sweat on my face, but he made no comments about that. "I don’t think you know about this, but my family owns a lot of companies that deal with many aspects of science and technology. It is quite a little manufacturing and research empire that has been built up since the start of the industrial revolution,” Geisler said.

“Really? I thought you only owned Antler Network Services.” I was surprised and somewhat intimidated to hear that my boss was part of such an important and powerful family.

Geisler explained, “All the individual companies controlled by my family have distinctive names, so almost nobody realizes the connections between them. That practice of secrecy with respect to the extent of the family "empire" started back in the trust-busting days. In addition to companies involved with computer networking and software development, my family has other companies that specialize in things like the design of integrated circuits and bioengineering, too. The point is that we need to coordinate activities in these various companies. Right now, the VirileMail project needs to be supported by a greatly increased available computing capacity within our computer network. I need you to go to the hardware company called Ormuz Computing. My sister, Helen Geisler, holds the position of Head Researcher at Ormuz Computing. Get the latest information on the status of their work and report back to me about their progress. They have been working on some new and innovative microchips that should help boost our computational capacity. Do you understand? I want you to help coordinate between Ormuz and Antler Network Services, help us get the most out of the hardware that they have developed.”

It made perfect sense, and thankfully, as I had listened to Geisler my panic attack had completely subsided. Still, I was not entirely comfortable with this new assignment from Geisler. The problem was, I was not an expert in cutting-edge computing hardware. “I understand what you want, but what kind of research does your sister and Ormuz Computing do? Will I even understand their new hardware components?” I really wanted to ask, "Why me?", but I kept that question to myself; I did not want to blow this opportunity.

Geisler did not seem concerned that I was not qualified for this job. No more than anyone had cared when I was put on the VirileMail project. Still, somehow, I had been able to contribute to the VirileMail doing database programming that I did not even understand. Now I was worried that this "special job" from Geisler might move me away from the madness of the VirileMail project but at the same time push me into some other similar project at Ormuz that would be just as crazy. I tried to snap out of my worries and listen to Geisler. He was explaining and while worrying I had not listened carefully to some of what he was saying.

Geisler continued his explanation, “So, you see, they make several Very Large Scale Integration microchips that can be used as components for various computing devices and specialized applications. One of the computing applications they are working on involves some special headphones that are part of a biofeedback system that makes use of sophisticated computations to analyze brain waves. Don't ask me for the details, I've only heard about it in the most general terms from Helen. Those kinds of details are not important for what you need to do. I just want you to be a middle-man and coordinate things so that Helen's team can integrate their hardware into the Antler computer network in support of our VirileMail software. That is what I need you to need for you to try to understand the technical details. If you have questions about the hardware side, Helen will get any details to you from her team. If you need to know some details about the software, just ask Janek.” Geisler had a little smirk on his face when he mentioned Janek.

I suspected that Geisler knew much more than he wanted to share with me. I hated the idea of getting myself into another project where I would be working in the dark. So for an hour I kept asking questions, trying to shake a few details out of my boss. Reluctantly, in dribbles and spurts, Geisler kept telling me little stories about his family, their companies and about the kinds of advanced technologies they were developing. The more I heard the more I was shocked that those discoveries could even be possible. Headphones connected to specialized microprocessors for analyzing brain waves that would be used by computer programmers? That sounded like something for science fiction stories, not for something happening in my life. But the more I heard the more it all started to fit into a pattern. Maybe that kind of hardware would usefully integrate with Artificial Intelligence software designed to predict e-mail users’ needs. Could brain wave analysis tell the software about the user's needs even before the user tried to explain those needs? Science fiction, indeed! It occurred to me that the AI software now in the Antler computer network was not as powerful as it could be, because it had to rely on conventional microchips and human interface hardware to do its intended job. The software was using all of our available computing resources...what might happen if it had access to these strange new hardware technologies from Ormuz? Finally, I realized that no matter how crazy everything seemed and although I still feared that I was just letting myself be pulled deeper into madness, I could not stop. I wanted to know what was going on. Was I witnessing the birth of the World's first truly revolutionary artificial intelligence within the Antler computer network?

At last, the meeting was over and we shook hands. I felt something strange when we touched. I felt a tingle like an electrical current flowing from my head to the hand. Maybe I was just too tired: had I imagined that odd sensation? Moreover, Geisler did not seem to notice anything unusual...while I stood there flexing and shaking my fingers he was already returning to his work. I turned and went out the door.

Just moments before I have been firm in my resolve to sort out all the mysteries, then something like this had to happen, a weird sensation of electricity emanating from my boss! The rationalizations started to come to me: I was so tired and stressed that I was just imagining strange sensations. The good thing about it was that after the little shock I stopped feeling my headache. What a relief!

Helen[edit | edit source]

After I left Geisler's office I went to my office and checked my email. I had an email from Nancy Friel at Ormuz Computing. The email confirmed an appointment for me to meet with Helen Geisler and had driving instructions for how to get to Ormuz Computing. I decided I better not delay, so I did not even bother to look in through the open door to Brian's office.

Ormuz Computing was located on the other side of the Bay and it took me an hour to drive over. I parked in front of their research building and looked again at my watch. It was getting close to noon. I decided I might as well go in then rather than wait until after lunch.

Inside the front door there was a metal detector and a security guard. The guard asked, "Do you have an appointment?

I replied, "Dr. Geisler is expecting me."

The guard picked up a phone. "Your name?" I told him. "Joe Daonet is here to see Dr. Geisler." She waved a hand towards the metal detector, so I walked through. "That's right. Okay." She hung up the phone and handed me a visitor’s badge. "Please put this badge on. Someone is coming down."

I clipped on the visitor's badge and waited just a moment. The elevator opened and a middle aged woman stepped out. "Mr. Daonet?"

"Joe Daonet."

She shook my hand. "Nancy Friel, I'm Helen's assistant." She led me into the elevator. "Welcome to Ormuz Computing. I understand you work for Anthony Geisler." She pressed the button for the top floor, floor 5.

I nodded. "Yes, I just recently learned that he has a sister, Helen."

Nancy said, "Actually, their family is very large. Helen told me that she has seven brothers and sisters."

The elevator opened and I stepped onto the fifth floor. I was expecting to see a floor devoted to office space, but the only office seemed to be a small glass-walled office for Nancy right in front of the elevator. The rest of the floor could be seen through the glass walls. I could see a maze of work benches, racks of electronics and computing equipment, maybe a dozen people working. Nancy waved and another woman, somewhat older, waved back.

Nancy said, "Here she comes."

Helen made her way over to where Nancy and I stood waiting. Briefly, Helen was out of sight behind an opaque partition, then the door opened and she stepped through the door way, hand extended. "Helen Geisler. Nice to meet you, Joe." We shook hands and she continued to hold my hand.

I said, "Thanks for interrupting your work to see me."

Helen laughed. "Ha ha. I was just bothering some of my research team. I'm sure they are glad that you showed they can get back to their work." Finally she let my hand drop. "Let me show you around."

She led the way back through the door she had just come through. There was a coffee pot on the other side of the door. Helen said, "Would you like a cup?" I accepted eagerly, needing all the help I could get to stay awake. She found me a cup and poured me some coffee. "Anthony told me that he wants to try using one of our new Lockback chips for your AI project."

I assumed that "your AI project" meant the VirileMail project. I swallowed some of the coffee and then said, "Our little computer network is running at 95% CPU utilization. We need something that will expand our computing capacity."

Helen led me over to one of the work benches. She picked up a small plastic bag. "This is one of our LBCs." She pulled open the zip-locked bag and pulled out a small circuit board. Most of the board was covered by a rather large integrated circuit. "Our main problem is cooling. This LBC is designed for liquid nitrogen cooling. See here." She turned and pulled a drawer out of an equipment rack. After looking carefully at the microchip on the board and said, "This is one of our old 65 nm chips." She slid the circuit board into a slot in the rack and flipped a switch on the front panel. "The trick is to match heat generation to the liquid nitrogen flow rate."

I was surprised to hear mention of 65 nm lithography as being "old". I asked, "How many transistors are on this chip?"

Helen replied, "Almost two billion." She turned on a monitor and picked up a video camera off the bench. "Watch this." The monitor showed a processed version of the video being captured by the camera. The processing seemed to be built on some kind of edge detection. "This LBC does a good job of replicating visual cortex." She pointed to a digital flow meter's read out. "See how the liquid nitrogen flow rate climbs when the camera is pointing at a more complex scene? The Lockback algorithm on the chip automatically increases the processing iterations as needed when the scene complexity rises. Heat production can rise dramatically." She started shaking the camera. The image on the monitor stayed fairly crisp but the coolant flow rate climbed fast.

I asked, "Is this particular microchip just for this image processing application or can it deal with other types of computation?"

Helen switched off the camera and pulled open another drawer of the equipment rack. She explained, "It was originally designed with image processing in mind, but look here." She showed me that the Lockback chip was connected to a standard CPU. "The Lockback chip is designed to function as a co-processor for any conventional CPU, so for any parallel processing task you face, the Lockback processor kicks in. From what Anthony told me, your main concern is natural language processing and specific problems such as translation. As long as you fractionated the translation problem into many scalable parallel processing sub-routines you could use these Lockback chips. You might need a large number of chips to deal with a problem involving the full complexity of a human language like English."

Helen mentioned a couple of other computational problems and showed me the special microprocessors they were developing as solutions. "Each of the microprocessors in this Lockback family is highly redundant with low total circuit complexity. It does not take very long to complete these designs and then we can just send them off to one of the specialty lithography companies. Then we do some testing and benchmarking."

I asked, "So these Lockback chips are still just experimental and not on the market?"

Helen replied, "Very much so. We just had the key breakthrough, actually the basic concept of the design, only about a year ago. Our marketing people are just starting on actual product design for the marketplace. Our goal is to launch with a small set of chips for sale next year."

At that moment we were near to one of Helen's team members who I noticed was working furiously at a keyboard. I had feared that the people at Ormuz Computing might also be suffering from the same strange behaviors as we were on the VirileMail project, and here was evidence of that right before my eyes! My knees started to shake and I dropped my coffee cup. Luckily I had quickly drained the cup and was just carrying it around the lab empty, but it smashed into hundred pieces on the hard tile floor. Part of me wanted to shout at Helen, "Your team is infected just like me and my friends at Antler Network Services!" But I started to sweat and could not speak.

Helen grabbed a broom and swept up the mess. By the time she was done the worst of the panic attack was over and I could speak when Helen asked if I was alright. I gave a few lame excuses about not getting much sleep. Helen said, "And probably not eating right either."

She took me to lunch and it was true: I had not bothered to eat recently. I had been trying not to sleep and trying to resist the strange waves of hunger and thirst I had been experiencing. Now I had to admit to myself that I was truly hungry and probably dehydrated as well. While I ate, Helen told me some stories about her family, including a few amusing anecdotes about her brother Anthony. I became very relaxed and had difficulty keeping my eyes open.

By the time we got back to Helen's lab it was the middle of the afternoon. We went to the fourth floor where Helen's office was located. I guess I should not have been surprised, but I was surprised when I saw that her office was decorated like some kind of Victorian mansion. Clearly she shared Anthony's interest in antiques. We sat down in her office and Helen asked me some questions about the VirileMail software. I tried to construct a coherent account of the software, but what I said did not sound any less crazy than usual. Really, what sense did it make to talk about an email program that had astronomical computing resource demands? I did not dare mention the truly crazy things like the fact that when we sent translation requests to Janek, those requests were routed to the VirileMail software itself!

Just when I was thinking about the software pretending to be Janek, Helen turned her chair and typed a little at the keyboard of her computer. I'd feared and expected that Helen would also show odd behavior just like her brother Anthony had that morning, but she did not sink into a session of amazingly rapid typing. She turned the monitor on her desk so I could see it. She had pulled up some emails from Chloe and Janek that were descriptions of hardware needs for the VirileMail project. Helen pointed at the emails and summarized their contents. Helen asked, "Do you know Chloe and Janek?" I admitted that I did. "Anthony forwarded copies of these emails to me and asked if our Lockback family of chips was ready and available." She pointed again to the monitor and to one of Janek's emails. "Janek explicitly suggested using Lockback chips. It's rather surprising because so far we've only done a few small experimental production runs and all of our stock of chips has been devoted to testing, either in house or by our first few customers. Frankly, I'm surprised that anyone in Europe has even heard of the Lockback chips, but I guess word is starting to spread through the computing community."

It did seem like Helen was afflicted with the habit of ignoring or explaining away strange behavior. She had seemed oblivious to one of her team members typing at the rate of a couple hundred words per minute. She had witnessed one of my panic attacks and dismissed it as due to lack of sleep and a food. And now, she knew that Janek should not have known about the experimental Lockback chips, but she was able to rationalize that, too. I pointed to the list of proposed hardware that Chloe had prepared and commented, "Chloe only suggested the purchase of conventional computing hardware."

Helen nodded. "Yes, I've already recommended that you focus on meeting your needs with conventional computers, but I'd be happy to let you start experimenting with some of the Lockback chips."

Helen got up out of her chair and went to a shelf where she picked up several boxes. "This is not much, but I'm giving you one of each Lockback model that has been made so far. When you start trying to integrate these into your network, let me know. I'll make my team members available to answer any questions you have. We are expecting our first mid-sized production run for the model K4 later this month, so at that time we will finally have a big enough supply to start sending samples to potential customers."

I took the boxes from Helen and thanked her. She walked me out of the building, getting both me and the boxes of equipment past the security guard. We said our goodbyes and then I drove back to Antler, wondering how tricky it would be to integrate the Lockback chips into our computer network. I was certain that I did not want to get involved with installing liquid nitrogen tanks in the server room. I started contemplating the possibility of using the existing hole in the wall of the server room for a liquid nitrogen coolant line. I smiled to myself, amazed at the sensation of being witness to continually escalating strangeness. Where would all this end? Just what was I helping to construct in our little server room at Antler Network Services?

Delivery[edit | edit source]

I drove back to Antler Network Services with the new hardware, trying to beat traffic and get to my appointment with Dr. Klein on time. While driving, I called Chloe in order to try to let her know that I was bringing the Lockback microchips and that we would have to make plans for liquid nitrogen cooling. She opened the connection, "This is Dr. Meade." I gave her a brief description of the hardware I had gotten from Helen. Chloe said, "Oh, those are the chips that Janek has been saying we should be using. I'd never heard of them before and could not find any published information about them."

"From what Helen told me, I have the feeling that they have not had a chance to publish their research or publicize these new chips, but Helen promised to make her team members available to help us integrate this hardware into our computer network. Traffic is getting thick, I'll see you soon." I cut the connection and reflected on the fact that I no longer had the nerve to drive aggressively as was my habit. I started going over my plans for what I would tell Dr. Klein...there had been many strange events during the past week and several odd changes in my behavior. I was afraid to tell Dr. Klein everything; I did not want her to think I was crazy. I wanted some help in finding ways to adjust to how my life had changed...was changing.

Security was uneasy about letting me in the building with the strange equipment from Ormuz Computing. The guard said, "All hardware has to come in through receiving." I made a quick call to Geisler and he spoke briefly to the guard who handed my phone back to me. "Fine, Dr. Geisler said it's okay."

I hurried up to Chloe's office and set the equipment boxes on her desk. I told her that I was rushing to get to a doctor's appointment. She commented, "I'm glad you're getting some help. You look like a zombie."

I did not even try to make any excuses for my appearance and my decision to avoid sleep. My plan was to share what I knew with someone who I could trust not to be suffering from the odd behavior I had seen at both Antler and Ormuz Computing. Chloe was looking well-rested and I was glad to see that she was no longer working as hard as she had been the previous week. I stood there swaying slightly and feeling too weary to think of anything I could say. I muttered, "I have to go," and left her office.

I went by Brian's office at a half-trot. I heard Brian call out, "Hey, man!" I did not slow down, but called back over my shoulder, "I'll catch you later."

Traffic was brutal and I had some trouble finding Dr. Klein's office. I started shaking and perspiring every time I thought of telling her about my belief that "Janek" was a computer program pretending to be a person. I arrived late for my appointment, wondering if I would be able to talk to Dr. Klein without acting like a mad man.

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