Power Coding

After the incantations, the wizard simply winds up. He aims, throws.

Systems all across the midwest suffer crashes. Ball lightning plays fast, blue tag on power lines all the way to Minnesota. Hundreds of thousands of people are left in the dark as operators in power plants stare wide-eyed in shock at their pegged needles.

Well, no. That’s not how the new dark ages began.

After the all-nighter, the wizard forgets a semi-colon. After weeks of testing, the product ships. A year later, the embedded system that controls the power relays walks across a data structure that was trashed three weeks earlier by some code written by a twenty-year veteran who should have known better. This time, the off-by-one error indirects through a wild pointer and stabs an I/O address that causes the relay to latch open and stay that way. The relay welds shut, the transistors blow to protect their fuses, and the cascade begins.

The world ends, not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a typo…

The NASDAQ, caught in its zillionth week of contracting stock offerings, gutters and flames out for the last time. Somewhere in Kansas a farmer kicks the side of his unresponsive combine, spits in the dust and walks away, leaving a mortgaged mountain of high-tech junk behind him. The million-year-old fossil water that fed his fields can’t be pumped anyway, because QuotaNet’s been down for weeks and the valves won’t open without permission from a bureaucrat who hasn’t been able to get to the office; no methanol for fuel, so it’s illegal to drive.

Don’t worry about arranging for the last someone turn the lights out. Just make sure they properly douse last night’s camp fire. At last count there were eight refinery fires going in the US alone, and no sign that anyone was going to brave the crossfire from the various dug-in fringe groups and put out the flames.

A pregnant horse is worth … you name it. Just about anything.

In fifty years, most books are crackling fragments (though a lot of acid-free titles were printed, and those are worth livestock). CDROMs are, of course, completely unreadable, and few people have time for friviolity like that anyway. A lot of communities are built on old landfills, mining for goodies like aluminum and plastic. You can build good houses and irrigation equipment out of that stuff. Computers? You’re kidding, right? Didn’t those toys cause the Fall? Stay away from those and get into honest work, son, not like a thief. Remember that old guy they found hiding out all these years on old Tober’s ranch?

More later…

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