Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Forget It! - Part 2 of 2

© 1977 by Henry Melton

Carlos stared at the warning for a moment, then asked, "Are there more of these warnings in the data?"
"They appear at the beginning of every file, immediately after the file heading."
"Every file?"
"Yes, would you like a count? It will take several seconds."
There was an uncomfortable pause. Carlos wasn't used to computers taking so long to answer. Finally it displayed the number. "43,339,083."
Oh boy. Was Fred ever wrong on that one! Not only is it illegal, it's forty-three million times illegal.
Carlos pondered over his options for a good five minutes. The National Index was a big prize to give up. But Carlos had a painful honest streak in him.
"Computer, erase the data block you recorded last night off the Vidi screen." Fred'll hate me for this but it isn't his computer.
Carlos glanced down at the little message in blue and pulled himself upright in his seat. The words read, "I cannot erase the data."
"Why not?"
"This computer memory system was not designed to erase any of its contents. The memory block was designed overlarge for the job requirement, allowing the expensive selective-erasure function to be deleted. If a new or edited copy of any file is needed, sufficient memory space exists to have both copies. Any named file will be represented by the latest copy. However, earlier editions are always available."
"You can't erase anything?"
"That is correct."
Carlos argued with his arm for an hour, forgetting that he was supposed to be at work. It just happened to be Fred who went out to look for him.
"There you are, my friend. What have you been up to?" he asked with a smile.
Carlos showed him, and the smile drooped. "Still," argued Fred, "it's good data. I don't know why you would want to erase it."
"It's illegal, Fred," Carlos explained, as if Fred was a little on the thick side.
"Well, you don't have to tell anyone you have it. You don't have to use it if you don't want to."
Carlos shook his head. "No, Fred, you know better than that. This little wrist gadget is duly registered in my name. Its contents are legally available to anyone with the right government form, including the tax people every year. I couldn't keep it secret any longer than a couple of months at the most. I even checked the NI file on its own procedures for tracking down information thieves. Every time a data bank is checked through a privacy scanner, like at tax time, the scanner hunts for that warning notice that I showed you. With forty-three million of them, it could scarcely miss it in my case.
"We've got a problem."
Fred stretched and got to his feet. "Yes, I'd say so, my friend. You've got quite a little problem there. Good luck to you." And he walked off.
Carlos watched him go. Somehow he wasn't surprised.
For days, Carlos's wrist felt like it was wrapped in lead. The longer he thought about those millions of theft alarms screaming, just waiting for someone with the right machine to hear them, the more it seemed as if he was going to have to find an acceptable way to break his beautiful little machine. Deb wasn't going to like that. He wasn't going to like it. Already the thing was indispensable. It was a universal note pad and appointment calendar, reminding him of things he had to do. As absent-minded as he got at times, that function alone was worth almost any price to him.
Almost any price. Certainly not a jail term.
Deb Walker was half puzzled, half gratified that her husband spent so much time studying the instructions for the machine she had given him. He seemed quite faithful in his study. But it was strange he didn't seem to be enjoying it much.
Tax time was approaching and Carlos was much more worried than his wife. He sat in the study, muttering to himself. That was new. He didn't normally talk to himself.
"It's all your fault." He addressed himself to his computer. It didn't answer. It never did to his accusations. "If you could just learn to forget!"
"I can forget."
Carlos's mouth dropped open. "What do you mean?" he growled. "For weeks now, you've told me that you can't erase a thing from your memory and now you say you can forget?"
"That is correct."
"Which is correct–that you can't erase, or that you can forget?"
"Both are correct."
"Explain that to me, if you please."
"There is no method I can use to erase the memory. As I have told you, only a complete power failure could wipe any data from the memory, and since I am a sealed unit, any attempt to discharge the lifetime power cell would cause irreparable damage.
"However, the memory system I use has no absolute addressing system. All data are relatively addressed from an arbitrarily chosen point in the uniform homogeneous block. This basic reference coordinate is held in a special processor-register. My normal programming cannot affect this register, but the set of Explicit Machine Commands, as listed in the instructions, has the capability of erasing this register. If this is done, the memory contents will not have been erased, but without a method of locating these memories, they will be effectively forgotten."
Carlos nodded to himself as he tried to imagine what it was saying. It couldn't erase–but it could lose the map to part of the memory. He tried, for the hundredth time, to comprehend the sheer magnitude of that memory space on his arm–a solid hologram, with the active elements being individual orbiting electron-hole pairs in that special kind of mathematical space created by crystalline semi-conductors. Every word ever written by mankind throughout the ages could be easily expressed in that pattern, and then as easily lost if the writer forgot the key. The National Index would hardly make a ripple. Lose the key, and everything is lost.
"All or nothing, right? How much will you lose?"
"Everything but the Explicit Machine Commands. All of the files that you have set up. All of the routines programmed in at the factory, and all of the initialization."
"Is there a way to save the factory stuff?" Carlos hated to lose those, they created most of the utility of the gadget. He had seen the EMC instructions and he could tell that he wasn't enough of a programmer to be able to do anything useful with them.
"Only if there is another memory block to store the data in."
Carlos glanced at the Vidi on his desk. "Okay, then. Let's get started."
Tax time came and went, and Carlos breezed through it with a smile. A number of people noticed that he had broken loose from the gloom that had been hounding him. He actually met the day with a smile. Fred looked at him speculatively from time to time, but Carlos always seemed to be late for a meeting when he dropped by for a chat. Everything seemed to be sailing smoothly.
Until one day he came home from work to find his wife in a stormy rage. Carlos tried to find out what was wrong, but whatever the sin he had committed, it must have been mortal. He found himself barricaded in the study, up against a formidable wall of angry silence. He didn't understand–until he remembered the date.
April 27. Oops! It was going to be a long night.


Mike G. said...

Very cool... That pesky analog hole, causing data theft even in SF stories :)

Henry Melton said...

Yeah, Mike, I don't even know where that idea came from. But since I wrote the story I was always addicted to mobile computers. Tandy Model 100, several Newtons, iPads, iPhones etc. I've even got an ipad nano v6 on a wristband with a slideshow.

Stig Hemmer said...

Found your link on Claude and Monet. This is GOOD! Not dated at all.

Copyright and related matters are still very much a hot issue.

Also liked the technical note on the difference between erasing and forgetting.

A gutsier man than Carlos might have let them sue him and fought it in court. It would have been an interesting case.

But... most people have better things to do with their life than fighting Big Business.

Henry Melton said...

Good to hear from you, Stig.

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