Short Story Title: As Bad as a Second Wife

Story Type: Fiction


This Short Story is Chapter Unknown Plus Two of "Early Microcomputer Experiences"

Date Written: June 21, 2019

Written By: Joel T. Kant

Copyright (c) June 21, 2019


Josh Cistern and I were walking on the sidewalk to an EE class when Waldo Venter hurried up.

Waldo asked, "Hey, guys. Did you get the homework done?"

Josh said, "Just finished. You could have joined us at Union South."

Bill-of-Rights University has two unions: Memorial Union and Union South. Memorial Union is a converted grand hotel, so a beautiful building, whereas Union South is modern red brick and glass so functional rather than beautiful. Yet, Union South had the great advantage of being just across the road from the engineering building!

Waldo explained, "I would have, but I'm coming from another class across campus."

Josh looked at his watch and remarked, "It's still twelve minutes before class and we're just a minute away from our classroom. Let's stop in the engineering lounge."

On the first floor of the engineering building was a common study area filled with tables and chairs. It had tall windows that let in much sunlight. I personally did not like to study there since so many people walked in and out all the time as if a hallway, which in a sense it was as it had glass doors at either side. We found an empty table, and then Josh, Waldo, and I hurriedly got out out notes.

As Waldo and I worked, Josh called out to somebody come through the glass doors at the far end of the room, "Hey, Zach!"

I looked up to see Zach Carr heading toward Josh. However, as I lifted my head where I had been looking at Waldo's paper, Zach froze. He immediately turned completely around and hurried off.

Waldo noticed as this was not subtle and asked, "Hey, Joel, did you shoot Zach's dog or something?"

I replied, "Or something."

Josh suggested, "I'll bet Zach finally found out about Joel got rid of his pirated software some weeks ago."

Waldo said, "Zach the Cracker wouldn't like that. Probably thinks you're going to turn into a snitch about him being a Commodore 64 software cracker as if the whole world didn't know that already."

Waldo stopped talking as he began blatantly copying at this point, and I stopped fighting letting him. The three of us got to the classroom and sat in our desks as the bell rang.

After class, we went back to the engineering lounge. Josh and I took turns telling the story to Waldo Venter how I had dumped my pirated software.

Waldo wondered, "The FBI? Really?"

Josh stressed, "The FBI only cared about stolen credit card numbers and stolen long distance calling card numbers. It makes no sense to me why Joel won't get at least some of his software back"

I was tempted to ask how much Josh had gotten back himself, but held my tongue.

To my surprise, Waldo said, "I don't think Joel is being dumb about avoiding pirated software. I got rid of mine too!"

Josh looked taken aback at this show of support.

I said, "I never spent a great deal of time playing my pirated games, but this close to graduation, it can help not to have the temptation to play them. Any little bit helps."

Josh gave a chuckle and said, "All three of us are about to nail down the Computer Engineering Minor, so you talk about a 'little bit.'"

Both Waldo and I groaned about a binary bit pun.

Waldo stated, "I spend a little too much time playing videogames myself. That isn't what I meant. Home computer and the peripheral prices are going down fast. My MS-DOS system is a lot more expandable than your Commodore 64's. I just installed a 10-megabyte hard disk."

Josh was so taken aback to be momentarily speechless as all people with a home computer lusted after having a hard disk as if were the Holy Grail itself, so I asked, "How on Earth did you afford that?"

Waldo beamed and said, "I have a side-job where I got a contract from a small business to write functions and macros in popular business software. I'll be using a combination of Lotus One-Two-Three, dBase Three, and some other applications."

Although a huge Commodore fan, Josh was well-read about other brands of home computer and remarked, "I read in a computer magazine that there never was a dBase One. The makers thought people would be wary to buy software labeled One, so the first release was number Two."

Waldo acknowledged, "That clever tactic worked because it's very popular. Come on over to my apartment, and I'll show you."

Later at Waldo's apartment with evidence of his wife's things around so this was not a bachelor pad, Waldo brought us to his computer. Waldo then showed us what Lotus One-Two-Three and dBase Three accomplished with some simple tasks.

Waldo said, "Joel, I heard from Josh that you have a habit of spell-checking everything you word process."

I guessed that Waldo hearing that from Josh had been in the form of a complaint, but I acknowledged it was true.

Waldo said, "Do you have to swap in a dictionary disk on a floppy disk?"

"Yes," I admitted.

Josh put in, "Doing all the disk swapping to do it is too slow for unimportant tasks. Joel is obsessive about spell-check!"

Waldo remarked, "Watch how fast spell-check is in this lab I wrote earlier when the dictionary is on the hard disk rather than a floppy disk."

It seemed nearly instantaneous, and all the potentially misspelled words were highlighted. I was impressed, and it seemed so was Josh.

Waldo looked at Josh and remarked, "Josh, I know you write computer games and used to play Dungeons and Dragons. Check out this game. Here's the box, proving it wasn't pirated."

The screen showed a top-down map. A stick figure of a knight was on the screen. Waldo explained what patterns meant woods, water, roads, and the like. At certain point, there was a very short pause, an LED blinked to indicate the hard disk was in use, and then the knight went on deeper into this huge map. Waldo did this several times. It felt like there was no end to the map that went on and on and on, with just the very short pauses as new data was swapped in from the fast hard-disk.

Josh conceded, "Having a hard disk really changes things. Swapping files is so fast it almost seems like it was all in RAM. You just gave us a glimpse of the future. However, as amazing as it is, what has any of this to do with your thinking Joel isn't dumb for getting rid of his pirated software?"

Waldo reached over to a shelf, then handed Josh a fat box labeled Lotus 123. From it, he extracted a floppy disk among the other things in the box and said, "This is a legitimately purchased copy of Lotus 123. It cost about five hundred dollars."

Josh started to say that would buy an entire Commodore 64 system, but stopped himself as Waldo clearly already knew this.

Waldo continued taking a disk out of the box, "This floppy is what is called a key disk. You must have it in the floppy drive for Lotus 123 to start."

I commented, "But you demonstrated it starting from your new hard disk without putting in that floppy."

Josh guessed, "You have both a legitimate copy and a cracked copy! The cracked version takes out the floppy disk check."

Waldo said, "A business computer might have to start and exit a program many times a day. With that kind of use, floppy disks do wear out! You can mail in the worn-out disk and get a new one mailed back free of charge, but that can take a week or two. A business cannot afford to have critical software down for that long! So, I know a bunch of companies that buy a legitimate copy, but then get a cracked version for daily use that can be started solely from the hard disk!"

Josh wondered, "Why would the companies buy a copy if they are just going to get a cracked copy anyway?"

Waldo explained, "Risk. Although highly unlikely a private person would have their computer checked for pirated software, a small business is more of a target. If Joel Kant were to start a small business, then it would be dangerous to have pirated software around. With my contract to do tasks for a small company, I am a small business myself. I don't keep any pirated software in my apartment anymore, but I do have cracked versions of the honestly paid for version with proof as obvious as this Lotus 123 box. I doubt anybody would ever raid me, but now that I am a small business myself, the risk went up greatly it could happen! If Joel ever thought of doing something like me, it would make sense not to have any pirated software around."

Josh accused Waldo, "You're a cracker like Zach Carr, only you do it for MS-DOS machines rather than Commodores!"

Waldo angrily said, "I never said that! I merely said I have both a cracked version and the honestly purchased version of the same thing, with ample proof of the honestly purchased version!"

I asked, "If key disks wearing out is such a problem, and I can see where it would be, then what about dongles like on my Paperclip word processor instead of a key floppy disk?"

Waldo pointed to the back of his computer and said, "That's a dongle that goes to the printer port for another piece of business software. It is supposed to allow free passing through of printer commands, but fails to print with my brand of printer."

I said, "So some programs using dongles need cracking as well even if legitimately purchased?"

Waldo confirmed, "If one wants to use software and also this type of printer, then yes. I believe if the software manufacturers for MS-DOS machines ever realize the value of running the software from the hard disk without a floppy key disk and without a dongle, the popularity of these MS-DOS machines will explode. If I had spare cash, then I might invest it in Microsoft, the maker of MS-DOS, just on the chance that will happen."

I remarked, "I'm stuck with the Commodore computer I have until graduation. I cannot afford an MS-DOS computer nor to invest in any company. As for MS-DOS, every person I know in Computer Science treats MS-DOS with open scorn because it is a single-tasking operating system. They love UNIX since it is a multi-tasking, multi-threaded operating system. If I had money to invest, then maybe I would invest it in AT&T since they make UNIX."

Waldo nodded and added, "UNIX could take over the home computer world with ease if just priced a lot lower. AT&T might not do it because that would make the home computers too powerful, and that would cut into mainframe and minicomputer sales."

Josh noted, "If we just reliably knew what AT&T, IBM, Microsoft, Commodore, and other companies were going to to do, then we could make a fortune in stocks. However, I really don't. The whole point of what to invest in is moot for me, as I barely have enough cash to make it through graduation in EE!"

I added, "That goes double for me!"

Waldo pointed to his MS-DOS system newly improved with the hard disk and said, "For today, having my new hard disk is all I can afford, but using a hard disk when the rest of you only have floppy disk drives feels pretty good!"

I frankly admitted, "I'm jealous. Not just for money, but consider time and energy as well! I can barely survive my academic courses. I don't know where you find the time and energy to learn all that MS-DOS business software. Josh is just as bad with writing his own word processor and selling articles to the type-in program magazines. All I do extra is six hours a week of tutoring and lab grading for Nonlinear Circuits at minimum wage. Don't you guys ever sleep?"

Waldo admitted, "Well, my wife wishes I would spend more time with her than my computer. She sometimes claims this machine is as bad as a second wife!"

Josh commented, "Given my lack of a dating life, I won't be having a wife any time soon."

Waldo contemplated, "We're in our last semester before graduating. There are advantages for you two being bachelors like no arguments about what city to move to if offered a job."

I sighed and informed Waldo, "I'm no longer graduating in May. Using my Cornfield University version of Technical Writing for Bill-of-Rights University's Technical Writing was disallowed. I have to stay for summer school just to take that one course. I'll be an August graduate."

Waldo asked, "Wasn't it enough credits?"

"Same amount," I replied.

Josh said, "I transferred up here before taking their version of Technical Writing. I took it up here. It was a trivial class, waste of time. It's supposed to be about writing resumes and cover letters, but so many of the EE's are bad at English that it is like a remedial composition class. Rules are rules, though."

I said, "I had a strange conversation with a woman just yesterday."

Both seemed interested.

I remarked, "Do you know Rachel? She's in Computer Science."

Waldo said, "Sure, I know her. Red-headed with lots of freckles. Looks like a stereotypical Irish woman, but claims not to have a drop of Irish blood."

Josh said, "For St. Patrick's Day parties, all the places want her to attend simply because she looks so Irish despite her boasting she is not Irish!"

I remarked, "Yes, her."

Waldo added, "Last semester, I had a Computer Science course with her. Some months ago, she tried to convince me Computer Science was a better major than Electrical Engineering. She knew I had an MS-DOS computer, and told me that UNIX was the better way to go for operating systems. I told her how many courses those of us in EE with the Computer Engineering minor have to take that use UNIX. Futhermore, the new Data General MV-10000 mainframe in the EE basement runs UNIX. I also told her that while my computer is a clone of an IBM XT, the higher model of an IBM AT or clone of it with an 80286 processor can run true UNIX. Id love to do that, but it cost over two grand just for the software from AT&T! Her opinion of EE's, at least those in the Computer Engineering minor like us, went up tremendously."

Josh said, "I tried to double major in EE and Computer Science. You've all had the CS courses Macro-Assembler and Data Structures II, right?"

With all of us in EE but with the Computer Engineering minor, we had to take some courses through the Computer Science Department, and I answered, "I had the first a year ago, but I'm in Data Structures II right now."

Waldo nodded that he had both already.

Josh continued, "If you count those toward EE, then you cannot use them toward CS, and vice versa. It seemed designed to prevent double-majoring as if a double-major was a terrible thing!"

Waldo remarked, "I was going to double-major too, and ran into the same road block. It makes no sense, but bureaucracies have their own ways of doing things that defy common sense and logic."

I said, "Rachel told me all about her new cat. I said that I was allergic to cats."

Waldo remarked, "There goes any chance you had with Rachel."

I remarked, "I really am allergic to cats, though. She kept telling me about this cat anyway. She said that it plays fetch like it was a dog rather than a cat. She also said that it avoided catnip like it was poison. She said that it was amazing that someone with her tastes would get the catnip-avoiding cat."

Josh revealed, "Rachel invited me over to her place a week ago. I've seen the cat. Rachel tossed a small stuff toy. The cat raced off, grabbed it, brought it back, and it dropped it at her feet. Rachel did it a couple more times with the same result. I've seen Springer Spaniels that didn't fetch as well as that cat!"

Waldo was intrigued and asked for more information. "She asked you to her place?"

Josh confirmed, "Yes. After doing fetch with the cat for a while, she got out a little bag of catnip. The cat saw that, and ran away to hide! Then, Rachel got out another bag of stuff that didn't look that different than catnip. I guessed what it was, and declined. I told her I'm doing job interviews since I'm graduating at the end of the semester. I may have to take a drug test."

Waldo said, "Pot washes out of the body in a few weeks. Yet, it might not be enough time."

Josh said, "She asked what company I was interviewing with that had a drug test. I said that I had an interview coming up with the National Security Agency."

I remarked, "I heard the NSA has some of the best computers in the world! That'd be a great place for somebody like you to work!"

Waldo put in, "I read about the great computer resources there too. I read that those who work there cannot tell people where they work. It gets called the No Such Agency!"

Josh looked worried as he replied, "I haven't had the interview yet. I wasn't told I couldn't tell people I was going to interview with them."

Waldo shook his head and informed us, "Rachel's a neo-hippie. She's against anything to do with what she calls the military-industrial complex. Telling her where you're interviewing is worse that Joel telling a cat-lover like her that he's allergic to cats!"

Josh confirmed, "It seems so because since then, she's been avoiding me like her cat avoided catnip! Like Joel, I'm allergic to cats, but I never told her. I wasn't at her place long enough for it to show."


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