Eventually some of the HTS officers had taken some office space in the building. The women had to wear chadors just to visit the building, so they tended to either avoid the place or stay longer when they came. Krum put the bulk of his computers in the basement, with work stations scattered throughout the office block. He really didn’t have an office, but kept one rolling office chair in the basement, and would sometimes use it to whizz between computers. His actual office was his laptop.
Jordan was happy with a makeshift office on the first deck above the floor in the warehouse. It turned out the chain hoist had a basket which worked nicely as an elevator, too, but the place was far from filled. Still, he got a couple of local men to handle whatever was shipped in and out. No one was surprised when HQ asked them to store things, as well. Ripley took the main office on the ground floor and secured a male secretary of some intelligence vetted by the military from the local workforce. This man served as their receptionist. Manford, Gilson and Worley took over the second floor, which was also their adopted living space. The crew agreed very early on at their own expense to modify one of the two bathrooms, converting it into a shower room. The rest of the office block was variously outfitted by whomever chose to use it. There were no keys to any doors as far as the HTS officers knew; none of the rooms were locked, but there were lockable cabinets in the supply chain.
They never did get a vehicle, so the bicycles were repaired and saw some use. Krumm decided he wanted to buy his own, because he felt some nameless need to be able to get around freely. This would require something better than the old Russian commuter bikes. But on his first full day out of the basement, he decided he needed some time to himself more than anything else, just to get away.
Right after breakfast, he stepped through the pedestrian gate, chatted with the guard a few moments, then headed north. From the map and the placement of highly visible minarets, he knew it would take him past a rather large mosque at the center of the community. The destination was an open park area indicated on the maps, some five miles away. At times the pedestrian and small vehicle traffic was thick, but he was in no hurry. Naturally, his Western style clothing stood out like a sore thumb, but people were generally polite. He began humming to himself some favorite old hymns.
At some point he unconsciously began to sing outloud:
Holy, holy, holy!
Though the darkness hide Thee;
Though the eye of sinful man
Thy glory may not see…
“Excuse me, sir!” One of the men he had identified as some sort of Public Morality Police approached from his right. It was the first English he had heard since leaving the compound. This fellow was taller than average, taller than Krumm. Watching warily, he saw nothing angry in the man’s visage, but a rather friendly demeanor. “Were you singing praises to God?”
“Yes, sir. Was I too loud?” He had no idea where this was going, but saw no reason to be fearful, only respectful.
“Oh, no, no. It is always proper to praise God in any language. Besides you have a fine voice. I have not heard such music in a very long time.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m glad you like it.”
The man kept his slender rod behind his back. Stepping a bit closer, “You are surely not a tourist. We have precious few American visitors to our community.”
Krumm half-smiled. “I’m afraid it is officially discouraged.”
“Yes, so I’ve heard.” The man glanced around. “It seems sad they assume social strictness means uncivilized. We always felt it was quite the opposite. We’d be glad to see more Americans, but the soldiers are rather barbaric for our tastes.”
Krumm couldn’t resist. “Do tell. I was hoping to avoid them myself. Violence is hardly entertaining to me.”
The man extended his open right hand. “Let me introduce myself — Sabaz Khan. That’s rather like Charley Jones in your world.”
“I’ve visited Canada and the US many times, attending conferences in my training to become an imam. What would bring you in this direction, which would take you nowhere near any American facilities?” Khan made sure it didn’t sound like some kind of interrogation.
“Just trying to get away after two weeks of frantic activity setting up our offices. I wanted to sit in your park” — he pointed to his map — “and perhaps see if I could purchase a bicycle or something similar. We won’t be issued any vehicles by the military.”
“Could I walk with you? I’d love the continue this conversation. I won’t pressure you to convert to Islam, but I suspect we have much in common already.”
Krumm resumed his walk. The conversation was open and philosophical, quite refreshing compared to the locker room chatter of his co-workers. Krumm outlined his position as a Christian Mystic, and easily took in stride Khan’s response to the the two calls to prayer which sounded over the city from dozens of loudspeakers during their visit. They sat awhile in the park, then at Khan’s invitation, ordered something from a passing food cart for lunch. Eventually, he suggested Krumm visit a particular shop just a block away, to see if the prices for a scooter were not cheap enough in dollars to compare well with lower priced bicycles in the US. He discussed the best way to buy fuel and other supplies on the bustling streets of the city. Finally, Khan needed to return to his office.
“Mr. Krumm, I have enjoyed a refreshing visit with you today. I cannot hide from you being seen in my company marks you as somewhat a VIP. Make yourself at home here in our community; we want you to feel one of us.”
As Krumm watched the man stride away, something told him his real mission had just begun.
Marriage and family back home would not likely limit their behavior here for very long, any more than would Islamic culture. Only the vagaries of opportunity itself could do that. With the city maps and landmarking Krumm provided from the Net, their explorations discovered that traveling south they could exit the strict Islamic enclave in just a quarter-mile or so. The boundary was a broad and busy street.
On the first day, Jordan and Gilson discovered, of all things, a taco stand. Between the two of them, they stammered out enough Spanish with the man at the counter to discover there was a small Hispanic community in the city, just a block away, huddled inside a single apartment tower. The prurient instincts of Jordan led him to casually ask about adult entertainment.
Sure enough, prostitution was alive and well, and within walking distance of their post. Jordan eagerly reported later to Krumm, “Man, we found a babe rental! It’s…”
Krumm help up his hand sharply. “I’m not interested in rental property.”
Jordan laughed derisively and sauntered away into the warehouse.
For those somewhat more squeamish on moral issues, there were still just a few bored young ladies to be found in the coffee shops and and Internet cafe looking for more enduring relationships. At breakfast one morning, with the whole crew sitting around a table, Worley turned to Krumm. “So wise and mystical monk, tell me how to deal with this. I got one gal who is really interesting, but kind of Westernized, and at times a hell-raiser. But the only other one willing is too much of a local girl, all nice and sweet, obsequious and… well, boring.”
Krumm, without looking up from his coffee replied quietly. “You can’t use a micrometer to calibrate a jack-hammer.”
“What? Is that another one of your silly mystical riddles?” Jordan laughed.
Krumm smiled indulgently. Turning to Worley, “The human soul is a delicate instrument. You have abused your sense of beauty, justice and goodness, beating them mercilessly against the pavement of shallow pleasures. You expect them to somehow continue reporting accurate assessments of what will work out nicely among such opportunities as that?”
Ripley asked, “Do you miss having a woman?”
Krumm looked slightly wistful. “My wife was my best friend.” He never discussed how she died, simply referred to her being taken from him. “No one could ever replace her, but I’d love to find a successor. My life is bound up in a mystical vision of calling from God. As you already know, it means decisions which make no sense at all to on a human level. I can’t afford to let anything side-track that. I have zero concern over human legal wrangling about what constitutes marriage, but any woman staying in my life has to be crazy the same way. Not just buy into my religion, but be fully devoted to backing me 100% in my calling as her calling. That there was one woman like that indicates there might be more somewhere, but I tend to think finding one is above my pay grade, as it were. Since it would take a miracle to be like that, it would take a miracle to find her, too.”
“So you aren’t even looking?”
Taking another sip of coffee, he lowered his cup a few inches and swallowed. “I’ll know when it happens. Until then, I have other things to occupy my non-duty, spare time.”
Standing before the only truck bay door, the inset necessary to accommodate even the small trucks which could get in to the door sacrificed a good bit of dock floor space. Standing at the far end of warehouse, then, the floor running to the back wall a couple dozen yards was open to the ceiling high above.
Each man had been specifically orderd to bring his own flashlight. As they began to explore, they found the truck bay had been already somewhat stacked up with boxes and furniture which was clearly American government stuff, most of it older, some of it needing a little repair. Nearest to them was the pile of apparently new cots they had already noticed. There were also several more cases of the field rations which had sustained them on their journey from the one working airfield in the country.
They all agreed that was not a good sign, but Krumm spotted another stack of boxes, each labeled with the usual incomprehensible military abbreviations. However, he noticed a small pasted label on each one said “Class 1 expedite” — military jargon for food. Opening the top box in the stack, he pulled out a large steel tub sealed with a heavy foil cover. He recalled a particular test program using these. They were meant to be loaded into low heat ovens mounted on trucks, which could quickly deploy and serve hot food in the field. While there was apparently no oven there to fit these trays, Krumm assured them it was all fully cooked, meal-in-one type stuff which had been rather well received among the troops. They decided to test one immediately, using a stash of cheap flatware among the pile of stuff there. It was tolerable cold.
It took the six of them another fifteen minutes of exploration to discover the layout of the building. Mounted on the ceiling above them was a chain hoist, but the chains had been pulled aside. They appeared to by lying on the top floor of a section of the open warehouse which was filled with a substantial wood framed series of decks. The decks were simply open where they faced the doors of the dock. They ran the length of the building to the office block, attached by a switchback stairway, and landings on each floor. The whole thing was built as a single unit. Each stair landing was open to the deck system on one side, and on the other side two doors each floor in the office block. The wood was obviously old, but rather thick and still solid, most of it rough cut.
Aside from the truck bay at the far end, each of the half dozen loading doors were just about wide enough for two men to walk through abreast, and just over six feet high when fully rolled open. The dock itself was solid concrete, and on the floor level, there was only one doorway into the office block, a rather wide swinging door with spring hinges. It was surprisingly quiet in operation. The wall above it seemed to have had a long banner at one time, because there was a bright spot in the faded paint. Under the first stair going up was a flat, heavy steel door which had been slid open to reveal a concrete stairway down.
Krumm didn’t hesitate to descend. It was deeper than a single story, in part because the concrete floor it pierced was quite thick. Furthermore, the ceiling was at least ten feet high, so the stairs were quite long in a single run. Manford came behind him, being the Facility Engineer, because he hoped to find a way to turn on some power and water. A quick check of the bathrooms in the office block indicated there was no water pressure in the plumbing.
At the bottom of the stairs, Krumm was near the dock side of the build. To his right was a steel door. Inside was an empty room easily one-third the floor space of the office block floor plan. In the center of the wall was an open doorway which led farther back under the office block. Behind him he heard Manford, “Bingo!”
Coming back out, he saw Manford shining his light into an alcove under the stairs. Sure enough, there was an obvious electrical box, a large switching box with different handles on each side. In an alcove behind them was large piping, some insulated, and several large valves. Upon closer inspection, they realized there was another narrow open doorway back up under the dock area. Ducking the cobwebs, they found themselves in a large chamber. On the right was a compression tank and a bump on the floor. “Looks like a water well,” Krumm noted.
Manford simply responded, “Mm-hm.”
The rest of the chamber was occupied with a large boiler system. “Hot water circulation for heat,” Manford said.
Then Krumm spotted yet one more open doorway on the far wall. He leaned in with his flashlight. “Wow!”
Manford crowed to see over his shoulder, and Krumm moved to let him look at a very large stationary motor and dynamo. The room had sound absorbing coverings on the wall. While this did not account for all the space under the dock, it was more than enough for the moment. Returning to the stairway, Manford leaned in close to the switches. “What? Is that…?”
“Russian,” Krumm agreed. “That explains a whole lot. It won’t be fast, but I have translation software on my laptop. In fact…” He pulled out his pocket device. Sliding out the keyboard, the screen glowed brightly in the basement gloom. It was indeed a slow process as he selected one character at a time from a grid, then entered one word at a time for translation.
“That one says ‘off’ and that one says ‘standard.’ Hmm.” A little more rigorous poking with his thumbs on the keyboard. “That one says ‘off’ but that one says ‘emergency’ — must be the generator switch.”
Manford yelled up the stairs, “Stand clear from electrical devices!” Then he threw the first switch up. The box hummed, but nothing more happened. He stepped to another panel, felt around and pulled off a cover. Setting it on the floor, he examined the collection of switches but needed no translation for most of it; there was a diagram showing each floor of the office block and another showing the dock. Matching the two character code on the drawing with the switches, he threw the one he thought might be the light nearest the top of the stairs. Sure enough, light flooded down the stairs from above.
That night they slept on the ground floor of the office area. Manford spent the next few days making sure various parts of the facility itself worked. Each of the other men began feeling his way through their presumed contract duties. Jordan began organizing whatever he found in the warehouse. It was not quite empty when the previous occupants left, because there were a few crates and lockers he began opening, but the most surprising find was a pair of old bicycles. The tires and tubes had dry rotted, but they worked fine otherwise.
Gilson as Personnel Manager and Worley over Operations shared a shocking amount of disorganized HTS paperwork. It had apparently been collected from several different locations and simply stacked haphazardly in one office. They begged Krumm to get the computers and network going as quickly as possible.
Ripley’s main purpose in life quickly came to revolve around reading and digesting a huge library of regulations, rules, advisories and so forth. At first, he was puzzled by the way nothing seemed to apply to their situation. Krumm suggested it meant they were pretty much on their own. Indeed, he argued, it was to their greatest advantage to do precisely what the commander wanted, and set up procedures which forced the HTS field officers to stay out of his hair.
It turned out the HTS Chief they met in the briefing room was as useless as she appeared. That is, she pretty much refused to make decisions, so while she offered zero guidance, she also refused to act on complaints from the HTS officers who didn’t like the way Ripley was running things. Only a few filtered through the offices at first, but the majority seemed to believe they were in charge, or should be. Ripley had seen and heard it all when he managed a company which had been shutdown by outsourcing. He was physically large and just charismatic enough to get away with refusing their conflicting outrageous demands. Krumm swore the man enjoyed arguing with them.
For his part, Krumm stayed up late the first night with the phone. There was only one hooked up, sitting on the floor atop a booklet which provided a directory and some instructions on calling into the military HQ. At that hour, it made sense to try the operator first, since every installation he had seen had at least one on duty 24-7. The first try didn’t work because the man’s local accent was just too muddy. He hung up, waited a bit and tried again. Sure enough, this time he got a West Texas drawl.
The woman who answered invited him to authenticate by his badge number and some silly password they had all been told to memorize when they first arrived in country. She used a phrase Krumm recognized as a reference to one particular city. “You sound like someone from Lubbock.”
She laughed, and from then on the chatter was non-stop. He encouraged her to reminisce, and in the process took notes and began mapping out the real organization which paralleled the official one at HQ. Two hours later, she reluctantly had to hang up to monitor the nightly conference call which served to check emergency communications between various headquarter offices across the theater. Krumm shook his head. “Lord, I hope I never run into her in the flesh.” Yet, he knew it was necessary to continue cultivating the most useful intelligence source he could have. It was all about whom to talk to in each office to get things done.
The next day, he tested his data by contacting a middling sergeant in the military IT bunker and worked out a schedule for setting up and testing the broadband wifi antenna they found buried in the stuff dumped in the truck bay. It was meant to be aimed at the HQ Comm Center, but the normal procedure meant one of their tech teams came out and that would not happen for a couple of weeks. By volunteering to take the burden on himself, Krumm made friends quickly. So in just a half hour, once he had the thing mounted on a bracket built into the roof of the warehouse, and a phone line attached to a hands-free phone on his belt, and a headset and mike, he got the sergeant to talk him through until the signal was solid on both ends.
For the next 24 hours straight Krumm was running wires to where each man decided to make his office, and repairing and refurbishing computers with cannibalized parts from a large stack of nearly obsolete systems. Then he began sleeping in short stretches over the next few days between installation and compiling of software. There was no official software package, and he was free to build a secure and stable data system, with several terminals for the HTS officers on the ground floor. The military had not mandated any particular software package. Krumm had dreaded the possibility of some hideous specially written boondoggle contract program typical of government contracting. Instead, their operation was all self-contained, and the only thing which left the building was email, a few documents in common electronic formats, and bundles of printed statistics required by other offices. Ripley kept his own books and simply typed by hand himself whatever the Finance Office demanded.
After that first week, they began having time to actually attempt spending some of their pay.
No, it’s not perfect. However, my current testing indicates you will find a lot less trouble getting it to install. I had one small work-around issue which seems common on Dell laptops. Upon booting, you will get an error code:
OS/2 !! SYS01720 OS/2 !! SYS02027
At that point, pop the CD tray and hit CTRL-ALT-DEL and give it a moment to get rolling again, indicated by either the eComStation logo at first, or the white block with “eCS” later in the process. Either way, as soon as you see that, push the CD back in and things proceed as they should. Here are my raw notes; make of them what you will.
Dell Inspiron 4100 Laptop
1Ghz P3, 512MB RAM, Radeon M6/32MB VRAM, 20GB harddrive, CDR/DVD
1. Got a common boot error with codes “OS/2 !! SYS01720 OS/2 !! SYS02027″. Solution was to eject CD, hit CTRL-ALT-DEL and get boot logo, then reinsert CD. Continues fine, but must be repeated each time.
2. Installer needed to change some error in the LVM reporting, and reboot. See #1
3. Next reboot ran media check, a little over 5 minutes.
4. Graphical boot screen; accepted defaults.
5. License screen, agreed.
6. Chose “Easy installation”
7. Could not import key file from USB disk, perhaps because it was not in the first directory. Carefully typed, and had to check a bit for errors before it allowed progress.
8. Chose to wipe disk. A little challenging to follow the instructions on the partition manager. This needs simplifying, but I managed it.
9. Chose to use the HPFS file system, since I have at least one DOS program I hope to run. Formatting took hours because of error checking; the installer would not let me de-select the checking option. Still, no harm done, just a delay (5 hours).
10. During installation options, I chose PCMCIA, but the list of notebooks was limited to IBM Thinkpads. Since I needed that function either way, I let accepted it.
11. Installer chose Panorama driver (VESA generic) which is probably good enough for now.
12. I left ACPI unchecked because I know there is a wizard to help get it right, if that’s possible.
13. Once files were installed (~10 min) we had reboot, same issue as with #1. Pulled CD and tried again, let it get going then reinserted CD. The marker is the white block with “eCS” when it catches correctly.
14. Watched some automated installation tasks, creating objects, etc. Phase 2, ~10 min again. Again, see #1.
15. Nice splash this time on boot. Got sound with the screen, but wrong resolution. Initial setup tasks did offer close to to the right size (1400×1050 vs 1440×1050) but none of the LCD options were close. Decided to opt for the SNAP drivers. Required reboot.
16. Got the SNAP splash, screen flickered once or twice, then came up full display as should be. The SNAP driver is still somewhat limited, but at least it knew how to get a proper display. I read it won’t work with suspend modes.
17. Did the online registration.
18. Took me awhile to find out how to change the background to plain color. Default graphic too dang bright.
The one major disappointment to me is font rendering. This is frankly a major issue with me, petty or not. I conclude that I would not be that interested in using for very long. First, it doesn’t offer anything I can’t get with Linux, except a smaller installed footprint. Some of it’s best software comes from the Linux/Unix community. That means you can keep up with your Unix friends, but only if you really want and need eComStation-OS/2.
I can see how, as a business manager, if I had a high investment in DOS or early Windows applications essential for operations, I could rest in knowing I could put this on the workstations at the office and the employees could learn to use it, but would have a hard time messing it up. Upon installation, just back up your desktop (that’s a feature) and restore it when some idiot removes or adds too many icons. The point is, the usual collection of random junk files won’t impair the system’s performance. You can keep using serviceable older hardware and not worry about the typical Windows 6-month reinstall routine. eComStation doesn’t eat it’s drivers.
This is good business software, but I have no real use for it.
Krumm steadied himself and continued digging in one of his bags. He pulled out a pocket-sized electronic device. It had a sliding back which revealed a tiny keyboard. He poked at it a few times, then closed and put it in his pocket.
“Any calls for me?” Jordan their future supply manager, was feeling himself again.
Krumm was watching out the back of the truck. “It could be used that way, but I’d have to find a local provider and replace the SIM card. I use it more like a palm-top computer. In this case, recording our GPS coordinates. I suspect the JAG was pretty serious about that isolation business. This is a large and haphazardly laid out city. If this base is part of our support system, we’ll need to find our way back somehow.”
Ripley asked, “So you reckon we still have one more long ride?”
Krumm only half-smiled. “I’m willing to bet we have plenty of time to share our speculations about the shape of our mission here before we even see the place.”
He would have won the bet, as their slender collection of facts had been thoroughly hashed out by the time they rounded yet one more corner on a narrow and quiet street, pulling up in front of a gate where one of the local militiamen stood guard. The fence was obviously here before the Americans came. While quite different in design from military standards, it still appeared suitable for the purpose, still sturdy. The guard recognized the HTS as they palavered in English briefly. Then the guard unlocked the chain holding the gate closed and swung it inward in two uneven panels.
The truck faced a semi-paved driveway which ran between the building on the left and the blank concrete face of an another building to the right, which ran out to the street and anchored one part of the gate. The fence to the left protected a few tiny parking spaces in front of what had obviously been a warehouse. The near end was a block of offices running up six stories, judging by the window placement. It was all concrete about twice the length of their old military truck, then began a low dock covered with ancient corrugated steel sheets. As the drive ran back, it dropped slowly. The far end was about the length of a football field.
The HTS drove straight back between the two buildings, hugging the right side. When he ran out of room against yet another building, he turned sharply to the right, almost hitting the corner of the two buildings, then turning back toward the dock jerkily slipped into a slot inset on that far end of the dock. He bumped the wooden beams set in the concrete, but only hard enough to be annoying to his passengers.
Jordan was nearest the tailgate, and reached out to test the roll-door. It was unlocked, but heavy, and a couple others joined him in lifting it. They dropped the tailgate, which offered a comfortable sloping ramp down to the dock. The inside was quite dark. By the time they were all standing on the concrete floor, they heard the sound of the HTS walking toward them from the direction of the office block. Still some ways off, he yelled, “Unload here!” By the time he came huffing and puffing to meet them, they were almost done.
After taking a moment to catch his breath, he launched into a rather hurried speech, apparently still irritated. It ended with, “Make yourselves at home, because you’ll bunk here.”
They had already noticed a batch of military cots against the wall in the fading light of day coming through the open cargo door above the truck. These were new and complete, at least.
“I can’t add anything to what you have already been told. Have a look around and figure out what you are supposed to do, because there’s a lot of it to do. Got all your stuff?”
They signaled they had.
“Good.” He turned and started to walk briskly away, then stopped, and came back somewhat slowly, reaching inside his jacket. “I almost forgot.” He produced a batch of envelopes and handed them to Ripley. “One for each of you. It’s your casual pay in dollars. The locals rarely turn them down. It should be enough to hold you until your regular pay starts.”
Without another word, he hustled back off into the darkness. They were still not sure what to say or do when the truck started and lurched away from the dock.
Taking out his pocket device, Krumm checked the GPS reading. He chuckled, shaking his head. “Welcome to our new home, boys.”
At the end of the 1980s, I was stationed in the Netherlands with the US Army. Before going there, I didn’t even know we had troops in that country. It was a plum assignment. My ostensible job was Military Policeman, but my actual duties varied widely. At that time the Army in Europe was struggling with automating office tasks and paperwork. Our office ran a network of 286s on DOS. We later got a Unix server, but it made little difference in our experience as users.
Meanwhile, my family had joined me on this very family-friendly tour. The Dutch TV broadcasting carried a lot of UK and Australian programming. The Dutch subtitles helped us familiarize better with the local language, but frankly the majority of those we met spoke English as one of their half-dozen tongues. A major recurring advertising campaign, often in English, was for OS/2. This was the first graphical computer OS I had seen. Not in the military, though, it was used by a couple of local businesses.
At one point, while living in Texas and working on the infancy of my computer ministry, I had a friend who was an avid fan of OS/2. I thought it had died, given the official announcements from IBM. However, he was a certified technician for what was then the Merlin release, and a tireless promoter. Apparently IBM eventually found an interested buyer who was banking on the still substantial community of users to fund future enhancements.
A couple of years ago, I decided to see if the new holders of the license, Serenity Systems, were interested in me writing a review of their product. They were. Turns out they had a solid 1.2 release in wide use, and a 2.0 beta. They gave me a free one year license. I tested it and wrote about it. If you bother to check, you’ll see it was not much to write about, since I couldn’t find a suitable machine for it. I came close with an ancient Toshiba laptop, but it just wasn’t functional.
I felt bad about it, but I hardly felt right in begging them for a computer, too. Where would be the adventure? Might just as well have them write the review themselves. So I figured that was the end of it. A couple of times I came close to testing it on a couple of machines donated for the ministry, but never got around to it.
Yesterday Mensys (the primary vendor of the product) contacted me again and with a license for their latest release. I was stunned. So I am downloading the ISOs and will be trying it soon on my aging Dell Inspiron 4100 laptop. From my initial research, I have reason to believe it’s worth a shot. Naturally, it should also result in a fresh review of the product at Open for Business. However, the raw experience will be written up here, along with any interesting discoveries.
Their first destination was the headquarters compound. A full city block with very high fencing, resembling more a prison. It took awhile to clear the gate, with each man presenting his ID card and bundle of official documents. The truck and baggage were searched extensively, and their teenage guard was left to entertain himself across the street in a building reserved for nationals on retainer like himself. They never saw him again.
Their HTS officer led them through one building, across a courtyard and into another. A long climb up what had surely been a massive block of apartments to somewhere near the top floor, they were led to a briefing room. The HTS pointed out the coffee machine next to a refrigerator from which they could take one soft drink of choice. The men were thoroughly relaxed when a military officer entered from another door.
These days officer insignia were reduced to the point badges were issued for internal use. This man’s plastic card indicated he was a military lawyer, a JAG officer. On the one hand, he maintained a careful mask of cold professionalism. On the other hand, he was remarkably candid, something they were to see quite seldom for the duration of their time there. The man placed a briefing notebook on the table, opened, and never glanced at it once.
The six men learned the local commander was a Brigadier General. His primary job was not actually commanding, but coordinating with subordinate commanders and a host of allied military and civilian contractors. The Human Terrain Program was essentially an attempt to harness highly trained social science specialists to improve relations with the locals, and to provide a more humane brand of intelligence gathering. It was highly popular with Congress and the DoD, and was ramping up theater-wide. However, the quality of personnel and operations was quite uneven, and the program already bore a record heavy with disasters small and large. While the general would support the local contingent in accordance with budgeting and written directives from higher up the chain, the latter were flexible enough for him to take measures to protect everything else under his authority.
The plan was to isolate the entire local operation as much as possible. The whole thing was assigned its own separate facility. The men were allowed to use military health and welfare facilities, but otherwise restricted to their assigned duty post. No one could stop them from wandering the local community, but it was highly discouraged until they were more familiar with the culture, language, and so forth. The community around their post was particularly risky. These six would see lots of HTS personnel and some local hires, but otherwise the whole point was to keep them “independent.” While the various HTS officers would frequently work alongside field units, they were highly discourage from pretending they were military. Then the JAG pointedly told them they were not to been seen wearing their issued coveralls at any time in the future.
Krumm was quick. “Sir, we are eager to comply with that order. Do you suppose there might be a shower facility here we could use to expedite things?”
The JAG almost smiled, and for just a moment, his tone was faintly personal. “I recommend the gym showers. You’ll find the entrance just a few yards from where your truck is parked.”
“Thank you, sir.” The others echoed that sentiment.
Resuming his coldly professional air, the JAG ran through a few other issues. Suddenly, in one single motion he stood and closed the notebook in front of him. He rattled off what was obviously a memorized official spiel as he walked toward the door he had entered. Krumm later loosely translated the spiel for Ripley’s amusement: “Welcome to this Hell Hole. Stay out of trouble.”
They had just a few moments’ leisure to congratulate Krumm for thinking of something so obvious which was quite likely to be neglected by their hosts. The door opened again, but somewhat slowly. The person who entered was wearing something clearly meant to resemble a uniform of some sort, but equally clearly not anything recognizable as military. It wrapped rather poorly a very corpulent figure. The men agreed later none of them was too sure what gender this person was at first. The hair was short, but somewhat stylish. There was a faint whiff of white facial hair just visible when caught in profile through the overhead lights. The skin color was somewhat tannish, highly wrinkled, and the person moved with some difficulty.
The badge alone identified this as a female, with a tiny “F” down among the other bureaucratic abbreviations in one corner of the card, which carried other essential biographical details in case the body was found in the aftermath of an IED or other highly destructive demise. She had inside a plastic bag a set of similar badges which they all laboriously reviewed with her before donning them. They were told in three different ways to always keep them on their persons, but to actually wear them only while inside an official facility.
She wasted some more time restating the nature of the HTS Program. Finally she began outlining their various assignments. She read each job description slowly, then promptly contradicted portions of them by way of explanation. At long last, she told them initially they would be sleeping in their newly secured office building. Cots and other life support necessities were supposed to there already. Krumm stole a meaningful glance at the others. She rambled on for awhile, then something on her belt buzzed loudly. As she pulled the odd looking cellphone from her belt and began talking into it, she absently waved the men goodbye and wandered out of the briefing room. She left the door standing open.
For a moment they sat in puzzled silence. Krumm suggested they make haste to take advantage of their orders to change clothes. Somehow, he managed to find the way back to their truck. They quickly identified the gym and grabbed the necessities for showers. They would have dawdled over the first splash of water they had felt on their skins in almost a week, but Krumm warned them his instincts suggested they hurry. They were just returning to repack their gear when the HTS who had brought them showed up. Before he could fire up his rant about having to hunt them down, Krumm stated a certain JAG officer had ordered them to change their clothes. The HTS deflated and stood slack-jawed just a moment. Then he curtly ordered them to board and strode to the cab of the truck.
They barely got seated when it lurched forward.
Rounding a leg of the ridge-line, the switchback revealed a broad valley sweeping down to a much broader one. It was this latter which was their destination. The haze, smoke and dust hanging in the air could not fully obscure the ancient city. As their snaking descent showed them ever wider views of it, they saw it was clearly never subjected to the stagnation of urban planning. It was living and growing, and somehow the phrase “random development” did not convey the full impact of what they saw.
Krumm ticked off in his mind the list of things he remembered from the official guide they were required to read during orientation. The city hosted numerous neighborhoods, each with its own cultural biases. Even the police uniforms were different. It might not have mattered so much, but in the hurried scrambling for vacant building space, the Human Terrain offices ended up planted inside a rather strict Muslim enclave. While during the course of this interminable war, the HTS had botched more than they got right so far, one thing they understood clearly was the utter necessity of having only men hired to run the place.
This crew was essentially mid-level management for a support facility which would hire local workers. As with every business there not catering directly to women, the whole operation would be entirely men. The contracts were ostensibly set for four years, which in practice meant little. These were typical middle-aged American guys.
Krum was the exception. He had mentioned being a widower. “So, how old are you, Krumm?”
Another guessed, “You look about 45 or possibly 48.”
Krumm actually laughed. “How flattering!” Completely deadpan, “I’m 57.”
To their exclamations of shock, he presented his official ID card, showing a birth date nearly six decades ago. “That’s almost twice my age… all or our ages.”
“How did you get this job? They told us we had to be under 40 to apply.”
Krumm shrugged. “They hunted me down. I had written a bunch of articles online about running modern software on ancient hardware, and the recruiter mentioned how important that was to this operation.”
“Do you reckon being a veteran made any difference?”
Krumm had turned back to gazing at the city they were approaching. “Obviously. That’s how they knew where to find me. At the time I thought it was a mistake to have used the veterans’ medical system, because it meant they had my current address. I really didn’t need much care once they fixed my shoulders, but I was worried about something and couldn’t afford private treatment. Turned out to be nothing. At any rate, they knew all about my age and health.”
“You must have had a good military record.”
Krumm turned and relaxed in his seat as the truck reached the valley floor. “Good enough, I suppose. They must have been pretty hard up, because they surely knew of my other articles criticizing everything about the government.”
“Maybe you can tell us why they didn’t fly us in. If I’m not mistaken, that’s an airport right there.” The man pointed out the back opening as the truck followed a curve around toward a bridge.
Krumm half-smiled. “New technology discovery. Someone came up with a missile tracking system smart enough to make passive use of electronic noise from aircraft. Then they found a way to do it cheaply. Problem is, they lived in China, which in turn licensed it to our nation’s enemies. Just a couple of months ago someone fielded a batch of hand-held anti-aircraft missiles among the southern tribes with this passive tracking, and our military hasn’t come up with a counter-measure yet. Flights are restricted to air lanes we fully control.”
“Where did you hear that? We couldn’t get any answers when we asked.”
Krumm’s smile twisted a little farther. “Unregulated news sources on the web run by crazies who spout wild conspiracy theories.”
“Sarcasm. I like that.” The future office manager, Ripley, hadn’t been the most chatty on their journey. “I’ll need a regular dose of that, I’m afraid, to maintain my sanity here.”
The city swallowed their truck, which was one of the few large and motorized vehicles in a place apparently run by mere muscle power, gaging by the traffic.
One perennial problem with free software is that, because they give it away, developers have no real reason to pursue a user base. This enables them to develop what they want in the way they want to develop it.
He goes on to discuss how KDE serves as a primary example. The new 4.x series gets lots of hobby user hype, with all the gee-whiz eye candy, but does so at the cost of any usefulness to the vast majority of ordinary computer users, folks for whom a computer could never be a hobby. Dare I say it comes close to a cult of self-congratulatory devotees who castigate anyone daring to suggest things might be a little better? The tight circle of developers and fans get all the attention, but anyone who doesn’t kneel in tearful awe is marginalized, at best. Such is the nature of far too many Open Source projects.
I recall one brief moment when KDE was truly useful within the parameters of things Open Source in general, and that was the 3.1.5 release. Though it benefited from the increasing automation and integration of the software, it still worked quite beautifully on FreeBSD 4, where it simply ran on top of the system. The handy user-friendly features like auto-mounting removable media didn’t work, but there was no real hassle in creating a desktop icon which would try to mount if you clicked it. I wrote for others instructions on how to make that work. Meanwhile, KDE at that staged managed to gather and solve a host of usability issues which had once plagued those of us who actually wanted Linux and BSD to serve as a daily work system.
That was the pinnacle of my experience with KDE, because while many parts of it continued to progress nicely, breakage kept popping up here and there, and too often it was something which simply needed to work or it was not worth the trouble to use it at all. Thus, while SUSE managed to integrate it really nicely into the system, the underlying flaws of SUSE bloat took it all away. Other distros simply didn’t bother to take advantage of that same potential (among distros I was willing to try) and FreeBSD zig-zagged on several issues, so I gave up when the home desktop thing became too low a priority for its developers.
Like Powell, I was thrilled to discover the willingness of Timothy Pearson to carry the fire for the one best hope to keep KDE 3 viable for Ubuntu base. I followed the instructions, added his repository, and installed. It’s functional, but I’m afraid I found a few parts not too well integrated where it really has to be. I won’t take Pearson to task over them, since he managed a monumental task just getting the packages built and functional on any level without much assistance. Rather, I commend him heartily for doing something so very rare among Open Source developers: He wants to serve the user.
That in itself is something to celebrate.
It seemed endless, a pattern repeated hour after hour. The truck lumbered across some valley floor, through hamlets, villages and towns. Then their path would struggle up some ribbed ridge, serpentine roads cut into the face of the mountains. Once the initial crest was made, the truck would alternate for a while between laboring up steep climbs and rolling madly down declines. Then a long snaking descent into a another wide valley.
The truck was a military castoff, the bed too high for comfortable passenger use. But then, at least it was intrinsically bottom heavy. The men with their baggage, which they used to cushion their ride, was a light load, so only the mechanical limitations of the beast kept it from moving faster. Still, the suspension was painfully stiff, and they could have counted every single stone larger than the thickness of a thumb which passed under the tires.
Krumm always sat where he could see out the front opening in the tarp. They all had sunglasses, mostly the trendy aviator type. His were sturdy full wrap-around safety glasses, so the dust hardly affected his vision. He also wore a wide-brimmed straw hat which somehow stayed put despite gusting winds, and seemed to keep far more dust from drifting onto his face than their baseball caps did for them.
Six men and baggage, with supplies, made for fairly cramped riding. Yet, for all the close quarters, Krumm was never quite in the same world as the other five.
“Why did you sign a contract with the military if you are so much a pacifist? Did you get hungry enough to compromise your principles?” It was gentle mocking.
Krumm remained typically unruffled. With a gentle smile, he answered, “You’ll save yourself a lot wondering if you simply write me off as insane. Logic is hardly a high priority in my calculations.”
Another broke in. “Crazy like a fox. At this rate we’ll be long dead while you rise from the ashes of whatever disaster. Yet it’s obvious you aren’t afraid of dying.”
Krumm’s smile broadened. “I look forward to death.”
“But you don’t use logic, so suicide is out?”
“I don’t get to choose.” Krumm braced himself and they followed his lead. A sudden jolt as they crossed a small crater in the road, the vehicle rocking heavily. The usual swearing could be heard from some of the men.
“Your philosophy sounds a lot like the local stuff.”
Krumm turned with eyebrows just visibly arched above his shades. “Perceptive! But I don’t share their philosophy so much as the underlying mystical approach.”
The first one said, “A mystic! That explains a lot. You act like you’re on a different planet half the time.”
The truck entered one of the long winding declines as the vista opened onto yet another broad valley. The HTS himself was driving, since his cadging with the chieftain in that last village got them a replacement guard, but hardly a teenager. The HTS had promised in exchange to teach the boy to drive, but apparently it was lie. The HTS was quite poor at it himself, so hardly stood to teach anyone else, but regulations forbid anyone without the proper driving credentials. Those came from a prolonged bureaucratic tangle few would endure, and the men in the back had only just arrived in country a few days ago.
The long downslope meant a change in the engine pitch, one which actually made conversation easier.
Krumm shifted to get a better view. “I consider myself under command from God, and there is no way to explain how He communicates his orders to me. I struggle myself to understand, much less implement them. I’d rather starve than work for the government, particularly the military, but I have orders from On High to be here.”
The other man cocked his head to one side. “I’ll bite. Any idea why?”
Krumm shook his head. “Not yet.”