Homeopathy has a word for IT
A little of anything is a dangerous thing
LOOKING BACK ON things I should have realised sooner what was going on with the PC. For months I had borne the minor, apparently unrelated, faults with increasing frustration. Occasional stutters in response. Keyboard lock-ups. Failure to open certain applications without re-booting the machine.
I tried the standard diagnostics. They yielded nothing specific, though there seemed to be a small but insidious decline in available memory whilst the PC was running. I set up a routine to monitor the situation and - in the best Schrodinger tradition, as though the very act of looking had changed reality - things seemed to improve. I put it out of my mind and got back to the business of surfing the Net.
A few days later, though, the fault returned - and this time nothing seemed to have any effect. The memory drain continued: only a couple of percentage points an hour, but I could not for the life of me track down what the machine was doing with those little bits of memory. I tried a logical approach, suspecting the Internet software I had recently installed. I ran the uninstall routines. Available memory leapt up but bizarrely the percentage degradation increased.
The Internet software went back on the machine and I contacted my Service Provider for assistance. The charming lady on the help desk suggested reinstalling their base software, but I had already tried that. She arranged for one of their techies to log into my PC and have a look round. A few days later she phoned back to say that they could find nothing wrong. I thanked her for her trouble and went back to investigating it myself.
By this time I had worked out a definite pattern. Whilst the PC was powered up memory decreased at what was now an alarming rate: around 2 percent per hour if I was connected to the Internet but anything up to 10 percent per hour when I was logged off. It was as though the machine was working away at something and had to work that much harder when it was on its own. Almost all of this memory was freed when the computer was rebooted but there was a small, cumulative degradation of around 0.2 percent per session.
I posted messages on the Internet to see if anyone else out there had experienced anything similar. Nothing came through in response for maybe a week. That surprised me: there are so many geeks out there I reckoned someone would have something to suggest, no matter how kooky.
Then I received an anonymous email describing the use of gold in IT - Information Technology. I knew that gold was used in electronics because of its high electrical conductivity. I hadn't realised that just about all modern computers, including most PCs, contain small but significant quantities of the precious metal: quantities large enough to make reclaiming the gold from scrapped machines commercially viable. A few days later another posting arrived, anonymous like the first.Homeopathic medicine has a word for it: Succussion. The serial dilution of the prime liquor accompanied at each stage by repeated, ritualistic agitation. By such simple, if irrational, manoeuvre the extract's potency is increased until it reaches clinical effectiveness. Science jeers in the name of Avogadro: beyond a few dilutions the sample is so attenuated that not one molecule of active component can remain. Homeopathic practitioners counter with the pseudo-theory of 'molecular memory' - the molecules of water themselves take on and amplify the properties of the physic.
I could see no possible link between the two mailings, nor between either of them and the problems I continued to experience with my PC. What was going on? I searched the Net for references to gold, to homeopathy, following increasingly obscure links to pages on metallurgy, modern medicine, alchemy and magic. Salts of gold are injected into affected joints to relieve chronic rheumatic inflammation. Gold bullion. The US Federal Reserve. Gold jewellery. Bracelets, rings. Most malleable of metals and the most precious.
I continued to plot the decline in the machine's available memory: hour by hour through each session and day to day at power-up. I drew graphs and charts, attempting to correlate the degradation against Internet usage, disk compression, sector fragmentation, phases of the moon, anything that might yield me a clue. I was sleeping badly by this stage, waking in the middle of the night. Words and images swimming in my head. Succussion. Increased potency through repeated, near infinite dilution. Molecular memory. Gold. Precious metal. Precious.
I discovered that as well as being found inside most modern PCs gold - in minute quantities - is utilised throughout the IT and telecommunications industry. How many computers could there be, across the globe? Not just PCs but fileservers, mainframes, business and personal machines. Teller machines. Banking. Finance. Military. The National Lottery, for God's sake. And many, most, of these were not stand-alone but were linked together. Networked. Connected by wires, phone lines, dedicated datalinks. Radio and infra-red. Local area networks. Wide area. Token Ring. Ring. Gold. Precious. Succusssion.
And the Internet. At least here there were some statistics. Twenty-two percent of households in Germany with access to the Internet. Seventeen percent in the UK, twelve in France. Worldwide, an estimated 82 million computers online by the end of 1997, a market worth maybe seventeen billion US dollars. Eighty-two million. Not all of them online at the same time, sure, but nevertheless - How much gold was that? Avogadro's number again: the number of atoms in an atomic weight of an element. Vague, shifting images began to form in my mind, and no longer only when I was asleep.
Atoms like golden billiard balls, buzzing with agitated energy. Lines of flux flowing around them. Between them. Linking them across space and time. The image zoomed out, merging into an almost-there image: a fractured, multi-dimensional jigsaw. Many pieces still to be found: others linked in small islands isolated from the whole. But, little by little, it was coming together. It horrified me: entranced me. Somehow, I was a part of it. The whole world was part of it.
And all this time, my PC continued to work away on its own, secret agenda. I knew now that it was searching, thinking. Trying to fit itself into the picture, or maybe seeking for missing pieces. The machine and I seemed to have reached some sort of compromise. By leaving it permanently online (god knows what it did to my phone bill, in here I am not bothered by such mundanities) I had discovered that memory drain could be limited to around 76 percent. That left enough for me to work with. Just.
I downloaded esoteric diagnostics from bulletin boards. Scanned for viruses. Subjected the data to ever more fanciful analyses and projection methodologies. Searched the hard disk for hidden files, anywhere the machine might be storing away evidence of what it was doing. I seemed to be going round in circles. I was certain I was getting close, though. Close to the edge. Succusssion. Preciousss.
Then one final email. Anonymous like the others, but now at last I knew the source. And I knew what it meant. I was too late. It was the last email I am likely to receive. In here I am not allowed access to anything more technical than a pencil. And I will be here a long, long time.
Click here to read the final email: