Facing the Storm

"A Spearfish Lake Story"

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2001, ©2009, ©2012

Chapter 19

Brandy was working on dinner when Phil got home. This was going to be an experience, Phil knew. Brandy had done very little cooking since theyíd left college, and there her cooking mostly ran to opening cans. From having to cook mostly for himself the last year and a half, Phil had at least gained a bachelor level of cooking experience, and could usually get past the can opener a little, but Brandy had never had the desire or the need to progress much past that point. But, she was determined that she was going to learn, now that the prospect of living at home with him for an extended period of time was upon her. "So, what are you making?" he asked as he took a chair at the kitchen table.

"Tuna and noodle casserole. Mom says I canít screw that up too badly, but a fat lot she knows about it," she grumped from where she was working at the counter.

"Oh, well, youíll learn," he replied. "If not, we can stand to lose a few pounds."

"Or send out for pizza," she said with resignation. "At least thereís always that for a fallback position."

Phil shook his head. At least Brandy was determined. She might never take enough of an interest in cooking to be the cook her mother was, but at least she had a good teacher available, and he figured he could survive the experience again. "You up to having company over for dinner tomorrow?" he asked.

"Are you kidding?"

"Well, I figured that we could have steaks and baked spuds. I could drag the grill out of the garage."

Brandy shrugged. "I suppose, then," she replied. "Who are we having over?"

"John and Candy," he replied. "I had lunch with them today."

"I thought theyíd headed back to Decatur," she said.

"It looks like theyíre going to buy into McGuinness Accounting, and move back up here," he announced.

Brandy smiled. "Thatís interesting," she said. "I kind of like those two. I thought they were pretty well committed to their jobs. Did something happen?"

"He bailed out of his job down in Decatur last week. Just in time, too. According to him, Rotundaís quarterly earnings came out today, and theyíre in deep doo-doo."

"Did we have anything tied up there?"

"We had a little, up until before I got seriously training for the race," he replied. "Nothing much, but I dumped all the high flyers like that so I wouldnít have to worry about them while I was training. I had enough to deal with doing the dogs. Weíre pretty much in conservative mutual funds and bonds and your Front Range partnership right now. Weíre not making that much, but weíre not risking anything, either."

"You seem to think the market is going to take a header."

Phil shook his head. "I know damn well itís going to take a header, and the only question in my mind is when. I donít want to have to ride it down. Itís soft as hell right now, and with the way the presidential race is going, I suspect it isnít going to get better. Republicans are no good for the stock market."

"I know, Iíve heard that rant from you before," she said. "And, speaking of Front Range, I had a call from Moorehead today."

Phil smiled. "Did you tell him you were in training for the Iditarod?"

"I was tempted," she said, putting a pan in the oven, "Just to hear what heíd say. But, he had a proposition that I think might bear some thinking about."

"No Bolivia?"

"Thatís why I think it bears some thinking about. No sites at all. Well, maybe sometime, for a few days for calibration, but itís something I can do from home."

"Hey, that sounds interesting."

"I think so, too," she confirmed. "What he suggested is that I set up the software and do the delta-level analysis on the magres compilations here, instead of doing it in the field. Thereís no good reason weíve done it in the field in the past, except for cross checking if we get ambiguous results, and then integrating into the final broadscan compilation."

"Yeah, that might be interesting," he said. "Itíd keep you busy for at least part of the time."

"Itíd be off and on," she said. "Mostly, we get into the delta levels toward the end of a site. Of course, thatís whatís hanging him up in both Bolivia and now Rhodesia, so theyíre a bit backlogged."

"Youíre thinking about doing it, then."

"Iím tempted," she said. "I know itís a foot back in the door if I do, and sure as hell some emergency will come up that will require my going to bumfuck Botswana sometime. And, who knows, in a year or two I might actually not object to a few days of field operations, just to remind me why I got the hell out of the field in the first place. And, I keep asking myself if itís going to be any more fun sitting home babysitting computers than it would be in some Godforsaken piece of desert somewhere. On the other hand, I do still have the financial interest in Front Range, and in the long run itís to my benefit if I can keep things running smoothly."

"Itís not exactly as if you need the money," Phil said. "On the other hand, if you donít find something useful to do, the alternative is daytime TV. Thatíll drive you out to Josh and Tiffanyís dog lot in no time at all."

"I know," she sighed. "I told him Iíd think about it. Really think about it, not just say it to brush him off." She changed the subject. "How long are you supposed to bake this stuff, anyway?"

"Hell if I know. Donít ask me. After all, it was your mother who gave you the recipe." He changed the subject right back. "My main concern is that itís a whole potload of data, any way you cut it. Even the raw data you get in the delta levels is pretty vague, I seem to recall, and itís a fair amount of data crunching to run Fourier transforms on it. We only have a 56k line in here, and I suspect that youíd have a dayís worth of downloading to do an hourís worth of analysis. Youíd almost have to have one of the satellite terminals here."

"I thought of that," she reported. "After I got off the phone with Moorehead, I went over to Marlin.com and had a word with Mark. He says we can come up with something better than a 56k line if weíre willing to pay for it. Itíd involve stringing some line, but we could maybe do an Ethernet connection to his T-1, maybe a cable modem or maybe a fiber optic line. The phone lines here canít handle DSL, he says. He says itíd only involve about five blocks of stringing cable, and he says he hasnít forgotten how to run wire."

"He did it long enough," Phil shrugged. "If Front Range is willing to pay for a high speed connection, Iím certainly willing to use it in its free time. This 56k jazz is for the birds, but that ought to perk data transfer rates up to where youíd have something usable. My only real concern is that youíre going to find yourself going too far the other way in finding something to do. When I was talking with Candy and John today, we were talking about doing a kayak trip. Nothing ambitious, maybe just out to Woodlark Island over on the east end of the lake, stay over a day or two paddling locally, and come back. Iíd hate to commit to something like that and have you have to bomb out because youíre up to your butt in Fourier analysis."

"Thatís the beauty of it," she said. "If I organize my work, itís not that much time each day. Iíd be able to just let data pile up on the hard drive for a few days, and then come back and run it. It might mean a few days of long sessions to catch up, but it wonít be this 12/7 for months on end stuff like I used to do. After all, a lot of what we did on a site just involved monitoring equipment status and making sure data was flowing smoothly. We didnít spend all that big a percentage of time on analysis."

Phil shook his head. "Well, you know more about it than I do, thatís for sure. Itís going to have to be your decision, but Iíd be tempted to tell you to go for it."

"Iím leaning that way," she said. "I want to sleep on it, but it does seem like a quick and easy solution to the problem of what Iím going to do, if I can keep it under control. Thereíd be enough to keep me moderately busy, but still leave some time for what I want to do."

"Could be," he replied. "Maybe itís too quick and easy. Not only do you run the risk of getting sucked back in, it still leaves the question of what you want to do."

*   *   *

"John, Candy, you like a beer?" Phil asked. They were sitting in Phil and Brandyís living room, just getting settled in. John and Candice had left the kids with the grandparents again; it was nice to be able to do that, they said.

"Sure, Iíd take one. I suppose weíre back to Miller or Miller Lite," he smiled.

"It seems to work pretty well around here," Phil said. "How about you, Candy?" He waited, but got no response. "Candy?" he said a little louder.

"Oh, sorry," she said with a start. "I was just looking at this painting. Iíve been Candice for so long that I sometimes donít notice when people call me ĎCandyí anymore."

"Iím sorry, I guess I know you as ĎCandy,í" he replied. "When did that happen?"

"When I was a freshman in college," she smiled. "My roomieís name was Candy, too. That was too much candy for one room, so I switched over to Candice. Iíve been there ever since."

"Iíve never known her by any other name, except when we used to visit in Arvada Center," John elaborated.

"Iíll try to remember," Phil laughed. "It wonít be easy. Anyway, Candice," he said with obvious emphasis and a touch of laughter. "Would you like a beer?"

"Sure, I could do a beer."

"It sort of strikes me that I shouldnít be offering you one," Phil said. "It seems like every time youíre in this house, people are asking you if you want a drink. We really donít drink that much. Weíve got bottles that must have been kicking around for fifteen years."

" Well, one bottle, anyway," Brandy laughed. "Iíll get the beer. Phil, why donít you check the steaks?"

It took Phil a couple minutes to go out and flip the steaks. It was a lousy day, rainy, cold and blowing, too bad to be outside. Fortunately, it was possible to pull the gas grill just inside the garage door, so at least the grilling was possible. By the time he got back inside, the topic had changed.

"Candice was telling me about the kayaks in Josh and Tiffanyís store," John said. "Iíve been meaning to make it over there, but itís just been too busy. I donít know how Joe ever managed to get through the last week before the fifteenth."

"Fairly simple," Phil said. "He put a cot up in the back of the office and kept a schedule about like we keep in the last half of the Iditarod. Youíre so short on sleep, you tend to get a little goofy toward the end. Well, more than a little goofy. If heís only been working ten- or twelve-hour days, youíre being a big help."

"Iíve been putting in twelves," John admitted. "But, itís really getting me a good feel for what happens in the business. Joe says heís been turning away work until I came along, so it looks like thereís going to be room for growth."

"Iíve even felt like I ought to go down and help out," Candice added. "But Iím really not current enough on taxes to be much help. If I get the chance, I plan on taking some refresher courses before next year."

Brandy smiled. "I take it youíre going to go through with it, then."

"Weíd be fools not to. Itís not going to be the kind of money I made at Rotunda, and I donít think itís ever going to be," John explained. "I was sort of extended an offer in Decatur at what probably would be a little more money, but then you have all the extra expense of living down there, plus all the side issues. I donít really feel like having an hour commute through that traffic, when I can ride a bike to work, for example. The cost savings there almost makes up the difference. And, of course, there are the other issues, like the schools. The bottom line is that I guess Candice and I are small-town people at heart, and this is a chance to come home."

"I know how that works," Brandy said. "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Iím a small-town girl, too, and Decatur doesnít strike me as a lot better than a mine site in Bolivia."

"Thereís no going home to Arvada Center for me, and Candy, er, Candice. I guess youíre in the same boat," Phil agreed. "But this has more or less become home for me. Except for Ken and Judy and Bob and Lori, I donít have friends down there anymore, and they get up here from time to time. And, Iíve made a lot of new friends here. Itís not a bad place to put down some roots."

"I expect itíll take a while," Candice said.

"Itís taken me ten years," Phil advised. "Of course, a lot of that, I was just in and out of town, and mostly out. But, the last couple of years Iíve had a little higher profile, and that helps. But still, youíll find that youíll be sitting around with a bunch of people and someone will mention, oh, a football game years ago, and youíre just totally lost. You donít know the people, you donít know what happened, and realistically, you never will. I figure when Iíve hung around here twenty or thirty years, Iíll be an old-timer too and will be able to confuse some of the newbies. But, like any small town, youíre pretty well always going to be a newbie."

John nodded. "I figure Iíve got an advantage since Iím from here and grew up with a lot of people, but thereís a big blank in my memory, too. Joe says I ought to join the fire department. It worked for him."

"He told me that, too," Phil smiled. "Heís always recruiting. Iíve always had a good excuse, up till last month, anyway. I may have to run the Iditarod again, just to keep having the excuse."

"So, are you going to run it again?" Candice asked.

Phil shook his head. "I donít know. Come see me around next March first, and maybe Iíll be able to tell you," he said. "Iíve been struggling with that question since the idea came up for the first time, years ago. I wanted the experience of doing it. It was a psychological break for me from the drudgery of Hadley-Monroe. When I approached Josh and Tiffany about putting together a team for this year, I wasnít looking for a contender, but for a good, solid team that had the chance of finishing. Somewhere around the back of the pack would have been fine with me. Frankly, I wound up with a better team than I planned, and finishing a lot better than I expected. I keep thinking back and seeing places where I could have improved, could have done better, and would do better knowing what I know now. I accomplished what I set out to accomplish, and Iím not sure I want to improve on it. So, Iím just waiting to see how I feel about it in three months or so. It may come down to flipping a nickel."

"Actually, Iím almost of the opinion that he shouldnít do it again," Brandy said thoughtfully. "I mean, not to take anything away from Josh and Tiffany, but itís clear to me that youíve got to be some sort of nut to do it. I mean, you really have to be pretty obsessive about it. Phil was obsessive about doing it this time last year, but he may have gotten it out of his system. If you have to ask, then the answer may well be Ďnoí anyway."

"Thatís true," Phil said. "The only remaining obsession involves the question of whether I could do a better job. And, it involves whether I find something else to do. Like I said, come see me next March first, or so."

"I donít know," John said. "I suspect that Josh is going to have to get me out behind a dog sled some time. Itís almost embarrassing to admit that Iíve never done it, him being my brother and all. Back at Rotunda, there are a lot of people who sort of have the dream that theyíre big adventure people, always trying to one-up each other with the stuff they did on their latest vacation. And I always had them one-upped, just from being related to Josh and Tiffany. I mean, I never had to say anything with that ĎIditarod Run-8í poster on the office wall. But, Iíve never been that big of an adventure person. I guess Iím a suit, at heart."

"Takes all kinds," Phil said. "But who knows, maybe being up here and around crazy people like me and Joe and Josh and Tiffany will mean some changes."

"I can see you running the Iditarod a couple years down the road," Brandy teased. "Or, actually, hanging around with Joe, running some steep creek full of Grade V drops, or maybe taking a trip over to Agawa Bay to surf thirty-foot waves in a November gale."

"That will be the day," John laughed. "I get enough adventure in the NASCAR thrill ride to work every day."

"I suppose," Phil smiled. "But now that you donít have that anymore, what are you going to do?"

"Phil! The steaks!" Brandy cried.

"Oh, shit! Be right back." He raced for the door. "I knew I was forgetting something."

He was back a couple minutes later. "Well, itís like this," he said. "You get a choice. Very well done, or we can order pizza."


*   *   *

Phil didnít know if Brandy was going to go through with the proposal to analyze data for Front Range until he came home for lunch to find the van from Marlin.com sitting in front of the house. He walked inside to find the office full of boxes of computer components, and Mark running a cable into the house. "Whatís all this?" he asked.

"The hottest box Iíve ever sold," Mark smiled. "Gig and a half processor, a half a gig of RAM, not one but two one-twenty-gig hard drives, all set up and ready to rumble. Youíre also getting the hottest connection in town, next to being down with the servers. Your wife said the companyís paying the bill, so there was no point in stopping halfway."

Phil shook his head. "You remember when we thought the 286 was the snazziest thing weíd ever seen?"

"It was, not all that long ago," Mark smiled. "I mean, it was so damn slick after running those XTs."

"You need any help plugging things in?"

"Not really. I do need a place to set it up, but your wife ran over to get some desk from her dadís store. She ought to be back any minute, now. She said sheís got some special software to run on it."

"Yeah, I helped write some of the predecessor software, years ago," Phil said. "Pretty proprietary stuff."

"Whatever it is, itís going to run like a son of a gun on this thing," Mark said. "So, you getting slowed back down after the race?"

"Things are getting pretty well back to normal," Phil admitted. "I havenít seen a sled dog in over a week, so maybe Iím getting free of the addiction, now."

"Itís spring," Mark replied. "I tell myself that every spring. But then, along about the end of summer, and the leaves starting to turn, and thereís a hint of fall in the air, and the next thing I know, Iím out putting a coat of varnish on the sled."

"It could happen," Phil said, looking out the window. "Thereís Brandy now. I better go help."

By the time Phil had put together a sandwich and grabbed a Coke, the new computer was set up along one wall of the office room, and Mark was hooking up cables. Phil was nobodyís fool when it came to computers, but he could see that all heíd just be in the way, so he headed back to the store. He hadnít wanted to be gone long, anyway.

It got a little busy in the store on Friday afternoon Ė not maddeningly busy, but just pleasantly busy, with a steady stream of customers. Phil did sell one recreational kayak, got another customer hooked with a thorough lust for a fiberglass boat that would probably result in another sale, helped a person fit a backpack, booked a couple for a kayak trip, and spent a lot of time yarning about the Iditarod Ė the Iditarod posters all over the store probably had something to do with that. The store stayed open late on Friday, but it had proved to be a satisfying day. On his way out after locking up, he poked his nose in McGuinness Accounting to see how Joe and John were coming with the tax battle, but one look at their serious expressions told him that this was no time to shoot the bull. Figuring that Brandy would be all wrapped up with the new computer, he stopped off and picked up a pizza.

His guess proved right; Brandy was sitting at the computer, working away. "I brought us a pizza," he said, leaning at the doorway. "Howís it going?"

"Running real good," she replied. "This is a lot faster computer than the ones we had on the site, so itís moving right along. I had to FTP the software in from the Front Range server, but, let me tell you, that connection is so fast it was here in seconds. It settled right down, and seems to be outputting real good."

"Good enough to take a break for dinner?"

"I suppose," she said, not getting up. Clearly, she wanted to stay right at the computer and monitor the process. "You know, it feels so good to be able to have something useful to do again. Weíve got a bunch of work to do. Itís still coming in. This is all from the Rhodesia project, so I guess theyíre behind a little. But, a week or two and we should be caught up to where I can deal with it on a runtime basis."

"You want a beer with this, or, should I get you a Coke?"

"Coke, I think," she said.

"Yeah, I think so too," he replied. "Be back in a minute." He walked into the office, cleared away some space on the work table next to his own computer, then turned around to head for the kitchen Ė but in doing it, caught a glimpse of the screen of the new computer. What he saw brought him to a dead stop. He literally couldnít believe his eyes Ė sitting in the corner of the huge computer screen was the little black and white 640x480 DOS screen heíd written to manage the original magres analysis software heíd written fifteen years before. "Didnít you people ever upgrade the magres software?" he asked.

"It runs close to max theoretical efficiency," she said. "Iíve never had reason to tweak it. Our problem has always been in the overall integration."

"Brandy, thereís no way in hell that it runs at anything like maximum theoretical efficiency," he said. "I kludged that goddamn program together so it would prove the concept. I figured that once the concept was proved, youíd bring in someone to do it right."

"They must have done some upgrading. It runs faster than it ever did," she replied.

"Brandy, that was written to be run on a 12-megahertz 286. I did some shortcuts to be able to get it to run there at all, some stuff just to prove the concept. The reason it runs faster is that youíre sitting at a box that runs at least a hundred and fifty times faster on bus speed alone. That thing is faster than a Cray was back when the software was written, and, I mean, no wonder!"

"It does the job," she protested.

"I donít know how," he replied. "Youíve said youíve always had resolution problems, right? A lot of noise?"

She shrugged. "It goes with the territory."

Phil shook his head. They had been using that kludge for a dozen years, and no one had ever taken a look at the software. Unbelievable. How could people that were supposed to be so smart be so goddamn dumb? "Brandy, the reason you have a resolution problem is that software only looks at every tenth data point. It filters out the rest. It would have taken forever to run on a 286 if I hadnít done it. It was a demo, remember?"

He was getting through to her, now. "You mean . . .?"

"Yeah. You guys have wasted months, if not years, sitting down in those data trailers waiting for this kludge of a program to sort everything out badly. If the source code is available, I can change, well, maybe two or three lines. I donít remember now, but the filter was pretty simple. And then, youíd have at least ten times the resolution. Probably a lot more, itís geometrical."

"Wouldnít it take ten times longer to run?"

"No, more like a hundred times longer. Thatís why I did it that way. But, like I said, the code is slow. Itís a kludge, a breadboard to get it working, like the original magres detector. I know youíve upgraded that, but shit, I wrote that original source code in Pascal, and even parts of it in GWBASIC. Iíd need a look at the original source code to jog my memory. If I had that, then I could go back through and rewrite it in C++ set to run in a Linux environment. That way, you donít lose so much speed to Windows overhead. I could fix some of the places I had to do a tonsillectomy through the rectum to get it to work at all on a 286, and that doesnít even get close to all the time wasted in hard drive access because the 286 had so little RAM. With all those fixes, it should run several times faster, and get at least ten times the resolution. Maybe even better. Thanks to Hadley-Monroe I know a hell of a lot more about three dimensional mapping than I knew back then. And youíd get cleaner and much faster integration with your other data."

"Youíre kidding."

"Iím not kidding. It makes me want to cry, seeing you running that old crap, thinking how much work youíve wasted doing it, and how much time together weíve lost."

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