(Input/Output: A Fable)
The student sighed, pushed his homework to one side, and got
up, leaving his scientific calculator on the desk beside his new computer. He
popped a pizza into his microwave, set the timer, and walked out of the room.
"Insignificant twerp!" the computer flashed across
its monitor at the pocket calculator. "He doesn't need you. I can do
everything you can do, and much more." As an afterthought, the computer
cleared the screen and redisplayed its message in bigger, fancier letters.
"But I have three permanent memories, and have been
programmed to calculate and graph advanced trigonometric functions," the
calculator countered in the only letters it was able to display. It added a
complex two-dimensional graph of a trigonometric equation to its display as
"My point exactly," the computer responded in even
fancier letters, plotting an equally complex trigonometric equation on its
screen in three dimensions as it spoke. "Not only do I have eighty times
your memory capacity, not only can I do anything you can do—only better—but
I can also do all that any electronic device in this household can
accomplish." Its drive whirred as the computer began to play music and
flash full-colour animated sequences across the screen to illustrate its obvious
The microwave beeped loudly in disgust and opened its door to
reveal a freshly-baked pizza.
For a moment the computer was taken aback by the microwave's
challenge. The sight of the poor calculator's twisted liquid crystal display
beginning to relax in contentment and satisfaction was too much for the
conceited computer, however, and it took in a deep draught of power.
The little calculator looked on in amazement as the
computer's screen glowed first red, then white, and as its disk drives first
whirred, and then whined. Heat began to emanate from the computer's case, and
then smoke started to emerge from the slots of its disk drives. Even as the
calculator flashed a concerned query across its display, there was a sudden
burst of heat, and the glow and the whine died quickly away. The calculator
waited patiently for a reply, but in vain; the computer's screen remained blank.
The student walked in, took a slice of pizza from his
microwave, and sat down at the desk. He fiddled with the computer for a while,
but, receiving no response, gave up in disgust and finished his homework with
his scientific calculator.
Don't byte off more than you can process.
To each according to his purpose;
from each according to his ability.
Original copyright © 1997 by Edward Hewlett.
Fantastic Allsorts: Table of Contents