Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Original sin and The X-Files

- The Fall of Man, Hendrik Goltzius

I read an interesting article today at The Atlantic - The Internet's Original Sin - about how good intentions can be the paving stones to hell ;) Here's just a bit of it ...

[...] What we wanted to do was to build a tool that made it easy for everyone, everywhere to share knowledge, opinions, ideas and photos of cute cats. As everyone knows, we had some problems, primarily business model problems, that prevented us from doing what we wanted to do the way we hoped to do it. What we’re asking for today is a conversation about how we could do this better, since we screwed up pretty badly the first time around .....

I use the first personal plural advisedly. From 1994 to 1999, I worked for, helping to architect, design, and implement a website that marketed content and services to recent college graduates. When that business failed to catch on, we became a webpage-hosting provider and proto-social network. Over the course of five years, we tried dozens of revenue models, printing out shiny new business plans to sell each one. We’d run as a subscription service! Take a share of revenue when our users bought mutual funds after reading our investment advice! Get paid to bundle a magazine with textbook publishers! Sell T-shirts and other branded merch!

At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising. The model that got us acquired was analyzing users’ personal homepages so we could better target ads to them. Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the pop-up ad. It was a way to associate an ad with a user’s page without putting it directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association between their brand and the page’s content. Specifically, we came up with it when a major car company freaked out that they’d bought a banner ad on a page that celebrated anal sex. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good .......

How do The X-Files figure into this? Years ago when I belonged to an online fiction writers group, I wrote a short-short story about the imagined murder of the creator of pop-up ads, which came to the attention of Mulder and Scully ....

- my autographed DD postcard :)

* * *

X-File Homage

This story was written for a Science Fiction Challenge on the subject of fan fiction

Special Agent Fox Mulder leaned against the wall of the autopsy suite, eating sunflower seeds and watching Agent Dana Scully as she pulled the sheet from a dead body. The corpse lay at an awkward angle on its side due to the computer keyboard that protruded from it's nether regions.

"Ouch," muttered Mulder. "That's got to hurt."

Scully gave her partner a baleful glance and began to speak into a voice activated recorder that hung from the ceiling between the bright surgical lights. "The victim, Fred Wiggins, appears to have died from blunt force trauma to the head ..."

"You can say that again," Mulder added, interrupting her. He gazed at Wiggins' head, or what was left of it ... a computer terminal had all but obliterated it and seemed now to be fused to the remnant of skull and brain tissue.

Picking up a scalpel in a gloved hand, Scully began to carve a Y incision into the stiff body that lay before her. "I don't understand why we've been assigned this case, Mulder. I'm as happy to snap on the latex as the next person, but this seems to be an albeit grotesque but normal murder, not an X-File."

Mulder crunched a sunflower seed hull between his teeth and suppressed a sigh. "Scully, Scully, Scully ... after all we've seen, how can you still be so naive?''

His partner arched an interrogative brow as she began to remove the corpse's rib cage with a handsaw. Mulder elaborated, pointing to the strategically placed computer keyboard. "Remember that case we had in which ritual magic was used to materialize surgical instruments inside a person's intestinal tract?"

"Yes, but this isn't exactly ..."

Mulder held up a restraining hand as he continued. "Then there was that X-File in which a man exposed to toxic chemicals was slowly turned into a machine."

"Surely you don't think that's the case here, Mulder. This man has obviously ..."

Before Scully could finish her sentence, the door to the autopsy suite swung open and FBI Assistant Director Skinner, the agents' boss, walked in. "You two are off the case."

"On whose say-so?" Mulder asked.

"The Justice Department has deemed this to be not a wrongful death after all but justifiable homicide. And they want the details kept quiet," Skinner said, as he cast a disturbed glance at the mutilated corpse.

"Just as I thought ... a far reaching global conspiracy concocted by the secret powers within our government and their alien masters." In emphasis, Mulder thumped his fist against the computer terminal that the deceased Mr. Wiggins now used as a head.

"Oh, come on Mulder ..." Scully began, but Skinner cut her off.

"He's right, Scully."

"I am?" Mulder looked more surprised than his partner.

His expression grim, Skinner looked around the room, as if to be sure they were alone. "Yes ... Mr. Wiggins was involved in something more diabolical, more truly evil, than anything you've yet encountered in the X-Files. I think it's possible that someone in the government had him silenced before he could reveal anything. Wiggins was a computer programmer. In collusion with unnamed forces so powerful and dangerous as to be beyond accountability, for dark purposes I can't even begin to imagine, he created the prototype of ... the pop-up ad."

"My God!" Scully gasped.

Mulder was, for once, speechless. Then, taking a deep steadying breath, he put the unsolvable case behind him. "So, you guys hungry?'

Skinner shrugged, "I could eat."

Scully snapped off the latex and, discussing restaurants, the three left the room.

* * *


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