Miner Thoughts
My Mac Magazine #31, Nov. ’97

[The following is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.]

Who woulda’ thunk that writing a small monthly column for the electronic pro-Macintosh magazine My Mac would gain me the recognition of some famous (and some not so famous) people around the globe? Certainly not I. But that’s exactly what’s happening.

Ever since I began writing for this highly regarded magazine I have become somewhat of a celebrity’s celebrity and find my knowledge and expertise in high demand amongst some pretty well known people. Unlike most of my readers, these pretty well known people must not know that I am devoid of any knowledge or expertise about anything.

I know the rest of you readers have, by now, concluded that Pete Miner don’t know Jack about nothin’. And that’s okay because you’re absolutely right. Heck, even my faithful 12 or 13 readers wouldn’t waste their time asking me anything more technical than “How many fingers do you use for typing?” because those same readers know that even a simple and straightforward question such as this would, more often than not, elicit a meaningless and inane answer from me like: “Normally I use the same number of fingers to type as I use to pick my nose, however, this may all change depending on what this recent Apple/Microsoft semi-merger does to the price of pork bellies coming in from Argentina.”

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but most of my readers do understand that my column, Miner Thoughts, could just as easily be called Minor Thoughts or even Meaningless Thoughts. Right? Of course that’s right. So why is it I keep getting requests for consultations from around the globe via e-mail, telephone, special messenger, and in one case, carrier pigeon, (this from a Tibetan monk) from people who think I have the answer to all their problems?

To give you an example: Just the other day I received a phone call from someone claiming to be Boris Yeltsen’s English translator. When I answered the phone with a simple, “Hello,” I was greeted with an official sounding:

“Mr. Miner please, Mr. Pete Miner?”

“I guess that’d be me bubba, who’s this?” I asked.

“Uh… Yes… Well… Mr. Miner, my name is Mikal Spurnoff, I am English translator for President Boris Yeltsen and am calling you on behalf of the President from the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia.”

“Is that you, Clifford?” I asked, chuckling, thinking it was a friend of mine doing his Russian translator imitation.

“My name is Mikal Spurnoff, Mr. Miner, and the Russian President would like to speak with you on the subject of our country’s Mir space station. Is this a convenient time for you, Mr. Miner?”

“Yeah, right!” I said, wondering who the heck was messing with my head. In the phone I heard a voice in the background speaking in what very well could have been Russian, but then I wouldn’t know Russian from Chinese so I could only assume it was Russian.

Apparently this Mikal Spurnoff character took my “Yeah right!” as an affirmative to his question because he continued in his dialog.

“Mr. Yeltsen is calling to ask a favor of you, Mr. Miner. The President reads your column in My Mac every month and is quite impressed with your work in computers and your expertise in seemingly every other high technical area known to man. That is, of course, President Yeltsen’s opinion of you, not the opinion of I, nor anyone else here at the Kremlin. In fact, all of us here except the President believe that your meandering musings are that of an uneducated man with nothing better to do than make up false stories about contacting aliens, breaking into and using your country’s global positioning satellites, hacking the Internet, using gorillas to choose the best computers, etc… etc… However, President Yeltsen believes what you write and thinks you can help him decide what to do about our deteriorating space station Mir. Do you have any suggestions, Mr. Miner?”

No longer doubting the validity of the phone call, I thought about referring Mr. Yeltsen to My Mac’s resident problem solver, Jeramey Valley (Tech Tips). But realizing that Jeramey is a busy man and shouldn’t be bothered with a simple problem such as this, I figured I’d give it a shot myself.

“Yeah, I have a suggestion for Boris,” I said to Mikal. For starters, he could tell his cosmonauts to quit crashing their resupply ships into the station. That certainly doesn’t do it any good. But maybe the quickest fix would be to abandon Mir and plunge that sucker straight into the atmosphere and let it burn up. Problem solved! He’ll never have to worry about it again.”

I listened while Mikal translated what I said, and in the background I heard the tipsy, vodka-laced voice of Boris Yeltsen replying to Mikal.

When he switched back to English he said, “Mr. Miner, the President refuses to consider your suggestion as a viable option. He would prefer to keep the station operational for as long as possible as it is the most wonderful example of Russian technology we have and he would like to preserve it, at least until the completion of the International Space Station. He said you must come up with something less drastic than destruction, but something that doesn’t require mass amounts of funding either.”

“Okay, okay!” I said, “I really didn’t think he’d take the easy way out, but plan B will take a little longer. You tell my buddy Boris that he must first sell the space station to NASA for a ridiculously high price. Then he must wait till they fix it all up and turn it into a spiffy first class space station. NASA, I am sure, will remove that sorry excuse you have for a main computer and replace it with a more dependable Apple computer running the Mac OS. Make sure Boris holds out until they add a lounge and casino module. You gettin’ all this Spurnoff?” I asked.

“Da, Da,” answered Mikal.

“Okay, after the refurbishment is complete, tell Boris he must then sue NASA in a U.S. court, claiming he was coerced into selling the space station to feed his hungry countrymen and now wants the station back. I’d say he has a better than 50-50 chance of winning.”

I waited while the translation took place and heard a cacophony of Russian being bantered about in the background.

When Mikal came back on the line he said, “Mr. Miner, President Yeltsen finds your suggestion very interesting and wishes to thank you for your time. He said he will present this to the politburo as a formality but is certain they will agree to your suggestion as it does away with the need for any additional funding. Mr. Yeltsen also instructs me to extend to you an invitation to be the first non-Russian to visit our new and improved space station if this plan of yours works.”

“Yeah, right! I’ll believe that when I’m strapped in and blasting off into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. You just tell Boris that whether this plan works or not, I had nothing to do with it and will vehemently deny any knowledge of this conversation. Have a nice day, Mikal.”

I hung up thinking, no wonder their country’s going to hell in a hand basket, they can’t even solve a simple problem like this on their own!

Another consultation request I got involved in came from the mayor of a little town called Blowdown, Texas (population 482), which had recently been devastated by an F5 (real big) tornado. Whatever gave this lady mayor the idea that I could solve her problem is beyond me but she insisted I could help her. She wanted me to devise a plan to rebuild her small township that would make it tornado proof.

Having no experience myself at tornado proofing small towns, I was about to refer the mayor to My Mac’s all knowing Helpful Hints lady, Barbara Bell (Starting Line), when it occurred to me that, living in Massachusetts, Barbara probably doesn’t know any more about tornados than I do, so why burden her with Blowdown’s dilemma.

As I was about to inform the distressed mayor that I couldn’t be of any assistance to her, a stroke of genius exploded in my head. (Ouch!)

“I think I have the solution to your problem, Mrs. Mayor,” I told her.

“I knew you would” she answered, stroking my ego a little. “And I prefer Ms. Mayor if you don’t mind?”

“Whatever!” I said. “Actually, it’s only a partial solution. I think we can tornado proof the townspeople but not the actual town itself. Are you interested?” I asked.

“Well, if that’s the best you can do, Pete, I guess it’s better than nothing” she answered, making me feel a bit inadequate. (I thought about telling her I prefer Mr. Miner instead of Pete. If she didn’t mind! But I let it slide.)

“Just how much is this going to cost us, Pete?” Ms. Mayor inquired.

“That depends… You will need a Macintosh computer running at 200MHz or faster, an ISP located well outside of tornado alley, blood samples of at least 10cc from every resident of Blowdown, and a laboratory that can accurately extract the DNA data of all the blood samples.”

“What on earth are you talking about, Pete? I don’t see how any of this stuff could possibly protect my town from a tornado! Please explain,” demanded the mayor.

“Look, it’s pretty simple,” I said. “I’m surprised no one’s thought of it before now. You get me the raw DNA data of all your citizenry and I’ll convert that data to computer readable binary code and then compile that code into a Macintosh programmable language which I’ll then convert to the Internet’s HyperText Markup Language. Once that’s done, you will keep these HTML files (one file for each resident of Blowdown) in a safe place on your Macintosh computer. You will need to purchase a minimum of 10 gigabytes of Internet space on your ISP’s server and a domain name to go along with it, such as www.blowdown.gov
. Do you follow me Ms. Mayor?” I asked.


“Sorry, I thought you’d see the connection by now,” I said. “Let me ask you: where should you be if a tornado touches down and is coming right at you?”

“In a storm cellar?” The mayor answered.

“Sure, if that’s all you got. But wouldn’t it be safer to be hundreds or even thousands of miles away? Of course it would,” I said, answering my own question. “And that’s what my plan will do. At the first sign of tornado activity in the Blowdown area, you log onto the Internet, and then using the program Fetch you upload all those DNA data HTML files I talked about to www.blowdown.gov
halfway across the country. As the files are uploading, each individual matching the DNA of a particular file will automatically be uploaded into the Internet along with his/her file and be safely tucked away until the tornado danger has passed.”

“Whoa… Whoa…! Hold it right there Pete! Are you saying we can physically transport human beings from a small town in Texas to somebody’s computer halfway across the country in the blink of an eye? Is that what you’re telling me?”

“Gosh no, Ms. Mayor, I suspect it would take at least 5 or 6 minutes to move all 482 people.”

“And you think you can really do this?”, she stammered.

“Sure! They do it all the time on Star Trek,” I told her. “Although this wouldn’t be as elaborate as the Enterprise’s transporter.”

“And what happens to us after we all upload to the Internet?”

“Well, for one thing, you will all be naked because your clothing will not be making the trip. But don’t worry because while you’re floating around on your ISP’s server, your bodies will be nothing more than a grey compressed mass of protons and electrons, atoms and cells, bits and bytes and stuff like that, so modesty won’t even come into play.”

“How do we get back once the tornado danger has past?”

“That’s a little trickier and will take a little longer to accomplish,” I said. “But it’s still worth the slight inconvenience. You’ll need somebody back here in the real world that you can trust. Someone who will have access to your Internet account and knows how to transfer files. What this person would do is keep an eye on the weather in the Blowdown area and whenever it begins to look tornado-ish, he or she would keep checking your Internet account to see if you uploaded the townspeople. Once that person sees all your HTML files have been uploaded, they would just sit and wait until the National Weather Service gives the all-clear sign for Blowdown. Then it’s just a matter of downloading each file/person individually to the approximate location they were scooped up from.”

Approximate location, did you say?” asked Ms. Mayor. “Just how approximate are we talking here, Pete?”

“Twenty, thirty feet maybe,” I told her.

“So, if I were sitting in my office and decided it was time to zap all us Blowdownians into the Internet, I could do so from the computer in my office?”


“And then when the coast was clear we would have to rely on someone else remembering that we were up here and then downloading us one at a time only to end up twenty or thirty feet away from where we were when we originally, uh…, disappeared?”

“That’s right. Pretty cool, huh?”

“So you’re saying that I could be moleculized and transported while sitting at my desk in my private office, but then when I’m re-transported and re-moleculized I could find myself standing in the middle of Main Street outside my office?

“Yeah, sure.”


“Uh…, yeah, I guess so. I hadn’t thought about that. But heh! You’d be alive, right?”

“Yeah, well, I’ll have to get back to you on this, Pete. Thank you very much for your time and for your most amazing solution to our tornado problem.”

I still haven’t heard back from Ms. Mayor, so maybe she decided to go a different route in solving her problem. But you can’t say I didn’t try!

I remember the Pope calling my house from the Vatican late on Christmas Eve of last year and wondering, what the heck does this guy want from me , as my wife handed me the phone.

“Hello, Your Popeness,” I said. “Merry Christmas to you and your Cardinals. How may I serve you, Father? What’s that…? Oh… Well, Your Highness…, I mean Your Holiness, I don’t think it really matters what browser you use. It’s just a matter of personal preference really. What’s that…? Oh, no, Mr. Pope, I don’t think there’s any truth at all to the rumor that Bill Gates is the anti-Christ. …Well, no Father Pope, I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think…, What? …Yes sir, I do understand how bad it would look if you were using a browser designed by the anti-Christ. If you’re not comfortable using his Internet Explorer, maybe you should just stick with Netscape, Your Holiness. …Yes that’s right, Netscape. Is that all Father? …Yes, Father, Macs are really cool, I agree. Good-by Mr. Pope, and tell #1 I said Happy Birthday.”

Don’t ask me why these people think I can solve their problems cause I’m just as flabbergasted as you must be. But I do my best to help them out when they do call and so far I think I’ve done a decent job of it. Although there is one letter that I received several weeks ago that I keep putting off because I’m not really sure how to answer it.

This particular letter arrived on my front porch attached to the left leg of a worn-out and haggard looking carrier pigeon. The letter was from a Tibetan monk who said he lived in a cave high in the Himalayas. He said he was sent there several years ago to reflect and meditate but was becoming very lonely and distraught. Having decided he would never find the state of nirvana he was looking for no matter how long he sat in his cave searching for it on the Internet with his PowerBook, he thought he would ask me for help. He asked if I would be so kind as to explain to him the meaning of life so he could take this information to the master monk and with a little luck, be released from the final three years of the reflection and meditation clause that is part of his monk contract.

I must admit that I’m at a loss as to how to deal with this one but am still working on it. If I can’t come up with something substantial pretty soon I may just turn this one over to Adam Karneboge and Mike Wallinga, My Mac’s Game Guys. If anyone can figure out the meaning of life, I’m sure it’s these two! After all, what more is life than one big game?

That’s all I have to say this month but be sure to tune in next month when I uncover a scandal at the North Pole that could have very easily shut down Santa Claus’s operation this year.

Pete Miner (pete@mymac.com)

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