The Ghost of Alma Matterson
Chapter 1: [Alt-Tab]

Alma Matterson was a peach colored icon with a tuft of red hair that would wave in the wind as he ran through the green green fields of eastern Kentucky. On his right ran a cream colored icon with a mat of black hair. To his left ran a beige colored icon with curls of brown. Upon his face, Alma wore the broadest of his thirty-two possible smiles.

Our young hero lived in a wonderland of sights and sounds. White puffy virtual clouds drifted through true blue virtual skies. Virtual birds played MIDI tunes from their happy nests in virtual trees. Bright, multicolored flowers sprouted among the vivid green grasses of virtual meadows.

It was a marvel of a technical age. The scenery was rendered in vivid 256 bit color in a fully defined four dimensional space. The details were exquisite.

The secret to the imaging was object technology. The scene started with a very simple framework. There was a small road object, winding its way through a green field object, running along a white picket fence object. The background, was a simple jpeg of textured hills, blue skies and wispy silver lined clouds.

Rather than wasting valuable bandwidth generating all the details of a sunny day. The system rationed resources to those objects requiring immediate focus. Activating any of the objects would load methods to animate the object.

Take for instance the simple dirt road beneath Alma's feet. When entering the scene, the road was nothing more than a textured image of a predefined winding shape. If you were wearing a Tujimo KT846 glove and reached toward the road, you would execute an onFocus() event. That event would launch the sensation and resistance methods of the glove, giving the road object the feel of resistance and texture. 

Even more amazing, when you focused on the road, it would transform from a textured pattern into a collection of interactive objects. The little grayish, sparkling shapes turned into pebble and rock objects. If you touched the objects with the KT848 glove, you would feel both a predefined texture and weight. Dunking the stones in water would deepen the color of the stones, and load a new texture file.

If you picked up the stone, and heaved it into the air, the system would calculate the weight of the object, the force placed on the object by your arm. It would then render an animation of the stone's throw in full 3D resolution. When the stone crashed into the bushes, the system would simultaneously play wav files of rustling leaves, breaking sticks and landing stones. 

A brave youth might try heaving the stones through one of the unbroken windows of the abandoned saw mill on Choctaw Creek road. In this scenario, the system would play a wav of breaking glass with the thump of a landing stone. In the background, it would change the state of the window from whole to cracked, and e-mail a warning to the Reverend Hardin Thomas of the juvenile prank.

Such bravado usually led to an unpleasant meeting of parents, teachers and usually happened at most once in a child's life.

The meetings were never harsh. There was never any beating of children. At most there was an underlying degree of subtle coercion--Coercion that held the proper concern for the child's self-esteem. The most important business rule in the product was that parental contact always resulted positive reinforcement.

Any negative reinforcement came directly from nature. The behavior requiring modification would lead to the punishment. A broken mirror would lead to a cut hand. Skateboarding on private property would lead to a broken ankle.

Alma lived in a truly ideal world filled with love and joy. His dad, Peter Matterson was the perfect virtual father. He spent his days toiling away in a virtual office. He was a marketing the director for a virtual advertising firm–second in rank to the virtual CEO! Peter worked hard. He spent quality time with the children, and was stern when needed but never harsh.

Alma's virtual mom was the greatest. She had just finished her doctorate in nutrition and, despite the challenges of her new career as research director at the local community hospital, she always found time to pick up Alma and friends from soccer practice in the SUV. She would drive them to movies, church outings or fulfill any of the myriad of motherly needs faced by a young boy in the modern world.

Last year Rick, Alma's virtual brother, was the captain of the junior varsity football team. He let his grades slip, and would not be the captain of the senior varsity team. He had to study hard to earn the right to play. There are so many lessons to learn from life.

Charlene, Alma's younger sister, was a virtual brat. She always brought her friends home at inopportune times. She lived with the family's phone growing from her ear. Char idolized Alma, just as Alma had idolized his brother Rick. Her only possible defect was a weakness for the wrong type of guy...a defect that was certain to lead to a number of important life lessons when she began dating.

It was a happy family. It had up times, down times, but was free of any lingering dysfunctions. They learned hard lessons together, and always came through for each other at the end.

In recent months, however, Alma focused almost all of his attention on his collection of friends at the "Free Body" club. This was just a little group of friends that met every Sunday after church for fun and adventure.

This little band of irreverent misfits was perhaps the closest thing to imperfection in Alma's life. They were awkward, trampled on each others self esteem without due note, but had developed a bond that seem to go beyond simple classmates. 

They were not the most popular kids. There was Alma Matterson (the geek), Mary Evans, Tad Black (the clown), and Martin White. Until a few weeks ago, the All Star quarterback, Johnny May, was the most prominent member of the group, but his dad got a promotion, and the Mays moved to Florida.

The members of the club were typical suburban American youth. They played hard during recess, they ran between their classes when the time bells rang. They watched too much TV, and laughed at stupid puns. There was nothing to distinguish them from any other kids in an American junior high.

There certainly was nothing to distinguish these friends from the other kids of Jefferson Middle School. Well, except perhaps for one small insignificant difference in one tiny network configuration file. It was only a minor detail. Something you would never notice from the main program. You could play in the system for years and never see the difference. That is, unless someone gave you the super user password, and you logged in from a consul with ADMIN rights.

Please, when you log in as super user, you must be extremely careful. As super user, you have the ability to delete files, or even reboot the machine—which would be quite a shock for the players in the game.

Once logged in a super user, you can load the ADMIN consul. This consul has some interesting additional options. When you are in the administration screen, you will notice that there is a title bar at the top, and a mouse cursor. Move the mouse over Alma, and right click. This brings up a small popup window with different configuration functions. You can change the color, name and even gender of the icon.

Before exploring these options, I would like to [Alt-Tab] to Alma's running mates. Highlight the cream colored icon with black hair and press [Enter]. A balloon popup shows that this  object's name is "Tad Black." The screen indicates that he is a thirteen-year-old boy, and has been logged in for the last 117 months. He is an average student, with a 2.8 GPA, he likes soccer, recently twisted a wrist in a skateboarind accident. He has a sister named Jan...

The parameter I wanted you to see is in the data source name (DSN) field in the JDBC control panel. If you clicked on any of the other children in Jefferson Middle school, you would see that their data source name was KT_Prod. Click on the friends in the "Free Body" club; you will see that, in each case, their data source name was simply an IP address. 

I took the time to check all of the people in Padua, Kentucky. They all had the KT_Prod as their DSN...except for Mary Evans (, Martin White (, Alma Matterson (, and Tad Black ( 

Checking the archive log, I discovered that the DSN for Johnny May had recently changed from to KT_Prod. For one hour it changed to, then was deleted from the system permanently. 

I spent hours checking the system metrics. It appears that the one feature needed to qualify for entry in the Free Body Club was your own IP address. 

The only other oddity in the system log was that the Reverend Hardin Thomas object would occasionally log in from The Hardin Thomas object not only history of DSN changes. It also had a different subnet mask, and appeared to be run from a consul with ADMIN rights. 

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