Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Search Engine (10/06/11)
TITLE: Grandpa Ed's Spiders
By Beth Muehlhausen
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A brown spider descends on a single strand of silk, targeting a shiny, flesh-toned bald spot surrounded by a silver-white halo of unkempt, flyaway hair. It’s the top of Grandpa Ed’s head.
Blink-blink-blink-blink-blink. Grandpa Ed squints through a tousled white forelock trapped behind his thick trifocal lenses as Google simultaneously blinks its silent-but-questioning cursor-eye inside the skinny, rectangular box on his computer screen: “WHAT-what-what-what-what is your search topic?”
Although Ed’s man-cave-of-a-basement-room is thick with darkness and quiet, the cursor’s blinks speak decisively in something like a secret code. “You have to start somewhere, Ed. Type something.”
Something. Grandpa Ed types the word <i>something</i>.
Being efficient and timely, Google flashes about 3,150,000 results in 0.18 seconds. Up comes a site about a song entitled “Something,” another with a definition of the word <i>something</i> from MacMillan Dictionary, and finally one advertising a store called SomethingStore.com that for $10.00 will send you an unidentified something valued at over $10.00.
Ed squirms in his hard oak chair while the spider correspondingly sways from his silk like a skydiver without a parachute. This computer is a birthday gift for Ed’s sixty-fifth birthday; he has only begun to learn how to use it.
“How about something worthwhile?” the winking cursor suggests.
He types in <i>something worthwhile</i>. This time about 18,800,000 results pop up in 0.15 seconds. Ed scrunches his shoulders and peers at the screen, but finds the first page of links disappointing.
“I can help you discover something that matters,” Google’s cursor persists. And so Ed types in <i>something that matters</i>.
Up pops a book title from Amazon, <u>Start Something that Matters</u>. Ed is currently reading that entrepreneurial book as inspiration for his retirement years; there it is on the table next to his laptop! Coincidence? Serendipity? Divine intervention? Could the computer have already KNOWN?
The deliberate, focused spider drops lower and lower unbeknownst to Ed, inch by fractions-of-an-inch, slinking ever closer to the slick-looking landing pad.
With a tired, old-man-style shudder-of-a-yawn, Ed sighs and stares outside the window where so many stars stand suspended in the dark abyss called space. Space. Cyberspace. What is it? Where IS it, anyway?
He types <i>cyberspace</i>.
In 0.14 seconds about 35,500,000 results are at his fingertips.
An official-looking web site catches Ed’s eye. He skim-reads, hunting for tidbits that might make sense to a technological newbie, and learns cyberspace is an “indefinite place” where people communicate in space. Cyberspace is a term coined by William Gibson, a science fiction writer.
He scratches the back of his bald spot, just inches below the spider, and wonders how search engines work in some “indefinite place” where reality and science fiction evidently collide.
Hoping to understand Google’s inner workings, he types, <i>“What is a search engine?</i>”
Google responds by flashing a web page explaining how a search engine sends out something called a <i>spider</i>. This <i>spider</i> grabs armloads of documents containing whatever keywords have been typed into the little rectangular box at the invitation of the cursor.
“Hmmmmm,” Ed murmurs to himself. “Spiders. Quick, crafty little fellows. Intentional. Industrious. Hard workers. They keep at it. Never quit. Worthy of praise.”
He turns his head to gaze outside at the stars, remembering enchanted childhood nights when gangly-legged, spotlighted spiders worked industriously in the beam of his flashlight.
A shooting star streaks the sky, as if to sear Ed’s drowsy consciousness with flashlight-like clarity. A worldwide web encircles the globe, and is managed by technological spiders lurking inside the web’s space: cyberspace. Those spiders must be patient and passionate, ready to jump at a moment’s notice to retrieve web sites containing keywords.
Meanwhile, the ceiling-spider boldly lands on Ed’s head, one spindly leg at a time. Ed simultaneously puts his computer to sleep and closes its metallic cover while unknowingly wearing the spider like a tiny hat. He shuffles half-a-dozen steps in his fleece slippers, mumbles “drat those mosquitoes” while brushing a tickly spot on the top of his head, collapses into bed, and drifts into happy slumber to dream of lightning-speed-spiders preparing to retrieve answers addressing his forthcoming entrepreneurial dreams.
Undaunted, the brushed-aside-but-undaunted spider climbs the edge of a hand-quilted comforter on Grandpa Ed’s bed. As an icon inspiring Google’s perseverance, he will begin again to spin a new web - starting over as many times as necessary - and spend the night hard at work while upholding a tenacious reputation that has inspired technology to change Grandpa Ed’s life, and the whole world, forever.
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