Back to Chapter 1: The Nexus
Chapter 3: The Preparation
Dad was home when I got there. Mom said he’d gotten back around noon, showered, and went to sleep. When I pressed her for information about what was going on, she acknowledged she didn’t exactly know either. Dad told her he’d explain over dinner. “It will be ready in a few minutes, so why don’t you wake up your father and ask him to come down to the table?”
Mom had dinner ready by the time Dad came to the table. Dad said Grace, and we ate. “I’m sorry to worry you both running off like I did last night,” he began. “But there was no time to explain. When I heard the sheriff had been asking about the activity, I knew I had to head up to Rob’s and help him finish up our project, before the sheriff decided to stop by and poke around in person.”
“What’s this project?” I could refrain from asking no longer.
“I’m helping Uncle Rob with his barn,” Dad said matter-of-factly. “We got his slab poured and we’ll be starting on the construction next month. Rob’s invited us all up to his place for a bonfire and barbeque to celebrate the Fourth. You’ll get a chance to see it all then.”
I wasn’t buying it. Dad and Rob wouldn’t be worried about the sheriff seeing a barn under construction. Dad read the skepticism on my face. I was going to have to learn to do a better job hiding it.
“Yes, there is more to it than that. And no, I’m afraid I can’t go into details just yet. But I do need to be able to trust you to keep your suspicions to yourself. You can’t tell anyone there’s anything out of the ordinary at Uncle Rob’s. Not a hint. Not to your friend Amit or anyone else.” He looked at me. “Get it?”
“Got it,” I replied.
“Good. So how are your studies coming along?”
I explained what I’d found out about the difference between the physical version of Franklin’s Electric Waves and the online version.
“I thought you were supposed to be studying science, not concocting conspiracy theories,” Dad said dryly. He looked at the photocopy I made and acknowledged that I had correctly recalled the bouncing electric waves language. He compared the copy from the Tolliver Library book to the printout of the Omnitia scan. Dad allowed it was curious that two apparently identical editions of the book differed in the footnote and index. “But minor tweaks like that happen all the time in publishing. The publisher sells out of a first printing and makes minor corrections for a second printing. Given that bouncing electric waves make no sense, the mention was probably deleted from subsequent printings including the one that was scanned online. The discrepancy in the index is hardly proof of a deliberate omission. Accidents and omissions happen all the time. I’d believe some poor student overlooked a reference in an index he was compiling for his professor, before I’d believe some deliberate deletion.”
“Isn’t it possible,” I asked, “that Heaviside did write something about bouncing waves? His book is full of discussion on electromagnetic waves, even though I couldn’t follow much of it.”
“The idea doesn’t make any sense,” Dad insisted. “Sure, waves bounce off objects. That’s why cell phone coverage can be spotty – find a location where the radio waves happen to bounce and interfere the wrong way and you can lose the signal and drop the call. But bounce off each other? No.” Dad looked thoughtful. “If Heaviside ever did describe anything like waves bouncing off each other, Jim Burleson might know something about it. He’s a real Heaviside fanboy and likes digging into EM history. I can ask him about it when I see him again.”
I told Dad about Maxwell, Hertz, and FitzGerald all dying in their prime.
“I knew about Maxwell and Hertz,” he said. “I wasn’t aware FitzGerald died so young. While those deaths might be a statistical anomaly, I think part of it is selection bias. There were plenty of other scientists who participated in the discovery or extended upon Maxwell’s ideas in one way or another. Off the top of my head, I believe Faraday and Kelvin lived to ripe old ages. I’m not sure about Lodge, Larmor, and Lorentz. There are probably others I’m overlooking. The only reason you included FitzGerald was because of the Heaviside dedication, and the only reason Heaviside dedicated his book to FitzGerald was because of his untimely death. So I think you’re just back to just two – Maxwell and Hertz – not three.” He smiled. “You have a coincidence, not enemy action.
“Besides,” he added. “How does your hypothetical enemy kill someone with cancer? No one had the least clue how cancer worked back then. If an assassin wanted to kill someone and make it look like natural causes, they’d have probably used poison and no one would have been the wiser.”
I also told Dad about my plan to work with Amit looking for other discrepancies between old physics books in the Tolliver Library and the versions available online.
“I don’t think your project with Amit will turn up much of interest. But I think Amit is right about Omnitia. Developing the skill to use the Internet anonymously is worthwhile and I’ll count that as billable study time. The book scanner sounds useful, also. If it works out, I may ask you to scan our books as well.” Dad paused in thought again. “In fact, I need to go to Knoxville to help Jim Burleson on the auto plant job. If you have Friday off, I could take you and Amit along to speak with him about Heaviside. I’d also like to get set up with an untraceable laptop myself, if Amit wouldn’t mind configuring it for me. And I think you and Amit might like to work with me handling the IT side of one of my jobs.”
* * *
“That’d be great!” Amit said the next morning at Kudzu Joe’s. “I’m sure my folks won’t mind if I go with you and your dad to Knoxville. And I’ll be happy to configure Tor for your Dad, too.” I couldn’t tell him anything else about Dad’s project because Dad hadn’t shared the details with me, but Amit was eager for another chance to exercise his IT skills.
Amit had apparently spent most of the previous evening scheming about online access. “The problem with Tor is that someone who’s determined to track you down can eventually figure out your IP address. They send you some kind of exploit that pings their server outside the secure Tor channel and they’ve got you. So you have to find a way to get online through an IP address that can’t be traced backed to you.”
“So we only connect through public places like the WiFi at Kudzu Joe’s,” I offered.
“OK,” Amit acknowledged, “but what happens when someone starts asking Joe who hangs out here in the mornings? You and I would be on a very short list of suspects. The trick is to use public WiFi, but not in a way that can be linked back to you.”
“So we sit down the street from Joe’s in our car, only it’s probably a good idea to avoid using the WiFi at any place that can be directly associated with us,” I suggested.
“Exactly,” Amit said. “They call it ‘wardriving.’ You drive around looking for open WiFi connections or ones with old routers and weak encryption. We find a few prospects and we mix it up, never using any particular connection more than a few times.”
“Someone’s going to get suspicious if we park in front of their house and surf the web for an hour,” I pointed out.
“We need a high gain antenna for our WiFi to extend the range,” Amit explained. You can make one from a Pringles can. Your dad’s a ham radio operator. Think he’d help?”
“A Pringles can?” That sounded improbable. But Amit actually seemed serious. “I’ll ask him,” I agreed. “He’ll at least help me figure it out. He’s been trying to get me to take the exam to become a ham radio operator.”
“What we actually need, though,” Amit continued, “is a good, busy, public place where we can get online using the WiFi at another nearby busy public place. One of the truck stops along the interstate, for instance.”
“What about your hotel?” I asked. “You have up to a hundred different guests at a time. That’s a lot of anonymity.”
“All our guests have to log on to the WiFi, and then we log their traffic, remember? Sure I could spoof the login of a real guest but if I make a habit of doing it and anyone started digging, they’d know someone at the hotel was up to something.”
“Hotels are great for anonymity. Can you get information for guests at a different Berkshire hotel? Like in Oak Ridge or Knoxville? There’s one not far from my dad’s office.”
“I should have thought of that,” Amit said ruefully. “I do have a login on the corporate network. The problem is, they log queries. If anything is traced back to a bunch of random guests, they’ll pretty quickly discover that what they had in common was that I’d looked them up. They do that all the time when someone tries to skim guests’ credit card numbers, for instance.”
Clearly, avoiding the scrutiny of Big Brother while online was no easy task.
“On the other hand,” Amit began. I could see a dawning realization on his face. “The only reason my dad’s hotel is so well buttoned-down is because I worked through all the network security details for him. I’ll bet a lot of other hotels never changed the default settings on their routers, or their network admin passwords, or their management systems passwords. And I know all the default passwords.”
“So you think you can get logged on to get their guest information?”
“I think I won’t even need to, because I can convince most any Berkshire Hotel network gateway to let all our traffic through and then forget about it.” Amit was getting smug again. “I’ll have to work through the details.”
After class, I swung by the library to compile an initial list of books for Amit to download, and I bought a half dozen cans of Pringles on the way home. Dad agreed to help build some antennas, but he exacted a payment from me. For years, he’d been trying to get me to take the ham radio exam and get licensed. He insisted both Amit and I take the license test at the Knoxville Hamfest that Saturday. I called Amit to give him a heads up and he agreed. Dad got to work assembling the antennas, and I started cramming for the test. The technical side was pretty easy. The only real challenge was learning all the frequency bands, operating modes, and the rules and regulations. I took some practice tests and passed, although it was close. I’d have to study some more to guarantee success.
* * *
The next morning, Dad drove Amit and me to Knoxville. Our first stop was the big auto plant outside town where Dad had been working. He showed his ID to the guard at the gate and drove back to an area where there were half a dozen trailers set up in a parking lot surrounded by pickup trucks and contractors’ vans. We walked into one of the trailers. A lady got up from her computer.
“Good morning, sir!” she said brightly to my Dad as she stood up. “You’re here to see the boss?”
“We’re a bit early, but he’s expecting me. We can wait until he’s free.”
“I’ll just let him know you’re here.” She made a call.
Jim Burleson walked in the door a couple of minutes later and greeted my Dad. Dad introduced him to Amit. I’d met him when I was working for Dad the previous summer. Mr. Burleson was a young guy. Not too long ago, he’d been one of Dad’s apprentices. He’d struck out on his own and been successful in his own right. I think he still looked up to Dad as a mentor, and Dad was always eager to include him in jobs that were too big to handle by himself. A couple of hard hats had miraculously appeared on the table while I wasn’t paying attention – Dad had his own. Mr. Burleson signed me and Amit in as Dad’s “apprentices” so we could tag along.
“How’s the job going, Jim?” Dad asked.
“We’re running our asses off getting that special inverter you spec’d out for us installed,” Mr. Burleson was telling Dad. He turned to us. “The Germans just love their super-special welding robots that only drink 50 cycle current. Only no one bothered to spec that out in the plans. So now we’re playing catch up.”
He and Dad launched into a technical discussion. Apparently they were installing a huge inverter that took in 240V 60 cycle alternating current, rectified it to direct current, then chopped it up again at 50 cycles per second to meet the requirements of the German industrial equipment. The inverter was causing radio interference to a real-time location system and Dad was helping with some kind of grounding and filtering arrangement. It took them a half hour or so to work it through. Apparently Mr. Burleson was pleased with Dad’s help. As we were walking back out, he said “It’s like you’re always telling me – an hour of the maestro’s time is worth more than days of an amateur’s. That’s still true at the rate you’re charging now!”
“As with any good idea, it’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,” Dad observed.
“Yeah,” Mr. Burleson countered, “but the perspiration ain’t worth nothing unless the inspiration puts it where it’s needed. Are you still sure you don’t want a piece of the job? There’s lots to do and we’re making a great margin on the expedite fees. Faster we get done, the bigger the bonus. I could cut you in for a lot of hours if you’d lower your rate some. I still owe you for including me in your bid.”
“No, I’m trying to retire,” Dad told him. “Feel free to call me in if you need me to skim your cream again with an hour or two of my high-priced consulting. I do have a favor to ask of you, though. May we step into your office a minute?”
“Sure thing,” he said leading us in and closing the door behind us. “What do you need?”
“My boy here ran across something in the library the other day.” Dad handed the print out from the Tolliver Library’s copy of Franklin’s Electric Waves to Mr. Burleson.
He studied it. “Electric waves bouncing off each other? Makes no sense,” he declared. “Waves on wires or in the air – they just pass through each other.”
“That’s what I thought,” Dad confirmed. “Can you think of anything Heaviside might have done that this might be describing?”
“When was this written?” he asked.
“It was published in October 1909,” I answered.
“That was later in his life,” Mr. Burleson noted. “He was slowing down, but still compiling the third volume of Electromagnetic Theory. It makes sense that he’d have put this bouncing waves result there.”
“I did take a look,” I offered, “but it was awfully complicated. And Heaviside’s writing seemed a bit…”
“Offbeat?” Mr. Burleson asked with a smile. “Yes Heaviside was quite a character. Something of a hermit. Odd. Absolutely brilliant, though. He’s the man who took Maxwell’s clunky, poorly expressed ideas about electromagnetics and made them into the beautiful theory we all use today. What we call Maxwell’s Equations used to be called the Heaviside-Maxwell Equations, because Heaviside came up with them, and they’re so much better and clearer than Maxwell’s own work.”
“Standing on the shoulders of giants,” Dad observed.
“Indeed,” Mr. Burleson acknowledged. “But a giant in his own right. He was a self-taught telegrapher who studied Maxwell’s books in a library in Newcastle where he worked. He took Maxwell’s ideas and worked out what are called the Telegrapher’s Equations that describe how waves behave on transmission lines. He showed that when you have a balance of electric and magnetic energy, you get distortionless transmission of signals. You have to have the right ratio of inductance to capacitance to make long distance telephone lines work. Michael Pupin patented Heaviside’s idea and sold it to AT&T for a mint. Heaviside never saw a dime of it, and he lived – and died – in poverty.” Mr. Burleson was very passionate about Heaviside and the injustice done to him.
“Many of the basic concepts we electricians use – impedance, inductance, conductance – they were all defined and named by Heaviside,” Mr. Burleson continued. “Heaviside and Oliver Lodge between them did most of the basic work in AC or alternating circuit theory that we electricians use today.
“Heaviside spent the last years of his life in a cottage near the sea. He complained of being harassed by the neighbors’ boys. He was trying to compile a fourth volume of Electromagnetic Theory. The manuscript was never completed, although some folks claim to have found bits and pieces of it here and there.”
“So you don’t think there’s much to this bouncing waves business?” Dad brought Mr. Burleson back on track.
“Hard to say,” Mr. Burleson acknowledged thoughtfully. I could tell Dad was a bit surprised he was taking it so seriously. “In the 1960’s, it turned out that Heaviside had worked out a result for radiation from moving charges that was re-derived by the famous physicist, Richard Feynman. Only everyone had overlooked and forgotten it. Heaviside’s work was far ahead of its time in many ways. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if there were some more forgotten or overlooked insights sprinkled here and there in his writing.
“You have me curious about this business now,” Mr. Burleson confessed with a grin. “I’ll take a look through Heaviside and see if I can find your bouncing waves and figure out what it all means.”
We thanked him and were on our way out. “Hold on a sec,” he said to Dad. Mr. Burleson reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a credit card. “Here’s a $100 gift card.” He handed it to Dad. “A personal gift from me – not the business. A little more immediate thanks for saving our bacon here this morning.”
Dad seemed a bit embarrassed by it. “The check you’ll be cutting me is thanks enough,” he assured Mr. Burleson. “Don’t worry – I’ll be getting my invoice in later today. And since when did you start dealing in credit cards? I thought you usually paid cash for your personal expenses.”
“By the time your check gets cut you might forget the link between what you did for us and the money,” Mr. Burleson explained. “Call it insurance. I just want to be sure when I need you again, you’ll get right down here and help us out. It’s a prepaid credit card with $100 on the tab. Treat yourself. And let me know when you’re ready to get off your lazy rear and get back to it. There’s plenty of work here to do!”
As we were driving out, I asked Dad why he wasn’t taking Mr. Burleson up on his offer. “You know,” Dad reminded me, “I stayed in contracting when I married your mom instead of getting an office job as an electrical engineer. In a professional job, you’re paid a good salary for a 40-hour week, but you’re usually expected to work more than that. As a contractor, you get paid 50% more for your hours past forty. With the extra hours and overtime, I actually made more money in contracting than I would as an electrical engineer. As a young family, we needed the income. I considered going back to engineering. You can make a good living selling your labor by the hours whether you’re an engineer or a contractor, but there are only so many hours in the day,” Dad explained.
“I quickly figured that out, and I started shifting my business toward making connections, arranging deals, and taking a percentage. I started by finding some apprentices to let me tackle larger jobs. Now, I pull together a consortium of contractors I trust to handle really big jobs like this one, and I manage them to keep everything on track. If I succeed, I take away much more than if I’d merely sold my labor as either an engineer or a contractor. The reward is commensurate with the risk. This plant was a very successful job for me, so I’m in a position to retire and pursue other interests. To land the job, I had to get all my contractors to bid the main job at near cost and just make sure they at least break even. On a big job like this, though, even a narrow margin is a lot of money if everything goes well – which it did. Better yet, there are always last minute changes and complications and rush projects that need to be done, and can’t be put out for bid because an outsider couldn’t get up to speed fast enough to get the job done at a reasonable cost. My team gets a chance to make good money on all the change orders. I still get a piece of that action, though it’s smaller because I’m not directly managing everything.”
Our next stop was in a fancy gated community not far from the plant. We stopped by a big open lot that had just been cleared. “I wasn’t planning on taking any more residential work,” Dad explained, “but the manager of the auto plant insisted on having me design and supervise a project for him. It’s an interesting job. He wants a solar installation, battery storage, and a backup generator. He’s making it worth my while to design and manage the project, although I’m not doing most of the actual work. I want to remind you both that this is a confidential project and you’re not to talk about it with anyone.” Amit and I pledged our secrecy.
Dad took us to the back of the lot where a square hole about 75 feet on a side and more than twenty feet deep lay before us. The bed was covered in gravel, and concrete pilings popped up arranged in rectangular patterns. Capped plumbing and conduit sprouted up here and there like weeds. Dad had Amit and me take turns with a long tape measure guiding us to this piling and that piling while he took measurements and checked them against a plan. We climbed back out of the hole and watched as Dad scribbled notes and calculations. Before long, a sleek German sedan pulled up and a distinguished looking man stepped out and walked up to us. Dad met him half way. “Guten Morgen Herr Doktor Kreuger.” Dad introduced Amit and me to the German.
“Hello y’all,” Dr. Kreuger said with a heavy accent and a broad smile. Dr. Krueger and Dad walked to the edge of the big hole. “I like very much the cargo container concept,” Dr. Krueger was saying to Dad. “They will be here in few days. Some welding to cut und join und then we pour all around with the concrete. Very good was this idea. Much less expensive than building the plywood forms. Did not think so fine a place was in my budget. Very sturdy. And the built-in shielding.”
“The grounding and power isolation will keep you running even with a nuclear or solar EMP,” Dad assured him. “The generator and reserve fuel tank go over there,” Dad pointed out a smaller hole connected by a trench to the larger hole. “The solar inverter and battery bank are on the other side. The septic system looks good, and the pilings for the reserve water tank and all the containers look to be aligned properly.”
“Very good,” Dr. Kreuger beamed like a big kid on Christmas morning. Then, he became more serious. “I read something very smart from that professor you tell me of at the law school here. Instapundit. He say, ‘Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. Debts that can’t be repaid, won’t be. Promises that can’t be kept, won’t be.’
Dad nodded ruefully, “The folks in Washington keep on spending and racking up deficits. They’ve created a vast class of bureaucrats whose livelihood depends on distributing the largess and an even vaster class of folks dependent on government handouts. The bureaucrats craft regulations so their masters can get political contributions from the affected industries trying to game the system to their advantage.”
“Is worse in Germany,” Dr. Krueger said. “Eventually, the system will collapse. Maybe take a decade. Maybe longer. You and I may not see it. But our Kinder,” he looked at me and Amit, “they will. I want a safe place for my family.”
“A secret refuge doesn’t have much value if outsiders know about it,” my Dad observed. “I’m spreading the work around a couple of trusted contractors, and none of them have the complete picture of what you’re building here. I brought my son and his friend here because they will be helping me with the IT infrastructure, the video surveillance, and the sensors and alarms.”
“You bring his friend?” Dr. Krueger seemed a bit skeptical about Amit.
“I’ve known him and his family for years,” Dad assured him. “Good people. And Amit and my son know better than to talk about this.”
“Good,” Dr. Krueger seemed reassured. “Is good for young people to see how the world works,” he said.
“Call me when the containers start to arrive so I can confirm the placement and anchoring,” Dad said. “Then, I’ll turn the welder loose to cut and connect the containers before the pour.”
“Ja,” said Dr. Krueger smiling. “Oh, and thank you for your good advice.”
“Which advice?” Dad asked.
“You say tell all my folk building houses here not to pay their general contractor up front, but to insist on progress payments to the subcontractors as work is completed. The general contractor they were all using here pulled out, bankrupt. Would have been big mess with money paid and work not done. They found another contractor who’s finishing the project. Not much delays.”
“Yes, I heard about that.” Dad acknowledged. “It gets tough in a down market for home builders. You think you’ve sold a house but the buyers back out. Meanwhile, you have half-built spec homes that you can’t afford to complete, but you have to get them finished somehow to stand a chance of selling them and recouping your investment. It gets tempting to take the latest customer’s money to pay off the subs you owe on the earlier jobs. Not the builders’ fault. Juggling the cash flow to make ends meet is part of the job, but when you cut it too close to the edge, it’s easy to get caught short, and then your customers and subs pay the price.”
Dad and Dr. Krueger talked more about business, politics, and the economy. They seemed to share similar “the sky is falling and the big evil government is pulling it down around us” views. Dad could get quite apocalyptic at times. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating visit – definitely one of the most interesting construction sites Dad had taken me to. And helping to run and set up the electrical and IT wiring would be a nice project. We finished up at Dr. Krueger’s lot and accompanied Dad to see his lawyer in downtown Knoxville.
We parked and walked into a big bank building and up an elevator. The elevator opened to a beautiful lobby. Apparently the law firm occupied the whole floor. “I’m here to see Greg Parsons,” Dad handed the receptionist his card. Mr. Parsons came out to meet Dad. Dad introduced us, but he left Amit and me in the lobby while he went back to talk with Mr. Parsons.
“I had no idea your dad did anything but just electrical contracting and construction jobs,” Amit said. “He’s got a lot going on.”
“He likes to keep a low profile,” I acknowledged. “Grandpa Jack Tolliver hated Dad for stealing Mom away. Dad’s existence was a daily reminder that the Tollivers don’t control everything and everyone. I don’t know if he just wants to avoid their attention, but he’s always been very private about his work.”
“Maybe he just thinks it’s none of their or anyone else’s business,” Amit pointed out. He walked confidently over to the receptionist. “Hi, I’m Amit.” He held out his hand and took hers almost like he was going to kiss it. “Do you have WiFi access here?” He proceeded to chat with her. I wondered if it was as obvious to her as it was to me that Amit was hitting on her. Sure enough, he asked her for her number.
“I have a boyfriend,” she said coolly.
“Wow,” Amit replied, “I mean… that’s absolutely amazing!”
She looked confused. “It’s amazing that I have a boyfriend?”
“No,” Amit corrected her. “It’s amazing that I’ve barely known you a couple of minutes and already you’re telling me all about your problems.”
“You were hitting on me,” she insisted indignantly.
“What?” Amit looked genuinely surprised. “You thought I was hitting on you? We’re just talking here. No worries, you’re not my type. Thanks for the WiFi help though.” She looked equal parts bewildered and amused as he returned and sat down.
“Let me guess,” I said quietly so as not to be heard over the ambient noise of the office. “You turned her rejection of you around into you rejecting her to reestablish your dominant frame.”
“You’re getting better at this,” Amit conceded, “but understanding the theory is no substitute for getting out and practicing it.”
“I’m not going to get much practice hanging out with you when you jump on all the likely prospects.”
“Seriously, dude,” Amit said, “had it even crossed your mind to try?”
“No,” I admitted. “She’s way too old. Must be in her late twenties. She’s way out of our league.”
“The only way to guarantee you’re out of her league is to be too timid to even try. Attitude makes up for a lot,” Amit counseled. “You’ll never know until you try.”
“I thought you and Emma were an item, now,” I said.
“True,” Amit acknowledged. “If I get lazy and complacent, though, I’ll lose Emma. I have to take the opportunities to practice my flirting when I find them. I can’t flirt aggressively with all the girls at school because it’s such a small crowd. Word would get around, and then I’d be the creepy guy who hits on everyone and is always getting turned down. Bad for the image. I can’t wait to get to college next year.”
“If this is any example,” I noted, “you’re setting yourself up for a lot of failures.”
“Failure?” Amit smirked. “You have to set a goal and follow through. Sure, you’ll get shot down, but with every attempt you get better and more experienced until you succeed. Like I did just now.” He looked me in the eye, daring me to dispute him.
I called his bluff. “But, you didn’t succeed,” I pointed out. “She shot you down.”
“Ah,” he said. “There you go operating under an erroneous assumption again. Yes, I took a shot, though I knew I probably wasn’t going out with her. It was good practice to try, though. And while I was chatting with her she pulled out her password sheet, so now I have the password for both their guest and secure WiFi.” He showed me a Post-It note where the receptionist had written down the guest WiFi information. Amit wrote the SSID and password for the main office WiFi below it. “Don’t log in. Let’s just add it to our growing list of credentials.”
Watching his moves was certainly… educational.
By that time Dad had finished, and we went over to the pawn shop for some used computers. On the way over he said, “No sense us all going in. That will just make us more memorable. Tell me what specs I should be looking for, and I’ll buy the computers.” Amit made some suggestions. Dad left us in his truck parked a block away from the store. He returned with six laptops. “They had a good deal,” he said, “so I bought us each an extra. Let’s go to my office and get them set up.
Dad’s office was in a building just west of town. The folks who ran the office collected his mail, took messages for him, and had offices and conference rooms available. Sometimes he’d lease an office or two for the duration of a job. Like right now, he and Jim Burleson were still sharing a single, though rarely used, office. Other times, he’d just pay a flat rate for the phone and mail service, and an hourly rate for a furnished office or conference room as needed to entertain guests. He only had to pay by the use, which made sense because he did his design work at home and the rest of the time he was out in the field at a job site. I suspect he chose the office because it gave him a Knoxville address, so he could keep all his business out of the county. It was far enough away from Sherman to avoid scrutiny by the Tollivers and the rest of the Lee County local establishment.
We set up in the back conference room of the office complex, and Amit got to work. He wiped the computers clean and installed Linux. He disabled the onboard WiFi so the laptop had to use a USB connected WiFi to get online. “That way, we can be sure the WiFi is only on when we plug in the USB WiFi dongle,” he explained. As the installation completed, he installed Tor and Open Office. We had an assembly line going, so by the time the last computer was getting wiped, the first one was completing installation. Dad opened up a box and handed out three Pringles cans he’d adapted to use as antennas. He connected them to the USB WiFi modules. Amit tried one out. Dozens of WiFi networks popped up on the screen. One of the three antennas didn’t work, so Dad took it back, and said he’d build another one for us when he got home.
Amit gave us a quick tutorial. “Don’t use your secure machine to log into your email or Facebook or any social media or any other site that can be linked back to you. Don’t even frequent the same web sites. Make sure there’s no cross over between your regular online presence and your secure online presence.”
Amit asked Dad, “How much do I owe you for the computers?”
“Consider it an even trade,” Dad said. “The computer in exchange for setting up these two and continuing to help us both out as needed. Let’s head out and get started.” We packed up our computers and took everything out to Dad’s truck. Amit and I set up in back with one of the machines.
We stopped at a truck stop along the interstate. Sure enough, the setup allowed us to tap into the free wireless at a fast food place on the other side of the highway. While Dad filled up with gas, I searched for information on building a book scanner. I found and downloaded information about a variety of promising-looking options. Amit then took over and downloaded a couple of optical character recognition programs and some text comparison programs. By that time, Dad had finished buying gas. He’d paid cash inside and bought a few more items to slow down the process further. Dad walked slowly out and hopped in. “Need more time?”
“I think we’re all set,” Amit said. “Now we just have to study what we’ve captured.”
“You both could stand to study for the ham radio license test tomorrow,” Dad reminded us.
On Friday, April 20, look for Chapter 3 Notes: On Electricians vs. Engineers, Oliver Heaviside, and Cantennas, and
On Wednesday, April 27, look for Chapter 4: The Execution.
New chapters post on Wednesdays, notes post on Fridays.
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