CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY


Shortly, or maybe it really was a long time later, Alice noticed the forest thinning. Through the trees in the distance she saw what looked like a large factory building surrounded by a high wall.

"I don't suppose they would have anything to eat. And it is probably not really a factory anyway."

But, there seemed to be no other place to go—she most certainly did not want to go back through the forest. So Alice started down the road toward the factory. As she came nearer it did look more and more like a factory, although when she arrived at the front gate, it wasn't very much bigger than a small building.

"I do hope that someone is working today."

On the outside of the building above the door was a round, brightly colored plaque that looked vaguely familiar. Alice had seen them on barns out in the country when she went with her sister and mother to visit some friends, but this one appeared quite different. It had written in the middle of it '7D1.'

"That is most curious!" she thought.

"Hello!" she called as she pushed open the door and peered inside. "Is anybody here?"

"Who's there?" came a call from one corner of the building, which had only one room, as Alice could tell as her eyes adjusted to the dim interior.

"My name is Alice," she replied.

"Well, what can I do for you?" asked a strong young man as he straightened up from behind a box where he had evidently been working and walked toward Alice.

At that moment a bell rang. "Oh, excuse me for a moment," the young man said, and before Alice had a chance to say a thing, he turned and disappeared behind a large cabinet. A few moments later he appeared again and walked toward Alice. "Now, where were we? Oh yes! What can I do for you?" And he smiled at Alice.

"Well, perhaps you would have something to eat?" Alice asked hopefully.

"Hmmm. That sounds like a great idea!" he replied. "It's been a while since I have had...." But at that moment a whistle sounded, and the young man turned and began pushing some levers for several seconds. Finally, he turned once again to Alice. "Sorry about that. This place gets hectic every so often. Let's see what were we.... Oh, yes! My name is Hal."

"I am glad to meet you, I'm Alice," she replied, hesitated, then continued cautiously (and hopefully), "We were talking about something to eat."

"Right! It is not long until lunch," he said.

Poor Alice didn't know just what to say. She was really quite hungry, but she didn't think it polite to mention it again. After a few moments of strained silence, she finally asked, "Why are there so many interruptions?"

"It's just part of the business," replied Hal. "I am the CPU around here and get interrupted all the time."

"Oh, I met your mother a while back," Alice told him. "She said that you have only 20 letters to go!"

Hal smiled and said, "Well, she sometimes gets things a bit mixed up, contrariwise she is a very nice lady—when you get to know her."

Suddenly a horn sounded, and Hal grabbed the lid off of what appeared to be a large kettle. Alice only got a glimpse, but it appeared as if the kettle were full of water with many numbers floating around on the top. Hal took a long scoop and dipped some numbers out of the kettle. "Pal, Pal!" he called. "I have more work for you."

A door in the back of the room opened and in came a young man that looked so very much like Hal. "Oh thanks," he said as he took the scoop and started to leave. Then he noticed Alice. "Well hello there!" he said to Alice with a big smile. "Who is this lovely young lady?"

Alice was certain she blushed and hoped the young man would not notice since he was so handsome. Fortunately for her, Hal quickly answered, "Oh, Alice this is my buddy Pal—Pal, this is Alice."

"I am so glad to meet you." replied Pal. Alice smiled, but before she could respond he suddenly said, "Well, I must get these all processed before Hal gets pushed out at me." And with that he disappeared back through the door through which he had come, and it closed with a slam.

Hal noticed that Alice was staring at the closed door. "Pal really does help. Without him it would take me so long to process all those things—I wouldn't have much time for doing the other important chores. I am so lucky that he's around. I have heard that some of the other CPU's have to do everything for themselves."

"Even with your friend helping, how do you keep track of everything, what with all the interruptions?" asked Alice.

"Oh, that's easy. I just put the unfinished things on a stack, and when I manage to finish something, I look on the stack to see what needs to be finished. Here, take a look at my stack." And with that Hal grabbed a huge spindle that was sitting on a desk. On the sharply pointed metal shaft were several pieces of paper. "I just push things to do onto the stack, and when I am ready I pop them off."

"Even with a stack to help keep track of things, you seem to be awfully busy," Alice observed.

At this moment Pal returned and piped up, "The problem is, of course, there are too many days in an hour!"

"Don't you mean 'There are not enough hours in a day'?" asked Alice.

"I said exactly what I mean!" said Pal with a slight frown, then asked with a smile. "How many days are there in an hour?"

"There aren't any days in an hour," Alice replied, then added, "There are 24 hours in a day!"

"Aha, then you see there is one twenty-fourth of a day in an hour!" replied Pal with a triumphant tone in his voice.

"Yes, but that's a fraction...."

"Right!" interrupted Pal. "Don't just think of whole numbers." Then in a whisper to Alice, "Poor Hal can only think in terms of whole numbers."

"I heard that!" said Hal. "Ok smarty, what are the whole numbers?"

They both looked to Alice.

"Well, they're the counting numbers, you know: one, two, three, and so forth," she said carefully.

"What about zero?" asked Hal.

"Yes, and zero too," replied Alice.

"Of course, zero!" said Pal. "But you are wrong about the others. The whole numbers are zero, six, eight, nine, and sometimes four!"

Alice was quite puzzled, and even Hal looked thoughtful. Neither said anything. Finally after a few seconds of awkward silence Pal said triumphantly, "And eight is a double hole number!"

Suddenly, Alice understood his joke, but protested, "That's not quite fair—whole and hole are spelled differently and mean different things."

Hal just frowned and shook his head, and said to Alice, "He doesn't like to admit it, contrariwise even fractions can be written as whole numbers."

"That reminds me, you agree that there is one twenty-fourth of a day in an hour?" Pal asked Alice.

"Yes," she replied.

"Well, think what you could do if there were only one thirtieth of a day in an hour! You see there really are too many days in an hour!"

Alice saw his point, but she still asked, "Do you mean the hours are shorter and the day is the same length or the hours are the same and the day is longer?"

"Yes!"

"Well which is it?" she demanded somewhat annoyed. "It does make a big difference, you know."

"Are you certain?" he asked. "Anyway, how do you parse that? Which has precedence, or or and?"

At this poor Alice was totally confused. She was certain she did not have a purse or anything that Pal had mentioned. And she did not think that arguing with him would do any good. So she asked Hal, "How do you put things on the stack?"

"Oh, that's easy. I use a pushing potion. Let me see," replied Hal. "I think I have some around here somewhere." With this he began rummaging through a large box. "No, that's not it." And he continued sorting through the contents of the box.

The mention of a pushing potion caused poor Alice suddenly to remember just how hungry and thirsty she was, and she thought to herself. "I hope it is something good to drink. I am so thirsty. I wish he would hurry."

From deep inside the box Hal suddenly exclaimed, "That's where this disappeared to. I was looking for this for milliseconds the other day."

"Oh!" exclaimed Alice rather hopefully in return. "You have found the pushing potion?"

"Maybe it's my rattle?" piped up Pal.

"No, unfortunately it's not the potion, and it's definitely not your rattle—I don't have your rattle—I never saw your rattle!" said Hal. "I lost something of mine a few days ago and searched and searched but never found it. I should have known that one only finds something that is lost when one looks for something else!" With this Hal stopped talking and continued to search.

Alice did not know quite what to say, but the silence seemed a bit awkward. Fortunately, at that moment Pal spoke up, "Why didn't you stop looking? I have read that one always finds something in the last place one looks." Hal stopped and looked at him rather quizzically.

Alice frowned and said, "Of course, one usually stops looking when you find it. But that doesn't mean it works the other way around."

Pal asked, "Why not?"

Hal went back to his search.

Alice was not quite certain how to answer his question so she turned to watch Hal with his search. She was quite disappointed that he had not found the pushing potion and was beginning to think that he would never find it. "Probably, it isn't any good anyway. Probably, it would be bad for my teeth." But she was so hungry. "Well, whatever it is, I will be brave and drink it!"

"Aha, yes! I thought I remembered that there was some left." And with this, Hal straightened up with a large bottle of green liquid in his hand and held it out for Alice.

Even though Alice had resolved to drink whatever Hal offered, she hesitated.

"Go ahead," he urged. Alice grasped the bottle and took a long drink. The contents were cool and delicious. She put the bottle down on a nearby table, and carefully looked around to see if she were growing or shrinking, but nothing seemed to be happening. Hal was busy for a moment with another load of ore that had just been delivered through the gate, and Pal had momentarily disappeared with some more numbers to work on, so Alice sat down in a large chair.

"That potion isn't any good," she thought. "At least it really did taste good. My, I am so tired." And she covered her mouth with her hand so that Hal would not see her yawn. "Maybe if I just sit here for a few minutes and rest."

Hal began talking some more about his work, but the words seemed to get fainter and farther away to Alice.



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