Alice stretched and opened her eyes. "I must have fallen asleep," she thought. "And I was dreaming such a curious dream." She looked around her and found herself alone in a large room. The room was totally white and full of large pieces of equipment with blinking lights. In one corner was a desk with a computer screen and keyboard.

"But I have never seen a place like this before—maybe I am dreaming now! Oh dear, how can one tell for certain when they are dreaming and when they are awake?"

On the computer screen Alice found what appeared to be lines and lines of numbers, although she had never seen numbers with letters in them. "I wonder what it means?" she said. "It must be some sort of code."

            534F465457415245 425547

2254776173 68617264776172652C 616E64 746865 435243
   446964 717569636B 636F6D70617265 616C6FEE67 746865 747261636B3A
416C6C 6D6963726F 77657265 746865 43505527732C
   546865 67617665 6F7574 697473 666A6374732E

"P, p, p, perhaps I can help you," said a voice behind her. "It is a code of sorts. It's written in ASCII."

Alice turned and saw a rather thin, nervous looking boy about her own age.

"What is all this?" she asked pointing to the screen.

"It's in hex, but that doesn't really matter. Here, let me turn it into characters for you." He pressed a few buttons and flipped some switches. Pretty soon characters began to appear on the computer screen. Alice read:


"Twas hardware, and the CRC
   Did quick compare along the tracks:
All micro were the CPU's,
   The ROM gave out its facts.

"Beware the nasty Software Bug!
   The jaws that byte, the bit that drops!
Beware the read head crash; and shun
   Each call that hangs, not pops."

He took his logic disk in hand:
   Long nanoseconds sought did he.
Until he found the base two tree,
   Whose root did hold the key.

And, as in patient stack he sat
   The Software Bug, with faulty bits
Came pushing, popping through the chips,
   And gave them all the fits.

One, two! Two, three! And trace and tron
   The sorted vector now went hack.
He left it dead, and with its bit
   He iterated back.

"Hast thou debugged the error?
   Come to my screen, my cursor boy!
Recursive day! Monitor bright!"
   He did a loop in joy.

"Twas hardware, and the CRC
   Did quick compare along the tracks:
All micro were the CPU's,
   The ROM gave out its facts.

"What does it all mean?" she cried after reading it at least two times. "It sounds so familiar.... I know I have seen something like it before, but it was different!" Then turning to the boy she asked, "Please tell what it is all about?"

"I, I, I don't know," the boy said with a shudder. "All I can do is turn the hex into their characters. I can't explain what it all means. I am just a plain utility." At that he began to sob.

"Oh, please don't cry," begged Alice. "You really were most helpful."

"I was? You aren't just saying that?" he replied wiping his eyes. "I really do try to help, it's just that I'm such a simple utility, and I know I can't do as much as some of those other programs."

"Are you a program then?" asked Alice.

"Yes, of course I am," he replied.

"I have never met a program before," she said. "I'm Alice. Do you have a name?"

"The other programs call me 'Dump'." And he sniffed again.

Alice thought that was a very strange name, and she did not know quite what to say.

"I've never seen you 'round here before," he finally said. "Are you a new program?"

"Oh, I'm not a program at all," replied Alice.

"B, b, b, but you must be," he insisted. "No one comes here except programs."

"Well, I'm definitely not. I'm just a little girl."

"Wh, wh, wh, what's a girl?" he asked.

"You don't know what a girl is?" Alice asked.

He began to sob again. "No, I don't know too much."

Alice really didn't want him to start crying, so she said, "That's alright. Don't worry about it. You really were very helpful," hoping that it would make him feel better. "That really was a nice poem, even if I, I mean we, don't understand it all."

After a few moments he stopped sobbing, pulled a large handkerchief from a pocket, and noisily blew his nose. "I know a poem," he said. "Now let me see if I can remember it." He thought for a while, and finally said,

"A program is like a nose.
   Sometimes it runs.
Sometimes it blows."

He hesitated and then added, "Of course, that's only when it has a bad code—at least that's what one of the other programs told me." With that he loudly blew his nose again.

Alice was not a poetry expert, and she didn't think that that was such a great poem. And she didn't want to hurt his feelings again and have him start crying.

"That is very nice," she said and smiled at him. "Just what does a program do?"

"Whatever the programmer tells it to do," he replied. "There are all sorts of programs doing all sorts of things. Some are rather simple like me, and some are very sophisc..., sophistic..., very complicated."

"Where can I find some of these other programs?" Alice asked.

"They are all around."

"I don't see anyone here but you," Alice replied looking around the room.

"I'm all by myself—as usual," he sniffed. "The other programs don't like me. They never invite me to do anything with them."

Alice was afraid that he would start crying again, so she said, "It has been so nice meeting you, I really shouldn't disturb your important work. Thank you once again." And with a big smile, she slipped out of the room.

As she left, he called after her, "You might try the word processor, he has a dictionary."

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