Network World, June 22 1987, pages 28-32 The Tolkien Ring Network This short story, based
Network World, June 22 1987, pages 28-32
The Tolkien Ring Network
This short story, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, takes
a lighthearted look at the current state of affairs in the
by William Robinson, Special to Network World
[reprinted without permission]
The gathering storm brought them together. Each had unanswered
questions, though not all feared what they might hear. Many knew from
what source the storm sprang, and though none were certain, some thought
the storm heralded greatness, not destruction.
The House of Elrond was honored by the assemblage. Gandalf, the
greatest of wizards, Frodo and Bilbo the hobbits, Aragorn and Boromir
representing the men, Gimli the dwarf and Legolas the elf were gathered
around a great table, discussing the future of Micro Earth,
It had been many ages since all the folk of Micro Earth were in
Rivendell at the same time, The dwarfs burrowed deep in the mountains,
elves wandered the forests, men plowed the fields and hobbits ate. Each
spoke their own tongue, and though they knew a common one, they had no
reason to use it. Now the rising storm could change all that forever.
Gandalf looked at the young hobbit seated next to him. "Bring forth
the Ring," he said. "It is time all knew its secret."
Frodo paused, as if some unseen force wished to keep the thing
hidden from sight. Slowly, he reached into his pocket and drew forth the
plain golden ring, heavy in his hand. Forged in the eternal fires of
Mount Doom in ages past, the ring bore no mark, no sign of its power,
save a line of finely etched runes that only the wise could read.
Gandalf spoke in a tongue nearly forgotten, reading the ancient
words: "One Ring to rule them, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring
them all and in the Darkness bind them."
The Elves present covered their ears and cried in anguish. Elrond
spoke for all his people, saying, "Long ages have passed since the
language of Sauron was spoken in this hall. Too well do we elves
remember our battle against the power of the Blue Lord in the First Age."
"Indeed," Gandalf said. "Perhaps we should remind ourselves of that
ancient struggle as we debate our course with the Ring of Power."
The bearded Wizard told the tale of the battle between Sauron and
the folk of Mainframe Earth. He spoke of King Sperry the First, who
ruled long and counted many people but in the end could not collect the
taxes. He told of the wizard Digital, whose followers wielded the
powerful magic of VAX and PDP. Burroughs, the King of Banking, and
Cyber, Lord of the 60-Bit Word, entered the tale with many others who
fought beside them.
"When the battle was over," Gandalf concluded, "Sauron had not won,
and yet he had not lost. While his enemies survived, he would dominate
their destinies throughout the Age of the Big Machines. All found niches
in which they could survive and even prosper, yet none would ever mount a
serious challenge to the great Power again."
Frodo listened intently, The Ring safely back in his pocket. The
Age of Big Machines was fascinating, but he could scarcely see any
connection between that great battle and the current crisis, At length,
he turned to the aged Wizard and voiced that question.
Gandalf considered his reply for some time. "Your question has no
easy answer," he said, stroking his beard, "The world has changed, and
the power of the Blue Lord is not what it once was. Errors has he made,
errors that may yet be his undoing. he remains more powerful than any
other, and his followers grow daily more numerous.
"The ring is the key. Back upon Sauron's finger, it could bind
together the folk of Micro Earth, ending the separation that now marks
our lives. Whether the change would be for good or ill. None can yet
"In the early years of Micro Earth, all was at peace. The young
Fruit King of Cupertino ruled beside Commodore Pet, commander of the
Navy, and CP/M of the Eight Bits. Youthful exuberance was everywhere,
much volleyball was played at lunch, and many BMW's were driven. The
Valley of Silicon seemed unconquerable, and the demand for Fruit
"Far to the East, in a land known only as Armonk, Sauron had built a
device of Power. He had seen the Fruit King prosper and grew ever more
jealous. Sauron's Machine was greater than the creations of the Fruit
King, and Sauron knew his many minions would eagerly seek its Power. He
called upon his 500 greatest followers, the Most Fortunate-ate, and
quickly did the Machine become their standard."
"Loudly did Sauron profess his commitment to the wise God of Open
Architecture. Though suspicions remained, wizards in the Valley of
Silicon wrote many spells to add Power to the Machine. They devised new
Card tricks and worshiped the God of Peripherals."
"The Fruit King's power waned, the Princess Lisa died a painful
death, and his new fruit was thought less tasty than the old. His fields
became full of Mice, and his screens lost their color."
"Yet the Valley itself shone as never before. Its people prospered
and were happy. Sauron had limited their activities but had rewarded
them well. They grew content to work on his engine and soon ceased to
dream of creating engines of their own."
"Sauron's victory was not complete. The Fruit King did not die,
though he came under the thumb of the Cola Lord. When Sauron brought
forth the smaller Chiclets-powered Machine, the Fruit King, his Commodore
and the wizard Atari destroyed it with little trouble. Sauron's mobile
Machine suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Clone Lord Compaq."
"Sauron thinks too much in terms of Mainframe Earth and has not
adapted well to life in the Micro plain. The price of his Machine is too
high for many, and the legend of his strength carries less weight than in
Frodo fidgeted. Frodo yawned. Bilbo leaned over to his young
friend and whispered, "He'll answer your question on the next week or so,
Gimli spoke, interrupting Gandalf. "What you have told us so far
only confirms what my people believe. Sauron has been good for Micro
Earth. Surely, the existence of the Clone Lords and the continued power
of the Fruit King show the benevolence of Sauron. He is no longer an
evil Lord, facing destruction at the hands of the Gods of Antitrust."
Fire burned in Gandalf's eyes. "Have you heard nothing that I have
said?" he asked the Dwarf, his voice full of anger. "Sauron battles from
within. He has destroyed the spark of creativity. He leads, and others
The Dwarf stood his ground. "But what of the Clone Lords?" he
insisted. Gandalf spoke now as a teacher to a well-meaning but
misinformed pupil. "They make machines in the image of Sauron's. What
independence does that show? Sauron could eliminate them with ease, were
he to change the basic spell by which his Machine is driven. They
survive by taxing their folk less, not by their wits. Nay, the fire of
innovation burns not within them." He paused for effect. "And," he
intoned, "you forget the Ring."
Boromir had stood at the mention of the Clone Lords. "Take care in
thy criticism of the Clone Lords, Wizard," he said. "The Clones have
saved us much, and their are superior to those of the Blue Lord. Yea,
though their innovation may be less, we gain by their presence. And you
speak falsely when you declare that the Clones could be easily destroyed
by Sauron. So long as the Great Spells of Lotus, WordStar and dBase may
be cast on the Clone Machines, they can survive any assault by the Lord
"Indeed," Boromir continued, "it was the great error of Sauron to
keep his taxes so high that the Clones could gather strength. Now, as
weeds in his garden, they have strong roots that are difficult to remove.
Sauron may even find a backlash on Mainframe Earth, as his 500 Most
Fortune-ate followers discover that the three mystic Blue Runes hold less
magic than was thought." Boromir sat, satisfied of the truth in his
Gandalf's face was tense. Frodo looked puzzled, as did many of
those assembled. Could it be that the Wizard was less wise than they had
thought? Could his vision be failing him at so critical an hour? Or was
it Boromir's human frailties that hid the truth from his eyes?
Aragorn turned to his friend, and spoke kindly. "There is much in
truth in what you say, Boromir of Gondor. Yet one flaw may crack a large
stone. As time passes, the Machines become more and more powerful, and
the wizards improve the spells that run them. If Sauron changed the
Spells of BIOS, the Clones would suffer greatly."
"As new and mightier spells of Spreadsheet or Words appeared the
Clones would find their Machines rendered useless, their powers a shadow
of the might they once possessed. And remember Gandalf's warning not to
forget the Ring."
At the mention fo the Ring, Frodo snapped back to attention. He
felt its cold smoothness in his pocket and asked, "What of the Ring?"
Gandalf took this cue. "With the Ring fully in Sauron's power,
every Machine on Micro Earth could be bound together. And the Machines
of Micro Earth could be bound to those on Mainframe, Sauron's domain.
"Great wisdom has been promised to those who would join with him and
the Ring: new visions yet unseen, new paths yet untraveled, new worlds
open to explore. Above all, the Ring holds the promise of Power. The
many Elves of Micro Earth could be linked together, able to share their
spells and songs without delay, even over great distances.
"But the Ring excludes those who are not compatible with Sauron's
plan; some spells work not on the Ring, and simple folk have been turned
into Wraiths in the deadly embrace fo the new Machine. The gateways that
open path from Machine to Machine often fail, trapping the innocent in
Once again, Boromir had heard enough. "Wizard," he cried, "every
object has many sides, and you reveal but few. The Traders of Gondor can
use the Ring to ease their way an lessen their costs. Great groups of
Machines, linked together, will speed trade throughout Micro Earth and
all will benefit. The Ring opens many doors, and Sauron gains nothing
from our passage into most. He forged the Ring, but we can control its
Legolas considered what Boromir had said. "I see no difference
between the great Ring system you describe and the vast Machines that
rule Mainframe Earth," he said. "The same problems may arise. A break
in the link can disrupt many, not just one. Secrets can be pirated away
down the dark passages. The system grows ever more complex, not like the
simple Machines we now use."
The elf continued, "There is no gain, only a further loss of the
individuality that is slipping like sand through our fingers. A giant
collection of simple Machines? Nay, I say that is a great waste. If
many must speak, let them use the Machines of Mainframe. I dream of
seeing our LAN lush with trees and Fruit, not bound with chains of wire."
Frodo was again confused. "I see the advantage for the Traders," he
said, "but of what use is the Ring to simple folk who wish for nothing
more than a warm home and a cold beer?"
Boromir answered, "Through the Power of the Ring, common folk will
be able to bank without leaving their homes; they will have access to
the Great Markets where stocks are traded, and the financial universe
shall open before them. Travelers will be able to obtain rooms at inns,
spare horses or berths on the Wind Ships from their dining rooms. Many
will be their options."
Bilbo smiled sarcastically and whispered to Frodo, "Boromir thinks
a commoner is someone with only one Mercedes."
Gandalf rose to his feet and spoke in his most commanding voice,
"The time has come to stop this debate and decide our course of action.
We may cast the Ring into the Cracks of Doom and destroy it, or wield it
and face the consequences, good or ill."
Frodo spoke, "I will take the Ring to the South, toward Gondor and
the Realm of Sauron. It is a long journey, and Destiny will decide our
Few of the folk around the table had expected such a statement from
the quiet hobbit, but quickly they nodded in unspoken agreement: Frodo
should lead them to the edge of Sauron's domain. Perhaps then the great
forces of Destiny would act to show the way.
As Frodo and Bilbo walked down the stone path to the small room they
shared, the elder hobbit looked at his friend and asked him why he had
chosen this way to travel.
Frodo walked on in silence for a moment, as if concerned only with
not tripping over cracks in the stones. "I know that the Traders can use
the Ring to great advantage, and all of Micro Earth will be enriched," he
said. "I fear that Gandalf and Legolas are also right, that creativity
and innovation are curtailed by Sauron's scheme."
"Though no one mentioned it, I believe that fewer new and unusual
spells will be written if the Ring becomes the way of things and people
look to share one great spell, rather than buying their own. I have yet
to see any advantage for the common folk, but the natural curiosity of
men may bring forth some unknown and useful task. Most of all, I feel in
my bones that the Ring will come to be used and thought of differently
than anyone now suspects."
"I will go toward Sauron and the Cracks and hope that along the way
I am given a sign to follow. The Ring tempts me. It cries out to be
worn and used. Another voice inside me wishes I had never heard of
Sauron or his Ring. I may destroy it, or I may give it to Sauron and
help him wield it. I only fear that I will have to choose before I know
which course is right."
The two hobbits continued down the path without speaking, both
knowing that further words were unnecessary. The greatest minds on Micro
Earth had been gathered around that table, and Bilbo saw that Frodo had
the farthest reaching vision of all.
The histories of both Micro and Mainframe Earths were full of leaps
into the unknown, some successful and some not. Perhaps, Bilbo thought,
neatness and order should be brought into the chaos. Perhaps the Wizards
should be made to try rational behavior just once.
The old hobbit laughed out loud. And perhaps they can teach a pig
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