Posted by Obi-Wan Kabuki at 2:31 AM
The Pig & The Ghostwriter… The tale of a clairvoyant computer
By Raymond Weisling
This is a true story. It is about a funky Intel 386 computer that ran Windows 3.1 but had some other strange capabilities that appeared over a year or two. The setting is Solo, Central Java, Indonesia.
It started, I guess around early 1994, when I formed a map production group, with four assistant graphics operators. I had a 386 DX computer left over from an earlier project, but it was not used much, primarily because I have always been a Macintosh user and Windows 3.1 was pretty awful. But we didn’t have a lot of money for new Macintosh computers, so we decided to try the 386, which we nicknamed The Pig (actually using the Indonesian form “Si Babi”). The building that we used only had two circuits of 2200 watts each, but we were running quite a bit below that when everything was turned on. The Pig wasn’t used every day, since there were manual tasks associated with the map work, such as tracing maps onto vellum paper for later scanning. But when all tracing was done, we had to call on The Pig to help out.
The problem was that The Pig often started up with a power demand or surge, and with the other computers already loading the sensitive magnetic circuit breaker, The Pig might trip the breaker and everyone on the Macintosh computers would lose their work. At first, this happened with surprising regularity, and each time we forgot to tell the others to save their work to disk first because The Pig was going to be turned on. After this happened too often, we all agreed to be more careful.
The protocol was established that everyone had to be told to save their work first, and after everyone nodded that their files were done saving (large files could take 20-30 seconds to write to disk); The Pig was ready to be turned on. We added the Muslim expression “In the name of God” (Bismillah), and pressed the button. It always worked; The Pig was merciful and didn’t kill the power. This was very consistent. A few times, in haste, someone forgot the protocol, and The Pig would retaliate. It seemed if it was a chance to do damage, it would but with no chance, and in fear of God, it would be such a nice Pig.
Eventually we moved to a different office and added more Macs and The Pig was retired, but I started to use it for doing bilingual crossword puzzles. With help of a part-time student, we compiled a database of around 20 thousand words, about half in English and half in Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language). A special crossword program from a friend in America was used to set up a crossword grid, with blocked cells, and then it was let loose to try to fit words from the database into the cells so that they all fit together, like a crossword puzzle is supposed to be. The Pig was a slow 386 running Windows 3.1, so it often took a long, long time to find the words that linked together across and down. The time was quite dependent on the grid size and where the blocked cells were. There are several styles of crosswords, but I was attempting the most difficult, the New York Times standards, in which every letter must belong to two crossing words; no letter can be part of a single word. Since there were far fewer long words, the word length was critical to monitor as a grid was designed. Some grid designs would never reach completion even after running all night long. Others would complete in five or ten minutes (if lucky), but often it could take an hour or so.
One day I started The Pig on a new puzzle, perhaps around 10:30 or 11:00. It so happened that the wife of President Soeharto, Bu Tien (as she was known) had suddenly died two days earlier in Jakarta, and her body lay in state at her family home only a few kilometers away in Solo. Foreign dignitaries from nearby nations came in by private jet to the little Solo airport to pay their official last respects. This day was Monday, as I recall, and at about 12:30 or 13:00 a motorcade was to leave the mansion and travel to the rural Soeharto family grave site at the foot of Lawu Mountain. All this was being covered on all the TV channels, as it was naturally a national day of mourning. I myself was caught up in the event, watching it on TV downstairs, and occasionally I peeked in on The Pig [upstairs] to see what it was doing. It always seemed to be about 1/4 or 1/3 done with the puzzle, gaining some headway, running into an obstacle, and then erasing about half of what it had made to start over (it was a recursive build and tear down algorithm).
At about 13:00 the motorcade was ready to depart for the trip, which would take about an hour. The atmosphere was very heavy, and everyone, whether they liked Soeharto and his wife or not, was feeling deeply saddened, for it was the sudden death of the First Lady of Indonesia, who had been standing beside her iron-fisted husband as president for about thirty years. Some say that she was the source of his strength. As the bier was taken from the home and placed into the hearse, and the motorcade departed, I decided to take a break and check in on the crossword puzzle.
As I approached The Pig, I saw that it was still working on it, and as I was just about to turn away, only having looked at the screen for three or four seconds, it suddenly completed the puzzle. It was done, after at least four hours of computational gyrations. Was this an ordinary crossword puzzle? No, it was very strange, and as I looked at it, I got a chill. Among the words, the first one I saw was ALMARUMAH (meaning The Late Deceased, and the feminine form, from Arabic). That is exactly how you would refer to Ibu Tien, Almarumah Bu Tien Soeharto. OK, so it was luck that this word appeared. It was one of perhaps two thousand nine-letter words in the database. But then I spotted a number of other words that bore a striking association to the event that was at that very moment occurring only a kilometer or two away. Weeping, duda, dust, debu, death and more.
The following list shows the related words that appeared in the same puzzle, composed by The Pig, a funky 386 Windows 3.1 computer that might have been clairvoyant. Remember that the crossword was bilingual so it contains a mixture of the two languages, and that the first 14 in this list are quite directly related to the death. This represents 18% of the 78 words in the puzzle, and is only 0.07% of the total database (14 out of 20000 words). If all 19 in this list are counted, it comes to 24%, nearly a quarter of the words in this puzzle and a very small number out of the 20000 available.
almarhumah = The Late (for a woman), here referring to Bu Tien Soeharto
duda = widower (referring to President Soeharto)
roh = soul, spirit, ghost
debu = dust
dust = dust again, so dust to dust
dig = as in to dig a grave
death = is that direct enough?
elite = The Soehartos were the tip of the political and economic elite: rich and firmly in power
atasan = superior ranking officer or officeholder (plenty of them were in attendance)
duta = ambassador or emissary (many were in attendance from Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, Thailand, etc.)
alkisah = a grand story, tale, legend
suasana = the atmosphere, milieu, feeling of the moment—it was very heavy (was it heavy enough to be felt by The Pig?)
weeping = plenty of sorrow all over that day
rural = gravesite destination of the funeral cortege that had just left the family home in Kalitan, Solo
hatred = hatred for the Soeharto family was not uncommon. Or hatred within the family itself?
azan = the Muslim call to prayer by the Muezzin (note: though it is required to pray at the funeral, the ‘azan’ is not called)
umat = the body of worshippers (the congregation present, but also can refer to all believers of the faith)
nasty = the question later arose: How exactly did she die?
ashamed = Was her death correctly reported, or was the cause something much more shameful? Rumors later surfaced saying that she was killed by a gunshot wound as she intervened in a heated argument between her two sons, Tommy and Bambang, over which one was going to get the concession to produce an Indonesian Automobile.
So, did The Pig have a mind of its own? Was it visited by a ghost that composed the crossword puzzle? Was it sensitive, clairvoyant? How could it get so many words to fit the mood of the day? Was it a mere coincidence or a Supercoincidence? I can’t answer these questions. I’ll let you decide.
Stories copyright © 1997 by Raymond Weisling
The word BEHA also appeared, the Indonesian abbreviation of Brusthalter, the Dutch word for a bra. It could be a clue that she was indeed shot and it hit the Beha. In recent years the story of her death has become the truth in the usual sense, especially after Soeharto had to step down from power in 1998 and several years ago finally died. Someone recently told me that she was indeed shot and that several non-family eyewitnesses (adjutants) were summarily eliminated.