Professor Gregory J. Barchard was unlike any other boffin I’d met. Childhood prodigy in quantum electrodynamics, leading sofware engineer in the Patriot Missile Defense System, he’d turned his back on the opportunity to lead his own scientific team at the DoD and chose instead to found his own internet hosting company and nurture his passion for developing RapidWeaver plugins.
And he was slick, I’ll give him that. Not a grey hair out of place, lab coat spotless, shoes mirror- shined, polka-dot bow-tie perfectly aligned with the Mars Orbiter, he cut just the right impression of a quantum professor with nothing but universal equations on his mind. I asked him when he first met Richard Feynman and he said after the Manhattan Project reached its atomic conclusion over Japan, Feynman was transferred from Los Alamos up to the secret bunker complex buried a mile beneath Boston’s aptly named Bunker Hill.
“So you first met him here?”
“I never met him at all,” Professor Barchard said. “He died in 1988 when I was five.” Barchard’s cluttered office overlooked the Plugins Lab where white-coated interns slaved over microscopes and monitors, consulting in earnest huddles beneath banks of oscillators and frequency synthesizers.
“Yet you claim Feynman had a profound effect on your childhood…” I said.
“I was nine when I wrote my first paper on the electromagnetic distribution of photons. Feynman was my hero, my inspiration.”
“But it took you another 18 years before you wrote your first RapidWeaver plugin?”
“I was busy,” Brachard replied. “You know: school, puberty, dissecting frogs — doing the things kids do when they’re busy growing up.”
“Yet fast forward a few years and with the world at your feet you turn down the chance of a glittering career in quantum electrodynamics.”
Barchard sighed. “A man can get tired of exploring esoteric new domains at the subatomic level,” he said. “So I turned my attention to one of the most challenging questions mankind has ever faced.”
“You mean the Theory of Fundamental Processes?”
The Professor shook his head. “How to upload files to a website and share them with friends. This was how weaverFM was born.” He made it sound like the birth of a galaxy in some parallel universe. “Next thing I knew, I needed to share wedding photos with my family — and so weaverPix was born.”
I glanced down at the serried ranks of workstations that extended as far as the eye could see. “How long does it take you to develop a plugin like weaverPix?” I asked.
“I do all of my development during my free time on nights and weekends. Plugins typically take me 6 – 8 months to develop. Beta testing is, of course, always the hardest part. It’s the first time you’re putting your cards on the table and soliciting feedback. After 8 months of sleeplessness, you can only hope users will actually like what you’ve done and be as excited as you are.”
“Do you have a structured design process?”
“My design and development process starts with a simple thought or feeling:Why is this so hard? I then obsess over this question for a couple of days. If, after a few days, I’m still excited about solving problem I take to my trusty Moleskin with a pen. At this point I just draw and draw some more. Eventually I hope to land on some UI that ‘feels’ right and conveys to the user what they are doing. This is how I struggled with and eventually stumbled upon the idea of using Rolodex cards for contacts in WeaverFM!”
I indicated the Particle Accelerator Plugin he was currently developing for RapidWeaver and asked him what skill he thought was most important in developing such a complicated plugin.
“Listening,” he said. “Listen to your customers and what they want. Figure out how they use your product and how you can apply your experience to make their life easier. Like all grander scientific exploration and discovery, it’s all about solving problems. WeaverBox, for instance, features the ability to password protect the page to prevent guests from uploading files and an admin section to view uploaded files without requiring a FTP application. On the other hand, WeaverPix has the ability to link images to other webpages. All of these features came from listening to users and trying to make their lives a little easier.”
I was trying to understand how a Particle Accelerator Plugin would make a RapidWeaver’s life easier. “Surely there’s a very real possibility such a plugin would generate a wormhole that aliens could then use to take over our websites?”
But the professor wasn’t saying. Maybe it was a matter of National Security or maybe it was something to do with the alarms ringing, the ordered panic down on the lab floor, the hissing of the airlocks, the countdown sequence that had now been initiated. We either had three minutes to live or three minutes until the next tea-break. I changed the subject and tried a different strategy.
I said, “Why hosting?”
“I started JavabeanHosting out of pure frustration,” Barchard said. “I became very frustrated with my own hosting providers crippling their PHP installations that prevented plugins like WeaverBox and weaverFM from working, hiding behind the guise of ‘Our servers are more important than your site, that’s why you can’t do XYZ’, selling features that RW users do not need.”
“There are only two or three things you need to host your site: a FTP account, PHP v5.2 or later, and maybe MySQL. That’s it! You don’t need various scripts, installers, etc. These things are just fluff to make their serviceseem more valuable than their competitors.”
“So what are you, the Anti-Host?”
He was standing at the window now, hands clasped behind his back, watching his team monitor the collision sequence. “That’s exactly what I am,” Barchard said. “I tell my clients I want to fight for their sites. For example, most hosts disable compression because it uses up too many server resources. I’m not like that. I’ll buy a bigger server before I disable compression.”
“How does that benefit your clients?”
“Automatic Compression means faster page load times. This is a huge deal. I mean huge. Not only that but we also feature daily backups. Automatic backups are taken of the entire server which means I can recover any file on your site from the last 30 days.”
“So why are you searching for the Higgs bosun?” I said. “How will that benefit your clients?”
But he wasn’t so easily fooled. He had a one track mind and that track led straight to the heart of his obsession. “If JavabeanHosting means one thing — other than great personal support, of course — it means complete RapidWeaver compatibility. No more issues running plugins that require PHP.”
“Word on the RapidWeaver street says Themeflood’s Will Woodgate has migrated his whole show over to JavabeanHosting. Is that true?”
“Absolutely. And it’s made a huge impact on his site’s performance.”
One minute and counting.
“He goes on to describe JavabeanHosting as ‘Easy setup, excellent administration panel and blisteringly fast performance at any time of day or night. Privileged to have found such a great hosting solution. Really does set a new standard.’ That’s quite a testimonial,” I said.
Barchard smiled. Or maybe it was trick of the light. Down here, a mile underground, light seemed to obey a different set of laws, as though dancing to the positronic tunes of some multi-dimensional DJ. Or maybe I’d had one cup of coffee too many.
Strobe lights flashing now, sirens rising in pitch, red lights going wild over the radiation chamber. I said, “Any last words you’d like our readers to carry into eternity?”
“Sure,” Professor Barchard said, scribbling hastily on a scrap of paper. “If we make it through the wormhole, I’ll be happy to offer all your subscribers a JavabeanHosting coupon code for a free month of our 10GB hosting plan. No strings attached.”
“You mean no contracts, no lock-ins?”
“Absolutely!” The professor reached across to hand me the paper. “Here’s the code—”
But at that moment the lights dimmed as the energy injection initiated the collision and everything coalesced in a spacetime singularity in which a single scrap of paper hung motionless in the cosmic void. On it was written a single enigmatic word: rwcentral.
Only light years later when the continuum dissolved and time dilated once more would alien cultures eventually come to study the scrap of paper and finally understand the nature of the code they found there. But by then it would be too late. The offer would be over.