The Perpetual Hunt

Kage Baker was queen of the search engines.

She loved search engines. When I set up her first computer, one of the helpful built-in To Do exercises was a list of suggested search engines; which one did we want to dedicate on the system? (This was long ago – Altadena, Lycos, Webcrawler … Kage liked the spider logo for that last one.) When I explained what a search engine was, Kage’s eyes lit up with that special fanatical fire only she seemed to produce.

“You mean, I can just tell it what I want to know and it’ll find all the references?” she asked in amazement and growing avarice.

I explained about parameters, about the literality of computer searches, about the uses of commas and parentheses , about how “AI” was still a hoped-for concept … and Kage, semi-hemi-demi-Luddite that she was, caught on at once. It appeared she had an unexpressed gene or eight for library science; all it took was the right environment for the trait to express itself.

It was the one aspect of computer use I never had to teach her again. I never did manage to teach her how to avoid – or use – accidental key commands. It took literal years before she always remembered to close a document before she shut down the computer. But search engines? Her natural habitat. She knew about each succeeding new one before even I did, and worked out all the ways to refine searches far ahead of me. I think she had a wireless cyborg connection in her head – this woman who took four years to realize her monitor and hard drive were two separate pieces of equipment …

Kage had always loved treasure maps, and scavenger hunts. She had a natural affinity for maps, and was a born navigator. I don’t know what sort of domain of light she imagined in her head when she pictured cyperspace – but I know she saw something. She was a visual person, and all her ideas were framed in pictures. When she was concentrating on an idea, she would close her eyes: and you could see her gaze track  back and forth beneath her eyelids, like REM sleep, following some interior landscape that not even she – wordsmith deluxe! – could describe verbally. But she could see it.

Search engines let Kage cast her spirit out into a non-corporeal world. Like a hawk on the wing, like a dragonfly of light, she swooped through the halls of information and plucked what she wanted from the aether. It became a form of recreation for her, too; she could spend hours traveling through electronic lands, following one obscure hint or reference to another – she didn’t need a goal or a destination, she just went roaming to see what could be found. And she found amazing things.

(I learned all about firewalls and security and viruses and tracking cookies, as a direct result of this habit. I was doing search-and-destroy maintenance on a nightly basis when most people had not yet learned it was even needed. When your housemate wanders off into the Fields We Do Not Know and habitually leaves the back door open, you learn all about latches and watch dogs.)

One of the bells and/or whistles on this lovely blog site is a set of research tools. It tells me how many of you Dear Readers look at this daily drivel, and where you wandered in from; if you came directly or if you found a link somewhere else and followed it. It tells me if you got here via a search engine, and what the search terms most commonly used were.

That last one is the best, I think. Some very odd searches are going on out there in the aether – and somehow, they end up here with my musings on Kage Baker. Yestreday, for example, the listed terms included:  carrying on the tales kage baker, pictures of complicated cogs, kage kathleen, painting of typewriter keyboard frontgate, kinds of mustard …

Some of these are obvious, of course. And some of the others can be extrapolated from Kage’s known fondness for steampunk and retro-technology. But – pictures of complicated cogs? Painting of a keyboard? Or is it painting keyboards themselves? They are pretty dull, usually, and could probably use some paint. Whose front gate was looked for?  … who the heck got here by searching for kinds of mustard? And why?

I dunno, Dear Readers. But I do know that it all has the savour of the kind of search Kage herself would have been on. Some of you out there are of a like mind with her, and are speeding on fiery wings through the same aetheric woods that she did. You’re finding the same sorts of lightning she did, hanging like ripe fruit on strange trees, and snapping it up. There is an element of glee and wildness in hunts like that …

I find it very comforting.