Skip to main content

A Reddit user's ant-infested PC has destroyed my hopes for a real life Discworld computer

Turns out a computer full of bugs is not a good thing

People who read my articles have exceptionally good taste, which is why I will assume you are already intimately familiar with Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. For those who are not and somehow got here by mistake, it will save me a lot of time if you go away and read them all. Oh fine, I will explain Hex. And also, if I have time, a real life man with ants in his computer.

The Discworld series is one of slightly metafictional adult fantasy. Inhabitants of the Disc operate sort of parallel to our own existence, and there is frequent leakage between the two. Some of the earlier books imagine Hollywood, shopping centres or rock and roll ("music with rocks in") as sort of magical parasites or "wild ideas" in the wrong place and time (and universe). As the series stacked up, the metafictional aspects stopped taking up entire books and became references, some of which slowly accreted meaning and ideas. Some of them, and how the Discworld's science in particular relates to our own world, are discussed in two volumes of The Science Of Discworld.

One of the best of these is Hex, a computer at the wizard university developed by, essentially, the wizard equivalent of IT nerds. Hex is a load of ants in blown glass tubes and, on its first appearance, is able to do simple calculations by wizards putting in cards with holes in specific places, to allow the ants to go into specific tubes. A reference to the earliest kind of punchcard data processing, you see?

Hex pops up in successive books and becomes smarter, and accrues more references. It has a sticker on the side saying "Anthill Inside", has secure external memory in the form of a beehive in the room next door, and a mouse builds a nest inside Hex. The doesn't do anything, but if the mouse is removed then Hex stops working. When Hex is processing a lot of data, an hourglass on a spring drops down in front of the user. Hex becomes self-aware, which worries one of the wizards, who calms himself with the idea that Hex only thinks Hex is self aware, so that's okay. In one of Hex's earlier appearances, the Discworld's version of Father Christmas gives Hex a teddy, and if the FTB (Fluffy Teddy Bear) is removed then Hex refuses to work.

I have always, from the moment it was introduced, loved Hex. You can therefore understand my devastation at learning that a computer full of ants is not, in fact, a good thing. Spotted by PCGamesN, a Reddit user called Thejus_Parol posted a couple of days ago that their computer was full of ants, which were eating the thermal pads and thermal paste. Rather than increasing the processing power, the ants were making the computer overheat.

My first instinct was to say that if your PC is full of ants it is very much a you problem, but apparently this is an old and potentially increasing issue. A few years ago lazylollipop posted an extended gif showing their CPU/GPU "infested by ants". This is not an exaggeration. They're everywhere in there. They're red fire ants, which are an invasive species in the USA originally from South America, and they are attracted to electrical equipment. They can chew through the coating on wires and cause short circuits, and when an ant is shocked by electricity it releases pheremones to call for help, resulting in a lossless cycle of more ants in your computer. They can be very hard to get rid of, so I guess just burn your house down and move to Canada?

In less depressing Discworld news, Rhianna Pratchett says that new Discworld games are possible if devs have the right ideas, although nobody is sure who owns the rights to the old 90s adventure games right now.

Read this next