Monday, April 27, 2009

The glove

One of the first things you notice on La-a is the number of people wearing subtle gloves on their left hands.

Every one is a sufferer from Hopkin-F dysplasia. A lot of people end up here with it, because this is the first short hop out of Earth to the rim and further out. Most of the best experts in the field are here, because most of the people who have it are here.

See, Hopkin F dysplasia tends to scramble your brain a bit, so that you are having a conversation which- while completely lucid to you- is gibberish to everyone else.

On Old Earth, at one time, this was called "Speaking in tongues". No, not the asinine gibberish that the moron TV preachers did, an actual different language. A few people have made some progress at translation, but it's slow going. There isn't much point to it, either. Those of us who have had it still understand and can speak it to one another, but cannot assign meaning to the sounds the way you would think.

You see, Hopkin-F dysplasia "victims" "Suffer" under the 'Delusion" that they have felt the all encompassing love of the Creator. At least that's how it's defined in the official diagnosis. In reality, we have our brains "Adjusted" when we're outside of normal space. By God. it changes us, but the change is only perceptable to others like us. it doesn't make us holy rolling bible thumping nutbags. We simply have an unshakable faith in the Creator that only we understand. We don't proselytize. We don't look for converts. We don't want anyone to follow us or be like us. We don't feel we have any special power to change anthing or do anything. We're just perfectly comfortable with our relationship to the Creator.

We try to be the best people we can be and we often fail. But we are aware that our failure is what makes us human and not divine. We each wear a tight fitting woven glove that is almost transparent to the casual observer. The glove is kind of an inside joke. It reminds us of the all encompassing love of the Creator, and it actually feels like we felt when we were 'outside'. It is also a kind of a signal to like peoples.

Tour buses of offworlders used to come see us just like people would go drive around Amish and mennonite communities on old earth, looking at the funny religious people. We never minded nor objected. Eventually most got bored and went away. Occasionally a hardcore anti-theist will come and try to "reason" us out of our "Delusion". They usually end up heading back home and writing scholarly articles about our "sickness".

A team of folks have also been trying very hard to find a "cure". While people with this have gone on to travel it's not an experience most would revisit. Almost as though once is good enough, and the next time you go, you want it to be your last. I'm told the largest numbers of trips outside a Hopkin F patient has taken is four, after which the longing to stay outside forever is so strong it drove them mad.

One way or another, it has utterly revolutionized theology, at least to us. None of us have to be told when we stumble. None of us ever judges another for stumbling. We have an understanding that cannot be taken from us, and while most of the universe looks upon us as castoff damaged goods, we consider ourselves to be the Chosen of God in the age of space.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Why not ask Hank?

Want a job done, they say, give it to a busy person. Certainly, as things go here, I seem to keep getting the new stuff dropped in my lap time after time.

Doesn't bother me so much that they think I can handle any lamebrained thing that comes along, so much as it bugs me that they don't even bother asking anymore. Today I had a new project inserted in me; tech I haven't touched in two years, so I have to come back up to speed, a project some kid has been working on and got called away from, and a big enough system that it will be a disaster when it crashes, which it inevitably will, probably due to bad code, 20,000 lines of which I will have to watch so I can see if there's any gaping safety holes. Only two droids, and all things I'm capable of doing well.

Sometimes it's just nice to be asked, instead of told.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Genetic Manipulation

DNA fiddling has been around for quite some time, and it hapens here pretty regularly, to fix birth defects where they can (my own specific difficulty is on the list too) but also to make people less prone to disease.

One problem that was quite common in the early days was lung disease. There were a lot of airbornes when people first settled on La-A, and there was some discussion as to how that could best be handled. Finally a refugee geneticist from one of the russian factory planets suggested a retrovirus with an agent that strengthens the lung tissue, makes it more resistant to disease, allows it to absorb oxygen more readily, and self-cleans. The little cilia that are normally in the lungs are converted to beats-as-it-sweeps-as-it-cleans dirt removal machines.

So before they got the atmosphere cleaned up, a guy could work out in the dusty plains of La-A and not die. He might have wished he could, because at the end of the day you coughed crap up for five minutes, but your lungs were baby-clean and like new again right afterwards.

Newcomers would get the procedure as they arrived, a blood sample to take the genetic fingerprint and then a spray up your nose, and you were set. In about three days your lungs were changed cell by cell, and you never had to worry about lung disease again.

The downside was you tended to be more careless about the things you did. Fumes that were no longer damaging to your lungs were no less poisonous. So people had to be careful, but eventually, it all got sorted out.

Several generations in they discovered the mutation had taken root and all you had to do was come in body-fluid-level contact with an "infected" person and you got the mutation too. I developed it during treatment when i first arrived. Some say it itches during the change but I was too out of it to remember.

Consequently almost everyone here smokes. The chemicals in cigarette smoke are still there and still as damaging and dangerous but nobody here smokes that much, and the price of smoking is a couple hearty coughs in the morning, and you're fine again. Having come from earth it's a bit odd to see offices with ashtrays on every desk, and the ventilation systems in buildings have to be super effficient to keep all the places from smelling like smoke, but we manage fine.

I smoke about a pack a week. Not a big deal, by any standards, and the tobacco here is good. I also light up a pipe about once a week. And a few times a year, someone brings me a handrolled Cuban cigar.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lost loves

About a year ago, I met a girl who had just finished basic training in the Marines. She chose her leave here, as a lot of marines do, before they head off to the outer rim. The climate here is predictable and sweet, the people are friendly, and accomodations are inexpensive.

We spend a month together waiting for her to be shipped out. At the end of a week she moved in, as much to save money as anything else. She had her own room, and slept in it most of the time. She knew she had four years of hotracking in a tiny battlecruiser, so she wanted to enjoy the space while she could. We treated the relationship as roomies, though it dipped in and out of more intimate contact. I was happy to have the company. She could cook, too. We taught one another a few things, in the kitchen and in the bedroom.

One day we got a couriered message with orders for her. Her launch was coming for her in the early morning, she'd be leaving when I was asleep.

We walked on the shore of lake Ocean. We walked a couple miles, and ate a sandwich, and talked a little about our futures. On the way back, she put her hand in mine. Standing on the shore of Ocean, we lit cigarettes and smoked, still holding hands, now almost silent. She turned to me, and let go of my hand and put an arm around my waist. I slipped my hand into her hair, my fingers cupping the back of her head as I kissed her. We stood there after we kissed, noses almost touching, breathing each other's breath. I willed the moment to last forever, and all other stimuli turned themselves off.

Then she gasped and backed away. The cigarette in her hand had burned down and scorched her fingers. I looked down to see mine blackened and blistered. I didn't care. The moment was over. I still remember the feeling of her muscular arm around me, her breath, her hair smelling sweet and clean. I put that butt on my nightstand, where it is still. The scar on my fingers has long since healed.

This afternoon I found she had died in mysterious circumstances. I don't know anything else yet. She had put me down as next of kin. I don't know how to feel about this. I guess I kind of thought of her coming back to see me after her tour of duty. Maybe I even wished for it. Now I'll never see her again.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Philotes and ansibles

We have just finished our most recent project but the screaming, and it went together so well the customer took US out to dinner instead of us taking him out, for a change.

So we sat around and ate bar food and yapped about the project and the next one in the pipeline, and one of the guys said "I don't know why you made such a fuss about the communications. People have been using ansible for years!"

Yes, I suppose, they have. I imagine people have been using telephones for ages as well, but most have no idea of the changes that have taken place in their use. Oh, at some point there were folks who realized cellphones had gone digital, but like most things, few have any idea how technology marches on.

Philotes are a special and fairly interesting subject, and a lot has been written about theory. Almost nobody has any idea how the nuts and bolts work, though.

See, a philote....

Crap, let's back up a moment.

Imagine for a moment that the speed of light is one foot per hour. And imagine you are transmitting a message twenty foot away with a flashlight. Your message will take twenty hours to get there.

Now, imagine you have a twenty foot steel rod. You can turn the rod easily. There's a pointer on the other end of the rod, and if you turn the rod up the pointer on the other end means "1" and if you turn it down it means "0". SO you can communicate a LOT of data, just using binary, while you're waiting for the light beam to pass.

A philote is kind of like this, and though it's not an extremely accurate analogy, it's how they were treated at first. The very first philote monkeys were very good at transmitting extremely complex data simply using a binary function. They could take the philotic "Particle" (for lack of a better word) and use a tiny magnetic field to "excite" it so it was either "up" or "down" so to speak, and the philote on the other end would respond the same way- it's position could be "read" by the induction in the magnetic field.

And then someone stumbled onto Carpathian bees. Carpathian bees weren't exactly bees, though they did make something rather like honey. They don't sting, they don't seem to have a fixed lifespan (though you do see dead ones) and they make honey and abandon it. Carpath is practically dripping with the stuff, and as the sugar molecules are such that it won't spoil. They also give you a three-day painful erection, if you don't process it properly first.

And carpathian bees don't buzz- at least not out loud. Carpathian bees use philotes to communicate, and were the first "lower" creatures to be discovered to do so. Someone had a headset on setting up a net and a carpathian bee flew by, landed on his ansible terminal. The buzz was maddening until he took off the headset, so he started checking to see if there was a technical difficulty, but the bee was damned sure broadcasting. it was using a whole array of philotes, some of which connected to its' hive, some to other hives some distance away.

But it wasn't using binary, it was using the philote in ways nobody had ever imagined. There's a whole bee language in the way the philote is arranged.

Think of the particle as a globe with a pole. The bees on Carpath had figured out how to instinctively move that globe around, so that the pole was pointing in any of an infinite number of positions. So you had rotation around x, y, and z, and the particle could also rotate about it's pole, at different speeds. The philote on the other end would do the same.And each bee had multiple philotic links.

Once nature had shown us how it's done, we were able to use this method of passing data to our advantage. It's as if we had all been using morse code and were suddenly given three-d video and smellovision overnight. Whole armies of code monkeys were busy for years thinking of ways to encode information and use the extended abilities of the philote.

So now we can use the ansible to pass hundreds of orders of magnitude of data back and forth between one machine and another. And it's an incredible boon, because we have no practical limitation of what can be delivered or received. It allows us to make the manufacturing operations flexible in ways we never imagined, and it has changed the face of our industry.

And now I have a headache. Damned honey.