Trope-a-Day: Internet Incorporated

Internet Incorporated: Averted in theory: both the Empire’s dataweave and the interstellar extranet are networks of networks, just like the Internet, operating in decentralized fashion, with no central company, organization, government agency, etc., which controls the whole of it. (Except locally in certain repressive polities.)

In practice, well, that being said, Bright Shadow, ICC does own the vast majority of the interstellar communications infrastructure and even a very large part of the local communications infrastructure inside the Core Economic Zone, and a good part of it elsewhere. But it’s not a legal monopoly or a central control – they’re just very, very good at what they do.

FAQ Followup

And we have a follow-up FAQ. Mark Atwood asks:

Follow up question: how compatible are various worlds and polities nanofacs and slurrys? Polities that are colonies of existing polities will likely use compatible slurries and facs, but independent invention and/or long-enough separation in time will lead incompatible tags, inline data packages, and physical designs of nano-scale cages and gripping points. I can see things getting Interesting on worlds that have to deal and trade across polities with different nano, and interesting issues when trade fleets and military fleets with incompatible nano have to interoperate.

The answer there would be: for the most part, if you think of it as Internet software, you won’t go far wrong.

Most of the Worlds runs nanofacturing protocols that are cross-compatible and function according to the Imperial Nanofacturing Standard V.Whatever, IOSS1 somenumber through IOSS someothernumber, for the same reason as most of the extranet runs over IIP2; namely, it may be an Imperial standard, but at least it’s an open standard, and more to the point, it’s an open standard with plenty of legitimate places to plug in extensions and submit them for inclusion.

Even more to the point than that, it’s one with a lot of weight behind its adoption, because:

First, starcorporation-wise, just as Bright Shadow is pretty clear to its customers that its backbone runs over IIP and if you want interoperability, you can run IIP or built your own network gateway protocol, companies like Llyn Standard Manufacturing and Traders in Ideation make it pretty clear that they publish recipes that conform to the IOSS, and if you want to have your own protocol-format for recipes, then translating their recipes to work with your supply chain isn’t their problem.

And second, there is a huge database of free-to-use recipes out there, and by far the vast majority of them are INS-formatted, for reasons including longevity of publishing, a thriving open-development culture, and patent/copyright law that dumps expired, no-longer-manufactured stuff straight into the public knowledge pool. That that’s out there is a huge incentive for most ‘fac manufacturers to build machines that are compatible with it.

This even encourages worlds that invented the technology independently to work towards compatibility, obviously, something that’s made easier on the ego by the people who come around shortly after First Contact looking to grab any particularly good ideas they had independently to put in the next revision of the standard. 🙂

That being said, this is just like TCP/IP stacks inasmuch as when it comes to the core functionality, everything is swell and interoperable, but life may get interesting when one wanders off into more obscure corners, especially when people have interpreted things creatively or cut a few corners here or there. The further you go from basic mechanosynthetic applications, especially where gray-market, low-end, or from Those Companies, You Know The Ones ‘facs are concerned, the more likely it is that you’re going to end up having to contact your friendly local ‘fac-hacker to patch around whatever it is the manufacturer screwed up. Indeed, if you’re on some dark ‘hab out at the ass-end of the Shadow Systems, you’re probably going to need to get that guy out to make anything compile at all on your home-made sort-of-compliant lash-up system.

This is the level of problem that tends to hit most of those trade fleets, and so forth.

Most of the serious incompatibility issues are entirely deliberate – people who specifically don’t want to have access to those things, for a variety of reasons, be it straightforward economic protectionism (which makes even less sense than usual when you have cornucopias, but no-one said those governments were smart), keeping out evil Impie cultural imperialism as reflected in their Stuff, and/or fighting the War on Hedonic Pharmaceuticals Or Whatever Other Damn Thing It Is This Month by trying to prevent their citizens from printing out designer drugs, mass-driver pistols, or whatever other locally proscribed widgets they can download freely off the extranet.

(…which in turn the Agalmic Praxis Foundation, the Free Fabrication Fraternity, et. al., cheerfully subvert by writing recipes to get incompatible ‘facs to print out the needed parts to assemble compatible ‘facs, and so it goes on…)


1. IOSS = Imperial Open Source Standard. Which is exactly what it says on the tin.

2. IIP = Imperial Interweave Protocol. Looks something like IPv6 on steroids, with added relativistics and light-lag extensions, and using 512-bit addressing3 to allow for conveniently addressing individual elements of nanite swarms, etc. (With currently reserved option to extend to 1024-bit addressing just in case future requirements include addressing across multiple universes.)

3. For anyone wondering, this gives you up to 10154 addresses, which may seem excessive in light of there only being maybe 1080 protons in the universe. Apart from letting you feel comfortable using sparse allocation, I suspect the main reason for this is that at some point in IIP development, the engineers said the equivalent of “Look, guys, we have powerful processors these days and the routers can handle it. Let’s make sure we never have to go through another renumbering ever again.”

Trope-a-Day: Mega Corp

Mega Corp: Oh, quite a few.  (Well, bearing in mind the cultural, demographic, and technological differences that mean that while an Earthly multinational might hit millions of employees, its Imperial counterpart probably has a couple of dozen executives, a large computronium core, and millions of jobs being done by subcontractors, sub-sub-contractors, etc., or “on-bounty”.)

The canonical list in the Empire and nearby, the “Big 26” starcorporations, are usually given as:

All Good Things, ICC – retailing

Artifice Armaments, ICC – firearms, heavy weapons, military vehicles, and defense technologies

Atalant Materials, ICC – mining, refining, and nanoslurry production

Biogenesis Technologies, ICC – neogenic organisms, biotech products and bioshells

Biolith Chemical Products, ICC – bactries and organochemicals

Bright Shadow, ICC – computers (including expert systems and thinkers), telecommunications equipment, and infotech

Cognitech, ICC – cognitive science, psychedesign, nootropics, and sophotechnology

Consolidated Mutual Mitigation and Surety, ICC – insurance underwriting and ancillary legal services

Crystal Flame, ICC – immortality (noetic backup archiving and insurance)

Databeat, ICC – major cycle brokerage and information furnace rental org

Ecogenetics, ICC – ecopoesis, living systems, environmental services, and bio-architecture

Enjoyment Unbounded, ICC – entertainment and luxury goods

Experia, ICC – entertainment and media (watchvid, InVid, slinky, and virtuality)

Extropa Energy, ICC – energy production and distribution, antimatter production, and fuels

Gilea and Company, ICC – banking, investments, and futures markets

Llyn Standard Manufacturing, ICC – cornucopias and industrial-scale production

Prosperity Nexus, ICC – investment, fund management, and commercial banking

Ring Dynamics, ICC – stargates (construction, maintenance and leasing)

Riverside Eubiosis Foundation, ICC – pharmaceuticals and health and medical services

Service Gate, ICC – contract matching and labor allocation

Stellar Express, ICC – delivery services, interstellar logistics, supply chains, and shipping

Systemic Integrated Technologies, ICC – robotics, automation, and infrastructure technology

Telememe, ICC – news, statistics, demographics, data mining and information research

Traders in Ideation, ICC – information brokerage, rights management services and data warehousing

Ultimate Argument Risk Control, ICC – security services, military contracting, and mercenary brokerage

Vermilion Harvest, ICC – agriculture, silviculture, carniculture, and bioproducts

…but there are several others that compete close to these leagues – exactly which are named depends on who precisely you’re talking to.

Given the nature of the setting, of course, the traditional unremittingly negative portrayal of business in fiction is utterly averted, and the Big 26 receive the respect they deserve as the mighty prosperity-generating engines that they are.  But then, in their home markets, the free market actually is a free market, so they never had the opportunity to discover corrupt business strategies of monopoly, rent-seeking, and regulating the competition out of business, even if they didn’t tend to be run by people who are every bit as ideological as everyone else in the vicinity.

(Well, not that this opinion is shared by everyone.  Gilea & Co. and UARC, in particular, tend to attract some opprobrium elsewhere in the Associated Worlds, particularly in places that don’t appreciate the absolute sacredness of contract in Imperial ethics, Gilea & Co.’s policy of not recognizing any special difference between “states” and its regular commercial customers, and – especially – its willingness to pursue “asset realization” after a sovereign default with however many of UARC’s finest mercs it takes to impress upon the customer that when they do the job, they always get paid.  But that’s not the mainstream opinion at home.)

As a side note, while it is by no means a conventional corporation, the Imperial Charter makes use of much of the traditional structure of a joint-stock corporation in the Imperial government, such as it is – its citizens, for example, are citizen-shareholders in the technical lingo, and the traditional style of the Imperial Couple includes “Chief Executive Officers of the Imperium Incorporate” – so you could make a convincing argument that the Empire is, in quite a few senses, the biggest Mega Corp of them all.

Epistolary Experiment (8/30)

“Well, look at that. Ain’t they orderly, working their way around the belt like that. Nothing to do but round up a few harmless belters and make sure they’re not harboring anything dangerous. They must be getting irresistably bored, too.”

“Captain?”

“Chief, what I need you to do is rig things back aft so we can get maybe half a grav out of the secondary chemical thrusters. That should make us look like a freighter – well, no, it won’t make us look like a freighter to anyone who’s paying attention, but it might to a bunch of bored Vonnies not expecting anything else. We’re going to mosey along to this facility, well ahead of them – just another merchie, going about their business, fat, dumb, and happy, and pull up alongside for transshipment.

“And then we’re going to bag ourselves a light cruiser.”

– bridge log of the Cunning Swine, Interstellar Interceders FK, Ódeln (Vanguard Reaches)


FROM: CS RAZORWING (TASK FORCE SP-132)
TO: FIELD FLEET SPINWARD COMMAND (CS LIBERTY’S PRICE)

*** EXPEDITE
*** EYES ONLY FERVENT SPAN
*** AFTER ACTION REPORT

INFORMATIONAL:

1. ARRIVED IN DORANZER (CORDAI GAP) SYSTEM IN PURSUIT OF ENEMY VESSELS PER PREVIOUS ORDERS. TASK FORCE HAS BEEN REINFORCED BY THE ADDITION OF TWO (2) NSANG DESTROYER-CLASS VESSELS UNDER ORDERS TO ASSIST CONCLAVE FORCES.

2. UPON ARRIVAL, SYSTEM SERVICE BUOY AND STARGATE-LOCAL REFUELING PLATFORM WERE FOUND TO HAVE BEEN DESTROYED, WITH ADDITIONAL UNIDENTIFIED WRECKAGE LOCATED WITHIN THE TANEL STARGATE EMERGENCE ZONE.

3. SYSTEM SURVEY CONDUCTED. LONGSCAN UNAVAILABLE DUE TO NON-RESPONSIVENESS, PRESUMED DESTRUCTION, OF PRE-SEEDED SENSOR PLATFORMS. SHORTSCAN INDICATED MULTIPLE VESSELS UNDER THRUST, WHOSE EMISSIONS PROFILES MATCHED REPUBLIC WARCRAFT, ACTIVE AT APPROXIMATELY FOUR (4) LIGHT-MINUTES RANGE, PROCEEDING ON BRACHISTOCHRONE TRAJECTORY FROM TANEL STARGATE FOR ZERO/ZERO INTERCEPT WITH DORANZER III (GAS GIANT). THIS DESIGNATED TARGET PITHRIN.

4. TASK FORCE ASSUMED SIMILAR TRAJECTORY AT FLANK ACCEL. PASSING ENGAGEMENT WITH TARGET PITHRIN AT 1.2 LIGHT MINUTES RANGE PERMITTED CHARACTERIZATION OF REPUBLIC WARCRAFT AS THREE HARRIER-CLASS DESTROYERS, THREE FUEL TANKERS, AND PRIZE LINER CIRCUMSTELLAR WANDERER. IN THE COURSE OF THE PASSING ENGAGEMENT, ONE (1) TANKER WAS DESTROYED AND MODERATE DAMAGE INFLICTED UPON ONE (1) DESTROYER. TASK FORCE SUFFERED LIGHT DAMAGE TO CS BLOODCLAW AND ONE (1) NSANG VESSEL.

5. TASK FORCE ENGAGED GRAVITATIONAL SLINGSHOT AROUND DORANZER III, OFFLOADING AKVS DURING PERIAPSIS TO SERVE AS LOCAL DEFENSE FOR DORANZER III AUTOMATED FUEL-MINING AND SERVICE PLATFORMS. SLINGSHOT MANEUVER PLACED TASK FORCE ON HIGH-VELOCITY CLOSING MANEUVER WITH TARGET PITHRIN. SUBSEQUENT ENGAGEMENT COMMENCED AT RANGE 1.7 LIGHT-MINUTES AND TERMINATED AT RANGE 0.3 LIGHT-MINUTES WITH COMPLETE DESTRUCTION OF ALL REPUBLIC WARCRAFT. PRIZES TAKEN: ONE (1) REPUBLIC TANKER, SUBSEQUENTLY SCUTTLED; PRIZE LINER CIRCUMSTELLAR WANDERER, MODERATELY DAMAGEDTASK FORCE SUFFERED LOSS OF PREVIOUSLY DAMAGED NSANG DESTROYER, MODERATE DAMAGE TO CS BLOODCLAW, LIGHT DAMAGE TO SECOND NSANG DESTROYER AND CS RAZORWING.

6. DETAILED STATUS OF RETAKEN CIRCUMSTELLAR WANDERER FOLLOWS UNDER SEPARATE COVER. PRIZE VESSELS MAKING FOR NAVAL DEPOT AT KALDER (GODS’ FORGE), ESCORTED BY SECOND NSANG DESTROYER AND CS BLOODCLAW.

7. IMMEDIATELY (PER LIGHT-CONE) SUBSEQUENT TO BATTLE, METRIC EXIT DISTORTION DETECTED, LOCUS SUGGESTING COREWARD STARGATE (LORANZER). SIGNAL TOO WEAK TO ESTABLISH PROPER STARFALL CHARACTERISTICS [DATA APPENDED]. AFTER RECOVERY OF AKVS AND FIELD REPAIRS ARE COMPLETE, ENTERING QIRAF ASSEMBLY SPACE IN PURSUIT OF SUSPECTED SECOND REPUBLIC TASK FORCE, UNDER CONCLAVE WAR AUTHORITY. TASK FORCE NOW CONSISTS OF CS RAZORWING, CS NIGHTFANG, AND ALLIED NSANG DESTROYER.

8. FROM ANALYSIS, IT IS APPARENT THAT PLUNDER OF FUEL AND SUPPLY FACILITIES IS AN ENEMY PRIORITY. FURTHER, HOSTILE STARSHIPS CLEARLY PRESENT IN UNANTICIPATED FORCE. REQUEST IMMEDIATE DISPATCH OF REINFORCEMENTS TO INTERCEPT AT LORANZER (CORDAI GAP) SYSTEM.

9. AUTHENTICATION: FIST WOLF FAITH NIGHTFALL ICHOR BLADE / 0x1137DED89A11232B

CAPT AÍC FIDARAN, CS RAZORWING


From: Quoril Vitremarvis, COO

To: Rodivine 0xD3EDB441, Spinward Security Supervisor
Subject: Security issues?

Do we have any in the compromised territories?

From: Rodivine 0xD3EDB441, Spinward Security Supervisor
To: Quoril Vitremarvis, COO
Subject: Security issues?

Not on the main lines, at least not yet.

Whatever happens, we have got
Postsophont sysadmins, and they have not.

– from the Bright Shadow, ICC, corporate e-mail archive

We’re the Phone Company

Lhaegár Rhuanhz, Vice President of Operations for Bright Shadow in the Hanth Cluster, looked around her office, eyes passing lightly across a dozen network status displays, a reassuring blue overall with normal local traffic and the brighter datatrails of the Selvaciy and Synnecy backbones, before returning to rest on the extranet map that hung over her desk, a mesh of links between systems with five ugly black spots near its center – shut-down interchanges in the middle of the Hanth ‘net.

On cue, two incoming trinet images shimmered in next to it, flagged with special governance-priority, supersedence, and shutdown-override codes, and already engaged in an argument that had evidently been going on for some time.

Lhaegár very deliberately folded her ears back flat, and bared her teeth in what, she was confident, could not be mistaken by even the most parochial as a species-specific smile, before keying acceptance of the call.

“I regret that you have not been called here to address your complaints, gentlesophs.  That does not call for the attention of one of the Directorate – and you are both, of course, entirely aware of what underlies your complaints, since your intersystem data service has been suspended.”

“Rather, you are here to address the violations of your extranet service agreement.  Specifically, you are here, Prince-President Rsh-t-t-n-tf-g” – she gazed at the mists enshrouding the rntrugg – “because one of the agencies of your government endeavored to disrupt communications for your enemies by introducing a data plague into their Xan-Rak-Han system network.  Ordinarily such activities are beneath our concern, except that you overreached when you had it target the extranet infrastructure itself.”

“And you, Gene-Archetype lant-hak-nint” – her gaze shifted to the shifting disks of the aklaknak colony – “overreached yourself even further when you went so far as to land a force on the surface of the Tttnfl-Fgflln stargate itself, and attempted to physically disable the extranet router there.  Our cousins from Ring Dynamics, I believe, also wish to address this with you.  In either case, either of these acts are clear violations of your service agreements and our property both.”

Silence fell.  Mists and disks alike shifted uneasily.

“Very well, we admit our… mistake,” Rsh-t-t-n-tf-g hissed.  “Yes, some of our agents were zealous.  They will be corrected.  What is the cost of this error to be?  How soon may we be restored?”

“And how much more must we pay to ensure that they are not?” lant-hak-nint added.

“I fear you mistake your negotiating position, inasmuch as this is a negotiation of any kind.  There are costs, certainly, incurred by us and our clients both.  Your mutual efforts interfered with approximately 3% of the traffic along the Selvaciy backbone for almost a kilobeat; reparations for the substantial economic and other losses involved, as well as the costs of redirection along secondary routes and system repair and revalidation are being assessed.  These you will pay; this we require of you absolutely under the terms of our existing contract and the Accords.”

“In addition, however, we require an end to your war.  You will each withdraw from the claimed territory of the other within one month of this date; you will further both resign all claims you have in the Fgflln/Lak-Han-Tar system.  In order, you understand, to prevent further zealotry from infringing upon Bright Shadow corporate sovereignty.”

“The money, yes, but you have no right—“

“You can’t dictate to nations—“

The rntrugg and the aklaknak glared at each other, neither willing to allow the other to speak first.

“This is not, you understand, a demand or an ultimatum.  As a neutral commercial organization we are not in the habit of issuing such things.”  She bared her teeth again, without humor. “It is merely a condition we attach to the continuation of your contracts.  Should you believe yourselves able to find or contrive a viable alternative to our extranet service, you may feel free to continue your war. Perhaps a particularly large courier fleet?”

“I will contact you again in – shall we say one hour? – to hear your decisions.  Bright Shadow, clear.”

Out of Order Transmission

…as every child learns, computing as we know it today originated with the invention of the Stannic cogitator.  Stane Vitremarvis-ith-Vidumarvis of Azikhan, working in the family business of manufacturing mechanical calculators and automata cores, was the first to make the conceptual breakthrough that in addition to accepting fixed programming, such automated devices could store and indeed dynamically modify programs in the same manner as they did data.  Thus were the first general-purpose computers built, ushering in the transition between the Low Steam Age and the later High Steam Age with the use of miniature Stannic cogitators to provide the required control mechanisms for the first true steam clanks (pre-electronic robots), and earning a second fortune for House Vitremarvis in the process.

This, however, is the history of networking.  The ability of computers to interconnect and communicate exponentially expands their capacity and usefulness, something which was clear from the earliest days of the field, but nonetheless, the development of networking had to wait until the availability of a suitable transmission medium.

While some short-range experiments were carried out in the early days using chains, shafts, belts, dedicated multi-mass ball-bearing races, and other mechanical interconnects between pairs of Stannic cogitators located close to each other, some with remarkable success, none of these mechanical means proved possible to make function reliably, or indeed at all, across distance.  Communication between distant devices required shipping the data using conventional transportation, in a frozen form – most commonly a stack of punched cards (stiff paper cards in which holes in specific locations represent the information, readable using a pin matrix), or a toggle chain (a standardized length and gauge of chain in which each link contains a two-position mechanical toggle, whose positions read from end to end represent a data string).  Some progress was also made in transmitting the contents of these media using automated heliography (although manual transcription was required at the receiving end; experiments in fully automated heliography were not being carried out until near the end of the High Steam Age).

The first true networks did not appear until the first relay-based computers came into use.  With the harnessing of electricity, it finally became possible for one machine to produce a signal, readily transmissible over long distances, which could automatically be read by a receiving machine.

While first used as dedicated machine-to-machine connections, a team working under Parváné Camriad-ith-Sereda devised what we know today as the forerunner of IIPv1, a set of protocols implemented in these early machines by dedicated hardware, which permitted multiple machines to share a single line and transmit any-to-any, with only the intended recipient receiving any given message; and also to break up messages in such a way that a long message would be transmitted in segments, such that other machine pairs could still partially utilize the communications line.  Later, his team added to this a mechanical interchange such that messages could be forwarded from one line to another by an intermediate hub, allowing messages to be passed over long distances without requiring all the machines in each location to be connected to a single communications line; the first true packet-switched network.

Parváné Camriad-ith-Sereda offered his demonstration to a number of entrepreneurs of the time, some few of which saw the potential in his shared-line system.  These went on to found Empire Telegnosis and Mechanical Messaging (a corporate forerunner of the modern Bright Shadow, ICC), which used Parváné’s shared-line system as the basis of a long-distance communication network to bind together many of the Empire’s major cities, and thus offer a versatile system to interconnect many of the commercial, scientific and governmental computers then in use.

It is a matter of some historical interest, unusual when technological development sequences are compared, that Eliera developed the data network so early in its history; this can be probably be attributed to the also-unusual early advancements in metallurgy and clockwork engineering that permitted the successful invention of the Stannic cogitator.  On most worlds, electronic computers are the first to be successfully constructed, and data networks tend to follow the invention of telegraphy and telephony.

By contrast, telegraphy on Eliéra was the product of various local initiatives (Cestia Lightning Mail, Azikhan Electromessaging, Roquentius & Co. Telescriptorium, et. al.) purchasing simple computers, little more than a cypherwheel and an interface, and having them interconnected by ET&MM for the dedicated purpose of sending and receiving sophont-to-sophont messages at high speed.  Likewise, telephony was a latecomer to the Eliéran scene – reaching many regions after most homes already contained their own “telegraphic terminal” – based on dedicated voice lines using the existing data network as an out-of-band control channel.

IIPv1 itself was a product of…

– IIP Elucidated, Volume I: Perspectives