Trope-a-Day: Digitized Hacker

Digitized Hacker: Most of ’em.

When it comes to wrestling for control of systems in cycle-time – especially where security AI are concerned – speed is a definite advantage. As such, digital crackers and their counterparts, digital sysadmins, are both very common; even if they habitually inhabit bioshells and just run a hot fork of themselves in parallel while on the job.

Trope-a-Day: Alternative Number System

Alternative Number System: The eldrae, and thus the Empire, use base 12 – mostly because the common numeric base was agreed on by the same collective of the philosophically inclined that standardized the language, and they saw no particularly good reason why you should pick a number base just because that’s how many fingers you have when you can pick one based on something more useful, like its plethora of convenient factors.

There was a brief flirtation with base 16 (the Great Hexadecimal Reform) during the reign of the Online Emperor, but despite being more convenient for computational purposes (a base 16 digit converts into a whole number of bits, which a base 12 digit does not), it proved quite unpopular with the public and was later quietly dropped.

And, of course, other species have been known to use quite a large variety of numeric bases – 8, 10, and 16 being probably the most popular, but others far from unknown.  Base 16 is commonly used for interspecies communication (outside the Empire, in the Worlds), though, mostly because everyone who uses computers is at least somewhat comfortable with power-of-two bases.

Author’s Note: Hey, Y’All, Watch This!

For those wondering about some of the technical background:

The chief obstacles to using “normal” computers in space are heat generation (given the average spacecraft’s limited heat budget – disposing of heat in vacuum is hard), cooling (because in microgravity, convection doesn’t work – there go heat-sinks without a lot of active coolant-movement devices), ability to work in low air pressure and/or vacuum if something goes wrong, and the prevalence of ionizing  and other EM radiation, which tends to muck up delicate electronics.  For a large part of history, this was handled by many of the same compromises we made – reduced transistor density, specially hardened chips and designs, magnetic core memory, and so forth.

(Fun fact: this problem was particularly bad back in the Apollo-era equivalents of Projects Phoenix, Oculus, and Silverfall, because they were using Orion-style nuclear pulse drives.  Which is to say, during atmospheric ascent, a crapload of EMP happening right near the flight computers.  Back then, they were using “electron plumbing” machines, because despite their space program being relatively later in their technological timeline and thus having better ICs available, they still were by no means EMP-immune.  “Electron plumbing” is a technological path we didn’t take – essentially, evolved thermionic valves/vacuum tubes to higher orders of complexity.  Never widely used, because ICs were still a better technology overall, but for this specific use, excellent.)

But in the modern era of spaceflight, they can use standard commercial computers, because those use optronic nanocircs.  Those run cool (no need to wiggle significant electrons about; photons are much easier to handle) inherently, and care much, much less about passing ionizing and other EM radiation.  Also, all but the most cut-down “standard” ML runtimes or hardprocs (a processor that implements the ML runtime directly in hardware) incorporate all the real-time and safety-critical features that you’d need for spaceflight applications, because those features are also used in general automation and robotics and other applications that are pretty close to ubiquitous downside as well.  And so does the standard IIP networking protocol, and so forth, and for much the same reasons.

As for WeaveControl, it’s more formal name is Interweave Command/Control Protocol; for reasons of technological evolution, plus much more prevalent hackerish tendencies in the population, just about every device manufactured – cars, lightbulbs, drink-makers, ovens, coins – comes with an IIP interface and a WeaveControl endpoint, which lets you run all the functions of the device from an external command source.  (It’s become such a ubiquitous open standard that there’s no reason not to spend the couple of micros it takes to install it.)  You really can script just about anything to do anything, or hook it up to interfaces of your choosing on any device you have that can run them.  Things as simple as programming your alarm clock to tell the appropriate devices to make your morning cuppa, lay out suitable clothes according to the weather and the style of the day, cook your breakfast, fetch and program your paper with the morning’s news, order a car to come take you to work, and program its music system with a playlist suitable for your mood are downright commonplace.

But they’re serious about anything/anything compatibility.  You can program your bath from your car, drive your car from your PDA, operate an industrial 3D printer from seat 36B on the sub-ballistic – hell, run your building elevator from your pocket-watch if you can think of any reason why that might be something you’d want to do.

Some of these applications are, ah, less advisable than others!

Hey, Y’all, Watch This!

“…things have changed since the old days, gentlesophs.  If you were paying attention in history class, you’ll have learned all about the exotica they had to use to compute in the early days of spaceflight, but anything you’ll work with on a starship now will be familiar to you already – optronic nanocircs, ML-based runtimes and hardprocs, IIP networking, WeaveControl command/control protocol, self-organizing technecologies, and so forth.”

“For those of you whose eyes lit up at the mention of WeaveControl – who have doubtless heard all the usual tall tales in spacer bars – yes, this does mean that technically you can fly a ship, from a shuttle to a dreadnought, using a portable slate or even that fob terminal you use to call your car.  If you pass this course with flying colors and buy me a few drinks, I might tell you some true stories about when it’s really been done, and how a few of those people even survived doing it.”

“But there’s a reason they give the flight-control chairs those surround displays and fancy hand-rigs, and for that same reason, if I catch any of you trying it during this course, however high your rating from flight school or even if you are Ithával’s own special gift to piloting, you’re going to be spending the rest of your time here cleaning the airlocks from the outside.  That’s because I’m old and kind, and you’ll be young and stupid.  What your future employers, insurers, space-control authorities and the gods who look after fools and spacers will do to you if you try it after graduation without your bridge and auxiliaries both being shot off first won’t be nearly so nice.”

– introduction to ‘Introduction to Starship Computers’, Academician Airin Silverfall-ith-Adae