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.

Trope-a-Day: Cut and Paste Environments

Cut And Paste Environments: Common to begin with in outposts, new colonies, and a whole range of other environments where you’re trying to get established quickly and where you’re working on a budget; modular systems and prefabricated constructions dominate this market, courtesy of Llyn Standard Manufacturing, ICC and Ellore Modular Industries, ICC.  Subverted inasmuch as they’re also designed to be easy to customize, and people do in very short order.  It doesn’t take all that much time before it’s only the layout that would reveal them as prefabs, if that.


The Llyn Standard Manufacturing autofac, informally known as the Hive, sprawled over a hundred square miles of Seléne’s surface, a vast complex of industrial machinery stacked upon more industrial machinery, gleaming in the crystal vacuum and the harsh light of its floodlamps.

To the north, a ruddy glow mixed with the floods’ blue-white, where a thousand furnaces and smelters turned shipments of raw metal and stone coming in from the asteroids into bar stock and other materials for the inner manufactories, secondary forges pounded, cast, carved, and drew the purified metals into thousands of gross components, and more specialized factories spun stone into specialized clays, ceramics, glasses, and the wafers from which nanocircs were cut.

Off to the east, a tangle of pipes and tanks surrounded the bactries, where volatiles brought downwell from the outer system were fractioned, refined, and fed to reactors containing myriad industrial catalysts, fabzymes and genetically engineered maker cultures to produce a million different chemicals, all the feedstocks necessary for all the industries the complex supported.

In the south, the triple containment buildings of the power plant dominated the skyline, housing three of the system’s largest fusion reactors, gulping deuterium from the buried slush tanks at their feet – mere buffer tanks, kept constantly topped up by a stream of automated tanker-ships coming in from the gas mines of Melíeré; and to the west, the mass-driver launch complex which delivered containers full of any of the autofac’s unthinkable array of finished goods and modular components to any world, hab, or drift in the system rose like a mountain.  The warehouses around their feet were a mere scattering of toy building blocks by comparison.

And within this ring, the heart of the autofac: factory after factory, specialized tooling, nanofac growth chambers, and robotic final-assembly plants, and the thousands of pipelines and conveyors connecting them – a crowded collection of plain geometric cubes, geodesic domes, and polished spheres, in the simple ascetic style favored for those areas not intended to ever be inhabited, or to be more than rarely visited.  Scattered among them, vehicle garages and robot hotels housed and tended to the automation, the driverless trucks and frenetic utility spiders that scurried throughout the complex, carrying its lifeblood and tending to the machinery.

At the center of the great autofac, a single tower rose above all these buildings, its lower floors containing the hosts for the artificial intelligences that ran the complex, and its uppermost level housing the operations supervisor, Lilse Varenna-ith-Varenti, and his dozen department heads – the only sophonts anywhere within the Hive – reclining, eyes closed, in their command chairs.

Bodily functions shifted to autonomic maintenance, minds vastened and placed in synnoetic AI-symbiosis, and senses filled with input streams gathered from sensors, they did not run the complex.

They were the complex.