Give Way

“Okay, let’s go over how the traffic priority controls work. You can up-priority by paying a small fee, with a promise to pay more if your higher priority becomes relevant. The fee goes to us, the later charges to every vehicle that’s inconvenienced by yours. Or you can down-priority, which is free, but nets you a small payment every time the road-grid can pick you to ‘lose’ rather than another vehicle.

“But people don’t understand how the vehicle priority algorithm works underneath.

“It doesn’t affect vehicle speed, or routing, or any such. We can’t run vehicles efficiently at multiple speeds over the same roads, after all. No, what the traffic priority setting does is affect the way the road-grid handles resource-contention decisions where two vehicles require the same resource – odoblock, say – simultaneously, and resolving this deadlock require that one vehicle be selected to ‘lose’, which we define as a set of parameters including increased travel time, increased travel cost, vector changes outside the passenger comfort envelope, user preference deviations, and so forth. In those cases, the lowest priority ‘loses’, and where multiple vehicles share the same priority, a random function decides the loser.

“That’s a simplification, but it’s close enough to true. It’s most visible with emergency response vehicles, which naturally have a hard-coded top priority, but if you carefully study the patterns of traffic around some other vehicles over time, you can see the algorithm at work. Sleeper cars and fragile cargoes, for example, have their comfort envelopes weighted higher so other vehicles ‘lose’ to them when a maneuver is required. Bulk freight without deadlines is usually deprioritized for the potential savings, so statistically speaking, robotrucks ‘lose’ more than regular traffic.

“So why do people think that these don’t do anything?

“Well, how often do you think the road-grid system needs to make resource-contention decisions?”

– Eimil Murianos, odocorp engineer, IBC live interview

The Glittering Web

Red-Gold Routes:Red-Gold Route, taking its name from the common practice of coloring the territorial volume of the Empire gold, or gold-bordered, and that of their satrapies and client states shades of red on political maps is, in definition, a long-distance route used by the the Imperial Merchant Navy in which all the ports of call are in Imperial territories, clients, or trade stations. This emphasizes not only the usefulness of the route as a means of connecting the Imperial metropole with the greater galactic empire, but also the strategic security of being able to connect (and travel between) distant possessions without having to rely on making stops in, or passing through the sovereign territory of, another polity. The definitive description of the Red-Gold Routes and their status is to be found in the navigational charts and rutters published by the Imperial Post-Courier Star Packet Company, ICC.

A similar term, the Red-Gold Beam, refers to the dataweave communications routes that allow packets to reach their destinations without ever transiting non-Imperial segments of the extranet (an option for which can be set in the routing headers). The communication lasers themselves, naturally, are frequency-multiplexed and are in any case invisible from off-axis.

See also: arterial; Far Star Station; Golden Band; Golden Interstar; Spice Way Program.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

Freight Containers

Since the contract I’m working at the moment has gone into crunch mode, in the interest of keeping up some content this month, have an extra question answer:

I have a question…

As you say: a Hariven’s hold is sometimes cobbled together from eight standard shipping containers.

Are we talkin’ about eight 4m by 4m by 15m units, or eight 8m by 8m by 3.75m units?

Well, it’s not like they use metric. But while the Imperial “foot”-equivalent unit isn’t quite the same length as an Earthling foot, you can assume it’s not too far off when I tell you that they’re – or at least the most commonly seen 4B08 variant are – 12′ x 12′ x 48′ units.

While I’m at it, here are some more fun facts about the standard Imperial intermodal shipping container:

They’re designed to be light structures (typically made from glassboard, which is a sandwich of foam quartz in aluminum, easy to manufacture from regolith and an excellent insulator) with a thin protective coating of hardened steel, and are hermetically sealed (so they can be shipped without needing a pressurized cargo hold). The corners are slightly rounded to better hold pressure; and as a convenient side-effect, if they’re washed overboard on a wet ship during a storm, they tend to float.

Since this is long past the age of the Internet of Damn Well Everything, each one comes with a built-in microcomputer and WDMRP-compliant transponder, which tracks everything inside the container using their v-tags, controls entry, broadcasts a manifest tag indicating what’s in there, and keeps a write-only audit log of all this information. It also controls digital-ink stripes along the side of the container displaying its current routing code, proper orientation, handling instructions both ordinary and special, hazard markings, and so on and so forth.

And finally, there are some little inspection ports on them (which link together when the containers are stacked) designed to allow microbot swarms to enter and exit the container for performing inspections, for the convenience of customs, transport security, and transshippers routinely checking the contents against records and manifest to look for worrying discrepancies.

Also useful if there’s a fire or some other cargo emergency in the middle of a big stack.


Trope-a-Day: Le Parkour / Combat Parkour

Le Parkour / Combat Parkour: Something of a standard part of the skillset, even for getting around normally, in the modern era. This tends to come from three places: one, common exposure to how one gets around in microgravity; two, lots of habitats and inhabited planets/moons having less than “standard” gravity anyway, making it easier; and three, lots and lots of biotech work pushing the baseline on agility, reflexes and stamina well above where they used to be. Couple that with the circular feedback effect of architectural adaptation, and there you go.

In its combat form, a specialty of light legionaries. (Not so much one of heavy legionaries, since the problem with trying this while running around in three tonnes of combat exoskeleton isn’t that you can’t do it, it’s that the walls can’t take it.) It did not take much exposure to space-based infantry combat for people to figure out that – especially when fighting people used to operating in two dimensions, but hardly limited to that scenario – a chap who can run on walls, change orientation and vector in mid-air, and make use of all the bits of the environment, not just the floor-based ones, and so forth, has a distinct advantage. Enter, then, the trainers and armor designers figuring out how to do all that stuff down t’well, too.

Did You Get The Number Of That…?

“Disabling of road-grid transponders and/or the use of electronic countermeasures, sensory maskers, stealth coatings, chameleon paint, ambioptic invisibility, cloaking devices, or other detection-inhibition technologies on any flitter, ground-car, or other vehicle, in motion or stationary, on a public highway or skyway or other public-usage transportation volume is strictly prohibited as recklessly negligent operation.”

– Ministry of Transportation Ordinance #112-98

Road Repair

The flat robot hummed unheard as it ran along the rails of the sub-highway service plenum, gliding smoothly to a stop at the location of the damaged slab.  The plenum was clear; no need to move fragments out of the way before doing the replacement.

Clunk.  The pneumatic prop-ram extruded from above and below, pressing against the damaged surface slab and the ground alike, enough to take over the support of the highway and the vehicles on it while the slab was unsealed from the surrounding framework.  The robot paused momentarily, communing with the road-grid control center…

The wheelspheres of one groundcar had barely left the slab when it dropped down under the road, the prop-ram venting, only to be abruptly shoved aside by the loader, dropped into a waste hopper and replaced on the prop-ram by a clean replacement, this in turn slammed up into place by new air just in time for the wheelspheres of the freight wagon following to cross onto it.  Moments later, a hiss of active nanosealer sealed the new slab in place.

Job number HW-112-0000188 complete; no delays.  Proceeding to next job.

Stop Fittling With That

Congratulations, my students, on your successful completion of the first half of Ontological Engineering.

When you return in two months, it will be time for each of you to choose the research project you’ll be carrying out for the next two years.  And with regard to that, I would like to encourage you to choose something other than the current obsession with faster-than-light devices.

While I can appreciate your enthusiasm, whether based on the honors and plaudits that await anyone who cracks that particular problem, or the unspeakably large bounty that the Imperial Navy have waiting for anyone who can provide them with a tactical fittler capable of pulling off that four-simultaneous-shots-with-one-ship maneuver – ever since it was shown off on Galaxy of Conquest, anyway – I should nevertheless like to remind you of a few things.

Firstly, that people have been banging on, yanking at, and poking any piece of physics that looked like it might have practical or even impractical fittling potential since before Imogen Andracanth’s team invented the wormhole; and except for the wormhole and the tangle channel, have produced absolutely no positive results whatsoever.

Secondly, that Exogenesis, Islien Yards and Stellar Express, between them, have poured more money into their Starleaper Initiative than the entire budget of this university, and have hired a great many talented graduates of this course.  You can therefore be fairly sure both that the competition is extremely stiff, and that if there were any low-hanging fruit to be plucked in this area, we would probably have heard about it already.

And thirdly, of course, there are a great many unsolved, and indeed, as yet uninvestigated research problems in other areas of ontotechnology, many of them leading to potentially exciting developments in fields as simple as remote sensing and drive efficiency to old speculative-fictional dreams such as dimensional transcendence, matter translocation, negentropy, and instant manufacturing free from all that tedious mucking about with nanomachines.

So go home, enjoy the blue and green season, and come back to me with some exciting proposals!  You won’t be penalized if you do insist on sticking with the fittle, but do check what’s been done in the past and what the Starleaper team have been trying recently, and put some fresh and interesting spin on it.

Class dismissed.

– address to the most recent OE class, Imperial University of Almeä