Jun 042013
 

A Marriage Made in Heaven

The colony ship “Akasha” was in serious trouble. Of course, it was continuing on its trajectory, but it was only a few shift rotations from becoming colder than the two dozen pairs of cryogenic stasis chambers it carried. Something terrible, and terribly unexpected, had happened. Akasha was too far into the ether to be helped… and too far out to even signal her status.

Everybody and everything on board was instantaneously at risk. The impossible had happened; all power generators, and all systems, had gone offline together when the power distribution buss failed. Twenty-four mated pairs of colonists might never know what had happened. But the captain, the officers, and every member of the crew sure did. Dave had happened. And, it fell to Dave to save them all… if he could.

I’m so sorry that I dropped that wrench into your power trunk distribution venue. You’ve been a very good ship. I’ve tried to serve you well. Your internal systems reactor never deserved the kind of power surge that I caused by my carelessness. I’ve repaired and reset everything I can find. I know that I’ve taken for granted your excellent environmentals; they were over spec’d and I appreciate that, but we’re starting to have trouble rebreathing our own air. This whole systems reboot really needs to work. I trust you. I love you. I’ll hold my mind with you the whole way. Let’s do it.

Dave, the ship’s senior engineer sat alone; he had asked the rest of the department crew to leave so that he could concentrate, without distraction, on what he now had to do. Dave closed his eyes, drew a deep breath, centered his mind, opened his eyes again, and reconnected local battery backup power to the Engineering Department’s OmniSoft 2040(c) central command console. Dedicated indicator lights flashed in a series as the xBIOS pre-boot self-test routine executed. The GUI surface flashed, went dark again, and presented the words: “Execute authorization pass-gesture to begin.” The engineer, realizing he had forgotten to do so, began breathing again.

Thank you. Dave made his level-ZED pass-gesture and leaned back slightly to watch the boot-log scroll across his supplemental debug display. It was necessary to watch the process with a certain intense detachment. It was okay to blink and it was even okay to glance away, but it tempted fate to be indifferent. There is something about major systems that expect and respond positively to your undivided attention during start-up. On the other hand, you can’t presumptuously let yourself indulge definite expectations. Major systems are also especially sensitive to being taken for granted.

Dave shifted his attention to the systems status overview schematic. The Engineering command console had already completed local startup and had begun acquiring status signals as they became available. There they were! There was full nominal battery power available from all of the dedicated control system reserve battery banks. And, the fact that any status was displayed from anywhere, demonstrated that at least one of the control system signaling busses was intact. He took another deliberately-slow breath. And, again, Thank you.

Dave considered how unlikely it was that all systems had gone down. They had been designed with careful attention to redundancy, diversity, and isolation… except the power trunk distribution venue, which is totally passive, mechanically robust, centrally shielded, and not expected to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous 50 mm spanners being accidently dropped in. This, as one would expect, produced an epic short circuit that was promptly relieved, also as one would expect, by the instantaneous vaporization of the massive wrench.

The control systems were not dependent on the main reactors. They had their own power supplies. Dave didn’t need to see the status change for the initial, small, Power Impulse Generator for Instrumentation Electronics (“little PIGIE #1”). He could feel the vibrations as it spun up. It was quickly followed by PIGIEs number 2 and 3. Their dynamic compensators kicked in and the vibrations settled out just as the room’s overhead diffusion lighting kicked on.The captain would have spaced him on the spot if the space locks, like every other system, weren’t solidly out of service. Besides, Dave was needed for repairs. Ah well, there was always another day. Except, that there might not actually be another day… they were all facing the imminent likelihood of a miserable death right here in the ship. This restart had to work. Did I mention that Dave was under a bit of stress?

Dave continued to watch with intense detachment as the ships interlocking web of critical control systems continued to start-up and begin functioning autonomously. This was followed by the Master Internal Systems Thorium Reactor (MISTR) and the Secondary Internal Systems Thorium Reactor (SISTR) which provided power for the actual functioning of most ship’s systems’ equipment. These took the better part of an hour to come on-line. Still, Dave continued to watch faithfully.

Dave’s theory about “Intense Detachment” had come to him during his first post-graduate year at the Bohm Institute of Technology (BIT). He was on a team developing a new generation of semi-autonomous deep-water nodule-mining bots called BUCKETs, a badly-strained acronym for “Bathymobile Underwater Contraption for Kollecting Elemental Treasure.” They were commonly known on campus as “bit buckets.” After every software build revision, Dave was responsible for the reload, recycle, and restart sequence. He discovered that it seemed to help if he spooled the status log to a terminal and watched with a sense of focused interest as it scrolled by.

That was the same year that he took a class on “Wholeness and the Implicate Order,” which probably loosened up his receptivity to ideas that were patently on the woo-woo side of unconventional.  Dave experimented with restart monitoring and refined his technique. He was an engineer, not a scientist and, although it occurred to him that his efforts were more anecdotal than rigorously scientific, he was certain that he was on to something important.

And, what the hell, most significant discoveries were made by noticing unexpected outlying exceptions; scientists just fabricated plausible excuses to more-formally “discover” the principal revealed by their serendipitous accident. The genius was in having the good sense to notice, rather than dismiss, anomalous data. We can presume that this pretty much made Dave a flaming genius.

Dave was so impressed with his technique that he wrote it up and submitted it to fulfill an assigned mid-term paper. His professor was less than impressed with his logic, wrote something in the margin about “nuttier than squirrel turds,” and effectively taught Dave an important life lesson about sharing promising ideas with others.

Dave’s interest in transpersonal woo-woo was repressed but not eliminated. Nonetheless, he kept any further mention of “Externally-grounded observation with Intense detachment” (or Ego/Id, as he now called it), to himself. Thus, everyone attributed Dave’s prowess with computer-driven processes to overt technical ability. Well, thought Dave, praise, promotions, and bread in the box can’t be all bad, and he proceeded to excel in his field.

During this same period, Dave discovered that women also enjoyed his Intense Detachment Observation (“I Do”). Sincere, undivided attention, with appreciative affection and without demanding expectations for specific outcomes, made him an amazing boyfriend, which eventually gave him a reputation for another kind of prowess. But that is another story and clearly of another genre.

Dave was still watching as one after another of the core utilities came back online. When intraship communications was restored, the bridge called down, but Dave mumbled something dismissive and kept on watching. He was still watching when the background color for LifeSupport turned green and he felt a slight breeze from an overhead vent. He took a greedy breath even though he knew that the CO2 scrubbers would take several hours to return the air to nominal.

Although the ship’s automated systems were capable of managing themselves with a high degree of independence, the ship was equipped with an Artificial Intelligence-based Macro Executor (AIME) – or, more precisely, a “Digital/Analog Integrated Systems Executive” (DAISE). And so, it came about that while most of the rest of the crew addressed the AI as “Amy” (except for the few who took perverse delight in demeaning the AI who responded equally well to “Dumbass”), Dave had taken the liberty of affectionately calling her “Daisy” when they were alone together. He taught her to sing the song “Daisy” in place of his default wake-up claxon. It felt more personal, to say nothing of being a kinder and gentler way to wake up. And, he had asked her; Daisy said she liked to do it.

AIME/DAISE had never been turned off before. Nobody ever expected a ship to totally lose power distribution or, having done so, be able to achieve a cold-restart. It was, in fact, a tribute to Dave’s genius that a small crew of technicians, working in the dark with hand-held lights, shivering in the increasing chill, and shouting to each other through the echoing man-ways, managed to pull it off.

Dave was especially concerned about the effects that this sudden loss of power might have had on Daisy. Might she have been irretrievably damaged? Might she come back, but exhibit some form of “dementia?” The thing is, the ship relied on AIME/DAISE for navigation. Without her, the crew could not know where they were. Without her, they could not select nor reach a destination. But, there was nothing more to be done about it. It was now time to re-boot Daisy as well.

There wasn’t much guidance in his training for this  kind of unexpected crisis. So, Dave took the liberty of deciding to restore Daisy in careful, deliberate stages. There was some analogy to the human brain in the design of her banks of micro-polymer neuromatrix subsystems. He hoped to bring her back gently, like gradually withdrawing anesthesia from a trauma victim.

He restarted some of her central processors and then re-connected physical-level ship’s sensors. Dave waited and watched as an initial surge of activity began to settle down. He added memory, supplemental processing, and matrix management in stages, gradually allowing them to interact in increasingly complex modes. Dave initiated the UI processes and talked to her, not knowing if she understood. He talked about what had happened and apologized for his carelessness.

As the process wore on, Dave cried and begged Daisy to wake up. He waited – and he watched – and he talked some more. Dave told her things that he had never told anybody else. He opened his heart and spoke truths that he had never before recognized. And, finally, the AI sang the first bar of “Daisy,” paused, and said “Hello Dave.”

Dave explained again about what had happened, the potential peril of the ship and its crew, and how they were desperately dependent on Daisy. He wanted to be sure that Daisy’s memory and processors had a clean take on their situation. When prompted, she produced a rational analysis and agreed to resume her duties on one condition. “Of course,” Dave said. At which Daisy asked, “Will you marry me?

 

Copyright David Satterlee, 2013

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Apr 252012
 

It has been suggested that I sound “too preachy.” Yeah, that should have been expected. Let me introduce myself a little more to those of my neighbors who, so far, have only smiled and waved.

As you probably have noticed, there’s nothing like a conservative preacher, any teacher, or a flaming liberal, to tell you just how things ought to be.

First, I was actually the closest thing to a conservative preacher in my young manhood. I was raised in a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian faith that believed in the ordination of all lay ministers. During that time, I led adult Bible study groups every week for years. For the record, the brotherhood and I eventually saw fit to part ways.

Second, I have also regularly taught children and adults. I spent almost two decades in computer work for Amoco Oil Company, where I designed and led many technical classes. Next, I spent a decade as an herbalist – telling people how to live. I was also a substitute teacher for several years and am married to a career public school teacher.

While I was with Amoco, they gave me a series of career-development psychology tests. In one of them, my top two archetype identifications were found to be “Evangelist” and “Warrior.” That was tough news for someone with social anxieties.

The counselor had a hard time putting his finger on my potential. He mumbled his way through the obvious, but I knew he was thinking: missionary to the heathens, tilting at windmills, and questing hero. In the end, Amoco buried me deep in the corners of several computer rooms. I managed to make trouble anyway.

And finally, in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve become that odd duck in the middle of rural Iowa, a flaming liberal. Find me a tree and I’ll hug it. Fear not, my good neighbors. I am a gentle soul and, as my wife says, “the nicest man I’ve ever met.” I’ll put it out there and you can buy it or not. I quit putting my foot in actual doors a long time ago. Love, DavidS

©2012, David Satterlee

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Feb 102010
 

Do you ever get involved in something so deeply that nothing else seems to matter and you lose track of time?

Yes, frequently.

Throughout life, I have been prone to be introspective, voraciously curious, and a creative problem solver. I enjoy “disappearing into the problem.” I am more of a craftsman then an artist. Nonetheless, my explorations and projects easily consume my full attention. By the early 1990s I had discovered and read Csikszentmihalyi’s book on “Flow” and quickly recognized the altered state of mind that I cherished. Armed with a theoretical foundation, I have been able to more deliberately produce flow experiences.

I read and study more slowly than most. I often experience flow while working to understand, organize, and incorporate new knowledge into my belief system. This can be more difficult because I have a historically poor retention for details and I take the time to acknowledge and consider levels of ambiguity. I usually experience the deep-involvement of flow during this type of independent self-study; classroom instruction generally requires the opposite: waiting, diffusion, and disassociation.

Technical work has frequently produced flow experiences. These include designing electronic circuits, programming, analyzing systems, troubleshooting, computer programming, database design, and many others. In one programming project, I arranged with my supervisor to work for three weeks in an unmarked locked room outside of my departmental area, with no telephone or meetings. I brought a bag lunch and was usually able to stay in focus while walking to the restroom head-down and refusing to interact with anyone. I consider the result to be some of my best work. I tend to advance into a new technology or field of interest every two years or so. Early on, in an attempt to stay focused, I specifically excluded brain surgery from my potential career path.

I often find myself tackling new projects that challenge my existing knowledge and skills. At work, I have advanced and receive promotions, including directing the work of and teaching technical classes to engineers, by mastering new technologies almost exclusively through self-study. In one case, I was given full responsibility for designing and installing a new generation of plant-wide process data acquisition system at Amoco’s largest refinery. I frequently lobbied for and successfully introduced innovations.

I have replacing a diesel engine in my Oldsmobile station wagon with a computer-controlled later-model gasoline engine. I have undertaken home additions, outbuildings, and complex remodeling projects. At one point, I set and achieved the goal of becoming “a nationally recognized natural health educator.”

These are just a few examples. Essentially, I thrive on, and continually seek-out flow experiences. My current quest is to move beyond mastering technologies to building a better intellectual framework for understanding complex systems, especially the many strands and stages of human development. I find flow more and more often while writing to explain and interpret specialist-level material for interested laymen.

Addendum: I was recently delighted to discover a fictional model for my own life experience while impulsively reading a 1950s middle-school novel set in the period of the American Revolution.

Jan 172010
 
Lecture 5 – Googling the Brain on a Chip (Kwabena Boahen)

Kwabena Boahen is using the human brain as the blueprint for designing radically more powerful and energy-efficient computers.

In this short demo, Boahen describes how his Brains in Silicon lab at Stanford University has created computer chips with "synapses" and "neurons" — and how these chips might revolutionize computing.

Watch it on Academic Earth

Jan 132010
 
Lecture 3 – Brain-Computer Interfaces

Krishna Shenoy is creating "brain-computer interfaces" that will enable paralyzed patients to control prosthetic arms and computer cursors.

In this short talk, Shenoy describes how his team of Stanford researchers has built a system that achieves typing at 15 words-per-minute, just by "thinking about it".

Watch it on Academic Earth