strypey: A black-and-white picture of Strypey wearing a hat (Default)
2016-10-27 10:27 pm

Hacker Holiday

The sun was being slowly eaten by the gentle jaws of the hills when Trevor finally arrived home. It had been a long day. He had installed a new set of condenser wells in some of the dryer parts of the farm, and his hands were blistered and sore from gripping the shovel as he dug the holes for them.

It had been a good spring, with plenty of rain, warm, and not too acid. But there was drought coming. Trevor could feel the thirst in the wind at times. He would need all the wells he had, and more, to keep the younger food forests irrigated, not to mention for drinking and washing.

He had picked some loquats on the way back to The Cave. They had yet to fully ripen, but Trevor liked them this way, before too much of the starch decayed into sugar, masking the zesty bite. He sat on the sod roof, savouring the sour-sweet taste of the fleshy parcels. Later in the season they would make good jelly. As the last of the ambient light seeped away through the cracks of early evening, he went inside to make dinner, only to find he was not alone.

"Sally!" he gasped, throwing his arms around her shoulders and pressing her face into his sweaty chest, "I wasn't expecting you for months!"

His daughter fought free of his smothering embrace, so she could reply without having to speak through a mouthful of musky shirt.

"Hi Dad. I couldn't face doing the last leg by airship in the end . All that time in the air makes me feel like a grumpy cloud."

Even with the latest solar cell canvas hulls, and the most streamlined, lightweight bodies the design communities could come up with, the airships still couldn't fly nearly as fast as the planet-cookers used to.

"I took the e-train down from Tamaki Makaurau, and got Irene to pick me up in her buggy."

"She finally got the battery fixed?" he asked, "or did you have to stop and recharge every half an hour?"

She grinned, "I brought her new battery with me on the train. She would have picked me up anyway of course, but you know, never miss an opportunity to put good karma in the karma bank."

Trevor allowed himself a wry smile. It was something he'd told her often while she was growing up. He realized it was a terrible distortion of the complex doctrines of the old sanskrit word used by Hindus, Buddhists, and Hippies, to reduce karma to a crude double-entry accounting metaphor. But it had done the trick. His daughter had grown up effortlessly generous, and happy to help whenever she could.

"Lies to children", he muttered, quoting the old Terry Pratchett book about science that he used to read to Sally in her early teens.

"What's that?", she asked, looking up from the "thank you" message to Irene, which she had been tapping into her beat-up handheld. She went on without waiting for an answer.

"You're connection is crap Dad. 1 gigabit?!? No wonder people think you've gone into hermitage. You really ought to get a petabit router for your netballoon."

"Maybe you can help me with that while you're here?", he suggested. "I need to pull down some firmware updates for my tractor and a few other things around the place too. I just never seem to have the time. I keep their networking stuff turned off and hope for the best.

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, sure, any other basic helpdesk jobs you want me to do, while I'm on holiday from kernel hacking for eighty hours a week?"

She smiled. Of course she would help upgrade the software on all his hacked together farm equipment, and probably end up replacing the operating systems on half of it, and writing patches for any bugs she found. He found it a painstaking chore, and never lost the fear of making mistakes that would fry the silicon like hot chips, while she could do it in her sleep. Besides, she felt twitchy if she went for too long without hacking on something.

At least he always had the sense to avoid the proprietary gear from the big, flashy shops, on the main street in town. It was often cheaper to buy a whole new piece of equipment than pay licensing fees for the latest version of the sloppy software on the one you bought a year ago. From the few times she'd got access to their highly secretive source code, she couldn't help but think it was programmed by letting a roomful of drunk baboons dance on keyboards. The corporate manufacturers who made the hardware generally outsourced the software side to overpaid amateurs, who knew far more about marketing trends than sensible data structures, and the comments in their code consisted of terse, unhelpful phrases like "fixed that variable thing".

"I'll tell you what", he said, "I'll make you a nice, home-cooked dinner, with fresh veges off the farm, and some eggs from the ducks, and you can tell me all about your trip here. Then, after you've had a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast, we can talk about farm stuff. Alright?"

"Sounds great Dad". Her smile cracked open, and lurking behind her eyes he caught a glimpse of the wild child he had known.

"I'll go wash off the dust of the road while you cook."

This was not just a metaphorical flourish. Trevor knew what a ride in Irene's open-top, electric dune buggy was like. Thrilling but dirty.

It's good to have her home, thought Trevor, even if it was only for a few weeks over the summer solstice. Some of the farmers never saw their kids after they left for the city, and they never knew why. Trevor did, but there was no point trying to explain it to them. A bird released, avoids cages. He started rinsing the veges, humming tunelessly to himself.

This story is licensed under CC-BY-NC. You can share it freely, but if you want to use it in anything commercial, you need my permission.
strypey: A black-and-white picture of Strypey wearing a hat (Default)
2016-08-23 02:34 pm
Entry tags:


Kevin couldn't remember when he'd outsourced most of his thinking to private companies who served it back to him through the internet. He couldn't remember, because he couldn't access his My.MemRy account. Maybe the datacentres that served MemRy to users like Kevin were having technical difficulties. It was also possible he'd got behind on his internet bill, but he couldn't check because he couldn't access the BudGIT server either.

The last thing he vaguely remembered was paying his ThoughtBill, and worrying about how high it was. All that thinking about copyright images of sweaty, scantily clad men had added up. He had tried to keep his mind on things that weren't copyright. But the more he tried not to hear the pop song, or re-imagine bits of movies, or recall photos, the more he thought about them, and the more it cost it him in licensing and legal fees.

Kevin wasn't sure what to do. Partly because his phone and every other quick way of communicating with anyone who might be able to help needed the internet to work. But, more importantly, because he'd decided some time ago that his strategic thinking wasn't as good as the machine learning algorithms at EnhancePerform, and now he couldnt reach their servers either.

Kevin felt a grumbly feeling in his gut. He had checked three times today, and the SmartFridge still hadn't ordered any more food. The feeling wasn't doing anything to improve his mood. The idea of going for a walk occurred to him, that usually cheered him up. But the pedometer on his Pebble wasn't getting any internet signal either, and his PersonTrainer would be grumpy if he exercised without capturing at least the basic biometric data. Besides, without access to a map server, how would he find his way home afterwards?

Kevin's mind wandered for a while, but it kept circling back to the same place. Without an internet connection, there was nothing he could do. He was still slumped on his couch, staring with glazed eyes at the blank screen of his DataWall, when the paramedics arrived. His confused expression told them everything they needed to know. "Another internet eviction" they said with a shrug, as they bagged up his stiffened body for disposal.

This story is licensed under CC-BY-NC. You can share it freely, but if you want to use it in anything commercial, you need my permission.
strypey: A black-and-white picture of Strypey wearing a hat (Default)
2016-08-09 03:38 pm

Public Service Networks

CreativeCommons CC-BY-NC 4.0

Legend held that the digital republics started off as businesses. That people had chosen to become netizens of this or that republic. That in the early days you could hold a passport for as many republics as you liked, or wander freely online with no passport at all. It all seemed like some kind of pirate utopia, and nobody really believed it.

It could be worse though. The same old stories say that there used to be territorial republics that put up border fences around pieces of the world. People would have an account made with the republic whose claimed territory they were in when they were born, or the republic their parents had an account with. Sometimes they were allowed to have an account with more than one republic at a time, but it involved paying off the right people and submitting a lot of forms, and some republics just didn't allow it.

That part of the story is just as hard to believe, when for as long as anyone can remember, people have arrived in a new place and set up an account with the local public services network. The idea of having to choose one public service network for life, or them being able to decide who can and can't travel in the area their services cover, just seems weird. Who would put up with a system like that?
strypey: A black-and-white picture of Strypey wearing a hat (Default)
2016-08-09 01:46 pm

Blood Bank (short story)

CreativeCommons CC-BY-NC 4.0

When Carl got to the blood bank he was already running an hour and twenty-three minutes late, and feeling puffy and light-headed. He ducked his head as he stepped in through the cellar doors. "Gretchen!"

She came out from the back room through a ribbed curtain that slithered out of her way as she passed, elbowing aside the receptionist, and slamming her palms down on the bench. "Carl! How can we help you today?"
"Just a quick fluid exchange. I need it cleaned and back in my body by six."
"In the morning, right?" One eyebrow up. Looking peevish. "You know I can't run a proper clean in less then two hours. You were meant to be here an hour and a half ago!"

Carl glanced down at the time in the right corner of his display.
"One hour, twenty-four minutes and thirteen seconds, and I know you can get my plasma back to me as clean as I need in half that time."
Gretchen struck her usual unconvincing pose. Hand on her hip, an attempt at a cynical, questioning look, followed by a coy smile and a bit of hair flipping.
"Flattery, my dear boy, will send you to the back of the queue, do not pass Go, yada, yada."

As usual, he waited it out. The final touch was the dramatic puffing of air, blowing a stray lock of her long, black hair out of her eyes.
"Fine. Just come on through."

The smell in Gretchen's studio was an overwhelming mix of hospital grade cleaning chemicals, synthetic fungus, and cannabis smoke. He climbed into the tongue, squirming with discomfort as its leaching tentacles made contact with all his major blood vessels. He felt the loaner fluid pulsing in to replace the blood, and the rush of the powerful sedatives that came with it. He felt himself slipping away. Then he felt nothing.

Earlier that day, Carl had been surprised by a package, delivered by an unusual courier. Somebody had actually managed to tie a very small note to a real pigeon. At least it looked like a real pigeon, it might have been a very convincing android pigeon, or a hologram of a pigeon projected into his mind using psychedelic radiation weapons. Whatever kind of pigeon it was, the note tied to its leg with nylon shoelaces was real enough to read:


The Air Gaps were the gates where artificial vacuum barriers kept the climate-controlled air of the city separate from the unpredictable natural atmosphere outside. It had been a long time since anyone had seen unstable gases actually exploding out there, but it still seemed like a strange place to run a jumble sale. Carl was sceptical, but he had nothing else to do that day, and hey, a pigeon! You don't see that every day.

Minutes later, the transit tubes had deposited him at the long low hall on the city side of Air Gap 33. A line of people waited to have their suits checked before leaving the city, most of them climbers, who liked to suspend themselves from the outside of the city with thick ropes of coppersilk and hang about all day, grooving on minute changes in the background radiation. Not Carl's cup of tea, but they were welcome to it.

The line was a long one, and Carl couldn't afford to wait around all day. Clean by six. That was the plan. He checked through the self-diagnostic on his suit. Everything looked fine. It had been serviced just a few weeks ago.

He looked scornfully at the climbers. They were planning to take some stupid risks, only sensible for them to be fussy about their gear. The Air Gap was ready to open, and wouldn't be ready again for at least half an hour. Let's go shopping...

Toes behind the safety line, he waited for the force generators to power down the fields on the far side of the Gap, sucking in noxious looking blue gas with a muffled thump. The warning light switched from red, to amber, to green. A few tendrils of blue crept into the hall as Carl and assorted day trippers and travelers crossed into the Gap, but the fields powered up again as soon as they were through, and giant extractor fans devoured the outdoor gases, and restored the vacuum.

"Was it worth it?" asked Gretchen as he come to, feeling groggy and at the same time strangely refreshed.
"Oh yes."

A few minutes before 6pm, he alighted from the transit tubes outside a brightly lit cocktail bar and nodded nervously to the bouncers, their tongues, hanging from opposite sides of their canine jaws, an unwelcome reminder of his visit to the blood bank. After stopping the two students in front of him with the guitar string hair implants, and checking their bags, they sniffed Carl casually and waved him through.

He found Gretchen at their usual table. Producing a wrapped present from behind his back with a flourish, he set it down in front of her, and took a seat opposite.
"Happy birthday!"
His anticipation made him pushy.
"Well? Open it!"

She tore off the glittery wrapping sheet. Inside was a set of antique portable solar panels, their hollowed out cases packed with high-quality, hydroponic buds. She smiled, and did a little dance of excitement with her fists.
"You'd think they would have changed the law by now."
"I know", she said. "Maybe one day."
strypey: A black-and-white picture of Strypey wearing a hat (Default)
2015-09-26 02:22 am
Entry tags:

Well, Here I Am

As with so many things online, I discovered DeamWidth completely by chance, in this case while reading an article on The Register about myOpenId closing down, I saw DreamWidth recommended in a comment as an alternative OpenID provider, and decided to check it out. The more I saw, the more I liked. They had me at the Guiding Principles, and the Diversity Statement literally brought tears to my eyes. The privacy policy is thorough, and starts with the right priority; the privacy of their users.

I don't know yet exactly what I can do with my new DreamWidth account, and what I'll use it for, but here I am. Let's see what unfolds.