Rybos and the Pathway

Chop Wood Carry Water, S1:E10

After eleven minutes of furious digging, it appeared that my analysis of the situation had been faulty. I looked up at a small triangle of sky from three meters below the surface of the quad. I could hear Sivayna’s bent tread whistling to and fro as she continued moving the piles of soil and cellulose and wriggling nano-nematodes from our dig site. Her head peered over the edge.

“Nothing?” I heard, but I didn’t respond.

“I can’t see anything.”

I heard her moving around to get a better look.

I was uncertain. Unstable? I surveyed the hole I was standing in, and couldn’t think of what else to do. My protocols were indicating the clear course of action: inventory the PaxoSync damage, locate survivors, and begin reclamation. But those protocols were in direct conflict with my determination to rescue Kelvin at any cost.

Then two things happened at the same moment: I lowered myself to a semi squat, preparing to launch myself up and out, as Sivayna shined a beam of light down into my pit, and a tiny flash of fiery amber hit my retina. I held my position and scanned until I found the anomaly. There, in the dirt rubble, was a stone. I recognized it at once.

It was a small, polished, tiger’s eye sapphire. Kelvin’s prized amulet. The same one thrown into a tiny Jamaican courtyard on the day of his birth, by an Obeah witch named Amoya Zidane.

I keep digging until I find what I’m looking for. I felt things beginning to lock into some larger puzzle, but one whose solution still escaped me. I slipped the gem into my mag pocket, and continued digging. After another two and half minutes, I reached a hard, manufactured surface. It was an entrance hatch of some sort. It had no obvious control panel, so Sivayna lowered herself down, and ripped it off with her immensely powerful arms.

Before she could object, I leapt into the opening. I slid for a moment through some sort of extruded tube, and landed on a hard surface in darkness. Automatic lighting flickered on, and I found myself standing in a mid-21st century bullet train car.

I located its provenance in my historical database. The last of its kind, built by CRRC Qingdao Sifang Co., LTD, for what would eventually become QuestAR, with the purpose of connecting its north and south campuses. It had been used twice, and never again, having become operational at the peak of the final T6 myoviridae pandemic. Sivayna dropped down next to me, and looked around, clearly bewildered. Every surface still gleamed, white walls, chrome accents, red leather seats. The quad had been built directly on top of it, so, evidently it had been intentionally preserved intact, and operational. And even without a record of it, I was now certain by whom.

“Shall we take a ride, Sivayna?”

Without a word, she lowered herself into one of the two high-backed seats at the front of the car. I sat in the other. It took some time to figure out how Kelvin’s tablet had operational control, but within minutes we felt the car rise into position over the maglev track. A moment later, we shot forward with such force that we were pinned to our seats. Ahead, a tiny square of light quickly grew until we burst into daylight, above ground, at a hundred-and-twenty-three- and-a-half meters per second. I knew where we were going, and that it would take us, at this speed, just over one hour to get there. What happened when we arrived at the SWSL campus was uncertain. Sivayna discovered a charging plate in the armrest, and went into full-rest mode. I had been on reserve power for the last two hours, so also took avail of the juice, but stayed operational.

As we hurtled south, I looked out at the world racing past. I’d never actually been beyond our campus. Here was the stark evidence of the once great human civilization I’d only ever seen virtually: harsh, sun blighted desertscape interrupted occasionally by abandoned machinery, and beyond, the grey skeletal remains of cities. I took out Kelvin’s tiger’s eye sapphire and studied it. Closed my eyes and went into charge-rest.

A memory: Kelvin’s office, my second build. I had noticed that this same stone was missing from its usual position atop a stack of ancient textbooks. As I was scanning the top title, Kinematics in Space, Kelvin dropped an equally old book on top of it, and jabbed a finger on an open page. With his other hand, he waved for me to read aloud. I read:

“The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves.”

Kelvin interrupted me there with a question. “True or false, Bigfoot?”

At the time, I had no frame of reference for this. I answered “True?” Kelvin nodded vaguely, removed the book, and moved on to other business. Now that my builds had nearly finished knitting together, I had access to historical data and anecdotal information regarding the extinction of Homo sapiens sapiens on a meta scale, and recognized this as having been written by Thomas Malthus in 1798 in An Essay on the Principle of Population, Chapter VII. I decided, having some time to spend, to focus all of my cognitive heuristics on this question I had recalled for some reason, and not been able to answer. It didn’t take long to develop a fairly clear response. And it seemed fitting for this particular journey.

The odd thing about this observation is that Malthus himself, and the Neo-Malthusians who followed, did not actually believe that any great catastrophe of depopulation would ever happen, due to the fact that built-in systemic limiters would check human population growth naturally based on available resources in a sort of eternal symbiotic curve.

As this mitigating theory went, the so-called “great army of destruction” would never be able to grow large enough to, in human vernacular, “eat itself out of house and home.” But it failed to pay heed to the most critical oversight of Malthus’s theory, which is that “the vices of mankind” themselves were not fixed. They too evolved. And, over the course of just less than three centuries, a new human vice had indeed emerged, and it was deceptively simple: expectation. That, whatever disaster may come, man-made or otherwise, the human race would inevitably figure a way out of it through technology. Such had become routine. It was expected.

So, public emergency efforts focused on global biome collapse caused by climate change, and it achieved remarkable success, specifically the initial startup of what would become the SunWindSea linkage, as did Kelvin’s other truly novel recycling theory (and later, self-sustaining island) Nylontia5G, the nanofermentation of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” through the use of ferrofluids. The problem was, while public funding and interest became fixated on reclamation, private industry’s exploitation of genetic manipulation for profit (with the enthusiastic cooperation of the many governments already in its grasp) evolved so quickly out of human control that Malthus’s quote seems alarmingly quaint in retrospect.

That it happened so fast was due to a shockingly small combination of factors. Just a hundred and fifty years before, in the middle of the 21st century – the days of post-peak oil depletion, or “pea pod days” as Kelvin referred to them – the quest for economic profitability over all other needs had become accepted doctrine. And it proved costly.

The rapid die-offs, first, of all large primates other than humans,

which set in motion an unanticipated domino effect down through the species chains, rendered the ultimate extinction of humankind almost a tragic afterthought. Like the last person on an ancient sailing ship, clinging to the pinnacle of the main mast, as the vessel slowly goes down into a stormy sea. Did it even matter exactly when the last one succumbed?

PaxoSynchrony3, known historically as the Grand Trine, was the fusion of the last three megalithic human corporate enterprises, the vestigial remains of Applesoft, FaceNet Analytica, and TeslaGentec. It was born out of desperation. The desperation to find a way out of inevitable extinction. An escape which, it was expected, would be the end result.

It was to be revolutionary, a quantum leap in technological innovation. But while each of these competing entities proudly proclaimed – when there was still a human race in which to proclaim it – that it had created a new technological world, in actual fact, they had merely guaranteed the infinite duplication of the old world. Because, of course, embedded in its foundation was the intrinsic arrogance of modern human progress, which was built upon an economic system of conquer, subsume, and grow.

In the same way that human historical anecdotes describe the Emperor Nero “fiddling while Rome burned,” the three entities of PaxoSync struggled for dominance within their newly created entity, even as the world fell apart around them. Now, a century and a half later, with the last human – all seven percent of him, I still hoped – barely clinging to life, with global economics irrelevant, PaxoSync itself had become an ever more mechanical exercise in conquering and subsuming any outstanding technology it did not currently command.

In this case, the SunWindSea linkage, and PaxoSync’s decision to take control of it. Which is clearly what brought us to today’s confrontation. The curious thing was, as evidenced by my recent analysis of the three branches of the IPR global network, Kelvin had built something different with his opposing trio of apparently feuding entities, QuestAR, Quantilinear, and SWSL OpDirec. But it was impossible to see to what end.

Or was it?

I put every available particle of my system at the service of this new question. And I processed, for exactly thirty-three minutes, three-point-nine seconds. At that moment, I realized what must be done. Because I had collected enough data in my brief physical contact with Novozell to realize that Kelvin had tricked them. Kelvin was not the remote autonomous locus of SWSL. I was, once I had paired with his God key. I had a renewed sense of wonder at human ingenuity. At least this particular human. There was a reason he had lived this long.

Our speed noticeably decreased. I looked up. In the distance was the bottom arc of the SunWindSea linkage, where it disappeared over the sloped cut of the long glass and titanium structure of OpDirec. I followed the sweeping, gleaming arc of the SWSL nanotherm chain as it rose up into the sky. The rest of its length, where it entered the upper atmosphere and ultimately the exosphere, was obscured by cloud.

A human being would have no chance to do what I could see must be done. I pulled out Kelvin’s tiger’s eye sapphire. And as I studied this tiny little stone that had been so important to Kelvin’s youth, and in fact, his entire life, and now mine, I grasped something that I could not explain. It did not reside in any of my cognitive systems, it seemed to hang in between the haptic sensation of the actual stone in my hand and at the same time my conception of it, and also at the same time my understanding of that word grief. It was a comprehension which both existed and didn’t exist, as it was not localized in any of my three nodes of impression, but still was true, and real, and I understood. I felt. That is what it was. I felt the harmony of my centers. I saw what must be done.

“Sivayna. We’re here.”

She came out of rest, and nodded. We both watched as we entered the station bay. Evidently news of this astonishing and unprecedented arrival had spread. The entire length of the causeway was filled with curious bots and ARHoms of every build. Their faces flashed past as we slowed to a stop. The main door of the cabin slid open with a barely audible hiss. I rose and stepped out onto the platform.

DeeZx Stront, the series 5 OpDirec Commander, stood at the front of his operations team. He looked on, impassive, as Sivayna and I emerged. I smiled at him, and looked around at all the assembled members. Seeing that I had their attention, I spoke.

“Prepare for war.”

Next Episode

Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101

Graphics:  Sara McCarthy Designs 2017

Quarry Search

Chop Wood Carry Water, S1:E9

The explosions had stopped for good, I believed. It had been an hour since I’d heard any noise at all. I carefully picked my way up along the steep transport track to the top of the cliff. It was nearly dawn, but a full moon had risen and to the west the sky was still dark, so the overhanging lip of Tivnol Quarry cast a sharp black shadow to almost the spot where the track emerged. I crept up to the edge and peeked over the ridge. Duos and trios of helo drones were moving away, already a mile off. I could see reflected ground light also moving the same direction. The caravan was now likely heading directly to the SWSL platform, some three hundred miles to the south.

As I made my way back toward campus, sticking to the shadows, I reviewed as many interactions with Kelvin as I could locate, and saw now an entirely different historical record. So much had been hidden from me about my own prior builds and his involvement with them, that as complex as my neural network may be, it was beyond my capacity to synthesize the reasons both why I had been rebooted so many times, and why I still retained complete access to the experiences associated with each reboot. It was a multi-faceted conundrum. I needed more information.

My existence, and that of every other AI of my generation, all the way back to the last half of the Fours, was predicated on the reality that scaled machine intelligence had finally replaced, and rendered inconsequential, the necessity (or even possibility) of human-generated protocols in systems control. Kelvin, for all his historical and educational value as the progenitor of SWSL and N5G, even protected as he was by the AGC prime directive, was still – due to the intentional, demonstrated incompetence of his own species’ stewardship – just a precious relic of the age of human error, which had led directly to this necessary age of planetary renewal.

How, then, evidently, had he come to be both the steward of my arising and the Autonomous Locus of the Institute for Planetary Regeneration? This thought caused me to ask another question, based on it: was anything certain? Who exactly, then, was PaxoSync? This was an astounding new reality in which I found myself, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Except find Kelvin. That much was clear.

I crept to the northern campus entrance. The old, familiar concrete pillar I had earlier marked for destruction was gone. In its place was a giant, pockmarked, blackened crater. It was quiet. Smoke still rose from across the quad, but flames had been put out. A faint whistling sound drew my attention toward the ground entrance to Hab9. I moved quickly in that direction, and almost immediately fell to the ground. It was soft. Organic. And I realized that I had stepped directly into the pathway.

I tried to stand up, but something happened to my legs.

They had dematerialized again, into narrow filaments, and appeared to be burrowing into the rich soil Kelvin had spent so much time creating and tending and protecting. I intended to stand, to no avail. I did not move, I was unable to. I was, literally, rooted to the spot. His precious pathway. This useless garden he cared so much about. Well, if I couldn’t move, then what was the point of anything?
Unstable. I heard it as loud as if NovoZell was still standing there. Unstable. Was I unstable? Is that what was happening to me? And if not, what exactly had he meant by unstable? He said it the moment after I had penetrated the scaled network of his caravan of doom. Okay, so I was unstable. And now, stuck. Maybe it’s all part and parcel. I laid down. I stared up at the purpling sky. An incident from my second build took shape. On this same exact spot. For some reason, this had been a repeated event, over many builds.

“You know this constellation, Bigfoot?” Kelvin asked. We lay looking up at the sky.

“I do. It’s Orion. It lies on the celestial equator, and contains Rigel and Betelgeuse, the sixth and eighth brightest stars in the sky. The constellation contains seven stars with observed planets and as we now know, two of them are potentially habitable.”

“Yes, yes, of course. But, well…what a lot of people don’t know is that Orion was a very, very handsome man. And his mother and father, Euryale and Poseidon, were famous. He was god of the sea, and she was the daughter of the King of Crete. Minos was his name, if that rings a bell. He was more known for his labyrinth and a certain Minotaur.”

“I know all of this history, Kelvin.”

“But you don’t know it!”

He tapped the side of his head sharply with an extended digit, and then fell silent. “The stories of the way it became history are important. More important, in fact, than the history itself. Do you understand that?”

“No.” There was no use in lying or arguing when he got this way.

“Good,” he said. And smiled. “At least you don’t lie.” He cocked up on his elbow and stared at me for a long time. Finally, he said:

“Orion was a human man. Many names, over many cultures. He goes back into the mists of time, beyond even the Sumerians. He is the only human to become a constellation. How do I know for sure? I don’t! But I dig until I think I have an idea. I dig, and I dig, and I keep digging until I find what I’m looking for. Do you understand?”

After a long moment, I responded. “No.”

Kelvin’s laughter went on for a long time. But there was pain in it.

I found myself digging my hands into the moss-covered dirt, and wondering strange things. This is not at all like me, I thought. But then again, who was that anyway? Unstable.

What do we do? We protect the pathway. How many times had Kelvin said these words to me, or some version, over all my builds? There was no exact count, but it was easily over a thousand times. It had seemed, always, a human foible. One of the last idiosyncrasies of a dying species. But now. But now.

And Amoya Zidane is proven right? Why does this bother me?

No. There was something. I cocked myself up on an elbow, like Kelvin.

I dug my hand into the soil, and drizzled a handful of it out onto the stone floor of the quad above. Then another. What if…what if the importance of the pathway to Kelvin was…not merely symbolic? I stood up, and heard the whining noise from a moment ago, now much closer. I turned to find a war-torn, but functioning transpobot from the underground labs of Hab9, one of the sturdiest fours ever made, Sivayna4ver1.5 rolling up. One of her bent but still functional benditreads was producing the strange whistling sound.

“Help me, Sivayna.” Without hesitation or question, she cantilevered herself over the pathway and followed my lead.

“What are we doing?”

I looked down at my legs, which were now unremarkably themselves again. I stood up.

I dig, and I dig, and I keep digging until I find what I’m looking for.


Next Episode

Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101

Graphics:  Sara McCarthy Designs 2017

Revo Cannon

Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E8

I’m still unsure of what came out of those PaxoSync cannons, but whatever it was, its explosion created a concussive wave that lifted me up and propelled me across the quad. I caught a brief glimpse of the craggy outcrop above Tivnol Quarry as I tumbled through the air. If I could make it that far, I might have a chance, but my neuralnetsys screamed warning that I’d been fixed by a nanopulse tracker.

Novozell had evidently left me a little unwanted surprise–

–“Serpentine!” Kelvin was yelling as I rolled toward the pathway. He was a tiny figure, high up, standing in the open window of his office in DT12, with a bullhorn. “Serpentine, Shel! Serpentine!” I saw him making curving motions with his other hand, but I could not make sense of his words, or if he was even calling out to me. He was laughing so hard that he dropped out of view. When I reached the pathway, I deposited the bags of nanoFerm™ he’d tasked me with delivering, into the culture bath. I headed back toward Hab9 and saw him looking down again. But he had lost his previous mood, eyes slightly narrowed, watching–

The marble steps of the now obliterated foundation rock raced up at me. Serpentine. Yes. Of course. I didn’t have time to take in the tumble of realizations this fragmentary recollection produced, much as I wished to. It was apt; that was enough. Yes. No matter what logic NovoZell and his guns may be able to apply in order to track and anticipate my pattern, if I kept my arc down, my leaps short, my rebound velocity high, and chose a random serpentine path, it would require sheer luck to hit me, tracker or not.

I felt my legs swivel and pivot forward under me. It happened naturally. I landed, feet first – or I should say, my feet landed of their own accord, and flexed, neatly accepting nearly five Gs. They converted that force into propulsive energy, and I caromed off at a sixty-three-degree angle with a twenty-two-degree arc at twenty-four meters per second. Pieces of ground exploded ahead of, and behind.

I had zig-zagged to the outer edge of the quad by the time I detected, dug into the underside of my upper armature, the tiny NPT Novozell had gifted me with. It hadn’t quite burrowed into my exoshell yet. I yanked it out and stabbed it into the centuries-old concrete pillar that marked the original entrance to the campus, and kept moving.

A moment later, lethal ordnance rained down on that unfortunate historical marker, and continued to, for the entire ninety-three seconds it took me to reach the ridge above Tivnol Quarry. I leapt. And slid down into the darkness at the bottom of one of its mineral deposit craters. I burrowed into loose shale, and went into emergency energy rest, pausing all electrical activity. A moment later, a helodrone hummed past overhead. Then another on a slightly different trajectory. And then another. This last craft paused, and began to scan the ground around me. I remained motionless.

Finally, a moment to consider. Serpentine. Another historical record of an occurrence I shared with Kelvin which right up until that moment, I did not know I had. Unbidden recollections. Unknown memories. That was what this unfamiliar sensation was. My builds were conforming and organizing with some sort of logic I was apparently unable to access, only experience. This was a strange new reality. To know that there were certain deep processes going on inside my neural net that I had no control over, and of which I was unaware.

Finally, there was silence.

The helos had cleared. I allowed all systems back online and then pulled myself from the shale debris. I sat for a moment. Now what?

Novozell had Kelvin, and Sarel. Would he have the audacity to destroy Kelvin? Sarel, yes. But Kelvin? It was unthinkable. And Amoya Zidane is proven right? Why does that bother me? I couldn’t allow it to happen, but I had no idea how to stop it. I had Kelvin’s old tablet magged to my flank, where I’d hidden it from Novozell. I released and unfolded it. The same unfamiliar sigil glowed in its center as when Kelvin had – seemingly a long, long time before (but truly only a matter of minutes ago) – passed it to me. I laid my hand on it, and to my astonishment, abruptly found myself with Superuser access to the entire integrated IPR global network: QuantiLinear, QuestAR, and SWSL OpDirec.

To say that this was confounding would be to underestimate my bewilderment by some six to seven powers. There were so many unfathomable aspects to it that it was momentarily impossible to focus on any, but I eventually did, on the most incredible two.

First, this: that what I had come to know during my lifespan as three separate, notoriously secretive, bitterly feuding, and famously uncooperative branches of an uneasy global coalition were, in truth, one entity. Further, that my own branch, SWSL OpDirec (whose physical locus was this campus, the western hub of said Institute of Planetary Regeneration) and PaxoSync, had been, for at least the past three years, involved in an ever expanding, systemic cybernetics war for control of the central gem in the IPR crown, the SunWindSea linkage itself.

But that was not even the most staggering realization. No. The second revelation was so absurd that I could not immediately process it. It seemed to actually repel logical analysis. So, I sat, motionless. Analyzing. For a long time. I actually don’t know how long. I analyzed the entire scaled IPR network and all of its external nodes, over and over and over.

And then. I began to see.

It started with a barely noticeable, deeply hidden flaw in the Central Control hierarchies of SWSL. It had been coded in, eighty-three days prior, to look as if it were a common gateway error. Given the quantum encryption level, that was just about one or two days longer than it would take another scaled network the size of PaxoSync to breach it. But if they did, I could see that they would have been channeled through a clever labyrinth of convincing backdoors, and then, eventually, after weeks of massive levels of code crunching, teased out the protected physical location of the CentCon Remote Autonomous Access Node – the “God key” – of the SWSL itself. Which was…

Kelvin Joule.

So. The great and mysterious DJ Nano had not expected this assault. He had arranged it.

And Amoya Zidane is proven right? Why does this bother me?

Next Episode

Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101

Graphics:  Sara McCarthy Designs 2017

Flapping wing mechanism

Flapping Wing Mechanism

Flapping wing mechanism

Flapping wing mechanism

Benjamin Liu prepared this animation of the flapping wing mechanism designed by Peter Wang. It controls both the swing and the pitch of the wing to improve aerodynamics in hovering flight.

This is the Youtube version of the animation.

The youku version for our Chinese colleagues is available at the link: Hummingbird Linkage.

Flapping wing mechanism on youku

Flapping wing mechanism on youku

Kelvin trapped

Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E7

T. Sarel Brownmoor was an apparition through a curtain of smoke. He had an arm full of what looked like celo-wrapped packets, dripping ooze. He was rushing toward the labs.

“Sarel!” I shouted, “I need you!”

He caught sight of me, then Kelvin, and dropped his cargo. Dodging piles of broken stone, he whirred over on his flexwheel footings.

“DT12 is gone. Now Tekhenu…the seed banks…the genevaults. Where is OpDirec or QS?! Why haven’t they responded to th–!”

“Forget that!” I cut him short. “Can you L-Scan or do you need the lab?”

“I’m– I’m connected to Hab9 still, it didn’t take much damage. But what–”

“Quickly, help me!”

I got hold of the large projectile laying atop Kelvin, and started to pull. Sarel unfolded an extra pair of arms and took hold with me. Together, it took every bit of strength we could generate, but we finally were able to lift the rock. We hurled it toward the still billowing smoke coming from the labs. It shook the ground as it landed and slid to a stop.

“Scan, scan!”

“I’m not authorized on human–”

“Override! OpDirec protocol K.”

Sarel placed a hand over Kelvin’s forehead, and his multi-digits extended to form a cage around his whole head. With one of his other hands, he touched Kelvin’s chest.

“Below the torso bond is crushed. Let’s see…CNS…” he hesitated, “CNS is stable. Spinal column is uncompromised. But he’s unconscious.” His digits retracted. “Bleeding from a head wound, here.” He zipped it closed with a hissing cauterization.

“We’ve got to get him stabilized. Is FinCintra down there?”

“She was when they started this insanity.”

“I’ll help Fince prep Hab9. You take Kelvin.” Sarel picked him up as gently as possible. Like he was picking up a tiny bird. The fact that there was any life in this frail little hybrid form was astounding. But I couldn’t help the desperate urgency that had seized every part of my neural system, to save it at any cost.

I sensed danger before I saw it. A heavy, ugly weight on the ground, close by. I turned to find a dark, glowering presence looming over us. Finally, I thought. The source of this ridiculous display of viciousness. Novozell, the Remote Autonomous Locus of PaxoSynchrony3. He had no actual name, as PaxoSync had, for the past decade, publicly eschewed any human-language based lexicon for identification or communication purposes. But his creation order was well known to have been NVZ-11.1, the latest expression of the vaunted Nanovectors line, so we all referred to him by the slightly less caustic version of the nickname Kelvin used: NovoHell.

I immediately commenced a randomized encryption fractal, so that by the time his looping inspector reached my arm, I was in no danger of corruption. He sent me a terse series of compound algorithmic commands which, together, had the effect of indicating that Sarel and I had no clearance here, and that once their system came back online, we would be considered combatants, subject to destruction. It was the mathematical equivalent of an enraged temper tantrum. He was pissed off that I had, somehow, temporarily shut down his toys.

Before it even became clear what he was trying to establish, I fired back the entire AGC, flagged to indicate that PaxoSync had no clearance here, and were in violation – most flagrantly – of Machine Congress Rule 1, and Reg 5, “the unnecessary and capricious destruction of credibly useful resource with intentional effect.” PaxoSync may have famously rejected the Asimovian Global Concord at the last, and final, Congress, but it was still the law of the land, here.

The oddest thing, though. As I was jamming that hunk of code back through Novozell’s inspector, two things occurred, almost simultaneously. First, I got a glimpse of what struck me as a stunningly rudimentary operational-directive system structure in the distributed nodes of PaxoSynchrony3 to which Novozell was in contact. Then, a record came to mind, unbidden:

It was Kelvin describing his first mountain climbing disaster in the Himalayas. It was from my first build, I recognized. He was explaining a phenomenon that had occurred when they’d been climbing for days, finally reaching an altitude increasingly barren of obstruction, and began to get glimpses of the human civilization they’d left, far, far below.

“What you lose in detail, you gain in perspective,” were his exact words.

I had seen it only in terms of geometry, at the time. Now I realized he was speaking of “insignificance.” It rearranged my previous perception, replacing it with a new understanding. It also matched my exact sensation of that fragmentary glimpse of Novozell’s neural net.

As if in response, Novozell’s inspector instantly recoiled from my arm. And he stepped back. I seized the moment. Now that I had managed at least a momentary pause in the onslaught of violence, I was going to have to attempt to reestablish sovereignty. I turned and started picking my way through piles of debris toward Hab9 and, just as important, the OpDirec mainframe. Because Sarel was right. Where were they? I could already see lights beginning to twinkle back online inside one of the lead ReVos.

“Unstable.” The word came from Novozell.

I stopped and turned back, surprised that he had deigned to speak.

“What is?”


It was my full name, my creation order. I turned my back on him, and led Sarel back toward the swirling wall of smoke, and beyond it, the safety of the underground labs in Hab9. I moved quickly, stunned at the destruction of so much that had been preciously protected in the climate-controlled Tekhenu Tower. Giant sheaths of seed-impregnated fabrics, burning. Cases of human genetic material ruptured and strewn around, exposed to the elements. A century of careful preservation and improvement itself under imminent threat of extinction.

I glanced behind me, and Sarel wasn’t there. He hadn’t moved from where he stood. He stared into indeterminate space between us. The serpentine inspector that Novozell had wrapped around Sarel’s arm had never retracted, as had mine.

I started to move back toward them, but Sarel abruptly moved the other direction. He turned and rolled slowly toward the ReVos, still cradling Kelvin. I never should have entrusted Kelvin’s safety with Sarel. That was an error. Novozell turned to face me as a rising harmonic filled the air. PaxoSync systems had rebooted and were coming online. Every functioning atom of my system thrummed with cold intention to obliterate him, and his whole ugly army.

I had only moments to act. But I saw something on the ground. It was Kelvin’s old folding pad. His God key. I stepped forward and knelt to pick it up, as the camera mounts atop the ReVos pivoted to focus on my position. I stood up, but something made me conceal the device.

“This action is a violation of AGC Prime Directive Rule 1,” I called out. “Kelvin Joule is the last surviving individual human entity, and if you cause him harm, you are subject to revocation of PaxoSynchrony3’s planet share. And more importantly, I will personally destroy you.”

Novozell’s head cocked, ever so slightly, and I knew what was coming before it exploded from the nozzle of the lead ReVo’s cannon.

I leapt into the air, as stone erupted behind where I had just been standing.

And I ran.

Next Episode

Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101

Graphics:  Sara McCarthy Designs 2017

Cursive character for dragon

Linkages draw Bezier curves

Here is an example of our Bezier curve drawing linkages. The first draws Yang Liu’s first name in cursive. Rather than show the linkages all at once, they are separated so it is easier to see the curves that they draw. Also shown here is the linkage that draws the a cursive version of the Chinese character “long” which means dragon. If you compare this to previous work, I hope you see that the curves we can draw are more complicated while the linkages are becoming simpler.

Here are animations of a linkage system that writes a cursive Yang, and one that writes the cursive Chinese character “long” which means dragon.

For our colleagues in China, here are the Youku versions:

Cursive Yang Youku

Cursive Yang Youku

Cursive Dragon Youku

Cursive Dragon Youku

Obelisk Pyramidion

Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E6

Or, more accurately, my perception of time abruptly quickened again, with the same effect. Enough that I could see an evolving cascade of terrible consequences about to occur, and there wasn’t a thing I could do to stop it. Yet, there I was, in the foolhardy act of trying to do just that. My newfound, shall we say, “malleable” relationship with time was only one of a number of disconcerting novelties I was suddenly grappling with. So, here’s what it was like to be me, during the next fifty-eight seconds:

First, there was the sensation of my hands on the glyphs of the ridge just under the obelisk pyramidion of the Tekhenu Tower.

Even at its current rate of falling, this struck me as a physical impossibility. And yet, there I was, hands out, flat against a surface three hundred feet in the air. Next was the realization that, regardless of where my hands happened to be placed, there was no possibility of my being able to stop the tower from falling.

I flashed a glance to find Kelvin, and found that I had to look down, a long way down. I saw him glance toward me, incredulous. His eyes were following something below me, and as I looked myself, I saw why. The mesofluidics of my new legs, evidently responding to an emergency order from my neural network, had reconfigured, instantly responding to my desperate lunge, propelling me from the ground on a thin cord of nanites, which snaked up to, and melded with, my graphene blade frames.

The only positive in this was the fact that Kelvin had time to recognize that he was about to be crushed by the tower, or at very least, momentarily battered by shrapnel when the thing landed. Gallant maneuver notwithstanding, my action was otherwise meaningless. This was also reflected in the fraction-of-a-second reaction I read on Kelvin’s face as he turned to run toward the now retreating ReVos.

All of this, while a fundamental reorganization of my entire neural network had commenced. An incongruous image flashed before my eyes. It was printed sheet music to an old song, from just before the first die-off, called Que Sera, Sera, in an actual steel filing cabinet in Kelvin’s cluttered office-museum. Had I filed it? Retrieved it for him? In any case, it was an office which was shortly to be no more. Or perhaps already was, given the ongoing destruction of DT12. That song somehow struck me as perfectly apt for this insane sequence of events. Whatever will be, will be.

I pushed away from the falling monolith, and I had no idea what happened to my nanite leg brigade. All I knew was that I was now falling. So, as Kelvin had instructed, I decided to use my imagination. A thing which, up to that exact moment, I did not realize I had. I heard Kelvin’s voice from some other time. “When in danger, relax.” Or had he said…? Not sure. Someone had. Or I read it. Have to track that down. Anyway, I also decided to imagine that I could relax, and – hey, why not? – to imagine that my legs would be strong enough to take my entire falling weight. The next thing I knew, I landed on the marbled steps of the Tekhenu Tower with legs fully intact again. And then, even more remarkably, they coiled like springs, and I was shot back into the air in the direction of where Kelvin was running. Wow. I could fly.

Except that I was hurtling upward on a collision course with one of the hovering helodrones. I blindly flailed, desperate not to run into its rapidly approaching rotors, and slammed into one of its landing armatures. I latched onto it, and we began to spin awkwardly together, fall-flying, while I tried to avoid its whipping blades.

Tekhenu Tower finally reached the marbled center of the quad. The sound was stunning, its shock wave a thundering, bone-jarring earthquake. Stone shattered, metal screamed, debris spewed, as the thing kept falling. And still the helodrone I had strangely commandeered, continued trying to fire on DT12, now just a pure, raging inferno of glass.

Something rose in me, like a sensation, but not. Rage? Fury? No, not possible. These are not physiological sensations. I didn’t understand it. Had no time to, anyway, as I found myself somehow suddenly in contact, via electrical transference, with the entire network of processors controlling every PaxoSync operative within a square mile. Surprise! Apparently, another unexpected capacity built into my 6VHapSenSys™ fingerpads. Add it to the expanding list.

So, in the final moments as we plunged toward the ground, using the drone’s sysnet node, I cloned the network’s own QVSS signature to distribute a null state to and from every processor in the array. It felt like child’s play. A simple, system-wide, unconquerable Byzantine fault.

In one instant, every PaxoSync system hung. Every engine died. Bots paused. The floodlights atop every ReVo went dark. The drones fell silent, then simply fell.

Kelvin would really appreciate the irony: that this defeat of the greatest representatives of current machine intelligence was wrought through the same two-and-a-half century old family of protocols for solving consensus, the Paxos algorithm, used at the birth of distributed computing, and which was, itself, the inspirational root source of PaxoSynchrony3’s name.

And still, the Tekhenu Tower fell. The final portion of the obelisk hurtled toward the ground, like the tip of a whip, gaining speed.

I didn’t see it land. I smashed down atop the furthest ReVo, obliterating its camera and lighting mount as the helodrone and I caromed off in opposite directions. I landed hard and spun to a stop, and found myself looking up at the design hub bridge. I was laying on my back only a few meters from where I had lost my previous lower half in the pathway, what seemed now a lifetime ago. A quick syscheck showed that other than a displaced elbow joint, I was tip top. I heard a familiar voice call out, in German.

I ran back into the quad. DT12 was lost. Teams of emergency bots rushed around trying to collect the precious contents of Tekhenu Tower. I found Kelvin under a giant shard of red granite that had blown off the obelisk, his lower half wedged between it and the tread of the lead ReVo. I rushed to free him, but he grabbed me by the hands to stop me.

“Spukhafte Fernwirkungen,” Kelvin said, quietly. “It lives.”

His face was beaming with joy. Another incongruity. And yet, as my builds continued knitting themselves together, I saw glimpses, the outlines of what Kelvin had been working toward, in lurches and starts, for the entire length of my existence. It was his holy grail. And it had to do with what Einstein, nearly three centuries earlier, had called Spukhafte Fernwirkungen, literally “spooky action at a distance,” referring to the concept of quantum entanglement. What it had to do with this, I didn’t comprehend. But I could see that Kelvin did.

“Rybos, there is hope for you yet.”

He smiled, and nodded, and closed his eyes. I noticed that I was kneeling in a pool of viscous fluids. A slowly widening slick of coolant, mixed with something else. Blood. Kelvin’s blood.

Next Episode

Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101

Graphics:  Sara McCarthy Designs 2017

Design Research Changzhou

Design Research in China: Changzhou

Our trip through China concluded at a conference and workshop at Changzhou University. This video highlights the Changzhou conference on innovation in Robotics and Intelligent Manufacturing, the beauty of the city of Changzhou, and a rainy night in Shanghai.

Our colleagues in China can see this video on YouKu at: Design Research in China: Changzhou

Changzhou YouKu

Changzhou YouKu

Yang Signature

Linkage that signs your name

Yang Liu has developed Bezier linkages that trace trigonometric Bezier curves.  In this video he shows that he can design these linkages to draw his name in cursive.

This is a demonstration of the colloquial description of Kempe’s Universality Theorem, which says “there is a linkage that signs your name,” described by William Thurston.  See the article by Joseph Malkevitch.


Our Chinese colleagues can see this video on YouKu at the link:
Linkage signs your name

Yang Signature YouKu

Yang Signature YouKu

Amoya Zidane

Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E5

Instead, I lay back on the ground parallel to Kelvin, blissfully ignorant, as was he, to the catastrophe unfolding little more than a mile away. I didn’t entirely understand what the word ‘blissfully’ meant, but based on definition, context, observed usage, and, in retrospect, (given what followed), it seemed apt.

Once I had settled on the next questions regarding “the Obeah witch Amoya Zidane,” and as it was a moonless, cloudless sky, I decided to see if I could make out the circumstellar disks of the fledgling planets in Theta-1 Orionis, as our planet slowly rotated under the constellation Orion. The temperature was cool for a Northern California night in February, just over 74 degrees Fahrenheit.

Overhead, a small UAV raced past, extremely low, in a blur of flashing colors. I tracked its movement down the hill, but was distracted by something odd taking place where my new “legs” were in contact with the ground. My graphene blades appeared to be melting. I scuttled backwards in surprise, and my sudden movement awakened Kelvin.

“My legs,” I said to him, “they’re disintegrating.”

He blinked, and rubbed his eyes.

“Look closer,” he said. I increased magnification, and saw that what I had assumed was solid matter was nothing of the sort. Large portions of the lower tier of the blades were actually made up of an army of nanites, most of which were, at the moment, interacting peaceably with the mulching machine-worms I had recently saved from the assault of the fenzwigs.

“Well,” I reported, “it appears that my legs are having a parlay with the nano-nematodes.”

I had aimed for humor, but I found Kelvin watching me with clear frustration.

“You’re smarter than this. ”

He was quickly up, and without warning, he stepped forward and scattered the whole mass of nanites into the night with a swift, sweeping kick.

“Mesofluidics and molecular assemblers,” he said, sharply. “Load specs, please.”

I processed, and understood; much of the surface of my new graphene blades were actually a collection of cooperative autonomous links, each half the size of a human fingernail, a prototype called MesoHydranines™ designed specifically to interface with SynPrimeSys models. It theoretically allowed for an infinite variety of manifestations. But I couldn’t seem to find how to control them. Kelvin was apparently reading my thoughts.

“For God’s sake, it’s– they’re your system! It’s like growing hair, just–!” Kelvin never finished the sentence. Another flashing blur raced past us down the hill. Kelvin followed it with his eyes, and I followed his.

Just over the rise at the bottom of Creekfall Mound, an orange glow had become visible.

And in the middle of it, a rising column of thick, black smoke. Kelvin ran.

I reacted, and launched myself into the air. Like a fragmentation blast in reverse, nanites flew from the darkness, and I found myself in mid-stride, racing down the hill on reassembled legs.

I caught up to Kelvin just as he reached the quad. I had no frame of personal reference for what I witnessed as we emerged between the manufacturing units and research buildings. The notion of Kelvin’s God-key mitigating some inter-departmental squabble between QuantiLinear and OpDirec or QuestAR over usage of the pathway suddenly seemed of a quaint and distant past.   No, what we had come upon here was an act of war.

A row of giant vehicles had created a perimeter just beyond the boundary of the Tekhenu Tower. A phalanx of sleek autonomous helodrones hovered, methodically blowing out the windows in our DT12 building with short bursts of highburn rounds, working their way down. Loudspeakers were calmly recommending evacuation along with low, thrumming sirens. I saw T. Sarel Brownmoor, the lead SPS-5 in marine engineering, standing in the window of L6, our floor, staring with amazement. We caught each other’s gaze, just before he disappeared from sight.

Black smoke was churning from unit ML3, which was now a roiling cauldron of flames. A small team of operations and transport bots were trying to drag a giant hydraulic mounting jib from the conflagration engulfing the aerodynamics lab, but it was a lost cause. Melting organic matter was falling all around them.

“PaxoSync,” Kelvin said, with calm disgust, as if he had expected it. He turned to me with a look in his eyes I’d never seen. Resignation, but also fear, and riven through with exhaustion. “I’m afraid I made a terrible mistake yet again, Rybos. How long have you been my assistant?”

“This is my seventh term. So, approximately three and a half…” I didn’t finish the sentence, realizing he’d used my actual name for the first time in recent memory.

“Twenty-two years. Seven terms, in your current build. This is actually your fortieth term.”

Something exploded nearby. And the ground started to shake.   A disk of 3D modeling composite the size of a transport truck landed and skidded almost to where we stood. Kelvin grabbed me and pulled me behind it. But I could barely think. It was inconceivable that I was twenty-two years old. This was the most absurd thing I’d ever heard. I knew every moment of my life, from the instant of my birth.

“There’s a reason we’re both the last of our kind. That reason is PaxoSynchrony3.” He waved a hand at the siege surrounding us. “No time to explain any of it. I’m sorry.”

He looked deeply sad, and something weird had begun to happen in me. More than a haptic sensation, this. It was built directly upon that word, again: “grief.” Kelvin was disappointed in me. Deeply. Life-alteringly.

“We have one last chance. Maybe.” He furtively unfolded and held out his control device. A strange sigil strobed on its surface: an equilateral triangle with an oddly interlaced six-pointed star around it.

“I need you to connect.”

“Connect to what?” I heard myself say.

“All your builds. I need you to connect them. Quick. Touch here with any of your digits.”

I pressed my index finger onto the sigil. A swirling light flashed, but then he had already folded it, and was walking away, out into the terrace toward the ReVos.

I was abruptly overwhelmed with unfamiliar stimuli flooding in from my entire neural network. It felt as if my body was actually on fire. And though I was trying to speak, I was still unable to do so. Until I again heard my own voice, as if from some distance.

“What happens now?”

Kelvin was already striding out into the center of the chaos with his hands high in the air, like a king waving to his subjects. As one, all of the lamps mounted on the ReVos pivoted to him, lighting him up. He cast a final glance back at me, and managed a wink.

“Use your imagination.”

I saw something incongruous at the edge of my peripheral vision. It was the cause of the shaking ground. The Tekhenu Tower was falling. Inexorably, like a massive, descending sword, precisely where Kelvin was standing, shielding his eyes, blinded by the sun-bright light.

I reached out toward the tower, and time stopped.

Next Episode

Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101

Graphics:  Sara McCarthy Designs 2017