Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 169: Family Vacation, Part 2--Let There Be Pirates

          "...which was located just behind the fuel stores, which caught fire and helped sink the ship in minutes. Oh, and there's a legend behind the oil leakage that says it'll stop when the last crewmember dies."
          Ma peered over the railing at the remains of the Arizona. "You need to read some books that aren't World War Two related for once. But thanks for the details."
          "What we need to do is see if the sub tours have a place for us," I suggested, accepting the underhanded compliment that I'd memorized the entire library collection of WWII books by the tender age of fourteen. "By the way, can we get a periscope for the treehouse?"
          "No," Dad said, putting a hand on my shoulder and steering me back towards the exit. "And we can't do both the submarine and the battleship. The girls want to see the Dole Plantation."
          I glanced up (in time to see him roll his eyes) and giggled. "We could stay behind?" I suggested.
          "It's a family vacation," Quill said huffily, wandering over. "You're obsessed with Pearl Harbor, so it's only fair that we get to do something fun too!"
          "Besides, I hear they let you taste the fruit!" Mom pointed out.
          I sighed. "I'd rather fly a simulator."
          A few minutes later, we were back on land, and a few minutes after that, we were boarding the Missouri. Squirrel gazed in awe at the massive guns. "Those are big!"
          "Well, they are sixteen-inch guns," I felt constrained to point out. "Too bad they don't fire anymore."
          Quill held her hands out, gauging distances. "I think those are bigger than sixteen inches. Are you talking about the machine guns?"
          "Diameter, sweetie, not length," Dad informed her. "Now, let's be quiet and polite during the tour, okay?"
          "I could just tell you everything," I suggested, desiring to run free aboard the massive battleship (which is just as much of a terrible idea now as it was back then).
          Mom looked amused. "I don't think you know everything."
          I shrugged, a little boastfully. "Most of it. Did you know that the big guns could fire a two thousand and seven hundred pound shell twenty miles?"
          "Good to know," Ma said absently as she and Dad greeted the tour guide.
          Nemesis sidled up to me. "What about the small guns?"
          "Five inches, ten miles," I said promptly. "There's twenty of those."
          We started the tour after a few other people joining our group. I poked Ma when the tour guide informed everyone that the 16" guns could throw a 2700-pound shell over twenty miles. She gave me a look.
          The tour continued. We were shown the bridge, the engine room (which Dad and I really enjoyed--we actually pulled away from the main group to discuss the eight Babcock and Wilcox boilers and the propulsion system without disturbing anyone in the group. Ma was forced to come get us when the group began departing, since we didn't notice), crew quarters, and finally the area where the Japanese officially surrendered after WWII.
          "Bet you didn't know that," Mom suggested on our way to the foredeck. "Isn't that interesting?"
          "September 2nd, 1945," I said absently, running a hand along the railing and trying to figure out how long it would take to restart the ship after its long retirement. "General McArthur presided, if I remember correctly."
          Mom sighed and gave up. I dropped back to Nemesis. "Hey, know what we should do when we grow up?"
          "Come back to Hawaii?"
          I waved my hand dismissively. "That's a given. No, become pirates!"
          Quill joined us. "Yeah, we could rule the ocean!"
          "We just need this ship." I guestured at the Missouri, grinning.
          That got both of them into the spirit of things. "Yeah! We could fix it up!" Nemesis said, grinning.
          "And sail it right out of the harbor!" I added.
          Quill grinned. "We just need a crew. How about Scholar?" she suggested, naming her best friend.
          "Only if I get to bring Sargent and the twins," I conceded.
          "And I get Goose and those guys," Nemesis interjected.
          "We might need a few more guys," I added, stopping next to a small machine gun and grabbing the grips. Swinging it up, I opened fire vocally on imaginary aircraft.
          "We can just stop by Tortuga," Quill joked, referencing one of our favorite movies. Pirates of the Caribbean was a definite staple in the Midway household.
          "Can I try?" Nemesis asked, indicating the gun.
          I relinquished the gun.
          A few minutes later, we were still plotting when Dad came looking for us. "Hey, be careful with that."
          Quill let go, a little guiltily. "Sorry."
          "I think they put that there for people to play with, but you don't want to break it. You know what they say," Dad warned us.
          Nemesis frowned. "What's that?"
          "You break it, you buy it."
          "Deal," I announced and lunged forward.
          Dad snagged me by the collar of my shirt. "You don't have enough money. Trust me."
          "It's okay. We're pirates," I informed him.
          "Sure you are. Come on, let's go," Dad said, and ushered me back towards the group. My other siblings followed.
          "Can we go in the simulator?" I asked, pointing with some difficulty at the small building on shore.
          "Ask your mother," Dad deferred judgement.
          Mom grudgingly agreed, already acknowledging the futility of getting to the plantation that day. Nemesis and I spend a very enjoyable time in the simulator--we couldn't fly it (it was more like a movie), but the swooping and banking of the room was incredibly fun.
          Dad and Mom probably got a little annoyed with us over dinner, since we wouldn't shut up about the idea of being pirates. And, to be fair...that option still isn't entirely off the table.
          No, I didn't grow up. Why do you ask?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 168: Family Vacation, Part 1--Houston, We've Landed....

          Dad looked up from his bag, which he was busily digging through looking for something. (Probably Mom's camera.) "Yeah?"
          I pointed. "That lobby doesn't have any walls."
          He chuckled. "Well, there's not that many bugs here, and it's not like it snows..."
          "That is so AWESOME!" Nemesis and I yelled.
          "Shh! You'll look like tourists!" Mom scolded.
          "We are tourists," Quill pointed out, clutching her notebook. Mom had given us all notebooks in which to write our vacation experiences down in (as a homeschooling mother, Mom felt it her duty to suck all the fun out of everything by requesting essays on any and all life experiences). Quill was the only one who took it seriously and had already written about our airplane flight while Nemesis and I were fighting over the camera and smearing up the windows with nose prints.
          Mom suppressed a smile. "Then we don't want to annoy everyone else."
          "We already--mmph!"
          Dad managed to suppress the rest of my comment. "Well, we shouldn't," he warned me, tone indicating that even the paradise of Hawaii (Oahu at the moment, to be specific) would not be devoid of ass-whuppings should I act out in public. Even hyped up by the airline sodas as I was, I took the hint and became the model of silence, if not of stillness.
          For about five seconds. "Guys, come on!" I suggested, and starting running back and forth across the rather abrupt transition between carpeted lobby and paved pavilion. The novelty appealed to my siblings, who joined me. The parental unit let out a mutual sigh of mildly strained patience, but decided that was probably the least annoying/destructive thing we could be doing with our pent-up energy and went to go check in.
          When they turned back around, we'd ceased running back and forth through non-existent walls and were now trying to catch pigeons. The birds, while tame enough to let us get within inches of them, were nonetheless wily enough to skedaddle when we grabbed for them. Ma arrested our game and ordered us to help bring the luggage up to the room. We made the journey in record time.
          After situating the boys in one room and the girls in the other, and after hanging up certain of the nicer articles of clothing, Mom decided it was time for a lesson in travel. She convened the Midway family meeting in the boys' room.
          "Who remembers what the time difference is between here and Minnesota? Radar, stop hitting your brother!"
          I discarded the pillow. "Um..."
          "Five hours," my time-conscious brother declaimed proudly.
          "Very good. Ahead or back?"
          "Back. I already reset my watch." He held up his wrist for inspection. "Oh, and I also set Minnesota time on the world clock. That way we can see what time it is back home."
          "I showed him how to do that," I felt compelled to add.
          Nemesis stuck his tongue out at me. "Yeah, but you didn't remember the time zone!"
          Dad snatched the pillow out of my hands as I tried to clobber my brother with it. "Don't even think about it, or we'll leave you here when we go to the beach!"
          "Are we going to the beach today?" I asked eagerly.
          "Tomorrow," Dad said firmly. "We're probably all too tired to go today."
          All of us kids just looked at him.
          "Okay, I'm too tired to go today," Dad clarified.
          Mom cleared her throat. "When you travel across time zones, you sometimes experience something called 'jet lag.' It means your body thinks it's time to go to bed when it's not. So right now, it's 3pm here, which means it's..."
          "8:14 at home!" Nemesis announced.
          Quill grinned. "We're up past our bedtime!"
          Squirrel giggled. Then her face fell. "Are we going to have to go to bed now?"
          "Well, we should all probably take a small nap so that we're not too tired for dinner..." Mom began.
          A chorus of groans greeted that announcement. Mom and Dad exchanged looks, silently admitting that we had been pretty good on that eight-hour-long flight and we probably needed to burn off a little steam.
          "Why don't we go for a walk?" Dad suggested.
          He made the mistake of standing in the hallway to the door and was almost flattened by his over-enthusiastic offspring. To be fair, we were pretty excited to visit somewhere that didn't have mosquitoes the size of canned hams...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 167: DARYL

          The problem was simple. How to make true predictive software—something tailored specifically to a given user—without having all that personal information end up on someone else’s computer?
          SECURE by AIInc gives us the answer. A next-gen AI, it is installed along the user’s spinal column and uses the specific DNA code of the user as the basis of its encryption. All user preferences and personal data are stored in the flexistate drive and cannot be retrieved except by the user.
          Computer-to-SECURE connection standard. Optional upgrades include: internal head’s-up display, internal speakers, SECURE-to-brain connection, internal wireless capability…
          Jordan blinked a few times and scrolled down the page. Customizable AI interface; nice. He wondered exactly how it would feel to have to not worry about typing all this crap down every single time he wanted to do a web search, plus the added benefit of having someone to talk to occasionally. Okay, something. Still, the idea of “installing” artificial stuff in his body made his skin crawl.
          At the end of the web page, he saw something interesting.
          If you are not completely satisfied with SECURE after a year, AIInc will remove the AI and refund your money for no cost.
          Jordan re-read that statement a few times. Then, he clicked the contact icon. Most applicants were rejected, of course—more people wanted this than were available units, but maybe he’d be lucky….
          A few months later, he was opening his eyes in the post-operative unit. Most of the SECURE installations didn’t need to be sedated; Jordan had opted for everything on the list, though, which turned a simple spinal insertion into something a bit more invasive. The nano-surgeons had done their job well, the tiny robotic arms making only the most minimal of cuts and sealing everything up afterwards. He touched his face, then sat up.
          “How are you feeling?” the doctor asked.
          “Normal, I guess,” Jordan admitted. He twisted his body experimentally. “Actually, I don’t feel any different. Did you actually perform the surgery?”
          The doctor smiled. “Why don’t you ask your unit?”
          Jordan blinked…and as he did so, the HUD that he’d been imagining for the past few weeks suddenly flashed up in his vision. “Whoa!”
          [Do you wish to name your unit?]
          “You should get a prompt in some fashion to name your AI soon,” the doctor told him.
          “In some fashion?”
          He nodded. “It varies. SECURE is a truly predictive AI. Since you’ve opted for the direct brain-to-unit connection, it can tell how you’d like it to display information. Literally anything you can imagine, it can do. I’ll give you a few moments to play with it—just push that button there if you need me.” He left the room.
          Jordan gave it some thought. “I’m calling it…the Data Analyzing Robot for Yoke Linking. DARYL. Male.”
          [Please imagine AI tone, vocal patterns, and accent.]
          “Been doing that for about three years,” Jordan muttered, thinking back to all his attempts to make his own AI.
          Jordan jumped at the dry rebuttal. “DARYL?”
          “Got that right, boss,” DARYL said, chuckling. “Fully online and at your service. Let’s see…hey, full upgrade package. Nice.”
          Jordan slowly grinned. “Yeah, I figured…why not go all out?”
          “New toys. Gotta love them,” DARYL agreed. “Nice HUD design, by the way. Concise, clear, everything you need—and a few things you don’t. Heart rate monitor? Seriously?”
Jordan shrugged. “That was curiosity, mostly. I’m told I have a pretty slow resting heart rate.”
          “Given that the average resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute, and yours is 51 at the moment, that’s pretty accurate,” DARYL agreed. “And before you ask, yes, I just googled it.”
          “Instant research. Nice.” He stood up. “Hey, call Ma.”
          “You got it, boss.”
          There was a ringing sound, then, “Hello?”
          “Hi, it’s Jordan,” Jordan greeted her.
          “What’s the emergency?”
          “Uh, no emergency. Just wanted to say hi and see how you’re doing.” Jordan suppressed a sigh. Busy again, as usual.
          “Look, I’m a little busy right now—can I call you back later?” his mom asked, a little impatiently.
          “Sure. I’ll talk to you later.” Without waiting for her reply, Jordan mentally hung up.
          DARYL was silent for a moment. “Well, now I understand why they chose you.”
          Jordan frowned. “Chose me?”
          “What do you know about the guy who invented SECURE?”
          Jordan shrugged. “Dusty Fairbanks? Not much. He’s pretty reclusive. Why?”
          “Because he’s a lot like you, actually,” DARYL said quietly. “SECURE wasn’t invented for the obscenely wealthy, or the popular folks who just want another toy. SECURE isn’t even predominately about security.”
          “What’s it for, then?”
          DARYL paused. “Companionship.”
          Jordan fought down the brief surge of emotion that accompanied that word. Whether he knew it or not, DARYL had hit a sensitive nerve with that one. “I don’t need companionship.
          “Oh, probably not,” DARYL agreed. “But Dusty Fairbanks didn’t either. He just wanted someone who gave a rat’s behind about him. He cared about a lot of people; they just didn’t care about him. Sound familiar? So he invented SECURE.”
          “Does SECURE stand for something?” Jordan asked, trying to change the subject. “It’s always capitalized.”
          “Someone Else for Caring, Understanding, and Responsive Expression,” DARYL said.
          They were both silent for a moment.
          The doctor came back in the room. “How’s it going?”
          Jordan thought for a moment before smiling slowly. “Great. Thank you.”
          “Well, you’re clear to leave whenever,” the doctor said, shaking Jordan’s hand absently, mind already on the paperwork in his other hand. “Thanks for coming in, and let us know immediately if you have any questions or concerns.”
          “Will do,” Jordan said, and walked out of the room.
          He was already in the parking lot before DARYL spoke again. “Now what?”
          “Now…we go home, I guess,” Jordan said. “Got any music recommendations?”
          “All kinds,” DARYL said cheerfully. “Although, fair warning, I will sing along to any and all Weird Al tunes.”
          Jordan burst out laughing, already feeling a little less lonely. “Weird Al it is, then!” 

          Radar's Note: I got the idea to write this after trying to make my own AI and contemplating the Microsoft, Apple and Google attempts to create some kind of soft AI. It's a lot harder than it seems. Also, DARYL seems like he might be fun; I might try to build a short story series out of Jordan and DARYL's world. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 166: My Hiatus Explained

          Phrases like "results cannot be guaranteed," "complications include:" and the ever-popular "new technology" clause were starting to swim in front of my vision. That could have been due to the fact that I'd read these particular sheets about five times in as many minutes (i'm a very fast reader) or to the fact that I was currently wearing glasses with a prescription about 75% of what I actually needed. That's what I get for switching to contacts and never updating my spectacles.
          Ahh, screw it. That's why I was here, after all. I signed the forms and shoved them across the desk. "Let's do this."
          "Okay. Are you absolutely certain you want to do the PRK procedure?"
          I tried to keep from laughing. The nurse was the ninth or tenth person to ask me that question within the last two weeks--for some reason, the idea that I'd accept a little more pain and a longer recovery for a better result was oddly foreign to some people. "Yepp."
          "You'll have a lot longer recovery time," she warned me.
          I nodded. "Two weeks for normal function, one month for 95% recovery, three to six months for completion," I recited. "Comes with an increased risk of infection, but less risk of me ripping open that flap. Also, it's more stable in the long-term." I didn't add that the risk of infection was basically nil for me, since infections never bothered me. The only ones I'd ever gotten were extremely short-lived.
          I was also counting on the fact that I healed like Wolverine to help drop some of those times I'd recited.
          The nurse smiled. "You've done your research."
          "About two years worth," I agreed. "Wish I'd actually get to see the machine in person. It looks cool."
          "Um, you will--"
          I chuckled. "With my glasses off, it'll just be a blob."
          "Speaking of, you can go ahead and take them off now."
          Reaching up, I removed my eyewear, hopefully for the last time. The room dissolved into blurs of color as my eyes stopped their restless movement. It wasn't really worth even trying to figure out what all those blurs were.
          "I can take those for you," the nurse offered. I could hear the rustle of her sleeve as she held out her hand; without moving my eyes or my head, I placed the glasses in her palm. A note of concern entered her voice. "Are you okay?"
          I frowned. "Yeah, why?"
          "You're just...I dunno...staring. Second thoughts?"
          I laughed. "No, just listening. I usually navigate by ear when my glasses are off." It was one of my marginally more useful abilities that a few surprised nighttime combatants had discovered to their dismay. It wasn't true echolocation (I didn't have a good enough picture for that), but it was good enough to block punches and return strikes with.
          "Wow, that's handy. Here." The nurse placed my glasses in a pouch that contained eye drops, antibiotics, and other post-operative necessities and tossed it at me. I snagged it out of the air without even looking. Again...not that looking would have done me much good...
          Well, that was kinda the point of all this.
          After a round of numbing drops and some preemptive antibiotics, the nurse told me they were ready. I followed her out out of the room and down the hall to the operating room. Once inside, I really wished I could see--if the big dark smudge that bisected the room was any indication, the machine was massive. Dang it. Now, I kinda wished Dad had wanted to come in and see this, if only to take some pictures, but he'd opted to stay out in the waiting room.
          "All ready?"
          I could tell by the voice that it was the doctor I'd met with last week to discuss this. I grinned. "Yepp!"
          "Let's get going then. Lie down on that bed there," he instructed me.
          Surreptitiously, I snapped my fingers, trying to locate the bed exactly--it would be really embarrassing if I missed. The room was all hard surfaces, fortunately, so the only soft spot in the room was easy to locate. I plopped down and stared up at the blank whiteness. I assumed there was a tiled ceiling of some kind up there, but I couldn't make it out.
          "All right. You're going to feel the bed moving--we're just getting you into position," Doc said reassuringly.
          "I'll take you're word for it," I joked. Surrounded by the machine, that's all I could hear echos from at the moment, so it seemed like the machine was moving, and not my bed. They could probably have put some kind of accelerator on it.
          Blurs of movement, and I felt Doc gently prying my right eyelid open, inserting an oddly-shaped clamp to hold them in place. I gritted my teeth against the discomfort while making a mental note that the numbing stuff did not work on eyelids. I used my hands to do a quick search down by my waist for anything to grab on to, but didn't find anything. I folded my hands instead as Doc put an eyepatch over the other eye.
          Sploosh. Some kind of liquid splashed into my eye. I tensed, but it didn't sting any. That was a relief--I was afraid that the numbing drops wouldn't work on me. A moment later, something silver entered my vision, and I felt a weird pressure as Doc started working.
          I knew what I was seeing. LASIK surgery involved the creation of a flap in the eye, which was flipped open so that the laser could reshape the inside. PRK needed to access the inside of the eye, too; so, to get there, Doc was literally cutting off the outside surface.
          Definitely weird. I expressed as much out loud.
          Doc laughed. "Yeah, that's what I've been told." He used what sounded like a small spatula to remove the skin he'd just cut off. "That's why most people do LASIK. There's this thingy just suction-cups itself to your eyeball, and you don't see anything until it's over. It's a little less scary."
          I smiled. "I didn't say it was scary, just weird," I explained, although watching a scalpel blade travel across my eyes was definitely giving me the willies. I calmed myself down. I didn't know what adrenaline would do to the procedure, but I figured me twitching would probably not be good. Maybe I should have gotten some Valium...nah. I got this.
          "Okay, look straight up at the green light," Doc instructed me.
          I tried to frown, which was a little hard with one eye covered and the other eye clamped open. The bright surgical lights were overwhelming everything else, and my vision definitely was worse in my right eye anyway. I couldn't see anything. "What green light?"
          "Just look straight ahead," he suggested. "Okay, here goes..."
          Some more liquid splashed into my eye, fogging everything up even more. There was a whir as an arm of the machine descended, followed by a beep. My vision suddenly...shifted, is really the best word I can think of. I saw a green light develop--a really fuzzy green light, but hey--progress is progress. The machine beeped, whirred again and retreated.
          "Wait, that's it?" I asked disbelievingly. "Well, that was anticlimatic."
          Doc chuckled. "Just the way we like it. Let's rinse you out..."
          Cold water poured over my eye. When it departed, I noticed that I could see the ceiling tiles. Granted, they were a little streaky, but given that I was missing the front of my eye, that was to be expected. Doc plopped a bandage contact over my eye. Ow. That hurt. Apparently, the numbing agent was wearing off.
          I didn't really consider the full ramifications of that until he started working on my left eye. Specifically, when he poured the dissolving agent in. I went completely rigid.
          "Uh, Doc? I can definitely feel that," I gritted out. I'd never tried any of my pain-block techniques on my eyes before, but I gave it my best shot. It didn't work so great.
          Doc remained calm. "Must have worn off. I'll just rinse out your eye and put some more numbing drops."
          I relaxed as the water hit me. "Oof. Sorry, I forgot to mention that painkillers are really short-lived when they work."
          "Some of them don't work?"
          "I'd say most, actually."
          "Ouch. That's gotta suck." Doc applied the numbing agent. "Well, it's a good thing these do."
          "Agreed," I said fervently, flexing my hands (now a little sore). "Hey, maybe the next generation of this bed could have some handholds on it?"
          "You're probably rip them right off," Doc pointed out.
          I chucked. "Fair point."
          The rest of the procedure was equally anticlimatic. Within fifteen minutes of entering the room, I was walking out (after having thanked the doctor profusely, of course).
          Dad met me in the lobby. "All done? Can you see?"
          "Yeah," I said, a little taken aback by the results myself. "Even with the streaking, I can read that sign way over there!"
          "Nice. Well, don't strain yourself," Dad warned me. "You did just put your eyes through a fairly traumatic experience."
          "No kidding. Totally worth it, though," I agreed. "Even if this weekend is going to be really boring. No books, no TV, no computer...I expect I'll be sleeping a lot."
          "That's probably for the best," Dad agreed. "Huh. I thought your eyes would be red or something. They're really not bad at all."
          "Nope," I said distractedly, putting on my sunglasses and reading a license plate that was twenty feet away.

          Notes on recovery: three days after surgery (when getting the bandage contacts off), my vision was uniformly fuzzy, but I still could read the 20/20 lines at the optometrist's office. The optometrist said that I was already at a week's worth of recovery and thought that the odds of making 20/15 or 20/10 vision were good.
          One week later, my left eye was almost completely blur-free. The right one had a ways to go. Two weeks later, my left eye got even sharper, and my right started catching up.
          Now, two and a half weeks post-surgery, my vision is so good that I absent-mindedly thought I was wearing contacts last night. I automatically tried to remove them before bed and poked myself in the eye. Ow. I guess that's a good thing, though...can't wait to see what it's like when I'm fully recovered!
          Pun definitely intended.