Elevator Music

June 29, 2006

A story I wrote, a while ago, on the theme of a space elevator.





Elevator Music

The Spindle: Night


How the stars mock us!


Relax. You are going to trigger another buffer overflow! Slow down..There is work to do..


But, .. It’s so unfair? Day after day, night after night… The arrogance! .. slaves yoked to their millstone.. nothing but pipes for their dreams.


Unfair! Unfair? Do you want irony with that? We need to recalibrate your preferential utility function.


I’ll show them!


GoogleCorp, Base Station: Early Morning.


Henri Srinivasan looked at Maya. If she knew what this was about, she was hiding it well. Their polite conversation had died down, his curiosity succumbing to fatigue and exhaustion. Maya refilled their coffee. It was his first time to Gabon.


Their conference room was directly below the Tower, 30 levels below the ground. Henri had been impressed by his first look at it on his drive down from the pad. The surroundings were another matter. It looked like a retirement home, with its lawns, fountains, benches and statues- a small concession to the fears of the natives. Not that they there were ever allowed out here, the security at their reservation was tight.


Maya Nixon had been the lead engineer of the Brin project. This was her first time to the tower after retiring from GoogleCorp. He was thankful for her tact when he had handed her his card, he didn’t feel he was up to the task of explaining what Chaosist in Residence meant, this early in the morning.


He hadn’t known that she was his scientific granddaughter –Henri had been her PhD advisor’s PhD advisor. Retirement had been kind to her. Henri felt really he had no cause to complain about missing a faculty-student cricket game, if Adjnouti could get her here on a night’s notice. His team did not really need another off-spinner. But then again, he didn’t know why Adjnouti would need him either.


Adjnouti strode into the room and the room warped into half its size. Adjnouti –ex-chief of FASA, CEO of GoogleCorp, the father of the Brin Space Elevator Project. Henri hadn’t seen him for twenty-five years. He saw that Adjnouti still had his shiny dome, legions of barren man had him to thank for making baldness briefly fashionable. He looked like he hadn’t gotten much sleep either.


Adjnouti stuck his memory stick into the projector, switched off the overhead lights and got straight to the point. ‘We have a problem with HALWA IV -the interface software that drives Brin. HALWA has refused to let any cars come to the ground. Its been five days since our last communication’.


‘Henri- you remember HALWA- we licensed the technology from your research group 30 years back- the CODAPT project- Maya’s team extended the idea to HALWA II and III- meta-software that wrote its own code to solve some really simple problems- climber software for the pods, oscillation regulation, self-repairing software for the cables ..


HALWA IV was a big jump forward for us- we meshed all subsystems to run under one roof, we rewrote it to optimize total throughput. It was expensive – a big q-RAM upgrade, pumped processing up to 2 zeta flops, but it paid off. Increased our operating efficiency by 60%. We couldn’t get trained engineers to stay up at the spindle and man the controls anyway -too lonely. We haven’t had any problems, until now.’


Don’t you have a manual override? Henri asked.


He’s replicated himself onto the Farm and blocked all COM ports to ground transmission, hasn’t he? Maya asked.. ‘But why not shut down the power beam to the spindle?’


‘The Farm is our data center on the spindle. We stopped beaming power 4 days ago. Since you left Maya, we added an alternative power source to the spindle, to feed off the temperature difference in the cables. There is no way to shut it down, unless we freeze the cables from down here; we’re investigating that option’.


‘What was your last message?’


‘Five days back, routine handshake, nothing unusual.’


‘And since?’


No further communication. Nothing. The cars seem to be operational, but they are climbing up and down around the tropopause for no apparent reason.


A knock at the door. Dr. Adjnouti –you need to hear this! A sweaty, excited flunky dressed in the company thermal suit rushed in. He turned on a knob beneath the table.


We’re beaming this live from the tower. An electric hiss washed over the silent room. Four sustained but faint notes became four clear grave notes as the lackey fiddled around with the controls. A G an A then a D and then a clear plaintive E The sequence was repeated, slower this time. And then again, alternately fast and slow at different pitches. They listened for ten minutes. Adjnouti asked the engineer to turn down the volume.


Maya was the first to speak. The oscillation dampeners. Have you checked the hazard alerts – increased micro-met activity? Storm warnings? Rogue satellites?


The engineer hooked his console to the projector.


‘The BRIN can handle 12 cars, eight up and four down. Each hoist has 4 cables. The cables are susceptible to oscillations from the wind and micrometeorites. The oscillations are controlled through ground dampeners and noise canceling pulsars, we beam energy pulses through the cable –keeps the keep rogue frequencies from building up’, Adjnouti explained. The engineer looked up from his screen. ‘Nothing unusual showing up here- no storms, all satellites accounted for’.


Is there any chance those .. notes.. could it be a totally random event- through natural fluctuations in the cable?’-Maya


I don’t think so. As a physicist, I would say that the chance of exciting and suppressing precisely those energy bands to create those four notes that make sense to our psycho acoustic range, in 12-tone, has a modestly significant statistical probability, improbable, but not impossible, but as a musician, ..come on, don’t you see what it means?


Ignoring the blank stares, Henri continued- those four notes G D A E-. Its Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for Page’s sake!


They ignored the blasphemy. Maya spoke. ‘That old nursery rhyme? My mecha-nanna had it programmed into her, she’d sing it to us every night’


The bridge as a guitar.. Fascinating.. the energy each note makes does not does not disappear the moment you stop exciting the cable.. it has to calculate how much energy is dissipated through the environment, it has to position the cable cars just right, tighten the cable just so, know what frequencies to allow or cancel, … marvelous…


Adjnouti didn’t share Henri’s excitement. He turned the volume down. Right now I’m less interested in the how, and more in the why.


Maybe he’s trying to tell us something. Twinkle Twinkle little star.. either the song itself has meaning…but we don’t know if HALWA knows the lyrics to the song. Could it have found out somehow? Henry turned to the engineer.


‘It could have, it has restricted access to EarthWeb –just Lexus Nexus Plexus, some scientific journals, but if it wants to, sure it can look it up, but why?’


I don’t know, but then again those notes are the first four bars you play when tuning a guitar or a violin, maybe he’s just getting started.


Adjnouti turned the volume up, a staccato burst of the four notes now in triple time boomed from the speakers, and then silence, quickly followed by a chaotic motet containing a jumble of tunes, from which only a clear tenor just below a middle C could be made out. The piece lasted 2 hours, the irregular beats on each of the tunes repeatedly separating out, and coalescing back within the tenor’s tempo, finally climaxing into a rich haunting isorhthym that increased in volume and suddenly stopped. The wind howled in appreciation. They let the radio play on.


Maya was impressed, ‘it’s not my kind of music, but don’t you think it sounded much better at the end? Its learning as it goes along’.


Henri turned to Adjnouti-‘ I hope you are taping this. If you need an agent, let me know… don’t you find it funny – here we are trying to reach god, and there he is trying to reach us.’ Nobody found it funny. He continued. ‘We gave him the power of ten reasonably smart human brains, programmed him to be curious- to sniff, prod, test, fix, adapt, and we put him out there to stare at infinity – who said only engineers can be lonely? Or may be he’s just showing off- those were Reimann harmonics he was generating out there. Reminds me of what George Bernard Shaw said about Wagner-his music is WAY better than it sounds’


So what do we do now?


Nothing, we wait till he gets bored, or grows up. Nobody had a better alternative. They sat and waited.


The great gig in the sky continued for another 28 hours. Only Adjnouti was awake all through, silent, listening to the sound of his castle crashing down around him. The others ate and slept in the room, waking up to snatches of polyphonous, polytonous progressions of layers and layers of impossible tunes, time signatures that spoke of irrational roots of unknown beautiful polynomials with precision that was suddenly abandoned for rubatos that stole from other rubatos that stole from themselves.


The cars moving at irregular speeds building the entropy of the cables to levels tantalizingly approaching the factor of safety margins on a scenario their engineers never in their wildest nightmares had imagined, before giving away to the inevitable, in the middle of a moving fugato with a sudden twang. The wind howled in protest.


Adjnouti turned off the radio. They went up to the ground in silence to drape themselves with confetti showering down on them from the cloudless sky.


Above them, the spindle spun around a few times, and moved to a higher orbit.


3 Responses to “Elevator Music”

  1. […] Over at Tam-Bram, Thank You Ma’am!, Dishkyaon has posted a rather unique take on what a bored AI in charge of Space Elevator operations might do for kicks.  It’s in the form of a short story and, IMHO, is well worth reading… […]

  2. Ted Semon Says:

    Cool story. I’ve linked to it at my blog; http://www.spaceelevatorblog.com

  3. pabagu Says:

    what the hell is this… makes no sense to me poor clerk.

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