Friday, July 30, 2010

Sunflowers and Abstract Dancers


Still on the road!  But rust never sleeps and neither do I.  Here's today's story, the fortieth in a six-week series of 43.

Abstract Dancers
Michael Swanwick

When the first crystal lattice quantum light chips became available, Joshua Ott immediately saw their potential: It would be possible at last to paint in three dimensions.

He set out to create an app. The major corporations would all be working on 3-D Paint programs, of course. So he concentrated on making something a non-artist could use. Move your fingers over the pad and – voila! Slim and twisting shapes that would merge and separate, multiply and evanesce with preternatural grace. Varying speed changed the shapes, moving nearer and further from the pad made them shift from color to color, from beauty to beauty. Once set in motion they would continue moving rhythmically forever.

Abstract dancers.

All well and good. But when Ott was writing the code he chanced to read a particularly abstruse mathematics paper and the extreme effort it took to comprehend its implications kicked his mind into hyperdrive. He was struck by what can only be called a once-in-a-lifetime idea. Feverishly, he embedded it into the application.

When he was done, Ott hit the patent app on his iMedia and then slapped the patent-pending Beta onto the Web for open-source testing. A decade ago, this would have taken weeks, even months; the technology had improved to such a degree that now he did it without thinking.

Then he hooked up a hologram generator, flicked off the lights, and played the Abstract Dancers app for the first time in high-rez. Hoping against hope that this first rendering wouldn’t be unbearably crude. And it wasn’t.

It was mesmerizing.

It was more than mesmerizing.

It was . . .

Long hours later, he became aware that his wife was shaking him. She looked alarmed. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “I came in here and you were lying on the floor, practically catatonic.”

Ott sat up. He looked at his iMedia. Its batteries were drained. A fugitive memory of dancing shapes, impossible to grasp, ached within his mind. “It was . . . just too beautiful,” he said. “I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t think of anything else.” A terrible thought occurred to him. “And if the batteries hadn’t been low, it would have caught you too.”

Abruptly he remembered that he’d put the program up on the Web. “My God! I put it up on the Web! I’ve got to take it down before –”

But by then the app had already gone viral.


Above:  Here's a good example of why I love living in the city.  Every year, an eccentric family in my neighborhood grows sunflowers in a gap in the sidewalk.  The name of that family?  Well ... (cough! cough!).


Matthew Brandi said...

"Ott hit the patent app on his iMedia and then slapped the patent-pending Beta onto the Web for open-source testing."

My god! What would Richard Stallman say?

Michael Swanwick said...

Hah! I had somehow missed the internal contradictions of that sentence. Still . . . when the iPatent app comes available, I'm sure that's going to be a reflexive one-two move for independent coders.