Author Topic: EP296: For Want of a Nail  (Read 13472 times)

ElectricPaladin

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #20 on: June 14, 2011, 02:07:46 PM »
This one didn't really capture me. Possibly it's because the motives were ultimately mechanical. No one was behaving according to their passion (except, perhaps, for the asshole brother). Instead, they were simply pursuing their best interests or programmed imperatives with the most logical precision they could muster. Characters and situations like that don't generally engage me. I prefer passion, drive, and human stupidity.

That said, it was certainly a clever and well-written story, but not one likely to make a strong impact on me.
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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #21 on: June 14, 2011, 03:26:10 PM »
.... I prefer passion, drive, and human stupidity.
The whole discussion going on about poor engineering is a classic case of human stupidity that nearly cost lives. What's not to love?  ;)
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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #22 on: June 15, 2011, 08:36:16 AM »
Not to mention that it's often SOP to manually, physically go through inventory periodically, just to make sure what's in the computer jibes with what's there in reality. At the steel mill where I used to work, 20-ton slabs of steel would go missing, or would still be there after the system said they had been processed and shipped. A tiny thing like a cable or a backup AI? Easy to lose track of.

I don't think a backup AI would be easy to lose track of, not if the ship was designed well.  It's not just any old spare part, like the cable is.  It's the only replacement for the main failure point of the ship.  A backup of that vital component shouldn't be in a back storeroom, it should be well marked, or at least a permanent map etched in a common area "In case of emergency failure of AI, go get the second AI in its dedicated armored storage locker in sector 3".  Sure, most would read and ignore it, because it wouldn't matter to them, but in time of emergency they'd see the sign and know what to do.  The other spare parts, sure, I can perhaps see why they can be wherever they can be shoved into cargo, because they're small cheap common parts, and a functional AI will be able to tell them where to find those parts.  But the AI is vital enough that, if the ship were designed well, everyone would know of the backup AI, and everyone would know where it could be found.  The designers of the ship knew, of course, that it would be a generation ship, and that forgetfulness would be a problem for those in the mid portion of the trip, so the design should be geared toward making the most vital information impossible to forget.

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #23 on: June 15, 2011, 09:23:34 AM »
On the subject of spares: sitting in a spare room is exactly where they belong.  If she carried around a bunch of spares, then a generation or two after the ship gets underway, there's parts sitting in drawers, under mattresses, in undocumented parches and more.  Inventory control would be vital in such a resource limited scenario, there's no Frys you can just buy another from.

On Cordelia, it sounds as if her AI designer made the classic n00b error of integrating code and data.  Her objective records should have been stored in a separate location, whether a database, collection of files, or whatnot.  Unless she exists to be an exclusively perceptual intelligence who reports on the history of the family through the veil of personal experience, the data and code don't belong to each other.  Clearly, the family didn't perform a good code review!  :)

Now if that's the case, then her role makes more sense.  She's an AI, not a portable camera.  I imagine her role would be to provide a sense of continuity for the family, an unbroken connection to the fam as they were when they left spacedock.  Without that, the group that arrives might be alien in motivations and values compared to the one that invested everything in colonization. 

Finally, I respectfully disagree with the implicit assertion that the family was heartless.  In an environment like they have, generosity with resources isn't possible without screwing your descendants.  Letting the uncle live without pulling his weight might be an impossibility in their situation, depending on how their resources are implemented.  What happens if medical care becomes impossible late in the flight because two generations of senior citizens consumed all of the medical supplies early in the trip?  They may not have the option of making exceptions if it may hurt their children or descendants, they basically hold the resources of the ship in trust.

Same with allowing emotionally unstable people to reproduce.  We have safety valves in Earth that allow us to ignore or even benefit from outriders who may even contribute to our genetic richness over time even with short term problems, but the rules change in a confined environment.  If her brother produced kids with magnified emotional instability traits (limited gene pool, eventually you're gonna cross the streams) and two or three generations later the ship has a mutiny or massive social breakdown, everyone could die.

It sucks, but the reality if shipboard life would necessarily be different from what we experience on mother dirt here.

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #24 on: June 15, 2011, 12:45:02 PM »
I just wanted to thank you all for your comments. I wish I'd had them before I published it because your comments make me aware that I was unclear in my writing.  Rava's family isn't the only one on the ship. Cordelia is only recording their family so she's not a failure point for the ship, just the extended family.

I'm glad that the story works for most of you anyway.

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #25 on: June 15, 2011, 12:54:34 PM »
I just wanted to thank you all for your comments. I wish I'd had them before I published it because your comments make me aware that I was unclear in my writing.  Rava's family isn't the only one on the ship. Cordelia is only recording their family so she's not a failure point for the ship, just the extended family.

I'm glad that the story works for most of you anyway.

I actually assumed that we were only seeing one of many extended families on the ship, even though it may not have been explicitly stated in the text. :)

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #26 on: June 15, 2011, 07:33:16 PM »
Yeah, I had assumed they were one of many families as well, just that each family had its own little ruling structure. Which is kind of creepy, really.

I thought the ending was plenty devastating. Rava clearly considered the AI a person and she was obviously distraught and what she had to do.
The story wasn't meant to be some epic scale tale of ruin, its the tragedy of two people, Cordelia and the uncle, whose efforts to keep himself alive ultimately failed, and took Cordelia with him in the process.

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #27 on: June 15, 2011, 10:31:44 PM »
Add me to those who doesn't get the title... I mean, I get the allusion, just not how it relates to the story. I started thinking, "oh, right, they won't find a cable and that's the allusive nail", but I was wrong there, wasn't I?

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #28 on: June 16, 2011, 12:47:51 AM »
I just wanted to thank you all for your comments. I wish I'd had them before I published it because your comments make me aware that I was unclear in my writing.  Rava's family isn't the only one on the ship. Cordelia is only recording their family so she's not a failure point for the ship, just the extended family.

I'm glad that the story works for most of you anyway.

I am (and was at the time of listening) well aware that Cordelia is only for a single family.
However, I seemed to get the impression that at that point in the voyage nobody really knew anything. They were relying on her for everything. Communications, inventory, logging, education.... what happens when (not if) part of the ship breaks? They need to turn to Cordelia (or one of the other AIs) and ask "How do we fix the ship?" But what if Cordelia broke...?
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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #29 on: June 16, 2011, 08:22:04 AM »
I just wanted to thank you all for your comments. I wish I'd had them before I published it because your comments make me aware that I was unclear in my writing.  Rava's family isn't the only one on the ship. Cordelia is only recording their family so she's not a failure point for the ship, just the extended family.

I'm glad that the story works for most of you anyway.

I'd assumed that there were other families, but I'd thought that Cordelia was the sole records-keeper for the entire ship.  And I thought that the protagonist was the sole AI-wrangler, giving her a role of extreme importance to all.  Cordelia seems to do more than just record, though, she's the only one who keeps track of where equipment is, and seems to handle communications within their group, etc.  I considered her logging of events the least important part of her function because I don't think anyone in the future is going to care enough to read them.  

So, wait, if there are other families and other AIs, why can't they just go knock on their doors and ask if they can borrow a cable?  Assuming the other family's AI is functional, that AI should be able to find their supplies quickly and easily, and then they could've restored Cordelia's storage memory and then she could swap out her part, easy peasy.  Did I miss a reason why they couldn't have done this?  Now I'm confused.  I think I liked it better when I thought it was all just bad engineering, because that I can blame on her ancestors that I don't need to follow.  If their problem-solving skills are so poor that they never think of asking another family for aid, well that I can only blame on the characters in the story, and since it's a story based around their quest to solve that problem, it's hard to say I could've really rooted for them then.

I think I'm just going to pretend the story was what I thought it was, because I liked it a lot that way.   ;D

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #30 on: June 16, 2011, 08:25:55 AM »
Add me to those who doesn't get the title... I mean, I get the allusion, just not how it relates to the story. I started thinking, "oh, right, they won't find a cable and that's the allusive nail", but I was wrong there, wasn't I?

I think that's what it meant?  Or rather, the damage caused to Cordelia is equivalent to the horse throwing a shoe.  The difference seems to be that this does have such an epic scale as the expression.  It sounds like the uncle's dementia would've been discovered at some point anyway as he degraded enough to not be able to follow Cordelia's cues, and Cordelia would most likely have been discovered in her role of covering up.  This didn't really change that, it just sped the process up.

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #31 on: June 16, 2011, 08:31:01 AM »

So, wait, if there are other families and other AIs, why can't they just go knock on their doors and ask if they can borrow a cable?


Who says they would all necessarily have the same cable? And actually, didn't the guy at the store say there were many different kinds of cables? She had to sort through a pile of them to get the right one, though it only took her three tries (I think there were like 20). Going door to door looking for someone with a compatible cable seems impractical.

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #32 on: June 16, 2011, 08:42:44 AM »
Also, remember that Rava was so embarrassed by the accident that she didn't even want to tell the one person who should have been able to help her the most: her uncle. As Cordelia's previous wrangler, he should have been the one to help her troubleshoot the problem, (this is of course ignoring of his mental state) but she was trying desperately to make it so that only she and her brother ever had to know. So, it's entirely possible that all of the proper channels were in place and she just ignored them in her haste to fix Cordelia before anyone else noticed the problem.

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #33 on: June 16, 2011, 11:12:52 AM »
Who says they would all necessarily have the same cable? And actually, didn't the guy at the store say there were many different kinds of cables? She had to sort through a pile of them to get the right one, though it only took her three tries (I think there were like 20). Going door to door looking for someone with a compatible cable seems impractical.

I don't see how that would be at all impractical, at least not any more impractical than having to find a cable in the first place.  She could go visit her neighbor, and their neighbor's AI could find the right one lickety-split because it would have access to long-term memory.

Also, remember that Rava was so embarrassed by the accident that she didn't even want to tell the one person who should have been able to help her the most: her uncle. As Cordelia's previous wrangler, he should have been the one to help her troubleshoot the problem, (this is of course ignoring of his mental state) but she was trying desperately to make it so that only she and her brother ever had to know. So, it's entirely possible that all of the proper channels were in place and she just ignored them in her haste to fix Cordelia before anyone else noticed the problem.

I can buy into that, trying to keep her screw-up on the downlow and intentionally ignoring other solutions that would require outside help to avoid embarrassment.  That makes enough sense to me.

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #34 on: June 16, 2011, 12:56:55 PM »
Not all the families use AIs like Cordelia for their record keeping:

   Cordelia was their family‚Äôs continuity, their historical connection
   to their past. Some families made documentaries. Some kept
   journals. Her family had chosen to record and manage their
   voyage on the generation ship with Cordelia.


So, this particular problem only affects this particular family, not the everyone on the ship. The story doesn't specify how many - if any - other families use a similar system, but I'm guessing it's 'not many', possibly even 'none'. I'm assuming the author did this to keep both the problem and the solution - such as it was - basically within the family, with the exception of the corner store guy. After all, if the solution is too easy, then no story!

Essentially, this points to the originator of the idea being the kind of middle manager who decides to use a certain technology because it's cool or whatever, without thinking through all of the implications and having failure plans.

   "Hey, I know, let's use an AI! It'll be cool and do all the work for us!"

   "Um, but Don, what if someone hacks it to keep themselves alive?"

   "Oh, come on, no one would do that. This is family we're talking about! Oh, and hey, it can even keep track of its own spare parts and backups and stuff!"

   "That doesn't sound... safe. What if it gets damaged?"

   "Are you kidding? Look at this thing! It's built like a tank! You could drop it on its head without so much as loosening a cable! ..."
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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #35 on: June 16, 2011, 01:16:19 PM »
See, I heard that same about about some families this and some families that...and I conjured up an image of each family having their own generation ship. Maybe it had to do with concentration. I was driving when I heard the story... :)
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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #36 on: June 16, 2011, 07:00:22 PM »
Oh, Hallelujah!  Frabjous day!

A Hugo story that actually has a plot, character development, and drama!  It's marvelous.  Not only that, but it made twists and turns along the way.  One of my favorite Hugo nominees ever. Thank you!

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #37 on: June 17, 2011, 08:21:05 AM »
Oh, Hallelujah!  Frabjous day!

A Hugo story that actually has a plot, character development, and drama!  It's marvelous.  Not only that, but it made twists and turns along the way.  One of my favorite Hugo nominees ever. Thank you!

At least one of the other has all these things too!  Peter Watts's "The Things".  I'm looking forward to hearing the other two, maybe it'll be a very well rounded year!

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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #38 on: June 17, 2011, 02:21:33 PM »
I appreciated what the story was trying to do (IMO), which was weave together the uncle's dementia, Cordelia's memory loss, and Rava's fear of losing her own records/memory, but I think it took way too long to get there. I was really bored after the first 10-15 minutes, until stuff started happening.

I did get the reference to the proverb/saying -- if x hadn't happened, we wouldn't need a, but there's no a, so we need b, but there's no b, etc etc etc.

Overall I thought this one was okay. I just wish it had gotten to the point faster.
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Re: EP296: For Want of a Nail
« Reply #39 on: June 20, 2011, 07:40:53 AM »
I didnt really get the problem with Cordelia, now that they knew the uncle was not in his right mind why did have to mess with her programing or revert to the older copy? That extra code really didnt matter anymore.
Ok story, nothing i was crazy about.