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Author Topic: CoW Ep. 199: Leapling  (Read 3179 times)

danooli

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on: February 28, 2016, 07:53:16 PM
Episode 199: Leapling by Nicole Feldringer

• Narrated by Michelle Ristuccia
• Audio production by Jeremy Carter
A Cast of Wonders original!

Nicole Feldringer holds a PhD in atmospheric sciences and a master in geophysics. In 2011, she attended the Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop, and her fiction has previously appeared in the anthologies Press Start to Play and Loosed Upon the World both edited by John Joseph Adams. She currently lives in Los Angeles. Find her on Twitter. ‘Leapling’ is a Cast of Wonders original.

For your narrator this week we welcome back Michelle Ristuccia, who listeners may remember from a previous pair of really excellent stories. Michelle enjoys slowing down time in the middle of the night to read and review speculative fiction, because sleeping offspring are the best motivation. You can find out more about her writing and her rabid love of science fiction and fantasy at her website, stalk her on Twitter, or read her reviews at Tangent Online.

My brother, Jack, parks his beater at the beach lot. Beyond the windshield, dune grass blocks my view of the Gulf, and I shift in my seat. My thighs and shoulders are slick with sweat against the cracked vinyl. Jack turns off the car and sets the e-brake.
"You going to go to this thing or not?" His voice is gentle. If I asked, he would turn the car around and take me home. No, not home. To our new house, still scattered with unopened boxes on account of Mom's insane hours at the Department of Transportation.


Click here to listen to Episode 199
Click here to read the text of the story

Tags: Cast of Wonders, family, Fantasy, growing up, Jeremy Carter, magic, Michelle Ristuccia, Modern Fantasy, moving, Nicole Feldringer, peer pressure, peers, relatives, school, siblings, supernatural, swimming, Young Adult fiction



Tango Alpha Delta

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Reply #1 on: March 09, 2016, 02:15:45 AM
Ah, Pirates... I performed scenes from this with my Opera Workshop in college (I was Frederic, because I was a tenor; Kevin Kline is a bass); I wore out the double cassette soundtrack, and finally tracked down a CD copy a couple of years ago.

I use this quote at work all the time:

Quote
"Individually, I love you all with affection unspeakable, but, collectively, I look upon you with a disgust that amounts to absolute detestation."


I am apparently the very model of a very popular manager.


This is yet another of those stories where the main character gets shunned for behaving like... someone I would absolutely have wanted to hang out with in high school.

Sigh.

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Fenrix

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Reply #2 on: March 11, 2016, 02:11:40 AM
Plausible traffic technology in a story. I am gobsmacked.


Quote
"Individually, I love you all with affection unspeakable, but, collectively, I look upon you with a disgust that amounts to absolute detestation."


That tis a glorious thing. That's right up there with "I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


Tango Alpha Delta

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Reply #3 on: March 11, 2016, 02:37:52 AM
Quote
Mayor Deebs: I would rather be with the people of this town than with the finest people in the world. (Roxanne, 1987)

This Wiki Won't Wrangle Itself!

I finally published my book - Tad's Happy Funtime is on Amazon!


Devoted135

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Reply #4 on: March 11, 2016, 08:53:13 PM
I had a hard time with this one because the narrator seemed very distant to me. She seemed to react very slowly or not at all to all of the upsetting things going on around her. But, that could just have been the writing/slow narration style coloring my experience of the story. If nothing else, the moment she discovered how nasty her brother's room smelled she should have connected that back to her aunt's question about whether he was showering. I kept waiting for her to put that together, but she never did.



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Reply #5 on: March 18, 2016, 05:36:13 PM
I generally liked this, solid voice, believable annoying teen brother becoming demon-possessed brother and I liked the relationship explored between them.

The main thing I got hung up on was the plausibility of him being able to engineer the two way-ing of the highway with apparently just access to his mom's computer.  It's probably partly because I write software for intersection control and I know that at every intersection there is hardware-level failsafe to prevent catastrophe--if the software has a logic error that tells the intersection to display conflicting signals (like green lights in crossing paths) then the hardware will override the software and put the whole intersection into failsafe, forcing a blinking red light from all approaches until the issue is resolved, so that the intersection will operate in a safe but inefficient manner.  I find it hard to believe there wouldn't be a similar hardware-level failsafe on a reversible highway, in fact I would expect the requirements to be even more strict in such a case because of the speed of the vehicles expected.  Maybe it would be possible but I would expect that any such plan would involve physically damaging the gates and that would hopefully too cause an alarm that would trigger a police response.

Designing such a plan without hardware level failsafes, and apparently with a single human point of failure on it, is so incredibly colossally irresponsible, and is so clearly a horribly dangerous design that I have trouble believing it.  I could believe a design that's horrible but subtle but this would be the first thing a safety consultant would point out when speaking of a reversible highway.

Maybe there are reversible highways out there without proper failsafes.  If there are I would like to know so that I can avoid them forever.



danooli

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Reply #6 on: March 18, 2016, 06:59:11 PM
Are you considering the part that says:

Quote
"I don't think you can do that just from Mom's computer," I say, to convince myself as much as him. Someone from DOT always rides sweep before they reset the gates.
Jack doesn't answer. He pulls up another app. A little oscilloscope display pops up, and he hits the play button. A cartoon ball bounces, tracking progress of the audio file along the sound wave. It's a recording of Mom's voice. "Lane is clear," she says. "Opening southbound gates."
"This is command center. Roger that," a voice replies.

That was plausible enough for me when I read this in the slush pile.



Fenrix

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Reply #7 on: March 18, 2016, 07:30:03 PM
For reversible lanes, you would absolutely have a hardware-level failsafe to ensure that one sign was not displaying a green arrow to both faces at the same time. I'm not sure there would be a hardware level failsafe to make sure all the signs for a lane along the length of the bridge are not in conflict. A software program to monitor the string, or a human to verify in person seems more plausible.

I considered the likely draconian processes to procure and maintain the failsafe. I wondered at the age of the bridge, and considered whether this is an older system running over copper phone wire. Was this a new toll bridge or a retrofit? I honestly don't remember. Then I considered the fact that most of the signals are run on computers developed from an original mission to operate automatic sprinklers whose specs are set by a bunch of academic greyheads in California and Texas who learned to program with punchcards. Then I considered that most of these computers are significantly less powerful than the computer I carry in my pocket to post cat photos and occasionally take a phone call. So I can see the failsafe being more likely than not a person. The thing that put it over the top to allow me to find the technology plausible, like Danooli identified, was the social hacking of the human failsafe.

While I haven't designed a reversible lane bridge system, I can see this being plausible. I also haven't maintained a reversible lane system, only taken them out since they have a tendency to have ugly fatality rates. I think the ones I drive through on a semi-regular basis run on fixed timers. Like the center reversible lane goes red X both ways for a fixed amount of time and then greens are allowed in the other direction.


All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


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Reply #8 on: March 18, 2016, 09:19:22 PM
Are you considering the part that says:

Quote
"I don't think you can do that just from Mom's computer," I say, to convince myself as much as him. Someone from DOT always rides sweep before they reset the gates.
Jack doesn't answer. He pulls up another app. A little oscilloscope display pops up, and he hits the play button. A cartoon ball bounces, tracking progress of the audio file along the sound wave. It's a recording of Mom's voice. "Lane is clear," she says. "Opening southbound gates."
"This is command center. Roger that," a voice replies.

That was plausible enough for me when I read this in the slush pile.

I remember that, but it's also a colossally bad design to base entire safety of such a system on a single human point of failure.  Even if you can absolutely trust the person and you can absolutely trust that no one else is pretending to be the person, there are still ways that could go horribly wrong.  Mom has a stroke, says something that approximates what she's supposed to say and hundreds of people die because her saying a short phrase is the only safeguard.   Unlikely, sure, but I wouldn't want to be the one to design that and then have to explain to an investigatory board how unlikely it had been after hundreds of people die.




danooli

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Reply #9 on: March 19, 2016, 03:00:43 AM
I remember that, but it's also a colossally bad design to base entire safety of such a system on a single human point of failure.  Even if you can absolutely trust the person and you can absolutely trust that no one else is pretending to be the person, there are still ways that could go horribly wrong.  Mom has a stroke, says something that approximates what she's supposed to say and hundreds of people die because her saying a short phrase is the only safeguard.   Unlikely, sure, but I wouldn't want to be the one to design that and then have to explain to an investigatory board how unlikely it had been after hundreds of people die.

I cannot argue with any of that, so I won't  ;D



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Reply #10 on: March 19, 2016, 01:01:35 PM
I remember that, but it's also a colossally bad design to base entire safety of such a system on a single human point of failure.  Even if you can absolutely trust the person and you can absolutely trust that no one else is pretending to be the person, there are still ways that could go horribly wrong.  Mom has a stroke, says something that approximates what she's supposed to say and hundreds of people die because her saying a short phrase is the only safeguard.   Unlikely, sure, but I wouldn't want to be the one to design that and then have to explain to an investigatory board how unlikely it had been after hundreds of people die.

I cannot argue with any of that, so I won't  ;D


I can't argue with that either, yet it doesn't invalidate its plausibility for me.  Call me a cynic. :)

Less than 10 years ago, the Georgia Department of Transportation "learned" that the bridge inspections had a really high falsification rate. They had a program where a two-man crew would go out and visually inspect every bridge in the state and rate them on several factors. These would then be used to program capital projects and determine weight posting signs.

The linked article paints this as a human problem of trying to meet an unrealistic deadline that is probably set to performance appraisal. So rather than turn in empty reports they just made stuff up. That said, bridges don't go from a mid-range score out of 100 to a single digit score in one year. There were a couple bridges near downtown that has to be closed and emergency funding programmed post-haste once they finally got inspected.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


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Reply #11 on: March 21, 2016, 03:24:28 PM
I can't argue with that either, yet it doesn't invalidate its plausibility for me.  Call me a cynic. :)

Less than 10 years ago, the Georgia Department of Transportation "learned" that the bridge inspections had a really high falsification rate. They had a program where a two-man crew would go out and visually inspect every bridge in the state and rate them on several factors. These would then be used to program capital projects and determine weight posting signs.

The linked article paints this as a human problem of trying to meet an unrealistic deadline that is probably set to performance appraisal. So rather than turn in empty reports they just made stuff up. That said, bridges don't go from a mid-range score out of 100 to a single digit score in one year. There were a couple bridges near downtown that has to be closed and emergency funding programmed post-haste once they finally got inspected.

To me the circumstance in the story is very different than the one you are describing. 

I can certainly see how a long-term system with measures put in place to avoid catastrophic failure could be subverted over long periods of time by those participating in the system either neglecting their roles or actively falsifying data because, often, the same government who put the system into place is exerting unreasonable pressure to keep everything within budget where that budget is supposed to include upkeep cost and so from year to year the constant pressure to try to stay within budget pushes back against the necessary maintenance and horrible decisions are made in support of that.  I live in Minnesota and witnessed the Interstate 35W bridge collapse firsthand from a boat that would've been passing under that bridge ten minutes later, so  I have seen that kind of long-term improper checking of infrastructure first hand and almost been literally smushed by negligence of it.

But that strikes me as very very different than this story, which was a system just being put into place now and was apparently still in the transitionary proof-of-concept period during which I would expect that oversight would never be stricter.  The cost of a hardware failsafe would justify its own cost a thousand times over.  Even having a secondary human safety level would improve safety immeasurably--most modern metropolitan highway systems already have cameras installed to help automatically monitor traffic levels to aid in GPS traffic routing, so besides the hardware failsafe, and the driver, automatic traffic algorithms could easily sense a conflicting flow of traffic on a two-way road like this and take emergency measures to try to avoid a collision--you could find open source software that could perform a simple utility like this very reliably.  It could act by preventing that last barrier from being raised and/or putting messages on configurable signs to warn of imminent collision (these signs are usually available in modern metro systems to say things like "crash in right lane, use caution"). Even if no automatic algorithm is checking this, could pay a DOT employee for a few minutes of time per day to watch the traffic flow for conflicting values just before and after the system is switched over. 

Even having two drivers go through the road and call in instead of just one would greatly reduce the chance of one person's mistake causing lots of deaths.

All of these things would be very tiny additional maintenance costs compared to what already is invested to maintain these roads and the cost of cleaning up the mess of a major accident and the inevitable lawsuits that would results would make at least a couple safety measures an important thing to pay, and during this initial just-having-completed-the-project period all of these things are still going to be in the forefront.  I could believe them slipping later on when the system has worked so reliably for years and years and years that the budgeters are trying to find places to cut corners and start letting this slip but during the opening trial period I do find that much harder to believe.

I can see why others weren't bothered by this, but this made the climax of the story very very hard for me to believe without criminal negligence on the part of the mother character and everyone involved in the project she works on.