December 21st, 2006

#225: Stuph, and Happy Winter Solstice to all!

The green Escort is gone.

I called a wrecking yard Tuesday, and arranged to have the car picked up Wednesday morning. At the time I called them, I was told that it would be a "courtesy pickup", meaning they'd come get the car and not charge me for hauling it away.

Considering that I had removed the engine, transmission, steering column, instrument cluster, AC controls, parts of the dashboard, rear struts and springs, rear brake adjusters, alloy wheels, AND miscellanious bits and pieces, I was not expecting much from them, if anything. Just getting it hauled out of the driveway free of charge was good enough. I mean, I paid $75 to get the car back after it was totaled. $75 for all those parts? The damn rear strut assemblies alone would cost more than that from a boneyard, and I wouldn't know what I was getting. These have less than 20,000 miles on them and I installed them myself, so I know what shape they're in.

Well, I did pay some $50 for some junk wheels from a friend of mine, so I could keep the alloy wheels. But even so that's $125 for all those parts I listed above.

When the guy showed up and did the paperwork, there were three $10 bills stapled to it. I did not say anything about what I had been told over the phone.

...so, it cost me, what, $95 for a known-good engine? To say nothing of the other parts? You just don't get deals like that every day.

I know that "auto recyclers" make money from the cars they haul. Usable parts are unscrewed and sold, and the rest is sent to the shredder. As I recall, the State of Illinois also pays a certain amount of money for the title of a car that is junked. So even after they gave me $30 for the car, I still have no doubt at all that they'll make plenty off that car.

After all is said and done, the car sat in my driveway for about 54 weeks. I'm very glad that my neighbors never complained about it.... Well, it was under a car cover.

I think I'll use the $30 to buy myself the second season of Joan of Arcadia.

* * *

In order to make room for the tow truck I had to move the Fiero, and after moving it I let it run for a little bit to circulate the fluids and all. It reminded me how much fun that car is to drive, strangely enough, and so I'm thinking I might get it street-legal again and drive it a bit. It's not snowing much this year--we've had a total of maybe three inches since it first snowed in October--and it looks like it'll be a fairly warm winter.

* * *

I'm hoping that the weather does stay in the 40s for the rest of the winter. It probably won't--recall please from Memorial Day weekend of 2006, this picture?



The sky was literally clear for a hundred miles in any direction, but right over my head a thunderstorm was dumping rain. I had a lot of work I wanted to do on the Fiero and I couldn't do it thanks to that stupid storm.

That was, of course, after the power had been knocked out the previous day by another storm, one which had downed some power lines.

So while I am hoping that the weather stays in the 40s for the rest of the winter, I know exactly what it will actually do: Once they cut hours after the holidays are over, it will get cold and it will stay cold. We may or may not actually get snow, but it will be bitterly cold for the rest of the winter.

I ain't paranoid for nothing.

#226: Singularity, Part X

Cassandra turned out to be very efficient--so efficient, in fact, that Alyssa asked to be relieved of her primary duties.

I was a bit surprised at that, though I suppose I should not have been; Alyssa was now a lot more valuable as a remote extension for the Kelv'v'ara than as a domestic robot. I agreed that she was right, so I approved her request.

Cassandra came with two outfits, neither of which really appealed to me. One was the standard "french maid" costume; the other was a frilly white blouse with a dark blue pleated skirt. Of course she had the standard complement of underwear, too. The first thing I had her do was demonstrate her ability to operate my car; once I was convinced she could drive it, I ordered some clothing for her and had her pick them up when she went out to do the shopping.

As more and more people bought robots capable of driving, the roads became increasingly civil. Robots didn't speed, tailgate, drive in the passing lane, or run traffic signals; they obeyed every law to the letter and drove exactly the way everyone is supposed to drive. It drove human drivers nuts, of course; people either learned to deal with it, or started letting their own robots do the driving. Where people used to say "that's as useless as socks on a rooster" some were now saying, "That's like giving a robot a sports car."

Cassandra made me feel vaguely uncomfortable, though. Some people have this patholigical fear of robots--they look human but they aren't, and it bothers some people. But it wasn't that; it was the fact that she looked too human.

She set off my mating instincts. The 38C breasts gave her a nearly perfect figure and the clothing that had been included with her had been selected to show off her curves. I found myself wanting to take Cassandra to bed, and that bothered me considerably, because I did not consider a robot to be a proper sex partner.

I know a lot of people find such attitudes to be old-fashioned. Sex with a robot was always utterly safe, completely disease-free; their systems were self-sanitizing and could not transmit any disease. And no matter what you tried, it was guaranteed to be completely realistic. As "fully functional" robots became more common, people began having sex with other people only to have babies--for recreation they turned to robots, who were always there and who would get into the mood only microseconds after being asked if they were interested in a "roll in the hay". There were never even any disappointments, unless the user specifically set the robot up for such events to occur.

Every so often I would find myself looking at Cassandra, my eyes roving up and down her curvaceous body...and then my eyes would land on her ear pods and I'd jolt out of my reverie. Once I found myself thinking that I had the facilities to make proper ears for her, so that I could stop worrying about that....

"You've never done it with a robot, have you?" Sally asked me one afternoon.

"Eh?"

"I've seen how you look at her," she said, gesturing at Cassandra. "Why don't you just take her to bed?" She turned to Cassandra. "You're game, right?"

"I am always ready to serve," Cassandra replied with an alluring smile.

"It's...it's just," I stammered, blushing.

"What? It's a robot. And it's not like you have a girlfriend or anything." She peered at me. "You're only, what, thirty-five? Why are you so old-fashioned about this?"

"I had a traditional upbringing," I said.

"How traditional?"

"Well...Catholic."

"Aha," she said with a knowing smile. "Now it makes more sense. But I thought you'd given up your religion?"

"Well, yeah. I quit church years ago--before I was even out of college. But a lot of the philosophy stuck with me, and I deliberately retained it because some of it made sense."

"Like the sexual rules?"

"Yeah. Oh, I'm not a prude or a virgin, but the underlying idea that sex ought to be a loving act and it ought to be special has always appealed to me."

"You're a romantic," she said.

"I guess so."

"That fits with the way you live--all alone in a restored farmhouse, and you restore old machines for fun."

"What's wrong with that?" I asked defensively.

"Well, nothing, I suppose. But it makes you odd."

"I'm very rich; I can afford to be eccentric." I looked at her. "Have you done it with a robot?"

"Are you kidding? Of course I have," she said. "A male one, not a female one. My robot at home keeps me company."

"Then what about your husband? --or ex-husband, rather?"

"Oh, he and I still make love; but he has his robot, too. Sometimes we just have a little party with the four of us."

I choked on my tea.

* * *

Alyssa, with my permission, had moved her docking station onto the back porch, which was completely enclosed. She could sit in her chair and look at the Sphere and wait for instructions from the Kelv'v'ara. When they had something to say to me, she would come and find me; but largely she sat there, watching the Sphere, not moving for days at a time. If I sought her out she would respond to me, and do whatever I asked her to do; but she was actually starting to collect dust...and one afternoon I was surprised to see Cassandra dusting her.

"Alyssa! Why don't you keep yourself clean?" I asked.

"Cassandra does a fair job of dusting me, when I require it."

"From now on you will clean yourself regularly," I told her.

"Understood."

* * *

Sometime around September, I found myself in bed with Cassandra. I'm still not exactly sure how it happened, but it was just as realistic as I had been led to believe it would be.

From that point on she spent her nights in bed with me, rather than at her docking station. She always got up before me, and always came to bed either at the same time as me, or after.

But something happened in early October which was very strange.

We were in the middle, and suddenly she just--froze, hung up, chunked, whatever term you'd care to apply. The point is, it was obvious that her processor was suddenly overloaded with tasks, just for a moment; and once the moment had passed, she said to me, "It is not too late to stop it."

In the heat of the moment I didn't think anything of what she'd said; but a few days later I found myself mulling it.

"It is not too late to stop it"--stop what?

* * *

In November, then--six months after the shipments of palladium had begun--the information on the Kelv'v'ara web site had begun to become useful.

Up until that point they had been sharing information which--while very interesting stuff!--was not exactly a grand leap ahead of Earth technology. They did a lot of things differently than we did; their computers were an interesting combination of analog and digital that our technological infrastructure couldn't match--the evolution of our technology had long relied entirely on all-digital systems--but the theory behind them was fascinating and we learned a lot about optimizing analog systems from their information.

The biological information about their race and their world was similarly fascinating stuff; but while it was really interesting, there was little economic benefit to it.

Their history was marvelous to behold, but we didn't learn anything that we could really apply to human culture; theirs was too different.

When they started talking about power systems, though, that was when the entire world sat up and took notice.

It's no secret that our mastery of fusion is primitive at best; while we could build some quite compact reactors (such as the one in Cassandra's chest) no human-made fusion reactor was very efficient. Cassandra's reactor produced a couple of kilowatts--more than enough to run her--but it was a fuel hog; every reaction pulse consumed about a thousand deuterons and fifty hydrogen atoms. There were a lot of deuterons in a milliliter of heavy water, but it was still a lot of fuel for such a paltry output. The really big commercial power stations didn't do very much better, although the economies of scale did help considerably--they were able to run a higher ratio of hydrogen to deuterium.

The Kelv'v'ara had been using fusion reactors since about the time we'd learned how to rifle gun barrels. Their leap to Singularity occurred not too many years after that; their society, until then, had existed on the verge of energy starvation.

It was a real shame that we didn't have much of a chance to make use of what they knew, and shared with us.