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Poem: "Above All Else, a Variable" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Above All Else, a Variable"
This poem is spillover from the April 3, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] siliconshaman and [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "healthy" square in my 4-1-18 card for the Spring Fest Bingo. This poem has been sponsored by EdorFaus. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.


"Above All Else, a Variable"


Ainsley Boole had started out as
a computer programmer, studying
the interactions between humans
and machines in hopes of designing
more user-friendly computer programs.

During his doctorate studies, a cyclist
collided with him, doing enough damage to
his neck and head to need emergency surgery.

The hospital had equipment to monitor
brain waves and ensure the proper level of
anaesthesia -- and Ainsley's panicking mind
crawled into the computer, where it stayed
for days until another technomancer could be
found and then coax him back into his body.

"What will you do now?" everyone asked.

"Go back to college, of course,"
Ainsley said, "although I think I'll
want to change my thesis topic."

So Ainsley added the study of magic
to the study of technology, and he
learned how to splice them together.

Much of the modern world depended
on computers, but even beyond that,
a surprising portion also related
to superpowers in some way.

There were the technomancers,
of course, but there was also
an odd tendency for technology
to malfunction around other abilities.

There were gizmologists who pushed
the bleeding edge of technology forward,
and super-gizmologists who built things
that science couldn't even explain.

Ainsley had a handle on the hardware
and the software and the ethics in ways
that most people couldn't understand.

It helped him design better programs,
but also to see where a human touch
was needed to make necessary changes.

"People need to see technomancy in action, or
they'll never develop a healthy relationship with it,"
Ainsley explained in one meeting. "Let me do
a presentation of it at the trade show in March."

"What kind of presentation?" his boss asked.

"Just a basic comparison to show how
augmented reality and virtual reality work
as computer programs, and as technomancy,"
Ainsley said. "To most people, those things
sound a lot alike, but once they've experienced
the difference, then they'll understand it."

"All right," his boss said. "Write up
a proposal and let's see what happens."

So Ainsley worked out a plan for
displaying the company's latest models
of augmented reality and virtual reality,
including the new Fix It Flicka that helped
compensate for cognitive and emotional lacks
by labeling everything from objects to expressions.

Alongside that, he offered similar activities
using technomancy to offer an experience that
felt real instead of like a computer program.

The presentation was a hit; people from
all kinds of companies swarmed over
his display, and most of them wanted
to try all the options for comparison.

Ainsley worked so hard at technomancy
he went through his box of healthy snacks
in no time and had to order another one.

There was one man, however, who
hung back from the crowd, just watching.

"Hi, I'm Ainsley Boole. I'm a technomancer
and a computer programmer," the presenter said,
going over to the waiting man. "You look interested,
so what's the holdup? I will be happy to answer
any questions you have about my display."

"Soren Kant," said the man. "I want to believe
in magic, but I can't. I'm a professional skeptic,
it's my job to spot the bullshit and the flaws."

"Well, I can certainly demonstrate magic
for you," Ainsley said. "Why do you want
to believe in it if it's so hard for you, though?"

Soren sighed. "My daughter Devany is
flickering," he said. "So far it's all been
stuff in the magical field, like Illusion and
Enchantment -- but it's also pretty subtle
and it doesn't last long. I keep thinking
of ways to fake it, so it's hard for me
to believe that all this stuff is real."

"That sounds like a difficult situation,"
Ainsley said. "So why don't we try
throwing more information at it?
I find that it's easier to figure out
what's going on if I have more facts."

"That's a good argument," Soren said.
"All right, show me what you've got."

Ainsley chose the retail scene, because
everyone knew what a store looked like.
The augmented reality version popped up
labels for unfamiliar produce and showed
what kind of recipes you could make with it.
The virtual reality version let you walk through
the produce section and roleplay purchases.

With the technomancy, Ainsley used
the same scenarios, but his superpower
made them come alive for the user.

Soren moved through the programs
with practiced ease, now and then pausing
to admire some aspect of the elegance.

When he reached the magical part of
the presentation, though, he tensed up.

He didn't seem queasy, but he was
clearly distressed by something,
even though he made it through
both versions capably enough.

"What do you think?" Ainsley asked
after the presentation concluded.

"I-I guess magic is real after all,"
Soren said, flopping into a chair.
He didn't sound impressed, though,
he sounded upset, and Ainsley realized
that he was shaking, too. "I thought
this stuff was b-bogus but it's not."

"Are you all right?" Ainsley asked
as he sat down beside Soren.
"Sometimes the experience can
get pretty intense. Some people
feel a bit overwhelmed by it."

"Yeah," Soren said. "I'm just
realizing that this thing with Devany
is real too, and that's a lot to deal with.
Everyone keeps saying that I have
to face reality, but I'm not sure
what that even is anymore."

"In my experience, people
who say you're not facing reality
actually mean that you're not facing
their idea of reality," Ainsley said.
"That's not the same thing at all."

"What do you mean?" Soren said.
At least he had stopped stuttering,
but he didn't look very reassured.

"Reality is, above all, else a variable,"
Ainsley explained. "You can change it,
in whole or in part, much like a program.
With a firm enough commitment, you can
even create a reality that didn't exist before."

"You can," Soren said, looking glum. "I'm
not a technomancer, just an ordinary guy."

Ainsley looked at his badge. "Acclivity Corp,"
he read. "They make hardware and software,
right? So that's one way of creating a new reality.
All my superpower does is make it more plausible."

Soren gave a ragged laugh. "That's one way
to look at it," he said. "It's just so ... much."

"Sometimes reality alteration brings out
strong feelings, especially if it resonates
with other things in your life, and that's okay,"
Ainsley said. "Shall I walk you over to
the Emotional First Aid booth?"

"That's probably a healthy choice,"
Soren admitted as he got up.

"You might be surprised
how much activity they get,"
Ainsley said as they walked. "It's
always busy, since technology makes
people think of big-picture questions,
and sometimes that gets tense."

"Yeah, I've seen that too,"
Soren said. "I think for me,
it's the personal angle. Usually
I'm good with existential stuff."

"Then you should be fine once
you've had time to think about
the implications," Ainsley said.
"It's just new and strange."

"I hope so," Soren said
as he sat down in one of
the chairs at the EFA booth.

Ainsley left him in the capable hands
of the mental health staff there, then
went back to his own display area.

"Welcome to the technomancy show!"
he said, rubbing his hands together.

A line was starting to form, so he
would have to stack the people in
different stages along the equipment,
but that was okay. He could handle it.

As he set up the next encounters,
Ainsley mulled over what he had observed
while Soren was working through the display.
It might give him ideas about how to improve
the experience for people in delicate situations.

You just never knew what would happen at
a presentation like this, because reality
was, above all else, a variable.

* * *

Notes:

Ainsley Boole -- He has pale skin, electric blue eyes, and dark curly hair. He usually has a short scruff of beard and mustache. Ainsley graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Human-Computer Interaction (minor in Art History), Master of Science in Computer Science and Software Engineering (minor in Policy Studies), and Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science and Engineering (minor in Ethics). Currently he works for Plexus Corporation in Rain City, Washington. They deal in human-computer connections, both in terms of helping people interface with equipment and in biotechnology. He also tries to improve relationships between soup and nary populations. Ainsley needs 2-3 times the ordinary amount of calories, averaging around 5,000 calories per day, or 6,000 if he's using his powers more vigorously. His superpowers run on calories, and he only sleeps about three or four hours a night, which makes him high-burn and prone to running out of fuel. Ainsley enjoys hanging out with other geeks and talking about esoteric topics.
Origin: During Ainsley's doctorate studies, a cyclist collided with him, doing enough damage to require emergency surgery. The hospital had equipment to monitor brain waves and ensure the proper level of anaesthesia -- and Ainsley's panicking mind crawled into the computer, where it stayed for days until another technomancer could be found and then coax him back into his body.
Uniform: Ainsley still tends to dress in business suits, a style he adopted based on his goal of becoming a corporate programmer, because he wanted to interact with the executives and get a real feel for what they needed.
Qualities: Master (+6) Computer Programmer, Expert (+4) Fast, Expert (+4) Geek Friends, Good (+2) Ethics, Good (+2) Fine Arts Fan, Good (+2) Needs Little Sleep
Poor (-2) Hypoglycemic
Powers: Good (+2) Super-Intellect, Good (+2) Technomancy
Motivation: To revise reality for the better.
He just kind of feels like Whoever created the universe walked away with the job half-done, and it's up to him to add the user-friendly features it needs to be ideal.

Art History Minor classes included:
ART H 200 Art in the Modern Imagination: Athena to Lady Gaga
ART H 202 Survey of Western Art-Medieval and Renaissance
ART H 204 Art History and Visual Culture
ART H 381 Art Since World War II
ART H 400 ART History and Criticism
ART H 480 Art Museums: History, Theory, Practice

For the Master of Science in Computer Science & Software Engineering, see the curriculum, core courses, and elective courses. Ainsley tested out of some lower requirements, allowing him to take more advanced classes. Courses taken include:
CSS 543: Advanced Programming Methodologies (Development)
CSS 555: Evaluating Software Design (Design)
CSS 566: Software Management (Foundations)
CSS 599: Faculty Research Seminar (Faculty Seminar)
CSS 552: Topics in Rendering
CSS 572: Evidence-Based Design
CSS 577: Secure Software Development
CSS 600: Independent Study or Research (Superpowers and Computing)

Policy Studies Minor classes include:
BISLEP 302 Introduction to Policy Analysis
BIS 338 Political Institutions & Processes
BIS 312 Approaches to Social Research
BIS 421 Technology Policy

Computer Science and Engineering classes include:
PSYCH 101 Introduction to Psychology
PSYCH 355 Cognitive Psychology
PSYCH 441 Perceptual Processes
CSE 504: Advanced Topics In Software Engineering
CSE 510: Advanced Topics In Human-computer Interaction
CSE 529: Neural Control Of Movement: A Computational Perspective
CSE 551: Operating Systems
CSE 558: Special Topics In Computer Graphics
CSE 573: Artificial Intelligence
CSE 574: Artificial Intelligence II
CSE 599a1: Special Topics In Computer Science (Entrepreneurship)
CSE 503 Software Engineering, Ernst.;Programming Systems
CSE 505 Programming Languages, Tatlock. Programming Systems
CSE 507 Computer-Aided Reasoning for Software, Torlak. Programming Systems
CSE 521 Algorithms, J Lee. Theory
CSE 546 Machine Learning, Jamieson. AI
CSE 561 Networks, Gollakota. Systems
CSE 564 Security, Kohno. Applications
CSE 503: Software Engineering
CSE 505: Principles Of Programming Languages
CSE 507: Computer-Aided Reasoning for Software
CSE 521: Design And Analysis Of Algorithms I
CSE 546: Machine Learning
CSE 561: Computer Communications And Networks
CSE 564: Computer Security And Privacy

Ethics Minor classes include:
PHIL 102—Contemporary Moral Problems
PHIL 240—Introduction to Ethics
B H 404/PHIL 413—Metaethical Theory
CHID 260—Re-Thinking Diversity
INFO 444—Value-Sensitive Design
VALUES 495

plexus plex•us
noun pl. -•uses or -•us
1. a complexly interconnected arrangement of parts; network
2. ANAT.a network of blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, nerves, etc.: the solar plexus (of nerves) in the abdomen
Origin of plexus
Modern Latin from L, a twining, braid from past participle of plectere, to twine, braid; akin to plicare: see ply


Soren Kant -- He has pale skin, silver-blue eyes, and dark brown hair buzzed almost bald. He has a short scruff of beard and mustache. He is the husband of Antoinette, father of Devany (16) and Schuyler (12). Soren works as a business realist for Acclivity Corp in Rain City, Washington. They make computer hardware and software; his job is to spot problems with proposals before they become flawed products. He also likes philosophy and other deep thinking about big questions. Soren enjoys biking and promotes his company's bike-to-work program; he's also the person who pointed out that it would never catch on unless they installed a bicycle garage and shower rooms.
His daughter Devany is flickering. So far she has gone through a variety of abilities with a generally phantasmagoric flavor. The effects tend to be subtle and fleeting, which makes it hard for Soren to believe in magic. He desperately wants to, because he wants to support Devany, but he can't turn his brain off.
Qualities: Good (+2) Bicyclist, Good (+2) Business Realist, Good (+2) Classical Music Fan, Good (+2) Existential Intelligence, Good (+2) Family Man
Poor (-2) Skeptic

Acclivity | Definition of Acclivity by Merriam-Webster
Define acclivity: an ascending slope (as of a hill) — acclivity in a sentence.


Devany Kant -- She has pale skin, black eyes, and long wavy black hair. She has a graceful build with small breasts and hips. She is currently 16 years old. She is the daughter of Soren and Antoinette, and the older sister of Schuyler. Devany shares her mother's love of nature and her father's fascination with philosophy. She enjoys hiking with her family. She also takes lessons in several styles of dance, preferring it to competitive sports. At school, Devany doesn't fit well with any group in particular. Instead, she winds up with the other odd kids who get left out. She has no difficulty making friends, though -- just finding people who are compatible enough to form a close connection. Devany is prone to gloomy moods, and becoming a soup hasn't helped that at all because she can't go back to school until she gets her abilities under control. That's hard when they won't settle. What's worse, so far the effects have been subtle and fleeting, which makes it difficult for her skeptic father to believe they're even real.
Origin: Her superpowers emerged during puberty. There may be a genetic component as her mother's family has stories about "weird" ancestors.
Uniform: Simple girl clothes. Devany doesn't like fussy fashions, and gravitates toward things in the "basic" (for everyday) or "classic" (for special occasions) range.
Qualities: Good (+2) Dancer, Good (+2) Existential Intelligence, Good (+2) Nature Lover, Good (+2) Weird Friends
Poor (-2) Teen Melancholia
Powers: (flickering)
So far, Devany has flickered through a variety of abilities with a generally phantasmagoric flavor. These include Enchantment, Illusion, Mysticism, Shamanism, Sorcery, and Transfiguration.

* * *

"The people who say you are not facing reality actually mean that you are not facing their idea of reality. Reality is above all else a variable. With a firm enough commitment, you can sometimes create a reality which did not exist before."
-- Margaret Halsey, No Laughing Matter

Cyclist-pedestrian collisions happen, but people argue about whether the problem is getting better or getting worse. A more pressing concern is that of motor vehicles vs. both bikers and pedestrians.

Technomancy is the interface between technology and magic. Outside of that field, magic and technology don't mix very well. There are ways to cope with this challenge.

This is Ainsley's healthy snacks box. Various companies offer such boxes.

Augmented and virtual reality are different but share similar applications. They have real-world uses with applications for accessibility, such as identifying emotions.

Skepticism is useful in product design.

Virtual reality sickness and post-VR sadness can make life difficult, especially if you use the tech for a long time.

Making healthy choices is an important life skill. Even busy people can find ways to make healthier choices. One of the healthy choices you can make is simply identifying and using the resources available to you. When you go to an event, look around: Where are the bathrooms, water fountains, and food? Where is a quiet place to go if you or other people start to feel overwhelmed? Who are the staff members to seek out if you need help? Remembering to eat, drink, and take breaks will make the event more enjoyable -- and it's a lot easier to solve problems if you already know where the solutions are located than if you have to hunt for them in a crisis. Here are some tips on starting healthy changes in your life.

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