Technobabble

One of the few downsides of having a physicist for a father is that you, as a writer, tend to feel really guilty when you start slinging the sci-fi lingo around like this.  It doesn’t help that my father could, if he were still alive, have given me some really great scientific terminology to use in here. He specialized in theoretical physics, so at least he wouldn’t have simply declared it impossible. He would have sat down and thought about it, and come up with at least three ways in which it might actually work given some reasonably plausible advances in technology. And he probably would have invented two new concepts in the process.

I remember when I was writing a script about a futuristic firefighter and I asked him if there was a way to make a fireman’s axe more badass. He went off and thought about it for a while, and then came back with a design for a special axehead whose blade curved inward to its edge, similar to what knifemakers call a “hollow ground” edge.  This inward curve was mathematically calculated to amplify the vibrations created by piezoelectric crystals attached to the blunt end of the axehead to a point where they created a “disastrous resonance” at the cutting edge. Power supply in the handle. It would, he assured me, basically destroy anything it touched.

However the axehead would have to be made of flawless artificial diamond. Always these little technological hurdles, or he probably would have built one.

(Oh, and if I have any of this wrong, it’s because I’m doing it from memory. My fault, not his.)

Anyway, that’s what I grew up with. I didn’t inherit his math brain, but I remembered enough of the jargon being tossed around the household to be able to utilize it later in scripts that probably make real scientists scream and clutch their heads. But I do try, Dad. I really do.

So anyway, now I’m on the fatherly end and I’m trying to explain to my son, who is the artist here, what I mean by “trinary algorithm.”  I didn’t mean like “binary” being 0 and 1, and so “trinary” would be 0 and 1 and 2. That sort of thing gets big laffs on Slashdot all the time.  No, I was trying to express something a little fuzzier; like “yes, no, and maybe.”  You know, “on” and “off ” and “what seems to be on except if you actually observe it, in which case it might not be.”  I start waving my hands around at this point.  “If binary is like beads on a string, y’know, two-dimensional, then trinary has another bead up over here somewhere, or had one yesterday, or tomorrow…”

Max just gave me that flat look that we Dads who are not my Dad tend to get from our sons, and said: “I’ll come up with something.”

And damned if he didn’t have Madison programming his machine with an abacus. I love that. I sort of imagine that the beads not only slide back and forth but can also be rotated on their axis with little clicking sounds to change what they represent at any given moment.  Plus it’s totally technosteamy. I tell you, I’m surrounded by generations of brilliance, of one sort or the other.

And I get to be the doof in the middle.

— Bob out.