Gritty Reality

Techno-mind-games set in the creative imagination of a region,           

           a people rebuilding itself,           

                       themselves for ... the twenty first century ... and beyond ...

             Read, download Gritty Reality free at Scribd ...

Opening pages

Spinners of Yarns

Craig programmed dirt, dust, grains, grit, specs, smuts, smudges, smears, grime, ware and tare; not to mention sags, wrinkles, breaks, stretches and strains, rust, metal fatigue and failure and any other side effects of life and reality that nobody really noticed most of the time and certainly don't want to notice most of the time but everyone would miss if they weren't there. Unnoticed imperfections that made the virtual actual: that turned plastic-like into skin-like, toy-like into human-like, ice cream swirl into a graying and aging head of hair. The unseen grit in the carpet that makes sure you know you aren't hoovering for nothing. Not any old dust and grime of course. The dirt had to beef-up the gameplay, the narrative potential, the sense of being there in the game, video game that is, the virtual reality, the artificial world it was intended for. This was designer dirt, not true grit; and it was good business.

He was a real specialist, a grime consultant, ever finding new ways to make-under a building, a car, a street, hi-fi or sink: reversing the facelift of yesteryear: taking anything from virtual perfection and simplicity to the complexity and ambiguity of reality, real life, RL.

He looked out of the window and over the National Park - the historic riverside landscape of heavy industry, oil refineries and tankers, chemical works, steel works, coke works, power stations, marshes, wetlands and waste ground: still lots of that. A pair of pintails and a shoveller paddled slowly across the calm surface of the nearest lake in opposite directions. Expanses of lush, long grass pulsed in waves as the wind blustered across from the sea just a few miles down river. Sometimes he wished he could program grass blowing in the wind, a beautiful head of hair gently distracted from its resting state by a warm tropical breeze - that kind of reality - but dishing dirt was always in demand. People always messed things up and he got paid to make sure games got as messy as possible, as messy as RL if possible which they never could. Whatever type of game it was you always had to look on the seamy-side of life. That was the trick, was what he got paid for. He could give a game the impression of being as dirty and messed up as RL.

In another place and slight of time, Theo - relaxing in business class as his flight waits its turn to depart LA International, LAX to its friends - knows a lot more about this. It’s about real and digital, about atoms and bits; when atoms meet bits, become bits become atoms; become inseparable, indistinguishable. That was when the fun really started: when video games infiltrated real life; when being on line got confused with being on the bus; when software and computer programs and the bits and bytes that made them up were built up into everyday things like cars and teapots and people and animals and got so real and so everyday that it got to be difficult to know what was real and what was pretending to be real. That was when it got really interesting. Splitting the atom was nothing, nor matter meeting anti-matter. Atoms meeting bits changed everything. That was the real explosive meeting, the flash point. Bits destabilised atoms and the things that atoms made possible. Bits legitimised atoms, made clear why such and such a group of atoms is allowed to be recognised for what it was; is allowed to be what it was supposed to be. Reality was fragmenting and RL was becoming far less real and far more complicated. Theo was helping to make all this confusion more and more real and more and more profitable. He smiled to himself as he sat surrounded by all the atoms that flight simulators and safety and air worthiness certificates and an unthinkable multitude of other digital permissions – all made up of millions and millions of bits - legitemised as the Airbus A380 he was about to fly in.

Craig had a sense of some of this going to work and doing his job but not much. He really just did digital dirt. This was partially writing code, partially visual programming, a lot of ideas projected into class hierarchies, object inheritance, algorithms, APIs, SDKs, application environments and such like. Rapid bursts of keystrokes, keyboard short-cuts, dialogue boxes, mouse clicks and scrolls followed by a lot of screen gazing, staring into the distance as the whole thing was compiled into executable code: then the odd click to change a parameter, a layer of hue, transparency or luminosity perhaps before recompiling. A predictable cycle of feverish building followed by reflective tweaking followed by feverish building followed by … and on and on.

For those not familiar with the term 'algorithm' Professor Nomen Clutture of the Edge City University had invented a very useful one which can be used as an example. His algorithm can be used to ascertain the gender of any person born in the vicinity of Middlesbrough and the National Park. The algorithm goes like this:

1. Find out the name of the person whose gender you wish to know.

2. If the name ends in a consonant then the person is male and you are done. If the name does not end in a consonant then go to 3.

3. If the name ends in a vowel then the person is female and you are done. If the name does not end in a vowel then go to 4.

4. If the name does not end in a consonant or a vowel then the person was probably not born in or near Middlesbrough or the National Park and the algorithm may not be applicable.

Professor Clutture – whose work has created a storm of debate both in the academic and the wider social world concerning the very existence of gender - is currently researching the applicability of the algorithm on people born across the river Tees in Stockton.

Very little code was built form scratch. Most was rebuilt, recycled, refashioned out of other things finished or unfinished, used or unused but now sections of this and that and an idea from there botched together into the latest grimy secret. Re-usable code was how the academics referred to it but in this business it was referred to as 'garbage in, product out', for reasons soon to become much clearer. And it wouldn’t be just graphics much longer. Soon there was to be haptic, olfactory and auditory systems; obsolescence, usage and abusage and who knows what. Things wouldn't just have to look old but would also have to feel old, smell old, sound old and act old. Getting old and decrepit required more and more imagination, ingenuity, enthusiasm and more and more technical skill and technology, always more technology.

Craig had a friend who worked in Weathering and Erosion but that wasn't the same thing at all; far too staid and traditional. People in Weathering were disparagingly referred to as 'Gaiabots' because it was all so well understood and scientific. Urban decay was so, well ... vital!

But much of what Craig did was about showing other people how to use his company's knowledge of digital grime and decay effectively in their own products. These companies were in the digital special effects business for film and advertising, games companies, virtual surgery training systems and so on. In fact many games companies had gone into virtual surgery training systems because they knew more about taking virtual humans apart than the surgeons did - although they had to learn to do it in a more patient-oriented way.

The company Craig worked for almost never sold actual systems anymore and didn't have a product in the traditional sense. They had evolved out of the business of shifting dirt - dustbin men emptying bins into giant, jaw-bound, munching trucks - and into the business of selling information about dirt and then into selling information about virtual dirt. They didn't make games. What they sold was knowledge, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), about virtual dirt and grime: code, algorithms, data sets, program libraries and so on that real game developers could incorporate into the game they were building so as to make it appear more real. IPR was a neat way of doing business because other people had to worry about getting to market and demographics and pricing strategies and whatever else you had to worry about when you made stuff for RL. This way you just sold the configurable ideas and let somebody else take the risk. Craig sort-of understood all this but generally just got on with the crap that he was good at.

This was Edge City and if you said bin to these guys they would think of CGI bin, /bin, binarys, the little wastebin icon on your windows desktop or, more probably, a virtual model of a beat up, used and abused dustbin and lid. Somebody else took out the garbage these days. Everyone was outsourcing as much as possible.

Sometimes it wasn't the National Park. Sometimes it was Edge City. The new centre of the unnamed, unacknowledged city of regeneration corporation, pump priming, infra structure, usage redesignation, digitization and globalisation projects that had blossomed around the industrial wasteland between Middlesbrough and Stockton where She - Margaret Thatcher She that is - had once stood and been photographed by the world's media. Later She came back and stood nearby in a car park in the centre of a huge, out-of-town retail park, Teesside Park.

Sometimes it was the National Park and sometimes it was Edge City; same place, different stories. It's partly where you are and partly where you think you are. You can switch from Edge City to the National Park and back just with a blink of the eyes. The artificial, configurable, white water rapids course on the other side of the river, across the Tees Barrage, from Teesside Park is just such a blink of the eyes.

It had all started like this. First of all there was Urban Waste Disposal which was a council refuse service that had been privatised because of She. Having introduced flexible working conditions and lower wages for those that hadn't been sacked the management team started looking to grow their business. They had recently introduced a computerised, bar-coded tracking system for additional and large items of waste that they were required to dispose of as part of their contract. “Follow your crap to the tip” was an early sales pitch. “One click and you can access our on-line web service to see just where your crap is now” was another. The latest pitch was “We chart the crap out of your life”.

The management realised they could also go into business selling waste software systems - not software systems that were rubbish - to other privatised bin businesses. This was so successful that it led to business process re-engineering, downsizing and spinning out. The Company split into two. There was still Urban Waste Disposal but now there was also Refuse Informatics. It was shortly after this that Refuse Informatics became involved in film production. Urban Waste pension fund money was invested, in the short term, in a number of low budget, high return British film projects about ordinary but humorous British people. Some of these ventures were successful and others not but more money was made than lost. However, they quickly realised that they knew a whole lot more about grime and decay than the digital special effects people who worked on some of the films they financed. Grime and decay being a key feature of British films intended for the Hollywood market. A couple of computer graphics (CG) gurus were headhunted and a successful bid made to the government for money to retrain the ex-dustmen in the mysteries of VR and CG. These were the same dustmen who had not so long ago been retrained in the use of distributed rubbish information systems. Refuse Informatics now also developed and sold digital dirt. Pretty soon that irreverent, mouthy young upstart, the games industry discovered a need for crap as well.

Before you could back-up a file, the digital dirt, special effects division was growing faster than the rest of Refuse Informatics put together and so there followed another bout of business process re-engineering, down sizing, spinning out and splitting in two. The new company was called DK Digitalia which promptly moved into a new Edge City development little more than a rusty tin can's throw from the spot where She had been photographed amidst the desolation and decay of the country's once great heavy engineering industry. DK Digitalia's motto became “Bring Back the Waste of the Seventies”. The building itself was a enchanting mix of rural Thai and Spanish mass tourism that had been designed by an architect who had won the Oxymoron prize in the sixties for the most attractive office block in Croydon … the British Alphaville Jean Luc Goddard saxonified even before way before the tram …


Read, download Gritty Reality free at Scribd ...

There is more to follow!

A beta version of my text adventure: 'Pakari: the cave of refuge'; a tangential procedure in the Gritty Reality Syndrome, is now available for playereading here.

And 'Here Surface Active Agents' are planning to clean up all before them.

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