section 4: Nuclear Shadows Chapter 1: Getting Acquainted
late May, 20yy Los Alamos New Mexico.
Sally drifted off into her book reader as Casey drove along the historic highway to Los Alamos. They were both talked out after their early morning touring Albuquerque and watching the balloon launch. Sally untangled her ear bus as Casey steered the rental car into the parking lot at the Los Alamos National Laboratory museum.
The museum tour dramatized web pages and You tube channel they had previewed after their arrival last night in Albuquerque. The tour docent answered piercing questions from visitors with varying professions and nationalities. Optimism and pessimism were politely expressed. The “shock and awe” of a nuclear attack was fresh on everyone’s mind.
The docent emphasized peaceful world-wide applications like climate models. One tall, neatly bearded millennial stood out for asking how each demonstration would benefit public interests. By the end of the tour, he’d created the laugh line ‘is there an app for that?’.
They viewed the Manhattan Project documentary. Then they were ready for a conservation tour of burned areas nearby Sally’s niece’s home. It horrified them to imagine wildfires nearly consuming the laboratory itself, especially considering all the toxic stuff within. However, green returning vegetation stood out on the surrounding mesa.
Casey was enjoying spending more time together after her short stay with Sally in Washington the month before. She was comfortable with helping Sally with her vision needs. Sally had rapidly acquired knowledge about the Los Alamos history and environs , using screen readers, note takers, and some mysterious way of mapping web pages into her mind.
But, Casey felt uncomfortable at the family purpose of the trip. Sally and her niece Marilyn were getting together to plan a memorial for Sally’s sister, Marilyn’s mother, who died recently after a long battle with leukemia. Marilyn was completing a divorce, settling her son on a college pathway, all while looking for career re-entry points. Sally was excited about re-acquainting with that rapidly maturing rambunctious great-nephew, Bob.
Sally and Casey had agreed to assess Marilyn as a member of their Pink Page Restoration team. She had journalism experience with a technology background, a talent they could use.
They dropped their luggage at a local hotel then met Marilyn and Bob in the lobby. Mother and son wore tennis garb and carried fruit drinks. Casey had expected Marilyn to be dark-haired like Sally, not sporting a head band over a graying blonde mane. Casey was always surprised to meet other tall folks after knowing a shorter relative like Sally.
A typical teen with his eyes glued to his smart phone, when they arrive, Bob fix his gaze on his visitors, hug his great-aunt, and shook Casey’s hand. He palmed his phone to show that he was watching Casey’s oral history piece “Sputnik Launched My Career”. They all laughed at that “beep-beep-beep” that surprised the American public.
Marilyn drove with Bob and Sally chattering in the back seat of the SUV and Casey as shot-gun. Bob regaled them about the fire patterns encoded in his wildfire simulator. Casey blanched as his screen showed flames roaring down the very street they were driving on.
Mother encouraged son to record answers to questions from their technically oriented guests. How to turn his savant trait into a scholarship winner at the upcoming science fair was tops on his mind.
Sally and Casey were in geek heaven, witnessing the birth of a worthwhile app and the growth of its inventor. Sally understood Bob’s technical explanations with her own mathematical intuition. They lost Casey in their equations for combustion and wind change.
Sally’s gentle probing fascinated Bob that all his info graphic creation prowess was wasted on Sally’s image-disabled vision. Her demonstration of the iPhone VoiceOver apps speaking out buttons and text resonated with Bob’s brain-body design thinking. They conjectured that his info graphics could be accompanied by descriptions in alternative senses, like rising chords of sound or tactile mounds of data points. He felt sure the science fair judges would consider his simulation original and socially valuable.
Appreciation for Apple’s accessibility genius spanned their three generations of usability experience. Sally brought out a Diagram Center example that related coordinates of flame intensity with types of foliage, even reading the equations in the venerable LaTeX language. Sally’s iPhone speaking VoiceOver captivated Bob with its regularity, occasional eccentricities, and fake expression of emotions.
He related how nonverbal students in his Special Ed classes had used this technology on iPads, but this was his first experiment with text-to-speech for technical work. His schoolmates had played jokes using a voice imitating their Principal. The jokers even used the Queen Elizabeth voice in a Shakespearean sonnet performance.
Casey shivered at the thought of vocal terrorism bred into Special Education as she’d recently discussed with Detective Swank of the DellVille police force. With The Great Trickster’s mangled handling of assault weapon ownership, Casey knew what was coming soon. Guns were the weapons, with cloned voices as accomplices. She felt a technology shadow looming over modern computer professionals just like Manhattan era physicists reconciled with their bombs.
Marilyn explained to Casey that the Los Alamos wild fire had been an emotional catalyst for the entire family. She and Bob’s older sister talked often about the loss of homes, habitats, and scenery in ways that elicited empathy from Bob. He had been fascinated by fires at age 5. Marilyn and then husband Yuri worked for weeks to show Bob the catastrophic potential of playing with matches, or mish-using his focused solar furnace lens. Gradually they gained trust that Bob, like his idol Temple Grandin, had developed a pictorial, protective attitude toward fires, animals, and vegetation.
Respecting family bonding at this reunion,, they had all stowed their Whisperers to focus on thoughts and feelings in the moment. As the outsider looking for a family-oriented topic, Casey asked Marilyn for advice on her big-little syster relationship with Brittany from the DellVille Computer Club. Marilyn admonished Casey to let Brittany tackled the hard problem of emulating a 3D Babbage-style mechanical computer, accepting that any failures would be useful lessons about design. She warned that Casey’s worries about Brittany’s skills and commitment would undermine the youngster’s self-confidence. Casey realized that her ‘Enchantress of Whisperers’ infatuation was disguising her own fear of failure as a klutz working with mechanical objects, not to mention her awkward interactions with young people.
The adults smiled when Bob kicked the car seat like a toddler and squealed his thanks to Marilyn for bringing his brilliant Aunt Sally back into the family fold.
By the end of Marilyn’s guided tour, Sally and Casey had brought to life their readings about the World War II Los Alamos era. Casey thought how much Gavin would have enjoyed this conversation with young scientist Bob.
Marilyn was seeking her own opportunities under her aunt’s tutelage. She had been long trapped in family management mode. A touch of anger in her voice made clear she sought to rekindle professional respectability and forge a new career path.
Marilyn and Bob dropped Casey and Sally off at their motel then booked a dinner reservation for 6:30 at Marilyn’s favorite restaurant. Bob headed off for homework and an upgrade of his simulator to exploit Sally’s sensory adaptations.
Listening to Sally working with Bob using her assistive technology opened Casey’s eyes to new aspects of the Pink Page attack methodology. She really wanted to investigate Web Rescue with the diversified viewpoints she’d encountered that afternoon. Were human senses yet another factor of Ada Lovelace’s principle of universal computing?