Particles, Rays and Foil

Kage Baker would have given up on this blog site after its continuing shenanigans lately. She was ordinarily possessed of a dragon-like patience: she could wait out anything to get what she wanted. But misbehaving technologia incensed her, especially since she had no faintest clue about what to do about it. It was all magic, and she had no charisma over electronics.

WordPress, a usually exemplary platform, continues to display little eccentricities today. The usual paths to the usual work sites don’t load; I am having to find little sideways and backdoor routes to get things done. I even took an hour or so to update and compress and delete all manner of crap on my own hard drive, just in case stale data was adding to the situation – or something. Stale data was a favourite explanation of Kage’s for programs being uncooperative …

Since the times when her computer failed almost invariably involved the sudden loss of several hundred words of prose, the emotional stakes were high. It was never a casual problem, but a huge and ravening maw of malign mystery. And for Kage, it was most definitely personal. And probably deliberate on the part of some distempered entity. Half of her frustration at times like this was her inability to find an appropriate nose to punch.

She also frequently stated that cosmic rays were impacting her computer with more-than-usual frequency and ferocity. It was a statement hard to argue with – I mean, cosmic rays do (theoretically) sleet through all of us and our gear all the time; if they can manage an occasional side-pocket hit to our chromosomes, maybe they can kick the odd 1 or 0 out of place in our computers as well. My only problem with this idea was that Kage felt someone ought to be able to do something to prevent it …

Cosmic rays are hard to stop. The most adamantine substances are, to the average jaunting particle, as a mist or frail smoke. People who are very interested in catching cosmic rays in the act put their collecting sensors in deep, deep mines: just to make sure nothing but the desired heavy-duty particles will reach them. There was nothing I could think of that would do the necessary fending-off trick up here at ground level. Not even lead foil, if lead foil were still available at the grocery or hardware stores …

Kage knew this about cosmic rays, of course. I know she knew it; I’d given her the information myself. How she ordered and interpreted it inside the  wunderkammer of her mind, I do not exactly know … but she did have some basic understanding that exotic sub-atomic particles were not daunted by shiny reflective surfaces. Like foil. Or two miles of coal-bearing strata, for that matter. And she felt that was a very poor way to arrange things.

Kage also understood, though, that it was not the shininess of foil that would be protective, anyway – it was the heaviness of the substance of which it was made. Thus her contempt for tin-foil, which has nothing much going for it but a high gleam and ready availability. Lead is a good shield because it is a dense metal; ditto for gold, which has been highly used in the space program for that very reason.

Were we able to produce neutronium or the like, it might suffice – but it’s a theoretical substance of ultimate density: what the hell could one mount it on, that it would not plunge right through? And all those rare earths like einsteinium, curium and fermium are way off at the far end of the periodic chart, anyway: off in whack-a-doodle land, as Kage would have said. No one’s ever seen more than a few atoms of them anyway. Production of foil is doubtless unlikely in the near future.

In any event, I don’t think the naughtiness of computers is as much due to the impact of cosmic rays as Kage often claimed. I think it was up there with blood thinning, or the weight of my hat on beds tilting the laws of probability. It was a label for an annoying and ungraspable problem; cursing Higgs bosons and cosmic rays was preferable to hauling off and kicking a malfunctioning hard drive. It let her interact with something she couldn’t fix and blow off some steam and frustration while I rebooted the computer.

Though I am not certain that she wasn’t dead serious when she installed a jar of sea water and jade pebbles above the computer on her desk. She claimed positive ions and crystalline structures would help ward off errant particles. It might have been up there with potatoes causing tularemia … on the other hand, she did have fewer problems afterwards. And while I’d prefer to think she was  heeding my advice on avoiding aberrant key commands, one never knew with Kage …

Maybe I ought to put back the jars. I mean, what could it hurt?

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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3 Responses to Particles, Rays and Foil

  1. Michael Young says:

    What could hurt, it’s like acknowledging the beliefs of our ancient forefathers.
    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.


  2. I don’t know. Maybe WordPress is just out to get you. I haven’t had any issues with the exception of it refusing to spell check my blog today.. twice but other than that, no issues.


  3. Kate says:

    Odd. My spell check worked fine – I just had to scramble to get in. Oh, well. It’s all Mark’s fault, anyway.


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