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School Astride the MetaVerse - A Standard Final Assignment

Written: 2014
Final Assignment in Mrs. Baumbrum’s Engineering Program
EduTopia EduSystem_entry-00029239:
Suspension bridge assignment_05_final
Testing: engineering, physics, mathematics, materials, design; subsets: teamwork, leadership, delegation
Age bracket 14-16, 22 students in eduSpace simroom0098976.
Teacher Baumbrum supervising
“Where the hell is John!? He has the model for the cable captures! We can’t load the bridge without him!”
Jordan was pissed, she and the rest of Team Orange were all assembled at the starting zone and had loaded their pieces of the bridge assignment into the sim-space. It was a beautiful design; Steve and her had really gone all out in meshing the pieces together. But John had the cable captures and they couldn’t load the bridge into the physics space until he showed up with them.
“He’ll be here,” Amy soothed, “he sent me a snap this morning of his model, it looked good.”
Jordan was about to start on a minor tirade about how John was an inconsiderate jerk and this was just another example, but just then John’s avatar appeared
“Sorry, sorry I got stuck in loooooooogin!~” His words and face clipped and distorted in transfer.
“Where are you, your connection is crap. Are you at a phys-school?” Steve’s avatar piped up.
“No I’m using my damn home tablet and my dad’s crappy single eye visor, I'm not even in-sim with you, I'm just looking in a window, it's terrible. The stupid robobus missed my stop! Somehow I got deleted from the bus database so it didn’t come today! I bet it’s those damn Saul twins they always mess with the school databas-”
“No one cares about your problems, just upload the damn model!” Jordan cut in, her avatar wailing, its representation of her face scrunched in response to readings of her actual face.
All around them the other bridges were going up, Team Blue, Team Red, Team Mauve, even Team Green was getting their spindly creation aloft.
“Wow minimize your bandwidth Jordan, it’s going now." John said "I’m on my house mesh, this shit is mad slow.”
“Let’s keep the language engineering appropriate,” Mrs. Baumbrum cheerily piped into the simspace, her avatar head and torso floating 300 feet large over the virtual ravine where the bridges were going up. Her simulated face de-aged 10 years and her bun decidedly brunette with no trace of grey.
Many geo-remote students saw her primarily like this, but Jordan rarely geo-remoted into her school and so she knew the gentle lie Baumbrum's avatar truly was.
In a directed voicestream to Team Orange Mrs. Baumbrum remarked, “I’m noticing that your group’s bridge is not up yet, remember you’ve got 15 more minutes to get it working before I invite class 18 to drive their autocar projects all over it. I can’t wait to see your great design!” her avatar beamed.
“We’ll be ready!” Jordan cut in before the other students' VR googles even finished receiving Baumbrum’s packets. Jordan had a home VR rig but still always went to the physical school building; they had the least latent connection and being a leader was all about having the most information the fastest so that decisions could be made.
Baumbrum's avatar smiled and faded into the background. John’s cable captures finally loaded and the bridge model was complete, it materialized, wobbled a little, then began its full render as the natural physics of the simulation environment were applied to the dataform of the now complete bridge.
John’s avatar’s face grimaced in response to his physical face being read by the 3D sense camera on his tablet. “Oof! I hate loading stuff up in here, the physics are so brutal. You know I was talking to the Saul twins and they say that the teachers deliberately make the physics harder than real life, I tried testing it but it’s like, how can you test the sim using something you build in the sim-”
“John, focus! You need to zero this in, look at these readings.” Jordan snapped.
Steve and Amy had a slew of simu-screens up in front of their avatars and Jordan’s avatar was behind theirs; they had all taken up the rehearsed positions, why couldn't John?!
“Ya John I know this worked well when you showed me this morning but that was not the full space, your captures are too loose.” Amy’s avatar pointed to some values on her virtual screen showing cable tautness, it was redlining negative.
On John’s tablet he saw her screen fill his view and an arrow appear pointing to the value in question.
“Relax, it’ll be fine give it a second to settle in, the cable is going to stretch we all know this, remember our first version when it was too tight?” John soothed.
“I agree with JJJJohn,” Steve’s avatar chimed in some latency messing up the audio stream. He never came to physical school even though he lived really close; his home VR rig was better than what the school had. Damn rich kids, still can’t fix the speed of light though…
Jordan’s goggled face smiled at the thought; her avatar did too.
Then she quickly snapped back to the moment.
“You know how important this is to our group score, I want to get enough system points to do the government assignment!” her avatar exclaimed, emoticon exclamation marks hovered above her head.
“Of course you want to do the government assignment Queen Jordan,” Steve whispered, inadvertently caught by his dad’s best-money-can-buy mic arrays.
John’s avatar burst out laughing in audio and expression. Amy’s avatar flashed a smile and a quick chortle snuck through before she muted.
“I heard that Steve! I hope you’ll be a terrorist agent I can hunt down in my worldsim when I'm the president!!” Her physical face flushed with anger and embarrassment and her avatar reddened correspondingly.
The system noted this exchange:
‘Possible configuration for *assignment_governance-permuation01of20* = place *student_steve0198* with *student_jordan0032* in leadership roles together before antagonist roles apart. Consider experiments with power distribution between them in leadership roles; wait for *teacher_baunbrum009* to approve or modify’
“Whatever, you know it’s true, listen to you boss us around, it’s only a digi-struc we can just re-render it if it voxelizes, it's just a grade, who cares if we fail this when we're all just gonna job surf on the markets anyway?” John pushed.
He waited a bit… no response.
John pushed further, “besides, what did you even do on this project, Amy and I did suspension structure, Steve did the site analysis and materials, all you do is talk!”
Jordan’s physical face was simmering and just as she and her avatar were about to explode with indignation–a very non-leaderlike thing to do the system would have noted–a terrible simulated snapping sound emerged from the bridge.
“Oh fu_k!” Steve exclaimed, poorly auto-censored by the swear filters. Red lines on all the metrics, tension on cable 1A is gone and 2B is slipping. The whole Cable 1 bundle could go next. This thing was falling down soon.
“No no no!” Amy’s voice was distressed but her avatar remained stoic; the system seemed to not care about rendering little details right now.
“John what have you do~” Jordan yelled, her audio clipped at the end as the system briefly struggled to shift resources and re-render the near-collapsing object. It was trillions of triangles in sim, a beast of a thing.
“I can fix it, I can fix it!” John yelled as he searched for the physics pause button on his interface to no avail. “Shit she turned off pause!”
In the simulation space you usually could stop and even reverse temporal physics events, but of course that was disabled today for the final. John really should have known better.
The bride started listing to one side fast as the far side cables began to fray, when suddenly braces appeared on the listing side.
“Well I just used our one free card,” said Jordan who had designed the braces just in case; they weren’t physical world plausible, but Braumbrum had allowed one ‘cheat’ object in case of catastrophe and Jordan didn’t like taking chances.
The system noted this, assigned some points for fast-action, removed points for necessity of deployment.
Now the bridge was holding but looked a bit miserable. Amy’s simu-screen showed tension on the opposite cable slipping too. Soon Cable A would rip out of its far mounts and cable B would be right behind it.
Scores weren’t available yet but Jordan knew the system had dinged the group more than it rewarded.
“What the hell Amy!” John yelled, “You were supposed to be keeping tabs on tens-“
"Me! You designed this crap!!" Amy yelled back.
Steve's avatar just had its hands on its head and was facing the bridge.
I’ll still get enough points to move on, Jordan thought, if this stupid thing will just hold.
She inhaled deeply and reached Inside–the way the monk had shown her in the Massively Open Online Meditation session she goggle’d into on Sunday mornings–and found her center.
She will move on, her team will succeed.
"Steve you could have helped me I tried to ask you," John was whining.
Feel the breath. Become the essence of alert and non-judgmental presence.
"Lay off Steve," Amy hollered, "this is your screw up Joh-"
“Stop." Jordan’s voice sliced in. "We need to act.” She had changed tone entirely, pure tranquil authority.
Her avatar turned to Amy, “Amy, how long till we lose cable 1B?”
“I,I,I dunno, the first one just changed all of a s-sudden I was watching I prom-" Amy stammered.
“Focus. Just give me a guess.” Jordan was all business.
“...Like 30 seconds sim time,” Amy’s voice was already resigned, but she still placed a countdown clock above the increasingly droopy bridge.
“Steve, how are the foundations can they handle the sheer?” … “STEVE.”
“Wha…yes? Yes!” Steve had turned from the bridge and become transfixed on Jordan; when she talked in that tone… “They’re holding, glad I learned about smart cement for this, the particles are moving to fill in the cracks, but they can’t re-shuffle forever.” Steve had come back to engineering mode.
“Good, John you need to-" Jordan started.
“Already on it, I’m gonna check something, hold onto your voxels!” John interrupted and his avatar disappeared.
“Wait, what are you doing? John. John!” but it was too late.
He had loaded up the modeling suite on his tablet and was pouring over his cable captures and so he was alone due to his tablet's tiny graphics processor needing full juice for this app.
“Come on, come on… shit I knew this would happen…” John mumbled to himself, luckily for him his tablet was not transmitting.
The countdown clock that Amy had started was locked to his visor prism. 21 seconds left.
If he was in VR he could have just done this in-sim. Stupid parents wouldn't let him buy a VR rig, it was ancient times up in here! Something had snapped in his tension ratchet, he knew where. He tweaked a value in the modeling sim on his tablet, ran a fast spread and it generated a graph showing the inflection point.
He did some sloppy psuedomath and worked out how many turns of the ratchet before tension could to be applied and copied that value to a global clipboard to take back into sim with him.
He thought maybe he'll be able to get away with taking heat for bad settings before anyone asked too many questions about his sloppy overall design…
But the system had already made a note, since it was the sim responsible for breaking it. The note was internalized to the database and passed to Baumbrum, “*student_John1098* cable capture mechanism structural weakness exhibited. Weakness in tension ratchet design, *schematics-hyperlink*. Consider having him run a brief re-sim.”
In the simulation space Jordan, Amy and Steve were trying hard to keep the tension distributed down at the foundation where the smart cement was still programmable. They could let it shift in its mounts a bit, but if it crossed a certain angle the metal in the legs would bend and no amount of smart cement at the foundation could fix that.
Jordan’s braces were holding, but if the tension didn’t resume on the cables…
Just as she was about to start a direct </SilentMessage> session to text-yell at him, John’s avatar went out of standby.
“Ok got it, we need to tighten the cable back here,” arrows appeared above the opposite end of the bridge. “And we need to crunch the capture tighter…here.” An Arrow appeared above the cable capture.
Steve and Amy didn’t miss a beat, their avatars flew over to the spots.
“How many turns John?” Amy asked, rather forcefully.
“Shit sorry, here's the recipe: turn knobs 1-6Q turn until clockwise while holding knobs 2B and 2C [core cable pressure reading]+2/3[external cable pressure reading]%{assembly sheer differential} equals around 22.19704. Good thing I added in tension knobs and all the sensors to the assembly, huh?” John exclaimed with unmerited bluster.
No one answered. All those features were after all just open source modules John copy-pasted, and really the least he could have done.
Amy and Steve tightened the capture and the bridge swayed back off the braces.
8 seconds left
The tension redlined again on the opposite side, but then normalized.
6 seconds left.
They waited.
3, 2, 1…
The bridge was upright and still standing.
“Everything looks green,” Steve sighed with relief.
Crisis over, Jordan was about to rear out of her inner calm and tear into John when Baumbrum-atar showed up again.
“Ah good, you’re all finished!” she addressed to all the groups. The braces on Team Orange’s bridge suddenly disappeared and it swayed slightly. She chuckled internally; she and the system had been watching the entire time anyway. The other bridges looked pretty solid, but none of them were as massive and impressive as Team Orange’s. Although, Team Green’s bridge looked a bit miserable.
“Now I’m going to let the robo-car projects from the other class come drive over your bridges, I'm sure your beautiful bridges will see their cars safely to the other side !” her avatar face creased into a warm smile, with decidedly less wrinkles than Jordan would see if she took her VR goggles off and looked to the front of the phys-space classroom they were both in.
Suddenly, portals opened and a flood of hundreds of robo-vehicles of all shapes and sizes flooded through them and started trundling at a collection of different speeds toward the various bridges. One headed for Team Blue’s onramp turn at a ludicrous speed and careened off into the virtual ravine. The other robo-cars were more cautious. One just drove in circles near the portal it came through.
“If this doesn’t hold, it’s on you John,” Jordan snarled just loud enough for the mic arrays to pick up.
“Relax, it’ll hold,” John reassured in a decidedly smarmy tone.
“John’s right,” Steve chimed in out of excitement, and immediately wished he hadn’t since Jordan’s avatar click turned to his and carried a deadly expression.
“Ya ya it’s all good!” Amy exclaimed too, breaking the tension, “It’s holding! Two freaking auto-semis just drove over it and it didn’t even ripple!” Her avatar and voice beamed.
It was working. Weeks of testing and refining and their bridge was working! This would get them a great engineering score; they had built an ambitious bridge, two way with four lanes on each side. The systems' and teachers’ combined scores always liked when you tried something challenging.
Jordan let herself relax and started thinking about how much fun the government challenge would be. She was tired of this engineering stuff, the failure was so finite. She preferred layers of failure that you could obscure and distnace yourself from. The system had plotted her as "possible politician" pretty early on in her education, and her teachers had been helping her foster a respect for the physical not just the political. It was working well enough.
She looked around, the other bridges were holding well. Steve had already wandered over to Team Red to talk to them about their smart-cement parameters. The last few nights in the materials lessons he had been diving down the programmable matter rabbit hole and wanted to see what Team Red’s implementation looked like. He was already getting an unofficial rep among students and an official rep with the system as one of age bracket 14-16’s best materials science students. Maybe he’d specialize early.
He was quite smart, Jordan thought, even if he was so immature sometimes. Nice eyes though, even if she had only seen them in person once, his avatar carried enough detail to recall in her the memory.
Suddenly the overall reverie was broken as Team Green’s bridge emitted a screeching sound, then a crunching sound, then the sight of polygons folding in on themselves. It came down in a simulated heap.
The system noted this:
“*team_green010* structural failure on *bridge_segment_linkage01891190* recommend adding *student_John1098* to team as *consultant_lvl2* for bridge simulation round two in free simulation time at *13:30_<today>*”
Team Orange, Team Blue, Team Red, and Team Mauve were rewarded their earned score pools which were partially auto-divvied up based on measured individual engagement. Leaders were given a cushion of points that they could distribute or keep.
The system noted what they did with their extra points. Jordan got 249 cushion points, skimmed off 20 for herself and gave the rest of the group the divided remainder. No sense causing arguments. Plus she had a suspicion that the system liked selfless acts like that and rewarded them down the line.
Suddenly portals appeared in front of Jordan, Amy, John and Steve’s avatars, along with all the other students.
‘to group discussion room 4c - debrief for bridge challenge ->’
John got an extra notification from the system that only he saw, ‘you will join *team_green* during free simulation time, your job is consultant for linkage. Free simulation time will be reinstated upon completion of successful simulation. Resource points will be awarded.’
“Ah come on, I’ve had a wing-drone model waiting for weeks! The virtuflyers are expecting me in freesim!” John moaned, half to himself half to the message.
The system noted this, and notified Baumbrum; immediately her gentle lie of an avatar appeared in John’s visor prism, full-screen.
“It’s ok John, you’re not being punished, their tension failure was like yours, but they didn’t fix it like you did. You can help each other!” She beamed. “I know you’ll be a great consultant for them, you’ll probably get freesim back tomorrow and you’ll have extra resource points to spend as a reward for your consulting today!”
“Yes Mrs. Baumbrum…” John sighed dejectedly. It wasn’t all bad, the resource points would let him afford the computing resources to sim a better brain for his model.
Mrs. Baumbrum removed her goggles and rubbed her eyes. How did the kids use these things for so long, even in free time?
The system had noted John’s tone and a message, “advise *teacher_baunbrum009* freesim important to *student_John1098*” was on her desk.
Thanks captain obvious, Baumbrum thought, rolling her eyes.
She looked up to see Jordan sitting in a bean-bag chair in the back corner of the room, goggles still on, hands fluttering manically. No doubt already trying out her political gamesmanship in the group room now that the test was over. Baumbrum tried not to let students get to her, but that Jordan girl was powerful, she hoped that the Instilling Virtue classes that Mr. Brown taught were working...
Then her attention shifted to a top-down perspective 2D view window on her desk; there were piles of student avatars clambering over and no-clipping through each other in group room 4c and some of them were starting to argue.
Always like herding cats no matter what the reality, she thought, before plunging back into the VR goggles to lead the debrief discussion. Her peripheral simu-screens were full of advice from the system on topics to engage the students with. Hopefully she could keep the language toned down, although telling what was offensive was becoming a lot harder these days. She would have to load up the ‘network slang’ course the system had developed for the teachers when she got home…

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