~ A Mystery Novel ~
This is a work of fiction inspired by real experiences of my life. It includes passages of real events, people, places etc. as commentary, but the story itself is fabricated from my imagination in which all events, places and people–living, dead, or anywhere in between–are entirely fictional. The real stuff is clearly indicated as such at the beginning of each chapter, followed by nothing but fiction until the beginning of the next chapter. Why? I'm not sure. It just seemed the best way to get this story written.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
~ THE TRUE STUFF ~ In late 2015 I submitted a design idea for a new kind of high school in the XQ Super School Project launched by Laurene Powell Jobs. It was accepted into the first and second stages of the competition, but I decided to withdraw my entry after I failed to attract enough people onto my team dedicated to actually working collaboratively on the design with me. I called my super school design Creativity Canyon and had set up a project blog for team members to use while we all worked together on the design. After no one joined the team and actively participated to any discernibly productive level, I decided it would be a waste of the XQ competition judging panel's resources to spend any time considering a proposal created, developed and presented by someone working solo. After officially withdrawing from the XQ competition, my brain refused to let go of the Creativity Canyon design concept and it has continuously evolved to its current state of design which I now call Recreational Learning Clouds (RLCs) which are–in a nutshell–completely project-driven learning experiences available free of charge to anyone wanting to delve into them using augmented reality systems like the one created and recently released to developers by Magic Leap. Inspired by fictional concepts of Libraries and City Memories introduced by Greg Bear in his Eon Series about a branch of human civilization living inside a hollowed out asteroid called the Stone and their adventures beyond boundaries of four dimensional space, my vision of RLCs evolved further into distributed centers of learning resources created and managed by the very community they serve. In this way, each community can provide augmented learning experiences tailored for expressing its own history and cultures in its own, unique way. Learners wanting to experience a community's RLC need only to possess an augmented reality system compatible with the RLC, internet access through which to connect to it and begin learning from its specific resource pools of knowledge at their own pace following their own vectors of educational interest. Allowing each community to create, enhance, and manage their own RLC would prevent corporations and politicians from taking control of them to progress their own nefarious agendas. And if a community allowed the quality of resources and learning experiences to become tainted with corpo-political hogwash, effectively polluting the RLC with toxic learning experiences, learners could avoid such RLCs and move on to RLCs providing the purest of learning experiences free of commercially and politically tainted content. With Magic Leap One released and now in the hands of creative developers actively exploring the system's potential for all kinds of applications, I'm convinced that one day RLCs will become a reality, providing superbly augmented, highly effective learning experiences in virtually infinite varieties for all to enjoy. This may sound like science fiction, but it isn't. The technological capability actually exists in the here and now, waiting only for (r)evolutionary development and refinement to begin and progress at the speed of thought.
~ THE MADE-UP STUFF ~
Watching the latest batch of learners arrive upon a flotilla of ten pirogues each carrying six new learners, I fired up the Little Bayou RLC and donned my portable AR rig, then plopped my beat up old "swamp hat", as I liked to refer to the ragged, sweat-stained canvas jungle hat I preferred to wear at all times while at play outside, onto my balding old head and took my usual place at the center of the front porch of Edmée's ancient old pine and cypress house. At my side, Honoré pumped out lively zydeco on his accordion–enthusiastically dancing in place while he played–as the small throng of learners disembarked and trooped toward us, each carrying a duffle bag of personal effects, all smiles and arms swaying in big waves of greeting and lots of impromptu applause. A few of them were even skipping along in gleeful dancing skips and steps as they approached. For some strange reason a vague memory of Jase dancing a merry jig on the bank of a bayou crossed my mind. I was glad for the memory, happy that my brain worked mainly with positive memories. Then memory of Jase dying in the hospital three days after Chef Beauchamp became inmate Beauchamp bubbled up from somewhere in cold dark depths and I cursed it. Jase had been exonerated but that did nothing to stop the grim reaper cancer rapidly brought down on him. He never knew about Beauchamp's arrest, conviction and execution. Gruesome Gertie had indeed come to town, but not for Jase. A cheer rose up from the arriving learners as they approached the landing pier and I turned all of my attention to them.
"WELCOME TO LITTLE BAYOU EXPLORER'S CLUB!" I shouted with no small amount of zeal every new batch of learners always stirred up deep within every single cell of my being. "YA'll FOLLOW ME NOW!" and off I went, clomping down the porch steps, around to the back of the house and down the narrow trail leading from the big back yard to Bayou Cheche where several folding tables were stacked with waterproof field cases and a thirty-foot LED display had been set up down by the bank of the tiny bayou branching off of Little Bayou. Spanish moss hung from the lower branches of two old cypress trees standing on each side of the display, a few strands swaying gracefully in the still-cool, early morning breeze.
"GRAB THE FIELD CASE WITH YOUR NAME ON IT," I instructed the new learners, "BECAUSE SOME OF THEM HAVE LENSES WITH YOUR PRESCRIPTIONS INSERTED IN THEM. CRACK IT OPEN, PUT ON YOUR AR RIG AND SWITCH IT ON!"
Everyone made a beeline to the tables and set about doing as instructed. Helpers moved through the noisy crowd of learners helping any of them having difficulty donning their AR gear and turning it on. When my AR status indicators reported everyone was powered up and ready, I switched my master AR system on, connected to the autonomous little robot chosen for the learner orientation session already underway and waved my hands around dramatically as I manipulated virtual controls in 3D virtual space that no one else could see.
Silence fell over the learners as they waited and watched in eager anticipation, already knowing they could not guess what to expect next. I made certain each and every orientation session was unique, never before witnessed or described by previous learners or news reporters who had been through a session themselves. Except for the first two questions I always posed to every batch of new learners, nothing was ever predictable. And the new learners all knew in advance what those first two questions were going to be.
"HOW MANY OF YOU LEARNERS ALREADY KNOW A LOT OF STUFF? RAISE YOUR HANDS!" No one raised a hand. They knew this routine well.
Laughing a big, boisterous laugh of appreciation, I waved my hands at virtual controls to wrap up last-second preps and configs for the orientation about to unfold before them as I prepared to ask the second, thoroughly anticipated question.
"ALRIGHT! I LOVE IT. BEAUTIFUL BLANK SLATES ALL!"
Then I let my flailing arms and gesticulating hands fall to my sides motionless and grew serious in stature and voice, speaking in a quieter, calmer tone.
"How many of you came here to learn as much as your brains can hold?"I asked.
Every hand shot into the air amidst an enormous cheer, and with a flick of my eyes at a large virtual button pulsing with a green glow in the center of my field of view just above their heads, the orientation program began. On the big LED display an odd scene appeared. Mostly black with funny little dots and beams of light moving around in it. Reaching for my swamp hat, I removed it to reveal the orientation session robot I had decided to use after finding a brand new mud chimney down at the edge of the bayou about five yards to my right. The huge LED display lit up with a view of the crowd of learners from a point of view precisely located at the top of my balding pate–through the digital, stereoscopic eyes of the little robot.
A gasp rose from the learners as they saw on the LED what the robot was seeing. Then they started laughing and clapping joyously as I lifted it from my scalp, scratching at the itchy tickles that persisted for a second, plopping the hat back in place, then lowered the robot to the dense, grassy lawn and let it lose. It immediately headed straight toward the mud chimney and paused beside it. I eye-flicked a second pulsing green virtual button floating in my virtual field of view and the learners were now all seeing through their AR glasses exactly what the little robot was seeing. Another gasp rose from the learners as the robot began moving about around and around the mud chimney, carefully surveying its steep, daubed-mud slopes from every angle.
"This little fellow is a CRAWLdad," I informed them. "Not to be mistaken as a living, breathing, pinching crawdad, although they look very similar." They giggled as one at that, growing still as they enjoyed the view from its eyes.
"It's job is to go anyplace a crawdad can go. Trucking along a forest trail, zipping under impassable thorny brush, into the waters of a swamp or bayous–swimming or diving, or–as it's just about ready to do now–right down into a mud crayfish's freshly built mud chimney and beyond into its burrow beneath the ground.
Finding a likely route up, the crawldad easily scaled the side of the still-moist chimney and disappeared down into it, switching on its tiny led headlights as darkness enfolded it. Another gasp from the learners, this one more pronounced and drawn out in awe. On my virtual heads-up display–the same one everyone else was now seeing in their own AR field of view–small counters, meters and associated graphs popped up, showing sensor data flowing into the crawldad's storage and processor arrays. Some of that sensor data was pumped via wifi, in realtime, to a small, massively parallel computing system of my own design and construction running in the house for rapid big-data collection and processing. Results from that parallel processing were then sent back outside into all of the learner's AR system queues for streaming display in graphic representations on their heads-up displays, updating almost as fast as the crawldad's sensors collected it.
"What you are seeing is typical of how we're all going to explore Little Bayou during your stay here. We never, ever, go tromping about in the wild lands of Little Bayou on our own two, heavy, clumsy feet or wheels or any other ambulatory prosthetics you may be utilizing to get around. We let our little artificially intelligent, autonomously controlled robot assistants do all the wilderness hiking because they don't tear up trails or drop trash or ever have to stop and take a whiz or a dump out in the field."
More giggles from the crowd of wrapt learners now fully immersed in their first Little Bayou learning experience.
"The data counters, meters and graphs you're all seeing overlaid on the actual view of the chimney crayfish burrow being revealed is real data flowing in realtime and being analyzed as we watch. It's useful data, every single bit and byte of it. Data that we all are learning good stuff from as we watch, even if we don't realize we're learning while we absorb it at our own, individual pace. And after the crawldad has finished its low-impact exploration of the mud chimney crayfish's uniquely engineered and constructed home, it will come back to us, power down and wait for its next exploration assignment."
No one said a word or asked any questions. Everything they needed or wanted to know about the learning experience was unfolding before their eyes in richly orchestrated augmented reality content being painted in full-color light streams beaming directly onto their retinas.
"This learning experience content you are seeing now can be retrieved and replayed at any time for viewing as many times and at any speed you desire for extended learning sessions you may want to enjoy," I added just as the crawldad encountered the mud chimney crayfish in its burrow, looming into startlingly vivid, stereoscopic view before us all. It sent chills up and down my spine just as I'm sure it was doing for each new learner.
After a few seconds of observation, the crawldad slowly backed away from the crayfish–its AI knowing it should not disturb it any more than absolutely necessary for the learning experience, and began nimbly making its way back up and out onto the lawn where it squatted at rest beside the mud chimney.
"Little Bayou, its branching bayous like this one called Bayou Cheche, and all of the dry and wetlands surrounding them is teaming with life. That teaming life, " I drove home with strong vocal emphasis, "in all of its countless forms will be the focus of your learning experience while you're here at Little Bayou Explorer's Club. And as you can all see from this first learning experience, you will never be mere passive observers like a bunch of bored tourists doing the usual looky-noddy routine they all do. With the help of your AR rigs, a massively parallel computer running around the clock, and our vast collection of AI robots of various kinds which can crawl, slither, hop, roll, swim, dive and even fly through the air with the greatest of ease will be your eyes and ears as well as your faithful and highly skilled and efficient field data sensors and collectors–all gathering real data for real analysis and research you and future budding and career scientists can study–individually or collaboratively, depending on your learning style–to better understand this amazing environment we're all about to explore together!"
The crawldad automatically put itself into sleep mode and all of our AR virtual displays faded away, revealing nothing but the real world through their lenses. For a long, drawn out moment, silence ensued. Only the sound of buzzing insects, croaking frogs and singing birds could be heard. Then all of the learners cheered as one and our orientation session moved to the next stage with learners perusing a list of projects via their AR environments and selected the ones of interest to them to take on as their next learning experience.
My loving second wife, Charlotte, and our two children, Joy and Neil, came strolling down the Bayou Cheche trail followed by several of our basenjis–all offspring of Chante and her two daughters–while the learners were still busily selecting their next projects. Taking my arm in hers, Charlotte smiled and gestured at the crowd.
"A good group?" she asked as Joy and Neil mingled with the learners. The dogs spread out amongst them too, delighting all by their quiet, reserved presence as they explored possibilities in AR project space.
Nodding, I picked up the sleeping crawldad and put it back under my hat so I wouldn't walk away and forget about it. "The best, as usual."
"Great Mémère Edmée, Addy, Jase, Charley and everyone else not here today to see all of this happening would be as proud as they would be amazed at how you're managing the family trust," she said, wrapping an arm around my waist and pulling me close to her side. "Keeping it safe and clean while doing something very worthwhile to boot."
I smiled and gazed into her eyes like a love-sick puppy while the learners wrapped up their project selections, so glad she could think and speak of Addy so freely and easily to help me hold onto memories of our time together. "How we're managing the trust," I corrected. Charlotte nodded in agreement, watching our children and dogs making their contributions too in as organic and self-directed manner as we could ever hope for.
"Were you able to reconnect with that AWOL drone you lost contact with near the state park boundary yesterday evening?" I asked, not really concerned about it, just curious. It would return home even if Charlotte hadn't re-established a link.
She nodded, "Yes. About an hour ago. I reviewed its video footage while it was out of contact. It had decided to follow and make contact with a couple of kids exploring along the park's perimeter fence. It told them about Little Bayou Explorer's Club, which they had already heard about. They admitted that's why they were hiking the boundary fence, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of our robots."
That made me smile more, proud of the little AI flyer. "Nothing like word-of-mouth advertising, eh?"
Charlotte chuckled musically, "I would have never imagined it," she admitted, "even as you described this wild dream of yours to me when we were still working on our doctorates at LSU."
"Well, you know me," I said with as goofy a grin as I could muster. "The mad, geeky environmental scientist. And," I added, "I had a very good teacher with a very old, very active mind that never respected any bounds."
A small flock of wild turkey hens strolled along the perimeter of the clearing, browsing for insects and seeds without any concern over the humans noisily going about their business nearby. We noticed only one little girl of about seven had seen them and was watching their movements intently. The dogs had spotted them too but they knew not to disturb the flock.
"There's an observant one," Charlotte noted with admiration.
"Mmhmm," I responded. Intrigued by the girl's extended focus on the large birds.
Turning with another delightful chuckle at that sight and her own fond memories of Edmée stirred, she waved at Neil and Joy who saw her waving but were too deeply engrossed in conversation with learners to wave back in acknowledgement. A glance was all she got.
"Those two. They're as hopelessly obsessed with all of this as you are," she observed with an exaggerated shake of her head.
"I certainly hope so," I replied. "Someone trustworthy has to take up the mantle of the family trust after us oldsters are recycled into the biosphere."
"Breakfast will be ready for everyone on the back porch in about ten more minutes. A gigantic andouille sausage casserole, biscuits with butter and fresh honey harvested by the kids yesterday morning, and mounds of fresh fruits," she reported before strolling back toward the house. "Remember to tell the learners to take their duffle bags inside the barracks and latch its doors down when they come to eat, before the local bear family and raccoons stop by to unpack for them."
I nodded that I would, then completely forgot about duffle bags when the sevenish year-old girl came over and asked if I had any robot assistants that could help her study wild turkeys. A thrill ran up and down my spine as we sat down cross-legged on the lawn together, telling her that yes, I had the perfect robot for the job, and helped her set up her AR rig's apps kit for the wonderful project she had just chosen to work on.