It’s Just Little Things Making Slightly Bigger Things

N asked me to attend a meeting for her with the nanotechnology people, her eyes sounding all oogily-googily over the phone. I can’t go, I said. Yugen rehearsal. Yu means deep, quiet, other-worldly. Gen means subtle, profound, dark. But it’s a $10,000 contract for a month’s worth of work, tops! she cried, slightly to the left of the speaker phone thingie she had attached to the cell phone that plays a Green Day song when certain people, but not all people, call in.

So to me it sounded like:

But– ten–dollar– workshop– ahh!

So I think she’s gone mad. A $10 nanotechnology workshop? She can go herself. Yugen pays me $4.13 / hour to compose (I worked it out while feeling sorry for myself, and waiting for my feet to wake up after a performance that required a mere 90 minutes of Noh kneeling). My standards have been established.

Please help me, she said the following week. I don’t know anything about nanotechnology. It’s easy, I said. It’s the industry that seeks to create little cellular engines with instructions for you, you know, to make your life easier and give you more leisure time. Stop it, she snapped. We don’t need to know anything about it because they are hiring us to… to… wait, why are they hiring us? To raise some money for them!

My new gig. Oh yeah. They need money. Plausible. So I go to their site and read their utterly simplified explanations of nanotechnology. Then I write up three critical bullets that she’ll need to memorize so that if they actually read her face during the meeting, they will know she is not 100% heathen.

Here you go, because, why not? or skip this and get to the next story:

[soandso] is focused on stage-setting for molecular nanotechnology, which


“the name given to a specific sort of manufacturing technology. As its name
implies, molecular nanotechnology will be achieved when we are able to build
things from the atom up, and we will be able to rearrange matter with atomic
precision. This technology does not yet exist; but once it does, we should
have a thorough and inexpensive system for controlling of the structure of

The three remarkable things about this are:

We’re talking small. An atomic machine can go places your vacuum cannot.

We’re talking efficient. An atomic machine creates a precise product, and the manufacturing waste can be, since it’s an atom, recycled into new machines.

We’re bumping up against the moral and ethical issues of how these ideas will be applied.

The thing people worry about may not be realistic: Nanomachines released into a soccer stadium replicate themselves and bust peoples’ heads in order to take over the world! run for your lives!

At best, get ready for another industrial revolution. Atomic robots will build things very efficiently. Many atomic robots will work in parallel to create much larger robots that will build things very efficiently (convergent assembly). I think we’ll lay down our quaint hammers and start writing poetry. Not so bad. Until.. until we run out of food.

Nah, jes jokin.

We landed the contract, and I had to go see them since I was going to be the one to do the work (see money, above). They do this work from the edge of a residential district, on a street that has a wall raking up 40 feet one side to disguise a freeway. I found my way in by terrifying a worker in the back yard with my wandering about, hunting vainly for a door to the house. She saw me through a window and I could hear her, through the thin suburban tract siding, screeching What The Hell?

N claimed to the client, aloud, several times, that all she knew about nanotechnology I had taught her. They were extremely interested in my credentials which, sadly, included a single entry: a lackadaisical bachelors in art history. It was so horrible we had no problem changing the subject. After an hour of explaining the conventional alliances and resources we were about to seek for this new phase of their operation, I mentioned I just recently had seen a model where we could manipulate the ballot initiative process of the State of California to create a 3 billion dollar bond (double with interest) to fund their research. They laughed and laughed and laughed. I felt like one of the family.

As I was leaving, they pressed the layman’s guide to nanotechnology in my hand with a warm squeeze of the elbow. I opened the soft cover seven times already, but no connection was made with the little marks on the paper. What are they… you know.. words! Yeah. I’m saving those up for this weekend, where I think I can spend my entire visit to the secluded beach house on the Pacific Coast not going through the cabinets of the famous owner thanks to the author of this book.

Can’t wait. About to get lairnt.

Wish me luck.

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