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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"Dark Side of the Pixel" Preview


Dark Side of the Pixel

I arrived on the scene instantly, but it was already too late. The blood-red tint lent its color to the area surrounding it. I actually had to look away for a moment in disgust. It just never gets any easier.

"What's the story, Dorian?" I asked my partner. 

"There's no story, really. Just a Japanese Ronald McDonald saying 'Nu-nu-nuuuuuu!' over and over again.

I studied the bleed-through pattern. Single pixel lines, and chroma crawl, too.

"There ought to be a law," I said. "Crank down the saturation on the whole thing."

It was a quick and easy fix, and one we probably used more often than we should. Another routine cycle, with the same old glitches we'd turned over to HQ the cycle before. It was my partner who convinced me to write macros for the situations we encountered most often. His argument was that predictable responses to predictable situations were entirely logical.

I wasn't looking for a meta-argument.

Dorian Grayscale had the ability to see nuances, but I only saw black and white. At the end of the cycle, though, it comes down to what's best for me. In this case, he was right. 

That was why we worked so well together. All that did was get us more work, though. Eventually, we learned to cut corners. Dore and I still got the job done, but we didn't get in a hurry, and tried to enjoy ourselves as much as possible.

I had bigger fish to fry, unbeknownst to myself.

Dorian ran a routine that cranked the gain back in increments of two point five until the bleed was fixed. Somewhere, an amateur video producer lost a tiny bit of creative control, and HQ popped a new work order to the top of the stack as soon as the saturation issue was marked as resolved.

"Tough bits, kids," I said.

It was a cold, hard binary world. In it, we were either zeroes or ones, and the zeroes got shafted on a regular basis. Not me.

My names Ray Tracey, and I'm a digital cop. Well, ex-cop. Now I'm a private investigator.

Okay, I do QA/QC work for corporate, the Color Correction Corps. The 333s, officially. In private, we had our own clique, the Circle Nine Sect. Each team of investigators was composed of three entities, the third of which was Archie, the collection of GLUTs and CLUTs that enabled us to "see" color. More or less.

A lot of the work was routine garbage collection, fixing the errors common to most amateurs. It could be worse. We could be doing audio compression manually, removing frequencies that were above and below the range of human hearing. Demand for our services exploded with the advent of Quicktime, Audio/Video Interleave format and things like that. By the time YouTube was unleashed, the system itself was dangerously oversaturated.

Grizzled veterans of the dark side such as myself were dusted off, sobered up, and enlisted, now matter how terribly our previous careers had ended. Turns out they had never dereferenced our pointers.

Darksiders, as we're called, have complete access, at least as far as we need to handle our slice of the action. We travel across the backsides of pixels, so we can see a lot we're not supposed to, necessarily.

Yeah, there's a backside to pixels. They can't be seen by most, but they're there. It's not exactly a secret, but not common knowledge, either. It's also not for everyone. It's dangerous. While traveling, there are no visual indicators, only memory locations, and random and linear access. Darksiders navigate by Intuition alone when they're on the flipside.

I've seen it all. If people knew about the bugs that governed their daily routines, they couldn't sleep at night. Some of them are huge. There are holes in the source so big you could park a Google server farm in one of them. Few things are more terrifying than stumbling into all that white space.

I was trapped in a loop, once, looking for a missing semi-colon. The good news was, I found it. Or, found where it belonged, rather. I had to file an exception to get thrown out of there. You can't imagine the bureaucracy involved in something like that. I lost track of the nanoseconds I was in there waiting.

Dorian was a good partner. The best. But I was still in charge. Archie called the shots, however.

"Let's roll. We're getting an out of gamut warning in sector 7g."

When we got there, an .002ns jump, Dorian said, "Chief?" One of Dore's best qualities was that he called me chief.

"Yes, Mr. Gray?"

"Given that we have random access where concerns our case files..."

"Yes?"

He expected me to complete his thought for him, while still thinking he'd considered something I hadn't thought of already. It was always the same with rookie partners.

"Why don't we, um, arrive before the occurances? Fix things before they happen?"

"Job security," is all I said.

I never told a new partner everything up front. The fact was, everyone had a signature, a calling card. Just like criminals and coders, you could identify cases I've handled, if you bothered to look closely. In the case of motion video, I usually left a full field at the beginning, containing the error. Not noticeable to the human eye, but the rest of us could see it.

But I didn't do it out of ego. I was trying to send a message to the outside world that the entire system was flawed. It was seriously against the rules, and I wasn't sure if I could trust even Dorian that deeply. If caught, I could be depricated, commented out. Possibly never to return. I wasn't prepared to risk my partner in such a dangerous game.

The gamut warning was a common issue. Someone was trying to print a color that wasn't supported by CMYK.

Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black were the CMYK Clique, and nothing went to print without their approval. They were hardliners who took their jobs seriously, and had been with the organization since before forever, it seemed. Users who ignored their warnings did so at their own risk. It often meant wasted resources.

"Analysis?" My method of teaching was to do as little as possible.

"False alarm. It's a garage sale flyer. It'll still print fine."

"So we do nothing."

"My advice," he said.

It was our policy to let minor violations go if the result was inconsequential. Otherwise, we were just bots ourselves. I was about to submit the item as resolved when Spyder Lily, one of my informants cut in via a channel I kept open for tips.

"Tracey?"

"Go ahead, Lily."

"Weird stuff at 2001:0DB8:85A3:0000:0000:8A2E:0370:7334. It might interest you."

I heard the message again in reverse, as she backed out of the channel, erasing her tracks as she went. She was also one of the best, with eyes everywhere. You were never very far from Spyder or one of her subs.

I paused for a Planck length while I planned my next move. The random nature of our access gave me the luxury of waiting. HQ never saw the delays, only the results. It was a Schwabbie I wrote to help keep our response times to a minimum, helping us to shine during quarterly reviews.

The scene she had alerted us to seemed routine and nondescript, a message board posting. It wasn't until I saw a note from her attached to a single white pixel in the lower left quadrant of the display, our usual hiding place, that I began to make sense of it.

The comments helped, but I would have dismissed things without a second's thought, were it not for Lily. They concerned a picture that was posted to Facebook, and the comments revolved around a figure who appeared in the background. According to the photographer, no one had been there at the time it had been taken. Everyone involved was understandably freaked out.

"Reality distortion field," I told Dorian.

"What's that?"

"Noob..." I awaited his indignant response, and when none was forthcoming, continued. "It happens when an A.I. goes wacky. They want more life."

"How can you tell?"

"Look at the pixels."

He ran a series of quick examination routines.

"Seems legit," he announced upon his return.