Previously

The heat in Calcutta is pulverising. Ed Hatt finds it almost impossible to think clearly about anything other than shade and cold water. His Bengali is good enough to direct a taxi driver to a place and count out the cash afterwards, but outside of vehicles, the only way to get anywhere in India is to traipse, or possibly to slog. Wandering, ambling and strolling simply aren't appropriate gaits for an Englishman in such a climate. The sky is unbroken blue, and standing in direct sunlight hurts.

It's 1974 and Hatt is a newly-minted adult, fresh out of Oxford and adrift eastward, looking for whatever, or whatever. Real life has been on hold all the way through his MEng, and is still on hold. He knows that, some months from now, it will reassert itself. At that point, he will be grudgingly forced to find a job. He hopes that he can find something worth becoming excited about by then. He hopes for some kind of epiphany. Or, failing all of that, he hopes to bore himself and tire himself out, sufficiently that going home and doing the same thing every weekday for a year sounds like a welcome break.

Hatt is learning that the world doesn't exist entirely for his benefit. A random city in the world may or may not contain birthplaces, memorials, teeming tat-filled markets and picturesque little bars stocked with cheap booze. A city may or may not be geared to speak English back to Ed Hatt, the tourist, but a city is always a functional machine, and his final impression of any given day, as he's traipsing back to the hotel, is of the machinery. It has operated for hundreds of years before he arrived and it'll continue to operate for hundreds of years after he's gone. Calcutta is flooded with people with crowded lives to lead, lives that have nothing whatsoever to do with him.

After four and a half days Hatt has left a crisscrossing trail over the city. He's seen the stunning white stone colonial relics, the stadiums, the museums, and the astonishing Hindu temples resembling fractal stone eggs - built according to Vastu shastra, the Hindu equivalent to feng shui. He's eaten and drunk, finished reading one book, bought another book, scribbled pages of experiences and sent a dozen postcards. The food is other-worldly. Twice every day (once on the way out from the hotel, once on the way back) he passes the same bunch of kids and joins in with their back-alley cricket game for half an hour. But he hasn't got it yet. His compass is still spinning.

This far east, Hatt realises, and he's really looking for a reason to go home again.

On his way home on the fifth day, Hatt cuts through a park to get to a main road to find a taxi. Or tries, but there are around a hundred people in the way. It's clearly a demonstration, although Hatt can't tell which sense of the word is more appropriate. Hatt is in no hurry so he allows himself to be delayed. He finds a low wall and stands on it to get a better view.

A circle roughly thirty metres wide has been cleared, and two men are marking out a pattern in the grass using pegs, string and surveyor's wheels. Hatt's first guess is that they are pitching a rangoli pattern of some kind. At calculated points, they plant thin poles in the ground. Most of the poles are metal - any of a million identical-looking shiny grey metals and alloys. Some are recognisably copper. Some are recognisably glass. The men are college- or Ph.D.-aged, within five years of Hatt himself. They wear white shirts and dark trousers and have pens in their breast pockets. A third, much older fellow with a tie and a large blue binder full of ragged-edged scraps of paper is directing the activity. He is sixty-something, and his glasses are small and circular.

As for the crowd, they are men and women of all ages. There's a healthy murmur in the crowd but they are mostly watching quietly. Some people carry flags or occasionally shout slogans. Hatt unexpectedly recognises some of the slogans. But the fragments he recognises aren't the elementary fragments of Bengali that he's gathered together from his phrasebook. They're mathematical terminology; obscure and cryptic keywords from a plasma dynamics course still very fresh in Hatt's memory.

There's a clear demarcation between the observers and the scientists. The crowd is treating it like a pre-show, waiting for something cool to start. The scientists are treating the crowd like a nuisance. They're trying to get something accomplished; they never formally invited any onlookers. There's nothing priestly about their movements. It's an experiment under construction.

The lead scientist uses a magnetometer-like device to examine the highly symmetrical arrangement of poles, sometimes closing one eye and sighting along a row of them in one direction, sometimes uprooting another pole and replanting it a few millimetres to the left. Once the poles are arranged to his satisfaction he carries out a similar series of measurements and adjustments using a theodolite. He stands behind the pole at the north end of the system. The crowd falls silent. He speaks, measuring out discrete syllables like sand grains:

"Aum. Asnaku pambetamba alasana rathaa ka'u kah kadhunda jarama ra alanashyi a aum. Alithua j'lu j'la aurot'e we iktha'u gee sub ai. Murihaa akurutaatwanhibhrandya aum. Traanhdha epil sub ai anah myu oshodapachaa. Nath bhoshu alef ad'yegh. Aum."

The words are noise to Hatt, meaningless in English, French or Bengali, although the "sub ais" tickle something in Hatt's mind, brushing up against understanding without actually finding purchase. But he doesn't have the chance to think about it, because, after the last "aum", the hairs on his arms stand straight up and the seven glass light tubes light up in red and blue so bright at the core as to be white. It's like a camera flash, but much longer in duration, at least a second. It bathes the entire park and the surrounding buildings. Everybody winces and shields his or her eyes, scientists and crowd alike. A round of applause follows immediately.

Hatt joins in the applause although he still doesn't know what he just saw. The sciencey types are all congratulating one another, particularly the senior man, and the crowd is pressing in on them as well to add their congratulations. Hatt doesn't know if the demonstration qualifies as a magic trick. Powering up a fluorescent tube without touching it is far from impossible.

"Not bad," Hatt remarks aloud, to nobody, and then he sees it: his own breath, condensing out in a thin white cloud.

He shivered when the light flash began. For that first second he thought it was just nervous tension. Power for the lights could have come from anywhere. And he can feel the warm, cloyingly wet air stirring back in even as seconds pass. But for this one second, he's cold. He can feel himself thinking more clearly than he ever has since he first stepped off the plane. And he can feel thermodynamics as he knows it quietly swivelling upside-down.

He dives into the crowd, wading towards the man in the small circular glasses.

*

Half an hour later Vidyasagar has brought him to the machine room. The room is completely white and immaculately clean, populated with huge cuboidal blocks full of raw, humming computer. Along one wall are filing cabinets full of manuals and printouts and computer code. Vidyasagar invites Hatt to take a seat next to one of the terminals, an intimidatingly large panel of lights and switches as comprehensible as the dashboard of a 747. Hatt relaxes, actually feeling rather at home.

Rajesh Vidyasagar does not sit, or lean against anything. He carries himself carefully. He is tidy, and putting weight on. His English is hesitant and very dry, or in other words fully fifty thousand times better than Hatt's Bengali; they settle on English. For his part, Hatt tries to clamp down on the colloquialisms and florid metaphors. They have to speak loudly to overcome the noise of computer system fans and the air conditioning. At least it's cool here.

"One says the correct words," Vidyasagar explains, "and thinks the correct thoughts at the same time. Then, a physical effect occurs."

"That's it?"

"As far as we can tell, that's it."

Hatt rubs an eye, barely believing it despite the evidence of his own senses. "That's insane."

Vidyasagar nods sadly. "I know."

"And there's no religious element? There's no spiritual element?"

"No," says Vidyasagar. "It's pure physics. Despite what it looked like out there. We are surrounded by believers of things which are not actually true. We try to separate the science out from the 'ritual', but it's difficult. Unfortunately, that park is the nearest open space that we have access to."

"The University of Calcutta doesn't have a tennis court you can book, or something?"

"Of course," says Vidyasagar, mildly indignant. "On the other side of the city. This is the Science College."

"So it doesn't overlap with Hindu teachings? Or Buddhist or Sikh?"

"If it did, don't you think we would have discovered all of this a thousand years ago?"

"I..." Hatt's ancient Indian history is lamentable, despite all his visits to holy sites. "Maybe? I don't know."

"It doesn't overlap. Any overlap is just a coincidence," Vidyasagar says. "Or convenient terminology. To you, the language sounds similar to Bengali or Hindi. In reality it is a code for a sequence of quantum mechanical effects. We think that what we are seeing is a previously unknown function of the human brain. We also think a new form of potential energy must be involved; this is the only explanation for the apparent violation of the laws of thermodynamics. And that's... almost all we know so far. There is still a vast number of unanswered questions. We don't understand the mechanism at all yet. Or the language. We are still exploring the rules."

"The shastra," Hatt says.

"The rules," Vidyasagar says. He holds up his blue binder of notes. "We know a little so far. We are filling this in as we go. Today, we ran a new program on the mainframe. A problem of optimisation. We solved the equations numerically. For a specific area and sequence of words."

"The program told you where to place the metal rods?"

"And what kind of rods to use. We find that the noble gases are best. Also, steel is good. Everything must be arranged correctly in space."

Hatt thinks hard. He gets up and stalks around the room, circling one of the heavy mainframes. It resembles a monolith from 2001, both in form factor and computational power. It practically glows with radiant heat. "Okay," he says. "So. You haven't announced anything publicly yet. Or if you have, you've been ignored by other scientists, other than your two students. In either case, I can see why. Every unanswered question you have is a reason why. It feels like cargo cult physics. This whole thing is--"

"It's trash," Vidyasagar says. Hatt looks at him a little more carefully, and Vidyasagar's expression seems to be one of self-revulsion.

"Trash?"

"We haven't announced anything because people would laugh at us. We have found some kind of fault in the universe. We need to fix it before we can say anything. And we need to understand it before we can fix it."

On this point, Ed Hatt completely disagrees. "Agriculture was an industry thousands of years before humans understood photosynthesis. A thing doesn't have to be understood before it can be useful. And using a thing is the best way to understand it. And if nobody will take a scientific paper seriously, we can demonstrate result after result until they take us seriously. We can make the world better until they take us seriously. Do you have the slightest idea how big this is?"

Vidyasagar says, carefully, "I have a slight idea."

Hatt says, "There isn't a single field of engineering, which I can think of, for which this discovery isn't colossally important. There isn't a single machine in the world which can't be made more efficient. The commercial applications are limitless. Electricity generation, heat management in space, heat management in--" he points with a thumb "--computer microprocessors, refrigeration of every kind. When you're outside, you're surrounded with religious zealots who don't understand that what you've found isn't a new religion. Or some old religion in new clothes. The students you're leading are physicists, with an eye for the hard questions and no conception of financial reality. I'm here to tell you that I get it. I'm a man of business and machinery. I felt something during that demonstration. Like we just hit the tip of some colossal iceberg. I mean... like this is the beginning of a huge and incredibly important future. This is the new electricity."

"Don't talk about the future," Vidyasagar says.

"What? Why not?"

"Look at this computer," Vidyasagar says, gesturing at the mainframe. "Computers are getting more powerful, yes?"

"Sure."

"What is the most powerful computer that will be built? Ever. Not this year. Not this decade. What computer will be the most powerful? And how powerful will it be? And how big?"

Hatt thinks on this for ten long seconds. He opens his mouth, but never actually forms a word. The scale of the question is beyond him.

Vidyasagar says to him, "No matter what you say, you will look like a fool. Every statement about the future turns out to be foolish. All this, from heat-into-electricity? I have a word sequence which turns heat directly into light. I have one which creates kinetic energy from nothing at all." Hatt's mind boggles at these new claims. "Yes, I have a slight idea of what's begun. But I don't know. You don't know, neither of us knows!"

"You're right." Hatt pinches the bridge of his nose, the visions in his mind's eye now too bright and fast-changing to unscramble. "You're right."

"Before anything else, there is a huge amount of work to be done," Vidyasagar tells him.

The visions in Hatt's mind's eye are formless, as if waiting for him to move in and shape them.

"By us," he says.

 

Next: Bare Metal

Back to Ra
Back to Fiction
Back to Things Of Interest

Discussion (48)

2013-04-03 19:20:16 by qntm:

Originally my outline for this chapter was "Let's find out Ed Hatt's backstory" and I had four or five separate scenes from his life that I wanted to cover, but this first one ended up taking up enough words to stand alone.

2013-04-03 19:57:20 by TheCustodian:

One thing jumped out at me - someone using a laser beam to check alignment of poles in a Calcutta park in 1974 would be...almost world-breaking. Lasers were still pretty big. They required wall power. They were *EXPENSIVE*.

2013-04-03 20:17:34 by qntm:

Hmm, I'll probably change that then.

2013-04-03 20:35:13 by George:

 a prestigious university would lend it's expensive equipment to an accomplished scientist and his research team wouldn't it?

2013-04-03 20:53:04 by qntm:

Yes, but the more problematic point is that the event takes place outside with no visible electrical generator.

2013-04-03 20:59:07 by KimikoMuffin:

The thing I'm taking from the conversation at the end is that Vidyasagar was neither. (And if he was, they still wouldn't get wall power.)

That said: hm, it looks like Mr. Hatt didn't just get in on the ground floor, he got in before the foundations were laid. ... which was supposed to be a pun on "get in on the ground floor" but that's pretty much literally what happened.

2013-04-03 20:59:38 by KimikoMuffin:

... Aaaaand Sam beats my answer by three seconds, whee.

2013-04-04 02:10:31 by Psycho:

I demand more. This was far too short.

2013-04-04 02:11:34 by LNR:

Great stuff.

Since someone mentioned lasers, I thought about the accuracy in that scene, and something occurs to me. If alignment is important on a scale of millimeters, would they be planting the poles in the ground? That makes it difficult to get precise positions, especially if you're trying to uproot a pole and replant it just slightly off the original hole.

2013-04-04 06:35:24 by Mike:

"would they be planting the poles in the ground"

Yeh, I got a little stuck on that too. I decided they didn't have to be perfectly vertical. But maybe some kind of magnetic base one the pole with a steel ground plate. They had plenty of magnets back in the 70s.

2013-04-04 06:38:10 by Mike:

Umm, should add to my last comment - I'm really enjoying the story. Thanks!

2013-04-04 11:45:59 by atomicthumbs:

**Ra**jesh is going to go and try to fix the flaw, isn't he.

2013-04-04 14:39:27 by MikeBrown:

Thanks Sam,

It is always a pleasure to read your next story.

2013-04-04 15:52:29 by Link:

...


That spell invoked Ra.

Huh.

2013-04-04 16:20:53 by Psycho:

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E0%A5%90

For those who do not click: the title is the Sanskrit character for om/aum.

2013-04-04 18:48:25 by speising:

interesting that rajeshs true name should be Aum. that supports the assumtion that one can choose the name. or did he get that on a kind of first-come, first-served basis?

2013-04-05 01:26:39 by Lazarus:

It seems some people have a firmer grasp of what the various parts of the spell mean than I do. Can anyone provide a template for how to decipher the caster's true name/what the spell invokes/etc?

2013-04-05 08:02:01 by Dmytry:

re: laser, the

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HeNe

would not be outright impossible in 1974, I think (not sure), but it indeed does require high voltage. The power requirements are in the ballpark of a portable black and white tv.

2013-04-05 08:07:09 by Dmytry:

Ohh, and check out this: http://spie.org/x39920.xml .

Particularly "Barcode POS Laser Sub-assy Time Period: c. Late 1960s " .

2013-04-06 03:21:50 by IanO:

Once again, eager scientist vs patient scientist.

Back story on Hatt might indicate that he's going to be important in the story later, or maybe used as someone to kill off. Or, perhaps this is just another look at the history and development of magic.

At first I thought the story was going to be a look at how Hatt first encountered the mysterious Ra. I'm guessing the next chapter or really soon is going to have to deal with Laura's huge risk.

2013-04-07 02:23:32 by Mike:

"A thing doesn't have to understood" is missing a "be".

Also, yay, new story.

2013-04-10 10:54:47 by Silhalnor:

Something occurs to me. With the assumption that the spell discovered by Vidyasagar Senior required, as usual, the use of a true name then how was it that his son was able to cast the same spell word for word? Doesn't he have a different true name?

2013-04-10 11:16:59 by qntm:

Suravaram's original spell began with a short section which bound an identifier, "aum", to him. Rajesh used the same full spell, so he end up binding the same identifier to himself, so the spell worked.

At this point in history (1974), it's possible that Rajesh hasn't worked this out yet.

2013-04-10 17:46:53 by Silhalnor:

So "aum" is being used by sheer luck then. I guess that answers the question of how Rajesh got that name/identifier, and possibly how all true names are assigned. Do identifiers differ from true names?

That section, if I am reading it right, is also the one that mentions "ra". Interesting.

2013-04-13 00:24:45 by qntm:

No, "identifier" and "true name" are two different terms for the same thing.

Something I picked up from Grant Morrison's writing: give things lots of names. It keeps the text from becoming boring. It makes villains sound scarier. It's also more realistic: people are more likely to disagree over what to call things than they are to agree.

2013-04-14 04:25:14 by QuantumNineThreeFive:

Seeing as we have here a spell that doesn't invoke a stored procedure, and could also be shortened by removing the initial Aum. Asnaku pambetamba alasana rathaa ka'u kah kadhunda jarama ra alanashyi a aum. if this is indeed the segment which binds himself to the identifier aum, a complete spell under 115 syllables. If a FullSpell is not a spell that completely defines the spell structure, than what is it? was there some casting prior to Hatt's arrival that boosts the count up to above 115 syllables, or does a FullSpell have a different definition, or is this a continuity error? If there is another possibility, don't hesitate to point it out.
Also, could someone make a list of the spell starts and ends we have seen so far? It seems likely that there is some sort of standard procedure, and nothing in that spell looks familiar.

2013-04-14 04:28:07 by QuantumNineThreeFive:

As I forgot to explain in the last comment, if this is a FullSpell under 115 syllables, it violates the statement in Ragdoll physicist that the shortest known fullspell is 115 syllables. Of course, the written form has very few pronunciation cues, and that could take it above 115 syllables, in which case never mind.

2013-04-14 07:00:23 by BlackNoise:

From what I understood a FullSpell is a long set of words/syllables that produce some sort of effect entirely on their own - without any tools or things that work as per-encoded procedures.

Also, really enjoying the story so far, though the constant side-stories/flashbacks can get confusing.

2013-04-14 08:45:04 by qntm:

Once an identifier is bound to you, you don't need to bind it again. Rajesh Vidyasagar bound "aum" to himself years ago when he first spoke his father's spell, and he hasn't unbound it since. This is true of every other spell you've seen listed so far.

2013-04-14 17:15:22 by kabu:

Hm. It would make sense, then, that it would be impossible to bind "Ra" to yourself, since every time you'd try to speak a spell it would fail. I wonder if anybody's tried "Ra?"

I'm guessing that there are restrictions on the sounds that you can use for True Names, unless everybody just chooses arbitrary syllables (dulaka, etc.). Because otherwise we'd get plenty of teenagers Naming themselves "Thor" or "Batman" or "Brucewillis."

2013-04-14 17:18:49 by qntm:

Laura has tried using "Ra", as seen in "Daemons":

"I tried aliasing as Ra, obviously. Couldn't make it work. Fifty percent failure. [...] Which suggests that what's happening is exactly the same as what would happen if I ran into another mage Named Dulaku and tried to cast a spell: the spell taps into the other guy's mana reserves and fails because of the mismatch. In fact the probability seems to work out to exactly fifty percent failure with a very small margin of error which implies [...] that there is a mage Named Ra right next to me whenever I try to cast a spell while aliased as Ra [...]."

2013-04-14 17:21:11 by qntm:

The syllable range available for use in identifiers is constrained, much like the same as the syllable range available for use in spells. Arbitrary names aren't generally possible.

Also, teenagers generally don't have the skill to do magic.

2013-04-14 19:13:36 by Silhalnor:

Is aliasing oneself performed simply by binding the new name to yourself and unbinding the old one? That doesn't sound complicated, as true name aliasing has been stated to be. Especially after seeing how easy it is to bind a name to yourself.

I wonder what would happen if you tried to bind multiple names to yourself. That's not a question by the way, because I know you, Sam, don't like to answer questions until they become relevant to the plot. I just like to bring up questions for discussion purposes.

Amusing thought, but since Suravaram's spell binds "aum" to the caster it is quite lucky that Rajesh refused to cast it while his father was present because it would very likely have failed at that time because of a mismatch. Which brings something else to mind.... A spell cast by a mage with the true name of, say, Dulaku will try to use any and all mana reserves owned by any mage named Dulaku. Yet the usage of any mana not owned by the original caster fails due to a mismatch? What is being mismatched, exactly? I am unsure what sort of mechanics could both attempt to use all mana under a given true name yet to fail to use mana not owned by the original caster even if it goes by the same name. There must be more identification procedures going on at different points during casting or some other process of which I am not yet aware.

2013-04-14 21:04:53 by QuantumNineThreeFive:

what does "fifty percent failure" imply? if it just means it works only half the time, then just keep trying until it works, if it means you only get half the mana, aliasing as Ra still gets you millions of times more than any other mage, and I can't think of any other possibilities. Either way, "fifty percent" is still better than 0, so it should still be usable.

2013-04-15 10:11:33 by IanO:

@Quantum

The way I understood it is that you can bind a given name to yourself. You can ONLY use mana that you own, using an identifier you have bound to yourself (or your true name). If two people have the same name, one picks an alias in order to avoid the following scenario:

If two mages, X and Y are aliased to the same name, half the time the spell (no matter who it is spoken by) will attempt to draw mana from X and half the time it will attempt to draw mana from Y. The spell will only succeed if the mana is drawn from the same person who spoke the spell. In order to avoid this 50% failure rate, mages create aliases when running into someone with the same true name. If there are four people with the same alias, there will be a 25% failure rate, etc.

I could be totally wrong about this!! This was just my interpretation.

2013-04-17 15:27:52 by Toph:

"...the spell taps into the other guy's mana reserves and fails because of the mismatch."

This suggests that casting a spell from Ra's mana reserves isn't as simple as Naming yourself Ra and beating odds of 50%. It's the very act of trying to use foreign mana that causes the spell to fail.

With all the computing analogies flying around, True Names probably correspond to some sort of user account (for example, you can change your own name and password without losing access to your files). And this makes me think that some users might be administrators/superusers. One thing you can usually do as an administrator is create new accounts (and perhaps give them to inanimate objects like the Quine Machine).

2013-04-18 10:20:12 by kabu:

Oh, I understood the bit in Daemons about trying to alias Ra. I was more wondering about somebody who years ago independently said, "I think I'll choose Ra for my name" and then wondering why it didn't work. But if there is a set syllabary that can be used with Names, it would make sense that people just concluded that Ra "didn't fit" without trying to dig deeper.

2013-04-19 03:12:24 by Mike:

> If there are four people with the same alias, there will be a 25% failure rate, etc.

25% success rate, 75% failure rate.

2013-04-19 12:55:04 by IanO:

Ah yes, that's what I meant to say. Thank you!

2013-04-24 12:44:03 by john:

Abstract Computer is going to show up sooner or later, assuming it hasn't already.

2013-12-02 19:58:58 by Jeff:

When Hatt first saw the demonstration, I like to imagine he was thinking:

"Magic has a high initial outlay, certainly, but let me show you these "total cost of ownership" calculations--"

2014-04-19 00:40:16 by Mike:

"What is the most powerful computer that will be built? Ever. Not this year. Not this decade. What computer will be the most powerful? And how powerful will it be? And how big?"

Sam, you magnificent bastard.

2014-05-17 05:39:53 by Sam :

Testing to see if one can post as Sam. Ideally, the interface would just tell me that I can't. Less ideally, it WILL make a post, but it will not be colored cyan. Most wrongly (and unthinkably, because Sam wouldn't be so neglectful), it would show up AND color the post cyan.

2014-05-17 05:42:24 by Sam­:

Results: you can't post as Sam, but you CAN post as Sam with a space after his name. Now testing to see whether HTML escape codes work in the name or not.

2014-05-17 05:45:59 by Sam­:

Whoops. Sam, this is a bug. I typed "Sam­" in the name box and it says "Sam" but without the cyan glow. I don't think HTML escape codes should work in the names.

In order to stay on-topic: I don't think the "biggest computer ever built" is supposed to refer to anything in the stories. It's entirely conceivable to have computers the mass of galaxies, or larger. No such thing appears in the stories. But it does at least foreshadow the existence of huge computers.

2014-07-15 09:43:20 by Chris Phoenix:

That's funny. If you try to post as Sam, you should get a 50% failure rate.

2014-07-24 15:13:59 by Resuna:

"Electricity generation, heat management in space, heat management in--" he points with a thumb "--computer microprocessors"

In 1974? Microprocessors are barely existent ... the 8080 was released that year and it was barely a step over a calculator chip ... the 4004 WAS a calculator chip ... and it'll be 20 years before cooling microprocessors is a serious issue ... in 1994 the Dec Alpha was the hottest microprocessor anyone had ever seen, it had a heatsink the size of your fist and didn't even need a cooling fan.

Heat management in mainframes. That was an issue. Minicomputers? No. Microprocessors? Definitely not. Not in 1974.

2015-11-24 00:28:58 by SMA:

I asked earlier and elsewhere if Ed Hatt was American, based primarily on how he comes across in Space Magic. I thought 'Norfolk' could just as easily be Norfolk, Virginia, especially since he's running a billion-dollar aerospace company. But I just noticed that that opening paragraph here almost explicitly defines him as an Englishman.

Obviously it's still workable, but that one line is the main thing that would need work.