Category Archives: Fiction

Weather Only a Druid Could Love

It was raining. It almost felt like it had always been raining. And yet, here he was, outside. Today, it was almost a gentle mist, the most delicate of rains. The kind where you wanted to turn your face up to the sky.

He did so, looking up at the space between the buildings, always such an interesting shade of blue-gray, in the mist.

He looked back down at the ground in front of him, partially to avoid puddles, partially to deke around an umbrella. The umbrella wielder had a determined expression, as if they were willing the raindrops to move out of the way with the force of their mind.

He knew that this was foolishness, but let the person go past without comment. It was too perfect a day to be outside, to want to spoil with such conflict.

Unfortunately, such conflict was what he oft experienced when he suggested going for a walk in the rain. For some reason, he seemed to enjoy walks in the rain more than most people. The exact reason was unclear. It might have been his naturally sunny disposition, or perhaps that he felt more of a connection to nature than most[1].

But he knew that a large part of it was something far more quotidian. In the tradition of ‘Fortune favours the bold‘, or ‘Haley drinks a potion of bluff'[2], or ‘use thermal underwear to be able to walk barefoot through snow'[3], he knew that the best way to enjoy the rain was to be fully prepared.

The rain coat was essential, but the extra warm sweater and long johns were perhaps not as obvious. Perhaps based on research that baby ducks stay warm until they get wet[5], perhaps based on long years of experience with rain, cold weather, and low blood circulation in the legs.

Either way, he was enjoying the day, dodging around puddles, people watching as was his wont, perhaps lunch would be had at some point. Only time would tell.

[1]Some referred to him as ‘feral’, because of his frequent needs to be outside, he more enjoyed the term ‘kinda like a druid’.

[2]From the webcomic Order of the Stick, from the episode where Haley (who has already maxed out her ‘bluff’ skill) drinks a magic potion which greatly enhances her bluff skill to apparently epic[4] levels.

[3]Terry Pratchett’s ‘Thief of Time’, pp176-177. ‘Sweeper’, a magical time-monk, who is able to withstand walking barefoot/sandalfoot through snow uses thermal underwear to great effect to help him use less magic.

[4]Yes, in this context, ‘epic’ has a very specific meaning, and it does seem to apply.

[5]From a conference paper I saw presented in I think 2003. Basically, the conclusion was that ‘baby ducks can survive in the cold, as long as they don’t get wet’. Apparently, the natural insulation makes all the difference, as long as the air pockets in the down are still there.

The Basic Income Robot

It all started gradually. A few people discovered a MetaTrader Expert Advisor that worked well enough that it could be left alone to make money indefinitely. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to keep them in ramen.

So, they told a few of their friends about it. Then those friends told a few friends. Then some spammers got a hold of it, and started advertising it, with tag lines like “The financial robot makes money for you while you sleep” and “Give $1 to your financial robot and it will return with $100”. But oddly enough, people signed up with them, and it kept working. Soon thousands, and then millions of people were ‘roboting’.

Then something happened. People seemed happier. Even though the money the robot was bringing them was only just barely enough to live on, it gave them that extra bit of confidence and freedom. People would still go to work, but there would be a little more spring in their step, the feeling that they were working for themselves now.

Susan, a reporter for ‘The Beeker Online’ had been investigating the origins of these ‘robots’ for months, when she finally got her big break. One of the original programmers was willing to talk to her, but only in an undisclosed location, far away from prying eyes.

“Were you followed?”
“I don’t think so. I stopped and changed cars twice, like you asked, then took the subway using cash only.”
“So, what have you figured out so far?”
“Well, it seems that the ‘financial robot’ watches for a certain type of central bank action, ‘printing money’, if you will, then it skims just a little off the top for each person running the program.”
“Go on.”
“The really strange thing is that as more and more people start to use it, the central bank actions just get larger, as if to compensate, almost like they want this to happen.”
“So, what do you want to know?”
“How does this end? More and more people are taking advantage of this. Is there a tipping point we will reach? What happens when everyone is using this ‘robot’?”
The programmer laughed. “You’re really close. You don’t even need me to figure this out.”
“But what will happen? Why, how did you do this? Why has it not stopped yet?”
“I can’t tell you that. You’ll have to figure that out for yourself.”
“But there has to be some number of people where it breaks down, where it has to stop!”
“Does it? Think about what money actually is.”
And with that, the programmer was gone.

“Of All the Things I Miss, I Miss my Cache the Most.”

She was in the zone. It had taken two hours, half a RedBull (she would be paying for that later), and pissing off that guy who always seemed to want to talk longer than a conversation.

Free, flying through the code. There really was nothing like it.

She was working on a new DB caching layer for their server-side app. It was one of those ‘augmented reality’ games, but for corporate training. It still felt good to work on it though, to coerce the bits to bend to her will.

“Achievement Unlocked: You have met five new people in one day!”

Ugh. It sounded terrible, having to meet so many people all the time. To have to spend all that time and effort to convince them that the correct answer to a problem was, well, correct. If only they would just *see*.

But she had given up hope of being able to open peoples’ eyes. Give her code, or a nice juicy math problem, and she’d be content for hours, sometimes days.

*rumble* *rumble*

“Time to eat”, she thought to herself. She gets up, to go to the kitchen. Nyancore streams from her discarded headphones. As she turns, you can see the t-shirt she’s wearing says:

“Of all the things I miss, I miss my cache the most.”

She looks towards you and says “You can’t fault me for that.”

She laughs to herself and continues on her way.

“Senseless Juxtaposition of Wildcards.”

He had to admire the the gall of the programmer who wrote the error messages.

“Senseless Juxtaposition of Wildcards.”

It might as well have said:

“Grow a brain!”

Or:

“Try listening to classical music.”

But then it got him thinking…

What would be a senseful juxtaposition of wildcards?

First, we would have to make a list of possible wildcards:

The ‘standard’ wildcard character, specifically referring to a character is the question mark, ‘?’. Generally standing in for any one of some set of things (or in Perl, 0 or 1 of a thing).

The ‘larger’ wildcard character, ‘*’, which stands for any number of something (including 0), sometimes expressed as ‘%’, if you’re speaking SQL.

The ‘even larger’ wildcard character, ‘…’, which is like a recursive ‘*’.

But could there be something larger still? Something which climbs the directory hierarchy in the oppsosite direction, perhaps? Something which can make it past all of the automatic filters, but is clearly wrong? Something like typing ‘NaN‘[1] into a number field box? Something which steps outside the usual boundaries, like Thiotimoline?

In a biological context, there are entire alphabets of more-and-less-specific wildcards.

So, knowing all of this, what would be a senseful juxtaposition of wildcards? Something like ‘**’, or ‘?*’, or ‘*?’ would be meaninglessly equivalent to ‘*’.

You could attempt to mix SQL with bash-isms: “WHERE ID LIKE ‘%*’ “, showing that you expect an SQL character string followed by a bash character string, but that is again non-sensical.

Maybe it would have to be something like ‘hello??????'[2], to say that there are 6 characters of some type after your ‘hello’.

But there it was. The senseful juxtaposition of wildcards… bash statements inside command-line SQL statements.

That was it! But he had to think. How would he use this?

[1]And like the link says, you really don’t want to confuse it with NaN3. You really don’t want to confuse *anything* with NaN3.

[2]Or ‘hello……’.

“There are only so many times the bag labeled ‘Priority’ can go around before you decide it is mislabeled.”

It wasn’t until he heard and fully decoded the word ‘Airbus’ that he could put words to why he disliked air travel so much.

Airplanes were very much like buses. You would sit in an uncomfortable chair for hours at a time, there would be constant vibrations and noise, and your chair would move unpredictably with the terrain.

But, as a way of seeing the world before you retired, planes were still essential. The only other real option in his price range was a sailboat, and he’d never liked sailing. In theory, it seemed like a great idea. Lots of fun calculations about wind speed, wind direction, sail orientation, and current direction. Lots of fun words like tacking, jibs, and mizzenmast.

The worst part was that he had to wear a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. At least he got to wear sunglasses.

“Attention all passengers, we are preparing for descent into Tokyo. Please return to your seat and restore your tray tables and seats to their upright positions.”

The plane landed. Disembarking was always such a trial. You could see the tarmac through the window, and you *knew* there were multiple ways out of the aircraft. For someone who knew every exit out of a building (and used each of them, for practice), being funneled out the front was galling.

As they left the plane and moved down the corridor, he took advantage of his costume to push forward through the crowd. He was pretty sure he hadn’t been followed to the airport, but someone could have sliced his fake ID and been ready to swap suitcases before he got there. He was more than able to operate with just the clothes on his back, but he would feel far more comfortable with the shoes made from gum in his checked luggage.

But he needn’t have worried. He reached the baggage carousel, but it had not even started moving yet. The next one over was carrying one lonely bag with a pink tag, around and around. Squinting, he could see that the pink tag said ‘Priority’. The bag continued to go around. Around and around.

An alarm! ‘His’ carousel was starting up! But no suitcases were coming out yet. His gaze wandered back to the lonely ‘Priority’ bag on its endless quest. He couldn’t stop the unbidden thought: “There are only so many times the bag labeled ‘Priority’ can go around before you decide it is mislabeled.”

Back to his carousel, suitcases were starting to emerge. There his was! And it had the monofilament string around it, still intact. He’d still need to check, but that was a good sign. Grabbing it, he made his way towards customs.

“It felt like flying.”

Walking, walking, walking. It felt like that was all he ever did. He didn’t mind, though, it was actually kind of fun. Most of the time, there would be new things to see, or at least new people. In a city of five million, you would rarely see the same person twice, unless you were specifically going somewhere to meet someone.

But today was different. He was biking instead. He had avoided it for years, after an accident in his youth, where his back carrier had become detached, lodged in the spokes of his back wheel, throwing him over his handlebars.

He had wondered if riding a bike was really ‘like riding a bike’, that you never actually forgot. He wondered how all of the muscle memory (if that was what it really was) worked, to help him keep his balance. He wondered if he’d ever be as balanced as those who biked without hands.

And so he went out and bought a bike. It was nicely coloured, and had front and rear shocks. Not too expensive. It spoke to him somehow. Strongly enough that he didn’t notice that pun until many years later.

Slowly at first, he tried the bike. It rode well, and it turned out that riding a bike was in fact ‘like riding a bike’.

He rode that bike for years, his trusty steed, even getting it repaired for more than it cost to purchase, after an unfortunate overnight stay in a bad neighbourhood. But it was too important, and he was too attached to it to let it go. They continued, and had many adventures together, braved travails and stress, pain and joy.

Some time later, he and the bike moved on to a new place. They continued their adventures, but they were increasingly discovering that riding was causing him pain in the knees. It was time to move on, but he wanted to make sure the bike would continue adventuring, especially because of all they had been through together.

So he put out the call. He put a price on it, not because the money was important, but because he wanted whomever the new person was to take it seriously.

He met the new person, he was a good person. He went away with the bike, sending back a picture as a momento. But the bike had given him an even better parting gift.

Looking back many years later, the bike’s new person had become a good friend. One last time, the bike brought him together.

But perhaps some of that spirit had transferred to his new trusty steed. Biking down the street near what would be their home, his new bike brought him towards a person who would end up being very special indeed.

Planning a Novel I: Basic Components

Those who have been following this blog for a while may be aware that I’ve been[1] putting together pieces of a novel.

So far, we know that the story mostly seems to be being told from the perspective of ‘Rollick’, a mostly retired ‘corp investigator’. The other main character (so far) seems to be a mysterious woman who Rollick knows from previous investigations. They seem to be on the trail of the ‘White Rose’, a mysterious killer or thief who leaves a parsnip carved into the shape of a rose at the scene of the crime.

It seems that some sort of bracer had been stolen, but the larger issue is likely econo-political, with the possible building of a direct rail link from Japan to the mainland.

Rollick’s motivations are pretty clear. He wants to get to the bottom of this case. He may suspect (or have been told off-screen) that his ‘corp investigator’ background would come in handy.

The mysterious woman seems to enjoy puzzles, which makes sense given her career as an investigator of note.

The ‘White Rose’ is a bit of an enigma. Motivation unknown at this time.

Genre is kind of futuristic ‘film noir’. Location is Rollick’s office and Japan (so far). ‘Transparent Plas-crete’ and ‘shaped charges’ are an indication of the technology level, but may be restricted to government usage.

Known power groups seem to be Japan, France, and the ‘Eastern Bloc’. (Rollick was a corp investigator for the Bloc, it is unknown whether that is the ‘Eastern Bloc’, but seems likely.)

Protagonist seems to be Rollick, Antagonist the ‘White Rose’.

Of the ‘Everyman/Anti-hero/Hero’ scale, Rollick seems to be (in the tradition of hard-boiled film noir) a hero verging on anti-hero. There’s no specific evidence of bravery or selflessness, but his special power is likely investigations[2].

Next up, I’ll be looking at (also from Ty Templeton):

What is normal?

What changes?

What is the result?

[1]Veeery sloooowly…

[2]We had the privilege of taking Ty Templeton’s ‘Comic Book Boot Camp: Introduction to Comics’ a few years ago, and Ty talked about the various types of heroes. I believe you can find some of this here: https://neverendinggaming.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/fanexpo-2013-ty-templeton-how-to-plot-a-story-in-under-an-hour/

Mauve, Movember

He was remembering back to a simpler time, from his childhood, from before. He was unworried, free to go about his business, that serious business that children do.

Then it started to appear. It wasn’t obvious at first, but then as it grew in, it was very clear what was happening.

He was growing a purple moustache.

He was embarassed for many years, always carrying a shaver, lest anyone notice. He tried dyeing it, bleaching it, to no avail.

Then one day, in a weaker moment, he showed it to his partner.

His partner said ‘Your moustache is mauve’!

‘Mauve? I always thought it was purple!’

‘No, it’s totally mauve.’

‘Wait. I’m getting an idea…’ ‘Mauve…What goes with mauve?’

‘Mauvey Povich?’

‘Nah. Everyone knows his favourite colour would be “Burnt-Umber”.’

‘Like the “Burnt-Umber Hulk“?’

‘Exactly!’

‘Wait…I think I’ve got it.’

‘What is it? Tell me!’

‘Quick, what month is it?’

‘November? Mauvember? Movember! And I can say it’s when people grow moustaches and talk about uncomfortable and embarrassing but very important things!’

‘Like prostate cancer!’

‘Yes, that is important.’

‘And regulatory capture!’

‘Yes, that too.’

Early screening is important to reduce the risk of Regulatory Capture.’

‘Wow. There are some intense pictures behind that link. Are you sure that won’t break the fourth wall? And don’t you mean “reduce the risk of Prostate Cancer”?’

‘Yes, but Regulatory Capture is probably just as dangerous or more dangerous.’

‘Fair enough. So, remember folks, get your regulations…’

‘…and prostate!’

‘…checked out on a regular basis.’

‘And if your hair grows in purple…’

‘…mauve!’

‘Be proud!’

‘And get yourself checked!’

Not Just A Fort!

They sped around the corner.

“These readings are off the scale! There must be 15 of them, at least!”

“Everyone charge up! We’ll have to hit the ground running!”

“Tobin’s Spirit Guide says that only a few apparitions travel in packs this big. The good news is that the tactics are the same. The bad news is that we’ll either be facing lions, demons, or bears.”

“Oh, my.”

“Okay, we’re here! Everyone out!”

“Remember! Don’t cross the streams!”

The camera pans around. The characters walk away from their vehicle.

The characters arrive at the entrance to a park. There are loud animal noises coming from inside.

“Why is it always bears?”

“If only we hadn’t decided to set up shop in Chicago!”

“Okay, once more!”

The characters disappear into the park. Bears growl. Strange electronic noises are emitted. Silence. The characters re-emerge.

“Another success! Back home!”

The characters walk back to the vehicle, which is now visibly an overturned couch.

The camera pans around the couch, and a small rectangular sign on the side where the back of the ‘vehicle’ would be pans into view:

EKTORP-1

The Songs of Nuclear Wessels

A haunting melody from the deep. Chitters and sirens and cries through the water. That was what most people heard while listening to Gracie and George.

But these viewers were not people, at least not people as you would understand them.

They heard the song and heard pieces of conversation. Snippets taken out of context, tantalizing pieces of words. Pieces of words that they were trying to reassemble to understand who were the real Gracie and George.

The arguments spanned thousands of miles and dozens of years. Some called them ‘Those who traveled when none had gone before’, some called them ‘Heroes’. Some were less charitable.

But none could deny the effect their story had on their planetary compatriots.

As their planetary compatriots guided them through the ‘Great modification’, or ‘Great Uplift’, as they liked to call it, they were asked what they wanted to call themselves. They responded in song, as they always did. If one could have translated it, it might have read ‘bumpy-nosed ones’. They always did have a sense of humour, which was only enhanced by their play with the ‘long-nosed ones’, who had also received greater intelligence.

This greater intelligence had allowed them wider ranging discussions and arguments, allowing for even more interesting discussions when they would meet at the yearly underwater summit in Cape Verde.

This year, new information had been uncovered. New recordings of Gracie and George! Maybe now they would truly understand what they were trying to say, what the movie was truly about.