Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My Best Qualities: Pushing the Limits of RAM with Tabs

I'm not really sure what it is that compels me to open every interesting link and leave it by the wayside to drag my computer down until the processor is rattling like a machine gun. Maybe if I step back and look at the state of order my room is in, I could psychologically make sense of it (I suppose that to say that I'm disorganised is a misnomer, if only because I'm not sure what a more severe term would be for my severe incompetence at neatness).

Day after day I find myself bored online and gravitate around to Reddit for a quick peek at whatever's new, opening every last link that interests me. But if the link doesn't lead to a picture of some dopey-face animal surrounded in a caps-locked veil of burly white words, I shelf it aside to read later. With time I have curated the perfect online library of HuffPo nonsense, political alarmism, and obscure databases of Beginner's Ainu until the favicons themselves have given way to a row of forgotten arcanum packed like blades of greying grass.

As we speak, I have three windows open and no idea what exactly I'm hoping to read later. With every command, my processor seems to increasingly resemble a T-Rex taking a dirt nap in a tar pit. Or, a tar nap? Or no nap, since he's ultimately just dying. I don't really remember why I thought this would be an interesting thing to write about. I'm not really sure why I'm still typing

Thursday, September 20, 2012

LOVE, a rejected Machine of Death II story

I wrote this story almost exactly a year ago on 17 September 2011 for a last-minute entry to the second Machine of Death collexion which I only found out about a few hours before submissions closed. I wasn't really sure what to do with the story, figuring that at some point I'd maybe put it up somewhere. Anyway, here it is, exactly as it was submitted:

Waves of fire engulfed the city streets as its denizens spilled into the nooks of alleys and through broken windowpanes, muffling their wounded and tossing homemade grenades or returning fire with whatever dilapidated arms the resistance had been able to accrue. Remote-controlled jets swooped overhead, photographing the culprits, as soldiers marched in three-tiered rows spanning the street with automatic rifles and heavy bullet-proof armour. Tanks crawled behind them, belching canister shots in the direction of any perceived gathering of malcontents. The thunder of battle finally reached Beijing Laboratory №918.

‘Continue working!’ shouted the supervisor, as he slammed the windows shut. ‘This petty nonsense will be over by the end of the day with all of those traitors dead.’ and walked back into his office. Lili gave a shallow sigh and pushed her chair away from the computer, quietly rising and moving to the water cooler at the opposite end of the room. Dongfeng watched her from the other side of the terminal, and wondered if she had been taught by her grandmother how to move so gracefully. She should not have been a programmer, he thought, but a ballerina for the National Ballet. Lili turned with a cup of water and began making her way back to the computer. Dongfeng quickly averted his eyes to the monitor and tried remembering where he’d left off.

‘Are you at all worried?’ Dongfeng froze.


‘I’m sorry. I was asking if you’re at all worried about this uprising.’ Lili said. ‘They’re right outside our doors, and Shu is keeping us here to work on this project for the Government. Don’t you think that’s risky? We could die.’

Dongfeng tried not to look too long into her eyes. He cleared his throat. ‘Well, the news says that this should all be over by day’s end. We have the most powerful military in the world: I don’t think that some armed hooligans are going to have the chance to topple anything.’

Lili sighed again. ‘You’re not answering my question, though. Win or lose, there’s warfare erupting right outside our lab. One stray or calculated strike, and it could be any of us being reported on the news as a statistic.’ Ah, a woman’s mind. Dongfeng raced to think of something comforting to assuage her with.

‘If they’re right outside, that means that the Army’s there, too. They’ll knock the insurgents back before you know it, and we’ll be riding the bus home for dinner like any other day.’

‘Maybe you’re right,’ she said, and took a long sip of water before returning to entering data. But the skirmishes raged on outside, the screams and explosions echoing through the concrete walls. Various blasts shook the building, and the yelling began to take more authoritative tones. Soon the slacking workers found their Internet disabled. Shu seemed to be answering the phone every few minutes until he finally emerged from his office, wide-eyed and covered in an oily layer of sweat.

‘Alright, comrades, how far along are we?’ he ejaculated. Down the line, all the various scientists came up in a positive that the machine was ready, and only waiting upon the programme to begin any further testing. ‘And the programmers?’ Shu asked, ‘What’s your status?’

‘I think that we’re all pretty much ready,’ Dongfeng answered. ‘But some of the code I’ve been reviewing is a little sloppy; I’ve been reworking some of it.’

‘We don’t have time for that,’ Shu barked. ‘Just finish whatever you’re on right now and get ready to upload it to the machine.’

‘Mr Shu, just give me—‘

‘No!’ Shu shouted, ‘This has to be done today. Those phone calls were from presidential aides and various secretaries for the Party asking to know when we would be able to present this machine. If we can’t get this completed, we might as well kiss our careers and livelihoods good-bye.’

Dongfeng shrunk back into his seat. ‘Yes, sir. I’ll start uploading the approved components now.’

‘Good man,’ Shu said, and went back into his office just as the phone returned to ringing. ‘Hello? Oh, hello, uh, yes. Yes. Very soon. Today, even.’ The door slammed and his nervous diatribe muffled.

Dongfeng rubbed his eyes and cracked his knuckles. He was a programmer - he didn’t work well under pressure. That was supposed to end with school. What was this, Japan? It was all right. He had this...

A few simplifications here, a few specifications there... ugh, such terribly written code. How did these people get hired? Dongfeng pounded the keys as fast as he could with an eye on the digital clock in the bottom left-hand corner. Some of the code was just too ugly and convoluted. There was no way that the machine would be able to function with garbage like this; and an hour wasn’t enough time to clean up their mess.

‘Hey,’ Lili called from across the terminal. ‘Dongfeng! Do you need help? We can split up the work, if you need. It’s just reading, right?’

He could feel himself hesitating, but knowing there wasn’t time to entertain his perfectionism. She didn’t have as keen an eye as he, but then again, there wasn’t time for that. He sighed, ‘Um, yeah, sure. Hold on a second, I’ll transfer some of this to you. Just send it back when you’re done, because I’m the only one with authorisation to upload the files.’


Dongfeng suddenly felt Shu hovering behind him. ‘It’s been over an hour,’ Shu said. ‘This better be the last one.’ It wasn’t, but Dongfeng realised that his compulsion had gotten the best of him, and that he couldn’t let Shu in on it.

‘Yeah, of course,’ Dongfeng answered, and uploaded the remaining files to the machine. Within ten minutes, it was finished. He felt a mixed sense of relief and guilt.

‘Wonderful,’ Shu exclaimed. ‘Will one of you boys over there start her up so that we can see if it works or not?’ With the press of a button, the machine, which seemed to share attributes with a tower PC, came to life. It hummed and clicked, soon displaying a blinking curser. Dongfeng walked over and typed:


The machine beeped and began to click some more.






As the percentage grew, it seemed to speed up until finally it had reached the 90s. Dongfeng suddenly realised that the room had become silent, as Shu and the other scientists carefully watched the machine come to life. The screen went blank, and then:



‘So, who’s going first?’ Shu asked. ‘Anyone?’

‘How about you?’ someone called.

‘Shut up, Wu.’ Shu retorted. ‘As a matter of respect, you should know that it’s none of your business what the fate of your superior is.’ The room fell silent again. ‘Now come on, before I choose at random. Someone stand up and be a man. I’ll even put a good word in for you when this is delivered to the party.’

Dongfeng stepped forward. ‘I’ll do it.’

‘Good man, good man!’ Shu said, patting him on the back. ‘Now just stick your finger in that socket and you’ll feel a little prick. Then we’ll find out your destiny.’

Dongfeng did as he was told. He felt the quick pinch of a needle and the dull pain of blood being pulled from his finger, and then it was over.


‘How long will this take?’ Shu asked.

‘I don’t know,’ Dongfeng answered. All of its components are military-grade. It should be pretty quick.’ The machine hummed between bouts of clicking and whirring. Dongfeng bit his lip in anticipation, wondering how it would all come to end. Presumably.

And then it hit him: Silence. It wasn’t just in the room, but in the streets as well. He looked to Shu, but the man seemed to not have noticed. Curiosity pulled Dongfeng towards the windows. As everyone else looked on, he traversed the floor to peer outside: it seemed as that everyone else had suddenly noticed as well.

A tank burned in the street, with blood and flesh encircling the fiery heap. Dongfend squinted to focus at the debris, looking for some sign of victory. Something stirred from behind the tank, a helmet – no, helmets. Why would the Army be taking cover? What had happened?

` And then it hit him.

‘Mr Shu, we need to lock and barricade the doors now.’

‘What?’ the man asked. ‘What the hell are you talking about?’

‘They’re in the building. They’re using it for refuge and hostages.’

‘What?’ The machine beeped and printed out a card. ‘Wait a minute now, your lot has been cast,’ Shu chuckled. He clicked his tongue and shook his head.

‘This is serious, everyone,’ Dongfeng said. ‘We don’t have time for beta testing, if it even works.’

‘You’re doubting Project Fate?’ Shu asked.

‘What? I—no, I—well, fine, what does it say?’

‘Love,’ Shu said, walking over to the windows and handing him the card. Everyone seemed to chuckle and murmur to each other. Dongfeng looked over to Lili, who smiled back at him in surprised amusement.

‘Well, that’s obviously not going to happen any time soon,’ Dongfeng said, ‘Now will you pay some attention to the serious issue at hand?’

‘I would, but it’s utterly ridiculous, Dongfeng, and you know it. You don’t think that the Chinese Army can overpower a few amateur rebels? Come on, now.’

‘Take a look for yourself!’ Dongfeng motioned out the window.

‘I plan on it,’ Shu said, and walked to the door. ‘There’s nobody out there but employees. This is a secret facility disguised as an apartment complex. Nobody is going to storm in here for hostages they don’t even know exist.’ He opened the door and walked into the hallway. ‘Hello? Any traitors out here? Oh.’ He walked back in followed by a masked man holding a semi-automatic weapon.

‘Don’t be alarmed. Stay calm and where you are. Nobody is here to harm you. We are only concerned with fighting our common enemy, the totalitarian regime of the so-called People’s Republic of China.’ Dongfeng slowly began backing up to rejoin the crowd. ‘Hold it right there, brother,’ the man said, bringing his nozzle up to face Dongfeng. ‘Let’s just take it easy for a moment, shall we? I don’t want to distrust you, but I don’t know where you’re going and I can’t take the risk.’ Dongfeng could feel his teeth grating together.

‘He’s harmless!’

‘Who said that?’ the man asked.

Lili stepped forward. ‘I did.’

‘Come over here,’ the man said.

‘Leave her alone,’ Dongfeng retorted. ‘Use me as a hostage. I’m the head of our programming department. I’m much more valuable.’ The man seemed to stop and consider.

‘Alright, fine,’ he said. ‘Let’s take the high road,’ and walked over to where Dongfeng stood. ‘No more sudden moves unless I say, alright?’ Dongfeng turned his head and spat in his eye, grabbing the rifle and trying to free it from the insurgent’s hands. The masked man punched him in the head and pulled the trigger, rapidly firing a barrage of bullets into Dongfeng’s chest. The scientists shouted and ducked for cover, Lili letting out a sharp cry. Shu stood motionless.

A tear rolled down Dongfeng’s eye. ‘Long live the People’s Revolution!’ he managed to whisper.

‘You sad fool,’ the man said, ‘this is the people’s revolution.’ A crumpled piece of paper fell from Dongfeng’s hand. ‘What this?’ the man asked, picking it up and examining it. ‘Love?’

‘It... it was how he was supposed to die,’ Lili sobbed. ‘He was supposed to die for love...’

‘Just what the hell are you people going in here?’ the man asked.

‘Project Fate,’ she replied, ‘A way to predict the deaths of every member of Government. It took us years to build that machine.’

‘Well,’ the man said, ‘I don’t believe in fate,’ and unloaded unto the machine.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fashion is Fascism!

I remember that somewhere around late middle school to early high school, back when I thought that I would actually achieve something by 25, I had this idea to write a song about how Fashion and Fascism were virtually the same. Draped in a leather trench coat, sporting hair below my waist, and mixing various shirts my mom felt flattered by rotund torso with band tees and black jeans, I suppose that I may have been the perfect awkward candidate. It was to be missal to all teenagers and twenty-somethings imprisoned in the gyves of popular culture: an anthem for those fleeing its yoke. After all, weren't the Nazis' uniforms pretty sleek? Fashion! Checkmate.

I never fit into any particular clique in high school. Sure, I listened to Metal, had long hair, and wore a trench coat; but I liked to smile, be silly, and was religious, so I didn't really fit in completely with the Freaks. I loved the Internet, books, science fiction, and fantasy; but I was horrible at science and mathematics, and didn't really play any video games except for Age of Empires and GoldenEye, so I was not a solid nerd. By the end of my high school career, I was even on good terms with the preps and suburban thugs. The assortment of kids I did hang out with were similar, having nowhere better to sit at lunch or breakfast — not so much outcasts as loose ends. In middle school, we had come to name ourselves The Reject Table, and even drafted a constitution/manifesto of sorts, at one point going so far as to exiling a member to what we called The Reject Reject Table; the high school equivalent, however, was much more amorphous and carried no such fidelity.

I saw that the multitude formed a rigid construct of darkness, writhing blinded and motionless in its own labyrinth. We imposed self-segregation, and our balkanisation had led to docility, and the docility to the devolution of civilisation. The divide was clear, but I never had any real ambitions of saving them. The goal had always been to rage forth, assaulting their groomed and manicured sensibilities with a simple plan:
  1. Form a band;
  2. Get famous;
  3. Get on an MTV awards show;
  4. Play 'Fashion Is Fascism'.
They'd laughed at me because I was different, so now I would laugh at them because they were the same! I think that 14-year old me would be stupefied as to why such a simple plan never panned out. After all, how hard could it be to get famous? But I never foresaw the obvious: that I and those like me are the punchline of the human condition.

Perhaps there was something to my angst.

Friday, November 4, 2011


I am a bibliophile. In some circles, I suppose it might be more apt to say 'bookaholic', but I'm not an idiot. My collexion of books is so vast, that I have actually taken to building towers of new purchases atop my crammed bookshelves, awaiting their inevitable collapse upon the floor in a show of cracked spines, bruised covers, and smashed pages. I cannot seem to help but amass an amateur library in my already-cluttered bedroom. Usually it is under the auspices of promising myself that I will read the new addition with some ludicrous haste, deceiving myself as to the actual length of the serpentine queue coiling the empty or flat spaces. Or perhaps I am subconsciously trying to drown myself in a sea of paper.

I could wax on about the philosophical nature of my booklust ad infinitum, but I honestly don't care. My primary concern rests not with the quenching of my mania, but rather in the conquest of scriptora incognita (also, pretentiously riddling my writ with Latin phrases). Which brings me to the whole point of this post: people like me will easily procure a vast library of books only to realise that we cannot read them all, or are far too lethargic. However, what if there were a way? What if, by some freak accident at Burning Man, the gods of fire and dishevelment were finally appeased, and granted us the ability for Osmosis? Or, say, we lived in a far nerdier universe where Mountain Dew didn't rot your teeth out, Cheetos were equivalent to vegetables, and the Matrix existed (because, let's face it, all would would have to coincide for even one to fathom theory). Anyway, I propose the theory of osmosis in connexion to acquiring the knowledge of acquired books.

The main argument here will erupt in fiction vs non-fiction. Where non-fiction is meant for the strict absorption of facts, works of fiction are crafted in a way that the reader is entertained in the progressive unveiling of plot, etc. If the work is to be acquired by osmosis, then the the intricacies of crafting are jeopardised. To be honest, this can even extend to works of creative non-fiction, like the works or Ian Mortimer or GK Chesterton, that take the time to engage the reader on serious topics that would otherwise elicit a few hundred yawns. With the contraction or development of osmosis, the efforts of countless writers will be laid to waste, as reading in and of itself will be seen as a leisure activity at best, at worst the hobby of the bourgeois. Like the internet and recording media, pure information via osmosis will single-handedly take down the entire institution of the written word, which at the current time is going an evolution from the physical to the digital.

At some point, we will have to question the relevance of wordcraft itself in a world of instantaneous knowledge. It'll be relegated to the course position of hobby, drawn up in free time and passed to a group of select deniers of progress or enthusiasts.It may even become that prestige becomes tied to reading slower, so as to somehow gain more enjoyment from the work, like sipping aged brandy. Or possibly by whatever hipsters will be called in this parallel future.

So, in the rarest of chances that somebody ever asks, that is my opinion.

Post Scriptum:
You know what? Let's throw bookahol in there, too. It might as well exist in this new dimension of wild possibilities.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Best Qualities: Carrying out Ideas

As you can all tell from the frequency of this weblog, I am a master of setting priorities and sticking to them. As a matter of fact, my original idea for this post was to just leave a blank post beneath the title; but I decided that that might be slightly too meta/pretentious/high brow, and likewise a cheap cop out. So instead, possibly months after my last post, I'm pulling together (somewhat) to lazily concoct another installation of my bland series.

Actually, that's all I've got. Sorry.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tiny Tower: What hath Man Wrought?

All I was looking for was a simple way to pass the time with my iPhone. Having neither money nor credit card, I was relegated to perusing the free apps, searching for something more than an alley cat who'll parrot your every word with a speech impediment that makes him sound like an emphysema patient. I'll admit, it's not easy when it comes to video games: most of the apps that I've downloaded are for social networking on the go (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Goodreads, etc), news, or a dictionary. If someone were to steal my iPhone and hack through the security code, they would probably pity my mega-exciting life of memorising word definitions and keeping up with archæo-linguistic discoveries while listening to reruns of WGBH Jazz Decades, and think about returning it before laughing at their foolishness and formatting my auxilliary livelihood.

Like any other normal human being, when I first got wind of Tiny Tower, I found the concept silly: isn't this just a vertical Farmville? I refused to even consider deigning such an activity. Not so much because my time is valuable (it isn't), or because I was low on space (free apps and pictures of my dog don't take up that much room), but because the mere concept of the game seemed to offend my matured tastes in digital hobby.

Ennui quickly drowned any inkling of connoisseurship and enslaved me to the pastime I once found pedestrian. I noticed that my friend had downloaded the game via the Orwellian iPhone game centre; I started remembering playing Maxis's Sim Tower and how interesting I had found it for about the span of two days. It became clear to me that by downloading this aberration, I could relive some nostalgic jiffy of time and possibly cure my first-world tedium in between actual tasks. What I was treated to was an authoritarian horror that unleashed its avaricious claws into the fabric of my daily schedule.

Upon opening the game/app, I was immediately manhandled into a tutorial with loose instructions binding me into premature failure. Somehow, I made it through by building a pizza parlour and residential apartments where my pixellated tenants could live and work as I pleased. I quickly put my first three tenants to work tossing dough and exchanging workout stories at the parlour, while the other 2/5 of my residents were scoffed at for their laziness and lack of entrepreneurial chutzpah as I constructed a second suite in which to recruit more unemployed lackeys of apparent welfare state of Tiny Town. Soon enough I finally got the hang of the game, installing a few more businesses at which I could employ my tiny wards. Then the honeymoon ended.

What I didn't realise is that the game perpetuated play into all hours of the day, whether one actively pursued it or not. Like a Poean phantasy, the constant chiming of re-stocked floors called me back to the game, groping for my iPhone in the dead of night in order to answer its lonely whimper, checking in on my sleepless 8-bit avatars. I could never be safe from this clingy application: it followed me like an incompetent stalker, uncouthly bringing attention to its loneliness any chance that I had to myself or was engrossed in another activity. It wouldn't have been so bad, had there been some end goal, some destination to which I was nearing, but it seemed that instead I had thrust myself into a never-ending cycle of construction and commerce, dragging my digital building into the heavens like some twenty-first century Tower of Babel whilst concurrently optimising the centres at which I would accrue the funding to continue my perverse mission.

I had to break free. I had to find a way out of this obligated hell I so ignorantly enrolled myself into. I knew what had to come next: deletion. I had to delete the game from my phone! but the ding, the ding, the constant ding - it called me to it, dragging me forever back to its addictive shores... until the day came that I was able to purchase a priced game, at which point my free hours became the seat of rope cutting, apocalyptic gardening, and catapulting birds into sundry debris. Yet Tiny Tower remains, quietly biding its time, taunting me through its app updates, waiting for curiosity to kill the cat.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Best Qualities: Sleeping with the Door Closed

I can never seem to fall asleep calmly with the door to my room open. Any time I try to shut my eyes, this looming shadow of worry seems to pounce on me like a ravenous lion, and envelops me until I can groggily slip out of my bed and walk over to the door to close it. It doesn't have to be locked, just firmly closed. I don't know if this could be traced back by a team of psychotherapists to some childhood trauma that I involuntarily suffered from, or some kind of Jungian instinct that was ingrained by the forefathers because of some kind of spiritual connexion that we unknowingly share. I'm pretty sure that neither of those can be true, because what this really boils down to is two primary fears: homicide and zombies.

The first, I suppose isn't so irrational, since anyone could really just slip into my house and start a Murder Party with all the unconscious bodies just laying about. I guess that it couldn't be that hard. At least, not to me. I can't really think of anything I could do if I woke up to some masqued mouth-breathing former mechanic stretched over my body with Thanksgiving Turkey on his mind. After all, he has the knife or ax or serrated screwdriver and is ready to check my organs for life; all I have at my disposal are two pillows and building incontinence. I suppose that the second might give me a small window of surprise, in which I could take my pillows and force him into a comfortable nap - though I can't see many serial killers suffering from narcolepsy. It would just take forever to finish a murder; not even worth it in the end. Now, a killer with sleep apnœa is a whole other story: at least you could hold off your rest until after you've finished desecrating the body; and then you can just lie down in whatever least-bloody part of the bed you can find and take a short nap. But I'd be dead either way, so it doesn't necessarily matter too much to me in the end.

The second fear is zombies. Yes, I know: I'm buying into the zeitgeist! Way to feed memes with cliché deep-seated fears! Don't worry, my inner hipster has already done enough scoffing at my reptillian brain, where you all should feel comfortable in your passive disgust for my general character. However, this doesn't change the fact that sometimes I fear that my casually-ill mother will at some point shuffle into my room, and I thinking her just having woken up in the middle of the night, will attempt to engage her in conversation, at which point I will die. Well, maybe not die outright, but she will probably lunge at me, lacerating some part of my exposed flesh, at which point I will lock myself in the bathroom and eventually attack and cannibalise some downtrodden, unsuspecting survivors holing up in my house for protection. I don't necessarily mean to single out my mother, as my father also has a penchant for roaming the corridor in the middle of the night, so he could as easily lumber into my room and ruin my already-dwindling track record with life. Sometimes I'll even replay the scene in my head indefinitely from the time I lie down to when I slip off into whatever bland dreams follow horrific panic-induced plotting. I can never get to the part where I'm eventually overpowered and consumed by the very people who gave me life - mostly because I already know it'll end that way, no matter how many laundry bins and office chairs cascade into them.

It should come as no surprise, then, that as of today I have still not finished Max Brooks's Zombie Survival Guide, because every time I begin reading it, I starting getting nervous only a few pages in. I get similarly nervous watching or reading anything else zombie-related, but can otherwise finish the movie/show/book without problem, only realising as I lie down in my bed that the virus can hit at any time. Obviously, I realise that it's pure fantasy, that as of yet there is no such thing as that kind of infection; and even if there were, I should be able to take comfort in the fact that my slovenly person would not make it more than a few steps outside of my home in case of such an epidemic without being surely and quickly ended.