Friday, December 31, 2010

Unintelligent Design

"Well, that's it. Another failed attempt." Dr. Atticus sighed.

"Maybe the next one will hold up?" Dr. Ross suggessted. "I think we're on the right track. Maybe just a little more fine tuning of the z-constant?"

"No, no. Our entire methodology is at fault I suspect. We could tweak constants and starting conditions for eons and never get it right."

"Well how do you suppose it ever happens naturally then, if an intelligent force can't put the pieces together?"

"Random chance has an infinite number of eternities to play with the variables and we do not. For however many ways there are for a universe to exist, there are infinitely many more ways for it to fail to exist, to paraphrase the famous zoologist."

"Well then, maybe that's what we should do?"

"How do you mean?"

"Maybe we should let random chance take over. If we could set up the chamber to iterate over the entire space of possible universes, it will find a workable set of initial conditions eventually right?"

Dr. Atticus closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. The younger generation hadn't been around long enough to know what wouldn't work. That was their problem he thought. "I suppose, but as I said, it might take eternity to even find one that works."

"Maybe we can take advantage of quantum superpositioning to run the experiment in parallel?"

"It's one thing to say that, but it would take an entire rework of the system... the chamber, the shielding. And we don't even know if our methods would be stable under quantum conditions."

"But the attempt would still take less than eternity right?"

"Dr. Ross?" the elder questioned as logic began to take hold.

"Yes?"

"Remind me again why you're the assitant here?"

"Because I'm younger, have published fewer papers, and can't get the same amount of funding you can?"

"Right."

So, nearly a year later, after a complete rework of the experiment they started the system back up. Nearly three seconds later there was, for lack of a better term, a quite large bang.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Daily Aphorisms

The moment you put something away is precisely the moment you will need it again.

Knowledge and expression are opposite sides of a many-sided coin. Knowledge is the result of the process of turning the outward in, while expression is the process of turning the inward out.

The old saying goes "A little inaccuracy sometimes saves a lot of explanation." A corollary perhaps is that "A ton of inaccuracy saves even more." A lot of people think the corollary is supposed to be "A ton of inaccuracy doesn't save any explanation," or "A ton of accuracy doesn't do any good." These people are naive and do not understand how the world really works.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

XGC-213, Day 194

So. Here I am. All alone. Again.

The days on Station XGC-213 are mind-numbingly long. I used to worry that I'd get sent out to the front lines and might have to see battle. That I might get hurt or die. Now, I'd relish the chance for something to happen. Anything.

Apparently, my psych profile rated me positively for this posting. That I could handle the stress of isolation. I'm not sure how much trust I put into a 30 question survey to gauge my abilities and psychological profile. But the higher ups are convinced of its effectiveness. They were even able to use the test itself to test itself. It got a perfect score.

So, my attention to detail and my lack of social graces mean they were more than happy to stick me out here alone. They were sure I could handle it. But if I couldn't, it was no big deal to them. They sent thousands to their deaths every month. What's a little psychological torture on top of all that? Now, I think I'd rather have been put out in front of an enemy space craft than deal with the quiet desolation of this old station.

That's the worst thing probably. The quiet. Space is a vacuum they say and so there's no noise to be heard. And for all this station's age, it only very infrequently makes so much as a pop or click or hiss. So I play my music as loud as I want almost constantly because there's no one to annoy with my bad taste. But still I know behind that is a maddening quiet. It's almost as if I can still hear the quiet when the music is blaring to convince me I can still feel something like emotion.

The job isn't bad though, it's almost a wonder that it's not fully automated. There are only a few things that can't be done by a machine (at least not cheaply) so it's worth it to Central Command to pay for a "soldier" to man the outpost. At some point in mankind's history there was a huge fear of robots and machines taking jobs from people. Now it's almost the reverse. The economics of it all mean that no one really has to do anything. No farmers, no janitors, and no menial labor for anyone. This created a new class of the unneeded poor. It's almost cheaper to throw people at a problem now than machines. In a few rare occasions we can still be more useful than a bot.

But when I say the job isn't bad, I mean that it isn't hard. It doesn't tax me in the slighest. Mostly I just go over hourly and daily reports to make sure everything is in proper order (it always is) and occasionally I have to push a big red clich├ęd button to release pressure from the thermal vents. I swear they left that under manual control just to give me something else to do. It's more of a mockery than anything: thinking about the designer who made that decision, thinking of me here with no real purpose.

The worst thing is that even if I don't push the button for long enough for pressure to reach dangerous levels, the fail-safe kicks in and opens the vents anyway. So that's the limit of my usefulness here. It's not uncommon for most humans to feel this way these days. Most modern humans live in utter poverty in makeshift huts or the luckier ones are left jacked into some virtual reality that's easier to deal with than this one. Oh! and sometimes I find a loose bolt to tighten around here. So I do that too. And I have to send in daily reports about the station's welfare, although why that couldn't be sent from the logs and monitored remotely I have no clue.

But I get plenty of time for reading and watching old archived video. By myself. I remember being stationed with this guy on Talos 4 once. Couldn't stand him. He was possibly the worst human being in the history of human beings. I'm certain whoever is the worst human being so far has to be alive now so it might as well be him. He once snuck port sealant into my aftershave. He thought it was a real gas since I was the only one on the bunks still using the archaic aftershave and razor. Unfortunately for me it was the non-toxic sealant meant for inner ports not exposed to space or harsh environments. But the point of all that is that, as much as I hated him, I'd do anything to have him stationed here with me. Or just him here by himself. That would be even better.

So shore leave is over and I'm back here again. It was nice to see real live actual human beings again. As much as they can annoy me it's infinitely preferable to this place. I had almost forgotten about this place, this loneliness. It was a brief respite that seemed to last forever until it was over.

I thought for sure my request for transfer would go through this time. But no, I was specifically suited to this environment and I had shown commendable skill in my duties here. What a load. Well, the big red button is blinking, I'd better go push it now.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mistakes

Standing back on the bridge Jonathan Dover tried to go back to where it all went wrong. He had kept trying to figure out in his head what he could do to undo the damage. He went over it and over it and over it and nearly lost his mind. He always came to the bridge when he needed to think. Passersby often thought he was about to jump, but he actually just enjoyed the view. Instead of making him dizzy looking down into the waters below, it calmed him. It was his strange calm in the middle of the storm.

Jonathan's biggest fault perhaps was trying too hard when he should have given up. They always say to try your hardest on all those educational cartoons he'd watched as a kid, but they never told him that there was a time to let something go. He had an obsessive streak and just couldn't though. Now that he was on the bridge again, he could see it was all so simple. It was like the old proverb, "In order to save your life, you must lose it." Not to be taken literally of course. But just as if you tried to grab a hold of the water below, you couldn't always grasp life as if it were a thing to be molded by your will.

His answer of course was to do nothing. He'd pondered for days what he should do, but only here back in his thinking spot, what others called Lover's Leap, could he see clearly. It was nothing. He hoped he could remember to do nothing when he got home.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Beginning is the End

"Well, I don't know what to say. It happened so fast. I guess it was a long time in the waiting, but to us, those of us who were always here, it was all very fast. It's a hard thing when you realize that all you are and everything you know are such small things. So inconsequential. To people back in the dark ages it came as quite a shock to learn that the universe did not have them at its center. We weren't that naive. We understood our place in the universe. We just thought that the universe at least was a large thing. A pretty big deal. Of course, there were scientists saying there were other universes and such, but it never really occurred to us that our universe even was a very small thing in the grand picture of it all.

"It started one night... Well we first noticed it one night. The sky lit up with thousands of new stars. That's what we said at first. But the astronomers said that stars would be so far away that we wouldn't see them all at the same time. These new lights in the sky were all in our own solar system. They were moons, asteroids, planets even, that all went alight suddenly, as bright to our eyes as a star.

"Almost as soon as they were lit, they went dark. Moons and planets we used to be able to see were just gone. That's what we thought. The scientists told us they were still there. Their gravity was still affecting everything just as it had before, we just couldn't see them anymore. Someone suggested that they had all turned into tiny black holes and that's why we couldn't see them anymore. We thought that meant we'd all get sucked in and there was quite a panic.

"Scientists later reassured us that there weren't any black holes, but even if there were, they were the same mass as before and we were in no danger of getting 'sucked in'. Not that their statements helped the general panic any. What they did say was that it seems that every bit of light was being absorbed by the moons and planets and such. Why or how, they couldn't say. And that was all that anyone was interested in. No one cared what. Just why.

"Most folks invoked either gods or aliens to explain what was going on. Scientists seemed to agree that it seemed likely that an alien intelligence was involved somehow, but didn't have any direct evidence of it. All sorts of end times cults sprang up, but eventually we all just went back to our lives. What did it really matter if we couldn't see the moon and some of the planets? They were still there. We still had waves in the oceans. It was a little darker some nights, but was that so bad?

"Eventually the scientists started to notice that the same thing was happening elsewhere in our galaxy. We noticed slowly, gradually, as the light finally arrived from further and further, as other planets far away lit up like new stars and then went dark. It was apparently the most exciting thing in the scientific community that had ever happened. To them it confirmed intelligent life elsewhere, but as to what it portended, they were silent.

"Then, suddenly, it all ended. The entire universe just stopped. Over. We were done apparently. You might ask, 'How would you even know?' and 'How then are you still here?' Those would be good questions to ask.

"Listen."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Looking for Bad News

Benjamin walked out of the clinic hesitantly out into the back alley. He wanted out of there, but he didn't want to leave. He hadn't heard what he wanted to hear even though it was good news. He slowly headed out to the street waiting for something to happen. When he made it to the busy sidewalk with no occurrence, he headed back downtown.

He stopped at the diner he usually stopped at a little early since he hadn't had breakfast this morning. It wasn't really his favorite diner or anything, he just usually stopped there. After he sat down at a booth, Audrey came to his table without a menu and with a glass of water.

"What today?" she asked with a shrug.

"Club, no mayo," he replied without looking back up at her as he took a sip of his water. The water at the diner was from the tap and wasn't very good. What water came into the city was fairly fouled up already and the chemicals they treated it with never really made it out of the water.

Ben set down his water and looked up. He saw Old Sam down on his usual seat at the counter. Everyone called Sam Old Sam because he was old. he was retired and nearly always in the diner while it was open, which was almost always. Ben usually didn't interact with Old Sam, except for a polite nod or hello when they happened to make eye contact. Today was different.

Old Sam turned around to Ben and grinned, motioning for him. Ben got up with his water, taking another sip, and headed for the counter. While Old Sam watched him, Ben took a seat next to him.

"Hello there," Old Sam said jovially in his gravelly voice. He had an accent, but Ben didn't recognize it. It went well with a little old man. The accent, like him, was unassuming and nonthreatening.

"Hi," Ben responded with a nod. He took another sip of his water.

"How are you today," Old Sam asked.

"Not too good. I just got some bad news."

"Sometimes, you got to hear the bad news. It ain't always good. But where would we be if it was always good news? How'd we know the good news if we never had the bad?" Old Sam asked. "Eh?"

"It's not that simple really." Ben said and took a sip.

"Look at me. How much bad news you think I ever heard? Huh?"

"This is different."

"Sure. 'I'm different than everybody else,' said every man that ever walked."

"I'm glad we finally talked, Sam," Ben said as he got up.

"Hey. Listen. I know you're bad news ain't really bad news."

"And how do you know that?" Ben asked, eyes wide.

"I seen bad news in a thousand man's eyes. I don't see that in you. So why you pretending?"

Ben stared at Old Sam for a moment. "Can I ask you a question?" Old Sam nodded. "Why did you wave me over here today? We must been in here together a thousand times and we've never said more than hello."

"Like I said. I seen the look on your face. You didn't have bad news and that was the worst news you ever got."

Ben paused again. "You take care Sam."

"You too Ben. And call me Old Sam. I like that."

Ben turned as Audrey grabbed his club from the kitchen counter. She motioned with the sandwich and asked with her eyebrows where Ben wanted his sandwich.

"You want a club, Old Sam? No mayo."

"Sure. I take a club, if you're giving it."

"My treat," Ben said as he left a five dollar bill on the counter for Audrey. He turned towards the door. Ben stepped outside and put his hands in his pockets. It started raining and Ben smiled.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Determinism

I've been absolved of the burden of free will. My path is clear now.