Monday, March 26, 2007

Restoration

The rain never really seemed to stop.  It was omnipresent, clinging to the city, muting what few noises remained.  It trickled down the eves of abandoned buildings, past broken windows and fire marked columns to gurgle along the decaying street.  Many of the buildings had once been beautiful, but as commerce and industry became more and more decentralized, the once grand buildings made as a symbol of corporate wealth were left behind.  The heart of the city decayed, and people fled to the suburbs and beyond.  As the people left, so did the utilities, the police, and the education system, leaving a cityscape as intolerable to human existence as the surface of the moon.

Even so, some remained in the city.  There were those who couldn't leave where they had lived their entire lives, even as the building crumbled and died around them.  Or those who didn't have the means to leave, and so were left behind.  They, along with those who were simply flat out insane, had mostly died out by now, as food was scarce even for those who could grow it, and any non-perishables had been consumed long ago.  The smallest group numerically were people who chose to live in the ruins, but these were by far the most prosperous.
 
To them, the city was a vast playground, filled with potential.  There were materials readily at hand, and there was plenty of space to create new things, or to repair old ones in.  The boffins roamed the streets, hording and rebuilding devices that were quite often older than they were.

One such fellow had ventured out despite the rain.  Had other people been around, his style would have gotten quite a few stares; but the only looks he garnered were the quizzical glances of the crows.  Seeing him, one would assume that he had held up a tailor, and that the tailor, making the best of it, had given him the most absurd outfit he could conceive.  At the very least one could hope that it hadn't been his idea to go about in a neon orange regency coat.

He moved swiftly through the ruins on long spindly legs, stooping here and there to avoid braining himself on the remains of hanging light fixtures and broken pipes.  His pants, which matched his coat, seemed particularly ill suited to scavenging through the corpse of a skyscraper, but they ended in a pair of hard worn boots.  In a motion that stretched the pants to their limit, the left boot lashed out against a particularly stubborn door.  Unimpressed, the remained mockingly closed.  A second attempt with the right boot yielded much the same result.  a pencil, piece of dead yellow chalk and a much battered notebook appeared suddenly in his hands, produced with the speed born of long repetition.  The chalk flashed across the door, leaving "Locked" scrawled in its wake, and a note was jotted into the book.  The book snapped shut, leaving a soft mildewy smell in the air as it disappeared back into the coat, as he turned from the door and strode farther into the building. 
--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Reading on Trains

Trains are far superior to cars as far as being able to read on them is concerned. Today I rode Amtrak up to Sacramento from San Jose, about a 3 hour ride. While the train that I take is sadly lacking in wifi, I had the foresight to stock up on ebooks before I left. I read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick on this trip. Packaged in a convenient PDF this story is a bit short at some 87 pages, but it definitely is a good read. Most people are familiar with the movie version of this book, "Blade Runner", which is also outstanding in its own right. Both of them address issues that arise when you create self-aware systems, however Electric Sheep addresses social consciousness far more than "Blade Runner" with Mercerism and Buster Friendly.
The near worship of animals as a status symbol and a means to create empathy is pretty disturbing when counterpointed with the lack of empathy people in general display in the the novel, as well as the view of androids as unpeople. There is likely a compelling argument to be made about the effect of forced empathy with the Mercer figure and the lack of empathy elsewhere in the book. Is technology a driving factor behind the apathy of our current time, or is there a more deep seated social issue? It also brings up the question of humanity, as emoting is a sign of humanity in the book, however the Penfield can regulate one's emotions.
Humanity was far easier to define in times when having most of your bits in the right places was the important part. But even that broke down quickly, as many cultures have very old myths pertaining to monsters in the shape of men, or witches, and other foul beings lurking in our midst. Was this response evolved as social qualities became more important to survival? If a link between development of that myth and the rise of an organized culture could be made it would be very interesting. If its not as widespread as I think it is, then perhaps it is just a persistent meme in some cultures; in either case it would be interesting to learn more.
--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

UCSC Sunrise


UCSC Sunrise
Originally uploaded by mightysinetheta.
Sunrises rarely photograph well. They are often much more washed out than what we perceive. Thankfully, with the modern miracle of computer based editing, even a washed out sunrise can be returned to it full glory. I took this picture on the tail end of an all nighter, right at the start of Winter Quarter. Being able to see great sunrises without all the pain of waking up early is one of the many reasons behind my love of the night. The night tends to be much quieter and fewer people are around to distract me. Since my sleep schedule is so out of whack I can sleep during the day or the night with equal ease. I will certainly miss my all nighter sunrises when the summer comes and I have to conform to the 8-4:30 work day. Of course, then I operate at a net financial gain, rather than at a significant loss as I do during the school year. I suppose in both cases the end goal is to result in a non-zero trade off, coming out better than than what I had to put in to get there. The idea that human functionality is reducible to simple notions like non-zero equations is nice. I'm currently reading "Nonzero" by Robert Wright, on "the logic of human destiny". Thus far it is quite a pleasing read, and I look forward to completing it.

Hello World

My history professor suggested writing everyday to improve the quality of your writing. As I will be writing a significant number of papers as a history major, I took his advice to heart and started this blog. Given that this is more for my edification than entertaining the internet, I doubt that anyone will find this interesting; at least that is my hope. Ayn Rand learned English and became a successful author in roughly twelve years; hopefully I can simply become a proficient writer in a shorter time span.