Author Archives: -

Random encounters

This particular street corner was known to her as a random encounter spot. Some of the random encounters could be explained through the powers of statistics and probability – the sheer number of people passing through every day meant that you were bound to meet someone unlikely every once in a while. Indeed, most encounters were highly familiar – some friend not seen in ages, that one guy from high school, a celebrity who took a wrong turn, and on occasion an ex to swiftly avoid. Other encounters, however, were outright spooky, such as when she found a fondly remembered childhood toy, staring intently at her with his epoxy eyes, just as he’d done all those years ago. She sometimes wondered if she should’ve picked him up, but the nature of the spot told her, again and again, that there were things best left as encounters

Dividing by zero for fun and profit

One day, having heard the rumors about its impossibility, she tried to divide by zero on her trusty, ever so slightly oversized calculator. To her surprise, it gave her an impossible answer. Not the answer to what happens when you divide by zero, but a different impossible answer

The answers came with conditions, however. The questions could not be a priori impossible – no asking the names of some bachelor’s wife. Nor could they be unintelligible – the feelings of the color green (outside of literary interpretation) were similarly off the table. The metric for measuring impossibility seemed to consist of how intricately interconnected and nested the if-statements involved managed to be – and how many they were. Adding ever more layers of improbability increased to possibility of impossibility

Being a teenager, she immediately saw the inherent potential applications. Thus inspired, the ever increasingly complex speculations about the internal emotional states as reflected in actual and/or perceived social constellations provided amply impossible questions for equally impossible answers. On balance, the calculator could not have found a more compatible user

Prefiguring in medias res

“You can’t just start things off right smack in the middle. Readers won’t have context for what they’re seeing, and thus become confused. Whatever literary effect you’re trying to achieve will be lost on them, both in the initial confusion and in the latter stages of having stopped reading”

“So what you are saying is, Tolkien style worldbuilding through the most literal historical exposition possible?”

“Gods no. Books should be brave enough to begin somewhere after the literal creation of the world”

“That sounds very much like a middle to me”

“You know what I mean”

“How about endings?”

“Oh, you definitely should not end before”

The deep, the fake and the beautiful

Benjamin argued that, in an age of mechanical reproduction, any work of art could and would eventually be repurposed towards perpetuating fascism. This goes for any work of art, even those who are politically neutral or are expressly anti-fascist in nature. Benjamin’s reasoning is that fascism will use any and all means at its disposal to further its ends, which includes the art of mechanical reproduction. The art found on anti-fascist posters can, with a minimum of editing and copywriting, be made to illustrate the very propaganda points the poster sought to argue against; by controlling the medium, the message is given. The act of individual expression does not survive translation into mass media – at economies of scale, everyone and everything is reduced to interchangeable parts who can be rearranged to serve any purpose. When it comes to deep fakes, however, I propose that we take the concept of a libidinal economy more literally than it is usually employed. In this essay, I will

Inverse pyramid schemes

His specialty was failing. He had taken failing to a new level and made it into an art form. There was no task, no activity, no project so simple that he could not, in a manner as spectacular as it was convoluted, botch so completely as to beggar belief. In short, if you needed something to go wrong, he was your man

One time, he had been tasked with stealthily moving a modestly sized package from one end of the city to another. A simple task, just move it from one place to another without attracting undue attention. Like posting a letter, but with less confusion about how much a stamp costs these days. Needless to say, he failed at this, and summarily invited to attend a high-profile dinner with a visiting princess from a nearby kingdom. While this is considered a success by many metrics, it was everything but stealthy, and the package remained undelivered for a long time after this very public occasion

The key to understanding his art of failure is that he always fails at the task he sets out to do. This could be tweaked to suit the needs of those who employed his services. The key was to phrase the task in such a way that the outcome of him failing was positive when all was said and done. And, most importantly, it didn’t work if he knew he was supposed to fail; invariably, he would fail at failing, thus succeeding in a spectacular manner never before seen, thus invalidating the whole thing

Being an unfortunately intelligent soul, he soon caught on to this, meaning that the contractual terms had to add yet another layer of specific safeguards to ward off the possibility of accidental success. Double, triple or even quadruple negations were not uncommon, to the point where even analytic philosophers had trouble keeping up with what the conditions for success were. Over time, it became its own specialized vocabulary of gently drawing one’s attention this way and that without ever clearly spelling out what was to be done, but fully trusting that it could and would be done. Despite these contractual complications, he remained highly sought after, and often found at the site of very remarkable confluences of events that probably should not have happened but happened anyway

Needless to say, we did not invite him to our social functions

Antediluvian atavisms

A thought occurred to me as I left the Imperial Archive. I have been told this is a common occurrence upon leaving these vaunted halls. It has something to do with how the brain ambiently processes information, ever scanning its surroundings for threats, obstacles or opportunities. Entering a new room triggers this mechanism, given all the new information it suddenly has to process. The Imperial Plaza provided the opposite of new information, which was a very distinct quality of informational input. No one knew why the Ancients had chosen to place the Archives in the middle of a vast expanse of finely crafted yet uniformly flat stonework, or why the subsequent generations and iterations of Ancients had chosen to keep it that way, yet there it was, utterly obliterating any previous line of thought to give rise to a completely new line of flight:

If truth is contextual and prone to vary as the needs, priorities and wishes of those who happen to inhabit said contexts change, what hope is there of an eternally valid archive? What manner of preservation could hope to stand the test of time? When the barbarians were at the gate, what manner of argument swayed their course to loot some other building? Why had the Imperial Archive survived and been able to continue its archival function, while the empires it nominally served came and went according to the savageries of entropy? What use could the archived material be if it was transcribed according to priorities foreign to those of the contemporary residents?

Perhaps – and this is the thought that occurred to me – the answer is to be sought in the very plaza that so confuses and surrounds the Archive. Trying to take the Archive itself would be a tactical nightmare, moving too many troops over the vast expanse of flat terrain. With a minimum of preparation, any current empire could turn the Plaza into a kill zone, a no man’s land where angels fear to tread. A weaponization of the negation of information. Even if the Archive were somehow successfully occupied, there would be nowhere to go; it did not connect to anything, and to get back to the battle any invading army would have to cross the same featureless terrain again. With no material gain to be had through conquest, the building was left alone.

And so, when the barbarians had battered down the gates and made their bids to imperial power, what they tended to find out was that they needed someone to administrate their newfound empire. Moreover, they needed someone to train these administrators. Seeing as there was an institution right there which would be willing to do just that, no strings attached, most barbarians opted to include the Archive in their newfangled imperial ambition, thus ensuring the continuation of the Imperial prefix.

These musings did not answer the question of how to keep knowledge relevant over generations, but it did shed light on how to go about sustaining the attempt. Perhaps this, too, was a clue in its own way. The first step in creating an Eternal Archive was to create a surviving archive; the rest could be figured out with the time given.

Losing the plot

The advent of quantum computing really threw the wrench into cryptography. By making computational speed an arbitrary function of coding, of basically figuring out how fast these things could be made to go, any given implemented protocol would soon find itself outpaced by a more recently implemented hack. Secrecy became a function of frequent updates, which ultimately came down to how fast you could make your coders work. These same coders had, through some miracle of actually existing communications technology, unionized and gotten something asymptotically approaching decent working conditions. The genie would never again go into that bottleneck, and thus other avenues than mere mathematics had to be explored

The key realization came when a digital humanities scholar made an off-hand remark that fiction could contain a nearly arbitrary amount of information, if written intertextually enough. Fan fiction, in particular, excelled in constructing densely connected webs of references, countersigns and internal winks that would utterly nonplus those uninitiated, but be completely apparent to those in the know. The key to keeping something a secret, then, would be to hide it in plain sight in such a way that it was functionally illegible to society at large, and even more so by incorporating false narrative leads familiar to those wanting to figure out what was what. At last, the cryptographic arms race could finally continue apace

On the twelfth day

Matters have become exceedingly strange in these latter stages of the quarantine. Upon venturing into the seldom visited nooks and crannies of my domicile, I have chanced upon new and unfamiliar items previously unbeknownst to me. I described these peculiar new discoveries to my cohabitants, who did not recognize said items even as I laid out their aspects at great length. Mere moments later, upon conducting an ocular inspection of my exotic acquisitions, they made it known that a distant acquaintance, referred to colloquially as “aunt Martha”, had ceremoniously bestowed these peculiarities to our abode during the annual celebration of the birth of one member or another of the household. Heavily implied in this assertion was the fact that it was common knowledge that these objects had indeed been in place all along, and that the only confusion in these matters was caused by my overly ornate and quixotic verbiage on the subject matter. Perhaps, the smaller one of them concluded capriciously, we had – hypothetically, perchance, mayhaps – been “cooped up” in here ever so slightly too long, facilitating the initiation of a gradual decline of our (meaning my) mental capacities. This, if true, would be an exciting development indeed, for what could be more interesting and open-ended than the discovery of a brand new self to delve into and discover anew? I do so hope that the quarantine will find reason to be extended, allowing me further possibilities to extend these investigations. The truth, surely, is in here somewhere

Zarathustra on podcasting

The goal, of course, was to produce a text such that no part of it could be understood out of context. Each and every sentence would have some idiosyncratic characteristic or other, making it context-dependent in such a way that any attempt at quotation would require extensive explication. Or, if this could not be achieved, it would refer to some component of the sentences prior or afterwards, making quotations an effort in ever grander parameters of inclusion, until it all simply became too much. Better yet, these semantic interlinks could transcend mere adjacency and refer back to some passage many lines or pages ago, necessitating an even further scope of hermeneutic inclusion for those in search of a quote. The goal, thus, was an impenetrable fortress of words flowing over the reader, either like a revelation unfolding one interconnected line at a time, or like a comforting glossolalia whose beginnings and ends were as arbitrary as the particulars contained therein

Where conspiracies lead

Early on, the organization figured out that the single biggest predictor for if someone believed conspiracy theory x is whether or not they believe conspiracy theory y. There seemed to be a general propensity to believe in conspiracy theories in general, regardless of the specifics of any one theory. Mole people, black helicopters and the faked moon landing are all, somehow, of a piece

This presented something of a challenge to the recruitment office, who wanted to find a process to screen out the more dedicated theorists without also scaring off more grounded candidates. Initial attempts to ask about unrelated yet conspiracy-adjacent topics, so as to indirectly suss out whether the person had a propensity for such thinking, were called off after a rumor began circulating that one of the standard questions was related to aliens. That was not the particular kind of attention they needed at the time

At length, they figured that the best way to find out was to give the prospects an informal communal free lunch. Those whose conversational topics trended towards the conspiratorial could easily be identified, and those who were merely nervous about the possibility of being hired could be ushered towards that very possibility. The success rate was not 100%, but it more than made up for the cost of the free meals. Overall, it was one of the better counterconspiracies of the organization