Author Archives: -

Small misadventures in big data

The project was a complete failure. There was no other way to put it. No euphemisms, no learning from our mistakes, no vague gestures towards it all being an iterative process where it all happens incrementally, one less bad version at a time. After this, there would be no next version. It was done, over, no more

The initial aim was to use big data to copy people. By scraping everything that could be scraped about someone from databases, social media and everywhere else an algorithm could get a foothold, a sufficiently informed replica of an individual could be created that in all ways that mattered were that person, down to whether they had dandruff or not. Everything that could be known went into this doppelganger, and out came a copy so indistinguishable as to be identical

However

The process could not copy the small flaws that made up a person, the minute hesitations, the second-guesses, the imperceptible reroutings of thought processes through childhood memories that characterize a mind that has been around for a while. They got everything right, and thus, they got it all wrong

Nowhere could this be seen more clearly than in the cases when someone chose to have themselves doppelgängered. For whatever reason, they were too busy to be everywhere they needed to be, so they built a copy of themselves to keep up. However, these copies turned out to be better at being themselves than they were, and soon it all became a game of catching up with one’s better half just to stay in the game. Moreover, it happened at times that when someone figured out the person in front of them were the original rather than the copy, their barely disguised looks of disappointment could positively destroy those of a sensitive disposition

And thus it came to pass that no one copied this project. It was, once and for all, over

We are digging the Pit of Babel

In the area surrounding the Pit, no sounds could be heard. No birds chirping, no small things rustling in the undergrowth, no insects buzzing to and fro. Only a silence so profound as to defy the senses could be heard. The workmen, numerous and well organized, took great pains to fill out this void with sounds of their own, talking and singing so as to ward off their unease. Yet the many tongues and languages were insufficient to the task of heeding the warnings scrawled upon walls of the Pit, an ancient writ in symbols only remotely and accidentally similar to the ones now in use. As this last work crew, already bored by the routine and fresh out of songs to exorcise this most dreaded of horrors, passed the now familiar warnings that

THIS IS NOT A PLACE OF HONOR

and

THE DANGER IS STILL PRESENT IN YOUR TIME, AS IT WAS IN OURS

one of its members noted that it sure was a strange thing that so many different languages were represented therein. Upon relaying this comment, a comrade remarked that they were but a few short of one of each; another, laughing, stipulated that, truly, they were digging the Pit of Babel

How the email found you

It found you, in your office, as you were reading through your list of emails. Somehow, even though the list of things you actually do during your days has shrunk recently, the amount of emails you receive has not followed suit. If anything, it has expanded significantly, taking up more and more of your time, in an inverse proportion to things accomplished. The email found you in a state of pondering this state of things

The email found you as you were out clubbing. It was something of a dissociative moment to see those very bureaucratic words coming at you during the thumping of a bass so phat as to threaten to shake the very Tree of Life itself, the beat boosted by at least one counterfeit chemical brother. The dissociation triggered within you the realization that none of that stuff mattered, and that doing it half-assedly would get the job done just as well as acing it. The email did indeed find you well

The email found you submerged under a trio of cats, who all individually want the same thing from you, albeit with the provision that none of the others get it. It’s shaking out to be another tough round of negotiations, and this new email is relentlessly orthogonal to this series of events. It is unclear whether it actually found you

It found you by gyrating through the forgotten crawlspaces and air ducts of the many buildings of the many cities between sender and receiver. Along the way, it cleared the path for many a blocked airflow, possibly preventing a double-digit number of respiratory-related diseases. The exact path it travelled is a marvel of fractal geometry, geopolitics and edge cases of zoning laws. Alas, the email was filtered out by the spam algorithm

As the sound of a particularly large bird awoke you in the middle of the night, you decided to make the best of it by going to the loo. At some point in this process, the email was checked. An email that would ordinarily require an inordinate amount of thought had appeared. The thought apparatus being temporarily disconnected, you replied with a simple “k” and promptly forgot about it. Lawyers and literary theorists argue to this day about whether this email actually found you

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This email hit like a truck, and you hit back

The letter always arrives at its destination. Indeed, it is created at the moment of arrival. It is not a physical letter, per se. Rather, it is a sudden connection in one’s mind between all the things that brought you to this moment, and how one led to another, in what now seems an inevitable series of events. The letter, upon arrival, manifests as this sense of inevitability, foreclosing upon any thought that it might have been different. This is either a lack of regrets or the gradual disappearance of historical contingency. Either way, it’s here now

As the white whale was hauled to shore, its dead carcass a mass ever so slightly too large for the human mind to grasp in its entirety, one of the surviving sailors waved at you to come over. He’d found something lodged within the whale, somewhere; a bottle with a note in it, with what seems to be your name etched upon its rolled-up surface. The sailor, still in a haze after the ordeal, simply hands you the bottle. At some point in the future, you vow to figure out a way to get the letter out of the bottle without smashing it

Ten meaningless poems

1

I looked out the window, and there they were
leaves
swirling, swirling, swirling
and then
they were gone

 

2

Boop
beep beep
boop
beep beep beep
boop
beep beep beep
boop
beep beep beep
boop
beep beep beep
boop

 

3

And thus the cat
a master of remaining perfectly still
extended its artful prowess
and found purchase
for all we know
it remains there to this day

 

4

404
Page not found
404
Page not found
404
Page not found
404
Page not found

 

5

Looking at a bookcase
one is blue
one is yellow
one is purple
one is bigger than the others
many are small
the red one seems well worn

 

6

They said it would be quick
I don’t know
it’s been a while now
perhaps we differ
with the quickness

 

7

As the ad screen cycled
yet again
through the same three ads
I wondered
wouldn’t a poster be cheaper?

 

8

Next station
get off
stay on
the only two choices
oh, to be decisive

 

9

When considering the Tower of Babel
ponder
the greater the preparations
the more comprehensive the preliminary work
the faster it will be built
the fastest way is to build nothing at all
for as long as possible

 

10

Dog
dog
dog
dog
woof
dog dog dog dog dog
woof
wag wag wag wag wag

Beneath the streets

The spaces beneath the streets hold many mysteries. One popular theory posits that a beach hides there, regardless of the distance to any body of water it would be a beach to. Just a decoupled, freestanding beach, free to use by anyone who needed such an amenity at the moment of discovery. A rare thing indeed in these landlocked times

Alas, no one has found it yet, but the rumors abound

A slightly more resounded spot is the place where all lost earphones and earbuds end up. The mechanism for them ending up here, specifically, regardless of where they happen to get lost, is not altogether clear. What is clear, however, is the sound they emit in concert. Individually, each lost speaker can contribute only a soft, faint hiss, present only at the edge of one’s hearing, but together they emit the most profound and riveting sound. Every tiny detail of a song is expressed in crystal clarity, such that audiophiles have broken down crying over the limitations of human ears when faced with such aural perfection

It is a very popular spot among ravers

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