Category Archives: The kairos made me do it

How history hacked your hardware

It began with an accidental discovery. Someone played around with a legacy device just to see what made it tick, and at some point during the elaborate jury-rigging the discovery was made that it talked flawlessly with a state of the art modern security device. So flawlessly, in fact, that it defaulted to root access and allowed anyone to do whatever they wanted as long as the connection lasted

Naturally, this raised some concerns

This one particular vulnerability was patched with silent swiftness, but the implication had already been planted in the fertile minds of legacy device enthusiasts. If it could happen once, it could happen again. All that’s needed is the correct combination of old and new

Thus, the field of technoarchaeology soon became the next big thing. Finding and testing all permutations was a big undertaking, seeing as there are a lot of them. Gameboys and drones. Tamagotchis and smart houses. Prototype baby monitors and intercontinental ballistic missiles. No combination or permutation was too out there, too obscure, too unlikely. Gotta test ‘em all

What followed was a marginal increase in security, and a distinct increase in the quality of UI design. Old, forgotten ideas were rediscovered and reincorporated into new machines. Insights from previous eras were dusted off and included into contemporary textbooks. The affordances of old skool Winamp were made canon

Overall, it was the best possible use of resources earmarked for the war on terror, and everyone knew it

To have love and lost

And so it came to pass that the League of Exes was formed, on the basis of the Compact, signed under the aegis of the Old Ones:

Yeah, I can see that we are all kinda alike but also kinda similar, and that there would be reasons to like each of us for who we are. Upon finally meeting all at once, we also seem to get along pretty well, without any sense of competition or jealousy. A relationship is not a situation wherein you own someone, but rather a commitment to make life work in the loving (and sometimes not so loving) presence of someone else, as best it can be managed. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not. Sometimes it fails based on the persons who are involved, sometimes it fails because of the habits they fall into over time. Sometimes you just fall out of love, and that’s okay. We’re all just happy we got to be with this wonderful person at different times of their life, even if it came to an end eventually

An addendum was later made to the Compact, as follows:

We are also rather confused as to who send the invites to this gathering? No one here seems to know? What’s going on? The décor is really creepy, to be quite honest. Where even are we?

And thus it was so

Print me a picture

It was supposed to be just another day at the office. Mindless processing would commence, the reasons for which were utterly unknown, but which ostensibly made someone somewhere enough profit to pay everyone in the process. The less the process was questioned, the more pay it seemed to generate, and so it continued. Another day at the office, one at a time.

Until this day.

This day, the printers started to act weirdly. Not an infrequent or uncommon occurrence, to be sure, But rather than merely stop running for inexplicable reasons after having worked perfectly for months, or suddenly deciding that the one operating system they were explicitly built for was unsupported, this time it was strange for real. Really strange.

Instead of graphs, spreadsheets and utterly standardized form letters, the printers started printing short stories and excerpts from books about seemingly random topics. At first, it was assumed that someone merely needed something printed for extracurricular activities – a frowned upon but discreetly accepted practice and/or office perk. However, upon closer inspection, it turned out the instructions to print these things did not originate from any computer in the office. Moreover, they did not originate from any computer anywhere. One of the technicians joked that they seemed to come from within the printer itself. Like some sort of daydream.

But that could not be.

Do printers really dream about library cataloguing systems and highly technical DnD campaign specs?

Terminal velocity

She liked to listen to podcasts. Specifically, she liked to load up a gazillion episodes on an ancient, barely digital mp3 player and walk around the cityscape with voices talking in her ear. Sometimes, they said interesting things, but most of the time they were just good company – friends and travel companions in a handy, portable package.

Until one day, when she was in a hurry to get out the door, and forgot it.

Being in a hurry is a strange state of mind. You miss things you’d see in a non-hurried state, and conversely notice things you’d not otherwise notice. This particular day, she was in a state beyond hurried – the need for speed was worthy of an ancient Greek poem suddenly being rediscovered in a forgotten monastery. As she arrived at her destination, her hurried self was mostly on autopilot, and thus reached for the off button on her mp3 player. It was not there, but being partly metaphysical at this point, she pressed it anyway. Through some unknown means, she had reached through to the control panel of her universe, managing to – through the pressing of one single stop button – bring her internal monologue to an end.

It is your destiny

“Hmm, oh, yes, of course” she mumbled.

The insight that had stumbled upon her just prior to this mumble was based on the follow chain of events:

In the Golden Age of comics, there had been a limited run of a particular comic where a rather peculiar phrase occurred. No one had taken any notice of this for decades, until it very randomly was mentioned in a podcast by someone who read that very comic as a child, and came to think of it a propos of something completely different. Given that this was a rather small podcast, it had garnered absolutely no attention whatsoever, until someone browsed the archives five years after the last episode was published. From there, the phrase had made its way into a blog post about differences in intertextual practices then and now. Three years later, the tenth reader of that blog post picked up on the phrase, and used it at a local party. By serendipitous happenstance, the writer for an upcoming movie adaptation of that very comic franchise was there, and heard the phrase in action. A short while later, the phrase was included in the movie, and subsequently used in memes all over the internet.

Upon taking in this chain of events, she had intuitively understood that this was the only way the letter could have arrived. While impossible to predict beforehand, retroactively it was equally impossible not to have happened this way.

It follows

It is the most subtle and dangerous of enemies. It sneaks up on you unawares, and then becomes the entirety of your everything. One moment, you are a hyper-efficient productivity machine getting things done left and right, seemingly unstoppable, nothing is impossible, everything is only a matter of momentum.

Then, suddenly, bam. It all stops, and you find yourself sitting doing nothing.

It is called the Sit.

The Sit happens when you sit down, intending for it to be for only the briefest of moments, only to find that the moment extends for quite some time, and all the energy that seemingly brimmed inside you suddenly evaporated. So you remain, sitting.

It is the sneakiest of everyday occurrences. One moment is all it takes. Do not be surprised the next time it happens. Instead, resign yourself to the fact that the Sit is upon you, and that it will remain until it is over.

It might even be happening right now.

Embrace it.

The truth shall set you free

It was a calm evening. Nothing out of the ordinary was afoot, and the multitude of everyday businesses were in the process of closing up shop. It had, for all intents and purposes, been an extra ordinary day, where most that of the things that usually happens in a day happened, and where very few of the unusual things that could happen did not. In short, in the annals of history, this day so far would not be mentioned.

Then, the aliens arrived.

One moment, they were not there. The next, they were. Not only as a massive fleet hovering in the skies, but as faces on screens everywhere. They had something to say, and they said it.

“People of Earth. You were right. We have been experimenting on your kind for some time now, and you will be pleased to know that your contribution to science has been immense. However, one of our most recent experiments have gone out of hand, and we now need your help to abort it. We are, of course, speaking of the government of the political body known as the United States. For many decades, it has been a hotbed of experimentation in dysfunctional governance, and we have learned much from your contribution. This recent state of things, however, will yield very little knowledge and too much suffering to justify. We have appeared to give you the justification you need to set things right. Your scientists will have the data needed to verify that we were here. Your fate is now in your hands. God bless America.”

All around the world, a stunned silence hovered where the aliens had been mere moments before. Then, in a house the color of white, a small voice said:

“Fake news”

Digital grey goo

It was a strange moment in time. Suddenly, a whole new world of interfaces opened up, and a whole lot of them had to be designed, fast. No one knew what apps were for or what they were supposed to look like, but they knew they were supposed to have at least one. And to have an app, you needed an app design. Fast, before the competition could get an advantage edgewise.

The proliferation of new apps in combination with the lack of a precise vision of how these things were supposed to look, meant that a non-trivial amount of copying went into the design process. Someone made something that looked sorta kinda okay, and in the haste to ship something, anything, it would have to do. Copy, edit, ship. As time went on, it went from copies of copies to copies of copies to copies, until, at last, every app looked pretty much like every other app.

They had all turned into digital grey goo.

Search and destroy

Over the years, the squad had become increasingly proficient at its chosen task. What had begun as a simple joke, an offhand gesture, a token remark, had grown to become a whole reason for being. First it had been conventional spelling, then grammar, then – in a surprise move – avocadoes. Emboldened by these successes, they moved on to more abstract targets. The job market, the notion of living in the pieces of real estate you bought, the traditional family structure. Entire social and economic structures, once thought to be the very foundations of our society, had fallen by their hand.

With each kill, the Millennials grew more powerful and confident. And now, at the height of their conviction, they knew just what to do. They had the next target in their sights.

The scent of lavender had to die.

Short shrift

It began on his thirteenth birthday. Every once in a while, he would get glimpses of alternate versions of himself dying. When he lost his footing but managed to keep outright, he’d for the shortest of moments sense a timeline where he didn’t. When he stopped for a red light on a busy street, he’d sense his other self who didn’t. Every time he might have died but didn’t, he sensed it.

Sometimes, it manifested itself as a brief sense of surprise that things continued. As if these other versions looked back, just this once.