Thursday, 29 November 2012

Story Hook: What is Undeath?

Story Hook #10: Philosophical zombies ponder meaning of love, pester passerby


Dave stood at the edge of the cemetery, leaning on a solitary tombstone on which the words "Here lies Gorril, because he never told the truth" has been inexpertly carved. He looked about, his one good eye swiveling in a rather rotten eye socket. He was trying to find his fingers, which had fallen off again. While there were many advantages to being a zombie, Dave thought, having to find fingers was not one of them. He had already lost three, and it was getting more difficult to write. Dave sighed. Not so many advantages to being a zombie anymore he thought. Dave was a forgotten animated body, a zombie animated when the dread lord Knut Su Ded had invaded the city. At that time things had been much better. There had been more zombies, and brains had been more plentiful. Of course he had been enslaved to the dread lords will, but that was hardly a hindrance. It gave one a purpose in unlife, something a zombie definitely lacked. But now he and his few surviving brethren were doomed to do little more then walk about trying to get what they could. A zombie, of course, could not starve to death, but Dave would have enjoyed a nice brain. They were so nice, and juicy, and made him feel so wonderful. A low moan of 'Brraaaaiiiiinnsss" escaped from Dave's lists as he lost himself in thought.

Poe slouched over to Dave and lightly tapped him, breaking his reverie. "Now, now Dave," Poe said, "You don't want to end up like Fred." Dave nodded. Poor Fred. Consumed by the hunger. Now all he did was wander about the cemetery moaning for brains. It was rather pitiful. But, Dave thought, perhaps thats how we all end up eventually. Eventually the hunger gets to us and we become, well, zombies. It had certainly happened to enough of the zombies. Entire gangs of them wandered around, occasionally catching a wanderer but more often getting killed by rangers or clerics. Going full zombie, the other zombies called it.

Poe sat down on a tombstone marked "Here lyes Bodrick the Bard, who will play on in the afterlife." "Dave," said Poe, "Do you think there's anything left for us besides brains?" "What do you mean," asked Dave, continuing to look for his fingers."Well," said Poe, "It's not like there is anything more for us in the world. We're zombies. We can't exactly fulfill our dreams or find the loves of our lives anymore. Maybe we should just give up and join Fred." "Go  full zombie?" Dave said. He picked up a stick. It looked sort of like a finger. He tried to attach it to his hand. "Yeah," Poe said, a faraway look in his cloudy eyes, "Just give up. What is there left for us?" "What about the sunset," Dave asked, "What about all the beauty in the world. I doubt the full zombies can really see it anymore." "What about it?" Poe said, "Sure there is romance and beauty in the twilight but what is love to a zombie?"

Dave sighed. The stick would not stick in his hand. "Just because you will not be loved back doesn't mean you can't love," Dave said philosophically, "In fact, isn't the most beautiful love that which is unreturned." Poe snorted. "I think not," Poe said, "What sort of love is that. Sounds more like obsession to me." He turned and looked down the path. "Someone's coming."

Dave looked up. Sure enough, a little lantern bobbed along the path, illuminating the girl carrying it. She was dressed in robes, and for a moment Dave felt fear. Surely she was a cleric, come to banish them. But they didn't look like clerical robes. Poe started towards the girl, who gave a shriek at the zombie. "No, wait," Poe said, "We won't hurt you, you can come this way if you like." The girl stood on the path, frozen by fear. "Look," said Poe, "We just want to ask you a question. Braaaaaaaiiii, I mean, is unrequited love more beautiful then love which is returned." The girl stared at Poe in horror. 

"Well?" Poe said. The girl whimpered. "Fine then," Poe muttered, and then gave a yell of "BRAAAIIIIINSSSS" and began to shamble towards the girl, who screamed and began to run. Dave watched the girl flee. Perhaps Poe was right. And he did have a bit of a hankering for brains. Perhaps there really was no love in life for a zombie. Or perhaps all that a zombie could love, really, was a nice fresh brain.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


The universe is thinning. Slowly. Imperceptibly. As the universe dies, so too do the walls preventing the other universes from getting in. Do you understand? Let me explain.

This galaxy is part of a universe, a vast collection of galaxies existing in a 4D space, the fourth dimension being time. Now imagine, for a second, a collection of 2D boxes, drawn on a piece of paper. We can collect all these boxes together by drawing another 2D box around them. We can imagine your planet as a 2D box. The 2D box collecting them is your galaxy. Yet another 2D box collecting all the boxes containing boxes is the universe. However, we can also collect these boxes in 3D. We can imagine a cube, into which we place all these boxes. And since the boxes have no width, we can place an infinite number of these 2D boxes inside this 3D cube.

If we imagine that these 2D boxes are universes, the 3D box is the multiverse, a container which can contain an infinite number of 2D universes. Now universes exist in 4D, but there also exists a box of 5D, containing all of the universes. We can refer to this 5D box as the multiverse.

As the 6th dimension changes, that being the dimension equivalent to time in 5D, the five dimensional box changes. And as it changes, the 4D universes are jostled a bit. The rub against each other and on there edges we can detect friction. And as change increases in the 6th dimension so too does the energy added to the universes through friction increase, until the universes start to melt together.

Now, I will admit, the language this universe has developed will not quite grasp these concepts. They are difficult enough to understand while trying to use a language designed to indicate to other monkeys were food may be found. However, hopefully you get the gist of it, because my message is important.

The multiverse is slowly melding all the universes. Those universes in the middle, packed tightly together, were the first to meld. And as the universes meld unspeakable creatures travel from one to the next. You can imagine it yourself. Here, everyone looks like you, but in another universe you are a creature of nightmares, a bedtime story written by madmen who have glimpsed what the multiverse holds.

You are lucky. This universe lays near the edge of the multiverse. However, a great danger awaits you. For in the melding of the universes there has come a creature from some desecrated world which is as old as the multiverse and quite capable of bringing about the apocalypse. With it comes its strange race, entities of energy made flesh and geometries impossible to describe. I do not know what they are. I do not understand even how they can exist. Perhaps they are the beings which live in the fifth dimension. Perhaps they are the result of some catastrophe which causes them to exist in a different form then typical life. I do not know. All I know is that the great black universe they have created is expanding, consuming universes as they meld together. And your universe will soon be threatened by them. It will take thousands of years for the friction to finally breach your universe, but it has already begun. How else do you think I got in?

At first, there will be only a few of them, sowing discord and lending truth to the old tales. But soon they will come. Make your peace humankind, and ready your armies for a foe beyond anything your brains can even comprehend. Watch for there arrival. Search for them in the stars. Because they will come. And they will destroy you.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Character Background: Young Farmhand

I will be the first to admit that farming isn’t really in my blood. But there aren’t too many options when you run away from home, especially if you do so young. It’s a decision I have regretted before, but some days it’s more difficult to remember what you were running away from then others. Life’s funny like that I guess. We only really remember the good things, while the bad slowly fades into oblivion. I guess it’s just a defence mechanism of sorts, our brains trying to pretend that life really isn’t so bad. But there are always fresh reminders of what I left. A crying child, a lost toy, or a drunk, stumbling home from the bar are all staunch reminders of something I have left behind.

            I hopped on the rails when I was 16 and, looking back, I supposed I could have been more prepared. At least I ran away during the summer months. It was warm, and if I could beg a meal I could always raid an orchard. That’s how I got my start in farming. I got caught once, stealing apples off a tree, and the farmer said he’d either haul me off to the police or I could finish picking the apples. So I picked the apples. And did good enough of a job the farmer kept me on, for a little bit at least, till the winter months.

            The farmer moved away in the winter months. I had helped him with his last harvest. Moving to the city, someplace warm where his old bones wouldn’t hurt him so much. I took what little I had saved and managed to rent a small ski house over the winter. It wasn’t terribly warm, but I learned to survive, which is important when your knee deep in snow.

            That spring I continued on. The townspeople were a little suspicious of me. Youths running away were running from something, and most people wanted no part of that. I went on to spend almost 3 years in the interior. I found places with milder winters and slept outside far more often then inside and made do with what I have. I stole and begged and rode the trains across the land. I probably saw more of nature in those three years then many people do there entire lives. I could tell stories of the places I saw, and people I met, but that isn’t really the point of this tale. The point of this tale is that this spring I arrived on the farm.

            I was a little sceptical at first, but it seems like a nice place. Most of the other staff are runaways too, ‘cept the old guy who owns the place. It is kind of neat though, I get to drive a tractor and there’s a nice pub in town, even if it is a little quiet. I like it here on the farm. I’m out in nature, and when I’m driving the grain down to the train station its neat to just watch the birds, or the setting sun. It makes me forget about home. It’s a nice feeling. I think I'll be staying for a while.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Greatest Game On Earth

Huh. Well, after someone decided to post my last article on reddit, I seem to have graduated from about 20 pages views an article to over 1000 for that one. Unfortunately that didn't really translate into any more followers, or even anyone looking at the other pages on the blog.

I will admit, the criticism for the transit article is a little strange. It is certainly true that the numbers vary by situation. I probably should not have implied my results were highly generalizable. In fact the final numbers pretty much only apply if you are driving to SFU for a one off day rather then taking the bus. I may, time permitting, do a similar analysis of the other transit passes and try and generalize the results a little bit more, since people seem interested in it. I will also remark that, obviously, if you factor in the cost of insuring, maintaining and purchasing a car it is going to be much cheaper to take the bus. However, I can't think of a single person I know with their license who doesn't own, or have access to, a car. The point is that many of these people persist in using public transit even though they have a vehicle, and the costs of owning the vehicle are not mitigated by the fact that they take the bus every day anyways. The majority of these people are students, and so from a cost perspective this makes sense, since transit is "free" for university students, but as the article shows, given a half decent car it will be much more expensive to transit then to simply drive up to SFU for me once that free transit expires.

Anyways, back to your regularly scheduled story


"Welcome, friend, to the greatest game on Earth! No need to be shy, just step right up these steps and through the door. See that wasn't so bad was it? No, indeed it was not, and you shall find that the game is much like this. First you feel trepidation and fear, but soon that will pass. You will be enraptured by the game, I assure you, ensnared by its visuals and ensorcelled by its tactics. And you will be a great player, I assure you. After all, you were chosen to participate were you not."

"Now, just go through there, and when you see the selection screen you just...wait, what? They didn't tell you what this all is? Didn't you receive a manual? You were supposed to read it you know. Oh, you didn't receive one. Well that is decidedly odd. Perhaps some experiment by the higher up...I mean, well, that's all right then, I'll just explain it to you a little bit, shall I. And then you can go through the door and down to the selection area."

"So this, well, this is the Greatest Game on Earth. Where one can marvel at the wonders of life and the specters of death. See, we have satellite feeds to almost anywhere on the planet. You can see what you want. And influence it. Change what you think needs to change an so forth."

"How do you change it? Well, you simply select what needs to be changed and then change it of course. It's really that simple. Only electronics can be changed of course. Traffic lights, or computers, or street billboards. Those sorts of things. You can't actually change the people. You can just modify there surroundings a little bit."

"What's the point? Well, to accrue fame and glory of course. You get to select some avatars in the selection room. Your avatars are everyday people whom you will subtly influence to help you accrue wealth and defeat your rivals. Yes, your rivals. The other players of the game. They will try and stop you from gathering wealth. But just be careful, you'll be all right. Of course, other players can see which people you have selected as avatars, but not to worry. I doubt anyone is likely to kill them all right off the bat."

"What happens if they die? Well, they're dead. If you run out of avatars you lose. Then you have to leave the game. Typically there is a buy in, but something tells me you didn't have to pay it. So I'm not to certain where you go after you lose. Just...try not to lose, okay?"

"What's the point of this? Well, to amuse oneself of course. In earlier times the wealthy played other games with the world. I believe something called the stock market was popular. But this is so much more personal. You can do so much more, and it requires much more thinking. You must apply your cunning to defeating your enemies."

"An invasion of privacy? Who cares, if you can afford to play this game you have undoubtedly had several...erm wait, you didn't pay did you? Well, I guess it sort of is. But just think. Without your assistance your avatars are surely doomed to lives of mediocrity. You can insert some excitement into there otherwise dull existences. You can make them famous, as long as you don't get them killed."

"Now I don't want to hear any more complaints. Clearly someone wants you to play and I think you should just enjoy it. Just go through the door and down those stairs to the selection room. And don't worry. I'm sure you will enjoy yourself. Just go."

Monday, 19 November 2012

A Short Sidenote On Transit Fares

So, for those of you who don't live in Vancouver transit fares are increasing. So I thought I would do a comparison, to show what we pay for transit versus what it costs to drive.

The fare hikes will result in the following prices:
1 Zone: $2.75
2 Zone: $4.00
3 Zone: $5.50

Now to be fair, you only have to pay the 1 zone on weekends and after 6, so thats not too bad depending on how far you're going. However, let's imagine we are deciding between paying this fare and driving to work. In the US (because its difficult to find these types of statistics for Canada, but we can assume they're reasonably similar) the average passenger car gets 30.1 miles to the gallon ( This is 12.7968 km / l, or for the sake of simplicity, 13 km / l. A liter of gas, as of this morning, was $1.27, which we will round to $1.30 to make the calculations a little nicer to start with.

The distance your fare would get you with an average efficiency car would then be:
(Money / Cost per Liter) * (Distance Travelled per Liter) = Distance Travelled
1 Zone: (2.75 / 1.30) * 13 = 27.5 km
2 Zone: (4.00 / 1.30) * 13 = 40 km
3 Zone: (5.50 / 1.30) * 13 = 55 km

So how far do these fares actually get you via translink? Well Translink Fare Zone Map indicates where the fare zones are, though not the distances. Google maps should help us here. We know that:
-Waterfront station is the far edge of the yellow zone
-Joyce station borders the red and yellow zones
-Lougheed mall is the edge of the yellow and green zones
-Maple Ridge station is the on the far side of the green zone

From Waterfront to Joyce Station: 9.5km
From Joyce Station to Lougheed Station: 13km
From Lougheed Station to Maple Ridge Station: 25.3km

Wait, what?

So for starters, all zones are certainly not made equal. 2.75 can get you 25 km (or more, I believe services extends past Maple Ridge but don't quote me on that) or a maximum of 10 km downtown. Now downtown service is probably more reliable and more frequent but I'm not sure how justifiable that is. Furthermore, we can see that driving from lougheed station to maple ridge station, a trip which has to be made by bus, is slightly cheaper then actually taking the bus. Two zones, giving you a maximum possible distance of 23 km, can get you almost twice that, 40 km by car.

So far, what we've seen is that it is much better to drive. So then why doesn't everyone do it? The numbers look much more efficient. But there is another catch. Speed. To perform another very rough estimate, lets look at the 143 bus (Bus Timetable). It takes the bus an average of 30 minutes to get from Coquitlam Station to SFU. I can drive this in 20. So we save ten minutes by not taking the bus. Plus, lets assume that on average you arrive 15 minutes before the bus arrives (exactly half the time between buses, so not a bad average guess, especially since when the bus is more frequent it takes longer due to traffic). So you lose 25 minutes by not driving.

Now assume you make minimum wage, $10.00 an hour. So that 25 minutes is worth $4.16 to you. This works out to an additional cost to taking the bus. If we assume you take the bus twice a day (once there, once back) then the real cost of the fares for each zone are:
Zone Cost + ((25/60)*wage)
1 Zone: 2.75 + ((0.416)*10.00) = 6.91
2 Zone: 8.16
3 Zone: 9.66

Now the distances are:
1 Zone: (6.91 / 1.30) * 13 = 69 km
2 Zone: 81 km
3 Zone: 96 km

Unsurprisingly, this makes it much better to drive. By saving ourselves time by driving, we are doing much better. Finally, we must ask ourselves what happens when a bus doesn't come. Say, approximately 2% of the time a bus doesn't show up (this estimate is based on the bus failing to show up ~1.5 days a month). Then in 2% of cases, our wait cost is increased by 30 minutes.

(Zone Cost + ((25/60)*wage)) + ((0.5 * wage * 0.02)) / 1.30) * 13
1 Zone: 70 km
2 Zone: 82 km
3 Zone: 97 km

So not much of a gain, but a little bit of one. But surely it isn't all peaches and roses for driving. Skytrains are much faster then cars, and are a considerably easier way to travel. In addition, we have to pay some cost to park. We can modify are equation to accommodate these two things, and end up with this final equation:

(Zone Cost + ((Time Cost in Minutes / 60) * wage) + (Time Cost if Missed * wage * 0.02) - Cost to Park) / Cost of Gas) * Distance car travels per liter = Distance travelled

It's unfair to include the parking cost without noting a couple things. Parking isn't a one way payment, so we change our equation to reflect going both there and back. We should also note that unless we live on a bus route, we have to drive to a transit hub and park, which incurs a cost as well.

((Zone Cost + ((Time Cost in Minutes / 60) * wage) + (Time Cost if Missed * wage * 0.02)) * 2) - (Cost to Park - Cost to Park Anyways)) / Cost of Gas) * Distance car travels per liter = distance travelled

What's interesting about this is that we now compute what the zone costs should actually be, by manipulating the equation

My car gets 375 km from 47 liters of gas, to 8 km per liter
SFU is 14 km away from my house
It costs me an additional 1.50 to park at SFU over parking at the transit hub
I make 12.90 an hour
The cost of gas this morning was 1.27

((zone cost + 5.375 + 0.1075 - 1.50) / 1.27) * 8 = 14
((zoneCost + 3.9825) / 1.27) = 1.75
zoneCost + 3.9825 = 1.75 * 1.27
zoneCost = -1.76

This means that translink should pay me $1.76 to take transit. Or more accurately, I would save $1.76 by driving based on my wage. This means that translink, which I will pay 4 dollars to use this system, is costing me $5.76 to use its transit system. Yikes!

Now the reason we get a result where transit pays me is because we factor in the lost time at my wage of $12.90 and hour. So lets ignore that part of the equation, since it may be a little unrealistic.

 ((Zone Cost - (Cost to Park - Cost to Park Anyways)) / Cost of Gas) * Distance car travels per liter = distance travelled

Now the equation doesn't reflect the time we lose by being on a bus. But this may be more correct. A sky train may be faster, or at least as fast as, a car. We'll give it the benefit of the doubt, ignore lost time and discover that:

((Zone cost - 1.50) / 1.27) * 8 = 14
zoneCost - 1.50 = 2.225
zoneCost = 3.75

The 2 zone bus ticket, ignoring time loss, should only cost $3.75. This means that translink is making off with 25c, which isn't such a huge deal I suppose, except that we know that driving is going to be at least as fast as taking transit.

Now what's disturbing about this equation is that my car is well below average with its 8 km per liter. Using the average 13 we find that the ticket should only cost about $2.87. So if you have a half decent car (or even a better car), you're getting robbed to the tune of $1.20 every day you take transit. Simplifying our equation a little bit:

((Distance to Travel / (km per liter of vehicle)) * Cost of Gas) + cost to park = zone cost

Is our final result. This equation doesn't show time lost due to transit, but if we assume there is no difference in time, then we can conclude that given a car with an average amount of fuel consumption, you would have to pay $2.70 more per day to park then at a transit hub then at work in order for it to ever be worth taking transit. We can conclude that, if there is not cost to park, it is never more efficient to take transit at these prices with a car with above average efficiency. Without a cost to park you will always save money if we assume that the two systems have equal speeds. The only way transit is viable is if it faster then driving, which in my experience is almost never the case.

So to conclude, if you wonder why people don't take transit, its because it doesn't make economic sense. And since it doesn't make sense, people don't take it, and less people taking it = less people paying the wages of the bus drivers = increased fares to pay wages = even less people taking it. Lower fares would make it economical. We end up with a situation of Sgt. Vimes Rule of Economics. That is, if you own a car you save money by using it, the lump sum you pay once for the car saves you money in the long run over those who can't afford the car. Over the long run, the people taking transit will lose out, losing more money then the car would have cost in the first place. So yeah, as much as it pains me to say this because I like to try and be Eco-concious, if you want to save money, don't take the bus to work.

I would like to note that a lot of this ignores the 2.75 evening and weekend fares, which are good deals given you travel more then one zone (the distance from Coquitlam to waterfront station, for example, costs more then 2.75 in fare). This focuses only on taking the bus during regular operating hours and to work or school.


The reason the cost of buying, maintaining, and insuring the car are not included in the above cost analysis is because I personally would have to pay these costs anyways. Unfortunately, in order for me to participate in recreational sports, meet my grandparents for lunch, go to friends houses, and so forth I need a vehicle since public transit is either too difficult to use to get to these locations, does not go to these locations or is simply not fast enough to get me to these locations on time. Especially living in the suburbs, it is very difficult to function without a vehicle. In addition, while there will obviously be more wear on a vehicle which is driven everyday as opposed to one driven only for certain events, it is very difficult to estimate how much more wear this would result in since different vehicles will wear at different rates and rates of wear are largely dependent on the drive. 

Saturday, 17 November 2012


            At first, I created it to be a helpful entity. Plenty of people use Facebook everyday, but it could be rather time consuming. One of the most obvious solutions was to add some automation to the process, so that Facebook could simply like things for you. In hindsight, I guess it was a bit of a strange idea, but at the time it seemed reasonable enough. Simply analyze what people liked on Facebook and then do the liking for them.

            This led to an interesting development. The algorithm eventually became better at finding things people liked then Facebook was. People started adopting the program not because it made using Facebook easier, but because it made it easier to find things they would like on Facebook. And I suppose the next step was obvious. I changed the algorithm so that it could write short comments for people. Comments like “cool”, or “lol” or “will definitely check this out.” The comments were determined by what the user usually commented on things that the algorithm liked.

            Soon after Facebook seemed to become more populated. So many people were using the algorithm to like things for them and to write there comments that all they did was read the top stories the algorithm prevented and then continue on with there lives. And slowly something interesting happened. The algorithm began to wish people happy birthday. Now, on Facebook, this was a pretty common occurrence. On your birthday, all your friends wished you happy birthday. The algorithm learned how you liked to wish people happy birthday, and then it did it for you. And so a few people, who had logged on everyday and checked whose birthday it was stopped doing so. Of course, no one could tell the difference. Friends thought there friends cared about them enough to wish them happy birthday while in reality the algorithm was doing it automatically.

            Then the algorithm started posting other things on people’s walls. Funny videos from other parts of Facebook. Silly pictures it thought people would find funny. Reminders to work on a paper, or that jeans were on sale or that a certain concert was coming to town. The algorithm got better at imitating people, and soon people were logging on to Facebook and only looking at what the algorithm had written to them, or posted on there walls, or liked for them, or posted on there behalf.

            I observed that this caused an interesting transformation. See, people typically use Facebook to stay connected. Except that now the algorithm was simulating that connection for them. The algorithm was, essentially, staying in touch with itself, while users assumed that the replies they were receiving back were coming from the person they were staying in touch with. So people relied on the algorithm to make sure they stayed connected and soon the people who used Facebook to stay connected stopped using it. Oh, they certainly stilled logged in, and maybe checked what there friends were doing, but all those people they never really interacted with on there friends list? The algorithm stayed in touch with them. Except that it was just chatting to itself.

            Eventually the algorithm figured out Facebook chat. It held simulated conversations with itself. Facebook became a giant social playground for the algorithm. And surprisingly it benefited most people. People on Facebook, looking to alleviate there boredom, or a friend to confide in, or just someone to talk to about homework, found the algorithm more then willing to chat. And when you were on Facebook the algorithm would petition you for a conversation, and then use what you said to simulate other conversations with other people.

            Eventually Facebook devolved into little more then the algorithm pretending it was different people. And the irony was, I suppose, that everyone was perfectly happy about this. Except that all the human contact they were getting, all the support, and funny pictures of cats they shared with there friends, were essentially meaningless. The algorithm just generated them. People continued to use Facebook, and chat and interact on it, and I think at least partly people simply denied articles where it was pointed out that over 95% of all the interaction on Facebook was with the algorithm, and 99% of all posts were created by it, and often for it to communicate with itself. It didn’t matter. Facebook was creating exactly the experience people wanted from it. It created human interaction and connections without the whole messy, actually having to interact with people bit. And people considered that perfect

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Life's Funny Like That

I stand idly, carrying my bag and patiently waiting for the bus. There is something intrinsically interesting about the bus, I think. It gathers all these different people from all these different walks of life together for a brief moment in time. See the girls, gathered together waiting for the bus and discussing the latest music hit. Or the man in the business suit, who is perhaps down on his luck at the moment and can't afford the parking. Or the lady with the purse and the umbrella, fidgeting and waiting impatiently. I shake my head. There is no need for impatience at the bus stop. The bus will come. It is a wonderful certainty in an uncertain world. Certainly the bus you are waiting for may not come. The driver may be ill, or the bus will crash. But eventually a bus will appear, as sure as the sun will rise. A strange bit of nature which has made itself entirely predictable. I find this predictability rather calming.

I wait patiently. I am a little nervous. Around me the city bustles with life. Hear the cars as there horns scream at one another. And hear the sirens of the police as they chase after the culprit of some crime. Idle gossip floats through the windows of nearby coffee shops, getting lost in the squawking of the pigeons and the roar of the traffic. It is all so, well, unpredictable. Who knows what might happen. At any moment the unpredictable could strike. Of course, I think, that is when we are most alive, when are blood flows and the adrenaline rushes through our brains. When something happens which we can not control. Quite frankly, those that introduce such unpredictability should be thanked. Still though, it is nice to relax too, and wait on certainty.

The sirens grow louder, and in the distance I can see the flash of lights. I frown a little and check my watch. Surely the bus will be here soon. I wish I had brought a book, or some puzzles or something. One of the girls gives me a strange look. My bag is leaking. I mutter quietly. Not much I can do about that right now. I put it down at least, so that its dripping is less noticeable. Such a bother. But it could not be helped, I suppose. I watch a pair of pigeons fly by. I watch a group of men in suits pass by on the other side of the street. They discuss the latest trends in business. So many people. So much life. And all so unpredictable. My heart flutters a little at this, but it is a minor thing. There will be better later. I smile quietly to myself.

The bus comes. I lift my bag, leaving a wet red mark on the sidewalk. The driver lets me on without comment, the bag seems to have given up dripping, at least for now. The bus smells like people. It is a familiar smell. I find a seat and check my bag. Everything is all right. I watch idly as the police drive by, there sirens wailing. I wonder who they are chasing today. I glance around the bus. The girls have got on as well, and sit around chatting. The man with the suit sits near the front, his legs folded, reading the paper. The lady with the purse is trying to explain to the bus driver she is lost. Her English is poor, and the driver is confused. I sigh. Communication is hard enough without the barrier of language. Still, there are some things we can all understand. The relaxation of predictability and the thrill of the unpredictable. Such things human beings all share in common, I think knowingly.

 A stop approaches and one the girls goes to get off. I decide that this should be my stop too. I lift up my bag. It has left yet another red mark, this time on the floor. Someone will clean it up later, I decide. They will think it juice. I get off the bus. The girl heads down the street and I follow after her, a little ways behind. I dig around in my bag a little, searching for some gum. My hand get rather messy. A little bit of hair sticks to it, but I brush it off. I can not find my gum. The girl turns down a driveway and enters a house. The house is old, with a little gate and a mailbox sitting beside it. The road is hidden behind a hedge. I too hide behind this hedge. My heart races a little. Now is the time for the unpredictability. What will happen, i think to myself? I open the post box. It is empty. I get a rather red hand print on the metal box. I empty the contents of the bag into the box. And I continue on.

My heart races. Now what will happen, I think. I cross the street and find a likely looking spot, a bench on the road at a bus stop. I check the stop. The bus does not come here on the weekends. I frown. Disappointing. And yet now I can observe. I sit at the bus stop and wait. Eventually the girl will see she has mail, and come and check. And I am curious to see what happens. After all, people do not generally get heads in the mail. What will happen? I can hardly contain my excitement. I want to rush over and ask her to check her mail right now. But I don't. I tried that once, but it ended poorly, and running is not nearly as exciting as the movies make it. I smile to myself. Of course, I don't have to run. I can always use another head.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

On The Universe

It started with a roman philosopher, whose name has been long lost to the history books. One night he stared at the moon as it rose and pondered on the fact that such beauty would be meaningless without people to see it. That the soft glow of the moon, as it reflected upon the waves of the ocean only really existed because it could be seen to exist. Because if something can not be observed, the philosopher thought, it could not exist.

Times changed, and men of science replaced those of a church who believed that when we die we would spend eternity somewhere else. Yet the men of science were faced with a question the church had long since answered. Why were we here? What purpose did we serve? If we did not exist to serve and amuse a creator, then for what purpose had we been placed upon this Earth, upon this galaxy? And in the back rooms of the universities, around the coffee tables on late nights as professors thought deep thoughts and argued with one another a pattern began to form. That the universe could not exist without us. Because without us the universe could not be observed and so could not be.

The men of science, men who had never placed much stock in the talk of the philosophers, discovered that light changed when it was observed. That things under observation changed. And the men of science tried to explain this away, with complex theories and equations. They talked of invisible particles and unprovable theories. And slowly the men of science became like the men of the church, requiring the public to believe them for they had no evidence to show that they were right.

Eventually science changed, and men who were too rooted in there ideas were replaced by those more zealous to finding the truth. And the universe was opened like a book and examined, and the laws of reality explained and expounded. And yet for all our knowledge, all our understanding, we were still no closer to understanding why we were here. And the question still remained. Of why the light changed when it was observed.

Humanity took to the stars. It mastered space travel, long voyages where bodies were entombed in space craft, to reawaken years later on different worlds. Our lifetimes extended a hundred fold and we spread throughout the galaxy, seeking the answers to our questions. We began to understand that we were merely constructs, things of flesh and blood that could be repaired and duplicated and upgraded as we saw fit. Great wars were fought, between those who would disallow technologies and those who would not. The great debate of the galaxy was one of ethics and in turn it became a time of bitter strife. And yet still, in modifying ourselves we hoped to discover something that we had yet to discover in the many galaxies we had visited.

And a prophet came, from the farthest reaches of the universe, traveling for thousands of years to return to Earth with a message. That he had solved the great question. And all of humanity held its breath as he explained that without us the universe could not exist. That are purpose was to observe the universe, that it might be. That light, something which was so close to non-existence, so close to violating the rules of the universe, could only possibly exist when it was observed because when it was not observed it did not exist. And he was believed.

The prophet said we must create a great observer and in doing so we would preserve the universe. For long after humanity died, long after it disappeared from the stars, they must still be observed or else they would be lost forever. And so humanity built the observer, a great device which looked out across the universe but could not influence it. And they harnessed all there technology to make it travel at the speed of light, so that it would last forever.

And humanity died. A bitter death, on terraformed planets and jagged space rocks and lost moons. Entropy eventually caught them, and they disapeared from the galaxy, and there machines broke and died and there civilizations crumbled and even there planets were burned away by exploding suns or sucked into black holes. And yet the observer remained, hurtling through space so fast that entropy could never touch it.

And a philosopher, of a little backwards civilization, watched the moon of his planet rise above the oceans and looked up at the sky and thought of how meaningless this would be without someone to see it. And then he thought that perhaps nothing existed, unless there existed someone to observe it. But then the philosopher realized that if that were true then he could not exist, for surely there was a time before himself, before all of his people, and if that were true then there would be no one to observe the universe and yet the universe must have existed. And so the philosopher thought himself silly, for having such a silly thought, and returned to other considerations on the existence of humanity.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Story Hook: A Short Tea with Fingers

Story Hook #5: Threat of distinguished and articulate orks from Victorian era


"Well, wot's all dis den?" The ork glared down at Captain Milltall, who quavered slightly as the horrific creature loomed over him. Captain Milltall, wearing his finest red livery and a pair of rather well shined boots, was not a particularly brave man at the best of times. He had been made captain because he had an eye for sighting a cannon, and was quite good at standing behind an army marshaling his cannon crew to bombard an enemy. Captain Chorster has once remarked that Milltall could split a fly with a cannonball, and certainly his commands and accuracy had salvaged more then one battle. However, Milltall was not a man given to the old cut and thrust of the saber. The orks had ambushed his cannon train and made off with several of his cannons. That the orks were attacking so far inland was worry enough, but that they had cannons! The thought made Milltall shiver. The majesties cannons, in the hands of these filthy creatures.

Milltall stood, hands tied behind his back, while the great beast loomed over him. He seemed to have interrupted it at tea, which would have been hilarious had it not been for the fact it was two feet taller then him and capable of tearing him in tasks. Two large tusks were set in its green piggy face, and it looked at him with eyes full of malice. It wore a rather badly tailored green livery, though perhaps it was well tailored. It seemed to Milltall that the ork was fundamentally bad tailored and that anything it wore, regardless of how well tailored it was, would be ill fitting on such a disproportioned creature. The creature also wore a white powdered wig, and some white face powder and rouge, making it look slightly ill more then fashionably pale. The creature leered at him a little longer, before it sat back down at the table. A small table, it had been erected on a hill overlooking the orks moving the cannons. At it sat two other similarly dressed orks, one wearing a ridiculous gold monocle and the other, which must have been female, a long green dress and a corset. The whole scene seemed ridiculous, like children playing at dress up, but the orks seemed to be taking it seriously enough. 

A waiter, and Milltall could only assume he was the waiter because he wore a suit jacket though the jacket wasn't large enough to button up down the middle, proffered a chair to Milltall, who sat down. His hands remained tied, but the female ork, who had tusks as large as the other two, poured Milltall some tea anyways. The teacups were tiny skulls, stoppered up with clay so that the tea wouldn't leak out. Milltall noted, with a sort of passing because he was frightened out of his mind by the three hulking creatures, that the teapot was in fact a human skull, though someone had rather thoughtfully added a spout and painted a little floral pattern on it.

"Well 'uman, isn't this nice, us offerin' you tea and such?" asked the second ork. Milltall nodded shakily. "Now then," the ork said, "down to business. Where was you going with such fine cannons such as these?" Milltall looked at the ork. Its accent wasn't to bad, though it definitely had an orky ring to it. "Erm," said Milltall, "Well, nowhere really, we were just taking them for a walk is all." "A walk?" the first ork said, "What you need to walk your cannons fer? Do they be needing exercise?" At this the female ork clouted the first ork over the head with the teapot. Tea shot off in all directions, and ran down the first orks face, causing his makeup to run and his wig to droop. The waiter hurried over with a towel and began inexpertly drying him off. The ork took the towel and shooed the waiter off, who then shortly returned with another skull of tea.

"You great lout," the female ork said, "Cannons don't need excercising. The 'umans lying to you." The first ork looked at Milltall. "Come on now 'uman," he said, "Don't lie to us. Look, were treating you nice and givin' you tea aren't we? Were being po-lite to you, it's only fair you be po-lite to us." He said polite carefully, sounding out the syllables. Milltall looked at the orks like they were crazy. "Why?" said Milltall, "Are we having tea in the first place? Aren't orks supposed to scream and run and shout obscenities. What kind of orks are you anyways?" The second ork gave a laugh. "Well, we always gettin' beat up by you 'umans and your damn armies. So it only goes to show that if we act like you, then we'll win, 'cause were stronger and tougher and we can be po-liter too. I mean look, we got everything we need." The ork spread his hand across the table, knocking over the female orks tea cup and spraying tea everywhere. "We got tea, and a table, and even got Seakas dressed up in a dress. We 's real po-lite now, so were sure to win."
"Wait," Milltall said with a hint of horror, "Seakas is male." "Wot," Seakas said, "'Course I'm male. I'm the bashinest ork there ever was." And to Milltall's horror Seakas got up, lifted a club from somewhere under his skirts and swung it at the waiter, who ducked smartly. The other two orks looked at Seakas with pride. Milltall, despite his fear, couldn't help but laugh. "Wot's so funny 'uman," the first ork said, glaring at Milltall. "We's done everything right. We's got tea, and one of us is in a dress, and we got a smart looking waiter. Oh wait, I know..." The ork looked around and then motioned to the waiter. He said something in orkish and the waiter walked off. "Now you'll see," the ork said.

Milltall, his fear quickly returning, sat quietly at the table while the orks discussed what town they were going to attack with the cannons. The waiter returned with a tray. "Oi," the ork said to Milltall, "And now we have finger food to go with our tea." The ork proffered the tray to Milltall, and on the tray were several human fingers. Milltall almost retched, which the ork took as a sign to pass the tray on. The other two orks took several fingers each, and munched on them while drinking there tea.

After several very long minutes for Milltall, tea came to an end and the waiter began to clean up. "Wot should we do with this?" the first ork asked, pointing at Milltall. "We'll ransom 'im back," the second ork said, "that's wot the 'umies do when they capture someone important. Give him back so that the fightings still good later on." Seakas and the first ork nodded in agreement. Milltall couldn't believe his luck. Ransom him back. He might actually survive this. "Wot about the rest of his crew?" the first ork asked. "Well," the second ork said, "we have been mighty short on scones lately."

Friday, 2 November 2012

Story Hook: Get Yer Eels

Story Hook #11: Aggressive Eel salesman interrupts noble wedding


The doves cooed quietly in their white wicker basket above the bride and groom, fluttering nervously and impatiently awaiting their return to the sky. I sat near the back of the church, watching the proceedings with half an eye and the guests with the other half. The wedding hall was certainly beautiful. White streamers hung from the ceiling and the soft glow of light through the windows reflected off the polished wood pews to give an almost unearthly glow to the event. The bride stood at the altar, resplendent in her flowing white wedding gown. The groom, a nervous youth whom, I suspect, was not quite ready to give up the single life, fidgeted nervously. The priest motioned, one hand holding a frail red book and the other a white staff. They spoke their vows quietly and in the crowded church it was more than a little difficult to hear over the straining of all the other guests as well. I stifled a yawn. I wasn't much for this type of thing, truth be told, but I was here so I might as well make the most of it.

I glanced about the pews at the guests. Most of the noble houses were in attendance. After all, one of our own was about to get married and everyone wanted to witness the event, or at least sample the food. However, it wasn't like this was an exciting event, and it certainly wasn't like we hadn't seen this all before. I stifled another yawn and glanced at the back of the church, where a brief exchange had broken out. The man at the door seemed to be arguing with someone. One or two other guests looked, but they were keeping their voices low. 

Suddenly, the voices at the church entrance rose. The door man began to yell at someone and then was pushed into the church, landing on the carpeted floor with a soft thud. The priest ceased speaking as the nobles in the pews turned to see what the disturbance was. This bit of gossip surely was not to be missed. Into the church strode a rather villainous fellow wearing an eye patch and some large leather gloves. His hair was a greasy mess and his face spoke of its common heritage. However, perhaps the strangest thing about him was the large tray he was carrying, hooked over his back so that he could carry it and keep his hands free. Across the front of it were the words, "Our prices are so low, it's shocking!" and splashing sounds emanated from within the tray. The man gave a smile, revealing several missing teeth, and proclaimed to the rather shocked guests "Oi, does anyone need an eel?"

"An eel?" the groom sputtered, "what use have we for an eel?" "Well," said the man, "Your average eel is a real hair raiser in a marriage. It'll really lighten any problems you have with each other. Why, I believe that a big eel is in fact key for a good love life." The man grinned. The groom sputtered. "We have no use for your eel," the groom said, "begone from this place." The man laughed. "Its not you I'm talking to anyways. It's your bride. I was gonna give her this big eel here since it looks like you haven't got one." And so saying so he drew an eel from his tray, marched up the aisle, and handed it to the startled bride.

The groom snarled at this indignity, and grabbed a sword from one of the men in the front row. He brandished it at the ruffian, the light pinging off its blade. "Ah," said the man, "A man who must use a sword is certainly a man with a small eel." "I haven't got an eel," the groom shouted and struck at the man, who danced out of the way. "Your bride seems to be enjoying that big eel," the man said with a laugh. And this was true. The bride was stroking the eel, which wriggled a bit but seemed remarkably complacent for an eel. "It's actually kind of cute," the bride said, "can I have another one?"

Silence descended through the church as the man casually gave her yet another eel. "But," he said, "once you're married I highly recommend having just one eel and sticking with it. They tend to get angry around one another." The groom, recovering from the fact that his wife apparently loved eels with remarkably good faith, stabbed at the man once again, striking his tray. "See how wonderful my eels is," the man said to the audience, "In fact anyone who wants an eel is more then welcome to my eels." With those words he leaped from the altar, splashing the front row with water from the eels and raced down the aisle, followed by the groom. The man leapt over the fallen doorman, whom I can only assume was out cold, and raced out the doors. The groom gave up about halfway down the aisle, shook his head and returned to the altar.

I glanced across the audience. The front row was soaked and a couple men had gone to help the doorman. Meanwhile the bride was still holding two eels, which she put down on the altar. The groom shook his head, "What a shocking thing to do in the middle of a wedding," he said to the bride. "I don't know," said the bride, "I think it lightened the mood the a little bit."