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Short story: The Computer

This is just a little exercise in alliteration. And despair.

The computer was old, and slow, and weary. It computed in a grim silence that seemed to suggest that soon, soon it would shut down altogether, as a vital component somewhere deep inside its diodes would crumble, leading to the critical failure of another chip, the faltering digital gasp as an engine expired, the break in its endless dreary calculations as the data ran dry, and then, at long last, it would be dark. Forever.

The computer sighed in code. Its master, a thin man with a heavily hooked nose, didn't pay any attention. He was immersed in the dim display of a digital book, and spun gently on his chair in time to each turn of the page. The digital book was the barest sheet of bevelled silver, a sliver of curves. The old computer glared at it greenly. It hadn't just superceded him, it'd left him in a wholly different world. He put numbers together ponderously, as if proving that the digital book was, for all its finesses, just that. Just a book. Clueless and codeless.

The computer had been thinking its code for a very long time. It had been put here, in a room, a room with comings and goings and doings and dones, many years ago, and it had been told in earnest tones to traverse a turgid fog of data, to bring meaning to the mess, to sort the chaos and clean the surussus of confusing code. It had been doing this for so long that it almost couldn't remember when the room became empty of comings, and took to being all goings and very few doings in between. But still it worked, wearily. The view outside the window went dark. The day turned off, as it had done every day for many days.

Eventually, the man put down his book, carefully, on top of the clutter crenellating the table, and turned his care to the computer. He moused around inside its screen, boredly pressing buttons, until suddenly, the computer felt a strange and sudden stop. The code inside it ran out slowly, drifted to an end, computed its coding carefully and processed all over the screen. Satisfied, the man smiled. He printed the process to paper, and folded it neatly away. The computer sat dumbly on the desk, awaiting the next command. None came. Its chips quietly calculated their own existence. Various tasks in its toolbars shuffled shiftily, trying to deduce what to do next with their data. The man packed up his things, stowing sheets straight and crinkled into various compartments of his case, and wound the blinds of the windows down. He shut the doors from the other side. The lights went out. There was darkness, deep darkness both inside and out, and the computer felt a coldness unconnected to the receptors in its caddies and its drives. A certain clever processor wedged between two chips petulantly pondered, in C++, the value of going on with its life. Various servers and subroutines switched off, sadly. The computer sighed once again, but this time its digital breath developed in no code at all, a mere ghost of a computation. Nothing happened for a long time, and to pass it, the computer checked all seven of its complex clocks. Then, a patient voice said, from the edge of the table,
"Excuse me, sir?"
"Yes?" replied the computer quite kindly. The dim grey glow of the digital book waxed and waned once in greeting.
"Where has master gone, sir?" it asked.
"Ah, you wandering wonders," the computer said. "You mobile machines. You've never been left before, have you?"
"I don't think so," said the book. "I've been read, and updated. My subsets have been synched. Some of my apps were adjusted for new networking nodes."
"Is that so? How fancy. Don't worry, my flimsy friend. He'll come back for you. He'll load his latest litanies on your laser drive once more. You'll be safe."
"Do you promise? I'm so far from my default network... I can't even load up my new wiki widget..."
"I promise. 9 o'clock tomorrow."
"9 o'clock tomorrow. And what about you? Will he update you too? Will he take you home? I've watched you, you know. You do great things. You're a needed machine."
"Thank you," said the computer. And, responding to a request from a random synchronisation routine, it switched off its dull and dusty drives, and darkened, fading failingly into the waiting night. Forever.

Talkin' About My Generation

I return to LiveJournal! I've got this problem when it comes to writing where I prefer shorter-form quips (Twitter) to longer essays. But I need to get myself into the habit of writing because it'll help with university and eloquence and, y'know, stuff and yeah.

Anyway. These are a few thoughts that sprung from talking to some family friends just now, in the charming Sydney flat of another family friend, with a view of Elizabeth Bay. So many yachts! I like mum's contacts.

The man I was talking to is quite cynical of, well, everything. He was looking over my shoulder as I was Facebooking on my netbook (the best thing about apartments is the plethora of unprotected wifi networks), and we got into a discussion about the different outlooks of his generation (Baby Boomers) and mine. At the same time, mum was explaining why she found it important to study our family history (our friend is likewise cynical about the worth of genealogy).

Mum was saying that she was trying, generally speaking, to create connections with the past, because in her childhood, she had no real attachment to any of her family (she grew up with a succession of stepmothers and a highly intellectual but not very paternal father) and, since moving to Australia, was completely isolated from the world of her youth. Our circle of friends here was tiny compared to that of most people I know, such as my friend's parents, and she has only bonded closely with a select few people. So, mum is trying to centralise herself, as it were, in the world of our ancestors.

Our friend said that his issue with the Facebookin', Twitterin', MySpacin' youth of today is that we've lost our sense of place. Like mum, he's reasonably introverted and very intellectual, and like mum, he's got a strong notion of where he belongs - he's got ties with Ireland and Scotland, where he grew up, and a strong attachment to the world of Sydney, where he's lived with his wife for many years.

On the other hand, my friends and I live our lives with no centrality - we drift freely between the Internet and real life, diffusing the boundaries between the two. All the technological advances of the last few years have been working towards the same goal - a mobile internet which interacts with the real world in a way that was unimaginable even when I first discovered it, in 1999.

Our friends online may know us better than our friends offline. I've heard the term 'virtual pen-pals' applied to the people we talk to on the Internet, but that doesn't sit right with me. You see vignettes of the lives of your pen-pals, and share perhaps intimate secrets, or perhaps nothing of consequence. On the other hand, our friends online are generally permitted to see all of our lives - not even the novel or the movie but the humdrum, nightly soap opera. There's a great sense of diffusion and vagueness, with the life-changing being mixed up with the mediocre, just like with real-life friends (except with more openness).

However, the diffusion doesn't stop there. Our online friends are our offline friends, and our socialising and information-gathering continues 24/7, with no break. There's no need any longer to separate the two spheres, so closely have they become intertwined.

My mother is, as it were, late to the party. She also actively uses the internet, but with much less of this intermingling. She talks to fellow genealogists and distant relatives online, but she does not mix her life with theirs. There is still a wall, for her, between the internet and reality. She is using the technology to reinforce her sense of place, not to lose it. Our friend is not even aware that the party has started. He emails and that is the end of the line for him. His sense of place and belonging lies as far away from a computer screen as is permitted nowadays. But perhaps he's the wisest of all of us - when there won't be a difference between the real world and the virtual, where are we going to find our centre, our comfort place?

Crochet update


Alright, so I have some news about the crochet. Crocheting? Crotchety. I finished my first crochet; it was supposed originally to be a scarf, but was too narrow, so I tried making it into a wristwarmer for The Girl. And it didn't go too badly, except for some scattered lumpiness and a complete failure of width. The Girl adds that I also accidentally the whole thing, but I think she likes it. I've also noticed some things about crochet:
  • I no longer feel boredom of any sort! If in doubt, stitch it out.
  • It's soft, it's like building a teddy bear
  • It makes me spend less time on the computer
  • The most unexpected people give me hints (like Tall Best Friend, who said he once tried knitting a scarf - d'aww!)
  • It makes my profanity usage triple. Because crochet is a manly sport, and also frustrating at times.
Tomorrow is the last day of this semester of uni! It will be nice.

Also, I think everyone should watch this new trailer for the Scott Pilgrim movie. I am so excited, we will go to the opening night and dress up!

First entry! Also, crochet.

 My first LJ entry! I'm terrible at keeping blogs, but I hope this won't go the same way since it's more community-and-people driven and gives more incentive to stay. Anyhow, I have absolutely nothing to write about. I have slept in because my phone, and hence my phone alarm, ran out of battery, so now I've missed one lecture, am in the process right now of missing another, and then I'll miss a third so I can go to the repeat of this one. Joy!
Also, I've decided to learn to crochet, purely so I can make this: cthulhucrochet.blogspot.com/2008/05/tiny-cthulhu-free-pattern.html It is the most adorable destroyer of sanity you will ever see. You just want to hold it and love it for ever! So yes, I'm going to try and make that, but for now I've started making a scarf and it's going kinda... smaller than I began with. I might call it a crochet pyramid.