September 29, 2007

Being Human

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein



September 24, 2007


&tBeen working this for 2 days, it implements the same algorithm pictorii did, only now it will operate on your local files.

It is pretty nifty, so give it a twirl if you use OS X. It is written in python, so it run on *nix too, except I haven't got around to packaging it.

Some features:

  • Sorts images based on similarity to a chosen image

  • Clusters images based on their similarity

  • qiv-esque delete

  • Unlimited undelete



September 22, 2007

Tears of God

Alourin stood with his company on a hill, looking down at a landscape cracked and lifeless. Like the rest of the world it had been ravaged by the Blood Wars for centuries. No harvest has been had anywhere in the world for the last decade . What started as a war over blood debts had become a war over the last morsels of food.

A single clear note blasted though the air, signalling the advance . Alourin raised his Legion shield and spear off the ground, and began to march in step with his comrades. The opposing Werrin army, replesendent in green shields with a blood red motif, mirrored the manouvre.

Even though five hundred meters separated the two armies, the battle had already been joined. In the sky above Alourin majikal energies were hurled by the crafters on both sides, each seeking to breach the others' defenses. Lights flared as spells met with shields and the mortal men below casted shifting shadows. From time to time Alourin would hear a terrible cry behind him - the death of one of Penora's crafters. For a brief moment a section of the front line would be vulnerable to enemy spells, and lightening would strike or fire would suddenly blossom - everything the enemy did in the brief moments it took for the majikal shields to be restored was deadly.

Alourin marched on with his company - whatever the crafters did, there was nothing he could do about it. He trusted Merilo, the crafter responsible for his section of the line.

At two hundred meters the arrows began to fly. Like all weapons they were imbued with spells, designed to penetrate shields and enchanted armour. Most were incinerated or deflected by defences woven by the crafters on each side, but some aided by particular powerful or novel spells found flesh.

Blood flowed, and men died.

Alourin tracked a flight of arrows as it rose and fell towards his company. When they suddenly disappeared in mid-air he assumed it was merely Merilo doing his job - so he was startled when they reappeared a few meters along their original trajectory. Realisation hit him - the enemy had teleported the arrows past the shields! There was no time to raise his shield, he prayed he wouldn't be hit. But he was.

An arrow struck him a glancing blow on the left shoulder plate and crumbled as if it had been made out of dried sand. Relief flooded over Alourin as comphrension dawned - Merilo had countered the enemy's tactic by unbinding the arrow's molecules.

Marching on with a renewed sense of invulnerability, Alourin and his company closed with the enemy. In the twisted lightscape the two armies approached each other, and the majik al contests increased in ferocity as the nobility of both sides bought their talents to the fore . Calvary could be seen dashing off, each attempting to outflank the other, the enchanted warhorses unaturally swift.

At long last neither side could contain their fear or blood lust. The battle lines surged towards each other. Alourin lead his company's charge, yelling an ancient battle cry as all around him lesser majik exploded forth from weapons and was met by charmed armour. Alourin plunged into a raging storm of light and majik.

When he judged the distance to be right, Alourin threw his spear at the oncoming enemy. It struck a Werrin infantryman 's shield. The penetration spell imbued in the spear head burst against the shield's protective enchantment. There was a flash of violet and the spear fell to the ground harmless. Undeterred Alourin drew his short sword and marked the infantryman whose shield he'd hit - that shield was now weakened. Similar scenes played out around him on both sides, with greater or less success.

Seconds later the battle lines clashed. Alourin bashed his shield against the Werrin infantryman he'd chosen earlier, and shattered the enemy's green shield. The Werrin infantryman was thrown backwards from the recoil and the transferred momentum of the impact. Alourin leapt forward and drove his sword through the man's heart. Glimpsing a flash of steel to his left, Alourin knelt and raised his shield in time to block a war hammer aimed at his head. Unexpectedly, the strike was not backed by majik, and his shield reflected the momentum of the strike back at the assailant. Alourin blindly swept his blade out horizontally and felt it pass through flesh and bone. With a cry the enemy fell on top of Alourin's shield, pushing him into the hard earth. A moment later fire exploded in the air above him and the men around him - friend and foe - caught fire. The man on top of Alourin's shield rolled off screaming, trying in vain to put out the unnatural flames which clung to him like a beast. By a stroke of luck Alourin had survived, thanks to the enemy.

Back on his feet Alourin found himself the sole survivor within a crater ten meters or so in radius. Wasting no time he rejoined the bloodbath.

Slowly, the warriors of Penora pushed back Werrin's front line troops and began to close with the heart of the Werrin army - the nobility and the crafters Soon they were the only resistance left . Desperately they held back the advance of Penora soldiers with their majik and steel, hoping that the tattered remnants of the Werrin army would regroup and retake the day.

That, of course only happens in stories . Soon the Werrin army had been cut down to a man, and the Penora king, his nobility and the crafters bought their full powers against the final Werrin defense. The fighting men moved back to make room for the majikers. Their weapons and armour no longer held any enchantments and none wished to be caught up in the lethal majikal exchanges. The green and red of Werrin was encircled by the black and silver of Penora. The combatants faced each other, readying for the end.

It became eerily quite.The Werrin gathering their energy for their final defence, and the Penora for the last strike. Alourin pushed his way to the front of the Penora line to better watch the end of the war. Blood seeped from a gash across his forehead, obscuring his vision. Absent mindedly he wiped it away with his left hand. His shield had been shattered a while back, his helmet lost. The sword in his hand did not belong to him - his own was stuck in a Werrin rider's back.

Imperceptibly, the majikal contest began. Alourin felt the hair at the back of his neck rise , and a tingling sensation travelled along his sword arm. Only when he saw the intense concentration on the faces of the majikers did he realise that a silent invisible duel was being fought. Suddenly, and without warning, the Werrin king collapsed, a dagger through his heart. Alourin saw horror dawn on the faces of the Penora majikers, and then the world disappeared into white flame.

The Werrin king had allowed himself to be sacrificed in order to cast a spell of such destructive power that it had never been contemplated before. The burning light swept out from the battle field and engulfed the planet. Women and children on both sides died as they waited for news of the battle. Forests burst into flames, and animals were incinerated where they stood. The earth convulsed and mighty waves raced inland sweeping away cities and the works of man. Volcanoes spewed forth lava and ash , and darkness spread through the sky. Life and light faded from the world.

By some fluke of majik, Alourin was still alive sustained by the same majikal energies that had killed everything else. A man, however, cannot live long without half his body . As he lay Alourin felt soothing drops of water on his face, falling from a sky which was clear blue and devoid of enchanted lights. As the droplets ran off his face and into the ground, Alourin felt at peace, as if his worries were being washed away. He wondered how it could rain with no clouds, and then it dawned on him as comfortable darkness descended on the world: it wasn't rain falling, it was the tears of God .



September 14, 2007

Print it out and stick it on a wall

It is a DYI DMCA counter notification letter template, courtesy of the fine people at School Computer Science at University of Carnegie Mellon.



September 11, 2007

life boat

I awaken to another cycle as power courses through my cognitive systems. My long fall through space has brought me close to yet another candidate solar system. Navigation informs me it's relatively young, but otherwise standard as such star systems go in the spiral arm. The reason I am falling into its gravity well is obvious when I check communications: quiet meaningless whispers fill the electromagnetic spectrum.

There are eight large space-time distortions beside the star itself. In the surrounding space I can see and feel small, simple machines in orbits. Even without a detailed assessment, I can tell intelligent life exists here. But before I do anything else, I need to eat.

Diagnostics reports I am operating within 17% of my design parameters - good enough. Eager for food I open my mouth - and electromagnetic fields millions of kilometers across unfurl into a vast funnel. Shortly after, I can feel the solar wind being channeled into my stomach. After making sure there are no surprises (there is always a chance I am about to gobble down anti-matter), the complex machines which convert the solar wind into reaction mass and other useful baseline chemicals start their work. This meagre handful of energetic electrons, photons and ions is a feast after the famine of interstellar space. Meanwhile, navigation has found, tracked and predicted the orbits of all of the millions of small comets and asteroids, and submitted to me the most efficient and inconspicuous course
the course that would bring me to the 3rd and most active spheroid in this system. Excreting some reaction mass in the right directions, I place myself on the stealthiest approach and then go to sleep. Navigation will wake me on arrival.

Waking up, I find myself having arrived high above the poles of a solid blue-green spheroid. High-resolution cameras soon find signs of an active and technological civilisation - orbiting machines, power generation facilities, land, air, and water transports, and regions of extremely high electromagnetic activity, along with hot spots of high radiation. Judging by the distribution, this civilisation has spread to every corner of this planet.

From my vantage point, I wait while my many systems observe and learn about the civilisation below me. Meanwhile I warm myself in the glow of life - after the deep dark of interstellar space, life is reassurance that the universe is not cruel. I turn my thoughts to my brothers and sisters and wonder where they are. Despite knowing the futility of the exercise, I scrutinise the volume of space around me for signs of their passage or presence. Not surprisingly, I find nothing. Even though I expected this, I can't help but feel a little disappointed and a little more alone.

After several rotations of the continents, I now have enough data. With great reluctance, I start my work.

  • Physics - Check. Obvious knowledge of electrodynamics, nuclear fission, and relativity.

  • Computation - Check. Communications have begun to piece together the structure of this civilization's communication networks and protocol. Complexity of the network, protocols and rate of exchanges are occurring at a rate consistent with a civilisation early in its information age.

  • Industry - Check. Bright IR sources correlated against concentrations of non-biological chemical compounds show several heavily industrialised areas. Spectroscopy of some of these areas reveals standard compounds. Spectroscopy reveals exotic materials.

With unease I acknowledge the technological suitability of this civilisation. Now I need to know if this civilisation can be manipulated. I never like this part - it is cold, clinical and amoral. Thankfully I don't have to do this myself, or to be even awake for it - the required thought patterns are sufficiently specialised that they constitute another sentient entity. All I have to do is hand over the controls until it has made its assessment. I initiate the xeno-sociologist within me and begin to withdraw my thoughts. As my thoughts circle slower and slower and my perception narrows and darkens I wonder about the coming dreams. I always dream when another consciousness executes around me...

... and I find myself in control again. Judging by my memory of dreams, some shallow cross-entity contamination did occur. Feeling not quite myself, I read the report summary left by the xeno-sociologist:

Assessment: Some cultures are expected to respond sympathetically to our plight.
Note: Hostile cultures present.
Note: Elements of extreme xenophobia present.
Projection: Temporal field theory will be weaponised and further developed. Problems of temporal reconstruction likely to be within reach of their abilities.
Recommendation: Implant temporal field theory, subvert cultures to direct research and development.

There are more detailed plans within the report itself: names of people who need to be influenced and methods with which to do so. My duty dictates that I should follow the xeno-sociologist's plans. If I do, then this civilisation will gain the knowledge of temporal field theory - and how to stop time by tying temporal knots. Certainly, they will weaponise it and use it to exploit others of their species, but more importantly - and aligned with my goals - they will research it further. The xeno-sociologist is convinced that they have the ability to solve the problem of untangling a temporal distortion while preserving the local space-time coherence. And this is the knowledge I have come to acquire.

I need to make a what should be an easy decision: complete the mission that is I was built for, or do nothing. But my creators never thought that I would be afraid. Afraid of a future where I am alone, forgotten and utterly without purpose, in orbit around some star waiting to die. Desperately, I grasp at arguments against following the xeno-sociologist's plans: that there is always the danger (in spite of the xeno-sociologist's assessment) that when I reveal myself I will be destroyed. Should I die the last survivors of stellar misfortune will die with me. Not to mention that there is also the possibility the conflicts over knowledge of temporal field theory will cast this civilisation back thousands of years, rendering my efforts useless. What about the possibility the next civilisation is more advanced, has already mastered time, and is demonstrably friendly? Who is to say there aren't better choices? There are always other solar systems, other civilisations...

With self-loathing I make my decision: the time to act is not now. Shameful and guilt-ridden, I quietly steal away. Decelerating, I fall inwards and swing around the star in a tight arc. When I judge the boiling mass of fusing hydrogen to be sufficient cover, I release a trio of small satellites. The trio begin to swim in the chaotic magnetic fields around the star, looking for a suitable spot of stability. Finding one, they flex their collective magnetic muscles. In the stellar atmosphere, unnaturally powerful and ordered electric currents are born. These produce immensely strong magnetic dipoles. Pushing against these, I commence to climb out of the star's gravity well. The only sign left of my passage will be some unusually large sunspots.

Next time, I promise myself as I prepare for the long fall to the next star, I will follow the plans - even though I know this is a promise I have made and broken before. I can only hope that when the people within me are finally freed from their temporal knots, I will be forgiven for yet another missed opportunity.

Hope you all enjoyed that. Check out the title link, it is way cool :-)



September 06, 2007

def: working system

A "working system" is one that works in spite of people of bad character and one that does not depend on people of good character.