Archive for January, 2012

Eternity

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

“Eternity is a long time,” she said, “you need to let her go.”

He looked down at the grave. “But she was here, she was real. I remember everything.”

“Yes, she was real, and you still are. And so am I. Come on, let’s go. This is no place for the living. You’ll catch a cold standing out here. You’re not looking out for yourself.”

He hesitated. “It’s just that I can’t stop thinking about her ghost. I guess you could say that I’m haunted by it.”

She thought about that. “I’ve had my own ghosts. And demons too. We all have. You just learn to live with them. We can’t get rid of them, but if we go about our lives as if they are not there, eventually they get tired and leave us alone.”

He shook his head. “You don’t understand. I come here on purpose. Not to see her grave, but to see her ghost.”

She paused at this, and looked at him appraisingly. “I guess there are all kinds of relationships. How long have you been seeing her ghost.”

He shook his head. “No, that’s just it. What haunts me is that I’ve never seen it.”

Demons

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

“Demons are guys,” he insisted.

“Hmm. That’s not very open minded,” she said.

He shook his head. “I’m not prejudiced or anything, but when you ask me ‘would you date a demon’, the standard picture is the demon lover. That guy in all the stories. I just don’t swing that way.”

“Interesting,” she said, sipping her drink. “So you’re in a relationship?”

“Well,” he said sheepishly, “I’ve been meaning to tell you this. Actually I’m married. She’s my best friend.”

She laughed. “No worries, I’m married too. I guess we have that in common.”

“OK, what now?” he asked. “Buy you another drink?”

“You’re very sweet,” she said, “but I don’t think you’re my type.”

“Oh well,” he mused, “maybe you need a demon lover.”

“Maybe,” she smiled, “Gotta go.”

She was still pondering their conversation when she got home. “Hello honey. It’s your wife.”

“Hey lover. Out prowling again?”

“Yep, but nothing interesting. Found one soul just about begging for damnation, but he was kind of a drip, so I decided to take a pass.”

“I’m sure you’ll do better tomorrow. Now give me a kiss.”

The two women came together, and their demon kiss was filled with fire.

Counting

Monday, January 9th, 2012

“Counting today, how many stories have there been?”

The monk looked up wearily. “I really don’t know, quite a few. All I know is, one is needed every day. It’s the curse, you know.”

The reporter looked skeptical. “You’re saying you need to write a story every day, or something bad will happen?”

“Something bad has happened, and not just once. It’s very specific. The story has to be exactly two hundred words long, no more, no less. If it doesn’t show up in the book, then the demon will come. And when she comes, there is tragedy.”

“Why two hundred words.”

“Look, I didn’t write the rules, I just live by them.”

“How do they decide who writes the stories?”

“Well, everyone used to take turns, because the stress, the responsibility, can eat away at you. But it takes a very specific talent. So now, only one writes. These days that’s me. That is, until I fail.”

“Fail?”

“You can only do this for so long. One day I just won’t be able to take it any more. Like what happened to Brother Frederick.” he said with a shudder.

“What happened to brother Frederick?”

“One day he counted wrong.”

Below

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Below the old stone church, in the small chamber, he’d arranged everything. The locked room was lit only by the five candles forming the apex of the pentagram. He gazed upon her alabaster face, almost alive in the flickering light, and thought back on when they’d met. “We will be together always,” he had promised, it seemed so long ago.

She had smiled, her eyes warm with love. “Be careful what you wish for, dear.”

What he was doing now was probably wrong, but a promise is a promise. The book had been very specific about the details. He intoned the latin phrase he’d memorized so carefully, eleven, twelve, thirteen times. When he spoke the very last word, the candles flickered, as though from a gust of wind, though there was no wind.

For long moments there was nothing but silence, and the stillness of the flickering light. Perhaps he’d done something wrong. Then she opened her eyes.

His heart leapt as she slowly turned her lovely head to look at him. She smiled, and now he saw the look in her eyes, so different, so cold. He shuddered as he thought of her words of warning, so long ago.

After

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

After she was gone, he took the pen she’d given him from its box. “Guaranteed to never stop writing,” she’d said, smiling, pointing to the label on the box. He’d thought that wasn’t possible, but then he used to think a lot of things weren’t possible. He decided to start writing to her, all the things he hadn’t gotten around to saying when it would have mattered. He began to fill page after page with his thoughts, feelings, dreams, places he’d hoped they would some day go together, things that frightened him, things he’d never said to anyone. Hours turned to days, to weeks. He neglected food and sleep — they would only slow him down. There was so much to say.

He was found slumped over his writing desk, hundreds of pages scattered around him, each filled with dense small writing. “Natural causes, I guess,” pronounced the coroner, shaking his head. The detective pondered this, as he picked up the small pen lying next to the man’s open hand. “Well, one thing I can say,” he said, running the tip across a random sheet of paper, looking at the clean blue line it left, “this pen sure can write.”

Neanderthal genius

Friday, January 6th, 2012

I’ve been thinking about a review I recently read in the New York Times of a book called How to Think like a Neanderthal. The book attempts to reconstruct, from available evidence, how Neanderthals might have thought about things.

One thing I learned from the review is that Neanderthals developed a very impressive technology to make the spears they used for hunting — both a way to create the sharp-edged spear-head, and a way to lash that spear-head to a wooden shaft (which is not so simple to do, given the materials available at the time).

Another thing I learned is that even though homo neanderthalensis spent quite a lot of years in proximity to humans (the Cro-Magnons), Neanderthal culture never adapted their human neighbors’ far better spear-making technology. If they had, their chances for species survival would have been much better.

Which leads me to conjecture that Neanderthals, in general, were not able to learn new technologies, whereas some particular Neanderthals, were capable of not only learning new technologies, but inventing them. In other words, Neanderthals had the equivalent of super-geniuses, so advanced that they could invent new technologies, even though their friends and neighbors were not even capable of imitating new technologies.

It would have been cool to meet one of those people.

Note to self

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Sometimes, when something interesting happens, I’ll jot some little some little two word phrase or other on a scrap of paper, so I can remember to write about it in the blog. This morning when I woke up, my very first thought was that I had written one of those little reminders. Trying to remember where, I realized I had written it down in one of my dreams.

Now, my general experience with dreams has been that the experience of doing things while dreaming is illusory. I didn’t actually read that book, or give that speech, or write that symphony. So, you can well imagine, I was not very hopeful that I’d remember this little note.

But I decided to try anyway. And as I lay there, it came back to me. I had been experiencing a particularly funny dream, and in the middle of the dream I had thought to write down the two words “DREAM SCENE”, precisely so I could later write about the dream in this blog. And I knew, with complete certainty, that those were the words, because that phrase was in fact one of the most vivid parts of the dream.

Which leads to the following question: Did I remember those two words simply because they were short and iconic, or did they constitute a truly operational note to self? And if the latter, is it possible — with proper training, presumably — for us to jot other things down in our dreams, in a way that would let us remember them when we awaken?

Standing on two legs

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

I had a somewhat overdue conversation today with a good friend. It was one of those delicate situations where you know that sometime soon you are going to have an important conversation with somebody you care about, and you even know what the conversation will be about, and you suspect it might be a difficult conversation, and neither of you has yet felt ready to have the conversation.

And then today we had the conversation, and it was like that great feeling you get after you’ve had a tooth pulled. “What was the problem?” you find yourself saying, “I feel so much better now!”

We’ve all been there. You suddenly find yourself standing with both legs on the ground, and you realize that for too long you had been trying to balance on one leg — without even knowing you were standing on one leg.

Standing on two legs is so much better. Much less chance of falling down. I’m not sure, but I think 孔子 said that. :-)

Vertalic font

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

In a recent post I floated future display technologies in which text might appear to hover in the air between people. And I discussed a potential problem: if both people want to read that text from left-to-right (or from right-to-left, should they live in Tel Aviv), then their respective views of corresponding parts of a document will not line up.

Sharon pointed out that it might be asking too much to ask people to adapt to vertical text, and then Xiao commented that it would probably be a lot easier for China or Japan to adapt the idea of vertical text, since traditional Hanzu and Kanji are already written vertically.

Not wanting our Western culture to fall hopelessly behind in future literacy, I played around with various fonts, and I discovered that an italic font works quite well for vertical text, since “slanted forward” in a horizontal orientation can also be read as “slanted backward” in a vertical orientation. The result is far easier to read than it is for non-italic fonts:



Each of the two conversants would see a different view of any individual letter, with every letter slanting to that person’s respective rightward direction. But the location of each letter in space would be the same for both conversants. Perhaps this combination of vertical orientation (and consequently, vertical kerning), with italic letters should be called a vertalic font.

Freud versus Jung

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

I had a great conversation on New Years day with two psychologists who had seen the recent film “A Dangerous Method”, about the fraught relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. I was fascinated to learn about the fundamental differences in philosophy between Freud and Jung. It seemed that these differences stemmed largely from contrasting views of the collective unconscious.

After listening for a while, I suggested the following analogy: To Freud, the collective unconscious is like a giant power line. When the connection is compromised between a person’s conscious mind and the collective unconscious, then the conscious mind can’t draw enough power to function properly. Therapy essentially repairs this connection to the power grid.

To Jung, the collective unconscious is not like a power line, but rather like the Internet. Down there in the collective unconscious, we’re all sending each other internet packets. Your conscious mind is your local computer, and therapy improves your bandwidth to the Internet.

Yes, the psychologists replied, that’s pretty much it.