Monday, November 21, 2016

The Walks

I walked along the catwalk, occasionally pausing to gaze, awestruck, into what had been empty space only yesterday. A spindly web of similar walks surrounded a volume of space in which a city-state like Singapore would have been comfortable. Underneath was a carpet of the fluffy, rolling white clouds that were a permanent fixture in this region. Above stretched a mixed azure-black expanse typical of my present altitude.

The Walks were quite amazing, but they were merely a backdrop for the repairs being attempted within their confines.

A Plethora-class starship was oscillating in and out of existence, alternately replaced by a view into the sun it was powered by and by a horrific crushing vignette of the black hole that had destabilized it.

The vessel wasn't what the old timers had imagined before the advent of gravitic delamination propulsion. A narrow metal pod maybe 100m in length was nestled in a kilometer-deep network of glowing plasmidic struts. These, in turn, tended towards a certain shape chosen by the architect; this example was a sort of large feline. The pilots all say there's a personality that comes with it, and, watching this one fight, I believe it.

The ship--creature?--relied on a kind of dimensional rift between it and a given star as a power source. It's fairly reliable, but when it goes strange it goes very strange.

In this case, the rift had impinged on the subspace corona of a gravitic singularity and the resulting relativistic geometry threatened to permanently relink the ship to the black hole instead of the sun. It was terrifying to watch: the ship's plasma scaffold would seem fine for a while, but then the rift would destabilize and the entire beautiful structure would sag inwards. A midnight-black point would appear near the center and the creature would struggle against the imploding darkness.

Over time, as the engineers and technicians reinforced one more linkage, the shape would stabilize, the black maw would diminish and fade, and then all would seem peaceful again.

Sadly, it was not peaceful. Every crew member onboard knew the risks. Each cycle was another chance for annihilation with guaranteed wear on the superstructure, so they strove for redemption. Protected by the aethereal confines of the Walks, the outside world carried on obliviously while reality itself threatened to implode for this little ship...

Sunday, May 8, 2016


Nothing happened.

Confused, I stepped back from the spray-chalk surveyor's mark I had just made, indicating where the to-bedrock piling was to be driven in. I looked down at my radio, then looked up at the cabin of the foundation-laying machine. I waved. The operator waved. I waved at the piling mark. The operator waved vaguely back.

A sure sign of insanity is trying the same thing over and over...

I glanced at the piling four marks back. That time it had worked, albeit with some careful preparation. The machine had pounded the durasteel column clear to bedrock in two strokes, complete with a four-foot-diameter head run through with connection points for the building's superstructure. I had gone over it--it was perfectly aligned with the survey, well within the generous 1/4" tolerance the architect had allowed us.

I looked at the six piling-free marks behind it.

...expecting different results.

I looked down at my blueprint, paced off the approximate location of the next piling, and set down the surveyor's rig. With a few chirps and some button pressing, it sidled its way to the location of the next piling. As it made little adjusting motions I sighed, reflecting on the combination of orbital positioning bases, local sounding array, and signal processing the little robot relied on to do its work. I looked around carefully and, satisfied with its position, pressed the red button right in the center of the top of the device. It obediently popped into the air and started sweeping a laser across the ground in the shape of a surveryor's mark. I grunted, pulled the spray can off my belt, and deftly copied the bright red light pattern into bright white chalk. It was simple enough to then pluck the hovering bot out of the air and take several steps back.

"Alright, drop it in!" I declaimed into the radio.

Silence from the speaker; the machine remained motionless. Again.

When I looked up to wave despondently at the cabin, the operator was down from it and walking towards me.

"Well, sorry we didn't get much done. My shift's over; same time tomorrow?"

My thoughts swirled, and I attempted to find some order in the chaos. What had the op been doing up there? Why was dropping a piling so hard that one of seven attempts was flat ignored? WHERE WERE YOU??

I nodded dumbly.

The op looked at the empty marks, back at me, said, "We'll do better tomorrow. This is hard."

I nodded dumbly. Again.

The highly trained specialist walked away.

Turning, I ran my eyes across the seventy-three piling marks made on the job site in the weeks prior. There was neither rhyme nor reason to which ones had been missed and which ones had been placed with that same, unerring precision.

The boss had made it clear that the op was just as important to the project as I was. There was no rank to pull to get things done (as if that would actually work anyhow), and conversations with the op--when they actually happened--tended to resemble the one that had just taken place.

You know, I'm pretty bad at communicating with the op. This is my fault, I thought to myself. I hardly even know what's wrong, let alone how to fix it. I'll ask tomorrow, and we'll get this sussed out, and this'll work marvellously and the structure will be beautiful, if only I can remember what it's supposed to be...

Monday, January 25, 2016

Mammoths, feminism, and "masculism"

I've been digging through my college notes recently, culling some things. One of the gems I thought I'd lost was a curious essay.

It's titled "The Other End of the Mammoth: Qualification Rituals for Male Bonding in and out of Literature" and it's by John S. Harris. Probably not the politician one, but I really don't know.

The Internet doesn't seem to know that it exists, which is quite surprising to me. I would love to know where to find it legitimately so that I can freely share it; as it is, I probably won't scan my copy. It's quite worth the read, especially in contrast to modern vehement rhetoric.

Spoilers lie below... You've been warned.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

[Tech] Eve Pendant, Phase 2

For an upcoming Disney-themed event that my wife and I will be attending, I decided that she needed something really really special to wear. One of her favorite Disney characters is Eve, from Wall-E (YouTube link), and, well, I realized that her face was an awful lot like OLED screens I'd seen.

Once I found the Adafruit tutorial for an OLED necklace, I was hooked. I was totally doing it.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

[Tech] A couple of useful Windows tools


If you're like me, you occasionally have the need of doing Useful Things (TM) on Windows, but you have a Unix-ey background. The GUI just doesn't cut it, so you pull up CMD or, *gasp*, PowerShell. In all probability, you're also like me and CMD is both more familiar to you (from MS-DOS 6.22 days) and more common in your work. I regularly use a product that only works correctly in CMD (well, without some hackage).

Here a couple of tools that have helped make my life easier:

  • RoboCopy has many similarities to rsync. I think it might even have a proper subset of rsync functionality.
  • findstr is vaguely like grep...once you use the right command line arguments. Note that findstr does not know what the crap UCS-2 encoding (or any number of other encodings) is (are). (grep doesn't seem to either.)
  • dir /s /b is just enough like the default output of ls to pipe to findstr and do useful things.
Hopefully that helps someone.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Das Blinkenlights!

I made some.

Do you not know what blinkenlights are? The Wikipedia page does a remarkably good job of explaining the term. I apologize--only slightly--for the awful misappropriate of German language pieces. It really should be "die Blinkenlichten." ;)

Mine were from a kit that my lovely wife got me. Hackaday is a pretty dang cool blog with an attached store that carries it. It's a bag of electronics parts and no instructions. The board-to-board and curvy-trace design elements are both reminiscent of electronics designs from the 1950s and 60s, and it reminds me of the electronics repair work I did in the physics department at my university. The point is to reverse-engineer it and put it together--which I did:

assembled Cordwood Puzzle from

Amusingly, due to the lack of instructions I attached the 6-pin 100-mil connector wrong (through-hole instead of surface-mount), leaving three of the LEDs always on and making physically connecting to it difficult. I'll eventually get a solder vacuum (not solder sucker! *shudder*) and fix it.

Then, for the ward talent show last night, I combined a Raspberry Pi 2 with my cordwood LED kit and made some blinkenlights!

My Raspberry Pi 2 blinking lights and looping a video.
My Raspberry Pi 2 blinking lights and looping a video.

I then topped it off by having the Pi play a trailer for my friend's old-computer-hardware YouTube series, hence the monitor.

The rainbow ribbon cables were lovingly borrowed from my Xilinx programmer and my SmartScope.

The Bash script on the left of the monitor is the one blinking the lights; it simply echoes commands to the /sys/class/gpio tree under Raspbian Linux.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


You know, I kind of like the library.

Sure, it's dark, and the butler insists it's haunted. Parts of it move around inexplicably from time to time, and a vestibule might be gone tomorrow and elsewhere the day after, but overall I can find what I'm looking for and I get things done.

It rather reminds me of what I imagine an old university's library should be. The smell of old books, elaborate shelving, sweeping staircases, endless shelves upon shelves, the occasional cobweb, dim light filtering in from stained-glass windows, and at night soft light wafting down from grandiose chandeliers.