Thursday, 23 July 2020

Orbit

Hello, kids. How’s everyone doing? Mike asked me to send you an update, as I’ve been so quiet. Sorry about that! The truth is, I’ve been getting rather comfortable with solitude. You see, I’m in orbit.

Yes, I decided to hand in my notice and leave the flat. It was a bit of a nightmare getting all my equipment out of the various underground storage vaults I’d managed to build during my tenancy, but I had a little help from an old friend, who turned up in January. Jalaa says hi, by the way: she’s here with me.

We positioned the minicruiser at a high Earth orbit, about 48,800 km out. That’s beyond Geostationary, for those who are interested – which means that the planet rotates faster than we revolve around it, and we see the surface moving to the east. I find that more pleasing, as it just feels right, somehow, despite having to magnify the view to see it more clearly. Low orbits feel hurried and frantic, which isn’t always what I want. Besides, it’s getting a bit busy down there, and we didn’t want to be spotted. Our orbital period is just shy of thirty-six hours, which means we see a nice variety of views of Earth with different lighting conditions from the sun.

Got a pretty nice view of comet NEOWISE from here, too. I’d send a picture, only I can’t because if it fell into the wrong hands it would be evidence that these diary posts are real. C’est la vie.

So in the last few months we’ve been building our own home up here, using transmutation plants and raw material mined from the Moon’s L4 point. By the way, there’s a disused Gorpulonian observation relay there. Not sure why they gave up watching you, but I thought you should know.

If anyone’s wondering whether my exile is due to the pandemic… it isn’t. The chance of that virus having any effect on my biology is effectively zero. It’s not the biological viruses that bother me, it’s the psychological ones. It’s been sad to watch your societies crumble as your minds are led astray by a broken system. I wish I could help, I really do, but you have to find your own way.

If I sound less angry than usual, that’s because I am. I’ve entered a new phase in my life. Jalaa has shown me how to get in touch with my more peaceful side and live in the moment. She’s such an inspiration! For the avoidance of doubt, we’re not a couple, just really good friends. I’ve known her since I took a holiday in Pulchrinima, which is a beautiful planet on the other side of the galaxy. She was running a rehab centre there at the time, and I reckon I wouldn’t be here to write this if it weren’t for her perseverance. I was far too wild in those times, and frankly a bit of a jerk too.

So, there’s my brief update. I may have more to say later on, but I’ll sign off for now. It’s time for our meditation, and the observation bubble’s facing Saturn for the next hour.

Good luck with all your various viruses. Peace.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Gifts and Stories: Dim Their Glories

A very happy decade-digit-flip tomorrow, to those on the Gregorian Calendar!

I’m sitting here by my firing roar, sipping a brand of glassy and telling watchivision. Or something like that, anyway. And, considering the time of year, I thought it a good plan to examine this whole issue of giving gifts.

You daft little creatures with your commercialism and your fake goodwill do make me laugh! At least I’m happy to admit I’m an amoral vindictive arsehole. Look, if you’re going to give each other nice things, just do it: don’t wait for a proscribed time. It makes it all feel terribly forced, like a stiff handshake and even stiffer mouth-smile at the wedding of someone you despise. What’s the point? Do it throughout the year, or don’t bother. Most of the stuff you give each other serves only to line pockets anyway, and falls apart or gets thrown away.

Where I come from, nobody gets worked up about this stuff. If you want to help someone out by getting them something they need, you just do it. Gratitude is seen as a condition placed on the transaction, and therefore rude. It’s better to just lob something somebody’s way and forget about it.

One year I got an antigrav gazebo for one of my favourite cousins, since I knew she needed one, living as she does over a lake of mercury. It’s pretty hard to build stilts in that stuff. I didn’t expect even a thank you card for it, and why would I? I had the means, she had the need. Then again, we had one hell of a party there one night with the Polavvian Ambassador – so if you really want to be picky, I kind of got my payback in backhanders from the feds. Got to be said, though: watching a star set over a lake of mercury is a unique experience.

Now, I suppose I also need to discuss Santa – which is a bit more complicated. As I’ve mentioned, my culture has a rather stoical attitude to gifts. However, there are legends in our ancestral past, their origins now obscure. They tell of a rogue Noble called Hoorob, who lost his fortune betting on a shtangah race and subsequently took terrible revenge on a particular gang involved, who he was convinced had cheated. Shtangah are very delicate creatures, and can be nobbled simply by tying two of their legs togther. Since they have at least seven hundred legs, this isn’t always noticed by the officials. Anyway, as legend has it, Hoorob visited every member of the gang in turn, killed them, and stole all their treasure (this was a long time ago, when we used actual rare material resources as money). This amounted to such a vast fortune that he was able to invest it far across the galaxy out of sight, on a planet called Threng, whose very existence has never been proved. The annuities on this investment allowed him to return on a regular basis to deliver gifts to everyone back home, with the exception of all the descendants of the gang members he had slaughtered. Eventually, of course, due to interbreeding and so on, this came to include almost everyone on the planet, so his visits were less and less arduous and fewer and fewer gifts were received. The last individual reputed to have received a gift from Hoorob was a tiny old woman who lived in the mountains far above an equatorial town named Psunanimis. Apparently she was the last person on the planet who possessed no genetic material from the slaughtered gang’s bloodlines, and Hoorob gave her a potted plant that ate other people, which she placed outside her cave to prevent anyone bothering her. Because of this, it was about ten years before anyone realised she had finally died and Hoorob was no longer in business.

Well, allegedly. Nobody knows where Hoorob ended up, nor even whether he was real in the first place. There are some similarities to your Santa Claus myth here, though perhaps he also has a few things in common with Robin Hood. The strange coincidence of the name “Hoorob” has not passed unnoticed by yours truly, and in the past I’ve attempted to find an underlying reason – but so far, I’ve turned up nothing.

I won’t write any more about Christmas at this point. I mean, I suppose I could write about the actual beliefs… not only Jesus but the ancient Yule festivities and gods and Norse and Germanic influences, and goodness knows what else. But that stuff bores me, to be honest. Believe what you want to believe. Just don’t let your beliefs dribble out of your own brain and contaminate anyone else’s and we’ll all get along. Personally, I’d like to think Jesus existed. He seems like a cool dude I could have done some Whoofweed with.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

You Call That Rain?

It’s wet again. Still, at least that isn’t plasma raining down on us, capable of vaporising our bodies in an instant. And, believe me, I know what that’s like. In fact, they used to make us play… hmm, I’m not sure I can translate the original word as it’s kind of a cultural reference, so I’ll have to do my best and come up with one in English in a minute. It’s played in a hypercube in a bubble of upgraded spacetime, along a second time dimension. This means that the game is over before it’s begun, which effectively rules out gambling. That said, some disreputable charlatans persist in fleecing unsuspecting tourist punters, who end up earlier regretting their gullibility – yes, earlier, not later: it’s confusing as hell having two time dimensions.

Okay, I have a name for this thing. Tesseraction. Not great, but it will serve for now.

Tesseraction is a somewhat cerebral contest, but physical activity is involved – in a way. The idea is to build a continuous sequence of slices of standard spacetime, and there is a physical subgame that plays out in each one. The rules of this subgame are chosen before the main game begins (actually, after it ends… but I don’t want to get into all that yet), and part of the attraction of Tesseraction is the creativity of the judges who come up with these rules.

In the first slice of spacetime at one end of the arena, the subgame is played under the normal laws of physics. The subgame players, of course, have to be simulated beings with artificial intelligence, because they are deleted once the subgame ends. All of their actions in each slice – from beginning to end of the subgame – determine the best move in the next slice, just as with a position in chess. A “move” consists of making a copy of a slice, performing certain allowed modifications to the laws of physics to try to alter the outcome of the game in the new slice. On the next turn, the other player attempts to preserve the outcome of the subgame as it was in the previous slice.

Part of the appeal of the game is that, every so often, the physical laws will be accidentally altered in a way that leads to instability and makes the game arena explode. The contest, of course, is then declared a draw.

At this point, the more astute among you might be wondering why I stated that the game is over before it’s begun. The reason is complicated, but involves a two-way dependency between the AI subgame players in each slice and the actual players of the game. The subgame players can also alter the laws of physics in the real game arena, which is why it’s played in a special bounded region of upgraded spacetime, to prevent the entire universe from being flipped like a cosmic pancake and folded flat. Because of this, there’s a tendency for reality to flicker chaotically between two orthogonal axial orientations: one in which the subgame arena slices are “real”, and one in which the original reality is “real”. It’s kind of hard to explain without a lot of horrible equations, but the upshot is that, from an external viewpoint, the entire arena collapses into a final state with a game result, before it’s even begun. You see, the Pre-ordination Principle, which is one of the Laws of Multiple Time Dimensions, states that when multiple solutions to Arrick’s Law can exist due to expanded dimensionality, a cyclic hyperfield always results, and has a hyperspherical curl given by the coefficient found in—

You know what? I think I’m in danger of losing most of my audience at this point, so I’ll stop here.

The short version of the story is that, when I was at school, we were made to play this game in plasma rain, with only the altered physics of our arena for protection. Despite the small bonus of being able to enjoy the feeling of having won while on the way to the match due to the time reversal, it wasn’t all pleasant. Watching the plasma splatter against the cosmic boundary surface certainly focused my mind, and it made me the stubborn, driven Space Lord I’ve become today.

So don’t come complaining to me about rain.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

The Final Hit

What up, puny humans. It’s been a few weeks, but I thought I’d better pop up again and let you know what I’ve been up to. It’s been a bit of an unusual October for me.

Around the start of the month, the whoofweed arrived at New York. I’d been tracking it all the way, and progress had been good – apart from a bit of a crisis at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, when a few thousand of the drones had inexplicably decided they weren’t up to the challenge and had begun moving in circles and figures of eight. Some of them had even meandered for a couple of days until their tracks formed the shape of a Palovvian pictogram meaning “pigheaded”, which I can only take to be the drone equivalent of “sticking it to the man”. One has to wonder about the cause of this odd behaviour. I’ve never heard of quantonic AIs being affected by drugs before, but with whoof, one never can tell.

Anyway, as I said, they all arrived at New York City in the end. However, at that point, I lost control of the guidance system. I’m not certain what happened, but, despite all my commands being acknowledged, there was no change in their heading or speed. I plotted the path, and found that they were all heading upriver!

By the time I’d made up my mind what to do, they’d already reached Poughkeepsie and were massing by the shores of Franny Reese State Park. At this point, I had to assume, despite all scientific reasoning to the contrary, that I was, indeed, dealing with a bunch of dope-crazed robots. I was out of options, so I sent a self-destruct command. Luckily, the priority code seemed to make it immune to the previous insubordination, and it actually worked.

I’ve never murdered that many consciousnesses before, but that’s what happens, I suppose, when we meddle with the universe’s inherent patternism to provide ourselves with useful servants.

There wasn’t much of an explosion, of course. I mean, not large enough to flatten a whole town, at any rate. Each drone destroyed itself using a miniature quantum disruptor, which ripped apart the fabric of the Wave Equation Substrate, causing the drone to spread itself out over a ten light-year radius as pure energy in less than a millisecond. It’s a neat little trick, and, if the energy’s diffuse enough, even the Feds can’t pick it up.

However, the fish in the Hudson River most certainly did pick it up. The cavitation caused by the disappearance of millions of drones sent out shock waves that not only killed thousands of fish but also threw them high into the atmosphere. The thunderous sound and subsequent piscine rain startled many of the locals. I spent the next few days giggling as I tapped into the transmissions of bemused local radio DJs talking about “Tuesday’s mysterious biblical storm”.

As for the whoofweed, I can only assume that it survived. It’s a pretty hardy little plant. I guess we can now look forward to centuries of whoof-tainted water passing through New York City. I’m not sure whether any non-human species will be affected by the drug, but it’s going to be interesting finding out. As for the human inhabitants of the Big Apple, let’s hope I’m right about them being immune. If they aren’t, we could be looking at a new San Francisco on the East Coast.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Glorious

Hello, humans. We need to have a talk about food.

I’ve noticed that the stuff is ubiquitous here. Everywhere I go, there are restaurants, cafés, ice cream stands, supermarkets, convenience stores, snack vans, vending machines, overpriced junk food kiosks at cinemas, pub lunches and charity dinners. I mean, fair enough, you need it to survive. But you seem to treat it with blasé contempt, and you reserve your aesthetic reverence for fine art, architecture, literature — and, depressingly often, TV celebrities.

You will probably be unaware that, in my original form, I have at least a thousand different types of taste receptor in my mouth (almost half of which are not even on my tongue). So I think I’m in quite a good position to enjoy the subtle nuances of cuisine. When I first arrived on Earth, I was astonished at how strange the food tasted. Then I realised that I was picking up a lot of variations that seemed undetectable to the human palate. Since then, things have improved a little. Through certain meditation practices I learned in my youth, I’m now able to ignore those variations and experience an approximation of the rather blunt appreciation that is the sorry fate of the average person. I’ve long considered my evening meal an art form, and I like to prepare it with assiduity, though I don’t always get a chance, due to my numerous projects.

So, my sense of taste is one of my most treasured assets. And here’s the thing. I really need it. Or at least, I did.

On the planet where I grew up, roughly 70% of all the ostensibly-edible plants and animals are actually toxic to my species – often fatally so. We have evolved probably the most sophisticated chemical senses in the galaxy as a result, and most of them work pretty much perfectly, even in young children: it’s instinctual. Without this adaptation, we’d all die before we could even open our eyes. Yes, we eat from birth: there are no mammalian traits such as lactation on my home world. Sucking sustenance from another begin? Where I come from, that’s called parasitism. The very idea! Yes, I know you evolved that way, and I know you get all sorts of other stuff from it like immunological molecules, although I’ve never quite been able to work out why you can’t just have those retrofitted, as we do.

Naturally, when I came to Earth and modified my body to pass for human, I tried to leave as many olfactory and gustatory systems wired up as possible. It was tricky to calibrate them to work with the human form, and I kept spitting out my food in restaurants in disgust because I’d got the wires crossed and it tasted like oomizagong poop. Actually, that still happens to me sometimes in certain fast food chains, though I admit I’m not entirely sure whether it’s my calibration that’s at fault in those cases, or whether their food genuinely does taste as if it’s been through the intestinal tract of a particularly gluttonous mud-eating herd animal. Perhaps I’ll never know, unless I actually persuade one of you curious monkeys to accompany me across the galaxy for a comparison test. Any volunteers?

I was going to rant on at length here about how in some parts of your world food has become a new drug; how its supply has devastated vast areas and caused ecological issues; how you’ve trivialised its acquisition to the extent that you’ve forgotten its origins… but I think you know all that already.

So I’ll just leave you with this final thought.

There’s another thing on this planet that needs fuel to run, that has to stop and fill up with it — and this fuel is everywhere, and it’s mundane, and taken for granted, and costs a lot of money, and damages the environment. You know what I’m talking about. Come on, humanity, add some finesse to your food — because surely you can do better than your cars!

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Having a Triffid Time!

I was right about the whoofweed: stealing it was a lot of fun. But don’t tell anyone about this, okay? I know I can trust my online audience (by which I mean, of course, that if anyone squeals I’ll pass their details to the nearest migrating drillworm queen – and yes, that’s as bad as it sounds).

So here’s the kicker, anyway… I moved it!

Yes, I moved the entire plantation. I did a two-day sweep first to check their security rota, and it turned out I had a ten-hour window each day in which to act. So I set up a waterdrone factory and programmed it to produce enough devices to do the job in the time required. The cameras were sabotaged first of course, and then every whoofweed plant was carefully uprooted by a single waterdrone, and all 3.4 million of them are now migrating, en masse, to a new home. It will take a while to get there, as it’s quite a distance and waterdrones are not very fast with delicate loads, but… well, you get the picture. The whole damn thing has gone a bit Huorn on them (or Birnam Wood, if you prefer The Bard to Tolkien), and I’m beyond tickled. Of course, I diverted a few plants to another location, where I can pick them up once the heat is off and enjoy a personal supply of whoof for a year or two. I’m looking forward to chilling out.

Am I crazy? Actually, no. The only reason I dared go ahead with this stunt was that I discovered who was running the plantation. It wasn’t the dread Pintoffnya Clan after all, but someone I happen to know from my youth. I’m not going to go into details, but let’s just say I owe him a taste of his own medicine, and this is a sweet way to deliver it. Perhaps one day I’ll tell you the story.

Anyway, I’ve monitored the comms for the last couple of weeks, and there’s been a hell of a lot of interesting chatter – some of it extremely amusing! My old enemy was spitting mad at first, and tried to blame his mercenaries, who immediately told him where to stick it and left. That was stupid of him. But the next day he got a visit from the feds! I caught the encrypted broadcast containing the interview, and it was interesting. I could hear the relief in his voice clearly as he invited them politely to check the tip-off they’d received, knowing by now that they’d find nothing. Must have been bittersweet. He escaped a pretty bad rap, but he doesn’t know who helped him out. With any luck he’ll think it’s the Pintoffnyai, in which case he won’t dare interfere: believe me, I know. This guy’s a coward.

That leaves me with a few million whoofweed plants on the move under the Atlantic, and I’ve honestly no idea what to do with them all once they arrive in New York. All sensible suggestions gratefully received.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Whoofweed

Well, this is simply hilarious! Someone has been planting Whoofweed on the sea bed off the coast of Scarborough. I’m starting to think I know why there’s been so much police chatter going on recently.

Whoofweed is also known as Pentafolio demensiensis – although the only person who knows it by that name is me. Latin names fascinate me, and since there’s no Latin outside of Earth, I like to invent my own, for certain alien species of import. And Whoofweed is of great import, especially to interstellar crime.

It’s an underwater plant (obviously) with the somewhat dubious distinction of being a near-universal narcotic. In other words, almost every intelligent species in the galaxy can use it for psychedelic recreation. The handful of exceptions include Polavvians – which is one reason they make more trustworthy cops – and also you humans, bless you. You have no idea what it’s like to take this junk, and you never will.

I’ve chewed a little whoof in the past, when partying with a friend from Grootix Academy. The effects are almost impossible to describe, but mostly involve the feeling that you’re individually conscious of every single cell in your body. It’s as trippy as a trip through triple wormhole, though it can be inconvenient when you have an infection of some kind.

Anyway, I came across the vast plantation during my little underwater excursion, and when I say “plantation”, I’m being serious. There are several square kilometres of the stuff. This is evidently a well-funded operation, and I was careful to leave no sign that I’d found it. I’m almost certain that the police are biding their time, questioning people and investigating every little crime they can find, until someone lets something slip about the perpetrators. They clearly don’t yet know where the product is being grown, and are trying to find out so they can bring in evidence.

This leaves me with a bit of a dilemma. Or is it a trilemma? I can contact the feds like a good citizen and let them know the location, claim my reward and hope nobody wants revenge; I can wait and see what happens; or… well, no. I couldn’t just steal it, could I? I mean, this is probably being run by someone like the Pintoffnya Clan. You’d have to be a crazed lunatic to want to mess with those guys. They like to eat people’s faces for dessert. And I don’t mean after killing them first.

Maybe I really am crazy, then.

I’m going to put some thought into this. If I can figure out a way to grab that massive stash without being caught, it could be fun.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Cross Talk

In my last message, I seem to recall saying that I was looking forward to a “quiet Summer”. Now, had just one of those two concepts failed me, perhaps I would have shrugged it off. I’m sad to report that so far, both of them are letting me down badly.

Of course, I’ve known worse rain. Significantly worse. I’ve survived rain made of sulphuric acid that ‘fell’ (if that’s the word I want) sideways, so by comparison the British weather is kind of tame. That said, it would be quite pleasant, for a change, not to feel that the plants were getting the better end of the deal – not to mention the ducks.

But the lack of Summer isn’t the issue, of course. It’s more the lack of quiet.

I’ve mentioned (see journals passim) my intense dislike of those who worship at the altar of the decibel, and you might be assuming that I’m about to moan about some noisy all-night barbecue party, or perhaps an amateur mechanic machining a new crankshaft for a Morgan at 10 p.m. However, this time the noise isn’t coming from anything human – or even terrestrial. It’s coming from my police scanner. My Local Federation police scanner. The damn thing has picked up so many reports in this sector, it’s like watching one of those movies in which strange events start occurring all over the place, and then we eventually find out that there’s an alien invasion going on.

I really hope it isn’t that. I’ve had enough of other aliens for now.

I think I’ll go for one of my long underwater walks.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Disillusioned But Happy

Apologies for the slight delay since my last report: I took a few days off after my ordeal, and I – wait, why am I apologising to you lot? I’m a Space Lord. Never mind.

This will be a brief but hopefully interesting update. After a few days of unwinding and trying a new brand of drinking chocolate, I thought I’d better check my spying devices to see whether anything had happened on Mars. But – and here’s the interesting part – I couldn’t find the stream feeds.

At first, I thought there must be some system glitch, or a fault in the device hub. But I looked much more closely, and found that I’d never installed the devices. I mean that literally. I’m not saying it was as though I’d never installed them, or that I’d installed them and then flown back to Mars in my sleep and destroyed them. No, nothing like that. I mean that I checked my stores, and they were all still there.

Then I remembered that I’d been unable to find Psi-spy the second time I searched, and I’d assumed, at the time, that I’d just screwed up my attempt to hack the hyperwave web encryption. Now, though, I started to wonder. This was a mystery, and it needed investigating. I set off immediately to return to Mars once more.

I must say, I was relieved to find the hideout was still there. I’d been starting to wonder whether I’d dreamed the whole thing! I entered the strange place once again, and made my way to the fan room.

I almost lost my cool when I saw what awaited me. Every screen in the room was showing a face – but this time, not my own face. No. It was the face of Maria Thessifus! And every one of them wore a silent smirk.

It took me only minutes to piece it all together, during which I took a much more detailed look at the device I’d placed on my head before. I can now say with 94% certainty that it was a memory injector. It had faked every one of my odd experiences – the infinite recursion of mind-piggybacking myself; the investigation into Psi-spy; being trapped for so long under the headset; and of course, my installing the spying devices as well… all of that was induced in my own mind by this machine, to distract me. Maria had left this strange installation on Mars to divert me from the L3 point, should I ever go looking there during Saturn’s opposition.

Honestly, I really admire her attention to detail. This was beyond evil! A pity for her that it didn’t work because of the dead pod that never received the mind backup. We all have bad luck now and then, despite our genius.

This time, I did destroy the entire place from altitude – being careful to avoid the gaze of NASA by synchronising my actions to their absence from the sky. They might notice a few rocks out of place, but they’ll probably just think they missed a landslide.  Now I’m rid of Maria T. for good, I’m looking forward to a quiet Summer before I set up precautionary defences in preparation for the likely forthcoming winter riots. Good luck with that, by the way – I hope you all have water stockpiled.

The up side of this whole episode is that I do not, after all, have to revise my world view to encompass psionics. I’m not sure whether I’m relieved about that or not: even I, deep down, would kind of like magic to be real.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Chasing Pebbles

It was as I feared. I found Maria T’s spare pod at the L3 point, and my probes had picked up a signal from it a couple of days ago. Presumably it sends data on a regular basis, in case it isn’t received. Given that it would now make no difference, I decided simply to destroy the pod and then go looking for whatever receptor might have got the message near Saturn.

On the way there, I had another look at Psi-spy. Or at least, I tried to. The Galactic Web seemed to know nothing of its existence, which was a bit odd. I mean, it had taken me a bit of digging around last time to find it, but this time there was no trace of the company at all. Was it possible that they were on to me and had put up some extra hack shields? It wouldn’t surprise me.

I got to Saturn and began a laborious search of the rings, that being the last place I’d managed to find one of Professor T’s pods. It took quite a few hours, during which time I also scanned all the moons I could, to make sure they were clean.

The scans of both moons and rings all came up negative, which I found particularly exasperating. There had to be a pod here, surely! I switched to a visual search, which soon took its toll on my eyes. I won’t list any of the names I was calling Maria at this point, but several of them are actually banned in some parts of the galaxy.

Pausing only to get some sleep for an hour or two, I resumed the search and was about to give it up, when at last I spotted something. It was almost invisible! A tumbling spot of black, falling through the rocks that made up the ring system. It was quite lucky I managed to see it because I wasn’t expecting it to be tumbling. A pod would have attitude jets…

I moved in closer and used a tractor beam to stabilise it. A quick scan revealed the truth: it had suffered a power failure! My heart leapt in anticipation, but I had to be sure it hadn’t sent data out to anywhere else, so that meant boarding the thing. I popped across in an EVA suit and spent an hour figuring out how to access the dead computer without enabling the comms relays. And I had my answer. The pod had been dead for over a year! Long enough, in fact, to mean that there wasn’t any chance of its having sent out any data that could harm me.

It’s been quite a circuitous trip, I must say! But, having destroyed the pod and completed my visual scan, I’m now confident that Maria T is gone for good. Finally, I can breathe easy again. I’m looking forward to a day or two back on Earth doing not much at all except drinking hot chocolate.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Release

I’m free – but I need some questions answered!

When you last heard from me I was in quite a pickle, having entered a strange mental state in which I seemed to occupy infinitely many universes at once. Got to say that’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever tried to describe, and really you have to experience it to understand. Here’s what happened next.

I spent several hours doing my best to find the exit keyword for the device, using some of the password-hacking techniques I’d learned at the Academy. I was quite rusty, and although I covered the vocabulary space in roughly the right path, I probably missed a few regions here and there. But in the end, it made no difference, because it wasn’t a word that finally released me – it was an action.

After hours trapped in one location, I’d begun to feel the need to urinate. I ignored it for as long as I possibly could, but in the end… well, you know how it is. Due to my anger at being held against my will, I wasn’t exactly going to lose any sleep about peeing right there in the room, and I decided I would have to do exactly that. But as soon as I unzipped my suit, the device let go of me! The infinities receded rapidly, dwindling until the last few of them flitted away from me like terrified birds. Carefully, I removed the headset, breathed a sigh of thanks, and then went to relieve myself in the designated place. I’m not a monster.

I returned to find everything as I’d left it, with the infernal machine sitting there innocently, like some child’s plaything. A thought struck me. This was no toy, it was a work of exquisite engineering. Whoever had built this place was unlikely to have skills enough to make it, so they had probably bought it.

A few minutes exploring the computer finally paid off by yielding a receipt from a company called Psi-spy. Not the most pronounceable name, but it instantly raised a shrewd suspicion, and I visited their store front to find the listing for the device. I had to do a few sneaky things to access the place too, since it was well hidden. Clearly their business was, how can I put this, not 100% legitimate.

It turned out that the odd device was a ‘remote psionic piggyback probe’. I honestly thought psionic devices were the stuff of myth, but it turns out I was wrong. In future, I’ll try to remember that, just because Analemma doesn’t sell something, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Anyway, when I realised what the thing was designed to do, everything made perfect sense – and I was filled with satisfaction at solving the puzzle, blended with horror at what it implied.

My stalker (yes, by now that word definitely applied) had been taking free rides in my mind with this device, and I hadn’t even been aware of it. Perhaps by now you’ve guessed what happened when I put it on: an infinite recursion generated by my own mind giving a ride to my mind, which gave a ride to my mind, which gave a ride to my mind… and so on. In the world of real physics, this process would have had a limit somewhere. But psionics isn’t physics, it’s basically magic. I’d entered a new phase in my life, in which I’d have to accept that things were not as they had previously seemed.

Obviously I needed to destroy the place. I couldn’t have people spying on me like that! Climbing rapidly to altitude in the Minicruiser, I lost no time in obliterating the hideout.

Ha! Don’t tell me you believed that? Of course I wasn’t nearly so stupid. Why would I destroy evidence in such a manner? Evidence that could allow me to find my stalker? I’m disappointed if you underestimated my cunning to that extent. No, I put a plan into action to trap my foe. First, I reprogrammed the remote probe to target chickens on Earth, one at a time, moving on to a new one only when each died. Given the way most chickens die, I thought this just about unpleasant enough. Then I applied a secure lock to my configuration change to prevent the machine being retargeted. I’m hoping that this busybody fan won’t realise I’ve been here, and will just think it’s malfunctioned. In addition, I left a few spying devices of my own around the place, well hidden. I needed to know who was doing this, because (and I’m going to be blunt here) they needed to be dealt with, by any means necessary, ranging from memory erasure to severe forms of death.

After a quick scan to check nobody had returned, I left Mars and headed to the L3 point, my original objective. I’ll be in touch later to tell you what I found there, although I’m not hopeful. I’ve now missed the opposition of Saturn, so my chance to destroy whatever Maria T had left there may have passed.

But at least there’s only one of me again. Infinity, seen up close, is nowhere near as cool as you might think.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

The Tube

I hope you’re able to read this. I don’t even know if this is the right Earth. Come to think of it, I’m not sure this is the right me.

Some really weird stuff has been going on! As Marvin the Paranoid Android once acerbically put it, “I think you’ll find reality is on the blink again.”

It began as I cloaked the Minicruiser and began descending towards the relay station, preparing to give it a brief but decisive dose of Quantum Field Disruptor, which would cause its wave equation to randomise, flinging all its constituent particles into their fields as incoherent energy (yes, it’s my favourite weapon).

As I reached for the trigger, I noticed something odd: the relay station had no antennae. Somehow, the scan hadn’t revealed this. Perhaps it had misinterpreted a rock as an antenna or something like that. Who knows? Anyway, it stayed my hand for a second or two – and during that second or two, I committed an error to which I too often succumb: I got curious.

So of course, after that, I simply had to land and explore the place. There was no other option.

It was pretty hard to find the door by eye: the facility had been well concealed, in such a way that even a future Martian colony might not discover it for centuries. When I finally spotted a triangular outline in the rock and found the catch hidden in a conveniently dust-storm-proof crevice, I entered with some caution.

The interior felt wrong. I immediately realised that the cushioned flooring and oak panels were hardly Maria T’s style. And besides, why would she furnish a simple relay station that way? My curiosity was burning by then, and I began mapping the whole place.

There were rooms made for dining, recreation, sleeping… clearly, someone lived there. Or had. No life signs had registered on the scan, nor signals that might emanate from an AI. I didn’t find any cryostats, so that left only two possibilities: either the occupant or occupants were away for a while, or they had gone for good.

And then, I found the fan room, and even I felt helpless and baffled.

No word of a lie: it was covered in memorabilia, images, screens rolling continuous news stories… the works. It was a homage to one person, and one person only. Whoever lived here had an unhealthy obsession such as I’d never seen. And the object of their adulation, dear reader, was yours truly.

That’s right. I’d stumbled on the living space of an Owota Dszira fan. And at this point, I could ask, “all right, which of you is it? Comment below please, and put me out of my misery!” Except that would be stupid. Nobody who reads this blog has a secret hideout on Mars, unless I’ve seriously underestimated my audience.

I just couldn’t grasp what I was looking at. There were images of me working on my Cockpoppies in my lab (where had they got those?); video of me piloting my Minicruiser; even photos from the Academy. Unbelievable. I felt like the introverted winner of a reality TV show.

At one end of the room was an odd device, of a design I’d not encountered before. It had a headset attached to it, and a simple interface consisting of a green button. The headset was about my size, leading me to suspect that my unwitting host was humanoid.

I’m not sure whether the bizarre surroundings had addled my brain, but I’m sorry to say that I was rather foolish. Yes, that’s right: I decided to put on the headset and press the green button, to see what happened. I regretted it immediately.

It’s very hard to describe what happened next, but the best I can manage is to say that it was like being launched in a railgun with magnetic loops, only the acceleration was insane, the loops got closer and more numerous until a tiny space within my head seemed full of an infinitude of them, and then… BANG! It happened.

Dear reader, I wish I could explain what happened, but I can’t. Something quite mystical, and currently still beyond my powers of analysis. It was like being infinitely connected to my surroundings. Every slightest twitch of my head made me extremely dizzy, as if everything had an odd sort of inertia to it, space and time lagging behind my movements. I tried pressing the green button again, but nothing happened, and I guessed that the only way to stop this thing was to speak a voice command. I also tried to see whether I might be able to remove the headset, but the moment I touched it, an alarm sounded – so I decided that might be a stupid idea. Who knew what the thing was doing to my brain?

And, believe it or not, I’m still sitting here in this room, trying to think of how to escape. I’m sort of getting used to the feeling of infinity, but it’s like looking through a tube of endless universes, and it’s starting to make me feel sick. I managed to use my comm pad and write this account, which I’ve sent off to Mike for publication. I’ll give you an update when – or if – I ever escape this surreal booby trap.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

O Rly?

Last night I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. The Minicruiser was configured for the trip, including a new Quantum Field Disruptor cannon I’d ordered recently from Analemma, just in case; I’d checked all the camouflage devices around my place; the fake composter was still undisturbed, hiding my wormhole power source; and the commsats were all green. I was actually kicking back with a glass or two of a new ‘tipple’, as I believe it’s called: Anarchist Alchemist from Brewdog. It’s a name that resonates with me, for obvious reasons. And just when I was completely at peace, anticipating an easy victory in my mission, an idea exploded in my brain, shattering my mood.

I’d overlooked Mars.

With all my perfect planning and cunning schemes, how could I have missed the most obvious relay station available? Groobashi Pul’xih! I need to up my game. And in case you’re wondering – yes, it turned out that our mutual friend, Professor Thessifus, seemed to have done exactly what I have just implied.

The next hour or so was spent carefully scanning everything I could think of (well, as carefully as I could after those drinks). Not just on Mars but beyond, to the outer gas giants: Uranus is actually in a feasible relay position at the moment. But after all that, it was Mars. It was always Mars. The place is simply too convenient, with its proximity, its thin atmosphere and its weak magnetic field. My deep radar picked up a tiny, partially-underground structure right at the equator, cleverly disguised as part of an escarpment to avoid the gaze of NASA. The reported probability of its being a relay installation was 98%.

So now I’m on my way there. I didn’t really have any choice, and my plans to spend the weekend visiting Iceland have had to be shelved. But my contact there, Alexandra, is happy to wait. It’s all right for her – she has a damned comfy house carved out of solid rock, and plenty not to do. Hot spring jacuzzi, my arse… and I wish I meant that literally. Of course, you’ve probably guessed that she’s not really human. Perhaps I’ll tell you more about her some day.

I’m approaching orbit now so I need to sign off so I can get the ship into stealth mode. I’ll report back when I can.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Loose Ends

I’m a little tired. I was up until quite late last night building a new hackhub for tapping secure satellite comms. More on that later. Also, the local pathetic farts were up until 1 a.m. compensating for their pathetic farts via their chrome exhausts. I would have gone out there and disintegrated them with my plasma laser, but this is not really the best time to be drawing attention to myself. You see, I don’t want to worry you, but I have an inkling that Maria T is still with us.

It’s my fault. I should have done a complete sweep of the Solar System last time. I could have kicked myself when I saw the faint locator signal on my deep space probe log. After the Halbarrat Incident, you’d think I would have learned. Now, there’s a memory. Those poor people… well, strictly speaking they weren’t people. Plants can be subjugated too, and if you’ve never seen fields of food crops stretching to the horizon in every direction, being harvested by their terrified vegetable cousins, consider yourself lucky. When the Perifuerra were cornered by the Galactic Razor Squad their final act was not surrender but wilful, suicidal destruction. I shudder still to think of it. When the fire came, I’d say it was a release for all of them.

I’ve said too much, never mind – pretend you didn’t read that.

So my probe had picked something up at the Sol/Earth L3 point, opposite the Sun – clever, because humans haven’t ventured out there yet. You can’t just leave stuff at L3: it needs a stable orbit. And luckily, that orbit, at certain times of year, is wide enough to peek around the solar disc from our point of view. Anyway, I’ve calculated that at the time I destroyed Maria T’s backup pod at Saturn, there was a clear line-of-sight path to L3. This means that the pod could already have relayed a mind backup to L3, and I have a hunch that’s what took place.

What I’m not sure of is why nothing’s happened since then. Possibly there’s a fault in the pod, or perhaps I’m actually wrong and what I’ve found is nothing to do with Maria T. But I need to check it out because the other possibility is that there is another pod around Saturn that I missed, and the L3 pod could still contact it.

I plan to take a trip out to L3 in a couple of weeks on July 9th, because Saturn will be at opposition. This will make it impossible for the pod to talk to anything at Saturn as Sol will be between them. Thus I should be able to destroy it without any chance of its ‘phoning home’. One thing I’ve learned about Professor Thessifus is that it’s impossible to overestimate her cunning.

Until my trip, I’ll be scanning Saturn carefully for signals, just in case. And then there’s the hackhub: I’ll be using my new toy to intercept as many Earth transmissions as possible, in case I hear anything that might reveal her presence. I might not get many chances to update the blog, but keep watching: I’ll be about.

Oh, and before I go, here’s a little guessing game for you. One of Earth’s large commercial enterprises was set up with money from another star and is being run by an alien in disguise. Have fun figuring out which one.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Signs And Portents

Well, this is embarrassing.

Where to begin? Well, of course, it’s been a while… what? Oh. Mike says more than a year. To be honest, I can’t quite remember how long one of your years is, but I know it’s quite a time to wait for your favourite incognito space lord to release another exciting instalment.

No point beating around the phzoothsh. The truth is, I screwed up again. I ended up as software for a while, and I couldn’t terminate the code – I hate it when that happens. I’ve also been running on accelerated time, so I can’t remember a damn thing about my recent life in this universe. I’m going to have to revisit all my past journal entries and get up to speed.

Sorry – this is probably just confusing you. Let me start again.

Recent events in human stupidity – er, I mean history – had convinced me that something is up. I couldn’t bring myself to believe this could possibly be reality (if there even is such a thing). I began to suspect that we were in a simulation, but I wanted to know for sure. I’d been struggling to come up with a reliable experiment that might answer this question – and a couple of years ago I managed it. I built my own universe simulation.

The key to my idea is Fractal Geometry. Whatever applies in a sim is likely to apply also to the host universe: it’s a self-similar structure. However, the point at which this stops is the ‘reality’ level. That’s how my experiment is supposed to operate: I measure how similar my sim is to our own universe, and then, based on certain markers I’ve devised, I can calculate the likelihood that our own universe is simulated.

A simluated universe – even a range-limited one such as mine, with just a handful of detailed star systems plus an illusory long-distance physics – requires an enormous amount of power. Luckily, my experience in wormhole construction stood me in good stead there, and I managed to leach the energy of a rotating black hole around twenty thousand light years away (I had to get Mike to convert to your units there, so I hope it’s correct). I concealed most of the hypercoils beneath the ground, and the only visible part is covered by a plastic cylinder behind my shed. The landlord thinks it’s a composter, and that’s fine with me. I hope he never tips any grass cuttings into it, or they’ll instantly evaporate and singe his beard.

Things were going quite well, and I was gathering a lot of data remotely. But it wasn’t enough! I quickly realised that some of the data required close personal observation of the civilisation I was building, so I began working on a way of downsaving my consciousness into the sim.

Anyway, this was all about a year ago. Given that my sim world was still very primitive I had to prepare my sim self carefully for defence, but it wasn’t too difficult. I made quite a few interesting observations while I was inside, and had expected to exit after a short time – about a month, which would have been eight minutes in our reality, due to the accelerated time frame.

Unfortunately, there was a bug in my code. Yes, I know that’s implausible – but I’m not perfect.

There was no way out for me. I was trapped within my own creation. Luckily, I had placed my body in stasis in our universe, so it was safe, but there I was, in a universe I knew was artificial, unable to reveal that fact to anyone around me for fear of spoiling the experiment. I was armed only with my immortality and a handful of fairly mundane tricks that my knowledge of how the sim worked enabled me to perform – stuff like turning matter transparent and guessing what people were thinking. These abilities enabled me to earn a living in various places as a fairly sought-after illusionist and mentalist, moving from country to country as my longevity became too obvious, and changing my identity.

Eventually, people started to talk about the coincidence of suspiciously similar performers turning up over thousands of years of history in different countries, and I began to become a legend. But most people thought it all part of my act, as though it were some sort of PR stunt, and they dutifully applauded and went home wondering how I had built up such an elaborate mythos. If only they had known.

After eleven months without any word from me, Mike began to get a little worried, bless him. It’s not as if I’d never been away before, but after the last time we had made an agreement that I would notify him before disappearing for more than a few months at a time. Upon visiting my flat, he managed to find my stasis room and deduced that I was in some sort of trouble because of the mouldy remains of my lunch that were sitting on the table nearby. If there’s one thing he knows about me, it’s that I would never start a year-long experiment on an empty stomach.

So he pressed the shutdown button.

He tells me he was terrified of killing me, but trusted my design abilities enough to assume that I would have built in some failsafes. Luckily, he was right – and although the simulation was terminated, my mind was also restored to my body. My mind, of course, was now five thousand years older – and let me tell you, that makes one slightly grumpy. I was pretty angry for a couple of days, before I remembered that I could restore the sim from a backup.

But I soon realised that the backup contained my sim self as well, so I would have had to go through the tedious process of removing all traces of myself from it before restoring. Due to my notoriety in the sim universe and the impact I’d had upon it, this proved impossible. In the end I had to restore a backup I’d made before I entered it, which lost me a year of work (or five thousand years, depending on how you look at it).

So here we are. And the story isn’t over yet! Because the next thing that happened was astonishing.

Having seen the way my sim species had turned out, I’d been less than pleased. In fact, at one point I’d been worried that they would destroy their planet, leaving me alone to roam a dead world. After Mike rescued me and I restored the older backup, I tried to think of a way of letting them know that they should be more responsible – and it occurred to me that I could leave them a message based on their culture. A subtle hint of sorts, using symbology from one of their stories – a story that told a tale of morality, and honour, and kindness. I chose a symbol carefully, and etched it into the surface of one of the other planets in their star system.

Shortly after that, they found it.

The effect was not quite what I expected. I thought they would either laugh it off as coincidence, or change their thinking overnight. Instead, the media buzz about the symbol sparked small changes around their world, and little by little, I saw their society begin to diverge from the hellish path, which, due to my previous immersion in it, I knew it was destined to follow had I not intervened.

And then today… well, today I saw this news story about the Star Trek logo they’ve found on Mars.

I honestly don’t know what to think. It could well be coincidence, of course. It could have been there all along, or maybe whoever is monitoring our progress paused time and etched it lovingly, their souls aching for our folly, desperate to save us. Perhaps, in some strange way, the event is related to my own similar actions, and if I hadn’t done the same this outer message would never have been written. I sort of like the idea that the self-similarity might be enforced despite causality violation.

But I do know one thing. If it’s a message, it means that someone out there has seen our future, and that it isn’t pretty. We should think about that.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Empty Vessels


It was almost 303 Kelvins today. For a British ‘bank holiday’, that seems to be a break with tradition. But it gave me the opportunity to do a little field anthropology, i.e. ‘people-watching’, which is an occasional hobby of mine. I was particularly interested in the behaviour of young human males when the weather is hot. Many of them appear to enjoy broadcasting their stupidity loudly to anyone in shouting range, by partaking in a curious activity that seems to have developed in sports stadiums. When gathered in groups, particularly when alcohol has been added to the equation, they will break into a chorus of something that could only in the most generous of terms be described as ‘singing’. It sounds more like an over-extended rendition of the first second or two of someone vomiting heartily.

This is strictly a tribal activity. I have rarely seen an individual participant, unless he was extremely drunk, and even when two are present, it’s not that common. The threshold number appears to be three. This has nothing to do with the ability to produce harmonies, and everything to do with the ability to produce the threat of harm. These hapless phenotypes are the walking embodiment of a genome fashioned in our brutal past, when beating one’s chest was the best way of finding a mate. To witness their ritualistic roaring is to play audience to the astonishing process of testosterone transforming into air vibrations.

Everything I’ve described above, of course, has been occurring for some decades (at least since the 1970s, I’m assured by my editor, who was there). However, a more recent variant has come to my attention. When the human larynx is unequal to the task of asserting dominance through sonic torture, those with enough credit or hard cash have the option of purchasing some form of internal combustion engine attached to either 2, 4, or (sometimes) 3 wheels — and most importantly of all, sporting 1, 2 or 4 exhaust pipes. Often these are modified deliberately to be as loud as possible, breaking asunder the peace of all and sundry for no better reason than to make the statement: I AM HERE. Yes, we know you are, and we wish you weren’t. Some of us go further, and wish you would crash and die.

I’ve speculated many times about the exact psychology behind loud exhausts. I’ve heard people say that large cars might represent subconscious compensation for inadequate genital scale — and based on this assumption, one possible conclusion is that guys with loud exhausts are secretly ashamed of their pathetic farts.

But perhaps the truth is much more straightforward. Perhaps they simply are pathetic farts.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Poorly


I’ve been away for a while. I’m sorry about that. The reasons are pretty complex, and involve a rather unexpected plot twist concerning the molecular biology of my body. I’ll attempt to explain.

As you may know, human proteins — and hence most human anatomy — are coded by DNA, which is a molecule whose basic geometry is a connected double helix (although the higher levels of coiling to which this is then subjected are quite beautiful too, in a fractal sort of way).

My biology, as you might have expected, is a little different. My species employs a more complex structure for its protein coding. It’s rather hard to describe, but try to imagine a double helix with a third strand running through the cenral axis. Instead of pairs of bases, I have triplets. This means that errors are more easily corrected because of the increased redundancy, which in turn makes me far more resistant to radiation damage. The actual bases come in seven types instead of four, and are grouped in fours instead of threes, theoretically allowing 2,401 different codons, though in practice there is extremely heavy redundancy in that part of the system, which, again, allows for very effective error correction. Of course, the vastly reduced mutation rate this promotes makes me  highly resistant to genetic damage, although it also means that evolution on my planet has been proceeding extremely slowly: it took over a hundred million of your years for my species to emerge from our non-sentient predecessors. It’s a good thing conditions on our world allow plenty of time and security for such extended prehistories.

But I’m getting a little technical, so let me cut to the chase: I’ve been ill.

It was something I never expected to happen. My cells are constructed from many of the same amino acids as yours, though not the same proteins (and of course I have a few additional tricks up my veins). Earth viruses cannot affect me because RNA means nothing to my biology and is ignored as an inconsequential irritant. The toxins from bacteria could cause issues for me, but I’ve not yet found any bacteria that can live in my body, let alone multiply there, so again, they are inconsequential. When I eat your food I can break it down into many of the components I need, but I have to supplement my diet with certain enzymes to ensure that I get those compounds that I can’t obtain from the food.

It turns out, however, that there is a substance here on Earth that can destroy one component of my cellular chemistry. The problem, for a long time, was that I didn’t know which substance it was. All I knew was what it was doing: it was disabling the biological systems in my cells that regulate the production of muscular proteins. The result, unfortunately, has been that I ended up looking rather deformed, and I’ve had to hide from public view so as not to scare the children. Oddly enough, most of the worst effects of this condition have occurred in my face and my arms, with the result that I took on an appearance similar to the cartoon character known as ‘Popeye’.

I briefly considered getting an anchor tattoo and a pipe, and earning some extra cash performing at festivals, but decided it was infra dig. Instead, I continued my research to attempt to find the source of this problem. It was getting quite hard to operate the controls on my molecular analysis rig with my chubby fingers, but I finally identified the culprit as a by-product of yeast. Yeast, of course, is a tricky little organism, and I hadn’t considered, at first, that it might be involved. It was only when somebody was discussing the brewing of beer on Twitter and mentioned Marmite that I realised I’d recently developed quite a liking for this strange stuff — and also that I would have to cut it out of my diet immediately.

I’m back to normal now: it only took about a week. I suppose if I ever want to go for that festival gig when times are hard, at least I know how to achieve it. I could even substitute a jar o’ the good old brown nectar for the more conventional can of spinach.

But regardless, I’m sure you can imagine that the phrase ‘it’s a Marmite issue’ has now taken on a whole new set of sinister overtones.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Small vs. Far Away


I can’t believe it’s been over a week since my last update! I suppose it’s true that time flies when you’re having fun. In fact, several researchers have looked into this over the last few decades, and found that there is some evidence to support the existence of a hitherto-undetected ‘fun field’, which may be linked to the time dimension in ways that we cannot yet fathom. This fun field is not of the same type as the standard fields you humans have already discovered in Quantum Field Theory, but it acts in a roughly analogous way.

The latest recommendations from our best academic institutions are that governments should use caution when granting permits for centres of entertainment. This is to avoid the possibility that too large a concentration of fun in one place may drain away so much time that space will expand asymptotically to compensate, possibly resulting in a new universe. Some of us like to speculate — usually while taking our chemical stimulant of choice in the evenings — that this may be how our universe formed. And if, perchance, the entertainment in question was some form of sexual pleasure, the phrase ‘Big Bang’ takes on a whole new meaning.

But this was supposed to be a serious post, and I should return to my main point! I have indeed had fun for the last week, though you’ll be pleased to hear that it wasn’t enough to create a new universe. No, I’ve just been taking a little exercise: hiking through various scenic locations around the world. I’ve stood on the summit of Everest; run through rain forests of the Amazon; camped in the Grand Canyon to watch the night sky; and finally, played megaparkour in Tokyo by jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper using my hoverboots.

In all my travels, I never once connected to the internet or picked up the latest news. There were some exceptions, of course. You can’t avoid seeing the news in Tokyo, for example: it’s everywhere. But you learn to screen it out, and since I had my universal translator disabled most of the time and could only understand English, it wasn’t too bothersome. The result was a sense of peace within my mind, and it made me realise what the problem is that you humans are now facing.

The problem is that you’ve become fully connected. Not only has your ‘village’ grown from the traditional size of a few hundred people to several billion, but also you can access information about anywhere in the entire world, instantly. This brings all those foreign locations that would previously have been considered exotic, directly into your lives, and removes their mystique. They become vicariously mundane to you. Gone are the days when a traveller would come into town, book a room at the local inn and regale the populace with tales of faraway lands. Faraway lands are no longer so interesting, and people have begun to look within communities for novelty instead of looking outside them.

But the important thing to remember is that this is an illusion. It’s a fantasy. Just because you’ve seen the Great Wall of China on YouTube, you imagine yourselves to be explorers. But these are pixels on a screen, changing colour from frame to frame, and vibrations in the air of your comfortable room, conveying the sounds of a distant world into your head. They are no substitute for the reality of travel.

If you want to understand this, find a video online that contains footage of, let’s say, the inside of a restaurant in some place that you wouldn’t ever dream of travelling to. Watch the video and try to place yourself in that world, as much as you possibly can. Imagine the noises, the smells, the taste of the food, the people’s faces. Then go to an actual restaurant near where you live, and compare the experience. Is it even remotely close?

The restaurant example applies to everything else, too: people, language, politics, recreation, entertainment, education… the list goes on. So I just wanted to speak directly to all those who have wanted to travel and have never got around to it: if you can afford to do so, DO SO. In my opinion, as an impartial observer, nothing would benefit the human species more, at this crucial point in your history, than an increase in global perspective.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Spam

Spam interests me greatly.

You probably realise that I’m not talking about cold pressed meat, although that is a fascinating topic in its own right, so I understand, especially to Vikings. No, I’m referring to the unwanted messages that everyone constantly receives over the web of lies. Sorry, I mean the internet.

When I first heard that this was an actual problem on this planet, my reaction was — I’m sorry to have to say — laughter. It’s never been an issue for us out in the wider galaxy. For one thing, we have a more sophisticated distributed trust certification network. But there’s another, much simpler reason: if anyone tried mass marketing via hyperwave message, they would very likely end up being tracked down and having all the flesh melted off their head by a large proton accelerator. We have a slightly more lenient attitude to vigilantes than you do on Earth.

Anyway, out of curiosity one day, I began examining some of this so-called spam. It was not a pleasant experience. The worst thing was seeing the same bizarre phrases repeated again and again. Let’s just say that if anyone ever comes up to me in the street and offers me ‘this one weird trick’ to solve one of my problems, I shall happily introduce their head to Mr. Proton and his friends and show them the weirdest trick they’ve ever seen.

I was initially rather baffled when I saw the emails. I’d say that over 99% of them are written in English so bad that even I could spot it a light year away, and I’m not exactly fluent yet. Surely, I thought, if these things are mostly con tricks, then the con artists should be like the ones I’ve seen in movies: smart, dapper, intelligent, well-versed in etiquette, riding skills, perhaps an ace at seduction, and of course, polyglots. Bad English is a dead giveaway!

It was then that Mike pointed out something that I’d forgotten too easily, and which can be summed up in this rather neat little couplet:

Consider just how stupid is the average human prat:
Now realise, fully half of them are stupider than that!

Actually, I must digress here for a moment. The above joke may seem hilarious, but it’s mathematically unsound. It assumes that the median and the mean are identical, which does not have to be so.

To illustrate, imagine you had a simplified IQ scale that was always an integer from 1 to 10, and you sampled four people and found that their scores were 1, 2, 3 and 10. The median would be 2.5 and the mean would be 4.

Another aside: this also undermines that old saying, known as Grelb’s Reminder, that “80% of drivers consider themselves above average”. The point, of course, is that this is meant to sound ridiculous — but it’s possible for it to be true. Of course, in that case, the other 20% would have to be utterly atrocious drivers, in order to drag the mean level down a lot. Actually, now that I think about it, that sounds about right to me.

Where was I? Oh yes, the stupidity of people in relation to spam. Here’s an idea that I think could work, if you really want to get rid of spam:

Automated time-wasting.

I’m serious. These days, bots are commonplace and the technology, as we’ve seen in the recent social media scandals, is fairly advanced. Someone just needs to work out a way of making bots reply to spam automatically, and tie up the resources of the senders. The point is, it’s dirt cheap to send millions of emails, but what’s not dirt cheap at all is running store front servers, payment transaction handling, online support answering questions etc. Give the bots fake credit card numbers and get them to fill up as much time as possible in the initial contact, before placing an order, having the card rejected, and then complaining about it endlessly, tying up further time on the spammer’s end. If a million bots are all doing this at once, they’ll never cope: they’ll be out of business in a week.

I offer you that advice free, of course. Note that it applies only to spam intended to sell things. Other spam has more nefarious purposes, such as installing malware, phishing for data etc. In those cases… well, feel free to forward them to me, and I’ll be happy to track them down and pay them a visit with my proton accelerator.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Anagrams and Time Off

I know some of you Earthlings are celebrating Easter shortly, so I thought I should wish you a happy one. It’s something to do with cutting off a rabbit’s eggs and nailing it to a cross, isn’t it? Sounds barbaric. Anyway, Mike has come up with an anagram, and suggested including it in my next post, so here it is:

Owota's Fantasy Diary = Nasty toad of airways.

Thanks, Mike. Of course, you could also have made “Sanity stood far away”, and even the far more polite “A waystation for days”, which fits the whole point of the thing far better, don’t you agree? [Okay, you’re right — MT]

Mike also pointed out to me that “Professor Maria Thessifus” is an anagram of both “Assume offshore airstrips” and “Famous airship fortresses”, and has suggested that I should double-check that Maria T doesn’t have any secret Steampunk bases based on small islands in the Atlantic. That’s taking the thing a bit far, in my opinion: they’re only letters!

Actually, he does have a point. I cannot assume that my new enemy is gone for ever. I destroyed her mind backup pod in orbit around Saturn, but let’s remember that when Saturn is the other side of the Sun, it would not have been possible to receive data from that one. I can’t help wondering whether she installed a second one somewhere else, and I think perhaps I should go and check soon.

I’ve managed to find the time not only for R&R but also maintenance. I’ve been overhauling the cloaking device on the minicruiser, and I tested it by taking it for a spin around the coast of Great Britain. I even managed to buzz the Houses of Parliament undetected. I was tempted to drop a bounded fusion device on them, but that probably would have been considered bad etiquette as well as being a breach of the Galactic Non-Interference Treaty. I’m sorry, but for now you’re stuck with them. Your move, voters.

On a lighter note, I’ve discovered this wonderful drink called Hot Chocolate. Why did nobody tell me this existed? It’s like being kissed in a hot spring by an Amazon warrior woman made of candy… except inside out.