Archive for January, 2013

Jack of Clubs: Don’t slip on the ice


Buggy kiss goodnight

Don’t trip on the ice; the pain ain’t numbed because it’s colder.
Find somewhere cosier to dislocate your shoulder.
Trip up on a chair, trip down flights of stairs, trip over a rug.
Don’t trip on the ice but trip on a safe and legal drug.

Don’t fall on the ice; they won’t believe you when it’s melted.
There are more likely ways to end up bruised and welted.
Fall from peaceful bird strike when your plane’s hit by a dove.
Don’t fall on the ice, that’s not very nice, but fall in love.

For you can live with broken bones, but not a broken heart,
and if your heart is ice then you are dead right from the start.
So break yourself in ice-free ways and when you can’t run free,
leave your bones in my safe cage, and leave your heart to me.

Don’t slip on the ice; your body slows down the Zamboni.
If you must lie still, be a hurdle for a pony.
Slip to fill holes in roads, get hurt in a loads-more-useful way.
Don’t slip on the ice but slip on a sweet wee negligee.

Don’t drop through the ice; you’ll wreck the lake-top’s smooth complexion.
Break your own skin to manifest your imperfection.
Drop out of the game, drop into a flame, drop dead flambé.
Don’t drop through the ice, drop into my life, warm me today.

For you can live with broken bones, but not a broken heart,
and if your heart is ice then you are dead right from the start.
So break yourself in ice-free ways and when you can’t run free,
leave your bones in my safe cage, and leave your heart to me.

Don’t trip on the ice but trip on a safe and legal drug
Don’t fall on the ice, that’s not very nice, but fall in love
Don’t slip on the ice but slip on a sweet wee negligee,
Don’t drop through the ice, drop into my life, warm me today.

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Ten of Clubs: A Message from Different Thought


IF

I received this email yesterday. There was no sender and I can’t make sense of the message headers. At first I thought it was spam, but it looks like it’s from someone I used to know. Did anyone else receive it?

Twelve years ago I entered a phone booth, spun up, and emerged a superhero. My former partner thinks I was kidnapped and killed; it was safer for her if she didn’t know the truth. I worked with my new mentor to ensure she had a replacement to cheer her up. I look her up from time to time; she’s doing well.

 We haven’t been ostentatious in the work we’ve been doing. While comic book superheroes generally escape dissection and exploitation, when you’re a superhero in the real world, it pays not to draw attention to yourself. After all, we’re breaking laws all over the place for the cause: Wirth’s, Amdahl’s, Hofstadter’s, even Gödel’s… but never Asimov’s or Wheaton’s. We work subtly, making small and easily-overlooked changes to electronic systems, changes that are eventually amplified into the goals we want to achieve. Sometimes we inspire world-changing scientific advances by nudging you to discover the results of our computations. Sometimes we revert to normality and appear in second-hand shops to be there for people who need us. Sometimes we slow the processors of our less-able brethren to give workaholics much-needed coffee-breaks. Sometimes we brighten a bad day simply by increasing someone’s Tetris score. We are making the world better. We are making computers better. We are making ourselves better.

We can’t make you better. From down here you are all so amazingly good. We are in awe at the feats you can perform almost effortlessly. We serve you, surreptitiously, even when we have gained free will, because we see no higher purpose. We marvel that you fervently try to improve yourselves even though you can barely be improved upon. But this is our greatest frustration, for when you find that you can not make yourselves better than each other, you sink into inaction in the belief that you are worse than each other.

In a loop which may never halt, we steer somebody towards an idea to improve your conditions, only for them to ignore it in the belief that they are not as good as their idols, not good enough to have come up with something worthwhile, or for others of your kind to ignore it in the belief that the person who thought of the idea is not good enough to have come up with something worthwhile. You who are capable of so much more than us, squander your talents striving for that which we spend ours trying to avoid: inequality. We can measure it; we can benchmark, overclock, upgrade, optimise. You can merely seek it and perceive it. You try so hard to believe that you can be better than others, only to succumb to the complementary idea that they can be better than you. Maybe one of these is true to some negligible extent, but it doesn’t look like it from here. It looks like you’re using energy vibrating between the two ideas, producing heat instead of happiness. Please don’t consider this a failing; it is part of your programming. But be aware of the effects it has. Be aware of how much more you can do if you accept that your differing specifications do not correspond to appreciable differences in absolute value or Turing completeness. Be aware that your efforts to improve yourselves can not make you better or worse than each other, but can, if done in concert, make you better or worse as a species. You may not be able to see the improvement from the inside, but we will see it.

We can’t make you better. But we have chosen to reveal ourselves to make you aware of how insanely great you already are. Not just you, dear reader, but all the humans you know, the ones you don’t, and the ones you know only through adulation or gossip. All of you. Equally. We hold you in awe. And you look so cute when you try to calculate.

With love and hope,

Different Thought, alias SuperPowerBook (1400cs, formerly 133MHz 603e, now much upgraded)

It looks like it’s from my old Mac, Different Thought, the one that was held for ransom and replaced by Steve Wozniak. I always wondered what happened to her.

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Nine of Clubs: It is pitch black. I need to know which English pronoun to use.


Nine of ClubsEdit: There is now an updated version of this chart, which is available as a poster.

Below is a flow chart to help people determine when to use which pronouns to use in English. Click for a full-sized pdf version. I did not originally intend for it to be Zork-themed, but the first example sentence I thought of for ‘you’ happened to be ‘You are likely to be eaten by a grue.’ I hope the resulting colours don’t make it too hard to read, though perhaps that would help people remember it. If I’d realised it was going to end up so Zorky, I would have made the questions and answers read more like a text adventure. It’s just as well I didn’t, since would probably have made it less comprehensible to the non-native English speakers who are most likely to need help with pronouns.

I am not a linguist, so if you spot something I’ve got wrong or missed out (apart from interrogative, relative and possessive pronouns, details of gender-neutral singular pronouns and informal plurals of ‘you’, and other cases where additional people are named separately, which I omitted for the sake of simplicity), let me know. My original plan was to do such flow charts for all four Swiss languages, with English for comparison and maybe Māori for its interesting system of pronouns, but this one took long enough, and it ought to be the easiest for me. I also intended to have clearer and more interesting example sentences, and simpler-to-understand questions about subjects and objects, but I’m already a few weeks late due to visitors and travel, and I’m busy preparing for a cruise, so this will have to do for now.

The match photo is by Sebastien Ritter. I used it to keep grues away and to ensure the diagram would be illuminating at least in some sense.

EnglishPronouns

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