Aitch-Bar

Two Almost Physicists With Almost Something To Say


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Naming Conventions

I work with a dude who has, on occasion, gone ham on a Diablo III character, and maximized its largess in, like, an hour and a half. I take inspiration from others accomplishing great things, and I have fond memories of playing D2 back when CDs weren’t yet regarded in the same way that one regards those bicycles with the giant front wheel. So I dove into III, and immediately discovered that it is much closer to work than play, compared to how I remembered its predecessor. I actually had to use two hands, in what is historically a one-handed game. The right hand saves humanity, and the other hand is used mostly for propping one’s head up after eight eye-rending hours of sprite-on-sprite homicide. The rule is similar to that of a car: if you have to use two hands, you suck at it.

They also turned the volume down on the procedurally-generated names of the monsters, or at least what I assumed was a procedurally-generated list. That was one of my favorite parts of D2. I can’t swear to remembering the names precisely, but they went something like:

  • Bludgeonskull the Bludgeoner
  • Zeke the Terror-Barber
  • Snot Rocket the Anti-Semite
  • Gary Kasparov the Chessmaster
  • Samwise the Brave
  • Ludacris
  • Rakanishu

The list in III is less inspirational, and most items seem to involve bones in some capacity, to which I say eh. As a shrug, not as a Canadian hiccup. It does give one pause when considering why any parent would name their child in this way; they virtually guarantee their life path by doing so. In the same way that naming a child Jeeves is essentially foregoing the expense of a college education.


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Something About Wall Art and a Ficus

I wrote a physics PhD dissertation. I am attempting to describe the experience in any number of words, but I am failing, like a cat attempting to long-jump from a slippery surface. If the Reader is familiar with the process of long practical writing, or with feline acrobatics, then the Reader hears me. If not, then I am unsure as to what common ground there is to go from. At that point I would doff my cap, shove my hands deep in my pockets, and turn away.

The act of generating a 300-page technical document left my creative homunculus “roont,” to borrow a word that Stephen King has left seared in my head. My tale since I last rapped poetic has been not unlike that of Moses, or the guy from Dune, except without suffering or followers or purpose. I moved, and I moved well, to a place where laundry does not require human sacrifice, and the fridge grows only the mold that I explicitly tell it to grow. I purchased a couch with a giant comfortable tumor, or “chaise,” which is French for couch-tumor. I purchased a dry bar, by which I mean I bought a cheap small bookcase and my girlfriend attached a wine rack to it and loaded it up with liqueurs both fantastic and gross. Fireball and Grand Marnier live side by side, which I believe was prophesized in Revelations somewhere. I don’t know where. 5:3? That might have been the ratio of Kahlua to vodka for something which was not Bible-related.

I have Wall Art, a phrase which GS once told me made his skin crawl. I agree, vaguely, with somewhat small magnitude on my agreement vector. Something called “Wall Art” seems like a filler where something more purposeful ought to be. I have a shit-tonne of it. It accumulated when my creative rage-font ran dry, and long swaths of bare paint began to disturb my sleep. There is nothing about Wall Art that is going to trick the homunculus into spending effort on the creative writing process again. The homunculus gives me the finger when it lays its beady eyes on my four framed pictures of the Moon above a small ficus which I can only at this point describe as undead. “Nope,” says it, for we used to party when I had precisely no weird shit like that. Expunging the solid buildup that accumulated in the word-faucet is now purely an exercise in bearing down and grunting.

I also wrangled me up a Costco membership. I have mostly purchased a year’s worth of field study on barely-contained rage. It seems to pervade the store. I am not sure where this comes from, though I posit the XXL shopping carts play a role. This is the opposite of what I expected for a place constructed out of discounts and volume, two things which drive us as a people. But haters can hate; my new membership came with a free rotisserie chicken and apple pie, which makes me one of the Devoted.


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A Speculative Account of the Transpiration of Events Culminating in the Publication of the Novel Micro

Michael Crichton reclines in his study, exhausted but satisfied. He has completed the first stage of what promises to be a highly-regarded novel; a lusty mix of speculative science, corporate intrigue, observations of the natural world, and horror. A framework is sketched. Characters are outlined: protagonists, antagonists, brain candy, cannon fodder. Three notes are jotted, one atop the other, in the lower right-hand corner. The first reads “Research plants.” The second: “Check basic physics.” And the third: “Need writing not to suck.” He completes the early ritual with a title page. Micro. He then secures the page and his draft notes to his abdomen with strips of duct tape. He dies two days later.

— —

Under the pale light of a quarter-moon, Richard Preston wipes a briny muck from his face as he digs under the grave marker of Michael Crichton. His pace is frenetic. The rumors still ring in his ears: a final manuscript, completed moments before his untimely demise, never having reached the eyes of any editor, never having been digitally transcribed, never found among his personal possessions. Taken to the grave. Richard Preston will have this story. Richard Preston will realize his dream of co-authoring a work with Michael Crichton. Richard Preston will ascend to greatness.

A thud. He has hit lacquered mahogany. He tosses the shovel aside and digs with bare hands, revealing his prize. He tears his shirt on a corner. He does not notice. The lid is opened. With assured purpose, he searches under the body, under the pillow, under the lining. He finds nothing. Panic rises. His frantic gaze then settles on the body. The burial suit is torn asunder. There: a stack of papers, secured to the abdomen by strips of duct tape. Richard Preston grabs at them, secreting them away in his waistband, hidden under torn shirt. In his mania, he tears the final bits. He does not notice a small piece of the lower right-hand corner left behind, hidden under a strip of tape.

— —

Richard Preston has retreated to his shack in the woods. The small room is lit by a trash can fire; smoke roils on the ceiling, escaping through narrow cracks in the thatch. The floor is naked boards. He is bent over a sun-bleached writing desk, poring over the notes. A rising despondency grips him by the throat. Where paragraphs should exist, there are only phrases. Where developed personality traits ought to be, there are only job descriptions. This is unlike any manuscript Richard Preston has encountered before. In fact, the manuscript reads like… draft notes.

The realization sweeps over him: Richard Preston must write words. He has dreaded this day for nearly eighteen years. He never intended to supply great stretches of narrative. The process of fictional composition is mysterious to him. One to whom it is not mysterious is Jezebeth, the demon of falsehoods. It is she who was the true author of The Hot Zone. For Richard Preston harbors a dark secret. Richard Preston is no writer.

Richard Preston is a wielder of arcane magicks.

He steels himself and reaches under his desk. He finds the old mason jar, and brings it to the flaming trash can. The top is discarded. Inside is a mixture of animal bones, widow’s tears, vulcanized rubber, and salvia. Eyes rolled back in his head, he recites a dark incantation and drops the brew into the fire.

— —

A lost child stumbles into the shack, finding Richard Preston face down upon the floorboards, naked, surrounded by aborted attempts at origami, unable to be roused. He steps gingerly over the prone form, avoiding a half-swan. He finds some food — a cabinet full of Triscuits, unpackaged and standing in stacks of twelve — and notices papers on the desk. The papers seem to be draft notes for a story. The child is intrigued. He won a writing award in seventh grade before running away from home. He spots something in the lower right corner: “Research plants” is scrawled just above a small tear in the paper.

He then notices a cardboard box in a far corner, decrepit with age and thorough with rot. He walks over to it and tugs at the top flap. The soggy material disintegrates, and a hundred unsold hardcovers of The Demon in the Freezer spill to the floorboards. He picks one up. It fills him with a sense of disquiet; he does not think of reading it. He turns it over instead. On the jacket cover is a picture of the author. He looks from the jacket to the man on the floor, and back again. He realizes that this is the Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone, inspiration for him to quit school in the seventh grade after realizing that a world with ebola is a world without meaning. Clearly his hero has come into a bad way. The child will help Richard Preston in his time of need. He returns to the writing desk, grabs the draft notes, and strides purposefully out the door, stepping over a half-tulip, heading for the library.

— —

The child returns to the shack, a stack of paper clutched tightly to his breast. Again he steps over Richard Preston’s sprawled figure. He sets the papers neatly beside the typewriter. He has combined an old biology report on rainforests with a character narrative framed by the draft notes. He has followed all of the notes that were on the page. He has followed none of the notes that were not. He stokes the trash can fire, bends down, sweeps aside a half-sailboat, and gives Richard Preston a kiss on the forehead. He walks into the woods. He is eaten by wolves.

— —

Richard Preston has taken an upright position. His head swims, his hands shake, and his stomach seizes. This is Jezebeth’s toll; he can feel the gap left in his abdomen where she burrowed. He is ravenous for Triscuits.

He crawls through a family of half-frogs to his writing desk to see what the demon may have wrought on his typewriter. He is surprised to find a very neat font, with nonuniform letters, line widths bound precisely to one-inch margins around the page. This is not at all like what happened last time. And it is theoretically impossible for a typewriter. Such is the nature of the dark arts.

He quickly tucks the new manuscript into an envelope; to gaze upon it too carefully before it enters the editing process would be to undo the work entirely. But he does notice a Post-It affixed to the title page, with what appears to be the hesitant calligraphy of a childlike hand. Creepy. He tosses the note directly into the trash can fire, sending its demonic machinations back to Hell. He then seals the envelope and gives his story unto the mail, addressed to HarperCollins. Richard Preston returns to the floor, the weight of destiny pulling him down. He sleeps.


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Back on the Wagon

I was recently inspired to shovel some coal back into the tender engine running the Xbox. I enjoyed an eight-month run as a member of society, but falling temperatures and a primal desire to trade physical exertion for coziness have won over. This is a dangerous time, life chronometer-wise, to take up hobbies of any creed or mode of dress. The barometer has fallen sharply, and a dark and turbulent stretch of thesis writing is on the horizon. The air smells of ozone and poorly-constructed sentences on the nature of dark matter. This is a storm that must be weathered with all vigilance. I have asked Siri for directions from my Current Location to employment at a grocery store; Route 1 is a slippery slope.

Thus it was with a distinct feeling of illogic that I laid monies for a new game. The vessel of vicariousness I chose was one called Dishonored. The choice was not made lightly, but, as with all major life choices, was the culmination of a search through every Internet there is, tallying those anonymous spirits which point apparitional fingers toward that thing you want to do and say “yeah dude worht it.” Not that they could have easily dissuaded me, as the promise of a game where freedoms with consequences are introduced has strong allure. I don’t recall ever finishing Red Faction: Guerrilla; I think I was too busy knocking holes in walls and then walking through them repeatedly, manic grin on my face, recalling the days of Nintendo when your environment was immutable. Being able to approach a task from any particular angle is not only liberating, but rewires some rat’s nest of dendrites near the front of the brain, forever changing the way one perceives the world. I hardly use the door to my apartment anymore.

Dishonored seems to be about rolling in human filth and eating food found in sewers, in a time of plague. I have on occasion been known to miss the point, but this is the aspect outstanding to me. There isn’t a single facet of the game which is not constantly turning around to you and saying “bro, outbreak, not a good day for whatever it is you want to do.” There are literally posters on walls reminding you. NPCs will not shut up about it. Rats abound. It hardly seems appropriate to be eating tins of fish out of dumpsters. The outrageous bit is that the game rewards you for this behavior by increasing your health, rather than immediately laying you out with the flux.

In between episodes of consuming trash, you are expected to perform acrobatic feats and, optionally, get into fights. I avoid the latter, for three reasons: (1) I am my mother’s son; (2) I’ve played Halo too many times to be enticed by the prospect of battle with belligerent Englishmen; (3) the game doesn’t want me to. I am frequently offered incentives for passing by an opportunity to rumble, be they in the form of ethereal Achievement Points, or fewer rats down the line (seriously), or 10% off my next meal at Pizza Pie-er. This means doing battle of a different kind, with the ill-conceived notion of “hiding” in video games. One typically hides by concealing about 50% of your body behind a thing, and that is considered close enough, because legs are really the indicator of a troublemaker. Occasionally some enterprising individual spots you anyway, despite your efforts and intentions, which I guess is supposed to be a life lesson. You start to take exception, before you remember that, in fairness, you were just kind of standing in a bush and expecting that sort of thing to be okay. Rightfully you should have been spotted about five steps into the level, and you have thus far been saved only by a high level of unprofessionalism amongst the computer-controlled gestapo.

Then you turn into a dog or something, and that’s cool.


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Zombs On The Tee-Vee

I am going to stick my neck out, or extend my arm outside of the moving vehicle, or avail myself of the glory hole, or whatever your preferred metaphor for risky behavior may be. I am going to make the statement that I enjoy watching The Walking Dead mostly because of the outrageous violence. Feel free to pontificate on character development, well-maintained evolving story lines, and great camera work. Agreed that those are all positives. But if you are a hardcore subscriber to those things, try tuning in to any other AMC production, because they do it much better. This show is made great by unrepentant head trauma infliction. I refuse to carry on bloviated discussions that dance around this core facet any longer. Along that line of thought, Talking Dead is a truly stupid thing, and Chris Hardwick irritates me to no end. Between that guy and the entire Ghost Hunters team, I have spent a lot of time recently praying for people to be reincarnated as toilets.

Edit: spolier alert, season 2 mid-season finale, next sentence.

Yes, the girl was in the barn the whole time and they had to put her down, that’s whatever. Consider that point as read. I tune in for the facial perforations. I do acknowledge that the folks doing makeup deserve all of their awards and nominations. Were I to be completely candid, however, this is just icing. The walkers could look like they just staggered out of an 8-bit video game, and I would not particularly mind. In fact, that might be preferable, vis-a-vis escapism. My entire life is a constantly evolving character-driven narrative, and I see people who look like they’re dead every time I leave the apartment. The only thing in that show that doesn’t resemble my daily routine is the use of a katana in anger.

I realize that claiming enjoyment of that sort of thing calls into question my entire moral character. To quote Biggie: fuck ’em, I didn’t want to go to Heaven anyway.


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Saturday Morning Breakfast Ramble

Do you Tweet? I do not Tweet. I phone. I blog. I face. I chat. I tube. I snap. I lick. I golf. I do have a Twitaccount, originally obtained so that I could unlock extra Angry Birds levels. I’m not really sure what I’m expected to do with it other than that. I keep it so that I can follow two things, or people, or whatever Twittererers are: TNG_S8, and wekriskross. That is essentially my universe, triple distilled, served in a chilled tumbler. Not a tumblr. That’s another thing I don’t have or understand.

Speaking of folks who fail at jumping on social media bandwagons, I enjoyed watching CNN’s version of the presidential debate. The opinion indicator taught me that undecided Colorado women voters really enjoy higher education, while men sometimes like it and sometimes hate it, but both sexes generally enjoy spoken words, or maybe just buttons. As long as we’re adding future tech to our heads-up displays, I strongly advocate remote sensing of both candidate’s vital signs. Next to that, animated waveforms and needle indicators that flicker wildly, like we’re in some kind of Science Room. Below that, real-time stock indicators soaring through record highs and lows in response to candidates’ reactions to being asked questions about things. In the lower right, a mini-map showing terrain we’ve already explored, and all of our own units in green, and other units in red. In the center can be a pop-up box that tells me when the dryer is finished. CNN should either do this or redirect effort into fixing global warming or curing cancer, but no more half-measures.

And speaking of half-measures, last night was that night that one sees Taken 2 for some reason. The name alone sets off warning bells. This is not Scream; I feel that the appropriate action for a movie which tries to take itself seriously is to come up with a title other than “Sequel.” And Liam Neeson does take things very seriously, though nothing moreso than getting a driver’s license. Whatever the fuck that has to do with anything, we shant know. Here are some thoughts and spoilers in list form.

  • Liam Neeson either won or lost all of the fights; it’s hard to tell since the cameraman seemed to also be brawling with some unseen assailant, or perhaps simply his or her own personal demons
  • Liam Neeson learns things by reading books, and, if you want, you can borrow them
  • In Istanbul, it is acceptable to run over any number of people while plowing through a bazaar
  • In Istanbul, it is acceptable to throw grenades anywhere you please. If you destroy a reservoir holding clean water for a building full of people, +5 points
  • In Istanbul, it is not acceptable to abuse taxi services
  • It is customary to enter the US embassy by way of driving through the cardboard guard shack. People may shoot at you. If your car is made of metal, you will be okay
  • If you have just entered the embassy after leaving half of its host country a smoldering ruin, that is fine, those things happen. Recent history has taught us that people in the Middle East have great respect for our embassies
  • The door is actually open for Taken 3. If there is no Kraken, Ryan will flip the fuck out


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Lockjawbot

You are a Providence DPW worker. You stand, shoulders slumped, mouth agape, on a busy sidewalk. Directly in front of you, a foot from the curb, is a traffic sign. This sign has made some grave transgression against the City, and it is your job to remove the iconoclastic guidepost completely, shaft and all, before it can cause further chaos. Somewhere in desolate, wind-scoured badlands of your mind, a lone synapse indolently fires once or twice before slouching over and calling it a day. “This sign doesn’t really look like an agent of mayhem,” it says. “It seems unnecessary to remove it wholesale. We could just remove the sign and leave the post, or replace it with a different sign.” But, meh, your brain just works here. We gotta get this sign out of the ground and then make sure rainwater is flooding the streets before we go to the bah.

You are faced with two choices.

  1. You can break into the concrete around the post and remove the entire assembly. This will leave a small crater in the sidewalk, approximately the same size as every other crater already in the sidewalk, including the one your right foot is currently in. Patching it is entirely optional. The job will likely require a jackhammer, or maybe just a sledge.
  2. You can hack the sign off midway through the post, leaving a four-inch razor-sharp nub protruding from the pavement, which will become a bangin’ night club for C. tetani. You can optionally allow tall grass to grow through the cracks around the nub, effectively camouflaging it from people who might be trying to watch where they are placing their sandaled feet. The job will require any sharp tool that might be in the back of your pickup.

 

Can you intuit, based on the fact that there is an article about it, which option you choose?

Idiots.

Providence actually has an app for reporting woes on the go, called ProvConnex. You can use GPS to report your exact location, and you can totally upload some sick hazard snapz. You have to choose a specific category under which to file these reports, but they have conveniently left “tetanus” out of the listing. Luckily the picture says it all. The DPW web team will review my complaint and wonder, is that rusty piece of metal always covered in blood? Not always. Only when it matters.

Do you remember the date and location of your last tetanus shot? If you’re like me, computerized records don’t stretch back that far. Computers don’t really stretch back that far. I was feeling particularly slothful after I was bandaged up, so I decided to ask Dr. Interwebs if medical treatment was truly necessary. Tetanus sounds like Tetris, which brings a deluge of fond memories of ten-pound monochrome Game Boys and that Russian squat-dance. I ignored all of the Google links to the NIH and CDC websites and went straight for WikPed. Fun fact: the first symptom of the disease is “lockjaw.” I read that word and didn’t even finish the rest of the sentence, just stood up and made a beeline for the doctor. I refuse to contract pirate diseases.

I suppose I should be thankful that the injury wasn’t massive, and that I could limp into Health Services for prophylaxis, and now that I have I can wrap myself luxuriously in discarded barbed wire for another 7-10 years. I am not thankful. They stabbed me in the foot with rusty negligence.