Thursday 31 October 2013

That's about all there is to it

"You can start now."

That's about all there is to it really, but you've already started. The decomposition started sometime the day before. Probably about eighteen hours earlier your brain switched into gear from idling, from what has become the 'day to day' background radiation anxiety that has been breaking up your psychological cell structure. At first you were anxious about the exam, but you lost track of that somewhere down the line and it just kind of did what it wanted to.

By the time they're saying 'you can start now', they're actually talking about something else. They're talking about writing, and your hands fire into action, but action might be too strong a word. The one thing that never really recovered from that accident you had in 2003 is that your fine-motor-skills never really picked up again. A decade on and you can still feel the frustrating lethargy of your typing speed, and as your fingers crawl irritatingly slowly across the keyboard you come to the inalienable conclusion that you absolutely definitely have to go to the bathroom.

You state it as a matter of fact, because the communication centres of your brain aren't filtering for protocol anymore, and it doesn't even occur to you at the time that you probably need to ask before standing up and heading for the bathroom, given the exam conditions and all.

Perhaps your arse is conspiring against you to slow your defecation to the point of near total bowel inactivity. That's ridiculous. A single conspirator does not a conspiracy make. Some part of your brain would clearly have discovered how to wrench back control over of parts of your digestive system that one traditionally thinks of as involuntary. You aren't really in a position to know what the unknown corners of your brain might be up. One generally isn't. That's the point. Who knows what shenanigans our brains get up to? You've been around long enough to know full well that you aren't the boss of your body, and it can pretty much do what it likes. That's absurd. You're not there yet. Maybe you're just sick.

You have been unwell lately. No appetite, but you eat anyway, because it's what you should be doing. Headaches. Perhaps your body is failing. If you push too hard you might die right there on one of the few toilets on campus frequented mostly by staff. There goes that research assistant position. You suppose though that if you are dead, it doesn't really matter who finds you. Fuck you should really see a doctor. Well, you are seeing a doctor, but you should stop focusing on all the mental health stuff and make a little time to double check for shit-death. No one ever checks for shit-death. It's probably some kind of cancer, and you'll die slowly over a course of months. The chemotherapy and the gradual deterioration of your body will stop you from making the most of the time that you have left. What a tremendous fucking burden you'd be then. At least the people that had grown sick of you would see an end insight. It's important to remain positive.

You suddenly realise that you have been sitting with your pants around your ankles staring at the tiles, building your own private panic room for what you would later discover was about fifteen whole fucking minutes in the middle of your exam.

You walk back into your solitary confinement, and apologise meekly to the guard. She says it's 'fine' as she makes a note of how long you spent in the bathroom. She hasn't decided yet whether you were cheating or just constipated. In the end it comes down to whether she posts it to the disciplinary board or to facebook. 'lol exam dude went to the toilet for 15mins! He might have shit-death'.

You sit down and the exam kind of makes sense. I mean they're words on the page that you understand, and it is in English after all, but you're fairly certain that something on your end isn't holding up its end of the bargain. You gentle realisation sets in that you are in no way whatsoever going to help yourself out with this exam.

Online dating is scary. You have no idea who you're talking to. It could be anyone. Your sitting there, terrified, trying to 'be honest' about yourself and the only thing that goes through your head is that someone is lying about their age and you're going to turn up to meet someone in a cafe and they'll turn out to be sixteen, and there are television cameras everywhere, "You look much older in your photo."

"Are you a kiddy fiddler?"

"No. I'm pretty sure that I'm not", but you know what, that doesn't really matter. They'll edit that bit out, as well as the bit where you spent two hours approaching women of a similar age bracket as yourself asking them if they're there to meet some guy they met on the internet. Instead they'll focus on the sweat on your upper-lip, it's a dead give away. They'll zoom right in to avoid showing the fact that you're clearly terrified and sweating from every pore in your body as you try to make sense of what is happening.

The video goes viral and it ends up being the pilot and debut episode of the new primetime reality show that's "all about the social justice", and they call you back for the finale so that they can film you getting your dick cut off by your cell mate.

You're trying to get question two to compile and they're cutting your dick off while Australia tunes in. The ratings are enormous. Your castration is right up there with all of the MasterChef grand finals, because you know, "The social justice of it all". Really though, a lot of people who wouldn't normally watch this sort of reality TV bullshit tune for the sole reason that there is a good chance that this kind of thing doesn't see a second season.

No one is really interested in the truth or that you feel your might have been treated unfairly, because this is Australia, and the only way they would get on your side is ten years down the track when they can delude themselves into thinking that they were on your side all along, and more importantly when you finally give them someone to blame. At this stage it probably isn't that important to get enough evidence together to prove that you were never guilty of anything and you were simply railroaded by public opinion.

You check back in briefly and the exam hasn't finished itself, but you do notice that you've written a good deal of gibberish. A quick survey of the material tells you straight away that it won't compile, and that some of your variables have names taken from the nightmare scenario you've just indulged. It occurs to you at this point that you may have also said whatever was on your mind while you were checked out. You glance again at your guard, trying desperately to figure out who she reports to.

Perhaps you could write a plea for help in the exam.

// help they're going to cut my dick off on channel 9

The problem is that you don't know who is going to mark it. Your cry for help might turn up as an 'admission of guilt' six months down the track. People are weird like that. It pretty much doesn't matter what you do or say, because it has zero impact on the reality that other people choose to believe. You know that. There is a whole world out there of people who basically couldn't care less about your right to your own reality, because they want theirs. They'll believe what ever suits and you get to live with the consequences. Your guard casually tells you that you have five minutes remaining which is enough at this stage not to engage the multiverse of enforced realities that you might have to deal with later on down the track. There are more pressing matters. You have an exam to fail.

You manage to spend the last five minutes of the exam removing expletives getting everything to compile. It probably won't do anything, but there is the slight possibility that it won't throw up any errors just trying to do that nothing. You grab your bag, apologise whatever you mumbled as you wondered whether people might buy your book if your dick was cut off. Not that your book is on sale to be bought. Not that it is even finished, but you'll have a lot of time on your hands when no one wants to spend time with you or employ you.

How would you make ends meet if you weren't employed? You're such a thoroughly disorganised screwup that you can barely keep your shit together when your ducks are all in a row. How easy would it be to become homeless? People's patience must have already worn thin by now, I mean your past thirty and you haven't got any useful qualifications. That's why you're back at uni. You saw that girl the other night that you thought was homeless that looked like someone you might have met before. You aren't sure that she was homeless, but you are. You didn't want to double check, just in case you did know her, and also just in case you didn't. You don't even know what you're afraid of for a second there, but in no time at all you have built a myriad of inevitable life journeys that revolve around your rapid decline into homelessness, where you don't get the medical attention that you need to prevent whatever it is that is killing you.

If you hadn't been hit by that car ten years ago, maybe things might be different. To be fair though, the car might b least of your problems. But, you might have issues with things like exam time limits, and all of that jazz. You might have the back pain, and everything else that came along with it. Good thing it doesn't happen again. I mean, you cross dozens of roads a day. There are so many cars on those roads, and most of those cars could put you in the hospital. If the wind was just right, and you weren't looking, even a smartcar could do you a fairly solid mischief. What if you hit your head next. Like, you really clanged it up, and whole head slowed down, departmentally speaking. What would you do then? Slow head, slow hands. You could still do lots of things. Well, honestly, other people could still do lots of things. It's pretty apparent that you already can't do lots of things, but the list would just get longer.

When the bus stops you are careful to steer away from the crowd lingering ominously close to the road. The tight angles and slow motion that they would use on daytime TV are all too apparent. You take the stairs slowly and hold on to the handrail as though the future of your clarity of thought depended on it, because it does.

You're derailed long enough to realise that your jaw and teeth ache from the clenching. At least you haven't been talking. Who knows what you could've been saying? It's been a while since you last went to the dentist, and you went super diligent with the whole teeth brushing as kid. They're probably going to need to come out any day now, if they don't just fall out on their own. Your teeth could just grind to powder inside your mouth while you were sleeping. You'd use a pre-powder mouth photo for your online dating profile. I'm not saying it's definitely going to happen, but it's definitely going to happen. You'll just have to get used to the horrible taste of infected gums, cause boy are they going to get infected when you cut them up on the crumbly stubs of what were once naturally straight teeth.

It's going to be a while before your brain ticks back to idle, but it occurs to you that these days there really isn't that much of a difference. Some days it's a couple of things, and others you'll lose 22 hours to the longterm, often fatal side-effects of misplacing your bus ticket that had two rides left on it. It isn't even consistent, but then that would make it even slightly rational. You have one incredibly useless skill that looks terrible on a resume and causes you to live in nearly constant fear. You aren't even unique in that.

You pickup five kilos of cheap bananas, because you're fairly confident in your ability to participate in basic financial exchanges, and it's the sort of thing that people who aren't getting their dicks cut off get involved in. If you get five kilos you don't even need to explain that the reason you are paying with a twenty is because you aren't sure you can think clearly enough to count properly, besides you'll give most of them to the people you live with, because you love them, and you are hoping that even if they forget you, somehow they will remember the bananas. As if somehow the bananas will hold back the tide of far more important things to remember. Bananas are good like that.

That's about all there is to it.

Tuesday 29 October 2013


Given that we now live in an age in which touchscreen read-a-ma-jigs are consumer goods, and that I have a couple that lurk about my life begging for a basic sustenance of wi-fis and power-watts, it seems perverse that I would be reading a tactile as all fuck, hard copy, print edition of Bruce Sterling's Globalhead. The dude is cyberpunk. He is the guy that pointed fingers and named names with Mirrorshades, and there is actual ink on actual pages. I'm practically choking on the ham-fisted irony of it all.

Whatever format you manage to find it in, Globalhead is an above-average collection of above-average short fiction written by this one guy who is far more interesting than he lets on. Bruce Sterling is that certain brand of conman, who has some how managed to convince the world of his own lack of importance, but in reality what he has done is quietly produce an abundance of something exquisite out of the perversely mundane. As my years have ticked on I have occasionally found myself presented with the works that he has deigned worthy to be free, whether they be podcasts, novels, short stories, non-fiction, whatever, and without exception I have found the view on the world with which I am presented Borroughsian in its aptitude for making me reassess what was admittedly a fairly limited outlook on my own reality.

Like Burroughs, he seems to drift around under the surface where even people who have heard of him have often failed to actually ingest anything he has produced himself. For me, for a long time, he was the Mirrorshades guy, and then later the other Difference Engine guy who isn't Gibson, and only later was he a proper entry in my literary vocabulary. Sometime around when I first read The Artificial Kid. I guess, like a lot of people that have written cyberpunk over the years, his greatest crime was that he didn't write Neiromancer, in the same way that Diana Wynne Jones didn't write any of the Harry Potter books. Their names and their output go unrecognised in the wake of the iconic representation of their genre, but in both these cases what you are deprived of is a rich and varied body of work. As Jones is to children's fantasy, Sterling is to an era of science fiction, and you would be hard pressed to find someone in each respective arena who has explored it more thoroughly.

In writing each of the various entries in Globalhead, Sterling has drawn on a truly herculean list of ingredients and influences, and has produced an arcane distillation of the late Twentieth Century that lies heavy with concepts of dangerous nationalism and technological nightmares. Sterling is clearly a man with a gift for the ordering and arrangement of fine words, but what sets him apart from the vast majority of other writers is his strength for variety, making Globalhead the perfect introduction to his body of work.

Beyond whats already mentioned, I highly recomend Zeitgeist, his closing keynote for IDEA 2006 (available free as a podcast), and The Hacker Crackdown, Law and Disorder in the Electronic Frontier, which is available as both a book through iTunes and as an app through the App store, which, as I write these words, am currently trying to download. A lot of his work is far harder to get hold of than it should be, but I'm yet to come across something that wasn't worth the effort.

In the end, I get off on Sterling solely because of the way that he rolls. A lot of authors write a certain way, and that is kind of where it ends. You pick up one of their books and you know what you're investing in, more or less. Where Sterling differs is that for him it's about exploring ideas, and when you read Globalhead, you'll see what I mean. It makes sense that 'Our Neural Chernobyl', 'Storming the Cosmos', 'Jim and Irene' and 'The Sword of Damocles' all come from the same place and are available in the same place.

The image included above is the Bruce Jensen cover for the Bantam paperback edition.

Thursday 24 October 2013

Dance like everyone is watching

When it comes to the neuroheadset, the one specifically that exists in my life, there have been a number of questions. The most of them aren't remotely important to the work that I am doing, except as an exercise in explaining my role with increasingly efficiency, which has its own usefulness.

My role, which is primarily involved with validation of research, makes use of a neuroheadset that is not considered, by research standards, to be 'high resolution, state of the art equipment'. People question this, because there are bigger, better, and more bad-arse tools of choice roaming the halls of validation. The thing is, validation is difficult for a number of reasons, but probably the most frustrating thing is that most of the tools that we use for validation impact the results of that validation. Whether it is a camera, an audience or a state of the art neuroheadset wiring us for a better future, we are likely to perform to the camera, the audience or the headset. It becomes an invader in our environment, and the more unfamiliar it is, the more likely that we dance differently.

As technology pervades every corner of our existence, we adjust and it becomes a natural part of our environment. Not natural in that it grows on trees, but 'natural' under a definition that has not been co-opted by a specific agenda. This is where consumer grade electronics, as those electronics that exist at a price-point that is reasonable for people to purchase and use in their own homes, have the distinct advantage over The State of the Art.

If we can use the output from the camera in a $100 phone for rudimentary motion capture, that device becomes useful in gross motor skills training and assessment. You put that phone in the pocket of a competent athletics coach, you have less sports related injuries amongst adolescents. In the pocket of a competent physiotherapist or occupational therapist you reduce the longterm effects of prolonged injury or physical development issues.

Even though we dance differently for the device, it's familiar enough that we don't dance so differently. At the moment when we are rigged for neurovalidation, the duration of setup, number of trained professionals, geographical restriction and sheer size, complexity and alien nature of the 'device' all contribute to the way that we dance.

The neuroheadset that we are working with is high-end consumer grade electronics. It isn't a $100 smartphone being handed out with basic contracts. Not yet. Emotiv are working on another model, that is lighter, cheaper, easier to use and maintain, and (above all else) looks even more like something that you might find sitting on someone's desk next to their headphones. This is a device that we will find incorporated into game design and adapted to monitor concentration, sleep, and relaxation levels. It, or something like it, will become a part of all of our futures, and then we can see how you dance.

Saturday 5 October 2013

An updated sense of Unity

In early August I was talking about learning Unity in your own time. The original post mentioned that there were some issues completing the tutorial as described in more recent versions of Unity, and went on to say that there was 'nothing major'. This is wrong. I had originally completed the tutorial using OSX Unity 3.x, and have recently completed the tutorial on Windows 8 Unity 4.2.

Where you are really going to hit issues is with the sound. It turns out that the way in which Unity handles sound has changed over the years, and the Lerpz tutorial was never updated to accommodate these changes. This is something that the author of the tutorial freely acknowledges. His suggestions for getting your sound to work properly in the more recent versions of Unity didn't work for me. I scrounged around, and managed to learn a lot about the new Unity sound system in the progress. A few of the methods have changed, and some of the tags and components work slightly differently. It's a more complicated system, but not so complicated that you should be worried.

If you reach the audio section of the Lerpz tutorial ask a question in the comments, and I'll help where I can.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

All our wired futures

There was a recent discussion in Australia about the merits of the Labour Party's proposed National Broadband Network, which would see nationwide access to extraordinary bandwidth. The infrastructure for high-speed internet would be available to everyone, not just those that could afford it. The most frequent argument against their plan focussed on our current need for such a bandwidth, of which there is admittedly none. We do not need access to this bandwidth now, but we will need it. The best time to build infrastructure is before it is required.

The discussion stopped after the election, when our communications infrastructure future was decided. The Liberal Party's Fibre-to-the-Node plan will not future-proof us, it will create a system in which new tools will not be supported, and new tools will not be created. With such a small percentage of the population  able to justify the cost of fibre-to-the-Home, few will take it up, so few developers will see the point in developing high-end services, so no one will bother upgrading. The argument is cyclical.

The Labour Party NBN was a future of possibilities. In its scope it would've been a wonderland of centralised health networks, high speed government records searches, increased Australian internet entrepreneurship, and truly (most importantly) incredible educational services and resources. Under their proposal we would've been future-proof.

If you can't see the possibilities, the problem isn't the technology: the problem is you.