An Impotent Illumination.

So this one has been a while in coming. And honestly, only because a friend pushed me. This is a short story (utter crass, I say, !) I wrote for a magazine that, in the end, decided not to publish it. 

Meh. Kids these days.

The man looked at the trigger in his hands. Then at the timer on his watch. Five minutes. Five minutes till the signal was strong enough. Till the plan came to fruition.

Five minutes till the world came to a grinding halt.

And they started it all over again.

It had been in the late 2020s that the first entirely autonomous organization, governed simply by a board of thirteen people, sprung up. The company ran itself, and had every operational base covered – finances, workforce, publicity, administration – every aspect, mass producing clothes and other apparel. The only humans the company employed were the thirteen that were responsible for opening doors that no amount of Artificial Neural Networks could be trained to or machines learn to do.

Politics,it seemed, was where the AI drew the line.

The Internet went crazy. The ratio of humans to machines in organizations had been going down around the world, but nothing of this stature had been planned or tried before.

After the first economic quarter the Company’s stock prices went up. The stock market oscillated violently. Numerous scams bubbled up. Fortunes were lost and made.

Rumors about the people behind it varied from a secret government organization to a collaboration of private, opulent multinationals to a group of crowd-sourced misanthropes. Explanations as to how it functioned spanned the spectrum, right from Computer Science at its peak to Aliens having made their first contact with a very naive and young human race.

Where the Internet did concur was the idea of “working for a living” coming to an end. A golden era where the machines did all the work and all you had to worry about was how well you lived.

The Arts flourished. Space exploration was being considered as the next big challenge. Nuclear fusion was on the verge of being tamed. The first comprehensive base was established on the Moon.

There was already an abundance of resources, the first asteroid having been mined in 2019; the treacherous NGNI-120C flew right between the Earth and the Moon.  Earth’s kitchen had been restocked. There was a new chef. And everyone at the table was hungry.

The second Company came up in 2030. It produced machine components. The board had ten people. The third had six.

No one had the dynamics figured out. At such a tumultuous time, who could ? Who could clearly say where this was headed ? Sure, there were heretics but when did that ever stop anything, or anyone ? There was no visionary; rather, there were too many. Everybody just rolled along, in one global, passive resonance, that this was where we wanted to go all along, this was the current mankind had been waiting to catch for over six thousand years.

The first blip came in 2043. In the form of a minor workers’ strike and subsequent riot on account of rampant layoffs.

There had been growing concerns about what to do with the working middle class which no longer had work and thus no longer earned money. The notion that money was no longer needed to explain one’s wealth was regarded, initially as a practical joke, then later with doubt and confusion. And the wealth and benefits of artificially intelligent autonomous beings taking charge of the daily so and so activities of the human race could not, or rather politically, would not be passed on to sections of the society which were weak, socially or economically.

As more and more robots got work done cheaply and efficiently, an increasing number of the people lost their jobs.

Assemble car parts ? We have a robot for that. Package products at the supermarket ? We built an automated system for that. Bank clerk ? We improved upon ATM machine and removed the human factor out of your banking experience! Are you a consultant ? Our Analytics sector handles that now !

A disruptive murmur, almost a whisper initially, creeped into the global commentary. “We can’t live this way !”, it said,”we need to work !”. It seemed to say,”We need work to define ourselves ! Where do we go from here ? What do we do with all this free time ?”

That line of thought was for the privileged though. The poorer sections of the society became poorer. They could not survive in such an intelligent, labor-less world, a world where the physical labors of man were scoffed as inefficient and erratic. Machines were better in every way; and who ever cared for the human factor in a football stadium with immaculate construction ? You either learned how to deal with such technology, or died trying to.

On the other end, curiously though, the extremely wealthy also started looking for the human factor. Hedonistic splurging could only satiate the human mind so. And soon even the plutocrats started displaying a deep desire to work , if only to apply their minds in something productive.

To calculate the orbit of the next inhabitable planet on their own without using the computers; to invest in the stock market and not use an intelligent algorithm to predict stock trends; to hear the scratch of pen on paper and not mindless mechanical clicks or capacitive touchscreens.

But it was the people who ran these companies that controlled the world now – the way it developed, the people who received the benefits, the way the media reported. Any rebellion against their system was systematically crushed, being reprimanded with bad publicity thereafter to squish any such further thoughts.

This generation still remembers what it was like to work. The next generation will be different. They will never know work. They will be easier to control.

It seemed even the rebellious thought so. Thus, before it was too late, a plan was hatched. A plan to end the tyranny of the AI, and to go back to where it all started, Something that would get them back to how things were and start from scratch, doing things correctly this time.

And so, here he was, holding the trigger to a satellite that held the largest EMP gun ever built, albeit not for the purpose he had in mind. The EMP (or Electro-magnetic Pulse) would render every technological device and machine, every AI on Earth useless, disrupting electromagnetic properties of the materials that were used to manufacture them, effectively throwing back human civilization to pre-millenial times. The mid-20th Century was the closest he could fathom, if not further back.

He wondered what would happen after he pressed the button. The communications base on the moon would certainly be the only technological hub to look to. All the intelligence supplied to the base would make sure that the human race never went to being as under-developed as they were back in the 1950s.

It would just give people on Earth enough time to wrangle power from a few and give it back to the many. The closest any one could come to to restart the complex machine that was human civilization.

Kind of like a second chance really, he thought, but funny, though, how nobody will ever see – 

The timer on his watch went off. Time was up. The end.

He pressed the button, firmly, keeping his finger there for a few seconds longer than necessary.

He could see the power grid failing, the power switching off, through his window. He lit a cigarette as his room went dark.

To a new beginning. 

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Google Summer of Code 2014: Accepted !

Well, this summer just became super awesome !

I got accepted into the Google Summer of Code !

I’ll be working with mlpack, a scalable Machine Learning Library. My project deals with implementing Multi-Class Adaboost for mlpack.

Later, I’ll probably be shifting to another blog for GSoC related blogs.

Just wanted to put it out there. Really looking forward to this summer.

A new lens !

When I tell you how far and long this lens had to travel to sit snugly on my A-37, you’ll be left scratching your head.

Don’t worry, I won’t.

I just bought a 50mm f/1.4 lens. And the experience, however short, has been breathtaking.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures.

PS: A good friend of mine told me that I’m in my “noise is so cool” phase. I’m advised that it will pass soon. Hopefully (?)

 

Incredible sharpness. That plane of focus must be 2 cm wide. Less than an inch !

Incredible sharpness. That plane of focus must be 2 cm wide. Less than an inch !

A click by my brother outside the car. The low light performance is stunning. Just look at the hues.

A click by my brother outside the car. The low light performance is stunning. Just look at the hues.

My niece.

My niece.

Testing out the DoF.

Testing out the DoF.

A weak attempt at a bokeh, inside a moving car.

A weak attempt at a bokeh, inside a moving car.

Because I’m spending too much time apart from my camera, I have only so many to preview. More to come later on.

My list of Incompletes.

This year’s reading list.

I have been trying to do this for a while, but finally, I think, making a comprehensive and loud commitment out of this would help me read all the books I’ve bought (sometimes on an impulse) and not read.

Yep. I’m pretty sure we all have that list.

I’ve been trying to get my head wrapped around TZ Lavine, but getting a complete picture is too hard until you have it a coursebook (probably an intro to psych course). The same thing happened with “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. I took too long with that too.

“Nausea” was an impulse buy on a recommendation by an aunt, but Existentialism is too complicated right now, especially being introduced to it in Sartre’s own words. “Confessions” by Tolstoy is my father’s. And “Blue Citadel” and “Life is Elsewhere” were birthday gifts I haven’t got around to yet.

“Lord of the Flies” just slipped my view otherwise it would have been over quite a while back and again, I had trouble getting used to Camus’ narrative. Currently, I’m going through Berger, a recent addition (along with Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”), and Walden, treating each as a series of essays…hopefully I’ll get the first six finished this semester.

I don’t think I’ll ever get through “Anathem”. Or “Shadows of the Mind” by Roger Penrose for that matter, which should be a thesis on advanced theoretical computational philosophy. No, seriously.

Music: moving on.

This might end up being too extreme, but I’ve decided to stop listening to any track in my Music collection.

It’s been a while since I’ve really listened to something new, something I really really took to. The first time that happened was to Linkin Park, back in early 2000s, then Metallica, then Maiden and Tool; Pink Floyd and Simon and Garfunkel followed soon after, and later some Blues; now, after three years of peer pressure, EDM.

I’ve picked up some alternative and punk rock; not to forget some absolutely amazing Post-Rock too ! But for the last two years or so, I’ve not really expanded existing or explored new musical horizons, apart from Avicii or Walldahl or Vicetone in the last few months.

Which is horrible. And apathetic. Or horribly apathetic. Bleargh !

It is the equivalent of sticking to the same gym routine for a year, reading the same couple of books over and over again, or re-mapping keys to different shortcuts while keeping your dotfiles functionally the same.

Or basically typing

sudo pacman -Syu

everyday for the last year.

So I’ve decided to stop listening to any track in my Music collection.

Instead, I’ll make a point to continually explore new artists. Each day, or each song will be one I haven’t heard of.

Quite extreme huh ?

I’ve given myself time to research artists and genres. It’ll be a fortnightly cycle. I’ll give myself a break after two weeks for a week then start again. I’ll keep you posted.

I start New Year’s Day. You know, just for that psychological clean slate.

Image

A trip to Dehradun.

 

I was at my aunt’s place in DehraDun, hence the brief silence. But I got busy with my camera there.

She just loves him.

Having fun. That’s me on the right there.

I’m not a macro person at all, but the way this turned out I was surprised.

Orange pickle in the making, I guess.

There’s just too much drama in this part of their balcony.

Still wondering what this was for.

The green texture on the book. This was an address book.

Their driveway.

On our way to Dhanaulti, a little higher than Dehradun. It had just snowed a day ago.

Slight use of a polariser. The sky turned out great.

Sunlight peaks out of the forest in Dhanaulti.

A frozen leaf.

I’m waiting for my 50mm/1.4. It was due in early Dec, but got delayed by a month. So now hoping to get it before the spring semester starts.

The terrible case of the two linux(e)s.

Houston, we have lift-off.

Not after quite a few hiccups, that is. On Monday, I formatted my laptop, removing my current install of Windows 7 and  Arch Linux. Having a rescue disk and a bootable USB at hand I was not worried.

I was wrong.

Over the last year or so, I had not overhauled my system. My current W7 ran without a desktop configuration file; I could not place icons on the screen and my Arch was throwing tantrums. And the whole machine was slowing down.

Hence the grossly thorough crackdown. Everything had been backed up, all the docs backed up on Google Drive and what-not save files taken care of.

After inserting and reinserting my rescue disk a couple of times, I realized that my CD tray was going to be of any help. Another casualty of technological redundancy. USB ports rule now and the wise words of (Dr.) Sheldon Cooper, ” Can you imagine a world without USB ports ? Oh, the horror !!! “, came back to me. Huh. 

Okay. I tried using my dad’s laptop to create a bootable USB for windows, from my rescue disk. Did not work. Turns out the CD, too, was damaged. So my plan of starting with windows and dual booting with Arch later on was out the window.

Linux had to go in first.

Now if you’ve hopped from OS to OS, looking for a perfect fit, you might have come across Arch. If you have, then you know that no other installation process is so self-involved or bare-bones, throwing you into the deep end of the pool with nothing more than a wiki to hold onto than Arch’s.

But a comprehensive and omniscient, raggedly efficient Wiki at that. One of the best I’ve seen out there. Still there’s a lot of places you can go wrong before you’ve even got the Desktop Environment up.

My ruination, this time, seemed to be the partitioning and the GRUB. After going through multiple installs, file-system definitions and declarations, and incorrectly installing the GRUB (mind you, the GRUB, not syslinux) on the wrong sda/b, I finally gave up.

For a day.

I left it on Tuesday, hung out with a couple of friends, saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ( sm-a-u-g not sm-o-g ). Quite good, I must say. Just does enough to carry the story forward, with a lot of non-sense of Legolas and Tauriel and unnecessary connections thrown in just for the sake of elongating the story. You want to see more of Smaug, but that part is only about a fifth of the entire running time. Not less, but not quite enough.

Anyways back to this.

I’ve been jerked around quite a lot by Arch. So has another friend, but because of a little better hardware support, he doesn’t feel it that much. But there have been times when just a simple

pacman -Syu

wrecks your system. And then Ctrl-Alt-F2″ is your saviour. Another time, your sound card stops working, but what hurts the most is when your graphics driver messes up color configurations on vim and urxvt. Back, then, to good old Sublime Text. 

All this running through my head, I decided this was the best time to go for Ubuntu, the dumb man’s linux. Easiest-to-use, gnome-revertible Unity, popularly blogged on across the world, good hardware support (awesome color configs ! Yay !).

It’s not like I was giving up or anything; and I had used Ubuntu countless times for HDD recoveries, so there was that. Apart from, you know, Ubuntu actually being my first linux OS.

But I was so familiar with pacman ! And the awesome wiki and forums ! And a part of my ego did not want to type

“sudo apt-get”

every time. But I was also fed up with the constant never ending tweaking of my base system. The constant fear of breakdown, cradling a fragile state of the system.

Having almost installed Ubuntu, I made a decision to try Arch one last time. One more chance.

After spending the entire morning going over my filesystem and grub directories after mounting them, I figured that my GRUB cfg was using the sample file to read UUIDs and the file that I was generating was being saved as *.new.cfg. 

I  just renamed this to the original file and deleted the old one and shifted every filesystem onto sda and voila, it worked !

With a sigh of relief I installed Gnome, and later, the entire pack of Chromium, vlc and Transmission. Probably the only thing that I needed then.

And yeah, contrary to common sense, I still have a lot, and I mean a LOT, invested in my Chrome and Google profile. This still freaks out a few of my friends. But more on that later.

I’ve still got a ways to go – configuring my urxvt, vim, zsh. And tmux. And my mpd, ncmpcpp.

As a friend said, in a rare moment of clarity, ” tweaking arch = actually making arch “.