## Tuesday, October 28, 2008

### The Monty Hall Problem

My recent foray into math problems yesterday brought something interesting to mind as well. In fact, I was just discussing it at the office a couple of weeks ago, and it illustrates part of my fascination with probability. (Yes, the word "combinatorics" lies on the list of hobbies on my resumÃ©.) Even if you don't have a background in math, this is still a pretty good exercise.

The Monty Hall problem is actually a rather well-known probability puzzle. It's named after the original host of a 1960s game show called Let's Make a Deal, although I assume that Mr. Hall never actually came up with the situation below on live television. Regardless of that, for the purposes of this puzzle, you just happen to be a contestant on his game show.

For your final prize round, you are shown three closed doors:

The game is simple: Choose one of the three doors, and whatever lies behind it will be yours to take home. One of the doors has a car behind it, and the other two have goats.

Needless to say, you don't want to have anything to do with the goats, but you do want to win that car.

That little graphic above doesn't necessarily illustrate the actual positions of the car and the goats, of course. It's just there to give you an idea of what the game is like. Hypothetically, your potential prizes could also be arranged like this:

Or they could be arranged like this:

You don't know, really. All that you know is that there are three doors in front of you. You don't know which one holds the car, and you don't know which one holds the goats.

So you choose one of the three doors. It doesn't matter which one you choose, really -- given the circumstances, your chances of winning the car are obviously one in three, or 1/3.

But... wait a minute. Your host, Monty Hall, now decides to make the game a little more interesting. As a token of his generosity, he opens one of the other two doors (the ones you haven't chosen) to reveal... a goat.

Now he gives you a choice: You can either stay with the current door that you've chosen, or you can switch your choice to the other door. You still want to win that car, so... should you switch doors?

...

...

...

This is a lot harder for most people to wrap their heads around, it seems.

The common perception is that the switch doesn't matter. When your friendly game show host revealed a door with a goat behind it, he effectively cut down your choices to two doors. Each door therefore has a one-in-two chance of holding the car, or 1/2, which means that you have a fifty percent chance of winning the car regardless of which door you choose. That's just cake, right there.

Except that that's a fallacy of thought. It turns out that that's not the right answer.

It turns out that the correct reasoning sources from the very beginning of the puzzle, right as you're about to choose a door for the first time. Any door that you choose will obviously have a 1/3 chance of winning the car to begin with:

So let's say that you choose a door, along with its attached one-out-of-three chance of winning the car.

When Monty Hall opens one of the other two doors to reveal a goat, that effectively drops your chances of finding a car behind that door to zero-out-of-three:

But given this logic, the chances of the car being behind the third (unselected) door must be... two out of three!

And therefore it is actually in your best interest to switch doors -- because you have twice as much chance of winning the car if you do so!

I've seen arguments erupt over this proposition, of course. It wouldn't be interesting if I didn't know a couple of people who stopped speaking to each other over this. I did mention it, after all - some people just find it difficult to wrap their heads around such an idea. ("The probabilities change just because somebody opens a door? That's preposterous!")

If you'd rather see a more physical proof of this, however, consider the fact that there are really only six ways by which the car and the goats could be arranged:

Yes, the goats are considered to be distinct from each other. We can call them Bluebell and Cornflower, if you like. Or Laurel and Hardy. Or Bonnie and Clyde. For the purpose of this blog post, however, we'll call them One and Two.

Each column represents the range of possibilities that you have whenever you choose a specific door. What that means is that, given that you choose one of the three doors to start with, you effectively have a 2/6 chance of choosing the car outright, a 2/6 chance of choosing Goat One, and a 2/6 chance of choosing Goat Two.

If you choose the door with the car from the onset (a 2/6 chance), Monty Hall can open any of the two remaining doors to reveal a goat. In this case, it would definitely not be in your best interest to switch -- because the other door has a goat as well.

But if you choose a door with a goat from the onset (a 4/6 chance in total; you can get either Goat One or Goat Two), Monty Hall opens the only one of the two remaining doors to reveal a goat. In this case, it would be best for you to switch, because the other remaining door holds the car.

In short, given the situation above, it's better for you to switch doors two out of three times. And that's despite any intuition that screams the feasibility of a fifty-fifty chance.

* The goat silhouette was sourced from http://www.fotosearch.com. The car image (a Ferrari Enzo, if you're curious) was sourced from http://www.seriouswheels.com. Neither image is used for purposes of promotion or financial gain. Don't sue me, or I'll write another mathematical proof for you to read. And we wouldn't want that, now would we?

## Monday, October 27, 2008

### Fiber Optics

The Internet connection has always been a problem in our household. For one, it's about two or three times more expensive than the more common Internet services, and isn't that much faster in comparison. Then, there's also the fact that I'm the only one with a reasonable idea as to how it all works, so I have to suffer through the inconvenience of calls from my siblings at the most inopportune of times. The biggest issue, however, has always been the fact that we only have one connection for three young internet addicts, which results in quite a few conflicts every night.

As of last Friday, that third problem should be a thing of the past.

I don't remember why I'd put off getting a router for the longest time. Maybe I couldn't find something of good value. Maybe I didn't think that we had enough additional units to support it. Maybe I was afraid that it would suddenly come alive one night and try to chew on my artificial hairpiece. Whatever the case, I was pretty sick of having to wait four hours in order to write a blog post, so I took the plunge.

I got a nice recommendation from our favorite speakethed geekette, to whom I now owe dinner in exchange for a good router price. It took a fair bit of walking just to find the darn thing, and about half an hour's rooting through the usual mess of wires before I could get it up and running, but it almost immediately smoothed out our Net requirements. My mother has gotten rather curious as to how we could all suddenly work on our respective computers at the same time.

That said, it will probably be a while before our late-night habits will settle down. I've gotten a little too used to writing blog posts at two in the morning, whereas my sister already spends the wee hours of the morning editing her papers. I'm expecting that the situation will improve, though, especially with the new router in the mix.

The last benefit that I plan to pull from the new device, however, mostly applies to me. My exposure to work over the previous weekend pointed out that I might have to allow for such arrangements in the future; the presence of a wireless router means that I don't have to go through all the hassle of connecting and disconnecting LAN cables just to negotiate with my ISP. In short, I can work from home more easily now. Why I would possibly want to do that is still up in the air, but at least the opportunity is now sitting right at my desk.

All this leaves one lingering concern, I think: With such easy access to the Internet and everything that comes with it, should I now expect ourselves to mutate into reclusive zombies, refusing to do anything but surf the online waves every night?

Time will tell, I suppose.

## Sunday, October 26, 2008

### Mathematical

I've felt like doing a few puzzles for some time now, so humor me for this one. The local bookstore had some copies of a book called Hard-to-Solve Math Puzzles (by Derrick Niederman), and the first random page that I opened had something that caught my attention:

It turns out to be impossible to "reverse" a number by multiplying it by 2. In other words, there is no number of the form abcd, for example, such that abcd x 2 = dcba. (The equation is not only impossible for four-digit numbers, it is impossible for all numbers.)

However, there is a three-digit number abc in base 8 such that abc x 2 = cba. Can you find that number?

This was quite tempting, so I thought I'd answer it here... especially since I'm too lazy to grab a sheet of paper right now.

Okay... the first given that we have is that A, B, and C are all non-negative, single-digit integers that are each less than 10. Assuming that the number ABC is in base 8, its base 10 (i.e. regular decimal) equivalent would be (A x 82) + (B x 81) + (C x 80).

ABC base 8
= (A x 82) + (B x 81) + (C x 80)
= 64A + 8B + C

Using the same logic for the reversed number CBA:

CBA base 8
= (C x 82) + (B x 81) + (A x 80)
= 64C + 8B + A

Back to the original equation:

(ABC base 8) x 2 = (CBA base 8)
> (64A + 8B + C) x 2 = (64C + 8B + A)
> 128A + 16B + 2C = 64C + 8B + A
> 127A + 8B - 62C = 0
> 127A + 8B = 62C

From here, the first gut instinct I've got is that A has to be an even number. This is because, in order for C to be an integer, (127A + 8B) must be evenly divisible by 62. Thus (127A +8B) must be an even number, therefore 127A must be an even number, and as a result, A must be an even number -- either 0, 2, 4, 6 or 8.

If A = 0, then 8B = 62C and the solution is indeterminate. If A = 6 or 8, then 62C becomes greater than 558, and C has to be greater than 9 (which does not fit the given). Therefore A is either 2 or 4.

If A = 4, then 8B + 508 = 62C. Since 62C can only be equal to 558 at this point, we have 8B + 508 = 558, and 8B = 50, which gives an indeterminate solution. Therefore A = 2.

Seeing that A = 2, then 8B + 254 = 62C. 62C can hypothetically be any value among 310, 372, 434, 496 and 558 -- these are the only values where 6C is greater than 254 and C is an integer less than 10.

However, since B cannot be greater than 9, the maximum possible value for 8B is 72. This means that 62C cannot be greater than 326. Therefore 62C can only be equal to 310.

If 62C = 310, then C = 5.

Thus 8B + 254 = 310, and 8B = 56. Thus B = 7, and ABC is therefore 275.

To wrap up with a reconstituted proof:

[(64 x 2) + (8 x 7) + (1 x 5)] x 2 = (64 x 5) + (8 x 7) + (1 x 2)
> (128 + 56 + 5) x 2 = (320 + 56 + 2)
> (189) x 2 = 378
> 378 = 378

...Yes, I'm aware that most people do Sudoku in their spare time, or maybe the odd word search or crossword puzzle. Yes, I'm crazy.

Now, let's see what's next...

## Thursday, October 23, 2008

### Life and Death: A Character Profile

One of the discussion forums that I frequent decided to host a little creative challenge, which involved creating a random character and his/her background story. In this case, the character was supposed to be both "life-aligned" and "death-aligned", existent in a fantasy Pan-Hellenic setting, and open enough to be used in a possible nonlinear storyline. The inspiration hit me as I was heading home this evening, and I spent the last three hours writing up the entry for submission. I offer it up to you now because I just happen to like the work at the moment.

In the western quarter of Mirambar stands a single temple hewn from white marble and black obsidian. It stands greater and far more grand than almost any other temple in the Sacred City, yet sees no regular worshippers. The only citizens who come here are the most desperate of supplicants, offering sacrifices for fear of the god in question, and begging his mercy for those who would soon be lost.

This is the temple of Nemerion, ruler of the dead and lord of the greater underworld. And within the walls of its inner sanctum, the High Priest Temarcheus watches the people as they plead, weep and debase themselves before the most taciturn of gods.

Temarcheus has been the mouth of Nemerion for almost two hundred years now. His hair has turned gray and his skin has turned both sallow and pale at the endless vigil he keeps. Those people who know him would shudder involuntarily at his touch, or turn their faces away from his very presence.

It was not always like this. Temarcheus was a different man once before, a long time ago.

*

His mother was a healer. She was not one of Lainara's chosen, no matter how much she wished to be one, but she was benevolent and religious and would never turn away a person in need. She knew which herbs were good for which maladies, she knew how to make poultices to treat the most serious of wounds, and she knew that the priestesses of Lainara would constantly frown at her efforts. Most of all, however, she loved her husband and only son, and impressed upon Temarcheus a sense of the sanctity of all life.

And when Temarcheus's father fell gravely ill and all her backwater remedies could do nothing, she gave in to despair. The Lainarans told her that the disease was too far advanced in its stages, that there was nothing they could do but pray for their goddess's intervention, but Temarcheus and his mother knew the truth behind their wrathful eyes.

With nowhere else to turn, his mother prostrated herself before the priests of Nemerion, promising the only other treasure that she had: Temarcheus would be given over to them, raised as a cleric of the god of death, if only she would have her husband back. And in an uncharacteristic display of favor, Nemerion granted her request.

One day later, Temarcheus's father was once again up and about. It was a miracle, the priests whispered, and his mother would not forget her promise.

One week later, Temarcheus himself began his tutelage in the temple of Nemerion. It was a strange place with strange people, all hollow and sterile and devoid of life, but his parents were happy, and that was the only thing that mattered.

One month later, his father was killed when a team of wild horses set upon him on a busy street. His mother cried and screamed and wept for days on end.

Temarcheus was left sullen and numb. What cruel joke was this, he wondered, to have his own father taken from him after so much sacrifice in Nemerion's favor? The priests refused to answer his questions, ordering him to progress on his studies instead, and Temarcheus spent long hours looking for answers in the face of the great god of death.

His mother was never the same after that. It was as though she had aged forty years in the course of a single day. She trudged through the tiny home where they had once lived together as family, dazed and confused at the mere passage of time. She would look up only whenever Temarcheus came to visit; sometimes she would ask him why his father had not come home yet, or why he was not joining them for dinner. And whenever she spoke, Temarcheus could feel nothing but the sound of his own heart breaking just a little more each day.

On the day she finally died, the frustration finally became too great to bear. Temarcheus was with her in her last hours, holding her soft white hair in his hands, listening to her as she asked time and again as to where his father was. In his rage he carried her withered body to Nemerion's sanctum, ignoring the cries of his fellow priests, and set her on the altar before the great and terrible statue there.

As her life ebbed slowly away, he demanded answers from the distant god. He cursed Nemerion for his callous acts, and hurled accusation after accusation to the ever-rising winds. There was a roar of thunder then, and a terrible silence before Nemerion spoke... directly to the young man himself.

Death was always there, Nemerion had said. Death was always the inevitable end. Death knew neither good nor evil, neither malice nor compassion. It was the place of mortals to die, which was something that Temarcheus had never understood. Death waited for none. Death was, Death is, and Death will be.

And if Temarcheus refused to understand this lesson, Nemerion said, then he would have all the time he needed in order to do so.

Temarcheus would have insolently answered the god back right then, regardless of the consequences, if it were not for the slim, emaciated hand that suddenly caressed his.

His mother's eyes were open, her expression strangely peaceful.

"Do not question the gods, my son," she whispered, "but seek to know them as you would know yourself."

And with that, she died.

*

Temarcheus has been High Priest of Nemerion for almost two centuries. His figure is everpresent among the supplicants at the temple of the god of death. Some say that he is beyond human. Others whisper that he is little more than a ghost.

Temarcheus watches each and every visitor to the temple. He watches the poor plead for mercy. He watches the rich offer lavish sacrifices. He watches the philosophers rationalize Nemerion's will, and he watches the ignorant pay their own brand of lip service. He knows them all, he knows of the embrace that shall take them at the end of their lives, and he feels the pain of seeing each and every one of them die. He is the vessel of the god of death and lord of the underworld, but he is one with a conscience, who looks at the world through haunted eyes.

And through it all, he struggles to understand.

.

## Wednesday, October 22, 2008

### Agonistes Dentistes

That tooth has been acting up for the past two days now. It started tingling early Monday afternoon, only a couple of hours after I confirmed a dental appointment for Wednesday this week. By the evening of the same day, it was actually painful to the touch; I could poke it with a fingertip and set off alarm bells all over the right side of my face.

Naturally, I ignored it and went about my usual business. I go through a lot of stress on a daily basis already; what's one painful tooth?

I do find that it's quite distracting to the creative process, though, especially since I constantly run my tongue along its lower edge to see if the temporary filling is still there. Recent events have convinced me that I grind my teeth in my sleep; the last thing I need is the tooth breaking on me mere hours before I head to my friendly neighborhood dental officer.

And of course, this is a little funny, because I was made to believe that the underlying nerve was no longer active. This is a tooth that's well on its way to becoming deceased; I'm not supposed to feel anything at all. I guess that means that there's still life in the old boy yet.

Regardless, I'm sure I'm going to feel it when that drill bores into the enamel tomorrow afternoon. It's an experience that I'll be all too familiar with -- the concept of pain so great that it actually transcends the human experience -- but it'll be a good cost for the ability to to think scatterbrained thoughts again.

And to think that I'm looking at five or six of these sessions in total. Eh... just as long as the tooth doesn't bother me on a regular basis, I suppose.

## Saturday, October 18, 2008

### It's a Living

Work is spilling over my weekend at the moment. There's a significant server upgrade taking place halfway across the world, and while I don't have any direct involvement in the technical details, I've still got to watch it for potential problems.

What that means is that I'll have to be glued to my laptop around the clock for status updates -- 5:00am, 11:00am, 7:30pm and 2:30pm respectively -- and I'm keeping the phone lines open in case Europe feels a pressing need to call. I've handled weekend watchouts before, mind you, but none with the intensity of this one; let's just say that the consequences will be pretty bad if something goes wrong.

Fortunately, my weekend turned out to be fairly open; the only obligation I have involves the matter of my dad's death anniversary (which actually took place on the 16th, but we're dropping by his resting place on Sunday morning). The visit fits quite neatly into my schedule, which means that I don't have to consider uncomfortable questions like, "Is the cemetery a Wi-Fi hotspot?"

Speaking of Wi-Fi, the main issue I've encountered involves connecting to the company network in order to check my e-mails. I have a single cable internet connection at home, which I do plan to use after an eternity of attaching and un-attaching wires of various shapes and sizes. I had plans to pick up a wireless router last week in order to make the process more painless, but I never found the time to go shopping.

Of course, if my home internet connection goes down (or if I can't figure out the silly thing), then my next option is to head towards the nearest Starbucks for three straight sessions. Starbucks will only give you a connection if you're willing to pay for it, however, and I'm wondering if I can file an expense report for this. (Our Accounting department probably has a field day with my messages.) If that comes up short, I'll have to travel all the way to my office building and set up shop there. You don't need me to tell you how painful that option would be.

And that doesn't even consider the possibly of something happening to the upgrade -- something horribly wrong that could potentially stop operations, drop stock prices like a rock, and bring an end to the 21st-century world as we know it. (Yes, I'm exaggerating here.) However, if something does happen, then we go into full recovery mode, which will almost certainly require my time in the office for Sunday afternoon. Yes, this is still painful.

Not that I'm complaining, of course. This is my job, after all. I picked it up when the offer was made, and I was perfectly aware that there would be days like this. In these cases, I feel that it becomes less a question of a lost weekend, and more a question of whether or not the company will have some operations to return to on Monday. That's enough to convince me that I have to take some time out and provide some form of responsibility here.

So yes, I'll be glued to my laptop for a while. It won't prevent me from trying to enjoy a couple of days off work (so to speak), though; I'll just be a little distracted today.

Now let's just hope that something bad doesn't happen to Europe...

## Thursday, October 16, 2008

### Gesundheit

Sorry, I'm out wid a code right now. Must hab been dat rain las Sunday.

But seriously, my medical condition hasn't affected my typing. In fact, it shouldn't affect my typing (short of my spraining an arm reaching for the tissue box)... but it's a little fun to work this into the text somehow. You get something that feels a little like l33tspeak, without the burden of linguistic idioms.

In fact, "coldspeak" is a little more straightforward than other text effects -- you just replace all the hard "v" and "h" sounds with their softer counterparts, and you're all set. The only problem lies in finding a sentence that can effectively demonstrate your condition; you obviously won't be using those phonetics all the time.

Coldspeak aside, though... I've been out for the whole day. I spent the whole of yesterday sneezing every fifteen minutes, and my continually runny nose got some strange looks from a couple of people. The office clinic informed me that my allergies were most likely acting up because of the change in weather, and recommended that I get plenty of fluids and a bit of rest.

So far today, I've gone through half a box of tissues, realizing that I just asked for some sick leave before I actually felt bad enough to skip work. Gosh... my life is so dependent on the appointment book right now.

I don't get a lot of colds nowadays. Having gone through a lot of contagious diseases as a kid, I find myself woefully unprepared to get sick as an adult. My idea of curing a cold involves consuming massive quantities of soup (which isn't much different from when I don't have a cold), and looking for crazy things to do outside of the recommended rest. It's enough to frustrate the doctors in my family.

The worst part about colds, of course, involves having to sleep with them. Eventually your nose gets clogged and you find yourself breathing through your mouth. In my case, that means that my snoring immediately becomes louder and more obnoxious. It got so bad tonight that I actually woke myself up a few minutes ago.

The process of blowing my nose has also affected my computer habits, too. Now it seems that I have to stay a good distance away from the keyboard, lest my olfactory emissions go wild. I've had to clean a few keys so far, one of which turned out to be connected to the standby utility and almost caused me to lose this post. :/

I'm heading back to work tomorrow, though, so I probably won't have to worry about my home computer for a moment. I'd just have to worry about spreading the contagion to the rest of the company (and potentially to the rest of the world)... but really, what can you do when it's not an option to vegetate at home?

Ah well. I could have saved the world today, but I couldn't. Too bad.

*Sniffs*

## Monday, October 13, 2008

### Sanguine Thoughts

Now, let's suppose that you were a vampire...

...

Yes, darn it. My mind works like this on a regular basis. Let's get back to the topic at hand.

Let's suppose that you were a vampire. But I don't refer to the concept of the ultra-modern vampire as we now know it, so let's get all thoughts of Bela Lugosi, Anne Rice, Joss Whedon, Stephenie Meyer, and the World of Darkness out of your head for a while. Let's get down to the basics -- and when I say basics, I mean the concrete essences of what makes you vampire in the first place:

1. You consume blood. This is pretty much the traditional characteristic, although it remains to be seen as to whether or not you'll actively go for the human variety.

2. You're undead. You're presumably still alive around the time you get "converted", so you're not exactly decomposing by the minute like some ordinary zombie.

3. You live far longer than necessary. This is one of the consequences of not really being alive. Being a walking corpse also implies that you're tougher than usual, which isn't too bad a deal.

4. You're adversely affected by sunlight. Meyer's "sparkly" vampires aside, mere exposure to sunlight will leave some really painful burns on your skin. Prolonged exposure to sunlight will kill you, plain and simple.

5. You're severely debilitated by a stake to the heart. Don't worry -- the same can be said of anyone else, I suppose.

6. You can create other vampires. The processes are too varied to list, I'm afraid.

So now that we can suppose that you were a vampire, I'll ask a single basic question: Just what do you do with your existence?

Oh, I imagine that some people have a quite a few answers already. Maybe you'd go clubbing every night. Maybe you'd indulge yourself in drink or drugs (particularly since none of them would leave your system with any long-term effects). I figure that your sex life would probably be nothing short of incredible.

Nevertheless, I'd still ask: What the heck would you do with your existence?

I mean, you can't necessarily go dancing, drinking, drugging or sexing yourself forever. You'd get bored, darn it... especially when we're talking near-immortality here. Ordinary humans can probably take on only about ten to twenty years of hard partying before it all starts feeling like the same old, same old. Face it -- you're bound to start looking for meaning sometime.

I imagine that the hunt would be a significant factor for at least the first couple of decades. You'd need some nice warm human blood to feed on, I mean, and no matter how long you live, every single victim you encounter will react in a completely different manner to your... efforts. In short, you'd probably get some entertainment value out of stalking and feeding on humans.

The problem is that this would also degenerate into the usual "same old, same old", with some very practical reasons attached. A trail of exsanguinated bodies, after all, attracts attention... and after a while, like some advanced RPG player, you'd start developing techniques that will always guarantee you a meal for the night. You'd get bored of the whole game eventually. And besides... why not just raid the local hospital or blood bank for samples? The longer you stick around, the more pragmatic you're likely to think.

Modern literature is full of vampires who have been around for a long time, perhaps about a couple of hundred years at least. This provides a lot of rest periods where you can sit around and wonder just what to do with your (un)life. The catch is that there are no good immediate answers, and those first things that come to mind will only last you a few decades before you get bored.

The first practical consideration that comes to mind is the possibility of furthering oneself. That is -- you can pick out virtually any field you want, and delve into such an interest. You can master the intricacies of writing, I suppose. Or you can learn the art of gemstone appraisal. You can earn that double degree in medicine, or you can memorize each and every nuance of the law. You can become a respected stage actor, or hone your skills as a jazz musician. I mean... you've got the time, and you'll most likely be able to procure the resources. You'll probably get more out of this than your original clubbing itinerary, and if you ever get bored, you can change fields.

The second consideration is that you can go into business. This is the kind of thing that will almost certainly change with each generation; you could be selling horseshoes and buggy whips one century, and fiber-optic cables the next. There will always be a demand for business around here... and if you get bored with your line of work, you can just switch to a new product or service. Heck, if you're still not convinced, just think about the possibility of selling your stock in a company one hundred years after your initial purchase -- you'd have enough funds to cover every luxury to be invented.

The third and final consideration in my book just happens to involve politics. I'm not saying that you should take over a country and become a vampiric despot, of course -- I'm merely saying that politics is an extremely complex field that can never really be mastered. What that means for you, however, is that it's a game that constantly changes with time... and can therefore keep your interest for a good long while. It will probably take you generations you ascend to the rulership of even a small country, and if you find yourself dissatisfied with your lifestyle then, you can run it to the ground and try to manipulate another region.

And if by some chance you still find yourself horribly, horribly bored even after all that, then you've been exposed to the inherent curse of immortality: Life is ultimately a passel of limited experiences. You might as well sit on a high cliff and wait for the sun to come up -- that way, you get a good view before it scatters your form into dry ash.

Yes, this is what goes through my mind whenever somebody so much as brings up an idea where traditional vampires exist alongside humans. I mean, it's an interesting concept and all, but you really have to think long-term here. Despite their obvious disconnection to us, I like to assume that vampires are still human, deep down inside that tough bloodless exterior. No wonder they get characterized as the brooding, angsty types.

Vampirism sucks, I suppose. And I do mean that in a truthful, yet painfully pun-induced manner.

## Sunday, October 12, 2008

I never quite know what to put together for my author write-ups. I have a reasonable idea as to what is expected of them, yes, but I can never seem to dash one off in the space of a few minutes. It's like being asked to introduce yourself to a complete stranger in the middle of a fancy-dress party -- they have this strange idea of who you are and what you do, they expect you to fill in the gaps in their perception, and you have absolutely no clue what to say.

I mean... "Hi, I'm Sean, and I'm a writer." What else could I possibly say beyond that? It's not like I'm going to tell them that I use the literary approach in order to pick at the essence of humanity, much less start talking about the elements of style, verbiage and denouement.

So I stand there, smiling stupidly at their questions, until they get creeped out by the silly grin on my face and wander off towards the buffet table.

About two years ago, when one of my stories was on the precipice of release by Philippine Genre Stories, I sent the following write-up for accompaniment of the work:

Sean is a writer, a manager, a critic, a conceptualist, a strategist, and a logician. While this doesn't mean that he'll try to force square pegs into round holes, it won't stop him from looking for something that will actually fit. For that matter, it also won't stop him from asking why the pegs are square, or why the holes are round, or why the sun is bright, or why the sky is blue. This is why Sean never gets invited to polite gatherings, you see.

A good write-up should have certain qualities associated with it. For starters, it should help clarify the identity of the author, and give an idea as to the background from which he sourced his/her story. It should grant an impression of what the author aims to do with his work, and perhaps include any current honors or future aspirations. All in all, it should leave readers to feel as though the writer has become a small part of their lives.

I break these rules for no particular reason, and in fact, I don't know why. My write-ups are given to vague, unmeaningful ramblings that serve little purpose other than to weird people out. The fact that they're usually accompanied by a photo of a stuffed penguin does not help matters.

I'm still using the infamous penguin photo, mind you, which happens to be the same one that I use on both my Blogger and Multiply sites. I'm using it again when another one of my stories comes out in a forthcoming issue of Philippine Genre Stories.

For the record, the write-up that I handed in for this new work reads as follows:

Sean Uy is a writer, an analyst, a mathematician, and a creative consultant. He fantasizes about playing the saxophone, collects stuffed toys, and observes the collective strangeness of this planet's inhabitants. He occasionally comes up with short stories like this one, which will probably earn him another visit to the local psychiatrist once his family finds out.

No, it still doesn't say anything substantial. If it's supposed to make me feel like a member of the reader's family, I'm likely to be the Weird Uncle Who Makes Funny Armpit Noises.

Somehow I'm thankful that the story is a lot longer than the write-up itself. Hopefully people will dwell on those two thousand words long enough to politely ignore the write-up at the end. Or perhaps the shorter work would lose out in a battle of normal deviance.

Besides, you're reading this blog. That means that you already have an idea as to what kind of person I am, right? That means that you can enjoy the story without necessarily having to figure out that little bit of strangeness at the end, right?

...Good. If you need me, I'll be right over there by the buffet table. I hear that they have an excellent selection of cheeses today.

## Wednesday, October 08, 2008

### Pyromania

I originally wanted to write something about the blossoming viral issue that was the Ateneo post-championship bonfire, but after an hour's thought, I decided that it was best to shift focus. For one, I've checked and read a lot of the salvos from both sides, and I figure that the bonfire incident is already a popular blog topic. Moreover, most of the responses I've read seem to be quite open and level-headed, and I believe that the issue will probably defuse itself in a couple of days. In addition to that, I usually pay almost no attention to the basketball rivalry at all, much less college athletics around here.

What still irks me, however, is the fact that the culprit hasn't really apologized for his misdemeanor. Oh, sure... as of this writing, he's given a great big "sorry" for the inconvenience that he caused the university. However, with regards to his unwarranted display of effigy-burning... he offers nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.

And that just goes to show that you can live to be seventy years old, and not learn a single thing about civility.

On top of that, the Philippine Genre Stories blog notes that, for all intents and purposes, this seems to be the same person who organized a book-burning session two years ago, where copies of Dan Brown's controversial novel The Da Vinci Code were consigned to the flames. Some people have already pointed out the obvious parallel here -- while I won't repeat it for fear of parroting the multitude, I must point out that I would actively keep any and all matchbooks and cigarette lighters away from this person.

Personal zealotry is a very powerful force. When used correctly, it can move mountains, restore deserts, and possibly even raise the dead. When used incorrectly, well... it beats dead horses, stirs hornets' nests, and generally makes a complete ass of oneself. This is why we end up with caltrops scattered on major thoroughfares. Or hijacked kindergarten school buses. Or, God willing, written effigies by misguided septuagenarians.

Sometimes I wonder why these people don't exert their energies towards something more constructive. Did they, in the waning years of their lives, suddenly decide that there was nothing else that they were interested in doing? Did they decide at some point that logic had to take a back seat to pure impulse and wanton speculation? Did they somehow figure that the best way to live life was to boggle peoples' minds by doing something utterly and insanely irrational?

No wonder this world doesn't make any sense at times.

Once upon a time, I mentioned that having all the heart in the world is useless if you don't have enough space left for a brain. I'm saddened to see that this is still quite true.

On the other hand, most of us are relatively young, and (presumably) still rational. But we're all going to reach this point in life one day. We're all bound to ask ourselves the same strange questions and get tempted by the same foolish answers.

When that day comes, I can only hope that we know well enough to aim the fire in the right direction. Otherwise, it'll end up consuming what little dignity we have remaining.

## Sunday, October 05, 2008

### Disclaimer: October 2008

At dusk on the third day, we finally arrived at the end of the labyrinth. I pressed forward, the dark blade Hador drawn before my crested shield, only to find that a mammoth stone door separated us from the final room beyond.

Rheox immediately started forward, muttering something about the difficulty of dungeons. Behind me, Salah called out a dire warning -- we had already lost Embril and Azanthia to the maze's accursed defenses. The stone door, covered from top to bottom in strange arcane writing, almost certainly seemed as though it was every bit as deadly as its environment.

Rheox gave the priestess a long look. "All I can say is that this isn't dwarven, lady. Not any sort of language I recognize."

Salah crossed over to the door, while I scanned the area for any trace of the dungeon's guardians. Her brow furrowed as she first tried to read the strange runes, shortly before she began searching for something -- anything -- that would aid her comprehension.

"These are not words," Salah said, completely perplexed. "These are symbols, yes, but not words."

"What do you mean?"

"I suspect that these comprise a language, though it be long dead. This is a record... of sorts. Do you glimpse the succession of marks on the left side of these doors, left separate from the column on the right? It is as though their creator wished to provide some form of... cryptic semblance."

Rheox poked at the stonework. "It's a poor sort of carver that would do that for a door this big. Just how are we supposed to get in, then?"

Suddenly, an enormous voice boomed across the cavern. Rheox's hammer was in his hands before I could blink. Salah stepped back, her fingers tracing the marks of a spell.

WHO ARE YOU?

"Salah," I said.

She shook her head. "I sense no magic, Sir Kharzin. This may only be a consciousness built into this very chamber."

"Well, it could stand to be a little more quiet," Rheox said.

WHO ARE YOU?

I glanced at my companions. Rheox shrugged.

"We are adventurers," I called out. "I am Kharzin, a knight of the Parthian Empire. The woman is Salah, a priestess of the Silver Star, from the far reaches of the Azure Sea. The stalwart dwarf is Rheox Blisterbeard, a tracker of the Emerald Clan."

"We mean no harm," Salah said.

"We seek truth," I answered. "We seek knowledge, unseen one. It was written in the books of the ancients, hidden in the annals of the Great Library of Mersenne, that our ancestors possessed shards of the Ultimate Truths, those which allow the greater universe to rise and fall around us.

"The stars and the sands have shown that we are now in the twilight of our world, much as the ancients had been, and much as the ancients' ancients were. Thus do we stand before you, with no other purpose but to ask: How may this endless cycle be brought to a halt? How may we end the ageless, and bring passing to long constancy?"

There was a long, tense silence.

...

"I don't suppose you offended it?" Rheox asked.

CHANGE.

With that last statement, the chamber began trembling as the voice increased in tone. I noticed that Salah was listening intently, although Rheox had clamped both hands tightly over his ears.

THIS CHAMBER WAS BORN IN THE LAST DAYS OF THE CYBERNETIC AGE, CARVED FROM THE FEATURES OF THE PHYSICAL TO REFLECT THE COGNITION OF THE DIGITAL.

"I do not recognize these words!" Salah cried. "Perhaps... perhaps these are references to the ancients themselves?"

IN TIMES WHERE CHANGE HAS BROUGHT ABOUT A BETTER WORLD, HUMANITY TENDS TO ABANDON THE CREATIVE SPIRIT. SO IT WAS WITH YOUR ANCIENTS. THEIR COLLECTIVE MEMORIES ARE FILLED WITH EXAMPLES WHERE MAN HAS TAKEN THE THOUGHTS OF ANOTHER WITHOUT REGARD FOR CHANGE.

The words came unbidden to my mind. "But what of our world? You speak only of the transgressions of the ancients themselves!"

The voice ignored me, choosing only to continue its narration. It boomed across the chamber, nearly overwhelming us with the sheer force of sound.

THE WORDS THAT YOU SEE ARE A LAST REPOSITORY OF KNOWLEDGE FROM THE PREVIOUS AGE. THEY ARE ORIGINAL IDEAS FORGED WITHIN THE CREATIVE SPIRIT THAT ELUDES SO MANY AND SO FEW. INTERSPERSED WITH THEM ARE TOUCHES OF WISDOM FROM OTHERS; THEIR NAMES ARE MARKED ALONGSIDE EACH AND EVERY CONTRIBUTION.

IN THE EVENT THAT THESE CONTRIBUTIONS WERE REFUSED TO BE SHARED, DUE PROCESS WAS GIVEN TO THEIR CREATORS. CAMARADERIE AND NEGOTIATION ARE BUT SECOND MEANS TO THE IDEA ITSELF.

IT IS THUS THAT PIECES OF THIS KNOWLEDGE SHALL BE FOUND IN OTHER PLACES AS WELL, ALL BOUND BY SIMILAR MEANS AND RULES.

"The inscriptions..." Salah said, now almost inaudible against the pervasive tones of the voice. "It speaks of the inscriptions!"

THESE WORDS ARE WATERED BY THE SOULS OF THE OFFENDER, THE THIEVES WHO WOULD STEAL THEM FOR THEIR OWN BENEFIT. THESE ARE THE ADVERSARIES OF CHANGE, THE AGENTS OF THE CONSTANT CYCLE. THEY ARE PRESENT IN BOTH THE OLD WORLD AS WELL AS THE NEW.

KNOW WELL THE MARK OF THE CREATIVE COMMONS UPON THIS WALL, AND KNOW WELL THE RULES OF THIS KNOWLEDGE, THAT YOU MAY BREAK THE VICIOUSNESS OF THE CYCLE BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.

"Too late?" I asked. "Too late for what?"

And suddenly the chamber was silent, save for a single word.

CHANGE.

...

Slowly Rheox pulled his hands away from his ears. "Now what d'you suppose it was rambling about?" the dwarf asked.

"It spoke of the lost knowledge of the ancients," Salah explained, "but it appears that its significance has disappeared over time. All that I could glean from such a... feat... was that the loss of change brought about the entropy of the old age."

YES.

Salah jumped, startled by the sudden answer. I sheathed my sword in a single motion, listening to the sound of metal grating against wood and bone.

"Answer our question, unseen one!" I cried. "What must we do to prevent our world from slipping away?"

...

YOU CANNOT.

ALL WORLDS KNOW CHANGE. YOUR ANCIENTS KNEW THIS, YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL KNOW THIS, AND NOW YOU DO.

CHANGE SHALL COME. IT MUST ALWAYS COME, NO MATTER HOW MUCH HUMANS WOULD DESIRE TO PUT IT AWAY. YOUR WORLD WILL END LIKE ALL OTHER WORLDS. THERE IS NO FOREVER, NOT EVEN FOR THE LIFESPAN OF A UNIVERSE.

For the first time, we were all struck silent by the truth, the grim foreboding truth that we had traveled so long to grasp.

CHANGE IS FREEDOM. RECURSION IS STAGNATION.

And with that, the chamber went silent.

...

After a long while, Rheox sheathed his hammer and turned to me. "So what so we do know, lord?"

I glanced at Salah, who nodded in her strange knowing way. "We return," I said.

"That's it? We go back?"

"Yes," I said, my heart weighing heavily in my chest. "We return with what we have learned."

"Perhaps if we could effect some measure of change within our own borders," Salah mused, "it would forestall the coming of the end."

"We have no other choice, I fear. Let us make haste, then... the empire will need time to prepare."