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a turing-compliant robot
05 February 2015 @ 08:18 pm
So last night I started playing this game called Papers, Please.

The labor lottery has assigned you to a checkpoint near East Grestin, where you'll be checking passports and allowing/denying people entry to your glorious country of Arstotzka.

By day you scan passports, tickets, and IDs, trying to keep track of regulations of ever-increasing complexity, as well as all the various papers that begin to flood your desk: bribes, solicitations to strip clubs, Big Brother-esque ticker warnings printed at your every misstep, and oh, the occasional bomb that comes your way. At night you take home your meager salary and try to decide if you should pay for heat or food today, or medicine for your son. (Boy's gotten sick like five times already this game. Kid, if you want the heat on, why don't you go out and stamp some passports yourself! Glory to Arstotzka!)

It's like a game that's as stressful as your normal job!Collapse )
a turing-compliant robot
26 August 2014 @ 02:42 am
I've been having some trouble lately. I have a tendency to get deeply, obsessively involved in things, which works out fine if it's an inanimate thing; an activity, a show. When it's a person, though, that's a real difficulty, relying on a living and changing thing, demanding more than they can or should provide.

To take a step back, calm myself down some, I decided to revisit my roots: I went to the local public library and got myself a big stack of books. There's nothing more reliable, I seemed to recall, than a sheaf of pages, bound together.

I haven't been an avid reader since high school, probably. I've read some books here and there, sure, but I haven't devoted myself to a story like this in a long time. Saturday afternoon, I lay back in my recliner by the open window, slowly ate a lime popsicle, and cracked open my first novel.

The book was Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and having forgotten the power of these things, I was caught off guard by how beautiful and how melancholy it was. On the surface, it reads like a coming-of-age novel, some woman reminiscing about her privileged childhood at boarding school, a dash of romance, but there's enough quiet horror and dystopia to it to keep the back of your mind squirming in unease. From the very beginning, it's clear that the narrator inhabits a very different world from ours, takes for granted that the reader knows why all her friends and former classmates are now "donors" recovering at hospitals, why she's driving from place to place taking care of them, preparing for the day when she'll become a donor too. As the narrator meanderingly describes the aching process of growing up that we've all been through, coming to terms with her future and her role in the world and her mortality, the reader is kept engrossed by steadily dropped hints about what this world is, what is happening, just what.

Though I picked the book up because it was in the speculative fiction section, what really blew me away was how real it was. Not only were the characters intimately familiar (I had a friend exactly like Ruth growing up, bossy and brilliant and every bit as vulnerable as the rest of us), and the narrator's memories so vivid, so intricately interwoven they could only seem to be true, I had forgotten how deeply a novel could feel. Somehow, reading a book like this, you can feel at once all the times you've regretted this, or longed for that, a big sucker punch of loss and deep regret, of passed opportunities and wasting already limited time, of the fear of being alone. I finished it this evening, closed my eyes, and couldn't sleep at all.

Here's a minor spoiler: throughout the book, there's this imagery of "a place where all lost things go". It starts with a joke when they're children at school, how if you lose something it's not really gone, it just ends up there, and when you're grown up and can drive you can go find it again. By the end of the book, when she's standing there imagining this place that's slowly gathering everything she's ever lost, you realize that she's beyond the comfort of these stories, that when you lose things they're really just irrecoverably gone.
a turing-compliant robot
05 March 2014 @ 10:34 pm
So today was the second session of the new capoeira class I picked up on whim. The first class on Monday was awesome and all, but two days later I was still feeling its effects, and it was very tempting to just give it up as a good effort. (There was also the, you know, embarrassing lack of athletic ability to contend with, but we'll say being sore was the main reason.) Just as as I was resigning myself to my lack of willpower, my phone beeped: it was Google Now telling me that I had to leave shortly to get to the class on time.

Google Now is this app that's available on Android (Jelly Bean and higher) that replaces Google Search. In fact it basically is search, except it aims to give you the information without your having to ask for it. So like, weather in the morning, traffic when you're about to head home from work, boarding passes at the airport... supposedly. This was the first time it had done something spooky and smart for me, and by reading my calendar it even knew where the class was and when I had to leave to get there in time.

Well. If my phone was telling me to go, I surely had to listen.

Capoeira is as fun as I am entirely unsuited for it. As the story goes, it's a type of dance-martial art developed by slaves to practice their moves under the guise of dancing. Two people "play" at a time, everyone else standing around them in a circle, clapping to the music. The players face off, keeping careful watch on each other as they perform cartwheeling kicks, walking handstands, whole-body flips that look more like breakdancing than fighting. They move to the beat, to each other, keeping ever mindful of the limits of the circle, careful not to let one of their wild spin-kicks hit the spectators. Whenever anyone wants, they can make eye contact with one of the players and hop right in. It's so lively and powerful and it's awesome to watch but it would be even more awesome to be a part of it.

I've always defined myself as someone who's not very physical, because I never was in the past, but here's the thing: the majority of my life is still ahead of me. If I were to consistently practice at this, or at climbing, or at lifting, for the next 24 years, there's no way I'd still be someone who's "not very physical", right? (Well, except the whole aging thing.) I think I have a strong sense of who I am, but it's dangerous to just stop, draw a hard line and say, "No, this thing is not my kind of thing, I can't ever be good at this thing."

I've been picking up a bunch of new hobbies lately, which means I've been spending a lot of time just being bad at things in general. It's no fun being a beginner at so many things at once, especially when so much of my identity is tied up in trying to be good at whatever I do. (It's a hard identity to manage. I'm not very good at it, which makes it even harder.) But it's so cool to get deep into a hobby, gradually develop your skills and expertise. You learn to speak this secret language shared only by those else in the know, and once you've mastered the basic mechanics you're able to just get together and play around with the moves, trading kicks and ideas and spins and sweeps, showing off what you can do or what you've come up with since last time. I feel that way about some of the games I've been playing lately, I can see how I'd start to feel this way about lifting or climbing, and I certainly hope I'll feel this way about capoeira one day.

Or maybe next time I'll just be too sore to even listen to my phone.
a turing-compliant robot
23 November 2013 @ 11:00 pm
My weekends and evenings are currently largely comprised of CraigsList. It seems to me that the biggest commodity here is transportation: if you are able to pick up a large piece of furniture, put it in some vehicle, and carry it away, you can get ridiculously nice things for ridiculously cheap. So I hired some movers for tomorrow, and we're going to run around picking up my purchases from a bunch of places, and bringing them to mine. I'm very excited to have furniture, but also very nervous. This is a huge commitment: once those movers drive off, I'm kind of stuck with whatever I brought home. What if I decide I don't want something anymore? Even if I could pick up a couch and bring it downstairs, what would I do with it? Heave it into a dumpster? For the first time ever, I'm going to own something that I can't fit in my car, that I can't pick up with my own two hands. What kind of a way to live is that?

The second biggest commodity is space. My apartment isn't too small: certainly large compared to any room I've rented before. But the shape of it is a little weird, and it's hard to figure out where everything goes. I've painstakingly measured all the relevant rooms and drawn them out on graph paper. Then I cut out to-scale, tracing-paper outlines of all the furniture I was thinking of buying so I could slide them around and go, "Hmm, hmm, that's not going to fit there". Is this how people normally furnish an apartment? I'm going to go with yes, of course it is.

Today, wondering last minute what else I could make them move for me tomorrow, I had set up a huge extensive morning schedule of looking at couches. Five couches in five people's houses, each 30 minutes apart, in rough geographical order that took me from Milpitas to Santa Clara to San Jose, I lined the the appointments up and knocked them down. It was perfect. I made it to each place within minutes of when I had planned, met the family, broke out my measuring tape, and then got in my car and drove off to the next one. Of course, I didn't actually wind up buying any of these couches, but that's beside the point.

Buying off CraigsList is very interesting. It's exhausting, dealing with the human element. You have to accommodate different people's needs: some of them will only email, or will only text, or will only let you go through to voicemail, listen to the voicemail, and then call you back. I wound up compiling a whole notebook stack on Evernote: a notebook full of dressers I might buy, with pictures and contact information and notes on our communications so far. A notebook of rugs. A notebook of recliners. It's exhausting!! But also very interesting. You meet a lot of people (and very few axe murderers), see a lot of homes, all in various stages of change. A couple who's getting rid of their glass coffee table for the coming baby. A guy ditching his comfy leather sofa because his girlfriend's moving in with her own furniture. People being relocated to foreign locales by work, or choosing to move to the city, to the home country. One woman told me, in Chinese, "We're going back for a while," which surprisingly conveyed a lot of information to me: that the couple was moving back to China, so that their young child could experience that culture and language for a time. Another family invited me in happily and, while I was bouncing on their sofa, mentioned that they were selling everything. They encouraged me to look around their apartment and buy anything I wanted. Bookcase? Glassware? Come look in this cabinet, we have pots, and dishes! After I laid down on their sofa to try it out, their son hopped on and mimicked me with a huge grin on his face.
Current Mood: nervousnervous
a turing-compliant robot
09 November 2013 @ 06:13 pm
So I'm here with my laptop in My New Apartment. I don't have a single stick of furniture in it, so I'm currently sitting on the floor next to the cable modem I just set up... because priorities. (My next-door neighbor's network is called "Pretty Fly for a WiFi". Naturally, I had to give mine a pun name also, but it could only be a shallow reflection of his coolness, and I am still jealous.) I'm pretty sure that this is all I actually need to live in a place, a roof over my head and strong WiFi signal, but for the sake of completeness I also went mattress shopping, which was a pretty hilarious experience.

cut because not actually that hilariousCollapse )

There's something very neat about furnishing a place while you still have another home base to live out of for a couple of days. Something about unlocking the door to your very own place, peeking in at the dark empty rooms, and trying to decide what you want to put on all that gorgeous laminate flooring.

I spent all day running errands, using nearly half a tank of gas. I now have a pretty red microwave in my trunk and a shiny office chair that I somehow managed to lug down three flights of stairs and cram into my back seat. I'll drag them up soon enough, and then my apartment will be a little more furnished, a little more ready to live in. But I already have the essentials.