thoughtwisps One commit at a time

Hello and welcome to thoughtwisps! This is a personal collection of notes and thoughts on software engineering, machine learning and the technology industry and community. For my professional website, please see race-conditions. Thank you for visiting!

down for the cause

We worked in what had once been the office. The floor was carpeted, a calm grey with faded prints of colourful symbols. The logos of the companies whose employees had worked here many months ago. A string of glass walled rooms ran around the edge of the office space and I thought I could see, like an afterimage, the colourful armchairs and discarded cans of warm,half-drunk soda, left on the tables or still half-finished beside smiling people with laptops and post-it notes.

The laptops had stickers and pictures of cartoon animals, whales, rodents, bees, elks, another variation on the tribal symbolism printed on the carpet, declaring, at once in-jest and in flamewar worthy seriousness, the allegiance of the owner to one technology library or programming language or another.

Meetings would have been held here and product launches and Friday afternoon beer o’clocks, the laughter and clinkle still lingered. We were still always shipping these days, thought neither now or then did it have anything to do with ships or the ocean.

We had yearned to build the future. How did we learn it, that appetite for disruption, that pride, that insatiable optimism that we could re-invent things for better and better, that from the ashes of this creative destruction, a new future would emerge.

Well, it did, but it was nothing like what we hoped for. The lesson was that creative destruction can be set in motion but rarely controlled.

It was still in the air, the staticky air between our computer screens, but an afterthought, as we continued to type on our keyboards, government issue, no logos, no cute animals, typing into existence a future that we did not intend and that would have no place for us.

At night we slept in the old employee dorms, an act that had once been a badge of honour, a sign that we were down for the cause, now a prison, dowm because of the cause, not our cause.

There was the lingering smell of old ambition in these rooms. But also old sex, sad sex, escape-from-dead-bedrooms sex, sex with no-consent, sex with dubious consent, against corporate policy-sex. An expectation, of something without shape or name. And we were trapped, within it, within the torturous present and the torturous memories of the past that enabled this present. The final frontier - our thoughts - to which which we never quite managed to extend our technoutopian dreams of the future, that is where we escaped to.

a hacker's delight - an extract

Fiction. An extract from an untitled novel in progress.

In a not so distant future, brainware has become a staple part of life. The wealthy enjoy highend ad-free custom gear, the rest make do with malware riddled memory harvesters.

In the end, they all talk. Some in quiet whispers, others spitting out rage and despair. For some, it takes mere minutes, for others hours, even days. When it finally happens, she is there to experience the subject’s memory for one last time.

Of course, the technology isn’t perfect. No technology ever is. Some subjects don’t yield even after weeks of disassembly. By that time, the data becomes too corrupt to trust and the subject too unstable. Neural bits flip and decay. Termination is recommended and probably the kindest, too, but in this profession the latter is usually of little consequence.

Once the neural imprint is extracted, the true fun ( or what fun constitutes for people of her kind anyway) can begin. It’s not strictly necessary for a memcracker to run every single neural imprint through the scanner before emulation and extraction. Some wiseass somewhere has already made a memoryValidator that checks for corrupt loops and other funzies that tech savvy subjects sometimes leave as boobie traps or – as she prefers to see it – Easter eggs for those like her that think nothing of violating the privacy of the mind, least of all when the price is right.

And the price is very right for this one.

Most state of the art emulators, like the neuro-qemu she’s using already pre-validate the sample before emulation anyway. So scanning the thing would just be wasted cycles at this point.

But you can never be too careful with the stuff you find inside these subjects. The cargo these neural bits are carrying is worth a lot of good quality cycles in the brainscapes and she needs it. It’s tempting to skip the scanning – just take the bit dump and pump it into emulator, but there could be traps – scandetectors, emulator probing, emulator corruption, hell and for the most daring emulator escape and total bluepilling of the whole system.

That’s how they’d lost x0r a year ago. The payload he was studying contained your basic everyday ROP shellcode to divert the emulators execution. It was script kiddie material – okay, maybe a bit more advanced, but x0r had forgotten to turn off address space layout randomization after fucking around with some crackmes for fun. The payload was triggered and swallowed the emulator whole and along with it a good chunk of x0r. He was lucky it was script kiddie grade and she and a few others eventually unfucked him. What was the lesson learnt here? Never fuck around where you eat? Never eat where you fuck? She was never very good at learning lessons anyways.

And in any case, rushing to the prize would make it less savory.

It’s a privilege to be the last living being who gets to enjoy these rare moments before they are packaged and shipped off to the highest bidder for whatever nefarious purpose. This week, she’s already experienced an early morning kiss between secret lovers, a mother’s joy in seeing an infant’s smile and the pain of a parent’s limp hand on a hospital bed.

Great moments, but still not the same as experiencing them from the front row. A lame consolation prize for someone who one night 5 years ago woke up with a mind and no memories left.

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an unexpected reunion

Draft extracts from a novel I started writing around 2012-2013.

Two day’s after Kitty’s death, we gathered at Anne’s. It would have been exactly like in college had we not been in our early 30s, lackluster with the unflattering patina of adulting, and of course for the gaping absence of Kitty.

Leila had flown in from Colorado, Sheryl from London and I drove down from New York where I’d ended up after a few unsuccessful years trying to grow new roots in places that sounded chic but soon gave way to bouts of extreme loneliness, places with names like London, Stockholm and Paris.

Life had scattered us apart in more ways than physical distance and this sudden death had brought us back into close proximity. We sat on the patio of Anne’s suburban Pennsylvania McMansion, drank margaritas and popped some of the pills Sheryl had produced from her Birkin.

To be honest, all of us had been in love with Kitty one way or another. But it was a toxic kind of love, the love one might imagine an ugly woman (or any woman really these days) feels for the photoshopped images in Vogue editorials.

In all of our imaginations, in the curated glimpses that we received of her post-college life, we saw everything that we had hoped to become and didn’t.

I reclined on the sofa and tried to conjure an image of Kitty as I remembered her from the first day of college. Light brown bangs, lavender dress, long slender legs that would soon land her modeling gigs in New York, and Oxford shoes. The kind I imagined she wore when on weekend trips to the summer house in the Hamptons.

I think we - all of us - or me, maybe just me, could have forgiven her her looks, her slender modelesque frame, the inexhaustible and steady supply of money she came from, had she been at least average at something.

But Kitty was ahead of the curve, ahead of the game, in every possible way: stellar grades, good at sports, excellent at dance, lead in school plays.

Well, there had been one way where she was found wanting. Between her front teeth was a large, very noticeable gap. The kind that instantly knocked a few years off her age and gave her an air of eternal innocense.

You had to get that fixed too, didn’t you, I thought into my margarita. It was getting cold on the patio or maybe it was just the company.

Braces for the first 8 months of her freshman year and then she had become truly perfect.

“How’s Will doing? Has anyone checked up on him? We really ought to. He must be devastated, poor thing.”

The voice belonged to Sheryl. She had come straight from the airport after her red eye, but her hair was unruffled, her suit without so much as an errant wrinkle and her eyes well-rested, which made me think she had splurged on a first class. She had been carefully avoiding me since she had stepped into the house.

We hadn’t seen each other since the summer after college when I had broken it off with her in a very public confrontation. A very public confrontation that was diametrically opposed to the well-manicured perfection that she usually was. She would never forgive me and I wasn’t looking for it either.

“He’s taking the kids to Connecticut. His parents are going to take care of them for a while.”

I have, of course, neglected to mention the children, the husband. And the marriage. The marriage in which my misery and heartbreak became crystallised and on display.

I feel that it would be cheating to start there, though. To start there and not go to the beginning where the the threads of life first started intersecting in ways that we would find hard to untangle later.

featherlight and silent

From the London Notebooks.

The way the grey light is in the morning

featherlight and silent

and the city

still and peaceful.

Then look out to the east

and see life.

pickled heart

VI. Pickled Heart

On the last day of summer, we went into the garden and picked the last berries. Little red and black bulbs full of concentrated sunlight. We brought our full baskets into the kitchen.

I remember your sun kissed skin, the seasmell in your hair.

I’m glad I took those things, then. Took them and pressed them between pieces of newspaper and two books like precious petals.

In the kitchen, we watched the sugary liquid boil and then we sealed summer into a jar.

Later, in the evening, we sat on the verandah, inhaling the purple August air of cherries and ripe apples and the newly rainsoaked earth, preparing for a long winter sleep.

Did you touch me that night? I don’t know.

The grey light was heavy, the memories heavier, the fear unbearable.

At an unnoted time past midnight, I crept past your sleeping form into the kitchen and took your carving knife. In the yellow light of the lone kitchen nife, it gleamed sharp and promising.

I cut out my heart and placed it on the dicing board.

I watched it beat – once, twice – before it fell silent. The blood seeped into the wood – it would be impossible to get out later.

I placed it inside one of the jars that we had bought for the berries and I sealed it.

When I came back upstairs, the moonlight had shifted and your form was nothing but a gnarly shadow praying on the hope of lonely hearts.

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