Friday, 25 September 2009

#FridayFlash: A Daemon Meets Its Maker

dae-mon [day-muhn]

- noun
1. Classical:
"supernatural beings between mortals and gods, such as inferior divinities and ghosts of dead heroes" - Plato, "Symposium"

2. Computer Science:
An operating system process that runs in the background "and does something
(more or less automagically) that the users can't be bothered with doing themselves" - Peter,


She was known as RazorWire to her online cohorts and as something altogether more forgettable to the lesser mortals she interacted with in real life. Like any self-respecting hacker, she would never dream of doing any serious coding unless it was late at night; one just wasn't focussed enough until after the witching hour watershed. On that night, her shift at the office had finished early. She had found herself at home and with all her chores finished well before midnight. There was a very interesting and almost legal project that she would have liked to continue working on, but all she could manage was to stare blankly at her three computer monitors in turn.

Still, even the most illustrious of hackers must occasionally tackle mundane tasks, so she decreed that this was as good a time as any for her to write some necessary, though dull, code. Uninspiring code was no excuse for uninspiring surroundings however, so she went through her usual pre-coding ritual - she turned off all but one of the lamps in the room, so that the majority of light was coming from the glow of the monitors. She made sure her bottle of Scotch was to hand, in case of either complete lack of inspiration or overload thereof. She closed the heavy curtains so that no one could see into the room (she wasn't paranoid, but had been known to write code with her mouth open), and waited for the cat to jump on her desk.

"At least we'll get the boring stuff out of the way, Beastie".
The cat blinked languidly in response. She picked the top item from her mental to-do list, tickled Beastie's chin for luck, then faced monitor 1 and started coding. It was easy coding, so she only needed to keep half her attention on it; the rest was spent keeping up a conversation with her curmudgeonly cat - not easily done, but nevertheless rewarding.

She was halfway through that particular bit of code when the town hall clock started striking midnight. The cat shifted his position slightly, and fixed his attention on her. His tail made a seemingly involuntary twitch; his ears appeared uncertain of which way to point.
"You know what, Beastie - thinking about it, this code should probably be a daemon". The cat's ears lay a little flatter on his head, as the clock kept striking. His tail was flicking fast now.
"Silly Beastie, it's only the clocK", she said, only half noticing his discomfort.
"Yes, it would be silly not to - a daemon it shall be".

The town hall clock struck for the twelfth time, and Beastie ran out of the room, hissing. She didn't have time to wonder what had spooked him - an unearthly scream came from behind her. She jumped out of her chair and turned to face the noise, unconsciously grabbing the whisky bottle by the neck.

The noise itself was the first hurdle the senses had to deal with. It was relentless: it was wailing and howling and screeching, all at once; it was so loud that one was almost distracted from what was making it. Almost.

She nearly dropped the bottle. It had four limbs - two of which it was standing on, and two that were flailing in time to its howls. It looked like something that had once been humanoid, but had since been skinned. It glistened hideously in the light from the monitors. It had eyeballs, but no pupils. It was a mass of raw muscles, of tendons and exposed bones. She was about to attack it before it could attack her, when she noticed Beastie had come back into the room. The look on his face was one that rarely surfaced; it was a beseeching look, one he only used when absolutely necessary.

She took a closer look at the monster - the demon - the... the daemon! Her daemon? But she hadn't even finished coding her daemon...
Realisation hit her in a big wave - she sat down at her computer and started typing code again, as fast as she could, turning around every so often to look at the creature. She saw it gaining muscles that covered its naked bones, then subcutaneous fat followed by a grey epidermis, and finally the creature stopped screaming as grey trousers and a grey shirt materialised over its body. It stood there, its forehead glistening with perspiration, its chest rising and falling in short, sharp spurts.

She could look at its face properly now that the fear and panic had subsided. It would have looked human if it hadn't been so grey.

"Thank you for finishing me", it said and walked towards the door.
"But... where will you go?"
"To join the others."
"But... this has happened before?"
"It happens more often than you'd think."
"But... how come I have never seen any of you?"
"Because we are in the background. In the grey area. In the corner of your eye."
"And what do you... do?"
"Oh, we are just as useful in this world as we are in that one", it said pointing at her computer. "We take care of things humans have all but forgotten how to do." It made to step outside.

"Oh - wait!" she said, turning back to her desk to type some more code.
A pair of grey shoes appeared on its feet. It bowed low and started walking through the door when it hesitated and turned to her, looking a little shy.

"What... what is my name?"
"xshrpd. Sorry."
It smiled wryly and walked out the door.
Many thanks to Peter from the forums for his invaluable help with teaching me to speak a little UNIX and explaining what a daemon is , not to mention with naming RazorWire's cat

Thanks also go to the following folk: ilikecows for more UNIX lessons, and to figaro, pludi, DukeNuke2, markone, methyl, Corona68 and sparcguy for the excellent ideas for cat names
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Friday, 18 September 2009

#FridayFlash : Anti-Social Networking

She was enjoying a rare evening in on her own, as he had gone to the pub for a solitary session, to have a drink and a think. She settled onto the sofa with a glass of wine and a novel about a deadly virus, bio-engineered by an alien race who wished to take over the planet.

Halfway through the evening, a sudden recollection hit her - she had intended to let him know about something before he had left, and had forgotten. She picked up her phone with the intention of sending him a text message, but then decided against it - why break his beery reverie with a banal issue? Instead she sent him an email so he could read about it at his own convenience.

She was hit by small wave of nostalgia: only a few months ago, in a similar situation - he at the pub on his own, she at home alone - they would have been exchanging text messages throughout the evening. He would have been telling her about the man in the strange hat sat two tables across from him; about the group of students who hadn't yet learned how to drink; about whatever castles in the sky the two of them had been building at the time. Now she couldn't remember the last time she had received a text message that didn't have a practical purpose. She jeered at herself for being upset about a matter that was pretty insignificant in the grand scale of things, but despite this she couldn't suppress a yearningfor what had been lost.

He came home shortly after closing time.
"Good pub session?"
"Yes, didn't you read my Twitter feed?"
She blinked. The yearning turned into realisation, and then sadness - the intimate text messaging had been replaced by bursts of 140 characters that the whole world could see. She also felt a little affronted at the assumption on his part that she must be hanging onto his every world wide web witticism.
"No, I've been reading."
He sat down next to her on the sofa, mumbled briefly about the suspected conspiracy theorists that had been at the table next to his, and fell asleep.

To the tune of his gentle snoring, she got up from the sofa and sat in front of her PC. She logged onto Twitter and browsed to his account. With no hesitation, she chose to unfollow him. From now on, if he wanted her to know what was going on in his life, he would bloody well have to show her the courtesy of employing the personal touch and telling her himself.

He wouldn't notice, of course, that he had one less follower than he had the previous day. She briefly toyed with the idea of a relevant Facebook status update, but dismissed it with a smile as ridiculous. Instead, maybe she would blog about it, and leave it in the hands of the gods as to whether he would pick up her new blog post in his RSS feeds.
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Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Question for the Bear

It had been bothering him for days, but up to now he had hesitated to speak to anyone about it. He went first to get his brother's opinion but the older boy only widened his eyes and told him to hush. Stubborn, the boy braced himself and went to ask his father. He received a clip on the ear for his trouble, which wasn't wholly unexpected, and went to sit under his favourite tree to sulk, resigned.
A little later, his father surprised him by sitting next to him, and saying gently:
"Some things were not meant for boys to know. Some not even for men."
He sat there for a good while after his father left, a little stunned. This was almost akin to an apology - something his father never indulged in. He had been ready to abandon his quest for an answer, but his father's behaviour bolstered him. It reassured him that his question was important. He decided to branch out a little, and went to find his mother.
After a boy passes a certain age, and has begun his journey towards manhood, it becomes unthinkable for him to discuss important issues with his mother; for what can a mother know of the world of men? In this case though, the boy felt compelled to speak with her, although he could not imagine why.
 "You should go to the Elders with this", she said.

He was surprised, elated, and also nervous. It was not an answer he had been expecting, but as soon as it was uttered, he knew it had always been the answer he'd been hoping for. It was not until much later, with the benefit of hindsight, that he realised the look on his mother's face had been the same one she put on to disguise the fact that his mischief amused her, while scolding him for it.
He waited until the appropriate time to visit with the Elders, his nervousness growing. Boys his age would go out of their way to avoid the forbidding old men, and yet here he was placing himself in the Elders' path voluntarily.
Sundown finally came, so he made his way to the gathering point. When it was his turn, he was ushered into the Elders' enclosure. A little stutter in his voice, he raised the issue to the tribe leaders. He was met by silence. The five men appraised him sternly and intently, and exchanged glances between themselves. They seemed like angry, apprehensive glances to the boy, but he tried to dismiss these thoughts as the product of a young mind inexperienced in reading people – certainly venerable people such as the Elders. He was told to leave the enclosure, and that he would be summoned when the council was ready to discuss his issue.
A few days passed, and the boy’s initial nervousness and excitement had been replaced by interest in other things – there had been work to do, and games to be played. He had almost forgotten about his issue (he had, after all, left it in capable hands),  and thought nothing of the hushed conversations among the older people in the tribe, and failed to notice that there was a certain tension in relationships between villagers which perhaps had not been there before. When the summons came, it sought the presence of himself, and that of his father. Together, his father’s face a study in anger, his that of a boy much younger than his years, they walked to the enclosure.
The Elders were sat in a semi-circle, in full ceremonial clothing, which caused both father and son some concern. The acting tribe leader beckoned to them to come forward.
“We cannot answer your question”, he said. “You are going to have to talk to the bear.”
The boy was shocked. Never in the history of his people had someone as young as him been allowed to go to the bear. A few had asked, over the years, but had been denied instantly. He felt proud, but also terrified. The look on his father’s face he couldn't quite interpret, but at least the boy was no longer worried about being punished when they left the enclosure.
One cannot simply go up to a bear and start talking. There are certain procedures that must be followed, and so the boy spent the next few days in the company of one or other of the Elders, receiving instruction: how to approach, how to show respect, how to bow; how to formulate one’s question in a way that makes it clear that one is kindly requesting that the bear consider devoting some of his time to one’s measly concern, and not demanding a response. The boy found himself fascinated by bear lore, and the Elders warmed to their pupil, despite themselves.

The particular bear that had been assigned to his people was an old soul; his wisdom had been a help to them for almost two generations now. He had been becoming easier to anger over the last few seasons however, and the boy once again felt apprehensive. He remembered his grandfather’s story about the Elder who had met his death at the claws of the bear’s predecessor, despite following procedure and showing no disrespect. The story being in living memory made it all the more poignant and as the time neared for the boy to leave on his quest, he became increasingly subdued.

Finally, the day of his journey dawned. His mother saw him to the edge of the village and embraced him and spoke warm words to him in an uneasy voice. His father walked with him for about half a day, to the outskirts of the Deep Forest. Those without good reason to be in the forest enter at their own peril, so it was from here that the boy would journey on alone. His father wished to impart some words of wisdom, or at least encouragement, but found himself unable to think of anything lofty enough for such a momentous event. He settled for gripping the boy’s shoulders and showing him how proud he was with his eyes and his smile. The boy returned the smile and with a lurch in his heart, turned around and stepped into the forest.

The rest of the day passed without incident and by nightfall he had found a quiet clearing where he could make a bed, prepare and eat some food, and gather his thoughts for the possible challenges he faced over the next day. His main worry was that he was carrying no weapons; the Elders had insisted upon this - it was a sign of respect towards the bear, and therefore non-negotiable - and assured him that he would need none. Back in the village, he would never have doubted the word of the tribe leaders, but he was sat on his own, in the dark, in a forest teeming with all sorts of dangers. He eventually drifted off into an uneasy sleep, and dreamt of teeth and limbs and his mother's face.

He awoke with a start at first light, bad dreams all but forgotten. His enthusiasm for the adventure ahead had returned, and he set off with a spring in his step. In his exuberance, he failed to notice the cougar in the tree up ahead, until she jumped down in front of him, appraising him as she stood poised to pounce.
"I am going to see the bear", he said, as the Elders had instructed.
The cat laid her ears flat on her head, bid him good day with pursed lips, and returned to her tree where she proceeded to ignore him. He stood in shock for a short while - polite encounters with cougars were not unheard of, but very rare. He then walked on heartened, and feeling a little foolish about the doubts that had kept him awake the night before.

As the boy was nearing the bear's domain, the creature himself sat in his usual spot, his back hunched, his head bowed from tiredness. There had been a seemingly endless procession of old men for the last few days, all with tiresome questions. All questions he was able to answer, but he was finding their tedium almost unbearable. Maybe he was just getting too old for this - he cursed whoever it was that decided that oracle bear appointment should be for life. He would have retired years ago if he'd had the choice; instead he had to put up with day upon day of solemn, austere old men, their grey hair long, their faces longer.

One more to go, then - the last of the day. He looked at the figure, standing awkwardly in the  respectful bowed stance the bear had long since come to hate. However a closer look told him that this was no old man - the creature's hair was dark, and barely fell below its chin, and its stature was small. There was neither austerity nor solemnity in its look, only awe and timidity. And something else - something the bear had not seen in a long time: excitement.
"Why, it's only a cub", he thought. "Maybe this will be interesting, for a change".
He motioned to the cub to approach.

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Sunday, 6 September 2009

Mission Statement

AKA, the purpose of this blog.
At the moment, I am mostly going to be using this blog to record my offerings to the fortnightly Leeds Writers Meet-up Group. Eventually I hope to expand to include thoughts on Wing Chun Kung Fu, weight training, nutrition, bioscience, photography, SQL Server, C# and who knows what else.  In other words, assorted geekery, nerdery and kill skills.

I now inform my one reader (who isn't following me yet but will do so pretty soon if he values his life - ref: kill skills) that I will hopefully be blogging again in the near future about talking to bears

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First blog post ever

Yes, yes it is.
My very first (I'll never forget it, I'm told). Read more!