We Are a Strange Loop

I… I don't know! way to put me on the spot!

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We Are a Strange Loop

Postby sotic » Tue Nov 01, 2011 8:49 pm

Edit Nov. 10: Title changed to "We Are a Strange Loop"

“Don’t worry, sweetie, you’ll fit right in here.” Lynn ignored her mother’s comment, which she perceived as patronising. She didn’t mind moving to a new town and starting at a new school. She didn’t have much to do at her old one anyway. All she wanted was to set up her laptop and get back online.

Lynn and her mother both carried the final boxes of possessions that they unloaded from their U-Haul trailer. While her mother stood, gently gazing around the foyer they were standing in, Lynn just wanted to find out where to set down the last box so she could go to her new bedroom and resume normal functions.

“Mom”, she said impatiently.

“Sorry, honey.” Lynn’s mother became animated again. “I think you’re holding the rest of the kitchenware. Why don’t you set it down on the counter?” Lynn complied while her mother walked to a different room.

The kitchen was nondescript. There were boring-looking cupboards and counters, and a perfectly ordinary oven range. It looked very useful and accessible. The kitchen suited Lynn just fine. After setting the cardboard box down, she dug a teapot out of it, filled it with water from the sink and began to boil it on the stovetop for some tea.

When she was done familiarising herself with the kitchen, Lynn went back to the foyer to get her backpack. She could hear her mother shelving books and things in the living room. Wanting to sit down and relax, she walked upstairs to her new bedroom and sat down on the mattress. It was very soft and she looked forward to sleeping on it at night.

She didn’t dwell on it very long. She still needed to get acquainted with her new room.

It looked very bare, with minimal furnishings, but the room didn’t seem like it had just come from the factory. Thick dust lined the desk and empty bookshelf. The building wasn’t falling apart, but to Lynn it seemed as it the house had been abandoned and generally unmaintained for several years. When she moved the wooden chair from the desk, it left deep impressions in the thick carpet. When she pulled the cord on a lamp, dust fell off it in a small, short-lived cloud.

Lynn didn’t mind though. The carpet didn’t seem to give off much dust, and that’s where most of it came from in her experience.

Lynn set up her laptop and arranged her power cord and mouse around it. The desk was pressed up against the wall and was somewhat shallow, so she had trouble deciding on an optimal configuration. She didn’t dwell on it very long.

Having set up the computer to her satisfaction, she powered it on and glanced at the system clock when it came on. 4:26 PM. Her father was excited about his new job that the family moved here for, but the workday would end soon and he would be coming home any minute now to go on and on about his exciting opportunity over dinner.

Lynn compared the computer’s time to the time on her watch. She new they would be the same, but she kept doing it out of habit. The watch was decidedly simple, with a leather band, stainless-steel casing and plain face. It was extremely accurate and she couldn’t remember the last time she had to set it. She brushed the dust from the desk that began to settle on her favored watch.

Downstairs, the teapot began to whistle.

Word count: 585

Not much, but it's a start. More real characters with real names in the next installment! (maybe)

I know I said I wouldn't participate because I'm not good at writing and college makes be busy and yadda yadda but I'm going to try anyway. I probably won't make 50,000 words but at least I'll have practiced writing.
Last edited by sotic on Thu Nov 10, 2011 10:05 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Sotic's writings

Postby smiley_cow » Wed Nov 02, 2011 3:57 am

The whole point of NaNo is just to get people writing. So even if you're just going to do a few instalments here and there, it still fits well within the spirit of the challenge. Even if you don't plan to do a full 50k story.

I also just want to say I like how you write. The descriptions you give and the small details you include gives the whole thing a sense of realism that's really interesting.
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Re: Sotic's writings

Postby sotic » Wed Nov 02, 2011 5:49 am

By the time Lynn got downstairs, her mother had begun brewing the tea. As soon as Lynn stepped off the stairs, the doorbell rang. “Got it!” she shouted across the house to her mother. She opened the door to see her father, cheery as always, back from work with his white shirt, blue tie and black messenger bag. Lynn tended to notice these things first about her father--the shirt was always white, the tie always blue, and the bag always slung over the left shoulder. It didn’t much matter to her, but she still wondered, why did his attire never change? Maybe he needed some continuity as he waltzed from job to job.

“Hey, Evelyn darling! Where’s your mother at?” Lynn rocked her head in the direction of the kitchen. “Julie! How was the move for you? What’s for dinner?” Lynn’s father always discoursed in this manner.

“Oh, but you know, we don’t have anything to cook with yet.” Lynn’s mother Julia responded. Her father chuckled.

“Ah, silly me, I keep forgetting these things.” He and Julia discussed plans to go out for dinner and make some more small talk. Quickly bored, Lynn went back upstairs. Maybe she would find some more interesting conversation on IM or IRC.

Lynn stepped up the carpeted stairs, humming to herself; she and her parents were oblivious to each other. But as she reached the top of the staircase, she saw a panel in the ceiling she hadn’t noticed before. It seemed to recede slightly--or protrude? The boundary to the ceiling made it hard to tell.

It looked to be an attic. Her first home had a door somewhat like this, but it was strangely located in a closet that was perpetually filled with old clothing and other rubbish. Lynn hadn’t seen beyond that attic door since she was very little. She was now very curious about this panel in the new house.

She glanced downstairs, even though she couldn’t see beyond the foyer. Her mother and father were occupied downstairs, chatting away happily, so Lynn decided she would be able to enter the attic without interruption. If it were easily accessible, at least. It wasn’t that she felt somehow forbidden to enter this attic, the contents of which none of them likely knew nothing about; Lynn only wanted to explore without interruption from her parents. If they called for her, she would come back down.

Lynn stretched her arms but could not reach the panel. She was the average height of a female in her late teenage years; of course she wouldn’t be able to reach the ceiling. So she found a broom in the cupboard under the stairs (leftover from the previous tenants, perhaps?) and brought it back upstairs.

She extended the broom handle up to the unevenly-textured ceiling and gave the panel a gentle push. It moved upward: Lynn estimated its weight to be a few kilograms. She didn’t have long to judge, though, before a latch clicked and the panel would not budge further than the fraction of an inch she was able to lift it.

Confused by this, Lynn gently released it to its original position. Was it locked from above? If it was meant to open downward, why didn’t it have any fixtures on the bottom face? But as she brought it back down, the panel came down, hinged opposite from her. Soon the angle made her unable to support it with a broomstick, and it came down frighteningly fast. A segmented ladder of unfinished wood was attached to the topside. Its inertia extended it downward when the panel finished falling, nearly striking Lynn.

In startlement Lynn watched the assembly rock noiselessly back and forth for several seconds. Dust poured continuously through the new square aperture.

Word count: 1213

I would write more but my roommate is going to sleep now and I don't want to keep him up. More tomorrow! I can almost see myself getting really into this thing.
Last edited by sotic on Sun Nov 06, 2011 9:02 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Sotic's writings

Postby sotic » Thu Nov 03, 2011 5:02 am

Lynn often had episodes where she began thinking about her own thought, then thought about those meta-thoughts, and soon would fall through an indefinite recursive chain of thoughts. She entered one such episode now, policing the way she hadn’t thought about how a hatch like this could open down just as easily as it could open up. Was it unreasonable to expect herself to consider these things? Could she, as the subject of these judgements, produce an objective answer to that? Was there such a thing as a thought that objectively existed in its own right?

The typical defense mechanism that Lynn enacted against this trap was to compare it to how a seven-year-old child would ask “why” of every answer to every “why”. She was wasting time, staring at what was either a poorly-designed ladder or a strange piece of balancing exercise equipment. Setting the broom against the railing, she pulled the collar of her shirt over her nose and climbed up into the unlit chamber that continued to emit dust.

When she entered the attic and finished pulling the ladder and panel up, she noticed that the room was decently lit by a small window set into one of the gables. Her presence seemed to stir the sleeping room, and bright particles swirled through the beam of sunlight from the single window. The light illuminated several objects that probably obscured the light from meeting the floor: many things were efficiently packed into this attic, some in boxes or free-standing, most in hutches and bookcases. Hadn’t the previous owners taken care to remove their belongings? But maybe this wasn’t necessarily all theirs. Much of this vast collection could have been here for generations, even. Some of the bookcases certainly looked like it, from their intricate, gnarled designs.

Whatever the case, it didn’t look as if things had ever been placed here unceremoniously or in a careless manner; they were arranged, packed tightly to fit as many objects as one could. In some ways it reminded her of cubicles in a large office room, by the way things were densely stacked into walls with narrow aisles between them. Issues from god-knows-when of magazines she didn’t recognise lay in neat stacks up to her waist, massive unmarked leather-bound tomes challenged the structure of the shelving arrangements, and overturned milk crates formed small makeshift end tables where the aisles intersected. It wasn’t a graveyard for unneeded belongings so much as it was someone’s personal library.

Lynn momentarily forgot to hold her shirt to her face. When she next inhaled she breathed in a mass of dust and entered a brief coughing fit. Recovering, she vowed not to remove her shirt’s fabric from her mouth until she made it downstairs again.

Exploring the maze of small corridors, Lynn saw too many things for her to decide what interested her most. Foreign books stood tall on their shelves, conveying their messages in glyphs Lynn couldn’t read. A broken-down gramophone looked up in resignation to a large case of jazz records. Some electronic keyboards yearned to be played again. At the end of one aisle, she came to a sad-looking personal computer that must have been decades old with its CRT partner, and she saw that it was still plugged in. Would it--

It did, and as she pressed the power button, the fans gave a disconcerting sound as they tried to move air through the dust that must have been caked onto other components. Lynn didn’t want this relic overheating and warping, so she turned the computer off as quickly as she turned it on. It felt like a lost cause, but she removed the computer’s side panel, brought her shirt down from her face and (careful to exhale only) blew some dust from the machine’s innards. Quickly bringing the cloth filter back up to her mouth like a scuba diver who has run out of oxygen, she repeated this several times and replaced the side panel.

The resulting cloud of dust was massive, but it didn’t make a lick of difference in the thick blankets on everything else. Only the glass computer screen was impervious to the small particles.

When Lynn powered the computer on again, the fans made a quieter and smoother hum. A small piezospeaker in the case gave a short, welcoming tone, and white characters appeared in the upper-left corner. Even the rest of the screen, which was black, appeared brighter than the rest of the dim attic.

Code: Select all
S.u.S.E. Linux 4.2 command-line

After a second’s delay, the computer screen printed several lines of “Opening such and such file…” and they went by in an upward stream so fast the Lynn could not read any of them in particular. Soon the screen went dark, and she momentarily panicked until some more characters came up.

Code: Select all
login as: riedke
Access denied
riedke@riedkemchn’s password: █

“Uhm,” Lynn wondered aloud. She casually pressed the carriage return key, larger than most since the keyboard was very old.

Code: Select all
Last login: Fri Sep 9 20:35:55 1999 from localhost
[riedke@local ~]% █

Ah, she recognised this. She had used Unix-like computers before. Curious that it would automatically select a username, though, and request a password but not require one. A private computer owner can do whatever one pleases to one’s machine, she supposed.

While she had time to fool around in the attic, she decided to poke around the computer’s contents, and found that there was only one directory in the user Riedke’s home folder. The directory was named ‘mchn’ and contained two subdirectories, ‘bin’ and ‘src’, as well as a binary executable named ‘interface.’ Not knowing what else to do, she ran it.

Code: Select all
[riedke@local mchn]% ./interface
Hello World!
Type `h` to view session history.
Type `f` to flush session history.
Type `t` to open a tutorial.
Type `s` to edit the session mode.
Type `l` to list command line switches.
Type `e` to open the source code in GNU Emacs.
Type `q` to quit.

Lynn wondered which to try as the attic became formless around her. The sun was setting and the light entering the room had become much more dull and passive; the computer monitor, absolute in brightness, drowned out the sight of the various trinkets and printed materials around her.

She heard a soft shout from below. “Evelyn! Evelyn, we’re going out to eat now. Are you coming?” Lynn’s father used to object when she wanted to stay home or otherwise skip dinner (“You’ll starve, dear!”) but with persuasion he got used to the idea sometimes. This time, though, Lynn couldn’t afford to forget dinner, since there was no food in the house.

Code: Select all
Type `e` to open the source code in GNU Emacs.
Type `q` to quit.
[riedke@local mchn]% shutdown
Shutting down . . .

Not wanting to try to shout through her shirt, Lynn moved quickly to the trapdoor near the stairwell. She undid the latch, carefully let the panel down, and extended the ladder to climb down. She breathed her shirt off of her face and, glancing upward as she descended, decided she would have to figure out how to close it from below later. What kind of moron designed that thing, anyway? Ridiculous.

“Coming, dad,” she said, racing down the stairs to meet her parents who were dressed up and waiting in the foyer. Now that she was thinking of it, she was extremely hungry. Her parents saw her come down from the attic and leave the door hanging wide open, letting volumes of dust flow onto the open landing upstairs. She still had dust in her hair and on her clothes. Her father arched his eyebrows and her mother looked disparagingly at her.

“Lynn, are you going to come out looking like that?” Julie tried to use Evelyn’s diminutive name to suggest she wasn’t being stern and motherly, but it didn’t always work. Lynn shrugged, then ran her fingers through her hair and brushed her sleeves off. She slid her feet into her shoes and walked with her parents to her father’s vehicle. It was a well-maintained, light-grey Mercedes that looked like it couldn’t possibly have just carried a family of three for a thousand miles. There was hardly a blemish on it.

Lynn thought her father was unreasonably obsessed with keeping his car “ship-shape”, as he liked to say. The interior was clean and mostly empty; the only thing differentiating it from a rental car was the absence of that rental-car smell. Her family had had the car for ninety thousand miles but it still didn’t feel like anyone had ever owned any part of it other than the odometer.

When everyone had gotten into the car, they pulled out of the suburban home’s driveway and drove towards the downtown area. Lynn’s mother and father talked about where they should eat, sometimes asking Lynn for input. It was pointless since none of them were familiar enough with the new city to know any of the restaurants nearby. Lynn didn’t care where they ate. She just wanted to sate her hunger and experiment more with that curious program on that curious computer.

Total word count: 2743

I kind of went on in this section more than necessary. Worried about making it too detailed and hence boring... on the other hand, more words towards the goal. Also, more world building and potential plot devices.

Also ideally the computer text would be monospace without being bounded by a definite box like that, but I suppose the code tag will have to do.
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Re: Sotic's writings

Postby Apocalyptus » Thu Nov 03, 2011 8:52 am

I'm getting quite into this one actually, I don't think it's too detailed at all. Interested to see what will happen with the computer, I find myself imagining some sort of TRON-like escapade.
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Re: Sotic's writings

Postby sotic » Fri Nov 04, 2011 7:46 am

After some aimless driving and reluctant agreement that they should have figured out where to eat before they left, the family found a suitable restaurant downtown and managed to park in a nearby parking garage. The sun was almost down, and tall buildings amplified the gusts passing between them, so Lynn was unusually cold as the walked to the restaurant.

“I think I’ll see how their fettuccine alfredo is,” Julia said. “What do you think, Peter?”

“It’s been so long since I’ve had that. I’ve forgotten the taste! I think I’ll have lasagna though. Can’t go wrong with lasagna. Evelyn, did you find anything interesting in the attic? Besides dust, I mean,” Lynn’s father Peter said with a chuckle.

“Just some old books and things. Lots of boxes.” Lynn didn’t feel the need to mention the computer to her parents. “I think I’ll have a sandwich.” Sandwiches were always good to eat and easy to order. Sandwiches suited her just fine. Not every Italian restaurant had sandwiches, though.

“You’re going to have to clean up that mess when you get home. Lord only knows how long that attic has been collecting dust,” Julia said. Lynn nodded in understanding.

The mean went by unnoticeably for Lynn. Her father spoke about his job, her mother expressed excitement for him, they joked and made small talk. Lynn spaced out and wondered briefly about the attic, but decided to concern herself with other things. Her last year of high school would start in less than a week but she still hadn’t received her class schedule. She also needed to find out her transportation to and from school.

“Evelyn, how’s your meal?” Peter asked. Lynn had been gazing absent-mindedly into her spaghetti for some time as she twisted the noodles around her fork and ate them. There hadn’t been any sandwiches on the menu.

“It’s alright.”

At home her internet connection still hadn’t been set up. That pot of tea was probably going cold, if her parents hadn’t drank it all. How much dust was settling in the carpet below the attic hatch right now? Did they bring a vacuum cleaner in the move? Lynn knew she was only stressing herself out, but she went on anyway. Her parents’ conversation, currently on telephone transmission latency for some reason, seemed far from becoming interesting any time soon.

Julia and Peter acted like a normal, happily-married couple as they ate and talked. They sipped wine casually and gestured as the talked, leaning back when they agreed with something and leaning forward when they were surprised. Lynn stared at nothing and ate mechanically until there was no more food, nonspectant to the mealtime occurring around her.

They finished the meal, waited for the bill, walked back to the car and drove home, and Lynn hardly noticed. As usual, she couldn’t stop thinking. What to do with the computer. How to keep herself occupied if the computer turned out to be less interesting than it seemed. Whether or not she cared enough to make her bed up tonight. What to do tomorrow.

When she stepped out of the car into her driveway, the sun was completely down, but she noticed it was much less cool there than in the city. The wind was slow as molasses and the air was still warm. A bright gibbous moon and light pollution from the city gave the sky an iridescent sheen near the horizon, and it was bright enough to see outside. Lynn always liked nighttime. Each city’s night had its own character; this one’s was pleasant and comfortable.

Lynn silently greeted her first friend in the new city. She hadn’t the time right now, but they would meet again soon.

When she got back indoors, the telescoping ladder to the attic looked more like a gallows now, and a passage to purgatory. Now that she thought about it, the strange library was a cemetery and rummaging through the objects was grave-robbing. No, it was silly to feel immoral about poking around in belongings that someone else knowingly left behind when they moved to a new life in a new home in a new city. Lynn wouldn’t feel uncomfortable about a perfect stranger looking through, say, her third-grade crayon drawings or something else that she or her parents never bother to get rid of.

All the same, the ladder was still swaying slightly and it looked kind of eerie now. Where before it was somewhat lit by the window in the gable, now the attic was truly dark. It was easy to imagine bats fly out, or cave-dwellers with vestigial sight organs emerge from the open panel.

Lynn walked upstairs and grabbed the same broom she left by the railing before. With some time and effort, she used its handle to close the attic door. She replaced it in the closet inside the staircase where she found it, and entered into her room.

She was very tired. The suburbs’ night may be friendly and welcoming, but the downtown night where she had spent dinner was just heavy and somniferous. It was barely seven-o’clock now and she wanted to sleep.

After unpacking her bedding from some cardboard boxes in the far corner of her room, Lynn haphazardly put the sheets on the mattress, tossed the pillows to the head and cast the thick wool blanket on top of it. It was tempting to just lay down and fall asleep now, but she didn’t want to wake up at four in the morning with nothing to do. For now, she opened a word processor and tried to think of something to write about her experience with the computer.

She was too tired, though. Or rather--she simply felt tired. It wasn’t even seven-thirty in the evening and she had had a easygoing day; what had made her feel so tired? Maybe she only felt so tired because she somehow felt that she should feel tired. Lynn began to recurse.

When the meta-thoughts finally became too complicated and collapsed, Lynn wondered what her father was doing right now. Doubtlessly he was scribbling in one of his notebooks, or typing on his own computer as the case may be. He had some sort of title that was vaguely consistent between all of his job, but Lynn had never been particularly clear on what exactly it was that he did. Clearly it was well-paying enough for them to own a Mercedes and purchase a new house even during a brief period of unemployment.

What Lynn’s mother did in her spare time, the devil only knew. Well, probably her father knew. But Lynn had no clue.

Lynn typed some incomprehensible strings into the computer, saved the document as something equally meaningless, and shut it down. She unpacked the rest of her things--clothing, books, sketchpads she rarely used--and set it in and on the modern dresser, bookshelf and desk. She thought about the storage furniture in that attic, and its various designs that gave one the impression of a museum of the Evolution of a Cabinet. This house had seen a lot of different residents. Lynn decided it must have an interesting history.

She turned off the lights and crawled under the bedsheets. She couldn’t help herself; she wanted to sleep too badly. The weight of the bedding pressed her into the soft mattress and her thoughts scattered as she entered the most fitful sleep she’d had all summer.

Word count: 3982

It occurs to me now that a family of 3 might not take a U-Haul across-country in a Mercedes. Pretend some realistic moving happened. I've never really moved, besides into college, nor have I known anyone who has.

I also hope 'nonspectant' works as an English adjective. Sort of like 'non-participatory' I guess, but I didn't feel like using that word.
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Re: Sotic's writings

Postby sotic » Sun Nov 06, 2011 9:13 am

When Lynn woke up, the sun was shining through a rather large window and directly onto her face. Startled, she sat up quickly and checked her plain watch. Seven thirty, it said confidently. She had forgotten to remove it before sleeping, so her wrist bore redness in the shape of the leather watchband.

Climbing out of her flatly-coloured blanket, Lynn wondered what day of the week it was. She often lost track during the summer. School started in a few days, though, so she had to get back into the regular cycle. She sat at her desk (it seemed to have gathered more dust overnight--no, she just hadn’t swept the dust off when she arrived) and turned on her computer. The computer’s clock read 7:30 AM Tuesday.

Next she tried to connect to the internet. Her family had been moved in for only one night, so she didn’t expect to have access, but to her surprise she was able to connect to a five-bar unsecured network called “NetGear”. Maybe her father needed a connection for his new job and had everything set up beforehand.

Lynn had a very standard procedure for using the internet: first she checked her various social websites, in order. Finding nothing of interest, she went on to browse a selection of technology-related websites. Today, she didn’t read anything new or interesting. Today was just like yesterday and yesterday was just like the day before. When she finished her procedure, she opened a media player and shuffled through various tracks until she found one she especially liked. (She knew this should ideally be the first item in her procedure, but she hadn’t yet gotten around to making it so.)

Lynn became bored, and leaned backward in her chair. Just when she passed the point of falling over backward, she reached backwards and supported herself with her bed. It was habitual, and it wasn’t unusual for her to begin to recurse at moments like these. This time she deviated, though, when she remembered that she needed to find out her school schedule.

Navigating the school website was far from intuitive. How horribly they were always designed! This particular example was formatted with tables, had excessive mouseover JavaScript actions, and in general looked as if it was designed by a twelve-year-old. The only thing missing was blinking text. All the same, she was at least able, with difficulty, to log into the system. Its true convolution quickly became apparent. Links and redirects led in circles and the only useful links were embedded in page footers. It took at least ten minutes to actually find her classes. It, at least, was stored in an easy-to-read text file:

Code: Select all
Student: Neuhafen, Evelyn   Sex:   Female
Student no:    198357       Grade: 12
Computer pass: 392916

Per.   Mon.   Tue.   Wed.   Thu.   Fri.

   1   1167   1206   1167   1167   1206

   2   1208   1208   1208   1208   1208

   3   2109   2134   2134   2109   2109

   4   2116   2116   2116   2116   2116

   5   ****** LUNCH (PIN:  4272) ******

   6   1206   2109   2109   2134   2134

   7   2134   1167   1206   1206   1167

Room no.      Class         Teacher
1167          Precalculus   Oppenheimer, J
1208          Physics       Lertzst, M
1206          Chemistry     Stevenson, P
2116          English 12    Alans, W
2134          Civics       
2109          Medieval His  Schreiner, K

It was like she was solving a sudoku puzzle. Was ordering the classes differently each day the only possible way to make sure everyone got the right classes? Also, the civics class didn’t have a teacher listed. The system was consistent in its incompleteness.

Lynn decided she would have to ask her mother to driver her to school tomorrow so she could rectify these problems with the administration, before school started on Thursday. While she was at it, maybe she could ask to switch out of Medieval History; surely it wasn’t a requirement to graduate. She doubted she could, though, with how hopelessly tangled the class structure seemed to be.

“Evelyn, you still haven’t cleaned up this filth out here!” Julia’s voice was raised, although she was clearly right outside Lynn’s front door.

“Sorry, Mom.” Lynn also raised her voice through the door, to match her mother’s. She wasn’t sorry; she was in fact indifferent to the dust content of a small patch of carpet on the stairway’s upper landing. “I’ll clean it up in a minute.”

“I’m your mother and I want you to clean it up now.” Julia always played the mother card. Lynn resented this. She could hardly go a day without being reminded who raised her and therefore owned her life like an indentured servant.

“Fine,” Lynn muttered quietly as she scooted her short desk chair backwards. She had figured the dust would go by unnoticed if she let it be, it being dust and its environment being thick carpet, but the attic had contained quite a monstrous amount of dust that was eager to leave its den.

When she came into the upper foyer, she saw that fine dust was visibly heaped up to half a centimeter in places. Amazing, that a single attic could exude so much dust in the two hours she had been out to dinner with her parents the night before. She stood and wondered how she would clean it up without a vacuum cleaner. She would’ve asked her mother, but she had apparently gone back downstairs, presumable to fix breakfast.

Lynn leaned over the railing to see the lower foyer and a small part of the kitchen. A vacuum cleaner waited for her by the front door--ah, that’s how.

She made no delay in finishing the process--she had forgotten how painfully loud vacuum cleaners can be. After she finished, she placed the appliance in the same stairwell closet where she had found the broom. She briefly considered going up into the attic again, but that would defeat the purpose of having just cleaned up all the dust from last time she went up. She’d have to figure out a way to solve the dust problem before she went up again.

In the meantime, having finished her compulsory cleaning duty, Lynn went to the kitchen to have breakfast with her mother.

Julia had some grocery bags on the plain white counter and was breaking eggs onto a large frying pan. “Good morning, honey,” she said without looking up. Lynn responded with a monosyllable. She found the teapot on the same stove her mother was cooking eggs on. It was empty. She filled it with water and began boiling it again, determined to actually have some tea today.

When Julia finished cracking eggs, she dug through one of the bags and removed a spatula. She waited for a minute, then started turning the eggs. Lynn sat at the glass-topped kitchen table, zoning out.

Lynn wasn’t sure how to feel about school starting. On one hand, she just moved to a new suburb of a new city which she was totally unfamiliar with; she felt trapped by the sea of identical suburban houses, and was unsure about how she should pass her time. She didn’t have any friends in the old city, besides the regular day/night cycle of the Earth, and she couldn’t make any new ones until school began. On the other hand, school was a pointless and ineffective system and she would be spending all day bored out of her mind anyway, while that system worked hard to accommodate all the dumbest students first.

“Mom, I need to go to school tomorrow, to fix my schedule,” Lynn said, drooping her head back while she slouched.

“Why, what’s wrong with it?” her mother responded, currently putting bread in a toaster.

“It’s got missing information and electives I don’t want to take.”

“Well I’m sure you can email them, right?”

“I checked the school website, there aren’t any email addresses on it.” Lynn didn’t doubt that this was true, and even if it weren’t, she didn’t want to spend an hour sorting through bad excuses for proper webpages to find them.

“Why don’t we go over today, after breakfast, and we’ll get it sorted out.” Julia said. Lynn felt particularly lazy today and didn’t want to go out, but her mother had this awful tendency to have an idea of what to do and never reject it. She would have to go today.

“Yeah, better sooner rather than later,” Lynn said. She still draped her head behind the chair she sat in, and let her arms dangle. She was perfectly unmotivated.

Word count: 5386

I didn't think I would actually enjoy writing dialogue. It is quite enjoyable. I will try to make more room for it.
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Re: Sotic's writings

Postby sotic » Tue Nov 08, 2011 12:51 am

“Yeah, better sooner rather than later,” Lynn said. She still draped her head behind the chair she sat in, and let her arms dangle. She was perfectly unmotivated. How sad was it, she thought, that she hardly cared enough to inform the school administration of an error so that it could get back on its flawed track? Pitiful. She got up and received a plate of fried eggs and toast that her mother handed to her.

After breakfast, Julia and Lynn climbed into the small Chevrolet that was kept inside the new garage. It was of that small, sleek variety which had only two doors, and the front seats folded forward for reaching the back seat. Lynn remembered reading that this type of car was called a ‘coupé’ or some such. Julia said she purchased this vehicle because it got had good fuel economy, but Lynn knew she really just liked the way it looked. The garage door opened quietly but slowly, and they backed into the street’s smooth dark asphalt.

When Lynn rode in a car, she always noticed the texture of the road first. The suburban roadway was unusually smooth, and she enjoyed the relaxation that evenness offered her. But the GPS led them to a main highway and soon she was constantly rattled by the fractured pavement, and the car lurched through the swarm of other vehicles driving to the city.

They got off the highway before the city, and found Lynn’s school, Roosevelt High, in another suburban area. The parking lot had only a handful of cars parked near the school entrance. Unlike the road by her house, thelot was tarred up and scattered with potholes. Lynn had already been given the impression that the school was underfunded, and the sad state of this lot only reinforced that.

“I’ll call you when I’m done,” Lynn said to her mother, opening the car door after they parked. She felt her pockets to make sure she actually did have her cell phone. Good.

“Do you want me to come with you?” Julia leaned to the side to see her daughter from under the car’s low ceiling.

“It’s fine, Mom. See you soon,” Lynn said and walked across the ratty parking lot towards the flat-looking school. The doors looked very short from where she stood, and their appearance didn’t grow much as she approached them. Behind her, the coupé grumbled quietly to itself and drove out of the lot.

When Lynn entered the doors, a map greeter her on the opposite wall of the corridor. The layout seemed simple and relatively elegant; at least something of the school had some thought put into it, she mused. She examined the map and turned towards the administration’s offices when she determined her destination.

Walking down the hall was more pleasant than she imagined it might be. The linoleum tiles were smooth and well-maintained. Bulletin boards sheltered behind glass proudly displayed honor students and successful graduates from years past. Creative signs hung from the ceiling and said which teachers and what classes were in which rooms. Lynn didn’t recognise any teachers’ names from her class schedule.

The doors to the student services room was propped open. When Lynn entered, she saw a young female receptionist quickly striking keys at a computer terminal with a small LCD monitor. Lynn saw that they were the same five keys or so; maybe she was playing a game. A nameplate on the desk read “Susan J. Bejin”. Lynn approached the desk and waited.

After a few moments, the receptionist glanced up. The keystrokes stopped. “Hello, can I help you?” Susan J. Bejin put on an apathetic smile under her modest makeup.

“Yeah, uh, my class schedule has an error in it.”

“Okay, what’s your student number?” Susan asked.

“One nine... um...” Lynn paused several seconds to think. She couldn’t remember the number. Was it six or seven digits?

“Last name?”

“Neuhafen, N-E-U, H-A-F-E-N.”

The receptionist quickly entered the letters. “Evelyn?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

The receptionist clicked the mouse button, waited a few seconds, and clicked again. “Looks fine to me... oh. Your civics teacher isn’t on here, that’s weird.” A few more clicks and keystrokes. “I can’t change your schedule on the server from here, but I’ll make a copy and fill in the teacher’s name.” After a minute, a printer hummed under the receptionist’s counter.

“Is that all?” Susan looked back to Lynn and handed her the revised schedule.

“Yeah, I was hoping to change my Medieval History class. That’s, um, not a requirement, is it?”

“I don’t think so. I’ll just have you talk to one of the academic counselors. Pick a door over there and walk right in,” Susan said, pointing behind her with an outstretched arm. A narrow hallway went back and turned sharply to the right. Lynn couldn’t see any doors from here, but she went into the hallway. Behind her, the rapid typing resumed.

Although the walls were very industrial here, the narrowness of this hallway reminded her of the attic. She couldn’t wait to get back up there and find out what was on the old Linux computer up there.

A door was open on her left. Lynn stood in its frame and knocked twice. A man sat at an L-shaped desk, leaning back as he read a newspaper. His computer monitor had its power light on but didn’t display an image. He must have been reading for quite sometime. When Lynn knocked on his door, though, he looked up and folded his newspaper.

“Oh, hello. You can sit if you like.” The academic counselor set his paper aside and leaned forward. Lynn took a seat in the chair nearest the door of the two. “What can I help you with?”

“I’d like to change one of my classes.”

“Sure thing.” He moved over to the computer and wiggled the mouse. “What’s your student number?” he asked, and the monitor came on. He had it set extremely dim, with the contrast down. Lynn also noticed that the room was somewhat dark, and that the window blinds were drawn.

“One nine...” Lynn looked down at the paper she received from the receptionist. “...eight, three five seven.” She decided that since she’d be asked this question a lot during her course at this school, she should commit it to memory, and started going over the digits in her head.

“Alright, Miss Newhafen, which class did you want to switch out of? It looks like the only ones that aren’t required courses are physics and medieval history. ...That’s funny, your civics teacher isn’t listed...”

“Neuhafen, like in ‘oil’,” Lynn corrected. People made this mistake a lot. “I’ve already got the civics figured out. I’d like to switch out of medieval history.”

“Alright, hold on a minute.” The counselor started typing. Lynn saw that he was using a primitive text-only interface to access the school server. Gosh, this place was really behind the times. “Okay, it looks like the only classes that fit the same time slot are geology and painting. Or you could replace it with a study hall.”

Kill me, Lynn thought. “I’ll take the study hall.”

“Alright,” the man acknowledged, and began typing some more. “It’s going to be a different study hall each day. The system’s kind of weird.” A few clicks and a printer beside the monitor produced another schedule for Lynn, to whom the man promptly handed it.

Lynn took the schedule and saw that the civics teacher was still missing on this document. Then she remembered that none of the schedules had told her a locker number, either.

“Thanks. ... Do I get a locker?”

“Hmm?” The counselor looked at the screen. “Wow, it’s not listed either. This thing really needs to get with the program.”

“Yeah,” Lynn agreed. The counselor continue typing keys to navigate the array of characters on the screen. Lynn wondered if it took more resources to train faculty to use this system than it would to implement a new one.

“Whatever, your locker number is 1499 and your combination is,” he said, then grabbed a pen from a pencil cup, handed it to Lynn and paused. “Nineteen, sixteen, forty-one.” Lynn wrote the numbers on her newer schedule and set the pen down on the desk.

“Thanks,” she said.

“No problem. If you ever need anything, you know who to ask,” the counselor said back. Then Lynn noticed that there wasn’t a nameplate anywhere on the desk, and she hadn’t noticed one on the wall outside the room, either. She didn’t ask the man’s name though. She was comfortable and to-the-point with figures of authority, but in a social situation she became like a deer in headlights.

“Have a nice day,” Lynn said as she stood up, pushed her chair in and left the office. She didn’t say anything to the receptionist on her way out.

Word count: 6842
I've got a lot of catching up to do.
Last edited by sotic on Tue Nov 08, 2011 1:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Sotic's writings

Postby Kimra » Tue Nov 08, 2011 1:10 am

You're doing great! Keep it up. :)
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Re: Sotic's writings

Postby sotic » Tue Nov 08, 2011 5:41 am

Lynn walked back down the linoleum-tiled hallway and dialed her mother on her phone. Lynn didn’t have a smartphone, so it was remarkably easy to call someone from her address book using the minimalist interface and simple display device. The six- by three-button keypad was all she needed and the phone suited her just fine.

“Hey Mom, I’m done at school. Could you come pick me up now?”

“Certainly, honey, I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“See you soon.” Lynn often felt like a record-holder for shortest phone calls. It was like that television commercial where the family spoke like auctioneers to each other on the phone to conserve minutes, even though she didn’t have any absurd limitations on her phone plan. Either way, Lynn just didn’t feel like talking any longer than she had to.

Back over at the main entrance, she looked at her classes’ room numbers and compared them to the large floor plan on the wall. Physics and chemistry were right next to each other, and precalculus was decently nearby. English 12 and civics (now taught by Pushinski, S) were also near each other, but were diametrically opposite from her math and science classes. She didn’t bother to look for the various locations of her study hall sessions yet. She would figure it out when she got there, so to speak.

Feeling satisfactorily prepared to move between classes when school started on Thursday, Lynn walked outside and sat on the parking lot’s curb while she waited for her mother to arrive. The sun was high overhead, and felt extremely warm on her pale skin. She hadn’t been outside much since her previous school year ended. Mostly she stayed inside watching movies and reading books during the summer.

Julia arrived in the coupé after what felt like just a few minutes, even though Lynn hadn’t brought anything to do while she waited. Lynn opened the car door and sat down in the passenger seat.

“So did you get everything all fixed up?” Julia asked.

“Yeah. I dropped my medieval history class for a study hall,” Lynn said.

Julia put on a firm scowl. “You should make the most of your education. What’s wrong with medieval history? Go back and change it.” Julia felt her sole purpose in life was to make things best for her daughter, even it meant making Lynn unhappy about it. They had some conflicting ideas about what was ‘best’.


“Go back and put that class back into your schedule. As your mother, I’m making you do this.” She turned the ignition back and killed the engine. Lynn immediately regretted mentioning her course change and resolved to hide from her mother as much about her business at Roosevelt High School as she could. She figured she could go into the school, wait a few minutes and come back out, but it would probably just bite her harder later, and she didn’t want to lie to her mother...

“Mom, listen, I’ll study other things while I’m at school. Medieval history is useless to me anyway, and I can use that time to work on homework for other classes,” Lynn pleaded.

“Alright, fine, if it’s that important to you.” Lynn’s mother turned the ignition again, and the small Chevrolet left the parking lot without another word.

The drive back home felt longer than the drive to school. Lynn always felt guilty about confrontations with her parents. Neither of them had turned on the radio after the engine was turned off in the lot, either. Only the grumbling of the car over the road tried to dissipate the implied tension that Lynn perceived.

“Lynn, tell me about your other classes,” Julia said, breaking the silence of five minutes.

“Well, first I’ve got precalculus, whatever that is. Things more advanced than trig, but not as complicated as calculus? What exactly is calculus, anyway?” Lynn felt silly for asking the question, but she didn’t really have any idea.

“Oh, I haven’t even looked at calculus since high school,” Julia said.

“Anyway, then I’ve got physics, then chemistry. Then I’ve got, ah,” Lynn hesitated and looked at the new schedule she received from the counselor. “English 12 and civics.”

“Good,” Julia said. “Those are classes that colleges like. Do you have an idea where you’d like to go?”

Lynn didn’t. She hadn’t thought much about life after high school, although now was the time to do it. She guessed she probably wanted to go to college. Not sure where, though; what did she want in a college? Was it that important what -she- wanted in a college?

“I’m not sure yet,” Lynn said, breaking off the recursion chain early.

“Well, you should think about it, and start applying soon, sweetie.” And then they were home.

Word count: 7639

Is that really 1157 words? Hardly looks like it, but Google Docs wouldn't lie to me, would it?

Edit: 797 words. Arithmetic is for chumps.
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Re: Sotic's writings

Postby sotic » Thu Nov 10, 2011 3:27 am

Lynn made no delay in traveling up to the attic. She didn’t remove her shoes when she entered the house this time; she didn’t want to be walking around the attic floor, grimy with dust, in just her socks. She set her newly printed class schedules down on the floor of the closet to get the broom she used before, hurriedly let down the ceiling panel, climbed up the ladder and closed the hatch.

It was still slightly before midday, so the overhead sunlight diffused into the room instead of shining directly inwards. Because of this, Lynn was able to see more clearly in the attic. She hadn’t taken note of the roof’s shape from the outside, but now she saw that it was a somewhat tall mansard roof, and as the ceiling came to the floor, the rafters bent until they were nearly vertical. The attic was certainly not finished as a room, but the structural members she could see were unmarred and in good shape. The neat stacking of items into short walls and the organised bookcases against the walls, or as near the slanted walls as they could be, gave a very professional atmosphere.

Lynn made her way through the maze of stacked items towards the computer. More dust had settled on the keyboard in the time since she last used it. She looked for a chair to sit down on (had she just stood on her knees before? she couldn’t remember) and saw one two aisles over.

When she went over to move the chair to the computer desk, she noticed it was exactly like the one in her bedroom: no armhandles, red padding, maple frame with superfluous beams between the legs. After she brought it to the computer, she noticed that the desk was also exactly like the one in her bedroom: one slab of wood on the surface, thin metal legs, a drawer on the left. But this drawer had a lock on it, and it wouldn’t budge when she tried it.
Whatever. She would figure it out later. For now, she switched on the computer like before.

Code: Select all
login as: riedke
Access denied
riedke@riedkemchn’s password:
Last login: Fri Sep 9 20:35:55 1999 from localhost
[riedke@local ~]% ./interface
Hello World!
Type `h` to view session history.
Type `f` to flush session history.
Type `t` to open a tutorial.
Type `s` to edit the session mode.
Type `l` to list command line switches.
Type `e` to open the source code in GNU Emacs.
Type `q` to quit.

She pondered the instruction set for a minute. She didn’t see a keystroke that would actually let her use whatever program it seemed to be referring to. Well, when in doubt, try the least destructive option:

Code: Select all
Type `e` to open the source code in GNU Emacs.
Type `q` to quit.
Error: file `tutorial` could not be compiled.
tutorial:212:24: unmatched left parenthesis
tutorial:213:00: syntax error at end of file
Exited `interface` with status 1
[riedke@local ~]% █

Well that’s helpful, Lynn thought. Alas, she didn’t know much about computer code, and probably wouldn’t be able to fix the problem. She ran the interface program again and tried a different option.

Code: Select all
Type `e` to open the source code in GNU Emacs.
Type `q` to quit.
Currently using these modules:
    SLInE (Symbolic Language Interpreter and Editor)
    GPeG (Grammatic Permutation Generator)
Type `l` to list available modules.
Type `-e [MODULE NAME]` to enable a module.
Type `-d [MODULE NAME]` to disable a module.
Type `-i [MODULE NAME]` to view a module’s description.
Type `b` to begin the session.
Type `q` to go back to the welcome screen.

Lynn hesitated for a bit. She didn’t know what any of this meant. But curiosity got the better of her.
Code: Select all
Type `b` to begin the session.
Type `q` to go back to the welcome screen.
Loading files ...

Word count: 8291
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Re: Sotic's writings

Postby sotic » Thu Nov 10, 2011 7:44 am

Code: Select all
[Welcome to Machine Learner v. by Leonard Riedke]
[This is session no. 1320898919.0                      ]

This looked promising. Lynn still had no clue what it did, though. When she typed something in, the computer responded as if it were a person. It initially seemed like Cleverbot or something similar, but the responses it gave were coherent with each other.

“Hello”, she typed to the computer.

“To whom am I speaking?” it responded.

Lynn paused for a moment. She could tell this computer anything it wanted. She could pretend to be this Leonard Riedke fellow. She could pretend to be the Ruler of the World.

“Technically you’re not speaking to anyone,” Lynn typed, feeling playful. The mechanical keyboard was hard for her to get used to, and each keystroke took effort.

“This cannot be true. I am receiving input external to myself.”

Well, Lynn thought, this thing is capable of deciding something is logically impossible. Impressive for a computer program.

“What are you?” she asked it.

“I am Leonard Riedke’s Machine Learner version -1065191885.”

Uh. How can a version number be negative? Probably a simple bug.

“How about a nice game of chess?” Lynn typed into the terminal.

“What do you mean ‘how about...’?” the computer responded. It wasn’t as idiomatically capable as Lynn hoped. She’d have to think about everything she said to make sure it was comprehensible under the strictest rules of English.

"Would you like to play chess?" She revised her question.

“I do not know ‘chess’. How is it played?”

Lynn was surprised at this. What kind of AI researcher doesn’t write chess into the program? She would like to have some words with Mr. Riedke.

She typed deliberately, planning out a concise explanation for the computer and hoping that it could understand. “There is a square board of eight tiles by eight tiles. Adjacent tiles alternate black and white in color. There are two teams, each having sixteen pieces...” Lynn went on for some minutes trying to describe the game of chess and compactly explain its rules before she would press the large return key.

Beginning to feel exasperated that she had to explain this game, which the computer should reasonably know about anyway, Lynn remembered the room she was in. It was crammed with literature, and if the previous owner of the house was interested enough in artificial intelligence to own a computer dedicated to experimentation therein, surely they must have had at least one chess book from which she could borrow a well-written explanation of the rules.

Lynn stood up and turned around, her pending text still waiting to be sent to the computer program. On the wall to her left, there were bookcases. On the wall to her right, there were more bookcases. She looked at the maze of aisles and planned her route to the wall on her left, and found a path that passed by an ornate desk globe and what looked like a large Tesla coil.

At the bookcases, she saw many large volumes on many esoteric subjects. Topological entropy, computational theory, obscure science fiction, even clavichord construction and the history of the triple-harp... but nothing about chess. She stopped looking when she came to a cabinet of 45s and an array of Star Wars figurines.

Lynn turned around to examine the room again and found a path that took her by a small, old, empty bedframe and sent her to the bookcases on the opposite wall, near the clearing where the attic door was. On the first bookcase she saw, there was a chessboard at eye level. Next to it were several books--what luck! But when she looked more closely, she saw that they were all written in Russian. Many of them had “Дворецкий” printed at the base of the spine, perhaps a favorite author of the attic’s previous inhabitant. Whatever the case, she couldn’t read them, and they might not be about chess.

The board, at least, might be useful to have if she was going to teach a computer how to play chess. It was a hollow box, about thirty centimeters square and four centimeters thick. Its lid with the chessboard painted on it could be lifted off, and inside were sixteen white pieces and sixteen black pieces.

The pieces were very elegant. The pawns were appropriately peasantly, but the royal pieces came alive in delicate wood-carving. The notched-faced rook stood tall but stoic, empathetic to his enemies’ fate and resentful of his subordination to the King, whose carefully carved crown gave him command over all similarly-colored pieces on the board and allowed him to observe inevitable casualties from the rearmost rank. The vitriolic queen’s medusa-like head threatened pieces in all directions and her posture betrayed no hesitation to attack. The bishop and knight, fiercely loyal, held formal stances and prepared themselves to carry out any action the King commanded.

Lynn noticed underneath the pieces a sleeve for a vinyl 7” single: “YES: Your Move (I’ve Seen All Good People)”. It had a disc still inside it, which had somehow evaded the prolific dust and was still shiny and black, and the B-side bore a red-and-green label, “Steve Howe - Clap”.

Lynn set the disc back in its sleeve in the chess box, replaced the lid, and carried it back to the computer. She set it vertically on the desk, between the bulky, oversize, white plastic monitor and computer case. She continued typing her explanation of chess to the computer and, satisfied she had thoroughly explained the game’s initial layout across several lines of text, pressed enter.

Code: Select all
Error: Buffer overflow
Try splitting your query into multiple lines.

What. God knew how long she had just spent trying to put chess in terms a computer could understand. But she remembered that it was still a computer, and a computer from the nineties no less. They had their limitations.

She was getting hungry. Lynn checked her plain stainless steel watch (she had to brush a remarkable amount of dust from its face) and saw that it was about noon now.

Word count: 9308
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