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Island Gothic

06 January 2019 07:30PM travel

You leave The Settlement, through gates designed to keep the wildlife out. Past the turbine hill and the brine lakes, past the bore fields and the fire trails, there are only hills and scrub, punctuated by occasional glades of gnarled, parched trees.

You go on foot, or on a bike. You take only what you can carry, including water for the day. There is no fresh water outside The Settlement. Only the Rangers, working for the Authority, have access to motor vehicles.

You pause to take a break, sweating inside your helmet and protective clothing. You reach into your pack, past the mask and breathing tube you carry just in case you need them, and take a swig from your precious water supply. You take a look around, reflecting on what brought you to this place.

Once, the island was a prison, and then a military base. Now, the centre of the island is a Research Area - although if you ask the folks around you, they'd be hard pressed to tell you what that research actually is. Other than that, The Island is occupied only by transient visitors - travellers, like you - living off desalinated water and food shipped from elsewhere at great cost, bunking in basic accommodations repurposed from another era, searching for... something that escapes definition, but that might just bring you peace.

Because despite decades of habitation - or perhaps thanks to it - they say there's things to discover at the heart of the Island. That, after all, is what dragged you away from the Settlement.

Sometimes, the Guides - not part of the Authority, but with its permission - lead expeditions into the research area at the centre of the island. Or out through the tunnels, part of the disused military installation, under the island. You, though, prefer to strike out on their own, seeking parts of the Island none have yet found.

Youths, in particular, will find an isolated beach somewhere to drink and party - but if the Rangers find them, the full wrath of the Authority will be brought down on them - and the may find themselves kicked off the Island for good. You were one of them, once, but now you find yourself looking for something different.

Something screeches in the distance, something winged and hungry, breaking your reverie. You should keep moving. Staying in one place too long was a good way to have your provisions stolen by scavengers.

You'd taken shelter under an ancient rust-coloured structure, seeking shade, seeking any respite from the scorching temperatures. You step back out on to the road as others come to claim your place. Heat waves rise off the tarmac as the sun scours the landscape - and yet you are thankful to be here. After all, they say things are even worse back on the Mainland...

definitely a hellscape

Island Gothic

06 January 2019 07:30AM travel

You leave The Settlement, through gates designed to keep the wildlife out. Past the turbine hill and the brine lakes, past the bore fields and the fire trails, there are only hills and scrub, punctuated by occasional glades of gnarled, parched trees.

You go on foot, or on a bike. You take only what you can carry, including water for the day. There is no fresh water outside The Settlement. Only the Rangers, working for the Authority, have access to motor vehicles.

You pause to take a break, sweating inside your helmet and protective clothing. You reach into your pack, past the mask and breathing tube you carry just in case you need them, and take a swig from your precious water supply. You take a look around, reflecting on what brought you to this place.

Once, the island was a prison, and then a military base. Now, the centre of the island is a Research Area - although if you ask the folks around you, they'd be hard pressed to tell you what that research actually is. Other than that, The Island is occupied only by transient visitors - travellers, like you - living off desalinated water and food shipped from elsewhere at great cost, bunking in basic accommodations repurposed from another era, searching for... something that escapes definition, but that might just bring you peace.

Because despite decades of habitation - or perhaps thanks to it - they say there's things to discover at the heart of the Island. That, after all, is what dragged you away from the Settlement.

Sometimes, the Guides - not part of the Authority, but with its permission - lead expeditions into the research area at the centre of the island. Or out through the tunnels, part of the disused military installation, under the island. You, though, prefer to strike out on their own, seeking parts of the Island none have yet found.

Youths, in particular, will find an isolated beach somewhere to drink and party - but if the Rangers find them, the full wrath of the Authority will be brought down on them - and the may find themselves kicked off the Island for good. You were one of them, once, but now you find yourself looking for something different.

Something screeches in the distance, something winged and hungry, breaking your reverie. You should keep moving. Staying in one place too long was a good way to have your provisions stolen by scavengers.

You'd taken shelter under an ancient rust-coloured structure, seeking shade, seeking any respite from the scorching temperatures. You step back out on to the road as others come to claim your place. Heat waves rise off the tarmac as the sun scours the landscape - and yet you are thankful to be here. After all, they say things are even worse back on the Mainland...

definitely a hellscape

An Untitled Fanfic

09 December 2018 01:03PM fiction

by Rockwell McGellin, age six.

A long time ago in another galaxy there was a planet just like earth. It was called planet aAtrid.

It had three moons, two had air and the bad guys had them cosbecause they were lazy. but the good buys had it the third because they were not lazy and thy could make air.

On this particular day, Luke SkywalkerSam Skyrider was getting in his rocket when he heard a strange sound. "Beeeeeeeep beeeeeeeep," it went, "Beeeeeeep."

He went back inside. It was his robot teling him that the planet was blowing up. LukeSam said to his mum, "Don't wory, I will help you." "Ok" said his mum, "I do not want to be blown up."

"Ok, hop in to my roket then," said LukeSam. "It will be safe."

"10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Blast off!" said his robot. The rocket soared away to planet Way.

The rocket landed.

Sam's alien friends came to meet him and his mother.

The aliens' names were Venus and Jupiter and Pluto. They gave same and his mother some alien money. They stayed in an alien hotel.

The next day, the rocketed off to fight the bad guys. Sam and the good guys won.

paragraph three, on the original page.

This is the earliest thing I remember writing, and certainly the earliest piece of my writing I still have.

I remember it being much longer at the time. And much more original.

It's fascinating to see what made the cut. The destruction of Alderaan stayed, but Luke - sorry, Sam - saves his parental figures. We address some unanswered practical questions, like where does Luke sleep? and how does Luke afford to eat? And we get some fascinating bits and pieces from our own galaxy as well, including the Way half of the Milky Way, and a planet that's no longer a planet.

And there's a couple of things in there that are actually quite cool ideas - the idea that the atmospheric status of moons defines the kind of society that develops there, for example, wouldn't look at all out of place in The Expanse.

Even if you file all the names off though - as some officious teacher seemed intent on doing - it's still recognisably Star Wars. You can tell. The shape of the story is the same.

And I guess that means I just need to admit to myself that the first thing I ever wrote... was fanfiction.

No matter what, there will be the simple, inescapable truth for many of us: that the original film not only has great meaning to us, it was what actually defined "meaning" in the first place.

The solution to a very specific problem.

02 December 2018 08:27AM sg-2018travel

Grace had waved me off from her spot by the pool with the same air as a parent depositing their spawn at the arcade for the afternoon, and that was probably for the best.

"Alright, well, have fun."

While I would have loved to share this experience with her, I have a feeling she'd have found it frustrating after much less time than I needed.

I was going to Sim Lim Square.

Sim Lim Square is bewildering warren of tightly packed electronics merchants, selling everything you can imagine, and quite a few things you can't. It's not a place you necessarily go for the price, or the quantity, or the quality. Or even, really, for the experience. It's a place you go for specificity. It's six floors of solutions to problems you never even knew you could have - but obviously someone does, or this very specific item wouldn't be for sale.

There's this thing, which seems to be a strip of LEDs, inside a transparent case, powered by a USB port. Who needs this? And why?

Or these things - fans that draw power from the charging port on your phone. Who could possibly want this? What is their story?

Or this! It's a lanyard, and a measuring tape, and a phone charging cable, all in one. Which may just be the most useful useless item I've ever seen.

It's this fascinating look at supply and demand. Obviously there's some kind of demand for these products, or they wouldn't exist. I can see the supply, the end product in front of me. The demand must be out there somewhere - I just cannot possibly imagine what it is.

The truth is, we may never know.

What I can do is share the problems I took to this smorgasbord of specificity, and perhaps alleviate the bewilderment of some future traveller.

A cable, another cable, and a box containing two plastic widgets

I'd only taken carry-on, so I had to limit myself to what I could stuff between clothes. Which meant that, no matter how much I wanted one, I wasn't going to be buying the five-metre-long HDMI cable I needed. These are solutions to much smaller problems. So, from left to right, we have:

  1. A headphone extension cable, to fit any smartphone. What makes this one different is that it extends not just the output lines, but the input line as well - which means it'll work with my microphones. I could have found this on eBay... maybe. But there was no guarantee that the one I ordered online would have the extra microphone line. In fact, most of the ones I tested didn't - but this one did.
  2. A micro-USB 3.0 Y-cable. I have a Raspberry Pi under my desk, which is basically a tiny computer powered by a phone charger. I have it connected to a hard disk, which is where my files live, and the Pi makes them available over the network. Unfortunately, the Pi can't supply enough power to run my new hard disk on its own. This cable lets me connect the power line of that disk to another source, while still having the data lines connected to the Pi.
  3. Capacitative shoulder buttons. I gotta admit, I bought these on a whim, but they work surprisingly well. They basically let you put buttons on the top of your device that touch a specific point of the screen when you click them. I've been experimenting a bit with streaming games to my phone, and these might make that experience a little bit more ergonomically friendly.

For 99% of problems, you'll have to prise my eBay account from my cold, dead hands. But if you need to test a thing, or find a thing, or discover a thing, then a terrifying neon rabbit warren is hard to beat.

The Arcology

29 November 2018 10:20PM sg-2018travel

One day, facilities like this could be the only place these species exist.

Singapore is hot.

Really hot.

Which is why I was a little concerned to find myself standing outside what appeared to be the largest greenhouse I'd ever seen. I braced myself as I stepped through the door, and couldn't help but let out a little yelp of surprise when it turned out to be cool, not hot, inside.

The name should really have been a clue. It was called the Cloud Forest, after all.

The Cloud Forest is part of the Gardens by the Bay, a botanical garden and conservatory right in the middle of Singapore. It's as confusing and contradictory as it is beautiful. It looks like a greenhouse, but it's cool inside. It's a shrine to conservation at the foot of a monument to consumer capitalism. It burns wood to keep trees cool.

Grace takes shelter under a tree. Inside.

I'm kind of in awe.

You walk in and come face to face with a waterfall running the height of an artificial mountain threaded with walkways. You start at the top, and work your way down, passing through different layers of the ecosystem as you do. They have plants in here that I've only ever seen in pictures. They've got orchids and pitcher plants and every surface is covered in climbers and vines. You're led through a simulated cave and an indoor treetop - and then it drops you right into a grim but effective exploration of human impacts on the planet.

A root, or branch, winds through a steel enclave

It's surprisingly effective, even if thinking about all the layers of what's going on here tie you up in knots.

It reminds me, most of all, of an arcology. It's biology meeting engineering on an enormous scale. The energy requirements alone must be enormous. What they're doing to keep this place cool basically amounts to a heat pump. They're pulling a huge amount of heat out of here, and that costs a huge amount of energy - and then they've got to find somewhere to sink all that heat afterwards. Those towering artificial trees dotted around outside aren't just climbing frames for greenery. They're solar panels, and exhaust towers, and heat exchangers, working overtime to keep the inside of the dome habitable for the species that live there.

A moss-lined air conditioning vent

We can keep these mountain plants alive in the middle of a tropical city, and it is magnificent. But we can only do it at a spectacular cost. It's tempting to declare that everything will be fine, because we can build places like this, but it's really not fine at all. It's bailing out a sinking ship. It's running at full tilt just to try and stay still. This is an exercise in preservation, not conservation, and that's really scary.

Because one day, facilities like this could be the only places these species exist.

Looking glasses and lights and tiny, tiny flowers.

< The Fiasco