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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

20 November 2018 12:00AM sg-2018travel

The fiasco began on a Tuesday afternoon, just before five, as I told an enquiring co-worker that I had, in fact, already packed, and that I was headed not for home but straight for the airport instead.

She raised an eyebrow.

"You're only taking one pair of shoes?"

I nodded.

"I hope you're okay with them getting wet."

I laughed, and the conversation turned to whether or not taking the bus to the airport was a bad idea - something I'd never tried before, but which turned out to be absolutely the least of our problems.

After a pit-stop at Woolies to grab a 65-pack of plastic sandwich bags - 64 of which were unceremoniously and unintentionally left at the bus stop - and a brief exchange with my dad, who having only just arrived home from the airport himself wanted to know where his garage door opener was, we stepped on to the tarmac at terminal one.

We laughed and high-fived, thinking we'd made it through the most unreliable leg of our trip, and stepped promptly into a queue. A queue, thirty minutes long, for a flight which (as it turns out) was delayed by about two hours. A nominal nine slipped slowly out to twenty past eleven - boring, for sure, but definitely preferable to the alternative - and rolled our eyes as we strapped ourselves in for the night.

Singapore, surely, would be smooth sailing after such a to-do. Right?

We sauntered through security, certain that our delayed plane would make us late enough to take the train, rather than trusting a taxi to take us to our hotel - but that would be too easy, wouldn't it? No, as we descended it became increasingly clear that we were a few hours early for even the earliest train, and after the queues and delays and the several hours trapped inside a metal tube with very insistent salespeople masquerading as stewardesses we didn't exactly fancy another wait.

Besides, the taxis in Singapore were supposed to be fine, right?

We gave our address and the name of the hotel. The driver nodded enthusiastically and pulled out into the night, taking great pains to point out the casino as we passed. We slid into the hotel with minimal incident. Except, of course, for the part where we tried to check in and were apologetically informed we were at the wrong hotel.

Back at the taxi rank, we were told in no uncertain terms that the trip was "too short" to turn a profit - a stunt that even we in our naivety could see was an attempt to solicit a little extra on the side. That was from the driver that stayed, having been thrown under the metaphorical bus by his mate as he squealed out to do a lap around the block at the mere prospect of driving a measly 2k.

By then we were tired enough that everything about this cascading comedy of errors was actually pretty funny in the moment, rather than just afterwards. And since we didn't have any cash anyway, we took a walk, trundling my one bag and her one case across the misty streets of Singapore at four in the morning, just as the call to prayer began to echo out across the city.

At one point she turned to me with a grin in her eyes, and said, "It's beautiful really, in a surreal sort of way."

And then the rain came.

Softly at first, but steadily more torrential, until we found ourselves trapped under a bus stop between one hotel and the next. After a useless wait for a break in the rain we swapped glances and then grins and decided, in her words, to "go for it".

It was the wettest kilometre of my life. And, as it turned out, of the entire trip.

We squelched into the hotel - the right one this time - to looks of bemused concern from the staff behind the desk, who at least had the decency to wait until we were mostly out of earshot before calling someone to mop behind us.

And we slumped onto the bed, peeling off wet layers and replacing them with new ones that were merely damp, and we watched the grey lightning-shot sunrise over the Singapore skyline. We dozed the surreal sleep of those who have just stepped off a red-eye into a monsoon, and who had decided, even as day broke around them, that their solitary set of soaking sneakers were definitely a problem for tomorrow.

standing in the rain

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A twisted braid of dread and hope

23 October 2018 12:00AM rantslife

So I have some things on my mind.

strand one

The first is that we as a species seem to be dead set on trashing our planet.

I know that's nothing new, but a couple of things really drive it home for me lately. Most recently, that the system is telling me that I need a new phone, that I need to replace these gadgets even though there are tons and tons of e-waste leaching toxic heavy who knows what into who knows where. There's no way for me to opt out of that system.

Even if ethical technology were possible, I don't have the time or the energy to stop my life and put everything on hold and figure out how to not participate in something that I think future generations will look back on and see as thoughtless and perhaps inherently evil because I'm caught up in the same treadmill as everybody else.

strand two

So we're trashing our planet. But somehow we're also managing to trash our society.

Social media has become the way we structure information in our society, and it has completely devalued truth in pursuit of advertising revenue - trying to sell us stuff. And traditional media has increasingly jumped in on that, and realised that the the way to get ad views is driving ever bigger wedges between people and manufacturing conflict instead of unity - because that's what gets clicks.

We buy all this stuff we don't need at enormous cost and it doesn't even make us happy.

strand three

And I could ignore all of this if it weren't for the third thread in my glorious tapestry of dread. I could deal with all of this while I was doing something that I cared about. While I was spending my time on things that got me fired up. Things that maybe weren't making a much of difference in the global scheme of things, but that were at least making a difference to me and the people I interacted with.

But it's harder to see how that all fits together now. I'm pulled in lots of directions instead of just one.

Despite all the critical thinking in the world I am still falling into the same well-worn path of least resistance as every single other human in rich western society where I'm chasing a destructive, conventional life and I didn't even notice it happening.

I didn't even notice it happening.

We didn't even notice it happening.

But for some reason we chose now to wake up to this, only now that it's too late, and I don't know if any of us have the commitment to claw it back.

So where's the titular hope?

Weirdly, I think the answer might be... politics?

strand four

I don't think I'm alone in this feeling, and I don't think that this is necessarily the solution for everyone, but I have been finding it really theraputic to get involved with a political campaign. Specifically, the Greens campaign for Swan.

I helped run a doorknock last weekend, and it was amazing.

It feels good to be doing something, to chip away at changing minds. It feels good to be doing something i'm good at; talking to people and thinking about audiences and messages and how we line those two up as efficiently as we can. It feels good to be doing satisfying busywork; planning events and doing briefings and evaluating data.

And it is nowhere near as much of a commitment as I thought.

Part of this is proximity: it helps that the candidate sits at the desk across from mine. But the other part of it is literally that all they need from you is to be yourself. Not a representative, not a policy nerd - just a person with opinions, to go out and have a conversation.

Because at the end of the day, that's how we change things.

And maybe that's not for everyone - not everyone is good at or enjoys those things, and not everyone aligns neatly, or at all, with a political party. I get that.

But everyone has something that's close to them - maybe you could do that instead.

It's empowering to have a channel through which you can act in a way you feel is making a difference and that is something I think a lot of us sorely need right now.

Go find something. Find something close. Something you can do. Something you can ease into.

It doesn't have to be this - but I'd love to see you there if it is.


< Space Fighter: Why we cared about Cassini.