Saturday, October 29, 2016

Phyton: Episode 2

**Previous episode**

Al had just picked up his fork for the delivered plate of food. “Al, may I sit with you?” He turned and saw Jeff at his elbow, trying to let people go by in the tight confines of the diner’s aisles between tables. He shook his head exasperated, but said, “Sure” and set down his fork as Jeff slid into the booth opposite. Of course Jeff knew about the diner, Al came here every week after fencing on Wednesdays for the last 20 or so years. In fact Al tried to imagine a time when he had missed this ritual, only conferences, and always the same sunny-side-up burger even if it was late evening. The only change was the company, over the years people had come and gone, including Jeff for a while. “I’m really sorry,” Al snapped back to the present as Jeff pulled out a manilla envelope, he did look a bit sorry, “but the boss said to have another go at you.” He slid the envelope over the table, missing the fork. “What’s this?” Al felt like he was in one of those old spy movie scenes. “A bit more evidence and hopefully quite a bit more incentive.” That was ambiguous, possibly ominous. “So what’s he have that he thinks that you talking to me would help?” Al’s hand hovered over the envelope for a second before he decided to accept it. Jeff indicated the envelope and Al opened it, some sort of teflon if he was any judge, and pulled out the specs and e-paper set. He definitely didn’t feel comfortable with the large glasses frames, it seemed a bit too close to the pair he had finally rid himself of, but between the government being half a step behind with technology and the recent crackdown on autonomous entities it was unlikely that the paper would interface with his permanent contact lenses because it wouldn’t be able to positively ID him. In fact if the heft was any indication the e-paper might be recently dug out of storage, without even a capacity to support a basic entity. The specs were coded to be able to read the phased display of the e-paper, making it legible for him, otherwise it was just a mess of gray lines for anybody else looking at it, though without an entity there was a limit to how thoroughly it could be encoded, anybody could slip on the glasses to read it. “They told me it was rigged to wipe when you took the glasses off, so, uh, don’t move them around your face after you have them on.” Jeff must have been referring to his own fidgeting, Al smiled carefully and looked down at the paper. “Thanks. Do you know what’s on here?” Al asked as the paper and glasses were syncing. “Nope, better that I don’t at this moment.” A grayscale photo of a doting mother and a child sitting on a park bench swam into view as the glasses and paper finished syncing. The concise paragraph below told a few details about the photo: Angela Fisler and son, Edward, in Monterey, CA. Dr. Fisler and husband Dr. Gustaf Fisler run a small lab for the D.o.D. on several internal microbiome projects meant to enhance a person’s survival in harsh conditions. While the work from the lab has been exemplary, there is cause to suspect unsanctioned human experimentation of unknown extent. More thorough investigation is suggested. “Great.” Al sat back, took off the glasses and watched through the reduced view as the page was scrubbed. Rubbing the bridge of his nose he slid the now blank set back to Jeff. “That’s the Angela I know, though a bit older now and a kid…” He trailed off hoping that he wasn’t giving too much classified information away, “If I had known that I might be their only chance for a ‘negative skeptic’ I wouldn’t have been so short with you last time.” “I sure hope that’s a yes.” Jeff didn’t take the materials, but stared at him hopefully. “Yep, so how soon can we get funding for my inept replacements? And probably more liability insurance for the mistakes they will make?” “They won’t be that bad.” Jeff slid the paper and the specs back into the manilla-colored envelope. “How old were you during the crop failure of ‘35?” “Twelve. My parents were certainly worried.” “Well between the large corporations waging a no-seed-crop war and the testing failure it cost nearly a trillion dollars to straighten it out, not something an insurance company takes lightly.” Jeff seemed to mull over it for a few moments, “I think I can convince my boss that we don’t want to have that happen again.” Even though he seemed serious Al could see that he was excited to get a positive answer. “I’ll have information to start the process tomorrow.” “I would really like to get this over with, so sooner is better.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Phyton: Episode 1

** This is the first episode in a series. Also take a look at my other stories. **

“Okay, run this by me again, I don’t quite get it.” Dr. Al Ingram stood with his arms crossed studying the shorter man intently. He knew the words the man had just said, but the meaning was nonsensical. The short man wore his dark grey suit, somewhat reminiscent of styles from earlier in the century, with a bit of unease that transmitted itself through his movements.

“Alright,” Jeff ran a thick-fingered hand through his black hair and took a step back, as though he could retrace his words with steps. It also helped him to not look up at such an angle at Al. “You are a recognized skeptic, outside of your own work…”

“And I am never complacent with that either.” Al cut in.

“Right, well we need you to work with the Fislers. We would like you to look into their advances. We believe that you are the best suited for this as it fits your field and you have the clearance.” Jeff finished and stared at Al.

Al closed his eyes and reached up to rub the bridge of his nose, and only realized once again that he no longer had the heavy glasses which plagued him up until six months ago. He stopped midway through and tried to naturally lower his hand without too much extra frustration from the long ingrained habit. He opened his eyes and Jeff stopped fidgeting and shifting from foot to foot.

“First, I am not a microflora expert, I test genetically engineered plants to see how they interact with their environment. Second, they are a husband and wife team that has only a few student helpers, not something a full-fledged researcher can walk into without raising a whole bunch of red flags. And lastly, even though I am trying to mitigate adverse impacts of genetically modified crops before they ever get out there,” he waved his hand,” and I know that there are sleazy genetic engineers, I don’t like your implication that the Fislers might be going beyond a basic symbiotic relation between the microflora and humans.”

Jeff quirked a smile, a bit nervously and defused the argument, “Right the last reason is why we need you there: a negative skeptic, though don’t negative skeptic the Defense Department projects, they don’t like people poking holes where none should be. I’m sure you can pick up an understanding of their work very quickly, right?” It was a near perfect parry, feint, and point. Jeff seemed over anxious almost all the time, but maybe that is why opponents had underestimated him while fencing.

Al shook his head, he decided to ignore the logic, “Look, we’ve known each other for a long time, but I need to continue my work. Things still aren’t getting enough review before going out there, even after the staple-scare of 2035. Thanks, but no.” He ushered Jeff out of the lab thinking: some friend to ask him to spy on other friends.


“Sir, he won’t cooperate, and he has some good points.” Jeff stood fidgeting, of course, in front of his boss’s boss.

“Well we can make some good points too, funding cuts,” Jeff tried not to grimace at that, Special Agent-In-Charge Flind smiled and continued, “or extra funding and help. If his lab is in good hands while he works in California, maybe he’d be more willing to go. But I think this will really convince him it’s a good idea.” Flind tapped a manilla envelope nearly obscured by other carefully arranged paperwork, carefully arranged to those who knew him, or at least that is what Jeff had heard about the desk, to him it seemed an indecipherable mess. “Come pick it up when you are ready to see him next, and tell your boss to calm down, she isn’t losing you, I just need your connections.”

“Thank you sir,” Jeff tried not to make it sound too sarcastic. It was tough to work for two bosses, even when his boss’s boss obviously took priority. It was as though he couldn’t convince his boss that he would be back once he finished the assignment. If she really didn’t want to lose him why did she seem exasperated with his fidgeting?

** Next episode **

Monday, October 17, 2016

Short Story: Caught Speeding

*Note: This is not a new concept, but I am definitely practicing writing. Here are more short stories.*

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“What?” An automatic response to really any noise my officemate made, some exceptions.

“This is nuts.”

Not answering directly usually indicated that I should pay attention, but it did seem he was just saying things to be outraged over the most recent political scandal. However, when I looked up the chagrin on his face didn’t seem faked. He slammed his chair back and stood up, paced in the small office and then retrieved the chair . Sitting down he grimaced, and took a breath I recognized as his story-telling breath.

He beckoned me to come around to look at his screen.

He had what looked like a really badly done version of YouTube, yep, GovTube. Nobody watched GovTube unless they were told to. Maybe if the government had made one well-thought-out contract with YouTube more people would have used it.

“Watch this,” he nearly spat and violently slammed the space bar. I only flinched inwardly.

The top view of a red convertible with a single male, obvious from the male pattern baldness and other more subtle hints, was driving, quite quickly along a road in a desert.

“He is going very fast,” I remarked blandly, it was never good to get him more excited, it would just make things worse.

“Yes he is, 162 miles per hour.” The way he said it made me stop watching and look at him. There was a smoldering anger that often came up when people started to do stupid things, or continue without heeding his warnings. But this was different, there was a much deeper connection.

“Wait, that’s you?” I hope I put enough incredulity in the question so he could take it either way.

“Yep, after a conference five years ago.”

“What was observing you?” I went through my knowledge of all the public and military satellites that might record it, “But wouldn’t they have brought this up earlier? Err…” It was a bit of an accusation, him driving that fast, if he had been pulled over he would have lost his job and clearance.

He chuckled wryly. “They certainly shouldn’t have sat on it this long. I wouldn’t have even worked on the project if they had any inkling of this. I didn’t even tell my wife.” He was becoming awfully jovial for a man that was about to lose his job. “Maybe the bureaucracy is just as bad as everyone thinks it is.”

“But five years, I mean it’s more likely that the superluminal satellite project was a success, despite the explosion in orbit.” I paused for moment to do a bit of morbid calculation of the dead project, back then we had amazing offices and dreams that extended outside of the solar system, “The telescope would have just gone through five light years away about four months… ago…”

My face must have looked the same as his, ashen, mouth partly gaping. I saw him start to form words, but I had to be the first to say it.

“That’s more like the bureaucracy I know, what?”

“I can’t believe they are using Dan’s work to nab me, what?”

The Lab of O

I’ve started the new job at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology! Specifically I am working for the Macaulay Library and it is awesome! When I started my previous job at COS I really wanted to push them to start supporting citizen science, but that never really worked out. Now I am dropped right in the middle of a citizen science and machine learning project! What could be better? If you want to help out: edbird is where you should submit checklists and upload photos, and merlinvision is where you can box/annotate bird photos.

So other than the tons of paperwork that comes with switching jobs, it is pretty awesome. My normal commute now is a walk in through the woods, with binoculars, so I can bird on the way in and out, and sometimes lunch too. It certainly beats 30 minutes each way unless I got stuck behind a bus.

Of course I am still learning the stack after two weeks (I claim there is quite a bit of paperwork to do), but I am starting to wrap my head around how things are done and being reminded how repetitive Java is: Make a new instance of a class by first telling the compiler that this is an instance of this class and then using “new” and the class… I understand that it makes it solid, near indestructible code, but I am not a huge fan. Also semicolons, thank goodness for a good development environment.

The best thing about this job is birds. People at work like birds! There are 1.4 million bird photos with more coming in every day from people across the world. It is just amazing that I am getting paid to do this. I guess they are paying me to become familiar with Java, the rest is just icing on the cake.

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John studied himself in the mirror as best he could through tears. Red, puffy eyes stared back at him, a running nose already leaked just a ...