Thursday, November 18, 2010

Last Christmas my sister got be a bunch of Stanislaw Lem books and recently I've been reading The Cyberiad. It's a bunch of loosely tied together short stories but they're hilarious. It's really more of a space fantasy than science fiction, because the science parts of it are mostly just technobabble. Lots of math jargon is thrown in without being at all relevant and I could see it being distracting or confusing if you don't recognize that it's not supposed to make sense. I'm only about a quarter of the way through the book, but my favorite story so far is about the invention of a computer that writes poetry:

"What, those aren't decent poems?" protested Klapaucius.
"Certainly not! I didn't build a machine to solve ridiculous crossword puzzles! That's hack work, not Great Art! Just give it a topic, any topic, as difficult as you like..."
Klapaucius thought, and thought some more. Finally he nodded and said:
"Very well. Let's have a love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit."
"Love and tensor algebra? Have you taken leave of your senses?" Turl began, but stopped, for his electronic bard was already declaiming:

Come, let us hasten to a higher plane,
Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
Their indices bedecked from one to n,
Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

Come, every frustum longs to be a cone,
And every vector dreams of matrices.
Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

In Riemann, Hilbert or in Banach space
Let superscripts and subscript go their ways.
Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

I'll grant thee random access to my heart,
Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove,
And in our bound partition never part.

For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler,
Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

Cancel me not - for what then shall remain?
Abscissas, some mantissas, modules, modes,
A root or two, a torus and a node:
The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
The product of our scalars is defined!
Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
Bernoulli would have been content to die,
Had he but known such a squared cos 2 fie!

The computer poet goes on to outdo poets worldwide, cause mass suicides, induce weeping in a force eventually sent to shut it down, and then cause supernovas in nearby stars after it is shipped to a distant galaxy.

It's interesting that the poem manages to rhyme in English even though the story is translated from Polish. I wonder how much the translator messed with it.

(from a Eurogamer article quoting a game developer talking about retailers and downloadable content)
"Actually, you need them to get to the stage where they stock the box. It's not inconceivable that you're going to ask them to give the box away at some point in time. But then, they participate to an extent in the subsequent DLC exploitation." Ah, exploitation. How we've missed you.

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