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           April 1, 2004 ... Robninity .............................. (Permalink)

(While Baxil is recovering temporarily from a freak accident involving the fragmentation of an "accidentally" microwaved external hard drive, tomorrowlands.org is proud to present this guest post by longtime reader and fellow nonhuman FrailLoop.)

Hi! I'd like to thank Mr. Baxil for giving me this chance to speak up. It means even more to me to be able to do it here -- because it was his Draconity FAQ that first gave me the courage to start thinking of myself as someone different from all the mindless drones society spits out.

See, I've been silent on it for too long, and the time has come for me to tell the world: I am a ninja robot.

Oh, not here, not physically. Right now I'm just stuck in this human shell, the same as the rest of us. I'm still waiting for cybernetic technology to transform me into my lifelong dream, and in the meantime, I'm taking martial arts classes to give my memories and my urges from that prior lifetime an outlet. (Sensei Jimmy says if I keep it up I should be able to earn my green belt in another few months!)

But what makes me a robot ninja has nothing to do with those shiny testicular implants I'm saving up for, and it has nothing to do with the ferocious killing machine I'll become by June. I'm a robot ninja because I know that, deep inside me, I have a soul, and that soul is something nobody can take away from me. That soul is metallic green with camouflage pants and a black face mask with exploding shuriken launchers in its forearms. Sometimes when I stand real still at night I can hold out my arm and feel the phantom rush of spiritual shurikens flying across the room to impale my enemies.

In that previous robot ninja life, my clan was fighting against a rogue group of androids that had developed sentience and was trying to take over the world. It was pretty awesome. I could probably talk your ear off with war stories all night but I should save that for another post. I know you've all got lots of questions about how robninity works (Jimmy certainly did, but he just kinda ignores me now) so I'm going to try to answer them. Again I'm indebted to Baxil's Draconity FAQ because a lot of these things never would have occurred to me otherwise.

The Robninity FAQ
by FrailLoop © AD2004.24686942

So isn't being a Robnin ninja robot just, like, escapism?

  • I don't like it when people assume that I'm a robot ninja because it's cool or because I had special shuriken launchers or anything. Truth be told, there's a lot of neat stuff about this human life that I can't take for granted, like "yiffing" with my hermaphroditic elf-vixen friends on 0.1MUCK. Robots don't have hemipenes, or any sort of "equipment" (so to speak!) for that matter. So why would I try to turn my back on this life and miss out on all those new experiences?

    I guess on the other hand I can see where people are coming from when they assume there's some escapism involved. It's not every lifetime you get to go out on the battlefield every day fighting sentient robots to the death and wading through seas of spilt oil and hydraulic fluid. Who wouldn't want to go back to that? But, look, if I wanted escapism why wouldn't I just dream up a perfect world -- like if I also had plasma rocket launchers and a hemipene, like my 0.1MUCK character does? I'm just playing the hand I'm dealt and I can't help it if people get envious.

Wait, back up, you mentioned something about robot ninja souls?

  • Um, yeah, what about it?

You expect me to believe that ninjas have souls?

  • No. Just robots.

How come so many people claim they used to be robot ninjas in a past life, but you never hear about people who used to be toasters?

  • First of all, who would want to remember a past life as a toaster? All you do is scorch bread and occasionally set things on fire.

    We've probably all been toasters at some point in our spiritual lives, but what sort of reason would we have to carry that life with us and revisit it? What sort of lessons could it teach us? That if we set things on fire we get unplugged? No, I think we remember our spiritual lives for a reason, and we have unresolved things to take care of this time around. Fighting off sentient rogue ninja robots is a little more important a mission to span lifetimes than to atone for unevenly browning that last bagel.

So how exactly does this robot ... soul ... thingy work? I mean, how does a robot soul get into a human body anyway?

  • Well, as far as I can tell, it should be impossible, because carbon-based brains are incompatible with the sort of electron movement that occurs as electricity flows through a CPU. This makes sense given my observation that very few ninja robots have reincarnated onto Earth today, probably less than 10 million (most of them unaware of it, and the vast majority living in San Francisco).

    But I think I'm one of those rare exceptions. To tell the truth, I can't give you a clear answer why, and I'm not afraid to admit it (because anyone who claims to have all the answers is crazy, really). This isn't to say I don't have guesses. Right now my top theory is that my dad talked on cell phones too much while growing up as a kid, and all that cell phone radiation penetrated his brain and mutated his sperm cells, so when he fertilized my mom, the body that would grow up into me had that critical extra compatibility with robot spirits.

    It's kinda amazing how many of my friends in robninity have independently all told me that same story. There must have been an awful lot of cell phones around back in the sixties and seventies.

Speaking of your parents -- if you're a robot ninja in spirit, doesn't that imply that they're really robot ninjas too?

  • Oh, not necessarily. Spirits do a lot of travelling and don't always cluster with their own kind when it comes time to reincarnate. Frankly, I don't think my parents were robot ninjas; we're just too different. Maybe they were toasters.

What's the deal with ninja magic? Can robots do it?

  • Most robots that I know had a hard time with ninja magic because it takes at least months of dedicated study to master things like teleportation. (Right now I'm practicing mental obfuscation first. Sensei Jimmy gives me these weird stares most of the time so I think I'm making progress.)

    If you ask me, though, ninja magic is kinda silly. It's obviously meant for just plain ninjas, because as a robot ninja, I've got all the magic I need packed right into my forearm launchers. Why would I need to call on the powers of the mighty whirlwind when I can just fill the air with clouds of shrapnel?

We're on such a different place than your homeworld now. What do you think your mission is here on Earth?

  • I don't have to think, I know. I was programmed to come here to learn how to love, because humans have emotions due to their sapience, and robots by their nature don't. If I learn about love, it will give me insight into what it means to have emotions, and some real hands-on practice at modifying my own programming -- both of which I'm sure will come in extremely handy in my efforts to help my kind destroy all sentient robots.

Anyway, thanks again for your space, Mr. Baxil. I hope this has given everyone some insight into what I hope will be the next big thing to hit therianthrope circles. The world could sure use more ninja robots, and I look forward to the day that I and people like me can walk down the street without having everyone whisper behind my back that I'm a fool.

           April 8, 2004 ... "Miracles" ............................. (Permalink)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that somebody is missing the point entirely here ...:

On Wednesday, nearly a year to the day after Aron Ralston left his right arm pinned beneath an 800-pound boulder in a Utah canyon, he cheerfully faced questions from kids at the nonprofit Warren Village, which helps single parents with housing and child care.
"I did ask God for help, and I think he helped me," he told four kids, ages 4 to 11, seated around him. "I didn't know how I was going to get out."
Then, in what he described as "divine intervention," a thought came: use his small, dull pocketknife to cut off his arm near the elbow.
"In the end, that idea came from someplace," Ralston told the rapt children. "You guys know what a miracle is, right? I think what happened to me was a miracle."
Let's give the guy the benefit of the doubt for the moment and assume that he's correct in his assessment of divine will and divine intervention. In light of this, how should we interpret the events he lived through?

God starts out by trapping his arm in the rock (after all, if we're saying that events are occurring in accordance with divine will -- as is usually the case with "miracles" -- surely what caused the need for the miracle in the first place is also in accordance with God's will). God then fails to provide any sort of miraculous first aid, fails to miraculously provide a random passerby to fetch authorities, fails to miraculously provide a source of food or water, fails to miraculously loosen the rock enough to let him wiggle out after lengthy and excruciating work, etc., etc. However, He gives the climber the idea of cutting off his own arm. After five days.

Wait ... this is miraculous? Look, even if this was truly a deific insertion of an idea -- an idea to which I must remain open due to my own experiences -- any god that had the power to assist the man in any of a thousand ways and yet, when asked for help, merely restricted himself to whispering "Hey, break your own bones and saw through your arm with your dull pocketknife" is not exactly performing miracles!

Now, by my criticism I don't mean to belittle the man's accomplishment -- sawing through your own arm takes an incredible amount of guts. Nor do I mean to impose on God an obligation to help stranded climbers retain their limbs -- hey, maybe there's some sort of master plan beyond human ken that is better served by putting this man through his ordeal. What my complaint is about is Ralston's cheapening of the term "miracle."

Miracles are about divine agency directly accomplishing tasks -- a higher power made manifest. If God had zapped the rock wall with a lightning bolt to sever his arm, or if God had sent an army of lizards with Novocaine-coated teeth at him, or if God had dislodged an old, sharp meat cleaver someone carelessly forgot at the top of the cliff the month before ... okay, that's indisputably miracle territory. If the climber had blacked out from hunger and woke up in the hospital with a severed arm and witnesses saying they'd found him at the base of the cliff -- sure, let's go with miracle. But talking to God isn't a miracle, it's prayer. (Shaking God's hand, maybe a miracle; that's a pretty grey area.)

Beyond that ... I'm reluctant to be dismissive of his explanation, again because of personal experience (and further because he was there and I wasn't), but it's that same personal experience that suggests to me that he's trying to build this into something it isn't. I won't go so far as to say he's making it all up -- in fact, if anything, I believe he truly believes what he's saying. There's no reason to doubt that he did call out to God, and (short of ideological objections) no particular reason not to believe him when he says that something answered back.

I don't doubt it left an impression, either. I know how overwhelming that sort of communion can be, especially if you weren't really expecting it. Heck, maybe he wouldn't have had the courage to cut off his own arm if the encounter didn't convince him to follow through with it. So could there have been something sacred at work? ... Why not?

But sacred is not miraculous.

I wish more people would learn to recognize the difference. Our culture seems to treat the two as interchangeable -- and thus whisks the sacred out to the miraculous perimeter, pushing the core of religion out of everyday contact. When the mere act of communion with the divine counts as a "miracle," religion is basically an empty thing.

           April 14, 2004 ... Gesundheit ............................. (Permalink)

Quick note from work: It's really, really annoying when you suddenly get the overpowering need to sneeze halfway through a mouthful of rice.

I managed to keep it from spraying over the keyboard, at the cost of needing to keep my hands discreetly over my mouth until I could sneak over to a garbage can and then the bathroom.

... Right. Stalking away now, tail held high, like a cat who's just fallen off of a TV set while batting at the screen and is trying to pretend he knew what he was doing all along.

           April 19, 2004 ... Liquor cabinet ......................... (Permalink)

I was glancing through our household's small liquor stock in the pantry tonight. It seems that, entirely by chance and intersection of personal preference, we've collectively assembled quite an eclectic mix of drinks:

  • One bottle white wine;
  • One bottle blackberry wine;
  • One bottle cherry wine;
  • One bottle of margarita (lime-flavored -- and mixed from tequila, which is made from agave);
  • And one bottle of plum sake.
Apparently, we're quite the equal-opportunity imbibers.

But, hey, that works for me -- why should grapes have all the fun?

           April 34, 2004 ... Hasta la scripta ....................... (Permalink)

Alright ... technically, it's early May, but also technically, the Movable Type rollout was at the beginning of the month. That, plus if I want to honestly date this entry, I have to make a new archive page just for it, and then it will feel all lonely.

So. Happy April 34.

I doubt very many people will ever actually read this entry. That's as should be. I just wanted to bid farewell, with some relief but also a lot of nostalgia and pride, to the simple PERL scripts that kept this site chugging along for just a month shy of three years -- and a grand total of six hundred and eight entries. (Not bad, considering.)

It's hardly been a high-tech operation. As I type this right now, I am <b>manually</b> <i>inserting</i> <blink>formatting</blink>, including <p> tags between paragraphs. It's felt real somehow -- and, oddly, it's comforting that Movable Type doesn't include "formatting tools", aside from "convert line breaks" to auto-insert the paragraph tags. I mean, it's only HTML; it's hardly award-winning hacking. But at least it's mucking around with the innards, the actual particles, of the things you write -- instead of trusting in some POS WYSI(S)WYG app to magically DWYM.

It really never got past the threshold of annoyance to automate the entire process. My scripts would put the new entry onto the main page; move the old one into the archive; and -- once a month -- create a new monthly archive page, but that was it in terms of what I could do hands-free. Those six-month indexes? All by hand, although I did (thank the gods) at least maintain a template so I could (fairly) easily set up a new one when the time came.

The "Newest entries" on the site front? That was me, too. (I should know. I'm editing home.html right now via a SSH connection, and skipped down to the journal to insert this paragraph. I'll write a blank webjournal entry next, to narf this to the archives when I run the script one last time, and then this page goes away.)

And how do I know I wrote 608 entries? Kept a running total. If you go to the six-month index pages and view the page source, you can see where I inserted comments to track the stats behind the scenes.

In some direct and indirect ways, the journal ended up being a victim of my laziness in coding the system to be Good Enough instead of Awesome. Directly, because if I had a brief post or was tired, it wasn't worth the overhead to update and deal with all the indexing. More importantly, indirectly -- because if I had a "good" entry up, that provided significant disincentive to replace it and watch it vanish into the archives; and I never did get around to coding a system that would deal with multiple entries on the front page.

For all that -- it worked. It was fundamentally full of minor inconvenience, but it worked as a primitive content management system. (Primitive. Heh. I feel like a caveman staring at the shiny Ferrari of MT.) Newmonth especially was elegant; fire and forget. Just type in the command at the start of the month -- it automatically grabs the date from the system, makes the new page, fixes all the links, redirects webjournal to the new archive by changing the data file it used, and then not only called on sidebars to insert the left-hand navigation automatically (sidebars was developed so that I could quickly change the navigation scheme sitewide if I added a new section -- and I'm finding myself extremely grateful for having written it, now that I may need a quick way to similarly update page headers and footers sitewide), but also registered the new page with sidebars in case of subsequent updates! About the only thing it didn't do was make "smart" previous/next month links -- too much hassle to remove the "next month" link from the current month and replace it in the previous one.

And now I'm moving away from them to a shiny happy new web interface with multiple authors and post categories and cascading style sheets (:P!) and recursive page templates ... but at heart it's the same sort of setup. PERL scripts that take new input and a place to put them, and spit out nice-looking HTML.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

And perhaps that's the most fitting way I could end my "old" journal. Dream well, webjournal, webnews, newmonth. sidebars, be seeing you shortly.

-- Baxil

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