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Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Outcast: Volume 1 Chapter 10

Volume One: Eastwood Is All Stones

Chapter 10: The twilight of blood

Xu Le had his reasons to be cautious. During the previous incidents, he was very sure that his electric prod was powerful enough to completely disable a human, but he could not guarantee the same thing against a stalwart wild buffalo.
What happened next proved that Xu Le was right. After he approached the giant dark brown bull, which was still lying on the ground twitching, the bull suddenly shot out a stream of air from its nostrils and kicked the ground hard with all four legs. The explosive move threw the bull off the ground back on its all fours and sent it charging toward Xu Le.
Xu Le squinted his eyes slightly, his face turned slightly pale again. It seemed as if he had been dumbstruck and simply froze there in terror. He was still holding that electric prod in his hand, but now a section of sharp blade had sprung out at the tip, and the prod now looked more like a military bayonet.
Instantly, the young lad had transformed his fear into a great power through the help of the release of a large quantity of adrenaline. At the most dangerous moment he turned his body. A gust of wind shot past his face as the raging bull charged past him. He forcefully opened his small eyes as wide as he could so he could see clearly every movement of the bull. Then, he stabbed downward firmly with the metal bayonet in his right hand!
Xu Le had excellent eyesight. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been able to maintain such excellent speed when it came to repairing appliances. As part of the package, his hands were also very steady. Therefore, the spot where the thin and long metal blade went in was just perfect.
A split second later, the metal bayonet was taken out of his grip by a tremendous force and stayed inside the bull’s neck two inches downward…blood began to drip.
With a loud bang, the raging bull, strong enough to withstand an electric prod, raced past Xu Le’s side in the most vicious style and crashed into a small slope in a magnificent way, sending more dirt and grass into the air.
Xu Le stared at the bull on the ground thoughtlessly. Only after a long silence, his legs finally stopped shaking and a touch a healthy redness finally returned to his cheeks. At the previous moment, he was indeed frightened, because today he didn’t expect the bull to have such a vigorous vitality and charge so viciously even after the powerful electric shock.
After a long quiet pause and still with lingering fear, he finally approached the bull cautiously. Having made sure the bull was already dead he carefully pulled out the dagger from the back of the bull’s neck.
The sharp tip of the dagger had completely destroyed the bull’s brainstem. Naturally the bull could no longer jump up to demonstrate its anger. Out of habit Xu Le squinted his eyes and glanced at the blood drops at the tip of the blade. The red liquid seemed to exhibit a faint shine in the murky and darkening dusk. He didn’t feel the slightest exhilaration or excitement from his success, instead, felt a bit of fright and an urge to evade.
“When can the Handle be used twice in a row?” he suddenly turned around and yelled loudly at the repair shop owner on the other side of the electric fence, his voice filled with complaint and anger.
The Handle – that was the name he chose for the electric prod plus dagger. The design of the metal weapon was truly delicate, but delicacy alone was not enough. After a full charge, it can only release an electric current once; far inferior compared to real military grade weapons of the same kind. Other than a very smooth curve at the handle, exceptionally comfortable for a tight grip, Xu Le didn’t find anything else attractive.
That was why he named it the Handle.
Had the electric prod been capable of releasing two electric currents in a row, the situation wouldn’t have been so hazardous at the previous moment. No wonder Xu Le showed no respect to Uncle Feng Yu, his teacher in electronics repair and the very designer of the Handle.
The design of the Handle was really flawed. The amperage of the output current was intentionally increased by twenty percent, resulting in the limitation of one usage per charge.
Feng Yu on the other side of the electric fence was well aware of all this. He could have easily resolved the flaw, but he never revealed it to Xu Le, nor corrected it himself – because that was how he wanted it to behave and how he wanted Xu Le to use it.
Since many years back, Feng Yu had always believed that it was no good for humans to rely too much on machines. Doing so would only obscure the possibility for the human race to peek deep into both the human body and the vast space. But he didn’t want to, at least not yet, have that discussion with Xu Le, so when he heard the young lad’s angry inquiry, he didn’t bother to reply and only grinned. Taking the almost flattened cigarette pack out from his jean pocket, he took one out, lit it, and then began enjoying himself.
Completely defeated, Xu Le turned back and lowered his body.
Feng Yu looked on as the young lad busied himself on the other side of the fence, bathing in the twilight of the dusk. He felt a throb somewhere deep in his heart. He was actually a very relentless man, or else he wouldn’t have run to such a far-off place like Eastwood all by himself.  The warm twilight shining against the dark sky in the background, the silhouette of a young lad butchering the buffalo meat in front of the reddened setting sun, and once in a while wiping the blood off his hands with his clothes…this was indeed a very bloody scene, but also a scene suffused with the beauty of life. All lives in the world followed the cycle of life and death.
With the cigarette still burning between his fingers, Feng Yu fell into a daze. He stared at the young lad waving his knife back and forth and couldn’t help but remember the scenes he had read from classical literature many years ago: In the harvesting season of autumn, farmers joyously reaped crops and survived off the remains of the plants; by the bonfire of the tribe, men and women joyously drank wine and chewed on the animal body parts they picked out from the fire.
A smile gradually crept onto Feng Yu’s lips. The joyous smile, together with his gray hair, seemed to have revealed his true age, and a sense of vicissitude.
He had always thought Xu Le was an interesting kid, because the kid seemed to have focused all his attention to those two dreams of his and never noticed his capabilities in other aspects, for example, his ability to kill a buffalo. Other than soldiers trained in the Special Forces, who else could have killed a buffalo with just a knife? Why else had buffalo meat always been rare on the black market?
Feng Yu remembered Xu Le’s earlier query and couldn’t help but grin more. Under the Federation government’s strict enforcement of arms regulations, which black market vendor would be bold enough to risk his life hunting buffalo?
That kid…was truly dumb sometimes. Didn’t he ever realize that they could run faster than a raging bull when they lured the buffalo away? Didn’t he ever realize that his ability to kill a buffalo with a single knife was something he could be more proud of than fixing a television?
“Damn it! Damn it…!” Xu Le cursed under the twilight as he continued the butchering task, overcoming the discomfort as best as he could. But eventually he couldn’t take it any longer. Hands on his hips, he began yelling at that shameless middle-aged uncle who just sat there and smoked his cigarette.
“This is over two hundred pounds not counting the bones. If you keep slacking off, when are we ever gonna have dinner?”
 All these talents the young lad named Xu Le had shown were not that impressive in Feng Yu’s eyes, because he had seen countless geniuses throughout his long life. However, the calmness and serenity Xu Le had displayed when he killed the bull earlier, something mismatched with his age – even though his legs shook and his face whitened from fear, he still exhibited calmness and serenity – was the trait Feng Yu admired the most.
In the meantime, that was also what Feng Yu would consider the most uninteresting trait of the young lad. Therefore, when he heard Xu Le cursing with profanity, he was actually quite pleased. With a smile as big as a wild lily, he stood up and gave his own bottom a gentle pat.

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Video of the Day:

I have been learning Unity 3D these days for my own research. It is a great game engine. And now they are making the mobile development completely free. And you can download Android and iOS add-ons completely free! What a bunch of nice people!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

10 Famous Thought Experiments That Just Boggle Your Mind Part 7

Read Part 6: Galileo's Gravity Experiment

4. Monkeys and Typewriters

You probably have heard about the thing about monkeys and typewriters, it is called the “infinite monkey theorem,” also known as the “monkeys and typewriters” experiment. the theorem states that "a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare."

Sounds absurd? Counter-intuitive? That's for sure. But this is all about probability and infinity. The key idea is that even though the probability of such a thing happening is very, very tiny, the probability still exists.

In 2003, science students at a zoo in the U.K. “tested” the infinite monkey theorem when they put a computer and a keyboard in a primate enclosure. Unfortunately, the monkeys never got around to composing any sonnets. According to researchers, all they managed to produce was five pages consisting almost entirely of the letter “s.” Then the lead male began bashing the keyboard with a stone followed by other monkeys urinating and defecating on it.

The monkeys were supposed to be "random generators". And there's the possibility that randomly generated things might turn out to be good things. In Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning research, genetic algorithms and evolution algorithms are important tools/methods to try to find good solutions in vast state spaces where an exhaustive search is not possible. Such algorithms do need a little bit of "luck" and some extended time to compute, although they are not completely random, but use the help of fit functions to try to go toward the right direction of the solution. They also follow the greedy approach where any step that moves toward the direction of the goal is a good step (this is, however, not necessarily true for the optimal solution). So in a sense, we are systematically generating lots of digital "monkeys" to try to find that piece of wonderful work of Shakespeare. The idea behind this is that maybe given the limited time, we won't be able to achieve Shakespeare, but even if we can get something comparable to a 3rd-Grade level composition, it's a great success, because the creation of such work had no human involvement, it all came from AI.

Interestingly enough, some music writers and composers are prone to the idea of using computer software applications to randomly generate small pieces of music and help these random creations might give them ideas or inspirations of creating their own quality work. Of course the software-generated music were first filtered using AI to get rid of most of the obviously meaningless or bad sequences.

It is worth mentioning that one of the projects I've always want to complete is a Rap Lyric Generator. The idea is that given a music sequence (e.g., Twinkle Little Star music) and a topic (e.g., Robots are awesome), the program would automatically find words, sentences on the Internet that matches the given topic and also rhyme with each other, and then automatically generate lyrics and sing the lyrics using Rap style autonomously. Can you see that this also uses the idea of "digital monkeys" and "invisible typewriters"? However, just like many of my other great ideas, someone will probably beat me to it before I ever find time to work on it.

Read Part 8: The Chinese Room (Turing's Test)

Video of the Day:

Can monkeys make good coffee?