The Lurg

The Lurg
The Lurg. This lady does not have the lurg. She looks amazingly healthy so this is a set up. If she had the lurg you would not instantly and would contemplate being elsewhere as soon as possible.

The invading army expanded in both directions from their beachhead. Soon they were almost everywhere, even invading the outlying areas. The resistance had little time to prepare, but soon they were building up their forces. The battle raged everywhere, noticeably raising the temperature.

Yes, I have the lurgy. It started a week ago with a sore throat and progressed to a crippling cough. Soon I was aching all over and doing anything at was getting very hard. My muscles ached from coughing and my back hurt, probably as a secondary result of the coughing.

Coughs and sneezes spread diseases
Coughs and sneezes spread diseases

I felt hot and sweaty, and got an appointment with the doctor. She told me that it was a “viral infection” and that I had to “last it out”. I didn’t have bronchitis or pneumonia fortunately, so I came out of the medical centre with no prescription. That’s fine by me. Antibiotics wouldn’t help with a viral infection and most cold “remedies” are hokum.

What I had was a bit more than a cold though, so over the next few days I was mostly collapsed in bed, sometimes listening to radio or playing games on the tablet. Did I feel sorry for myself? Not really, but my mood was sombre. Even in the depths of depression I haven’t felt sorry for myself and I rarely do. It seems a pointless way to feel, and depression, for me, is colouring of the world as grey (but see below), not a personal attack by the Universe.

Depression
Depression means many things. I was searching for an image related to the mental condition but came up with the meteorologic phenomenon instead.

The thing about this particular “viral infection” is that it has left me feeling weak and tired 24 hours a day. Sleep has not been easy as I wake up sweating and coughing several times a night, once I drop off. It hasn’t been too good for my wife who has been disturbed by my nocturnal coughing spells.

Only once, fortunately, was I woken by the shivers. I hate the shivers. I felt reasonably warm in bed but my body decided it wasn’t. I struggled against the shivers for a while then snaked an arm out to grab a sweater. Fighting the weakness and the shakes I managed to pull the sweater on and still the shivers without getting out bed, then relaxed into the warmth. Of course I was soaking in sweat when I woke up. Yuck!

Warm bed
Warm bed

A deep cold or maybe flu like this makes things hard to do. There’s a general feeling of weakness, but I think that’s mostly a mental thing. I had to swing an axe at some blocks of wood out of necessity (It’s winter here) but I was able to do it, albeit with lengthy pauses to cough my lungs out, Muscles complain if you ask them to do work, but with “viral infection” they do that anyway.

Maybe the system is marshalling all resources to attack the invader and resents having to let resources go to other ends. Speaking of resources, food and drink lose their savour with a cold like this. Solid food tastes of nothing much and tea and coffee taste strange. (I don’t actually drink coffee so I’m extrapolating here!) I don’t know why this happens, but it’s like half of your taste buds are MIA and the others only have time to register “food of some sort”.

Tastebuds
Tastebuds

Also you eat at strange times. Struggling out of bed, it is often quite late in the morning before breakfast happens. Since my usual breakfast is pretty bland (oat biscuits and milk) you can imagine what it tastes like… Well pulped cardboard would probably have more flavour.

Lunch time has been straying into the early afternoon. Whatever is for lunch, it is probably quick and easy. Tinned soup, something on toast, or similar. Not that I can taste what it is, of course. I made scrambled eggs today (whisk eggs, pinch of salt, milk if wanted, pepper if wanted) and I had eaten half of it before I realised that I had forgotten the pinch of salt In normal times I would have spotted that in the first mouthful, even though I only use a little.

Scrambled eggs
Scrambled eggs

The really annoying thing, though, over the course of the battle for my body is that my brain functions have been “softened”. I think that’s the best word. Just like a landscape is softened by a veil of rain, my brain feels a little fuzzy, like an out of focus photograph. The sharp edges are still there, though it is more of an effort to utilise them.

Puzzles, for example, are doable, but with more effort than usual. I quite like Sudoku puzzles and can complete them at my usual level, but I’m tired afterwards. Even Solitaire (what else can you do when you can’t go out, when you’ve completed all the Sudoku puzzles available to you) can seem like a pretty daunting proposition.

Sudoku
Sudoku

I was going to mention colour, wasn’t I? Colour leaches from the world much like it does when depression hits. You look at something and the colours are there – you can notice to a block of red in something for instance – but somehow colour doesn’t figure much in the composite image that your eyes report to your, or is dropped as irrelevant by your brain. Something in the visual presentation of your vision system appears to dial down the colours.

It doesn’t go completely monochrome (though deep depression does, occasionally, for me). It’s just that colour seems to lose significance. It’s AS IF everything was grey and white until you actually look specifically at something. Still it is not as unpleasant as those time when depression blasts everything with light, where everything feels metallic, there is a metallic taste in the mouth. Total sensory overload that won’t stop. I call it the “neon world”.

Grey Skies - Belgium
Grey Skies – Belgium

I’m approaching the end of this post, which shows that I must be much improved from how I was before! Yeah! Yeah, the defenders of my internal galaxy! I still have the nose runs and still have the coughs, but the aches have retreated to only the coughing muscles. I think that I’m going to survive. Well, I always knew I would really, but it’s hard to maintain the positiveness when you’ve been coughing for 10 minutes and can’t see the end.

White blood cells
White blood cells

Virtually real

Antonin Artaud
Antonin Artaud

Reputedly the French avant-garde playwright Antonin Artaud took the view that illusion was not distinct from reality, advocating that spectators at a play should suspend disbelief and regard the drama on stage as reality. We do, in fact do this all the time.

From the slightly different perspective as spectators we watch our films and our soaps and our nature programs and we enter the reality shown on the screen while ignoring , to a large extent, what is going on around us. We even turn down the lights so that the brighter reality on the screen dominates. We cry for the characters, we laugh for and at them, we cheer their successes even though, at some level we realise that they are not “real”.

Movie Theatre
Movie Theatre

When we go to the cinema, we get the same thing only stronger, bigger and brighter. The theatre sound system knocks dust from the pelmets and detaches spider from the roof. The screen is so wide and we are so close that we are thrust deep into the action. The 5 metre high image of a face 15 metres away makes the same angle in the eye as a 200mm high face at arms length.

But we don’t need technology to enter a different reality. In a book we read of heroes and heroines, ogres and business men, of warfare and love making, of atoms and galaxies, of amoeba and star clouds. We use our imagination to enter their worlds and we get lost in them. We may beg, buy, borrow or steal a “page turner”, a book that we have to read through to the end, to find out the fate of the characters in it. We may purchase a travel book and visit in the imagination lands that we will never physically visit.

Books
Books

Photographs draw us in, religious books promise us heaven or hell, text books inform us and guide us, map books (or GPS) show us the way from A to B. Our games enter us into a different reality, sometimes one where it is kill or be killed, or where we get lost in a maze, or where we simply have to solve a puzzle. Games introduce us to a multilevel reality – we first enter the reality of the computer or PlayStation or XBox, or Nintendo, then we enter the reality of the game within the device.

Of course we may prefer old style board games like chess. Imagine a world that consists of 32 black and 32 white squares and black and white player pieces, which, quantum like, can only exist in one square at a time and when captured, cease to exist, so far as the reality of the chessboard is concerned. Players enter this reality in their minds and navigate their pieces in a war of black versus white, which starts with a given configuration and ends when the contest is decided, then returns like a cyclic Big Bang to the original configuration.

Big Bang
Big Bang

The fact that we can embed one reality (the fictional) inside another (the real) leads to the idea of an infinite regression of realities. In “The Matrix“, which I have never seen(!), Neo’s supposed reality turns out to be a simulation, and the real world is much more unpleasant than the supposed reality (not that unpleasant things don’t happen to Neo and others in the supposed reality).

The mathematician, the logician, the philosopher says “Only two?” If there are two realities, could it be possible that there are more? Maybe the real world of the Matrix is itself a simulation. Maybe that simulation is a simulation.

Wake up Neo
Wake up Neo

So we end up with the possibility of an infinite series of nested realities. There is one thing about the realities that I’ve been talking about though and that is that they are in our minds. If that pattern were to apply, every one of the nested realities would be in a mind. In the case of the Matrix Neo’s reality was imposed on his mind from outside, as it was for every other human in the Matrix.

The really clever thing about the Matrix was not that it was imposed on every human’s mind, but that it integrated all inputs from all the human minds into a consistent whole. For instance, if Neo sees a door and opens it, this information has to update the Matrix, and get downloaded into the minds of all the others in the Matrix, such as Trinity, who is waiting on the other side of the door.

Trinity (Matrix)
Trinity (Matrix)

That’s an impressive feat! The updating of the Matrix by all the human minds and the broadcasting of it back to all human minds is a much more impressive task than creating the Matrix in the first place. It is several orders of magnitude harder.

For instance, consider the immersive and interactive virtual realities which we have built and which generally involve the wearing of special gear such as VR helmets and VR gloves and connection to a fast computer which holds the information about the VR “world”.

VR Helmet
VR Helmet

If there are two individuals using the VR “world” at the same time, when Player One raises his hand, the information is fed to the computer and updates the VR “world”. Player Two’s view of the world has to be updated to show the avatar of Player One with his hand raised. If there are even more players all moving around the problem becomes much worse. Each player’s updates need to be fed to all other players (or all the “close” players to each player). The traffic rises exponentially.

But most of the time we don’t need fully immersive virtual reality to achieve a virtual reality. A simple book can do it. A movie can do it, probably even better. A play will do it too. All it requires is the suspension of disbelief, and the ability of the mind to draw pictures and fill in the gaps. It may be apparent to a person who walks in on the performance that Inspector Goole is only an actor, as are the member of the cast. The set is not really the sitting room of the Birlings, but a roughly painted lath and hardboard approximation.

An Inspector Calls
An Inspector Calls

But in the minds of the audience, for the duration of the play, J. B Priestly gives them a view into a different reality. One that is not fully immersive, but which uses the power of the human mind.

Phrenology
Phrenology

 

Real or virtual caving? What’s the difference?

Grjótagjá caves near Mývatn lake, Iceland. Fra...
Grjótagjá caves near Mývatn lake, Iceland. Français : Grotte et source de Grjótagjá près du lac Mývatn, en Islande. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A bit less than a year ago I posted about caves virtual and real. I’m going to expand a bit on this today.

I worked for many years as a Linux Systems Administrator, a job which I loved and to a large extent brought home with me. I run a number of Linux systems at home, including the computer that I am writing this on. I have a system that I refer to as my “server” which I use for backups and for things that might get in the way on my desk computer.

Tux, the Linux penguin
Tux, the Linux penguin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Minecraft was a craze some time ago I didn’t get involved at first but when my grandkids got into it I became interested. In Minecraft you can build elaborate structures, but to do so you need to find and extract the necessary materials, and, depending on the server that you are using, fight off automatic monsters (“mobs”) and other players.

I installed the Minecraft client, tried it out and liked what I saw. However, playing on other peoples’ servers soon became less than satisfactory. I didn’t like the unrealistic ability to “fly” (not fall down when unsupported by things) and the combative aspects of the game were found on many servers.


Embed from Getty Images

So, I investigated and tried running my own Minecraft server. This is possible, and not particularly tricky, you still have to pay for the client. There’s nothing wrong with paying for things, of course, and I did pay for it, but being a Linux user I’m always interested in seeing if there is a free version out there. Not of the actual Minecraft naturally, but of a similar program.

Minetest is a very similar program to Minecraft, works in much the same way, but is free, and there were Linux packages available, meaning that the install was simple. So I installed the packages and started playing. (I later downloaded the source code and compiled it, but that is another story. The packages worked fine).

Install debian
Install debian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pretty much everything that you can do in Minecraft you can also do in Minetest. The differences are minor. So everything I say from here on will probably apply to either program.

The game is all about assembling resources to build things, and you assemble resources mainly by mining. You whack a block (say stone) with a tool (say a steel pickaxe) and it disappears and appears in your inventory. When you have enough blocks you can build a wall of them by taking them from your inventory and placing them appropriately. That is the start of your fortress or palace.

English: Old house with flint front wall, John...
English: Old house with flint front wall, Johnson Street, Ludham This house on the A1062 has a beautiful front wall made of squared-off blocks of flint. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A plain stone building is boring, so you will want to acquire some fancy blocks to smarten it up and that is where the game shines. You can make fancy blocks to place on your building, but to do that you need to acquire resources and fabricate or “craft” them. The resources are found under the ground, which requires you to dig down to get them, which is of course where the “Mine” part of the name comes from.

If you dig downwards (on a slope, so that you can return to the surface eventually) you will sooner or later encounter a void or space where there are no blocks. Hopefully you will avoid falling to the bottom and dying. If you carefully climb down to the bottom of the void you are are the bottom of a virtual cave.

The Cave Automatic Virtual Environment at EVL,...
The Cave Automatic Virtual Environment at EVL, University of Illinois at Chicago. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cave may have blocks which look slightly different to the normal blocks. These blocks contain resources, usually ores, that can be collected and used to make other special blocks. For instance a block with iron ores in it can be used to make steel ingots, which can then be used to make steel pickaxes and other useful tools.

The game’s caves are similar in many ways to real caves. The topography of the caves is varied, with narrow passageways in some places, deep clefts in others, potholes, and sometimes openings to the surface.

English: Middle Washfold There are several cav...
English: Middle Washfold There are several caves and pothole entrances near here. The top layer of limestone pavement seems separate from the rock beneath which has eroded in a different way. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course it is dark underground. That means that you need to manufacture torches and carry them in your inventory if venturing underground. A torch placed on the wall will illuminate a small area of the cavern leaving dark voids beyond the torchlight which might be interesting to explore!

The game’s caves often have, just like real caves, uneven floors and there will be much jumping over obstacles, and climbing up and down. Some caves do have flatter floors, as do many real caves.

English: Subglacial pothole on Pothole Dome.
English: Subglacial pothole on Pothole Dome. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some game caves have sloping floor, much like a staircase, and the roof also may slope down, giving the impression of a sloping slit, as is often found in real caves. It is not advisable to skip down the slope into the darkness, of course, as the slope may end in a drop, as may also be found in a real cave.

Game caves are often elongated, just like real caves, and may form large interlinked caverns. Cross passages may start way up on the walls of the caverns, just as happens in real caves. It’s often possible to travel some distance more or less horizontally before one has to climb up or down to continue.

Game caves do not often contain water, which is unlike most real caves, and when they do the water is either in the form of a waterfall or a lake. Long flowing river of water are not common in game caves. Sometimes a cave will contain a lake of lava, or a lava fall which often looks spectacular. Both lava and water may form short flows but will quickly “seep” into the rocks.

Some of the potholes are spectacular. As they are underground and dark, one cannot see the bottom. Often they can edged or mined around and descended that way. Looking back up one can see the torches that one placed on the way down as tiny lights, often to spectacular effect.

An abandoned mine near Yerington, Nevada, Unit...
An abandoned mine near Yerington, Nevada, United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve explored both real caves and game caves, there is a great deal of similarity in the experience. In both cases, one has only limited visibility around one, one has a sense of void, and a sense that one may fall. There’s the thrill of discovery as one explores, and a sense of achievement. Unfortunately in the game caves, there are no stalactites and stalagmites to decorate the cave, but perhaps someone will write some in some time.

Entrance to the REACTOR, at the , a cultural /...
Entrance to the REACTOR, at the , a cultural / history museum in Athens. The REACTOR is a CAVE virtual reality system sold by Trimension. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)