omer bar-or · The Plan Askew

NaNo 2007: Nov. 03

Written: November 13th, 2007, 9:58 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.

Updates: first, I officially passed the halfway point on the novel today, at least according to the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words. I am celebrating by... going to sleep. Second, I apologize for the typos in the previous posts. I do my writing in vim, which doesn't supply red lines under misspelled words. I think, though, that I've found a proper solution, so hopefully there will be fewer typos from here on out. And, third, I (and all other NaNo folks) got an e-mail two nights ago from Sue Grafton (of alphabetic fame), telling me (and everyone else) not to show our novels to friends or family, so that we feel more comfortable taking chances and making fun of them. So, I am officially ignoring the advice of a well-known author! I consider this fact the culminating moment of my life thus far. It will probably be the culminating moment of my life as a whole, but I still dream of one day ignoring other, even more well-known people's advice. How delicious!

The novel continues here.

Orr awoke an hour before his alarm clock. His brain, and the various award ceremonies and numeric adventures of its invention, had sent him tossing and turning throughout the night, such that his exhaustion, despite his suddenly gittery brain, was almost enough to let him back asleep. But, after a few minutes' vain attempt, he rolled, stood, and dressed in a stupor. Then, made his way downstairs to the computer room to twiddle online for some clever contextual units. As the computer turned on, he tripped over to the kitchen, found some cereal and a bowl, and brought them as aids to wakefulness. He returned, closing the door cautiously behind him, and started the audible explosion of dialing up. Google was just becoming popular; AOL was still considered Internet royalty by middle class America; and the song of connecting to the Internet was a largely unconscious annoyance. So, Orr poured himself some cereal and began munching as he waited. And, when, minutes later, the inelegant, fragile behemoth that was AOL 2.0 finally succeeded in its handshaking with the rest of the online world, Orr started searching for miscellaneous facts.

The sun's temperature (on the surface) is 11000 degrees Fahrenheit. A good estimate for a bull's weight is 450 pounds. The average wait time at an emergency room is 222 minutes. The distance between Alaska and Florida is about 5000 (nautical) miles. The volume of the Earth is about 1.0832 x 1021 meters cubed. And, so forth.

Orr compiled a list of about five contextual units each for temperature, weight, length, and volume ranging from the extreme (volume of the Earth) to the benign (weight of a hot dog), when he faintly heard his alarm go off upstairs, and hurried to turn off the computer, and spread around the crumbs left by his casual breakfast eating before his parents awoke, in the hopes of avoiding his mother's wrath at dirtying the carpet. Then he bounded up the stairs, two-and-three at a time, to turn off the alarm and get ready for school.

Chapter II - Wham

Orr would never know it, but his system of contextual units had already been discovered and given the rather droll moniker of the "Personal Understanding Numbers." These numbers had been invented for the sake of computer scientists (though their inventor expected them to also be useful for all scientists, and eventually for all people), who deal with vast numbers in the course of their professional lives, and it is often difficult to really put these numbers in perspective. 228 doesn't seem so much smaller than 258. They both seem so big, that the differences between them are harder to register. A little bit of context will reveal however, that if a computer can do a million things in a millisecond, it can do 228 things in under a second, and 258 things in just over nine years. And, though these sorts of calculations are used most often to frighten new students to the study of computer algorithms, the need for them reveals something important about the human brain: it isn't very good with big numbers. So, our stalwart inventor attempted to create a system that helped people understand the vastness of vast numbers: 258 operations would be: "258 operations that take-ten-years-to-compute!" (the exclamation point is compulsary for almost all Personal Understanding Numbers). While, 228 operations are: "228 operations that can-be-computed-in-under-a-second!"

While the system was less elegant than Orr's, and less expressive to boot (it was useful only for giving context to comparisons between different levels of really big numbers), it received an honor that Orr's never did: on April 28th, 2008, it received a Wikipedia entry. Of course, the entry was only three lines long, enough for a brief description and an example, was written by one of the inventor's friends as a birthday present, and was disputed and removed a month after its insertion, but even this slight honor surpasses the nothing that became of Orr's UTFRs. For, unfortunately, they (along with all things child-prodigy-related) got knocked out of Orr that day at school, only to be returned years later, as happy reminiscence about the innocent pleasures of childhood.

What happened was this: Sarah punched Tom in the face.

Or, contextually, Orr's-sister Sarah punched Orr's-best-friend Tom in the face.

It happened between the first and second periods, in the hall that led to the cafeteria, the gym, and the math classes. Orr was walking to gym class, where he would meet Tom for the first time (of five, including lunch) during the day, and as for any up-and-coming child prodigies, it was an unnecessary evil inflicted upon them by an ignorant and antiquated school system, bent on perpetuating mediocrity, and a constant dummy on which to lay their frustrated hormones. It brought them together by separating them both from everybody else. And, even in doing so, it enlisted them in the larger society of socially inept intellectuals, a society that they would never leave, one that would influence their value systems and their careers, their interests and their musical tastes, and one that, when they would later try to rebel against it, even the act of rebellion would be a true sign of their lifelong membership. People would call them "nerds" for liking math over exercise, or "geeks" for their glasses and cliche appreciation for science fiction, and in a few years, as the e-commerce began to thrive (and then collapse and then thrive again), those same people would covet the term "nerd," and expect to one day see Orr and Tom in the news, now billionaires.

But, today, before the jealousy and the the expected wealth, Orr was approaching gym class, but found the path more and more densely populated as he approached. By the time he was across the hall from the door to the gym, it was difficult to move. Of course, his curiosity now was piqued, and his desire to go to gym class diminished. So, he edged forward, creeping and pushing. His small, slender frame was perfect for weaving through crowds, and he reached the front (which was now dispersing), to see his gruff, malevolent sister bent over a figure, whose dark purple sandals, bone-thin ankles and white khaki shorts made his identity apparent to Orr in one one-hundredth of the time it takes a computer to do 228 operations.

He rushed forward, and tripped/collapsed/knelt to the ground.

He said, "Tom!" This was all he could manage at first.

His sister's head jerked up, and her large, eyelined eyes grew wider still.

She opened her mouth.

She closed her mouth.

Tom moved his head up and twisted his body to the side to face Orr, his back to Sarah. His cheeks were flushed, his glasses off, and his right cheekbone was bright red. There was a cut on the bridge of his nose, bleeding slightly. He smiled and raised his eyebrows, one slightly above the other.

Orr asked, "What happened?"

Tom started to answer, but before he could, Sarah blurted, "I gotta get to class," got up and left for the cafeteria, where she usually waited for third period to begin by playing card games with her friends.

Tom, without turning, yelled "Bye!" But, Sarah didn't answer.

Orr asked, "What happened?"

Tom said, "She surprises me every day." He smiled at Orr, "Your sister, I mean."

Orr nodded, though he did not understand.

Tom said, "What a rush." He laid back down, and said, "I have a confession."

Orr nodded again.

Tom said, "I just asked your sister out."

Orr's nodding had become monotonic: no amount of information, no matter how confusing, could induce it to slow or stop.

Tom turned his head at Orr and grinned. "I never told you, but I've kind of liked her, you know, kind of a lot, since..." he paused and turned back to face the ceiling, "... for a long time."

Tom started tapping his sandals together. He said, "I wonder if I can get out of gym class." He smiled at Orr.

Orr smiled back, automatically, but the action finally ceased his nodding, which finally gave his brain a moment of peace with which to process its new pieces of knowledge. Unfortunately, as it struggled with the precarious word "like," and its incompatibility with the word "sister," the bell rang, splitting his ears and emptying his brain again.

Tom said, "I bet I can get you out too, for a little while at least. Let's go tell him that I have to go to the nurse."

Without waiting for a response, he pushed himself up to his side, and then to a seating position, rocked back-and-forth a bit, and then stood up, teetering.

He smiled at Orr again and said, "What a rush, huh?"

Then, he turned, walked to the gym door, opened it, and walked through, without looking back.


After a short period of shock, it took Orr only a few seconds to process the information presented before it, and he found himself, though still surprised, also rather indifferent. In fact, the whole situation, as it had unfolded itself to him, seemed so preposterous, that he felt almost as though he were at the beginning of an episodic show, and this episode's topic was "Tom loves Sarah," which had no precedent in previous episodes, and would be completely forgotten in next week's episode. Actually, the fact that this metaphor presented itself to Orr was, in itself, more interesting to him than what the metaphor represented. It occurred to him that, actually, he had seen an almost identical plot in any sitcom that had siblings in it. In fact, Orr couldn't think of any pair of television siblings, in which there had been no episode revealing the secret affection a best friend had for a sibling, or a sibling for a best friend. If anything disappointed Orr, it was this: his friend, for all his creativity and disdain for stereotypes, had proved to be an actor in one regardless. But, this too was no huge disappointment.

After leaving gym for the nurse's office, Tom had missed third period geometry as well (which he shared with Orr). And, their next opportunity to see each other was lunch. Here, to Orr's relief, Tom presented himself, holding himself proud, like a wounded hero.

The two friends regularly spent lunch with a group of eight other first-year students, of which only three were ones Orr considered close friends: Kelly (who was, due to her regular position as dungeon master, an unofficial leader and social organizer for the group), Arthur (who had recently proclaimed for himself the title of "Dewy," for his most beloved beverage, though the only nickname that had stuck for him was "Rat," for the rat tail he sported proudly in middle school and had cut without precedent over the previous summer), and Tiffany (who had gone to a different middle school, but had become fast friends with both Tom and Kelly at the beginning of the year, and was now an inseparable part of the group; she had, over the past month, acquired the nickname "Toff," as a combination of "Tiffany" and "Toffy," though the exact etymology deluded even the five of them).

Orr spent fourth period working on English reading and writing, which took place on the fourth floor, so by the time he arrived for lunch, the other eight were already midway through their lunches. As he approached, Tom looked up at him and grinned. His glasses were taped together at the bridge, and his right cheekbone was beginning to look purple.

Orr scooted into the seat next to him, and said, "How are you feeling?"

Tom said, "You should have seen the other guy!" and everybody laughed, Orr included. But, Tom did not, though his eyes twinkled with pride.

When the laughter subsided, and attention was returned to a long-standing conversation between Kelly and Toff about a new campaign on which Kelly had been working for the past two weeks, about how it was going, and when it would be ready, and so forth, Tom looked at each of them in turn, then leaned in and whispered to Orr, "But, seriously, could we talk later?"

Orr smiled, and whispered back, "Sure!" He felt prepared to handle any new twist of this episodic adventure and was excited to see it unfold.

Tom whispered, "Thanks," then, aloud, said, "But, I have to go. Bye, everyone." And, again without waiting, he took his half-eaten lunch, stuffed it back into its bag, threw the bag into his backpack, and sneaked out of the table, still holding the open backpack in both hands.

As he left, Toff said, "He's probably hoping to get his other cheek kissed too!" and Arthur howled with laughter.


NaNo 2007: Nov. 02

Written: November 12th, 2007, 9:45 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.

The novel continues here.

He had soon developed entirely new systems of time. Two-and-a-half seconds going into fifteen-minutes going into three-quarters-of-an-hour into three-days into six-days into sixty-days (here, he stopped even trying to match the words of our customary demarcation) into six-hundred-days into twelve-hundred-days, and so forth.

He got up and grabbed a mechanical pencil and a spiral notebook, half of the pages of which were devoted to coordinate systems dressed with unenlightening, often squiggly, shapes, along with (starting in the margins, but creeping slowly onto entire pages) several doodles of demon-like pencil-gray eyes above tantilizing smiles and the occasional button or upside-down-seven nose. Upon returning to the bed, he opened the spiral to its inside back cover, pushed with extracted more lead from the pencil with a relished push to the eraser, and began a new system of time.

It started in the same way as before, but now named. A two-and-a-half-second was called a "secant."

There were eight secants to an "octant," and ten octants to a "suptant."

A whole dozen of the rather large suptants added up into an entirely new wording scheme; they filled a single "thirdian," three of which made an "wholian."

Here occurred another jump by factor of twelve, as twelve wholians were exactly enough to count as a single "dame."

... And, so forth...

The timing scheme entertained Orr throughout the morning. He, in all, had 9 units of measurement, the last of which (a "warp") made up a single non-leap year. Though he had a brief vision of establishing these as the new measures of time, it was short-lived. After all, the only advantage of this system (other than the fact that you didn't have to bother with variable-sized months) was the fact that it was different than the current one. If his became popular, a new genius could one day come forth and have as much right to topple it for a new one, or maybe in favor of the current system. Secant time, sadly, was destined to give pleasure and ease the life only of its inventor. But, to this fate it attached most readily, for it kept Orr preoccupied and happy until well after lunch. And, when his stomach finally forced him to abandon his bed, he had both completely filled the inside and outsidecovers of the front and back of his notebook (partly, of course, with block-letter logos) and completely forgotten about the cube-adorned beast in the corner of his room.


Secant time also proved to have another, far less obvious, repercussion, the result of which would eventually cause secant time itself to all but fade from Orr's memory.

On Sunday afternoon, after a day of relishing the freedom of weekends by watching television, playing Duke Nukem on his computer and doodling a few more secant-time logos (one of which was even accompanied by two drop-like eyes, thinking critically about the uselessness of the existing demarcation system for time, while sitting atop a flat-lining mouth), he opened his secant-time notebook one more time, but this time into the middle, heaved a mammoth textbook out of his backpack, and began working on his geometry homework.

The work was just beginning to be top-heavy with proofs, each of which would take Orr as many as three minutes to think through, and another ten to scrawl correctly, in as little space as possible, into the notebook. The result was so close to illegible that three of the five days of the previous week, Orr's teacher had asked him to remain after class and explain to her his solutions for the problems that she couldn't read, and the last time, he had found that he couldn't read them either.

Luckily, this weekend's homework was only half proofs, and half gemoetrical word problems. So, he found himself all but done after an hour. Only the last problem remained, a word problem, measuring a lamppost's height given its shadow and a person of a given hight a given distance away whose shadow ends with the lamppost's. Orr had seen several quite similar problems already, and would have solved it quite easily, but for a little snag: the units between the person's size and the shadow's length were different (the former in feet, the latter in meters). Aggrivated, Orr flipped to the front of the textbook for its cheat-sheet on unit conversions. His eyes flew up and down the page, and registered "foot," and "meter," as they were supposed to, but also"secant," which appeared several times lower down the page. The connection sent his brain in two directions concurrently, both to: Oh, so that's where I'd seen that word before! and to: Wait, but feet and meters are just as arbitrary as seconds and minutes! For all its usefulness in self-understanding, the first realization quickly died out to the second. The world, with all of its units, came crashing down on Orr. Feet, meters, yards, liters, pounds, quarts, all collapsed from their heavenly stature of givens. Sure, Orr had known that there were two accepted scales for measuring anything, the American and the metric, but only now did he realize that the fact that there were two proved just how arbitrary the systems actually were. Length, weight, volume, temperature, one by one Orr realized that they were continuous, and that splitting them up in any particular way was arbitrary. He could invent secant length, secand weight, secant volume, and secant temperature.if he wanted to, each system just as able to measure as the ones currently accepted.

But then, he wondered, why do we use the systems we use? How did we come to decide on sixty-second minutes, and on twelve-inch feet? Why do some people use the metric system, but we don't?

These are difficult questions, especially for a thirteen-year-old, genius or not. And, they set Orr pacing around his room, barely able to avoid the neglected textbook that sat on the floor, still open to the front inside cover. When pacing proved ineffectual, he tried sitting on his bed, nibbling absent-mindedly on his lower lip. Then, he tried lying down and staring at the ceiling. The tiny bubbles of dried paint looked like a vast Universe of stars, making arbitrary constellations: a giant man, a goat, the letters "CM." But, no amount of staring at the Universe can help to explain why people make the decisions they do. Indeed, the vast network of stars in the Universe, much less the bits of dried paint on Orr's ceiling, are not nearly as complex as the social systems that brought the units of measurement to their current state. In fact, they can barely be compared to the the neural system that once resided in the cranium of Anders Celsius. So, it should be of little surprise that the paint, for all its complexity, did not help Orr a single bit, and he soon got up, disgruntled, still full of questions, and disappointed that his own massive heap of neurons hadn't come through for him, and finished his homework problem.


Orr's lentil soup dinner helped to spur his brain slightly, and on his way upstairs, he came upon a realization. It was by no means an answer, but it was a step in a more fruitful direction than his previous steps around his room. His thought was about the metric system, something about which most high school nerds occasionally joke, that is: mathematically, it is extremely simple because it follows a set pattern. "Kilo" means "one thousand," no matter what single unit it precedes. "Centi" means "one hundredth," no matter which single unit it precedes. And, so forth. Furthermore, each prefix is a factor of ten away from its neighboring prefixes. In other words, much about the metric system, even if it is arbitrary, makes sense. It helps to quantify numbers of bigger and bigger size easily.

Orr reached his room, and looked at the monster in the corner. Last morning, though, time had failed him. Not seconds nor minutes nor hours had been the proper unit for measuring the time it had taken him to build that beast. The problem was in the system's inability to appropriately signify the largeness of something that seemed really big to him. And, the other systems of units would have to fall into similar problems. The problem, in other words, was that the units didn't take context into account. The time that he had spent on his monster could be measured in small hours or big seconds, but the seconds didn't seem big enough individually, and the number of hours was too small. The time that he had actually spent on it was two "mini-adventure" days or, perhaps less romantically, fifteen "small project" hours. Those days, those hours, they weren't normal hours, they were hours in a context.

In this way, Orr came upon his final child prodigy invention, and the one that he would be most proud of in later years, beyond the monster in the corner and beyond secant time. He called the idea (and the products of it) "units that feel right" or UTFRs.

UTFRs are two-part units. The first is a context that gives an idea of how the person on whose experience the value is based experienced it, whether it felt big or small, scalding, lukewarm, freezing, and so forth. It is usually given in the form of a category of experience most people can appreciate, so the hottest day Orr had ever experienced (on a vacation to Israel when he was 10) could have as its first part, 'burn-your-hand-on-a-stove.' The second part is the quantitative unit, just as regular units have, like "centimeter," or "kilowatt." Put together, we have, for example, "10 trying-to-fall-asleep-before-a-test minutes."

Orr, after pacing around his room, thinking through what a UTFR would be, grabbed the same old geometry notebook that was still lying splayed on the floor, flipped to the last page, scrawled "UTFR" on the top, in big, hurried letters, and proceeded to his bed, where he sat and began coming up with useful contexes.

At first, many of his contexes were, unsurprisingly, based on his personal experiences. The longest ten minutes of which he could dream were "10 being-pinched-in-the-cheek-by-your-aunt minutes." The longest one-hundred feet were "100 carry-your-bike-home-after-a-bad-crash feet." And, the biggest two-thousand liters were "2000 curdled-milk-mixed-with-salt-and-sugar liters." This last, as he scribbled it onto the page, brought a giggle, wriggling through his throat. Once, at the age of five, his parents had both been working late, so when they arrived home, were too exhausted to keep an eye on Orr. At some point in the night, he became thirsty, and wanted a glass of milk, and, not wanting to bother his collapsed parents, he trampled down the stairs himself, pulled the fridge open, balanced the milk (unaware of the newly-purchased milk higher up in the fridge), found a cup in one of the cupboards, and poured himself some milk. It smelled awful (much, one might say, like curdled milk), and looked lumpy. Not remembering how his mother had made it look so perfect, he tried mixing it thoroughly with his finger and then thought, It doesn't smell sweet enough. Obviously, the solution was to add sugar, so he grabbed the salt shaker and proceeded to pour about half of its contents into the milk. He then mixed it some more with his finger, and smelled it again. Unsatisfied, and confused, his attention landed on the shaker, and he decided that such a large supply of sugar should not be wasted all into the milk. So, he poured himself a small handful and took a big lick. It was, needless to say, a rather disappointing to shock, and caused the rest of the salt in his hand, to fall to the floor. Disappointed, he looked back into the cupboards, found a bag of sugar, and hoped for the best as he opened it, and poured as much as would fit into the cup. A few finger-mixing seconds later, and the young Orr decided that he would have to ask his mother how she managed to get his milk so tasty, so that he could do it by himself next time, for this mixture still did not look or smell right. But, again, not wanting to be a bother, he decided to live with what he had made, drink it, and be done with milk for the night. This decision, the failed attempt to chug the putred shake he had invented, and the final expurgation of it and dinner, left such a lasting impression on Orr that he still associated the curdled-milk-with-salt-and-sugar mixture as such a concentration of horror that not even scientists could condence anything further.

At this point, however, Orr hit a snag: there had not been two-thousand liters of curdled milk with salt and sugar. There had only been a single cup. So, he couldn't really know what two-thousand liters of curdled milk with salt and sugar really looked like, and without that piece of knowledge, 2000 curdled-milk-mixed-with-salt-and-sugar liters lacked some of the expressive power of a different contextual unit. With this realization in mind, Orr began trying to find contextual units that matched the measure that they tried to describe. So, "100 walking-home-from-school hours" would not be allowed, as nobody would ever walk home from school for 100 hours. On the other hand, "100 being-in-school-for-two-weeks hours" would be allowed, since two weeks of school added up to about one-hundred hours.

But, Orr had not really experienced so many kinds of movements that could fill up the entire spectrum, nor so many kinds of volume or temperature. So, he started to abstract. He imagined how big a football stadium was, and thought "x football-stadium-filled-with-water quarts" would be a good way to describe how big "x quarts" was... assuming he could figure out how big "x quarts" was to begin with. Similarly, the circumference of the Earth could describe length; the temperature of the sun could describe a really high temperature, and so forth.

After developing these two methods for creating contexts (based on personal experience without regard to the value, and based on common experience with regard to the value), Orr's brain turned itself off and refused to continue. After having invented a new way to measure time, and then a new way to measure everything, in the space of two days, it was exhausted, and demanded fit compensation in sleep. This request was accompanied by a helpful knock on the door by his father reminding him that it was now 9:30pm and time for bed.And, after a few minutes preparation, it took Orr little time to fall asleep. And, his dreams were filled with speeches of congratulations given by strange units of measurement (represented somehow by big squares with mustaches and sashes), in front of cheering crowds of the same.


NaNo 2007: Nov. 01

Written: November 11th, 2007, 2:21 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Hello! This is the first of (hopefully) between 20 and 30 sections of my novel for the National Novel Writing Month. This section was written on November 1st, the second on November 2nd, and so forth. Though several more are complete, I will be posting one section per day because I often go back to sections written four or five days previously to change the story as new developments necessitate it.


It should be fairly obvious that this piece is a work in progress, or, rather, the progress of a work that will almost assuredly never progress very far (i.e., out of this blog). Furthermore, it is entirely probable that you will not enjoy it. I'm sorry. I, at least, enjoy it. And, finally, in case you are curious: this story is not about me or my friends, nor are any of us characters; on the other hand, all of the characters are in one sense or another conglomerations of characteristics of various people I know. So, some of the activities, beliefs, or mannerisms may sound rather familiar. Please don't be offended. I like you. A lot. Too much.

The novel begins here.

Chapter 1: Numbers

At the age of thirteen, Orr considered himself something of a child prodigy. He was slim, wore glasses, couldn't be bothered to clean up his room, but spent hours every day building mammoth structures out of legos, pieces from the various erector sets he owned, and whatever else he happened to find. Four years earlier, his father had brought home a large sheet of tin, and the two had all but sheared and blowtorched it into oblivion, but the resulting inch by inch by inch cube was still a pinacle on Orr's highest constructs. It currently sat proudly atop a structure two feet larger than Orr himself, which had taken three erector sets and a full third of Orr's lego collection to piece together. Every morning, the sun would shine on the tiny silver block-shaped thing atop the faded-yellow-and-red-and-green-and-silver behemoth that was the pride of Orr's thirteen-year-old life. Orr even prided in its mismatched colors, in the way that the method of the structure's creation was apparent to the eye. It hid nothing about its maker's engineering genius like the tools of our everday life do.

Of course, as any builder knows, especially one with such limited resources as Orr, almost as relishing as the construction of elegant structures is their ultimate collapse. This, too, took some creativity if the doomed piece of machinery had been designed with as much care as Orr applied to his. A card castle may disappear if one card is tittered too much, but Orr's behemoth, or a clock radio, or a broken camera, these things require a great deal of care to bring down to their component bits, at least if one expects those bits to be functionable after the demise of their whole. Orr had a hammer ready whenever some new piece of equipment arrived (usually from one of his parents) that needed decimating, but he almost never used it. The household screwdrivers were almost always enough. With his own structures, he applied supreme care, analyzing them for as much as an hour beforehand to decide what could be removed and would could not so that the structure would never collapse under its own weight and ruin his beloved pieces. The entire process would take hours, often days, and several more hours if one counted cleaning up the mess that destruction enevitably brings with it (which, of course, Orr always neglected to count).

These activities are perhaps not enough to give one the conclusion of one's own genius, but the proper parental motivation, along with good grades and boredom in school, can have an altogether too-powerful effect on one's self-esteem. And, Orr's self-esteem had surged and swelled, until it encompassed and even overshadowed the structures on which it was partly based. Orr would later come to recognize and despise this ego. He would blame his parents, or more often, himself for not being able to overcome it, but the recognition itself would serve as a further foundation of his intelligence. After all, not all egotists are cunning and self-reflective enough to see their egotism. For now, however, Orr's ego and the question of the morality of possessing it were far from Orr's mind. His chief concern was to be a child prodigy, that is, to produce wondrous things before intelligence could be dimmed by public school.

Orr spent the first two weeks of his third month as a thirteen-year-old pondering what sort of genius he could bring to the world. His obvious first hope was to revolutionize engineering. His experiments with construction and destruction must lead him to a new method, a new idea, that no one had before considered. He started attempting different techniques. He laid a circular base, then a triangular one. He tried two bases that connected higher up, then tried three as a triangle, four as a square, tried connecting them at various levels and made the connectors different shapes. He even, very briefly, experimented with color coordination, but gave it up as unimportant after a few minutes. The giant structure that was currently honored with the silver cube as its pinnacle was roughly hexagonal in that it had six bases, each quite close to its neighbors, such that only four or five legos were enough to connect them. They connected throughout, at various levels, sometimes to their neighbors and sometimes to pillars that lived farther away. At the top, all six came spiraling together (or as close to spiraling as they could given Orr's very non-curved pieces), and came to a small plateau, only two legos wide, on which the cube rested contentedly. The structure represented a nest in its complexity, but it lacked a middle other than the pinnacle and the bridges from one pillar to the next, and before the pinnacle was added, it had looked from above like the three-dimensional equivalent to a very rough sketch of a Star of David surrounded by a circle.

It was grand; it was sprawling; it was complex almost to the point of overwhelming the senses; Orr had never been more proud of anything, nothing he'd built, no grade he'd gotten, not even his first successful venture atop a bicycle, had brought him as much pleasure as the nest in the corner of his room. A few seconds after adorning it, finally, with the cube, and inspecting it thoroughly, with the engineer's glitter in his eye, for any problems that had hitherto evaded his vision, he bounded downstairs, accosted his father in the living room, and demanded his presence at a momentous unveiling. His voice was shrill, even for a boy just entering puberty. His hands were clammy. This, he thought, is the beginning. He assumed that, on seeing it, his father would call the media, or bring around some real experts, and soon, Orr would be standing in front of a podium, smiling to camera flashes and the beginning of a fame-filled life. This image appeared so readily in his head and was so detailed (his tie would be striped red and white), that despite his better judgment, he thought it a prophetic vision about to be made manifest.

Father and son climbed the stairs, Orr well ahead. When Orr reached the middle landing between the two floors, he stopped and turned back to his father. His father was craning his head to the side as he climbed. The words from the television (which his father was attempting to watch) were clearly audible, but Orr could not make them out. At every word, his mind raced more quickly. He imagined his father looking at him on the television, but before it could be made out properly, he started imagining further structures, more complicated. He could not make them out, for they flooded by too quickly, but they were in his head, and they would soon appear less ephemerally, he was sure. His father was bent at a 135 degree angle, which was as close to ninety as his body would take him. He sighed, straightened up, and continued up the stairs more quickly. Orr's fingers twitched, longing to pull his father more quickly, but his brain was too preoccupied to pay them heed.

His father reached the landing, and the two continued up.

Orr felt numb. His brain had started to work so hard that, instead of coming to him quickly, thoughts inched by and took several seconds to form at all. The air felt thick. The inside of his head itched. As he climbed, he managed to convince his hand to scratch the outside, hoping that it would help. It did not. He tried to smile to himself, but that only made his throat itch. He managed to convince his saliva to go down his throat, to soothe it. He reached the top of the stairs. He forgot to wait for his father this time and just continued to his room, holding the banister for support.

This, he thought, is the beginning.

The carpet was crunchy under his bare foot. It felt foreign, and his room looked suddenly foreign, as if through a shimmering portal and not a doorframe with chipping paint. He tried to smile as his fingers brushed against the frame, and he turned to the structure in the corner. It glimmered in the artificial light, the cube as beautiful as ever.

From behind him, he heard his father whistle. "It's big!"

Orr took this statement to be a compliment, though not as awed as he would have liked. It was pretty big, though. He said, "Yeah."

His father said, "It must have taken you all day!"

It had taken the him the afternoons and evenings of Thursday and Friday combined, which Orr figured added up to just about an entire day, so he said, "Just about."

His father turned to him, looked down, smiled, and said, "I'm proud of you, Orr!" He then continued to turn and started moving back down the hall.

The inside of Orr's stomach started to tickle. He blurted, "Wait!"

His father stopped and looked back. "Yeah?"

"Is...?" Nothing was coming to Orr's head, but his stomach had begun to feel cramped, and it was becoming more so by the second. "Is...?"

The words "Is it good?" popped into his head. But, he know that they were wrong. He wanted to ask something else. He wanted to ask if it was something, something indefinable, something brilliant, something new and revolutionary. He really wanted to ask a question about himself, not about the structure, but the only words that made the journey into his inner ear were, "Is it good?" His voice was even feeble in his head, so it was no surprise to him when it sounded feeble coming out of his mouth.

His father smiled. "Oh yeah. Best thing you've built so far!" He walked back down the stairs and, presumably, into the living room.


Orr could not help but feel cheated by his father's untrained eye. But, he was also young, and though he spent the night brooding, the next morning brought a new idea into his head. It came to him as he lay in bed, trying to count how long he'd spent on the structure residing in the corner of his room. He figured that it must have taken about fifteen hours, but it had felt like a lot longer than that, like a journey, an adventure that was just coming to its close. So, he tried to measure it in minutes instead, which came to about nine hundred. That sounded better to him.

He stared at his structure: nine hundred minutes shone in front of him, glistening in the morning sun.

Then, he started to wonder how many seconds it had taken him. That came to about fifty-six thousand. He picked up his watch from the floor and watched a second go by. He thought, fifty-six thousand of those. He watched another second go by, then ten seconds. It felt like a long time, but more than five-thousand of those pieces of time had gone by during the construction of the thing in the corner. That was when the feeling of "adventure completed" started to sink in. He watched another ten seconds go by, and a shiver traveled down his spine. That had really been a long time.

Then, he started to wonder why, in hours, it hadn't seemed long enough, but in ten-seconds it had. What was special about ten-seconds?

He thought about this question for several seconds, watching them slowly move by. The movement was so fluid. Ten seconds couldn't mean anything in particular. But, neither could one second. It was all part of the same fuild movement. A minute, a second, a ten-second: they were all just ways of dividing the same fluid movement. He started counting two-and-a-half seconds to prove it to himself, and time continued to flow, just the same as before, in the same fluid movement. He measured a full minute in two-and-a-half seconds. There were twenty-four of them. Another shiver flowed down Orr's back. Against, he wondered briefly if he were prophetic, but now in a mathematical sense. Had he felt that two-and-a-half seconds would fit so perfectly into sixty? Two-and-a-half had come so easily to him, as if from elsewhere than his own brain. And, yet, it went into a minute as many times as an hour goes into a day.

But, as soon as he started to think about hours and days, thoughts of prophecy were expelled from his brain. What if I did the same thing with hours? Can I measure two-and-a-half hours instead of one?

This is not Novel.

Written: November 8th, 2007, 9:57 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

So, I am writing a novel as part of the National Novel Writing Month. I have seven sections (each about two thousand words) so far, and I'm working on getting them in a good format for posting. As soon as I do, I'll post them here, in case anybody wants to read them. I should warn you, the goal of NaNoWriMo is not to produce beautiful pieces of prose, fit for publication. The goal is simply for people who have wanted to write a novel to actually go and do it. And, I have taken this philosophy to heart. There are likely several spelling mistakes and typos in my prose, and more importantly, the semantics of some sections may so horrify you that you abandon reading (in any of its forms) for good.

P.S., for the curious, my bare-bones profile with NaNoWriMo is available here.

Disappeared, but Finished

Written: November 8th, 2007, 9:35 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

So, one of my bad habits is to disappear from online communities without warning, and that is exactly what I did, both for posting here, and taking part in the OOo Mac Porting IRC channel. Since disappearing, several things of note have happened. First and most important, the child workspace macaddressbook01 was integrated into SRC680m229 and is currently set for release in 2.4. So, my Summer of Code project is officially complete. Second, and partly the cause of my disappearance, I have sold my MacBook, so I am no longer able to work on the Mac porting team (given that I can no longer compile the code). In case anyone from that team is still subscribed to the feed for this blog, or happens to read it for some other reason, I'm sorry for having disappeared so suddenly, and it was a wonderful experience working on OOo with all of you for the little while that I did. Thank you for the opportunity and for all of the help!

More Progress and Directions for Testing

Written: July 15th, 2007, 23:48 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

First, some more progress. I have created two more patches and committed all of them to the cws for the address book integration: macaddressbook01. The two new patches are for better commenting and localization support (links are to the accompanying issues in OOo). Please note that I had a lot of help from Patrick Luby on the localization patch. (See our conversation in the issue.)

With localization and commenting done, there is only one more task that I have set myself: moving the address book integration to the Cocoa API. (Of course, there is still testing to be done, and there are probably more bugs to fix.) Since the Cocoa version will likely not replace the Carbon version, at least not for some time, I will probably create a new cws for it that will exist parallel to macaddressbook01. More on this idea as it develops.

Also, now that I have committed several patches, Eric Bachard suggested that I offer directions for testing them. Here they are:

If you have any trouble, please let me know! Otherwise, I will soon start on the move to Cocoa. P.S., for those curious, here is the Address Book at work in Spanish:

More patches and First Stab at Cocoa

Written: July 12th, 2007, 22:26 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Progress lately has been moving in bursts. There are times during which I feel like there is not much for me to do at the moment, as I wait for people to look at my code and my patches before I apply them. So far, Patrick Luby (of NeoOffice) has supplied two patches for my code. Then, for one reason or another, a specific task becomes available (e.g., fixing mail merge, for which I got some helpful advice by Florian Heckl that let me start working on it), and I work on it until it is complete. Progress on the Address Book Integration over the past week has been:

  1. Patches:
    • Premac/postmac fix (by Patrick Luby, posted to OOo issue 77591) - this patch includes "premac" and "postmac" headers around included Mac OS X headers to fix various conflicts between Mac OS X and OOo (I believe).
    • Null headers patch (originally by Patrick Luby, with a slight modification by me, posted to OOo issue 79512) - this patch creates three crash-preventing checks for NULL values.
    • multiple groups fix (by me, posted to OOo issue 79513) - this patch solves an issue in which groups with the same name in the Address Book don't show up in the OOo data source.
    • mail merge fix (by me, posted to OOo issue 79514) - this patch forces the fields that could appear in an OOo mail mege template to be present and be at the beginning of the OOo data source. Because it modifies the way that the OOo integration sorts fields in the address book, it also includes a much cleaner version of the sorting algorithm.
  2. I also created a new version of the ABColumns program (originally presented here) to work with Cocoa instead of Carbon. The new version is called "ABCocoa." You might remember that this program provided the basis for the Mac OS X Address Book integration into OOo, and - although the integrated version is rather different at this point and has solved several bugs in ABColumns - a Cocoa version is still a significant step toward the Cocoa version of the integration into OOo. I decided to move ABColumns to Cocoa before the integration because I am waiting for a relatively stable version of the integration in Carbon before I start this process, but I still wanted to see if the move to Cocoa was possible and what sorts of issues would come up. ABCocoa should make that move, when it comes, a lot easier.

This work, if there are no problems with it, solves half of the issues presented in my last post, just leaving: Cocoa integration, commenting, and localization of labels. And, reading up on how localization of strings works within Mac OS X (specifically this article at MacTech), and testing things like genstrings, it appears that there is no way to specifically invoke Mac OS X's own localized labels directly (e.g., I cannot ask for the localized version of the constant string kABFirstNameProperty, at least not in Cocoa). It might be that there is some way to localize kABFirstNameProperty itself, but if there is, I cannot find it. It also may still be possible to use the Carbon function ABCopyLocalizedPropertyOrLabel, but I have not managed to use it successfully, and it is strictly for Carbon, so it couldn't be included in the Cocoa version. So, after a bit more testing, I might call the goal of localizing labels currently unachievable (for me), which would leave only two more goals (other than testing and debugging) : commenting and creating a Cocoa version. I'll let you know my progress!

File: abcocoa.tar

Open issues: 77591, 79512, 79513, and 75914

Quick Clarification

Written: July 7th, 2007, 4:04 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Reading over my last post, I should clarify: if people are suggesting that my code should be restructured, the other tasks that I have set for myself will have to go on the backburner, not the people who think that I should restructure my code!

Updates, a patch, and a new cws

Written: July 7th, 2007, 4:01 (UTC) By: omer 1 comment

I have neglected this blog lately as I've worked through various small bugs and features of the address book code, but there are several interesting new developments (or, at least, interesting for me). Most importantly, earlier today I did a compiled the X11 version of for Mac OS X and discovered happily that my address book code not only compiles on it but also works just fine. Other updates: no longer crashes on close (in fact, this was a bug outside of my code and was fixed by Frank Schönheit); the address book can now fully handle non-Latin alphabets (thanks to Florian Heckl); all data types from the OS X address book are now stored as the correct data type in OOo (so, for example, timestamps are now stored as timestamps rather than strings); fields from the address book are now displayed in a more logical manner (first name, then middle name, then last name, ...) rather than alphabetically; sorting records now works; and, if you have multiple groups in your address book, they'll each show up as a table in OOo.

I have also (finally) got my work in a presentable form. It is in two files, a patch file and a tarball, the patch for changes to files that already exist in OOo code and the tarball for files that I created. Apply both of them at the root OOo directory. The affected modules are connectivity, dbaccess, extensions, and scp2. Finally, I have created a cws for the address book integration (named "macaddressbook01"), and I am about to request that someone add those modules to the cws and apply the patch and tarball to them.

That said, here is what I think remains for my Google Summer of Code project:

  1. Look into optimizing the address book with mail-merge (to get OOo to automatically fill in at least some fields automatically). I've been looking into this a bit already, and I'm not sure how much I'll be able to do (and, I don't believe that other address books, at least KDE, do anything). One of the major issues I want to see if I can help is that OOo current requires the user to supply a column for "title" (e.g., "Mr."), and while the Mac OS X Address Book stores title information, it does not display it in the Mac OS X Address Book application, so many users will likely not have it filled in, which means that it will (currently) not show up in OOo (which I made only show columns that have some information in them). I'm still not sure what I'll do about this...
  2. Inernationalization of labels - given that I am using English, the fact that all of the address book's labels are in English has not stood out to me, but I recently discovered that the Address Book Carbon API comes with a localization function that, if I am not mistaken, gives the labels in the user's selected locale. I am not sure if I want to use it yet, depending on exactly what it does, but it at least looks like a promising (and hopefully not too difficult) fix.
  3. Handle groups of the same name - the Mac OS X Address Book lets you create groups of the same name (so, I can have two groups named "family"). OOo's address book integration is built on top of its databasing software base, such that requests for information are in the form of SQL queries, meaning that the name of the table really should be unique (so that "Select * From 'family'" makes sense). I've run into this problem before, with the freedom that Mac OS X Address Book users have in creating multiple identical fields (e.g., two home phone numbers). My solution then was to add a new a number at the end of all duplicates, so the first field would be "Phone: Home," while the second would be "Phone: Home (2)," the third "Phone: Home (3)," and so forth. I will likely do the same for groups.
  4. Clean up column sorting - as noted earlier, the columns are in a better order, but I am not very happy with the way I did it, since it is a bit ugly. I'll try to think of a better way of handling this.
  5. Comment the code better... at least the files that I created from scratch.
  6. Finally, the last rather large project I have set for myself is moving the whole address book over to use the Cocoa API, since that is the direction that the OOo porting project is taking. Luckily, I'm not expecting this move to be especially difficult, since I think that all of the changes will be isolated to a few files. We'll see!

Of course, these changes are assuming that others looking at my code are not appalled and demand that I start over or restructure the whole thing. If that happens, they'll all have to go on the backburner, and hopefully I'll have time to look into them later. I guess we'll soon see!

Oh, and finally, a fun screen shot follows of the addressbook working in X11. You'll see that one of the entries is written in Hebrew :)

Files: macaddressbook01_integrate_ab.patch and macaddressbook01_macab_driver.tar

Failures and Successes

Written: June 27th, 2007, 4:10 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

It has been rather a long while since my last post, and I apologize for the delay. I am often fool enough not to backup my work, and I had finally tempted fate one too many: my hard drive failed just as I turned my computer on to back up my work on the address book. Luckily, because of this blog, I only lost a couple of days of work, and while my Macbook was in for repair, I worked on my old Toshiba laptop (Ubuntu Linux/Windows XP dual-boot) to redo the work that I had lost.

Well, after some long days, and specifically a long day today (that resulted in one new line of code, I have an exciting new image for you:

There are several issues to fix with this version. Most obviously:

These are the main things that I want to change over the rest of the summer, and if I have time, I am also toying with the idea of syncing the Mac OS X Address Book and OOo driver so that changes in one appear in the other (which would allow me to make the OOo fields editable). The framework for doing so is, as far as I can tell, already built into OOo, so I just have to understand it and modify my own code.

Anyway, once I figure out a couple of these (at least the first, so that OOo doesn't stop responding based on my code), I will probably start looking into integrating the code with aquavcl01 (the child workspace for the Aqua port of I am very excited!