Eclectica: An anthology, p.7Publishing Portfolio
She kissed him then, her hand finding its way to the back of his neck and pulling him to her. His body responded in kind.
Elyse pulled away. He followed her gaze as her head turned toward the door. And the scaldi in his veins turned to ice.
“Father …” she whispered.
“Lord Syrus,” he said. I am going to die.
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The Formula, the Algorithm, the Equation: Love
By Phill Boas
In 2018, a young maths student, Ilian Petroza, met a beautiful young arts student at a get-together in one of the remaining Old University Colleges. Jeana Shilto was in her final year of a masters degree in history, Ilian was in his final year of a masters degree in maths. He was exploring some unusual parameters of probability theory while she was exploring some aspects of the early history of the development of business and business mathematics.
They met on many occasions after that exciting night, because apart from finding one another extraordinarily interesting, attractive and good company, they shared, it turned out, an idea. Neither had ever broached this with anyone else because, at some level it seemed so absurd.
If you thought about Google as a search engine based on a complex set of interacting algorithms—which would be incorrect, yet close enough for a naïve observer to think of themselves as understanding—then you could use that analogy to think of solving, not a search problem, but another seemingly insolvable problem, one that defied logic (in no more abstruse a way than thirty years ago, when you would have argued against the likelihood that someone could resolve the problem of allowing anyone to search everywhere simultaneously for information supplied by anyone).
Google did change the way the world works in some amazingly elegant ways. Anyone, anywhere in the world, with a minimal amount of electronic equipment and almost no real knowhow, can now find out how to make a bomb, understand how a nuclear submarine works or look at any part of the world, including their own house, from several different perspectives. Your grandparents would have laughed at your outrageous silliness had you suggested this forty years ago. Not so long, really.
Well, Jeana and Ilian had, for quite different reasons, come to consider an idea that was as absurd and unlikely today as a global search engine had been back then. Or even back then imagining that people could walk around with a telephone in their hand that had enormous computing and video communication capacities.
World trade, Jeana had come to understand, was somewhat like a lottery. It really was—to a considerable extent—a gamble each time, that offered great rewards if it paid off and often penury if it did not. Then there were the side bets, insurance, just in case your bet turned sour. So over the course of her studies, Jeana had begun to think of money and trade and all financial transactions as nothing more than a game of chance.
Ironically, the global financial crises of several years ago were clearly shown to be about bad bets and about how greed as a motivator led to inadvisable gambling behaviour, even if you were an enormously respected financial institution like a bank. However, when you miniaturised the process and called the machine a poker machine, people failed to see the similarity to their share portfolios, and groups would pressure the government for regulation in ways they never were able to do with the larger financial institutions. There were extraordinarily large numbers of people who wanted controls on the poker machine industry, but not on the share market, nor the banks. Size clearly mattered.
Ilian had been working assiduously on the nature of the logic of problem solving and on the kind of algorithms that could be arranged in various ways to resolve issues that seemed close-ended. Being rational people they were both determined not to enter into a relationship if they were incompatible, or if there were good reasons for them not to be together. They explored their genetic compatibility and determined quite a lot about the nature of any offspring they might produce. They studied their conversations, recording and analysing whether the way they spoke indicated their compatibility or otherwise.
No matter what lines of enquiry they pursued nor how they pursued those lines of enquiry, even those they thought might lead them to some acceptably rigorous conclusion about their compatibility, they ended up with the feeling that they too were playing a game of chance.
What they really needed was a formula they could use to plug in all of the various things they had learned about themselves and which would turn up a clear and logical solution they both felt confident in pursuing. No more random, no more chance-like processes.
They looked at each other and she could see the thought forming in his mind. Is it something you could actually create? Her mind was tossing around the entire history of the development of money and the growth of the concept of business, all the way past Shylock and Shakespeare to the modern stock market of the day. She considered the crashes of the stock market and the incredible highs; thought about the concept that no-one could really discuss with integrity: continuous growth.
He went back to the logic of his beloved mathematics and tried to imagine how the world must have been before counting began in a serious way. How counting had come to replace the less rational, more direct philosophical explorations. He knew, as had many before him, that the two, whilst apart, were indelibly interwoven in their lives.
Now, it would be wrong to believe that all this study and all these attempts to be certain that they were compatible meant anything other than that they were young, were naïve and were in love. However, this young couple wanted to take the chance factor, the random factor, out of their relationship. They both had a small group of friends with whom they shared their concerns but tended to receive very little sympathy for their position. Most of their friends re-assured them that it was the very nature of relationships for there to be uncertainty.
They gave up counting the number of times they were told that the differences between them would work for them in the end, not just the similarities. Jeana’s friends tried to reassure her that they could see that she and Ilian were made for each other, but their reassurances did not cause her to feel any more certain. She could see how some of her girlfriends got into relationships with guys who clearly were wrong for them and how these relationships fell apart, and knew she did not want that to happen for her.
One Saturday afternoon when they met to go out to dinner Ilian dropped his bombshell. He had solved the problem, in a fashion, he had a solution that would deal with all the unpredictability, he had finally created an algorithm that would remove from most calculations the effects of chance. Jeana was stunned but excited; it was what they had both been thinking about. It was, in practice, like a reverse random numbers generator. He could take any set of figures you gave him and by feeding them through his algorithm his computer would tell you the pattern and the next numbers in the series. It did not matter whether they were figures from the stock exchange or from any data set.
They decided to test it in the stock market. They made a significant number of small but profitable decisions immediately. They tested it with the cost of the dollar, its goings up and down. Again they were successful. They went to a local pokies venue and fed the results of each game of a particular machine and could predict within a few minutes when the machine would pay. It was as though Ilian had suddenly acquired the Midas touch.
So the question was now how to apply their incredible solution to their relationship to find out if they were really compatible. It was clear that when Ilian reported his findings to the world there would immediately be some incredible consequences, but for the moment, he put this aside to solve the problem of getting the personal data of each of them into mathematical form in order to determine if they should stay together and even perhaps get married.
Now, you are probably sitting comfortably as you read this story and you know in your heart of hearts that Ilian and Jeana are pursuing a fruitless and impossible mission whose end will almos
The data fed into the algorithm told them what they had hoped to hear. Showed them that, for almost every condition likely to deliver on their capacity to be a successful couple and raise intelligent and healthy children, they rated above the 80th percentile. Their friends fluctuated between utter disbelief and relief at the obvious. But for Ilian and Jeana this was the signal to go for it. They announced their engagement and planned a party with all their friends and family. The celebrations were everything they had predicted; their parents, their families and their friends all totally approved of them as a couple.
Now you might be thinking wow, what a relief, but you would be disappointed. The consequence of knowing how well they were matched, how alike and how predictable a future they might now be certain to expect threw them into a torrent of confusion and uncertainty. Firstly, Ilian had just created a world-shattering algorithm, which was likely, when the media picked it up, to turn his life entirely on its head. His discovery, which the media were happy to enthuse about initially, meant that the laws of chance, the uncertainties of gambling, and the entire banking and insurance industries, not to mention the stock market and the relationship market, were suddenly no longer necessarily activities of speculation. People now had a choice: they seemed able to choose certainty.
Would you like to live in a world where there were essentially few outlets for gambling, uncertainty or doubt? And then there were the sceptics who were able to point out that there were some things for which Ilian’s algorithm was not going to be useful.
Ilian was now getting rich at a phenomenal rate and Jeana found that there was less and less time for them to be together; within a year they were no longer an item. Once Ilian had marketed his product, he found himself up to his ears in litigation. It seemed that everyone on the planet was mad with him, including his beloved, with whom his formula assured him he was a perfect match.
Knowing about the future turned out to be something other than knowing about the future. It turned out to be almost a formula for changing the future, and a very powerful one at that. Now an entire world was focussing its attention on how to avoid certainty and confidence in planning the future. Ilian and Jeana did not get back together and their confidence in planned love died. Their friends shook their heads in disbelief and the story of yet another electronic genius was born. It was hard to tell who were the victims of this amazing success story, because as nearly every institution in the world turned out to be based on a certain degree of uncertainty, this piece of wizardry was now challenging the entire economic rational market economy and the belief in the significance of numbers.
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The Garbage Man
By Jordyn Chapman
It was another early morning for Byron—6.45 to be exact. This was the usual time he started his garbage collection route in his allocated district. His district was in the nice part of the city where there was enough open space for birds to fly around (not having to avoid high-rises) and just enough nature to make a greeny happy. The houses in this area were also very impressive; most of the owners would have to be well off to be able to afford them. They all had expansive front yards, well-sized back yards—you could play a decent game of backyard cricket—and all managed to keep their natural foliage under control.
It was the type of area that people would live in when they had ‘made it’, which was a lifestyle Byron had always hoped to achieve. He would have loved to be happily married with 2.5 kids and the whole nine yards, but to his dismay his 43rd birthday was quickly approaching and each year the hope of this desired lifestyle was slipping away. He always hoped that something would come along and change the direction his life was going in.
Byron wasn’t horrid looking, nor was there anything wrong with his figure, but he believed he was unattractive due to his undesirable job. Nobody would ever find a garbage man attractive. He didn’t have a white or blue-collar job; he had an off-brown collar job. He was a nobody.
Little did Byron know that today would be the day his life would change forever.
Byron had been on the job for close to three hours now and had finally made a left turn into Campbell Drive, his favourite street for collecting. Campbell Drive was a very long, narrow road with over forty residences, the majority of them family homes. It was a great road to venture down, since there was barely any traffic during working hours on weekdays and it was easy for a garbage man to stop and start at every residence’s bin. He also thought that Campbell Drive had some of the most pristine houses and he enjoyed admiring them.
He had completed half the bins on the first side of the street when he reached Number 31. He double-checked the distance between the bin and his truck so the side-lift could pick it up without a problem, when suddenly he noticed something odd.
An iPhone? On top of a rubbish bin?
Bryon jumped out of his truck and made his way over to the rubbish bin. He picked up the iPhone and admired it. An iPhone was something he would never be able to afford, on a garbage man's salary.
It looks quite new. I bet someone’s just misplaced it. How did it end up with the garbage though?
It was against company policy to scavenge things out of private residences’ rubbish bins, although, technically, the phone wasn’t in the bin. Instead of keeping it for himself he decided he wanted to find out whose phone it was.
He pressed the top button and slid the screen to unlock the phone. The screen was still on the dial menu. Byron’s eyes widened as he looked at the number that had been typed in: 000. The call had not been made.
What? This is strange. Maybe I should ring the police—but what would I say to them? Hey, contacts! I’ll find a relative’s number, contact them and give the phone back. Problem solved.
He pressed the contacts menu on the screen and was shocked once again. The phone had no contacts. What? What sort of person has no contacts in their phone?
The only other option was to walk up to the residence of the rubbish bin.
Maybe I could get some answers there. But would anyone be home? It is 10.30 in the morning; most people would be at work. Maybe they might have a house keeper or work from home?
He looked up at the house.
A car in the driveway—a white commodore station-wagon—someone must be home.
He started walking up the driveway. It was a large, sandstone residence that had a wonderfully maintained garden, filled with beautiful red and white roses placed along the window gardens. The red roses complemented the red front door. The front yard also contained a large oak tree with a tyre swing attached to one of its high branches, which had a children’s tricycle positioned under it.
Children must live here.
He finally made it to the red door after a walk up the drive-way that lasted, what seemed like, forever and rang the doorbell. He waited. No answer. He rang the bell again and waited until it stopped chiming. He was just about to walk back down to his truck when a man answered the door. Byron jumped.
The man who answered the door was young, in his early to mid-twenties, and he wore a hooded jumper with tracksuit pants and an old pair of brown runners.
“Hi, sorry to bother you, but I found this phone on top of your bin. Just wondering if you know whose it is?”
The man was twirling the drawstring of his hooded jumper around his finger; he managed to not make any direct eye contact with Byron.
“Yeah it’s mine, bro,” he said as he whisked the phone out
Since Byron had been working in this well-off residential suburb of the city, he had learnt a thing or two about the people who occupied these houses in particular. Something wasn’t right. People in this area would not wear filthy old runners inside their clean, presentable houses and they didn’t talk like that. This street was full of young families, and that guy was definitely not old enough to have children or young enough to be a child of the owners himself.
Nothing seems to add up. This is not a coincidence: the discarded phone that tried to dial 000 and the strange man who doesn’t fit in with the house—they must be connected in some way.
Byron took a glimpse of the windows of the house.
Could he be watching me right now—I should get back to the truck.
Byron walked back to the truck. He tried his best to act causally as he made his way down the long driveway.
If that’s their car in the drive-way … if I stay parked in front of it they won’t be able leave.
He quickly called 000 and told them the situation. They assured him that someone would be on their way over immediately.
Byron waited in his truck and watched the house. He kept his eyes on the front window, the red door and the side gate.
I don’t think they know that I am on to them yet. The police will be here soon; just watch over the house to see if they try to run.
A few minutes passed. Even in his current situation, Byron couldn’t help but think about how he was going to finish up his route for the day. Overtime, perhaps?
Whatever they are doing, they aren’t worried about my truck, or getting out of there in a hurry.
Finally the police arrived.
“Byron, is it? You made the call?” one of the policemen asked.
Byron explained to the policemen the situation he had encountered as quickly as he could.
Eclectica: An anthology by Publishing Portfolio / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes