The Hyper Algorithm

10 minute read

“I’ll be honest, Vance, this is going to feel like a spike being driven into the back of your skull.”

“Ready.”

“Most patients pass out when the nano-bots are injected. Unfortunately, we can’t give you any sedatives or we’d compromise the installation. Now lean back.”

“Got it…and just to go over what you said before, this hyper algorithm will only be active when I’m wearing my genius glasses, right?”

“Correct.”

“And if I pass out, I’ll wake up within at least ten minutes? Vincent, my son who you met in the waiting room, is participating in a bi-lingual experience at the Paris Brain Institute later this morning and I need to go with him.”

“Don’t worry. You’ll be out of here by eight o’clock. Now close your eyes…try and relax.” 

Thirty minutes later, on metro line 7, Vincent and I were jammed between bodies and automated doors (annual summer training strike) on our way to the Paris Brain Institute. Since I hadn’t read the proposal for the experiment thoroughly the night before, and I wanted to test out this new hyper algorithm, I glanced at my left forearm where my genius phone was implanted and scanned the proposal in more detail. Simultaneously I saw my hyper algorithm, customized to my personality and thought patterns, create a pop-up window in my genius glasses next to the text with links to recent developments in neuroscience, correctly measuring and predicting my ignorance and impending curiosity on the subject. Wow.  Ignoring this with a flick of my pupil (my genius glasses registering the movement and minimizing the neglected content) I turned back to the proposal and mentally summed up the academic acrobatics: the neuroscientists were going to measure how Vincent’s experience changed, using extremely detailed brain scans, as he spoke and thought in French or English. More specifically, they were going to measure changes during an eight hour window in his insular cortex, an older cortex in the brain that is folded deep within the lateral sulfus, the fissure separating the frontal and temporal lobes. My hyper algorithm seemed to read my thoughts: a pop-window and a picture re-appeared with clarification stating that the insular cortex/insula is where taste occurs, but more importantly it plays a role in visceral and emotional functions.

I returned to the recent developments with another pupil-flick and saw that in the past five years neuroscientists had also proven that the insular cortex represents experience from inside our bodies. In the 2020s, neuroscientists called the prefrontal cortex the seat of consciousness. In the 2030s, scientists confirmed that the insular cortex, a part of the prefrontal cortex, is the existential control panel, an anatomical integration hub with heavy connectivity to other parts of the brain which receives sensory inputs from all modalities.

“Dad, this is our stop right?”

“You got it.” I triple blinked to close the virtual windows as we pried ourselves out of the crush of bodies, crossed the platform, and climbed the stairs. 

“Finally,” Vincent raised his arms to the sky. “I can breathe.” We got out at Les Gobelins and walked northeast to the institute. 

It was an overcast, boiling hot day, the pavement seeming to sizzle, another summer where Paris was breaking heat records. Vincent didn’t mind the heat since he had grown up in this steadily burning urban hotbox, but I felt the baking waves and dense pollution as if they were cooking my skin and grating my throat. We passed a crumbling statue of a forgotten hero, a family of three picking through trash, and a restaurant with rows of wicker chairs and circular marble tables. Vincent said,

“Dad, I gotta piss like a race horse. Can I stop quick?”

“Sure.”

While Vincent was in the bathroom I continued reading. I learned that other functions of the insular include autonomical and motor control, risk prediction and decision making, and complex social functions like empathy. In the proposal, the researchers wrote, If you see the person you’re in love with, attempt to listen to your own heartbeat, or desire a piece of peanut butter pie, your insular will show increased activity on a brain scan. I wondered how the human insular cortex differed from other animals, and on cue (which was starting to become a little frightening) my hyper algorithm shared a link: 

In lissencephalic species, including mice and rats, the insula lies exposed on the lateral surface of the brain above the rhinal fissure, while in human and primate brains the insula (which means “island” in Latin) is folded below the lateral sulcus and is hidden by the opercula. This shows us that the insular cortex is necessary but not sufficient for human consciousness; it cannot create consciousness on its own but consciousness cannot exist without it. I thought about how this current thought would look captured in my brain (a frozen, microscopic-fireworks-finale radiating throughout my skull?) Then I thought about how nature is overflowing with accidents on the treacherous path of evolution, but that it was unlikely a coincidence that as rodents evolved into apes, then humans, this essential part of consciousness would be tucked and hidden deeper inside the thinking apparatus if it wasn’t crucial to reality construction and manipulation. I felt a tickle in my left forearm, a sensation reserved for messages from family and close friends:

“Dad, not pissing, dumping. Will be out in a min.”

“Thanks for the update.” I continued reading. 

A unique characteristic of the insular cortex in humans (and whales, elephants, and great apes) is the presence of a special cell type called “von Economo neurons” first formally described by Constantin von Economo in the 1920s.

For over a century the exact function of this cell type was not known. Neuroscientists had only observed that these special cells, also known as spindle neurons, were selectively destroyed during frontotemporal dementia and were unique to animals with large brains and advanced socialization skills. The average human has about 82,000 such cells, a gorilla 16,000, and a bonobo 2,000. Whales have around 240,000. The large quantity of spindle neurons in whales shouldn’t be a surprise when we learn that whales communicate through massive song repertoires, recognizing their own songs and making up new ones, forming coalitions to plan hunting strategies, teaching these strategies to younger individuals, and creating evolved social networks. They also have 15 lb. brains, so the neural transport routes the spindle neuron has to travel to reach other parts of the brain are longer (average human size = about 3 lbs.). While initially neuroscientists believed that these spindle neurons were the foundations of sophisticated social behavior (orcas have complex social hierarchies with females at the top) more recent developments have shown how they also play an integral part in our conscious awareness of reality. Neuroscientists have acknowledged that you cannot separate social development, whatever species you are, from an understanding of your self, time, and space. Humans who have been in solitary confinement for long periods of time not only lose their social skills, they often lose their sense of self and their surroundings: their brains degrade as they experience memory loss, cell death in the hippocampus, overall cognitive decline, and depression. 

Justification for the importance of spindle neurons in consciousness was found in 2028 in a study on schizophrenics. In 2016 it was shown that subjects with early onset schizophrenia (and a longer duration of the illness) had a reduced spindle neuron density. In 2028 post-mortem analysis of brains of schizophrenics was able to show how the degree of delusions experienced by the subjects (measured before their deaths by interviews recording the self-reported quantity of imaginary voices/people experienced by the subject) related directly with the degree of degradation of their VENs (von economo neurons). VENs provide rapid transmission of information to other parts of the brain, and if these neurons can’t do their jobs we begin losing our grip on what’s real or not. I wondered if a future human would ever “evolve” a neuron more sophisticated than these spindle neurons and how this new neuron would alter behavior or the reality experienced. Then I refocused on the proposal and saw that the Paris Brain institute was going to analyze the activity of VENs in Vincent’s brain. 

“I’m back!” Vincent came running out of the restaurant. “Didn’t know I had to drop the kids off at the pool.” 

“I had a feeling you would.”

“How?”

“I follow your eating habits and we share similar digestive tracts.”

“Right.”

The Paris brain institute is in a U-shaped building that has floor to ceiling black windows wrapping around the exterior. Built in 2010, it is a modern architectural island amongst rows of decaying yellow brick buildings. The structure (I snapped a picture with my genius glasses) resembles a giant, glass magnet.

We crossed a wooden bridge, pushed through the glass doors, and were greeted by stern-faced security guards. After giving us the “once-over” one of them said,

“Bi-lingual experiment?”

“Yes.”

“Leave an I.D. at the front desk and follow me.” 

We passed a piece of artwork, a marble circle with a piece missing (I snapped another picture), were led down a nondescript corridor, then entered a cavernous auditorium.

Parents and their teenagers were already sitting in cushioned seats, reading and poking tablets. 

“Welcome, Bonjour, Vincent and Vance.” A young man with wispy, parted hair and eyes framed by round glasses approached us. Vincent turned to me.

“How does this guy know who we are?”

“I’m informed by security each time a new participant arrives.” He gestured to a genius implant in his left forearm, which was blinking with a message: arrival of new participants. “My name is Sigmundus Vetus. Pleasure to meet you both.”

The man made me uneasy. But we shook hands anyway and I let him hand us two tablets. 

“The parent fills out the release form, the child a quick survey. I’m sure you know the drill.” I didn’t, but again I nodded and took the tablets. 

We sat in two seats away from the others and started filling out the forms, clicking boxes and signing our names with our index fingers. My form only took thirty seconds, basically saying that I wouldn’t engage in legal action if anything went awry. I ignored the twenty pages of fine print, and was about to return to my research stemming from the proposal when Vincent nudged my shoulder. 

“You should really read the fine print, dad.”

“Why’s that? If they kidnap you or cut your brain out, it’ll be for the glory of science.” My generation had grown up ignoring “terms of agreement” and fine print supplements. Vincent had been warned against this, probably from teachers. He smiled, but his voice was firm. 

“No joke. It’s the same idea as that hybrid algorithm you just bought. You should really read the fine print on those things. New technology can be dangerous. Especially when your mind spent decades without it.” I faked a robotic, monotone voice, staring blankly into the distance. 

“Warning…of…imminent…malfunction.”

“I’m serious. I read the fine print on your hyper algorithm and there’s been reported incidents of the technology comprising other implants.”

“Appreciate you looking out for me. I’ll be careful. But I need this algorithm for work. The firm paid for half of it so I could finish a contract I’m working on before a deadline.”

“Yeah but will they pay for permanent neural damage?”

“Probably not. But I take risks so you can live your pampered life of luxury.”

Vincent shrugged and continued filling out his survey, and I looked over his shoulder at the questions. They were fairly “establishing a psychological baseline basic,” asking about diet, screen time, how many books he reads per week, how much sleep he gets, exercise, and emotional variability. I double blinked and looked back at the proposal description:

Before the observational period would begin the participants were going to be injected with a contrast material, gandolinium, a rare earth metal that when present in the body alters the magnetic properties of nearby water molecules. (Is that why the building is shaped like a magnet, an architectural wink to M.R.I. machines?)

Gandolinium improves the quality of the brain scan through enhancing the sensitivity and specificity of the images. 

In the early 2020s, when subjects received brain scans, they would have to lie in a big M.R.I machine, remaining still for +30 minutes, while a machine hummed and buzzed. (I remembered lying in one numerous times as a teenager for the 4 stress fractures I developed in my tibias from running a lot). Now the technology had progressed to the point where subjects just had to wear a bulky helmet, a mobile upgraded “head coil.” This allowed the neuroscientists to create more realistic environments and get more accurate results. Another breakthrough in neuroscience in the past five years was recognizing the importance of mobility in brain analysis and development. The participants in this study would be moving about and tasting various foods while either speaking (and thinking) in French or English. A giant machine, likely hidden in the ceiling, would be sending and receiving waves, uploading the brain scans to a quantum computer. 

When I read this part of the proposal, the fireside science critic in me immediately raised a red flag: how could these neuroscientists think that they could separate language’s impact on experience from culture’s impact? Isn’t language inextricably entwined with the cultural traditions, values, and history in which it was born and developed? Of course Vincent would experience more brain activity while thinking in French and tasting than in English, French culture is a food culture, valuing culinary experiences (in general) more highly than English speaking cultures (have you ever tried English cooking/eaten out of a dumpster?) In the past two years I’d heard Vincent have 30-60 minute conversations with his friends about food (how it was prepared, how it compared to other dishes, how it could be improved, etc.) Even though English has 6x more words than French (600,000 vs. 100,000) French has more ways to describe taste and food than any other language. (The French language’s 100,000 words has 350,000 meanings). What does culture’s impact on our identities look like in the brain? 

My hyper algorithm must have been measuring how long I was stuck on a sentence, and sensed my doubt and reflection, because the machine infiltrated the proposal (how did it do this?) and scrolled down to the bottom where the neuroscientists had already responded to potential criticisms.

We acknowledge the cultural influence on language and the challenge of separating a language’s influence on reality from the culture’s influence. We do not believe this undermines the purpose of our research nor the results.

Right.

When Vincent finished filling out the form he was called into another room with the other participants.

“See ya, dad.”

“See ya, son.” Vincent looked off into the distance, mimicking me when I did the robot voice.

“Humanity will never be the same again once they have learned what’s happening inside this brain.”

“God help us. Go get your pay check.” He smiled and left. Five minutes later Sigmundus Vetus returned to the auditorium to address the remaining parents, friends, or guardians.

“If any of you would like to observe the beginning of the experiment, please follow me.” A few of us followed the doctor out of the room, up some stairs, then into a chamber with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the bi-lingual subjects. I saw Vincent being shown how to put the M.R.I. head coil on his head by a nurse while another nurse put a needle in his arm (injecting the gandolinium, I assumed). For the next ten minutes I heard Vincent and the other participants being told directions, speaking French, being offered various foods, and being observed by doctors. My hyper algorithm blinked a reminder on the edge of my vision: work. I left and went to the office.

About 7 hours later I was back at the Paris Brain Institute to pick Vincent up. In the auditorium the lights were dim and Sigmundus Vetus was on the verge of an announcement. Vincent was sitting in the back row and motioned me over to a seat.

“How’d it go?” I asked.

“Boring, but check it out.” Vincent showed me his phone with a payment accepted from the Paris Brain Institute enlarged: $680.

“Good. Now you can start buying toilet paper.”

“Do we have to stay for this?”

“No, let’s get out of here. Mom made a quiche.”

On the 7 line back home I thought about the experiment and told myself that I would follow up on the results. Vincent was reading a book. There was more space in the metro, we weren’t packed like sardines, but there still weren’t any seats available and we were standing in front of the doors. 

I’ve always believed that movement and activity stimulates and accelerates the formation of ideas. For months I had been stuck on an engineering problem at work, holed up in my office, surviving on coffee and croissants. But after going out with Vincent and being on the periphery of new research, of witnessing humanity pushing the boundaries of our understanding firsthand, something in my brain started to turn. Vincent looked up and smiled. I felt an idea begin to take shape, its contours and attributes becoming gradually clearer, like a sunrise over a rocky landscape. The answer to a structural problem appeared in my mind’s eye. The answer and path to get there was raw, uneven, and jumbled, it would still need work and tweaking, but at least I knew which direction to go, which step to take, and-

My visual field seemed to explode. I felt an excruciating pain in my left wrist, a constricting sensation in my genius implant. My hyper algorithm was filling my genius glasses with thousands of pop-windows, links, video clips, recommendations, warnings, graphs, an avalanche of images. My retinas burned, my right ankle, which was loaded with nano bots all connected to my hybrid algorithm via a health monitor, crumpled. All of this happened in a spilt second, the malfunction causing me to seize up as if having an epileptic seizure. My legs buckled, I started to fall, then I felt an arm encircle my lower back, preventing my head from smashing the metro floor. 

Vincent had somehow caught me mid-fall, taken off the genius glasses with a deft swipe, then easily lifted me back up to a standing position. The travelers around us stared at Vincent in awe. An old man with a dog even chuckled and clapped. Vincent turned the genius glasses over in his hand. 

“I knew that hyper algorithm was fricking dangerous.” I was still getting a grip on what had just happened, waiting for my implants to return to baseline, processing the previous five seconds. Before I could say anything, Vincent looked up.

“You had an idea. Didn’t you? That’s why your hyper algorithm went bezerk. It knew you were on the edge of something.”

“What? That’s…how did you know?”

“C’mon dad, I can see it in your face ten seconds out.” 

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Why Aluminum Doesn’t Burn…and the Aluminum Twins

Aluminum doesn’t burn because it is a metal with a melting point of 1,220.40 degrees Fahrenheit (660.3 Celsius) at Standard Pressure. What gives aluminum such a high melting point is the structural nature of its molecules. Molecules with strong bonds require more energy to break and aluminum has strong, covalent bonds*. Covalent bonds are chemical bonds which involve the sharing of electrons between atoms to form electron pairs. These pairs of electrons, or shared pairs/bonding pairs, allow each atom to attain the equivalent of a “full valence shell,” which corresponds to a stable electronic configuration. Stable electron configuration = you can put your leftover quiche on a strip of aluminum foil in the oven without causing a fiery explosion:

Aluminum is the world’s most abundant metal, making up about 8.2% of the Earth’s crust. This helps explains why the cost of the metal is so low when compared to other, less-common metals. But this low cost is a relatively recent/post 1860s phenomenon. Aluminum is never found in a pure state in nature, it is always mixed with other elements, in compounds like alum and aluminum oxide.

Alum/new rock from your local crystal dealer
Aluminum oxide/bumpy dirt

For years aluminum was expensive because humans hadn’t mastered the refining process yet.

To obtain aluminum today, humans first mine the substance bauxite, the basic raw material from which most of aluminum is produced.

Bauxite…contains more than 50% aluminum oxide…looks a bit like a cow’s kneecap
A bauxite-extraction “Surface Miner” machine in Guinea / Machine #492 from the Dune series, described in Appendix xxii – vxii

Bauxite was named after the French castle Les Baux, in Provence, where it was first discovered. Here’s a photo from Les Baux in December of 2019:

Provence pretty af

During the refining process bauxite is crushed, mixed in a sodium hydroxide solution, then the impurities are taken away through filtration and settling, which leaves us with alumina.

Alumina. Used by the Illuminati as fake cocaine since 1797.

The alumina is then dissolved by heating it via pressurized steam.

When Aluminum was first discovered in the late 1700s, it was considered a precious metal and was worth more than gold. It was considered so valuable that when the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. was first built between 1848 and 1884 (starting and stopping for 36 years due to lack of funds, bloody Civil War, etc.), the U.S. government wanted to have a precious metal cap, and chose aluminum (at this point the price of aluminum was about the same price as silver, $1.10 an ounce).

The Monument in 1860, year 12 of construction

They hired William Frishmuth of Philadelphia, a German chemist who had emigrated to the U.S. and who had worked as a secret agent for the War Department at a request from Abraham Lincoln, for the commission of creating the monument’s apex. The Washington Monument would be the tallest structure in the world for five years between 1884 and 1889, before being overtaken by the Eiffel Tower.

Someday this triangle is going to be worth $.06754 an ounce, 1,628x less than it’s worth today!

Frismuth had spent 28 years and $53,000 of his own money ($1.6 million today) experimenting with the refinement of aluminum. The process that he had created was to heat the ore until the alumina vaporized, then add sodium vapor. When he created the tip of the Washington monument, it was the largest piece of aluminum cast up until that time, at 8 inches tall. Cost = $225 ($7,000 today).

The aluminum pyramid itself was only 22.6 cm in height, 13.9 cm at its base, and weighed 2.85 kg. In this photo, the photographer Theodore Horydczak admires the “jewel-like” aluminum pyramid, which is now worth (novelty of being the monument cap aside) $5.88 based on current aluminum prices.

Less than two years after the completion of the Washington Monument, Charles Martin Hall (a recent graduate of Oberlin College, Ohio), discovered a process for making aluminum common and cheap…so cheap that Aluminum would replace iron as the #1 most widely-used metal by humans, which iron had held uncontested since it’s prehistoric discovery 5,000 years prior.

Charles (after numerous experiments in a homemade coal-fired furnace and bellows in a shed behind his family home) dissolved alumina in a molten cryolite bath, then ran electricity through the mixture for 2 hours. He was left with a puddle of aluminum in the bottom of the “retort”/container in which substances are heated at high temperatures. Success. In 1886 he filed a patent on the following reaction:

For two years he couldn’t get financial support at home so in 1888 he went to Pittsburg and founded the Pittsburg Reduction Company with $20,000. The process he created would reduce the price of aluminum by a factor of 200. He’d go on to make a fortune of $27 million. The Reduction Company later became the Aluminum Company of America, then Alcoa, which is a company that earned $12.152 billion in revenue last year.

Charles Hall: “I also put electricity through my hair to achieve this perfect part.”

At the same time a young Frenchman named Paul Heroult who was the exact same age as Charles Hall (22) was working on the same, refining process. He succeeded with it two months after Hall.

Paul Heroult: “Vous avez peut-être découvert le processus de raffinage de l’aluminium deux mois avant moi, arrogant Américain avec des yeux tristes et jolis, mais au moins je sais cuisiner et faire l’amour aux femmes !

At the age of 15 they had both read the same “famous” book on aluminum by Henri Sainte-Claire Deville, De l’aluminium. Ses propriétés, sa fabrication et ses applications. Heroult would also patent his discovery the same year (1886) and set up his process at an industrial scale, creating the SEMF/Société Électro-Métallurgique Française. Despite these parallels, they were polar opposites in personalities. While Charles was quiet, obedient, and studious Héroult was “sent to a series of boarding schools, possibly in part to tame his rebelliousness.” Christian Bickert of the Pechiny corporation, a major aluminum conglomerate based in France, described Paul:

“Paul Héroult had none of the attributes of the traditional scholar. He was highstrung, unruly, occasionally hard and insolent; he did not fit the image of wise, disciplined men of science. He loved games, the company of women, travels by land and sea; he was a free spirit in an impetuous body. No comparison with the austere scientist, struggling with stubborn mysteries. His discoveries were not the result of long sleepless nights spent in a laboratory, or of complicated scientific demonstrations. Héroult loved life, and could not have borne such restrictions. Instead, his inventions appeared suddenly, out of the blue, a stroke of common sense, or of genius, sometimes during a lively game of billiards, his favorite pastime.”

Due to the close timing of Hall and Heroult’s discoveries the process is now known as the Hall-Héroult process, the major industrial process for smelting aluminum. They would both die the same year, at the age of 51 in the year 1914. Hall was unmarried and childless, and left most of his fortune to charity. Heroult left behind a son named Paul, billiard tables, and a 35 meter yacht named Samva.

But wait…how does aluminum become aluminum foil? Here:

Anybody wanna go halfsies on a $90,000 Aluminum Foil Container Making Machine?

The French wikipedia page on Paul Héroult is considered the oldest French article on the website, dated May 19, 2001.

Thank you, Aluminum twins, brothers across cultures, countries, and character…for your contribution that has echoed across a century, a contribution that has formed an essential foundation to the manufacturing edifice that quietly supports our modern habits, responsible for necessary goods such as airplane parts, beer kegs, window frames, kitchen utensils, cans, roofing, insulation, electronic devices, guttering, skyscrapers, flat screen TVs, mirrors, coffee machines, tablet PCs, bridges, the outer cases of cell phones, and doors…the potential technologies and worlds we build will forever pay homage to your discovered method of extraction.

*(Bonds can break because of increased heat/increased energy flow…solids become liquids become gasses become plasma. Neon signs and lightning = plasma/most abundant form of ordinary matter in the universe.)

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Sources:

www.sciencehistory.org

www.cairn.info

www.sciencedirect.com

https://sciencing.com/what-abundant-metal-earth-4587197.html

kloecknermetals.com

nps.gov

www.steelabservices.com

Interview with Christophe Lemaitre, 200 M. Bronze medalist in the Rio Olympics

Entretien avec Christophe Lemaitre: Bronze medalist in the 200 m. at the Rio Olympics, French National Record holder in outdoor 200 m. (19.80)

English Transcription below

John Knych (JK): When I was in the train, the train passed Culoz, you grew up there?

Christophe LeMaitre (CL): Culoz.

JK: First I’m curious of your childhood there, because it’s a little town.

CL: Yes a little village.

JK: 3000 people?

CL: Yes, around there.

JK: So your childhood there, what did you do for fun? When you were little?

CL: There was not a lot to do, to be honest. Spend time with friends, play soccer, go outside.

JK: You have two older brothers?

CL: Yes.

JK: Are they also fast?

CL: No.

JK: Do you get along with your brothers?

CL: Yes, we got along, they were athletic too, played sports, like I did when I was a kid, but they didn’t sprint.

JK: Why?

CL: They didn’t have track at Culoz. And it didn’t interest them.

JK: And what do you parents do?

CL: My mom didn’t play sports. But my father played a lot of sports in the past, he was athletic. He did swimming and wrestling. But not sprinting.

JK: And I read that you played handball and rugby?

CL: That’s right.

JK: And that you found running by accident. There was the Tour de fête de Belly?

CL: Belay

JK: When you were 15 years old? Are you able to tell me about that experience? When you found the sport?

CL: Yeah but it wasn’t really by accident. We can say that…with my mother we were looking for another sport.

JK: Why?

CL: Because all of the other sports I did weren’t interesting. Or, it’s not that they weren’t interesting but…I wasn’t ah…I wasn’t enthusiastic. I didn’t have the desire to look for new experiences in those sports. And so while I was searching for new sports, I had my classmates and my gym teacher who were doing sprints and who said that I ran fast. So we looked for a place to prove myself. And at Belay there was a coach who tested athletes for the 50 meter sprint.

JK: Yes. Was it Pierre Carraz?

CL: No he was my first coach. The one who found me was Jean Pierre. And he started training me. He did the test and told me that I sprinted fast and that I had the quality.

JK: That you were talented?

CL: That’s it.

JK: How much time after this experience did you meet Pierre Carraz [his first coach]?

CL: I believe it was two years after, I think in 2005, or in 2007 I met him and started training with him.

JK: How did you meet Pierre?

CL: I think the first time was at a competition? Or I think it was the first time I went to Aix-les-Bains for training. It was there that he started to coach me. That he wanted to train me.

JK: And when did you know that you could succeed with running? In international competitions?

CL: I believe that it was…in 2007. With the Junior World Championships. I qualified in the 100 and 200 meters. And I finished 4th in the 100 meters and 5th in the 200 meters. And at the time in a new group for junior athletes. And I did that after only two years of training.

JK: That’s crazy. You started at 15 years old and three years later you were champion at the World Junior Olympics.

CL: That’s right.

JK: That’s unbelievable. So during those three years you were always working? Did you progress gradually, how was it?

CL: Of course I progressed little by little. In every race I beat my personal best time. However I didn’t really know a lot about training. I started with three sessions per week. The year after 4 sessions. There you go, I trained as much as the people in my athletics club.

JK: And immediately you got used to the life of an athlete? A serious athlete? Just after finding running did you get used to the rhythm of an athlete’s life? Or was it difficult in the beginning?

CL: No it was difficult because during some training sessions I had difficulty with…with long sprints. With 300 meters or 400 meters, I was really far behind my teammates.

JK: Why?

CL: Because I was bad. *Laugh/exacerbated sigh concerning the poor question* I didn’t have endurance. At the time I…in fact the cardio and endurance was very complicated for me. Aerobic sessions were horrible for me. It was really took 5 or 6 years for me to be able to handle those sessions.

JK: That’s interesting because the 200 meters is really your event. And of course that requires more endurance than 100 meters.

CL: Of course

JK: So your endurance improved little by little.

CL: That’s right.

JK: When did you realize for the first time that you could win a medal in the Olympics? After 2008 when you won the Junior Olympics?

CL: No it was much later. I think it was after Daegu. 2011. World Championships. Because there I ran the 19.80, the French 200 meter record. And I won the bronze. So I said to myself, the next year, in London, maybe I have a chance. To win a medal.

JK: So before Daegu you didn’t think that you could win a medal?

CL: Before? No. Because I was aware of my times in the beginning. 20.83. At the World Junior Championships. So when I saw sprinters running faster than 20 seconds, I knew I was far away. I was thinking really that I was incapable of achieving that level.

JK: But you did it. I read in an article that you said that if Teddy Tamgho can do it, so can I. Was he an inspiration for you?

CL: For the Junior Olympics?

JK: Yes.

CL: In fact no because I didn’t see him. While he was jumping I was preparing for my event. So when I finished I didn’t know that he was the World Champion.

JK: Okay. What’s more important to you, records or medals?

CL: Medals. Without a doubt.

JK: What is your relation with your coach? You told me that after two years you found Pierre Carraz. Today you work with Thierry Tribondeau.

CL: To be clear I am still working with Pierre Carraz. I have two coaches. It was Pierre who asked Thierry to join us for helping with my preparation.

JK: And your relationship with Pierre Carraz. Tell me, do you have complete confidence in him, do you call him every day, how do you work with him?

CL: Yes he is someone who I have confidence in for my training and preparation. He is someone with a lot of experience. And he has an eye for seeing the strengths and weaknesses in an athlete. And so yes I have complete confidence in him because he can prepare me well for the major competitions.

JK: I read in article in France Bleu that Pierre said, “We know where we are going.” Just after your performance in Rio, he said “That night we asked ourselves how we can prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.” Is that true?

CL: Well, I wasn’t there. But yes I heard that Triboneau called Carraz to start planning for the Tokyo Olympics.

JK: Wow. Did you party after winning the bronze medal? Or did you start working immediately after?

CL: After I finished the games, yeah I went to Club France to celebrate with the French fans who came to Rio to support the French team. I celebrated with them, there you go.”

JK: I saw a video of your teammate on the bus, he wasn’t sure that you had won because it was so close, the rest of the team of France, they were excited. You choose to study and prepare here instead of Paris? For what reasons?

CL: The atmosphere of Paris, I don’t see myself living there, to be honest.

JK: Why?

CL: It’s totally different. I need calm and a place to relax. It moves 24/7. Everything is grey. There’s all these buildings. There are no mountains or forests. There’s nothing. There’s no nature. It’s horrible. The people are always hurrying and are unpleasant. To visit, sure, but to live, no. It’s not my thing.

JK: Soon you are going to begin intense training for Tokyo. Can you share with me what your life is like when you are in the most intense part of your training? The daily routine?

CL: I discuss with my coach to prepare. All the work that we have to do. Five or six sessions per week. With a part that is short sprints, long sprints, a lifting session, and a general physical session. So in the winter we build the base. The goal is that we compete internationally. In the winter we go someplace with better weather for training. Because it is really quite cold here.

JK: Lot’s of snow?

CL: Not really snow, because of the lake next to us, it creates a micro-climate. But yes were are next to mountains so it gets really cold. So sometimes we go to the south. Or to another country. To find better conditions. Then the summer arrives and we need to run fast because there is the selection for the Olympic team. And it’s early. I think it’s in June. I hope I’m not making a mistake with that. But we have to run fast early. If we hope to make the list.

JK: My best French friend wanted me to ask you this question: how many kilometers per week do you run? In general? Do you know? [Christophe thought I asked: how fast do you run? I didn’t understand that he didn’t understand my question right away.]

CL: How many kilometers/hour? 40 kilometers. Between 40-42. After, to run 10.00 for 100 meters you have to run an average of 37 kilometers/per hour.

JK: But how many kilometers do you run per week? Total?

CL: Ah, we don’t run lot. For example, we run more in the winter. 3 laps of the track and we’re finished. The we do other things.

JK: How do you relax? I read that you like Overwatch? Is that your favorite way to relax?

CL: It’s not necessary my favorite way to relax. It’s mostly a way to pass the time. To distract myself. I play the saxophone. And there are other things. I stay busy.

JK: I’ve talked with the athletes who are constantly thinking about their sport. But you, when you’re not running, you try to do other things and not think of track? Because it’s so intense. Do you follow the success of other athletes? How much are you a student of the sport?

CL: In general yes. I follow the other athletes’ performances. Diamond league. World challenge. In France too. It interests me. I love watching, with my friends, the competitions. I love my sport.

JK: I read that your hero is Usain Bolt. I saw a video where you are in a photo with him. How are you inspired by him and what have you learned from him? I read that he has respect for you and for your victory. Have you learned things from him?

CL: Usain Bolt…I think of him first as an adversary like the others. Despite him being the best sprinter in he world, and conquering so many others, I always considered him like any other adversary. Like any other sprinter.

JK: So he wasn’t really your hero, just another competitor?

CL: Yes, exactly. But I always considered a race against him as a chance…because you know that the race is going to be fast when there’s Usain Bolt. So it’s necessary that you take advantage of this opportunity, to try and hold on, to not lose your head, to run fast.

JK: Would you say that Jimmy Vicaut is your rival? Because you ran with him in the relay?

CL: For Jimmy it’s like Bolt, he’s a competitor like any other. When we were in the relay together, things change, we were teammates, we worked together, to win the relay. But beyond that, I didn’t consider him as being more important than the others because he is French.

JK: So you wouldn’t change your training?

CL: No, he trains in Paris, I train here. We only see each other in big competitions. But that’s it.

JK: Now I have a difficult question, what did you feel in Doha when the team didn’t finish the race. How do you handle the obstacles, the injuries, the losses in your career? Because I read in an article that you said something very profound, you said, “The secret of sport is to not be imprisoned in your previous race.” Can you explain this phrase? It’s powerful.

CL: I said that because there was a time when I was practically 100% consumed by athletics in my head. And I did nothing on the side. All I did was training, recovery, working with the team, competition. And I think I was into it too much. I was always consumed by ambition, to perform well, to succeed, and so during the moments when it was difficult, when I wasn’t performing well, or when I was injured, I had nothing on the side to forget it, to think of it less, to move on. I was completely disappointed and always thought to run and run to rid myself of the bad races or injuries, etc. Except I wasn’t improving and I was frustrated because I was working more than I had in previous years when things were working, and I didn’t understand that I was training more and harder without the same results. So I changed my method, saw a Sports psychologist to help me put my ideas in order, to feel mentally better, to be capable do succeed for me. Because before I run to shut up the critics to show others that I’m capable of running fast. And that my career wasn’t behind me. I changed that by running for my own pleasure. So when I had injuries or low moments I was able to stay positive and keep my head because I knew that the critics were just sport and it’s a part of my life, but not my whole life, I do other things that I’m passionate about and that I love. It’s going to stop someday so I’ll make the most of it now, but I’m not just Christophe Lemaître the athlete but Christopher Lemaître who does athletics, not just an athlete, I’m someone just like anybody else, athletics is not my whole life, just a part.

JK: Concerning the question of the critics, I read that your coach said, “It’s part of the daily routine of high-performance athletes, when you’re in the light you’re exposed to critics, if you’re not being criticized you’re in your little garden doing little chores.” For you, do you follow or ignore the critics? Do critics feed you or do you say to yourself, “they’ll say whatever they want, I’m me, and I don’t give a shit.”

CL: At an earlier time I read a lot of the critics and like I said I read to shut them up. But I don’t think that it was good thing. Because they don’t know how you train. They feel they can judge you but they don’t know your training. They don’t know where you’ve come from, your moments of doubt, the extremely difficult moments. And that pisses you off. You want to show them that they’re wrong. That I’m someone who can still perform well. And I’m not someone who does nothing, but that I work really hard. And now I’ve learned to ignore it all. When I have bad performances, I don’t look at the critics at all. That was just a phase. I think that no matter what happens there’s always someone who will be critical of you, even when you do things well. And they give criticism that’s not at all constructive. So it’s necessary not to listen to them. They can scream all they want. Keep living your life how you know how.

JK: So how do your previous experiences in Rio influence your life today? I read that Vicaut said that, “In Rio, you were ranked 35, and you placed 3rd.” And I read that Doha is a trampoline for the Tokyo Olympics. So now…I read that your objective for 4 years has been Tokyo. So now how does your experience compare with your experiences before Rio? Because before Rio you had injuries. How do you feel now? How do you feel compared with the year before Rio?

CL: The year before Rio it was complicated because I had a lot of injuries. And I didn’t make the finals of the World Championships. In addition it was just complicated. But there was something that I knew: if I wasn’t injured I knew I could run really fast because the only times I couldn’t run fast were when I was injured, and the injuries affected my training. I knew that if I had a year with no injuries or very few injuries, I could succeed. So the goal for Tokyo is to avoid injuries as much as I can, to give attention to any little pain, to get out of the psychology of injury. If I feel bad I take a week off. It’s necessary to be vigilant, to every little alert of the body. And don’t fear injury. It can happen at any time. An injury can be a sign that I need to take a break before a worse injury. Be careful, be vigilant. Be capable of not training. Better to miss a day here or there than get injured and miss weeks.

JK: You have become more skilled to read and watch your body. To say: now, I need rest.

CL: That’s it.

JK: I watched this video, the revenge of the unliked. France TV sports. Have you seen it?

CL: No.

JK: It was the..

CL: Oh yes, the television segment.

JK: Yes, and I know it may be difficult to talk about it, but can you tell, your adolescence wasn’t easy. I learned that the other students weren’t kind to you. In what way were the other students cruel to you? I read that when you were 11, you closed your off. Can you talk about this period in your life?

CL: Yes, it lasted all through middle school. It was a lot of mockery. The remarks which hurt me. And even sometimes happened outside of school when I crossed the students who were mocking me.

JK: And this part of you life, how did you keep going? When the others weren’t kind, how did you fight against it, or deal with the mockery?

CL: I never really was able to deal with it. I was really very timid. I didn’t dare…I had difficulty talking, the only time I dared to do something, it came back to hurt me. It wasn’t working. When you are alone in a group, even when you try to fit in, it doesn’t work, you feel like everything is against you, you can’t do anything. It’s complicated to get out.

JK: Between 11 and 15 you were mostly alone?

CL: That’s it.

JK: And when you found sport it opened a door for you? And you life completely changed?

CL: Yes.

JK: I read two phrases online: “He will function better not caring about the others…he was not going to struggle or shed tears against their mockery.”

CL: Hmm-hmm

JK: When you said that…the recognition of others…I would like friends…but you didn’t have the way to make friends. That second phrase: not going to shed tears against their mockery. What does it mean?

CL: It means…when the students mocked me, I didn’t know how to react or change it, how to get out of it. In the beginning I thought it was pass, the it was just something fleeting, and that they will stop, when they’re older, or find someone else. But it never stopped. And I didn’t know how to get rid of it.

JK: I read that after Rio you were proud to be France. Is that true?

CL: Yes. Proud to win a medal to France. Yes I had the desire to win a medal for France. When I had it I was happy to be able to be with the other champions. In Paris. To be with those who supported me.

JK: What would you like Americans to know of what it means to be French? I know it’s question a little bizarre.

CL: Yes. Pffff. I think that it is the same for Americans, we are proud of where we come from, I know that Americans are very patriotic, but there’s still a pride of being French, a cultural pride. For athletes there is this desire to make France shine, whatever the way you do that, a pride of singing the Marseillaise. A strong pride of being French. Despite the multi-cultural aspect of France, people from different regions, people are still proud of being French. People are happy to see athletes who shine.

JK: The 200 meters is your specialty. What part of the race are you trying to improve right now? To achieve the next level?

CL: I think I want to improve every part. But the part I can improve the most is probably the turn. The first part of the turn, it’s all right, but the second part of the turn I am capable to move better into the straight and to hold my speed and to conserve it. I can improve that. I know that I can hold my speed right to the end. It’s just that part of the turn which is a little complicated.

JK: Of course Tokyo is in your head right now. But 2024 the Olympics are in Paris. Is there a part of you that thinks: if my body can hold on, Paris is a possibility? Or is too far to think about?

CL: Yes at the moment it is a bit far away. I have always had the habit to think year by year. For 2024 I’ll have to think later, if my body still capable of running fast? Also mentally do I still want to keep training? To continue to keep trying to reach a higher level.

JK: Is it tiring, in general, the life, your life, the life of an athlete? Or have you found a good rhythm with things like the saxophone?

CL: I think that it is necessary, to endure, you have to be capable of doing other things, because it’s true that it’s exhausting to think 24/7 of sport, I think it’s important to, like I said, think of other things. To liberate the spirit and the head, other activities.

JK: And you study here, in Aix-les-Bains, also, industrial…you’re at university?

CL: Not here. Annecy. Business collective communication. Yes it’s important to have other projects.

JK: Have you visited the United States before?

CL: Yes, twice, 2-3 times for my sporting internship, also a school trip.

JK: So you ran there.

CL: Yes, 400 meters with my club. The team of France was presented. It was super, great. And I had did 100 meters and I won there.

JK: Do you think that after your career you want to stay in the world of athletics, to be a coach, or other things, or do you not think of that?

CL: Of course I think of it that is why I have my studies. But still the future is still vague. To stay in the sport as a coach…I could…or do other things…do something completely different. Social media, management.

JK: When I watched the video of your victory in the Olympics. I saw that you have a routine before your race. How to you relax before a competition. How do you prepare right before a race? How do you relax? Like before the Olympic race?

CL: In general, I stay relaxed. For me the stress of the competition just comes a few hours before the race. And in general before that I’m rather relaxed. I watch TV, take a nap. Even the day of the competition I can sleep thirty minutes in the afternoon. It’s not a problem. I pass my time tranquilly.

JK: And now you work with your coach, is it the same time with Pierre as with Triboneau?

CL: Now in fact the preparation is created by both of them. They make it together. For the season. There’s not time with one, time with the other. They are both there and they observe me and give me their opinions. There’s not one or there other.

JK: I saw that you are the first white man to run faster than 10 seconds for 100 meters. I read that you don’t like this title. I read that you don’t like this title. What do you think of this though, to be the first man under 10 seconds for 100 meters?

CL: Yes it’s something that I don’t like because it ignores the important fact that I broke 10 seconds that I’m a man who is capable of that, and at the time it was new French record, which is very rare for France at the time, and that was totally ignored for the fact that I was the first white man to break 10. I prefer to be judged in the domain sportive. The color is anecdotal.

JK: What do you think that you can improve more easily, the 100 meters or 200 meters? Now you have the record of 200 meters. And Jimmy Vicaut has 100 meters. Do you think that you can run faster in the 100 meters? Or do you prefer to concentrate on the 200 meters?

CL: I think that, in my opinion, it’s preferable to concentrate on 200 meters rather than 100 meter because that’s where I’ve proved myself and that’s where I have the better chance of earning a metal, in relation to my potential. But I think I’m still capable of running fast in the 100 meters. I think it’s important to run the 100 meters to prepare for the 200 meters. Running the 100 meters will improve my speed. The pure, basic speed. To prepare for the 200 meters.

JK: Do you have the gold medal in your head for Tokyo? Or do you think: I just want to run the fastest that I can? If I win, I win.

CL: Of course it is my dream, I think every athlete has it, to be the Olympic champion. But I know that there is lot of unknown in sport. More important is to just want to be in peak form for the competitions, for the Olympics. After to be capable to bring out my best race, my best moments, and to medal.

JK: When you think of your adolescence, is it like another life for you? Or when you think of that time are you more motivated?

CL: Not it’s totally finished. I don’t think of it at all. Now is time when I think of myself and my projects, I live my life serenely, without a problem. I feel good. I’m happy with what I’ve done and I’m happy with what I do, that’s the main thing. It’s the mocking of the critics, it’s my performances that count.

JK: And your family, your brother, they are proud of you? You’ve had a lot of success. What do your family think of your victory.

CL: Yes well of course they are happy and proud, they have already told me, of course. I think that any family would be proud and happy to receive this honor in sport, of course. It was surprising for them. But they follow and support me.

JK: Christophe, thank yo use much, it was a pleasure for me. The coffee is on me.

CL: Thank you.

JK: I think that’s all I would like to talk with you about…*pause*…and again, pardon me for my French.

CL: No, it was comprehensive, it’s good.

*

How To Take Down The Internet

4 minute read

Traduction française ci-dessous

All the computers that form the internet are identified through long numbers called IP addresses. But when you want to visit a place like Twitter, you don’t want to type in, “199.59.148.0,” (which is one of the IP addresses of one of the servers that host Twitter), but rather www.Twitter.com.

This means that your computer needs to translate www.Twitter.com into the right IP address. So your computer makes a series of requests: it asks your operating system where to go (in this case let’s say it doesn’t “know”), then a recursive name server (nope, doesn’t know either), then the world’s 13 root servers (yes!) which sends you to the appropriate top-level domain server, the one that runs all the “.coms,” who sends you to the correct authoritative name server, which says, “yes Twitter is 199.59.148.0.” The 13 root servers can be found throughout the world, run by organizations like the U.S Department of Defense, University of Maryland, University of Southern California, Information of Sciences Institute, a U.S. Army Research Lab, etc.

This whole system (called the DNS, The Domain Name System, or the phone book of the internet) of directing your computer to IP addresses needs to be administered by someone..or something… Why?

1.) To verify that IP addresses aren’t given to people or organizations with nefarious aims (so when you type in www.a-bank-I-can-depend-on.com it doesn’t bring you to a website which asks for your banking information and steals your $) 

2.) To keep the whole system secure 

The system is administered by ICANN, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, an American multi stakeholder group and nonprofit organization. 

(Here’s their most recent press release, 28 February 2022, ICANN-Managed Root Server Clusters to Strengthen Africa’s Internet Infrastructure.

ICANN authenticates and secures the DNS system though a system called DNSSEC.

But what are those keys in the picture? How does the authentication process work?

Asymmetrical encryption. First proposed in 1976 by Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman in their paper « New Directions in Cryptography » Quote from the paper’s abstract:

“Widening applications of teleprocessing [computer processing via remote terminals] have given rise to a need for new types of cryptographic systems, which minimize the need for secure key distribution channels and supply the equivalent of a written signature. This paper suggests ways to solve these currently open problems. It also discusses how the theories of communication and computation are beginning to provide the tools to solve cryptographic problems of long standing.”

[This was 46 years before the first Bitcoin in 2009, 8 years before Mark Zuckerberg hatched out of a lizard egg in 1984.]

Introduction: We stand today [1976] on the brink of a revolution in cryptography. The development of cheap digital hardware has freed it from the design limitations of mechanical computing and brought the cost of high grade cryptographic devices down to where they can be used in such commercial applications as remote cash dispensers and computer terminals.”

ATM in 1981, Wellington New Zealand,
Source: https://teara.govt.nz/en
/photograph/24636/the-arrival-of-atms
Genesis Bitcoin Mining, founded in 2013, 3rd largest Bitcoin operation in the world, first located in China and Bosnia, now relocated to Iceland and Canada. Source: https://www.publish0x.com/muchograph/top-5-biggest-bitcoin-mining-farms-in-the-world-with-picture-xqmyqr

“…The development of computer controlled communication networks promises effortless and inexpensive contact between people or computers on opposite sides of the world, replacing most mail and many excursions with telecommunications.” -(The article’s worth a read, only 10 pages long.)

Asymmetrical encryption involves a public and private key. Each key is made up of long numbers that are linked mathematically. This mathematical link creates trust for outsiders accessing a place or a person on the internet. 

You can see in this picture that the mathematical link between Alice’s private key and Alice’s public key allows Bob to trust that the message (Hello Bob) is actually from Alice.

And what is the “mathematical link?” The public and private key are not actually keys but really large prime numbers that are mathematically related to one another. Who knew that prime number’s refusal to be evenly divided by anything besides itself and 1 would help connect millions of humans through trust-injected-super-fast-computer-math?

Everyone can access and read the public key. The private key is extremely secret and can only be held by one entity. 

With a private key, you can make a digital signature over a document/website, thus authenticating the document/website. Because when an outsider wants to access the document/website and verify that it’s authentic, they can “look” at the public key (which again is mathematically linked to the private key) and go “yes, only the corresponding private key could have authenticated this document/website/place, so I know it’s safe.”

This is how DNS is authenticated: the information that www.Twitter.com is 199.59.148.0 is “signed” by Twitter using their private key, then your computer uses Twitter’s public key and the private key signature and goes, “yes, the private key signature can ONLY have been signed by Twitter, it’s safe/really there.”

But is Twitter’s public key also safe and legitimate?

Twitter’s public key is “signed off by a higher authority”: the top level domain server mentioned above, who runs all dotcoms using their private key. And our computers use the top level domain server’s public key to verify that yes, their private signature on Twitter’s public key is legitimate. 

But what about the top level domain server’s public key? What higher authority signs off on that? Basically, we go “up and up” the public/private key chain with higher authorities signing off on “lower rung public keys with higher private keys” until we arrive at ICANN, the company mentioned above.

Up and up and up and up. Root Certificate = highest private key

ICANN has a single private key. 

Every website’s IP address in DNS is secured by ICANN’s single public and private key which is called…

The trust anchor.

Not this anchor…Source: https://www.venafi.com/sites/default/files/styles/823×390/public/content/blog/2020-04/largeanchor_newblog.png?itok=X4W5oe3A

ICANN’s public key is this:

Source: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuCkxoKLYO_EQ2GeFtbM_bw

So how could we access ICANN’s private key to take down the internet?

The numbers that form the private key of ICANN that secure the whole DNS are stored on hard drives inside physical boxes called Hardware Security Modules (HSMs). 

https://cogitogroup.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/hardware.png

There are 4 HSMs in the world, kept in 2 pairs,

One pair is located in Culpepper, Virginia and the other in El Segundo Californian, kept 2,500 miles apart: 

Source: Google Maps

To access either of these pairs of HSMs you gotta get passed armed guards, pin pads, card scanners, monitored cages, and biometric stops.

Biometric stop being made by computer-generated hand, https://medium.com/gdg-vit/is-biometric-authentication-the-one-stop-solution-for-security-breaches-778d9e91c49

Even if you obtain an HSM, an HSM  “resists physical tampering,” in that if someone tries to open the device or even drops it, the HSM erases all the keys it stores to prevent a compromise. So to open the HSMs you need several smart cards. And those those smart cards are kept in other boxes which can only be opened by physical keys, which are held by seven people all over the world. Those people (security experts designated by ICANN) are:

If DNS is ever compromised, 5/7 keyholders would have to go to an ICANN facility, use their keys in what is called a “key ceremony,” to obtain the smart cards, then use the smart cards to physically open the HSM to obtain ICANN’s private key. Then use the private key to shut DNS, and almost all of the internet, off.

But how can the private key “shut the internet off?” I’m not 100% certain, but I think you could tamper with the private key in such a way (change a digit in the prime number?) that the public key associated with it wouldn’t allow lower-rung-keys to trust itself/the public key, because the private key had not “signed off on it”, which would be the equivalent of burning the single phone book that everybody uses to access IP addresses/websites, and there would be this chain reaction of mistrust/computers’ inabilities to access pages down the public-private key chain because they couldn’t verify the addresses as being safe/authentic places so when you try to-

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Tous les ordinateurs qui forment l’internet sont identifiés par de longs numéros appelés adresses IP. Mais lorsque vous voulez visiter un endroit comme Twitter, vous ne voulez pas taper “199.59.148.0” (qui est l’une des adresses IP de l’un des serveurs qui hébergent Twitter), mais plutôt www.Twitter.com.

Cela signifie que votre ordinateur doit traduire www.Twitter.com en la bonne adresse IP. Votre ordinateur effectue donc une série de requêtes : il demande à votre système d’exploitation où aller (dans ce cas, disons qu’il ne “sait” pas), puis un serveur de noms récursif (non, il ne sait pas non plus), puis les 13 serveurs racine du monde (oui !) qui vous envoient au serveur de domaine de premier niveau approprié, celui qui gère tous les “.com”, qui vous envoie au bon serveur de noms faisant autorité, qui dit “oui, Twitter est 199.59.148.0”. Les 13 serveurs racine se trouvent dans le monde entier, gérés par des organisations telles que le ministère de la défense des États-Unis, l’université du Maryland, l’université de Californie du Sud, l’Institut des sciences de l’information, un laboratoire de recherche de l’armée américaine, etc.

Tout ce système (appelé DNS, The Domain Name System, ou l’annuaire téléphonique d’internet) consistant à diriger votre ordinateur vers des adresses IP doit être administré par quelqu’un…ou quelque chose…. Pourquoi ?

1.) Pour vérifier que les adresses IP ne sont pas attribuées à des personnes ou des organisations ayant des objectifs néfastes (ainsi, lorsque vous tapez www.a-bank-I-can-depend-on.com, vous n’êtes pas redirigé vers un site web qui vous demande vos informations bancaires et vous vole votre argent).
2.) Pour assurer la sécurité de l’ensemble du système

Le système est administré par l’ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), un groupe américain composé de plusieurs parties prenantes et une organisation à but non lucratif.

L’ICANN authentifie et sécurise le système DNS grâce à un système appelé DNSSEC.

Mais que sont ces clés dans l’image ? Comment fonctionne le processus d’authentification ?

Le cryptage asymétrique. Proposé pour la première fois en 1976 par Whitfield Diffie et Martin Hellman dans leur article New Directions in Cryptography&nbsp. Citation du résumé de l’article :

“L’élargissement des applications du télétraitement [traitement informatique via des terminaux distants] a fait naître le besoin de nouveaux types de systèmes cryptographiques, qui minimisent le besoin de canaux de distribution de clés sécurisés et fournissent l’équivalent d’une signature écrite. Cet article propose des moyens de résoudre ces problèmes actuellement ouverts. Il examine également comment les théories de la communication et du calcul commencent à fournir les outils nécessaires pour résoudre les problèmes cryptographiques de longue date.”

C’était 46 ans avant le premier Bitcoin en 2009, 8 ans avant que Mark Zuckerberg n’éclose d’un œuf de lézard en 1984.

Introduction : Nous nous trouvons aujourd’hui [1976] à l’aube d’une révolution dans le domaine de la cryptographie. Le développement d’un matériel numérique bon marché l’a libéré des limites de conception de l’informatique mécanique et a fait baisser le coût des dispositifs cryptographiques de haute qualité au point qu’ils peuvent être utilisés dans des applications commerciales telles que les distributeurs de billets à distance et les terminaux informatiques.”

“…Le développement des réseaux de communication contrôlés par ordinateur promet un contact sans effort et peu coûteux entre des personnes ou des ordinateurs situés aux antipodes, remplaçant la plupart des courriers et de nombreuses excursions par des télécommunications.”

Le cryptage asymétrique implique une clé publique et une clé privée. Chaque clé est composée de longs chiffres qui sont liés mathématiquement. Ce lien mathématique crée un climat de confiance pour les personnes extérieures qui accèdent à un lieu ou à une personne sur l’internet.

Et quel est le ” lien mathématique ” ? La clé publique et la clé privée ne sont pas réellement des clés mais de très grands nombres premiers qui sont mathématiquement liés les uns aux autres. Qui aurait cru que le refus d’un nombre premier d’être divisé de manière égale par autre chose que lui-même et 1 aiderait à connecter des millions d’humains par le biais d’une mathématique informatique injectée de confiance et super rapide ?

Tout le monde peut accéder à la clé publique et la lire. La clé privée est extrêmement secrète et ne peut être détenue que par une seule entité.

Avec une clé privée, vous pouvez faire une signature numérique sur un document/site web, ce qui permet d’authentifier le document/site web. Parce que lorsqu’une personne extérieure veut accéder au document/site web et vérifier qu’il est authentique, elle peut “regarder” la clé publique (qui, là encore, est mathématiquement liée à la clé privée) et se dire “oui, seule la clé privée correspondante aurait pu authentifier ce document/site web/lieu, donc je sais qu’il est sûr.

C’est ainsi que le DNS est authentifié : l’information que www.Twitter.com est 199.59.148.0 est “signée” par Twitter en utilisant leur clé privée, puis votre ordinateur utilise la clé publique de Twitter et la signature de la clé privée et va, “oui, la signature de la clé privée ne peut SEULEMENT avoir été signée par Twitter, c’est sûr/réellement là.”

Mais la clé publique de Twitter est-elle également sûre et légitime ?

La clé publique de Twitter est “signée par une autorité supérieure” : le serveur de domaine de premier niveau mentionné ci-dessus, qui gère tous les dotcoms en utilisant leur clé privée. Et nos ordinateurs utilisent la clé publique du serveur de domaine de premier niveau pour vérifier que oui, leur signature privée sur la clé publique de Twitter est légitime.

Mais qu’en est-il de la clé publique du serveur du domaine de premier niveau ? Quelle autorité supérieure signe pour cela ? Fondamentalement, nous allons “de haut en bas” de la chaîne de clés publiques/privées avec des autorités supérieures qui signent des “clés publiques d’échelon inférieur avec des clés privées supérieures” jusqu’à ce que nous arrivions à l’ICANN, la société mentionnée ci-dessus.

D’autres traductions seront bientôt disponibles … si vous mourrez d’envie de lire ce qui suit, envoyez-moi un message et je le mettrai en tête de liste des projets…

Primary source for the material in this piece: The Seven People Who Could Turn Off The Internet.

Avez-vous besoin d’un agent ?

Choisir une représentation professionnelle


Au niveau professionnel, l’athlétisme et la course à pied sont essentiellement des sports individuels. Cependant, les athlètes bénéficient souvent du soutien d’une équipe dans la poursuite de leur carrière professionnelle. Idéalement, “l’équipe vous” s’occupe des aspects logistiques d’une carrière de coureur professionnel pendant que vous vous concentrez sur votre entraînement et vos compétitions.

Avez-vous besoin d’un agent ?

Probablement, oui. La plupart des coureurs professionnels ont intérêt à avoir un agent. Mais la décision d’engager un agent n’est pas automatique. Certains coureurs peuvent se passer d’un agent. Cependant, pour envisager de s’en passer, il faut bien comprendre quels services un agent fournit et dans quelles circonstances ces services peuvent être nécessaires.

Concurrencez avec succès sur la piste ou dans les courses sur route.
Bien que les centres d’entraînement fonctionnent différemment en fonction du financement, de l’emplacement et de l’encadrement, l’objectif est similaire : améliorer le niveau de compétition de la course de fond aux États-Unis, tant au niveau national qu’international. Les athlètes sont préparés à concourir sur la piste, sur les routes et en cross-country.

Les places étant limitées pour les athlètes dans chaque épreuve, les rencontres internationales d’athlétisme sont les plus sélectives de toutes les compétitions. Votre agent se chargera de négocier votre inscription aux rencontres, y compris les frais de participation, et vous aidera généralement à organiser votre voyage. En résumé : lorsqu’il est temps de se concentrer sur les courses au printemps et en été, vous avez besoin d’un agent pour vous faire participer aux bonnes compétitions.

Si vous envisagez une carrière sur les routes en participant au circuit USA Running, un agent est moins important. Il existe de nombreux championnats américains sur des distances allant du 5 km au marathon. L’entrée dans ces courses est moins sélective et peut facilement être accomplie sans représentant d’athlète. Les informations et les contacts pour l’inscription aux courses, ainsi que les normes de qualification et les conditions d’admissibilité applicables, sont disponibles sur le site Web de USA Track & Field.

Il convient de noter que les frais d’apparition pour les compétitions dans les grands marathons peuvent nécessiter d’importantes négociations. Bien sûr, il n’est pas aussi difficile d’entrer dans un champ de marathon que d’obtenir une place dans le 800 au Prefontaine Classic. Mais la négociation et l’optimisation de votre valeur d’apparition peuvent nécessiter l’aide d’un agent.

Les trois C : commodité, contacts et coût
Bien entendu, de nombreux coureurs professionnels participent à des événements sur piste et hors piste. Au-delà du type de carrière que vous envisagez, la décision de faire appel à un représentant d’athlètes repose en grande partie sur trois critères : commodité, contacts et coût.

  1. Commodité. Il est plus facile de laisser un agent s’occuper des détails que de le faire soi-même. Trouver des sponsors ou participer à des compétitions peut être difficile et stressant. Selon votre personnalité, un agent peut s’avérer essentiel, vous permettant de vous concentrer sur votre entraînement sans avoir à vous soucier de l’organisation de votre voyage ou de la négociation d’un contrat de chaussures.
  2. Contacts. Les agents ont des contacts avec les fabricants de chaussures et les directeurs de rencontres que la plupart des athlètes n’ont pas. Votre agent devrait être en mesure de vous mettre en relation avec les personnes et les entreprises nécessaires dans ce sport. De même, un agent peut vous faire paraître plus professionnel aux yeux des directeurs de rencontres et des sponsors potentiels. Les sponsors potentiels vous considèrent comme plus sérieux, ce qui accroît leur confiance dans la sécurité de leur investissement en vous. Votre agent doit travailler dur pour tenter d’obtenir un contrat de chaussures ou un autre contrat de sponsoring. Outre le fait de vous faire participer à des compétitions, c’est la principale responsabilité d’un agent.
  3. Le coût. Le coût d’un agent peut être important, mais un agent peut être un investissement rentable pour de nombreux coureurs professionnels. En général, un agent demande une commission de 15 % sur tout ce qu’il gagne, y compris : (a) contrat d’endossement d’une entreprise de chaussures, (b) frais de participation à une réunion ou à une course ; et (c) prix en argent. En outre, il est courant qu’un agent demande une commission de 20 % sur tous les contrats d’endossement autres que le contrat de chaussures principal. L’accord d’un athlète avec un agent – y compris les pourcentages – peut être négocié, mais la plupart des athlètes ont peu de pouvoir de négociation car le coureur professionnel moyen ne génère pas d’énormes revenus. Et malheureusement, moins vous gagnez d’argent, plus chaque dollar devient précieux. Alors qu’un athlète ayant un contrat de 1 000 000 $ peut ne pas ressentir l’impact de la commission de 15 % d’un agent, un athlète ayant un contrat de 30 000 $ fait un sacrifice beaucoup plus important en cédant 15 % à un agent. Toutefois, il convient de noter que, dans de nombreux cas, les athlètes les mieux payés subventionnent les athlètes aux revenus plus faibles. Vos commissions sont des “frais professionnels” et vous devez consulter un fiscaliste si vous n’êtes pas sûr de savoir comment profiter des déductions pour frais professionnels prévues par l’Internal Revenue Code.

Intelligence, Wars, and The Great Silence

4 minute read

The Great Silence, or The Fermi Paradox is the following:

The universe is extremely big: there are more stars than grains of sands on all of Earth’s beaches (or 5x-10x more than that, depending on your approximations). And around many of these stars are orbiting planets. It is estimated that, in our Milky Way galaxy alone, there are forty billion planets that could support life. The universe is also extremely old: 13.8 billion years old. And we’ve only been around for the last 12.3 million years. If the age of the universe was a year, (called a cosmic year), multicellular life first appeared on Earth on December 5th, humans showed up on December 31st at 2:24pm, domesticated fire at 11:44pm, started farming at 11:59:32, created the wheel at 11:59:49, and modern history/when the first bottle of Dom Perignon was popped by a French monk in 1697 occurred at 11:59:59.4.

Due to enormous size and elderly age of the universe, it is reasonable to believe that intelligent life MUST have arisen throughout the universe on many, many occasions. And it is also reasonable to believe that at least ONE of these intelligent, technology-wielding life forms would have had more than enough time to spread across the universe.

So where are they?

As Ted Chiang wrote, in The Great Silence, “The universe ought to be a cacophony of voices, but instead it’s disconcertingly quiet. Some humans theorize that intelligent species go extinct before they can expand into outer space. If they’re correct, then the hush of the night sky is the silence of a graveyard.”

Ted Chiang is one of my inspirations. Thank you Ted Chiang.

Ted Chiang goes on to talk about intelligent life being out there and aware of us but staying quiet. But I’m more interested in the second idea. When I first read the “universe being a silent graveyard” thought, a theory popped into my mind: What if the intelligence required for ANY life form to leave a planet is also the seed of its self-destruction? Because what does it take for an intelligent life form to leave its planet?

  1. Most likely a sense of identity (Me exist in universe. Me explore universe). Species being aware of themselves can lead to conflict and competition.
  2. A harnessing and concentration of a planet’s resources (Me bring things on planet together to build a ship and leave planet). More conflict and competition. And perhaps exhaustion of planet’s resources.
  3. Knowledge (Me know how to survive in space for long time). Knowledge is power. Power corrupts absolutely…unless you’re George Washington.
Illustration: joecicak (Getty)

Add to this that an asteroid could hit a planet at any time and wipe out your species (sorry dinosaurs). Or, a thought-less thing on the planet could replicate uncontrollably and kill you (F U viruses.)

We were so careful, even wearing masks outside, until the asteroid hit…

And we only have to look at ourselves as a case study to see the danger of intelligence sophisticated enough to engage in space exploration.

During the extremely brief span of the last 110 years, we’ve sent humans to the moon and probes to Mars, well done humanity, but we’ve also accelerated climate change, built nuclear weapons, had two World Wars, and dropped two nuclear bombs that killed over 150,000 people instantly (and 214,000 by 1945).

I can’t help but compare humanity to the literary trope of the genius being linked with insanity/sickness. Our greatest artists were often insane, tortured, suicidal, cruel, extreme. Not all of them, but Caravaggio was a notorious criminal and murderer, Michael Jackson a child molester, Michael Jordan an addicted gambler (when MJ was asked how he could lose $3,000,000 one night in a casino, he replied, “I don’t like to lose,”) Eminem was only good at rapping when he was on drugs, Van Gogh cut off his own eye after a fight with his friend Gauguin then gave the ear to a prostitute, Joanne Rowling suffered through a disastrous marriage and an abusive husband, Frida Kahlo experienced incredible pain, the list goes on. To create great art often means an extreme personality has to experience extreme suffering or take risks and actions that could also potentially cause the creator’s demise. So maybe the great art of having the “species-capability of leaving a planet and exploring the universe” is inextricably linked up to species-destructive behavior? If you are a high-achieving individual, often something else has to give or in some way you have to pay.

Carvaggaio: “I paint, then I kill, then I paint, then I kill.”
Sin Esperanza / Without Hope by Frida Kahlo

Recently I finished reading Jeff Hawkins excellent book, published last year, A Thousand Brains. (Notes on it below.) Highly recommend. And he shared the theory I proposed above, using this analogy (invitation to a party = intelligence in the universe, attending the party = exploration of the universe for other life forms):

“Imagine fifty people are invited to an evening party. Everyone arrives at the party at a randomly chosen time. When they get there, they open the door and step inside. What are the chances they see a party going on or an empty room? It depends on how long they each stay. If all the partygoers stay for one minute before leaving, then almost everyone who shows up will see an empty room and conclude that no one else came to the party. If the partygoers stay for an hour or two, then the party will be a success, with lots of people in the room at the same time.

We don’t know how long intelligent life typically lasts. The Milky Way galaxy is about thirteen billion years old. Let’s say that it has been able to support intelligent life for about ten billion years. That is the length of our party. If we assume that humans survive as a technological species for ten thousand years, then it is as if we showed up for a six-hour party but only stayed for 1/50th of a second. Even if tens of thousands of other intelligent beings show up for the same party, it is likely that we won’t see anyone else while we are there. We will see an empty room. If we expect to discover intelligent life in our galaxy, it requires that intelligent life occurs often and that it lasts a long time.”

Only staying at a party for 1/50th of a second. Damn. Open the front door, HEY!, *SLAM*…who was that?

Hawkins goes on to write that humanity needs to engage in “estate planning,” or creating a record of our existence in case we kill ourselves off. I agree, especially after the events of the past week. We gotta get our quarreling asses on Mars, pronto, or create some type of self-sustaining satellite-archive that orbits the sun.

The previous chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, says that Vladimir Putin has lost his sense of reality and that Russia’s attack on Ukraine is a turning point in history. According to a New Yorker article published two days ago, Putin has warned the world, “Whoever tries to interfere with us should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never experienced in your history.” He continued to say that, “Russia is today one of the most powerful nuclear states.” Was he flexing or bluffing? Probably. But should we still be concerned? What if Putin is bitter that the World Taekwondo withdrew his honorary 9th dan black belt?

Interesting thought experiment: if you were part of Putin’s inner circle and you learned of his plan to fire nuclear weapons, would you have the courage to take him out?

There are 13,000 nuclear weapons on Earth, located in 9 countries. 90% of all nuclear bombs are now under Russian and U.S. control. Russia is believed to have more warheads, around 6,000. The majority of American and Russian bombs are more than 10x more powerful – in explosive yield, than the bombs that decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has spit in the face of international laws and his own past policies. Dmitry Kiselyev, a Kremlin propagandist said last Sunday, “In total our submarines are capable of launching over 500 nuclear warheads, which are guaranteed to destroy the U.S. and all the countries of NATO to boot.”

Putin has failed to rapidly conquer Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. His army is having supply issues. Will Russia dominate Ukraine, or will Ukraine survive? In any case, with humanity’s propensity towards wars, destroying the planet, tripling the population in the last 70 years, constructing nuclear weapons, we gotta engage in estate planning.

The clock’s ticking. Let’s at least leave a calling card at the intelligence-in-the-universe party, and include instructions on why to ignore the cheese plate and to try the champagne.


A Thousand Brains Notes

229: From the universe’s perspective, this is an arbitrary distinction: neither the poliovirus nor the wildflower is better or worse than the other. We make the choice about what us in our best interest. 
226: Interesting: « I have never been a fan of science-fiction literature. »
216: « It is estimated that there are forty billion planets in the Milky Way alone that could support life. »
210: No one knows what will happen, but it is unlikely that we are done creating ways to destroy ourselves. 
205: Copying yourself is a fork in the road, not an extension of it. Two sentient beings continue after the fork, not one. Once you realize this, then the appeal of uploading your brain begins to fade. 
203: The brain has 100 billion neurons and several hundred trillion synapses 
182: False models of the world can spread and thrive as long as the false beliefs help the believers spread their genes. 
143: Without the old brain, no fear or sadness. 
142: Our fear of death is created by older parts of our brain 
135: For example, the way the brain learns models of the world is intimately tied to our sense of self and how we form beliefs.
131 « The brain of an intelligent machine will consist of many nearly identical elements that can be connected to a variety of moveable sensors. »
130: Prédiction os how a column tests and updates its model.
129: To be intelligent, machines:
1.) Learning Continuously 2.) Learning via Movement 3.) many models 4.) Using Reference Frames to Store Knowledge 
80: Discovering a useful reference frame is the most difficult part of learning, even though most of the time we are not consciously aware of it. 
79: what we think next spends on which direction we mentally move through a reference frame, in the same way that what we see next in a town depends on which direction we move from our current location. 
71: Thinking occurs when we activate successive locations in reference frames. 
62: It is as if nature stripped down the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex to a minimal form, made tens of thousands of copies, and arranged them side by side in cortical columns. 
38: Forgetting happens when old or unused connections are removed entirely.
37: Everything we know is stored in the connections between neurons 
37: Thoughts and experiences are always the result of a set of neurons that are active at the same time. 
36: Neurons look like trees 
30: Prediction was a ubiquitous function of the neocortex.
26: vision and language are fundamentally the same. 
23: Intelligence, language, touch, are all manifestations of the same underlying cortical algorithm. 
23: a slice of cortex responsible for touch looks like a slice of cortex responsible for language or touch. 
19: There are no pure motor regions and no pure sensory regions. 
11: The human neocortex is particularly large, occupying 70% of the volume of our brain. 
11: no matter how smart or sophisticated we are, breathing, eating, sex, and reflex reactions are still critical to our survival. 
-Faculty that master chess and Go are not those that can cope with the complexity of the real world. 
-Uploading brain to computer wouldn’t be fun 

Perdu sur Kepler 852-b (Chapitre 4: Capitaine Premidaire)

(To read the English version, click here.)

Background artwork by @huleeb (Lucid Dream)


            “Quelque chose nous a frappé dans le ciel. Ou… plus probablement… plusieurs choses. C’était le chaos. Des parties du vaisseau ont explosé. Je ne pouvais pas quitter la chambre du pilote, mais la porte de ma nacelle d’atterrissage d’urgence adjacente s’est ouverte. Instinctivement, j’ai sauté à l’intérieur et me suis agrippé à une poignée, car je savais, d’après le manuel de l’I.M.C., que l’intérieur me protégerait contre la force de l’atterrissage en catastrophe. Il y avait une fenêtre donnant sur la coque. J’ai vu des centaines de corps se frapper contre l’intérieur du vaisseau. Des sections du vaisseau se détachaient…

            Le capitaine Premidaire était affalé contre un arbre, sous un auvent de fortune que j’avais construit avec mon sac de couchage et du fil de fer. Nous nous abritions d’une pluie torrentielle, violette et semblable à du grésil. Premidaire était en train d’avoir un de ses moments de lucidité, qui devenaient de plus en plus rares, alors j’ai essayé de le guider doucement, encore une fois, vers la question à laquelle je désespérais de recevoir une réponse. Je ne pouvais pas lui poser de questions qui s’éloignaient trop du fil de sa pensée, sinon il se dégraderait à nouveau dans son état de confusion marmoréenne. Premidaire devenait de plus en plus fou et je n’avais aucune idée de la façon d’arrêter sa descente dans la folie.

            “Et après que le vaisseau se soit écrasé, que s’est-il passé ?”

            “Des cris. Des cris horribles. Du feu. Ramper dans les décombres. Puis ils sont venus…”

            “Qui est venu ? Vous n’arrêtez pas de dire qu’ils sont venus. La créature insecte-tentacule dont j’ai parlé ? Celui qui creuse des trous ? Cette chose monstrueuse ?” Premidarie a laissé échapper un rire aigu et maniaque. Il avait déjà fait ça auparavant. J’ai grimacé parce que cela signifiait qu’il allait très probablement avoir un de ses épisodes de démence dans dix à quinze secondes. 

            “Ces choses ? Elles aiment le feu. C’est l’équipe de nettoyage.” Il a ri à nouveau, d’un ton plus aigu. “Ils ne sont rien comparés à ce qu’il y a d’autre sur cette planète. Rien. Cette planète se défend. Ces insectes étaient là quand… les autres ont été emmenés, par eux…”

           “Combien de temps depuis le crash ?”

            “Une semaine.”

           “C’est impossible. J’étais seul quand je me suis réveillé. Je serais mort de soif. Vous m’aviez dit deux jours.”

            “Si l’un d’eux vous avait trouvé, inconscient, il aurait pu vous sauver.”

           “Comment ?”

            “Je ne sais pas. Il y a quelque chose dans l’air. Le temps est différent ici. Tout est différent ici. Et ils… ils nous ont envoyés ici pour mourir.” Les pupilles de Premidaire se sont dilatées et ont commencé à trembler. C’était maintenant ou jamais.

            “Qui d’autre a survécu ? Y avait-il des femmes avec vous ? ! L’une d’elles avait-elle…”

            “J’ai tout mis dans la GlobalDataBase avant de quitter la Terre. Ils se souviendront de moi. Ressentir l’existence, plus de force, ils m’ont dit de remplir des questions, de mettre les Nanorobots-Enregiste dans mon cerveau, de me tenir devant la caméra, c’était pour l’histoire, ils pourraient faire une copie, pas la même, mais assez proche, l’artiste doit créer dans l’obscurité, tout est créé à partir de l’obscurité, pour trouver leur lumière s’il y a une chance qu’une autre…”

            J’ai soupiré. Une autre heure de son bavardage. Puis, quand il reviendrait au silence, ou s’endormirait et se réveillerait, j’essaierais à nouveau. J’ai éteint le dispositif d’enregistrement de ma tablette. Dans ma frustration, je me suis détourné du capitaine, qui marmonnait toujours pour lui-même, murmurant maintenant : “Je dois le prendre à nouveau, mais je dois aussi m’enfuir, me sentir désespéré, désespoir plein d’espoir, combattre cela, fuir ou rester, Siana mon amour, je…” Il me semblait que, quelle que soit la maladie dont souffrait Premidaire, il était incapable de distinguer les émotions, les souvenirs ou les abstractions lorsqu’il avait un épisode. C’était comme si son subconscient prenait le dessus sur sa conscience. 

            “Aie !” Une gouttelette de pluie s’est posée sur ma peau, a brûlé et grésillé, laissant une blessure rouge en forme de disque. Les gouttelettes de pluie ici sont souvent toxiques, comme de l’acide. Premidaire le savait et m’a fait construire notre abri lorsque nous avons entendu un grondement dans la nuit et que l’air est devenu lourd d’humidité. Quand Premidaire est lucide et concentré sur une tâche, il est impeccable et efficace. On ne devient pas le capitaine de la deuxième migration humaine sans être extrêmement efficace dans tout ce qu’on fait, ce qui rendait le contraste avec ses grognements incohérents d’autant plus terrifiant à observer. Je me suis tourné de mon côté et j’ai vu la créature basset hound qui dormait encore dans son niche.

            “Walter !” Pendant un instant, j’ai cru que la créature s’était adressée à moi.

            “Quoi !” Le capitaine avait attrapé ma chemise. J’étais choqué : il n’était jamais sorti aussi vite d’une de ses transes. Peut-être son esprit se défendait-il, sachant à quel point notre survie dépendait de sa capacité à me transmettre des informations pertinentes.

            “Il y a… il y a des aliens de type humain sur cette planète. De différents types, races, cultures. Ils savaient que nous venions. Ils nous attendaient. Les machines qui ont repéré cette planète leur ont tout dit sur nous. Certains d’entre eux veulent nous utiliser pour quitter ce monde, d’autres pour survivre. C’est pour ça qu’ils vous ont gardé en vie, pour apprendre sur nous, je ne sais pas quel est leur but, mais leur sophistication…”

            “Ces aliens sont-ils ceux dont vous vous êtes échappé ?”

            “Non. Je me suis échappé d’autres choses. Ces extraterrestres humains ne voulaient pas me prendre. Ils ont dit que j’étais sans espoir. Les particules dans l’air, elles affectent tout le monde à des vitesses différentes et de manières différentes. Les humains plus rapidement qu’eux. Si l’infection atteint un certain point, il est trop tard, il n’y a qu’un seul antidote, et chaque membre de leur groupe a une urgence pour lui par vie.”

            “Par vie ? Que voulez-vous dire par là ?”

            “Je voulais rester avec eux. Ils ne m’ont pas laissé faire.”

            “Ces créatures extraterrestres ont pris des humains et en ont laissé d’autres ? Qui d’autre est resté avec vous ?”

           “Cinquante-sept personnes.”

            “Et ils sont tous morts sauf vous ?”

            “Oui, j’ai vu la moitié d’entre eux mourir, l’autre moitié est partie dans une direction où aucun humain ne pouvait survivre.”

            “Et les humains qui sont restés… qui ont été pris par ces aliens-humains ? Avez-vous vu une femme parmi eux qui…”

            “Elle est juste là ! Vous ne pouvez pas l’emmener ! Vos erreurs vont…”

           “Shhh, quelque chose arrive…” Il y eut un cliquetis et un fracas à travers les vignes et les arbres.

            “Vous n’auriez pas dû venir ici.. Maintenant les particules peuvent vous affecter plus rapidement.”

           “Taisez-vous ! Ou je vous bourre la gueule … bordel !”

            Bunky, mon basset alien, s’est réveillé et a grogné.

            A travers la jungle, un autre monstre insectoïde s’est écrasé, se dirigeant directement vers notre abri. En une fraction de seconde, Bunky s’est élancé sur le chemin du monstre et a commencé à ronger les tentacules internes. Le monstre a hurlé comme il l’a fait quand je suis tombé en le fuyant. Il a essayé de s’accrocher au basset, mais celui-ci se déplaçait si rapidement parmi les bras qui se tortillaient qu’ils n’ont pas pu l’attraper. En une minute, la moitié de la créature était dévorée, dix secondes plus tard ce n’était plus qu’une petite boule (Bunky semblait manger la chose exponentiellement plus vite). Puis le monstre avait disparu.”

            “Vous avez de la chance que cette créature vous aime,” a dit le capitaine Premidaire.

            “Un de quoi ?” Je fixais Bunky, ébahi, tandis qu’il se léchait les babines avec tristesse.

            “Cet animal.”

            “Comment savez-vous qu’il m’aime ?”

            “Je sens que je perds le contrôle. Le regret. Je n’ai jamais voulu qu’elle le fasse. Mais l’atmosphère me pèse. Je suis désolé Siana. Je vais tout arranger. Nous…” sa voix perdit de sa force et il recula en trébuchant. 

            Une heure plus tard, Premidaire dormait et la pluie avait cessé. Un lever de soleil éclatait à travers les vignes et les branches. La lumière étincelait et scintillait tandis que des gouttelettes tombaient des arbres. Peut-être commençais-je aussi à perdre la tête, ou peut-être était-ce le manque de sommeil, mais les couleurs ont commencé à se mélanger et à se brouiller, comme de la peinture étincelante étalée sur une toile. Cela m’a inquiété. Je devrais peut-être arrêter de questionner Preston Premidaire sur ma femme et les survivants. Je devrais peut-être me concentrer sur notre propre survie. Pendant un de ses moments de lucidité, je lui ai fait expliquer certaines des fonctions de ma tablette. Il m’avait montré une carte qui menait à une ville qui était censée être en construction depuis la première migration. Il m’a montré la ligne de train magnétique F.A.T. (Frictionless Automated Transport) que les machines ont construite à leur arrivée. S’il y avait des humains vivants de la première vague, ils devaient être dans la ville. J’ai chargé la carte. La ville était à 4000 kilomètre. Je devais faire 800 km tout seul jusqu’au F.A.T., puis… attendre un train ? Premidaire n’a pas pu m’expliquer comment fonctionne le système de transport. Nous aurions… nous aurions besoin de l’aide de… mes paupières commencent à… si nous ne contactons pas les gens d’ici, nous mourrons… nous…”

            Je me suis endormi. Quand je me suis réveillé en sursaut, la pluie avait cessé et la clairière était lumineuse. Avant même d’être pleinement conscient, je savais que Preston Premidaire était parti. Pourquoi… mais quand j’ai regardé autour de moi dans la clairière.

           “Non…”

            Preston Premidaire était pendu à un arbre.


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Lost on Kepler 852-b (Chapter 4: Captain Premidaire)

(Pour lire la version française, cliquez ici.)

Background artwork by @huleeb (Lucid Dream)


            “Something hit us in the sky. Or…more likely…multiple things. Everything was chaos. Parts of the ship exploded. I couldn’t leave the pilot’s chamber but the door of my adjoining emergency landing pod opened. Instinctively, I jumped in and grabbed hold of a handle, since I knew from the I.M.C. manual that the interior would protect me against the force of the crash landing. There was a window looking out at the hull. I saw hundreds of bodies slamming against the ship’s interior. Sections of the ship were breaking off…”

            Captain Premidaire was slumped against a tree beneath a make-shift canopy I’d constructed using my sleeping bag and iron filament. We were taking shelter against a torrential, sleet-like, purple rain. Premidaire was having one of his lucid moments, which were becoming more and more rare, so I tried to gently guide him, again, to the question I was desperate to receive an answer to. I couldn’t ask him any questions that were too far from his thread of thinking, or else he’d degrade back into his state of mumbling confusion. Premidaire was steadily going insane and I had no idea how to stop his descent into madness.

            “And after the ship crashed, what happened?”

            “Screams. Horrible screams. Fire. Crawling through the wreckage. Then they came…”

            “Who came? You keep saying, they came. That insect-tentacle creature I mentioned? The one who digs holes? That monstrous thing?” Premidarie let out a high-pitched, maniacal laugh. He’d done this before. I grimaced because this meant he was most likely going to have one of his dementia episodes in ten to fifteen seconds. 

            “Those things? They just like fire. They’re the clean-up crew.” He laughed again, a higher-pitch tone. “They are nothing compared to what else is on this planet. Nothing. This planet is fighting back. Those insect things were there when…the rest were being led away, by them…”

            “How long ago since the crash?”

            “A week.”

            “That’s impossible. I was alone when I woke up. I would have died of thirst. You told me two days.”

            “If one of them found you, unconscious, they might of saved you.”

            “How?”

            “I don’t know. There’s something in the air. Time is different here. Everything is different here. And they…they sent us here to die.” Premidaire’s pupils became dilated and started trembling. It was now or never.

            “Who else survived?! Were there any women with you?! Did one of them have-”

            “I put everything in the GlobalDataBase before I left Earth. They will remember me. Feel the existence, no more force, they told me to fill out questions, put the Enregiste-Nanobots in my brain, stand in front of the camera, these were for history, they could make a copy, not the same, but close enough, the artist must create in darkness, everything is created from darkness, to find their light if there is the chance another…”

            I sighed. Another hour of his babbling. Then when he returned to silence, or fell asleep and woke up, I’d try again. I turned off the recording device in my tablet. In my frustration I turned away from Captain, who was still mumbling to himself, now whispering, “I have to take it again, but I also have to run away, feel desperate, hopeful desperation, fight this, run or stay, Siana my love, I…” It seemed to me that whatever sickness Premidaire was suffering from, he was unable to distinguish between emotions, memories, or abstractions when having an episode. It was like his subconscious was overtaking his consciousness. 

            “Ouch!” a rain droplet landed on my skin, burned, and sizzled, leaving a red disc-shaped wound. The rain droplets here are often toxic, like acid. Premidaire somehow knew this and had me construct our shelter when we heard a rumble in the night and the air become heavy with moisture. When Premidaire’s lucid and focusing on a task, he’s impeccable and efficient. You don’t get to become the captain of human’s second migration without being extremely effective in everything you do, which made the contrast with his incoherent grumblings all the more terrifying to observe. I turned to my side and saw the basset hound creature still sleeping in his nest.

            “Walter!” For a wild moment I thought the creature had spoken to me.

            “What!” The captain had grabbed my shirt. I was shocked: he had never escaped one of his trances so fast. Perhaps his mind was fighting back, knowing how much of our survival depended on him relaying me pertinent information.

            “There are…there are human-like aliens on this planet. Different kinds, races, cultures. They knew we were coming. They were waiting for us. The machines who scouted this planet told them everything about us. Some of them want to use us to leave this world, others to survive. That’s why they kept you alive, to learn about us, I don’t what their purpose is, but their sophisticated-.”

            “Are these aliens the ones you escaped from?”

            “No. I escaped from other things. These human-like aliens just didn’t want to take me. They said I was hopeless. The particles in the air, they affect everyone at different rates and in different ways. Humans faster than them. If the infection reaches a certain point, it’s too late, there’s only one antidote, and each member of their group has one emergency for themselves per lifetime.”

            “Per lifetime? What do you mean by…”

            “I wanted to stay with them. They wouldn’t let me.”

            “These alien-creatures took some humans and left others? Who else was left with you?”

            “Fifty-seven people.”

            “And they’re all dead except you?”

            “Yes, I saw half of them die, the other half went in a direction where no human could survive.”

            “And the humans that left…which were taken by these alien-humans? Did you see a woman amongst them whom-”

            “She’s right there! You can’t take her away! Your mistakes will-”

            “Shhh, shhh, something’s coming…” There was a clicking and crashing through the dense vines and trees.

            “You shouldn’t come here. Now the particles can infect you faster…”

            “Shut up! Or I’ll stuff your mouth god damn it!”

            Bunky, my alien basset hound, woke up and growled.

            Through the jungle another insect-weeping-willow monster crashed, heading directly towards our shelter. Within a split second Bunky darted into the monster’s path and started slash-gnawing on the inner tentacles. The monster screeched like it did when I fell running away from it. It tried to grab hold of the basset, but the basset was moving so rapidly amongst the squirming arms that they couldn’t catch him. Within a minute half the creature was consumed, ten seconds later it was a small ball (Bunky seemed to eat the thing exponentially faster). Then the monster was gone.”

            “You’re lucky one of those likes you,” said Captain Premidaire.

            “One of what?” I was staring at Bunky, in awe, while he dolefully licked his chops.

            “That animal.”

            “How do you know it likes me?

            “I feel myself losing control. The regret. I never wanted her to. But the atmosphere weighs down. I’m so sorry Siana. I’ll make everything right. We-” his voice lost its force and he stumbled back. 

            An hour later Premidaire was sleeping and the rain had stopped. A sunrise burst through the vines and branches. Light sparkled and glistened as droplets dripped from the trees. Maybe I was also starting to lose my mind, or maybe it was a lack of sleep, but the colors began mixing and blurring together, like sparkling smeared paint across a canvas. This made me worried. Perhaps I should stop questioning Preston Premidaire about my wife the and survivors. Perhaps I should focus on our own survival. During one of his lucid moments I had him explain some of the functions of my tablet. He had shown me a map that led to a city that was supposed to be under construction since the first migration. He pointed out the F.A.T. magnetic-train line (Frictionless Automated Transport) which the machines built upon their arrival. If there were any humans alive from the first wave, they’d be in the city. I loaded up the map. The city was 2500 miles away. I’d have to travel 500 miles on my own to the F.A.T., then…wait for a train? Premidaire couldn’t explain to me how the transport system works. We’d…we’d need help from…my eyelids are starting to…if we don’t contact the people here we die…we…”

            I fell asleep. When I woke up with a start the rain had stopped and the clearing was bright. Before even becoming fully conscious, I was aware that Preston Premidaire had left. Why…but when I looked around the clearing.

            “No…”

            Preston Premidaire was hanging from a tree.


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Lost on Kepler 852-b (Chapter 3: Contact)

(Pour lire la version française, cliquez ici.)

Thanks to Jonas Büttner (Instagram: @poly4g) for sharing his artwork.


            I’ve always wanted to choose my last thought before death. I always planned for it to be the first time I kissed my wife in an all-night dive bar after we bought cigarettes in a bodega. The dive bar was one of the few places in City Sector 33 that allowed regulars to smoke in a back room after midnight. I thought, at the time, that my wife didn’t like me very much. She looked nervous during dinner, constantly looking away, practically grimacing when I talked, fixing her translucent body suit, and didn’t laugh much at my bad jokes. I thought she was only enduring my poor company for the night because we shared a mutual friend who set us up. I thought, “Yup, here we go again, another woman who’s bored with a mediocre janitor whose only hobby is writing a stupid sci-fi blog. Way out of my league.” But while smoking and admiring her beautiful face in the shadows, her mysterious glances, letting the silence between us build, I felt the flame of courage and thought, “Why not? Worst comes to worst, she denies me, and I move on like I’ve always done before,” and I went in gradually for the kiss. When I was close, her lips parted, her eyes seemed to ignite, then she replied with a wild, unexpected passion, grabbing my hair and pulling me in. We went back to my place and didn’t leave my cramped studio for three days, both of us calling off work. She awakened a desire that I never thought was possible, something primal that was beyond me, or perhaps hidden deep in an unexplored recess of my soul. And since that moment our lives have been locked, fused, and intertwined.

            But as this horrifying creature slithers and clicks and sucks towards me, on this planet 64 light years from Earth, my mind loses control. Remember when I said I hate insects? Well, this creature is something between a giant praying mantis and a squirming, writhing mass of centipede-like tentacles, slimy sinews, and clicking pincers. It’s like a grotesque, shuddering weeping willow with something metamorphizing or being tortured and trying to escape on the inside. But after the first moment of terror, the certainty that this extraterrestrial abomination is going to kill me (the creature is so massive there is nowhere to run), that it has killed everyone on the ship, I feel a strange separation from my body. A defense mechanism, perhaps, against the horror, against the expectation of having my skin ripped clean off the bone. I suddenly think of the last time my wife made me laugh, the day before the ship crashed on this planet. Concentrating on the memory to prevent my descent into blackness, I mechanically put out the fire, as if someone else is doing it, haul my supplies over my back, then close my eyes as the creature moves over the debris of the ship. I remember I was talking about how excited I was to discover this new planet, to start a new life with her, and my wife gave me one of her mischievous smiles and said,

            “But how excited are you?”

            “Really excited.”

            “No, I mean Walter…tell me exactly how excited. Be specific. Like really excited. Or really really excited?”

            “Hmm, eight reallys excited.”

            “Nooo. Eight reallys? I don’t believe you. You’re only…let me see your eyes, three reallys.”

            “How would you know.”

            “But maybe if I poke you in the armpit you might be four reallys…” and as I started laughing she kept her face serious, squinting her eyes, as she slowly moved her finger towards my armpit.

            “Don’t go in there, your finger might not come out…”

“Oooo. Now I’m curious…” And in the middle of the ship’s greenhouse, while people nearby were picnicking in the miniature bio-sphere, I trapped her finger in my armpit and we tickled each other and rolled around. I know it’s one of those simple, silly things that couples have together, inside jokes that only they understand. But my wife could always make me laugh, no matter where we were, what was happening, and I loved that about her.

The creature-insect is less than twenty feet away. The stench is so overwhelming I taste a hint of it in the back of my throat, a mix between rotten sashimi and skunked beer. My thoughts plummet into darkness and I wonder: what if my wife is somehow still alive? What if she has managed to escape this creature? This thought galvanizes my stupefaction. The insect didn’t react when I put out the fire, nor when I hauled my supplies on my back, and even though there is nowhere to run, the insect seems to be moving haphazardly, without an object. If there is any chance my wife is still out there, I need to survive, I can’t wait here like a sitting a duck. I always promised her I’d be the first one to die…

I fix my sack of supplies more firmly on my shoulder, take a breath, and jump out of the crevice-cave, directly towards the insect. The moment I leave the little cavern in the rubble, the insect-creature shoots a centipede-tentacle towards where I’d been standing. I sprint towards the left edge of the mass, not knowing what will happen, and when I am ten feet away, prepared to tackle into the squirming creature, the thing leaps towards the cave, following its arm, attaching itself to the wreckage.

I keep running into the darkness, away from the spaceship across the field. I can’t believe my luck, but as I turn my head to see if the insect is following me, I trip. A screech (like metal scraping metal) erupts from the creature and I see it shooting towards me, huddling and rapidly slumping over the grass. “This is it,” I think, but the giant insect stops twenty feet away and begins sort of spinning, or gyrating. Gradually, the creature sinks into the ground and disappears.

Slowly, I stand up and walk cautiously to where the insect has burrowed. There’s a giant, circular pit in the ground, the same kind of smooth, abyss-like pit I saw on top of the cliff where my landing pod crashed. Why did it burrow when it was on the verge of killing me?

As if in answer to my question, I hear a Sniff Sniff. Son of a bitch… But as I turn I see, in the light of the four, green moons something that I can only describe as…cute and cuddly. A long, furry creature is trotting on eight, tiny legs towards the pit, sniffing the ground constantly. The thing resembles a basset hound, with floppy ears sweeping the grass. It has a pink snout, with a three-nostril nose at the tip, but no eyes, and a fat, swinging belly. It sniffs the edge of the pit, then moves towards me, the ears flopping up to its nose, as if they are attracted to it by a force. On an impulse, I get on my knees and give it a rub behind the floppy ears as if it is actually a dog. I can’t help myself. I love dogs. And this creature somehow exudes safety and goodness. While I scratch the floppy ears, the creature purrs like a cat and gives me kisses with a long, purple tongue. I see sharp fangs glint in the green moonlight.

The eyeless, purple-tongued basset creature trots back over to the pit, tilts on to its side, and shoots sparkling liquid into the abyss. I think I heard a distant, echoing screech. The basset returns to my side, licks my calf, and trots the direction it came. I decide to follow this cute companion. My instinct tells me that following this animal is my best chance at survival. 

While following this dog-like animal, who I’ve named Bunky, my thoughts return to my wife. Until I find irrevocable evidence that she is dead, I will continue to stay alive and keep searching, fighting against (or running away from) whatever I come across. If I find other members of the ship (or somehow make to the city that was supposed to be under construction by Migration Wave #1) who confirm that she has been killed, then I’ll commit suicide. That’s always been the plan between us…or least, the plan I told her, and which she constantly argued against. 

My wife is 16 years older than me. As we were falling in love, we discussed her dying before me and thinking about how I could survive without her. I wouldn’t want to. I’d kill myself soon after she was gone. I don’t have any friends and in general I don’t like people. So, after this lighthearted discussion on who would die first, I immediately start working like crazy, hardly sleeping, taking X30 stimulants, so that my body would give up before her body and so we could potentially live in luxury and comfort in the present… 

That’s why my wife wanted to have a child. So that when she passed away, I would still have someone to love, something to live for, a piece of her left behind. But when we met she was 41 and only producing fragile eggs that couldn’t hold (she had led a wild and exhausting life between 20-40, she had 2 miscarriages), so we were too late. For weeks she cried against my hairy chest every night in bed, telling me that if I wanted a family, if I wanted a child, to just leave now, to not waste her time. I told her no. There was only her. My love. I didn’t care about a child or a family. I told her that it made no difference to me whether or not we went on adventures just the two of us, or with a child in tow. If anything, a child could hold us back. She didn’t believe me. She saw how I loved dogs and children. She fell into a deep depression.

That’s when I started applying for us travel to Kepler 852-b, as part of the Great Migration wave #2. I figured that if we couldn’t have children, we might as well take advantage of the fact and voyage to a new planet. Secretly, during my breaks at work, I worked relentlessly hard on our application, calling the right people to give us the best chance. Somehow, we were accepted, and when I told my wife she burst into tears of happiness. 

Before being put in deep sleep on the spaceship, I reminded my wife of my pact: if she died before me on this planet, I was following her soon after. I don’t believe in an afterlife, but nor do I believe in a life worth living without her. She said, “No, if I die before you, I want you to find an alien wife on Kepler 852-b. Promise?”

“No.”

While lost in these thoughts, I notice that Bunky and I are approaching a jungle. He slips through the thick foliage. On the other side, in the shards of moonlight, I see a small clearing and a small nest, where Bunky plops down and immediately starts snoring. I guess now I wait, I think, for Bunky to wake up. Surveying my surroundings, I see that there are colorful vines hanging from the trees, violet and orange, and web-like threads connecting the branches and trunks. The moonlight is dim in this enclosure, the shadows seem to contain unspeakable dangers, hidden malice, and I feel uneasy. 

*Crack* *Shkt**Crack**Crack**Shkt**Snap*…something is bushwhacking nearby. I hurriedly pull out my little axe (why didn’t the NASA scientists pack a gun or some sort of projectile?!) Bucky is still in a deep slumber. I nudge his belly with my foot and he grumbles. No help from Bunky. 

The noise is getting louder. It’s approaching. Without thinking, I stupidly yell, “Stop! Who’s there? What’s there?” Silence. I ready myself. At the other end of the clearing the foliage parts, and a man stumbles towards me, a man I know…

“We…we don’t belong…here,” he splutters, as he trips and almost falls. In the moonlight I see that his face is dirty and scratched, his clothes torn, his darting eyes wild, and his mouth drippling spit. “They…they sent us here…to die…how can we…” The contrast between the wreck of the man before me, and the man I knew, is almost too much to bear.

“Captain Premidaire?” The last time I saw this man he was giving a magnificent speech in front of the entire crew of the spaceship, before we all went to our deep-sleep chambers. Preston Premidaire, the leader of Migration #2. He had been clean-cut, perfectly-dressed with glittering badges on his uniform, with a charming smile. He was one of the most respected military generals on Earth.

“Aye, my friend, fancy a wouldayouknow place?”

“A what? Where is everyone else on the ship? What happened?” For a moment the disoriented general seemed to concentrate and he looked at me with grim determination.

“We escaped, there was so much, you have to find the, go now because I won’t abandon the calling to-” he collapses in the clearing and I rush to lift him up. 


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