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Conversation in Babylon

Discussion in 'Time Out' started by glebe digital, Mar 4, 2013.

  1. glebe digital

    glebe digital Member

    (Between the Tigris and the Euphrates, in the shade of the Hanging Gardens, not many thousands of years ago)

    URUK: How do you like the cuneiform characters? My new serf-writer composed the whole beginning of the Hammurabi code in about ten hours.

    NIMROD: What did you use? An Apple Nominator from Eden Valley?

    URUK: Are you nuts? You can’t trade in one of those things even at the Tyre slave market. No, this is an Egyptian serf-writer, a Thoth 3 Megis-DOS. Very low consumption. One bowl of rice a day, and it has a hieroglyphics program, too.

    NIMROD: You’re just cluttering up its memory.

    URUK: But it formats while it’s copying. You don’t need a separate serf-formatter any more to collect the clay, mold the tablet, and dry it in the sun, while the serf-writer does the rest. Mine molds, dries at the fire, and writes directly.

    NIMROD: But this one takes Egyptian 5.25 cubit tablets and must weigh a good sixty kilos. Why don’t you use a portable?

    URUK: What? One of those liquid-crystal Chaldean screens? That’s Magi stuff.

    NIMROD: No. I mean a dwarf-writer, an African pygmy as modified in Sidon. You know what those Phoenicians are like, they copy everything from the Egyptians, and then they miniaturize. Look: a laptop. It writes while seated on your knees.

    URUK: Disgusting. And hunchbacked as well.

    NIMROD: Of course. They inserted a plate under its shoulders for quick back-up. One lash of the whip and he writes directly in Alpha-Beta, you see? Instead of the graphic mode, he uses a text mode. That means you can do everything with twenty-one characters. You can write the whole text of Hammurabi on a few 3.5 tablets.

    URUK: But then you have to buy a serf-translator.

    NIMROD: Absolutely not. The dwarf has the translator built in. Another lash and he transcribes in cuneiform.

    URUK: Can he handle graphics?

    NIMROD: Naturally. Who do you think did all the plans for the Tower?

    URUK: Can you trust him, though? Maybe the whole thing will fall down later.

    NIMROD: What an idea! He’s installed Pythagoras in his memory, and Memphis Lotus, too. You give him the surface measurements and crack the whip, and he gives you a ziggurat in three dimensions. When they built the pyramids the Egyptians were still using the Moses ten-commandment system, which required a back-up of ten thousand serf-builders. And they weren’t the least bit user-friendly. All that hardware’s obsolete, and they had to throw it into the Red Sea. I believe the waters rose up.

    URUK: What about calculation?

    NIMROD: Oh, it speaks Zodiac. It will produce your horoscope in a matter of seconds. What you see is what you get.

    URUK: Does it cost much?

    NIMROD: Look, if you buy it here, the harvest of a whole season wouldn’t be enough. But if you can get someone to buy you one at the Byblos street fair, it’s yours for a sack of seeds. It demands a lot of input, to be sure, but you know the rule: garbage in, garbage out.

    URUK: Hm. I’m still pretty happy with my Egyptian. If your dwarf is compatible with my 3 Megis-DOS, couldn’t you program him for Zodiac, at least?

    NIMROD: In theory that’s illegal, because when you buy one, you have to swear it’s for your own personal use…. But everybody does it. Sure, I’ll put them in contact. I just hope yours doesn’t have the virus.

    URUK: Bursting with health. What scares me, though, is the way they come out with some new language every day. In the end the programs will all get confused.

    NIMROD: Don’t worry. It could never happen here. Not in Babel.

    From ‘How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays’ by Umberto Eco

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