Trying to hack the rules of wishing

Today's XKCD, the "Eyelash Wish Log," is a bit of design fiction that implies the story of a too-clever-for-his-own-good protagonist who tries to hack the rules and regulations of wishing. It reminded me of Stephen Gould's excellent YA novel Jumper, which rigorously and thoroughly maps out the possibilities of teleportation (which was adapted into a movie that, unfortunately, omitted most of its charm).

Eyelash Wish Log


  1. I like thinking about teleportation, so I’ll check out Jumper.  I don’t usually read YA books, though — any additional sci-fi novels about this subject?

    1.  The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester is s classic. It’s kind of like the Count of Monte Cristo, but with teleportation.

    2. I searched for “novel about teleportation”, there’s some interesting-looking suggestions about stories that deal with the consequences of widely available teleportation technology in this article. Some more suggestions in this thread.

    3. IIRC, there wasn’t anything particularly YA about Jumper except that the protagonist was a teenager; it had few of the hallmarks I associate with a lot of YA

  2. It reminded me of Stephen Gould’s excellent YA novel Jumper, which rigorously and thoroughly maps out the possibilities of teleportation (which was adapted into a movie that, unfortunately, omitted most of its charm).

    Y’know, the novel is excellent and brimming with charm, but I thought what makes it so excellent is that it isn’t rigorous and thorough.  Or at least, it isn’t rigorous and thorough like some other YA novels along those lines (Bruce Coville’s stuff comes to mind), which get so caught up in hashing out what can or can’t be done that somehow the story gets lost along the way.  The greatness of “Jumper” lies in that the teleportation is in some ways incidental to the story of a young man coming to grips with his abusive childhood.  (It reminded me a little of Robert “The Chocolate War” Corimer’s novel “Fade”, which deals with invisibility and is unfortunately much more sensationalist.)  Anyway, Gould’s other books about Jumping, “Reflex” and “Jumper: Griffin’s Story” are also rather nice, though “Reflex” starts to fall into the overly-hashing trap.

    The good Mr. LessWrong (of “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” fame) has a rather splendid article on wish-hacking here, including a link to The Open Source Wish Project.  Bookmark it in case you ever happen to meet a genie.

    1. I kinda hated Griffin’s Story. I loved Jumper, and the other book was not as good, it was not bad, but compared to the original, pales

    2.  Also coming in January or February is the sequel to Reflex called Impulse.

      I can’t wait.

      Jumper is one of my most loved books (and I agree with Cory Doctorow on the movie.

  3. I really liked Jumper, but never even wanted to see the movie.

    Another novel of Gould’s, Wildside, I liked even better. It’s a gateway-to-a-parallel-earth-without-humans story.

  4. Actually what Black Hat’s list reminds me of – at least until it specifically alludes to controlling Congress – is what must be going through Lamar Smith’s mind as he spends day after day trying to get SOPA passed by trying to alter reality all around it.

    “Hmm…maybe we can say that from now on NO means YES…so everyone who votes AGAINST us is really voting FOR us…yeah!” “But sir – what if they call Opposite Day?” “DAMMIT”

  5. It looks like from April 2 – 8, Black Hat pored over the source code, and by the 8th had identified an exploitable divide-by-zero bug…

    1. I wondered what the point of “zero wishes” was. Figured maybe it was a Liar’s Paradox type deal–after all, what would happen if the Powers That Be try to grant that wish?

      1. Could be that too – either way, an exploitable bug in the logic of wishing rules that were revealed on the 2nd, resulting from a wish for zero wishes.

        Now that I think of it, an integer underflow seems like a real likelihood – before the wish is granted, there’s a check that wish_count is greater than zero, and after it’s granted, it is decremented by one.  If wish_count is stored as an unsigned 32-bit integer, and you can set it to zero between the check and the decrement, then after the whole operation, wish_count = 0 – 1 = 4,294,967,296.

  6. “…Power to banish people into the television show they are talking about…”

    Well, I guess it’s off to the meth lab with me!

  7. I’m still stuck on the first line trying to figure out how you would do eyelash wishing, regardless of whether it worked.   Is that a thing?

    Pull them out, or blink them, or get them stuck in your eye, or what? 

    1. Good lord. Did you grow up on the Planet Of No Eyelashes?

      1) Someone has to tell you that you have an eyelash on your face.
      2) You must remove it with your fingertip without looking in the mirror.
      3) Make a wish.
      4) Blow the eyelash off the end of your finger.
      5) Profit!!!

      1. Ohh, cool! I live on the Planet Of No Eyelashes!

        I was also wondering what on earth eyelash wishing was, but apparently not enough to Google it. Thanks for asking, Clifton! :)

      2.  2) You must remove it with your fingertip without looking in the mirror.

        Oooh, that explains where I’ve been going wrong then.

      3. Hm, the rules I know require the person pointing out the eyelash to remove it – I had figured that the wish-granting power came from the physical intimacy and vulnerability that the eyelash-wearer grants to the remover.

  8. A webcomic without its hover-text is like a payphone with its handset ripped off.

    “Ooh, another one. Uh … the ability to alter any coefficients of friction at will during sporting events.”

    PS: how can you not know about eyelash wishes? Though in Australia we do the lazy version where you can earn a wish for someone else and skip the whole not-looking step.

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