I'm aware it's only about 18 months since I promised to tell you a story about where missing biros go. It got... mislaid. But here it is.
Put it this way: You think you understand the world. Cause, effect, all that.
But you don't. And the stuff you do to try to make it understandable just makes things worse.
Listen. I dabble. You know; order, chaos all that. We've all played with dodgy copies of FRACTINT. Nothing you or I couldn't do with a biro, squared paper and a couple of billion lifetimes.
I told you about my tracking down an old girlfriend online some years ago. Before Facebook.
Well, I am serious internet old-skool, having had a web presence more or less continuously since 93 or 94.
So these days, when something like Facebook comes along, I simply peer over the edge to how much of a crevasse for my time and energy they could become. Facebook looks pretty deep, so I've pulled back.
But you can't help dabble. Like looking into the past. Old friends, old mistakes.
I went looking and found her again.
It's a shame to think that one day, someone's going to figure out exactly what the internet is actually for, and the fun will be over.
Her photograph takes me back to a tatty, underlit grotto of a student common room in the basement the laboratory off Prince Consort Road.
The coffee machine would dribble my mornings into life with a hot brown liquid whose colour, as I remember, matched exactly the solid deposits at the bottom of the urinals on the floor above.
Back then I only used black biros.
It was an affectation - my trademark when such things seemed important. Once I even wore zero-dioptre lenses, just to give myself a wider facial vocabulary.
Truth is I don't need glasses, even now. But I kept losing the damn biros. Could swear I was getting through a box of fifty every fortnight.
Just where did the little fuckers get to?
I wouldn't have minded but it was cutting into my beer money. Forget Douglas Adams and his planet of lost biros. This was science fact. This was *solvable*. And I resolved to be the first to solve it.
So. I buy 200 biros and some sheets of numbered stickers. I number the biros, 1 to 200, each with a sticker on the end and a little length of sellotape wrapped round to keep it in play. 200 consecutively numbered biros.
Then, the monday morning, I take biro number one to lectures. When I lose it I break out biro number two. And so on.
And at the end of each week I note down which Biro I am using, thus compiling data on biro loss rate, with a view to (a) more detailed analysis and (b) losing fewer.
After a few months I move to the next 200. But here's the thing. The analysis is unambiguous.
After initiating the experiment, the rate I'm losing biros isn't decreasing... It's increasing. Disappearing faster than ever before.
She was in the mechanical engineering department. Spanners we called them. Hate to think what they called us.
She would wander through the common room and use the coffee machine. One morning it eats a coin and I help. We sit down together and talk about our degrees.
I'm showing off, telling her about chaos theory. I try to teach her about the double pendulum; that it exhibits chaotic behaviour.
See - even though it's a simple mechanical system, it isn't predictable, isn't solvable. So throw your engineering textbooks away. No matter how carefully you build it, that one time in a million it'll take you by surprise.
Tiny deviations in the initial conditions can have massive effects on the system. Butterfly flaps its wings and all that.
I take out a biro to explain. Her eyes ignite.
"Oh! So YOU collect them too!"
No shit - she had a pencil case full of them. Full of *my* biros.
Turns out I had unwittingly seeded a biro-collecting cult. She wasn't the only one, she confessed; a number of people round the University were following the trail of mysterious numbered biros, with the lowest-numbered pens being the most highly-prized.
She took some persuading to part with number four. Talk about unintended consequences. If it happened nowadays they'd have a Facebook group.
You might laugh. But it gave me an in, and we ended up going out. An instant, if strange attraction.
I stopped counting the biros shortly after that. That's what having a girlfriend does to your research.
We broke up eventually, blazing row in the bathroom of a student party in Fulham. I still remember the short black skirt she wore. She'd begun avoiding me, avoiding my gaze. Worse, she'd ignored me. Which I couldn't forgive.
Should've known - she'd changed her hair. Every boyfriend knows what that means. Get the CDs back now.
After that we never saw each other. I left and she went on to Oxford, joining up with some other post-graduate engineers to start a dangerous sports company.
I don't know what became of them, after the accident.
But she looks happy in her facebook photo. In a relationship, it says. Maybe if we'd met under different circumstances, the outcome would have been very different.
But anyways... that's where biros go. It's no real surprise; other people pick them up. The real lesson is that random doesn't just happen.
Random can be *made*, on which more later.