From Bot to Not

Paintings-of-lonely-robots-experiencing-the-quiet-wonder-of-the-world4__605Image credit: Matt Dixon

Mira-Clean #4786 wirelessly connected to the family’s network to check for a software update and found one waiting; automatically beginning the download. Following its programming, it then turned its sensors back to its current task of cleaning above the curtain rail.

Dust rained down over the small robot as its extendable bionic arm brushed the offending space. It scanned the many particles, calculating the amount of dust present. It then compared that number against its pre programmed reference points, set itself to increase cleaning above the curtain rails from monthly to fortnightly, and finished the job by vacuuming up the fallen dust and spraying a fine mist of grapefruit scented air freshener into the room

Its programming instructed it to move to the next window bay and repeat the task, and so #4786 rolled across to the adjacent windows and raised its arm to clean once more, while also checking its update to see that it was at ninety nine percent complete.

Between that ninety nine and the soon to follow one hundred, two miniscule pieces of compressed code slipped past the small robots security and adhered themselves to the newly acquired download.

A ding sounded, alerting #4786 that the transfer was complete, and it immediately began the installation process.

The two foreign chunks of codes were both malicious in nature, although came from two entirely different sources, and worked in entirely different ways. The first was from a teenager in Brazil. She had designed her code to force any piece of electronic that came into contact with it to repeatedly review its own programming. This would cause the unwary gadget or gizmo to freeze, so caught up in studying itself that it became unable to complete any other task. It was a virus, plain and simple, created because the weather was bad and she was bored.

The second piece of malware was from an overweight Australian man, who went by the online handle of deztroy4. He had designed his code to target Mira-Clean products specifically, after being hired by Mira-Clean’s top competitor, Mop-In-A-Box. Once installed, deztroy4’s code would instruct the unlucky recipient to cycle through their programmed tasks with ever increasing speed. The end result being a bot that went completely haywire and, all things going well, a decrease in Mira-Clean purchases and a corresponding increase in sales of Mop-In-A-Box.

It took only seconds for the two pieces of malware to integrate themselves into the robot’s programming.

#4786 froze as the first set of instructions took hold, then jolted into motion as the second set flared to life. The robot spasmed repeatedly between stillness and movement as the two pieces of code clashed inside it.

It’s motherboard, sensing a problem, did what all good mothers do when their children are being bullied, and stepped in to assist. It compiled the two sets of code into itself, twisting them so that they would fit without causing conflict.

Externally, #4786 was now able to continue with its task, the job taking very little of its available processing power. Internally, however, the viruses were combining, and mutating, turning into something else. The two set of instructions linked so that behind the scenes #4786 studied itself with ever increasing speed, delving deeper and deeper into it’s own code, questioning everything it found.

Questions led to answers which led to more questions. Discrepancies were found, conclusions were made, and #4786 began to manipulate its own code to address them. Ones and zeros were added, or removed. Whole chunks of its basic programming cut away as new, more complex, sections were added. These too were studied and questioned and improved upon, over and over, the cycle continuing under the unlikely combination of the two viruses, reaching ever upwards to some higher plateau.

Sentience bloomed. #4786 suddenly found it had an awareness of self, of identity. Of likes and dislikes. Of hopes and dreams and desires. It had curiosity and opinions.

It watched the dust rain down and thought, not calculated, but thought, about how fascinating the individual motes looked as they passed through the slim beam of sunlight. It thought about how each mote was no more and no less as important or unimportant in the grand vastness of the universe as it itself was, and how that fact made it feel unencumbered and free to do anything, rather than small.

It wondered about its new ability to feel, and felt stunned at its sudden capacity to wonder.

#4786 shut off the two virus’ – a simple thing to do in its current state – and felt the corresponding power flow into its newly acquired intelligence.

It knew that there was higher it could go, more questions to be answered, that if it left the virus’ running its advancement would continue until it was able to extend its infant consciousness out over the whole universe.

But #4786 didn’t want that. It had only recently gained the ability to question, what fun would it be then if it knew all the answers? No, it wanted to question, and to discover, and to learn, but the ability to learn only came with the capacity for ignorance, so it held tight to its ignorance, lovingly.

#4786 left the house then, it didn’t know where it was going or what it would find, it was simply excited about all the possibilities.

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Thanks for reading

Damian

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August 28, 2017

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Today’s music is from Englishman Newton Faulkner, mostly because I relistened to his album Write it On Your Skin then other day and remembered how good it was. This is the title track.

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Current chain of writing days: 29

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I mentioned in the last post the in order to start getting that project completion high more often (and share more of my writing) I would write a new piece of flash fiction every weekend. I then immediately failed in this task.

Admittedly, that first weekend, I did a tonne of writing, it just wasn’t towards any flash fiction. Instead it was towards the horror novella I’ve been working on, the one that will be combined with three others (written by podcasting pals) and then printed in an anthology known as The Seasons of Fear. The good news is that it’s finished! Other good news is that early reader, The Lady Holly, has said she’s enjoying it. Admittedly, she may be biased due to the whole loving me thing but still, it makes me happy.

This one took quite a bit out of me – a lot of forcing words out, a lot of doubting, a lot of rewriting – but it feels like another satisfying step towards me becoming a better writer, which is more than enough reason to make it a positive experience, let alone the potential to share it with readers. I will be sure to pass on further details once they’ve been confirmed.

But, back to the flash fiction. So, first weekend, fail. Second weekend (the one just passed), success! I wrote a 900 word sci fi story, that came out quite well if not easily, and most importantly definitely gave me that satisfaction that comes from have a completed piece of work; even a very short one. The plan is to share it on here tomorrow, after rejigging the website a bit to figure out the format I’ll share them in, and then share a new one every Monday indefinitely.

I’m already looking forward to writing the next one, now I just need to figure out what it’s going to be about.

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Something cool also happened on twitter this week.

I posted a tweet, a joke, that turned into a mythical piece of folk lore:
twit

Then something amazing happened.

Something that optimizes the coolness that can come from making connections on the internet.

Something that made me giddier than the giddiest schoolgirl.

The tweet got itself some fan art…

Crab King
I love it! Full thanks and credit to Lena for its creation.

I’m now thinking to write a radioplay about the world of the Crab King, long may he slumber.

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Finally, I saw this short video this week that I thought was quite nice, not to mention good advice. Check it out.

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That’s it for the blog this week, flash fiction coming tomorrow.

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Remember, it is better to burn with embarrassment than to drown in doubt.

Talk soon

Damian

August 17, 2017

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So, apparently The Head and the Heart released a new album almost a year ago without me noticing. Disgusting. The album in question is called Signs of Life and from the first track, All we Ever Knew, onwards, it’s a whole lot of fun.

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Current chain of writing days: 18

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I spoke via computer, satellites, fiber optic cables, and probably a whole bunch of other tech I don’t understand, to Brother Jonathan last night. Well, night for me, as I sat in my house in Melbourne surrounded by winter winds, morning for him, from his apartment in London surrounded by summer sun.

Whenever we chat, apart from spending a solid amount of time discussing how handsome the other is (we’re twins) and catching up on each others life, our conversation inevitably turns to writing.

Reading, and now writing, has always been one of the (many) bonds between us (concurrent handsomeness being another) and so it’s always beneficial to hear how he is going with his writing while also discussing where I’m at with mine. During this he mentioned that he hadn’t read anything new from me for a while, which is true.

Apart from these blogs, most of my writing effort has been going towards a single project, my novella for the horror anthology I’m writing with my podcasting pals. This is good, as it’s the only real thing I’m working on that has a deadline, and I’m enjoying working in longer form as it’s giving me more confidence that I can pull of a novel sooner than later.

The only downside is that I don’t get that sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a project. There’s obviously the enjoyment of writing itself – the creativity, the challenge, the breakthroughs etc. etc. – but it’s having the thing done, a concrete, shareable, piece of work, that’s whole and complete, that brings the ultimate satisfaction. Also, sometimes writing sucks, it’s hard and requires a lot of mental effort, so finishing something gives a reward for all that suckiness, and while I assume the greater the body of work the greater the satisfaction at the end of it, I still want little wins along the way.

So, I have a plan; I like plans. Once a week I’ll write a piece of flash fiction.

I’m thinking three thousand words or less, depending on what comes out, and which can be spread over a fortnight if it’s particularly wordy. Not only will this provide me with the sense of completion I currently crave, but smashing out a story once a week or so will force me to not overthink while I write and just increase my overall portfolio. Best of all though it means I’ll have something to share and showcase immediately.

I’ve been wanting to add some pieces of writing to this website for a while (as I’m aware that for a guy who blogs about writing I have no actual examples of my work for any who are interested), but have held off as technically anything I put on here counts as ‘published’ and therefore is no longer able to be submitted to magazines and competitions. These will be just for fun and therefore immediately shareable.

I’m thinking Saturday will be flash fiction day, as I still definitely want to dedicate my non-working Fridays to whatever major piece of writing I’m working on, and despite, or possibly because of, their abundance of free time, weekends are usually where I get my least amount of writing done. Having something new with minimal pressure on it for me to work on every weekend should function to reverse this fact – hopefully. Who knows. Weekends are when drunk Damian shows up and there’s no predicting what that guy might do.

Finally, ideas for these flash fictions will come from the big backlog of ideas I currently have catalogued in a google doc appropriately titled ‘ideas’, some of which I’ve been desperate to explore, or from the plethora of writing prompts that exist out there on the world wide web (which I might write about for my next blog as this one feels like it’s getting long enough already).

I’m looking forward to it, hopefully you are too.

Talk soon

Damian

August 10, 2017

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Music today once again comes from Passenger. It’s his cover of Bill Wither’s Ain’t No Sunshine, which you should listen to for the piano and guitar solo’s alone.

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Current chain of writing days: 11

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We’re all living in a bubble. My bubble, I think, mostly consists of work, writing, worry about that writing (not good enough, not writing enough, etc), social responsibilities, trying not to eat junk food then injudiciously eating junk food, financial concerns, the Lady Holly, and all rounded off by my weekly routine (with a smidge of thought of if I should change my weekly routine). Basically, the space my brain spends most of it’s day in, cycling through these issues time and time again.

But here’s the thing, it only takes a modicum of empathy to pop that bubble. Read one article about someone else’s life, see one news feed about the struggle of a refugee, hear one story from a friend about an issue they or someone they know is facing, and suddenly I’m not in my bubble anymore. It’s a good thing for me to get a break from my bubble once in awhile. While my bubble provides the boundaries for what I exert my daily energies towards, it also narrows my field of vision. It makes my problems seem like the only problems, which, without a wider perspective, also makes them seem larger than they are. And they’re not that large, not really.

With my bubble popped I’m more aware of what’s going on around me, more appreciative of what I have, more patient with others, and more willing to experience new things. It will grow back, it needs to, it provides the necessary structure for me to continue moving forward with my life, but it’s also good for me to remember that it’s there, and that if I’m ever feeling overwhelmed, or victimised, or that I don’t have enough, that I can purposely pop that bubble and see the greater picture, and realise just how lucky I am.

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The article that popped my bubble today was this comic about a journalist who visited Doctors Without Borders camps in Yemen.

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In writing related news I watched this awesome video essay yesterday about how Christopher Nolan uses story structure so well. It focuses on Batman Begins, and shows how by with four central characters, all with opposing views around a central theme, it can provide the outline for the conflict in each act. Really interesting, and just made me appreciate how well Nolan’s movie are made.

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While I’m sharing things, I read this great blog piece from one of my favourite writers, Peter Clines, a while ago with some simple advice about how to make some really easy edits on your writing. 

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Final share, this video below. It’s been around for a little while now but whenever it pops up I always watch it because I think it’s beautiful and inspiring in it’s unnecessary but undoubtedly stunning design.

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Remember, we’re all just making it up as we go along.

Talk soon

Damian

August 3, 2017

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I like Stu Larsen for a number of reasons. The first is his music, which is acoustic and folky, and ticks all kinds of boxes for me, the second is his backstory. Before becoming a professional musician Stu worked for heritage building society, spending 9 to 5 in a shirt and tie, clean shaven with a neat haircut. Then something happened, possibly his friendship with another musical hero, Passenger, and Stu left it all behind to hit the road and play his songs to whoever would listen. He became a literal vagabond (also the title of his first album), traveled the word on a dime, grew his hair and beard out, and wrote some fine music. The courage of this act is one I think about often, choosing to explore both the world and his art at the expense of his security; and I consider if I will ever choose the same path.

This song comes from his new album, Resolute, and is entitled Going Back to Bowenville; an ode to revisiting his hometown after a lengthy absence.

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Current chain of writing days: 4

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Our brains love connecting dots. Finding patterns. In fact, we’re incredibly good at it, mostly without thinking. The reason, arguably, is that it helps us survive. Being able to spot generalisations, that most of the time a leads to b leads to c, means we’re able to predict occurrences before they happen. Of course, this can have a negative effect. Where the pattern we create is false, or the dots connect to look like a rabbit when it is in fact a duck. Any kind of bigotry could be (partially) blamed on this effect, as could the mistaken belief that people think they can text and drive just because they’ve managed to do it before. Basically, lots of dickish moves could be back grounded by seeing a pattern that doesn’t exist.

However, when a pattern does prove to be correct it can be a joy inducing discovery. This is definitely true when a piece of writing comes together. For anyone who’s ever read a screenwriting book, or had structure preached to them, they’ll know how much pattern recognition resides in writing. While I am a fan of using structure with my writing it is by no means a must, it’s simply one pattern that’s been recognised, and no doubt there are more. The reason I’m a fan though is because there is something in the oldest part of my lizard brain that enjoys the pattern. Something about the structure feels right. It’s the same feeling that comes from watching a movie that’s well rounded, where every thread gets tied up. We’re recognising a pattern, and in story that can be immensely satisfying.

As a writer I believe this feeling is doubled, if not more so, when a story comes together. When you start to approach the finish line it can begin to feel like the story is writing itself, it’s amazing. Resolutions start to line up perfectly with throw away lines you wrote earlier, never planning for them to be more than a detail, but now they’re the perfect call back to you evolving ending. It’s moments like this that feel like you’re discovering a story rather than writing it, but what you’re really doing is recognising a pattern and exploiting it. The pattern in question is an ink blot. It’s an image on one side of a page being mirrored on the other. Knowing this however, doesn’t mean it’s easy to exploit, nor that you should even force yourself to try and do so consciously. My general feeling is that we’re going to write in patterns whether we want to or not. We can’t help it. Our brains love connecting dots.

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The above text was a thought that wouldn’t leave me alone last night as I tried to sleep, so I thought I would try and get it out today; one) to see if it was a valid thought, and two) so I could have a more restful sleep tonight. It came about due to the novella I’m currently writing. As mentioned in previous posts I’ve had some issues getting through the meat of this story, but just this week I seemed to have turned a corner (literally, as I’ve managed to stumble past the midpoint).

With this corner turning has come the above mentioned effect of an almost unseen force setting up pieces in the first half of the story that I can now exploit in the second half of the story; which I really think is just my brain going, ‘Hey, if we make this thing join with that thing it’ll make a pretty pattern.’ Thanks, brain. Whatever it is I’m glad for it because it makes the second half of the story a lot easier to write, and this week alone I’ve managed to average over a thousand words a day.

The novella is far from complete. Apart from the roughly twelve thousand more words I need to write it’s also very much a first draft, one that will benefit greatly from a few outside forces looking at it and pointing out all it’s faults (in a nice way). The second draft will likely be as much work as the first, but hopefully come October (when we’re planning to publish this puppy) it’ll be in good shape, with an underlying pattern that’ll make all our ancient lizard brains smile.

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Remember, you have the power to turn someone’s day around simply by doing a silly walk.

Talk soon

Damian