Posted tagged ‘computers’

As promised, the first chapter of my novel, Schism.

May 28, 2010

Without further ado or fanfare, chapter one of Schism.


Paul watched from the oily street as the saccharine colored lights from ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars bounded over the dank, pulsing scene of the accident. Unlike the other officers, the hood of his blue mackintosh lay between his scapulae, exposing him to the acidic rain that pounded down from the muggy September night. Later, he expected to find his bristle-short blond hair brittle as spun glass, poking out of an irritated scalp. Stepping onto the sidewalk over a clogged gutter, he let two paramedics rush by him. He watched as they picked up a wet, limp body from the gritty cement and laid it on a stretcher. One covered the corpse with a blanket that bloomed red in several places while another fastened it with orange straps. They had a half dozen more to pack away before they could be done. Paul wondered what those people were thinking before the car had careened into them. It was too bad that the last thing that the world had impressed upon their minds was the crumbling remains of Soundview, New York.

Off to the side, a circle of wet, bedraggled people Paul assumed to be the tenants of the darkened building had formed around a police officer who had her hands up in a placating gesture that was having no effect on their clamor. Hopefully the police woman would be able to cull one valuable piece of information from all the noise. Paul wasn’t optimistic though, as under normal conditions there was a culture of reticence and distrust of police. Especially when a potential murder was involved.

An officer with crossed arms over a barrel chest stood on the stoop. Paul looked at him a moment, then past him. Either the car that had plowed into the building or the geomagnetic storm had knocked out power to it because the electricity for the rest of the North East had been up for half an hour. Both occurrences had probably contributed to the decrepit apartment’s further degradation. A lighting tripod had been set up in the narrow foyer, silhouetting the forensic techs walking back and forth, going through different motions.

Paul looked at the car as he walked parallel to it. The roof had puckered right down the middle under a chunk of bricks. Smeared across the driver’s door, streaks of coagulated blood shone blackly against the white light that flooded the area from more of the squat tripods. A spindle of rebar needled through the windshield in over a dozen places, making it droop like moth eaten cloth.

“Detective Mardel,” the hulking policeman on the stoop shouted.


“They’re waiting upstairs. Third floor.”

“They told me in the message,” Paul grunted and moved into the building.

The foyer smelled of cigarettes and stale air. Breathing in, he could taste dust collecting in the back of his mouth, making him salivate so his tongue wouldn’t stick to his palate. Blinding white light from the tripod tore at his eyes and he had to lift a hand in defense against the glare. A chrome glint brought Paul’s attention to a pile of cheap furniture that had been tipped and thrown against the wall. Chairs, an end table, and a rotten couch engaged in an inanimate orgy. Blobs of foam pushed out of torn imitation leather like the innards of a bloated, dead animal. Paul wondered if this had been left here since the flood riots. He shook his head slowly.

The forensic techs in here were dressed in blue rain slickers similar to those worn by the cops, but they wore blue surgical masks that obscured even more of their faces. They were a back-water collection of techs who didn’t qualify to serve in any of the more lucrative departments Acropolis Forensics provided services for so they sent them there. One of the blue humanoids emerged from a doorway to Paul’s right, trailing the smell of concrete dust. Before the door had clanged shut, Paul managed to catch just a sliver of linoleum floor littered with gray debris and the crushed front end of the car jutting awkwardly into the building. Paul turned away and found the stairs that led up to the reason he was called.


Paul stopped in front of an open doorway where a blue form knelt, peeling a metallic strip from the mottled door knob. The figure turned its nondescript face up to Paul and nodded, then went back to work. It must have sent out a ping through the Grid for his identification. Whoever was leading this team would find him.

Please don’t let Darmin be on this, he begged to the emptiness in his head while he slid past the figure and into the small apartment. Before entering the room, Paul unbuttoned the mackintosh, letting it hang open over the rumpled white shirt and coat that sagged around his thin frame.

The apartment was sparse; it could have been almost ascetic had it not been for the clutter that was piled in lopsided mounds around the room. The kitchen was a scrap yard of containers: Mexican, Chinese, burger joints. Some blue person sorted through the mess, handling each slimy container with pinched fingertips despite the gloves. In a cramped bathroom, two blue figures jostled back and forth, trying to maneuver. When one would crouch, the other would stand and vice versa, like pistons. And then, in a chair by the door to the bedroom, like a corrupted nucleus surrounded by scampering blue electrons, was the corpse.

The head hung over the back of the swivel chair, letting auburn hair fall back from a brown, pock marked forehead in which dull green eyes stared out past Paul’s shoulder. A drying trail of vomit extended from the corner of his mouth. One of the corpse’s arms was slung over the back of the chair, its wrist bent with its fingers splayed. Paul guessed that he might have been around mid to late twenties and, judging by the apartment, was at most barely bobbing above poverty line.

“Detective Mardel,” a muffled voice said from beside him. He turned and recognized the eyes at once though the rest of the face was covered in a surgical mask. They were small little beads that squinted and opened like a valve of some kind.

“Darmin. So, what have you got?”

“His name’s Thomas Drole. Funny situation he got himself into, huh?” Darmin chuckled with a sound that should have belonged to a sticking ignition.

Paul suppressed a wince at the attempt at humor and continued. “Who found him?”

“Pretty much anyone who crossed this floor. From what we’ve heard so far, the car hit the building so hard it knocked some doors open and whata-ya know, behind door number three was our corpse.”

“I take it there are no witness statements.”

“Try getting anything out of these assholes. That’s why I stuck the rookie on it. Give her a sense of who she’s protecting and serving.”

“Have a cause of death?”

“Can’t say yet,” Darmin said. “No external wounds of any kind. No detectable trauma. In fact, the rat was still wired into his external memory console.” Paul checked each aspect of the scene as Darmin flung it out.

“Nice array isn’t it?” Paul asked, moving closer to examine the make.

“Bet your ass. Don’t know who he had to service to get it but, man! I wouldn’t think they’d even give someone like him an advertisement pay-off system.”

Paul blew air from between pursed lips. “It’s an Mnemos Legacy model. You’d be serving ad-space for the rest of your life to pay off this kind of hardware.” Paul became self-conscious of the advertisements others saw when their systems pinged him. Having a whole network of artificial nerves and organic computing modules running through his body wasn’t so bad but having everyone know that his cells had been cultured, converted into processing units, then implanted back into him for a price he couldn’t pay was an embarrassment that nagged him.

“Well, we’ll turn it on once we get it back to the lab so we’ll find out how deep our little coffin dweller was in,” he heard Darmin say in an ebullient voice. “It’s gotta be stolen,” he added.

Paul looked at the flat black machine lying on the rough table surface. It was a simple plastic rectangle. Along the front of it little inert LEDs caught the hazy light of the room and reflected it back in sharp points. A power button was set into the middle of the face-plate, its unlit symbol a dark blotch. The transdermal electrodes ran from a port on the far side of the machine and terminated in two adhesive knobs that still clung to the cooling skin of what used to be Thomas Drole.

“Total space case I bet you,” the exasperating voice said. “When we pump his guts, we’ll find a fiesta of colors from some street corner pharmacy. He probably stumbled on a bad combo and didn’t know enough to pull out of whatever he was doing.”

Maybe, Paul thought. It wouldn’t exactly be the first time he’d seen a Grid-skid mixing and matching his pills like a game of Russian Roulette, spin the cylinder, and hit a live round while completely absorbed in another world.

“He’s too young for this kind of shit,” Paul mumbled.

“Huh?” Darmin blurted.

“Nothing. Do you have a possible time of death?”

A crash of broken glass shot through the room from the kitchen, wiping the first part of what Darmin said away with it. “-during the geomagnetic storm.”

Paul turned and stopped at the threshold that opened into the shallow bedroom.

“We’ve found mostly data slides in there. Some hacked storage systems, illegal software. Porn. Typical stuff.”

Another faceless blue forensic technician had stacked orange, plastic squares on the rumpled, slightly yellow and stiff sheets of the bed. In another pile, several obsolete hard drives were laid out. The officer was picking up one slide at a time and passing them under a dark, flat wand that led down through a thick cord to a bulky case that stood on the floor. Paul wondered how much longer the data collector would be functioning. It had been dumped on them by its producer, SpecTools, after they had come out with a new, more dependable model that didn’t have the bad habit of destroying the original copies.

He walked back, feeling Darmin’s eyes on him as he resumed his place before the corpse. There was something eery about the way it looked back at him while connected to its exterior memory unit. The thought of what he was doing before he’d died tantalized Paul. People don’t just die. There was always something unfinished. There was always that one thing that they were going to do, about to do. What was Thomas going to do before he died? What was he looking for?

Paul placed his hands in the pockets of his coat and rocked back on his heels, letting himself get lost in thoughts as they popped up. Before he could get far, he remembered the company he was in. He straightened up and turned, noting how the air tasted particularly sour around where Darmin stood. He could picture the smirk that worked Darmin’s pale lips beneath the round mask, the myopic amusement Darmin must find in his small cues and quirks.

“How soon will you be loading your findings onto the network?” Paul said, staring at Darmin who had picked up a tattered gaming magazine and was thumbing through the pages. Darmin didn’t stir.”When will I be getting the data?” Paul said, louder.

The polished marbles of Darmin’s eyes slid over and locked onto Paul. The small gaze seemed to snap a photo with a little blink, then refocus and meander around the room. “I think we’re done here.” He clapped his gloved hands. When they didn’t produce the crisp and authoritative sound he desired, he pulled them off and tried again. This time the sound sparked and the look-alikes stopped their work. “Alright everybody,” he shouted, his cheeks pulling up the straps that held the mask to his face, “pack it up. The medics will pack the stiff.” Again, the corrosive laugh. Little nervous giggles emerged from here and there around the room but they never meshed.

“Great to have you stop by!” Paul heard as he strode to the exit. He found a certain measure of comfort in being alone in the darkened hall, away from that room and its business. The power still hadn’t been turned back on and maybe never would. He splayed his fingers, feeling the tendons tense, pull at their moorings. On either side of him, doors stood open into dark rooms where things stood in charcoal outlines. It would probably cost too much to fix whatever had been burned or broken. He could picture these rooms six months down the line, the torn wallpaper hanging like charred skin from a body caught in a fire. Rats would scurry around squatters picking through whatever the former tenants had forgotten to take with them.


The transdermals made the connection to the output pad under the skin of Paul’s left forearm. His unique, assigned genetic key signed him into the department’s secure network. His onboard biocircuitry system sent a series of electrical pulses to the occipital lobe of his brain, activating several pathways. Form came first, atavistic, and crude. As the program worked in more detail, differentiated solid shapes into carved outlines, color became noticeable. It was like a colony of algae taped in time-lapse, a spreading pale blue and yellow that covered the three-dimensional image of the NYPD shield then fell away into a nimbus white expanse.

When the entire display had loaded, a small, low-res rendering of the NYPD shield spun at the top of his vision. A command box hung in the bottom right corner of his visual field. When Paul looked down, the images of the department network were superimposed over a small beige external network router surrounded by inlaid, metallic trim that was beginning to peel away. The silver lining reflected a blurred form that he knew to be himself. He touched around his eyes, prodding the puffy bags that had filled with the exhaustion of too many nights fighting sleep and its horrid visions that re-surged when his conscious defenses shut down. A small interactive ticker floated above the external modem, advertising the page for Klein Systems. From a column of large, blocky icons that trailed down the left side of his vision, Paul selected the Department Section list, dialing straight into the forensics system. A short list of cases he’d worked on appeared in gray. At the top, a pulsing green dot marked the case he’d just been logged into. He opened the link and a loading screen popped up.

The chair creaked when Paul sat back, huffing at the delay. In the interim time though, he thought about the apartment. He scratched his head, trying to assuage the burning in his scalp. His thoughts didn’t get far into the strangeness of the scene he’d walked into when the optic output showed a series of files. He selected the report file detailing collected electronic evidence. There had been the data slides and hard drives from the bedroom and the Mnemos and onboard internal circuitry from the body in the main room. He read through the list of items collected.

Fourteen data slides (150 Terabytes each) Location: Bedroom

Three rotational hard drives (2: 1 Terbyte; 1: 10 Terabytes) Location: Bedroom

Klein Systems Direct Track Biocomputer Array

Then nothing. Paul furrowed his brow. Darmin hadn’t cataloged the new Mnemos memory system that had been found with the corpse. He exhaled through his nostrils and leaned against the chipped edge of the composite board desk. At least there was nothing logged from the kitchen. The team’s sloppiness and Darmin’s hasty retreat played in Paul’s favor. Darmin could only notice what he could pick at, what he could exploit. He’d never be able to pick up on the way those green eyes stared back towards the kitchen. There was something Thomas was going for, a last unfinished to-do.

For now, all Paul could do was speculate what it was that he had been going for. Could be that Darmin was right, that he took a bad combo and realized what was happening. Maybe he had been rushing to his stash, trying to piece together what he’d taken so he could figure out how much shit he was in. Could be something else. He needed to get back to the scene. Only this time the leech and his legion of blue blobs wouldn’t be looking over his shoulder everywhere he went.

In the meantime, he had to get in touch with Darmin and find out why the rest of the evidence hadn’t been entered into the system. The windows in his head imploded out of existence, replaced again by the white department background and clunky items. The display faded, just a slight dimming in the contrast, like a cloud passing in front of the sun. Paul blinked and turned his eyes upwards, holding his breath. The bars of bare fluorescents that hung from the ceiling held a steady illumination. Some of them had strands of blue ribbon twisting within them, others only blinked fitfully. Then, in unison, they faded, rebounded, and winked out.

Again, the chair protested as he threw his back against the hard foam. Bright letters announced that the network connection had been lost. The building had been retrofitted with a patchwork electrical system and frighteningly, much of the system was from the turn of the century. It was a miracle that there wasn’t a power failure every other day but it looked like the evening’s geomagnetic storm had pushed the system beyond its limitations.

Several storms usually struck a week now. Paul wasn’t sure exactly how it worked, but he’d heard that somehow the upper atmosphere was weakening, letting too much radiation from the sun in. The end result were changes in the magnetic pulse of the Earth that interrupted everything from communications to vast swaths of the electric grid. There was nothing that could be done about it so instead a centralized system for sending an alert when one of these outbursts was imminent was created. Manhattan’s system would have triggered warning lights and started flashing countdowns on every machine connected to the Grid, letting everyone know that they risked the safety of anything still drawing power when the pulse hit them. The driver of the car that had plowed into the building probably never got an instruction package to warn the driver that time was running out. With no power steering or Sonar Assist, momentum just let the chips fall where they would, even if that was a busy sidewalk or the side of a building.

The Acropolis labs were just across the Castle Hill border, in the Story Avenue industrial park. Acropolis Forensics was a for-profit splinter of the FBI labs that had gotten popular when it came to outsourcing the collection and analysis of evidence. The clock in the left corner of his vision told him that it was close to nine. The traffic would be light which meant he could be there in maybe under an hour. If he didn’t find the Mnemos in the evidence locker, Paul would have to ride through another case that got filed under Unsolved. Another death would disappear into the developing mass grave of Soundview with no explanation for it. He looked up at a window near the ceiling. Glass shards of rain clung to the other side of the pane but it didn’t look like any more would be joining them.


Creativity throughout the web.

May 28, 2010

Here’s a really interesting short film I bumped into while browsing the web that shows just how much great stuff is lurking out there. The imagery is the stuff of scifi dreams and the CGI, while not Avatar, shows a lot of work and craftsmanship. But it’s the simple plot that deals ultimately with humanity and machinery and the possibility of encoding human cognition in a synthetic form that’s really of interest. While it raises more questions than it answers, give it a view and post what you think.

A sneak peak of augmented reality.

March 23, 2010

This video demonstrates what an augmented reality system could be capable of. While it is still very crude, the idea of integrating digital information into the real environment is showing promise as a new extension of the ubiquitous computer world. For more information, just visit this site.

The creative ghost in the machine.

March 22, 2010

We writers spend so much time trying to be original. It’s not just for our sake so we can flatter our egos and point ostentatiously back at how unique we are. We also do it because we like to think we are dreamers. We look at the world outside and reconfigure it in new ways inside to bring it back out in the form of art so others can enjoy it and share in our dream. It’s so human that nothing could replicate it. Creativity is ours and ours alone. We paint the Mona Lisas and we write the sonnets. We also make the music… until Emmy came along. Emmy, and its new version, Emily Howell, are programs that create new, original music designed by Professor David Cope. The first program baffled people by creating songs indistinguishable from Bach original pieces, inciting an enraged uproar. Now, the second version is out and creating even more inspired pieces that you can find clips of in the link along with a lengthy and interesting article. In that article you will find what I’ve said multiple times: creativity is recombination of existing elements. Yet, it is recombination with a soul, isn’t it? Does the program feel the music or the thrill of making something new? Probably not but you have to give it credit. It recombines the way a DNA synthesizer recombines, coldly and with precision but creating products that are still beautiful. I think this demonstrates how we too are like the machine. We take everything we’ve seen and heard and process it; yet we do it because we love it, because it compels us whereas Emily Howell does it because Professor Cope hits the start button yet the results are still stunning. How does it know to put the notes in such an order as to evoke emotion? Are our emotions so transparent that we can be triggered to feel something based solely on an algorithm? What does this mean for the music industry if a machine can make music that sounds more genuine and heart-felt than most of the human musicians populating the Billboard charts? Whatever the case, I look forward to a machine that creates because it shares the human love of creating something new, something no one has seen or heard before.

Hacking is the new Rubik’s Cube.

March 21, 2010

The latest trend in the UK is not jeans or sunglasses. It’s not even a new gadget. It’s the simple joy of hacking someone’s Facebook account. It turns out that a large portion of teens are enjoy hacking their friends’ accounts for no other reason than the challenge and fun of it according to a report on BBC. However, a few did admit they hack because they want to screw around with their friend’s account. Hacking is not just to steal your credit cards numbers or sneak into a company’s files. Sometime it’s just to play a prank and with April Fool’s day coming up, I suggest you tighten up those hacking skill if you want to play a trick on a friend. Or you could just send a link to a shock site but I leave it to you to find one because I’m not about to be responsible for scorched retinas.

Machine-brain dialogue through interesting research.

March 21, 2010

I’ve always thought it would be incredible to extend our nervous systems outside of ourselves to manipulate technology and machinery with just a thought. After seeing The Matrix and reading Neuromancer it seemed to open all kinds of new possibilities and who hasn’t thought it would be incredible to augment your body with mechanical parts a la Ghost in the Shell? It’s all part of the post-human dream to surpass the flesh and choose the path of our evolution through our technology. The problem is that the brain is the most intensely complex machine in the universe which makes understanding and programming for it such a difficult job. Luckily, there are lots of innovative people working on this problem and are making some really incredible advances. This video shows one of these research groups that I think really are looking at the problem, not just as one of picking up signals, but also in sending signals back to the brain. If you think about it, when your brain tells your arm to move, it is receiving signals back from the arm that confirm that the action has been done. If a chip managed to tell the brain that it was doing the assigned task, we would have a much more intuitive and intimate (as strange as that sounds) relationship with the computers we were connected to. All this new and exciting progress is getting us closer to a world in which we will connect to our environment in totally new ways. The future is looking stranger and stranger as we redefine what it is to be human.

The Creative Writing Process: Part 3

March 20, 2010

Wow. I apologize for the delay in posting. The past week has been all about catching up with things I should have been doing over spring break. Oh the life of a college student but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. In fact, with the end of my senior year looming, I find myself wishing my under graduate career would just go on indefinitely. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that and we all find ourselves having to move on to the next phase. But enough of my personal musings and let’s get down to some writing!

So, you’ve come up with an idea that you want to expand on. You think it’s grand and you want to turn your vision into something that people will talk about and other writers will turn to years down the line. There’s just one problem: you need to start somewhere. How? We’re talking about a major undertaking and you haven’t a single word on the page. What I did to start out was to put it together like a puzzle. You can do this in your head but the problem is you will forget things. This may be a good thing sometimes. A little chaos is necessary for creativity but if you have a great idea or have plans for a plot twist you just know will wow your readers and you forget it, you will be kicking yourself for a long time. So what can you do to get your ideas down without actually writing out the story?

There are two very useful programs available that can help you trace out the possible routes your story can go down. The first is a program called FreeMind. FreeMind uses a wire diagram setup that allows you to create nodes from which other nodes can be attached and branch off. Want to brain storm a complex series of double-crossings and deceit? Make a “parent node” with lots of little baby nodes that will represent the literal web you are creating with the exploits of your characters. The same can be done for plotting and it will definitely help you keep it all straight. It’s a versatile system with a fairly small learning curve though you will have to get used to it. The second program requires far less practice time.

yWriter, now in its fifth version, can be used after you’ve completed your graph of the plot. What it does is provide a small but useful suite of functions that allow you to create folders for character biographies, setting descriptions, and finally, a robust system that breaks your novel up into chapters, allowing you to concentrate on the dynamics of character, setting, conflict, props, and other important aspects that contribute to a chapter functioning.

I used both programs in the planning stage of writing a novel but neither of them can really write your novel. Instead, you’ve got to pull the ideas together into something coherent and these programs can help with the organizing procedure. So where do you start? At the beginning is what I’ve heard works best. How do you know what that is and what’s worse, how do embark on this adventure? When I started my novel, I felt like I was about to jump off a ledge. It was a strange, out of control feeling, like if I started, I wouldn’t be able to change course. Once you’re falling, the only thing that will stop you is the ground. But that’s not true. You are in control at all times which is why you should start by thinking, “Alright, I have an idea for my story. This is a test run of sorts, a first draft of a first draft. A pilot episode of a book.” Test out a first chapter or two.

The two big questions you must ask to test the beginning of your chapter are: “If I picked this up in the book store, would I continue reading?” and “If I start here, will I be able to get where I want to go?” If the answer to either question is “no,” then you must switch things up. “But I thought my work with those programs would have fixed this!” you might be saying. All I’m saying is that even after I did all that work, I still discovered that when I went to write the novel, the ideas proved less secure than I had thought which meant that I had to modify them. I no longer have the first draft but if you looked at that then at the current and, I think for now, final draft, of the first chapter, you would think you were reading totally different books. This is okay and you should never be afraid of changing your ideas if you discover they are going to limit you and prevent you from telling the story you want to tell. Still, where do you begin in your story?

For my novel, I begin in media res which means, “in the middle of things.” In many stories, you will have to do this if you wish to avoid four chapters of pure exposition. This will force you to consider how you will get your reader to follow along with the narrative since they will be dropped into a world that is going full tilt. The up-side to this is that there is no down-time. The action or at least the intrigue begins at page one with later chapters providing the much-needed, and necessary, moments to pause and build your characters. The in media res method will give you the opportunity to introduce your problem or conflict that will be the center that your characters will circle around and it may introduce one of your major characters as well. You could begin with a description of the scenery if you wish and if you think that it will be important to adding atmosphere or revealing some important detail of the world. However, do not wait too long to introduce some human element, even if you use the method of a false protagonist in which the first character we meet is not actually our protagonist and may even be the antagonist. The fun for the reader will be the surprise that comes from the switch to the protagonist or main character’s narrative. Whatever the case, do not make the reader wait too long to encounter a human they can identify with. People want and need to have a person to ground them, to make a new and unfamiliar world you are introducing them to a little more recognizable and easy to follow. Whatever you do, don’t start off pummeling your readers with back story of the world or character. Readers don’t want a history lesson or a case study. They want a story about characters living and operating in the world you are creating then and there. So now we know that, where and when can we begin?

Start your book where your conflict starts. This is the most efficient method I know. What is the first encounter or first action that draws your character into the main plot of your story? That is where your story begins. In an action oriented book, what is it that the protagonist does or has done to her/him that brings the character into the main web of the story? Is it a plot to steal valuable secret from a science lab? Maybe your character is a con man who manages to con the people behind the theft into letting him in on the robbery and he steals the info for himself. In this story, you might start right at the heist detailing the run then surprise your audience with the character running off with the info. Why not start when he joins the group? The group stealing from the research team hired the con man, yes, but the actions of the thieves only start to affect him when they go after him. All the rest is exposition you can fill in as the story progresses.

That’s about all I can say for actually beginning your novel. Hopefully this was helpful in making that first big leap into the story. For the next time, I’ll see what pops into my head. Possibly I’ll talk about how to introduce background information and maybe I’ll talk about writing style though that might have to be a separate subject all its own. Until then, good luck starting your novel!