Inhuman Swill : Technology
            

Our Dependency on Foreign Keys, art by Hayrettin Karaerkek
The second and concluding part of my new science fiction novelette, "Our Dependency on Foreign Keys," is available today at the online magazine Across the Margin. (Part One appeared yesterday.)

When last we left our not-so-heroic hero Pell "Franny" Franziskaner, he was no closer than he was at the start to figuring out who is sabotaging his cocktail party and threatening to kill him, nor to completing or even figuring out the task he's been given by the super-duper advanced A.I. called Hondo. But at least he's invented a cool new party game called dueling holaoke! Will Franny unravel the mysteries before it's too late? And will Hondo ever make an appearance at the party?

Learn all the answers now...

Part One: http://acrossthemargin.com/odfkpo/

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Our Dependency on Foreign Keys, art by Hayrettin Karaerkek
A brand-new story of mine, "Our Dependency on Foreign Keys," is available today at the online magazine Across the Margin.

Or actually, the first half of this 11,000-word story is available today. The second half will go live tomorrow morning.

And to be honest, it's not exactly brand-new, either, though this is the first time readers are seeing it. According to an old blog post, I was working on this story during a trip to Malta and the Middle East in May 2008. It was one of those stories that started with the title, and as I worked out the basic situation of the story the plot and its world, things grew very complicated indeed, even given that I decided to set it in the same near-future historical continuum as a couple of my earlier stories. I clearly remember the bar in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood where I was sitting when I named the main character Pell Franziskaner. According to my records, I finished the first draft around the time Barack Obama began his first term as president.

The story was a difficult one to write because I needed it to be light and frothy but dense at the same time. I took the Jeeves and Wooster stories as my model, though I think you'd be hard-pressed to see that in this final version. Connie Willis's screwball comedies like "Blued Moon" were an inspiration too, though again...

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We had a wonderful, marvelous edition of Tuesday Funk last night. There were five strong readers who engaged and captivated the audience with their words, and there was the regular Poem by Bill feature. I read "Four Road Trips" to kick off the second half of the show, and it went over well enough that I was really excited to put the video online. Unfortunately, Houston, we had a problem.

The way I record these shows is pretty basic, and usually works really well. I mount my iPhone on a little tripod, set the tripod on top of the amp, and point the lens at the microphone. I let the phone record straight through each half of the show, only touching it to adjust for the height of each new reader. Later that night or the next morning, I take the two long video files and chop them up into individual readings.

Well, last night when I downloaded the video files from my phone and opened them up for editing. The first file was fine, but the second...

The second file starts with me stepping to the microphone to introduce the second half of the show and read my poem, all while speaking in a woman's voice. Wait, a woman's voice? Yes, to be specific, in the voice of Lauryn Allison Lewis, the reader who followed me at the mike. Somehow the video file became corrupted and shifted the soundtrack forward by nine minutes and forty-four seconds. The audio of my reading was completely lost. The final 9:44 of the video, during Margie Skelly's reading, is silent.

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Passing

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It's getting harder these days
to tell the crazy people from the sane,
what with technology the way it is.

It used to be that talking to yourself
in public was a sure sign of instability,
like wearing a sign that said,
"Steer clear of me, I'm not quite right,
I might be dangerous, if only to myself."

But now we all do it, carry with us
an invisible chorus of voices
in a magic Bluetooth cloud, insistent, demanding
voices clamoring for attention, screening out
the real world around us, making us each
more dangerous than twenty actual crazy people,
a more present threat to public safety than
any potential suicide bomber.
Or at least more annoying.

Thorazine does nothing at all to fix it.

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E-blast from the past

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Today is the 114th running of the Boston Marathon. I am reminded of this because I've started receiving race alerts via text message for a runner named Jen Stronge. So has Laura.

I wish Jen Stronge all the luck in the world in finishing strong in the marathon this morning. But I never signed up to get her alerts, and I wish they would stop. My guess is that she has the same chip number that Laura had last year, and the fine IT staff of the Boston Marathon never cleared out the alert requests from last year's race. Which makes them, for today anyway, some of the dumbest fucks in the tech industry.

To repeat, Boston Marathon IT crew—you suck.

UPDATE: It's the bib number that's the same as Laura's from last year—18649. A dumb, dumb programming mistake, friends. And who's paying for all those bad text messages?

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On Tuesday I plan to sit down and watch The Oprah Winfrey Show for the first time, ever. I've seen bits and pieces before, but this will be the first time I watch the whole thing in a premeditated fashion. Hey, I want to hear Roger Ebert's new/old voice.

Ebert's new voice has been synthesized (and is being further refined) from DVD commentary tracks he recorded for a handful of movies. The Scottish company behind the voice is CereProc, which specializes in text-to-speech synthesizers that speak in a variety of accents. It's fun to play around with their live demo and make voices from all around the British Isles say vulgar and juvenile things.

As more and more of us litter the intertubes with extensive examples of our speaking voices, the easier it will be for convincing artificial versions of our voices to be cobbled together. I suppose the technology will have matured when it can pass a sort of text-to-speech Turing test—when someone can call your close friends or relatives by telephone or Skype or whatever and fool them into thinking they're talking to you.

Damn, I just got an idea for a story.

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Maid of awesome

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My wife is made of awesome. Check her out, auditioning for the role of Commander Pike in a personal transport vehicle. (Photo by me.)

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
that even a
missionary
could afford.

Order yours now!

William Shunn

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