Showing posts with label Internet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Internet. Show all posts

13 April 2019

Robots, Hatred, and Tentacles


by Stephen Ross

I had a conversation with a robot the other day. Well, I think it was a robot. I have a Facebook page (for me "as a writer," separate from me the person), and every now and then, via the writer page, I get a message from someone I don't know. Sometimes the messages are casual: "Do you go for Father Brown mysteries?" Yeah, love him. Sometimes, they're kind of odd: "Are you feeling okay?" To which I rely, Yes, I am. Thanks! To which the guy replies, "That's wonderful!" and, I'm not kidding, sends me about 30 photos of himself hiking in forests with his friends.

Huh?

Last week, I got a "Hi" from a girl; her user photo was blurry. I said hello. Blurry girl asked me, "How are you?" I asked her if I knew her, had we met at a recent writing event? She didn't answer; instead, she asked me if I really was a writer, like my Facebook page said. She asked: "Is that really a thing?" I replied that being a writer really was a thing. I asked her how she had found my page. She didn't answer. She asked several more random questions (with increasing randomness), writing in perfect English, with perfect punctuation (writers notice these things). Do I like where I live? How tall am I? I asked her if she randomly picked me to start talking to. I added a smiley face.

Blurry girl got defensive. She said I was hurting her feelings and she was starting to feel uneasy; she asked if that was my intention.

My face, staring at the monitor, was the raised left-eyebrow version of WTF? It then occurred to me... Was I right there, right then, taking a Turing Test?

This is not a real person (and not blurry girl, either), Photo computer-generated by https://thispersondoesnotexist.com/
Years ago, for amusement, I made a website. You could ask it a question and it would give you an answer. It was a rudimentary chunk of logic programming (in Perl), picking up on words entered and matching them to "answers" in a database of possible responses:
Q "How are you, today?"
A "Today is another day, much like yesterday."
Garbage in. Garbage out.

I replied to blurry girl by entering in a line of random gibberish, then a message in German about how I love jam donuts (Ich liebe Berliner!), and then a string of my best expletives in English, German, and Spanish. And a smiley face. She ignored all of it, forgot about feeling hurt and uneasy, and asked me if I preferred red wine to white.

Yeah, baby. I got your number. And it's ones and zeros.

I checked out her Facebook profile. She had been on Facebook for three weeks. She had fifteen friends. All guys. Her posts consisted entirely of reposts of articles about wrestling and gridiron. Fake? Almost certainly. Robot? Almost absolutely.

I blocked her.

And right after blocking her, I remembered that she hadn't been the first. I had had several odd encounters of similar stripe in the past: random, odd conversations that came out of nowhere, went nowhere, where I wasn't being contacted because I was a writer, or because I knew the person in any way, I was being contacted because I was simply someone who would type in a reply and engage in conversation.

I disengaged my Facebook page's message facility.

The internet is a weird place, and lately, a laboratory for A.I. testing. To quote John Lennon, Nothing is real (and nothing to get hung about).

The internet is also a very angry place. This post was originally going to be about negativity on the internet, but I got sidetracked by the robot. And then, negativity isn't a fun thing to write about. The point of this article was going to be about how I have a new story coming out this month, and how it took a cue from all the negativity that exists on the internet.

In short, to quote William Carlos Williams, There are a lot of bastards out there. One of the internet's greatest virtues is the connectivity it provides: We all have access to the electronic playground. We can all come out and play together, regardless of our physical location. Sleuthsayers is an excellent example. However, that same connectivity also provides a certain type of persons, shrouded in near anonymity, with a medium to open the sewer of their souls to freely pour out their bile.


Anyway. Last year I wrote a Lovecraftian tale about how someone taps the negativity of the internet and uses it as a power source. The story is called The Tall Ones, and it appears a new anthology titled The Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods. I read a lot of Lovecraft when I was a kid; I was delighted to be asked to write a story for the book.

***

And in other news, I also have a story coming out this month in the new Mystery Writer's of America analogy, Odd Partners (edited by Anne Perry). That story is called Songbird Blues, it's noir, and there's a movie-type trailer for it below...

I'm thrilled to be in both books!

:)





stephenross.live/

facebook.com/stephen.ross.writer.etc/

01 July 2018

Digital Desert


by Leigh Lundin

Arizona
Before departing southeastern Arizona…

The ’salsa trail’ forms a gastronomical trek between Gunsmoke and Sunstroke, Arizona. Tex-Mex influences all things edible. Families don’t say, “Let’s eat Mexican tonight.” That’s a given unless stated otherwise.

Roadside diners list tamales and enchiladas alongside guacamole burgers. Asian restaurants offer Chinese chimichangas and Japanese burritos. Restaurants might be known for Taco Tuesdays, Fajita Fridays, Salsa Saturdays, and Maalox Mondays.

It affects the whiskey, Fire and Fireball. Overly hot isn’t a problem– guests can pack as much or as little heat as they wish.

Digital Desert

As you know from past dispatches, Gunsmoke’s phone and internet service has varied from non-existent to barely readable. The majority of computer users I met still use Windows 7, including a Tucson hospital. They don’t necessarily want Windows 7, but they’re stuck with it because of lack of internet bandwidth. A Windows 10 upgrade at available speeds could extend from ten to thirty hours.

Based upon library access of about 512 megabytes per hour, I calculated a local bit rate of 1.1-Mbps… reportedly the same ‘speed’ all of Holyshiteitshot County government uses, a tiny percentage of ordinary personal hotspots. If utility lines become too hot, electricity and internet shuts down. Lack of power means the county government shuts down as well.

Hot Spot

It’s not their fault. As everywhere, large cities and heavily populated counties suck up the majority of resources and benefit from economies of scale. While rural roads appear in good repair, lane markings haven’t been painted since the WPA. In the intense Arizona heat, reflective paint temperature differences deteriorate asphalt and cause ‘raveling’. A county that paints lines and turn arrows also means the county must budget for pothole repairs.

Perhaps small electorates vote against their own interest. A library patron felt free internet represented creeping socialism. This sentiment echoed arguments when city water and sewage first appeared.

In previous articles, I teased about Gunsmoke and Sunstroke, Arizona, but residents haven’t strayed far from their pioneer roots. They are deserving people doing their best to eke a living from an unforgiving desert. Doing so in 110° heat takes a lot of damn guts. They put up with haboob sand storms and dust storms, dry rivers, monsoons and flash floods. Why the hell should they put up with poorer communications than Third World countries?

Despite accusations of New Deal communism, REMC brought power and phones to rural America, building an unrivaled infrastructure for its time. Possibly an REMC scheme might work for the Internet. Certainly customers clamor for connectivity and a few are lobbying for it. More power to them.

03 June 2018

Hot Spot


by Leigh Lundin

I’ve fallen off the grid. Unintentionally. No T-Mobile, No AT&T, no Virgin Wireless, no voice mail, no cell phone. Also no email, no web, no internet access. Neither of my phones nor my computer work. Both fruitlessly scan for radio signals, not picking up even a blip, not even alien static from distant Roswell.

phone, no bars

I didn’t plan it this way. I’m spending five weeks in Arizona. Tomorrow I visit the Grand Canyon, but here in the town of Gunsmoke in Holyshiteitshot County in eastern Arizona, the telegraph bypassed the town, never mind Pony Express and the telephone. When I enquired about a hotspot, bemused residents said, “It’s 109°F in May. How damn hot do you want it?”

109°F… Here F, usually preceded by a plosive ‘holy’, stands for a word other than Fahrenheit, usually heard when sliding into a rental car seat. I never knew leather could melt. Steering wheels appear inspired by paintings of Salvador Dalí. Truthfully, the steel door handle of a downtown restaurant is wrapped with pipe insulation and electrical tape, presumably after a few people involuntarily left skin samples.

Century Link is establishing a presence in the county seat. When I enquired, they said, “Congratulations, you qualify for high-speed internet.” They went on to define ‘high speed’ as 3Mbps, the approximate walking speed of a one-legged dog. Computers think data rates that slow mean the internet is broken. Compare 3Mbps to my suddenly much less despised Spectrum/Brighthouse ISP at 100Mbps or even optional 1000Mbps if that’s too slow.

100-1g Mbps

At 3Mbps, news can take a long time to crawl through copper wires. Folks asked about rumors a black man had been hired in the White House. They seemed politely dubious when I said more like a weird orange.

As for my computer, I plugged it into a socket. The wiring exploded with a shower of sparks, barbecuing my power supply. This is what we call a ‘challenge’.

Knowing I had a SleuthSayers article due, kind people came together to help out. One lent an old laptop. When connected to the internet for the first time in eons, it launched into mass Windows 7 updates taking most of a 24-hour day and burning through the data allocation of that person’s telephone hotspot. At that point, another person stunned me by buying a new cell phone to provide a fresh hotspot. Folks are asking around for an old cell to lend me. Life is good.

But wait, there’s more.

FedEx delivered a new computer power supply. As before, neither of my phones can pick up a signal, this coming from a guy who for years refused to own any phone. The nearest AT&T tower is thirty miles in one direction, fifty in another. An internet solution remains questionable, but I’m not yet out of options. SleuthSayers’ Dixon Hill has invited me to stop in, and Scottsdale definitely has internet and phone service.

Life is good.

20 April 2014

Library in the Clouds


by Leigh Lundin

During my Criminal Brief days, I began experiencing down time hours on end, even days at a time. It was early days for residential internet, but that didn’t mitigate the anguish, er, annoyance of being unable to access that giant library in the cloud.

Local cable and DSL companies were upgrading their lines and equipment. The closer crews made their way to my house, the worse the situation became. It turned out the rearmost corner of my property was designated some sort of hub. Cables from it fed my neighbors and me, so I often found men traipsing through my yard. As long as they kept me posted as to their comings and goings, I didn’t so much mind having a trencher, backhoe, and big hole in my yard as I did constant interruptions of service. I’d come to depend on the World Wide Web for my research of almost any topic.

Before the internet, I’d depended upon my father as my research center. He was a… well… I’d have to say a renaissance farmer. He farmed the land and livestock, but in the evenings, he read… everything. No topic escaped his interest: not the sciences, not the arts, not sports, not history and current events. If he didn’t know the particulars of a given subject, he knew where to look it up.

His library consumed a cramped room, expanded into a walk-in closet, found its way into barrister bookcases in the living room, then crept into the various bedrooms like a gothic creature. I can’t say he had more books than the local county seat library, but he certainly competed with it. Long after he died, I’d catch myself reaching for the telephone to ask, “Dad, what do you know about…?”

Starting early this year, I began experiencing spotty service. While outages weren’t frequent, the internet slowed to the pace of a snail’s pet tortoise.

Defining Slow

In South Africa five years ago (and Britain and Australia), one of the providers was so excruciatingly slow, some wags held a race sending files via homing pigeons versus their internet provider. The pigeons won.

But by now, there and here, that should be a thing of the past.

It’s awful when karma and déjà vu plot together. For many days, I had no internet at all and Road Runner was out all together. The various providers couldn’t figure out the Road Runner problem, which may have something to do with Wiley Coyote. I could easily live without RR, but not basic internet. And to be fair, that latter problem is my own because my house is torn apart for repairs.

To bridge the gap of a month or two without a regular ISP, I purchased a couple of wireless devices from NetZero and FreedomPop… and promptly managed to misplace one and today discovered the other isn’t working. Ah, technology. Now I have to galavant to the local wifi eatery, justifying my visit with a sandwich while cadging internet time.

I’ve come to realize how dependent I’ve become upon the internet. I didn’t replace my research and reference books lost in the hurricanes, volumes ranging from the small print edition of the OED to the CRC– the equivalent of an alchemist’s bible, purchased ‘back when’ by every math, science, and engineering student.

And of course, I still miss my dad, bigger-than-life, much more than a walking Alexandrian repository of knowledge. I often think how he would have loved the World Wide Web, no topic out of reach. Unless one doesn’t have internet at all. Like me.

Until my internet service returns, I miss all those subjects, just out of touch. But wait! There’s always Burger King.

30 March 2014

Slow Death by Disuse


by Louis Willis

The main task of the semicolon is to mark a break that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a full stop. It’s used between two main clauses that balance each other and are too closely linked to be made into separate sentences. 
Oxford Dictionaries.

In his article “Has Modern Life Killed the Semicolon?” on the Slate website, Paul Collins relates a brief history of the semicolon:

       The semicolon has a remarkable lineage: Ancient Greeks used it as a question mark; and after classical scholar and master printer Aldus Manutius revived it in a 1494 set, semicolons slowly spread across Europe. Though London first saw semicolons appear in a 1568 chess guide, Shakespeare grew up in an era that still scarcely recognized them; some of his Folio typesetters in 1623, though, were clearly converts.  

Collins notes that the advent of the telegraph in 1850 might have “radically” changed language use because punctuation marks cost the same rate as words ($5.00). As far the semicolon, his perusal of “telegraph manuals reveals that Morse code is to the semicolon what weedkiller is to the dandelion.” He never quite says that in these modern times the Internet is killing the semicolon but strongly implies that it is. He believes, nevertheless, that “semicolons serve a unique function,...” but fails to say what that function is.
Matthew Kassel believes the semicolon isn’t dying but is “the perfect punctuation for the digital age.” In his "The Semicolon Is the Perfect Punctuation for the Digital Age" article on the New York Observer web site, Kassel argues “that the semicolon is...perfectly suitable for text messaging, instant messaging and online correspondence via Facebook and other social networks, where disparate ideas roam free and ‘unexpected juxtapositions’ are the norm.” He felt “compelled” to defend the semicolon because he “often uses semicolons in digital communication and [has] encountered some unexpected pushback.” Further, for him “the semicolon’s breezy informality… captures the unstructured, colloquial nature of digital correspondence more so than any other punctuation mark out there.” I didn’t find a whole lot of semicolons in his articles on the Observer site, and I couldn’t access his Twitter account, which was probably due to my unstructured, colloquial nature. 
The goal of communications on the social networks is to get the message out as quickly as possible and don’t bother about those little pesky things called punctuation marks. Way back in 1999, one writer, Amy Harmon, in an article "Internet Changes Language" published in the New York Times on February 20 noted that “Although judgments vary, what seems clear so far is that the Internet has propelled the traditionally deliberate pace of language evolution to higher speeds.” 
The semicolon doesn’t lend itself to the speed Twitter and Facebook requires because it insists on a brief pause to allow the reader to think. Readers who, like me, sometimes want, not just dip into an article, story, or essay, but to savor it, would, in these times of instant gratification, miss the semicolon. I have faith, though I don’t know if it is “the perfect punctuation for the Digital Age” as Kassel suggests, that its demise is not imminent. 
To you semicolon; may you live forever.