Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sinister Writers Club - After Dark

Welcome to the first Wednesday night edition of Sinister Writers Club.  If you're up for making a blank page less blank, say hi!

Today's soundtrack: Massive Attack on shuffle.

Writing prompt: A giant robot shows up on your doorstep and tells you...

Happy Wednesday!  We're more than halfway to the weekend!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

New! The Sinister Writers Club: Evening edition.

It's been a long day at work.  You're tired.  All you want to do is have a beer and sit in front of the tube and veg out and then do it all again the next day.

Instead, why not join me and bang out some words?

The next Sinister Writers Club will take place this Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 7:30PM Pacific Time.

Shake off the inertia and lethargy of the workweek and join me.

That way, if someone asks you:

You can say, "Hey, I worked on my writing project today!"

The Sinister Writers Club is in session!

Hello sinister writers!  Let's hunker down for an hour and bang out some words, shall we? Comment below with what you're working on, how many words you'd like to write, tell us where you're stuck, etc. Hell, just say hello.

Today's soundtrack: Evil Friends by Portugal. The man.  Digging this band's sound.

Today's writing prompt: A woman wakes up in a desert and finds that she's suddenly got a beeping metal bracelet around her right wrist.

Bonus! today's IMAGE writing prompt:

Inspirational quote:   “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” -Douglas Adams

I'm still working on my new story.  It's up to 11,000 words, and it is my goal to significantly increase that number today.  It's my first real attempt to write a sci-fantasy humor-ish novel inspired by Douglas Adams, Pratchett, Christopher Moore, and the like.  I had the first 10,000 words reviewed by my writing group on Tuesday, and I was given some really good feedback on how to improve it, but early reviews were generally positive.  
Ok, get writing!  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Find me on the book of faces!

I have an author page on Facebook!  You can connect with me there!  Here's the link!

Sorry, got a little overexcited there and used too many exclamation points.

First 10 people to connect with my author page on Facebook get a shiny new connection to my author page on Facebook.  Along with everyone else.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

New project - Chapter 2

Because I'm having so much fun writing this thing right now, here's Chapter 2.  Chapter 1 can be found here.

I still don't have a good title for it, but it's up to 11,000 words now, which isn't bad.  It's going to be critiqued on Tuesday by my writing group, so I'm sure I'll have lots of changes after that.  Still, sometimes it's interesting to see the raw product, pre-edit, and watch it progress to its final form.  I have no problem sharing that process with you.  


Back at his apartment, Geoff put his keys down on the breakfast bar, shrugged off his blazer and threw it over a side chair in the living room, and then pulled a beer out of the fridge and guzzled it. The, aspirin, well, ok, the placebo effect, was wearing off, and Geoff's hands were shaking a little.
The offer from Symon Brooks was absurd. Echelon wasn't ready for prime time. It was just a jumble of code, and a website he'd hacked together to test a small fraction of its capabilities.
And the name wasn't stupid, dammit. It was edgy, techie, nerdy, intelligent. Geoff wasn't entirely certain what the word meant exactly, but he had a vague idea that it had something to do with military formations. Echelon was about organizing data. Regimenting data. It was Geoff's attempt to order, to filter, to make some sense out of an external kind of chaos that mirrored the fractured, half-remembered, unfocused, unending stream of input that assaulted his mind every day.
Geoff gestured at the breakfast bar, and his Air Screen clicked on, the thin projectors built into the ceiling and the bar glowing as they wrangled photons into aetheric submission, filling the space between them with floating data. The image was distorted where he'd put his keys down, so he picked them up again and threw them somewhere else.
The Air Screen installation had been expensive and complicated, a stupid indulgence, really, but Geoff liked the “living in the future” aspect of it. He didn't use it as his primary tech device; the gesture-based interface wasn't intuitive enough for his taste, and the thing was, frankly, buggy as hell. Still, it was gadgety and fun to mess around with, and there were some great games on it.
He swiped over to look at his email inbox. Brooks hadn't sent him the contract yet. He scrolled through the endless morass of spam, catalogues, and mailing lists he kept getting himself on even though he kept hitting unsubscribe on every single one of them. Email had been in wide use for more than half a century, and he was still inundated with crap.
Sure, he could try using one of those organizational bots that promised to clean up his inbox and only show him the important stuff, but he knew enough from his experiments with Echelon that those kinds of algorithms could miss stuff. And he didn't want to miss something important. And he couldn't be bothered. It was fine. He had five million emails in his inbox, of which he'd read maybe a few hundred over the past ten years. That was how it was. His friends laughed at him, with their empty inboxes and neat and tidy e-lives, but he just shrugged it off. It was easier to leave an email in a place than to figure out where it should actually go.
Which was entirely the point of Echelon, really.
Combining Echelon with AI would make it infinitely powerful. Kind of a scary thought, but Geoff wasn't one of those doomsayers who was afraid of the latest advances in AI because it might lead to killer robots and the end of the world. It hadn't so far.
Still, Geoff wondered if it should be his mind that was uploaded into the thing. Geoff honestly worried that an AI based on his brain would spend its time bouncing from subject to subject, distracted and consumed with wonder at every new bit and byte of data but unable to absorb anything in particular, and find itself completely unable to handle the task of sorting the data it was asked to sort. Instead of regimenting the internet, an AI based on his mind might just make it worse.
Geoff knew his own limitations, spelled out in a four-letter diagnosis that had dogged him all his life. ADHD. An AI based on him wouldn't turn into an evil robot overlord. It wouldn't be able to stay focused long enough to figure out the first step to world control. It'd start hacking into a military database and then get distracted by a video file of cats yawning.
But maybe Symon Brooks could edit the ADHD out of Geoff's digital mind, take only the good stuff, and Geoff could see his e-self as an idealized, digital version of the person he should have been all his life, if only there weren't so many damned squirrels and doorknobs and shiny shiny baubles.
Geoff walked out of his kitchen and into his living room. He finished his beer and put the empty bottle down on a side table, where it shared space with two half-full water glasses, a small plate with sandwich crusts on it from two days ago, a book he'd been meaning to finish but hadn't, a tablet computer with a dead battery, a new battery for a different tablet computer that he didn't have anymore, two chargers for phones he wasn't using, and a pack of gum.
His Siamese cat announced herself by meowing a hello and then leaping up onto the back of his vinyl couch and walking across it toward him. She headbutted his hand as he passed, and he gave her a few absentminded pets. Her food bowl was empty, so he filled it, and gave her some clean water.
Geoff grabbed his Baton of his coffee table. Inactive, it looked like its namesake – a black, plastic stick about the size and circumference of a cigar. But when Geoff registered his fingerprint on a panel on one side of the Baton, it split open, and a flexiglass screen unrolled itself from within.
As usual, in grabbing his Baton, he nearly knocked over two empty beer bottles and a martini glass. He really should clean up the place, but bah.
He sat down on his couch and swiped open his social networks. One of his friends had posted a picture of a cat. Another of his friends was eating a sandwich. A third friend was feeding a sandwich to a cat. A fourth friend was very angry about something, and there was a whole long heated argument that had Godwined within twelve comments. Someone else had posted something from a website Geoff knew was full of inaccuracies but was relied on unquestioningly by people who adhered to the No Pepper diet/lifestyle/religion. Someone had posted a comment to the No Pepper post with a link to an actual well-sourced news article disproving the original article, and the original poster had been quick to question the credibility of the news article, claiming that the pro-No Pepper website had “done the research” and that was all the original poster needed to know. Another friend wanted him to try a new VR game that was free at first but required periodic payments to actually advance.
And so on and so forth.
All of these tech devices, and it's still all just cats, inane arguments, and porn, isn't it? Geoff sighed and swiped upwards on the Baton. It rolled itself back up.
Geoff realized he didn't know what time it was, or whether he needed to get ready for his date. He opened his Baton again and was immediately drawn into a web article about a new way to clean your dishes using only air, and then spent another ten minutes scrolling through a forum of people interested in antique scooters, and then was curious about whether there were any old scooters for sale nearby, and then was curious about the difference between four stroke and two stroke scooters, and then saw an ad for a new bar nearby and clicked on that. After a little while he closed the scroll again.
Geoff realized he still didn't know what time it was, even though he now remembered that he'd opened his Baton specifically to look at that. He opened it back up and looked at the clock.
It was 6:30, and he had to be at the restaurant in 30 minutes. Shit. He realized he didn't have time to change, but he figured the corduroy blazer he'd worn to the interview would be fine, right?
Only the cat was now sleeping on it. Damn. He ran to his bedroom and rummaged through his closet. He sniffed the underarms of the shirt he was wearing. He was fine there, and the shirt looked good, it was just sort of a boring and corporate button-down. Not exactly date wear. He needed to accessorize a little bit.
He realized that most of his clothes weren't in his closet; they were in various piles of clean laundry heaped around his bedroom. He was good about doing laundry. He just wasn't great about putting it away.
So everything was wrinkled and unwearable, and much of it was also covered in cat hair.
He decided to keep the shirt and black slacks he was wearing, just add his black leather motorcycle jacket to the mix, and call it good. He also put on a hat. Then he took off the hat. He thought about the hat. He found a different hat. Then he thought he might wear a scarf instead. He wondered if he could take this scarf and use it as kind of an ascot. No. He decided to forget the scarf and the hat. He rummaged around wildly for his keys, found them, patted himself down, realized he didn't have his phone wallet, scrambled around until he found that, opened the door of his apartment, looked down, and realized he was barefoot. He put his keys down, rummaged around for his boots and a clean pair of socks, managed that, and then spent another chunk of time trying to find his keys again.
With six minutes until his date was to arrive at a restaurant that would take him twenty minutes to drive to, Geoff finally had everything. He took a deep breath and walked out of his apartment.

The Sinister Writers Club is In Session!

Greetings, sinister writers!  Let's spend an hour creating worlds out of words.

Today's soundtrack (or, as Cecil would say, today's 'weather'):

"Neon Lounge Seduction" playlist on Google Music.  I can't figure out how to link to it.  Basically just throw on some Portishead, Morcheeba, and DJ Shadow, and you'll be into it.

Writing prompt: You're walking to work when suddenly you see yourself walking toward you, and it looks like you have an urgent message for yourself.

As always, say hello, tell me what you're working on, let me know what you need help with, maybe post some of your work.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Let's do it again! Sinister Writers Club - this Saturday at noon pacific time.

The Sinister Writers Club will have another go at it this Saturday at noon pacific time.  Come join us!  Write something!  Share it! Brainstorm with your fellow writers! Be excellent to each other!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Sinister's First Inaugural Virtual Write-In (Let's find a catchier name for this, shall we?) this thing on?

Ok, as promised, here's the first installment of Sinister's hopefully regular feature, which I'm now going to call the "Sinister Writers Club."  Yeah, that's catchy.  You're here, so you're sinister.  We're taking the word back.

Today's soundtrack:

Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful.

The new album from the Finnish symphonic metal masters finds them exploring and celebrating the wonders of science.  Truly one of the best metal albums I've heard in a long time.

Here's the first single from the album:

Buy it here, if you're into buying physical media:

It's also available on Spotify and Google Play Music, and I'm sure some of the other streaming services.

Writing prompt:

Let's go with a classic.  "The last man on earth sits alone in a room.  There is a knock at the door."

Alright, so here's how this will work.

1) Say "Hello."

2) Tell me what you're working on.

3)  Tell me how many words you want to write today.

4)  There is no fourth thing.

5)  Whatever you'd like.

Here's mine.

1) Hello.

2)  I'm working on a new project the first chapter of which I posted below a few days ago.

3)  As many as my little hands and brain will crank out.

4)  Nothing.

5)  Your turn.

You don't really have to number your comments.

If you'd like me to post some of your stuff on Sinister, email me at


Inspirational quote:

"After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn't it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked -- as I am surprisingly often -- why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn't it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?" 
— Richard Dawkins 

1:05 PM: Ok, this was fun.  I'm going to sign off now, but feel free to keep commenting. We'll do this again soon.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

An idea. Call it a "virtual write-in."

It occurs to me that I'm much more productive if I have other people counting on me.  If I'm just relying on my own motivation, no deadlines, no expectations, no shared experience, then I tend to drift off.  This blog is a great example of that.  No posts since 2013?  Come on, self.  You can do better than that.  

What I'd like to do is create a space for writers like me to come together and write.  Call it a "virtual write-in."  I'll make a post like this one, maybe with some writing prompts, a soundtrack we can all listen to together, inspiration, that sort of thing.  You can comment on my post with something like: "Hey, I'm working on this today, and my goal is to write 1,000 words!"  You can say, "Hey, I'm stuck on something - here's what I'm working on, what should happen next?"  I'll give you ideas, or maybe someone else will.  

Together, we'll cheer each other on.  I'm thinking a typical "virtual write-in" will "officially" last about an hour, but I'll turn comment moderation off so you can bounce off each other for as long as you'd like. The only rule I'll insist on is this one: "Be excellent to each other." 

You can also send me some of what you've written, and maybe I'll feature it on Sinister.  

Look for the first "virtual write-in" post this coming Saturday (April 11) at noon Pacific time. Since it'll be the first one, I don't expect much participation, but if you're around, post a comment and say hello!  Let's see if we can get this ball rolling.  



New project!

Hey, look - it's the first chapter of this thing I'm writing now.  It doesn't have a title yet.  Tell me what you think!


Geoff slammed the crumpled door again. It failed to click, jammed as it was from when that bastard in the Mercedes crunched it in a parking lot. Geoff wanted to get the damned thing repaired, but he also wanted to pay his rent, so the door remained a metallic mess, looking like the foil you might take off a turkey and ball up. Geoff pressed against the door with his back, finally hearing the click.
It wasn't that his car was anything special; it was just an old electric Volvo, one of the first generation, built in the old days of “range anxiety,” before the nation’s highways had been fully outfitted with charging stations. It had been his mother's car, and there was some sentimental value there. It had also been this car in which he'd snuck off to the woods with his buddy Eric to eat psilocybin mushrooms and talk to the faces in the trees. Later he and Eric had discovered a mutual attraction that went way beyond the spiritual connection provided by the shrooms, and had ended up steaming up the windows as they explored that connection in the backseat of the Volvo.
But that was more than a decade ago, during the fragile and frenetic years of his stumbling adolescence, and had nothing to do with today's mission.
Today Geoff and the Volvo were engaged in a glorious project - getting Geoff his dream job, one that would allow him both rent money and cash to fix the car's door. Geoff smoothed down his rumpled corduroy blazer and made sure the crease in his pants was neatly crisp, that his black wingtips were shiny. He took a deep breath, ran his hands through his thinning blond hair, and started to walk toward the gleaming obsidian spike in the center of the white stone plaza.
Geoff didn't want to have to work his way up some corporate ladder, going from tedious menial nonsense of one type to tedious menial nonsense of a slightly more important type, all in the vague buzzwordy mission of some faceless conglomerate whose true purpose was obscured behind layers of whatever the hell corporations actually did these days.
No, today Geoff would stride through the glass doors of the skyscraper in front of him and speak to a man called Symon at a company called Augmented International, who promised him "fame and fortune and everything that goes with it," which were lyrics to a very old Queen song that was on a playlist that his grandparents had put on at Christmas sometimes for reasons that they'd never adequately explained, in exchange for "certain services of a mutually beneficial, and entirely legal, nature." The specifics were vague, in that there were no specifics, and the whole thing smelled entirely like a scam. But Geoff was curious.
He strode through the glass doors, the pounding heat outside extinguished by cold air conditioning. The black lobby was illuminated by steel torchieres along both walls, and fronted by a black desk lit by a single steel desk lamp, where a blond woman sat and smiled at him. She wore digital lipstick set to rainbow mode, which was a little disconcerting, and as she smiled her mouth went from green to orange.
"I'm Geoff Besson, here to see Symon Brooks?" He pronounced his last name the French way, because he was tired of people thinking it was BESS-un.
She nodded and typed something into a screen embedded into her desk, and then pointed at a row of Mies Van Der Rohe Bauhaus chairs sitting along one black wall. Geoff hadn't noticed them before because they were black on black, which seemed a bit...much. He sat down in one of them and fidgeted.
The cavernous lobby absorbed sound in a way that it shouldn't have. He'd have expected to hear his footsteps ricocheting about the place, but they were muffled, subdued somehow, dampened.
The weirdness of the situation was beginning to increase. Geoff saw no elevators leading to the hundred floors above him - just this huge lobby, black on black with black accents, like an enormous corporate tomb, or an office of vampires? Surely not.
Geoff sat for a half hour waiting for someone to tell him what to do, unconsciously bouncing his left leg up and down, fidgeting with his hands, wishing for an ebook or a toy or something to fiddle with. He had always been terrible at sitting still for more than a few minutes, especially without anything to entertain him, and staring at a black, featureless room was not helping. He had the urge to pace, an urge that got worse with every passing second. A million thoughts bounced around in his idle mind, each one commanding a tiny sliver of his attention, but none of them actually getting through in any coherent way. He worried about whether he'd remembered to pay the cybernet bill this month, or if it was buried in his email that he occasionally went through in a panic when something was about to get cut off. He worried about whether that guy from the bar would actually show up for their date at the nice Italian place tonight. The guy had been cute as hell, and he and Geoff had hit it off rather well, at least Geoff thought so. He worried about the prospect of this new job, which seemed to consist of sitting in a black room being incredibly bored.
Finally the woman at the desk signaled for him to come to her with a subtle wave of one hand. Her mouth went from purple to green. He stood and walked over. She handed him a black piece of plastic the size of a hotel key card, and then pointed at a spot on the back wall that looked as blank as the rest of the room. A sliver of light appeared and grew, and Geoff realized he was looking at the interior of an elevator.
"Thanks," he said, the sound of his voice disappearing as soon as it came out of his mouth. The woman nodded.
Geoff entered the elevator, wondering what he was supposed to do with the black plastic thing. Then he noticed a spot on the featureless white wall of the elevator was pulsing red in the shape of the card. Geoff placed the card over the pulsing spot, and the elevator doors slid closed. There was very little sensation of movement, other than the requisite changes in gravity that told him he was headed up.
And headed up he was, all the way to the top. The elevator doors opened.
Geoff was struck with paralyzing terror as he stared at a room made entirely of fully transparent glass. It looked as if, when he stepped out of the elevator, he'd be stepping into open space 100 stories above the ground. Acrophobia curled him into a quivering ball at the back of the elevator, hyperventilating, palms actually dripping sweat, unable to move.
A tall, bald man floated above his own certain death on that glass floor and crouched down outside the elevator to look at Geoff. His face was pale crags and white teeth, his mouth a little bigger than it should be.
"This isn't exactly a way to show confidence to a potential employer, Geoff." The voice was clipped, like a manicured lawn surrounding a stately New England manor.
Geoff couldn't find a response - he gasped, panicking, terrified, paralyzed, at the back of the elevator.
"Come on, you. If you're going to work for us you'll have to get used to being uncomfortable." The man walked into the elevator and held a hand out for Geoff to grasp. Then he changed his mind, giving Geoff a "wait a minute" finger, and walked back out of the elevator onto that impossible glass surface.
Geoff remembered that the peculiar architecture of this building meant that the top floor jutted out like a pyramidal hat from the rest of the building, allowing for this office to exist, and to terrify.
The man returned with a fluffy white hand towel and handed it to Geoff.
"Wipe the sweat off y/our palms, Geoff, and then let's go."
Geoff wiped his hands off and then grasped the man's wrist. The man helped Geoff up and pulled him across the impossible threshold. Geoff immediately collapsed again, unable to move. He stared down 100 stories to his own inevitable death, and whimpered a little.
The man grabbed Geoff under the arms and hoisted him up, and then set him down in a black leather chair across from a steel desk at one corner of the room. He handed Geoff a pill and a glass of water.
"What's this?" Geoff was able to gasp.
"Valium. Take it."
Geoff swallowed the pill, his overarching terror letting slip the question of why exactly Symon had Valium ready and waiting for him, along with any question of whether it was actually Valium. His hand shook as he drained the glass of water. The man took the glass from him and set it on the desk.
"Now. Look, let's not let that little display of cowardice ruin our meeting. I'm Symon Brooks.”
Pleasure to meet you,” Geoff managed in a quaver.
Geoff of course knew Symon Brooks, hailed as the Next Harry Pendergrast, who, a long time ago, had been dubbed the Next Steve Jobs. Geoff didn’t really understand why people had to be the “next” anyone. What happened to being the “right now yourself?”
Brooks was the head of Augmented International, and he'd been the first to develop a computer that had passed every Turing test the techno-philosopher crowd could throw at it. He'd named it Wintermute, after the AI in a visionary science fiction tale from a long time ago, and it was said that Symon and Wintermute had regular discussions about life, the Universe, and everything.
Symon Brooks said, “We've actually had our eye on you for a while, which is why I was so pleased that you accepted this meeting. Of course, there was no way to know about your acrophobia. Sorry about that. Still, I always say the best way to get over a fear is to stare it in the face every single day.”
Geoff was taking deep breaths and waiting for the Valium to kick in.
With due respect, let's get to the point, and then I'd like very much to leave this room," he said, his voice trembling in such a way that he was sure it’d show up on a Richter scale.
"The point. Ok. I am keen on developing both hardware and software with personalities based on real people. We'd like to model consciousness in the digital world."
You want to up your AI game.”
Symon nodded. “What we’re talking about is true virtual consciousness, nay, virtual sentience, virtual sapience, a computer that can not only pass a Turing test, but one that can write its own version, and will think to do that on its own. This isn’t the computer in your fridge that tells you when to buy milk. This is way beyond that.”
So what is the primary mission?”
The Holy Grail. An intelligent database - something that can chew up the Internet and spit out exactly the information you want, instantaneously, intuitively, without any noise, spam, or nonsense.”
The Valium was beginning to take effect, and Geoff began to relax a little. “Cool. So how do you do that?”
Well, let’s have a few questions and answers first, eh?”
Ok,” said Geoff.
Tell me about your schooling. Your resume says you got a degree in analytics from Purdue.”
Yes, that's right.”
Why analytics?”
Well, tech has always interested me, but when I went to college I had only kind of a vague awareness of what I actually wanted to do with it. Analytics seemed a good starting point.”
Symon nodded. “So you studied trends, numbers, the kind of macro picture of the internet, right?”
Yeah, and how to build architectures to analyze the metrics I was studying.”
So what have you done with it so far?”
Geoff blinked. Not a whole hell of a lot, he didn't say. “I've mostly been trying to get myself established in a career that -”
Yeah, that's a non-answer, Geoff. I know your job history. Mostly low-level programming stuff. But I know more than that, right? I know about Echelon.”
Echelon? I...that's not even in alpha yet. It's more of a vague idea than-- ”
Yes, but it's exactly the kind of thing that brought you to our attention.” Symon leaned forward in his chair. “Although the name's dumb.”
I...I'm sorry?”
The name. It's dumb. But the idea is sound. Collating cellular network structures to build a massive multi-user open meta-database?”
Well, yeah.”
Yes. That's exactly what we want to do. So we'd like to buy Echelon. But we'd also like to buy your brain.”
Geoff cocked his head, unsure he'd heard Symon correctly. “Excuse me?”
Your brain. I'd like to buy your brain. Quite literally. I want to take your Echelon project, upload your brain into it, and create a self-aware metanetwork that can cross-reference everything on the Internet simultaneously and come up with exactly the result a user wants. No more million Boogle results. No more voice-activated idiot robots that think you want to order pizza when you wanted to call your friend Peter. No more bullshit.
Huh,” said Geoff. The valium was really kicking in now, and he rode the waves like a pro surfer.
But there's another angle to this project,” said Symon.
A current generation algorithm goes through someone's email looking to tailor ads to the user's email content. One of this person’s emails mentions the burger chain Flappy Burgers. What would that algorithm do?
Place an ad for Flappy Burgers, obviously.”
Symon leaned forward. “Ah, but the full text of the person’s email says ‘I hate Flappy Burgers.’”
So…we'd need to somehow tell the algorithm to place an ad for one of Flappy Burger’s competitors?”
Symon nodded. “Bingo. See, we still haven’t got to the point where natural language processing can truly parse the contextual meaning of something like that. It sees Flappy Burgers, it’s going to try and sell you Flappy Burgers.”
Geoff took another sip of water. “So you want to build a better ad bot?”
Symon laughed. “More than that. Here's another example. Now let’s say you’re looking for a restaurant that serves a particular kind of gin, has gluten-free options, is open on a Sunday, and is quiet.”
Well I mean, Yalp will find most of that.”
Will it though? You’ll have to sift through a restaurant’s reviews, and maybe nobody mentions the kind of gin you want, or whether the restaurant is quiet. You’d have to go to a lot of different places all over the web to find all of that information, wouldn’t you?”
I could just call a few restaurants.”
You spend twenty minutes on the phone and manage speak to two restaurants, neither of which fits your criteria. Several others simply don’t answer the phone. Meanwhile, you’ve got five people coming over in an hour who are very particular about those criteria. You need a dependable place to take them.”
Eek. Well, I’d start to panic, I think.” But the Valium was telling him he wouldn’t actually panic, that everything would be fine, that the world was a vast ocean and he was just riding the waves.
What if you had unfettered access to a vast database that could cross-reference every email, blog, webpage, video, text message, voicemail, forum posting, social media rant and chat transcript?”
Well, I’d wonder who the hell has that kind of access, and why. But then, assuming I liked the answer to that question, I mean, then it’s just a question of …but you’d have to start searching each type of medium for each search term, then score and correlate the matches, and hopefully come up with the name of a restaurant that meets the requirements, using some kind of natural language algorithm, right?”
Yes, precisely.”
Geoff’s mind was crouched on a surfboard in the middle of a perfect tube, the foam and water curling around him in slow-motion. “Ok. So…”
So that's why we want to upload your brain and join it up with your Echelon project. We want you to literally be that algorithm."
"What, like Max Headroom?"
Whoa, that’s a reference I haven't head for a while.” Symon grinned. “Before your time, isn't it?”
Before yours too, I’d imagine,” Geoff said.
Still, if we’re doing very old pop culture references, think Max Headroom meets Skynet, but not evil. We’d like to create a self-aware database that can perform searches using instinct and intuition, that understands the context of human language in ways that no computer ever has."
“I suppose I should ask the obligatory question about privacy concerns.”
No, you really shouldn’t.”
Why not?”
Ask me about the compensation.”
What’s the compensation?"
$500,000 annual base salary, plus a percentage of ad revenue. In exchange, we get exclusive rights to Echelon and your uploaded mind.”
It was more money than Geoff had ever hoped to see in his life. Symon had been correct about Geoff not needing to ask about privacy concerns.
Symon stood and walked back across the desk to where Geoff was struggling to stand, a roiling combination of vertigo and Valium making it difficult to figure out how to use his various limbs.
Now, I’ll email you the rest of the contract, and you can look that over at your leisure.”
Symon grabbed Geoff under one arm and helped him back to the elevator, where Geoff cowered in the far corner.
"We'll meet again tomorrow, same time," said Symon, "in my downstairs office. It's entirely enclosed, you'll be happy to know."
Geoff nodded. "Thanks. I'll look the contract over tonight.”

As the elevator doors closed, Symon said, “That was aspirin, by the way.”