Knives Episode 22 is Out!

And it’s a big’n! For those who started reading when this story was still known as The Fantasy Novel I’ll Likely Never Publish, this passage into the unknown carries extra symbolism.

While rain falls only to be turned to steam, Martin is the first witness to the slaughter at Brewer’s Ford. Nothing remains above ground; any answers that may still exist lie below. Down he goes. When he reaches the bottom, Martin makes a promise. The sort of promise that Martin generally scoffs at.

I delayed publishing this episode a little extra to make sure that commitments I make now will work going forward. Episode 24 is kind of a tipping point, plot-wise, and I need to be careful running up to that. Or maybe I’m just thinking too hard.

Anyway, please enjoy Episode 22: Into the Darkness. In order to suck up to Facebook scanners, I’m including a brief passage, rendered as an image. Because words that aren’t images are, apparently, boring. If this doesn’t work, maybe I’ll superimpose the text over Captain Picard.

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Compensation

On Tuesday I left work early. “I’m too happy to work,” I told my boss.

From a strict cash-for-what-you-do basis, Apple has a reputation for being rather cheap. The unofficial, cultural response is, “if money is your driver, then Google’s right down the highway; you’ll get along nicely there. And there’s always Facebook *snerk*.” There will always be somewhere else I can work that would pay more than I will ever make at Apple. But when other companies ask, I just give an over-the-phone shrug and tell them I’m not interested.

Compensation is about more than cash, and all the other monetary incentives. I work with exceptional people. I have a life outside work. I am challenged every day. I just plain love my job.

But until Tuesday I was underpaid even by Apple standards. My boss for the last year and a half has been steadily pushing that line, however, and Tuesday was a big day. Thanks, boss, I’ll he heading out early!

A little perspective: from a strict cash-for-how-hard-your-job-is standpoint, I’m already at Maximum Plaid. You could offer me twice what I’m making now to dig ditches and I’d scoff at your offer. Scoff! Ditch-digging is hard work! And of course I’d instantly be pushed out of the market by more competent ditch-diggers anyway. But miraculously (for me) what comes easily for me is also highly compensated. Sure I live in a trailer park, but it’s a very nice trailer park. A teacher wouldn’t be able to do nearly as well. Or a cop, or a nurse. Or the EMT who one day will save my life.

When I catch myself thinking about what I “deserve”, I do my best to remember that I already get way more than I deserve, unless I compare myself only to other geeks. But I have to say it’s nice to finally be measuring up on that scale.

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Cue George…

Among the things the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas brought home from the store today were:

  • Bourbon
  • Scotch
  • Beer

There’s really only one thing to do.

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Knives Episode 21 is Real

Martin at last gets a little time alone, although cooking to death might be the cost. His first look at what once was the fortress at Brewer’s Ford is sobering. But maybe he has friends he didn’t know about before. And Elena says something that you should pay attention to.

What is moving Martin now?

It’s an odd double life, writing Episode 23 while trying to move Episode 21 to “ready”. Knowing that as soon as I send this installment into the world I’ll find a fatal flaw. But I’ve gone over Episode 21 enough times to know it’s pretty damn tight. As tight as I’m going to make it anyway.

Meanwhile, for the patrons, the rest of Bags’ backstory is coming real soon, I promise. We just have to cross a certain spoiler line in the main narrative first.

Episode 21: Ruin

The Whodunnit Contract

A few years ago I was at my first ever writing workshop, and one of the stories I was asked to critique was a mystery in a Science Fiction setting. It was a pretty good story, but as I was forming my opinions about the story I realized the Mystery genre of fiction has a very special relationship with its readers. It’s a pretty formal contract, and if you violate it, you will irk your readers mightily.

The contract comes down to this: The reader must be given access to all the relevant facts before the big reveal. Those facts can be obfuscated, passed off as trivia, or otherwise hidden, but in retrospect, the facts must have been presented. The reader must be given a fair chance to solve the mystery before the famed detective.

We can see that contract develop over time. Doyle allowed Sherlock Holmes to bring up some shit like the mud on a suspect’s shoes out of the blue in the big reveal. You have to cut the writer some slack; he thought he was writing adventure stories. Doyle wrote a rough draft of the contract, and it was in part his readers’ reactions that formalized the compact. By the time we get to Agatha Christie, the rules are in place.

Mystery novels are literature, absolutely, but they are also puzzle games. This dual identity makes them very hard to write well. Character, setting, tiny details, and plenty of red herrings that in the end have to fit into their places in the jigsaw.

I think perhaps Doyle’s greatest invention was not Holmes, but Watson. The mystery writer must present all the facts, but must closely guard the analysis. You simply cannot write from the detective’s point of view. There must be a Watson or a Japp to record the discoveries and to provide their own by-definition-unreliable analysis. We can never be inside Poirot’s head, or the drama will break.

I got back onto this train of thought recently while working on my serial novel. There are some mystery elements developing in Knives, with people doing things for reasons unclear, but it will never be a mystery story. It can’t be. We are in the head of the problem solver, and tempting as it is to be coy and hold things back, that would not serve anyone. So we will know what Martin figures out, as he figures it out. This is not a whodunnit.

But there may be times Martin is wrong. Just sayin’. That’s what I get in return.

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Changes in the ‘Hood

This is a picture of the house across the street, taken on a recent Monday morning: 

Here is the same spot the following afternoon. Soon another home will appear, all shiny and new. 

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Apple, Machine Learning, and Privacy

There’s a lot of noise about machine learning theses days, and the obviously-better deep-learning machines. You know, because it’s deep. Apple is generally considered to be disadvantaged in this tech derby. Why? Because deep learning requires masses of data from the users of the system, and Apple’s privacy policies prevent the company from harvesting that data.

I work for Apple, just so you know. But the narrative on the street comes down to this: Apple can’t compete with its rivals in the field of machine learning because it respects its users too much. For people who say Apple will shed its stand on privacy when it threatens profit for the company, here’s where I say, “Nuh-uh.” Apple proved its priority on privacy.

A second nuh-uh: ApplePay actively makes it impossible for Apple to know your purchase history. There’s good money in that information; Apple doesn’t want it. You think Google Wallet would ever do that? Don’t make me laugh. That’s why Google made it — so they could collect information about your purchasing habits and sell it. But in the world of artificial intelligence, respect for your customers is considered by pundits to be a negative.

But hold on there, Sparky! Getting back to the actual subject of this episode, my employer recently announced a massive implementation of wacky math shit that I think started at Stanford, that allows both aggregation of user data and protection of user privacy.

Apple recently lifted their kimono just a little bit to let the world know that they are players in this realm. Have been a long time. They want to you to know that while respecting user privacy is inconvenient, it’s an obstacle you can work around with enough intelligence and effort.

This is a message that is very tricky for Apple to sell. In their advertising, they sell, more than anything else, good feelings. They’re never going to say, “buy Apple because everyone else is out to exploit you,” — that makes technology scary and not the betterment of the human condition that Apple sells.

But to the tech press, and to organizations fighting for your privacy, Apple is becoming steadily more vocal. It feels a wee bit disingenuous; Apple wants those other mouths to spread the fear. But it’s a valid fear, and one that more people should be talking about.

From where I sit in my cubicle, completely removed from any strategic discussion, if you were to address Apple’s stand on privacy from a marketing standpoint, it would seem our favorite fruit-flavored gadget company is banking on one of two things: Than people will begin to put a dollar value on their privacy, or that the government will mandate stronger privacy protection and Apple will be ahead of the pack.

Ah, hahaha! The second of those is clearly ridiculous. The government long ago established itself as the enemy of privacy. But what about the first of those ideas? Will people pay an extra hundred bucks on a phone to not have their data harvested? Or will they shrug and say “If my phone doesn’t harvest that information, something else will.”

Honestly, I don’t think it’s likely that Apple will ever make a lot of money by standing up for privacy. It may even be a losing proposition, as HomeKit and ApplePay are slowed in their adaptation because they are encumbered by onerous privacy protection requirements. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe Apple is already making piles of cash as the Guardians of Privacy. But I suspect not.

So why does Apple do it? I don’t know. I’m not part of those conversations. But I do know this: If you were to ask CEO Tim Cook that question, he’d look at you like you’d grown a second head and say, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” Maybe I’m being a homer here, but I really believe Tim when he says stuff like that. Tim has told the shareholders to back off more than once, in defense of doing the right thing.

And as long as Tim is in charge of this company, “Because it’s the right thing to do” will float for me. So as long as Tim’s in charge, I know Apple will continue to respect the privacy of its customers. Maybe to you that’s not such a big deal, but it is to me. I won’t work for anyone I don’t respect.