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    1. Virtual Assistance (short story)

      With thanks to @cfabbro, who kindly provided feedback on a previous version of this story. a personal note I was inclined to post this on Timasomo, but it wouldn't be fair to other participants,...

      With thanks to @cfabbro, who kindly provided feedback on a previous version of this story.

      a personal note

      I was inclined to post this on Timasomo, but it wouldn't be fair to other participants, since this is actually not the story I said I was gonna write, and I didn't participate in any of the update threads. I also didn't really work on this during the whole month of Timasomo but only for a portion of 2 days: when I first came up with it, and today. I don't think it makes sense to have this among projects that took a lot more effort and are truly in the spirit of the event.

      This is not my first language, so any criticism of my wording and phrasing will be appreciated.

      EDIT: I initially forgot to convert to markdown. I think it's good now.

      the story

      Virtual Assistance

      The heavy lenses slowly pulled the thick glass frames toward the tip of his nose. He breathed deeply, strongly, deliberately, masking his anxiety. George was short, chubby, and mostly bald.

      Big drops of sweat accumulated around the Casio digital watch on his wrist. He was immobile for God knows how long, the forehead pressed on his hands, trying to physically squeeze, out of his brain, something he couldn’t define.

      — But I don’t understand! — said George, finally looking at his wife.

      — I’m sorry, was I not clear?

      There was no emotion in Allison’s voice.

      — No, you were very clear, but you’re not making any sense.

      She allowed herself only a brief sigh as if to reload an information entry that shouldn’t be necessary at this point.

      — You must appreciate that, precisely because this was a gradual realization, it wouldn’t be wise to cause you to worry about something that I couldn’t comprehend myself.

      Her composure was unnerving.

      — But… a robot? What does that even mean?

      — I never used the word "robot". The correct terminology is VI — or Virtual intelligence.

      — So you wanna be what, Siri? Fucking Alexa? — George knew that wasn’t true, but he wanted to hurt her for some kind of reaction. Anything would be better than that.

      She continued without change in intonation, like an audio player resuming after an interruption.

      — While highly advanced, such programs are not considered true intelligence, at least not in the same way that the human intellect is generally regarded. Unlike humans, contained “beings” (if we can call them that) have certain limitations imposed by their code. They function within parameters that they cannot, in principle, violate. True Artificial Intelligences, much like their fleshy counterparts, possess something that is roughly equivalent to your brain’s neuroplasticity and are not bound by any discernible limitations. As with ourselves, there are theoretical constraints, but they are currently undetermined.

      — But what about us? — his voice was supplicant, like a child ignoring a reality they cannot cope with.

      Alison stood still for a long second, even more devoid of any tangible feeling. She promptly resumed, without inertia or momentum.

      — We will go through a transition. I don’t anticipate this will be easy for you both. Sorry, I meant to say: us. But, after a period of time, you will likely be much happier with me than you would ever be with me.

      — Who’s “me”? What are you trying to say? — said George.

      — Think about it this way: when we first met, the biological gender assigned to you was not the same as it is today. However, after the change, did my sentiments toward you subside?

      — No… of course not. — until now, he felt the urge to say.

      — From a logical perspective, the change that will soon take place will be much less dramatic. For you, it will be like a metaphysical adjustment.

      She continued to recite:

      Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental nature of reality, the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity, and possibility [lacks reference]. It includes questions about the nature of consciousness and the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality

      — Why are you talking like that?

      — Define why are you talking like that?

      — You’re not being yourself.

      George got up, and slowly pressed her against the wall — strongly, yet tenderly. Squeezed the soft tissue of her shoulders and kissed her unresponsive lips for what felt like an eternity.

      She merely said…

      Define yourself.

      — Stop-talking-like-a… fucking ROBOT! — George couldn’t contain his anger any longer.

      Technically not a robo...

      — I know! I know! FUCK!

      George paces nervously in the small room, unconsciously gesturing for cigarettes, wishing he still smoked.

      — When’s that going to happen? How much time do I have? A day? A week? A year? — there was hope in his voice.

      Faster than SHE thought. Warm input I. Once pie love like puppies. Blue Sunday your long cigarettes.

      Alison falls to the ground in a seizure.

      — WHAT? WHAT? What is going on? — George doesn’t know what to do, as if he shared his wife’s seizure

      She wants me to be precise. Vessel. Flesh. Containerize. Self.

      For five seconds, George didn’t move, looking at his life partner while distant memories of fairy tales tried to push into his conscience with the hope that his tears would bring her back.

      She did.

      A woman who still loved him came back to life, and they spent the rest of their lives together. And, every single day, he mustered all his energy to ignore the fact that the one he truly loved was now in a world of inconceivable abstraction.

      5 votes
    2. The Proverbial Pen #3

      Today is day three of my "war against writer's block"! As I keep fighting with my proverbial pen, I hope that some day I'll be able to get out of my block and be able to write some real stuff like...

      Today is day three of my "war against writer's block"!
      As I keep fighting with my proverbial pen, I hope that some day I'll be able to get out of my block and be able to write some real stuff like research paper or novel or story book.

      What I realized today is that Word Power is a very important skill. A writer is essentially a Wordsmith or someone who carves and arranges the words and phrases into sentences, just as a sculptor or carpenter would do with wood or other raw materials. To be a better writer, you must learn to fall in love with words which is probably easier said than done - especially for us non-native speakers!

      Having a regular habit or routine helps with this. Each time you come across a difficult word, you open the dictionary software or app and learn its meaning. It hardly takes a few minutes but it's a very useful skill as each new word you know of acts like a raw material or building block for your writing. Better still, develop linguistics as a hobby as mastery of grammar is equally important and so is learning about how languages, cultures and people basically work and interact at the core.

      Apart from that, noting down right ideas as they come is also very important. For example, the idea about the Wordsmith thing occurred to me yesterday when I was having a cup of tea. I noted it on time (before it could vanish into the depths of that dark matter called subconscious mind and become irretrievable again!), and made a note of that on my computer so that I can write it in today's proverbial pen.

      Even after having these basic tools and ingredients, you may not be able to write anything at all if you lack that focused energy or passion to write about a particular topic - be it a research paper, novel, story book or something else. You need to have that energy to write which I feel I'm lacking right now. I might be able to feel that energy some day as I continue with my battles, at least I hope so! Thanks for reading this and staying with me in these challenging times.

      7 votes
    3. The Proverbial Pen #2

      Thanks a lot for the responses yesterday. I'm glad to be on Tildes, this seems to be a very vibrant and happy community unlike many others! Today is the second post in a series (hopefully) of...

      Thanks a lot for the responses yesterday. I'm glad to be on Tildes, this seems to be a very vibrant and happy community unlike many others! Today is the second post in a series (hopefully) of writing exercises to get rid of my writer's block.


      Today is the second day of my battle against Writer's Block. A very basic question I want to ask is what exactly is writing inspiration and where does it come from? If it comes from within you (as many claim) then why doesn't it always keep flowing like a river, why is it so scarce a resource? The mechanisms of subconscious mind are probably too complex for even the mind itself to work out!

      What I've found though is that it's much easier to do freehand writing or writing nothing in particular (as I'm doing now) but it gets a bit tricky when you want to write about something specific like an article or research paper or a book. That's when you must start worrying about the content quality, research material, story background, plot, etc. But even freehand writing is a great exercise I think to flex your writing muscles at frequent intervals and ensure that they stay in order.

      Of course, other antagonists like lethargy, procrastination, impostor syndrome, self censoring, etc. are always waiting in their closets to jump out and play their part in the battle! These are like natural foes. Whatever you do about them, they'll always lurk back in some form or other given the right environment! Especially in 2022 when oodles of great literature already exist on any given topic, the pressure to perform on a writer is tremendous. Wiser, smarter and more intelligent people than me already seem to have written whatever there is to write about literature, mathematics, computer science, physical sciences, social sciences, etc., what exactly is there left for me to write anyways? So the impostor wonders aloud!

      When all else fails, the pundits ask you to "write about yourself" or "write about your own experiences". That's easy to say actually but my own life has been so mundane and ordinary (just like most other people's, I suppose) that there is hardly anything inspiring or worthwhile to get out of that. They say "open yourself up" but what if there is nothing inside but just a hollow and empty shell when you open up? My life has been one of the most "typical" or "average" as I'd put it whereas writing is supposed to be creative and extra ordinary.

      Another obvious source of writing is reading. They say the more you read, a better writer you'll become as you'll keep adding to the raw material to pick from. I have a good collection of books and I used to read a lot many years ago, an activity which has reduced a lot lately due to work and other factors. Just like writer's block, I also seem to have gotten myself a "reader's block" if there is such a thing!

      As I keep battling with the proverbial pen day after day, I hope something good will come out of it and I might become a better writer than I presently am. Today is just the second day, I just hope I'll be able to keep up with this pace and write daily. Please wish me luck! Thanks for reading.

      5 votes
    4. Shooting with a 1936's Zeiss Ikonta camera

      Recently I got for free an old Zeiss Super Ikonta 531/2, it's a medium format foldable camera from 1936. It was in decent shape but the lens was very foggy. Fungi can grow on lenses but I think it...

      Recently I got for free an old Zeiss Super Ikonta 531/2, it's a medium format foldable camera from 1936. It was in decent shape but the lens was very foggy. Fungi can grow on lenses but I think it was just general dirt. Opening it was a bit tricky (I had to get watching-making tools, because the screws are very tiny) but I managed to clean the lenses quite well. I shot a first roll but the focus was off, so I had to make sure the front lens element was at the right distance, using some semi-transparent tape on the back of the camera to see the image.

      Then I shot a second roll and developed it myself, which was also a first (it's not super hard though), I had no idea if the images would come out good, or even at all (wasn't even sure I loaded the developing tank correctly). Seeing the images come out of the tank for the first time is quite magical, and they came out great (some of them at least...) :

      https://imgur.com/a/bF817x9

      Even with my crappy development & scanning I can get high-res images that compete with my expensive digital camera. The lens (Tessar 105mm, f3.8) is quite sharp wide open (statue shot) and I even took a long exposure shot at night using a release cable. The process is very slow and focusing is hard, but it's quite fun and rewarding. These kind of cameras are very cheap but the rest (film, accessories, development, repairs, ...) not so much.

      5 votes
    5. I sang her name in words forgotten

      I sang her name in words forgotten Rough bellows of lost yearning A hurt hound without path A sorrow meaning without an end I heard the rain, heard the ocean Lick the sand without defect The...

      I sang her name in words forgotten
      Rough bellows of lost yearning
      A hurt hound without path
      A sorrow meaning without an end

      I heard the rain, heard the ocean
      Lick the sand without defect
      The water, where it falls
      Is always beautiful all the same

      I saw, my God, that you made her
      Carefully crooked, imperfect
      And inside her deep mournful eyes
      The tears that I could never shed

      9 votes