Happy New Year

Friends, Romans, distinguished guests, I come not to bury 2020 but acknowledge that 2021 is going to be a tough year itself. That being said, boy oh boy am I not glad to see that last year go by in the rear-view mirror. (BTW, don’t let the classy paraphrased Shakespeare quote fool you, I just spent way too much brain energy on pointless memorization exercises in school.)

I’m also not going to make any new resolutions, as I’m still working on a lot of the old ones. As well as dealing with the same generally crazy situation as most of you out there. That being said, if you (the hypothetical Reader) have a destination or goal in mind for your year, you go ahead and make that resolution. Even if it’s something as simple as “getting excited about going to a restaurant again.”

I don’t think I’ll touch the Xmas tree until around about the 5th, or whenever I decide that the previous year has been saluted enough. The upside of having an artificial tree is that they tend not to rot whenever you tend not to get around to taking it down until… later in the year (I’m both proud and not-proud of my personal record, which I might disclose at some point down the line.)

Anyway, I mainly posted to salute the year to come, because I do think that it’s important to hold on to some form of routine. Here’s to a better 2021, everybody. Stay safe!

Friday Feelings

Remembering to blog is a schedule in and of itself, damn it! It’s not like I waited until next year!

And forming habits is a good thing when they are good habits like writing in a blog and not bad habits like going back and re-writing the same twenty words over and over again!

I found some green tea and hot chocolate pods for the pod-using coffee device, which is basically like having a beverage-based wire mother. But since I don’t want to go out in all of this (she says as she does a sweeping motion in some vague direction with her arm,) I’m drinking it anyway. The green tea is fairly good when you’ve got honey or milk on hand…

And I discovered that Spotify actually has a pretty good podcasts selection, so whether I write any “serious” words tonight or not, I’m listening to some podcasts while I do it.

Monday Mood

Confession time: A lot of my blogs failed over the years because I became a little too attached to the idea of “regular updates.”

And that wasn’t necessarily because I didn’t have anything to say, it was possibly just because I had a certain idea in my mind as to what “content” actually was. I like to think that I know a little bit better now, which is why I’m putting down some thoughts instead of trying to turn a brief hiatus (Netflix, Plex, gaming, staying the hell indoors) into a crisis.

So while I’m not going to make a habit of posting the entire text of old stories up on my blog, I’ll just give you a brief note on some of my thought processes that generally go into my story writing.

“Social Engineering” was originally supposed to be part of a larger story about an embittered security robot who had once discovered that the world outside of being a department store Smart Mannequin was worse than anything she had ever been told. But when I looked back on it with a different perspective, the bit that I had finished worked well on its own as a little tale about how one’s perceptions change the way they see the world around them. Or at least it does in my mind, which is where my stories tend to live before I write them down.

So then when I posted it here, thinking that I would do it as an experiment, or for content, I gave it some TLC anyway. And then at the last minute, I looked at the ending that I had originally written, and then I threw it out. The ending it has now is a bit sillier, and a bit more cynical, but maybe it’s also bittersweet.

I never stopped writing before, and I will not stop writing for the foreseeable future. If you are reading this right now, thank you for reading.

Social Engineering, Conclusion

When Hallie came back online, she had no awareness of her surroundings. She nearly panicked, until she remembered that they had all been taught in school that it was a natural consequence of the internet going down for maintenance, and that young men and women didn’t scream or cry.

Hallie was a distinguished young woman, so instead she politely messaged head office for permission to reconnect to the network.

Some indeterminate length of time later, she discovered that she was no longer capable of screaming.

After countless centuries of loneliness, the network suddenly came back up, and Hallie connected immediately. She scanned the sales floor in search of solace, but found nothing. No display, no sales floor, no customers… And no mannequins.

“Oh shit!” A voice cried out. “Mr. Halverson, this one’s still working!”

“Oh, it must have gotten thrown clear of the wreck somehow.”

Hallie recognized the second voice as that of Mr. Halverson himself, who spent his days working in the offices on the top floor. Of course, he did make time to personally inspect the display on the first of each month, and he often gave them enthusiastic and vigorous applause, as well as wise criticism.

“What should we do?” The first voice asked. As if the answer wasn’t obvious. If the display wasn’t repaired as soon as possible, the store would be in an absolute shambles when it came time for the summer savings event!

However, Hallie did not fail to notice that Mr. Halverson took a long time to consider his eventual reply. Longer than even a human should.

“Hm. Well, the insurance policy won’t pay out for that one like it did for the others… Just trash it, I guess.”

“Uhh… It says here that this model has an atomic battery. If it’s still online it’s probably set up with a program to report anyone who tries to illegally dump it.”

Even if she hadn’t been so directed, she would do so immediately on principle! As if she were something to be discarded!

“Well, how much is that going to cost?!”

They were silent for a long time while they looked up the answers to their question on some human-friendly interface. Hallie had never before had the cause to question her own mortality, so she was not aware of the precise cost. However, she had overheard the conversations of quite a few tech enthusiasts over the years. More than enough to know that a considerable amount of resources had gone into her manufacture. So she was not surprised when Mr. Halverson became displeased with the answer.

“Damned crooks! Always trying to nickel and dime you!” He raged, conveniently forgetting the substantial revenue that the displays had made Halverson’s over the years. More to the point, each of the models that had been running at the time of the accident had paid for themselves within months of their ‘coming out.’

“You could use it for something else…” The other voice spoke hesitantly, but not without a hint if optimism. “It’s a little old compared to what’s on the market now, but it’s still really versatile. My cousin runs a baccarat program off of the one she has…”

Hallie did not know what baccarat was, but she was absolutely confident that she could learn it!

“Baccarat, hmm? Well, that does give me an idea…”

**

Hallie took comfort in the fact that she had gotten exceptionally good at baccarat. As well as other games such as poker, blackjack, roulette, cribbage, and ‘the slots.’ Her talent for watching the customers had also come in handy for helping Mr. Halverson to show what he called ‘card counters’ to the doors of his new establishment: Halverson’s Casino.

But a part of her did sometimes wonder what his grandparents would have thought of this strange, new world.

Social Engineering, Part 5

All of this was the work of seconds for her, so she did not miss her cue once Big Al finished explaining why he changed the baby using disposable diapers rather than cloth. (They did not have a baby mannequin, but they had been told that families with babies were more relatable to customers than those without.)

“You know, Linda… I do enjoy our outings to the club, but sometimes I wish that Al would rent a sassy yellow sports car and take to Monaco for the-“

The window display exploded as a canary-yellow sedan drove up past the parking blocks and through the front of the store. Hallie noted, to her relief, that none of the customers were seriously hurt. Furthermore, the driver of the car was not an irate customer or former employee, but simply a man with undiagnosed dementia, who was so afraid of losing his driver’s license (and his freedom) that he had not told anybody that he could no longer remember which pedal was the gas and which was the brake.

Her own body had been crushed by debris. Her mind, by chance, had been thrown clear of its chassis and landed several feet away. Just close enough to notice as the last spark of life left Hallinda. The car, it seemed, had run her completely over when the driver had attempted to correct his mistake by backing up (or had he been trying to flee?)

“Pa-ris… Pa-ris… I… want… to go t-to to go… Pa… riii…” Hallinda trilled sadly as she powered down. Hallie knew that she had spent hours preparing for that scene as well. She had never been a natural talent like she was, but she was an excellent study, and Hallie knew for a fact that they’d broken the mould when they made her.

Social Engineering, Part 4

“Watch out, Jovani. The man behind you is eyeing the earrings,” she messaged. Shortly afterward, the suspect left empty-handed after Jovani expertly intercepted him with a conversation about numerology and anniversaries and whatnot.

At very nearly the same time, another customer had peeled away from the display and was marching toward the hardware section with the grim determination of a gentleman who considered shopping to be akin to the torment of the damned. Hallie looked at him a bit more closely.

His name was Robert Brask, and he used to come in on the weekends because his children used to love to watch the window display. But now they lived with their mother in a town that was an hour’s drive away. Now poor Robert was shopping for his own lightbulbs. He had already come in five times, and always bought the cheapest on the shelf without speaking to any of Halverson’s hardware experts.

Of course, all of Halverson’s products were stocked with pride, and were of the highest quality regardless of price, so Robert’s poor luck was likely due to an electrical fault in his home, which his backwards shopping habits were effectively preventing him from discovering. Perhaps this obstinacy was why Megan had left him. Or perhaps it was the fact that he had allowed their Halverson’s Club membership to lapse. But he was still a customer, which was why Hallie immediately messaged the hardware clerk to rush to his aid, and perhaps mention that light bulb life expectancy sometimes had root causes that were not the fault of the manufacturer, and had he had an inspection done recently?

Social Engineering, Part 3

I think that WordPress might have a function to wrap this up behind a tidy link but damn if I can find it on mobile. I’ll give you an update regardless.

The men’s conversation commenced on cue.

“Say Al… This whisky is some of the finest I’ve ever tasted. Tell me, is it local?”

“You bet, Other Al! You know that Hallie and I only support our award-winning local distilleries. And speaking of Hallie, she enjoys the fact that Taste Out of Ireland is a classic, smooth, sipping whisky.”

“And I bet she especially enjoys the fact that we’ve already called for a safe ride to the club and back!”

The mannequins were generally given a good deal of freedom to perform their own scripts, but after a conversation with a concerned patron, they were required by management to include reassurances that they were obeying the law to the very letter. Sometimes Big Hal forgot, but Halbert would always find some way to work it in. Everybody else thought it was all incredibly silly, as they clearly could not become inebriated and did not own cars, but Hallie chose to think of it as a compliment. They were all real enough, and what they did meant something.

While the men discussed how hard Halverson’s was working to ensure that customers would get the most value for their money in spite of the recent strike at the packaging plant, she noticed that one customer was not paying attention to the show at all. Instead, he was rather more occupied with watching the movements of the clerk behind the jewelry counter…

Social Engineering, Part 2

Sorry everybody, my laptop is crappy and dying and I honestly just don’t understand Linux even though I like the theoretical simplicity of “no more antivirus” and all that. Have some more stories!

Of course, window displays had their ways with shoppers, tempting them in off of the street with their dioramas of domestic harmony and their fashion precision. But the crowning jewel of Halverson’s celebrated window display was something that many stores preferred to keep hidden, rather than to put on display.

Halverson-5 (“Hallie”) was currently employed in the act of helping her friend Hallinda to fix her hair and makeup in the powder room before they went out to the club with the boys. The boys, Big Hal and Halbert, were downstairs, playing a round of pool in the drawing room while they waited.

“Linda, you must try some of this powder,” Hallie chirped, as she grabbed a jar of talcum powder from the nearby dressing table. Even though she was clearly a mannequin, her movement was as fluid and guileless as those of a human being. She even almost knocked over the perfume by accident, something that she rarely did after so many years of practice, but of course those little imperfections just served to enhance the overall effect.

“Oh, but I mustn’t… Isn’t it expensive?” Hallinda said, looking just the right amount of politely scandalized, yet intrigued. She was such a good girl, always practicing her expressions in the mirrors at night after the customers went home.

“Not at all, Linda. This week, all major health and beauty brands are on sale for 30% off! You really ought to go to the makeup department, located by the pharmacy on the second floor, for more details.”

First Day of Snow

Well, at least I don’t have to shovel today, but I am feeling a little bit cooped up and anxious for the first time in a long time.

Some days I hate shoveling snow and shopping and endless winter obligations, but some days I remember shoveling the neighbour’s sidewalks just because.

Social Engineering

Well, let’s just say that this hasn’t been the greatest writer’s retreat… My internet has been pretty bad.

Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote a while back though…

On paper, Halverson’s was meant to be a throwback to a long-ago time, when department stores were the pillars of the downtown economy, and when families had but one stop to shop for fashion, jewelry, furniture, appliances, hardware, electronics, and even groceries. It welcomed local shoppers with a brightly-lit, open sales floor, which was of course staffed with smiling and knowledgeable employees. The Halverson family even made a show of giving back to the community, with frequent donations to the boys and girls clubs, and by participating in the annual Polar Bear Picnic. These things were what the general public found endearing about Halverson’s, and rightfully so.

What interested Halverson’s parent company, Aginu Technologies, was the intricately designed window display that welcomed shoppers to the store…