Cortana and the Great Left Handed Writing Experiment

So it’s not exactly been a great time for the Great Left Handed Story Experiment. Last week I began a new job, a boring and yet somehow fascinating job transcribing audio records. Currently the company I work for is being contracted to transcribe people’s interactions with the new Cortana assistant that will be featured with Windows 10. Basically I listen to what people say and compare that to what Cortana thought they said, and it’s usually hilariously wrong. For instance right now it thinks Wikipedia is spelled wicca pedia. But then I correct it, it gets sent over to China where the company is based, who send it back to Microsoft (who is like a block up the street) and their fancy engineers go over it to see how they can improve the voice recognition. It’s revealed a lot about how humans interact with machines and it’s proven one thing:

The moment we create an AI it will totally go Skynet on our asses.

All according to plan...
And we will have totally had it coming…

The amount of abuse hurled at Cortana is frankly staggering. Most of this is standard “God damnit why don’t you work properly” and “How do I remove you from my phone” but some of it is stuff that makes even me blush. I’m sure most of my readers know, but for those who don’t, Cortana is for all intents and purposes a totally nude woman from Halo who travels with the Master Chief during the Halo games. Okay, she “technically” doesn’t have genitals, rather she’s the holographic equivalent of a Barbie doll, but here’s what she looks like:

Even the Asari from Mass Effect were this shamelessly objectified. So they’re releasing that to the public, and most of the people testing her are in the 18-32 range. So about my age, only without all of my class, charm and fucking self restraint.

So a non-trivial portion of my day is now spent listening to what people would do to the voice on their phone if she were a real woman. And then I have to faithfully dictate those remarks. She’s just a voice on the phone at this point, I shudder to think what will happen when they actually create a hologram of her. Let’s hope the holodeck comes with a self-cleaning mechanism.   And you can believe that if I had my finger on the Doomsday button, I would have pushed it by now.

But anyway between that and helping my mom move into her new place over the weekend, last week was pretty much a wash in terms of writing. So let’s just assume that was a very prolonged April Fool’s joke and move on with our lives, shall we?

On Sunday evening I carved out some time to do some writing, and started writing on my breaks/lunch at work. Here’s Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Now if only I could find some time to actually play Pillars of Eternity…

Josh stood up as straight as he could, trying to look as intimidating as possible. The old man at the bar laughed even harder.

“You’re the one who blew up the DuPrix Blacksmith aren’t you?” The bartender asked.

“How did you know?”

“Oh just had a feeling…” The bartender chuckled again. “No wonder that stick o’ a girl Annabelle was able to lay you out. I’ve buried corpses with more fight than you.”

“She didn’t lay me out! I fell over!” Josh said.

“BAHAHAHA!” The bartender roared with laughter.

He took out a brown glass and poured a clear liquid into it, filling it to the brim.

“Here, on me.” The bartender grinned.

“Why?” Josh asked, eye balling the ugly glass as if afraid the contents might erupt from it.

“Cause that drunken bastard went and died before paying his tab and watching his shop burning down did my soul good.”

Josh smiled, picking up the sickly brown glass and holding it to his lips. He hoped it was simply poorly made glass rather than filthy as he let the liquid pour down his throat.

Josh dropped like a stone, he was huffing and puffing like a woman in labor with every breath, and each of those breaths were agony against his scorched throat.

“Acid…” Josh coughed. He’d been poisoned! He was sure of it.

“How ’bout that bite, eh boy?” The bartender laughed. “That’ll put some hairs on that yankee chest!”

“You…” Josh rasped accusingly. but the curse was driven out of him as the alcohol hit his stomach. “God save me…”

“Get up!” Tommy said, pulling Josh to his feet. The entire bar was now rattling with laughter. “You’re embarrassing yourself!”

“Fuck you… try some of that poison and tell me I’m embarrassing myself!”

Soon Tommy too was leaning against the bar, his coughing causing his entire body to heave and shudder

“Don’t you have anything a bit…weaker?” Tommy rasped.

“This ain’t one of those fancy drinking dens like you’re used to back in Naw Yorhk. I’m all out of your watered down yankee swill. You want some of those why don’t you go outside and piss in each other’s mouths!” The bartender scowled. “Now either buy another round or get the fuck out of my bar.”

One of the drunk soldiers came sidling up to them, wrapping his lanky arms around their shoulders. The long hairy knuckled hand crept down Josh’s shoulder like a tarantula, and he shuddered as he noticed the man’s pinky and half his ring finger were missing.

“Lookie here, boys. I came ‘ere to get drunk off me ass and you two are pissing off the man with the magic elixir. Now buy yourselves a couple of drinks or me and my boys will shatter every bone in your body.

Josh and Tommy slid a few coins across the makeshift bar and watched as the pungent liquid poured into their glasses…

Once Josh’s mouth and throat were completely numb, the moonshine really wasn’t all that bad.

“Aghnoffer” Josh said, his numb lips struggling and failing to form a T-sound.

“That’s the spirit.” The bartender said.

“Sooo you owe me…blowing up the Blassith’s hoose”

“I owe you nothin’ yank.” The bartender said with a scowl. “But at least you brought Annabelle DuPrix down a few notches.”

“Annahhbellll Duppeee? Whooose ‘sat?”

“The girl who laid you out today. Was her pappy’s shop you done blown up.”

“What!?” Josh said, half a mouthful of liquor burning its way down his chin. “I blew up her father’s shop?”

Josh momentarily emerged from the fog of bewilderment he’d been smothered in ever since that first drink.

“I shoullh go apolgiees righhh nowww.”

“I wouldn’t if I were you. She damn near killed you last time.”

“She did not, I fell over!”



Well this was fun. You know going back over these last few weeks and the story I’ve written, I can see it becoming a good story. I’ve read a lot of theories about writing and one of the most common ones is that you should just write your first draft. Like Sean Connery said in Finding Forrester, the first key to writing is to write. I’ve never actually written a full first draft without any editing at all, I always edit as I go.

“Well is there a better way to say this?” I say to myself, and the answer is always yes. For instance when Josh notices the man’s fingers missing, I just state the fact his fingers are missing. I tell instead of show.

“The man’s pinky and ring fingers ended in shriveled, blackened nubs.” Might have been a more descriptive turn of phrase.

And yet if I were editing as I go, I might have spent ten fifteen minutes just trying to figure out what to do with that sentence. Agonizing over every little detail.

Same with the historical accuracy, I have a feeling I’ve got a lot of anachronistic elements in this story. Yet I’ve written far more on this story than I have with my story about World War I and the Warsaw Uprising of 1945, both of which I did exhaustive research on. I still have stacks of notes for a story I haven’t actually written yet. Now I’m thinking I’ll start writing those stories, and ignore the notes until the 2nd draft.

And hand writing it has really helped with the urge to edit while I write, because I hate writing by hand. 

“Oh, I used the wrong version of their in that sentence. Well too fucking bad, I ain’t going back to fix it! This is pen is a runaway bulldozer, we only go in one direction!” Is what I say to myself. You see I have terrible fine motor control, so the effort of making the text legible for even me is pretty considerable. So I write the important parts of the story and move on, I’ll describe the bar when I can retreat to a computer!

Yes I’m still a bit embarrassed about the quality of the story so far, but when I went back over what I’d written on Sunday, I saw the really cool story that’s hiding under the mess. I’m kind of excited to finish this project now, just so I can go back and post an edited version to compare and contrast the two versions.

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