Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Life With an Apple Watch

Firearms, motorcycles, fried hand pies – everything that’s cool has a dark side. And nobody makes things cooler than Apple. Even low-utility gizmos like the Apple TV have an ease of use and simplicity of design that makes them desirable despite doing little for you. So, obviously, the Apple Watch is terribly intriguing. Notice that clause fails to make a value judgment.

 An Apple Watch-like device figures heavily into my novel, The Milkman. I didn’t set out to predict the future – that wasn’t even possible, lots of speculative stories have featured similar devices going back to Dick Tracy – I arrived at the device by necessity. In the Freeworld of The Milkman, everyone works for one of three super-companies. Those companies want you to have a phone/watch/wallet. No, they need you to have one. One will be provided should you not be able to afford one. The cuff, as most of my characters refer to their communications devices, provides several services for the mega-corporations in my future.

First, because there are only three companies, and no governments, each company has a closed economy. The only money is the money they issue. One way to promote growth in this situation is to increase the velocity of money. A watch, loaded with your credit card, does that quite nicely. Quick transactions, reduced time for impulse control and that lack of feeling that any money even change hands leads to a lot more money changing hands.

Second, the watch lets companies watch. This is not a matter of Amazon knowing what kinds of books you like. The dataset available from Apple’s package will include everything you Google, what you had for lunch, how much time you sit, your heart rate, your friends and whether or not you’re happily married, go to church or dream of owning a hot tub.

Third, and most creepy, people will like these watches. They will love the convenience, the shortcuts, the entertainment and connections they make available. All that good stuff flows through the company. Want to talk to your daughter, obtain your insulin or view all those baby pictures you took ten years ago? It depends on access and access depends on the company.

I’m not saying Apple is nefarious in any way. I’m just saying our future is like the French Quarter: very cool - wonderful nooks and crannies . . . and allies one best not go down.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Milkman's coming: From Apple

I don't do this too often, but sometimes the news reminds of stuff I've written and I think it's funny.

This is one of my favorite excerpts from The Milkman:

“Commerce and communication. Once they got together, the world changed.”

“That’s the weapon of revolution? The wrist phone?”

“It’s more than that. It’s your link with society. Your strongest link. Think about it, man. Can you prove who you are without it? Can you buy anything? Talk to anyone out of ear’s reach? Do you know what’s going on in the world? Your body is only a part of your life. A little part, and not even the most important part. You’re a ball of numbers to the company – and to everyone else you’re not actually touching. Whoever controls that link, that bridal, can jerk you around like an old pony."

If I'm right, Apple might be on the road to scary. From Wired: How the Next iPhone Could Finnally Kill the Credit Card

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Milkman is Coming: From the state of Washington

What if Aladdin took all of the genie's powers? Mmmm . . .

Here is yet another entry in my continuing series of freaky stories that lend credence to my book, The Milkman.  This one is from Gawker about Aladdin, a software system acting as a hub for more $11 trillion in assets.  Seven percent of all the wealth in the world is managed, in part, by this one company.  For perspective, this little firm is, at any given time, the second largest economy in the world. Nope, not Apple, not Google, not Exxon.  Read all about it. 

It's not a whole new world.  It's ours. Aren't you glad you have a friend like me?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

We’re all science fiction fans now

My friend, the writer Ian Sales, made a harmless tweet with regard to why people mock science fiction fans. In one of those weird juxta-twitter-positions it ended up next to a story on the success of Guardians of the Galaxy.  The film has passed the $500 million mark. It is on its way to becoming the top-grossing film of 2014 in North America.

Internationally the story is different, Transformers Age of Extinction remains in the lead with $1.065 billion. Taste, it seems, can get obliterated in translation. It doesn’t disprove my point, though: We’re all science fiction fans now.

I would love to discuss novels and genres, but the fact is, movie-goers outnumber avid readers by about 20-to-one (at least, in the U.S.) So if you want to take the taste temperature of the populace, look up at the big screen. This is the year so far in terms of North American box offices grosses:

1  Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2  The LEGO Movie
3  Guardians of the Galaxy
4  Transformers: Age of Extinction
5  Maleficent
6  X-Men: Days of Future Past
7  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
8  The Amazing Spider-Man 2
9  Godzilla (2014)
10 22 Jump Street

Only 'Jump' isn't speculative.  LEGO most certainly does.

Even more people watch TV. If you count Game of Thrones in the broader genre, it’s still a summer of speculative fiction:
 1  Under the Dome
 2  True Blood
 3  Big Brother
 4  The Bachelorette
 5  The Last Ship
 6  The Good Wife
 7  Game of Thrones
 8  Scandal
 9  Dancing with the Stars
 10 American Idol

Hell, Big Brother should count as sci fi. That’s where the name comes from. The Bachelorette is high fantasy. Dr. Who, not on the list, just had its biggest debut episode ever.

While pigeonholes help one navigate books stores, the labels Science Fiction/Fantasy or Horror or Self Help are not helpful for too much else. In North America, people like stories regardless of the line used to pitch them in the first place. World wide? The planet is doomed. Age of Extinction? Really? Crap might be a genre, but I don’t need to recognize it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

On Dystopias

Michael Solana had an interesting piece on Wired yesterday: Stop writing dystopias.  Interesting, as in not great or cute, or even shabby or dumb.  It made me think . . . and I think the essay should be marked incomplete.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelly is considered by many (most?) to be the start of the science fiction novel.  It is not a sunny work of unbridled optimism.  Science fiction has always played with our hopes for the future AND our fears.  There is no turning point - there is a pendulum.  I love reading review of my book, The Milkman, which takes place in a world with no governments.  Some people see it as a dystopia, others just the opposite.  It's fascinating and really muddies the argument - There is no general agreement on what a fine world even looks like.

Solana goes on to claim a fear of technology that grows from dour fiction, the evidence for which escapes me.  I see people more in love with gizmos than ever.  They want to strap it to their freakin' bodies, they love it so much.  Cars with radar.  Printers that can order their own ink.  A phone that reminds you to check your insulin.  This stuff is not just cool, but useful.

Dystopias are warning signs.  Don't go this way.  Or, if you do, use caution.  In end, a proper waring breeds respect.  Modern technology is right to ask for that.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Michael’s chainsaw massacre

I’m driving like Jason Stratham through the streets of Buffalo, desperate to get to the We Sharpen Anything store. My chainsaw can’t cut a day-old zombie. The previous weekend I attacked a salami-sized tree limb and ended up burning it rather than slicing it, so the chain really needed to be honed. We Sharpen Anything closes at 5 p.m. Seriously. The time at which you can try to get there after a day of work – and fail. It’s like getting front row seats at a school recital or tickets to Book of Mormon. You know these things can be done. You’ve heard of people doing it, just never you.

The mad traffic slicing pays off and I get to the store at 4:50 p.m. giddy with joy.  I have done it.  I have made it in under their unjust, anti-business wire.

And they are closed.  The sign says they close at 5:00.  May watch says 4:50.  I shake the door.  It looks old and sticky.  I shake the crap out of it.  I’m standing there, hot, pissed off and I remember I have a chainsaw in my hands. 

It’s bad business to anger a customer base that only visits you replete with knives, axes and things designed to hack.  I would have proved this to We Sharpen Anything, but my chain was dull.  Couldn’t cut a butter lamb.

Maybe next time? No. I said, like a Terminator, “I won’t be back.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Robert Reich knows the Milkman is coming

Love this post by the former US Secretary of Labor, and current Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, Robert Reich. As multinational corporations grow in scope and size, nations become more and more irrelevant. IBM is a great example. If only 20-percent of its employees are American, is it still a US company? It may want to self-identify that way, but in a functional sense - in the way that matters to most people - it's as nationless as Al-Qaeda. Or Greenpeace. The Milkman marches on.