Soapbox Part 5

November 14th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here’s the newest (unedited, as usual) installment of Soapbox. If you are new here and want to read the whole story, you can skip back to part one, or read the entire thing as one page. Without further ado:

“How many Bazaars are there? Why haven’t I heard of them before?” Ethan asked.

“Hundreds, maybe more. And how would you have heard about us? We try to stay below the radar,” John said. He glanced down at his watch. “Listen, I need to get some other stuff done? Any more questions before I go?”

“I assume that a lot of them have been answered in FAQs already, so I won’t worry about it too much,” Ethan said, and John turned to leave. “One more thing, will BazOS run my phone?”

John turned back and slapped his forehead with his palm. “Oh yeah, forgot to mention, it will run your phone, too. That’s how most of us use it, at least.”

“Thanks. I’ll just wander around for a bit, if you don’t mind.”

“No problem, and welcome,” John said before heading off into the crowd.

Ethan found an empty table and sat down. He removed his phone’s case and then the back cover and battery so that he could insert the BazOS card. After replacing everything, he restarted the phone. It came up with a setup screen that prompted him to set three unlock patterns, one which would take him to BazOS, one which would take him to the normal phone OS, and one which would wipe the SD card and load the normal phone OS.

He booted into BazOS. It was a fairly standard looking smartphone distribution so he didn’t spend much time with it. He pulled out his bitcoin wallet and scanned it with the phone. It brought up a bitcoin app and asked him to create a pin for the account by connecting the dots on a grid. It took a few tries for him to create a pattern that was complex enough to satisfy the app, and after he had repeated it a couple of times he was done. After he had gotten everything set up, he slipped the phone back into his pocket and started to wander around the stalls that surrounded the Bazaar common area.

The first few stalls were what he expected, people selling honey and eggs and vegetables, just like a farmers market. Then he came to a stall that smelled like burning electronics to find a man soldering together a circuit board on a table. Small electronic devices were hanging from clips like Christmas lights.

“What do all of these do?” Ethan asked.

“Electronic countermeasures, mostly, but with sufficient time and funds, I can make whatever you want,” the man behind the table said after he had finished the joint he was soldering. “What are you looking for?”

Not much that needs references in this section, with two exceptions. The first is the bootloader for BazOS. Basically, with Android phones you can create lock screens that force you to recreate a pattern on a 3×3 grid in order to unlock the phone. If you had illegal software on your phone and the authorities wanted to see your phone, you couldn’t get away with telling them that you forgot your password, hence the decoy and self-destruct options. The second is the pin for the bitcoin wallet, because complex pattern is likely to be both more secure and easier to remember than a string of numbers (although I’m not a security expert, so I may be wrong on this). In any case, hope you enjoyed the story, more will be posted on Wednesday and Friday.
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Soapbox part 4

November 10th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

You know how yesterday I told you that I would be updating Soapbox on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays? Well, I lied. What I should have said is that I will be adopting that schedule as of next week due to the holiday on Friday which will probably keep me away from my computer for the most part. As usual this post is both unedited and being added to the Soapbox page. In any case here is the fourth installment of Soapbox:

John ignored the confused look on Ethan’s face and led him around the perimeter of the Bazaar. In short order, Ethan had acquired an SD card, a flexible plastic card printed with a QR code, and about a thousand unanswered questions.

“So why don’t the drones come in here?” Ethan asked after the brief tour was finished.

“We hacked the map that they use for their patrols. We can’t change too much or they’ll notice, but making it so that the drones ignore an alleyway seems to fly under their radar,” John said. “And as to your next question, we know you’re not a cop because all of your RFIDs read Civ and you don’t look like you are trying to fit in with what the cops think we all look like.”

“OK, so what is this stuff, then?” Ethan asked, holding out the thumb drive and the card.

“The SD card is our custom Linux distribution BazOS. Plug it in and it will attempt to connect to our mesh network and if that fails, it will rout all of your activity through anonymizing servers. The card is our currency. It’s a link to a bitcoin wallet. It’s how you pay for stuff at Bazaars. It is preloaded with 50 credits that have been donated by the community, but you can earn more by selling stuff or doing things.”

“Why does the wallet have a JCPenny logo on it, then?” Ethan asked, holding up the plastic card.

“If you get arrested, and they scan the code, it will show up as a coupon. The actual wallet information is encrypted into the coupon information,” John said.


“Not our idea, really. If you look at the library on your BazOS card, you can find out more about it in the file about steganography,” John said.

“What is this, Sweden? I just show up and you give me things? Don’t people steal from you? How do you know that I won’t just turn around and go to the cops?” Ethan asked, the questions coming out as a constant stream of words

.”I don’t have a perfect answer,” John said. “But the fact is, most people want to do the right thing. Welcoming you with open arms is far more effective a deterrent to theft or betrayal than secrecy and suspicion. Being closed off to the world keeps you safe, but it also keeps you small and powerless. All we ask is that you keep the SD card hidden and don’t leave it in your computer when you aren’t using it.”

Lots of fun stuff in here, perhaps I should add an appendix for things like TOR services, QR codes, and Steganography. All of which are real things, by the way.

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Soapbox part 3

November 9th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here’s part 3 for you (usual caveats: blah blah unedited blah):

He sat down at his computer, but did not touch the keyboard. He reached for it, but withdrew his hand. He repeated the process several times, each time stopping short of actually using the machine. Finally, he stood back up, frustrated. The idea of surfing the net while constantly worrying if his browsing would mark him as an enemy of the state wouldn’t take long to drive him insane. Instead he grabbed a shoulder bag and a baseball cap and left his apartment.

The City had not changed after the events of the previous day, only him. It was no surprise. The killing of a bunch of domestic “terrorists” wouldn’t have even made the evening news, and anyone who was watching the indie news would already know the score. He walked, paying more attention to not looking up at the drones hovering overhead than to where he was actually going. Finally, he noticed that he was in an unfamiliar part of the city.

It was a like a pocket neighborhood that had sprung up spontaneously in a wide part of an alleyway that wound between and through a cluster of empty office buildings. In what had once been loading docks and dumpsters was now a microcosmic town. Halfway between an open-air cafe and a farmers market, there were tables everywhere and people selling things out of makeshift booths. None of the furniture matched and ran the gamut from chairs made of milk crates to tables that had clearly once belonged to a Starbucks somewhere. And people. Almost all of the seats were taken up by people eating and drinking, talking or having heated debates.

“Hey,” a man said, walking up to Ethan. “This your first time here?”

“Is it that obvious?” Ethan said. “What is this place?”

“It doesn’t have a name. We just call them Bazaars. I’m John, by the way,” the man said, extending his hand.

“Ethan.” Ethan hesitated for a moment, then reciprocated and shook John’s hand. How did they know he wasn’t a cop? It was then that he noticed that there were no drones overhead.

“Let me show you around and get you a Kit,” John said.

As usual, I’ll be adding this to the story page where you can read the entire thing start to finish however far I’ve gotten should you so desire. In addition, given some more thought, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to post on weekends or every day during the week, so I have decided that I will post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. It should be enough to keep the story going, but not so much that I won’t be able to get anything else done. Also, you may have noticed that I’ve changed the expected length from 1,500 words to 10,000 words. I had forgotten how big the story felt when I was working on Uprising, so I’ll just plan for big right now.
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Soapbox Part 2

November 8th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here’s this morning’s progress on Soapbox:

Ethan unlocked his door as quietly as possible and opened it a crack, pressing his face up to the jam to peek inside. He had spent the night at a diner, drinking the endless coffee refills and trying to think of a way out. No solutions had presented themselves, so he had gone home. Apparently his baseball cap had prevented the drones from getting a facial scan on him, because no one was waiting for him.

He slid in sideways, as though not opening the door all the way would keep him safe. Inside, he locked the door and drew the curtains shut on his two windows. Even that small semblance of safety was enough to push him over the edge. His entire body started to shake, like the jitters after nearly getting in a car accident, but multiplied a thousandfold. The next thing he knew, he was in the bathroom, hunched over the toilet, retching. He cried.

It was mid afternoon when Ethan woke up. He took a long shower, and when he looked himself in the mirror, all he could see was himself looking like he was still in college, sans the blind faith in the job market’s willingness to provide a return on his educational investment. He brushed his teeth, then shaved, then combed his hair, until he looked more presentable than at any time since his last interview, months prior. Somehow, the facade of confidence that he put on helped.

I have added a page that I will append to as I write (although I will continue to post them in this space).
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November 7th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

On Friday I read an article about John Robb about how the use of drones is changing the realities of warfare. Although it was an excellent read (if a bit depressing, especially in context), I now feel that I have to write more in the Uprising setting, which may slow down my other projects a bit. In any case, I’ve posted the first scene of the second part of Uprising (working title: Soapbox). Keep in mind that it is completely unedited (I wrote it about twenty minutes ago), the final version will be more polished.

Ethan knew he was exposed, dangerously so, standing in the plaza surrounded by others doing the same, his peripheral vision full of drones hanging in the space between the buildings. At the same time, looking at the man standing on top of the long-empty newspaper box, Ethan was transfixed. The man was normal looking, wearing a long sleeved thermal against the chill and his breath hanging in front of his stubbly face.

The man had been speaking for the better part of an hour, drawing an increasing number of drones like flies to a wounded animal. “We no longer live in a democracy! Welcome to the Corporate States of America: of the many, by the few, for the few! We must rise up, take to the streets, take back our country!”

With those words, the spell was broken for Ethan. He turned to run, but it was too late. There was a sound like a bottle rocket whistling through the air, then a sound so loud that his ears registered only static and a concussive wave that knocked him forward onto his stomach. He caught himself with his hands against the rough pavement.

It was as though the blast had knocked his consciousness out of his body. He couldn’t hear anything and the pain in his hands and knees felt like they were happening to someone else. He picked himself up and started running again, shielded by numbness and silence.

It may seem a bit dark, and it is (we are in a bit of a dark time, after all), but I assure you that there will be hope at the end of this segment, just give it a few weeks. I’ll post more scenes as I finish them. Hopefully one every day or two until I am finished. If you have any suggestions or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

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OWS and Uprising

October 25th, 2011  |  Published in announcement

The advent of the Occupy Wall Street movement has gotten me to thinking about a piece of flash fiction that I wrote back in early 2008, Uprising. Basically, it’s about a guy watching a massive protest over the internet, and how volatile those things can be. I had always wanted to write more in this storyline, but had never quite gotten around to it. I had all sorts of ideas: protesters using Pykrete fortifications, an activist blogger being silently replaced with a counter intelligence agent who gradually comes to sympathize with the enemy, a single air force officer in charge of a squadron of drones that are guided by GameI (using networked video games to get players to unknowingly guide drones through their actions in aggregate). But nothing ever seemed to gel.

Well, three and a half years later, it seems as though reality has leapfrogged me. The OWS movement has managed to change the conversation, and may even be the beginning of something bigger. So maybe it is time to start writing about Uprising again. Honestly, I’ve wanted to try to tell a story through flash fiction, maybe this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. I do have other stuff going on, but keep an eye out (or your RSS reader tuned), I’ll have something new for you soon.

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Coffee Shop

May 19th, 2008  |  Published in Fiction, News, Publishing, SciFi, Society, Stories, writing

Just posted a new segment over at Uprising, Coffee Shop.  Sorry that it has taken me so long to write, but the first few attempts were . . . boring.  One of the things that I’m trying to do with this story is to simply cut out the parts that people can easily figure out on their own.  If a character needs to get from point A to point B, and one scene ends with him leaving point A and the next starts up with him at point B, then why write about the middle part?  The trouble, then, is getting something interesting into every scene, even when the scene could be extremely short.

In other news, I introduce an eye color body modification, which I call iris doping, basically injecting a colored polymer or something into the iris.  It would be really cool looking, but also be quite difficult to reverse.  If it worked well enough, I’d probably do it.

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New Uprising Segment

May 7th, 2008  |  Published in announcement, Fiction, News, Publishing, SciFi, Stories, writing

I just posted a new segment over at Uprising.  Having introduced Linden as a POV character, we start to learn about some of the fundamental differences between her and Ethan.  Enjoy, and don’t forget to tell me what you think.

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Catching Up With the Present

April 30th, 2008  |  Published in Fiction, Publishing, SciFi, technology, writing

I posted a new segment over at Uprising yesterday, and one of the things that I mention is the concept of a homeDrive, which basically the natural progression of flash drives and wireless networking.  Right now you can have an entire Linux distribution on a flash drive.  Although this is cool, the idea would probably make more sense if you just had a home directory and your applications on a wireless flash drive that any computer could use it.  A device like this would probably be first adopted by the security conscious, as it would be easy to encrypt the entire thing.  In short, ultimate, secure portability.  Of course, this morning I find out that we’re almost there.  I realize that, as I’m writing a near-future story, I will run the risk of this sort of thing, I guess that I was just planning on being oblivious to it.

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No Flair for Publicity

April 22nd, 2008  |  Published in Fiction, Flash Fiction, News, Publishing, SciFi, Stories, writing

One of the most underreported things about writing is that, unless your name is Steven King or J.K. Rowling, you have to publicize your work.  There is good reason for this, as I imagine most writers have at least some affinity to the romantic idealization of The Writer, sitting at his or her desk, creating art that will last centuries and change the world.  Unfortunately, partially as a result of this, I myself have missed an important opportunity.

Last week I started posting pieces of flash fiction as part of a larger project, which for now I am calling Uprising.  If I had thought it through, I would have realized that I should just start a new blog for the project, but I didn’t.  That mistake has been rectified, and the project has a home of it’s own, at which you should visit immediately.  I am awfully optimistic about the project, and I invite you to help that optimism be borne out.

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