Flash Fiction: a complete story
in one thousand or fewer words.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

You Can Die of a Broken Heart or Boredom

In two unrelated stories, you can die of a broken heart and die from boredom. The boredom connection to death was discovered statistically by University College London. Subjects (civil servants) claiming to be bored were 37 percent more likely to die by the end of the study period.

The boredom mode of death seems less tragic than the broken heart syndrome, described below. Boredom can be cured at work by letting civil servants visit Flash Fiction Online at least twice daily. Flash Fiction can save your life! (The less literary civil servants could watch snippets of English football (flash soccer for Americans.)

The broken heart syndrome is most likely associated with the loss of a loved one or physical trauma. It's not connected with coronary artery disease. Heavily grieving people sometimes suffer a burst of adrenaline that "overwhelms" the heart. The symptoms somewhat mimic a heart attack, but the syndrome differs in an interesting way. As a Japanese researcher discovered, the adrenaline shock deforms the left ventricle, disrupting its ability to function. It takes the shape of a vase-like device, the researcher noted, used by Japanese to trap octopi.

I'm sure some enterprising mystery writer can use these modes of death in a sinister way. Could a fatally boring lecturer be charged with...never mind.

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Odd News and End-of-Year Reviews

Here is a collection of odd news and year-end and decade-end reviews, mostly by way of Slash Dot.

IBM patents 'net abbreviation interpretation: IBM has always had an active patent portfolio. OMG, now they've patented interpretation of 'net abbreviations. ROTFL. Here is the Slash Dot article and the patent filing (USPTO).

Graphic novelist wants 'better violence' in video games: Landry Walker, a comic artist who has worked on several Disney-related publications, thinks video game violence is too unrealistic. He's annoyed that gamers are so unmoved by a machine gun blast to the head, since a few minutes on a healing pod will such minor injuries.

Top scientific discoveries of 2009 according to Wired Science: these discoveries include a successful re-visit to a failed attempt to validate a stable heavy element 114, progress towards a dengue fever vaccine, and a breathalyzer-type test for lung cancer, and others.

Ten gadgets that defined the decade according to the Engadget blog: you can probably guess some of these, the iPhone and iPod ('what's playing on my iPod?' is required on editors' and agents' blogs). There were two other precedent-setting phones and a controversial selection of the XBox 360 game machine (which had many commentors asking, 'what about the PS 2?'). Others include Windows XP & Max OSX (not a gadget IMHO) and the Tivo.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Analog Blogger

This story via SlashDot: you have to admire this guy. In Monrovia, Liberia, a place with poor access to news via the state-run media, a man uses a low-tech solution to broadcast news: a dry erase board. He watches the news and summarizes it on a publicly accessible "white board." He apparently has many appreciative readers of this analog blog. Here is the SlashDot article, which leads to one with a video.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Crop Circles Finally Explained

Wallabies make crop circles, according to BBC News. They wander into legal (medicinal) poppy fields in Tasmania, get stoned, and then wander about in circles. Sheep have shown the same tendencies.

However, FFO is not afraid of the truth and will ask what the BBC reporter dared not ask: can you prove they weren't space alien wallabies, hmm?

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Shrinking/Bulldozed U.S. Cities: a Writing Opportunity

This Telegraph (UK) article describes the real- and thought-experiments on bulldozing the shrinking (mostly rust belt) U.S. cities down to a manageable size. The shrinking population of these industrial areas can not support the infrastructure designed for larger populations. Better to bulldoze them and return them to the environment than poorly manage them, they think. The article is good; go there for more details.

Now, what can a writer do with this information?

  • Crime: what fellows will the bulldozing crews dig up from under the roads and building foundations? Who stands to gain and lose the most from these activities? What will they do about it?
  • Thrillers: who will find themselves caught in a building about to be demolished?
  • SF: what pods, spaceships and ancient cities will be unearthed?
  • Fantasy/Horror: zombies, vampires and politicians.
  • Romance: (you have to get those demolition contracts somehow)

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mommas, Turn off you Baby Monitors, Please.

Please turn off you baby monitors, moms and dads. You're messing with my WiFi. (Oh, and don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.)

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wiki Watch Me Quote You

By way of slashdot, this story from the IrishTimes.com of a young Irish college student who executed a social experiment. Upon the death of French composer Maurice Jarre, Shane Fitzgerald posted a fake quote in the Wikipedia article on Jarre. Some European, Indian and Australian dailies picked up the quote for their obituaries, including the Guardian (um, a frequent source for articles in this blog). Here is the fake quote:

“One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear."

Wikipedia is a great source when you want a quick overview of something without a lot of fuss. But as academics frequently warn, it is not a primary or reliable source. Fiction writers beware, too. From Wikipedia's own assessment:

  • However, citation of Wikipedia in research papers may not be considered acceptable, because Wikipedia is not considered a creditable source.

Some collections of (unconfirmed) Wikipedia hoaxes: 1 2 and a funny fake hoax report (very Star-Trekian).

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

We're Doomed: Virtual Lawyers

We're doomed, not by swine flu, but virtual lawyers. It's a sign of the Apocalypse. It seems some law firms are setting up shop in virtual worlds like Second Life to handle disputes like pirated virtual goods. Virtual money there translates to real money. So when an allegedly scuzzy citizen there sells pirated virtual goods owned by another, furniture in this case, actual money is lost. Some Second Lifers spend a fair amount of time and talent constructing objects for sale, and pay high rental fees for their virtual real estate.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Oddities: Led Zep/ Cricket Plague, $62K Download

Led Zeppelin and the Plague of Crickets:

Do you like Led Zeppelin's music? Yes? Then have you noticed an absence of crickets in your area? Some towns in parts of the Great Basin of the US know that Mormon crickets don't care for Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones music. If they want to ravage these towns, they'll have to suffer a perimeter defense of loudspeakers blaring L. Z. and R. S. music. Perhaps they will go to areas of lower-hanging fruit and Mozart. I just had to look up Mormon Crickets, to find out the source of the name. By tradition, gulls saved early Mormon settlements from starvation by eating the swarming crickets.

The $62000 movie download:

You're traveling with the kiddies in Mexico and decide the darlings need some entertainment. You fire up your cellular data and download a movie, WALL-E. It takes about 98 minutes to download it. However you didn't consider the terms of your cellular data contract, particularly the roaming charges. You didn't opt-in for a roaming package, so later, you get a bill for $62000. Ouch. This sounds like one of those outrageous telephone charge scams, but it is only partially so, according to the article. The carrier at the endpoint dropped the charges down to $17000, which it claims were its costs from carriers upstream. Check your contract. (You might have expected this to be an illegal downloading story, but the article made no mention of the legality of the download.)

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Death to Comic Sans

No, this is not a death-wish for some stand-up comedian. This is about a grassroots movement to bring the Comic Sans font (oh how I wish Blogger had that font) to an end. Why? you ask. Because it is inherently offensive to typographic artisans, apparently. Okay, I'll confess: I like Microsoft's Comic Sans typeface for captioning of photographs and funny bits. It was patterned after comic book lettering, so it was never meant for high art. I think the typeface hatemongers ought to take their meds.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Raspberry Way Galaxy?

What does the Milky Way Galaxy taste like? Not milk. Raspberries, perhaps. While looking for life-indicating organic compounds (amino acids) in space, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy found ethyl formate instead, the chemical "responsible for the flavour of raspberries."

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Legal Nightmares in Writing and the Visual Arts

Two slashdot articles about the Internet world to come wherein a designer is being sued for copyright infringement of his own works. It seems a miscreant copied his works on the Internet and posted them on a stock image site. The stock image service noticed the designer's site and is suing him...and....

A columnist for FoxNews was fired for reviewing [1 2 3] the "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" from a partial copy of the movie leaked to the Internet.

It seems that there are clear analogs of these stories for writers.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

When All Else Fails, Publish with The Orphan

The Orphan is, by their own reckoning, "incomplete, unpublishable, moloch-less, disrespected, bizarre and roundly rejected." Everyone has a bit they wrote back when, which was lost for years under the trunk where they keep their unpublishable novels. That is what The Orphan publishes. They also illustrate the stories with photographic mistakes. Way cool.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Flash News: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone just $15K

Perhaps one of your story submissions came in positively and you're looking for a way to protect the money from the present market climate. You can bid on a first edition "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone." This is the limited first run of 200 soft cover copies, with a signed card within signed by J.K. Rowlings. Wait, I'll check who that is...he's a writer....no, he's a she. Great, so the book is a first edition AND has a signature by some author, apparently of note. Currently, the bidding is at $15,000.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Holy Zombie, Batman: Jane Austen for Boys

Two (apparently) independent projects to bring boys raised on video games to Jane Austen's literary lair:

  • Quirk Books' Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, containing "bone-crunching zombie mayhem,” and
  • Elton John's Rocket Pictures project, Pride and Predator, "in which the giant alien from the 1987 cult classic pays a call on the Bennet family."
I guess I'd better read Pride and Prejudice so that I can follow these movies.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Diagram Prize for the Year's Oddest Book Title

Here are the contenders for the Diagram Prize for the year's oddest book title. My personal favorite is The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais. I don't think they've looked deeply enough. Some of the titles, like Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring, make perfect sense to me, and don't belong in this list, IMHO.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Writerly Malware

Malware is the class of software that infects computers for evil purposes...viruses, trojans and the like. The method of attacking someone with malware is its vector. One class of vectors uses social engineering to convince the victim to use the malware. The Nigerian phishing spam (Nov. 2008 archive) relies on greed.

Here is a writerly method that recently surfaced: fake parking tickets on windshield wipers with a web link to contest the parking ticket. The web site has pictures of the cars and, of course, is laden with malware. Here is a report of the vector. It is rather dry, because this is a blog of an information security company. I found the account an interesting glimpse of the malware "industry." Perhaps the malware entrepreneurs should employ flash fiction writers to construct convincing social engineering scenarios.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Old Media is Dead; Long Live the Old Media

The Millions is an excellent blog for readers. They had this post recently about dead-tree publishing of collections of blog posts.

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My So-Called e-Life

Dear Diary

Busy day. I attended an eFuneral. Bummer. Glad I didn't have to actually go there. Since I've been on an eTour, I didn't get a chance to see the inauguration, so I watched the eInauguration. Since I'm on an eSelf kick, I don't seem to have the time to do anything. eWork is interfering with my eLife, such as it is. I guess I'll just stay in bed; the real world is too hard.

Have a nice day, eReaders.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Disneyland for Dudes

Writer/reader dudes, put down your laptops, escape your rolling chairs: "Think of it as a testosterone-soaked sandbox: a German amusement park where, instead of standing in line to ride on roller coasters, you get to play with big, loud machines. For 219 euros (about $280), patrons can spend the day operating 29-ton Liebherr backhoes and 32-ton Komatsu front-end loaders...." Arrr!

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Odd News of the Month

Odd News of the Month:

  • The "World's Worst Director" Fights Back.
  • The iPod, sniper edition.
  • Man bought former President George W. Bush's presidential library's expired domain name for $5 and then sold it back for $35,000.
  • Add this to my recent coffee dangers/advantages post.
  • Barbie's full name: Barbara Millicent Roberts
  • Squirrels scrounge for acorns across USA
  • School bus liquor-store run gets cops' attention.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

US House/Senate on YouTube

The United States House of Representatives and the Senate are now on YouTube. Further comments will be made in four years.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Automatic Research Papers

A scary story. A group a MIT has a program, SciGEN that automatically creates random computer science research papers with citations. They've had some papers accepted for lower-level technical conferences. One paper was accepted at an IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) conference. If you understand what the IEEE is, you will be alarmed. This has the potential of driving conference editors insane with bogus research papers that sound very convincing. The MIT group reckons this a holy mission to expose bogus conferences, but their tool is now in the wild. You can create a research paper online simply by providing up to five authors' names. (See a snippet of "my" paper below, with three silly names.). The MIT group reports some fascinating correspondence related to one paper acceptance.

Writers have to worry about fiction editors' workloads if auto-writing is applied to fiction. Fortunately (and unfortunately) editors legendarily reject most stories before the 14th line. (And let's not forget our poor educators.)

The bloggist's recent research paper (snippet) with 34th citation; the bloggist has an MS CS and can assure you that this is utter nonsense:

A Methodology for the Emulation of Local-Area Networks
Flash Rider, Short Fictive and Too Fu Wurds

Abstract: Recent advances in “smart” symmetries and relational models collude in order to realize consistent hashing. Given the current status of client-server models, biologists dubiously desire the understanding of voice-over-IP. In this work we propose an analysis of evolutionary programming (Soar), which we use to argue that the famous event-driven algorithm for the deployment of object-oriented languages by Bhabha et al. follows a Zipf-like distribution.
...
[34] Zheng, D. Deconstructing 4 bit architectures. In
Proceedings of the Workshop on Cooperative, Self-
Learning Modalities (Mar. 2000).

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Klingon Opera

Floris Schönfeld is a Dutch artist who has been developing a Klingon-language opera called “ ’u’. " The apostrophes are part of the opera's name; the author is 26, you see. For those of you younger than the author, the opera is inspired by the "fierce warrior race" of the “Star Trek" TV series. Apparently, fans have expanded the Klingon language over time from the series' and movies' hints and the author has furthered that research.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Robot Actors--A Small Step

Here is a BBC report of a university stage play with human and robot actors. The play's storyline seems a bit self-referential, but it is a small step for robotkind...but to where? The off-the-shelf Mitsubishi robots have no acting ambitions; this was added by university students.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nigerian Scam: Hook, Line and Sinker

Flash Fiction Online has received a couple stories in the slush pile related directly or indirectly to the “Nigerian-type” e-mail scams, where the recipient will receive sixty percent of $26 million if only he or she will accept it. I remember a company that I worked for receiving similar proposals by fax more than twenty years ago.


One wonders why the scammers continue infinitely pitching their spam when everyone knows they're a scam and has received 20, 50, 100 pitches. As this story shows, one sucker is all they need out of hundreds of thousands of spam.

Follow-up by way of our editor, Jake: scamming the scammer. You'll want to follow this and have the side-benefit of a post and book review by Cory Doctorow, who coincidentally, studied under me...never. The "link (via waxy)" leads to the sequence of letters by which the scammer was scammed.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

It's Never Too Late: First Novel at 93

93-year-old Lorna Page is having her first novel published. She plans to use the book's proceeds to buy a large house in Devon, England, so she can "give a real home to some of her friends" who are currently in nursing homes. She says, "I started writing as soon as I could hold a pencil; fairy stories, poetry, short stories, and now my novel, a who-done-it. Seems I've been writing for a hundred years and that's practically true!"

The press release provides some interesting details of her life before discussing the book itself, A Dangerous Weakness, which will be (self-) published by AuthorHouse in July.

Read the press release.

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