Daily Thoughts 166: Visiting Westport

The relief I felt over making the decision not to continue the challenges surprised me. Just a little. I think I had thought that I might feel disappointed. I don’t, in fact, I’m glad. I still plan to tackle big projects. I’m leaving myself free to follow my interests. If I want to code, I’ll code. Write, draw, whatever it is.


Today I went out to the Westport Timberland Library. I haven’t made it out here recently and it turned out to be a great day for it. I used my new folding tripod stool on my break to sit outside, which was quite nice.


This evening we watched Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.

Fun action movie. Cruise shows his age a bit.

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Daily Thoughts 165: On Second Thought, Forget Challenges

Sometimes things sound like a good idea. And it might not even be a bad idea, just not what you need to do right now. I realized today that the daily challenges I’d been tackling were that sort of thing. Yes, I plan to write. I plan to draw. I have lots of things I want to do.

I just don’t want deadlines right now.

I had a conversation today about the tension that accompanies being back in school. Once it sinks its claws in, it doesn’t want to let go. I’d finished up classes and rather than relaxing, I immediately added on daily challenges.

Not what I need to do right now. I’ll continue to pursue my creative efforts—without deadlines. Or production goals. Right now I want to work on it when I feel like it and be kind to myself.

I didn’t feel good today. I felt sick and left work early. I rested, napped, watched some Walking Dead (I hadn’t been watching while in school). I also watched The Visit. Not the worst (or best). The found footage style felt forced.

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Daily Thoughts 164: Fixed Story Structure

Beautiful sunny day, but I’m feeling a bit worn out today. I didn’t have my usual energy.

Writing Challenge

Writing Challenge ArtworkDespite my energy lagging, I wrote my 21 paragraph story today. Reditus came in at 726 words, so a pretty short short story. Flash fiction. I had fun writing the story to that structure. As I said yesterday, it isn’t the sort of thing that I’d always do but it was fun to give it a shot. I can see going through the process again by studying a story, breaking it down into x paragraphs each, in the beginning, middle, and end of the story, and then writing a new story that follows that same structure. I don’t think it’d work at longer lengths. It really is a short sort of exercise. I could also just choose to write a story at some length, like 13 paragraphs and give it a shot.

Drawing Challenge

That streak didn’t last long! That’s okay. I ran out of time today, but I’ll pick it back up tomorrow. I’m not going to stress about it. I’m tired today and happy that I finished a story, so that’s a win.

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Daily Thoughts 163: Animated Shapes

My schedule is a bit different today. Tonight is the Timberland Regional Library Board of Trustees meeting in Aberdeen. Tonight has a focus on Grays Harbor, the county including five libraries that I oversee as District Manager. Since I’m working later today I’m not starting as early.

Sketch Challenge

Today's sketchesThis morning I continued the Schoolism course on gesture drawing with lesson 2 Shape. I switched back to using my notebook and pen for this exercise and just scanned in the pages when I was done. Since I ended up with several pages I decided to animate the image (click thumbnail to see the animated version). The lesson uses video of a model changing her pose every 20 seconds or so. It’s great practice.

Writing Challenge

Writing Challenge ArtworkI squeezed in writing exercises today, studying the structure of a short story. I plan to start a new story tomorrow that follows the same structure. Writing to a specific structure is a bit like writing a sonnet or other structured piece of writing. There are all sorts of fun things you can do with this sort of thing. Bruce Holland Rogers talked about several different fixed forms in his columns on Flash Fiction Online. I’m planning to write a 21 paragraph story.

Breaking that down a bit more:

  • Beginning: Paragraphs 1-4
  • Middle: Paragraphs 5-13
  • Ending: Paragraphs 14-21

Obviously writing to a fixed form like this pushes a writer more toward a critical mindset. I don’t normally write this way, but it’s fun to try things out and try it in different ways. Fun is the key. I wouldn’t do it otherwise.

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Daily Thoughts 162: Sunshine On My Shoulders

We’re having really nice weather this week! Warm, sunny days. The sort of day to get outside on my lunch break and sit under a tree. It’d be better without the traffic passing by, but it’s still nice.

My son has John Denver hair.

Writing Challenge

Writing Challenge ArtworkI used my time outside to finish writing a new short story, Exile by Starlight. It isn’t a long story, under 2,000 words. I’ll leave it a few days at least and then take another look at it before sending it out to a magazine market. I’d like to try at least a few markets. It’s time to get back into the habit of submitting stories to magazines. I also need to start working on new stories for Drive-By Stories. I have a basic site back up. I have much more to do with it!

Sketch Challenge

I continued my gesture drawing practice today, sketching action lines from Spartacus. I plan to move on to the next lesson on shape after this. I’m enjoying the gesture class. Right now I plan to focus on it and then return to the introduction to digital painting class after I finish working on this one. Schoolism offers many courses that I want to work on in the weeks and months ahead.

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Daily Thoughts 161: Yard Work

Today felt like summer. I spent part of the day outside, working on taming the overgrown area behind our house. We’re using a temporary fence to enclose an area and plan to clear it and begin replanting. All things that I haven’t had time to do since going back to school. I put up the fence today and worked a bit on cutting some of the grass. There is still a lot to do!

Sketch Challenge Update

Today's sketchI switched to Mischief today and continued the Schoolism lesson in the gesture drawing class. Control is a bit more difficult. I started out with the ‘pen’ tool and then switched to a blue ‘pencil’ part way through. That seemed to give me a bit more control. Mischief’s infinite canvas makes it easy to simply move around as you need more space.

Writing Challenge Update

Writing Challenge ArtworkI posted Swarm Think earlier. Trying to get back on track with posting my stories. It won’t be all that much longer before I run out of stories to post. I’m writing more, but I’m not going to try to keep writing a story each week. I’m focusing on my easier goal of just writing 500 words per day. I haven’t been writing much fiction for the past two years, so I need to get back into the habit. That’s my focus right now.

Today I continued the story I started yesterday, adding another 538 words.

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Swarm Think

Callum left Oakville for college without any intention of returning.

Instead, he found himself back in Oakville outside of his mother’s house. No one wanted to hire a new graduate without experience. He lacked the connections to land a job in this market.

If no one gave him a chance then only one option remained. Create the future he wanted before he lost everything!


There’d been a time when no one would have picked Oakville, Washington, home of the Acorns, as the next hub of the technological revolution. That would have been Seattle and its surrounding hubs like Bellevue or Everett. Not a town without a stoplight straddling Highway 12, with decaying and empty storefronts. A town where the abandoned and decaying general store proclaimed, with faded and chipped paint on the window, “50 years in business!”

That all changed with Callum Danville’s return to Oakville after having attended the University of Washington. Saddled with outrageous student debt and no prospects of paying it off working a minimum wage job at a retail giant, Callum found himself standing again outside his parent’s faded blue-gray house. Over the years the color had changed until it nearly matched the frequent cloudy skies.

In all other ways, the house was equally in disrepair. Thick carpets of green moss crowded the edges of the asphalt shingles on the street-facing, north side of the house. The front yard was nothing except tall, somewhat-dried grass stalks moving stiffly in the breeze. The surviving rose bushes at the front of the property line suffocated under the weight of vines from years past. A crab apple had grown, and half collapsed across the porch roof.

Between that and the tall weeds on the drive, the rusted end of the Ford pick-up at the side of the house, and the pile of moldering newspapers stacked next to a cracked green plastic trash can, it looked as if the owners had up and left. Or died and no one had bothered to come check on them.

Callum scratched at two days of stubble and briefly considered just going back and waiting for the next bus. He was a young man born to older parents, and his dad had already passed away during his second year leaving his mother nothing. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his mother, seeing the place like this sent a fresh stab of guilt through his heart. The last thing she needed was another burden, his dad had been enough of that in his last year fighting cancer that had stripped him away to a bitter and penniless wreck.

The door never repainted from when Callum’s dog had scratched it with muddy paws (now buried in the back yard), opened and proved the place wasn’t quite as abandoned as it looked.

For a couple faltering heartbeats, Callum didn’t recognize the old woman that waddled out onto the porch in faded and stained once-pink stretch pants and an equally worn cloud-gray sweatshirt. She still had his mother’s eyes though, rapidly filling with tears as her hands fluttered like birds trying to escape her grasp.

“Callum!” Her voice was a harsh wheezing noise like air squeezed from a worn tire.

Truth was, Callum didn’t have any place else to go, and now it was too late anyway. He couldn’t leave things like this. He picked his way up the faint path through the tall grass to the porch.

“Hi ya, Mom.” Callum bent down to enfold her in a hug.

It was like hugging a bony pillow, as if her flesh was melting down over her bones. He was much taller, always a big, athletic-looking boy and now appeared as an athletic man. The Acorns’ coach up at the high school had never understood why Callum wasn’t willing to play football or basketball. In a town where that was the biggest thing going on, why did he insist on spending his time at the dinky public library in the city hall meeting room? Looking big and athletic didn’t do a thing to change Callum’s geeky heart. He was far more at home studying physics and engineering or reading science fiction, than going out for the football team.

“You came home, look at you! I hardly recognized you,” Mom said. “Such a thing, not recognizing your own son. I couldn’t figure out why a good-looking young man was standing out there looking at the house. I thought maybe you worked for public works or something. I was going to call over to city hall and ask about it when I realized it was you!”

She laughed as if it was the funniest thing she had heard in a long time.

Callum stepped back and just looked at Mom. Through the years and the weight she had gained, it was still her. The guilt rose up again like bile as he realized the last time he had seen her was at Dad’s funeral. They’d talked on the phone, he posted on Facebook, he was just always busy in school, so it was strange to feel like he had been in touch only to realize that she never really shared anything about her life. No selfies, no real posts except comments on what he posted. Two years!

Mom smiled and patted his arm. “You’re here now, come on in. You must be tired after riding the bus all those hours.”

On the way down from Tacoma, the bus had only had standing room. It was full of desperation, plus several crying babies. He had hung onto the seat backs and tried not to look down the cleavage of the teenage mother in the seat, although he couldn’t escape her milky smell, a bit sour and sweet.

“It was fine,” Callum said, following her into the house.

If bears lived in houses, it would probably be like this dim, cool cave. Reflective curtains kept out the sunlight. No air-conditioning, not with the carbon taxes. Who could afford it? Blocking the windows during the day and opening the windows at night had to serve.

Although he had lived here before college, it hardly looked familiar. It was emptier for one thing. Dad kept stuff, all sorts of things from DVDs, books, and magazines to all sorts of toys and gadgets. They’d shared a love for how things worked. This, though, was a Spartan environment. A basic wood couch with thin burgundy cushions, the left scalloped and shaped from being sat on while the others looked dusty but unworn. No more shelves, no knick-knacks, or coffee table. Just a dusty wall-mounted tv-pc and a tiny wireless keyboard on the single end-table.

“I had a clean-out,” Mom said. “After your father was gone, I sent you a box, didn’t I? I didn’t know if it was anything you wanted or not.”

It wasn’t, not really. Just junk that Dad had collected. Like Mom, he hadn’t had room in his life for it.

“I couldn’t look it all after he was gone. I wanted things simpler.”

“It looks great, Mom.”

She smiled at him and leaned into his side, wrapping him in a hug again. She smelled like butter and sugar, cookies. She loved cookies, Dad used to call her that, Cookie.


Hot sun baked Callum’s shoulders, and sweat ran down over his chest toward his belly button. He swung the push mower around and shoved it back into the tall grass. The spinning blades chopped into it and stopped. He yanked it back and took another run at them. Half the yard already looked like a kid with a bad spiky haircut, but it would get easier if he stayed on top of it. Almost a week past already, and the prospect of any job looked bleak.

The grass bent and didn’t cut. He yanked the mower back and ran at it again.

Thanks to Mom, he had a roof over his head. He wasn’t out on the street asking for handouts because he was taking them from her. Risking her state assistance, if they got wind that she was supporting someone undocumented, her benefits could get cut. He hadn’t even used the tv-pc to go online because that would only help the bill collectors find his location quicker.

The grass bent before the mower, and he stopped and mopped at his face with the rag from his pocket.

Before he was tracked down, he needed to get a job. Or move on. Hit the road. Lots of people drifted these days, the disconnected by choice or necessity. Getting his degree was supposed to prevent that from happening, but no one wanted to hire someone right out of school. They wanted to see that you’d already done the job first, but you couldn’t get the experience unless someone gave you a chance.

He had used his tablet offline, noodling around on concepts and ideas that he couldn’t fully develop. Not without time, and when you’re spending nearly every waking moment just trying to survive, how was he supposed to invent anything? The best he could do was work in bits and pieces, but the whole process was going to take forever.

Sort of like trying to shove the mower through the tall stubborn grass. The thick outer stems looked dry, but the interior contained enough moisture that the grass bent instead of cutting.

Callum pulled back the mower and ran at the grass again. It’d be better if he didn’t have to waste time and energy on simple chores like mowing grass, but there was no way he was lying around Mom’s house, eating her food and doing nothing to help out. Even if an argument could be made that focusing on his inventions might help them both in the long run, there was no telling how long it would be.

If only there was a way to take care of the mindless chores while he focused on the important stuff. Sort of like how the body worked. Breathing, heart pumping blood, digesting food, he didn’t have to think about any of that consciously. Even taking a crap was less about thinking how to do it than getting to the can in time.

What if chores could be automated the way the body worked? There were expensive solar robots to mow perfectly manicured lawns using random behavior to eventually get the job done, but it was hardly efficient. It’d be better if he could just do the mowing intelligently, while still be free to work on more intellectual pursuits. True multi-tasking, not the task switching that most people called multi-tasking when they wasted time switching back and forth between different things.

The mower cut through a stubborn club of grass. The air was thick with the smell of fresh cut grass, and a couple flies buzzed lazily through the air.

What if the two were combined? What if he could control a robot with part of his brain, but without having to think about it consciously? Like breathing. It just happened, but if he focused he could change his breathing.

Thought-controlled interfaces were common enough, but they all required conscious focus and were non-specific. If he could find a way to relegate it to a more autonomic sort of function, though, then he could have all sorts of bots doing what he wanted while leaving him free to focus.

His pulse increased. Maybe there was something to the idea. If he ever got a chance to figure it out.


Callum resisted the urge to fiddle with the tie wrapped constrictor-like around his neck. It wasn’t going to choke him, and he didn’t want to appear nervous when he walked into the meeting room. He was too nervous to take a seat on any of the shiny leather couches in the reception area. He stood instead, pretending to look at the art on the wall. It actually was pretty cool, a large spaceship flying between two stars, one pulling material off the other. It looked familiar, maybe from a science fiction novel cover, but it also looked like an original.

Auspicious Ventures was located in a huge skyscraper in downtown Seattle. It’d taken him twenty minutes to find a place to park his share car and then he had to nearly run to get here in time for the meeting. If it went well, these people could help provide the initial capital that he needed to get his project off the ground.

The demonstration was simple enough. If it worked. If it didn’t, he was going to look foolish, but he had to be confident.

Behind the reception desk, the young man who had greeted him was busy working on something on his computer. Jim. That was his name. Jim looked up and saw Callum looking at him.

“You’re sure I couldn’t get you anything Mr. Danville?” Jim said. “Latte? Coffee? Water? Soda?”

Callum chuckled. “No, thank you. Mind if I ask you something?”


Jim was probably Callum’s age, within a few years. It looked like this was probably a pretty decent job. Auspicious Ventures had an expensive space in the building, good taste in art, and a great sci-fi rocket swoosh sort of logo that had caught his eye when he started looking for a venture capital firm.

“Do you ever wish you could do more than one thing at a time? Or be in more than one place at a time?”

“Sure,” Jim said. “All the time.”

Callum nodded. “Thanks.”

“That was it?”

“Yep, I just needed to hear that.”

Jim grinned. “You’ve got something cool, don’t you?”

Callum grinned as well. “I think so.”

“Mr. Danville?” A woman said behind him. “We’re ready for you.”

He turned around, and his heart nearly stopped. It wasn’t that she was beautiful. Attractive, yes, but it was all in how she stood and looked at him. She was a brunette, with short hair styled so that it parted the left side of her hair, with miniature dream-catcher earrings. She wore a shimmery, colorful scarf over a black dress and her quirky sort of smile just did him in.

She was walking toward him, her hand out. “I’m Aquilina Kentucky, but call me Lina, everyone does.”

He shook her hand, warm, firm grip. Her eyes were brown as well. “Callum. It’s nice to meet you.”

She winked. “Don’t be nervous. Your pitch has us intrigued. Let’s go see what we can do together.”

Several things came to mind, none of them appropriate to the situation. Callum pushed the thought away, he could ask her out later, maybe, if things went well. Or not.

He followed her into the meeting room. A big space, with folding tables pushed together to create a bigger table at the center. Mesh chairs on wheels arranged around it. Out the windows, there was even a view of downtown Seattle and a glimpse of the Space Needle.

He expected a room full of people in suits and was surprised when he found the room was empty. There were chairs for a dozen people around the tables, but it was only him and Ms. Kentucky in the room.

“Are there more people coming?” He asked.

She smiled and gestured to the chairs. “Nope. Just us, Callum. Our firm trusts our partners to make good judgments about our investments.”

“And if you make mistakes?”

“Mistakes are one thing. We support the creation of new innovation here, and with that comes a certain measure of risk. We do expect our partners both in the firm and those we chose to work with to succeed more than they fail. The successes pave the way for future successes.”

Her eyes focused on the case he held. “I assume you brought something to show me?”

A dry mouth and a racing heart were the least of his problems. Out of all of the firms he had approached, this was the only one to ask to see more. Creditors were already after him about the student loans. Mom’s benefits were cut and just paying the property taxes on the house was going to be tough. He needed this to work, or they’d both be out drifting, and Mom couldn’t take that.

Callum placed the case on the table. “I do. Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.” Lina crossed her arms and watched him.

“Do you ever wish you could really multitask? Not switch from one thing to another, but really do several things at the same time?”

“Of course,” Lina said. “Your pitch raised the question, but I’ll admit I’m skeptical. Software agents are great, but they can’t take the place of real human judgment.”

Callum snapped open the latches on the case. “Of course not, but I’m not talking about software agents.”

“You’re not?”

He shook his head and lifted the lid. “I’m not. I’m talking about Swarm Think.”

Several small shiny orbs floated up from inside the case. Each was packed with scrounged up electronics taken from discarded gaming devices, silent fans from recycled cooling systems, and dozens of other parts from digital cameras, smartphones, and tablets. The cool silvery spherical bodies came from decorations with the top and bottoms cut off. He’d made four of them with what he could pull together, and they floated up around him.

Lina smiled. “Those are cute.”

One zipped off toward the door. The doors whooshed open to let the sphere through.

“Where’s that one going?”

“To ask Jim to bring me a mocha after all,” Callum said.

A second flew around behind her. Lina turned, trying to watch it as it flew near the window. “And that one?”

“Just admiring the view.”

The other two flew out over the table and the lasers he’d managed to pack in projected a holographic display above the table with his presentation. His voice came out of the spheres.

“What you see here are multiple drones controlled by me, not software agents.”

Her eyes narrow as she looked at him, but his mouth wasn’t moving.

“That’s right,” his voice said from the spheres. “I’m not talking.”

In fact, Callum, heart-pounding, turned and walked to the end of the table. He pulled out the chair and sat down. Then he reached into his case and brought out a tablet and opened up one of his e-books and started to read.

“I’m not trying to be rude,” Callum’s voice said from the spheres. “Please don’t take it that way.”

“I’m not,” Lina said. “I’m intrigued. Go on.”

The door opened, and Jim walked in carrying two steaming mugs. The sphere flew past him and took up a position hovering near Callum.

He accepted the mocha from Jim and savored the rich chocolatey smell. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.” Jim pointed to the spheres. “What are those?”

“Part of a client demonstration,” Lina said. “If you’ll excuse us?”

Jim grinned. “Sure. Of course.”

After Jim was out of the room, while Callum sipped the hot mocha and read his book, the spheres said, “As I said, these aren’t controlled by software agents. They’re all me.”

“How is that possible?”

“It’s easier than you might think. Do you remember your dreams, Lina?”

“Sure,” she said. She laughed and looked at him. “This looks like a nifty ventriloquism trick.”

He lifted the mocha and took a drink as the spheres showed diagrams of the process. “Thought waves, transmitted to the spheres control what is happening. In your dreams are there other people?”


“People you talk to, interact with? Maybe dance with, or kiss or fight?”

Lina nodded. “Yes, of course. They’re dreams. Anything can happen.”

“Do you ever think about who is controlling those characters? When you’re talking to someone in your dream, do you think about the fact that you’re talking to yourself? You can be a whole party of characters interacting, and all of it is your brain talking to itself.”

“I guess so. I’ve never thought much about it.”

Callum put down the tablet and stood back up. He’d made his point already. He said, “That’s what this is. Your brain controls the drones. They do what you want to do, but without requiring your conscious control. You can focus on other things while your drones are busy doing all of the things you need them to do. A drone can be anything. A computer. A lawn mower. Camera. Whatever you need, and it will take care of things.”

The hologram between the drones shifted. It showed a video of a solar lawn mower moving across the grass at his mother’s house.

It didn’t look like the house he had seen when he first got home. The yard and flower beds were immaculate. The lawn mower moved across the lawn in a tight back and forth organized pattern. No random moving around the yard without a brain.

“I’m mowing the lawn. I’m talking to you. I’m working on an email. All of it is controlled by me, thanks to Swarm Think.”

Callum turned his head so that she could see the small sensor nets and fine circuitry tattooed onto his neck behind his ears. The spheres displayed the tech.

“Painless, removable, the net interfaces and gives you control over your swarm.”

Her smile was gone. She crossed her arms tighter and took a deep breath. Callum’s gut sank.

Lina shook her head. “Thank you, Callum. I wish you all the best, but I don’t think that this is something that Auspicious Ventures will support.”

His voice echoed from all of the spheres when he spoke. “What?”

Callum continued with just him speaking. “Would you be willing to give me some feedback? Is there anything I could do to improve the technology so that it would be more appealing?”

Lina pressed her hands together. “We have to weigh everything about our potential partners very carefully, Callum, I’m sure you understand. And what the implications are for whatever they are presenting. Autonomous agents controlled by your subconscious, it sounds dangerous. That, along with your financial situation, makes this investment too risky. We like some measure of risk, but you have to see that the first time one of these swarm robots injured someone how liable the company would be?”

“They won’t do anything you don’t want them to do,” Callum said. “It’s like breathing. They’ll do their jobs without you having to think about it, but if you do focus on them, then you have conscious control.”

Lina was shaking her head before he finished. “I’m sure that’s true, and it doesn’t matter. All someone has to do was claim that it acted against his or her unconscious wishes and they’d have a case. How do we prove otherwise? None of us are perfect, we sometimes have unkind thoughts, but what happens if this technology acts on those subconscious impulses?”

“It won’t,” Callum said. “I considered that and—”

“I’m sorry,” Lina said. She held out her hand. “Thank you for sharing your vision with me. I wish you the best of luck with it.”

She wasn’t going to be convinced. He liked her and got the sense that she liked him too, but obviously that wasn’t enough.

“Okay, thank you for taking the time.” He shook her hand, and at the same time the swarm spheres and flew back into the case and settled into their slots.

He released her hand and snapped the case closed, then picked it up. “Have a good day.”


As jobs went being a publisher wasn’t bad. Callum’s work paid the bills for the house to take care of him and his mother. Thanks to his swarm, he could handle working on multiple tasks at the same time. Right now he was laying out an interior file, searching image databases for appropriate pictures for another project, and handling uploads to various retailers of his latest project.

While all of that was going on, he worked his way through his emails, those left after the swarm think agent had already processed the messages. It left him with the messages from new and existing clients that required that extra conscious touch.

Which wasn’t that many.

That was the trouble. He was bored. Busy, his brain was used to juggling a half-dozen different tasks these days, but his conscious mind wasn’t engaged in anything the way it had been when he first developed the swarm think technology last year. After the failed attempt to secure funding, he had used the technology to start his own freelancing business. Publishing was straight-forward enough now, shifting through the slush pile was the biggest chore and something easily shoved off onto the swarm think agents.

The biggest problem he had was figuring out a way to develop the swarm think technology for the market. It worked great, Swarm Press was proof of that, but he still didn’t have an answer to Lina’s concern. He didn’t believe that it could do something without the person behind it wanting it to happen. People had built-in checks on their behavior. They might write a hateful email but then would delete it instead of sending it.

Except sometimes they did send the hate email, or post nasty comments, or do much worse things. So if someone that would do something worse did it with swarm think, then couldn’t they claim that the agents had done it without their conscious permission? He’d gotten so focused on the impossibility of it, he neglected the one simple fact that people lie.

Lina was right. One person claiming it would trigger an avalanche of other claims. He had a technology that would multiply the productivity of a single worker, and he couldn’t use it.

Even without the potential risks, there was the other side of the coin. Doing everything he was doing, even at this scale, would take at least a dozen people and he could do it all. The labor organizations weren’t going to look favorably on that sort of thing. With different sorts of robotic agents, a single person could be the brains behind dozens of agents, all working perfectly together to get jobs done. Worth a lot, but it wasn’t something the world was going to accept easily, especially not with unemployment at record highs.

At least he had the advantage of the swarm to help him get more done. It was the reason that he had managed to keep them above water.

Mom walked in, one of his original swarm spheres floating along behind her. In her hands, she carried a plate of fresh chocolate chip cookies. The smell was heavenly.

“You wanted cookies?”

“Thank you,” he said.

She was looking much better than the first day when he had shown up outside. She was getting out more, walking, and reading the books that he published. As fast as he could publish them, she was reading them.

“How’s it going?”

Callum gestured at the screens arrayed around him. Documents and other work flowed across the screen. On one he was making copy-edit corrects to the text of a fantasy novel. Editing hadn’t been a skill he had, but with swarm think helping it had given him the time he needed to study while he worked on other things.

“It’s going well. Everything is working fine.”

“That’s good. I’m so proud of you.” She said, repeating herself since she said it at least once per day.

“Thanks, Mom.” Callum picked up one of the chocolate chip cookies and took a bite. Hot melted chocolate dissolved in his mouth. “Delicious. I’m just trying to figure out what I do now.”

“What do you mean? I thought everything was going fine.”

“It is,” Callum said. “But I hadn’t planned on running a publishing business. I wanted to invent things to change the world for the better. Swarm Think should give people the time to explore and do what they want. Instead of being stuck doing a job all day, people could let their swarms do the work while they learn and find answers to problems. People always say they wish they could be three places at once and with this they can—I just can’t figure out how to let them have it without costing us everything.”

“What if you did let them have it?” Mom said. “We would still have our publishing business, right?”

“You mean just give it away?”

“Well, you could publish it, couldn’t you? Write a DIY manual on Swarm Think. What do you call it, open source hardware?”

Callum was stunned. It was obvious, but he hadn’t thought about it. He smiled until it hurt and jumped to his feet. He wrapped his arms around his mother, gently, and kissed the top of your head.

“You’re brilliant!”


At the worksite, the workers were busy playing games, reading, studying, and sharing stories. Callum walked through the site, noticing the laughter and good cheer. These men and women were having a good time while Swarm Think robots built by the workers climbed, flew, and slithered around the building as they built the new Swarm Press headquarters in downtown Oakville.

Lina stopped at the edge of the construction site and accepted the sunshine yellow hardhat that one of Callum’s drones offered her. She put it on her head, grinned and waved at him.

Callum reached her and offered her his hand. “Thank you for coming out. I wanted you to see this first hand.”

She gazed at the site, noting the workers gathered around their tables beneath the awning. “It looks more like a party than a work group.”

“But each one of those workers is also working on the building.” Callum pointed at the busy hive of activity. “Not only that, but they assembled their own drones. Strictly DIY.”

“Clever,” Lina said. “You don’t make any of the drones, then?”

“Nope. You can thank my mother for that idea. Swarm Press publishes the manuals, design specs, and sells parts to hobbyists and large orders to businesses, but we don’t manufacture anything. That all comes from other suppliers.”

“So anyone manufacturing Swarm Think drones is liable for their use.”

“And we’ve published dozens of articles, funded research that shows that the drones won’t act independently of the controller’s wishes. If someone uses a drone or software agent to commit a crime, the research is going to show that they’re responsible.”

Lina smiled up at him. “You’ve done it on your own, but that begs the question why you wanted me to see it? It doesn’t sound like you need Auspicious Ventures help. It wasn’t to rub my nose in it, I hope?”

Callum laughed and shook his head. “No, not at all. Lina, would you care to have dinner with me?”

Her eyes widened with surprise that quickly turned into a nod of acceptance, and for one moment his swarm paused as all of his attention focused on her widening smile.


5,090 words

Author’s Note

This story is the 99th short story release, written in May 2014.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, Egg Hunt.

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This story by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Daily Thoughts 160: Challenges Relaunch


Saw this today.

I really like the movie. I think the people in these movies tend to be pretty stupid. No attempt to survey from orbit, let’s just jump in a lander and plunge down to a planet without any clue what we’ll face. Setting that aside, I still think these are fun and this is one of the better movies in the franchise.

Sketch Challenge

Sketch challengeSo I restarted my sketch challenge today. I’ve started the Gesture Drawing with Alex Woo course over on Schoolism. They’re having a sale right now, until June 20th, BLOOM saves you on a subscription. Great courses. I worked through the first three videos in Lesson 1 today. It included a 20-minute session introducing the action line in the model’s pose. I actually used pen and paper for this one and then took pictures to upload.

Writing Challenge

Writing Challenge ArtworkI jumped over on Novlr and started a new short story today, restarting my new writing challenge. I didn’t write a whole lot. Started with a character in a situation, with a problem. I still have some unanswered questions about what is going on, but maybe I’ll start to figure that out. I ended up with 511 words on the story today.

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This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Daily Thoughts 159: One Small Step

I don’t want to set too many goals right now. I’ve talked about all of the different projects that I want to tackle. I’m also enjoying the freedom of being done with classes right now. At the same time, I do want some goals.

Challenges Reset

I started the writing and drawing challenges with the best of intentions. Between work and school, I had to change my priorities and let them go for a bit. I think it’s time to reset and start again.

Writing Challenge

Writing Challenge ArtworkI’m going to bump this one up a bit and do 500 words/day and try to keep a daily streak going. Fiction words. Not counting blogs or other things. I don’t have to keep the words. I just have to write them. Flash fiction, longer stories, maybe even some novels? We’ll see. Week 21 starts next week. Let’s do some math.

52 weeks in the year, so 31 weeks remaining. If I stick to the challenge and write 500 words/day, 7 days per week that’ll be 3,500 words/week or 108,500 words for the rest of 2017. Not my highest annual word count! That’s okay, given how busy I’ve been.

Sketch Challenge

Sketch Challenge Cover artLikewise, I want to draw every day. Again, it doesn’t have to be all that amazing. It needs to be done. With 31 weeks remaining, if I stick to the challenge, I should have 217 sketches by the end of the year. That sounds like a nice goal. I’m going to be working on some lessons and doing other illustrations as well. These will be quick 20 minutes or so sketches. Hopefully, I’ll also get illustrations done for my new editions of novels!

Previously, I recording my progress on the sketches and writing sessions and uploaded those to YouTube. I’m not planning to do that this time. I want to keep it simple!

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This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Daily Thoughts 158: Where did I park my rocketship?

I’m sure I left my rocketship around here somewhere. I need to find it. Have you seen it? Tall, slender, and shiny orange with black accents. It’s called the Bradbury. After I made my first replicator I was able to design better parts to make a new replicator and that one produced the rocketship. Sort of like a 3D printer, only better? Anyway, you might not see my rocketship right away. It’s the quantum invisibility field, you see? Well, you don’t, I know. Neither do I. If I could find it, I could deactivate the field with a touch.

You know what’s worse? I put my replicator on board rather than making a new one. Now I don’t know what I’m going to do.

Developing Next Steps

If only I did have a rocketship. That would be amazing! I’m always envious of the shuttles, roundabouts, and personal space yachts that make it easy for characters to jaunt off to another planet or moon. Well, not jaunt, but they can make those trips so easily. Jump in and fly up into the sky, get where you’re going a short time later. I’d love to head off and visit the planetary bodies in our solar system. Do some fossil hunting on Mars and Venus to see if complex life developed before the planets became inhospitable. Take a trip to Europa and see what might be swimming around beneath the ice. Sounds like fun! As long as it turned out I wasn’t in the Alien universe. I don’t fancy face hugs.

The only rocketship I do have is my imagination. I’m working on putting that to work. I have the challenges that I already defined to think about. The massive reboot, but that’s not the next thing. I want to write stories and post those regularly, I know that much. Obviously, I need to work on my drawing. That’s key. I can’t do the reboot I imagine unless I level up my illustration skills.

I also have several library-related projects to tackle. Some involve coding, which means more learning. Likewise, I want to do different things with my websites. I’m still working all that out as well but it’s a big project that involves everything that I do online. I’ll start small.

Creative Commons Thoughts

Cover artHere’s where I’m at right now.

I finished reading Made With Creative Commons. I just started listening to Free: the Future of a Radical Price. I’ve read a number of other articles about CC licenses and I’ve looked at what other writers are doing in this area.

Each writer tends to have their own reasons for using CC licenses—or for not using CC licenses. Many fiction writers and artists may be put off by the ‘no take-backs’ aspect of the license. Once under a CC license, you can’t turn around and remove it and tell people they can’t share under the original license. People also seem concerned about the commercial use licenses, releasing titles with a CC-BY-NC or CC BY-NC-SA license. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with those licenses. That’s certainly a choice to consider.

Commercial vs. Non-Commercial?

The “BY” part of the license means that attribution is required if someone redistributes, remixes, creates derivatives or otherwise uses your work. They need to give you credit. A Non-Commercial (NC) license means they can only do so if they aren’t making money off of your work, and a Commercial license (no NC) allows those using your work to make money off of whatever use they make of it.

Let’s use the example of an author who releases a fantasy trilogy under a CC license. If the author used an NC license someone else could redistribute copies, remix or write new stories based off of your work—but they couldn’t make money off whatever they created and they would have to give you credit. CC license or not, this is what you see in fan fiction. Fans create other work based off an author’s work and share it with each other. The difference is that the CC license requires that attribution, while allowing fans to feel okay with engaging in normal fan behavior.

What does this do for the author? Many things. If people enjoy the author’s work, the sharing, remixing, and engagement builds a steady fan base. Some writers, musicians, and arts have seen success using this model. Folks like Amanda Palmer or Cory Doctorow have seen it work well. Doctorow has shared copies in other formats on his own site. So someone takes the ePub of a book and creates a copy in a LIT format, for instance. Treating fans as friends rather than thieves tends to work better.

Okay, so why allow commercial use?

For many people, this is trickier. Someone could take work that allowed commercial use to repackage it, alter it, create derivative works, and make money off it without paying the author. Say a filmmaker wanted to make a movie based on the writer’s fantasy series. Under a CC BY license, they could do so and it could become a hit blockbuster and the author would never see a dime (although that can also happen with contracts and creative accounting). Someone could take the work and do something the writer objected to, editing or changing the work, and sell copies of the modified book. With a CC BY-NC license, they wouldn’t have the economic incentive to create such works.

So the issue is that the writer feels they’ve been taken advantage of by not sharing in the revenue from these other projects.

On top of that, the creator of the new work would own the rights to that new work and that introduces new complexity. Say someone wrote a prequel to the writer’s fantasy series. Later the writer writes their own prequel and the publisher of the derivative prequel sues the writer for copyright infringement, claiming that the writer borrowed elements from the derivative work. Far-fetched? Maybe, but a lawsuit could make a mess for the writer in any case.

There’s another license to consider.


The BY-SA or BY-NC-SA licenses require that any copies distributed, or any derivative works distributed, must do so under the same license as the source material.

This changes the game somewhat.

Now if someone made a movie based on the book, the movie must be distributed under the same license as the book. Which means that the freedoms protected spread to any other versions or derivative works created. And anything created based on those also inherits the license, and so on.

Dawn of an Ecosystem

With the addition of a sharealike license, commercial use allowed, an ecosystem is created. The writer might have created the universe, but now others can create new works within the universe and benefit economically from their work.

Nothing prevents the original writer from benefiting either. They could still sell print copies, for instance. Or create a crowd-funding environment in which the fan base pays for each new book the original writer contributes to the growing community.

That’s what I’m looking at by using the CC BY-SA license. I’m starting with some of my stories, and I plan to branch out. I’ll explore different ways of making money. After all, making money helps support creating new material!

This is going to be fun.

Creative Commons License
This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.