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The writing below is the first bit of fiction I’ve written in several months. Strangely enough, it’s for The Curator of Forgotten Things and not The Sun Runners. I do want to get back to The Sun Runners, but I suspect that when I do so, I’ll get back to it by doing a rewrite — one where I take a print-out of the previous draft (which reached 57,000 words before I stalled), and type in the story again. By re-typing, not only do I get to perform a mild edit on what I’ve already written, but I build up some momentum for when I push beyond 57,000 words.

But since writing this opening piece, Curator… has been on a slow burn in my mind. The story starts with our hero, Lucy, coming to a job at a warehouse when everybody else has been laid off. She ends up keeping her job in the empty place and struggles to find things to do, and occupies her time by gathering all sorts of defunct technology she finds in the storeroom and making a personal museum.

Why have all the people been fired? Who does Lucy fall in with as she moves on in her life and in her story? Another element that appears to be adding to the story is the concerns over rampant automation and the loss of all jobs, and a phrase that came to mind: what if, when the robots took over, they were nice?

Curator developed an ending that really is another beginning: the robots take over because most of humanity let them. A strange dementia has swept over the planet, leaving the robots to take care of everyone. Only people like Lucy are immune (why? That’s something I’ll have to figure out).

The section below features a trip to the store for Lucy in this strange new world of silence and automated attendants. Lucy has found a group of like-minded people who are holed up in a library with a green roof. Fortunately, they still have credit cards, their balances paid off thanks to the National Minimum Income (instituted after all the jobs vanished). There are still things to buy in the stores — though, since Lucy is the only person to shop in the stores, the automated inventory becomes very specific.

This is basically a first draft, written over an hour at a coffee shop. I hope you like this…

The supermarkets doors were locked when Lucy arrived.

She checked her watch. “Oh. Right.” She’d arrived five minutes early.

She stood by the doors, at the edge of the empty parking lot. The wind whistled, and a stray plastic bag whipped across the pavement.

Lucy looked up as she heard a rattle and clang, and saw a shop-bot shoving a line of shopping carts into place at the cart return shed. The three rows of carts gleamed in the rising sunshine, the rows even and symmetrical.

At precisely nine o’clock, the doors clicked and slid open. Lucy stepped through, picking up a basket beside the door. she pushed through the gate, then stumbled as a Rhoomba hastened out of her way.

She glanced at her list. “Right. Let’s do this.”

She looked up at the empty store.

She’d seen this a few times before, but it was still a shock. All those empty shelves, kept perfectly clean, the fruit stand with their green pressed paper, the empty meat display fridges.

But it wasn’t totally empty. She glanced down at her list and up again. Her times shopping at this specific store had paid off. Looking at the one or two items that can be found in the otherwise empty displays, she mentally ticked off all the items on her list.

Around her, the muzak warbled. The ventilation ducts hummed.

She strode through the store, picking the remaining items on display, matched to her tastes by some algorithm that had monitored the stores inventory after all the humans were laid off. A sack of apples. A sack of oranges. Three packages of salami, one of them Halal.

The price of milk, she noticed, had gone up again, and there was a sale on beef. Clearly the machines had had difficulty automating the cows. Helpfully, though, a single carton of soy milk sat beside the carton of two-percent. It was three dollars cheaper. Lucy picked up both cartons and compared their nutritional values.

“Soy will do,” she muttered, and put the two-percent back. Next week, it would probably not be there. And possibly beef would be even cheaper.

She grabbed the lone package of toilet paper before heading to the self-serve cashier. Beside it sat a display marked “We think you might like…!” On it was a package of kumquats.

Lucy considered the kumquats a moment, then put the package down. “Nice try, robots,” she muttered. “Try again.”

She pulled the products through the scanner and tapped her credit card. The screen flashed green. “thank you,” the machine intoned. “Have a nice day!”

“Whatever,” Lucy muttered, and gathered up her purchases. Out front, Emily’s car pulled up, back from her expedition to the clothing store.

Lucy swept out into the silent city.

Wed, Apr
19
2017
Wed, Apr 19, 2017

Halfway to Ninety

I can’t take sole credit for the phrase. Apropos of nothing, my aunt Margaret said the same thing on a voice message that she left earlier today, but I’d been thinking it. I am now 45. If I live to be ninety, I’ve reached the halfway point today.

Mathematics always thinks of new ways to reinforce your feeling of being old.

It was a bit of a hard day today, because I realized that this was my first birthday without my mother present. I know that holidays are hard after a loved one passes away, and Easter was difficult all-round this household, but this caught me by surprise. I guess I personally was too focused on Easter. It made for a rather subdued day.

But the kids, Rosemarie and Michael helped make me a steak dinner, then I had a nice tea with my father while we watched the new episode of Doctor Who. And I managed to clock more than 107 notes on Facebook from friends wishing me a happy birthday, so there’s that. I’m not being facetious, either; getting that level of response reminds me of how many people I’m connected to, and I value all those friendships and relationships.

In other news, spring is here at last, and the weather has been helping. The allergy season has started, but it’s worth it to see blue skies again, and to see the trees starting to bloom.

Mon, Apr
17
2017
Mon, Apr 17, 2017

Anything...?

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You know the dangers of not specifying…

Sun, Apr
9
2017
Sun, Apr 9, 2017

On Kitchener in Bloom

Here’s the latest column I’ve written for the Kitchener Post; appropriate given the (fingers crossed) arrival of spring. Happy Palm Sunday, everyone.

Kitchener starting to bloom

OPINION Apr 03, 2017 by James Bow Kitchener Post

I would like to give thanks to the Kitchener in Bloom program, even if my feelings toward spring are a little complicated.

I have allergies. I’ve been tested and have shown to be allergic to tree pollen, grass pollen and ragweed. Also, cockleburs and horses. So, I know the next few months are going to have some tough days ahead, where I will be sneezing, my nose will be running, and my eyes will be watering.

But you know what? It’s worth it. After the short days, long nights and cold temperatures winter, the new light and warmth of spring make living in this region worthwhile.

And this sense of renewal wouldn’t occur without seeing the grass turn green, the buds appear on trees and the first flowers poke up from the ground.

As a new homeowner, I realize that this task isn’t free. And while I hate the hard work of gardening, I know that this reawakening is valuable enough that I must help rake out the yard and haul the bagged waste to the curb for the biweekly pickup.

And this work helps me appreciate even more the hard work of those who really take care of their gardens, who go above and beyond the laying down of sod and create floral works of art.

Besides, my allergies are only an issue on days of high pollution, and more green helps take care of that over the long term. Allergy medication can do the rest.

The Kitchener in Bloom program helps this city shake off the winter doldrums and wake into spring. It’s not a contest, but an appreciation of the work done by dedicated residents to bring more colour to their neighbourhoods. It is a means of encouraging others in the community to do the same.

In 2016, 700 properties were nominated for the work the owners had done on their gardens. Over 120 photographs were submitted of some beautiful displays. You can see more about this program by Googling “Kitchener in Bloom” (or just visiting this link here —jb). On the website, there is a link to a Flickr account where some of last year’s displays were featured.

There is also an environmental component to this program, recognizing homeowners and businesses that create gardens which conserve water use, support bees and butterflies, and make good use of local compost.

(link)

Wed, Apr
5
2017
Wed, Apr 5, 2017

On Heritage LRTs

Another column I wrote for The Kitchener Post on possibly operating heritage equipment on Waterloo Region’s new LRT:

How about exploring transit heritage with the new LRT

OPINION Mar 27, 2017 by James Bow Kitchener Post

Just because something is designated as heritage doesn’t mean that it can’t make a serious contribution to our community beyond reminding us of our history.

This community values our links to our architectural past, but too often we marry the concept of heritage with additional costs and bureaucratic regulations to maintain the look and feel of the place.

Tech companies like Google and CommuniTech know the value of the heritage properties they occupy, however, and have added the maintenance of those properties to their investment in this community.

This also applies to our transportation infrastructure. As I watched the tracks of the ION LRT coming together, I thought that it was a shame that we didn’t take the opportunity to operate heritage vehicles alongside the modern LRT equipment.

San Diego is a good example of what I am talking about. This city, alongside Calgary, arguably launched North America’s LRT renaissance. Starting in 1981, San Diego built three LRT lines from its downtown core into its outer suburbs.

Today, the three LRT lines, coloured on the maps as blue, green and red, meet and form a loop running through San Diego’s downtown.

Recently, San Diego purchased two old-style Presidents Conference Committee streetcars — the 1950s-style trolleys that used to ply the streets of Toronto as well as many other North American cities.

They refurbished these vehicles, converted them to operate beneath the LRT’s pantograph wire, and set them to work running along the downtown loop formed by the three LRT lines. This service, maintained and operated by volunteers, was given its own LRT designation: The Silver line.

I would love to see something similar tried here. We could purchase and refurbish a few heritage cars and operate them from the track loop in downtown Kitchener to the track loop in uptown Waterloo. Or, if we didn’t want to add the switches to make these loops possible, buy and convert double-ended heritage equipment.

The service would add to the frequency of the LRT along the core of its route, and be a significant tourist attraction, drawing people to uptown Waterloo and downtown Kitchener.

I realize this may be unlikely to happen; there are costs even if the benefits are considerable.

But we can acknowledge the value of another heritage operation within the region, and help it become a more important piece of the transportation picture.

The Waterloo Central Railway currently operates excursion trains with vintage passenger equipment on market days from St. Jacobs’ Market to Elmira with an intermediate stop within the village of St. Jacobs itself.

In addition to the trains, the volunteer-run organization maintains a railway museum in St. Jacobs.

This train used to operate from Waterloo station in Waterloo Park, but was pushed out of the City of Waterloo due to construction of the LRT.

I hope that, when the LRT is complete, the region can help the Waterloo Central Railway come back south to a new station near Northfield Drive.

There are people who live in Elmira and who drive to work at our universities, or in uptown Waterloo or downtown Kitchener. If the Waterloo Central Railway were to operate a train from Elmira to Northfield LRT station and back during these rush hours, these individuals may find it a reasonable commute.

If we can make this service happen, we should show it on our maps.

Just because the train is old doesn’t mean that people can’t ride it to school and work.

(link)

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