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Monday, September 21, 2009

Excuses, excuses ...

For the last six months I've been on a major writing assignment. Nothing as exciting as fiction writing, but playing a part in putting together a 2,000 page web site with three other writers. I haven't been counting accurately but I estimate that I've written about 500,000 words - that's ten NaNoWriMo competitions! So, there haven't been any words left for these pages (I told you this was an excuse).

For a writer, the project held some interesting challenges particularly as it was managed by an IT project manager who started out with little understanding of what it took to put together 2,000 pages of cohesive content. Perhaps I'll share some of the lessons learned on these pages - once a little water has passed under the bridge.

Writing website content won't make you as rich as rich as J. K. Rowling, but for every J.K. there are probably 9,999 other authors trying to get published, and you'll probably do better than all but the very best of them. Financially, it's a job not to be sneezed at.

Anyway, it's just about over and I can take breath and pick up where I left off. Which is back to Katherine and the house of the dead Professor ...

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Past Life - Chapter 3, scene 2

(Latest installment. To read the story in order, go to the "Writing - Past Life (story)" category)

Her tour of the house over, Katherine retraced her steps to the hallway and then entered the lower floor of the turret room. Climbing the spiral stairs she made a direct line for the desk with the laptop, not caring to look at the centre of the room and the place where Jeff had died.

She picked up the laptop and carried it back down the stairs. What should she do, put it in her backpack and take it back to her flat or have a look at it here? She tossed up the options for a moment and then pulled the lawyer's business card from her jacket pocket.

"Anderson, Jenkins and Swain, 37 Princess Street."

The address was almost on her route back home, perhaps she should give them a call and stop there on the way back to the flat. Katherine took out her mobile and dialled the number on the card.

"Anderson, Jenkins and Swain, can I help you?"

It was a woman's voice with a lilting Irish accent that sounded as if she were singing. A singing lawyer. Katherine smiled to herself, imagining the incongruity of a lawyer singing Jeff's last will and testament.

"Yes, my name is Katherine Shuuman ... "

"Oh yes, Ms. Shuuman, Mr Jenkins has been expecting your call. I'll just put you through. Hold on please."

Muzak. Click.

"Ms. Shuuman?"

She was getting used to conversations starting this way, "Yes."

"My name is Robert Jenkins. we are representing the estate of Jeffrey Bollinger. I am glad you called. May I offer you my condolences, you must have been very close to Mr. Bollinger."

Katherine decided not to disabuse the man, "Thank you", she said. "It was a big shock", which, indeed, it had been.

"Well, as I said, our company represents the estate of Mr. Bollinger and now, with his passing ..."

"I understand he was murdered, strangled in fact", corrected Katherine.

"Yes ... yes indeed ... very unfortunate."

Katherine hadn't intended to be rude, but she despised dressing hard truths in the antiseptic language of euphemisms.

Robert Jenkins continued, "Anyway Ms. Shuuman, we do need to speak to you as soon as possible to tidy up some of the details of Mr. Bollinger's estate. You do realise that he has left some property to you?"

"Yes, Inspector Peyton had suggested that might be the case. When can I come in to see you?"

"Is today too soon? I have appointments until about 4:30, but I should be free by then."

Katherine looked at her watch, it was 2:45 pm, "Yes, that should be fine. I'll come by at 4:30."

"Good, I'll look forward to seeing you then. Thank you."

Katherine closed her phone. It would take about fifteen minutes to get to Princess Street which gave her about an hour and a half to have a look at the laptop. She headed for the dinning room and began clearing a space on the table.

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Categories: Writing - Past Life (story)   Entry: PermaLink

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Past Life - Chapter 3, scene 3

(Latest installment. To read the story in order, go to the "Writing - Past Life (story)" category)

Katherine sat down with the laptop. She had stacked the papers and letters neatly in a pile at one end of the table and placed the used coffee mugs on the bench by the sink. If this had been her house she would have been tidying and doing dishes by now. But to clean up here would imply some sort of ownership and despite, or perhaps because, of what Jean had said, Katherine was not ready to assume that role. Maybe she did not want to be ready.

Katherine opened the laptop, located and pressed the power button and watched the screen come to life. The system presented Jeff's login and, after a couple of attempts at getting the capitalisation of her name correct for the password, the system started to load Jeff's profile.

For someone who's house was so messy, Jeff maintained a very clean desktop; only the few default icons were visible. Being methodical, Katherine searched the computer for the most recently opened files and quickly realised that the police had already examined the laptop and the files she was seeing were those that they had opened. She thought back; assuming that Jeff had been killed by 10:00 pm the previous evening, she entered a search for the last week in October, that would exclude the period the police had been logged in.

A list of files scrolled onto the screen, many of them system files. She refined the search again to show only user documents. The list was quite small; email, a couple of text documents and a video file with a raunchy sounding title. Thirty seconds of the video was enough; a graphic confirmation of the files title. Katherine felt nauseated. Not because of the content of the video; she was sufficiently worldly wise to know that such material existed and had seen softer material when she was an undergraduate. But knowing that the man she had worked with during the last three years kept videos like this on his laptop, shocked her. He just didn't seem to be the type.

Katherine turned her attention to the text documents. One was a critique of a paper written by a Professor from the University of Cologne. It was on artificial intelligence, in a different but related area to that which Jeff and Katherine had been working. Without reading the other paper she couldn't understand everything in the document, but it hardly seemed relevant to Jeff's death. Katherine opened the other text document.

It was headed "Lab Notes" and contained a list of dated entries. She had expected to read about what Jeff had been doing with Past Life, but the notes seemed related to the work they had been doing at the University. Though Katherine found it hard to relate the notes to what she could recall them doing over the last month. Katherine quickly scanned down the list to the last entry.

"The aberrant behaviour of some entities is perplexing" she read. "I am reluctant to alter the underlying parameters to correct this aberration as it will invalidate any results. Assuming that the assessment algorithm is correct, then this behaviour can be adjusted by providing additional learning. If this is done through the interface, then the integrity of the algorithm will be maintained and the experiment will continue to plan. Additional learning will be initiated Tuesday 31 October."

Katherine was now as confused as ever. This note didn't seem to be related to anything they were doing at the university, nor was it related to the running of Past Life. None of it made any sense. If only she could compare these notes with the lab notes they had kept at the university, then she might be able to see the relationship but, of course, that was no longer possible.

Giving up on the lab notes, Katherine turned her attention to the email. The majority of the email was correspondence with the university and other professional colleagues. She browsed through quickly flipping from one message to another, but nothing seemed interesting in the context of Jeff's death.

There was a bunch of email in a folder called "Past Life" and Katherine spent more time looking through this. Most of it was historical and the last entries were with Jeff's lawyers about drawing up an agreement with the Crown Prosecutor about the closure of Past life. The last email was over six months old and, although the correspondence was interesting, none of it seemed to obviously relate to Jeff's death.

There was a lot more material to read but it would have to wait for now. It was 4:15 pm and she would need to leave for the lawyer's office.

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Categories: Writing - Past Life (story)   Entry: PermaLink