Category Archives: writing

Short Story in Interzone #265

On a cold January night in America, Donald J. Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign — still widely considered to be nothing but a joke in appallingly poor taste at the time — blustered its way towards the first Republican primaries.

And for reasons that I still do not fully comprehend, the following statement clattered out of my keyboard:

It is widely recognized that the candidacy of Mr. Trump is a phenomenon long lacking a firm scientific explanation.

And because I lacked the good sense to just stop, I kept on typing.

The result:  one of the strangest stories I’ve ever written.

The title alone–which is rather exceptionally not fit for print here–says it all.

At some point, Dr. Axsel Scinder, the morally ambiguous protagonist (?) of the story, showed up in my writing and I realized he was the originator of this particular line of inquiry:

Streaked with Toner. In the latter stages of Dr. Axsel Scinder’s investigations–as the funding dried up in the aftermath of the economic crisis and the high-rise Institute crumbled around him–he found himself obsessively viewing projected (and thus grotesquely enlarged) cine-loops of the Presidential candidate.

And the story goes on from there, ever more intricately entwining itself in madness, manifest through (as one reviewer put it) “the sheer bravado of this text BEING the Trump phenomenon itself.”

Already, many aspects of this satirical work of fiction have turned out to be prescient:

Of course, Trump won.

His candidacy truly turned out to be indicative of “hedonistic and utilitarian desires manifest in widely suppressed middle-American white culture,” as Dr. Scinders puts it in the story.

And instead of the joke that everyone took him for early on, the President-elect has turned out to be worthy as an object of study.

But perhaps the most uncanny parallel to date emerged in CNN’s actual coverage of “The Moment America Knew:”

In that moment, in the early hours of November 9 after nearly two years of an unprecedented and at times unbelievable campaign, the Empire State building glowed an uninterrupted red. Its facade bore a stories-high projection of Donald Trump: America’s next President.

Donald Trump,

And if you pick up Issue #265 of Interzone, the award-winning magazine of speculative fiction where the story appeared, you’ll see exactly where this image dovetails into the strange investigations of Dr. Axsel Scinders that I had confabulated some 10 months before.

On-Techno-Erotic-Trump...-illustration-by-Dave-Senecal

Illustration by Dave Senecal (senecal.deviantart.com)


Interzone-265-Cover-by-Vincent-Sammy-thumb“On the Techno-[*] Potential of Donald Trump under Conditions of Partially Induced Psychosis” by Ken Hinckley. In Interzone,  No. 265, pp. 44-53. July/August 2016, ed. by Andy Cox.

  • [*] Full title redacted for this web site

[Contents of Interzone #265].

Available from: [Amazon] [Weightless books]

Cover art by Vincent Sammy

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Short Story: Six Names for The End

SIX NAMES FOR THE END

Time to say goodbye.

nature futures iconMy latest confabulation is now available at Nature, in the award-winning Futures column. It was a fun piece of fiction to write — short, sharp, and packing a mighty wallop — and I hope that you enjoy reading it, too.

As well, you can find my post about the writing of this story on The Futures Conditional blog, also hosted by Nature.

Coming up shortly, my next short story is currently slated to appear in Interzone issue #265 in July. It’s a mighty strange one, which steps on pretty much every third rail known to mankind, and with even a title that has the potential to raise a large number of eyebrows.

What can I say, I try to keep things interesting around here. (grin).

Nature cover“Six Names for the End” by Ken Hinckley. In Nature, Vol. 534, No. 7607, p. 430. June 15, 2016. Futures column. [Available to read online for free]

Published by Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved. DOI: 10.1038/534430a

Commentary: On Excellence in Reviews, Thoughts for the HCI Community

Peer review — and particularly the oft-sorry state it seems to sink to — is a frequent topic of conversation at the water-coolers and espresso machines of scientific institutions the world over.

Of course, every researcher freshly wounded by a rejection has strong opinions about reviews and reviewers.  These are often of the sort that are spectacularly unfit to print, but they are widely held nonetheless.

Yet these same wounded researchers typically serve as reviewers themselves, and write reviews which other authors receive.

And I can assure you that “other authors” all too frequently regard the remarks contained in the reviews of these erstwhile wounded researchers with the same low esteem.

So if we play out this vicious cycle to its logical conclusion, in a dystopian view peer review boils down to the following:

  • We trash one another’s work.
  • Everything gets rejected.
  • And we all decide to pack up our toys and go home.

That’s not much of a recipe for scientific progress.

But what fuels this vicious cycle and what can be done about it?

As reviewers, how can we produce Excellent Reviews that begin to unwind this dispiriting scientific discourse?

As authors, how should we interpret the comments of referees, or (ideally) write papers that will be better received in the first place?

When I pulled together the program committee for the annual MobileHCI conference last year, I found myself pondering all of these issues, and really wondering what we could do to advance the conference’s review process with a positive footing.

And particularly because MobileHCI is a smaller venue, with many of the program committee members still relatively early in their research careers, I really wanted to get them started with the advice that I wished someone had given me when I first started writing and reviewing scientific papers in graduate school.

So I penned an essay that surfaces all of these issues. It describes some of the factors that lead to this vicious cycle in reviews. It makes some very specific recommendations about what an excellent review is, and how to produce one. And if you read it as an author (perhaps smarting from a recent rejection) who wants to better understand where the heck do these reviews come from anyway? and as a by-product actually write better papers, then reading between the lines will give you some ideas of how to go about that as well.

And I was pleased, if not more than a bit surprised, to see that my little rant essay was well-received by the research community:

And I received many other private responses with a similar tenor.

So if you care at all about these issues I hope that you will take a look at what I had to say. And circle back here to leave comments or questions, if you like.

There’s also a companion presentation [Talk PPTX] [Talk PDF], which I used with the MobileHCI program committee to instill a positive and open-minded attitude as we embarked on our deliberations. I’ve included that here as well in the hope that it might be of some use to others hoping to gain a little insight into what goes on in such meetings, and how to run them.


Thumbnail - Excellence in ReviewsHinckley, K., So You’re a Program Committee Member Now: On Excellence in Reviews and Meta-Reviews and Championing Submitted Work That Has Merit. Published as “The MobileHCI Philosophy” on the MobileHCI 2015 Web Site, Feb 10th, 2015. [Official MobileHCI Repository PDF] [Author’s Mirror Site PDF], [Talk PPTX] [Talk PDF].

Project: The Analog Keyboard: Text Input for Small Devices

With the big meaty man-thumbs that I sport, touchscreen typing–even on a full-size tablet computer–can be challenging for me.

Take it down to a phone, and I have to spend more time checking for typographical errors and embarrassing auto-miscorrections than I do actually typing in the text.

But typing on a watch?!?

I suppose you could cram an entire QWERTY layout, all those keys, into a tiny 1.6″ screen, but then typing would become an exercise in microsurgery, the augmentation of a high-power microscope an absolute necessity.

But if you instead re-envision ‘typing’ in a much more direct, analog fashion, then it’s entirely possible. And in a highly natural and intuitive manner to boot.

Enter the Analog Keyboard Project.

Analog Watch Keyboard on Moto 360 (round screen)

Wolf Kienzle, a frequent collaborator of mine, just put out an exciting new build of our touchscreen handwriting technology optimized for watches running the Android Wear Platform, including the round Moto 360 device that everyone seems so excited about.

Get all the deets–and the download–from Wolf’s project page, available here.

This builds on the touchscreen writing prototype we first presented at the MobileHCI 2013 conference, where the work earned an Honorable Mention Award, but optimized in a number of ways to fit on the tiny screen (and small memory footprint) of current watches.

All you have to do is scrawl the letters that you want to type–in a fully natural manner, not in some inscrutable secret computer graffiti-code like in those dark days of the late 1990’s–and the prototype is smart enough to transcribe your finger-writing to text.

It even works for numbers and common punctuation symbols like @ and #, indispensable tools for the propagation of internet memes and goofy cat videos these days.

Writing numbers and punctuation symbols on the Analog Keyboard

However, to fit the resource-constrained environment of the watch, the prototype currently only supports lowercase letters.

Because we all know that when it comes to the internet, UPPERCASE IS JUST FOR TROLLZ anyway.

Best of all, if you have an Android Wear device you can try it out for yourself. Just side-load the Analog Keyboard app onto your watch and once again you can write the analog way, the way real men did in the frontier days. Before everyone realized how cool digital watches were, and all we had to express our innermost desires was a jar of octopus ink and a sharpened bald eagle feather. Or something like that.

Y’know, the things that made America great.

Only now with more electrons.

You can rest easy, though, if these newfangled round watches like the Moto 360 are just a little bit too fashionable for you. As shown below, it works just fine on the more chunky square-faced designs such as the Samsung Gear Live as well.

Analog Keyboard on Samsung Gear Live watch

Check out the video embedded below, and if you have a supported Android Wear device, download the prototype and give it a try. I know Wolf would love to get your feedback on what it feels like to use the Analog Keyboard for texting on your watch.

Bring your timepiece into the 21st century.

You’ll be the envy of every digital watch nerd for miles around.

Besides: it’s clearly an idea whose time has come.

Thumbnail - Analog Keyboard ProjectKienzle, W., Hinckley, K., The Analog Keyboard Project. Handwriting keyboard download for Android Wear. Released October 2014. [Project Details and Download] [Watch demo on YouTube]

 

Watch Analog Keyboard video on YouTube

Nature Futures 2 Anthology, featuring “The Ostracons of Europa”

Leading speculative fiction publisher Tor Books has just come out with Nature Futures 2, an anthology of 100 provocative science-fictional visions of the future. (Available on Kindle and the other usual suspects.)

And that cover! Pretty darned spectacular:

Nature Futures 2 (front cover) (Credit: JACEY http://www.jacey.com)

Credit: JACEY http://www.jacey.com/

The editors, Colin Sullivan and Henry Gee, hand-picked their favorite stories for this anthology, all drawn from the last several  years of the award-winning Futures column from Nature.

The anthology thereby features many award winning authors, from Elizabeth Bear and Rachel Swirsky to Gregory Benford and Mike Resnick, to a personal favorite short-story writer of mine, the inimitable Ken Liu.

And I’m thrilled to say that my contribution, The Ostracons of Europa, made the cut as well!

The Ostracons of Europa (book cover)

 

The anthology is only available as an e-book, but just for fun, and by way of celebration, I put together a special print edition of The Ostracons of Europa available as a stand-alone story–a collector’s item of sorts.

It’s a very short story and makes for a very short book, but what the heck.

The paper-book format draws out the tension of the story–by judicious use of chapter breaks–plus it’s hard to beat the feeling of riffling through those creamy antique-white sheets of finely compacted pulp…

But just to be safe, and since in my scientific work I push at the crackling-with-electricity and fuming-with-sulfur frontiers of technology, the book also includes a coupon code so you can download a free electronic edition at your leisure 🙂

Paper: Writing Handwritten Messages on a Small Touchscreen

Here’s the final of our three papers at the MobileHCI 2013 conference. This was a particularly fun project, spearheaded by my colleague Wolf Kienzle, looking at a clever way to do handwriting input on a touchscreen using just your finger.

In general I’m a fan of using an actual stylus for handwriting, but in the context of mobile there are many “micro” note-taking tasks, akin to scrawling a note to yourself on a post-it, that wouldn’t justify unsheathing a pen even if your device had one.

The very cool thing about this approach is that it allows you to enter overlapping multi-stroke characters using the whole screen, and without resorting to something like Palm’s old Graffiti writing or full-on handwriting recognition.

Touchscreen-Writing-fullres

The interface also incorporates some nice fluid gestures for entering spaces between words, backspacing to delete previous strokes, or transitioning to a freeform drawing mode for inserting little sketches or smiley-faces into your instant messages, as seen above.

This paper also had the distinction of receiving an Honorable Mention Award for best paper at MobileHCI 2013. We’re glad the review committee liked our paper and saw its contributions as noteworthy, as it were (pun definitely intended).

Writing-Small-Touchscreen-thumbKienzle, W., Hinckley, K., Writing Handwritten Messages on a Small Touchscreen. In ACM 15th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, (MobileHCI 2013), Munich, Germany, Aug. 27-30, 2013, pp. 179-182. Honorable Mention Award (Awarded to top 5% of all papers). [PDF] [video MP4] [Watch on YouTube – coming soon.]

Short Story: The Totem of Curtained Minds

My latest short story appears today in the new issue of Fiction River:Time Streams, a collection of 15 great time travel stories by newcomers and established professional writers alike, edited by Dean Wesley Smith.

I’ve really enjoyed the first two volumes of Fiction River, so I hope you’ll check it out, and of course I hope that you enjoy my contribution, The Totem of Curtained Minds, as well. It’s really an honor to be included in this volume with so many other great writers, pulled together by a widely respected editor like Dean.

The Totem of Curtained Minds is a moving story with a nice strong theme to it that I wrote in a paroxysm of blind inspiration from nothing more than the title. I often write short stories this way, pulling ideas from thin air and just letting the story come to me as it must, which is great fun and a great way to come up with some really unique ideas.

FR-Time-Streams-just-front-200x300

“The Totem of Curtained Minds” by Ken Hinckley.

In Fiction River: Time Streams, Vol. 1, No. 3, August 20th, 2013.

Edited by Dean Wesley Smith (series editors: Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch).

Now available in electronic and trade paper editions from your local bookseller, Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords.

Update: Time Streams, including my story, is now also available in audio from Audible.com.