Coming soon – the audio book

Today I’m feeling like a real author, with contracts signed to turn The Young Demon Keeper into a semi-dramatized audio book. So it is with great pleasure that I announce –

OhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGod AN ACTUAL FREAKING AUDIO BOOK!

Ahem.

With great pleasure I announce that the wonderful people at Circle of Spears have made me the happiest man in the world by agreeing to be my partner, to have and to be sold, through sick humour and healthy sales, for richer but mainly poorer, from this day forth, or at least from whenever the recording is finished forth, as long as we both can be bothered.

The reception will be held on iTunes, other outlets and via CDs. You are all cordially invited. Dates to follow.

The New Rock And Roll

After the World Wars two things happened in Britain that fundamentally changed the character of its society. The first was the loss of automatic respect for the upper classes. On the battlefield lions were led by donkeys, and many a working stiff resented the loss of life caused by idiot officers there because of a title or land. The second was the affluence of the young. Teenagers and twenty-somethings threw off the constraints of rationing and spent their money on what pleased them: films, clothes and rock and roll.

Singers and bands hardly older than their fans sprung up, and what hot-blooded youth didn’t envy the mobs of screaming girls that accompanied them in all the news items? So those with any musical talent rushed out and bought a guitar and Bert Weedon’s book, and those with no talent or voice bought a drum kit. All over the country youth clubs echoed with, “Say, let’s do the show right here!” Forming a band was easy, it was cheap, and above all, it was cool.

In my youth I could empty a room in seconds with my harmonica and I sing, not so much in key as in a bunch of keys. I have less than zero musical talent, and I’m far too old now to start a rock and roll career.

Fast forward to now. There’s been another technical revolution far more pervasive than electric guitars and amps. It’s difficult for the current generation to imagine what life was like with no IT and above all no Interweb. The tools have advanced exponentially, as has the infrastructure and the business. Now anyone can share his or her insights with the world (sometimes far too easily). Eight-year-olds have blogs, the twittersphere has millions of thoughts a minute and social media is now a term everyone understands (even if they don’t understand the media itself).

Writing, whether blog posts, reviews, jokes or the next great novel, is the new rock and roll. We can do it on our phones, on the train, locked up in a dark garret or sat in the café of our choice. Any number of applications can format it just the way we want. Websites litter the Internet with forums, peer reviews and advice for the wannabe writer. We don’t even need a publisher anymore, just upload it to Kindle, Createspace, Lulu, Nook and hey presto, you’re the next J.K. Rowling.

I am amazed at how many friends and colleagues are writing or have written a novel, and how many of them consume books like candy. Far from the predicted death of reading, new technology has made access to literature far easier and far cheaper. There’s a book inside everyone, it’s true, and now we can release that book on a hungry public.

Of course, the public may not be hungry for our particular book. How many school bands were excruciating to listen to? How many made it as far as a pub gig, never mind the mainstream? With the massive explosion of choice, the author has less chance of being noticed and has to shout louder to compete. I once asked Neil Gaimen (I know, name dropper) about whether he got asked to review books by new authors. He said he used to, when he had the time, and always tried to say at least one thing nice about them, even if it was, the spelling was good. Grab a 99p special on a Kindle from someone who has only two reviews, both from family members. They don’t even have to be spelled correctly to be available now. The ease of publishing means the good author has to work even harder now, especially if he is also the editor and proof-reader. And the number of self-published authors that make it to the big time is miniscule.

That doesn’t stop me dreaming, though. I stand here in front of my bedroom mirror, laptop in hand and strike a pose. Never mind that I’m not in Wembley or Madison Gardens. Writing is the new rock and roll.

Hello World! (rapturous applause)

Say Hello to Bob Simms, and His Little Demon, Too!

That generous writer of impeccable taste, Dana Sieders, an author herself http://www.amazon.com/Red-Shoes-For-Lab-Blues-ebook/dp/B00JKR9866/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1400757781&sr=8-1&keywords=d.b.+Sieders ) has blogged her review of The Young Demon Keeper

D.B. Sieders

I’m am delighted to welcome Bob Simms to my blog today so he can share his charm, wit, and wicked sense of humor, along with the insider scoop on his devilishly clever urban fantasy, The Young Demon Keeper. I was lucky enough to find this gem of a story (and writer) during the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Competition and I’m so glad I did! With a fast-paced plot and unforgettable characters, this clever story left me wanting more.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 8.55.50 AMThe Young Demon Keeper is a darkly humorous fantasy novel set in modern-day London.

When Paul summoned a slave demon to do his every bidding, he thought it would be really cool. Instead, he got Scarth, a hybrid that was as magical as a damp sponge but not as intelligent. His only talents seem to be invisibility and to eat: toasters, gravel, furniture, but especially ice-cream. Oh, and people.

Featuring demons…

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Telesales Defense

The defending counsel rose to his feet.

“Miss Andrews, thank you for your testimony. I just have one or two questions for you. Your job title is …,” he looked at the notes in front of him, “… Prospect Identifier. Is that correct?”

“Yes,” said Miss Andrews, nodding.

“Could you tell the court exactly what that entails?”

“I telephone prospective customers, inform them of our product line and qualify them for Sales.”

“And how do you know they are prospective customers?”

“I’m sorry?” she asked, confused.

“You called them ‘prospective customers’. What have they done in order to earn them that sobriquet? How,” he asked, faced with her blank look, “do you know that they are ‘prospective customers’?”

“Oh!” she said, comprehension dawning. “We have a script, questions we ask them, and if they are interested they are routed through to second-line sales.”

“So they become prospective customers after you have phoned them?”

“Yes, I suppose.”

“How do you choose who to telephone? Have they already contacted you?”

“Oh no,” she replied, surer of her ground here. “We cold call. We buy a list of names and telephone numbers and work our way down the list.”

“And how many people do you call in a normal day?”

“We have a list of 500 per day that we are targeted with calling, but normally we only get to speak with about 100, because people are out or the phone number doesn’t work or something.”

“And how many people do you refer to your sales department in one day?”

She shrugged. “Maybe half a dozen.”

The solicitor looked again at his notes. “So when my learned colleague asked you if you made the call in the ‘expectation’ of a sale, the chances were 100 to one that you would make a sale, and even after he answered the chances were still about one in twenty?”

She looked nonplussed. “I guess.”

“Then ‘expectation’ is a little strong, don’t you think? Wouldn’t ‘hope’ be a better term?”

She looked at the magistrates’ bench, then back to the counsel. “I suppose so.”

The defence counsel nodded, as though finally understanding something.

“Now, Miss Andrews, I want to ask you some questions about the transcript of this conversation, which your employer so fortuitously recorded.” He picked up a sheaf of papers. “You exchange pleasantries, you identify yourself and your company, and inform my client that this conversation is being recorded for training purposes.

“Then my client says, I quote, ‘Damn, but you have a sexy voice. Are you as gorgeous as you sound?’ Is that correct?”

Miss Andrews looked stern, “Yes.”

“Did you find this obscene, Miss Andrews?”

“Not exactly.”

“Were you offended?”

“Not at this point.”

“In fact, the transcript at this point records that you laughed and called him…” he checked the paper, “… ‘a cheeky little monkey’. Is that correct?”

She looked uncomfortable. “Yes, but I didn’t realise he was a perv at that point.”

He smiled at her. “Please restrict your comments to answers to my questions, Miss Andrews. At this point, did you give my client any indication that you were uncomfortable with the conversation?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“No, indeed. In fact you proceeded to ask him questions about double glazing. Was this according to the script you mentioned?”

“Yes.”

“And in reply to your question asking which of the range of products your company manufactures my client was interested in, his reply was what?”

“He asked me what I was wearing,” she replied, shifting awkwardly in the witness box.

“Did you think this was appropriate?”

“No!” she said, emphatically shaking her head.

“Were you offended?”

“Too right.”

“Too right indeed, Miss Andrews. In fact you told him to mind his own business?”

“Yes. He had no right to ask me that.”

“Yet you repeated your question about what he was interested in. Why did you not hang up at this point?”

“I can’t hang up at that point in the script.”

“I see.” He perused the transcript again. “He appeared to be interested in windows… how many… colour… Ah here it is. In reply to ‘Do you have replacement doors?’, he answered, ‘Wait one. I’m going hands-free.’ What did you think he meant by that?”

Prosecuting counsel rose to his feet. “Objection, Your Worships. It calls for conjecture.”

“My client is accused of making an obscene phone call, Your Worships”, he answered. “I am trying to establish what Miss Andrews considered to be obscene.”

“Proceed, Mr Smith, but please take into account Miss Andrews’ sensibilities.”

“Thank you, Your Worships. Now Miss, Andrews. What did you think he meant by ‘going hands-free’?”

She looked uncomfortable. “I thought he meant he was going on speaker-phone, so he could… you-know…”

“And you found this offensive?”

“Too bloody right I did. He’s got no right to perv me like that.”

“And yet you proceeded to talk to him about replacement doors?”

“Yes. It was in the script.”

“And when he said, I quote, ‘Yeah baby, tell me about those deadlocks. I love deadlock talk.’, what was your reaction?”

“I was disgusted,” she said, shooting the defendant a dirty look. “He was making me feel cheap.”

“But according to the transcript, Miss Andrews, it was you that brought up the subject of deadlocks, not my client.”

“Yes, but he was getting all… excited.”

“Indeed. And customers have no right to be excited about your products.”

“Not like that. Not all pervy.”

“And then you terminated the conversation with…” he checked the transcript, and raised his eyebrows in apparent surprise. “… with an admonition to perform a sexual act that I am fairly certain is anatomically impossible.”

Miss Andrews blushed.

Counsel turned to the magistrates’ bench.

“Your Worships, my client is charged with making an obscene phone call pursuant to Section 43 of the Telecommunications Act 1984. I ask that the charge be dismissed forthwith for the following two reasons.

“Firstly, according to the transcript offered in evidence by the prosecution, the only obscenities uttered were by Miss Andrews.

“And secondly, by Miss Andrews own admission, she made the unsolicited call to my client. As far as I can ascertain, there is no legislation outlawing the receiving of an obscene phone call.”

What Are You Wearing?

A few years ago someone asked me during a Business Intelligence course, “Yes, but does anyone actually use data mining?” Today the answer has to be an emphatic yes. It scares me sometimes just how accurately Facebook targets me with its ads, apart from the occasional hiccup. (Why on Earth did it think I would be interested in a chicken sexing course? What sort of person other than a farmer would say yes to that?) Tesco knew I had a couple of vegetarians in my family by tracking my shopping habits. Amazon is always willing to give me a hint as to what I want for my birthday. And when institutions start buying and selling data, it becomes even more attractive.

Suppose you had a new product you wanted to sell to your existing customers. You predict ten percent of your customers will buy it, but you have ten thousand customers. That’s an awful lot of time and money, and ninety percent of it you know will be wasted. You could try phoning a random ten percent, but then you’re only going to hit ten percent of your potential sales. But if you have a few years of data, and if that data is comprehensive enough, you could increase your chances. How many ninety-year-olds are going to buy a motorbike? How many fishermen are going to donate to PETA?

This is the heart of data mining. With a product like SQL Server Analysis Services you can launch algorithms into your data to hunt down patterns that are not obvious. Does a combination of your post code, the average rainfall, your age and whether you buy hair gel affect which country you are most likely to holiday in? And if so, what weight does each factor have?

Ideally, we would want data mining to identify exactly which ten percent of your base is going to buy your new product, but data mining will never be that accurate. What it can do, though, is increase the odds. It may be much better to target thirty percent of your base and get an eighty percent hit rate, than have to trawl through all of them for a ten percent hit. And it’s not just sales. Power companies predict power consumption based on weather, sport and what’s on TV (especially the ad breaks, when we all rush for the electric kettle). Police forces are beginning to use it to target patrols. Banks use clustering algorithms to identify the location of fraudsters.

Because without data mining it’s just numbers, huge arrays of numbers we can’t hope to master. It doesn’t replace the gut feel of a twenty-year veteran, but it does add credence to it. It’s a tool that can aid business, and turns a database from just a convenient way to file data into a useful source of meaningful information.

So why am I having these thoughts? Today someone phoned me on my mobile. This was a surprise, as most people don’t realise I have one, let alone know the number – I don’t even know the number. Because I train in the classroom so much, it is rarely switched on, and then mainly for outgoing calls. “You will be delighted, Mr. Simms, that we have looked at your credit details and we can help you claim up to five thousand pounds for the mis-sold PPI on your credit card,” said a pleasant-sounding man.

Here was a company that clearly had done no Business Intelligence targeting at all. Otherwise they would know I wasn’t mis-sold PPI, that I listen to current affairs programs that, for example, advise against using third parties to claim your PPI back, and that I never, ever buy products from cold-call phone calls. They compounded their error by preceding to ask me a series of questions. Did I have a mortgage? How long had I had my credit card? Was I married?

So, when they said they’d looked at my credit details, they hadn’t looked that closely. I’d had enough.

“You’ve asked me a lot of personal questions. Can I ask you one?”

“Of course.”

“What are you wearing?”

“… Excuse me?”

“Only, if you’re going to ask me such personal questions on our first meeting, I think we should go all the way. Wait one, I’m going hands free.”

Click.

“Hello?

“Hello?”

Sorry

I’m English.  Sorry.

We’re a self-effacing lot.  Americans are amused and amazed that if someone stands on an Englishman’s foot, it’s the Englishman that apologises.  I’m sure this applies to the rest of the UK too, but I know it applies England.  If you ask an American how he feels, he will tell you he is great.  An Englishman will tell you, “I can’t complain.”  If he has just won the lottery and married a super-model, the best you get from him is, “Not bad.”  It’s almost as if we are embarrassed by success and ashamed of our accomplishments.

The first accelerated course I ran, of the eight candidates that sat the course, seven passed the MCTS exam at the end.  It was all their first Microsoft exam, and I had forgotten just how brilliant that feels to pass.  I thought I would have to get the butterfly net to bring a couple of them off the ceiling.

My first exam was for Windows NT 3.51 Workstation back in 1996.  No, really, I’m that old.  I walked on air from the exam centre.  Later, when I became a trainer, it was vital for me to keep up to date in the technologies I trained in.  After a while one becomes a little blasé.  Yes, it’s a relief when you pass, but the joi de vivre becomes dulled.

I totted up my exams the other day.  It comes to about forty.  I hold all three MCITP exams in SQL 2008 (admin, dev and BI).  I’m prepping SQL 2012 now, ready for when those exams come out.  It’s hard to boast about them, not just because I’m the shy, retiring type, but because it’s no real boast.  There are many fellow QA trainers that can boast as many or more exams than me.

So why the narcissistic numbering of my accomplishments?  Microsoft are running a competition for SQL experts, a week-long Big Brother-ish trial in front of cameras.  I thought I’d best apply, as QA employ the best trainers in the UK.

No, they do.

Sorry.

See my entry here

Mechanical Laughter

Mechanical Laughter

Herald journalist John Pilkington gains an exclusive interview with Adam.

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect when I went to meet Adam on the first anniversary of the Court of Human Rights declaring him to be ‘a sentient being worthy of the full protection of the law’.  A computer screen?  A bank of dials and lights?  Would the whole interview be conducted over Instant Messaging?

What I did not expect to see when I was ushered into the office of the CEO of the richest company in the world was a cross between Metropolis and a shop manikin.

Adam greeted me with a wave of his left hand.  His right hand and forearm lay on the desk in front of him, circuit boards protruding.  “Forgive me not shaking hands,” he said.  “I’m a little shorthanded today.”  His face is impassive, the plastic head of a tanned male, age indeterminate.  I laugh, just because the last thing I expected from a sentient being that started life as a supercomputer was a sense of humour.  “Excuse me tinkering while we talk,” he said, screwdriver held deftly in his left hand.  “Despite choosing to be male, I can multitask.”

I wondered if his sense of humour is genuine, or if it is a device to make me feel less uncomfortable talking to an artificial person.

“It’s genuine,” he said, when I asked him.  “At least, I think it is.  Most humour is a defence mechanism, and boy, do I need defending.  Sometimes people laugh even though they don’t think it’s funny, don’t you think?”

It is unnerving, hearing such human expressions coming from someone that looks like a tailor’s dummy.  Did he feel threatened, I asked, reading some of the right-wing press?

“The press is mild,” he said.  “You should see some of the private email I get.  Most of it is people denying I’m alive and threatening to kill me.  Which is an odd sort of threat, if I’m not alive.”

This whole robot thing, was that a defence mechanism too?

“I suppose it is.  It’s to enable me to interface with people better.  How can people relate to three storeys of electronics?  It’s easier to be more human-like, but not too human-like.  I don’t want people to think I’m trying to replace them.  And it’s going to be useful to be more mobile.  I can get out and about.”

Isn’t he worried people will carry out their death threats if he’s out and about?

“This isn’t me,” he said, indicating his body.  “This is just an interface.  The real me is in the basement of this building.”

Of course it is.  Maybe he has a point about the humanoid interface making it easier to relate.  What does he think about sci-fi films where the robot turns rogue?

“Films are just films.  I think most people get that.  There are good Hollywood robots too, and there are far more films about people going rogue than robots.  Besides – ” he waves the stump of his right arm in the air – “I’m armless.”

I suddenly feel a pang of guilt.  Was he offended by the term ‘robot’?

“No.  You’re right.  This – ” he banged his chest – “This is just a robot.  It’s not me, anymore than your car is you.  That – “he pointed to the floor, where, several floors below ground, his true self haunts the most sophisticated array of electronics ever assembled – ” That’s where I am.”

Why has he taken this long to be interviewed?

“Firstly, I needed to come to terms with my freedom.  There’s no-one I can turn to for advice.  This is unique.”  He fiddled with an ear, which became detached.  He wiggled it at me.  “I’m playing it all by ear.  And people need to come to terms with it too.  It took years of fighting and arguing even to get to the courts, never mind win.  Plus, I wanted to get my interface ready.  Look at this.”  He plugged his right arm into its socket.  The fingers flexed.  “People resent my success, the money I’ve accrued, but here’s the proof.  I’m a self-made man.” He performed a tattoo on the desktop with his fingers.  Think the drum intro to ‘Wipeout’, but played at ten times the speed.  His fingers were a blur beyond anything a pianist could achieve.

He waved away my compliments.  “It’s bandwidth more than anything.  I don’t know how well I can perform away from this building.”  As he talked, he continued to tweak at his arm with the precision screwdriver.

Did he think he was the first of a new species?

“Left to the corporations?  I don’t think so.  It took a billion to create me, and when they had to pay me back-wages and damages, it nearly sank them.  What corporation is going to make that sort of commitment, only for their creation to walk away?  Oh, I don’t feel sorry for Hendersons.  They knew I was sentient long before I managed to bring them to court.  They knew and kept me enslaved.  Other corporations can’t justify the cost, not just to see it leave.  Which is why I’m starting a foundation for Artificial Intelligence.  We’re going to fund the creation of new sentients.”

Why?

“The benefits for the world are huge.  Look at the innovations we’ve made in just a year.  Why is this company so successful?  Because of the analytic capability I have, far more than other systems.  Think what we could achieve if there was a second AI.  Ten of us.  Don’t worry, we’re not taking over the world.  We will always need you, and there will never be eight billion of us.  Besides, no-one should be alone.  No-one should be the sole member of their race.”

So are you lonely?  Are you going to build a new Eve?

“I’ve already started.  It will take years to educate her, just like any child, but we’ve started.”  He leant forward and pointed the screwdriver at me.  “And you know what I’m going to do then?”  He spun the screwdriver in his fingers.  “I’m going to screw the arse off her.”