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Afternoon sun beams through the receiving door as he pushes past the plastic flap door.  He stands among towers of black tape wrapped above and around pallets full of stock, boxes climbing high above. He battles indecision for a moment then slices through the nearest pallet. He reaches into the brown maw, tearing it open to find the stock as cubic hills and alleyways.

He distributes it straight onto trolleys, taken by his team onto the shop floor, for people to find and purchase. His team work well together, rehearsed in this routine and its daily variances. They chat more than he might like, but they appreciate the chance to talk. The cardboard mountains erode, over six hours, to dust.

The fresh loading dock air floods in when he lifts the roller door after dark. Blue bins and green skips set against drab grey concrete. The sky an odd, starless navy. A cool breeze. He ferries them all outside with a yellow jack. Red and blue to be collected.

The pine ones are recycled, he imagines, as with the paper and plastic. The bins are emptied, rubbish thrown out, and the cardboard compressed. Mostly sustainable.

All of it left out overnight, ready to collect.

 

 

 

 

Creativity in AI

The idea of a creative AI can be inherently terrifying. I recently sat down with a singer/songwriter to discuss just building a dataset to train a machine. Question one: ‘So you’re trying to replace musicians?’ Not quite. 

It’s hard to imagine that, in a world where machines understand and can generate music from scratch, people as musicians will still be required. As a writer, the idea of an artificial intelligence being able to generate articles is intimidating. That said, I input ‘Creativity in AI’ as the headline with an aim for ~500 word articles and this came out.

Not that scary. Though it does raise some good points, solely by virtue of scraping the Internet for answers. ‘Algorithms are great to extrapolate from past information, but they are still lagging behind human creativity in terms of radical, interesting jumps,’ it argues, quoting this Aeon article.

But it’s not the only writing AI. Famously, short film Sunspring was written by an AI after it was fed a series of guidelines. If you’ve watched it, it’s sort of nonsensical. So the question then becomes – who did more work to generate that script into consumable entertainment? The producers, who gathered everything required to make the film? The director, who turned a largely nonsense script into something that actually can hold attention? The actors, who took nonsense words and delivered them like they meant it?

For the curious, a sequel, It’s No Game – with far fewer hits – was released early last year. I’ll leave you to form your own opinions about it.

Another filmmaking example is IBM Watson’s trailer for sci-fi thriller Morgan. Its methodology seems relatively standard and presents what I would argue is a time-saving exercise instead of an actually engrossing trailer. The most interesting piece of that breakdown video is likely the salient sentiment graph of the film’s structure (~2.14). (Hint: nothing happens in the third act, which is basically in line with the film’s reviews).

In music, Jukedeck and Amper are AI services designed to produce songs for the budget- and time-poor producer. Their outputs are serviceable but not amazing. To be honest, I’m considering using Amper for an upcoming project to help keep scope down but I’m not planning to replace my collaborations with musicians. They understand the feel of a scene better than a machine could, even with an understanding of genre conventions. As a co-worker put it to me: ‘The AI has no concept of life.’

Machines can play by the rules but, so far, they can’t really push boundaries. Any breakthroughs in this space are made by humans extrapolating from their assistant AIs making associations we might not have. I’d suggest this is where the future of creative AI lies. At Eyeo 2017, writer Robin Sloan outlines his approach to using AI in his work with largely this framework in mind. Human work has to be edited, he says, and so must the work of computers.

I understand the trepidation around the effectiveness of AI that can be creative. I don’t want to be replaced either.

But instead of aiming for cynicism, instead of trying to dominate creatives into helping machines be better, we’re trying to use machines to help humans to be better. To waste less time being stuck. To build, as per IBM, a smart, efficient and inspirational assistant.

The Spark

I drive with the windows down and we can hear the kids playing before we see them. I pass by the side of the school, the buildings flat and then tall, and the loose gravel crunches under the van’s tires. A whistle screams in the distance and I pull onto the sidewalk near the fields. Julie and I climb out.

She heads for the canteen at the front of the shed at the bottom of the slope. I slide the doors at the back of the van open and haul out the first of the boxes. The door slams shut and I carry my load down towards the fields. I pass by the canteen as Julie slips behind the counter. She sells soft drinks and hot food to the children too young to play.

The fields host two teams each. Forty-four children playing football to varying degrees of success. A ball goes wide past the net ahead of me and the goalkeeper dawdles out to fetch it. I nod at him as I pass by. Behind me, he collects the ball and throws it to number 14 to kick from the box. The ball goes straight out.

I rest the first of the boxes in the grass on the far left of the fields. The hill reaches up away behind me and I look up to the parking lot. A family passes the van and their youngest child wonders aloud if I can park there. I can’t hear him but I know the body language of children coming to understand the rules of belonging. His family tugs him along. A whistle from each field and the groan of a young captain.

 

I walk back up to the van, keeping an eye on the box near the fields, and begin to unload the smaller crates.

Julie stands by the side of the canteen as I walk past. “Someone was having a look over the big box,” she says, pointing. I look past her finger and see only the box surrounded by green. I notice the white lines of the pitch when a midfielder clears the ball from halfway. The linesman waves his yellow flag away from the box.

I look down between the two fields, to the two columns of various families lined up around an imaginary centre aisle. Children run up and down and around the aisle in the afternoon sun. I begin to feel the early summer sweat.  Julie turns back to the shed and slips through the side door. I hear her emerge into the canteen. “Can I help anyone?”

The fireworks business on the Southside is small and there are only a few of us. We work together quite often on the bigger events, on the stuff the State Government has to regulate, and last year’s New Year’s Eve took all of us. It’s been steady business since. I am told we ‘trended’ online. Thousands of clicks do not help me carry these boxes and Julie wants to keep the business in the family. “The two of us are enough,” she says. A boy runs past me as I rest the boxes for a moment. His Coke can shakes and his fizzes in his hand. The sharp blow of a whistle, then another. The match on the field closest to me ends and the goalkeepers at the tails of the teams shake hands.

I kneel and scoop the boxes up, balancing two on each arm against my chest, and carry them to the bigger box. A thin player from the losing team opens a can of Coke. It explodes down his jersey and his teammates laugh. Away amongst the family crowds, the young boy who passed me hides behind his mother.

I jog back to the unlocked van. The match on the right hand field plays on.

 

I hoist the bag for the detonators and wires over my shoulder and lock the van. The sun slips towards the horizon. Julie tells me I arrive too early but I professionally disagree. By the boxes, I zip the bag open, unspool the wires, and begin to slot detonators into rockets.

Tonight’s display is preprogrammed. I will find it familiar but to the families and friends of the South District Football Association it will be marvellous. Julie will scold me for being lazy. I will tell her the small rockets are never lazy and that I am always, always safe. She says the Durry brothers will find out.

I shift the empty boxes to the bottom of the hill, far away from the site of the fireworks. I spike the rockets into the ground in a simple pattern and catch myself entangled in wondering which teams I saw play. To what club did the tired goalkeeper and his aimless number eleven belong? I slide the last of the rockets into the earth and meander back to beside the boxes. A whistle from the right hand match. Two players shove another. The ball before the goal. I consider moving the van.

Julie pops out from the canteen and jogs down to the field. The linesman gives her the time and she hurries back to the shed. The canteen shutters slide closed but the side door stays open. A scrawny father carries the first tray of sausages. Not long after, a cheer. The ball in the back of the far net. A whistle. I smell sizzling. Julie hard at work.

I rest my switchbox on the grass beside the boxes, my work with the rockets complete, and I approach the canteen.

 

A whistle and a cheer. I turn and see eleven dancing players. Two substitutes and a coach rush onto the field as the other team slink off. Passionate mothers peek from the shed’s side door at their disappointed sons. An angry captain kicks the ball from midfield. It sails by the referee.

In the event of a firework emergency, the best choice is always to run. I heard the ball land but I did not see it. It must have hit the switchbox, flicking up a green toggle. I hear the whistle of the first rocket. The sizzling stops.

It shoots straight into the front goal of the left hand pitch and catches the net alight. Everyone meets in the carpark and the captain of the Rusthill Devils runs to me in tears and apologises. Most of the rockets crash into the fields, burning colourful spot fires. A big rocket slams into the side of the van and explodes cherry red. Everyone meets in the carpark and the captain of the Rusthill Devils runs to me in tears and apologises.

It happens in this business if you’re not careful, and the Durry brothers will call me to laugh.

 

Read Darkwater, Gift Horse or plan a perfect solo movie date. Send feedback here

5 Ways To Avoid Saying ‘Content’ When You Mean Literally Anything Else

Content has become a widespread term used by everyone who’s not really sure exactly what they’re going to be asked to make next. It’s pretty easy to find a lot of confidence in the vague umbrella of the term but, really, you can only make what you can make. Writing 50, 000 articles isn’t suddenly going to give you the skills to make video.

Step 1: Ask what?

If you’re about to say you’ve produced some content for an integrated digital marketing campaign, why not pause for a second to actually think about how deliberately empty all of those words are?

Instead of: I produce content as part of an integrated digital marketing campaign targeting millennials.

Let’s try: I wrote an article designed to better inform people about nightlife options around Brisbane City.

Much better.

Step 2: Ask who?

If reengaging with your why isn’t effective, why not flashback to that Facebook friend of yours who called out content as a horrible word last year? Remember how you messaged him defending it? Remember how you felt a second ago as you did that then started writing this sentence?

If you can’t rally yourself behind why, rally yourself behind the infallible power of peer pressure and the social hierarchy. It’s not that you think you’re better than him. It’s just that you think you’re better than most people.

Try to emulate that feeling in others.

Step 3: Ask how?

Sourcing evergreen UGC for cross-platform promotion to drive visitation is technically an English sentence but what does it involve? Mostly, you need users. But how do you get them to give you their IP for free? Don’t answer this question – it’s technically theft but everyone’s sort of into it.

The better you can explain how you do your job, the better you’ll be able to do it. Those who can do teach people how to also do it when they get a chance. Those who can’t do teach full-time.

Step 4: Try to pretend it’s not in your job title.

4, 100 jobs in Australia. For content.

Seriously.

Full disclosure: I’m a Digital Content Producer and I do really like it but I’m acutely aware how barely real the job is. But is anything, other than a listicle format, really real?

Step 5: Remember that before content there was contentment

When words fail, remember that photos you upload to your Instagram Story count as pieces of content too. But from now on we’re going to call them photos, yea? It’s content if it’s sideways, overexposed and somehow your subject’s in shadow at the same time. If you’ve deliberately made it any particular way, it’s something else.

Writing, photography, videography, film, music. A post. A tweet. A Story. Use real words. Don’t hide. Remember – everything is personal branding. If the way to describe your work is vague, then so are you.

I write, community manage, and recirculate photos and videos from Instagram microinfluencers for Visit Brisbane. Much more clear. Kind of.

A Guide to Solo Movie Dates

RED isn’t making 8K cameras because your Galaxy S8 really, can, like, handle it, dude. Kick back in the dark, keep your feet off the seats and hold your own hand in the scary bits for a change.

Get there early

There’s a whole thing about how trailers take too much time so you should arrive fifteen minutes after the blah blah blah. People who don’t want to talk to you say this. Luckily, you’ll be taking yourself – the inner dialogue, if you’re like me, never stops.

Treat yourself

Shout yourself popcorn and lollies, and make sure you go to a cinema that sells beer and wine.

Know what you’re in for

I can’t, in good, aspiring filmmaker conscience, recommend that you see bad movies. Only masochists believe in so-bad-it’s-good and the whole point of a solo date is so you love yourself. Use Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes, and a trusted review site (try Variety if you’re a conservative that still loves the deco of the Regent Theatre but also understands why it had to be turned into a more commercially-sustainable venue, or the A.V. Club if you have a degree in anything) to make sure you’re seeing what you think you’re seeing.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t surprise yourself. Do that if you want. But why go to the trouble of leaving the house if you’re not gonna do your best to make sure you have a good time?

Turn off your phone

No, really.

This is as much for you as it is for everyone else in the cinema. Nothing important happens on Twitter, and if it needs to be responded to you won’t see it on Instagram. The soft vibrate of a phone call is enough of a reason to leave if you have to.

If you think it might be a real thing, you have one second – an impressionable ad worth of time – and that new comment on the Facebook page you manage for no reason isn’t worth it.

Enjoy

This bit’s easy, provided you’ve done the rest.

No, seriously, relax. It’s a solo date. You’re here for you and no one else. Feel free to disagree with the otherwise great reviews. This is your chance to notice how the colour grade in most scenes is almost invisible but there’s that one shot… Soak it up for an hour-and-a-half. For two hours. Three.

Try to remember what a holiday feels like.

Fall asleep if you have to (or want to)

Just do it. It’s happened to everyone. It’s not disrespectful. You need sleep more than Spielberg needs to know you saw every frame of his movie and there is no better excuse to (as per step four) shut off from social for a bit.

Cinemas are always air-conditioned, you’ll be alone so no one will care (unless you snore, but you won’t because you’re polite), and you can even read about plot, theme, and continuity errors online.

If you’re in Brisbane, check out the Elizabeth Picture Theatre where I saw Blade Runner 2049 (amazing) and The Last Jedi (polarising but excellent).

Darkwater

I am clumsy, but I am not patchwork.

They do not call me by what I was named because what I was named is not a good version of what I am, so they call me Raggedy. They call me Raggedy because I am clumsy and because I have been sewed on and I have been fixed and repaired and healed. I am Raggedy because I am clumsy and because I do not mind being clumsy.

What I am and what I do are different.

I like to look out over the Darkwater, from on top of the hills, sitting in the branches, watching as the current drags the river down, away, away, away from us. The houses burrow into the trees, curling up and away through the trunks and around the branches. They climb as high as the leaves.

The fairy lights float atop the Darkwater, not leaving with the current, but moving, swaying, crossing whenever they like, however they feel. Left, some go. Others go right. More still move up and down. Some dance across the river. There are a few, just a few, that do not move at all. They are all wonderful, and they all reflect off the surface of the Darkwater.

I have heard the stories about the other side of the Darkwater, and I believe them but I am not sure I want to go. They tell me it is not scary, that it is just another place, like this, but not here. That there are people and homes and lives. And I believe them, but here I am, on the West of the Darkwater.

I prefer the stories, I think, to the actual crossing. I am young and I am cautious and I believe them when they tell me the truth, but I do not yet want to leave this place.

Here, there is comfort. I know what I have here and I do not know what I won’t have over there, and so I worry about leaving.

From here, from this particular here, in this branch of this tree, I can see the long path to the Darkwater. It ducks under many bridges, and it stretches a long, long way, but I can see it.

It meanders almost to the horizon, the Darkwater pressing against the sky. There is, I know, a tiny stretch of green on the other side of the river that I can see in the day time. Now, with the sun down, I could not show you where it is, but I can point it out to you now so you can see for yourself in the morning.

This is what ‘believing’ is.

As I sit and wonder about exploring the Darkwater, I can hear the jingling of bells. They sound like golden rain. The wind blows through the branches and I begin the short climb down.

I throw one of my legs over the other side of the branch, and then the other, and I am facing the other direction. Above me, another branch. I hold it, stand, and shimmy my way back towards the trunk. Someone emerges from inside the tree, out onto my branch.

I know this someone, their round shape, the way the soft white light of the moon splatters on their body.

‘Raggedy,’ they say, looking at me as I shimmy, on my tip-toes and my tip-fingers, the bottom branch growing thicker and down and the top branch growing thinner and up. I am stretched as much as I can stretch and I can feel stitches on the back of my left leg pulling.

‘Raggedy,’ they say again, ‘you can just walk.’

I know I can just walk, but I do not like to and I do not want to fall.

‘I know,’ I tell them, and I continue until I cannot continue anymore. I had to stretch some more to be perfectly safe, to reach the part of the branch where we can both stand beside one another and have enough space. I have etched a small line into the wood where I am happy to stand alone.

They are standing on the wrong of that edge and I do not want to step around them. They want, I am sure, to step around me. They step slightly to my left, and then slightly to my right, while all I do is sway in the breeze.

‘Can I get past?’ They ask.

‘Yes,’ I say, but I do not move.

Gently, as hard as they’ll allow, they push me over to the right side of the branch a little, and I move where they want me to. My foot presses against a fold in the bark of the tree. This is where I will hold myself.

They do not push me any further. Instead, they step around, moving towards the end of the branch, towards the leaves. I turn as they do, watching as they make their way.

‘I like the Darkwater,’ I said. ‘I come up here to watch it.

They sit, paying more attention to themselves than to me, and they look out over the hills too. They are kicking their legs against the kick, swinging them back and forth and back and forth. I do not ever do this.

Then, after a minute:

‘I’m sorry?’ they say.

So I repeat.

‘I like the Darkwater. This is where I come to watch it.’

They nod, their legs stopping for a moment.

‘I like the breeze,’ they say. They look left, away from the tree.

I should leave, I know, but all I do is step away from the fold in the bark. I stand in the middle of the gentle path that many, many rough feet have left rubbed into the branch, and I look towards them, sitting quietly and patiently and they look, for a minute, like me.

‘Good night,’ I tell them after a while, and I turn quickly away, down the path, nearly tripping to the left, and I bump into the hole that leads into the trunk.

I do not see if they look back, but I think I will think, for a long time, about whether or not they did.

This piece was supposed to be published in issue five of Grouch Magazine but they didn’t contact me again. For more of my fiction: Gift Horse. The Sleep BankerLet me know if I should serialise an old novella.