Monday, 29 July 2019

Dark Fiction - Golden Glow


Dark Fiction - Golden Glow

By Casey Douglass


Golden Glow

Zep watched the sunlight bloom over the megalopolis that passed as London these days.

‘Eighty-seven floors up and I can still only see about a mile!’ he muttered, trying to ignore the loops his heart was tracing in his chest. He squinted into the murky golden smog that sparkled between the scrapers. He looked down over the edge of his balcony, letting his gaze slide down the smooth walls to the thicker fog below. He wondered what it would feel like to jump, to feel his stomach lurch as he plummeted into the dirty yellow marshmallow cloud below. He almost felt ready to try.

The doorbell farted behind him, the batteries on their last legs.

‘Shit! Who’s this now?’ Zep hissed. He twisted away from the balcony rail in a most unusual movement. His upper body was facing back into the flat a good second or more before his groin and legs followed suit. His spine augment buzzed like an angry insect against his lower vertebrae. He blew out a gust of charged particles from his mouth, golden fireflies dancing in the air.

‘Fucking thing!’

He knew he shouldn't put pressure on it like that, but in a few days, he’d cease caring. The doorbell sounded again as he plodded through his small apartment. He stared through the peep-hole in the door and gaped. He unlocked the door and threw his arms around the man waiting outside, yelling ‘Mo!’

‘Hiya Zep! Long time and all that!’

‘I thought you were down for some prison time?’

‘I was and I did! They let me out early when I cut a deal for some experimental therapy shit. Anyway, you going to let me in or not?’

‘Sorry, come in!’

Zep watched Mo swagger into the room, his trademark holographic tats sliding over his bald head, changing from a Roman helmet to Medusa snakes and onto other more abstract, sometimes pornographic designs.

‘They let you keep the tats then?’

‘Yeah, but I had to turn them off inside. Even now I have to keep to a list of pre-approved images.’

‘The one that just passed, with the woman grinding her crotch along your nose... was approved?’

‘I didn’t say I’d stick to it! You know me, always the agent provoker!’

‘Provocateur?’

‘Same diff. So what have you been up to? Looks like you still haven't been out of here for awhile?’

Zep threw himself onto the sofa and waved for Mo to sit too. ‘No, I still can’t get out.’

‘The phobia stuff?’

‘Yes, and other crap.’

‘That's partly why I’m here. That therapy thing I had, I thought of you, that it might be worth a shot for you!’

‘Oh? What is it?’

‘Re-Attribution.’

‘Fuck Mo! The brainwashing thing? Why’d you let them do that to you!’

‘It’s not brainwashing, that’s just the snowflake media’s slant mate!’

‘It’s left people vegetables!’

‘Tell me a treatment that hasn’t. Real life leaves some people like vegetables too, if you stop to think about it!’

‘They curdle your brain!’

‘They change the attribution of stuff. Don’t be hysterical! Don’t tell me you wouldn’t wanna try something if you thought it’d cure your mental stuff!’

Zep studied Mo, wondering if he could see any sign of things being “not-Mo”.

‘So what did they tackle with you Mo?’

‘They chose to Re-Attribute the thrill I get from thieving... to eating veg!’

‘You what?’

‘I fucking hated veg mate. Loathed it. Now I gorge on carrots and peas like a fatty on doughnuts. If I even think about lifting a new implant from the shops, I feel like I’m going to throw up!’

‘Sounds like Clockwork Orange to me... You know, the film where the guy is treated to overcome his violent tendencies? With his eyes propped open staring at shit on a cinema screen?’

‘Oh yeah, good film! No, it was nothing like that, and it isn’t. Get that out of your brain mate!’

‘Is that all they changed?’

‘Yeah!’

‘You sure?’

‘As sure as I can be!’

Zep watched Mo fidget. ‘You don’t look that sure to me!’

‘Oh I’m pretty sure about them not poking around where they shouldn't have, it’s just... there is the risk of a hole.’

A hole?’

‘Yeah. You know how Re-Attribution works right?’

‘Kind of.’

‘It’s like those old-fashioned pigeon holes that offices used to have. The holes are our emotions. The labels are our triggering events. They swap them around, but sometimes it’s like a clumsy idiot has done it, and has knocked some of the labels off and let them fall to the floor.’

‘Shit!’

‘Yeah. One day you are doing something you've always done, and you feel a vastly different emotion than usual. If it’s something mundane like putting out the rubbish though, who cares... but there’s always the chance that you'll feel different about your wife, family, job or whatever. It can change you.’

‘Sounds horrible.’

‘I guess. I don't know what my hole is yet, if I even have one, so it’s kind of like waiting for a party balloon to go bang. It might, or it might not.’

‘I hope it’s nothing important, if you do have one.’

‘Well I don't really have anyone in my life, and I had a wank straight after they did the procedure, and it was all good!’ Mo roared with laughter.

Zep smiled and looked at the sunlight as it tried to pierce his window. It bathed the room in what he often thought of as a starship glow, a radiance that you might see on a starship diving into the Sun. He felt his stomach drop, his smile followed.

‘You thinking it wouldn't work for you?’ Mo asked.

‘I wasn't thinking to be honest, just feeling. As far as me giving it a go, I wouldn't be able to afford it.’

‘You could always commit a crime! Get it for free then! Bit like the old duffers who don't have any money left and no pension. Find a crime you can do that you can live with, get caught, and get free room and board for a few months, plus a tens of thousands credits procedure, done for nothing!’

‘I can barely stand on my own balcony! What crime could I commit here, with no witnesses!’

‘Network fraud? Hacking something? All you need is to do enough to be a pest, then make a mistake and let them catch you. You were always good with the ol’ gadget stuff. Remember when you hacked the entry pad for the women’s locker room at college? We went in and had a good rummage didn’t we!’

‘I remember.’

Mo nodded, his grin widening. ‘Actually, I have exactly the kind of place in mind where you could start!’

‘Oh?’

‘One of the places I turned over, had a back-room off-the-books type business going on, encryption keys or something.’

‘And?’

‘If I got inside again, I could patch you in, to do your own rummaging.’

‘I’d want the police to catch me, not some mobster who wants to knee-cap me!’

‘But that’s just it! It’s a spook setup!’

‘Jesus! It’ll be more than a bit secure then!’

‘Not with me inside!’

Zep looked at Mo’s zeal. The metaphorical penny didn't just drop, it plummeted to the ground, cleaving a metaphorical businessman who was metaphorically strolling beneath it in two. Zep eyed Mo. ‘How do you feel?’

‘Great mate!’

‘Hmm. Well it was nice to see you, but you can fuck off now. Best do it before I punch you!’

Mo’s face fell. ‘Woah! What’s going on?’

‘This isn't about helping me is it! It’s just you need me to help you with a job you have your eyes on. I’m guessing by the fact you aren't puking everywhere while you’re planning this shit with me, that you never had Re-Attribution either!’

‘I did!’

Zep watched another gratuitous tat spasm across Mo’s head.

‘And there’s no way in hell they would let you keep those porno tats!’

‘I told you that...’

‘Cons get sub-dermal shit like that fried and blocked from reactivation! I remember now, I’ve seen enough shitty daytime TV to know what happens.’

Mo stood, his face turning red. ‘You’re making a mistake!’

‘Well it wouldn't be my first!’

‘Alright I’m going! Shit man, just relax!’ In one quick movement, Mo bent, snatched up Zep’s idling laptop and raced for the door.

Zep flew at Mo but his fingers only grazed the back of Mo’s shirt as he wiggled out of the door. It slammed shut inches from his nose. An angry buzz came from Zep’s spine as his back locked and he fell onto his stomach. 

He coughed, golden particles floated up, his spine augment vibrating and jolting like a hornet. He managed to roll onto his back and laid panting, staring at the ceiling.

For the second time that day, Zep didn't think, he just felt. And it was awful.


THE END


Saturday, 20 July 2019

APP REVIEW: Prana Breath


APP REVIEW: Prana Breath

Review by Casey Douglass



Prana Breath
If like me, you suffer with anxiety and other mental health stuff, the chances are quite high that you might have had cause to use some kind of breath-based relaxation or awareness exercise, just to see if it might help you to feel better in some small way. Recently I’ve been using the free version of the Prana Breath Android app to help me keep track of what I’m doing, and in this review, I will describe how the app works and what I think of the various options it offers.

The main app screen is a simple circle with some timings in the middle. Depending on your training program selection, these will respond to varying durations of Inhaling, Exhaling, Retaining etc. The free version includes eight training exercises, from Clear Mind and Harmony to Anti-appetite and Cigarette Replace. More are available with the Guru version, which I will come to later.

Prana Breath

Once you start your training program of choice, you simply have to breathe along with the instructions on screen. Sounds accompany each state of the breath, and after a few sessions, you will likely feel comfortable enough to listen along with the screen turned off. The sounds you hear are customisable, from the background sweeping sound to the phase transition, there are a number of choices to suit the listener.

If you have your own breathing session in mind, there is nothing stopping you from creating your own program. I created my own Square Breathing (4-4-4-4 intervals) training program as I’ve found this to be most useful over the years that I’ve practised it. Changing the length of the session, Ratio of breath cycle or Seconds per Ratio unit is trivial, and I was up and “breathing” before I knew it.

Prana Breath keeps track of your total time spent practising in the Experience tab at the bottom, awarding you a Total Level and telling you the time you’ve spent on particular training programs. This is nice, and backed up by more viewing options along the top such as a detailed Log and Graph view.

Prana Breath

Next to the Experience tab is the Reminders one, and in this you can set a reminder to perform a certain practice. This Reminder will appear at the set time with a Random Motivator phrase, just to give you a jolt to action if needed. A nice touch.

The free version of Prana Breath is advert free, which is so rare in this current time. There is plenty of functionality in the base-app, and it doesn’t pester you to upgrade to the Guru version. The Guru version does open up more options and settings to tinker with however:
  • Dynamic Training (being able to vary timings within a single session)
  • The ability to use more training programs and patterns
  • More detailed progress charts
  • Infinite training duration
  • Health tests to help you keep track of your progress
  • More sounds to choose between
  • Google Drive Backup
  • An Import/Export Data option

You can gain access to the Guru version by a small monthly subscription, or unlock it permanently by choosing between the prices of £7.99, £9.00 and £12.00, depending on how much you’d like to contribute to help the app. My own feeling is that by using the free version, you will soon be able to guess if you would like these extra features.

Personally, I’m sticking with the free version for now, as money is so tight that I can’t afford to spend anything on apps. I do think the payment options seem reasonable for a well-made and slick app. Some breathing apps are just basic timers and that’s it. Prana Breath genuinely seems to go above and beyond this, and the fact that the free version is ad-free too always gains my respect.

Prana Breath

The only draw-back I might envision for some is that they might want an app that is more secular in appearance, lacking the symbolism and sounds associated with more belief-based meditation. Even to these people I would say give Prana Breath a go, as it’s a great little app. It really helps me to practice my breathing exercise of choice without getting too lost in mentally counting the intervals myself.

As an example of when this comes in handy, I sometimes enjoy slowing and deepening my breath to a rate of two breaths or less per minute. It has been known for my mind to lose count, and I forget to breathe for sometime. When I realise I’ve drifted, I get a bit of a jolt, and this tends to undo any calming or relaxation effects I’d already experienced. So yes, Prana Breath does help with this, to a degree.

Does it help me with relaxation and anxiety stuff? Yes and no. I find I sometimes bring any tension or stress I’m feeling into the exercise I’m trying to do. Even with the best of intentions and awareness, in these situations, the breathing stuff sometimes makes me feel worse. At other times, it helps me to settle and feel calmer. The act of focussing on both breath and audio cues also slows my mind’s usual ruminations too. On balance, I find breathing exercises helpful, but at other times I’d rather just focus on my breathing and watch it rather than change its rhythm.

As always though, you should go carefully with health stuff. Breathing exercises might help some but they could harm others or make things worse. I’m not telling you that breathing exercises will help you, I’m just describing an app that helps me to time the ones that I like to use. Don’t self-treat or self-diagnose blindly, see your Doctor for advice and realise that you are responsible for your own health, and that you try things at your own risk. Be safe and be sensible.

Visit the Prana Breath website for much more information and detailed breakdowns of the various exercises. There are also links to some of the science behind why breathing exercises might help people with various health and emotional problems.

Prana Breath is available from the Google Play Store and the Amazon Store.

***

If you found this review helpful, or think that it might be useful to someone you know, please share it on social media and tag them in. If you have any breathing exercise recommendations to try, please also let me know by commenting below or finding me on social media. I'm always on the lookout for new ones to try. Cheers.

Friday, 19 July 2019

TECH NEWS: A.I Depression Detection Moves Forward

Photo used freely from the excellent Gratisography website
As anyone will know, we humans have pesky emotions, those things that add both flavour and heartache to life. We might not always be fully aware of what we are feeling though, and it is in this that artificial intelligence might soon come to our aid.

A professor and student at the University of Alberta's Computer Science Department, Eleni Stroulia and Mashrura Tasnim respectively, have recently released their findings with regards to A.I's depression detecting abilities, and the potential this might have for future applications.

They used data from previous research and, using various machine-learning algorithms, they developed a new way to detect depression in the timbre of a subject's voice. This method might lead to new ways in which our tech can monitor our well-being:
"A realistic scenario is to have people use an app that will collect voice samples as they speak naturally. The app, running on the user’s phone, will recognize and track indicators of mood, such as depression, over time. Much like you have a step counter on your phone, you could have a depression indicator based on your voice as you use the phone." - Eleni Stroulia
As someone who suffers with depression, this kind of news is quite exciting. I don't always catch myself slipping into a bigger 'dip' in mood, and sometimes the realisation only comes once I'm entrenched in cycles of downward thinking. If I had an app on my phone that could pop-up a notification and say "Hey, you are dipping a little!" I might have a chance to get ahead of things and do those self-care things that sometimes help take my thinking down a more cheerful path.

The more I think about it, the more I'm curious as to how A.I might perform in detecting other emotions in our voices. How cool would it be to have a friendly app saying "You're very lonely right now, don't let this affect your standards with your Tinder swipes!" I know that is only a few steps away from HAL and his "I'm afraid I can't do that" attitude, but hey, it's interesting to ponder.

Source: University of Alberta

Thursday, 18 July 2019

HORROR NEWS: Wicked Witches Are Coming This August

Wicked Witches

We live in a time where more and more people are going vegetarian or vegan, but the titular characters in Wicked Witches not only fancy a bit of man-flesh but also the soul it houses inside. That's just greedy if you think about it.

The story follows a man ejected from his house for shagging around. He goes back to the farm of his youth, but all is not well there. For one thing, there is the small matter of his friend being possessed by said group of witches. Thus starts the plot to feast on the unsuspecting playboy.

Wicked Witches

Watching the trailer brought me to thinking that I haven't seen a decent witch film for a long, long time. There's that other shaky-cam found-footage film that I'm sure you've heard of, but I was pretty underwhelmed by that and its more slick sequel. Wicked Witches looks 'proper bleak and gory' in my opinion, and the whole set-up of the possessed friend working for them adds a bit of extra spice to things.

Wicked Witches

Wicked Witches will be in select theatres and also available on DVD and VOD from August 9th. It comes from The Pickering Brothers by way of Midnight Releasing, and stars Duncan Casey, Justin Marosa, Samantha Schnitzler, Jasmine Clark and Laura Coleman. Visit the official Wicked Witches website, and checkout the trailer below:


Wednesday, 17 July 2019

GAMING NEWS: Archaeological Deciphering Game Heaven's Vault Now on GOG.com

Heaven's Vault

I'm always partial to a bit of code deciphering, so when I saw an announcement about Heaven's Vault being available on GOG.com, and that it was a hieroglyphical, archaeological, non-linear narrative adventure game, I wondered how this game had managed to pass me by.

The game follows the story of Aliya as she explores The Nebula, a scattered network of moons. The ruins you explore garner inscriptions that need to be translated. What's more, the translations you choose apparently feedback into the story, and the game never tells you if you are correct or not. This is all wrapped in a lovely art-style and a sweeping soundtrack.

Heaven's Vault

Heaven's Vault

The game comes from inkle, the creators behind the world-roaming adventure game 80 Days, a game that I very much enjoyed, so I know that they have a pedigree when it comes to charming adventure games. Heaven's Vault released on PS4 and Steam three months ago, and I managed to miss it's arrival.

I'm intrigued by Heaven's Vault. I'm a sucker for games with a pleasing art-style, but the way that it sounds like your decisions/decryptions actually have meaning, and that the game doesn't hold your hand, that is something that I wish was a feature of many more games.

Heaven's Vault is on GOG.com at this link, and for a short time is 20% off, making it £15.99 rather than £19.99. You can also watch the trailer below:


Tuesday, 16 July 2019

HORROR NEWS: 3 From Hell Full Trailer Released

3 From Hell

3 From Hell is the third film from Rob Zombie that details the leisure pursuits of the murderous Firefly family, and it has just had its full trailer released.

Seemingly set to take place after their shootout with the police at the end of The Devil's Rejects, the trailer shows the trio beating their massive injuries. Some people despair at this, others create some kind of movement to get them released from prison.

Having a "real day of the dead" is mentioned, seeming to be backed up by a number of Mexican-themed scenes in the trailer. Then come the various scenes of a knife-wielding, mad-giggling, build-up to violence. "This is my death factory, and you are the product!" is just one of a handful of meaty quotes.

3 From Hell

I was quite late to the Firefly family party, only catching the first two films (the first was House of 1000 Corpses) on Netflix. I enjoyed their 'Texas Chainsaw' aesthetic, and there is something quite charming about a creepy clown, in my opinion. 3 From Hell looks set to continue the madness, and I think the element of the trio having "fans" while in prison is a nice touch.

3 From Hell stars Sid Haig, Bill Moseley and Sheri Moon Zombie along with a number of others including Danny Trejo, Richard Brake and Jeff Daniel Phillips. It was written and directed by Rob Zombie and the studio involved is Lionsgate.

First screenings will occur in September (in the U.S), and you can find out more by visiting the official site at this link: Robzombie.com/movies/three-from-hell-2019/ . Be sure to check out the trailer below too!


Thursday, 4 July 2019