MA4 Geoff Davis Cow Boils Head Story Generator

 

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Above: master backup. The tape was only distributed on Prestel teletext.

ZX Spectrum 48k – 1985

Geoff Davis

My ‘Cow Boils Head’ short story was submitted to the Panurge literary magazine but they wanted me to make it ‘more bloody’. This happened a few times with agents and publishers with other works, but I never changed anything, which was a bit short-sighted looking back. 

‘Cow Boils Head’ was the story seed for this generator. The story was inspired by Mad Cow Disease or MCD, which was a big event in UK farming in the 80s. Cows had been fed ground up dead cows left over from food processing, and this led to a prion brain disease, which was not detected until it had spread widely. It led to a vast cull of cows, food panics, major disruption.

The story was about a cow who discovered she had eaten her sister, and set out on revenge. It was written as a review of the events (see later for the story). 

The story was not about the actual disease, but rather a single occurrence of it, perhaps even the first occurrence, as if this extraordinary event might have in some way prevented the bigger outbreak, by attracting attention to the disease.

The generative text output was not completely random as the original sentences were broken down and linked to lists of alternative words, at the syntax level. So the sentence structure of the story was loosely retained, but the words changed (syntax) and so the meaning also changed. Since all the words in the list were chosen by me to fit the story, it was not a pure creation by computer. Modern language generators (using neural nets and machine learning) work on large data sets of texts, which obviously are particular, even if very large. The latest at time of writing (March 2019) to hit the headlines  is the OpenAI Generative Pre-trained Transformer-2 (GPT-2) system, which is remarkable for creating readable paragraphs of text that follow a seed paragraph, and also capable of generating summaries etc. The full model has not been publicly released but a less powerful version GPT-2 Jr is out for demonstration. For more information, please search the web.

The Cow Boils Head set of lists relied on religion and animals, with cows, lizards, or insects etc. mixing it up with priests, barbecues etc. Once a viewer, somewhat religious, was shocked reading these lurid and occasionally grammatical stories about angels, devils, insects and roasting, and had a nosebleed (i.e.more blood).

Please note that the Stories have occasional grammatical (or style) quirks but this is all from the computer generation. Each word had a list of alt words, held together across each iteration. There is a video at microartsgroup.com/videos (coming soon).

Screen shots:

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The original short story:

COW BOILS HEAD

Geoff Davis 1983

One never expects to be surprised by the headlines of tabloid newspapers, the gutter press dismaying with predictability. Sex dwarfs, kidnapped gnomes and compromised clergy represent a reassuring spectacle for the bored and self-absorbed commuter or house worker. But this was something different. People stood reading and rereading the newspapers, sometimes missing trains, buses, and in several reported instances, boats and planes.

One never expects to be surprised by the headlines of tabloid newspapers, the gutter press dismaying with predictability. Sex dwarfs, kidnapped gnomes and compromised clergy represent a reassuring spectacle for the bored and self-absorbed commuter or house worker. But this was something different. People stood reading and rereading the newspapers, sometimes missing trains, buses, and in several reported instances, boats and planes.

That such a simple story should have this effect on the migrating hordes only demonstrates the rarity with which a news item, perhaps disbelieved when in the early stages of transmission as well as in its various final versions, transcends the levelling effect of the mass media.

It has been said that some people actually went mad, began raving or slid into catatonia, upon hearing the news, but it has since been ruled that the event cannot be used as grounds for pleading criminal insanity, so these outbreaks may have been coincidental, if somewhat archly synchronous. The sheer improbability of the event, together with the unequivocal proof of its occurrence, may have tipped the scales towards derangement in more sensitive minds.

How could an apparently normal cow come to boil a head, and a woman’s head at that? Details were scarce at first, as the only witness – the deceased woman’s husband – was partly incinerated by the same cow. Motives are hard to ascribe to our domestic animals, whether pets or livestock. It is also difficult to ascertain the degree of insight these dumb but attentive observers have into the motives of humans. Certainly it would appear that the owners of the cow in question cruelly, if inadvertently, mistreated her, but on a psychological rather than physical basis. And the cow’s perception of its mistreatment depended on a reading of human motive that was as erroneous as it was surprising that it happened at all.

Two of the cows’ sisters were put to slaughter a few weeks before the incident. That this may have led to a certain imbalance in the mind of the cow seems plausible. That the cow should detect the presence of her sisters in the nutrient mix fed separately to her normal diet of hay and grass is remarkable enough, given the extremely low concentration present, but that the cow should elucidate motives behind this addition is quite startling. The cow apparently developed an obsession that the death of its sisters was calculated murder, and that their dismemberment, disintegration and subsequent addition to the salmagundi of the nutrient mix was in some way an act of psychological violence comparable only to attempted murder.

The cow felt its psyche to be under sustained and remorseless attack and reacted in its own spectacular way. The cow began to exhibit a desire or craving for the taste of human flesh. This was first manifested as licking, but soon progressed to gnawing and biting, such that the cow became extremely difficult to handle. The owners than decided to send her the way of her sisters, to the abattoir. The phenomenon of a mad cow is so rare that it was soon a subject of discussion around the farm and surrounding area. In retrospect, the danger point can be seen. As the owners moved the cow from its safety pen for what was to be the last time, it became extremely violent and managed to pin both of them against the pen wall. What happened next is difficult to establish in detail, but the surviving husband’s incoherent statements have a few common strands. He is adamant that he did not have any idea of the intentions of the cow at this point, and there is no reason to disbelieve him. The cow forced the husband to fetch a bucket of boiling water and a few other items from the kitchen to the pen. The husband has now taken to bellowing like an animal when agitated so further interrogation has been postponed until he achieves a more stable condition. However, the various statements he has made, although sometimes contradictory, provide a convincing account of the actions within the compound.

By some process of will the cow was able to force the woman to bend over and place her head directly into the bucket of boiling water, and keep it there until enough time had elapsed for it to become thoroughly boiled. This happened before asphyxiation. The husband, looking on helplessly, was then made, by a strange process of compulsion, to place in the bucket a string of pork and beef sausages. This seems to have broken the husband, still deeply shocked by the boiling of his wife’s head. The actions leading to the incineration of the husband are still shrouded in mystery. It is thought that he escaped his ordeal by scaling a barbed wire fence that surrounded the safety compound, as he was found suspended from the top rung of wire, staring down at the cow, which was trying to consume the earthly remains of his wife, along with, curiously, the pork and beef sausages. The teeth of cows are not adapted for such mastication and its success was extremely, though not totally, limited.

As a corollary to this tale, there have been many defections from the animal rights organisations, particularly the women members, and several spontaneous demonstrations have taken place outside livestock farms, climaxing with a symbolic meal of a slab of cooked beef on bread and butter.

That such a simple story should have this effect on the migrating hordes only demonstrates the rarity with which a news item, perhaps disbelieved when in the early stages of transmission, as well as in its various final versions, transcending the levelling effect of the mass media. It has been said that some people actually went mad, began raving or slid into catatonia, upon hearing the news, but it has since been ruled that the event cannot be used as grounds for pleading criminal insanity, so these outbreaks may have been coincidental, if somewhat archly synchronous. The sheer improbability of the event, together with the unequivocal proof of its occurrence, may have tipped the scales towards derangement in more sensitive minds.

How could an apparently normal cow come to boil a head, and a woman’s head at that? Details were scarce at first, as the only witness – the deceased woman’s husband – was partly incinerated by the same cow. Motives are hard to ascribe to our domestic animals, whether pets or livestock. It is also difficult to ascertain the degree of insight these dumb but attentive observers have into the motives of humans. Certainly it would appear that the owners of the cow in question cruelly, if inadvertently, mistreated her, but on a psychological rather than physical basis. And the cow’s perception of its mistreatment depended on a reading of human motive that was as erroneous as it was surprising that it happened at all.

Two of the cows’ sisters were put to slaughter a few weeks before the incident. That this may have led to a certain imbalance in the mind of the cow seems plausible. That the cow should detect the presence of her sisters in the nutrient mix fed separately to her normal diet of hay and grass is remarkable enough, given the extremely low concentration present, but that the cow should elucidate motives behind this addition is quite startling. The cow apparently developed an obsession that the death of its sisters was calculated murder, and that their dismemberment, disintegration and subsequent addition to the salmagundi of the nutrient mix was in some way an act of psychological violence comparable only to attempted murder.

The cow felt its psyche to be under sustained and remorseless attack and reacted in its own spectacular way. The cow began to exhibit a desire or craving for the taste of human flesh. This was first manifested as licking, but soon progressed to gnawing and biting, such that the cow became extremely difficult to handle. The owners than decided to send her the way of her sisters, to the abattoir. The phenomenon of a mad cow is so rare that it was soon a subject of discussion around the farm and surrounding area. In retrospect, the danger point can be seen. As the owners moved the cow from its safety pen for what was to be the last time, it became extremely violent and managed to pin both of them against the pen wall. What happened next is difficult to establish in detail, but the surviving husband’s incoherent statements have a few common strands. He is adamant that he did not have any idea of the intentions of the cow at this point, and there is no reason to disbelieve him. The cow forced the husband to fetch a bucket of boiling water and a few other items from the kitchen to the pen. The husband has now taken to bellowing like an animal when agitated so further interrogation has been postponed until he achieves a more stable condition. However, the various statements he has made, although sometimes contradictory, provide a convincing account of the actions within the compound.

By some process of will the cow was able to force the woman to bend over and place her head directly into the bucket of boiling water, and keep it there until enough time had elapsed for it to become thoroughly boiled. This happened before asphyxiation hug taken place. The husband, looking on helplessly, was then made, by a strange process of compulsion, to place in the bucket a string of pork and beef sausages. This seems to have broken the husband, still deeply shocked by the boiling of his wife’s head. The actions leading to the incineration of the husband are still shrouded in mystery. It is thought that he escaped his ordeal by scaling a barbed wire fence that surrounded the safety compound, as he was found suspended from the top rung of wire, staring down at the cow, which was trying to consume the earthly remains of his wife, along with, curiously, the pork and beef sausages. The teeth of cows are not adapted for such mastication and its success was extremely, though not totally, limited.

As a corollary to this tale, there have been many defections from the animal rights organisations, particularly the women members, and several spontaneous demonstrations have taken place outside livestock farms, climaxing with a symbolic meal of a slab of cooked beef on bread and butter.