Posts from March 2007
So on Wednestday evening, Lenore and I came down with cold symptoms at virtually the exact same time… personally, I blame Lenore. That, or the public transit system. Nothing like a bus packed full of people who like to cough without covering their mouths to spread the germs. Anyway, the end result is that we spent Thursday, Friday, and most of Saturday laid up. It’s been fun. Real fun.
Anyway, to alleviate some boredom, I took Wednesday evening to pick up a couple new games for my DS (I actually lost a couple games at one point… but I’d rather not get into that right now. It’s a bit of a sore spot), in order to pass the time. Sure, I could watch TV, but there’s only so much on the PVR to view. Or I could read, though reading requires concentration, and concentration requires a clear head, which is frustrated greatly by a cold. So, I figured, mindless entertainment, that’s where it’s at.
Well, what did I pick up? The following:
- Yoshi’s Island DS
- Mario Kart1
- Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time
Anyway, Yoshi’s Island is a pretty straight-forward port of Yoshi’s Island 2 for the SNES. An excellent platformer. I’ll skip Mario Kart. And then we have PiT, which is a Mario-themed RPG, and another excellent game.
But, what I haven’t done is written much in the last few days. I took Wednesday off for whatever reason. Thursday and Friday I was too sick to even consider sitting down at the computer. And today, I find myself struggling, trying to get back into the story I’m working on. Which is an interesting lesson: writing every day is important for honing one’s skills. But it’s also very important when working on a longer piece, as one can easily lose momentum and fall out of the mood of the piece, or worse, one might lift one’s head up and begin having doubts… maybe it really does suck. Maybe it’s just a stupid idea. Blah blah blah. It’s definitely a challenge.
So, hopefully today or tomorrow, I can try and remedy the situation. Step one, I think, is to read a little more Dickens. He always seems to inspire me.
This would be one of those games I thought I lost. Until, that is, I discovered it in my DS. So if anyone’s looking for a discount copy of Mario Kart DS, gimme a call… ↩
Well, it would appear that a new little person will be coming into the world soon. Congrats, y’all! Ya, you know who you are.
Well That's Just Bizarre
I think I just finished a chapter in the middle of a story. I don’t know how it happened, really… I started writing a few days ago, focusing on this idea that I’ve been making reference to incessantly (or, perhaps tantilizingly? Yeah… didn’t think so), and today, after hitting the 3500 word mark and the end of what I thought was the first chapter, I decided to stop and ask myself how I wanted to progress. Suddenly, as I sat there staring at the monitor, it dawned on me that what I’d just written more correctly belongs in the middle of a larger work… what the heck??
So now I get to start all over, this time at the actual beginning… hopefully, when I reach the middle, things will fit together all nice and neat. Somehow, I doubt it.
If one were to use Orkut or Myspace as a population sample, one might come to conclusion that the bulk of the people in this world are, in fact, functionally illiterate…
It’s too much. To vast. Can I really do this? Am I up to the task? Or am I being too ambitious, simply overestimating what I’m capable of? Honestly, I don’t know. I could abbreviated it, keep it small and contained, avoid letting it grow or get out of hand. But should I? Maybe I should just let it spread out, let it drag me along for the ride…
As an aside, anyone who actually reads this thing (yes, all three of you), may remember that I said this idea I’m currently playing with had been bouncing around in my brain for the last couple months. Well, it turns out I was wrong. I was lying in bed recently when I remembered that, way back when we were still living in our apartment downtown, I was already thinking about getting back into creating writing, and already groping around for interesting ideas. One of these ideas I wrote down in a little text file and squirreled away, after which I subsequently forgot about it. Then, a while back, as I was doing a little virtual house cleaning, I found the file, read through it, dismissed it as the wild ravings of a crazed lunatic, and promptly deleted it.
Well, oddly enough, it was this idea (or, at least the seeds of it), which sprung back into my mind. Which all goes to show that 1) this “writing thing” isn’t such a nutty flight of fancy after all, and 2) it’s better to never throw an idea away… because, even if it’s “bad”, it could become the roots of something “good”.
Pants Suits For Everyone!
Some of you may remember my entry about the infamous Knitted Pants Suit. I still consider this one of my all-time favorite knitted items, and for the longest time, I bemoaned the lack of a pattern from which I could replicate this masterful work of art. Well, a while back, I decided to send a private message to the poster of the entry where I first encountered this gem (the second link in the aforementioned blog entry), in the hopes that I might acquire the pattern and perhaps create one of my own… you know, to wear around the house, or for one of those wild nights out for which Lenore and I are truly infamous.
Well, as it happens, not a week or two later, I got a response from the individual in question. Yes, he did have the pattern. And yes, he would get me a copy! And so it was that I came into possession of three PDFs which will enable me to create my very own knitted pants suit.
Of course, it would seem unfair to keep this pattern to myself (it’s bad enough I’ve held on to it this long without sharing it with the world), and so I offer it up here (yes, I realize this is copyright infringement, but I just hope Brunswick will understand). Heck, maybe myself and any other interested knitters could each create our own renditions of this masterpiece, that we may then compare our interpretations, and, in the process, enrich the world with the knitted pants suits that it so woefully lacks.
I Slacked Off
It’s not my fault. My brother came to town, and I found my free time over the weekend suddenly evaporate. See, Saturday was Dim Sum and Movie Day, and Sunday was Visit The Neglected Grandma Day. Neither provided much opportunity to get some writing in. So, alas, my current piece is hovering at ~7,200 words, and hasn’t moved much since Friday (and I took Thursday as a break).
On the flip side, I think I’m almost done with this one, and while I really doubt it’s anything worth reading, it will soon be my second completed piece of fiction, and hey, that ain’t bad. The biggest problem, at this stage, is the ending. The concept was actually born out of the ending itself, and now that I’m about to get there… I’m not sure I like the ending anymore. But, I’ve decided I’ll just charge ahead and see how things turn out. If I’m right and it sucks, I can always rip it out and try something different. And if I’m wrong, well… that’d be great!
Meanwhile, I’ve been fiddling around with an idea that’s been bouncing around in my brain for the last couple months. It’s more situational, so rather than worrying about building a story back from an interesting ending, I need to worry about coming up with an interesting ending to what I think is a compelling storyline. I’m not as yet sure how I’ll handle this, but maybe the answer is just to start writing and see where the concept takes me.
Things I've Stumbled Upon
Why did I install you, StumbleUpon? WHY???
Okay, so a little background, StumbleUpon is this browser extension that adds a toolbar to your browser. If you hit “Stumble”, it’ll search for websites it thinks you might like. Then you rate them. It has categories, so you can select particular subject matter, and you can even post comments and read what other people have to say.
Well, as you can imagine, this is an immense time waster. I mean, it’s really bad. It’s like the Del.icio.us front page, except less work. And the stuff I’ve found? Well, here’s a few gems:
- Taylor Hall Planet Perplex
- Kid Creatures
- The above lead me to: The Monster Engine
- Gummi Bear Sculptures
- T-Shirt Stencil Tutorial
- Crazy Bathroom. StumbleUpon actually found a blog entry on this subject, and some co-workers tracked it down on Snopes.
And those are just the things I thought were really cool. I just wish I hadn’t found yet another way to procrastinate at work.
I just came across this. It has photos and virtual tours of various Asian temples and other buildings. Very very neat.
Fun With Google Code Search
So, today, one of my “friends” at work was so kind as to post a Google code search, with my name as a search term, on our internal IRC server (thanks a lot, Jeremy… jerk!). For those not aware, Google now has a specialized search engine that allows one to search through publically available source code (the bits that comprise the blueprint for a piece of software). It’s pretty handy for many things (computing various code metrics, finding interesting code snippets, and so forth). But, as it happens, it’s also a great way to find code authored by specific people. And, in this case, that specific person was me.
Well, this got me thinking: Imagine you’re applying for a job. Further, suppose, in your younger, less experienced years, you made some of your work available online. Perhaps you contributed to some open source project. Or maybe you released something of your own. Well, your potential employer now has a very easy way to find these bits and bobs, and may very well choose to include them as part of your evaluation. Now, that’s fine if all you’ve ever made available online is top-quality code. But for hacks like me, this can be a problem.
Of course, since the advent of the search engine, an employer has always had the option of digging around on the Internet for information about prospective employees, which is why it’s important to be careful about what you post online. But, for those in the tech sector, Google code search means their past work can now be more easily tracked down and evaluated.
And in case you were curious, you can see what Google has to say about me here.
It's Okay, Throw It Away
I’ve only been doing this whole “writing” thing for about two weeks now, so I can’t say I have the experience to have any useful opinions about the craft, but recently I learned an interesting little lesson about one of my own tendencies as a writer: I tend to get irrationally attached to the things I’ve created. Whether it’s a whole piece or just a single sentence, I get attached, and by that I mean I’m unwilling to just throw it away. Now, that’s not to say I’m unwilling to throw what I perceive as bad stuff away (this blog entry’s continued existence notwithstanding), but if I think something is good, or even just average, I have difficulty getting rid of it.
This tendency caused me trouble late last week while working on my latest little project (~5000 words and climbing!). See, I’d written, oh, three or four hundred words of dialog and exposition between a few characters, and the next day, as I sat down before the keyboard, I found it extremely difficult to build up the motivation to write. Suddenly I was worried. Have I lost interest in this idea? Is this a case of that oh-so-dreaded condition, “writer’s block”? What’s going on?
Then it dawned on me: while the bit I’d written the day before was, from a technical standpoint, decent (well, to me, anyway), it was, from a plot development standpoint, basically superfluous. Worse, it wasn’t clear how I was going to move on from the situation without boring
- any potential readers, and
Fortunately, this was a very easy problem to fix: highlight, delete. Boom, nearly an hour’s worth of work gone. Was it a little painful throwing all that material away? Sure. But sometimes, you just gotta make the hard decisions.
Anyway, for any potential writers who give a damn about the things I’m learning as I go along, here’s what I was forced to ask myself:
- Is this passage interesting? And note, if you’re forcing yourself to write it, imagine what someone will go through while trying to read it.
- Does this passage advance the plot in a meaningful way?
- Does this passage tell the reader anything new or interesting about the characters or setting?
In my case, the answer to all three questions was “no”, so into the trash it went.
Web Radio That Doesn't Suck
When the whole idea of web radio started floating around, it seemed like a remarkably brilliant idea. The web had already made the printed word accessible to the masses, giving anyone the ability to make their works avilable to the world. The idea of extending this paradigm to music, and perhaps even video, seemed romantic and outlandish, science fiction made real.
And then came the blog.
Oddly, the blog has become the epitome of everything I love and hate about the Internet. On the one hand, it’s a wonderful paradigm for personal communication, making it simple and easy for anyone to make their written works available to the world. On the other hand, the blog made us realize something: most people have little interesting to say, and/or they lack the basic writing skills necessary to say it. The end result is that, despite immense potential, the blog has, for the most part, turned into merely a simple way for friends to communicate amongst each other.
By the way, in case you were wondering, everything I just said is true of this little place. But I digress…
So after seeing how the blog has evolved, I was quite skeptical of web radio. After all, if blog content is so uninspiring, why would putting radio in the hands of the masses be any different? Well, for the most part, I don’t think it is any different. However, there are some real gems out there, and one of them, which I find myself listening to more or less constantly right now, is SomaFM. SomaFM is one of the oldest, most popular web radio stations out there, as of this writing offering 11 different channels covering a variety of different genres, my personal favorite being Indie Pop Rocks.
What I love about Soma is that it’s clearly run by people who love music, and more, importantly, have good taste. As a result, I end up hearing from bands that I would never hear otherwise, without having to wade through the long tail that is the indie music scene. It’s also a nice break if you happen to be sick of the music you already own.
Related to this, I also installed MythStream on my MythTV frontend, which is a nice module for playing back streaming video and audio within the context of MythTV. The result? I can listen to SomaFM from the comfort of my own livingroom at the touch of a few buttons.
Of course, just as I start listening to Soma, I discover that the US copyright board, in their infinite wisdom, has cranked the licensing fees for web broadcasters such that Soma will need to raise upwards of 1 million dollars in order to stay in operation. Thanks a lot, assholes.
Sure, it may be a small milestone, but my first piece of (very) short fiction is now complete! Or, at least, the very first, very rough draft is complete. At a little over 8800 words, or nearly 12 pages, it is, I think, the longest bit of creative writing I’ve ever put together. Yeah, I know, that’s not very big (a novella ranges between ~17,000 and ~40,000 words, though technically, it apparently qualifies as a Novelette), especially considering I expect to cut a good 800 words out during the rewrite phase, but given that it’s my first serious crack at creative writing, I’m pretty happy with it, despite the distinct lack of originality it represents (who needs originality, anyway, I ask you?).
So now what? Simple: it goes in the vault. The idea, here, is that once a piece is complete, you set it aside for a while in order to gain some distance from it. Then, when you go back to edit the thing, you can do so with a fresh perspective on the work. And once the rewrite is complete, only then do you kick your baby out of the nest, hoping against hope that it’ll flap it’s wings a little and avoid crashing and burning too badly.
Meanwhile, tomorrow I’ll get started on my next idea. It’s been rolling around in the back of my mind for the last week, so I’m kind of excited to pull it out of the cellar that is my hindbrain and see what it looks like in the light of day. Hopefully it ain’t too ugly…
The Great Writing Project, Week One
Well, here marks the end of the first week of my great writing experiment. As a recap, in case you can’t be bothered to scroll down two posts to read about it for yourself, I’m currently attempting to write at least 1,000 words per day (crappy or otherwise), minus a break day (which, last week, was on the Wednesday). Note, this does not, unfortunately, include my blog entries, which don’t really qualify as “fiction” per say (or “interesting” or “entertaining”, for that matter).
Anyway, so far, I think things have gone pretty well. At this point, the biggest failure has been my writing schedule, which suffered from a need to bank hours for a trip (which, as it turns out, was aborted for reasons I’m not going to bother getting in to here), meaning I wasn’t arriving home until quarter to six, and not finishing my writing until nearly eight, depending on how slow the words were coming. Additionally, my Saturday writing got postponed to today, thanks to a busy day out and about (BTW, Zodiac
==pretty decent movie). But other than those minor hiccups, I think I can declare week 1 of the great writing project a, as Borat would say, Great Success!
Of course, I’m not implying anything regarding the quality of the work so far produced. As far as I know, it’s nearly 6100 words (soon to be 7100) of complete and utter crap. But, hey, at least it’s my crap, right? Then again, I’m not sure Lenore will be so cognizant of that silver lining when I foist this monstrosity on her.
- You know, the second 1,000 was a lot harder than the first…
A Dying Medium
As everyone is perfectly aware, the Internet has had an incredibly profound effect on our society. In many ways, it’s revolutionized our lives, giving us the ability to touch people and information a world away, right from the comfort of our living rooms. For many, these changes have been incredibly positive. But for those invested in the status quo, particularly traditional media companies and the like, the ‘net is a bane, one which blindsided them, transforming from curiosity to grave threat in a mere fifteen years, threatening to destroy business models that have existed for the last century.
Among those threatened is the newspaper industry, which no longer has a monopoly (well, oligopoly, when combined with television) on information. The result is companies left scrambling to make themselves relevant in order to attract new subscribers. Of course, anyone who owns a home has probably sensed this. I can’t begin to count the number of times some teenager has arrived at my door, attempting to push me into buying a subscription (god damn these companies for introducing young, impressionable minds to pressure sales tactics so early… I’m betting a good half of these poor children will grow up to be used car salesmen).
Over the last few years, no doubt aided and abetted by souless marketing graduates, these companies have evolved their strategies in an effort to manipulate their victims into saying “yes” to a free month with the paper (good luck canceling that subscription). In the past, I was amazed and disgusted by tactics that have included, among other things, children who inform you that, should they sell you a subscription, they will be entered into a draw for a scholarship to the university of their choice. You wouldn’t want to deny them the chance at an education, would you? I’m not sure which angered me more, having my emotions manipulated like that or my intelligence so grossly underestimated.
But today I discovered a new tactic that is, I think, even more insidious: I hear a knock at the door. Without thinking, I answer the door to discover a wholesome looking young man with a clipboard, the Sun logo displayed prominently on the letterhead (this was, I think, a tactical error on his part), immediately putting me on the defensive. “You’re gonna try to sell me a newspaper, aren’t you?”, I ask, clearly dismayed. As I try to insist that, no, I don’t want a damned paper (the Sun is the worst kind of populist tripe, only inches away from the World Weekly News), the young man informs me that part of the money will be going to support his local hockey team. Oooh, clever, trying to appeal to my presumed love of Canada’s favorite game (jokes on him, sucker!). Again, I try to get rid of the little bastard, and he informs me that, rather than purchasing a newspaper, I could opt to donate $10 or $20, and the newspaper would go to a hospital, instead. $10 or $20 to get rid of this kid? Sounds like a good deal to me. As it happens, I didn’t actually have $10 or $20 on my person, so eventually he gave up in search of easier prey, but it was a close call.
Now, what’s incredibly clever about this strategy is the appeal to charity. By giving the victim the option of donating cash instead, the person feels good, thinking that they’re supporting a hockey team and providing newspapers to hospital patients and their loving families. How can you say no to that? But what isn’t so obvious is that the newspaper company still gets their cut of the profits. See, either way, you’re buying a newspaper. Worse, they never make it clear how much of that $10 or $20 would actually go to this presumably financially strapped hockey team. For all you or I know, the newspaper company keeps half of that money (or more), and given that a monthly subscription to the Sun is around $20, that’s a pretty good deal for a one-time newspaper donation.
It’s really quite clever. Heck, even I got sucked in, and I pride myself on seeing through these transparent rouses. I guess this is what happens when you combined the evil of marketing with the powers of psychology.
You find yourself in a dark forest, the thick canopy above creating a perpetual twilight. Looking around, you see trees marching off into the infinite distance, their trunks standing in a sea of thick underbrush, the rough bark covered in dark moss and lichen. Here, there is no sense of place or time, no sense of direction or distance. You stand immobilized, trying to decide what to do next, unable to make a decision.
Eventually, you realize you can’t stay here forever. Surveying the immediate vicinity, you see the brush and ivy make some areas nearly impassable. Finally, you choose a direction, picking your way carefully lest you twist your ankle on some hidden rock or divot in the terrain. Some time later, though how long is impossible to say, you find a small stream, the clear water trickling musically in the deep silence. Thirsty, you drink, the water cold and refreshing, and as you crouch there, the dark rocks of the bank slippery beneath your feet, you resolve to follow the stream, hoping it will lead you out of this place.
How long you walked like that, it’s impossible to say. But eventually, after what seems like many hours, the forest ahead of you starts to change, the brush seeming to thin, occasional bursts of light breaking through the trees above. Soon, you catch a glimpse of the edge of the forest, it’s green leaves shining in bright sunlight, and you break into a run. Careless, you trip and stumble, barely catching yourself on the trunk of a nearby tree, the bark cutting deep scratches into your palms. And suddenly you are in the open. Before you a hill slopes down into a great open plain, tall grasses marching endlessly into the distance, their blades swaying rhythmically. Turning your face skyward, you see the sun directly overhead, the sky clear and unmarred.
As the minutes pass, the initial excitement fades, and you begin to realize that you have no more idea of where you are now than you did before. Ahead of you, the plain fades into blue obscurity, the horizon an unbroken line with no feature to recommend one direction over another. In the back of your mind, you discover a small part of you regrets leaving the forest; at least there, the dark trees and thick plants meant you had few choices to make. But here your options are limitless. Overwhelmed, you sit in the deep, warm grass. What now?
<table/note a> a: In case you were curious, this would be my attempt at describing where I am in the piece I’m currently working on. Why didn’t I just stay in the damned forest? —-