Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Tool Stimulus Contest

Once in a while we get together as a culture to celebrate the truly important things in life, like music, and there is no greater celebration than that of the concert.

Tool image "courtesy" of JLC
During the recent Holiday season I was thrilled to hear that our own John Labatt Centre would be host to the incomparable Tool, one of those bands whose lyrics never seem to run out of things to say. As I celebrated that I would have both the means and the opportunity to enjoy this rare treat I realized it wasn't always the case. Haven't I been trapped in the fiscal confines of school or unemployment in the past and missed out on seeing bands on my bucket list?

It was a tweet from @Kenini_I (Teri) that made me realize this. She had tweeted an entreaty to the world at large to make it possible for her to see this concert as she was just not able to make it work. It was that moment I committed to The Tool Stimulus Contest. I would give away two tickets to the unemployed and/or students of London on my own sweet whims, and the very first winner was Teri for giving me the idea and meeting the criteria. She already has her ticket.

Now YOU have the chance to win the last ticket. In the next 24 hours you must comment on this blog with your email address or Twitter account (and be following me so we can DM) and state whether you are a Student or Unemployed and include a personal anecdote about Tool. It can be your favourite song, the first time you heard it, or anything at all, but something so I know you are real.

The winner will be drawn at random, there are no wrong answers or best posts. You stand to have a VERY high chance of winning since I only have 6 semi-regular readers.  The winner will be posted here and contacted by email or Twitter after 5PM tomorrow Wednesday January 25th and I will deliver the ticket to you that evening or before the concert.

In summary.

Contest Rules:

Meet the Eligibility:
1) Student
2) Unemployed
3) A really good liar that can fake 1) or 2) and won't feel bad stealing the ticket from someone who is less fortunate (jerk)

Comment below with your email address or Twitter account (and follow @Oathbreaker) before 5PM Wednesday January 25th.

Good Luck!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Review:: Ender's Game

Orson Scott Card is an author who's words I've read several times and nodded along too in agreement, and yet I had never once read any of his fiction. I've read works of his dedicated to the craft of writing and his knowledge there finally convinced me to make reading Ender's Game a priority.

Ender's Game closely follows Andrew Wiggin, known as Ender, as he is selected and groomed for a great destiny within the military defence of Earth. In this future, mankind has found an uneasy peace on earth after surviving two waves of invasion from a ruthless alien race known only as "buggers". As a planet they collude to build a massive fleet and harvest from the brightest and best children the future stars of this war machine.

Ender is one such child, only he is worked harder than all the others, as he is the most promising. The story does a wonderful job, in the classic "hard SciFi" way that focuses primarily on the technology and the world around it, of unfolding a detailed "what if" scenario to completely flesh out the world and events to follow.

It asks and answers questions such as, how do you train children from a young age to be armies, to lead armies? How do you train them to fight in zero gravity? To think in zero gravity without the limitations of earth-like thinking? How do you fight an interstellar war? How do you help children cope with the mental strain?

Much of the novel is gruelling, and tortuous as we follow along through Ender's trials and triumphs, such as they are, and it is all fascinating. I did feel it wore on me. There wasn't much for hope, or compassion in this story, and there felt to be precious little positive emotion in it. I believe this was by design as Orson Scott Card set out to make us understand the unbearable cost of what was done and from the payers perspective, from Ender's.

Many people will and should enjoy this book, especially young people, because in many ways it celebrates the ability of youth to achieve great things and is at it's heart an underdog story, albeit a brutal one.  Given the main events it'd be easy to expect this to be a cautionary tale, but only in the final pages does this really occur and then it feels more like a segue into a sequel then any real message.

My main complaints against the book are it's muddled theme especially in regards to the end. While this is written and titled as if it's the story of Ender, it's treated in end and at various stages much more like the story of Earthlings in the Third Invasion. I think this allowed OSC to explore many more ideas he had but ultimately took away from the power of his central material and at various times made us more interested in largely unimportant characters (Ender's siblings).

I guess in the end I just wished there had been some moralistic message after going through Ender's trials with him. What was there was handled in such a wash of denouement exposition it didn't really resonate. Orson Scott Card exhibits a very analytical understanding of cause and effect in relation to human emotions, relationships, and society and science. His work is solid and well written here, but to my disappointment, it is not Lord of the Flies in Space.

I give Ender's Game 9/10.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Importance of Capturing the Spark

Laying in bed the other night I was suddenly struck by what seemed an extremely cool idea for a story, so, as I've read I should, I grabbed my iPhone from the nightstand and jotted it down as a note for later.

This is what I wrote,
Soul sipper soul light
Flicker of detectable flame of life of magic user. One is dead steady black flame, etc
Illegal to sip souls, addicted to it was a game for rebellious youth. Now killer...
When I read it now I can only guess what was meant by "etc" or the ellipsis "...". The moment of clarity has long passed. Aside from the obviously vague items, most of this takes a fair amount of reconstruction and imagination to turn into anything useful, and yet it's enough to spark a creative process down a pathway my mind has been once before. The ideas may be terrible, cliche and tired, or impractical for a story of any real length but I certainly can see the value in capturing a moment's creative spark for later.

This got me thinking of the Moleskine I had carried around last year during my writing classes and writing experiments. Hadn't I kept a section as a journal of story and scene ideas? Once I had its leathery cover in my hands and had removed the elastic binding, I flipped it open to the very back and amongst others found these little dusty turds.
A battle or ritual with Prime Evil leaves a mark. Protag now struggling to fight [Prime Evil] climactically discovers the evil is inside him and was all that time. Becomes blured borders between identities IE. Horror Harry Potter

Data heist from High Security data centre, no one expected physical attack, Maybe Botnet DDOS misdirect attack (paid some kid/fallguy)

Encryption with a human key/cipher. Either genetic or something taught/learned.

Maybe nothing special there but some things to get me thinking. Flipping around I found the Scene Ideas/Chance Moments sections and was truly struck by some of the scenes I had seen in my real life or imagined.

Teens raving about "Bees! Bees! They are really important. If they die we die."

Two super goths [Editor's note: I don't know proper terminology] as a couple, him an Alice Cooper, her female Marilyn Manson (eyebrows shaved painted white with drawn eyebrows) and between them, cute normal little girl in My Little Pony clothes. [their daughter]

Near office buildings gust of wind catches yellowed leaves of branches and they dance in a column through the intersection catching the sun and turning into Golden Dancers in the middle of the air over the busy, distracted masses.

Elderly man waiting forlornly, solemnly, at a set chess table in the library/park no longer waiting for an opponent who will never arrive again. Staring at me.
As I read those now, some of them seem interesting, and some of them strike me deeply as I remember exactly what I had seen or imagined. Each of them could help break a spell of writer's block or be included to flesh out an otherwise mundane scene.

If nothing else, these captured little sparks of creativity and observation, so hastily preserved in ink like so much dinosaur DNA in amber, have prompted me to finally break the multi-month draught of postings on this blog. And that alone is proof of the importance of capturing the spark.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why Canada voted for the Blue Man Group

May 2011 a small percentage of Canadians elected Stephen Harper's Conservative Party of Canada to a majority government. Blue swept the west and staked new claims in Ontario, routing Liberal strongholds, while the NDP swept forth from Quebec, turning the baby blues to orange.

As we handed Stephen Harper the keys to the Canadian kingdom I had to ask myself, how did this happen? I've spoken to a number of Conservative voters I know and in almost all situations ignorance was key.  Voter apathy is so virile in Canada that either citizens simply don't vote, or they vote based on hunches.  Most that I spoke to that voted for the Conservatives, voted for Harper because he seemed inoffensive, or worse, voted against Ignatieff or Layton because they "didn't like them", and Harper was the safe choice.  When asked what was wrong with Iggy, my friends and family had no words for it. He was simply not for them. If you ask me, that is the result of absorbing years of attack ads. Character assassination is a wonderful tool in politics because it leaves people distrusting someone on unfounded claims years after they first witnessed it, when they can no longer remember what it even was. And Stephen Harper himself has been the King of Character assassination.

The other straw leg that propped up the blue wave was the Economy.  Yes, Canada has weathered the global recession decently, but we also went into it with a fiscal surplus thanks to the Liberal party. Let's not forget the collective opposition parties had to also threaten to topple the Conservative government and form their own just to get economic action to prevent the recession taking root here. Of course, I'm generous when I say they threatened it. In fact, the opposition parties were thwarted from enacting it only by a backdoor maneuver by Harper to disable the Parliament of Canada for an entire session to save his job. But don't worry, he set a dangerous precedent of favouring hanging onto power over respecting the elected representatives of Canadian citizens for us.  After all, the Coalition was bad. Losers shouldn't win, and a collection of losers, never should. Even if they represent the majority of Canadian voters. Mr. Harper has continually shown not only a blatant disregard for the design of our democracy, but also a caustic willingness to degrade public understanding and faith in it and to sidestep its controls at every chance.

But hey kids he's the new boss. Don't worry, first up will be to get rid of those disgusting public handouts to political parties for election funding. You know, that $1.70 that the Green party gets for every vote they receive, so that they can continue to be a viable representation in our political scheme for those that share their views.. in example, those who voted for them. I can't imagine they are flush with cash from corporate sponsors like the Oil Fields-loving and Corporate Tax-cutting Conservatives that want to take away that lifeline, but I guess that just means they are taking up valuable oxygen and need to have life support cut off. In a nation that is so apathetic towards voting, among other reasons because they feel their votes don't matter, we will strangle off fringe parties and further diminish the power of a vote. That's not just smart that's S-Mart, as in Stephen smart.

The final reason I heard for voting blue almost made me throw up in my mouth: election fatigue. Apparently the unfair toll taken on some Canadians by requesting that they represent themselves at a voting station for 10 minutes every 8 months to a year is just intolerable. And how dare we! Better to hand control over to someone, anyone, and not have to worry about it for 4 years. I mean, how much damage could they do? Canada has got to be one of the easiest and safest places to vote, all you need is 10 minutes and a name in mind to mark. But lo there be'est the quandary. Election fatigue isn't the problem, the problem is citizens that are tired of being bothered to think about choosing a government, they are tired of deciding between leaders, and tired of trying to understand where they themselves even stand on the issues. Often I hear people complain that they don't even know the party platforms, where the platforms are generally stable year after year on the main issues, and I think they are just upset no one has told them what the current issues ought to be, because they surely don't know. Let's face it, if you voted for a majority on that basis alone, then you voted for a babysitter to take care of everything for you while you worried about your Me Time. It was selfish and spits in the face of representative democracy.

What's done is done, and over the next four years we get to start blogging all the things we need our next government to undo. But every staple of our current parliamentary democracy that Harper tears down, will invariably stay down.  After all, this election has proven that Canadians do not care about them. As long as you can don a cardigan, fake smile at your kids, and say "the good ship Canada is O K", while burning Robert's Rules of Order behind your back, well, we'll give you a bloody promotion.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why is it so Hard to Write?

For as long as I can remember I had a knack for putting words together.  My ideas were often innovative and my stories contained a through-line that made them eminently readable, at least for a grade-schooler.  Yet for as long as that has been the case it has also been true that for me writing has always been extremely hard.

When I say writing is hard for me, I don't mean that it is difficult to slap words down or make sentences that work.  What I mean is that the act of writing well, writing to my own expectations, is a lot of hard work. As I start work on a blog post or a speech ideas swirl around in my head like a magnificent maelstrom and it's all I can do to try to capture the essence of a single sentiment, let alone weave that tempest into a coherent tapestry of ideas.  I can see glimmers of the final picture I want to paint in my head, but as I plod through one poorly rendered concept after another I realize how much more work it needs, how far from the path I've deviated.  And at some point I forget what path I was on as I find forks in the road that seem to lead me far from my opening paragraph.

I've never understood how someone can be lacking words in a composition. For me I am always flooded with them.  A half dozen lines per idea and I've prose'd my way into an amalgam of related concepts that spans many pages and, like modern Physics, with no clear Unifying Theory of Everything to help it make sense.  It is hard to write well because it is hard to express the million micro epiphanies I have as I explore an idea in my mind.  It is hard to write well because every line I write is a "little darling", to quote popular literature on writing, and I cannot sacrifice enough of them to earn the cogency that I need to powerfully make the point that plays within the powers of my mind.

It is hard for me to write because it takes so long to do it. I am a perfectionist.  I was inspired to write a speech recently for Toastmasters and instead of jotting down some ideas, I spent an hour and a half researching the barest roots of the essential fundamentals surrounding the topic. Does a normal person when writing a short speech about freedom of ideas and intellectual property research Platonic Idealism? Perhaps they do and they are simply faster at it than me. Despite my own derision towards my approach I yearn to read the results that ultimately await.  I want to see come to life a powerful and insightful speech about the relativity of ideas and ownership contrasted with the concept of underlying truths and greater good.  It would be a speech about society and our futures as humans on this floating rock, which is a lot to evolve from the quote, “To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism, to steal ideas from many is research.”.  I become crippled by the burden of that concept, it is too big for me to treat adequately.  My skill is not enough.

Words challenge me.  They challenge me to be used as they pop unbidden into my head from some netherworld of forgotten references.  Half the time I have the meanings wrong and the spelling worse, yet they demand my attention as if they alone can solve the riddle of a sentence.  More often than they should they wend their way into my rose garden and present their difficult barbs to my readers and diverting my careful tending.  It is a weakness I suppose, and one that author's like Stephen King have nearly completely abolished to their great success.  The track record is clear, run without the added weight of complex words and you reach the finish line straighter and faster and everyone remembers how you got there.  Yet, it remains a perniciously persistent predicament which faces me endlessly, needlessly, and heedlessly.

In the end, deep down, I know most of my problem is lack of practice.  Even author's like Stephen King struggled through their first novels and developing a writing system and routine.  Now they bang out a book a year, business as usual, and are having a great time doing it. So maybe I need to take a page from their book and just write.  Get the first draft on paper, even if it is equivalent to what one of my old English teacher's called "Verbal Diarrhea".  At least then that steaming mess of verbs and nouns and ideas has been parked somewhere and I can move on to working with it, flushing it, or starting on something new.

I've written this blog post that way.  Grabbed time I didn't have and blurted it all out.  No revision, no review, no second guessing.  Not even the poop reference.  And aren't we all the richer for it? If you are reading this out in writer/blogger land, let me know how you deal with the difficulty of writing.  What challenges you and makes writing hard?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why #yxu is a Bad Label

In the Twittersphere for London, Ontario there has been a trend recently to change what we use as a hashtag, or label, to identify tweets pertaining to our City and area.  For years now I have been using #LdnOnt as the hashtag for London.  As you can guess, simply using #London is often confused with London England and searching on that hashtag brings up both resident's tweets.  Recently, there has been an influx of competing hashtags, such as the current favourite #yxu.  Primarily, I see no reason to change my tried and true hashtag but let's see why I don't like #yxu.

Why is #yxu a bad Label?  It is Cryptic, Elitist, and Immemorable.

It is Cryptic because it is nonsense.  The letters do not stand for anything at all and you can not decipher its meaning by simply looking at it or cross-referencing it to any knowledge of London aside from it's actual precise representation.  So in other words, the only way to understand what it is, is to look it up and even then, it means nothing more than a code for London's Airport.

It is Elitist because if you do not know we are all using it, you would likely not intuit to use it.  My argument for this? How many people in London actually fly in or out of our Airport?  I've lived here for 6 years and have flown to British Columbia twice and don't even know where our airport is, let alone the code, I fly out of Pearson.  I have flown out of the Powell River airport twice and have no earthly idea what it's airport code is. Nor do I know the airport codes for Prince George or Orillia where I also resided for a number of years.

Ask yourself if someone in Hamilton or Chatham would think to look for London tweets by our airport code?  What about someone in Somalia?  I understand some major Canadian cities are using their codes, namely Vancouver and Toronto, but let's face it guys, those are two of the busiest International airports in all of Canada.  London is not.  So the way you'll know how to find our tweets is if... you already know the password into our elite club.

It is Immemorable because it is nonsense!  There is no mnemonic property at all to #yxu or any other airport code aside from pure coincidence.  For example, nearly every time I fly to Vancouver and decide to use the airport code at booking I have to double-check whether YVR or YYZ is Vancouver or Toronto - and that one even has a coincidental mnemonic in it (YVR has VR for VancouveR) but I start wondering, "or was it the opposite of what makes sense."  You see I can get doubtful because I know YYZ means nothing.  I know YXU means nothing.  How am I to remember them other than through sheer repetition?

In my opinion a good label, a good index, a good way for people to find each other is not something they have to learn.  It isn't something WE have to learn to use and memorize.  It is whatever comes naturally, whatever makes sense, and whatever means something. #ldnont isn't perfect, but it at least means something when you read it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An E-Prime Character Intro

Homework for my Writing Class had us writing a page in E-Prime and also beginning to jot down ideas for a Character we'd like to write about.

E-Prime, as explained in the link, has a great deal of potential as a tool to free up the English language from the constraints of too much reliance on the verb to be and with the pleasant side effect of improving readability for a broad range of individuals with difficulties reading contemporary writing.  The example given being persons with English as a Second Language (ESL) who have a difficult time following what is meant by our many subtle uses of the verb.

That sounds good, but writing in that mode takes a great deal of attention as I discovered when I combined the two objectives and wrote a story opening with a heavy focus on the main character and entirely in E-Prime.

The result follows, hit the break to see it and my thoughts on the exercise.