Sunday, December 25, 2011

Carving at camp

 I'm at an ESL camp and using some down time to finish some carving that I had started and left for too long.
In the picture you can see some the nearly-done carvings, chisels, a small saw and Swiss Army knife... and a bandaid.  The bandaid is every bit as important as the others!  I nicked my finger finishing the wardrobe-elephant.

Below is the wardrobe elephant as it is meant to be used.

I don't know if I will ever finish the triceratops head, but the owl is about ready for sanding.

There is a lot of sawn-down trees.  Perhaps it is time I tried carving in the round.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

problems with creative students

Two links from economics blogs today*.

From Marginal Revolution, comes a retelling of a problem I reviewed last year: "Teachers don't like creative students". I'm quoting from Alex Tabarrok, who is quoting from someone else and Blogger won't nest quotes inside other quotes, so let me quote in blue:

My experience as a parent is consistent with the idea that teachers don’t like creative students but I try not to blame the teachers too much. Creative people, for better and worse, ignore social conventions. Thus, it can be hard for teachers to deal with creative students in a classroom setting where they must guide 20-30 students en masse. As Jonah Lehrer puts it:
Would you really want a little Picasso in your class? How about a baby Gertrude Stein? Or a teenage Eminem? The point is that the classroom isn’t designed for impulsive expression – that’s called talking out of turn. Instead, it’s all about obeying group dynamics and exerting focused attention. Those are important life skills, of course, but decades of psychological research suggest that such skills have little to do with creativity.
The article offers a link to a "good review paper" on the subject.  Creativity: asset or burden in the classroom.

Freakonomics offered a quote with this comment: Creative types are more likely to cheat.  The link goes to Time Healthland:
Creative people think “outside the box,” a gift of psychological flexibility that, it turns out, may also apply to their ethics, according to the latest research from the American Psychological Association. Creative types, in other words, may be more likely to cheat.
The article quotes Dan Ariely, who is well worth reading on a variety of subjects.  I tend to trust what he has to say, but I wonder.
“Dishonesty and innovation are two of the topics most widely written about in the popular press,” wrote the authors. “Yet, to date, the relationship between creativity and dishonest behavior has not been studied empirically. … The results from the current article indicate that, in fact, people who are creative or work in environments that promote creative thinking may be the most at risk when they face ethical dilemmas.”

Perhaps I am using my creativity to rationalize unethical behavior, but I wonder if we are seeing a rebellion against artificial deadlines and rules that are arbitrary and not-so-meaningful outside of school. If an explanation for the rules that the student felt made sense were offered, perhaps they would be less likely to cheat.

I must admit that in reading my paragraph above I see that I am confusing creativity with intelligence. I would like the two to be related but can't say for sure that they are.
--------* Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A 7 year-old's view

Two images involving my son today.  First is a wall mural we are working on together.
This mural will eventually reach across to the right about four more B5 pages worth.  Click to enlarge, if you wish.  You will find a variety of animals and objects and some are obviously poorly-drawn by me and others may be well-depicted elements from my son's imagination.  The whole mural is a fun project but also a contest of wills for whose creative vision will predominate.

Next, my son drew a picture of the living room in our apartment:
The thing is, this picture is a 270 degree view.  Leftmost, is the entrance to the bathroom and moving right: our fridge, sink, rice cooker, kitchen table, bookshelf and sofa.  If you can see into the bathroom, the kitchen table would be directly behind you and the sofa behind and to your left.  I don't know what this means in my son's artistic or cognitive growth, but it is interesting enough that I want to keep a record of it here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Being a writer in Korea

IfIhadaminutetospare has written a series of articles on being and becoming a writer in Korea.

I guess offering them by date would be easiest:  November 24, December 4, December 4, December 7.

From the first article (On Becoming a Writer in Korea):
This week, I started a distance learning journalism course with the London School of Journalism. I suppose it’s a way looking in the right direction for becoming a real writer, as opposed to an unreal writer. It was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, as journalism is probably the most realistic and recognisable way of making a living out of writing, which is actually a, ahem, dream of mine....Don’t ask me where writing came from. Maybe it was from one of those awful aptitude tests they force on you where you find out that you are actually incapable of being good at maths so why bother trying? In fact, I know I was good at spatial relations, but that’s nothing to do with writing (although I do like my page to look neat and organised…)...So anyway, one day I decided I’d give it a shot. I bought a pen and a notebook and decided to scribble down a few things I saw, and I even attempted a poem. I got a lot of satisfaction from this and basically continued on with it.
One drunken night, I spoke with my friend Keith and showed him my notebook. Keith, a bit of poet himself, was more than impressed and encouraged me to keep writing and to keep trying. Then word got around to another friend of mine, Jeremy,  who was even more of a poet, and next thing I knew I believe I was being taken under their wings and essentially became some form of an apprentice.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Nanowrimo is over

Not complete, but over.  I did not get close to the goal of 50,000 words.

I did enjoy the process and do plan to keep writing the story I started.

In many respects, I approve of the idea.  The core concept is to pour out as many words as  you can without slowing to edit yourself.  Editing is important, but brainstorming comes first.  Churn out ideas, then throw out the bad ones.

On the other hand, my unfiltered ideas were clearly crap.  If I had reached 50,000 words, I would have needed to use them as notes and write an entirely new 50,000 good words to make a quality story.

Years ago, I read a description of what a plot needs by James Blish.  As I recall, the problems had to be solved directly and specifically through the action of the protagonist.  He said something like, "A lightning bolt cannot kill the villain in the last act, saving the day."  In my story, there were a few scenes where violence occurred and in one of them, a villain was unlucky enough to be struck by lightning.  It made a little sense in the context, but still was not thrilling.

I liked the location I placed the fight in but will need to tear out all the action and replace it.

Nanowrimo became for me, a sort of wasteful and high intensity first draft of -not the story- but the plot.  I understand the need for multiple drafts but feel horrified that if I finished my Nanowrimo story, it would be draft 0.5.
I wrote much of my story using Ommwriter on my iMac and found that to be everything it claimed.  Ommwriter is a word processor that has few settings - it is only available as full-screen - and is intended to reduce distractions.  I like it.  Still, I also wrote away from the apartment and so used Google Docs often.  I know the goal is unrestricted production, but I found accessing Google Maps and occasional searches helped me produce.

Also fun to type in is Written?  Kitten!  For every one hundred words (you can adjust this number) you type, a new photo of a cute kitten is shown.
I have started following John T. Spencer's blogs and books.  I really enjoyed Pencil Me In.
He also started nanowrimo - and is probably finished now.  This is what he had to say early in the month:
I am starting the process of writing a novel in a month.  It's part of the National Novel Writing Month.  You can check out the description here. I plan to edit it throughout December and release it sometime around the first of the year. I'll be posting the chapters to this blog and to a Google Doc.  It's the first time I've ever been so open with the writing process.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On writing logically

My friend Kevin Kim has posted a description of how to write essays well. His talk doesn't necessarily cover new ground, but it does explain the concepts clearly and well.  I think it is useful to remind me how to write - particularly my longer posts that do need better organization - and could be helpful to students of mine in writing classes.
 lot of students will say something like, "But I don't like outlining. I just start writing and go with that." My response to this is twofold: (1) if you're mentally organized enough to produce essays and research papers that come out in beautifully organized form, then bravo! You've alreadymastered outlining, even if you're not writing your outlines down. But, (2) if you're like most other students, your initial attempts at "going with that" will result in mushy, disorganized writing-- arguments that start but reach no conclusion, or arguments with conclusions arrived at through no discernible logical process. My rule of thumb: better safe than sorry. Get into the habit of outlining your arguments and expositions before you even begin writing. It's hard work-- I remember disliking doing this as a young student-- but it's a valuable skill that will stand you in good stead later on, especially if you're planning to get through college, and maybe even graduate school.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What makes a good scientist?

This Scientific American article looks into the question but I also had a conversation with a publisher at a convention on the subject that I would like to share.

The clerk described the core of science as being good literacy.  To be fair, she was at a conference for ESL teachers so the literacy angle was a marketable one.

I felt, and feel, that science is about questions and thinking.  I can see that clear thinking is required and clear thinking is aided by clear unambiguous writing which is aided by being literate but we are a few steps removed from the core.  Perhaps we are now in the mantle.

Being a science professional certainly requires good literacy as one must understand what other science professionals have done and write clearly ones further contribution to the field.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

distraction and concentration

I have come to the conclusion that a creative mindset is reached by achieving a sort of controlled distractibility.

If you find you aren't focusing enough, perhaps these suggestion could help (tools for better attention & focus).  Here are two of the ten offered:

2. TrackTime – Audit how you’re spending your time on your computer.
This good-looking app tracks everything you do on your computer, spitting back out a sort of "attention audit." How much time are you spending in Firefox? How many hours a day in your email client? What are listening to on iTunes? If you let TrackTime run in the background, it builds these patterns into a lovely rainbow-colored timeline of your online life. Its most effective use is as a sort of  wake-up call: If your daily timeline shows you shifting between apps and tasks every 2 minutes or less, you know there’s a problem. For Macs only.

3. Concentrate – Maximize focus while shifting between different tasks.
Concentrate is great for shifting between tasks that require different mindsets. I have a variety of recurring tasks that require different tools: 1) Writing, 2) Social Media Management, 3) Event Planning. Concentrate lets me configure a different set of tools for each task. When I activate "Writing," the app automatically closes my email client and Internet Browser; blocks me from Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube; launches Microsoft Word; and sets my instant messaging status to "away". Then, when I want to concentrate on "Social Media Management," I can customize a completely different set of actions to happen relevant to that activity. There’s also a handy "concentration" timer. For Macs only.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

art from several personalities but also from only one person

Apparently, her ID gives her name as Kim Noble, but her dominant personality goes by Patricia.  She was interviewed in the Guardian recently.  She has more than 100 separate personalities and many of them create art.

I have always hid behind a 'manly and masculine lack of understanding of art' but the variety of media and content shown here do appear to be from different people.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Writers wanted at JetSettlers

Via KoreaBridge, I found an ad for writers "to create a community of storytellers, reporters, reviewers, observers, and even vicarious expats that may never leave their borders—a place where the collective experience is being away from home."

From the JetSettler's website:

Need info? Want to write for JetSettlers?
If you’re an Expat who LOVES to write, then you could be our next writer! Here’s what kind of articles/expat writers we’re looking for:
  • Articles about daily expat life, foodies, entertainment lovers, thrill-seekers, book reviewers, movie buffs, photographers, and more.
Remember, this magazine is about ALL the different aspects of expat life. All voices are welcome and expats from all countries are wanted.
Let your voice be heard and share your world with the rest of us.

Gord Sellar on learning the movie biz by doing

Gord recently began making a horror film based on a Lovecraft story but set in Korea.

To see what he's been up to, start here, then go here and here.
updated on Oct 5:

Gord's remarks on what he learned: Day 3 and Day 4.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I've got to scale back.

Not in the amount of content I produce but in the locations I place it.  I try to niche blog but find my interests to widely varied to fit in one blog.  Right now, I have nine blogs.  Five or six are classroom related - for communicating with students, two are general slice-of-Korean-life blogs and this one is about my attempts to learn about creativiti.

These days, I find myself writing only a few posts in a month.  Luckily, they tend to be long so I am producing some content, but I could do better.  Nanowrimo is coming and I have to get ready for that.

Boingboing has a post about setting a goal of 1000 words a day for your blog(s).  It is something I need to aim for.

This word count is not impossible. It’s about two pages of standard paper a day. At first, do not surpass this word count. This is an endurance race, not a sprint. The recommended dosage of 1,000 words a day is doable by the average writer, is a concrete number for you to strive toward, and is about as much as your audience can read in a day. Do not do less, either. This is a regimen. You need to get used to producing this much content quickly and without complaint. Consider using a speech recognition tool: you’ll be pounding out words without pounding on the keyboard. In fact, you’ll find that by speaking your posts you often write more than you originally intended.
This also brings up an important point: writing for blogs is conversational. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Missed my chance

I had a little accident in the bathroom at work and when I returned to the office, I tried to tell the story to maximum comedy effect.

After nearly a minute of opening my mouth, stopping and looking away, looking around, speaking the first word of a sentence... I just told my coworker.  Turns out, the story didn't need much build-up anyway.

"My glasses fell off in the bathroom.  The good news is, I was brushing my teeth at the sink so I only had to rinse and dry them before putting them back on."

My coworker just said, " At first, I was surprised that you were still wearing the glasses."

That would have been a good start to the story. " First, note that I am still wearing my glasses.  They fell off in the bathroom and got all wet and splattered..."

Friday, September 16, 2011

links aplenty

Anger can encourage creativity, briefly.  You should probably calm down before you start ranting.  That doesn't help anyone.

...angry people produce a higher volume of ideas, as well as more creative ones than their non-angry counterparts. The study’s authors reason that anger is usually accompanied by a feeling of intense energy and a less-structured style of thinking, two factors that lead to creative forms of brainstorming.
More on the subject at Scientific American.

I've described in the past that teachers claim they like creativity but also that creative students can be annoying as heck.  Freakonomics has more in a similar vein.
The irony is that as a society, we’re constantly talking about how much we value creativity. And yet, the study implies that our minds are biased against it because of the very nature of its novelty. The authors point out that we often view novelty and practicality as inversely related. We generally value practical ideas because they’re familiar and proven, while the more novel an idea, the more uncertainty there exists about whether it’s practical, error-free, or even useful. 

At Boingboing, Doctorow discusses self-publishing.

Mainstream publishers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over decades learning and re-learning how to get people to care about the existence of books. They often do so very well, and sometimes they screw it up, but at least they’re methodically attempting to understand and improve the process by which large masses of people decide to read a book (even better, decide to buy and read a book).
I firmly believe that there are writers out there today who have valuable insights and native talent that would make them natural successes at marketing their own work. If you are one of those writers – if you have a firm theory that fits available evidence about how to get people to love your work – then by all means, experiment! Provided, of course, that you are pleased and challenged by doing this commercial stuff that has almost nothing in common with imagining stories and writing them down. Provided that you find it rewarding and satisfying.

scientific data collection and 14-year-olds
This active, hands-on approach to science is in keeping with Levi’s firm belief that "the most effective way to learn is through the apprenticeship model." "There’s no reason why you can’t get meaningful scientific data from 14-year-olds," he says. "Science is about hard work and endurance. It doesn’t matter what age you are."
The colors of good and evil in comics:
At colorlovers (via Boingboing) they have made an infographic that:
has a bunch of quirky facts about how certain colors can give more insight into their personalities and hero type. Another neat aspect that I think you'll like is how the infographic discusses the different color schemes for DC and Marvel and shows how they set the trend for future comics. 


brainstorming at Dongseo U.

I like everything about this.  People have a place that is both open and private - passers-by don't interrupt the proceedings. But, if they take the effort, they can climb up and observe.  It all works and it is elegantly done.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Article for BusanHaps on Libel

Below is a somewhat lengthier version of an article I wrote for Busan Haps. One of the Haps' editors asked for it and told me I could also put it on my blog.  I handed it in just over a week ago and told him I would put it up on my blog on Sept 5.  Here we are but I don't see it there.

The article was supposed to be around 800 words but, after vigorous cutting  came out at about a thousand.  One thing I did not include in the article was my opinion of what should or could be done.  I don't like Korea's libel laws - or the UKs, etc- but the article was mostly a review of problems without any solutions offered.

Let me discuss my conclusions first for people who came here from the Busan Haps article  Below that is the article itself.

Blacklists: Blogger McPherson tried to warn ESL job seekers about the school he worked at and was sued for his trouble.  I follow McPherson's blog and have met the man; I trust what he says and if he told me to stay away from a position, I would do it.  I can't say that for everyone though.  Blacklists can become a way for crappy teachers to get back at their schools.  Also, a way for crappy schools to punish teachers.
I think Dave's ESL Cafe (does anyone still go there) had a blacklist but can't find one now. I did find this exchange:
[Cazador 83 asked:] Is there a thread on this website or is there another website that lists all the hagwons that are blacklisted? I tried searching but the search function on that site isn't so great. 
[And Provence replied:] The main problem with creating a thread that blacklist hagwons in Korea is that it is illegal. I would love to warn everyone about my hagwon but I am worried they will find out it is me since I am the only foreign this school has had in 3 years. It wouldn’t be hard for them to figure out who blacklisted them. Basically they can blacklist you but you can't blacklist them, welcome to Korea.
The Marmot discusses blacklists by hagwons of teachers here:
Marmot’s Note: One wonders how long this is going to last before it runs into legal problems. I mean, I know teachers run their own blacklists of hagwons, so what’s fair is fair, but my understanding is that in Korea, printing names like that could be problematic even if the accusations are true. The other thing is that the list is being composed by hagwon recruiters based on claims made by hagwon owners, two groups not known for their business ethics....
UPDATE 2: In our comments section, a real live lawyer says:
The blacklist is quite unlawful. Not only is it a criminal defamation violation under the Criminal Code, but the Labor Standards Act forbids employers to share blacklists. These teachers ought to complain to the prosecution.
Chris Backe in South Korea also warns against starting a blacklist here.

I'm on the fence.  A single blog post or newspaper article on a company or product, explaining why it is bad, a post with supporting evidence offered, seems appropriate. A wide-open list of products or companies that a similarly wide-open variety of authors dislike, for whatever reason offers less valuable information.  In short, blacklists are as useful as your knowledge of the person writing the information - caveat lectorem.

Another concern I have is with people charged-but-not-yet-convicted of various crimes.  At the Asian Correspondent, Nathan Schwartzman translated an article  about a (Korean) teacher molesting students.  At first, I wanted to know the name of the teacher especially as the parents wanted the teacher transferred.  If he is transferred, I really want to know his name.  Then, aware that even the suspicion of such a crime is poison, I realized that no one wants the name published until after a trial - at which point I hope they do publish it and not merely transfer the teacher.
I guess that although I do not like Korea's libel laws, they certainly are defensible.  Play differently, lose differently.

--------Busan Haps article on Libel, by Surprises Aplenty-------

If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. -Thumper’s Mom

commenter at KoreaBridge wrote: "if you have an understanding of the American Constitution, you will have heard of freedom of speech. He is quite free to write whatever he wants..."

Thinking you have the legal rights and freedoms here you would have if you were elsewhere is a good way get in trouble.  Indeed those legal freedoms, as relate to libel, aren’t so broad as you may think, in Korea or elsewhere.A friend who has recently returned to Canada after more than a decade here adapted quickly to local libel laws by taking a toy store to task.  It appears he has since taken his post down (I think this was routine, he typically removes personal content after a week or so) but in it, he named the store and its specific location -just outside of Toronto with the recommendation that people not shop there.

I believe his post contained useful information, was honest, the facts were correct and specific and was written to help other shoppers.  If he posted it here in Korea, he could have faced a fine and possible deportation.
Generally, a written work is libellous if it defames someone identifiable and living, is given to people other than the victim and the victim reputation or income suffers. (Libel defined.  And here.)

Usually, if the material is true, it is protected.  Results of court cases can be described, for example. Satire can be protected...if it is blunt or obvious enough.  Pubic figures, like politicians are less protected so discussions about them can be as free as possible, but media personnel and celebrities are also in this group.  Opinions are protected, but as with satire, it had better be clear that you are stating an opinion.

To avoid libeling someone you could use a pseudonym or avoid using a name altogether. This is NOT a free pass, however.  If the person can be identified by your description, you could still be charged with libel.

Why did I begin to care so much about libel that BusanHaps mistook me for an expert?  Because of one apparent difference in the way libel works here: truth is not a defence in Korea.  Well, that point plus the strangeness of the exceptions or loopholes that the media seems to follow.

As a moderator for KoreaBridge, I needed to judge a post about a recruiter that a new poster disliked.  “beware of [Korean city][district of that city][English nickname], aged XX.  ...doesn’t care about the teacher...JOBS SUCK!!"   This post, with the raging ALL-CAPS ending, is clearly an opinion but far too descriptive of the recruiter.  The owner of KoreaBridge confirmed we couldn’t accept the post as it was too specific.

Joe McPherson is a blogging acquaintance of mine who had some trouble with a hagwon he worked at.  After considerable time and effort, he won a court case against them.  To assist others, he blogged about his experiences and named the hagwon.  Back to court for him, this time as the defendant. Read The Libel Trap at the Joongang for details.

These examples demonstrate the problem I have with Korean Libel laws.  Although the first example is a little overwrought, the first two are attempts at public service announcements.  These people are trying to help others avoid their mistakes.  Apparently, you can't do that here.  No blacklists.  Also, be careful with satire:

Michael Breen was recently sued for libel by an organization that is too big and scary for me to name.  Let me throw The Marmot under the bus. Breen was also interviewed here at the Haps in April.

Professional media sources know this and tailor their articles accordingly.  Investigative journalism is toothless here.

Consider the 'Babyrose' scandal.  Babyrose, a Korean 'power blogger' raved about an air sterilizer  and many purchased the product.  Turns out, the sterilizer had some unhealthy flaws and Babyrose pocketed money from every sale.  Korean news outlets had a field day.  Hats off to the Korea Herald which alone of the three papers I read  included the blogger’s real name, but none of the papers named the unsafe sterilizer.  That would have been a good thing to know.

In June, I read a news article about three 'bad' universities.  Again, no names were given. The Joongang attempted good investigative journalism but the attempt is useless without the names.
So we know that at least one kind of sterilizer is unsafe and there are at least three bad universities in Korea.  One is in Gangwondo and another in Jeju.  The malfeasant institutions are relatively unharmed, but all in their niche are suspect.

To further confuse the issue, or maybe out of fear, newspapers have at least once hidden the identity of a person I don’t feel was protected.

Back in 2007, during the problems with US beef being imported, a man, presumably a Korean cattle farmer,threw cow manure over American beef at a Lotte Mart (original here).  In the photo, you can see many photographers on hand: clearly this was a PR event and journalists had been invited.  Look at the man throwing the manure.  If he planned this event and invited the media, why is his face - and those of the other sash-wearers- pixellated?

Another complication is described by Chris Backe.  He wants to know why the Anti-English Spectrum group has not been charged with libel. The AES has stated in the past that “that foreigners engage in “sexual molestation,” and that they “target children.””  Backe wonders who and how to sue:
Who is the guilty party, though? The AES as a whole? Naver, for not shutting down a website that is against the law / their own principles? The person / people whose posts are allowed to promote a racist / xenophobic agenda? The lawmakers who go on record with the same racist / xenophobic agenda? And how has a foreigner’s reputation been damaged? Both of those things would have to be figured out before a libel case could go forward.
In politics and crime stories, everyone knows what is happening in the US - often better than they do in their own countries or in Korea.  I started this article with a comment from a person who seemed to think American freedoms are defended here.  That commenter should also be careful in other countries.

In the UK, the reporter Simon Singh let slip the word ‘bogus’ in an article about chiropractic.  He lost his first court case but eventually won.
  “Simon is likely to be out of pocket by about £20,000. This – and two years of lost earnings, which he can never recover, is the price he has paid for writing an article criticising the BCA for making claims the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled can no longer be made. In the game of libel, even winning is costly and stressful.”

Indeed, the UK is known for libel tourism. “one of the favored venues for restrictive and chilling judgments is England, where libel laws are heavily weighted toward the plaintiff, placing on the defendant the entire burden of proving that a statement was not false and injurious.”

In Canada, Dr Jeffery Shallit from the University of Waterloo, describes ‘libel chill’ in this article.  “...if the court finds you told the truth but your intent was malicious, you might lose anyway.”

At The New Republic, libel in China and Singapore is mentioned, mostly as a tool used by the government to control dissent.

In the US, it does seem you are well protected from libel; at least senators are.  Jon Kyl seems to be fine after claiming 90% of Planned Parenthood’s business comes from abortions.  The correct number is 3%.  The Colbert Report had fun with this one.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Traditional publishing =1 year...

What does it take to get it to Kindle ?  The short answer is 72-96 hours

The benefits of Direct to Kindle publishing.

The post offers plenty of details, including some formatting issues.  It reminds me of an ebook I recently read that included the word 'chapter' somewhere in the text.  The sentence ended abruptly and the next page began with 'CHAPTER' in all-caps on it's own line, with the remainder of the sentence below.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nick Cave is not in a creativity competition.

Fifteen years ago, Nick Cave won MTV's best male artist award but declined to accept it.  His letter includes sincere thanks and some mystical discussion of his muse.
Nick Cave Online via Kottke.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Moorcock on how to write

I read a lot of Michael Moorcock in my teens.  Many of his books had similar plots, but he explained as a quirk of his hero's place in every frame of his multiverse.  I don't know if I would enjoy those books now but that is true of a lot of what I read as a teen.  And, I might: I've had a craving lately for pulp.

I didn't notice how formulaic his novels were at the time, but I did notice the wild imagery and ideas.  Elric and others lived in worlds far more brightly hued than our own.

At Wetasphalt, via Boingboing, comes "How to write a book in three days" - lessons from Moorcock.

From wet asphalt:

In 1992, [Moorcock] published a collection of interviews conducted by Colin Greenwood called Michael Moorcock: Death is No Obstacle, in which he discusses his writing method. In the first chapter, "Six Days to Save the World", he says those early novels were written in about "three to ten days" each, and outlines exactly how one accomplishes such fast writing.
This is not the best way to write every novel, or even most novels. Moorcock used it specifically to write sword-and-sorcery action-adventure, but I think it could be applied more-or-less to any kind of potboiler. ...
So all of the quotes below are from just the first chapter of the book. I cannot recommend enough for fiction writers to hunt themselves down a copy (it's sadly out of print) and studying it, especially if you want to understand the purpose of form and structure in fiction. If you want to think of this post as a naked advertisement for this brilliant book, I'm okay with that.
To be clear: This is not my advice. This is Michael Moorcock's advice. I have never written a book in three days. I am planning on making the attempt, however, on the weekend of September 18th, which is Jewish New Years (Rosh Hashanah), and the next time in my calendar when I'll have three days straight with nothing else to do.

Part of Moorcock's advice:

  • "If you're going to do a piece of work in three days, you have to have everything properly prepared."
  • "[The formula is] The Maltese Falcon. Or the Holy Grail. You use the quest theme, basically. In The Maltese Falcon it's a lot of people after the same thing, which is the Black Bird. In Mort D'Arthur it's also a lot of people after the same thing, which is the Holy Grail. That's the formula for Westerns too: everybody's after the gold of El Dorado or whatever." (Cf the MacGuffin.)
  • "The formula depends on that sense of a human being up against superhuman forces, whether it's Big Business, or politics, or supernatural Evil, or whatever. The hero is fallible in their terms, and doesn't really want to be mixed up with them. He's always just about to walk out when something else comes along that involves him on a personal level." (An example of this is when Elric's wife gets kidnapped.)
  • "There is an event every four pages, for example -- and notes. Lists of things you're going to use. Lists of coherent images; coherent to you or generically coherent. You think: 'Right, Stormbringer [a novel in theElric series]: swords; shields; horns", and so on."
  • "[I prepared] A complete structure. Not a plot, exactly, but a structure where the demands were clear. I knew what narrative problems I had to solve at every point. I then wrote them at white heat; and a lot of it was inspiration: the image I needed would come immediately [when] I needed it. Really, it's just looking around the room, looking at ordinary objects and turning them into what you need. A mirror: a mirror that absorbs the souls of the damned."

The post also links to a wikipedia article about the Doc Savage series, also very 'pulpy'.  There, I found this asserted quote:  [For Dent] the Doc Savage series was simply a job, a way to earn a living by "churning out reams and reams of sellable crap", never dreaming how his series would catch on.

Forget 'nanowrimo', we need a nation novel writing long weekend - NANOWRILOWE.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

How to make comics!

You're welcome!
A flowchart of how James Turner makes comics:

Follow the link to see the rest.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lovecrafts 'commonplace' book

Apparently 'commonplace book' is another name for notebook, used by authors to store their writing ideas. 15 months ago, I wrote about Agatha's Christie's Notebooks.  I guess they were notebooks because she used them for everything - recipe's shopping lists, story ideas and more.  I have read a few Christie novels and enjoyed them but I have never gotten the feeling that she was a literary writer as perhaps Lovecraft was (was considered -by me- to be literary).

Anyway, Via Boinboing, I have learned a little about Lovecraft's commonplace book.

From Wired:

This book consists of ideas, images, & quotations hastily jotted down for possible future use in weird fiction. Very few are actually developed plots—for the most part they are merely suggestions or random impressions designed to set the memory or imagination working. Their sources are various—dreams, things read, casual incidents, idle conceptions, & so on.
—H. P. Lovecraft
Presented to R. H. Barlow, Esq., on May 7, 1934—in exchange for an admirably neat typed copy from his skilled hand.

1 Demophon shivered when the sun shone upon him. (Lover of darkness = ignorance.)
2 Inhabitants of Zinge, over whom the star Canopus rises every night, are always gay and without sorrow. [x]
3 The shores of Attica respond in song to the waves of the Aegean. [x]

Note the "May 7, 1934".  The list of ideas, which totals over 200, also includes dates and 1935 is listed.  Now, that is spooky.
Not really related: Rudy Rucker has published his notes and ideas for Mathematicians in Love (PDF).  These notes were collected, I presume, after he published the book and clearly collected after he had the main ideas for this book.  It is not a commonplace book as I understand (poorly) the term as the notes comprise the time after 'the light turned on'.  Still, it is interesting to see how he put the book together.
I have not read the book, but some people (I forget who) at Boingboing love him.  I suspect the PDF has spoilers so it might be wise to read the actual book first. Mathematicians in Love at Amazon (published in 2008 with no Kindle edition available for me -I'm listed as Canadian - but perhaps for Americans?)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Two from Boing Boing

Most authors disapprove of fan-fic - fiction written by fans in the universes created by established authors.  J.K. Rowling probably doesn't want you to make your own Harry Potter stories.

Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians, thinks otherwise.  He approves of fan-fic.
Fan-fiction writers aren’t guys who live in their parents’ basements. They aren’t even all guys. If anything, anecdotal evidence suggests that most fan fiction is written by women. (They’re also not all writers. They draw and paint and make videos and stage musicals. Darren Criss, currently a regular on Glee, made his mark in the fan production A Very Potter Musical, which is findable, and quite watchable, on YouTube.) It’s also an intensely social, communal activity.
The buildings in Bolivia are an eye-full:
This photo is from Boing-boing, and they found it on MLandivar's flickr page.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Petals around the rose

Via A Geek In Korea, I learned of a lateral thinking game for students, called Petals around the Rose.  Further details at Wikipedia.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lego Creators '3-in-1' boxes. We can do better

Tyler Nelson bought a box of 50 lego pieces and challenged himself to make 50 designs with it.

Here is his public Google+ page of photos of his fifty creations.  Via Kottke.

Hmmm. The pieces look familiar to me.  I gave my son a set with similar pieces.  The three 'official' designs were for a fighter jet, a prop-driven plane like a WWII corsair or the like other.

I played with lego from whatever age my parents first bought them into my teens and learned to make many different designs or items.  Around 90% of my blocks were, well, blocky.  They were square or rectangular and of uniform height.  Oh, there were a few wedges, to make roofs properly.

Although I do like all the new parts and sets that are available, they feel very single-purpose.  I still enjoy making the stuff with my son but it feels more like following a recipe than actual invention.  A related question here is 'how much do I encourage my son to play with Legos?" I want him to have fun and play, not explicitly study and learn while using them.  For this reason, I've been a little hands off.  We make the origin designs together, then I leave them to him.

I've read that one serious blocker for creativity is too blank a page, too many options.  Perhaps in my case the limits of square and rectangular blocks encouraged me to work around them and treasure the few pieces that were non-standard.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Jack and the B......

Click to Embiggin.

I am proud of the idea for these pictures.  In the first, we learn about "Jack and the Beans Talk."  They are talking about Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea and Three Cups of Deceit.  I think Fedarko was the ghost-writer for Stones Into Schools, which I have on my Kindle but find unable to read now I more of the story.  The author of Three cups of Deceit defends Fedarko and suggests he was given too short a deadline to both write the story and research it.

Jack: It's say how Mortenson has actually damaged relations with Pakistan.
Bean 1: The CAI has a lot to answer for.
Bean 2: Yes, but do you think Fedarko also deserves blame?

In the second picture Jack and the Bean Stalk a rhino!  They are busy with hand signs as they walk through the tall grass.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Time waits...

Click to embiggen.

Pamplona in the Off-season

Click to embiggen.

If anyone reads this, is it clear that they are running with the scissors because they can't run with the bulls?
I'm uninhibited enough to post this but not confident enough to leave it without this explanation.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Evolution bumper Sticker Contest

Greg Laden supplies the details.  Here are two of the rules:

  • Be original. Run a Google search and make sure your slogan hasn't been used or overused.
  • Size constraints. Your basic bumper sticker is about 2.75" high and about 15" wide. That's enough room for up to two lines of text, approximately 22 characters across (including spaces) per line. Remember: shorter is better.

The deadline is September 5.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Am I really positive about talent shows?

I think I am.  Well, one.  Okay, the one I just read about but have never watched.

Superstar K is a Talent Search show on Korean channel Mnet.  I don't know that I have ever even glimpsed programming of theirs.

The Chosun Ilbo has an article describing how 1.9 million people are auditioning for the show this year.

I can definitely see the negative side of such enthusiasm.  As the Chosun says:
The deluge of audition programs has raised concerns about their side effects, as many of the students who turn up to compete do so at the expense of their studies. ...
There are even signs that people may be jeopardizing their professional lives in order to compete, as they jump from one audition to another with little regard for their employers in their bid to find a shortcut to stardom.  
Yes, there are serious risks, but this seems more benign than lotteries, where -despite public works being sponsored by such - the participants mostly lose money.  Here, even the one not selected gain some experience, some individualism and some self-actualization from the process.  I see this as something I would not choose to do but also as a great incubator for creativity.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

science education and novelty

Is science education a matter of teaching scientific history or following a recipe book or an encouragement to attempt to learn new things?

I taught a one month course in evolution and another in ecology for high-level ESL students and my classes were mostly a review of modern ideas and their history so of the three options I offered above, my classes fit only the first.  And yet it felt to me like a proper science class.  No student appeared surprised by my teaching techniques or asked for ways to test my claims experimentally.
To be clear, I am not blaming my students for any lack of interest implied by my description.
How can we teach students about how to do science?  Boingboing has  recent article on one of their favorite subjects, Makers.
PBS on Makers Faire

Not really related: I enjoyed hearing about how a design firm challenged themselves to make 30 different coffee cups in 30 days.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Links aplenty from Surprises Aplenty

Interesting job interview questions. Via Kottke, from CBS MoneyWatch and featuring answers by Giles Turnbull.  Some questions:

Procter & Gamble: Sell me an invisible pen.
Facebook: Twenty five racehorses, no stopwatch, five tracks.  Figure out the top three fastest horses in the fewest number of races.
Citigroup: What is your strategy at table tennis?
Google: You are climbing a staircase. Each time you can either take one step or two. The staircase has n steps. In how many distinct ways can you climb the staircase?
Capital One: How do you evaluate Subway’s five-foot long sub policy?
Gryphon Scientific: How many cocktail umbrellas are there in a given time in the United States?
Enterprise Rent-A-Car: Would you be okay hearing “no” from seven out of 10 customers.
Goldman Sachs: Suppose you had eight identical balls. One of them is slightly heavier and you are given a balance scale. What’s the fewest number of times you have to use the scale to find the heavier ball?

I often have incredible dreams but mere minutes after I wake up, I've forgotten them.  Why?  Sci Am has the answer.

Also from Sci Am, Laughter leads to Insight.

I sometimes teach writing, but rarely more than a sentence at a time (I'm an ESL teacher, BTW).  I want to teach writing and I am not sure if I write enough myself.  The English Raven has two suggestions and here is the first:
Get to it, start writing regularly and make sure you experience at least as many writing genres and outcomes (and word counts) as you expect your students to tackle;
At Liminality, Charles is busy with his doctoral work.  Here and here, he speaks about the writing process.

Gord Sellar has plans to write a lot this summer. Well, he writes a lot all the time, so I guess he simply has plans for this summer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

starting a wall mural with my son

The completed mural will consist of 54 pages: 9 high by 6 wide.  We have started by drawing the upper two-by-two pages.  In the middle is a small scale depiction of what we want the large picture to look like.

I hope we can both learn a little about scale and coloring in this project.  If we add a few pages each day, we could 'finish' in a month.  By then, we might be skilled enough to redo the first few pages.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

180 costumes

For an entire school year, Dale Price has dressed up in various costumes to wave goodbye to his son as his bus passed their home.  The 180 costumes and commentary can be found here.

I admire the planning that had to go into these costumes.  The father wore the "bare bones of his costume to keep his outfit a surprise. Then he’s got 4 minutes to transform, with accessories and props, into a renegade paintball player, a Star Wars character or Terry Potter (Harry’s distant relative)."  (Quote from Yahoo, which calls the whole thing a prank, which confuses me).

Another contest and Eco on writing

Umberto Eco has a new book, "Confessions of a Young Novelist" out and Salon has reviewed it.  He might be the most famous author I have followed somewhat but have never read.  I should do something about that.
From Boingboing comes another Science Fiction writing contest.  This one looks to write an Asimov-style story about a robot and what it might feel.  The contest is described in full  here.

Some time ago, I wrote about another recent request for submissions.  This was for Machines of Death 2.  I am using all my creativiti, but I can find to hook or start to such a story.

Great writer: nasty guy

A few bloggers seem abuzz with Roald Dahl's unpleasant behavior.

From Kottke:
 He believed in a world government and he was extremely sympathetic to Hitler, Mussolini, and the entire Nazi cause. His stories were filled with caricatures of greedy Jews. 

I thought he had been a pilot in World War Two.

Cory Doctorow also weighs in:
I've always heard that children's author Roald Dahl was something of a creep in person, and knew that he had a reputation for doing library visits and conference appearances that turned into antisemetic rants. But this biographical sketch of him at This Recording depicts him as even creepier than suspected -- a cruel, womanizing bully, ruled by lust and petty jealousies. I continue to enjoy his fiction with my daughter (even as I worry about their misogynist subtexts), but it's a shame to learn that an author who's given me so much pleasure and wonder was also such a rotten guy. 

Like Doctorow, I still plan to read Dahl's stories to my son, but perhaps I will be examining them a little more closely.

Of course, I have heard the same of other authors.  I enjoyed Enid Blyton's stories as a child, but she wasn't a pleasant person.  From The Telegraph describing a BBC biography of Blyton:

One of the most telling scenes in the film features a tea party that Blyton has organised for a group of her young fans. While the writer makes a fuss of the visitors, her own children are watching from the house where they are locked away from view.

Dickens and Naipaul, too, do not shine in close up:

If Dickens sometimes behaved badly, Naipaul is unquestionably a bad man, notorious for his floridly abusive relationships and bigoted ideas. Does this diminish his work? Naipaul's fiction is not to everyone's taste, but the grace of his prose and the power of his early books, especially "A Bend in the River," is hard to deny; I admired much of that novel even as I gritted my teeth over its blinkered depiction of Africans.

I have heard unpleasant things about Farley Mowat, a hero of mine while growing up.  His evils seems more of excess, of being, or trying to be, bigger than life.

It seems people often become famous for one thing and then their views on other fields are sought, then trouble begins.  It reminds me of the warning, "Don't talk politics with your surgeon."