Friday, December 28, 2012

Planning and creating through the activity.

So Christmas is over and man, was it boring.

I have a problem with planning.  I can be wonderfully organized but typically only up to the start of the event.  For my parent's 25th wedding anniversary, my sister and I put a lot of work into secretly finding their friend's addresses and mailing party information to them.  We found and rented a great hall that also supplied food and drink.  The guests arrived, I invited my parents into the car for brunch and we drove to the event. Everyone yelled…something.  Probably Surprises or Congratulations or the like.  Then… nothing.  My father ended up emceeing the party planned in his own honour.

This year -we're back to talking about Christmas now - I decorated the house with the little guy's help.  While he was asleep, I laid out the presents and got everything ready for the morning.  Morning came, he was duly thrilled, and repeatedly told us how much he loved Christmas.  Then…nothing.  We stayed indoors and struggled to find something to do in the long, long afternoon.  Out of boredom, he was ready to go to bed early.

I am not always like this.  When I lead canoe trips for a sports camp, I repeatedly cautioned the campers to understand the end of the trip would be official only when we were enjoying dessert at the camp's main hall that evening.  And it worked.  The campers all pitched in to load the canoes and gear into the waiting vans and even unload it when we returned to the camp.  It was a point of pride for me that we returned clean pots and pans to the camp kitchen.

Recently, I also wrote about my son's new Lego sets, with their attention to detail, like the bookshelf in the bedroom.  This is where I need to focus - not on the bedroom - this is a PG-rated blog.  But rather, I need to plan through the event.  I need a "The-activity-is-not-done-until-the-next-breakfast" mindset.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Old V New Lego

When I was my son's age, we built rectilinear houses and rectilinear  cars with square blocks and we liked it!  Now, my son wants specialty sets based on marketable themes and with unusually shaped pieces that build preplanned shapes: castles, helicopters, dinosaurs, dune buggies and steam-punk vehicles.
This seems life a good place for an addition two weeks laterThe Ethical Adman misses the old Lego sets too.  He shows some 1970's Lego ads, including one of an interesting ambulance, then says,
 This was around the time when I started playing with the iconic blocks, almost 40 years ago. Note that the craptacular ambulance built by 5-year-old "Maria" could have just as easily been built by "Mario".

And then it hit me what the real problem is.

Lego stopped being a "blank slate" imagination toy sometime in the '80s. While you can still buy plain blocks if you look hard enough, Lego is now much more about
getting kids to act out branded and scripted narratives than asking them to start from scratch.
End updated section

I haven't decided if this is an improvement.  Maybe the creative aspect has simply moved one step.  Where I built an owl, carefully choosing the right pieces to form a large diamond -shaped body and a  smaller diamond-shaped head with protruding beak, then admired it as it sat on my dresser, the little guy builds castles, populates them with good and bad guys, then spends hours acting out a story with them.  My creative output was in making; His is in using.

I have two concerns with the specialty shapes in the Monster Fighter themed sets, though.  First, it will be hard or impossible to use some of them in new ways later.  The spooky, gothic castle roof piece looks like it would only be appropriate as a spooky gothic roof piece - maybe the castle part is the variable.  The castle is made from perhaps twenty tall blocks that now have the included atmospheric stickers on them.  It is difficult imagining them as being repurposed as aircraft wings, for example.

All that said, I do love the flourishes and details in the vampire's castle.  There is a library, a cauldron with magical ingredients stewing and a piano in the attic of a high tower.  The little guy has already put the vampire in there to work the keyboard.

A related point is that the castle perfectly fits my conception of a vampire's castle but I am old.  I would be upset with a Twilight-style castle (they don't have castles? That woman is ruining the genre!) but I also don't want my son to be pushed into playing out traditional vampire stories.

My second concern with the Monster Fighter's themed sets is the number of guns.  Now, I played with guns a lot as a child and have turned out mostly fine.  In the set, it is not merely a few characters who have guns, but the cars have guns as exhaust pipes or hood ornaments.  They look bad-ass but not in a way I want to son to experience.  Am I old and cranky?

TWIC (3)

Creative people are better (or worse) at rationalizing. I discussed this on year ago, but now Scientific American has a podcast interview with Ariely.

I wrote then:
"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."

And lately, I have been wondering about driving in Korea.  I will be leaving soon, so I have been pondering what I might have learned during my time here.  My thinking here in trying to defend the habit of many Korean drivers running red lights is that the drivers don't have much faith in the good planning of city governments and civil engineers.  In the past, Korea was ruled by Japan, then by several dictators.  It has been strongly and clearly democratic in my time here, but retains a great deal of corruption.  Disobeying laws was a means of fighting illegally-held power.

I cannot make myself run a red light, but I often feel comfortable traveling faster than the speed limit on highways.

A Caption Contest!
Kushibo hasn't had many bites in his contest offering, but here it is.  The photo is of Kim Jong-il lying in state and if ever a dead man was worthy of mockery, it is Kim Jong-il.

Look at the picture, then turn off your computer and go for a hike.  Natural Settings and Tech Break boost creativity.  I enjoy walking outside and find myself full of ideas when I do so.  Then I have trouble remembering them all when I get back to my computer.

Spark Your Imagination.  For Christmas, my mother gave my son a set of Super Story Starters.  The prompts include a text idea and picture, making it great for ESL students and young readers.  Here are two:

"You are zipping down a new slide in the playground.  Anything or any place in the world can be at the bottom.  What is it?"
"What does a pirate order at an ice cream shop?  What does he order for his crew?"

Friday, December 21, 2012

Elephant hangers

I am sorta proud of these wooden elephants (click to enlarge if you don't see any elephants).

Well, I am very proud of the idea and also of my attempt to work in some mass production.  I drew and cut the basic shape while in Canada four or so years ago.  I cut the notch that fits around the door and much of the trunk's shape.  Back in Korea, after letting them sit for years, I am now adding some detail and smoothing the wood somewhat.

And that is where I am less proud.  The idea work and even the scrollsaw work turned out well.  My wood carving has not been such a success.  Still, the shape is entirely recognizable and the edges sanded nicely.

Yeah, I am satisfied with my work.

Another reason I am posting this picture is that I am giving two away on Monday and I wanted the recipients to see what the elephant is actually meant to do.
And, uh, if Kirkland wants to send some money over for the product placement, no problem!
Previously at Creativitiproject.

This week in creativity (Dec 21)

The world hasn't ended, so far.

Elizabeth Gilbert on writer's block and running out of ideas.  She looks into why people expect her to be anguished and worried about her future as an artist.  She compares her work to that of her father, a chemical engineer and wonders why people never asked him if he ran out of chemical ideas.  I might have stretched the metaphor too much, but I found it weak: the work of an engineer, I imagine, might be similar creatively to my own work.  Each class I teach is subtly different but the broad and even middle strokes are codified and repetitive rather than entirely creative.

Isaac Mizrahi
I'm marking exams while watching but I can't find anything really exciting or interesting in it.    "Being slightly bored all the time is what makes a great fashion designer."
An ad for Isaac Mizrahi?

Amy Tan
She is a skilled writer and must have real insight into how it works. Still, it seems to airy-fairy for me- too pseudo-scientific.  Am I too cynical?  Is this a case of using whatever works, even a placebo?  Placebo or not, she is more famously creative than I and marmots certainly more creative than I.

Steve Johnson
Coffee came to Europe and creativity took off.  Before that time, people drank alcohol - the healthy choice as water was polluted or carrying parasites.  Switching from a depressant to a stimulant drove creativity.  --probably a joke.
Cool example.  In Africa, people couldn't repair incubators but many could fix cars.  So, people made an incubator from car parts.  The heat came from headlights.   - I like the ideas of using car parts but also using lights as heat producers. Everyone knows lights get hot, but few look at that as a positive.   Well, these guys and the makers of EasyBake!
Talk is about hunches and long incubation times.

Janet Echelman
Interesting and inspiring, but no input on how to be creative.

Kirby Ferguson
Embrace the remix
Patents: To promote the progress of useful arts.  Copying is not theft and nearly everything is copied in one form or another.

This talk was an interesting contrast to the next, by Malcolm McLaren

Malcolm McLaren (50:41?  I am not against long videos , but I thought TED videos were to run around 20:00
From written blurb, it seems he is rebutting Ferguson's claims:  "McLaren shares his fears about what he calls “karaoke culture,” where success is about mimicry rather than emotional honesty. Because as McLaren sees it, no one should be shielded from the messy, difficult struggle of creating something new."
The excerpted idea is interesting, but the majority of the video is politics.

Tim Brown
Tales of creativity and play
Draw a picture of the person beside you.  "Sorry" is a common remark.
I should try this at the next camp. Young children are more eager and proud of their work, but older people are less so.

These are eight talks, I don't think I missed any on that page.

Writing and writers
Don't ask a pro for free labor - Scalzi

Secrets of storytelling: interview of Tim Powers.
Drawing and painting


Refurbishing a hatchet: I don't think the idea or design choices were particularly difficult but the way Diresta masterfully handles the tools and works without error is beautiful to watch.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

This week in creativity

Let's see how long TWIC lasts.  Perhaps it will become TMonthIC.

Story Dice

     I've discussed 'terror of the blank page' and the use of prompts to ease that terror before.  Now, I have found some cool dice to do the work.  Rory's Story cubes, in a variety of genres, are available at Amazon and a similar App is on iTunes for iPads.

    I reached a similar result with a pretty enthusiastic class a few years ago.  After four meetings with the class, I would write the major vocabulary words from those four stories on the white board and would collect random numbers from students.  We would then select four or five words randomly (or so the students were lead to believe) from the list and these words had to be in the story they wrote that week as homework.  For the record, most of the words, most of the time, were randomly chosen but if students had particular difficulty with a word, I was likely to slip it into the short list.

   "Trick" was a surprisingly difficult word.  The story was titled "A Sick Trick" and was about a child who faked an illness to evade school... on Saturday morning.  The students had trouble in their stories separating the "sick" from the "trick".

     Anyway, I like the idea of story dice and will shortly send some to my sister for her children to use.  I am likely to order a set for myself, too.

     Or, I could make a set abusing this website.  I can't figure out how these dice are meant to be used.  It sure looks like students are expected to include most of the information they need to complete their essays so I don't get the role of randomness normally expected of dice.  In the "Bio Cube Creator", section, it sure looks like a summarizing tool rather than a randomizing tool.


Avoid Cliches like my Creationist Coworker!

    Nigel Fountain has a book out describing the abuse of cliches.  In the UK it is apparently called "Cliches: avoid them like the plague" while in the US it is "The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread: Cliches: What they Mean and Where they Came From".  Um, my aforementioned coworker does not noticeably avoid cliches more than other people, but I've seen people avoid conversations with him.

     I particularly enjoyed learning where the term comes from:

"The word itself originates in mid-19th century France, where printers would assemble time-saving blocks from the most commonly used word combinations. Fountain [the author of the book on Cliches being reviewed] hews to that broad definition, and his A-Z of shame embraces buzz-words and bromides as well as adages, truisms and idioms. From “affluent society” to “zero-sum game” they are all, he argues, either redundant, vacuous or overused to the point of meaninglessness."

     Does this mean that "How are you?" is a cliche?  It is overused and typically a vacuous question that nobody ever listens to the answer of.

     The cliche that bothers me most, for no good reason, is "having said that...".

   For more cliches than you can shake a stick at, see this site.
Ride a tramp to work!

     First off, what do you think I am going to write about?  Prostitutes, hobos, old steamships or trampolines?

    The correct answer is 'trampoline'.  I like the idea and the unexpectedness of the transport but I am pessimistic about the usage of this as a fast track to work.  The text claims this is only a 51 metre long track as a prototype so I have to give the photographer creative credit for making it look much longer.
Bazsali in the news.

     A coworker (I don't know his views on evolution) worked on the soundtrack for a movie that was just released.  Pretty cool stuff!  He also has a solo album out.

Monday, November 26, 2012

links roundup

At my university, students need to take a TOIEC test and we professors don't see the results until after the semester is done.  Objectively, their taking -or not- the test doesn't affect me but it does affect their grades and I do what I can to remind them.  Here is one example:

My son plays the teacher.

For more professional movie making, look to Gord Sellar.  He needs some extras for a movie he's making and has issued a cattle-call.

We need extras of both sexes — male and female — for Sunday, December 2, in Bucheon City. We need as many people as we can get: if we don’t get enough people, we’re going to have to hire more, which will use up the money we had earmarked for post-production.

We put out a call last week, and got an okay response: about twenty people are coming. But we need more people. If you participate, you’ll be welcome at a party we’re hosting at my place after the shooting is done, with beer. Free beer, until the kegs run dry. We’ll order pizzas, too. And extras will eventually receive a copy of the film on DVD, as well!

We especially need Koreans — or anyone who can pass for Korean — as extras, but don’t get me wrong: we will find a use for you no matter what you look like! 

When I engage in FLOW, I lose track of my surroundings.  I remember working on something with my MP3 player going and coming up for air a few times and finally realizing that I had been listening to one song on repeat for over an hour.

I enjoy the background sounds Omm Writer provides.  When I was a student, I used to listen to Doug and the Slugs all the time.  I would be working and focused and take a break, singing along for a moment, then focussing again. D&the S wasn't for listening to, so much as it was for being a familiar background noise.

Neuro Tribes reports on what some top writers listen to as they work. The authors are pretty science-heavy but their music is remarkably varied.  Via Boingboing.
TED now has a playlist for creativity.  I don't see Ken Robinson on the list, so perhaps it is new stuff.  I have some new material to watch now.

Rappers in an fMRI:
No matter what they were rapping about, their brains "activated differently during the improvised flow versus the memorized lyrics," says Stephanie Pappas at LiveScience. When subjects were freestyling, the medial prefrontal cortex — an area associated with organizing and integrating information — showed an increase an activity. Meanwhile the dorsolateral region, which helps with "self-control, self-monitoring, and self-censoring," showed a decrease in activity, adds Pappas. (This area became more active when the rappers were reciting memorized lyrics.) 
Elsewhere in the article, the brain is described as "turning off it's own censors".  This is a valuable reminder that one needs to spew ideas and smooth them out later.

PZ Myers thinks the science of the fMRI work on rappers is trivial.

You know, there’s nothing really wrong with this work: it’s not bad science. It’s just pointless science. It’s settled that we have this technology that can monitor variation in blood flow in the functioning human brain, and that’s nice, but what are people going to do with it? So far, it seems to be simply crudely phenomenological, with investigators stuffing people’s heads in cylinders and asking them to do X, Y, and Z, while we all coo over the pretty colors the computer paints on the screen.
The results of this study, for instance, are completely unsurprising…and they also don’t tell me what should be done next, other than bringing in artists in other genres and seeing what their brains do. Which wouldn’t tell me anything other than more correlations between brain blotches and behavior. I’m not seeing any new questions arising from this work, which to me is the real hallmark of interesting science.

He's probably right, but I see the takeaway a little differently.  I often need the same fact repeated a number of ways before it really sinks in.  I know that one needs to brainstorm and, well, vomit out ideas, and later tidy them up. But I still find myself editing as I write and paralyzing myself when the written work isn't profound or pretty enough.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Oatmeal on making things

Here is one panel from The Oatmeal's latest.

In further panels, someone tells The Oatmeal that they hate hipsters and want a comic on the subject.  He brainstorms ("Hipsters: beards, vintage glasses, mustaches, PBR, skinny jeans"), considers making a comic about beards and eventually makes a story about goats "The hipsters of the Pacific Northwest".

The greater point he works to explain is how his job is wonderful.  He doesn't sugarcoat it though.  His final frames discuss the descent into Hell that all youtube comment threads follow.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Productivity... and other links

The writer and unmade beds:
2. An unmade bed has no negative measurable impact in eternity. An unfinished book probably does.3. We will feel much better, and be much less distracted dealing with mundane tasks, important as they may be for the quality of our lives, if our calling is tended to first.
More, and discussion of his points at the link.

Scalzi feels the same way.  When there is work to be done, don't get involved in unnecessary chores. At the link, we can view Scalzi's writing room which is full of chores that will be attended to once the book is done.
I'm writing this instead of doing NANOWRIMO- again.  This means I am not the best candidate to dispute the two writers above who are actually writing and getting paid for it.  Still, I would add the caveat that making your bed might be worthwhile once you have achieved some writing goal for the day.  Taking shorts breaks away from the keyboard is probably a good idea.

Also, wear pants.  At The Awl, Alexander Chee has a list of lies writers themselves.  First is "1. Underwear is definitely pants."
..There's no shame in working in your skivvies, though. Victor Hugo used to get undressed and have his valet take his clothes away. Be proud; just know that it's not pants you've got on. Now go back to work.

If you're not writing,but rather solving mechanical problems at work or home, check out these pics from  Dark Roasted Blend.


More at the link.

Monday, October 29, 2012

DSU Hallowe'en Game

Apologies for posting this here.  I guess it is creative as most teaching material is but I am mostly posting it here as I don't want my students to find it until class starts.

Slides are here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

This story is hers

I am really digging Nina Paley's This Land is Mine.  Paley is a(n) unknown cartoonist who became known, to me, anyway, for her Sita Sings the Blues animation.  This new one, the final scene to a maybe, maybe film titled Seder masochism is hilarious and horrific at once and fits my distrust of religion to a T (whatever that means).

This Land Is Mine from Nina Paley on Vimeo.

Paley has earned a spot on my creative people list in the sidebar!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Two from Scientific American

I am a fan of Mind Maps and other exercises that claim to improve brain flexibility and intelligence.  I think Mind Mapping has real value, although I have read that Buzan, the promoter of it and other exercises, invents his statistics (Foer discusses it in his book, Moonwalking with Einstein).

I specifically mentioned Buzan so let me state that the results described in Scientific American do not apply specifically to him.

In an article titled "Best Evidence for Brain Training Falls Short", various brain games are shown to improve performance in that game, "But the ability to master a game or ace a psych test often doesn’t translate into better cognition when specific measures of intelligence are assayed later."
The article concludes with:

 If you’re doing these tests as part of a personal self-improvement program, maybe consider the piano, Spanish lessons or even Grand Theft Auto 3—The Ultimate Tribute to Liberty. Any of these pose less threat of the monotony that could ultimately undermine the persistence needed for mastery of any new pastime. Seems like a no brainer, in fact.

Next from Sci Am is an article about longevity.  Apparently, people who pursue creative activities live longer.

In other words, creative activities may act as exercises that keep the brain fit. People who exhibit creativity also seem to cope with stress better, finding solutions to stressful situations rather than being overwhelmed by them. And other studies this year have also shown a connection between openness and reduced metabolic risk.

The creative activities do not need to be exhausting or lead to professional-level performance; they do need to be engaging and interesting to the individual.

A commenters asks how to be creative and the author offers some tips.  The tips are very concrete and reasonable and end with the slightly more abstract:

Whatever you go with, the most important first step is to shun criticism, especially from your inner critic. Just turn it off -- stuff it in a box. It's never satisfied and can kill motivation and inspiration, so don't subject your efforts to its withering gaze, and harsh judgment. Learn to ignore it until you feel close to ready to give it the competition of an outsider's judgment.

Friday, September 14, 2012

ISH: links aplenty

ISH: "I'm Still Here"

I set some writing goals recently and didn't type a word for days after that.  Its hard for me to find things worth saying.  So, here are things other people are saying:

Creative thinking reduces stress and improves longevity.

“Individuals high in creativity maintain the integrity of their neural networks even into old age,” Turiano says—a notion supported by a January study from Yale University that correlated openness with the robustness of study subjects' white matter, which supports connections between neurons in different parts of the brain.

Creative work requires hard work and years of dedication.

One can debate the list but Gardner’s foremost conclusion is uncontroversial: creative breakthroughs in any domain require strenuous work and a willingness to challenge the establishment.

The psychology of creativity–both empirical research and popular literature for the lay audience–misses this. It reduces creativity to warm showers and blue rooms, forgetting that the life of the eminent creator is not soothing; it is a struggle–a grossly uneven wrestling match with the muses.

Terrify your audience for better rapport.

Emmanuel Kant spoke often about the sublime, and specifically how art becomes more sublime when beauty mixes with terror. Now research provides some support for this philosophical viewpoint.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

more on writing

This image motivated me to get writing yesterday and time will tell if something this trivial will have some endurance.   Found at Memecrunch.

McSweeny has some advice on writing.


Mark Twain once said, “Show, don’t tell.” This is an incredibly
important lesson for writers to remember; never get such a giant
head that you feel entitled to throw around obscure phrases like
“Show, don’t tell.” Thanks for nothing, Mr. Cryptic.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How would you improve health in a community?

Scientific American reviews an article in Circulation and one suggestion stood out: improve sidewalks.

A professor in an Urban and Environmental Studies class I took in '87 described how to improve bus ridership.  He did not discuss decreased prices but rather suggested vending machines and attendants; his main point was that the local bus service cost local government ...ah, nine million, I think, while maintaining the major highway was twenty-seven million.  Whatever the numbers, the highway sucked up three times what the bus service did.

I like looking at offbeat solutions like these.  My varsity swim coach described his weight problem and how he solved it.  I think his solution was quitting smoking, because he always smoked at a donut shop and while he was there, he had a sugary coffee and donut.  Cutting smoking took him out of locations of high temptation.

So, how would I improve health in a community?  Here in big-city Busan in South Korea, we live in an apartment and I have a nodding acquaintance with some neighbours but I don't have any friends nearby.  My big complaint here is parking and traffic; encouraging people to use public transit or bikes would be beneficial but not as much as it would be in most of Canada.
My big and offbeat suggestion for improved health in the community would be to close hagwons (supplementary cramming schools) earlier in the evening, perhaps by eight pm. Kids might be able to get more sleep and spend more time with their family.

I was going to consider  my parents-in-law's village, where the median age is around sixty and most people work at farms.  There are also many foreigners from third world countries doing DDD work for small factories.  The factories have been popping up as farmers retire and sell their land.

It seems presumptuous for me to suggest their health could be improved.  Both parents-in-law work longer and harder than I do and are in their seventies.  They eat farm-fresh food they have prepared themselves and live near extended family members, while children and grandchildren visit and help out nearly weekly.  Physically, mentally, and socially, these are healthy people.

Hmm, the more I think about this, the best way for Canadians to improve their health would be to adopt a lot of the customs of the Korean elderly (not the frequent spitting, though).  Live near family, exercise in the mountains and keep active.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Links aplenty for July 26

Caine Monroy is a remarkable child but I also have to wonder how much of creativity was due to the twin muses of boredom and plentiful building materials.

One summer, his father took him to work frequently (every weekend?  every day?) and Caine had nothing to do.  At his father's business were a lot of empty boxes and he got started building (and a follow up).  Enjoy these videos about the process and a surprise flashmob that visited.

Caine looked at the boxes but saw more than stiff paper receptacles for auto parts.  He saw blank surfaces for coloring and  construction materials.  Scientific American has an article (not about Caine) that discusses how rethinking labels boosts creativity.

Caine made money with his arcade but I think he liked the process more than the financial results.  His 'Funpass" is good for 500 plays and costs only $2.00 after all.  If he were offered more money, would he be more creative?

Let’s talk about money. In his history of world art, E.H. Gombrich mentions a Renaissance artist whose uneven work was a puzzle, until art historians discovered some of his accounts and compared incomes with images: paid less he worked carelessly; well-remunerated he excelled.
The author, Tim Parks, wondered, 
do I always write as well or as badly as I anyway do regardless of payment, so that these monetary transactions and the decisions that go with them affect my bank balance and anxiety levels, but not the quality of what I do?

Not really related: Bruce Schneier discusses how to get a start in security - the business that I, at least, connect with computer encryption.   His advice is good for most fields and boils down to 1) Study, 2) Do, and 3) Show.  The third point describes demonstrating your knowledge and skills.  Blogging, podcasting and commenting on the same are his examples.  I don't know how well I will do with his self-study course in cryptanalysis but the code-making-little boy in me is eager to investigate, if nothing else.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Friendly Atheist doesn't know how to write

Actually, his blog writing is great and many have recommended I Sold My Soul on E-Bay.

In a recent post on his blog, he wondered how people find time to write and what they wear...

I’ve been writing most of this book late at night when everybody else seems to be sleeping. Fewer distractions. Lots of time to concentrate. I’m better able to focus. And then I just pass out when the sun comes up. (Ah, the joys of being a teacher on break.)

But seriously. I don’t know how other people do it. Especially when they have real jobs and kids and lives.

It is easy to understand that the way to write is to sit down and write. Period.  It is also easy to understand that the best way to diet is to eat less and exercise more.  It sounds easy but most people need a way to trick themselves into getting into the right frame of mind.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Who knew you could change existing games?

I learned the game, Rock, Paper, Scissors years ago, probably back in elementary school.  Last year, I learned the extension, "..., Lizard, Spock"to the game (1, 2).  This is pretty cool, so I taught some of my students as a new way to play (Koreans, of all ages, love Rock, Paper, Scissors).

It wasn't until I taught my son the game that I learned something.  There is no reason to stop at 5 elements to the game.  He quickly suggested adding Cider and Balloon to the game although we were both hazy on how and why they beat or were beaten by the other elements.

As an ESL teacher, I am now very interested in the game and ways to add to it.  It seems clear that you need an odd number of elements so that each element can beat and be beaten by half of the others:
New element beats (n-1)/2
New element is beaten by (n-1)/2

And it helps, I think, to draw a polygon with five, seven, nine or more sides to diagram how each element affect the others.

Diagram from the above Wikipedia link and here, another Wikipedia description I just found which describes the same information as I independently came up with.
As an ESL teacher, it is the last bit that is useful.  We all know:
Rock smashes scissors but is covered by paper.
Paper covers rock but is cut by scissors,
Scissors cut paper but are smashed by rock.
In the Lizard, Spock alternative:
Spock uses a laser on scissors and rock, but is disproven by paper and poisoned by lizard.
Lizard eats paper but is crushed by rock and decapitated by scissors.

My students will be making their own additions to the game next semester... and I need to thank my son for reminding me to consider changing established activities.

Time to play CalvinBall (1, 2)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The protagonist is better loved by the readers than the author!

Many authors of well-beloved characters have grown tired of their creations but have felt bullied by their readers to keep adding new stories.  Forester's Hornblower, and Fleming's Bond are two big examples.  But Doyle's Holmes is probably the most famous and Doyle's efforts to end the series and kill-off Holmes are almost equally well-known.

Scientific American looks into the problem of killing off  a hero.

...when Arthur Conan Doyle had killed off his famous detective almost ten years earlier, in “The Final Problem,” the news was, to put it mildly, not well received. The Strand—for many years, Holmes’s home—was inundated with letters from jilted readers. Conan Doyle found himself the target of angry mail and vitriolic attacks. It’s even said that City of London clerks wore black armbands to mourn the detective’s passing. ...It’s safe to assume that on some level, Conan Doyle knew that killing Holmes may not have been the best thing for him to do. He just couldn’t help himself. “I have made up my mind to kill Sherlock Holmes; he is becoming such a burden to me that it makes my life unbearable,” he told Sir Henry Lunn
So, when is Rowling going to write the next Harry Potter?

Gord Sellar is busy!

Sellar is an online acquaintance and a bit of a role model for me.  He recently had his story The Bernoulli War published in Asimov;s Science Fiction and has signed a contract for a Korean translation of his short stories in a single book.

He is similar to many authors I have featured on this blog who describes his work as, well, real work.  I don not have the link handy but I impressed by the detail he went into in revisions to his work before offering it to publishers.

This is another busy summer for him as he works on several projects and also asks for your help in funding the Clarion Workshop.

I'll be working on a couple of short stories and film scripts and starting a novel project. Those are vague goals, but more specifically:
- I'll complete two short film scripts, or one feature-length film script.
- I'll send at least two new stories out to market, and revise one existing story and send it out.
- I'll begin drafting a novel, with the synopsis/outline first, and then the text itself.

Whoever makes the biggest donation will earn the right to choose the name of a character in one of the short stories I write during the write-a-thon. I’ll contact you and let you know!
His sponsorship page.

XKCD takes your questions

I've long enjoyed Randall Munroe's xkcd comic for years and am now interested in his 'What if' website.  Here, he takes questions on a variety of subjects and offers thoughtful answers as well as humourous commentary.  His background as a NASA employee gives him the credentials for hard-science questions as displayed in the first question he answered: What if a pitched a ball at nearly the speed of light.  He described what would happen - nuclear powered destruction for all nearby - and also pointed out that the (now vaporized) "batter would be considered hit by pitch and would be eligible to advance to first base."

Suddenly, I want to take hypothetical questions here.  Indeed, could you imagine a world where you couldn't ask hypothetical questions?

Rules for Improv... and suggestions for life

I am reading Tina Fey's Bossypants and have just read her rules for Improv and work.  Well, I think the rules are from Second City, but she applies them more widely.

Rule #1 — AgreeThe first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES.
When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt.
Rule #2 — Not Only Say Yes… Say Yes AndThe second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own.
If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill.
But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.”
Rule #3 — Make StatementsThis is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers.

She makes further explanation at this point, and after each of the quoted sections, but I don't want to put too much here.  I like it and suggest you click over - here is the link again; go read the original.
Rule #4 — There Are No Mistakes… Only OpportunitiesIf I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what?
Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel.

Nick Cave on inspiration

Previously, I've repeated Cave's announcement that he is not in a creativity contest.  More recently, he explains more of the gritty work involved in creative pursuits.
Cave is not the type of songwriter to sit around waiting for lightning to strike. 
‘‘Inspiration is a word used by people who aren't really doing anything. I go into my office every day that I'm in Brighton and work. Whether I feel like it or not is irrelevant.'' 

I have only heard a little of Cave's music - and like what I have heard - but I see from his website that he is involved many fields.  His books are listed at Goodreads.

Via Boingboing.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Learning how to cheat

As a way to learn about security holes and defense, instructors told students they had 24 hours to memorize 100 digits of pi.  Upon protests, the students were told they only needed to answer the question, how they managed it was their choice.  Being caught cheating was the only way to fail.
Links first.  I learned about the research at Boingboing, and a PDF of the study is here. From the PDF:

We considered, but chose not to go as far as forcing students into a position where they must cheat on their own initiative, but without being told to do so. We believed this would place students into an unfair ethical dilemma, send the wrong message, and that most, if not all, students would simply fail the exam rather than cheat illicitly....
Students took diverse approaches to cheating, and of the 20 students in the course, none were caught...
One student hand wrote the answers on a blank sheet of paper (in advance) and simply turned it in, exploiting the fact that we didn’t pass out a formal exam sheet. Another just memorized the first ten digits of pi and randomly filled in the rest, assuming the instructors would be too lazy to check every digit. His assumption was correct....
Exploit Trust - Explicit or implicit trust models are exploitable opportunities. Despite our awareness that the students were cheating, we still inadvertently let our guard down. For example, we wouldn’t have stopped a student from using the restroom during the exam. During our group discussion, students suggested that going to the bathroom to cheat would have been an easy-to-implement approach. It is because of our inherent and unconscious trust that we leave ourselves open to exploitation in the physical world and online. As security professionals we must learn to think like the jaded police officer or prison guard who never takes statements and actions at face value....
Develop Backup Plans - Adversaries rarely seek to accomplish their objectives through a single, all or nothing plan. Several students demonstrated this principle by developing backup plans in case their primary cheating tactic was compromised.
I found the work interesting and want to find a way to use it myself.
Previously and Not Really Related: Economics of Caring about Cheating and creative students considered unethical.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

More on writing: Stross and Mapes

First, an article about Creston Mapes.  The article is at Amazon and discusses how wonderful the options for e-book publishing are for struggling authors.  I have and love a Kindle myself but can see this article needs to be taken with some salt.

Creston was certain that the books deserved a bigger audience. So, he decided to take advantage of Amazon’s independent self-publishing platform, which allows any author to bring their books directly to market. He got the rights back to those three novels, put his own covers on them, and used the self-service platform to put them on Kindle.
“That’s when the magic happened. Kindle Direct Publishing enabled me to promote my newest book, Nobody, for free during one weekend in February. I told my author friends, and they helped share the Kindle Store link for Nobody with their circles of friends and readers.”
Creston smiles. “Blast off,” he says.

Although I am cautious, his story rings true.  Other authors have reported similar results, particularly authors who did not get publishing deals.

I have waded through self-published books and, while recognizing some good ideas, have cringed at the style and details.  Perhaps Mapes was lucky to have a commercial publisher vet and edit his work (I don't know if this happened, but that seems to be what publishers are for) before he self-published.  Nobody can be found here.

Two years ago, the Big Hominid discussed what editors are for.  He favors the Grammar-nazis and I have to admit that seeing mis-typed words, even when the meaning is clear, takes me out of the narrative and I need to consciously work out the problem before re-immersing myself.
Stross is an author I have become an admirer of.  His 'Laundry Files' series - which is not about dirty clothes, but spies and intelligence agencies in a world with Lovecraftian elder intelligences interfering.  Amazon just downloaded his newest book to my Kindle mere hours ago.

At Reddit, he recently answered a lot of questions.  I didn't notice this in my first readthrough, but he discusses some of the issues brought up in the article above:

Biggest message: find your customers and sell them what they want to buy. DRM is bad for business. Territorial rights restrictions are bad for business. Amazon are utterly hateful and evil -- they will kill you and establish a monopoly if they can -- but their one redeeming feature is that they're good to customers: so learn from them.
He goes into detail about Amazon here.

On writer's block:
Writers block: when I get it, it's because my subconscious spotted that I'd make a huge structural mistake in constructing a novel before my conscious mind became aware of it, and threw on the brakes. So I've learned not to sweat it: take two days off, then back up a chapter, read through, and try to work out why I'm suddenly uneasy about continuing.
Many authors have stressed the importance of writing ideas down and I have discussed commonplace books (used for day-to-day to-do lists and ideas and ...) on this blog.  Stross apparently doesn't go this route:

[–]argibbs 11 points  ago
I believe Roald Dahl used to keep a little notebook with all his ideas in, and would jot stuff down whenever andwhereever the idea struck. (might not have done, it's been years since I read that nugget). Do you keep a stash of ideas on file (and if so in what format?), or is it simply you write whatever idea strikes most recently? (Related to but not the same as having extra books filed away for when writers block strikes.)

[–]cstross[S] 33 points  ago
No, I don't keep anything on paper (except within an actual novel in progress, at which point I need a file to keep track of plot threads, characters, and so on). If an idea is compelling enough it'll stick in my head until I am forced to write it. If it's forgettable, who cares?

[–]wanderingtroglodyte 15 points  ago
I'm pretty sure if my family had a banner, our crest would be someone deep in thought, saying "Must not have been important."
97% of our conversations "I was going to tell you something! I uh.. uh.. eh.." "Must not have been important!" Click.

I have enjoyed Stross's Merchant Princes series which I understand to be based on Zelazny's Amber series.  I feel Stross's version to be darker and grittier and also quite original; I can see the ancestry in some of the events but it feels fresh and new.  Here is Stross on plagiarism:

[–]brokenlocomotion 12 points  ago
How do you make sure you aren't "inadvertently plagiarizing?" I think up ideas a lot but am sure they have already been done somewhere or that I am ripping something off I have read and cannot recall specifically. Original creativity seems difficult.
And thanks for the books...I love science fiction and appreciate the work that goes into putting out novels to entertain us.
[–]cstross[S] 34 points  ago
First: plagiarism requires you to copy someone else's words. You can avoid this by, er, not copying! Writing your own story around the same ideas is not plagiarism; at worst, it's being unoriginal.
Having said that, you're right: coming up with truly new ideas is hard. But I've got a method: I look for a couple of obvious ideas that have been done before (try: folks who can travel at will to parallel universes; in their home world they're the aristocracy, because: magic powers) and then look for the second-order side effects: stuff that other authors didn't dig into (for example: wrt. the previous idea, what are the consequences of these folks' ability for the ongoing economic and political development of their world? Can it have negative consequences? If so, what are they?)

Read more at the link above.