Thursday, April 30, 2015

Movie making

This blog isn't a place particularly for my rants or opinions on feminism but when the opportunity arises.... Shit people say to women directors (and other film staff).

If I haven't linked to Every Frame a Painting before, I apologize.  I know little about movie making, but Tony Zhou makes me think I do.  In this video essay, he discusses Welles' F is for Fake.  One point for any narrative creator is the idea of "meanwhile, back at the ranch".  To hold people's attention, it is better to have concurrent stories so when one gets bogged down or when it reaches a high point, you can switch to the other one.  Or an other one.  Examples in the essay came from Star Wars among others, where Leia, Solo and Chewie are doing one thing and Luke is doing another.

I wonder if this is why I prefer podcasts with two, or a few more, speakers.  George Hrab seems to stand alone as a one-man show in his podcast.  Most seem to be more like a monotonous monologue.  The energy increases as the two speakers set each other up. When one falters, the other takes over.  Or not, and that is kinda funny too.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

An opposing voice

Ted Talks are lying to you.
Those who urge us to “think different,” in other words, almost never do so themselves. Year after year, new installments in this unchanging genre are produced and consumed. Creativity, they all tell us, is too important to be left to the creative. Our prosperity depends on it. And by dint of careful study and the hardest science — by, say, sliding a jazz pianist’s head into an MRI machine — we can crack the code of creativity and unleash its moneymaking power.
That was the ultimate lesson. That’s where the music, the theology, the physics and the ethereal water lilies were meant to direct us. Our correspondent could think of no books that tried to work the equation the other way around — holding up the invention of air conditioning or Velcro as a model for a jazz trumpeter trying to work out his solo.
And why was this worth noticing? Well, for one thing, because we’re talking about the literature of creativity, for Pete’s sake. If there is a non-fiction genre from which you have a right to expect clever prose and uncanny insight, it should be this one. So why is it so utterly consumed by formula and repetition?
What I've learned in writing this blog is that while there is a lot we have learned about creativity, there is a lot still to be tweaked.  An ephemeral subject like this is a challenge to study because there are so many dependent variables.  It seems to me that we need fads like open offices or the cookie-cutter approach described today so there is enough activity to perform natural experiments.  If enough people are following the creativity gurus, they will have sufficient variation that new cues and leads can be seen through the noise.

Well, I hope so.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

TWIC: mixed bag

Why creativity in the classroom doesn't matter:

I have never entertained the idea of creativity in my classroom because to do so would mean judging my students as opposed to assessing them. Judging my students would be like saying...
  • Mary, you sure are creative.
  • Mike, you produced a creative brochure, video, etc.
  • Monica, your group worked creatively on that project.

In all cases, I am labeling my students dichotomously as being either "good" or "bad". In formal education, the feedback students receive needs to go beyond good/bad, pass/fail, etc. It needs to be more nuanced. This is where the alternative, assessment, becomes more important than creativity.
Stewart's discussion of creativity in the classroom is more about semantics than discouraging the idea.  I think I see his point; as an ESL educator, I need to judge and critique the grammar not, for example, the truthfulness of my student's responses.  A mundane answer is as valuable as an imaginative one outside of class.
At age 47 I began to listen to more classical music.  I still don't listen to much but I am paying a little more attention to it than I did in my youth.  I recently watched/listened to a Youtube clip that explained what 'variations' and creativity mean in the performance of classical music first made by men who are long dead.
David Ogilvy's memo on writing.  Here are five tips from his list:
  1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
  2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
  3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification,attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
The Hugos are a group of prizes for science fiction and fantasy writing. There is some controversy about how the candidates for the awards are being chosen this year with two groups following the edge of the rules but still appearing to be gaming the system.  Twitter has been active with possible new awards.

Fighting procrastination with software:

Patterson’s report, written last November but released this month, examines the effects of different types of antidistraction software. His study looked at 657 students enrolled in a statistics MOOC offered by Stanford University. The students, all of whom agreed to download software that would track their activity online, were then separated into three groups, plus a control group.
Students in the group that tested a commitment tool set their own daily allotments for time they could spend on distracting websites such as BuzzFeed, ESPN and Facebook. If the students hit the cap during the course of a day, the software blocked them from the distracting sites, forcing students to give a new reason every time they wanted to unblock one.
On average, students allotted 2.7 hours per day to spend on distracting websites and went over that limit four times during the nine-week MOOC. Even though the software sent them a daily email at 6:45 a.m. reminding them of that limit and asking if they wanted to reset it, the average student only did so once.
The whole article is interesting but I particularly like this bit of self-reflection:
“One of the things I noticed with this software is that there were things I thought I was spending a lot of time on that I wasn’t, and other things I thought I was spending a couple of minutes on that was sucking up a lot of time.”
Learning what you are actually doing with your day rather than what you think you are doing is interesting.  It's obvious that one should do so with money to see how much is spent on venti-cappa-frappa-cinos in a week but investigating recreational web surfing clearly has some value too.  And this approach would work on projects away from the computer.  This reminds me that I should get back to carving.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

More writing tips.

From a list of thirteen tips, here are excerpts of eight:
Tip 1: Start a blog and be consistent about posting on it. Be your true authentic self on that blog. Write what you want to write NOT what you think people want to read....
Tip 2: The only people who have time to write are in prison. The rest of us make time. I get that your life is busy. .... Make. The. Time. That’s how writers are made.
Tip 3: (I wrote this one while sitting in the forest of Inwood Hill Park.) Take care of yourself while doing the work. Writing what we write is often so hard, so taxing on the heart & spirit, so please do practice self-care....
Tip 4: If something makes you cringe & want to run from the page, you’re probably onto something. Keep going! Push through! Then treat yourself to something that will make you sigh & smile.
Tip 5: Stop expecting people to honor your process. Demand that shit! Honor your writing time. And yes, that means your partner, your kids, your parents, everybody. When you’re working, you’re working. ...
Tip 6: (Some people will take issue with this tip but I’m good with that.) You should be writing with people who are at least as good as or better than you. Pats on the back are great but they won’t help you grow as a writer. ...
Tip 7: READ! Writing is reading! Seriously, READ! Read voraciously....
Tip 8: In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. In other words, it would take 416.6 days of you writing round the clock to master the craft. What’s my point? That you can always get better. ...
Via Kevin Hodgson
Jim Butcher, at Dragon Con 2013 was asked about writing fight scenes in his fantasy books.  He stated that real fights are messy and usually quick but in writing, one should write them like tennis matches so the action is clear.
From Sword n Laser #140

Monday, April 20, 2015

open space offices pros and cons

Bad for you?

Lindsey Kaufman at the Washington Post feels Google got it wrong regarding open offices.

The New Yorker, in a review of research on this nouveau workplace design, determined that the benefits in building camaraderie simply mask the negative effects on work performance. While employees feel like they’re part of a laid-back, innovative enterprise, the environment ultimately damages workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Furthermore, a sense of privacy boosts job performance, while the opposite can cause feelings of helplessness. In addition to the distractions, my colleagues and I have been more vulnerable to illness. Last flu season took down a succession of my co-workers like dominoes.
More here from the New Yorker.

Based on my own, far less extensive research, both environments are needed.  Or possibly needed by North Americans and others in the West.  Let me start with first sentence.

Creativity in this context has two components.  Idea creation and idea actualization. Distraction and group input are good for the former but not the latter.  Focus and concentration are better then.

And yet, my Korean students can concentrate despite the noise and hullabaloo around them.  Perhaps living in what this Canadian considered an overpopulated country has taught the locals how to go back and forth; from deliberately distracted and involved to deliberately focus and closed in.

Ken Liu discusses world-building

He describes the technology in his fantasy as Silkpunk, which is tremendously evocative of Eastern Asia, rebellion and fancy gadgets.
I read the theories of technology proposed by W. Brian Arthur. Arthur argues that technology could be understood as a kind of language, where common components and subassemblies are like the words, idioms, and clichés of a language, and engineers are creative thinkers who arrange and assemble these into beautiful, functional compositions that harness natural phenomena to solve specific problems.
This gave me a new way of looking at the problem: each “-punk” subgenre is defined by its own distinct language of technology. What I needed was defining a new language of technology that was appropriate to the effect I wanted to achieve. Since the defining feature of this language was a design aesthetic rather than a source of power or a domain of science, I decided to call it “silkpunk.”
The nouns of the silkpunk language are materials of historic importance to East Asia (silk, ox sinew, paper, bamboo …) and seafaring cultures of the Pacific (feather, obsidian, shell, coconut, coral). The power sources – let’s call them verbs – are muscle (and animal products like ox sinew), wind, water, and – in a very primitive manner – steam. The principles of composition in this new language draw upon biomechanics and Classical Chinese philosophy and engineering practices. The result is a language of technology that is flexible, organic, and lifelike, visually and mechanically distinct from the brass-and-glass rigidity of steampunk.
I don't think that my worldbuilding is great, but so far it is my strongest point.  I most need to focus on character development.  But now I want to explore silkpunk further.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Multiple independent discovery or invention.

Wikipedia discusses multiple discovery here.
Historians and sociologists have remarked on the occurrence, in science, of "multiple independent discovery". Robert K. Merton defined such "multiples" as instances in which similar discoveries are made by scientists working independently of each other.[2] "Sometimes the discoveries are simultaneous or almost so; sometimes a scientist will make a new discovery which, unknown to him, somebody else has made years before."[3]

From the 80's - a remarkable scanning job.
A few studies suggest that anticipated research is an occupational hazard for the majority of active researchers. Indeed, some investigators report being anticipated several times in their careers. 
One of the most commonly cited examples is the independent formulation of the calculus by Newton and Leibniz, which has been definitively described by A. Rupert Halls Another is the theory of the evolution of the species, independently advanced by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.
But multiple independent discovery is not limited to only a few historical instances involving the giants of scientific research. On the contrary, Merton believes that multiple discoveries, rather than unique ones, represent the common pattern in science.
From the International Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics - a PDF file that I am tentatively offering a link to.  You may need to search "A MODEL FOR CO-DISCOVERY IN SCIENCE BASED ON THE SYNCHRONIZATION OF GAUSS MAPS" to find it yourself):
It is suggested that the driving external excitation that causes synchronization of systems and therefore co-discovery in science is the information access and its broad distribution in modern society produced by radio, tv, internet, books, newspapers, scientific articles among other media. It is concluded that co-discovery in science is a phenomenon which will be every time more frequent. For our 21th century we estimate that of the order of thousands co-discoveries will occur.
I should point out that the English is interesting - as an ESL instructor, I cannot complain about it but if you choose to follow the link and download the PDF, be warned that it is heavy slogging.  The math lexicon is also challenging.
All this to introduce, not a scientific discovery, but a card game that appeared to be cloned from another but wasn't.
Could you design a brand-new game using only a deck of classic playing cards? It’s a cool idea -- repurposing familiar components in an original context. But the design for the game that would become Donsol was born out of necessity, the mother of invention. A pack of cards was all the creators had on hand.
Devine Lu Linvega developed the iOS version of Donsol, a game that sees heart suits re-cast as “health potions,” clubs and spades as “monsters”. Starting with four cards, the player gathers health and fights enemies, making their way through an imagined dungeon space making combat calculations -- the health cards versus the monsters. It’s a fascinating idea.
The only problem is that completely unbeknownst to Linvega, someone had already made it.
“This explains why two people creating a game can stumble across the same mechanic, the same interaction and effect, even if they've never met, never played each other's games,” [Designer and teacher Naomi Clark] continues. She’s even had it happen to her.“It used to make me gnash my teeth, that someone else had also come across the idea that I was so proud of devising, and had beaten me to announcing or launching a game,” she says. “Over time, I've gotten much less attached to the feeling that any game mechanic could truly be ‘my idea’.”

Saturday, April 11, 2015

introductions to Korean Art

"There's something about Korean art that on the surface seems very simple, but its all about minimal aesthetic.  So there's nothing incredibly showy.  There's nothing over-the-top.  And the more you look at it, the more you appreciate its depth."

Introduction to Korean Art from The Korea Society on Vimeo.

Introduction to Korean woodblock printing.
This video features Arirang's most annoying English voice-over narrator.  At 5:12, he mentions that the wood blocks are stored at "Hane-sa Monastery".  The correct pronunciation is "Hae - in - Sa" and "sa" means temple or monastery.

Introduction to Printing from The Korea Society on Vimeo.

Via Koreabridge

Friday, April 10, 2015

Learning from Vonnegut, from bad advice and from Sci Am

Here are five of the eight tips:

From Kurt Vonnegut’s introduction to his short story anthology, Bagombo Snuff Box, 8 tips on how to write a good short story.
Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2 Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3 Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4 Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.

5 Start as close to the end as possible.

From Boingboing.
Learn from (bad) examples.  Bad male writers:

 This is a clip of a longer list at Boingboing which came from Tumblr.

Change the background for better photos of hairy insects - probably good advice in other contexts.

Bonus feature!
 I narrowly avoided disaster last week and only learned of it yesterday.
I knew some students were taking a 'sculpting' class but this group are all computer game and graphic image and software majors so I thought this was a term for image manipulation or building or the like.
Last week, a student had a small brown head on her desk.  She left for a few minutes and I touched the head, thinking it was a strange, shiny plastic.  It felt weird under my fingers so I squeezed a little.  I didn't give and seemed like it would if I squeezed harder.
I did not, but put it down and prepared to teach class.
Yesterday, the same student was in class early and I saw she was scraping the head with a wooden tool, working on making realistic hair.

So glad I stopped when I did.  How would I have explained that?