Sunday, February 21, 2016

TWIC: Sleep, read, donate, build, dig, learn, understand, archive

I'm hitting Boingboing pretty hard today:

Sleep in a Van Gogh painting in Chicago.

Donate to a workshop for young horror, fantasy or science fiction writers.
Read how Gibson wrote Neuromancer.
Build your own boardgame.
Junior Game Inventors Kit. The kit includes everything you need to start building a game: a pre-cut box, a blank folds-to-square game board, paper to cover box and board, nine pawns, a pair of standard dice, a 12-sided numbered die, 56 blank cards, and a bundle of play money. You can also purchase a la carte from a long list of goodies. I added a money tray, a set of ten chipboard blanks, and ten stands to the basic kit. They offer an Advanced Game Board Inventors Kit as well, with a mind-boggling array of pieces.
I enjoy requiring my students to make a boardgame for homework. I think they enjoy it, too.  For simplicity's sake, I usually just supply dice and square Post it Notes in a variety of colours.  I need to work on game pieces to move through the game.  Most student-made games start as variations of Snakes & Ladders and grow from there.

Dig through Europeana archive of videos, sounds, books, and artwork - millions of items to be found here. Via B'boing.

I will also note here that I have gone through my own archive and labelled my links to the many archives I've featured.
Learn how to write award-winning magazine articles.
Understand the appeal of the ampersand.

Working in Journalism

Jeet Heer on journalism in Canada (probably applicable elsewhere).

Heer references Canadaland,  led by Jessie Brown, an independent reporter I have listened to with some regularity for several years.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

TWIC: secret cants, money, cbc, drums

My son told me a few months ago that he wanted to be a BJ.  I eventually learned he meant a 'Broadcast Jockey'; which I think is a Koreanization of Broadcaster  and Disk Jockey or the like.
Kids these days.
And sub-cultures.
Many groups have their own secret language or 'anti-language', one deliberately prepared to confuse those on the outside.
From London to Timbuktu, there is a teeming underworld of rebellious “anti-societies” who speak a mercurial, ever-changing code. Their words are, quite literally, gobbledygook designed to confuse authority.
The concept of an anti-language throws light on many of the vibrant slangs at the edges of society, from Cockney rhyming slang and Victorian “Gobbledygook” to the “Mobspeak” of the Mafia and “Boobslang” found uniquely in New Zealand prisons. The breadth and range of the terms can be astonishing; a lexicography of Boobslang reaches more than 200 pages, with 3,000 entries covering many areas of life. To be “under the thumb” is to be in love, a “double yoker” is an idiot, a “cue ball” is a skinhead and a “goodnight kiss” is a knockout punch. Outside of prison, each type of crime will have its own specialised vocabulary. A 1980s survey of American confidence tricksters, for instance, found a variety of colourful names for their intended victims – they are an “apple”, an “egg”, a “fink”, or, most innocuously sounding, “Mr Bates”.

"I didn't get rich by writing a lot of checks"
Via Frinkiac.
The Huffington Post is a for-profit news organization that is proud that it doesn't pay its bloggers.* Chuck Wendig and John Scalzi are, quite reasonably, upset.
Paint as if you weren't getting paid for it.
CBC Books has a 'premise generator' on their site. Ah, that link is to CBC Books, but the generator is here.

At the CBC Books site, there is a link to submit your own premise for a story.
A style guide for telegrams.
Need some drums in the background? This site can help.

*I write for free, but I , uh write well for money.  Wait, I want to change that.  My blog is a gathering place for my thoughts and, for want of a better term, research.  I hope the writing is of acceptable quality but I consider my blog to be a place to learn, for me and for my reader(s).  I work for free but I am not working for someone else to make money.

Slack time has benefits

Ah, I ramble a lot in this blog post. This is not unusual but my attempt to clean it up, even a little, is.
Image from Catenary.

I'm writing this post for two reasons.  First, I had an idea for a book but was beaten to the punch:  Slack is a business book, written by Tom DeMarco.  It appears to be entirely serious and a valuable resource for managers.

Second, on her blog, Cheryl Reif wrote about how  downtime and time away from, well, stuff, to be important for creative output.
Safety + Relaxation -> Your alpha brain waves (important for creative thinking) increase. Your inner critic takes a nap; your brain starts playing with wild and crazy connections, and coming up with creative solutions.
Pro Tip: When you fill your spare moments with podcasts and ink and other information-packed audio, you take away opportunities for your brain to wander into that relaxed state where free association is more likely to occur. 
There are times when I feel I need my podcasts or music to complete a run, when I just feel like quitting and need the distraction.  At other times, I find I am able to ignore the music when I want to think about other things.  I have listened to most of my music tens or even hundreds of times so I am able to get into it and sing along or ignore it as needed.  Recently, I also began adding five minute clips of 'empty', of nothing, so I can better daydream.
Boredom Encourages Creative Connections
Perhaps, though, you’re easily bored. It’s not just that you’re trying to learn more and be more productive; you want to avoid thumb-twiddling and time-wasting.
OK, ramblin' time:

Around two years ago, I toyed with the idea of making at least the synopsis for a book in the Malcolm Gladwell tradition titled "Slack". From the Google Doc I made to hold the idea:
(A Malcolm Gladwellian discussion of barely connected subjects that might or might not reveal a common pattern and about which no real improvement or change is possible)
In every system, there is some slack; a little room for independent action or negotiation, for free will or personal preference.  As the population increases and resources become more limited, this slack is removed, life becomes tauter.  This article looks at efficiency in restaurants, big-box stores and hospitals, athletics, school extra-curricular activities and fieldtrips, and social norms. Do we need more slack in our lives?  I believe so but I do not believe it is possible to increase it; this is a one-way reaction

What humour might come out of the story was going to be in the attempt to parody Blink or similar books.  The stereotype for a Gladwellian book is to have several articles or chapters, each one well researched and clear but with only a weak connection or moral for the book as a whole.  The sum of the parts being greater than the whole.

And yet I feel the point that including slack into a system is valid and is not mean to be funny on its own.

What is Slack?  In the title for this blog post I specified 'time' as an element, but it also includes resources and choices.
But when you arrest and expel students for slaking their scientific curiosity, whatever the other consequences of that action, be advised that you are almost certainly sacrificing a valuable scientist at the altar of arbitrarily wielded state and school power
At my son's school in 2013, there were a lot of 'snow days'.  The school was closed for five days because the weather made getting to and from school dangerous.  At a meeting, the principal told us that there was enough slack in the schedule that teaching content would not be lost.  It was this statement that made me first consider the concept of slack as a valuable item.

making a clock from scratch

In the book I am writing, one of the inventors was trained as a bicycle maker and a watch maker.  This series of videos detailing how a man built a clock from hunks of metal gives me some insight into how my protagonist works. These videos are homework!

via Boingboing.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Home Town Author and other writing news

A local newspaper interviewed Midland, Ontario author, Wade Shatford.
Shatford writes in the genre of “dark fantasy,” in which grim and adult themes are incorporated into the traditionally child-oriented school of fantasy.
“I read fantasy a lot as a kid,” he said. “Dark fantasy is a platform for people who have grown up with this genre and take a literary twist on it.”
Self-publishing through Amazon has become popular for aspiring writers. Shatford said it is a simple process of uploading a manuscript to the site.
“There’s a million books up there and it’s up to you to generate interest,” he said. “And some people have really hit home runs with it.”
Shatford said he hopes his books will be among the home runs. He recently sold a copy in England.
“Go, Internet, go,” he said. “With the press of a button, worldwide exposure.
His Amazon page.  From the Goodreads page for one of his books:
I set out to write `Heart of Darkness' with a dragon and an anti-hero set on revenge. Metaphorically, the book is about weapon proliferation in both society and internationally.
I have downloaded the Amazon sample for the book and will update this post after I have read it.
Added Later: I finished the sample. I went in expecting poor formatting or spelling but the book feels professionally edited and I have no complaints.  The story, too, was clear and I read the sample quickly. In the part I read - no spoilers because it was only the sample - the man who eventually became a monstrous king started as a boy who went through terrible privations and hardship, losing more and more of his family and learning to kill before he was ten.  It felt a lot like Con Iggulden's series about the rise of Ghengis Khan, although the hardships that worthy faced were somewhat based in reality.
It was all well-done but not my type.  If you like Iggulden's books for more than the historical aspects, this book might be for you.  I wish I could get over the sub-genre or whatever my problem is because I think it is well-written, again, just not my type.
It is time to apply for the M Literacy residencies in China and India in 2017 if you are interested.
Apparently, People of Colour destroy Science Fiction - new kids with their hip lingo; it seem this is positive.
Darwin Day was a few days ago.  Scientific American has a book out describing the minds of histories great personalities and describes Darwin as a worrier.  On this blog, I have looked at the uncertain link between mental illness and creativity and also at studies which show the early loss of a parent is a common factor among histories geniuses. An excerpt from the book:
Studies have shown that the loss of a parent in early childhood can significantly increase the risk of both depression and anxiety later in life. And Darwin was profoundly affected by the way his mother died—quickly and inexplicably—according to Janet Browne, author of a highly acclaimed two-volume biography of Darwin. Darwin worried incessantly that he or his children had inherited a weak constitution from his mother’s side of the family, and he knew from her experience that sickness could quickly turn deadly.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

TWIC: book publishing, podcast publishing, success and bikes

Bikes first because they have the least to do with theme of this blog. Add more bike lanes instead of parking. In the country I live in, that would be 'add more bike lanes to be misused for parking'.
70 percent of US mayors support making roads more accessible to cyclists, even at the expense of driving lanes and parking, according to the 2015 Menino Survey of Mayors. The 89 mayors in favor represent a bipartisan majority of mayors, hailing from cities of all sizes, that recognizes the benefit of bike accessibility projects to a city’s traffic flow and budget.
A few months ago, my son told me he wanted to be a 'bj'.  Uncertain where the conversation would go, I asked him what he meant.  Broadcast Jockey.
Independent broadcasters called Broadcasting Jockeys (BJs) deliver live broadcasts to viewers, who can add them to their list of favorite channels using an Afreeca Player tool. Some channels have tens of thousands of viewers at any given time. Paid services such as quick views or channel relays allow BJs additional sources of revenue.
He now records and broadcasts playthroughs of Minecraft.

In doing so, he has introduced me to various recording apps and programs.  I already have audacity and used Screenr (which is now obsolete.) but together we learned about OBS (open broadcaster software) and screencastify.  The latter has a fee but apparently is easier than OBS.  For any podcast friends out there, I just learned of Zencastr, a program or app that assists in 'double enders' - recording audio from mics on different computers, for example on Skype.
Record & Stream
The host starts the recording and each party's audio is automatically streamed to the host's dropbox account in separate high quality file
I found a list of 'things successful people do'. I normally find them to mistake correlation with causation and feel I am reading something like, "Successful people drive German cars. You should drive a German car." Still, this list, especially #1, is exactly right in pointing out habits I need to change.
1. Productive, successful people don’t get sucked into social media.
Being on social media—checking notifications Facebook, scrolling through pictures on Instagram, reading quick updates on Twitter, whatever—it’s part of everyday life. But if you don’t control how much time you spend on it, the hours will fly by and you won’t have accomplished anything on your to-do list.
So either put a time limit on it—set an alarm for when you need to minimize it, close the app, do something else—or only get on after completing necessary work projects. Use social media as a reward.
Speaking of success, how do you measure it?  Amazon tells us only 40 self-published authors are successful.  Here is the measurement:
“Making money” here means selling more than one million e-book copies in the last five years.
It's hard to be a success in self-publishing. This author sold 20,000 copies of her book in one week but (claims she) was snubbed by the New York Times bestselling list.

Part of being a success means being noticed.  How can you be noticed when you are one of a million on Amazon?  Maybe build your own platform as these science fictions authors did.
These are authors who seem to have had a lot of success on Amazon, so it’s interesting to see them trying to create their own channel for connecting with readers and selling books (via “price promotions,” etc.) to them
Coursera has a 5 part creative writing program going on right now. Part one is 'plot'.
Troy Blackford talks about writing and his NaNoWriMo experience:
Turns out, there was a story up there. And man, did it end being crazier than I could have predicted when I started. Once again, my writing skills weren't nearly up to the task of telling it, but that's the whole reason you have to keep writing: to get better. I didn't outline a damn thing--not at the beginning. I like to use outlines once I get a story well under way, to help me stay on track, and don't do any really intense outlining until the very end of a story so I can tie everything together and deliver a satisfying ending. I like the creative freedom of starting with a blank slate. And, as I dug in on this marathon writing experiment, I had only one guiding idea.
In the first incarnation of Under the Wall, I had explored the idea of a loving cat with telekinetic powers, abilities which prove to be the only thing that enables the tiny but valiant feline to save his family from an evil madman.
 Uncanny Magazine is open to short story submissions.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Arts degrees get a bad rap

Alex Tabarrok looks at who is graduating with what at Marginal Revolution. I am quoting him and his quote - the section he quotes is in Italics:
In 2009 the U.S. graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts, more than in computer science, math and chemical engineering combined and more than double the number of visual and performing arts graduates in 1985.
So what has happened since 2009? The good news is that enrollment in STEM fields has increased dramatically. The number of graduates with computer science degrees, for example, has increased by 34%, chemical engineering degrees are up by a whopping 49.5% and math and statistics degrees have increased by 32%.
The bad news is that we are still graduating more students in the visual and performing arts than in computer science, math and chemical engineering combined. As I said in Launching nothing wrong with the visual and performing arts but those are degrees which are unlikely to generate spillovers to society.
This is a blog devoted to creative endeavour but written by a person with a degree in Biology so I have some sympathy for Tabarrok's view that degrees in fine, visual and performing arts are of lesser value than those in science.  And yet, I have learned in the past year or so, a respect for design, which Wikipedia tells me is part of Visual Arts.

Tabarrok also looks at psychology:
In 2009 we graduated 94,271 students with psychology degrees at a time when there were just 98,330 jobs in clinical, counseling and school psychology in the entire nation. The latter figure isn’t new jobs — it’s total jobs!
And this is where his argument falters.  I think an engineer or a doctor needs a degree in those fields to do the job and be trusted to do the job safely.  However, in business, while a degree in Business Administration might be useful, it is not required.  A background in psychology would also be useful in a field that deals with negotiations. A friend of mine is a prison guard and his psych degree was looked upon with favour by the hiring committee.  It is also an important field for education.

University degrees, especially in the US, are so expensive that it makes little sense to get a degree in one field and work in another.  Still, most degrees do not look your brain into only one set of jobs.  I do not know the value of an arts degree and still look down on them somewhat (this from an ESL teacher with a Biology degree) but I feel they have more worth and Tabarrok suggests.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Books I should read: cultivation and geography

Sci Am has an excerpt from How to Cultivate your Creativity.

The key to this excerpt is "Openness to Experience" and it is one I have struggled with. An example:
A friend and I had hiked on a mountain in the city I lived in but not close to my home.  Once we reached street level, we walked toward the subway.  We passed a store and something about it caught me eye so I translated the sign for my friend.  It was "Milk, honey, Ginseng and a third product (it might have been "ma" or hemp) for 5,000 won ($5 CAN).  This was the first time I had seen such an offering and I had money in my pocket but for some reason I said, "I think I'll try that the next time I'm around."  My friend snorted and said, "How about now?" It was great stuff, better than beer after a hike.  I can't explain why I chose to walk past but I am glad my friend convinced me otherwise.
Okay, back to Sci Am:
The downside of this quality is that it might make creative people more prone to distraction than others. Researcher Darya Zabelina of Northwestern University found that people with a “leaky” sensory filter—meaning that their brain does not efficiently filter out irrelevant information from the environment—tend to be more creative than those with stronger sensory gating. Zabelina also observed that highly creative people are more sensitive tonoises in their environment—a clock ticking, a conversation in the distance—than less creative people. “Sensory information is leaking in,” Zabelina has explained. “The brain is processing more information than it is in a typical person.”
This brain quirk was a known characteristic of many eminent creators, including Charles Darwin, Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust, who each expressed a hypersensitivity to sound. Proust kept his blinds drawn and lined his bedroom with cork to filter out unwanted light and noise and wore earplugs while he wrote, whereas Kafka said that he needed the solitude not of a hermit but of a “dead man” to write.
And although it may sometimes be a hindrance to creative work, this distractibility also seems to be distinctly beneficial to creative thinking. Sensory hypersensitivity most likely contributes to creativity by wideningthe brain's scope of attention and allowing individuals to take note of more subtleties in their environment. Taking in a greater volume of information increases your chances of making new and unusual connections between distantly related pieces of information.
This last part confuses me but is somewhat explained in the article.  "Taking in a greater volume of information" is not something you can choose to do although expertise in a field does permit it.  That is, an experienced quarterback in football can observe more action around him than a rookie.  Or, he knows what to tone-out.  A book I read years ago, Sleights of Mind, discussed awareness of your surroundings and how people were fooled into thinking they did know their surroundings when they actually ignored a lot (see: white-black ball passers on Youtube).
And yet, the excerpt specifically notes that the trivia noticed by these creative people was not irrelevant but hindsight would show it to be useful, that remarkable intuition had occurred.  I can see that this is interesting but not how to learn from it.

The Current, a new show on CBC, has an interview with Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Genius.
Some trivia from the interview:
One of the common threads for geography and genius in Weiner's findings is walking. Charles Dickens walked through London at night working on plots, Mark Twain was known as a constant pacer.Research out of Standford University found people on treadmills produced more creative ideas. Many walked to the Agora, into life and chaos, which fed the imagination
The book sounds interesting but the excerpts in text - there is also a twenty-four minute interview I have not yet listened to - are pretty random and do not lead to much in the way of conclusions.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Step away from that child!

Word count:
Feb 1: 600! 
I'm back, baby!
The New York Times discusses how to raise a creative child.  Step one, step back. ( NY Times has a copy-blocker so I typed the quote by hand.  What is this? 1994?):
"Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. We assume that they must lack the social and emotional skills to function in society. When you look at the evidence, though, this explanation doesn't suffice: Less than a quarter of gifted children suffer from social and emotional problems. A vast majority are well adjusted - as winning at a cocktail party as in the spelling bee.
What holds them back is that they don't learn to be original. They strive to eearn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens; practice makes perfect, but it doesn't make new."
The gifted learn to play magnificent Mozart melodies, but rarely compose their own original scores. They focus their energy on consuming existing scientific knowledge, not producing new insights. They conform to codified rules, rather than inventing their own.  Research suggests that the most creative children are the least likely to become the teacher's pet, and in response, many learn to keep their original ideas to themselves.  In the language of the critic William Deresiewicz, they become the excellent sheep.
The final excerpt as a screen shot (click to embiggen):

I get the feeling that this is a necessary but insufficient step to create a creative child.  My parents allowed me to follow my heart so far as sports and hobbies were concerned and I mostly became lazy.  On the other hand, when I finally chose competitive swimming, I really chose the sport and dug in and excelled.  My love of human-powered travel began in childhood and continues to this day.  The baseball and hockey they pushed on me are still sports I have trouble even watching.