Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Korean Animals: this one's grim

I apologize. I normally offer pictures here of animals devoid of any meaning other than biological. Here, though, is a remarkable photo. Some warning; it is not a happy or cheerful photo and I am taking the remarkable step of putting it after-the-fold. It is a picture of dead birds. View at your own discretion.

Friday, January 27, 2017

TWIC: paper over digital, finding time, go, outline a novel, synonyms, organization, Canadian painters

Why do some people still prefer books? I want to share my thoughts regarding the second half of the infographic:

SEEING: I have read only one non-fiction book with graphs and charts that worked on my Kindle. That was Pinker's Better Angels of our Nature.
SHOPPING: I do like to visit bookstores. I tend to buy used books at stores.
SMELLING: My sister says this. Really? Decay is a smell you value?
POSING: a friend and I shared photos of specific bookshelves the other day. His was a remarkable collection of Captain Cook biographies and such and mine was of Darwin and evolution.
Finding time to write (below are the headings - to read the details, follow the link):
Become a night owl.
The early bird.
Mark the change
Set a timed challenge.
Make the most of days off.
The full title of the article includes, "How five famous authors..." The ideas or tips are good ones and as someone who isn't writing enough, any encouragement is good encouragement. The problem with case studies like this is that advice that is generally applicable is hard to find. And even with only five tips, two conflict.
All that said, I did find timed challenges to be wonderfully motivating during Nanowrimo.
Author fight! Burroughs and Capote.
I worry both that my writing is too bland and that my writing is too showy. As an example, I keep informal track of how often I use a word and then wonder if I should look for synonyms -that is the bland part and I specifically feel I used the word 'approach' a whole lot in my most recent book. On the other hand, when I do work at adding variety, I find myself using such variety that readers might be confused. the best/worst example is in specifying a person. In a paragraph for two, I might describe the same person as "Nathan", "the Canadian", "the pilot" and "the slimmer man".

As yet, I have no solution for my latter problem. Above, I wrote about contradictory case studies for creativity and here is an example. I have read that avoiding repetition is good but that too much variety or too many circumlocutions is annoying.

Alright. You've been warned. After all that, I like finding lists like this one: 250 ways to say "went". As is my habit, the image below has been altered to show fewer than 250 alternatives; follow the link to see all of them.

Here is a link to the above blogger's top ten posts which has a few other goodies.
To promote myself on this blog - my own blog, after all - I have done something similar with mnemonics and ESL. The lists I help students create are much shorter - up to twelve words - but the words are more practical. The presentations slides and write up here made excellent sense when I add my spoken words to them; I think  you can understand if you scroll through to the end of the slides and look at the examples.
I am trying to outline a story and organize details in my (paper) notebook. I know that Scrivener has a virtual bulletin board to organizing details and the image for my next offering includes a wall covered in Post-It notes. But only to get to the main offering; using Excel to outline a novel. Looks good.
Outsource your creativity with fun photo effect websites. As is often the case, I started a project on one of the editors here without having a plan.
These sites will do the technical work but you still need to have your own ideas!
Father and son painters in the North West Territories.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What to write about

Nearly a month of this year has passed and I have not added to my work in progress. I have been thinking about the other three works-in-progress that I have also let sit. Rather than work on any one, I have been considering trying to put twenty minutes a day into each - which would be more than the zero minutes I have put into any one of them.

Maybe I should return to my Click-bait series. It has been fun. Or I could share the stories I make up for my son before he goes to bed. Two days ago, he gave me the prompts 1) beondaeggi (silkworm larvae), 2)Cooking and 3) Lance Armstrong. My story was of how Armstrong tried to rebuild his empire with a cooking show, cooked and ate silkworm larvae, and then looked so disgusted that people tuned in just to see his look of regret and nausea. Not bad.

Whatever, I've gotta get off Quora. I am having too much fun and spending too much time there. In fact, this discussion was prompted by a question on Quora. My answer is below.

How should I write creatively as a teenager?

I want to enter a creative writing contest in my school district. Teens often try to write deep stories, and come off as edgy and overconfident. I won’t delude myself into thinking that I can write a life-changing story, but what can I write that’s good enough to win? I want to be realistic

Discussing, “I want to enter a creative writing contest in my school district. Teens often try to write deep stories, and come off as edgy and overconfident.

Ira Glass discussed your problem: A quote by Ira Glass
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
I personally want to be an edgy, confident writer like Matt Taibbi or the late Edward Abbey. Nothing I have written has been close.
But Glass goes on to say,
Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
I have nothing better to add. But I can offer some suggestions on what to write about.

Answering, “ I won’t delude myself into thinking that I can write a life-changing story, but what can I write that’s good enough to win? I want to be realistic.”

I think I had a similar situation, or a situation that I am going force into a metaphor so it seems a little similar, some time ago.

Friends were blogging and I decided to give it a try (blogging was a new idea once). I went to Blogger and made a blog and…

A dozen false starts taught me that I wanted to write about nature and tourism in my region (I was an ESL instructor in a rural part of South Korea). I tried to write about politics but didn’t care enough to have deep insight. I was interested in my profession but didn’t have enough background there to publish consistent material. I didn’t want a diary of my day-to-day life…. Finally, I wrote about cycling and hiking and was proud of my product.

By the way, I was never more than a second rate blogger -even in the tiny field of Blogs About Korea In English.

Similar things happened when I looked into podcasting, vlogging and wood carving. You can’t just sit down with a block of wood and a knife and expect inspiration to strike. Even if it does, you still need to design and plan before your knife ever touches the wood.

Wanting to write is a big deal and something you should encourage. Wanting to write but with no ideas of what to write about is a huge challenge. I don’t know when the deadline for this contest is but I suspect it is too soon for you to find out what you like and then make a good product. You might be able to, but I suggest finding some prompt to start your creative juices flowing. Start writing a few things and see what happens.

These prompts are to help you defeat ‘terror of the blank page’. This terror the understanding that you could write absolutely anything you want. Anything! And so nothing comes to mind.

I use a variety of prompts. Here is a partial list.:

As another respondent suggested, try fan-fiction. Write about a minor character at Hogwarts or etc. Imagine you are the secretary that Christian Gray walks past everyday on his way to practice bondage with whats-her-name from the 50 shades books. This secretary could harbour a secret crush or jealousy or merely be stealing from Gray every time he turns his back on her. I wrote about the continued adventures of a favorite character, Kim, from Kipling’s book of the same name.

Click-bait titles. What do you think about when you read, “Everything they don’t want you to know about Trump”? I imagine him having a Batman-esque lifestyle and desperately wanting out of the limelight so he can beat up space aliens.

Three words chosen at random. Random Word Generator - Creative online tool to generating randomized words for brainstorming. This gave me the words ‘parasitic’, ‘positive’, and ‘excitement’. I am not sure what to make of them… (1 minute later): I am now thinking of a horror story with parasites that make you feel good and a person fighting her own thrills as she seeks to rid herself of them before they kill her. I just gave myself a shudder!

The thing is, even if these ideas never create a contest-winning story, they will improve your writing until other ideas can. And while you work on them, perhaps you will have a winning idea.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Writing prompt from Quora

I'm a huge fan of Quora and spend too much time there. But this question has me defeated.
The question might be about the meteorological effect of static electricity but the tags - "Movie story" and "Philosophy of everyday life" suggest otherwise.

Any ideas? Any stories produced by using all or some of the above to awaken your creativity?

Monday, January 23, 2017

TWIC: too many twists, Head guns, fonts, to-do lists,patents v prizes

I’m not sure if the problem is the much touted demise of critical thinking, of big picture analysis, or of our shortened attention spans, but too much narrative art seems to think that it doesn’t matter if the whole doesn’t make sense so long as the moment-to-moment stuff keeps us on the edge of our seats. It does matter, if only because if we realize that the solutions and revelations don’t really stand up to scrutiny, then what’s the point of watching at all? The twist in a tale can be potent when it’s earned and part of a larger narrative design, but when it’s just a flash bomb, a distraction from the lack of substance in the story, it derails the whole plot, setting everything off down some new track like a hastily thrown point on a railway line.
Fletcher Hanks wasn't necessarily a great artist but everyone must love this image! The Leopard Women of Venus riding Giant Saurians and firing comets from their head guns!
Good Lord, indeed!
A little more info on the man at Wikipedia
I don't pay a lot of attention to fonts. I am not even sure of the way to describe groups of them. I like serif fonts - or should I say, "fonts that have serifs" and that is nearly all I know. Wait! At a teaching conference I learned that educators should use two or three different fonts in their handouts; one for instructions, one for questions the student needs to answer and a third for any examples given.
In this video, the creator of Comic Sans defends and discusses his controversial font.
"If you didn't notice (a piece of art), I considered that was bad," Connare says. "And if you did notice, it was good."
Productivity is always my biggest challenge. Maybe I should write my to-do lists so the public can read them.  Joe Reddington made the experiment as part of an attempt to live more transparently. I was fishing through his blog post and only focused on the parts I was interested in for this blog so my discussion might not be entirely accurate on the big details.  He posted a graph that I had trouble following so I made some additions, then shrank it a little. To see what I changed, follow the link above but I will also describe them below the pic.
This is a 'stress-chart' and he probably describes what it measures elsewhere. I don't know what the colours mean. The letters at the bottom of the chart are the months and probably labelled for each each which is why there are multiple copies of them. I added the names of the months below. I also added "Some measure of stress", the yellow line and "Started public To-do list". In his post, he described doing so in May and there certainly is a drop in stress after that.
He thought his To-do lists were clear and informative, but:
Turns out I was missing something important. When it was a list for me, it looked great; when I decided to make it public, it instantly looked very poor.
I suddenly saw:
  • several copies of the same task,
  • tasks that were questions rather that statements
  • tasks that were badly written
  • repeating tasks that had gradually changed meaning in my head.
So I started rewriting. Of course, to write out a task properly, you first have to think properly about the task.
  • “the azulejoe javascript could do with refactoring” becomes “Spend 40 minutes refactoring the azulejoe javascript”
  • “do the search of ISAAC twitter” becomes “Define ISAAC twitter as a project”
  • “properly work out how much staff costs you’ve applied” becomes both “Update the bids applies for file” and “Change structure of the ‘bids applied for”
Suddenly each of these took less thinking when I cast my eye down the list. That makes them easier to start, and that makes them easier to finish.
Patents vs the prize system in the eighteenth century.
The empirical analysis shows that inventors of items that were valuable in the marketplace typically chose to obtain patents and to bypass the prize system. Owing to such adverse selection, prizes were negatively related to subsequent areas of important technological discovery. The RSA ultimately became disillusioned with the prize system, which they recognized had done little to promote technological progress and industrialization.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Imagination at camp

I have just returned from an ESL/science camp where I taught middle school students how to do research in biology. The way we teach it is pretty cool so let me discuss it a moment before getting to my intended subjects:
The camp is on a school campus with a large forested area in a rural part of a rural province. on the grounds can be found deer, boar, hares, badgers and more.  The camp director has worked to collect many English and Korean language guidebooks for a wide variety of plants and wildlife in the area. The books are mostly descriptive and are used for IDing the flora and fauna here and took/ are taking a long time and a lot of money to complete the library.  The students are taken on a few hikes so they can see what is around, then choose a subject to study. At this point, classes are divided and groups are taken to areas that they suggest. As camp progresses, the classes become more and more student run as they drive the research and we teachers become advisors and safety personnel. This year an injured deer was observed and photographed on campus and several game cameras (strapped to trees and recording whatever disturbs the motion detectors) caught other deer.
Research projects heavily featured the deer and hares, which we also had great photographic evidence, but also fungi, tree species comparisons, and scat (animal poop). The students finished the camp by giving a presentation on their findings and I learned a lot from the students.
Alright, back to the coverage of creativity at camp. The subjects and how they were studied did show creativity and perhaps I will write about that but for now, while I am tired, here are things students drew on my whiteboard:

Next up, one evening while I was busy with writing evaluations, my son called me over to join in his nonsense. Well that is how I first felt as I was tired and had a lot to do.  Then I decided I had time for a break so I joined him and I am glad I did.

In the teacher's dorm, he had a mattress next to my bed and I joined him on it. He told me he was going to take me to a different, secret world. I gestured at the wardrobes and asked if we would use one of them. He said no and told me to lie down and close my eyes.

I did so, curious. And then he took me to a very different place. Here we were in our world:

When I closed my eyes, and re-opened them, I was in bright cool place

The sense of novelty and relocation was wonderful. This new world had such a different character. While I had been in a room with satisfactory fluorescent lighting, this new place was bright with natural light and the shape made it seem higher.  The room was well-heated but in the new place, it was much cooler, but still comfortable.

I want my son to take me to many other new, secret worlds like this.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

TWIC: World building, animation, infographics, note-taking, Gangwon animals,

Man! I read a post at Tor on authors who were great world-builders and decided I wanted to introduce the subject by mentioning Zelazny's alien religion that allowed avatars to create worlds but actually finding the name of the religion or the aliens took a long time. Zelazny wasn't on the list of world-builders, by the way and the religion and/or the aliens were Pei'ans.
Anyway, the article would be better described as Five Classic Female Authors Who Were Great at World Building and it is a great list. I now want to go back to the stories by these authors I read in the eighties.
Animation and Disney's Multi-plane camera. I have heard of animation cells but didn't know how they worked. This usage of them is wonderfully ingenious while also appearing totally obvious. I love the confluence of "That's amazing" and "That clearly follows".
I was interested in trying to make an infographic or two last year and found the exercise more difficult that I had imagined. Lining up words and explanation with a coherent image is not easy. Nat Geo's infographics and Best Maps of 2016. A chunk of one from the first link:

An interview with Al Jaffee.

Not entirely related to creativity but definitely to curiosity. Why build a fort in a star shape?

This subject could be a full post and may be at some time. For now, I am busy at an ESL and science camp and don't have the time.  At Quora, someone asked about the best distraction-free and minimalist writing tool. So far, a few software tools have been offered. The third, suggestion was, obviously, pen and paper. This made me think about my own actual writing (as opposed to typing) and the posts I've seen in several places for Bullet Journals. That link offers the best rundown on what they are although this one might have more in-depth information - I have a terrible internet connection here so there is a lot I can't see.  That latter link describes it as an analog system for the digital age.

From this site (the second one in the paragraph above) comes a quick intro to Bullet Journaling:
Bullet journal: a method of journaling and note-taking that uses bullet points as the core structure
Index: a table of contents that you update as you go
Daily Log: shit you did and/or need to do today (+ other observations)
Monthly Log: traditional month calendar + shit you need to do that month + shit you forgot to do last month
Rapid Logging: symbols that help you get that shit done
Future Log: year-at-a-glance calendar where you can put events, goals, and long-term shit you need to do
You can use any journal or notebook you want. You deliberately lock a few pages into 'modules' or specific uses. The common or required ones are: index and various calendars (year and month) but I might also devote a set number of pages to Running and Book Notes. 'Camp' is too big a subject and handier for me to take those notes as the need arises. The system also includes various symbols so that you to-do lists carry more information with fewer characters (this is the 'rapid logging' mentioned above).

I have always kept my journal as a sort of commonplace book. That is, I am now more aware of what a Bullet Journal is than I ever was of the specifics of a commonplace book. Indeed, that Wikipedia link, which I have just read more closely, quotes John Locke: " Commonplace books, it must be stressed, are not journals, which are chronological and introspective."  Mine is mostly chronological and the only connection I now see with a formal commonplace book is the wide variety of material I include in them.

More on Commonplace Books:
[The author is giving an example of a historic event he found interesting] He [an Athenian general] continued to interrupt and contradict the other generals. Finally, the Spartan general threatened to strike Themistocles if he didn’t shut up and stop. “Strike!” Themistocles shouted back, “But listen!”
When I read this, I immediately began a ritual that I have practiced for many years–and that others have done for centuries before me–I marked down the passage and later transferred it to my commonplace book. Why? Because it’s a great line and it stood out to me. I wrote it down I’ll want to have it around for later reference, for potentially using it in my writing or work, or for possible inspiration at some point in the future.
In other posts, we’ve talked about how to read more, which books to read, how to read books above your level and how to write. Well, the commonplace book is a thread that runs through all those ideas. It what ties those efforts together and makes you better at each one of them.
Since I mentioned I am working at a science camp, here is a little cutie we found in the forest:


Stephen King's ten rules for success (video).

After my discussion above, he is anti-notebook.

Harvard's digital photo photo course (free).

Creator of Zelda games discusses how he designs games.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Gangwon Animals: Gorani, Hydropotes inermis

I'm at a Science camp in Gangwon Province, South Korea and teaching biological research to middle school students. We have a number of game cameras - we strap them to trees and leave them for a week or so and see what tripped the motion detector. Most of the time, we get a branch or stalk of grass swaying in the wind, triggering literally a thousand pictures to wade through to find the one with an actual animal. This time, we were luckier.

I forgot to set the date, which should be January 10, 2017.

These are Chinese water deer or in Korean, 'gorani'. Although deer-like, I am told they are more closely related to goats, though all these animals have cloven hoofs so are pretty closely related anyway.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

TWIC: Emotional journey, beatles, writing contests, bullcrap-twice

This was on Facebook without attribution. I shrank this image greatly.  If you know where it came from please let me know. If you want a larger version, I presume Google will help.

How the Beatles succeeded.
The thing that got John and Paul writing songs together at the ages of 17 and 15, respectively, is, I think, the same thing that ultimately made the Beatles the Beatles. It’s there in Lennon’s remark about Buddy Holly’s three-chord compositions—“why not write your own?” It’s there in the capital letters—ANOTHER LENNON-MCCARTNEY ORIGINAL—that McCartney scrawled above each set of new lyrics. “Teenagers all over Britain liked Buddy Holly and rock and roll, but of that large number only a fraction picked up a guitar and tried playing it, and fewer still—in fact hardly anyone—used it as the inspiration to write songs themselves,” Lewisohn writes. “John and Paul didn’t know anyone else who did, no one from school or college, no relative or friend.”
The Beatles’ secret ingredient was arrogance.
But the best line, as usual, is Lennon’s, and it appears on the last page of the book. “We thought we were the best in Hamburg and Liverpool—it was just a matter of time before everybody else caught on,” he told an interviewer in 1980. “We were the best fucking group in the goddamn world … and believing that is what made us what we were.”
This challenge has already started but a motivated person could catch up. The 90-day challenge.
Creative writing competitions  in 2017.
Where Canadian writers feel at home.
I like this idea for taking notes:
An infographic from Josh Burnoff (I think the Creative Commons license means I can share the full size image):
The Creative World's Industrial Bulls--t Complex.

So far at this blog I have not tried to make money due to my 'expertise' in the field so that separates me from the targets of this rant:
In these pitches there’s nothing to suggest the person has any original experience or research or insight to offer said advice. Instead they choose to quote other people who quote other people and the insights can often be traced back in a recursive loop. Their interest is not in making the reader’s life any better, it is in building their own profile as some kind of influencer or thought leader. Or, most frustratingly, they all reference the same company case studies (Hello, Apple and Pixar!), the same writers, or the same internet thinkers. I often encounter writers that share “success advice” learned from a blogger who was quoting a book that interviewed a notable prolific person.


Productivity in Terrible Times.

2) Set your environment up to support you.
I’m a huge proponent of setting up your physical and digital environments to support your larger goals. Most of us were full of work worries and family drama and existential concerns even in The Beforetimes; now we’ve added on American facism and the literal threat of nuclear war, yet we still expect to get our work done by strength of will alone. As the astute Krista Scott-Dixon writes,

Your self-control is busy preventing you from stabbing your boss, shoplifting, and running red lights. Thus, “willpower” won’t help you much…. It’s an overdrawn bank account. Use stronger stuff: scheduling, structure, social support, space, systems, and strategies.
When it comes to Productivity in Terrible Times, we’re operating on a number of fronts:
Bernie Sanders can present your Tweet, any Tweet, to congress.


Monday, January 2, 2017

TWIC:weird superheroes, guitars,

This image is not directly creativity related, but I like it. From 100 tweets that made women laugh...

Not all super-heroes have to fit the Superman mold. Here are some weird ones.

Archive of free plans to build or make musical instruments
Here is one for an 'easy' 3-string cigar box guitar.  a screenshot from the PDF: