22 December 2011

I Just Don’t Get Poetry.

I don’t get it. I would like to get it; don’t think this is a disparaging post attacking the old art form. But I just don’t understand poetry, how it ‘works’, and its place in the world.
This is my own fault for never having venturing to learn much about it. I delved into poetry as most people do when I was forced to learn a bit about it in school. But as with most things that you are told are important in school, I instantly began to question its significance, and loath the fact that I was being told otherwise. That objective view of importance always bugged me in school, especially concerning the more subjective parts of education, like art, writing or music. I have an inherent contrarian nature, so when I was just told that a poem was good because of a certain property imbued by its author, or was to take it on authority that an artwork was superior to others based on some intrinsic quality; I would always take the opposing viewpoint.
These days however, as I look upon the world with different eyes than those of my school years, I can’t help but see the seemingly numinous effect that poetry has on people, and understand that there must be something to it.
I find that for me the same can be said of most forms of art, in that I can see its influence on people and know it must have a level of depth and syntonical understanding that is simply beyond me. I do however have more of an understanding of the visual arts than I do of poetry. There are pieces of art that I like; that I have some deep visceral reaction to, or primal sense of beauty about. I look at The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai, or Picasso’s Guernica and I just like it. That being said, whenever I try and read some poetry I can’t help but think ‘Oh come on, just say it plainly and skip the melodical to and fro already’.
Definitely one of my favourite arts.......
In this time of instant gratification and Twitter feeds and rock music, and other tropes that old people might stereotypically use to explain the modern world,  I don’t have the time to search for subtext; I’m pretty much all contained on the surface. I want to know what you are saying, and I want to be able to analyse it, and learn from it.
Perhaps this is why I find it easier to enjoy visual arts than I do poetry; you just have to look at it. You don’t need to think about it, nor do you even have to pay attention. You just look at the painting, and if you’re lucky it evokes some feelings in you. For poetry to do the same I would have to either listen to it, or read it, then comprehend what was being said before I could even get to the point of seeing if it affects me in any meaningful way.
I like a painting because of how I feel about it, and it doesn’t have to be explained or even rational.
In other words I like the lazy arts.
Lazy, but still pretty cool.
Perhaps this is why I don’t understand poetry. Poetry uses language, and for me there must be a defined point to the application of language, as it is made up of such structured and logical constructs. Subject–verb–object: simple. I know what you are talking about, and I can infer what I need with relative confidence.
Being quite a logical person, I am much more comfortable when I know that I am on the right track. I like objective truths more than I do personal preferences. That you can read a poem and get something completely different out of it than I do is a bit unsettling for me, because there is no correct way to go about it. Ironically, the lack of orthodoxy which causes my unease is exactly the thing that I rallied for in school; a freedom from imposed interpretation.
Perhaps what I really want is a rational way to explain why art affects us in certain ways, as not doubt the answer lies somewhere in that indeterminable beast between our ears. But until that time comes, I think I just need to embrace the uncertainty inherent in art, and perhaps find solace in its personally fulfilling nature.
The most I know about poetry is contained entirely within either my ability to make haikus (This is a haiku, this much I do know for sure, as it’s so easy), or else within the one poem I have bothered to save into my collection; the Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats. But hell, even AJ from the Sopranos has read that one.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    has always been a bit of a douche
Nevertheless, I now find that I like the idea of poetry. I like the ability people must have to evoke feelings through wordplay, to plumb the depths of the human experience and present it in a weird and wonderful way that affects people, even if they don’t quite understand why. I like the idea that poetry, like all art, can be universally appealing, but intimately subjective.
I like these things in theory, but I just haven’t made the effort to put this theory into practice, and see how it relates to me. I have however taken the first step, in getting myself a copy of The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry. And if anyone is going to get me interested in this, certainly the inimitable Mr Fry is the man to do it.

20 December 2011

The Kim is Dead; Long Live The Kim

Dead Dear Leader on the far right, podgy new Dear Leader second from the left
In a year seemingly replete with significant deaths, the final month of 2011 has thrown up yet another surprising casualty to the list; though unlike Christopher Hitchens passing, this is one I can feel enlivened about, if only to a degree.
Kim Jong-Il has died. The North Koreans, have lost their dear leader, and the centre of their fervent death-cult. They now move one step closer to an obscene version of their own holy trinity, as no doubt their new Dear Leader (3.0?) will instill his departed father in the same mystical sense of eternal dictatorship as their previous leader, Kim Il-sung, who still technically remains as the head of state, despite his death in 1994.

Unlike the other dictators we have seen deposed, or deceased this past year, news of this death doesn’t really promise to lead to any significant changes in the situation of their oppressed peoples. There are no cheering crowds; only weeping newscasters, and jeering outsiders. There will most likely be no upheaval, but only a transferral of absolute power from one purveyor of the personality cult, on to another. So totally has the individual been replaced by the state in North Korea that one truly wonders if its people yearn for anything other than the world they find themselves in. Or has this hermit state (which sustains itself only on the persistent threat of force and the begrudging acceptance of western nations who give aid for fear of watching millions die), managed to get itself into a position where the totalitarian system has reached its zenith, and true change can never be fostered from within?

Christopher Hitchens called it “...A society where individual life is absolutely pointless, and where everything that is not absolutely compulsory is absolutely forbidden.” [Why Orwell Matters].
The near total control that the North Korean state appears to have over its people’s hopes and dreams has extended to the point where, as in Orwell’s 1984, they appear to genuinely love their dear leader, and the chains that hold them down. Though deep down I can’t help but hope that such oppressive control of the human mind cannot reach the level of saturation that this would imply.
I now strangely find myself hoping for a ‘peaceful’ transition from one tyrant to another. It is an odd feeling to be hoping that a dictator can come to power seamlessly and to be actively wishing this upon those he plans to rule over, but it seems that the alternative could be far worse. At least for now.
As we have seen in previous examples, a change of power in North Korea isn’t cemented  by the exertion of violence against its own people, but rather a show of strength against those the North Korean's view as their absolute enemies; their southern neighbours. We must remember after all, that the Korean War didn’t end, and the period we find ourselves in now is more of an armistice than it is a total cessation of hostilities.

In 1983, while his father was still alive, Kim Jong-Il orchestrated a bombing in Myanmar (cf. Burma) in order to kill senior South Korean officials stationed there, with the death toll amounting to 17 individuals. Then in 1987, Kim Jong-Il raised his personal death toll to 132 after ordering the destruction of a Korean Air jetliner. It is in this way that the emerging leader shows the resolve and strength required to lead his fellow North Koreans in their bitter hatred of any ‘outsiders’, and what they view as the mongrelisation of the Koreans in the south of the peninsular.
Some analysts predicted the change of power from Jong-Il to his youngest son as being cemented when the North Koreans torpedoed the South Korean ship Cheonan back in March of 2010, killing 46 sailors on board. This act was believed to have been orchestrated by the burgeoning dictator, and was followed in September of the same year by his official anointing as the heir to the hermit state’s central position of power. This, combined with the shelling of a South Korean island in late 2010 that killed two soldiers and two civilians, was viewed as Kim Jong-un’s coming of age. A signal that he, like his father, was fit to follow in the footsteps of their Eternal president in keeping the north pure, and their enemies at bay.
That the world puts up with such blatant acts of murder and terrorism from heads of state is astonishing, though at least this year we have managed to do away with two such leaders who had ordered the bombing of passenger jets (three really, if we are willing to call Osama a leader of any repute).
Kim Jong-un is thought to be twenty-seven years old. Note the use of the word ‘thought’ there, as again we see that information is blurred to such an Orwellian extent in the DPRK, that even actual birthdates and ages are a subject of state control. For instance Kim Jong-Il’s birth was said to have taken place in a mountain cabin in North Korea during February 1942, while most analysts think it more likely that he was born in Siberia, during his father’s exile there in 1941. I think I am more willing to believe this side of the story, as the official biography comes complete with the occasion being marked by a double rainbow and a bright star; like some kind of bastardised religious trope.
[Note; It will be interesting to see how North Korea presents their new dear leader to the world, considering their claims of the previous one, such as the fortuitous time he picked up a golf club, and scored eleven hole-in-one’s on the first attempt.]
Though the heir’s ages may not be known with any level of complete certainty, it nevertheless gave me pause to remark to a friend yesterday at the ambivalent reaction this draws up from within me, being myself a man of twenty seven years. It is quite a young age to be put in charge of a nation, which in itself concerns me not just as it runs parallel with my own age (and I dare to say, lack of accomplishment, if hereditary dictatorship can even be mentioned in the same sentence as such a thing), but also because it gives a lot more scope for the future tenure of the reign.
Kaddafi came into power when he was twenty-eight, and managed to keep a hold of the reins for forty-two years until it all came apart this year. Though Kim Jong-un’s father ruled North Korea from 1994 to 2011, he came into power at fifty-two years of age. At the time many people thought that after the death of Dear Leader 1.0, there would be power struggles, and internal turmoil that would prevent Dear Leader 2.0 from retaining absolute power over the state. Yet he managed to do this for seventeen years, with the military firmly backing him. As announcements from the North Korean military seem to suggest a likewise supportive role of Kim Jong-un, it brings to bear the more disturbing possibility that the North Korean’s totalitarian state might continue to exert is control over its hostage population for many years to come.
A young leader may in some cases be viewed as a liability. But in such personality cults, there is somewhat of an advantage in the central core of your dictatorship remaining steadfast amid an ever changing background of democratic world leaders.
It is a worrying situation, but as with all the major changes in the world there is uncertainty around the edges, and as such always room for hope in the future.
Nevertheless I can’t help feel that Rudd’s call for ‘maximum calm’ commits some sort of category mistake.......
Until next time dear reader.
I couldn't resist....

15 December 2011

Just Stop the Boats

I just got SBS On Demand for my Xbox (hell yeah!), and decided to try and catch up on the series Go Back Where You Came From, as I missed its run on TV this year. I had heard good things, and while it did live up to these expectations; that's another blog post for another night. For now it reminded me of something I just need to get off my chest.
A while ago I took a screen capture of a poll at The Courier’s website that caught my fancy. Check it out below:

When I first saw this survey, I was heartened by the fact that the lower scoring options were the ones I personally don’t care for; shirking our responsibility and sending the refugees overseas to deal with them. Then I noticed the last option, the one with 47.2% of repliers selecting, and it took me aback a moment.
Just stop the boats.
It is by far the most languid option there, with no real thought put into the thing it supposedly represents. Just stop them how? It’s like people are so fed up with the refugee issue that they can’t even handle having to hear about the problem anymore. I suppose their solution to starvation in Africa would be ‘Just stop the hunger’.
I mean, I suppose I could see the option as being preferential if you were to add enough qualifiers, or sub-conditions to the proposal. ‘Just stop the boats by helping to eliminate the causes for refugees having to flee their lands in the first place’. There; I would pick that option.
Just stop the boats: Really? Like that is an option which somehow had not been tried yet.
I can imagine people responding to this survey who read through the first options, perhaps pondering where they stood on the issue. Thinking about what the most humane option was, or what responsibilities we could be said to have on a moral level to help those people who come to our country; perhaps they began to philosophise on how their own personal rights and the rights of others should be compared, and their actions tempered accordingly. But then as they reached the last option, their beleaguered brain shouts in relief “Just pick the last one so I can have a break from this already”.

Just stop the boats.
Just end unemployment.
Just fix the economy.
Just overthrow Saddam Hussein.

I can see many bad policy decisions being made by those who have to try and placate such sloppily thought through responses.
Rant complete.

14 December 2011

Holy Flying Circus.

To those of you who are fans of Monty Python, or perhaps of British broadcasting history, or the Life of Brian, or even just interesting comedies; I would highly recommend Holy Flying Circus, a BBC offering that tells the story of the Pythons tribulations as they sought to release the Life of Brian in the United Kingdom, and a resulting televised debate that two members of the comedy troupe, Michael Palin and John Cleese, took part in.
The show is presented in an interesting fashion, as it tries to represent not only the facts and how these events took place, but also goes tongue in cheek as it pays homage to both the Pythons, and their style of comedy.
For instance, throughout the show you will note that any of the main characters who are women, are played in true Python form by a man (specifically by Rufus Jones who fittingly also plays the role of Terry Jones).
Not to mention the smattering of current reference thrown into the decidedly late seventies setting. There is a great scene where John Cleese is walking down the street and gets into a verbal altercation with a newspaper salesman who accuses them (Monty Python) of being too afraid to joke about Muslims. To which John rants and raves about how it isn’t really appropriate given that it is the seventies, and Islam’s place in England isn’t really worth lampooning for such a small segment of the population.
There are also some jibes at the pythons future roles, with Eric Idle showing interest in making money with a musical as one of the other characters suggest all you have to do is rehash some old jokes and put it to music. Spamalot anyone?
Adding to the surreal nature of the show are a couple of public service style announcements by the John Cleese character, a few animated segues in the style of Terry Gilliam, as well as the odd splintering off from reality to indulge in a supremely entertaining buraku-style dual between the Cleese character, and the nicest man in the world; Michael Palin.
And even though there are these frequent breaks from reality, the show nonetheless presents itself in a coherent nature, and does a great job of telling the story it set out to tell.
Then, as always, there are the actors.
I was surprised at how well they managed to get actors that not only fit the roles in terms of acting style and ability, but were also able to look and sound so much like their source material. The Michael Palin guy looks and sounds like Michael Palin. The John Cleese character sounds amazingly like, and is quite reminiscent of, John Cleese (or is it Basil Fawlty). The Eric Idle character bears more than a passing resemblance to Eric Idle. And so on, and so on.
Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that the always amazing Stephen Fry makes a befitting appearance as God, who chastises his son Jesus for turning their beer into water, and converses in the epilogue with one of the Pythons; brilliant!
It really was thoroughly entertaining watch, the more I think about it, the more I remember enjoying it.

Not So Lucid Dreaming

Having recently re-watched Inception, and afterwards reading an interesting piece on the multiple ways of looking at the storyline by the people over at Slate Magazine, it got me thinking about lucid dreams. In particular how to go about purposefully inducing them.
I have had lucid dreams before, where it becomes apparent that I am dreaming and I can suddenly manipulate the dreamworld around me. However this realisation usually doesn’t last long, as it triggers me to wake out of this fake reality almost straight away, just as I magically start flying into the air, or some otherwise equally implausible occurance.
Eager to try this again I found this site giving some tips on how to induce lucid dreams, and thought I might give some of it a go (well the easy parts at least).
Tip #1 – Dream Recall
It is apparently useful to be able to remember ones dreams. This has never really been a problem for me, provided I think about my dreams early in the morning, as the memory fades quickly as the day rolls on.
Tip #2 – Reality Checks
Dreams feel real when you are in them, but often something just doesn’t feel right. If you push yourself a bit further and test your reality, often you can distinguish between what is really happening, and what is a dream. This is why it is suggested that if you get yourself into a habit of doing simple ‘reality checks’, you will find yourself doing this in dreams.
No not this sort of reality check.
One of the things suggested was to read some writing in your dream, and then re-read it. Apparently around 80% of the time, upon the second reading, the text has changed, and this is a cue for you to realise you are dreaming (Hey, if Batman did it, it has to mean something).
I love the internet, where I am able to find still images of scenes from shows years passed, exactly as I remembered them
They suggest you creating a habit of remembering to look at your watch, or something else constantly on your person and reading whatever text it contains. I didn’t give it too much thought, especially as I don’t have a watch at the moment.
However the next morning when I was being diligent in my goal of lucid dreaming and purposefully thinking back about the nights dream, I remembered something odd. Though I don’t have a watch in real life, I did in my dream, and people kept pointing out my new watch to me. I remember being nonplussed by their remarks, and looking at my wrist thinking ‘Yeah; so what?’.
It is strange to think back at this now and wonder if this was a result of my subconscious trying to let me know I was in a dream. If it was, then it seems pretty amazing for an element of my dream to actually have a purpose for once, and not just be a random bunch of occurances, as usually seems the case.
Though silly me, I just brushed it off, and kept on dreaming.....

[Side note here: lucid dreams, totems, batman; is my subconscious getting excited about Christopher Nolan's new film?]

08 December 2011

NaNoWriMo: Looking Back On My Experience

Well November is over, and as the moustaches fall and clean shaven faces are once more looked upon gratefully by family members and co-workers who put up with thirty days of dirty looking, unfashionably manscaped faces; I too have come to the end of a little journey of my own.

NaNoWriMo is over, and I have my novel. Though it isn’t finished exactly, I have shot past the required fifty thousand words and am happy to call myself a ‘winner’.
My novel, Fourth Rock, is something which I am pretty proud of. Having never really written anything beyond the required English pieces back in 2002, it was great to just get out there and let my imagination run riot. I have often toyed with the idea of writing in a more professional sense, but as I haven’t really had any proper exposure to it, it has forever remained a bit of a pipedream of mine.
NaNoWriMo however turned out to be just what I needed; in more ways than one.
It gave me motivation to actually get out there, start writing, and actually stick with it for once. Too often I have written a few thousand words of a tentative story, before I gave up at the hopelessness of it all, and abandoned the beginning moments of plots, burgeoning characters and promising dialogue. NaNoWriMo gave me a set time to do something; I had thirty days, and I had to write something. It was self imposed homework.
But along with the motivation of a concrete deadline, it also gave me a pretty good excuse. If my novel was crap, well what else were you to expect? After all I was seeking to write a novel in thirty days. Sure Agatha Christie may have been able to churn out bets selling novels in a month, but hey; I’m no writer, so cut me some slack. NaNoWriMo takes away some of the pressure by forcing you to just do it. You don’t have to spend ages crafting your masterpiece, and feel devastated when people critique it. Consequentially I can be happy with the fact that my novel is basically a cool story, with a hopefully interesting plot. There is no real character development, but what the hell; I can save that for a novel that I don’t have to write in thirty days, and that I can actually plan out in advance.
Apart from motivation (and an excuse for crapness), NaNoWriMo also gave me some sorely needed practise. The deadline was not only good at inspiring me, but it also makes you face up to things that generally you might want to leave aside for a while. I enjoy writing plot, and thinking of storylines, and character backgrounds; but I have never really stuck with anything long enough to have to worry about things like dialogue, or actually describing characters doing things.
It took me a few days to get used to the fact that as I was writing my story, I had to not only describe how conversations worked, but also what the characters were doing while this happened, and how to present this in a way that wasn’t terminally boring.
“Hello” John said
“Hello to you too” Ryleah said.
“How about this weather” Said John
“Yes, how about it” replied Ryleah.

It is a bit wooden if you don’t learn how to actually make it sound like the books you read. My problem in the beginning was to simply try and write dialogue as I would imagine a conversations transcript to be. No indications of who was saying it, or even in what context or tone they were saying it in. Is it a reply, was it a shout, or did they enquire? Were they saying this to anyone in particular, or in any direction? I had to think about all of this, and what’s more I had to do it over, and over again.
This repetitiveness is also useful in that you begin to notice your faults more so than you usually would when writing, as you are doing it in such a short time span. It was when I looked at a couple of paragraphs and noted that most of my sentences began with the same thing (‘He did this....,’ He did that...’), that I realised I needed to make sure that I wasn’t just describing things sentence after sentence, but rather that I was telling a story, which is more than just quotes and descriptions.
Basically I only really had experience writing broad strokes; now I had to paint in the details.
As you might also expect, NaNoWriMo sucks up a lot of your time; so much so that I neglected my blog for pretty much the whole of November. I remember when I was ten days into November, I tried to write a blog post about my experience thus far. I ended up abandoning the post upon realising that I had a cool idea of a way my main character could escape his latest predicament. So after I ditched my blog for a while, and spent the rest of the night details my detectives escape from an assassin in a dust storm, I decided it was best to just put aside blogging for the month, and keep all my writing focused in one area: my novel.
I did however write this much for the blog:
“It is getting to the point where I am really committed now. Characters are set, and plans are in motion that I don’t really have time to alter anymore. There were some things I wanted to include that I know I can’t really fit in now. Goodbye biologist love interest, and so long Martian prostitutes (I am glad to do away with these, so that I no longer have to have a couple of my mates insisting on the inclusion of a three breasted woman, ala Total Recall).”

[Note: Though looking back at this now I am somewhat happy to note that the biologist love interest did make it in to the novel, though I accidently ended up killing her off prematurely, so now she is just a flashback.]

Another great thing about NaNoWriMo is that it makes you feel ridiculously cool. When people ask you what you’ve been up to you can reply nonchalantly “Oh, this month I’m just writing a novel.”
One day I even applied for leave form work and spent half the day in Irish Murphy’s drinking pints of Guinness and typing away on my iPad. It felt great to be devoting my time to writing a novel, especially when my time was during work hours, and I was accruing leave loading. Though by the end of the sixth pint my writing was getting a bit sloppy.

It was interesting seeing how my story grew during NaNoWriMo. Much differently than it would have had I not been worried about the deadline looming at the end of the month that’s for sure.
I was reluctant to write some of the scenes I knew had to take place in my novel; the complex fight scenes, the scenes where my characters drew their motivation, or the introduction scenes for my main character. So I ended up not only delaying myself, but also the characters themselves, who would suddenly have so much to do, whereas beforehand they were sitting idly by.
Around a third of the way through I began to worry. I had decided all these cools things I wanted to happen, and yet I had left most of them unwritten. Instead I moved on with the happenings that caused them, and the consequences of them.
This is in part because I didn’t think I had the ability to write them, and also because I didn’t quite know enough details yet to make it work. I had scenes of my ‘hero’ getting recruited, but no actual cause or motivation given to him. I had him on the ‘case’, but never defined what the case was.
Another thing I had been shying away from was describing the characters looks. I am notoriously bad at describing people, or even noticing that people’s looks appearances have changed. I blame in part my mum, and my sisters; the latter of which are hairdressers (and thus change their hair styles more than I do my underwear), and the former is often their client. So after years of variable hairstyles I am now immune to noticing change. Consequentially, I am the last person you would want to identify a criminal (but possibly the first person you would want to commit a crime near).
I initially dealt with this the same way I was dealing with many things I was referencing, but hadn’t yet fleshed out; by the inclusion of gibberish. Check out the first sighting of my main character for instance:
“From behind the truck a #$#$##$##$# man strode into view. He was 34234234234234”
I didn’t have a description, I didn’t have a name. But I could tell you that he had a truck, brewed scotch on Mars, would have his ring and little fingers shot off, and any other number of irrelevant points of interest.
Indeed it wasn’t until the last five days that he finally got a last name at all. I had gone with John as his first name, because it is a very common sounding name, and that’s what I wanted (sorry Johns). You’re every day Martian dude. Yet I couldn’t find a last name that actually stuck with me. In the end it was my wife who provided the answer to the problem when she suggested the surname Murphy. It struck me as having that ‘feeling’ that I was searching for for my main character, don’t ask me why.
My main character now had a full name; John Murphy.

I ended up naming pretty much all my human characters after people I knew. The young policy advisor for the Martian Secretary was Leigh Gibbs, a portmanteau of two of my mates’ names. The Secretary was Carol Weybury, again a blend of two people who happen to sit near me at work. The assassin is Ryleah, my niece. The gadget man is Jesse, my nephew. I wanted a Chinese name so I picked Molly, the guide my parents use when they are in China (Molly is her name, and she is Chinese, therefore it is a Chinese name, ok?). I used the name Ha for the flashback biologist love interest, as that was the name of my lecturer in mathematics, and I didn’t want to populate my future vision of Mars with any anglocentric bias.

I was never under the impression that I would be writing in a linear, start to finish pattern when I started NaNoWriMo. Instead I had some interesting ideas that I wrote out, and was trying to tie together into one long narrative. What’s more I was surprised to find that after a few days it was actually working! Things were tying together. Formerly unrelated ideas suddenly made more sense if I connected them.
I often found myself running back in the story, and placing some foreshadowing to a future event, or perhaps a less obvious or explicit placement of a ‘Chekov’s gun’ style implement, which would serve its purpose later on. Or I would have my character in a bind, and then remember that I had handily placed an Impact Hammer in my story earlier, though that wasn’t even a real life tool (at least the kind I used).
It is a great feeling to all of a sudden realise that you can do something really cool in your story, especially when it is utilising some mundane element you had written in earlier. If you give your characters tools in their story, and furbish them with enough smarts, they are often able of finding their way out of situations you have created for them without any real solution in mind.

In the beginning I had grand plans for my novel, very grand plans. However as the writing went on, and I practised describing things, authoring conversations, and narrating inner monologues; I soon began to notice the word count expanding, while my opportunities for new characters, setting and chapters diminishing. I would spend pages describing a computer, or a rover, and forget that I had whole character to introduce, and plot points to uncover. Not to mention the whole story resolution thing I hear you are meant to put at the end of a novel.
Some of the people I had imagined as main characters were now no longer even in the story, whereas others who had been introduced merely to make way for a plot point or another characters introduction, were now so well introduced that they suddenly had their own back story!
As I mentioned earlier, there are no real character arcs in my story. They may find themselves thrown around the solar system, losing fingers, fighting for their lives, losing their freedoms, or making friends; but the characters themselves don’t really grow. Characters arc in a way that you want them to; this story was written on the fly. Sometimes I didn’t even know how a character was going to get out of their bind until I had written up to that point.

So now I find myself now, sitting at home with my sixty-five thousand plus novel at approximately 80% completion, with a bit less motivation, and somewhat more fatigue on the writer’s front. This is why it has taken me a while to get back into blogging.
I need to churn out the last few chapters and fillers as quick as I can, and edit it as roughly as I can. It may be tempting now that the deadline is gone (and I am a winner!) to give into my slovenly nature, and slowly pull the pieces together, however I can see one big problem with this: I lose my best excuse!
I can no longer proudly point out my own attempt at novel writing, and then cover my bases with critics by standing behind the excise of having written it in 30 days. If I spend too long editing and writing, then I will have put in too much effort for it to suck legitimately. Then it would just plain suck
So the way I look at it is a bit of a technicality. Yes the NaNoWriMo rules let you win whilst only having written the first fifty thousand words of your novel. It is after all a motivational tool at its heart.
However if I look back at my NaNoWriMo log I note that I had roughly seven days of no writing at all. These were generally weekends. So I am using these surplus days as my ‘fill the gaps’ days, so that I can spread them out over the next week, and finish off my first attempt at a novel.

In closing, I must say I would definitely recommend NaNoWriMo for anyone who likes the idea of writing a story, or even those who don’t. It’s a great way to start up your writing bug, and also learn a little bit about yourself in the process. It’s also a fantastic way of reminding yourself of your own potential.
It’s like Angus Kidman from Lifehacker pointed out after taking part in NaNoWriMo for the second time; if I have managed to write a gods damned novel in one month, then what’s my excuse for being so unproductive in the other 11 months?

So with that over, and with my semi-triumphant return to blogging, I bid you adieu, and look forward to being able to apply myself back to this blog, and hopefully with a slightly improved writing ability.
[Note: This blog post in itself is over 2,700 words, so if anything I have at least learnt to enhance my quantity of writing, if not my quality.]

09 November 2011

Harrison on Important Body Parts

Out of the blue my son Harrison said to me today:
"The most important part of your body is your heart." before I could interject, he added "Oh, and your brain. Your heart and your brain".
I was pretty impressed and interested, as I am with most of my sons non sequiturs, when he gave his explanations for why this is so. "Because your heart keeps you alive, and your brain is what you think with".
I asked him what other parts of him are important and he didn't know. I suggested the lungs, which help you breath, and he agreed.
Then I moved on to the stomach, to help you eat, and he scoffed at me!
"That's not important Dad!"
"It kind of is", I explained, "as you need it to eat".
"Well", he said after a quick ponder of the situation, "then so are teeth".

I agreed.
He agreed
"In fact", he said, "all of you is important".
"What about your little finger?", I rejoindered.
"Nah", he shot back, "not unless you need to pinkie swear".

Its times like these I really enjoy having created this little human being..

02 November 2011

Well it is the first of November, and finally I have committed myself to taking up that famous monthly challenge that takes part this time of year.No, I will not be growing a ‘Movember’ style patch of facial hair (I lack the discipline to shave once a month, let alone manscape every day), as i have seen what that can lead to. The monthly challenge I speak of is NaNoWriMo.For those who aren’t in the know, let me explain what it is I am talking about here. I wasn’t just randomly toggling the caps lock up there, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, though it has since moved beyond the national level, which as with many things, was originally confined to the United States, but has failed to reflected its now worldwide appeal (perhaps soon it shall be WoNoWriMo?).NaNoWriMo is basically an Internet challenge taking place throughout November, whereby people try and write a novel of at least 50,000 words in a  thirty day timeframe. If you can manage to do that, you are labelled a ‘winner’: pretty easy hey?I first heard about this a couple of years back through Lifehacker, but each passing year I forgot to start on the appropriate day, and thus never built up the motivation to try and catch up.This year however it has been on my new year’s goal list, and in my Google Calendar, so I was sure not to forget. Also as this year I have fallen behind in some new year’s resolutions, I want this one to be a definite tick off the list of things to do.Rest assured I don’t think I will be writing a novel of any worth as my English skills aren’t really above par, but I think that I should be able to churn out something roughly coherent, and perhaps even entertaining. In the end however, it is probably only my beautiful wife Lizzie who will be subjected to reading it (though i will happily take requests).The best part I can see about NaNoWriMo is that there is a definite timeline involved. I am a man who gladly takes a mile if you offer an inch, so if I am given bounds which are a bit too lenient in scope, I am pretty quick find a comfy spot inside, and procrastinate the day away. However it is the Mo in NaNoWriMo that will hopefully spur me on.Not to mention that I have recently found out about this little gem, which gives you a free paperback copy of your novel, should you complete the challenge. And though I am certain that whatever spew’s forth from my keyboard will be far from a readworthy tome, I can’t help but feel it will be extremely cool to be able to say that I have written a novel, and then casually point it out on my bookshelf.So the ordeal has begun, and at the end of day two i find myself with 4677 words down (and I’m still writing). If I am reasonably confident with anything I write, you may find some excerpts on here for some comment. For the moment however, you might have to make do with the concept front cover I just designed in the last two minutes; enjoy!


To the few people out there who read my blog, you may have noticed my absence over the past few weeks.
There was recently a bit of a tragedy within my family, or at least our somewhat extended family.
A long time friend of the family, Garry Angus, was found murdered a couple of weeks ago, and I had been struggling  to write much since, as it seemed a hard thing to put down in words.
I have a few drafts I am working soon, as I want to talk about the man, and how his life meant quite a lot too our family, not to mention the experiences we had recently at his funeral, but for now I think I might try and get back on track, and leave this somewhat sad task for another night.
For the  moment however, I would like to share a wonderful photo of Garry and his wife Jenny that my wife found, which I think captures something of the wonderful person Garry was.

R.I.P Garry Angus

10 October 2011

Who Ya Gonna Call?

My result of an experiment I did while being the custodian of Modern Vintage with my awesome family (for other members of my awesome family, who were in China). There is supposedly a young boy ghost in the building who plays with these toy cars.
My experiment basically consisted of leaving two cars on the floor, and waiting to see what happened.
Here are the photos I took of my experiment over the course of three weeks:
Original orientation
Week 2, *gasp* one car has moved slightly!
Week 3, if a ghost plays with these toys, he has a limited imagination.
Preliminary conclusion: reality is real, magical beings aren't.

Out with the old license, in with the new...

Well it has been the standard however many years, when VicRoads starts to worry that I might not properly match my old license photo, and order up a new one.
I remember my old license photo day fondly, because my mum had to organise the appointment (due to my slackness), and drove me in at 9am in the morning, on my birthday of all times.
I did not want to be up early on my birthday, especially in my uni days when I rarely saw the morning hours for four of the seven days of the week. But there i was, unshaven, unkempt and uninterested (mum previously had to drag me to VicRoads to make me get my L's a year after most of my mates had).
I don't think I have changed much, perhaps as a reflection of my uni days versus my working life you can see the slightly dazed look being replaced by a somewhat frustrated glare. The black hoodie is replaced by a black work jumper; my wardrobe isn't that extensive in colour or style (this way I can just chuck on any helter skelter combination).
But the glasses are the same, the facial hair is un-manscaped; I still have eyebrows, and maintain the usual, eyes then nose then mouth order of facial features
I will always admire the passionate Austrian Pastafarian who fought for his right to wear his religious headgear in his license photo; in this case it was embodied in the form of a colander (that was of course, after he had passed a doctor's certificate that he was "psychologically fit" to drive).
This license expires in 2014; I will be 30 years old, and my son 8 (my wife a spritely 28). If by the power of the gods I have kept this blog alive, I will keep you updated.

06 October 2011

On Anapodotons

My previous post on the phrase “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” got me thinking; when does a saying get so engrained in popular society that we are able to cut off the ‘punchline’ and still get our point across?
You see it all the time; we shorten “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” to a simple “When in Rome..”. I think this one makes sense, as generally it is a prelude to an act preformed as the ‘Romans’ (whoever they might be in this case) would do it.
You’re holding on to a cooked and skewered insect in a Chinese market, and before you pluck up the courage to pop it in your mouth and munch on the tasty exoskeleton, you give the somewhat tentative remark “When in Rome”, then pop it in. Crunch!
It makes sense; if only for dramatic effect.
It can create confusion however, as if we don’t know the origins of the saying, we can’t always apply it correctly; hence the difficulties of a certain Mr Ron Burgundy.
A quick foray into Wikipedia informs me that, as is always the case, there is a name for this kind of thing:
anapodoton [noun] (uncountable)
  1. (uncountable, rhetoric) The rhetorical device in which a main clause is implied by a subordinate clause, without mention.
Other examples include: if looks could kill [I’d be a dead man]; if pigs had wings [they could fly]; if the hat fits [wear it]; if the mountain won't come to Muhammad [the mountain shall come to Muhammad]; if the shoe fits [wear it]; when the cat's away [the mice will play]; and where there is a will [there’s a way].

Sometimes we even omit the first part of a saying, like how the often confused saying “If that’s what they think, they have another think coming” is shortened to simply “they have another think coming”. Though more often than not, people think the saying is actually “another thing coming”, because they haven’t learnt it through a shortening of the original saying, but rather some cultural form of Chinese whispers.

It makes me wonder: are there any other sayings out there ripe for anapodotonisation?

Remembering Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs has died.
Unfortunately I don’t feel at all qualified to write any form of eulogy on the great man, and I wouldn’t want to give it a try, only to find the resultant piece lacking the gravitas that the man is worthy of.
Instead I would like to share a famous speech he made about some lessons he learned in his life, and how he views things in general. It really is a great read, full of wonderful advice, and I think it gives a great picture of the man.

[Note: I saved this text years back, so I can’t remember the source, but it is out there, circa 2005 I think]



Thank you. I'm honored to be with you today for your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. Truth be told, I never graduated from college and this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation.
Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories. The first story is about connecting the dots.
I dropped out of Reed College after the first six months but then stayed around as a drop-in for another eighteen months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out? It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife, except that when I popped out, they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking, "We've got an unexpected baby boy. Do you want him?" They said, "Of course." My biological mother found out later that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would go to college.
This was the start in my life. And seventeen years later, I did go to college, but I naïvely chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and no idea of how college was going to help me figure it out, and here I was, spending all the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out, I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me and begin dropping in on the ones that looked far more interesting.
It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms. I returned Coke bottles for the five-cent deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example.
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer was beautifully hand-calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans-serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me, and we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts, and since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them.
If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on that calligraphy class and personals computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.
Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something--your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever--because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.
My second story is about love and loss. I was lucky. I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents' garage when I was twenty. We worked hard and in ten years, Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. We'd just released our finest creation, the Macintosh, a year earlier, and I'd just turned thirty, and then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew, we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so, things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge, and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our board of directors sided with him, and so at thirty, I was out, and very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating. I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down, that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure and I even thought about running away from the Valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me. I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I'd been rejected but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods in my life. During the next five years I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world's first computer-animated feature film, "Toy Story," and is now the most successful animation studio in the world.
In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT and I returned to Apple and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance, and Lorene and I have a wonderful family together.
I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life's going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love, and that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking, and don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it, and like any great relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don't settle.
My third story is about death. When I was 17 I read a quote that went something like "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "no" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important thing I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctors' code for "prepare to die." It means to try and tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next ten years to tell them, in just a few months. It means to make sure that everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope, the doctor started crying, because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and, thankfully, I am fine now.
This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept. No one wants to die, even people who want to go to Heaven don't want to die to get there, and yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalogue, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stuart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late Sixties, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. it was sort of like Google in paperback form thirty-five years before Google came along. I was idealistic, overflowing with neat tools and great notions. Stuart and his team put out several issues of the The Whole Earth Catalogue, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-Seventies and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath were the words, "Stay hungry, stay foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. "Stay hungry, stay foolish." And I have always wished that for myself, and now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you. Stay hungry, stay foolish.
Thank you all, very much.

 - Steve Jobs

When the going gets tough....... What happens again?

During one of my work induced zone outs, I became befuddled at the meaning of this old saying: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going".
What was the going they were speaking of? The ability to retreat? And where do the tough go?
And what does this guy have to do with it?
My rough translation started out as "When it becomes hard to leave, the strong people retreat”, which I quickly dismissed, as that saying would seem rather pointless, and somewhat capitulatory.
Luckily my wife understands language better than me (or should I say I?), and set me straight. It’s not a saying that tells you to cut and run while the opportunity still presents itself (perhaps the saying I had in mind was ‘get while the getting’s good’), but rather a more uplifting saying about true toughness being a resilience which makes itself know during hard times.
Using the Wikipedia entry I was able to mash it into a more direct statement, ignoring those ambiguous terms that make it such a pithy saying, but also a potentially ambiguous one. In the end I had this one:
“When the situation becomes difficult, people who are strong or enduring become fully engaged”
Not as catchy as the original, but at least it is direct.

Interesting sidenote here: one possible origin for this saying goes back to Joseph P. Kennedy, father of JFK. One gets the feeling that if he had been assassinated we might be referring to him as the three lettered JPK, like we call his sons JFK and RFK; instead I remember him as a possible anti-Semite……

04 October 2011

Delving into the Custom Dictionary

During one of the more boring moments at work I was writing up a word document when a squiggly little red line informed me that it had little to no idea what I was trying to say (I was saying ‘Guinnessland’ that particular time, so I'm not surprised). But as I am wont to do, I added the word to my custom dictionary, and kept on writing my emails. Then as the work died down, and my propensity for procrastination took over, it got me thinking.
I use my personal dictionary a lot. Of late I have even been entering in misspelt word just for the heck of it; whether this is latent mischievousness laid out for the unwitting persons who inherit my computer, or if I just find it quicker to skip some corrections in a spell check, I don’t know. But the fact remains; I was bored and thinking of my custom dictionary. I decided to track it down, and after a quick windows search, had the small text file in my virtual hands.
It contained 507 entries, many of which were the standard and expected values, however there were a bunch of quirky, or random entries that really got me thinking. As I read further I began organising them in my head, and was amused to see how a small picture of the person I am could be built out of such a thing. So for my own amusement, and now perhaps dear reader for your own curiosity, I have compiled a few interesting examples below.

As a highlight of my dislike in giving predictions of when I will do things I have added 4ish, 5ish, and Soonish

There are the expected references to new companies, websites or programs which enter the cultural zeitgeist a bit quicker than Microsoft Word can follow, such as BitTorrent, facebook, Gizmodo, GoodReader, Lifehacker (Note there is not mention of tweet or twitter as they are their own words already); not to mention new products weaselling their way into my lexicon like the ubiquitous iPad and iPhone.

There are the ones I just have plain no idea why I added them (though I imagine it was the same source of much of my office ‘work’; boredom), the prime example being Alakfhlahvfoisg.

Word is never good at picking up any onomatopoeia in writing, especially those with an undefined length, so I did my best to cover some random ones, such as:
Hmmmm, Hmmmmm, Hmmmmmm, Hmmmmmmm, Mmmmmm, Mmmmmmm, Numnumnumnum, Ummm, wooo, Wooo, Urgh, Booyah
(Note the capital ‘Wooo’ appears distinct from the lowercase ‘wooo”. This must have been important at some time)

There were things that I have since had to look up again to understand why I added them, like Haufniensis, a pseudonym used by Søren Kierkegaard in writing some of his philosophical works. Or Centaurus, a group of stars which for some reason warranted not only their conclusion in something I was writing, but the added safety of including their spelling in future missives. And even ones like parsimology, which though it sounds awfully important, I'm still not quite sure what it is.

I mentioned the odd movie, TV show, or character, which found its way to the mathewonary including Borat, Caddyshack, Dragonball, Hellboy, and Rainman
(Note: mathewonary is now also in the mathewonary; so it is a self-referential beast now)

Some obscure technical words like Necrocracy, Correlogram, Eigenvalues and Compatibilism came in usually from me doing a bit of homework in my spare time. Or some less than technical words snuck in, including weeing or Thingie. Not to mention the almost oxymoronic Thinkability.

A bunch of words I made up by a quick addition or extrapolation also found their way in, under a heading which itself also comes from the list; Mathewisms like Guinnessland or Liztastic.

There was also a lot of slang, or jargon (is that the right usage of the word? I highly doubt it), or generally just words I apparently use a lot but aren’t quite proper English, like Gotta, Idiotish, Indeedy, killin, nerding, or problemo.
(Note: the ‘killin’ entry shouldn’t be cause for concern; it combines with the ‘nerding’ term, in the sense that I am sometimes ‘nerding it up doing some killin on the xbox’.)

Sometimes words just need that extra bit of emphasis, as evidenced buy the inclusion of Cooooooooool and neeeeeeed in my custom lexicon.

Peoples names inevitably found their way in, whether they be famous individuals which shed some light on those I may admire (Dawkins, Gervais, Hitchens), parents and friends (Harley, Hutchy, Harrison (the number of times Word suggested I meant to call my son ‘Garrison’ seemed to turn into an insult)) or even my own name, which everyone in the world constantly suggests to me is missing that superfluous extra 't' (Mathew).

Then there were the oddballs. Like the twitter tag GamerDadLikes, the adjective that most people would like to avoid (Hitleresque), the worrying inclusion of the verb Sweatingly, the Orwellian Thoughtcrimes, or the just plain strange presence of the suspect profession; xenobiologist.

And thus ends the strange expedition into my custom dictionary.
Thanks for stopping by.