Category Archives: Writing

The Prompt For Today Is “Conversant”: I’m Biting…

Conversant much lately?  I certainly have not been so when it comes to most areas where I have tried to be conversant in the past.  I’m struggling with many factors in my life, and find it difficult if not approaching impossible to remain civil in conversations about current affairs (I am NOT a fan of the current administration of the USA, or most modern politics for that matter), and many of the dialogues I enjoyed in the past are beyond my grasp for one reason or another.  Yes, yes, I am still CAPABLE of remaining conversant about most if not all of the areas I once was (at least in American English — Ich spreche nur kleine Deutsch, and even less of any other language even though my reading comprehension was surprisingly high for French when I tested it some years back … for which I still bless a succession of language teachers who taught not just by rote when it came to vocabulary, but actively encouraged me to learn the roots of words and phrases as well).

To be conversant, one needs not only a common language, but also subjects about which you and at least one other person need to be knowledgeable enough to exchange thoughts and information in a civil manner.  The conversant individual becomes so not by shouting but by speaking or writing in moderate tones FIRST.  Shouting may follow, for one reason or another, although typically at a point where the conversation has exceeded the limits of civility that emotion can be restrained by.  Madmen and madwomen are seldom if ever conversant in the subjects that drove them to madness in the first place, at least not until they have passed through their insanity and come out the other side leaner, refined by the fires of the spirit, fed by the fuel of knowledge and smelted into the crucible of their own brain.

Being conversant in a subject is not a thing that remains static if one is active and continues the necessary level of interest to be rationally so.  Sure, I can still carry on deep conversations upon the subject of bounded infinities, but I’m not so certain as to how conversant I remain on the subject with as little reading or research as I have done in that field in the most recent twenty years.  Heck, I wasn’t even able to finish my most recent attempt to read Hawking’s popularized work on the subject.  (That may have had more to do with my declining eyesight than I was aware of at the time, yet still…)  For the record, at least two of my most ardent conversational foils on the topic are now deceased:  their personal infinities being freed from mortal bounds, they could perhaps bring new insight into some of the intricacies, new understanding to the nuances of how an infinity can remain so while suffering to exist within the limitations of boundaries.

Conversant now with time in other ways, I’ll close this ramble for the moment with an eternal consideration.  Anyone ready for a conversation?

Daily Prompt: Conversant

Advertisements

Something’s Going On ‘Round Here

I’ve been quiet on-line recently.  Scrambling to survive can rake up a lot of energy, denying it for creative purposes other than furthering survival.

To quote a favorite line from a broadcast personality:  Can we say “Whee” now?  (Bless you, Benny Hill, wherever you are…)

Really.  We have a roof for now.  We have food for a week or more, even if not of a type or with a variety to please both of us.  BUT the challenges are piling up taller, deeper, and darker.  Does make it difficult to write cheerfully positive viewpoints, although some of the darker futures I have envisioned over the years are already getting far too much reinforcement from the political front these days.  (The work on “Tales of the Apocalypse Decade” had to be suspended when I saw where some of the storylines were headed in the face of the ill wind out of Washington D.C. …)

I’ve not updated this blog in far too long.  Distractions and realities of navigating end-of-life care for family members took their own toll.  Added to that was the challenge of assisting my partner’s family as they prepared the house (we’d lived in it with her family as they declined) for disposition.  No small task:  they’d been there for more than thirty years, and there were family records and “stuff” going back at least fifty beyond that even ignoring some of the genealogical records and family history.

We were exhausted by the process, which was made worse by conflicting points of view about the needs of preserving financial records for the estate.  It saddened me considerably to have more than one adult who should have known better advocate for the wholesale destruction of records that legally the estate is bound to preserve by law and / or IRS rules.  My brain suffered whiplash in the process, I tell you true!  (As later matters have developed, even some of what we did manage to preserve has been lost, but we could not have known that at the time.)

Then there’s the small matter of lacking income since.  Declining health has not helped with the writing or the employment search either.  Only so much energy remains after days of dealing with Texas heat, mountains of sometimes crumbling paper, and emotional disruptions.  Health demands a toll, and takes payments from you even when you have nothing in reserve to make those payments.  (Human biochemistry has a VERY efficient collection agent in these matters, a mechanism that is relentless and not easily bribed or mollified.)

So.  What’s next?  We don’t know yet.  Even once we find out, there could be interesting twists and turns before, during, and after the revelations are made.  No doubt interesting to those directly affected, maybe not so much to others.

And THAT, my putative readers, is Life with a capital L.

Story-Time, and the Tradition of the Insta-Filk

I am, among other things, a filker.  (Think folk-singer with the parody bit stuck on “on”, or look it up — with the quick alternative definition being an album title associated with Leslie Fish, Folk Songs For Folk Who Haven’t Been Born Yet.)  Sometimes, an existing song begs for new words.  SCREAMS for them, at least inside my head. Within the filk community there’s a name for these first fruits of the filk process, composed on the spur of the moment:  insta-filk. Now, “pure” instafilk typically happens in the first (very) short while after the inspiration is received or experienced.  What follows below is an example of another type, in that I had heard the original song years ago, and the original parody http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbT5FFgmvuo&list=PL5DFA46EF9A9CC56B&feature=share&index=20 more than once recently.  The Muses kick us in our butts when and how THEY choose to, however…  Note, also, that instafilk may not be a  100% match to the tune or scansion of the original.  Sorry, by part and parcel of the form consider most instafilk as “Work In Progress”.   nearlyInstaFilk: Story-time TTTO (very roughly) “The Ballad of Canton” cf. _Firefly_, wherein Jayne discovers himself proclaimed a Hero… see also “The Man They Call Joss”, as performed by The Bedlam Bards NewWords: Kihe Blackeagle

Bucks! Fools see only those bucks!

The fandoms of skiffy and high fantasy Number now quite some millions, but fools only see Division and doubting and pocketbooks deep While deriding the fanboys upon where they sleep.

We are here for the story, heros and villains too We will stay for good stories, so now OUT with “grey goo” Remember you hosers with those purse-strings pulled tight What one opening new “Star Wars” pulls in in one night.

Now is it still worthwhile ’cause of label’s bright shine? Only with story will they hold onto my dime. Say what you will, sirs, yet harken to me: Put back stories in movies or watch our feet flee.

Bad Language

Sarah Hoyt was born and raised in Portugal, and now lives in the USA — and makes a living from writing *in English*. Her thoughts upon the nature and history of language as it has evolved among humans (specifically Homo sapiens sapiens) AND why the “universal translator” is a Bad Idea are well worth consideration by ANYONE who must deal with differences in the way we communicate with one another.

And that means Every. Single. One. of us who use the Internet, or make a meaningful living from the exchange of goods, services — and words.

According To Hoyt

Come closer. Yes, you. Come here. Listen to me. Do you hear what I’m saying? Do you understand it?

I bet you don’t, or not quite as I mean it.

Look, a recent alleged science fiction read had nanocites that adapted people to speak a universal language.

Why is it that languages get no respect when it comes to world building and future projection? Oh, it’s not a science in the sense it’s not predictive. (No, I don’t even care if some colleges consider them almost a science – mine did) but it’s a science in the sense of analysis collection and observation.

Is it because we don’t have math? (We do, you know? It’s just weird and done with different symbols.) Or is it because to paraphrase Pride and Prejudice “Any savage can talk?”

I do understand the unique difficulties of writing future language or past language for that…

View original post 2,109 more words

My Name Is Inigo Montoya!

Straight re-blog. Warts and all, I *like* Heinlein.

“Specialization is for insects.”

According To Hoyt

*So, yes, this is a SORTA blast from the past post — but it’s one that wasn’t published here, but at The Lensman’s Children as a guest post in October 2010.  I apologize for doing a repeat post of sorts, but Through Fire has FINALLY started coming together and I’m up to my eyeballs in it.  And then again, I started feeling I needed to do a post on what Heinlein meant to me, because some people are talking a lot of insanity about the poor man, who is not alive to defend himself.  But there’s really nothing I want to say about Heinlein which I didn’t say in this essay.  And so here it is.  A reprint and not a reprint, and some of you might have missed it, so…

UPDATE: since this was written in those days of halcyon sanity four years ago, I feel compelled to clarify…

View original post 2,802 more words

On the Fringes of The Fringe

Humanity is fickle, wayward, self-serving.  It is also “best” when it is vibrantly alive, growing, positive.

I stumbled across a formal statement of optimism to guide my writing this week.  “The Human Wave of Science Fiction” (re-blogged yesterday – the original blog entry by Sarah Hoyt is nearly two years old, relevant as ever, and well worth gaining a new round of “eyes” PLUS continuing commentary).  I’m not only on-board with the concepts, I’m reviewing my overall writing output from the last four decades (oh, yes, I have been writing since I was in high school, even before it was “cool”).  I’ve been surfing the Human Wave since before it was formally described, with very few exceptions released to the attention of anyone else.

The choices made have put me in the position of being even more on the fringe of The Fringe than I had fully realized before.

Out here on the fringe of The Fringe, life can be hard and the challenges border upon the overwhelming BUT that does not mean that we humans are going to curl up and lie down to quietly accept the worst.  There is far too much of the BEST yet ahead of us.  Out here, we may not be on the edge of the world, quite, but we can see it from here.  On the better days, we can even see beyond the edge and speculate just what those visions may bring for our future.

The past of humanity has given us tools.  How we apply those tools to create our futures says a great deal about us as a species.  How WE apply the tools our tools create on our individual scale can make or break our individual destinies.  Those applications can also influence the efforts of others around us.

Small-scale case in point:  Internet “cute” animal videos and the directly-related Stupid Human Trick accounts.  I can choose to ignore both categories — they will still be there, and people will still seek them out, create new examples, and make themselves some tinier bit happy.  I can share the links or direct copies to a carefully selected circle of friends and acquaintances, with or maybe without additional commentary.  I can comment on their existence WITHOUT actually linking or forwarding (hello?  doing so Right Now).

I can and have done all of those things in some measure even without the Interwebz to use as a tool, since well back in school (early book report on a Walter Farley title, If I Recall Correctly – IIRC).

As long as I refrain from obsessing on the darn things, I enjoy them well enough.  Both categories bring a smile, a laugh, an outrage, or perhaps some moment of contemplation from time to time.  Stupid Human Trick examples occasionally reinforce thoughts that the gene pool needs more bleach, but can also lead me to think seriously about the role of common sense, reconsider safety factors, or ponder the possible when creating the next “impossible” obstacle for the characters in my fiction.  My Curmudgeon-in-Training status also needs occasional weed-and-feed, of course…

Ten thousand.  A recurring figure in my thoughts over the years has been the consideration of that figure in various combinations and as applied to planning an assortment of story concepts.  Right now, expressed as dollars, a figure not immediately obtainable.  Expressed as mileage, more than I have driven an automobile in the last year AND approximately how far I would like to journey on my next “real” vacation.  Stated as a target, the number of book copies under my name where I will perhaps completely believe that I have “made it” as an author.  (Hey, I have a start already … hmmm, where did I stash that last statement from www.lulu.com?)

I’m pretty certain where I first derived the number from.  Ten thousand adult humans of child-rearing age has been at one time or another used as the “minimum” human population to sustain a colony without further contact by the originating civilization, given certain other factors.  No, I can’t be certain where I first found the concept.  Probably a good bet to blame Robert A. Heinlein or some other of his contemporaries.  Could have as easily been something out of Shute’s thoroughly NON-HumanWave novel (and movie adaptation) ON THE BEACH.

Without regard to the actual source, the figure of 10,000 has become part and parcel of the poems and stories that I have and continue to create.  Applying it to these current thoughts, out here on The Fringe trying to keep ten thousand of anything can be a challenge.  As of last night’s 10PM news local news broadcast, 10,000 rounds of .22 ammunition might just be worth their weight in gold to the right buyer (empty shelves in the local big-box retail outlets).  In a mega-disaster scenario, that same amount — gold or ammo — might become a death sentence OR it could be the seed of salvation for a person, a family, a community struggling to survive.

I prefer to explore the potential of the seeds and grow the community.

Humanity as a collective entity is straining at the boundaries of this birth-place.  A few of us have managed to step outside the boundaries for a few moments, only to return because of limitations and frailties.  Frailty of physical survival, first-generation equipment, national economics and resolve all contributed to our failure — so far — to follow through on the promises our fiction had provided.

We never completely abandoned our collective dreams, however, at least not out here on The Fringe.  We still write our stories, our poetry, our songs.  We share what we write with others, of our own and our future generations.  We struggle on, doing what we can to keep the fires burning even while the barbarians outside the gates of our sanctuaries seek to deny us fuel to burn or the energy to tend the lamps and braziers.

We also cheer every time a new player succeeds in joining the growing “club” of those with proven equipment for reaching orbit, or surviving extended periods of time in isolation, or even getting us one step closer to making impossible technology an everyday tool.  Consider 3D printing for a moment:  mayhap still primitive, but the process sure looks a  LOT  like Star Trek — and similar other SF thinking — predicted the possible, with “the replicator”.  Still in early prototype testing for something like pizza in space, specialty companies are already applying 3D print tech to produce chocolate confections practically impossible to create using older (manual) methods.

Ten thousand.  Expressed as hours, using the currently-“standard” 40-hour working week, that’s right at five YEARS on-the-job for most workers.  (Two-and-a-half for crazy writer-types on a mission…)  All too many of the best and brightest currently working have no way to be certain they will even have the same employer in five years.  It is a dead-even bet at best that they will not have the same duties and expectations within their job as they do today, with the primary exclusion of those on the more “menial” end of the scale (and even the janitor and waitstaff are finding the technology explosion changing the way they work).

A common employment interview question these past twenty years or so has been “Where do you see yourself in our company in five years?”  There are suggested ways to answer the question provided by employment counselors.  I submit that most of those ways no longer have relevancy to the real world.  I would like to propose a Human Wave answer:

I don’t know, but I intend to make the most of whatever I’m given to do in the course of that time.  I have the skills and experience the company is looking for now.  I have the will and the knowledge to build upon those and build toward that future, and the flexibility to adapt when the tools and expectations change.

Don’t know about all of you who may read these words, but I will close today’s examination with a request.  Go find a copy of the last Calvin & Hobbes comic strip.  Doesn’t matter if you have never read one before, and I don’t care if you don’t like comics.  The words are what matter most on this one.  I’ll expand by at least partial paraphrase.  It is a great big UNIVERSE out there.

Watterson got it right.

“Let’s go exploring!”

Art & Craft of Writing: Using Maps And Games

(A prior, simpler version of this article appeared as a reply to a thread [on using maps in the writing / marketing process] in the writer’s forums on How To Think Sideways)

I’ve been a wargamer almost as long as I have been a writer, and have been creating scenarios or adapting published material to game systems pretty much since Day One. Ergo, I have quite a number of odd bits available when I want to haul in a working-space for my story characters — and have dealt with some really creative game rules for approximating 3-D line-of-sight using a 2-D map for the playing surface (the FASA BATTLETECH system has been my fall-back there, although the earlier methods of the Avalon Hill SQUAD LEADER game system appeal to others of my acquaintance). This can be a real help when checking LOS (line-of-sight) for story continuity and visualization.

I find that it helps some people to use hexagonal grids instead of the commonly-available square-grid graph paper when creating or interpreting maps, but that may be an anomalous personal bias of mine showing. With either of those aids, or several other possibilities, it can help to find or make a (semi-)transparent overlay that can be laid on top of any printed or created map. This provides an immediate visual scale that can be simpler to read than measurements acquired by repeatedly moving a ruler. Transparency sheets (like those used with overhead projectors) allow for marking up a map without damaging the original; with a little practice, this concept can be used to show damage effects, terrain additions (where DID that parking garage go up?), temporary structures / “placed” equipment, etc.

The concepts of Frontage, Depth-of-Ranks, and March Times I learned in gaming translated well to my own writing, and may help in “feeling” / visualizing the relationship of map to real- / created- world:

Frontage:
Frontage is not just how wide a person or vehicle or critter is, but how much width of passage they need to function at a given rate of effectiveness for a desired activity — movement, hold-the-line defense, active fighting, et cetera. Frex, that five-foot hallway can be run through if “empty”, but add just one console table and a big guy may have to slow and sidle past (or smash the furniture accidentally while fighting).

Depth-of-Ranks or alternately Formations:
People and objects are three-dimensional at the least, and that includes length as well as width! A covey of quail, a homecoming parade, or an army on the march all take an amount of time to pass by any given reference point. If for some reason the moving group stops, it still has an area-of-coverage greater than the sum of the individuals making up the group. Think for a moment about a marching band. Unless there are VERY careful rehearsals and practice involved, each band member is separated from all those nearest by a minimum of an arm’s-length, or (roughly) one pace.

To further complicate our writing and gaming lives, movement is required — both physically and in terms of position-over-time — to shift from normal marching into any selected formation, either for static (“motion-less”) position or relative to allies, enemies, and features yet still in motion.

One Special-Case class of examples in military formations is any infantry unit maximizing defense through use of shields. “Special” here also involves nomenclature: a Testudo is not a Schiltron, and neither of those is a simple Shield-Wall… and all three have cultural variations. These (and most other) formations require varying amounts of acreage depending upon current circumstances as well. Each has benefits, each has limitations, and each has failed spectacularly when faced with advances in tactics or technology. (Massed archery or gunnery, and area-effect weaponry, being the death of most close-quarter formations at one time or another…)

The classical Phalanx is a fourth often-used description for shield- and spear- / pike- intensive infantry formations, and is perhaps the one most often MIS-used or simply misunderstood. Any discussion of the phalanx is further complicated by placement in history: a phalanx in the army of Alexander the Great at the time of his death was different in composition from that of the Athenians a mere three or four generations earlier, and both were different still from the Greek phalanx that would face Roman legions a few generations afterward, and NONE of those really relate to any modern (20th-century or later) military unit, although usage might make us want to believe otherwise.

The basic phalanx CONCEPT was little changed for at least two millennia, however: a mass of men arranged in a rectangular formation, all carrying a spear or spear-like primary weapon and usually also armed with a secondary (dagger / knife / short sword / etc.). Later descriptions indicate some specialization in the ranks: first rank shield, spear, and short secondary weapon; second rank shield and medium-length weapons (or “choked-up” longer ones), third and fourth ranks pike or other long weapons, sometimes without shields. Additional ranks were usually added up to a depth of eight or more, and a minimum front of ten men, usually more. A “true” Phalanx was seldom less than a hundred soldiers in number, although the more common camp & march unit was based upon the file (column or sometimes pair of columns within the deployed phalanx). Some of my sources are loathe to give the title of Phalanx to any formation of less than five hundred or so…

A convoy of vehicles has a minimum-safe separation distance that increases with speed (if you have been through Driver’s Ed or similar learning experience, remember the discussions about reaction time required to brake to a complete stop?), but ALSO typically has a minimum separation distance when parked in a line. That separation should be enough for crew and passengers to move between convoy elements without crawling through / over / under. There may be special circumstances where the minimum separation is reduced or eliminated due to any of several factors. These include but are not limited to providing cover to dismounted forces (use of vehicles as a temporary fortification, a la “Circle The Wagons!”, whether stationary or on-the-move), reducing threat from dismounted opposition, temporary fencing for herds, etc.

March Times: individual or group, living or mechanical (or other), humans assume that it takes some amount of time to move from Point A to Destination B. (Even with teleportation, Glinda – havta at least think about destination / initiate the transfer, after all!) In the simplest cases, this is a straightforward calculation. At a slightly more complex level, add in meal-times / fuel stops / potty-breaks. For any journey requiring more than the normal amount of time between two meals, it is best to include deliberately-scheduled rest time(s) and other possible fatigue factors.

The astute writer also does a little research into the perils of forced-march and subsequent effects upon performance of not only people and animals but also machinery not given extra maintenance attention.

* = * = * = *

(YES, I do happen to also design or expand / correct the rules for games in an attempt to make the experience more realistic. There is a balancing act involved quite simple to exposition in a given story, where too much detail detracts from enjoyment of the experience. I also happen to sharpen knives, swords – and wits…)