Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: October, 2005

Invasion of the Podcast People

What I don’t understand is why people have started calling mp3s of interviews/music mixes/etc. podcasts. Why the new term? I don’t feel particularly hip and snappy using it. I feel like a freakin’ yuppie wannabe. And podcasts make me think of iPods. I think they look sort of silly. Especially those “earbuds.”

Anyways, why call it a podcast when not everyone has an iPod? And why do most amateur podcasts sound like the equivalent of a deer caught in the headlights?

* * *
Another belated meme:

Unconscious Mutterings

  1. Unbreakable:: Glass
  2. Have mercy:: How
  3. Do it better:: Than
  4. Settle scores:: For
  5. Comments:: Numbers
  6. Craziest thing:: To
  7. Apple:: Pie
  8. Halloween:: Candy
  9. Manageable:: Paper
  10. Trick:: Or

* * *
In some parts of the world, Nanowrimo has already started. If you’ve always thought of writing a novel some day, some day is now! Go and sign up!

The Thursday Threesome: Painted Garden Gnomes

Onesome: Painted– Hey! Are you getting all painted up on Monday and going out and about? What are you dressing up as? …or are you staying home and handing out goodies? …or sitting in the dark and wishing they would all just go away? Come on !

Er. No. To all questions.

Twosome: Garden– In the garden of your mind, where do you go to relax for a few moments? Off to the beach? …to the mountains? …to a different world? …or maybe a stroll though an old Victorian landscape?

I try to blank my mind of everything.

Threesome: Gnomes– Okay, we have to know: what do you think about garden gnomes and pink flamingos and such? I mean other than there seems to be a local ordinance that you have to have at least one or the other in your front yard if you live in South Florida?

I don’t think too much of it. If people want gnomes and flamingos on their lawns, they are free to put them there. I wouldn’t want any on mine though.


Unconscious Mutterings

  1. Infiltration:: Constipation
  2. Nice person:: Bad
  3. Debt:: Free
  4. Settle down:: Here
  5. Thomas:: Jefferson
  6. Unforgivable:: Sins
  7. Medicine:: Ward
  8. A year from now:: When
  9. Neighbors:: Yard
  10. Dripping:: Grease

What Is A Novel?

Writing a novel in a month. The majority of people signed up for Nanowrimo are planning to write a novel–primarily, a long work of prose consisting of original fiction. But every year, there is the debate from fringe and not so fringe groups about what constitutes a novel. Is it simply anything at least 50,000 words? Must it be original fiction? Must it be fiction at all?

The way I see it, it’s the spirit of the thing that counts the most. If what you’re writing doesn’t fit into my definition of what a novel is, that’s okay as long as what you’re doing is mainly 50,000 words of creativity. You can do whatever you want, as long as you don’t try to force your own definition of the novel on everyone else. Epic poems, fan fiction*, non-fiction, biographies, movie scripts, stage plays–you can do all of that but don’t tell me that those are novels.

Perhaps the debate wouldn’t happen at all if the event was called National Book Writing Month instead. But it isn’t and I guess I’m one of those old-fashioned people who believe you should write a novel when it says write a novel and not something else. Would a Chaucer fan club crash a science fiction convention? Would a contestant eat pumpkin pies at a hot dog eating competition? No. While you can argue that Chaucer and sci-fi are both fiction and pies and hot dogs are both food, they’re not really the same. Although I don’t like categorization as the next person, sometimes, they can be helpful.

*Fan fiction is a murky topic all within itself. It’s fiction. And it’s original–in the sense that the plot is original, but the characters and/or setting aren’t. Fan fiction could be novels–witness the numerous Star Trek and Star Wars books–but most of it are just scribblings of self-fulfillment. I wouldn’t say this is in itself bad or good. If people choose to use their time writing fan fiction, I won’t argue with them.

There are several interesting arguments for and against fan fiction. The main objection is that the fan fiction writer is playing in someone else’s world, that they’re taking the easy way out by not creating the characters and setting themselves. Another is the constraints a previously created world sets on the writer. But this is debatable–some writers disregard the canonical rules and others argue that by creating your own world, you still have a set of rules to follow anyway.

Avid fan fiction writers point out writing in someone else’s world is like training wheels on a bicycle. They’re afraid of falling flat on their face if they start out writing original fiction. To that, I can only shake my head in disbelief. Are they afraid that their own creations will be too stupid for public consumption? I don’t really see how fan fiction can prepare you for something original–the only thing to do is to practice. Besides, tons of stupid books actually get published every year and maybe your stupid idea is someone else’s genius of a creation.

Anyways, this reminds me of a comment I got a while back about my 2003 Nano novel where the reader compared it to a “good X-files fanfic.” My first reaction was more along the lines of “WTF?!” because I don’t read fanfic, let alone X-files fanfic (aside: I’m not particularly a fan of X-files) and fan fiction, to me, has a lot of not exactly positive connotations. And dang it, my novel was original! But after thinking about it, I figured it was supposed to be a compliment. At least I hope so.

(Cross-posted at Writing Sya.)

The Thursday Threesome: Butterflies are Free

Onesome: Butterflies– ‘Tis the end of butterfly season, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere (hey, we have readers and respondents in the Southern); what are looking forward to seeing around the yards and neighborhoods in the next few months. (…besides snow, unless that’s all you have staring back at you during the Winter months!)

Leaves turning colors. Leaves falling down. The cold. Gratuitous Christmas decorations.

Twosome: are– Are your sports teams doing okay this Fall? Baseball is down to the final stretch and it’s time to chose up sides! …and football is darned interesting at the six-week mark? No interest? How about curling ?

I’m not a sports person. But I can say, “Yay! Curling!”, even though I have no idea who’s who in sports.

Threesome: Free– What is your favorite “freebie”? That ‘buy one, get one free’ sale? …the ice cream cone from your local shop on your birthday? The samples at Starbucks? Inquiring minds and all that…

Blank notebooks and journals. You can never have too many of those.

So 1999?

I admit that I don’t check the posts on my guestbook all that often. And when someone leaves a message, I have no way of knowing when they left the message because the ultra simple Yahoo! guestbook is stripped of all features–including the date and time. Yeah, I should get something more sophisticated, but frankly, most of the messages worth reading are left at the comments at the end of the post.

Anyways, this post isn’t about griping about my guestbook. No, it’s about site design. A visitor left a message in the guestbook inviting me to enter some sort of website contest called The Rumbles. My first thought was that there was no way that it could be serious–I have the web design skills of a gnat–and that it was just an advertisement for a new meme that I have no inclination or energy for participating in.

But being curious, I checked it out.

Gah! Cutesy girly designs!

Okay, so there’s nothing inherently wrong about cutesy girly designs, but they’re definitely not my style. Or at least I don’t think so. (Is my drooling monster mascot at the side of this blog considered a cutesy girly design?) The kittens and puppies, the borders, the lavender, the adoption graphics, the blinking backgrounds, the cliquey webrings–reminds me of late 90’s web design. While fun during that time, it gives me a headache now.

I prefer rather minimalist design nowadays–sites where the showcase is the writing and content and not the frame of the content. Sure, there could be a graphic or two but not so many that it slows down loading and freezes up my browser.

Cartooning Tech

(Author’s Note: Digging through previous writings, I found this profile for one of the creators of the comic strip Crippling Depression written in 2001-2002. A far more comprehensive column on all the creators written by Rhonda Hillbery is located here.)

The wall beside Tim Wan’s door room is peppered with personal photographs and a large Disney poster of Beauty and the Beast. Most of the pictures were taken in bars with the background illuminated by green or pink neon signs. They feature a grinning Asian male with a dark jacket draped over his lanky frame surrounded by women in tight tank tops, short skirts, and lots of bare skin. His head is shaved, and spectacles pretending to be a pair of slick metal-framed glasses are perched on his nose. Above the pictorial of all his exploits, a computer printout banner proclaims: KAOS Girl of the Month. What girl of the month? It looks more like a harem of twenty.

“It was all his idea. He made me put the sign up,” explains Will Findley, his roommate.

“Yeah,” Wan easily agrees in a masculine version of valley girl. Apparently, he’s hoarding a stash of female pin-ups somewhere in his meticulously clean room. Tim Wan, a third-year undergraduate at Caltech, is a stickler for organization and using up space. Although his roommate’s possessions are squeezed into a rectangular plot outlined by the boundaries of Findley’s desk, Wan’s own belongings–arranged as methodically as library periodicals–dominate the rest of the room. An army of plastic action figures parade in strict formation on a shelf above his computer monitor. A poster of sloe-eyed Christina Aguilera hangs on the neighboring wall.

“Why don’t you sit on the couch?” Rey Ramirez, a friend, complains.

Swiftly, Wan replies, “No.” He slouches comfortably in his padded gray chair that is a throne on wheels. He’s wearing a rumpled navy t-shirt and black shorts. His bare left foot is raised to rest on his right knee. Rather than expounding on the reasons for why he chose computer science as an option at Caltech, Wan launches into his love for comic books and toys. “I used to get the toys to play with, you know. For about a year I stopped. And then I started buying them again because those new Star Wars collectible figures came out. So now I just collect them. I keep them in boxes unopened.”

He has pictures of his entire collection that fills up an entire room: Star Wars collectibles, X-Men posters, and Disney princess dolls. Most of it remains in storage at home in Washington. “Tim has unhealthy obsessions with Disney characters,” his roommate remarks.

“He has unhealthy obsessions, period,” Ramirez clarifies. “He just focuses on something and doesn’t let up.”

“But he’s sensitive,” adds Findley. Wan only replies to the comment with a list of his favorite movies and television shows: Braveheart, WWE, and football.

Wan is part of the trio behind the humorous and occasionally angsty comic strip Crippling Depression that appears in The California Tech. The project was spurred onward by a mixture of an aversion to physics homework and a why-not attitude. “During my sophomore year, there was a comic called Vanilla that came out before ours. To be honest, I didn’t think it was that good. I thought that we could do better.” The strip was inspired by a multitude of online comics like PvP and Penny Arcade as well as the more mainstream newsprint cartoons like FoxTrot and Calvin and Hobbes. For about a term, Wan and another friend, Ben Lee, batted around the idea of doing something humorous about Caltech undergraduate life before conning a freshman to do the illustrations.

“Tim is impulsive and very spontaneous,” Lee says of his friend’s creative habits. “He blurts out a lot of his ideas. He’s funny, and even though he doesn’t seem like it, he’s sensible.”

Mike Yeh, the artist for Crippling Depression, agrees. “He yells a lot and jokes around, but he’s nice about understanding that I may be behind on the drawings because of homework.”

Wan keeps a notebook to jot down ideas that may be potentially used as plot lines. Anything, from an annoying student in a lecture hall to a weeping student in front of a Coke machine, could become fodder for the following week’s strip.

Besides drawing inspiration from real life experience, the characters of Crippling Depression bear an uncanny resemblance to the comic’s authors. The character “Tim” appears in a panel about holiday shopping. “I got the new Babblin’ Boo Doll!” he exclaims holding up the collectible. “They’re this year’s hottest toys! She giggles, babbles, and cries!!”

A passing shopper replies, “I bet your sister’s going to love that!”

Tim is dismayed. “Sister?”

Unconscious Mutterings

  1. On the verge:: Of
  2. Tempestuous:: Wind
  3. Coherent:: Words
  4. Near death:: Experience
  5. Illiterate:: Read
  6. Why not?:: Why
  7. Period:: Comma
  8. Long lost:: World
  9. Torrid:: Affair
  10. Nail:: Head

“Overrated” Fantasy Authors

I’ve compiled a list of fantasy authors that people have claimed to be “overrated.” My own comments are included, but if you’re looking for something to do, you can take this as a meme. Or you can comment. Are any of the overrated authors that I haven’t read any good? Are there any other overrated authors that I didn’t include?

Anthony, Piers – I wouldn’t call him overrated. Everyone knows his books are fluff.

Attanasio, A.A. – Haven’t read.

Bemmann, Hans – Haven’t read. Never heard of him either.

Bradley, Marion Zimmer – Haven’t read.

Brooks, Terry – I’ve read two or three books by him and all I can say is, “Eh.”

Card, Orson ScottEnder’s Game was awesome. The few other books I’ve read didn’t stick to my mind.

Donaldson, Stephen R. – Haven’t read.

Douglass, Sara – Haven’t read. But I have a copy of Threshold on my to-be-read pile because I’ve seen a good review for it.

Drake, David – Haven’t read.

Eddings, David – I’ve read one book which was in the middle of a series. I was not impressed.

Feist, Raymond – Haven’t read.

Goodkind, Terry – Haven’t read.

Hamilton, Laurell K. – I’ve only read Lunatic Cafe and some of her Anita Blake short stories. I can’t say I was particularly struck by her writing.

Haydon, Elizabeth – Haven’t read.

Hickman, Tracy – Haven’t read.

Jacques, Brian – I’ve read a few set in the world of Redwall. At the time, I thought they were pretty good, for novels about anthropomorphic animals.

Jones, J.V. – I’ve only read The Barbed Coil. I don’t really remember much about it.

Jordan, Robert – Haven’t read. His huge books scare the heck out of me. You could kill somebody with one of those.

King, Stephen – I have only read his novella “The Langoliers” and started the first chapter or two of Pet Cemetary. I’m not that much of a horror buff.

Lackey, Mercedes – I’ve read her sporadically, usually just random books in the middle of series. I don’t particularly like or dislike her work.

Lee, Tanith – What?! Tanith Lee is great. All hail Tanith Lee!

Martin, George R.R. – Haven’t read although have heard people absolutely hating him or absolutely loving him.

McCaffrey, Anne – I’ve read her older books which I thought were pretty good. Have no idea what her newer books are like.

Modesitt, L.E. – Haven’t read.

Newcomb, Robert – Haven’t read. Never heard of him.

Paolini, Christopher – Haven’t read. I’d hesitate just because the author’s a teenager.

Paxson, Diana L. – Haven’t read.

Pierce, Tamora – I’ve only read her Song of the Lioness quartet. The first two books were pretty good, but I was disappointed with the later books.

Pullman, Philip – I thought the His Dark Materials trilogy was brilliant when I finished it. Count Karlstein is hilarious. The Sally Lockhart series is on my to-be-read pile.

Rice, Anne – I have only read the Mayfair Witches trilogy. That was weird. I’ve only read the first chapter of The Mummy and put it down because I was bored.

Rowling, J.K. – I have only read the first Harry Potter book. I just don’t get why everyone gushes about it. It’s derivative.

Rusch, Kristin Kathryn – Haven’t read. Never heard of her.

Stevermer, Caroline – I don’t think she’s overrated. She’s not prolific, but what she has written is good.

Tolkien, J.R.R. – But he’s the guy who jumpstarted the whole genre!

Weis, Margaret – Haven’t read.

Williams, Tad – Haven’t read.

Added: 10/16 – Elizabeth Haydon, Caroline Stevermer; 10/17 – David Drake, Raymond Feist, L.E. Modesitt

A Math Problem for the Idle

Lawnmowers need gas. With gas prices being rather ridiculous lately (and perhaps becoming more so in the future), what would be the most efficient way to mow a lawn? Assuming that your lawn is rectangular in shape and it takes you a fixed amount of time to mow a certain area, would it be better to mow in a clockwise/counterclockwise fashion or strictly rows back and forth? Let’s assume that turning the lawnmower to make another row in the latter scenario takes twice as long as the other.