Thursday, January 27, 2011

The perennial problem - What the hell to write about

I got a little off-target from my new year’s resolution this month, mostly due to spending the early part of January filled with snot and despair. That’s probably one of the worst colds I’ve had, and the only thing I felt like at the time was a quick, merciful death. Much better now, barring a pulled muscle or something in my side/back that feels like a knife to the ribcage. But only a very small knife.



Of course, I’m raring to get back into writing something every day, if only for my blog if not actual (*gasp*) fiction. And of course, I can of bugger all to write about. I suspect that piece yesterday about childhood memories and snow is going to get posted whole to AC/yahoo as some kind of prose, partly because I suspect judicious use of keywords like ‘snow’ would be fairly popular right now, but mostly to see if ‘dogshit’ registers on any censorship radars over there.


That’s not exactly writing, though. Nor is this, this metawriting bullshit that I’m doing right now, writing about writing without actually writing about much of anything. It’s really just a fallback position for writer’s block. This month, and probably next month, that’s not something I really mind, though. I’m mostly getting into the habit of trying to write something every day. Quality over quantity will hopefully come later. Hell, I wouldn’t mind both at once.


It is difficult finding things to write about, mind. It’s a truism that you should write about what you know, but I don’t want to ramble on about my Childhood indefinitely, because that’s really something only I’m interested in, and presumably the idea of a blog is to write about stuff that a hypothetical, invisible (non-existant) audience might find interesting.


I have interests I like to write articles about, but to be honest, there’s a pretty limited audience for reviews of Roguelikes. Anyone sufficiently interesting in that type of game invariably knows about the ones knocking around in the first place. Anything more in depth is doomed before it starts. Suppose, for instance, I decided to write a strategy guide for Nethack. They already exist, it’s already been spoiled to death over the last 20 years, there’s strategy guides in abundance already, and it would probably be filled with inaccuracies brought on by having played the damned thing for way too long and building up a collection of bad habits and assumptions. Dog help you too, if there are any errors, or even any questionable suggestions about how to play. I’ve seen dissections of Maniac’s (rather decent) ascension guide that, if printed onto hardcopy, would make respectable phonebook replicas. And they get quite personal, too, in that oddly polite but wounding way you see from veterans of USENET when they decide to wade into a thread with their size 12 boots on.


So, nothing roguelikey, then. Except possibly a review of Crawl somewhere with some kind of twist to it. I seem to be well liked by the admins on the forum, and they seem keen on backlinking any mention of the game, which wouldn’t hurt traffic.


My interests otherwise are kinda limited. I can be outrageously British and pull a fair bit of attention that way, but there’s another 60 million or so of them out there, and quite a few already have the corner marketed. The Internet does not need another website about cats being amusing. ‘Eating pizza’ is, while popular, something that doesn’t really need much written about it.


I read the BBC news daily, not with a view to looking for ideas, but just to keep up on things and get a news source that isn’t too horribly corrupted by US politics and commercial interests. Whatever else you might say about the BBC, they’re reasonably unbiased, or as unbiased as a news center can get. I do tend to keep an eye out for things I could write about though. Again, there’s remarkably little jumping out at me. Nothing I wouldn’t just be repeating parrot-fashion from the original source. I can, in all honesty, see why AC like (and will pay more for) first-person accounts of events. There’s way too many sites around nowadays that do exactly that. I don’t even mean aggregators like Boingboing or Fark or so on, there are hundreds of cookie-cutter news site that just cut and paste stuff in its entirety. I suppose that’s true of most places online nowadays; for every Facebook or Twitter there’s scores of imitators trying to jump on the bandwagon. Total members of these sites: 3. And at least one of those is the developer’s mother. It seems particularly pronounced with any news or article feeds, however.


Anyhow, I think this is yet again enough rambling for one day. No real conclusions, no specific, clear-cut ending, no moral to the story.


Why, I could be writing about life itself.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

This is something that’s been batting around in my head for the past few days, probably because of the snow we’ve been getting here. It’s not what I’d consider a life changing event, or something that I always remember, but it does pop back into memory now and then, and I have no trouble remembering it clearly when it does.

I’m not sure how long ago I’m remembering this from, I was about seven or eight, I’d guess. Old enough to walk home from school on my own, or at least old enough back then when no-one was concerned about vans full of paedophiles cruising the streets.

Between the street I grew up on and the street behind us, there was a narrow alley; this seems to be a standard thing between terraced streets that back onto each other; at least I’ve never seen any in England that don’t. Even houses around here in the US seem to have something similar, though UK alleys (or ‘backs’, as they were known round our way) seem to involve more brick walls and privet hedges, and less chain link fences. And more dogshit, as I recall, though dogshit in general seems to be in decline in the wild.


Anyhow, I digress. This back ‘lane’ was pretty much the standard walk home. At this point in time, people in Yorkshire were still pretty lairy of using their front doors. These portals were reserved for any members of royalty that might visit, and everyone else came in through the back door. I’ve no idea why this was, or why people only opened them for births, weddings and funerals, but I know our own front door, until it was replaced with one of those uPVC monstrosities so popular in the 1980s, would have been a challenge to open, the dust in the locks and frame probably welded it shut.


So, I was walking up the back lane, heading home. It was dark, and it was snowing quite heavily, heavier flakes than I’ve seen since, even the godawful weather they get here in Missouri. It was that calm kind of snow, though, the kind where there’s absolutely no wind behind it whatsoever. The kind of snow where it’s actually pleasant to be out in, where it’s only just started to fall so you’re not wading through it up to your shins, and it’s not actually cold enough to be a pain in the arse.


I say there was no wind, but that was the odd thing; the snow wasn’t falling straight down. I don’t know if it was some weird eddy or current in the air down that alley, but the snow was coming along it in a gentle swirling corkscrew movement. It was like walking down a tunnel of swirling flakes, each one clearly visible from the ambient streetlight behind the houses. Even more oddly, hardly any of it was hitting me, as if I was in the eye of some extraordinarily docile hurricane. This whole scene lasted the two or three hundred yards I walked to our back gate, and I remember being as awestruck as it’s possible to get when you’re that age. In fact, I suspect it’s the first time any sort of natural phenomenon had impressed me to that degree.


And then I more or less forgot about for thirty years, until it was time to find something to put in a blog entry.


I’ve lived in a variety of places since then, and I’ve been out walking in the snow many times since (usually not by choice), but even in the same alley, in the same conditions, I’ve never seen snow behave like that again. As memories go, I know it’s not terribly spectacular, and the BBC could probably recreate the scene on a budget of ten quid, but it clearly made something of an impression on single-digit-years me. And I still think of it fondly now and then today. It was probably one of the few moment of actual, literal stillness in my life I can recall, a time and place where everything else was still bustling about gently, but where I was, absolutely nothing was happening.


Or this could just be the point where I’m crossing the line into pretentiousness, so I think we’ll call it a day.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I think I give up. For now.

I'm a savvy enough geek to be able to compile stuff on Ubuntu, if I've got a cheatsheet/webpage open with careful instructions. Did this with Dungeon Crawl as soon as I got the laptop up and running, and Unnethack seems to be working also.

I can't fathom Sporkhack, however. I've no idea when it comes to SVN, or what to do with a .diff file. I'm not really prepared to delve into it given some of my misgivings about the changes in the fork, either. It really is way too much complexity to just setup a bloody roguelike.

Given the layout of the homepage, I almost have to think the author is deliberately not just putting the sourcefiles up on a nice, simple html link to download. Possibly just to spite me, and me personally. Given I've seen him memorably described as an 'ass with a top hat on it', it's entirely possible.

Oh well. Shower, and then we'll see if Dwarf Fortress wants to be more friendly.

(AC) Distraction-free Word Processing

I'm reasonably picky when it comes to word processors-slash-text editors; if anything, I'm looking for less features than most offer. I imagine Microsoft Word would be ideal were I trying to put together a presentation for an office meeting, but I really don't need the pages of templates and options for tables and clipart when I'm just typing up a bog-standard article or blog entry, I don't need eighteen pages of settings to tweak. Also, the computers I tend to be using aren't usually on the cutting edge of technology; Word, and its open-source counterpart, OpenOffice, tend to require something capable of launching the Space Shuttle to run smoothly, eating up prodigious amounts of RAM to produce a two-page essay.

(click here for the words that earn me the monies)

And because I'm lazy, there's at least a 24 delay on getting these things posted

Getting increasingly difficult to think of something to write about every single day. On the other hand, still very much wanting to, just drawing a blank when it’s coming to thinking of anything suitable.

(On an aside, got my 500 in for yesterday, just haven’t gotten around to uploading it yet as it’s an actual article I need to post to AC.)

That seems to be a problem a lot of the time with me, coming up with ideas as what to do actually do. I’d like to think I’m a pretty creative person, but I have the hardest damned time being creative on demand. I suspect (and hope) that I just need to be a tiny bit more organised and methodical about actually sitting down and writing. This, of course, is the exact reason I’m still making myself do 500 words on an empty tank.

That really seems to be the advice of any modern, successful writer, incidentally. They say, without trying to be too sarcastic, that to be a writer, you actually need to write stuff. Write stuff, and keep writing, and finish what you’re writing.

They also mention that reading voraciously is just as important as writing things. However, I don’t think ‘not reading enough’ is ever going to seriously make it onto my list of character flaws.

Stumbleupon also occasionally brings up random advice articles about writing blogs (usually on someone’s blog, for extra degree of meta), despite my best efforts to ‘train’ it not to. They offer all kinds of advice on how to start and maintain a blog, but I suspect the blogs they’re talking about and the blogs I’m talking about wouldn’t meet on a Venn diagram. Theirs seem to either be carefully crafted tools designed to lure unsuspecting web tourists into a whirpool of Search Engine Optimisation and targeted marketing, or blogs with a singleminded obsession with a particular subject that’s quite terrifying. They’re usually about something most people wouldn’t waste writing a paragraph about, but these folk apparently burn with the fire of a thousand suns for particular method of knitting or countertop refinishing.

I definitely don’t want that. I’m passionate about many things, but not to the point where I want to talk about it online every single bloody day, to the point where I’m paddling in the shallow end of the Asperger’s pool. And I certainly don’t want a blog capable of pulling in thousands of hits but having the personality and creativeness of a knife between the ribs. I would rather have absolutely no-one ever read this, and be happy with what I’ve tapped out here.

That being said, the same doesn’t /quite/ apply to stuff I write up for AC. I crossed the Rubicon of shamelessness for money there some time back, when I was being paid a few bucks for writing articles about things like ‘care of leather upholstery’ and ‘installing a dimmer switch’. In other words subjects which I had absolutely no idea about, and never would, but which Google did... It’s amazing how quickly you can learn enough to sound like an expert on something in 350 words or more. Though it’s less amazing how quickly you can forget this useless, useless, information.

I dunno. I think it’ll come together eventually. At least I’m not tooling about with flash memory cards and interface issues any more.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 and all that

2011 has turned up fairly unobtrusively, and I have the nagging feeling I should be typing up some sort of review for the past year, highlighting my personal ups and downs and generally how things went for me. It is, I suspect, ‘the thing to do’.

Yet I can’t think of anything particularly to say about 2010 that was particularly remarkable. It wasn’t the best of years, and I can think of general times throughout it when we were broke, or miserable, or (more recently) ill, but I also can`t think of anything horrifyingly awful that happened, either. Things carry on, good, bad, and the immigration status, which appears to be a lifelong task.

It doesn’t help that it just doesn’t feel like a new year yet either. I was working last night, I’m working tonight. There’s absolutely no sense of today being a holiday or anything special, beyond the way that the people who are actually calling today are entirely the ones too stupid to realise that everywhere is closed today. I’m not exaggerating when I say that if these people lost just one or two more braincells, they’d be physically incapable of using the phone in the first place. I can totally understand why William Faulkner, on losing his job at the post office, said “I reckon I’ll be at the beck and call of folks with money all my life, but thank God I won’t ever again be at the beck and call of every son of a bitch who’s got two cents to buy a stamp.”

We get the ones who can’t afford a stamp. Or sometimes, have accidentally swallowed their stamp.

An Aside: I just referred to Facebook in conversation as ‘Livejournal’. This is probably the first sign of senile dementia. But then, I suspect anyone that knows me wouldn’t be in the least surprised by that.

Getting back to 2010, I suspect it’s going to be one of those years that, when I am truly old and senile, isn’t going to register as one of the memorable ones. Like most of the 1990s. I barely remember a damned thing about that decade; not the fashions, not the music, not even many events in my life. The events I do remember, I would be hard pressed to tell you what month, or even which year they actually happened.

This of course is another reason it might be worth scribbling in here most days. I used to actually enjoy posting to Livejournal just for the hell of it, and keeping a record of what was going on, even if it was bugger all. There’s a good five years or more I have archived from there which is a significant fraction of my life, including the years when Kit and I got together. These years of course will eventually be a matter of public interest and historical record, but in the unlikely event that they aren’t, it’s nice personally to be able to browse through these.

All this puts me in mind of Michael Palin. I’ve been reading his diaries of late, the ones covering most of the ten year period where Python were doing their most work, the TV series and the movies and whatnot, and it’s fascinating stuff. I’m sure he didn’t expect that so many people would read them eventually either. I’m pretty sure he wrote them without the intention of anyone but himself reading them, ever. But he still wrote them anyway.

Perhaps all that is as good a reason as any to try and stick with the 500 words/day here. Perhaps I don’t even need a good reason. It certainly passes an hour or so at work when it’s fairly quiet, time that would otherwise be consumed with more horrible deaths in Dungeon Crawl. I’m certainly not bored with doing it yet, or frustrated with the technology I have to do it on. I know Kit is following it on an RSS feed (*wave*), and I suspect she’ll get bored with reading it sooner than I do writing. Or perhaps not. The important thing is, I’m writing it for me, not for any bugger else.

And that really strikes me as reason enough.