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Friday, August 31, 2012

F3 Soaring

     "Ann Szalick?" the voice buzzed when transmitted through the charged bars.
      Ann sat up in her cell, careful not to slam her head against the bunk above. He squinted at the guy on the other side. Tall and not at all pretty, he stood with the precision of military.
      "Who wants to know?" Ann asked.
      "Name's Flynn. I hear you're a decent pilot."
      Ann squinted at Flynn. "Flynn? I heard of a Flynn. Heard you were a decent bonehead. Great job on Tashi Station."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Surface Thoughts

     The Microsoft Surface is the first tablet device I feel like I really need. The Surface gives me everything I need in a tablet. It's not simply a multimedia tool (which is what Android and various idevices would be for me), it's a productivity tool. I'm a writer. I need to write. No matter how slick and predictive touch screen keyboards get, they won't be able to match a physical keyboard in terms of speed for true typists.
      Moreover, the surface has Windows 8. No, I'm not a windows-only advocate, but I am a full-fledged operating system advocate. Android and iOS can't hack it. They have apps. I need programs. I need real processing power that those apps have been unable to provide. I think they are capable of that power, but the app development has not pushed them far enough, yet, at least in terms of productivity.
      I think Surface will change that. Tablets must evolve into devices that can truly replace laptops as productive pieces of software. I can't wait to play around with the surface. I truly hope it will be the device I need to replace one of my laptops.

Friday, August 24, 2012

F3 Magic Potion

     I watched with great interest as she poured from the assembled beakers, mason jars, and bins of powders with acrid and pleasant scents. She poured into the carafe of a blender, adding a melange of colors and scents that were pleasing individually, but an assault to my nose and eyes. It took on a mottled brown and black, and the scent which was at first flowery erupted into something noxious like sulfur.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Language Logic

     I'm not a computer programmer, but I dabble.
     I dabbled with Excel, and became an Excel wizard. I dabble in Google Scripts. I'm starting to get it. I'm dabbling with interactive fiction, and even it has it's own little method. I've been struggling to figure out how it works, and after a week of intensive, independent study, I think I've finally got the method down of how it works.
      Which is when it hits me.
      Writing in a language is more about understanding the logic and conventions than anything else. When you can actually understand the logic and conventions, you can think in the language, which is the beginning of mastery.
      Academic writing is its own language. The part of academic writing that students struggle with are the logic and conventions of this new language. None of the vocabulary is any different, but understanding the mind of academic writing takes time and practice.
      Now how to impart this to my students. . . ?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Brand Loyalty

     I'm a Thinkpad man. I love my Thinkpads. They are workhorses, and they put up with abuse. More than that, they are fixable workhorses. I've had my T61P for over 5 years. I've replaced the keyboard twice (hazards of being a writer), keyboard bezel, swapped out the primary hard drive twice (because I'm a data paranoid kind of guy), upgraded the RAM, upgraded the OS, replaced the monitor hinges (which I'm about to do again), and I'm about to replace the DC power jack.
      Some may say that's an awful lot to go wrong on laptop, but it's not, and I take care of my electronics. Laptops generally don't have a usable lifespan beyond two years. Mine is over twice that, moving on to three times, and I intend to get it there.
      I'd also prefer not to go the warranty route. I don't want to have to send my computer in to get it fixed after spending an outrageous amount for a warranty service, then to have to wait to get the computer back. Thinkpads allow me to fix them. Lenovo (and IBM before) publish technical manuals for people to download, and even put out videos demonstrating how to repair their machines.
      I discovered the manual when in the beautiful unfrozen north of Juneau Alaska for grad school, and my laptop's monitor died. I had to order a replacement and install it with my trusty keychain tool. Because of that manual, I was able to work out my graduate essays on my own computer instead of fighting for one of the computers in the lab.
      So as I'm looking out at the new ultrabooks, there's really only a couple of  choices for me, the x230 with its smaller screen and better portability, or the x1-carbon, with its sveldt frame. Decisions, decisions.

Friday, August 17, 2012

F3 Engineers

     "This is going to work," Kurt said.
      "But the book says—" Rick pointed to the holo-slate indicate the emitter's tolerances.
      "I know what it says. Listen, we're out here on a station waiting weeks between supply runs. This isn't a fancy new ship of the fleet. Every other week something dies on this station, and the only reason it doesn't rip apart and empty us into vacuum is because I don't go by the book. Well, that and duct tape."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


     Remakes certainly seem to be all the rage. Between Amazing Spider-Man and Total Recall this summer, I'm not sure remakes are that worthwhile. Sure, Batman Begins showed the world what happens when a remake is done right, but there are precious few examples of those. And, really, is it a matter that things should be remade? Mere months after Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica remake there was talk of doing another. Is this anything other than cashing in on popular trends?      While many can (and have) made this case, I wonder if it might not be a cry out for re-writing the story. Is this somethign that should have happened before another version was made. In my own writing I know that changes can take the form of something minor to a drastic overhaul and complete re-imagining.      I also wonder if it's a measure of the ever-changing market. There's not an easy way to accurately gauge what will sell other than to make it available to see if it sells. I think the remakes are an effort to take what everyone recognizes as a great premise, and to tell a new story, one which may appeal to a new audience.

Monday, August 13, 2012


     Teaching and writing have two very important things in common. They are composite skills. There is no one single skill which makes someone an excellent writer or an excellent teacher. Instead, it takes many skills working in concert to do either. More than that, there are no unimportant skills. You cannot adequately compensate for a deficiency in one by exaggerating another. Ability with dialogue will never replace grammar. Nor will action replace dialogue. Skills must meet a certain threshold in order to work as part of the greater whole. When that happens, they all meld together in a great symphony, complementing one another.
      One last thought: you're only as good as your weakest skill, so plan accordingly.

Friday, August 10, 2012

F3 Surrender

     "Everyone loves the idea of fighting to the last, of never giving in to defeat." I said. The door thudded hard as people on the other side tried to batter it down. "But I've been outgunned and overpowered every single time. Sure, there are times when I can outthink and find a way out, but the simple fact of the matter is I've gotten used to the idea of surrender. That may offend your sensibilities, but here's the last bit. I'm still around even after surrendering. They're not.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lectures (AKA Info-Dumping)

     As a professor, it's almost expected that I lecture. Truth is, I hate lectures. Pretty much always have. I don't like someone standing up and telling me everything I should know. I don't like being that guy, either. Which is why I've been moving away from lectures. Certainly there are times when someone has some important bit of information to impart that a lecture is the most effective method, but more often than not it's ineffective. Of course, this goes along with the control idea. A lecture is the ultimate form of a controlled classroom. Give up the lecture and you give up a measure of that control.
      But I think it's worth it to get rid of those awful lectures. More discussions, more exploration, more action.
      Stories have their share of lectures, though the industry term is usually "telling" or "info-dumping." So it usually goes that writers need to show more and tell less. It's a hard lesson to learn. As a writer, there's always so much information that needs to come across, and it feels like simply telling is the most efficient way to convey that. We want to educate the reader on all the necessary information before moving into the story. Unfortunately, we forget that all that world-building and information is usually not the most interesting stuff, or that it's only interesting to us. I hope I've moved past my most egregious info-dumping moments.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Control over the Classroom and the Story

     Before each semester, professors across the world set out at an arduous task. We revise our syllabi policies. We build on experience, seeing what works and what doesn't work. What has been exploited, and what encourages learning. The resulting changes often feel like legal contracts with many clauses and restrictions.
      I don't like it.
      Not only does it take a toll on me trying to figure out a way to wrangle the policies in a way that works, but prevents undesirable behavior, it creates an totalitarian air to the classroom and the policies. While I understand that young children often need the discipline and structure rules provide, I teach adults. I know from experience and my own heritage that such rules and discipline can often provoke the wrong response. I have some of the famed "Missouri Stubborn" stock in me, so in the face of such rules and restrictions, the impulse is to rebel.
      Moreover, these rules feel oppressive and prevent a lot of participation by certain members of the class, who see no point in contributing since the class is handed down from the professor, and their views do not matter.
      I've been thinking long and hard about these ideas; I've gradually been moving towards more student autonomy, to encouraging them to act and do for themselves. So now I'm prepared to do what I'm sure many professors would consider the unthinkable.
      I'm giving up control.
      I'm going to put classroom policies in the hands of the students. They will be responsible for setting them. I feel it's the only way to truly give them ownership of their education. I hope it will bring them together and show them they can freely express their ideas, and that people will recognize and pay attention to those ideas.
      I'm excited and terrified. I have no idea how it will turn out. This will either be one of the greatest successes or colossal failures.
      Stories are the same way. Stories come best when they're not forced. Writer's block is what happens when I try to force the story too much. Sure, there's always grinding, just churning out those bits that need to be there, but by easing up on the reins, the story is able to go where it must.

Friday, August 3, 2012

F3 That Guy

     "So, listen," the strange man in the fedora said, "these things are after you. There's some kind of rumor of prophecy going around. The other side. Well, that's not true. One of the other sides is out to get you." He pointed a finger at me.
      "M-me? Why me?"

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Research Necessities

     Research can be a pain in the butt. It's a necessary one, though, wherein I find out the information I need to make a scene more authentic. Most of the time it's a subject I find interesting, and wanted to know about, anyway. However, there is one project that is looming on the horizon wherein the research will be something that I have to study hard and really learn. Moreover, it's a subject where there will be a good deal of math and other computations. I don't have to make it super-authentic, but I want it to have a level of authenticity. I also need to sharpen up my thinking skills, and, as Spock indirectly suggests, stop thinking in two dimensions.
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