Saturday, May 30, 2009

The perils of editing

One of the problems I have with editing is that nothing is ever perfect from an artistic standpoint. Thus, I can read the same passage five times and find five things to tweak. Five more rereads will find five more tweaks. Eventually, the odds of a tweak fixing things is so slim that I would be better off buying lotto tickets, but I still find things that could be improved. Of course, given the ease of editing an electronic document, my modus operandi is to make the tweak as I see it, so I don't forget it.

The trouble is that when I've been away from something for more than a few days, I need to reread the section before to get back in the swing of things. Which means I see things that need to be tweaked. This leads to days like today, where I wrote for nearly four hours and wound up only getting five hundred new words on the page. Of course, I tweaked at least five scenes, adding, removing, or otherwise changing an average of a hundred words each.

Which is a sorry word count for that much time spent, but I did at least get back in the groove once I got writing.

On a completely different topic; is it unrealistic for someone to have a phobia about something they don't believe exists?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A few notes on Writing

First, on the days I'm not writing here, I'm probably working on one of my novels, most likely the first draft of Ordinal.

Second, most of what you're seeing here is rough drafts. They're not highly edited or polished, they're the raw stuff coming out of my head. Hence the title. I hope I'll get better at polishing as I write, but until then things might be a little rough at times. Feel free to poke sticks at the rough spots, but be forewarned they'll be there.

Third, thanks to DMB for the pointer to the progress bars. I'll be tinkering and adding progress bars on my non-Blog projects, so those of you who might be interested can see.

Finally, thanks to both of my readers for commenting. It really makes me feel all warm and cuddly to know someone is actually reading this.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Musing on Ignorance

So on rereading, I realized that the earlier Definitions post makes me sound a bit like an arrogant, elitist bastard. Which I really need to correct.

I'm not elitist at all.

Don't get me wrong, I used to be, but musing on those ideas was what actually made me realize one of the bigger failures of elitism. To start with, when talking about 'elitism', I'm talking about the idea that some group of people is just 'better' than other people. More desirable in any situation. I could keep describing, but I think you get the point here.

I was, at one time, what one might call a 'reverse elitist'. I wasn't for any particular group, but I was certain that deliberately ignorant people are worse in all possible cases. Of course, with that postulate in mind, I started thinking about why that might be the case. That's when I realized it wasn't true. Mostly because 'Ignorance' is so very ubiquitous.

Ignorance. Lack of knowledge. Everyone is ignorant of something. There is no one who knows everything. As an aside, I don't believe that it's impossible to know everything, as I find acceptance of impossibility to be something of a cop-out, but I do not believe that any human person currently possesses the sum total of human knowledge. Which means that Jay and Dom are wrong, but don't tell them I said that. So everyone is ignorant of something. Not only is everyone ignorant of something, but there are times when people deliberately refuse to acknowledge information. I'm sure everyone out there can think of an example.

Here's the sticking point. There are times when ignorance, even temporary ignorance, is required for some virtue. A fireman knows the risks of going into a collapsing structure. However, most of them who describe doing just that will usually say they 'weren't thinking about that'. They were 'doing what had to be done'. If you'll remember, I mentioned in my last post that I don't value judge (assign automatically as good or bad) ignorance. Courageous people are one reason why. They deliberately ignore physical danger in order to do something for the greater good.

In a wider light, I've been reading Science of Discworld recently, and it illustrates that all life is precarious, constantly threatened by catastrophe. In day to day life, most people choose to remain ignorant of that fact. That ignorance is all that keeps people going, that keeps them moving forward, that keeps them building a society that might, someday, become catastrophe proof. Much of which is done by lack of ignorance, but none of which would be possible without it.

So. I'm planning on becoming a teacher. To dedicate some portion of my life to the eradication of ignorance. I'm already writing, and like most science fiction writers putting bits of knowledge in to remove more of it. All this knowing that ignorance is a near requirement for success. In part, that's because I really don't think it's possible to eradicate ignorance. In part, it's because the neccessary ignorance can be manufactured at need with adrenaline and endorphins. In part, it's because I hope for a world which is both catastrophe proof and ignorance optional.

But mostly it's because I still don't like ignorance.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Apes & Angels

I'm sure many of you have heard the Pratchett quote which reads something like 'Man is the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape'. Quite a few people I know are enamored of the image. Most of them are religious sorts, which in and of itself is a touch ironic, given Pratchett. Most of those focus on the image of themselves being analagous to the falling angel. Divine, tragic, in some way better than the poor fleshly creatures they are surrounded by.

The relevant part they seem to miss? The ape is the one who is headed the right direction.

Defining Ignorant, Stupid, Intelligent and Dumb

One of the primary problems communicating with the English language is connotation and mutating meaning. However, it is one of the things that can make English such a powerful communication tool. With that in mind, from time to time I intend to post short essays defining how I use words.

In this case, I'll be talking about four words I think about often, two of which are really grades on the same scale.

The first word is Ignorance. The Bob Standard Definition of Ignorance is a lack of knowledge. Please note that I do not place any value judgement on ignorant people based on their ignorance. It is possible to be ignorant and not be at fault for your ignorance. Children are born ignorant. Those not taught to read face a much harder task combating or controlling their own ignorance. Judging someone for being Ignorant is like judging someone for being poor, just like judging someone for being knowledgeable is like judging someone for being rich. As an additional aside, there are a number of side effects of Ignorance. People possessing some of those side effects are also value judged by society at large. I do not, for the same reasons I don't value judge people who are ignorant for being ignorant.

The next word(s) are Intelligent and Dumb. Both are descriptors for processing and learning rates. The Bob Standard Definition of Intelligent is someone who processes information and learns more quickly than average. The Bob Standard Definition of Dumb is someone who processes information and learns more slowly than average. Again, no value judgements there, although in this case we're talking about inherent or inherited traits rather than default or acquired ones. Being prejudiced against the Intelligent or the Dumb is like being prejudiced against someone for the color of their skin or how tall they are. Like other inherent traits, it might predispose you to excelling at certain tasks, but talent doesn't make you a better or worse person.

The final word of the day is Stupidity. I reserve that word for the condition of being deliberately Ignorant. Until recently, I have placed value judgements on Stupidity, and they have been uniformly bad. I haven't stopped value judging based on Stupidity, but I have seen instances where I didn't find it bad. I have realized that there are times when the only way humanity has continued to thrive is that certain humans were ignorant. Since I like humanity thriving, because the quadruped has not yet been born who can create a good deep dish pizza or code a interesting and visually appealing video game, I am forced to judge judicious use of ignorance as the lesser of evils.

So, there you go. Ignorance is lack of knowledge, Dumb is lack of processing power, Stupidity is deliberate Ignorance. I'm going to be looking further into this later, when I talk about the side effects and grades of Ignorance, and discuss Weapons Grade Ignorance and similar concepts.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Teaching, Lies and Patience

As some of you may know, I'm applying for a teaching certificate. Some of you who didn't know are probably saying 'wait, isn't that putting students into Bob's Head on a regular basis?'. Probably, but Only a very specialized part of it that deals with Biology. Ok, that might not be better. Biological Science is one of those fields that squicks people. Still, High School Biology only leaves so much room for squick. In point of fact, my own preference is for less squick; molecular biology rather than zoology. Anyhow, I still remember enough to ace the Praxis general science test and score over 90% on the biology test, so I know the material. Now it's just a question of background checks and such. With the level of checking done in the past, I'm not too worried about that bit.

There are advantages and disadvantages to teaching as a career. One disadvantage is a comparitively low pay rate. One advantage is that pay rate increases reliably once you've achieved tenure. Another advantage is benefits. I was recently talking to my dad, who is due to retire from teaching in another half dozen years or so. I asked him how much he pays for health insurance. His response of 'Pay? You mean deductible?' floored me. I've been used to having half a grand or more docked from my pay each month to pay medical. Actually, if I add that money back onto the pot, it makes up about half the difference from my old job and a teacher's starting salary. Retirement benefits are another perk. The only 'retirement' fund available to me previously was a 401K. Employer-paid pension funds don't happen often for IT folks, and they don't happen at all for IT consultants. My dad's retirement is going to be better than what I was making at my last job, by quite a good margin. Don't get me wrong; I don't begrudge him that, but I've been employed for roughly 18 of the last 20 years and not once have I had an employer do more than 'matching funds, vested when you've been with the company longer than we keep employees'.

So yeah. Teaching looks better and better from an economics standpoint. Then there's the work itself. I hear a lot of teachers complaining about a lack of respect, but I can't think of a single person I'd be embarrassed to tell what I did for a living as a teacher. More importantly, I don't think there's a single person I'd need to tell what teaching is. You just say 'I'm a teacher', and they reply 'what do you teach', and you respond with a subject or grade level for elementary teachers. I've had hour long discussions with people about what a Project Manager does, and there are people who still think I wrote code for a living. Then again, that's a popular misconception: if you are in IT, anywhere in IT, you write code. The popular belief is that you also know how to solder, can't spell, live with your parents and are bereft of meaningful social skills.

OK, each of those is accurate in some cases. Some IT guys write code, although they're mostly in departments that have broken themselves off from 'IT' now. Some IT guys can repair electronics, although most of them realize that it's cheaper, more reliable and faster to swap out the broken part for a new one. More than one IT person I know of can't spell beyond a phonetic level, but that's by no means a universal trait. I know of a few IT folks who lived with parents until later in life, but that was mostly a cost-saving measure, not a social one. Finally, I've known IT guys with no social skills, but I've known many other professionals with no socials skills to speak of either. Actually a final note is that I've known nearly as many women in IT as I've known men, so they're not all 'guys', except in a metaphoric sense.

That actually leads into my next point, which relates to teaching. Terry Pratchett nailed it in The Science of Discworld, where he referred to it as 'lies to X', the most repeated version being 'lies to children' which are generally imparted by teachers attempting to get students to understand something at a basic level. People tell lies for a variety of reasons, but a very common reason is when they can't understand something and need a simplified version to grasp. In the case of IT guys, the original IT guys were a iconoclastic bunch, with the only unifying characteristic being that iconoclasty and a rather different worldview, one in which things worked if you follow rules. Minus the iconoclasty, that's rather the same as clockmakers and engineers, so the stereotype of the IT guy was born as a 'particularly weird engineer'.

Similar things happen with the sciences at a high school level. I realized once I was in college that High School Biology covered biology up until, say, the mid 1800's, with vague allusions to the 1900's. Bio I & II in college covered that same ground, but actually pulled in some information from the 50's. It wasn't until I hit junior & senior level coursework that I started learning things from my own lifetime. Quite often, they contradicted things that I had learned in High School, just as later discoveries contradicted things that were believed earlier. In some cases it was clarification rather than contradiction, but there were some contradictions. There were some huge ones in my physics courses, as I recall, and even some in my Chemistry courses, although I couldn't be sure; my High School Chemistry was too involved with making things go 'boom'. So there exists the very real possibility that I'll need to simplify things to the point of being incorrect in order to simplify them enough for students to understand. I hope not, but we shall see.

Either way, Teaching will be a different kind of career for me. My previous career, IT, is all about speed. Make it work faster, get it done faster. Cheaper is often a goal too, but faster is the name of the game, especially as a consulting IT person. For those in need of clarification, a 'consulting' IT person is one who doesn't work for the company he's supporting. He works for a dedicated IT company, which lives or dies based on the contracts it gets. Teaching isn't.

About speed, that is. Short of reverse engineering the brain and uploading memories, there's no way to speed up the learning process. So I'll be forced to slow down, from a tactical perspective. From a strategic one, too. Ask anyone in IT, and they'll have a plan for early retirement, if they plan for it at all. It may not be a good plan, but they've got one. Teaching, on the other hand, is a long term thing. It's a different way of thinking, one more suited to patience and contemplation. Those of you who have read this far might guess that I'm all about contemplation. Plus, there are summers off. To a guy who once had multiple employers seriously care that people were 'unproductive' during the 30 to 90 second periods when we were waiting for the phone to ring, the idea of two to three months of scheduled downtime is downright odd.

So yeah. I'm hoping that CE comes through soon, because all in all, teaching looks like a place I'd like to be.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Writing, Inspiration and Schedules

So, as noted in last night's post, I'm writing about why I've falled off schedule.

There are quite a few reasons for the delay. Some of them have to do with my job search. Some of them have to do with having two little boys in the house. Most of them, however, have to do with the state of mind conducive to writing, when it happens, and the lack of writing implements of all kinds appropriate to those times.

OK, they're excuses more than reasons, but that's why I'm also going to be writing about what I'll be doing about it.

At any rate, I get most of my best ideas for writing when I'm doing something that might be described as active meditation. I'm not implying anything mystical by that, either; I simply can think more clearly when I'm doing something more or less mindless. I suppose it's because that part of my subconscious that reminds me about daily chores, bills to be paid, and eating lunch is busy dealing with something that I ought to be doing, so my conscious mind can pay attention to more interesting things, like ideas and wordplay. For whatever reason, though, I get a lot of writing ideas when I'm working out, cooking, or driving.

Yes, driving. Driving is a mindless activity. If I may be allowed a small tangent; a mindless activity is one where no decisions need to be made. In most cases, driving qualifies. Route? Mostly to the same places, the grocery store, the gym, work, relatives. No thought required. Speed? Mandated by law. General road behavior? Also mandated by law. A driver needs to be aware, but that's not the same as making decisions. It engages the senses and the body, but if you're having to make decisions about whether or not to do something while driving, you're probably doing it wrong.

Now that I think about it, that may be my next essay; how I learned to drive and why it worked.

This essay, on the other hand, is about writing, inspiration, and schedules. As noted, I get most of my inspiration for writing, whether fiction, essay, or just pithy little sayings, while I'm doing something that occupies body and subconscious. The trouble with this, of course, is that the former is required for recording those inspirations, even as very abbreviated notes. In some cases, stopping to take notes would be inconvenient and break the mental state I need to continue writing. Working out qualifies for one of those, as does chores. In others, like driving, stopping to take notes is actively dangerous. It does require the senses and body engaged, after all.

At any rate, writing nonfiction without ideas or fiction without plot, characterization, or dialogue is very likely to wind up as literary fiction. As the defining objective characteristic of literary fiction is that no one reads it, and I want people to read what I'm writing, writing that way is counterproductive.

Ok, new tangent, complete non sequitor. Has anyone else realized that the (not quite new) McDonalds commercial basically is positing that Ronald is the creator-god? For those of you that missed it, it's the one where the kids are looking through a telescope and there's nothing there. Ronald looks out, says 'oh, I know what to do', and throws out a handfull of star-stuff which then becomes the night sky. Now, whether you read this as Mickey D's asserting that Ronald is God, or read it as Mickey D's asserting that they've so much money that they hired God to play Ronald, I still find it vaguely offensive. For aesthetic reasons, not religious ones, but still.

Ok, back to the matter at hand; my best writing thinking is done when I've no way to get it on paper. That mostly has to do with state of mind. The question is how to get into that state while not in a situation where I can't use it. The answer is, unfortunately, rather prosaic. Practice, practice, practice. I've got to get into a habit where I can, if not turning the ideas and inspiration on and off like a tap, at least summon it up with a minimum of fuss. In order to do that, I've got to practice. In order to make sure I do that, I need to set up a schedule.

I've got to sort something out where the kids won't be jumping up and interrupting too bad. Right now I'm typing with a toddler over the shoulder, and trust me when I say we're all very grateful for the backspace key. That's very much a matter of scheduling. Since the wife and I swap days watching them, at least while I'm unemployed, I should be able to sit down to write once every two days. So that's the plan. Once every two days I'm going to sit down and write something here. It may be an essay. It may be an anecdote. It might, possibly, be a note that I'm going to write more of Ordinal. One way or another, I'll be writing something here on a regular basis.

Because it's the only way I can get this unruly head of mine tamed.

Yeah, like that's going to happen. Still, I have to try in order to have a chance at success.

As Trip noted...

I've not quite maintained my desired posting schedule. There are a variety of reasons for that, but the biggest one is actually going to be the topic of my next post (which should be up by tomorrow evening) regarding writing, inspiration, and schedules.

Sorry for the delay. Habits are as hard to start as they are to break.