Thursday, December 24, 2009

You can read and search Swain's _Techniques of the Selling Writer_ on Google Books

I've previously mentioned the highly helpful Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain on this blog. Just now I was doing some writing and wanted to refer to it, and I'm away from home and don't have access to it. But I was able to locate it on Google Books, and search through it, and find useful stuff. The Singularity is very near. Where do I sign up to upload my brain?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Planet 51 was a blast

Just saw the CGI-animated movie Planet 51, very much enjoyed it. Some tidbits:

  • Tons of little sci-fi asides, like a shot that echoes the flying bicycle shots of E.T.
  • The titular planet is effectively in its own 1950s. No explanation for this is offered. But the styling of all vehicles and buildings and props is Popular Science UFO meets widebody 50s cars. At least one of the vehicles looks like a moving Denny's.
  • John Cleese has a fun voice role. So does The Rock.
  • The main character, Lem, is voiced by a guy who also did a voice in Terra...another recent scifi animated flick that was good.


One thing: this one chronicles earth-meets-aliens with a happy ending.But it's about a single earthman visiting the planet, and being surprised to find life there. I don't hold out a lot of hope for a happy sequel. Imagine what happens when earthmen return in force, with McDonalds and Halliburton in tow? All available historical examples suggest total culture destruction.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Armenian Rhapsody

I was telling my lovely wife, earlier this month, about an article I read, about why Armenians are so good at chess, and she interrupted with this: "Because they divided their country up into 64 squares?"

I've been noticing that the kids are trying really hard to make puns lately. Chloe used to try them and just fail miserably. But she's learning to make them work. I do this rhyming-pun game all the time...taking a word and varying it...and the kids are joining in lately. I don't know what to call this game: the classic example is porcupine. You've got the table variant (forkupine), the silly one (dorkupine), the bulletin board (corkupine), and on and on.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Costume idea: Star Wars

...the whole movie. Go as Star Wars, the whole thing. That is, wear all black, and cover yourself with action figures.

This idea might only make sense to people who have a box of Star Wars action figures lying around. I mean, it just bothers me that they sit there, unplayed with. Forlorn, even.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Make a complex walking robot with just two motors

I'm kind of in love with this project. I had noticed the Jansen walker devices a while back. But I didn't realize anyone made smaller versions. I like walker-type robots, but usually they involve lots of motors for all the different joints. This method does all the complex movement via linkages between the parts. So you get this complicated-looking bot, but the electronics can just be an Arduino controlling 2 motors, or perhaps a Lego NXT doing the same.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My camp popcorn story

Somehow, in the car, driving Chloe somewhere, we got to talking about popcorn. I asked her if she wanted to hear my popcorn story.

Back when I was a junior in college, I took a summer job teaching juggling to kids in a camp up in Pennsylvania. The camp didn't have many beanbags for the kids to use, so I spent some time sewing some up. I found some ratty cloth and started cutting diamond shapes and sewing them together. The cloth was some kind of synthetic monstrostity with a sort of mesh supporting some fluff.

Now I needed something to stuff these beanbags with, and I thought it'd be a great idea to use popcorn kernels, because the camp had plenty of those...they served us popcorn in the evenings. But I didn't reckon with the sharp points of the kernels. I laboriously hand-sewed many beanbags, only to find that within a couple of weeks, the kernels wore holes in the cheap fabric. Not a one of those beanbags lasted the summer.

That was just one of the lessons I took home from that summer. The other big one was that camps are aimed at pleasing the kids, not the counselors they hire for a pittance. But that's another story.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

_Collapse_ by Jared Diamond

Image clipped from the cover art on Amazon, and linked to the same.

I liked this book a lot. I didn't quite finish it because I had to return it before the Christmas vacation. For a 600+-page tome, it read fast. The basic premise is that we can learn something from looking at the factors that led to the failures of various societies. Diamond develops a multi-factor model that accounts for environmental causes but doesn't lay all the blame there. He talks about deforestation extensively, with some very interesting examples...the image of the person who cut down the last tree on Easter Island is striking. The chapter about China's environmental woes is painful, and the realization that all the Chinese want is the same standard of living we have here...and that the world probably can't support that for everyone...was scary.

Jared Diamond you may better know as the author of Guns, Germs, and Steel. He's worth treasuring for this quote alone:

"Just think what the course of world history might have been like if Africa's rhinos and hippos had lent themselves to domestication! If that had been possible, African cavalry mounted on rhinos or hippos would have made mincemeat of European cavalry mounted on horses. But it couldn't happen."

For the explanation of that, see Guns, Germs, and Steel. :)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Corey Doctorow gets by on 500 words a day

It was nice to hear that one of my favorite writers uses 500 words as his daily standard for the novels he's working on. I rather enjoyed this article.

Of course, he's also writing 500 other things. But I'll take my encouragement where I can get it.

Today will be day 53 of writing 500 words a day for me, so I'll soon reach my 60 day goal. Maybe I'll keep this one for a while, I do like it.

Speaking of Doctorow, I am enjoying his book Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town right now. It is freaky weird. It lays down a pattern of normalcy and then sends it all to heck. So far, it's alternately hilarious and scary and I love it.

I'm reading it on my phone, though, so I'm really only reading it when I'm caught at loose ends. I'm not trying to barrel through it. I have four or five books on my phone right now and I want to keep 'em around for Christmas travel. This'll be the first test of how useful such books are when I really need a lotta reading material.