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My walk was the walk of a human child, but my heart was a tree.

"Whenever you see an oak-tree felled, swear now you will plant two."

3/25/16 09:42 pm - Fifty (questionable) writing tips

Marginalia scribbled while reading an article called "50 Writing Tips from my 15 Years as an Author":

One of the questions I’m asked on a daily basis is some form of, “I want to become an author. Can you help?”
-- Sure. Sit down and WRITE THE DAMN STORY.

2. Writing a book is a wonderful gift to leave your children and a way to ensure your legacy.
-- Here's your mother's last will and testament. It says... "Hey kids, I wrote a book once."

3. The root of “authority” is author; nothing will do more for your business or career than writing a non-fiction book.
-- Okay, I'll write a book about the etymological fallacy.

5. If you have ever given someone advice that they have found helpful, you can write a non-fiction book.
-- But have you stopped to consider whether you should?

7. If you’ve ever told your friends a story that made them laugh, cry, or say, “So what did you do?” or “No way!” you can write a novel.
-- Especially if your stories last a day and a half. But you might have trouble getting your friends to beta read.

8. If you can speak you can write; you don’t need to have done well in English class—or even in school—to be a writer.
-- That explains a lot about the stuff you find in bookshops.

9. “I want to write a book, I just don’t know what to write about.” Well, you clearly need to get a life, or at least read more.
-- Kudos for this one, though. More lists should tell the reader to get a life.

10. “I have a great idea for a book, but just don’t have the time to write it.” Oh, why didn’t you say so? Want to borrow my magical author-time-machine? It’s right over here…all writers have one. We call it the shut-off-the-TV-stop-posting-on-Facebook-and-get-your-butt-out-of-bed-at-5-in-the-morning device. Doesn’t even need batteries.
-- Really? Who stole *my* "get out of bed at 5am" device? Though after a few days of that, you'll be needing the batteries.

11. “But my grammar and spelling is horrible.” Fine, write a horrible book and hire an editor to clean it up.
-- "But my bank balance is horrible." Tough.

12. Write your book for a single person.
-- Especially if it's called something like "How to find a girlfriend."

13. Spend a ridiculous amount of time coming up with an “avatar” for your ideal reader, or spend one minute picking someone you actually know in the real world and write it for her.
-- Better, spend a ridiculous amount of time WRITING THE DAMN STORY.

21. The seventh most important variable in the success of a book is the quality of your writing.
-- That explains a *lot* about the stuff you find in bookshops.

24. Social media is a great way to connect with influencers.
-- So turn that "get off Facebook" machine back off again, okay?

26. The only book marketing expenditure that actually has a positive ROI (i.e., doesn’t just build awareness but actually moves books) is paying for placement in airport bookstores or display tables in Barnes & Noble. Oh, and sometimes Facebook ads.
-- "But my bank balance is horrible." Tough.

27. Readers are fascinated by authors; remember in the midst of your poverty and despair you actually have fans.
-- "But my bank balance is...." wait, poverty and despair?

28. For non-fiction, your fans want to know your zero-to-hero story.
-- Anyone can write, as long as they have an inspiring and successful life.

29. For fiction, your fans want to know about your (idealized) lifestyle and creative techniques.
-- They don't give a damn about my lifestyle. They want to READ THE DAMN STORY.

30. New authors should spend more time building their tribe than actually writing. (Yes, reality stinks.)
-- Put off writing the book for as long as possible.

33. Many authors supplement their royalties with income from speeches, courses, coaching, teaching and consulting. (Yes, again, reality stinks.)
-- Or, in the real world, by having a day job.

34. Most successful authors are prolific—they write one or more books each year.
-- Thank you, Captain Obvious.

35. Most successful authors slay the same dragon over and over again. (Lee Child has written 20 Jack Reacher novels; John Maxwell has written over 50 leadership books.)
-- It gets pretty easy when you can write your book with Word's mail merge function.

38. “Is it better to be a Pantser or a Plotter?” Shut up, stop procrastinating and get back to writing.
-- Whether you should prepare or start writing straight away was exactly what the question was about, you berk.

40. Writer’s block is laziness or lack of preparation.
-- You JUST SAID that preparation was a kind of procrastination. You berk.

41. If you have “writer’s block” try speaking your book into a microphone and have it transcribed; have you ever had speaker’s block? Didn’t think so.
-- Ever been lost for words? Didn't think so. (Also, "have it transcribed", but my bank balance is horrible...)

42. Pictures, illustrations or doodles immediately make your book stand out from the competition.
-- True! These are the first ones the publishers notice, and they have a special round file for them.

49. Write drunk; edit sober.
-- Let's say you can write 1000 good words every day. You're going to be drunk every night for two months. After that it'll be difficult to do any editing.

50. Life is about making an impact, not an income. And writers who know what they’re doing make both.
-- It's true, they do make both. Just not much of either. This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/363994.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

3/22/16 10:19 am - Fondue Man

"You know Ice Man, right?"

"Uh?"

"Ice Man. Like, the superhero."

"Yeah?"

"Well, he goes around by making ice, and he rides along it. What happens to all the ice? Like, is there ice left all over the town?"

"It probably melts."

"Oh, true. But it would be a problem if there was, like, an evil villain person who wanted to catch him, he could just follow the ice... I suppose it's a good job it's ice, though. There must be a whole load of superheroes who have it worse, like... Fondue Man... can you imagine, having to ride along on a wave of fondue, and leaving it all over the place? Imagine the smell."

"Imagine the rats!"

"Oh, I think the rats are his sidekicks, and they solve problems for him, like the cat in Hong Kong Phooey."
 

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/362969.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

3/21/16 10:24 pm - woke, adj.

I'm putting together an OED submission for the AAVE adjective woke, as in politically conscious. If anyone could suggest citations or defintiions, I'd appreciate it.

woke, adj. (orig.US, AAVE) aware of current events; politically conscious. Often in phrase stay woke.

Citations I have so far:An especially useful overview: http://fusion.net/story/252567/stay-woke/
This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/362650.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

3/19/16 01:07 pm - The Interrogation of the Good

THE INTERROGATION OF THE GOOD
by Bertolt Brecht

Step forward: we hear
That you are a good man.

You cannot be bought, but the lightning
Which strikes the house, also
Cannot be bought.
You hold to what you said.
But what did you say?
You are honest, you say your opinion.
Which opinion?
You are brave.
Against whom?
You are wise.
For whom?
You do not consider your personal advantages.
Whose advantages do you consider then?
You are a good friend.
Are you also a good friend of the good people?

Hear us then: we know.
You are our enemy. This is why we shall
Now put you in front of a wall. But in consideration
of your merits and good qualities
We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you
With a good bullet from a good gun and bury you
With a good shovel in the good earth.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/362457.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

3/16/16 10:04 am - Thames Television "Database", 1984 - part two

A very helpful anon pointed out on the last post that the code to print stars and spaces, whcih I'd taken for mere decoration, actually prints a simple crossword grid:

          2
        4 *
        * *
      1******
        * *
      3******
        *


1) Arresting pop group
2) _ to me only
3) Four-star transport
4) Underwater computer language?

Possible answers in comments (on the Dreamwidth entry, Livejournallers).

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/361855.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

3/15/16 11:04 pm - Thames Television "Database", 1984

Today I decoded the secret competition questions from a 1984 Thames Television computer show. I still don't know the answers, but I'm probably a bit late to send in a postcard!

A friend pointed out this copy of Thames Television's 1984 Database programme, and wondered what the files transmitted over the closing credits are.



I took a look at the audio. All the signal is on the right channel, so I threw away the left. This is what the remaining channel looks like:
http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~tthurman/thames/waveform.png

You can see that most of the signal is a lead tone, and there are two files each of four blocks. In fact the files have the same content, and they're both called THAMES.

Before I did any analysis on the waveform, though, I amplified it so that all peaks were at the same volume, on the grounds that the volume isn't significant. At first I tried to load these files into BeebEm. The trouble is that BeebEm doesn't take .wav files directly-- you have to convert them to a format called .uef-- and the conversion programs were reallyt finicky with noisy signals. And this signla is very noisy, having been transmitted over UHF, recorded on home video, and then digitised. In the end, I ended up writing my own demodulator based on the specs given here. Then I ran the file from the tape through Matt Godbolt's BBCBasicToText script, ,slightly modified not to give up around the occasional bit of noise.

Fortunately, the resulting file did not say "be sure to drink your Ovaltine".. BBCBasicToText doesn't implement target line number conversion, so those are missing, and as you see some noise remains. This has been an interesting diversion-- sort of like a cryptic crossword puzzle.

10MODE7:COLOUR129:CLS
20PRINT"Thames  Television"
30 PRINT"-------------------"
40PRINT:PRINT:PRINT"DATABASE COMPETITION"
50 PRINT:PRINT:PRINT:PRINT"Send solutions on a postcard only to:"
60PRINT:PRINT"    Database"
70PRINT"     THAMES TV"
80PRINT"      149 TOTTENHAM COURT ROAD"
90PRINT"       LONDON"
100PRINT"        W1P 9LL"
109 PRINT:PRINT:FOR"PRNOTLN SPACE BAR TO CONTINUE"
110 A$=GET$:IFA$="" THEN 110
111 IFA$<>" "THEN 110
120 MODE5
130COLOUR129:CLS
140PRINT:PRINT;
150FORI=1TO8:READA$:IFI=1 THENGOTO [...line...] ELSE [...line...]
160 COLOUR4:GOTO180
170 IFI=5THENCOLOUR3ELSE COLOURI
180PRINTA$;:NEXT
190COLOUR3=PRINT" COMPETITION"
195PRINT"--------------------"
200 PRINT:PRINT:PRINT:PRINT:PRINT
210COLOUR2:PRINTSPC( [... corrupt ...]
220COLOUR2:PRINTSPC(8);"4";
230COLOUR3:PRINT" *"
240COLOUR3:PRINTSPC(8);"* *"
250COLOUR2::PRINTSPC(6);"1";:COLOUR3:PRINT"******" 
260PRINTSPC(8);"* *"
270COLOUR2::PRINTSPC(6);"3";:COLOUR3:PRINT"******"
280PRINTSPC(8);"*"
290PRINT:PRINT:PRINT:COLOUR2:PRINT"1.";:COLOUR6:PRINT" Arresting pop       group1
300 PRINT:COLOUR2:PRINT"2.";:COLOUR4:PRINT"_ to me only" 
310PRINT:COLOUR2:PRINT"3.";:COLOUR4:PRINT" Four star           transport"
320PRINT:COLOUR2:PRINT"4.";:COLOUR4:PRINT" Underwater         computer language?"
325 GOTO [...line...]
330"DATA "D","A","T","A","B","A","S","E"

One last mystery remains: what are the answers to the competition questions? (Edit: we have answers!)
This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/361588.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
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3/5/16 04:43 pm - golden ticket

Many years back, I had to give someone a suppository.

Me: Oh weird, it comes in a blister pack, and it says on the front that only one of the blisters has the suppository in.
Them: So why are you breaking all of them?
Me: Um... I was looking for a golden ticket to go round the suppository factory.
(Pause.)
Me: OMG, the Oompa-Loompas!

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/360818.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

3/5/16 01:00 pm - Everybody's dead, Terence

[murder, suicide, execution]

Two parodies of A E Housman's "A Shropshire Lad" that I found on Wikipedia. (They're dead, Terence, everybody's dead, everybody is dead, Terence.)

by Humbert Wolfe:

When lads have done with labour
In Shropshire, one will cry
"Let's go and kill a neighbour,"
And t'other answers "Aye!"
So this one kills his cousins,
And that one kills his dad;
And, as they hang by dozens
At Ludlow, lad by lad,
Each of them one-and-twenty,
All of them murderers,
The hangman mutters: "Plenty
Even for Housman's verse."

by Hugh Kingsmill:

What, still alive at twenty-two,
A clean upstanding chap like you?
Why, if your throat is hard to slit,
Slit your girl's and swing for it!
Like enough you won't be glad
When they come to hang you, lad,
But bacon's not the only thing
That's cured by hanging from a string.
When the blotting pad of night
Sucks the latest drop of light,
Lads whose job is still to do
Shall whet their knives and think of you.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/360635.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

3/3/16 02:13 am - Scars are my stories

Written around me, written within:
scars of my lifetime show on my skin.
This is a tooth I broke in a fight.
Here's where I tumbled, dancing all night.
Sites of injections. Chicken-pox spot.
Name of a lover better forgot.

Words in the open, words never said,
all of my stories hide in my head.
Tell me a story: now, evermore,
life has a pattern hidden before.
Tales of a lifetime carved in my brain
whisper politely: Tell me again.

Hid in a heartbeat, sung to the stars:
scars are my stories, stories my scars.


This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/360262.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
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2/26/16 10:18 pm - "I've been to Sellafield!"

When I was about ten, my dad took us to the visitor centre at the Sellafield nuclear power station. The government were very keen to show it off, especially given how soon it was after the Chernobyl disaster, so there was a lot to see, and we were given cheerful badges saying "I've been to Sellafield!". (Unfortunately, they'd recently stopped allowing you to walk across the roof of the reactor hall.)

As we were walking around the site:

Little Marn: What do you think was here before the power station?
My dad: Probably all farmland.
Little Marn: And the government bought it all?
My dad: I should think it was a compulsory purchase.
Little Marn: So they made the farmers sell a field?
My dad: .....

I was like that as a kid.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/359652.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
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