Saturday, February 02, 2008

Sometimes you manage to not say things

During a meeting today wearing 'Red' came up. I had heard about it and was in fact wearing a nice Red tie so I was covered for whatever it was. Unfortunately, I still don't really have any idea what it was all about because when someone else asked that very question I had to focus my efforts on the brain - mouth link. I did hear something about hearts and women, and hey, "I heart women" so yeah, I'm all for it.
Generally when someone asks a question something in my mind takes a quick shuffle and throws out the most unusual combination of related things that somehow might be reasonable. To this question it wound up being, "It's like a medal, it means you killed a midget during one on one battle." Which I immediately knew was not something I should actually say but as is often the case I spent the next few minutes of the meeting trying to figure out where it came from and what I would have followed that up with when someone called me on it. Which, strangely, people rarely do. I highly suggest that if someone says something like this you should respond with, "What the F@&%?"

  1. Wearing colors on specific days somehow makes things, like curing cancer, happen. OK?
  2. St. Patrick's day is the biggest wear a color day.
  3. Leprechauns.
  4. "It's like a medal, it means you killed a midget in one on one battle."
  5. "Matt, Dude... What the F@&%?"
  6. "Sorry, when I was kid I asked my Grandpa why people wear Green on St. Patrick's day and he said: 'Well, these days it seems to mean your thirsty, but when I was your age it meant you'd fought in the war and killed one of those bastard Leprechauns in defense of your liberty, country, and daughters virginity!' I was 12 before someone corrected me and now days whenever someone talks about wearing colors for something it makes me think of my Grandpa. You don't want to know what he said when I asked him about virginity."
Yes, that is how my mind works. I don't mean to offend (or intend to attack in a effort to earn a medal) any midgets, nor to imply they are all magical. If the connection my mind made upset you please take you aggression out on the WWE and Hornswaggle as I've seen more of him than any other small person... ever.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas 2007 - A Damn Near White Christmas

I've lived in "Snow Country" for six and a half years and this is the closest I've come to having a White Christmas. I've had plenty of snow around the holiday, getting snow the day before and the day after, but crystal clear on the actual day. I'm plenty old enough to understand that it won't actually make the day any better, dry turkey won't magically start sweating on the table, Grandma's mug of Eggnog won't fill itself, like the magic medicine bottle she acts like it is and that doorbell won't ring with that long lost friend/relative you were just talking about on the other side.

We got a couple hours of snow but it was those tiny flakes that people in California would talk about for years, I myself remember it snowing exactly twice in my life down in San Jose, once in 78 or 79 and again almost exactly 10 years later. It never stuck to the ground and I didn't even get to make a snowball but it was so outrageous that I know I'll remember it for quite a few more years.

When it got dark it snowed for another half hour and it was just enough to stick to the tops of the cars in the parking lot. Still not quite enough snow to get away calling it a White Christmas but the tiny hand prints on the roofs of the cars show that some little kids got lifted up by their parents to scoop off a handful or two to throw around tells me that it'll be good enough for them for quite a few years.

Merry Christmas,

Matt

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Half Read Review 2: The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White

Someday, I'd like to make a couple dollars off of a story or two I've written. To do that I have to work at being a better writer. There's not much good advice out there that can actually make a bad story into a good one, but there is plenty of fodder for sale that will tell you how to make it look like a good story. Books that tell you to add a facial tick to you lead character, or to throw them in unfamiliar places to see how they would react - Hey, how about a scene in a bathhouse? It worked in "Martian Time-Slip" why not your book? Though the title would suggest it might be all about adding nifty stylized (page 50) elements to your story to shine it up real nice, it is not. It's falls somewhere on the other side of the coin and it would appear the goal was the opposite. To help writers write simple sentences that mean what the author intends. William Strunk Jr.'s goal was to eliminate ambiguity in writing and allow a person to get the meaning of a word, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, and, with any luck the entire story the first time through.

This isn't the typical book that lends itself to a "Half Read Review" but at just about the half way point (on page 47) I found an example that sums up the entire book:

Flamable. An oddity, chiefly useful in saving lives. The common work meaning "combustible" is inflammable. But some people are thrown off by the in- and think inflammable means "not combustible." For this reason, trucks carrying gasoline or explosives are now marked FLAMMABLE. Unless you are operating such a truck and hence are concerned with the safety of children and illiterates, use inflammable.
The rest of the book has the same wit to it but is written in a more conversational tone so it doesn't feel like you're getting a lesson. It's a tiny book and intentionally so, it covers only the meat of the English language and suggests that if you cook it right you won't need the gravy. This is a a good supplement for a struggling student having a hard time grasping the basics. Best way to use it is as a gift for that loved one or friend that just dropped a 1000 page manuscript in your lap and said "Be totally honest - Do you like it?"

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Half Read Review 1: Alien Planet by Fletcher Pratt


I have a thing for Sci-Fi from the innocent years - the time before spaceships, TVs, computers and even better phones. The stuff from around that time has a real sense of adventure and awakens in me a belief that anything is possible. I still like a modern sci-fi book but when I'm reading them I find myself thinking how close-fetched they are and am prone to judging their knowledge of science a bit too harshly. With some of these old gems it was all off the cuff and you get a sense of how little we really knew about things. From taking a hot air balloon to the moon to eating sausages made out of charcoal to building spaceships in the woods out of mercury, a ray gun and some good old space man ingenuity the limits really were their own imaginations. Which brings us to Alien Planet by Fletcher Pratt, which very nearly has two out of those three crazy things.

A naked green hot chick on the cover is what got me to pick it up. A brief apology in the forward about some of the scientific analysis quoted in the footnotes being from the original 1932 publication and not really being up to snuff, sold it. This isn't a readily available book but there are still plenty in circulation as Ace seems to have bound this copy to last. I had to scan my own copy in since most of the copies on Amazon didn't have covers attached. If you click on it you'll get a bigger version that shows my copy made it through at least the Goodwill and bookwagon.com before I bought it, furthermore markings on the inside suggest it's been through at least three more used book stores throughout the years.

First off before we go any further I have to say that there have not been any green people in the book nor any females come to think of it, and damn sure no naked green hot chicks. What's worse at the half way point we've just flown past Jupiter so I probably wont get any either. Secondly, after reading the Prologue by the author (in 1932) that is after the Forward by the publisher (in 1963 or 1973, it's unclear) I can see that this was a bit of an inside joke as the book is supposed be skeptically transcribed by the author from some increasingly illegible metal disks that were found in the jungle and may or may not be based on true events and in his own opinion deal with scientific things that are highly unlikely.

The story itself is very simple; a thing falls out of space, two slightly stuffy dudes, on vacation together, duck as it narrowly misses them on it's way down. (I should add that no questionable sexual orientations are implied, but as stated no female characters have reared their faces let alone their firm green buttocks.) Eventually a dude crawls out of it and the stuffy dudes nurse him back to health as he learns to speak Shakespearean English and tries to explain interplanetary exploration with only the words that can be found in "The Merchant of Venice". Once that's accomplished he begins trying to get enough mercury to build another space ship to fly back to his planet and save it. These fine chaps help and eventually one gets stuck on board and has to come with him.

Fletcher Pratt's alien "Ashembe" is a success, he looks enough like us that the main characters aren't freaked out but he thinks in an honestly alien way. I'd go so far as to say that if it were written 20 years later he would have had to change it because the alien says things that would have suggested he was a favorable image of a Commie. This is something that is found quite often in early sci-fi aliens and I think reveals a lot about the state of mind the average American had in a time when so much was owned by so few. So far, Ashembe has yet to lose his wonder at our weird ways and I have yet to lose my interest in his weird ways as they continue to slip into view.

The writing is clear and easy to follow, there are no long alien words you have to remember or strange rambling passages with political undertones. I'm just starting to wonder if the stuffy human will make it back to Earth and I've almost given up on the hot naked green chick but I don't mind because this is a fun read and I've got a way to go before I have to say bye to these fools in space.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Half Read Reviews

Once you finish a book you have made an investment and like most valuable things you'd like to protect that investment. When the end doesn't live up to your expectations it angers you and makes you think you've wasted your time reading it, but somewhere along the line there was a point before you cared how it would end and were happy just being along for the ride.

An excellent example of this would be Stephens King's "Dark Tower" series. As long as I was just along for the ride I enjoyed it, but when he had found his end for it and started writing to that end it ceased being as fun. Probably because as he's been very vocal about through the years, he didn't know how it was going to end and was just as much along for the ride as we were. There was a change in feel as the characters strove towards that final thankya and for the last three books there was a cloud over their heads as each scene ended with an unspoken good-bye. That's not to say they weren't still good stories but they were the end and with the end comes the judgments, the second guesses and the, "Uh, where's he going with this?" that take you out of the story.

"Half Read Reviews" are an attempt to catch that moment when I go from "along for the ride" to "Uh..." Hopefully they will reveal a perspective that's often overlooked by a need to make judgement on the whole.

It's a bit harsh to do one on the Dark Tower since it's been years since I was at the half way point but I do remember waiting in anticipation for a long time with a fear that he wouldn't finish the story at all and I had already read the ending. I think if I had to it would simply be "Worth the ride!"