I strung together a lot of PHP this summer.
It’s been a few months since I wrote my NaNoWriMo 2015 novel, and sadly I’ve had a few false starts in the editing department. In other words, back when I’d been writing it, I was thinking I’d have something to show off about April: I’d been planning to start serializing it about now. Obviously, that hasn’t happened.
Yet like any great effort, lessons were learned. There may not be an epic novel waiting to appear on this blog (not yet anyhow) but I did come to an understanding about the nature of words, how I write, and (I think) how I can write better. And that’s a good thing.
One big lesson I’ve learned –and this has become glaringly clear with every effort I make to clean up the scribbles I made back in November– is that (apparently) I write like a teenage girl. No, all offense to teenage girls aside (though none of them are reading this blog so we can probably say what we want in that regard) the problem with my writing is the descriptive emoting. I make the error — as someone like Chuck Palahniuk would probably accuse me of– of writing feelings and thoughts.
So and so felt such and such.
This character was sitting and thinking this and that.
Which is garbage. If you read writing that tells you (too often) how someone is feeling or what they are thinking then that was either written by (a) someone too lazy to write properly, or (b) a teenage girl.
Of course it’s the easiest thing to write. How do you descriptively write someone’s mood? How do you put words on a page that imply some characters innermost thoughts?
I’ve been trying to play around with a way to learn to do this better, and so lately I’ve been writing a comic strip — without pictures. Or, that’s how I like to think of it.
I started pondering how I could force myself to write better … as in, how could I write without using the crutch of this character was thinking that-thought-there or this other character was feeling blah-blah-blah. It’s not simple. You get lazy. You fall back. You try to juggle a story with a plot with a setting with character development and you almost can’t help but get lazy. Writing good thought-less and feeling-free text is a muscle that needs to be exercised, but like your core-training when you are working out, it’s both the most important and the last considered.
Writing comics (and forgetting about the actual drawing of pictures to go along with them) is like core-blasting, power-planking, mega-crunches for your writing muscles. Comics are fifty-fifty, dialogue-action. There are thought bubbles, sure, but if you can’t picture a scene with anything but two characters thinking things at each other, it’s a crappy comic strip. Really crappy.
So I’ve come up with an idea, and I’ve been poking it. I’ve been writing it like a comic script. Dialogue with some art direction to fill in the gaps. No thoughts. No feelings. And no unicorns or butterflies or dolphins, because again… not a teenage girl.
When you build a new house –like we did about twelve years ago now– and said house has a garage, one of the things you probably forget to have done, or you don’t bother because you can live without it for a long while, is having the garage finished.
Four walls and a door is good enough for a car, right? Who needs insulation or interior surfaces?
But then time passes and the wood-framed room where you store your vehicles at night starts to become a cluttered black-hole of angry mess. Its very existence is cast upon a with a shadow of guilt, guilt extending out towards you with that tsk-tsk-ing finger of shame, implying that if –DUDE!– you just put some effort into the space then maybe –just maybe!– it might to start feeling a little less like the unholy space of dark clutter-ness that makes you cringe each time you press the button and flash the neighbourhood with its haunting state of epic disorganization.
Or maybe that’s just me.
I’ve been meaning to drywall the garage for years, but as it turns out drywall is (a) big, (b) heavy, and (c) time-consuming to deal with. I could have had drywall delivered, or borrowed a truck or obtained my stack of sheet rock in some other non-specific manner. Yet, it was always just one of those “I need a couple days” tasks that never quite made it to the top of the list. Once you’ve got a stack of drywall, you really need to deal with it. You can’t have it sitting around taking up space or leave it in the back of a vehicle while you poke away at installing it –especially if it’s not your vehicle. You’ve gotta hang it that day or don’t bother, y’know? And I hadn’t bothered. Hadn’t dealt. Not yet.
So I dealt with it.
Easter Monday I cleaned the the garage, took all the crap off the walls, removed the hundreds of hooks and fasteners and little obstructions. I swept. I washed. I tossed. I parked on the driveway and gutted the space. Then went out and bought a new (corded) drill because unscrewing all those hooks made it clear that my current cordless drill was hinting at retirement plans and wasn’t going to pull through this job.
The next day (also a day off) I drove Fetch over to the local Home Depot and (with the help of a tiny little lady in an orange apron who was probably stronger than me) loaded up a dozen sheets of drywall and carefully drove home. I must have looked the pity case: a doofus and his little cart of drywall and this woman comes rushing over to help me load it. I should have got her name and sent a commendation into Home Depot headquarters.
At home I tackled the project on my own. No, not the smartest plan, I realize in retrospect. It took me seven hours (with a break for lunch) to measure, move, cut, and install twelve pieces of drywall. (And I still have to do the ceiling but I fully realize that the ceiling is definitely not a one-person job!) And it looks as good as you’d expect. Proud to park there good. Good enough for a garage.
Also known as: I’m not becoming a professional drywall guy any time soon.
Next time… the ceiling, mudding, maybe even paint…?
June continues! And onward we push through those thirty posts that I’ve been writing every year this month. For the fifth year in a row I’m back to a month of daily blogging: each day a new post on a new topic, but on the same blog-per-day topic as last year, creating another set of Those 30 Posts in June. Today, that post just happens to be about something that I am:
Doing… Incentivizing Summer Fun
As it turns out, Claire is (a little bit) addicted to screens. Big ones. Little ones. Glowing ones. Touchable or watchable. Games. Apps. Netflix or YouTube. And it’s starting to go a little too far.
We’ve been trying to fight her on it (like true rational economist parents) by both disincentivizing her use and incentivizing other non-screen activity. Still, the glowing glass demon is a jealous beast: she’s been sneaking time here and there, bending the rules, and facing the consequences with stoic abandon while she holds out for her next hit.
I’m not huge on the punishment option — at least not as a Plan A. In the long run I neither want to (a) demonize the technology with which she will need to eventually nurture a mutually beneficial and hopefully positive relationship nor (b) administratively control access (read: disable or password protect) which would be both a significant inconvenience for us and would do little to build trust and responsible behaviour. It may yet come to that, but not as Plan A.
Instead, I’m doing something more incentives-based this summer: I’m trying my damnest to provide some adventure, experience and creative opportunity. This means that among some of the more standard fun, we’re also….
1) Creating an Adventure Journal
Last week I brought home a thick, bound journal of lined paper of the kind any hipster might use while sitting in the park and writing poems about beards and craft beers. We’re going to use it to record our adventures this summer. Words and pictures. Things glued and taped to the inside. Colours, images, scribbles, and descriptions. It will be a chronicle of our summer and if it works out maybe even a family tradition spanning many more years and building on a lifetime of recording memories and seeking inspiration through adventure. And you can’t have an adventure while watching yet another episode of Full House on Netflix… so: our book becomes an incentive to get outside and do something.
2) Getting Artsy
I inspired her to think about art and the thought that almost instantly popped into her head was painting. I told her that if she really wanted to try something with art that she could pick a couple projects and I’d buy the supplies and create the experience. She chose landscape watercolour painting… though almost not in those words. It was more like: “Dad we need to get a blank sheet and those paints that you need to get wet and go find some beautiful nature to paint.” Yes: pursuing new skills becomes another incentive to go explore our parks.
3) Learning More About Nature
Thanks to the final science topic of the grade two curriculum, we’ve had a sudden uptake in the interest in bugs this spring. She’s been learning about insects and in her inquiries has been made keenly aware that her father not only shares that interest but actually took enough university level entomology courses that I should have probably declared it as a minor. As it turns out, broadening our scope from just bug to all of the local ecosystem, having a dad that is technically qualified to teach high school biology is going to pay dividends for my daughter this summer whether she likes it or not… Another perk: keeping the momentum on her interest in nature may become another incentive, I hope!
4) Stepping Up Her Photography Education
Readers of this blog are likely aware that (along with real bugs) I’m a bit of a shutterbug, too. With kids it’s always a kind of monkey-see-monkey-do, so it’s not surprising that Claire has shown a kind of passive fascination with taking pictures. Well, as it turns out (having bought a new dSLR last summer) I have an extra camera. And it also turns out that while there are a number of opinions on the topic, there seems to be enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that an alomst-eight-year-old is mature enough to have some supervised lessons with a powerful SLR camera. So, I’m planning some father-daughter photo expeditions and thus: her interst in technology rolls into incentive-land!
Will it work? Time will tell. Patience pending…. I’ll be reporting back over the summer and we’ll see where it all lands: or if we just need to turn off the WiFi after all.
Anyone who knows me even just a little bit has probably already figured out that I tend to get a little obsessed about certain things: And writing and creating stuff have always ranked fairly high in that list.
I’ve spent the last couple of years poking away at various projects that have (with that intention) tried to induce me to write more frequently. It is honestly just an unquenchable thirst that I can’t really explain any other way than to say — everyone is compelled by something, and for me: words.
I type therefore I am.
And the latest incarnation of this is a little weird. Not wanting to get too eager about promoting prior to at least getting a running start at the effort, I’ve been mum on the subject for the last month. But here’s the thing: I took on a massive writing project for 2015. Massive. Crazy. And slightly weird.
I’ve been writing short random essays… every day. One per day. Or, at least, writing one FOR posting every day as finding a free hour every day is tough, I’ve been sitting down and writing 2 or 3 every couple of days and then trickling them out the door on a schedule. Essays: minimum 300 words, to about a 1K word maximum.
But wait, there’s more.
So, you’re thinking: what kind of drivel is he writing now? Well, that’s the kicker. It’s completely randomized. Back in December I built out a massive (numbered) list of 100 topics. And then, yes, completely randomly I pick two of those topics, mash them together, and then write a little essay on the topic that emerges from two completely unrelated ideas.
It was an odd sort of experiment, but (and it surprised even me that) it seems to be working… inspiring even. Oddly, so and producing some crazy topics that I never would have written about without the effort.
So why am I mentioning this now? Well, since (as I mentioned I’m writing these things a day or so in advance) I completed my writing for January, the first month completely done (over fifteen thousand words) I thought I’d start getting even a little more aggressive in promoting it.
And there’s the part where it gets even stranger (you knew that was coming, right?) I started another completely different blog to post all this drivel into, tied it into a brand new social media account, and I’ve been running a bit of a secondary experiment with the gush of content I’ve been producing. Some cynical few might call it a kind of marketing/SEO/click-baiting scheme, but I prefer to think of it as leveraging REAL content into a curious effort to see if I can start generating enough revenue to start paying for all my internet and hosting costs. (And FYI, one month worth of content into this experiment and I can tell you I’m close to hitting a break-even on advertising revenue on my hosting/registration costs… One month! So, another surprise!)
It’s a lot of work, but honestly less than you’re probably imagining, especially when you enjoy the effort. Thus the plan, at least until I run out of momentum or creative energy is to continue the daily posts to the new project: GrokZine…the blog-a-zine of ten thousand random mashups of epic proportions.
Yes, I know… weird.
So, is it just a habit or publicly accountable obligation? Sometimes I wonder why I torture myself this way…
In counter-point to my just-posted article about my bout of writer’s block, I would suggest that there is a hanging notion of doing something more substantive with this space. There is always that hanging notion, by the way, but occasionally it gets in the way of getting on with things, and that can be frustrating. Part of me is in continuous search of a “big idea” to explore here… a question to answer or a grander, wider, broader, more awesome-topic-than this-is-my-life to examine with these words. Part of me wants to make something epic… but I’m never quite sure what that is.
If you have never read a book by Neal Stephenson, I may suggest that you are missing out on one of the great joys of modern speculative fiction. Almost without fail, his books latch onto a nugget of an idea and flesh out a universe around it that, like a stone dropped in a still lake, ripples an extending sort of beautiful complexity outward in a multitude of directions.
I’ve read The Diamond Age: A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer more times than I can count. And while upon my first few reads it was the concept of a world flush with the benefits and shortcomings of nanotechnology that caught my attention, upon later reads I understood that one of the secondary (but perhaps more resonant themes) of the book was that as a kind-of treatise on parenting.
As the subtitle suggests, the book is the story of a book: a primer. A primer of such technological complexity its existence is only possible in a world of nanotechnology-based materials coupled to a vast and uninterrupted communications network.
The plot follows the story of those primers (the first, then copies of it) as they shape the lives of a number of people who create, use, support, and yearn to steal them. I am simplifying, of course, but to understand that Stephenson was exploring the idea of a technology that could replace a parent, a machine-book of such awesome interactivity and honed complexity that it could raise a child better than a parent (or, at least a parent of a certain ilk), to understand that imagined idea has been something that has captivated me for longer than I’ve been a father.
It’s pure speculation, and science fiction. But the deconstruction of modern parenting in the form of a piece of adaptive technology is a curious adventure for any parent to pursue, even just in the imagination.
Technologically, we are nowhere near being able to replicate Stephenson’s bold idea. Tablets are lauded as temporary babysitters, but even at their finest they are relatively passive compared to what Stephenson imagined. And, admittedly, I am not nearly good enough of a code monkey to even consider the possibility of adaptive software that would interact and create to keep pace with my daughter’s learning.
But having thought about this idea –back-burner’d in my head for the last seven years– what if one was to remove the technological aspect and, well, simplify? What if one was to extract the code aspect, and instead rely on good old fashioned elbow grease? What if a father was to write his own version of “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” in a way that he could adapt and react to a single child, customizing a story based on what she loved coupled against the lessons she needed to learn as she grew up?
What if a father were to just pick up a blank book, a beautiful book that inspired the imagination and evoked a sense of wonder in itself, and then uncovered a story that spoke to his daughter and challenged her to think about things bigger than herself. Would that be an effort worth pursuing?
Of course, you just know I’m going to try and find out.
I wanted to do more “outdoor” art with Claire over the summer, but it just didn’t pan out.
This is another instalment in my (sixth) Week of Lists: one fun and awesome list posted every day for seven days on a variety of topics.
I ran a bunch of ideas in front of Claire the other day, asking her what she thought about going to the park and doing ______________. Insert art project here. There are a few that stuck, ones that she kinda said: “hmmm… sure, that sounds like fun dad.”
So, I guess here are the things we’re going to be trying out at least once this spring and summer.
Five Art Adventures for Kids and their Dads
1 : Found Stamps
A few years ago there was this big trendy thing for the crafty ladies in my life: stamping. They would buy these little kits of coloured ink pads and fancy stamps and they’d make greeting cards by the bus-load. While I’m not so sure I’d be able to pilfer any of those colourful stamp pads, I think an art or craft store may have them for fairly cheap. And as for stamps? I’m sure if we wander more than a few feet into the woods of the nearby dog park, we’re bound to find some interesting bits with interesting textures.
some great texture art for a six year old
2 : Nature Rubbings
The opposite but similar thing to the stamps is the whole nature rubbings angle. Crayon over paper over something that makes a pretty design and all that. Before stamp pads were falling from the skies like rain, old fashioned folks (probably… I’m guessing here) had to resort to making rubbings of all those natural textures. I don’t know what kind of paper works best for this, but I’m assuming something on the thinner weight side. And all those funky textured bits, in particular the ones that are too big, too heavy, or too still-planted-in-the-ground to use for a stamp, would make some great texture art for a six year old.
3 : Pet Rocks
Rocks with eyes and funny hats. Need I write more? Kid gold.
4 : Mud Paintings
This is something I saw somewhere and can’t for the life of me remember where. It’s probably the most expensive and most elaborate and I’m not even sure how well it would work… but that usually translates into some crazy fun for a kid if done right. Go to the art store and buy one of those big mounted canvases. Not huge. But poster sized. And some throwaway paint brushes. Now, haul all of that down to the riverbank on a sunny day, lean the canvas against a big rock or tree, find some goopy mud from the river, and start painting…. mudding… whatever. You might want to just take a photo when you’re done. And I’ll bet you can just hose the whole thing down and try it again when it dries in a few days.
spring and summer wild flowers
5 : Pressed Flowers
For the long haul, and looking at a kind of wait-until-winter perspective (long term thinking isn’t always a bad thing, here either) is to start collecting spring and summer wild flowers and press them. (Remember, I’m trying to entertain a six year old girl, here!) A bit of wax paper, a stack of old University text books you never bothered to sell back to the used bookstore because somehow you thought you’d read them again, and a lot of patience: voila… pressed flowers. What you do with them is up to you.
A “Hackable Me” post is a few words on incremental personal self-improvement: a personal hack to better myself. I’m actually very skeptical when it comes to the kind of DIY, fixer-upper, read-this-book-to-change-your-life sort of self-improvement one normally thinks about. On the other hand I tend to consider that (a) publicly scrutinized goals and (b) introspective evaluation of those goals through words tends to lead to making me a better person. This is just a thing to do with that.
A couple years ago when I started this whole idea of “Hackable Me” (and yes, I still track a lot of things with regard to this little self-improvement initiative) I had the idea of automating a key component of that system, specifically the public accountability side.
See, in the spirit of the project, the whole point of tracking and gamifying your personal effort towards a goal is (a) to quantify that effort to make it easier for your brain to comprehend your success (or failure) in moving towards that goal, (b) to link that effort to real-world results, and (c) to add a level of public accountability so that to successes (and failures) can be a motivating factor to always trying to improve.
Most people balk at the public accountability part. But, for better or worse, you’ve probably already figured out that I’m not most people.
So when I started using this little system (admittedly, off and on over the past two years) the part about public accountability simply meant that I would keep track in a spreadsheet and then occasionally report my results. I’ve tried to keep my running tallies up-to-date, but the rest of it… that’s a lot of little numbers to always be updating.
But over the past few weeks (and after a couple long evenings of sitting in front of the television watching the Olympics and writing PHP scripts) I’ve finally got a version one (beta) of my Hackable Me Console which allows (a) simplified tracking system for a number of the key data points I’ve been recording, (b) a mobile-friendly (at least for my phones) website for inputting my data on-the-go and wherever, and (c) a graphical output for both the app-site and which I can embed in the side-bar of this blog.
You can explore — and as always I continue to tweak this system — but the simple tool lets me track points-based positive efforts around four factors: food (red), fitness (blue), mental (yellow) and lifestyle (green) and displays a graph of the same for the day of the year (###) and the total points for that day too.
And, with almost everything I make, there is no such thing as a finished product: so (it that’s the sort of thing that interests you) watch for improvements, additions, and as time goes on. And remember to yell at me if you start seeing too many zeros on my little graph!
One advantage of the snowed-in weather was that Claire and I spent a good portion of the weekend immersed in our LEGOs. Sure, we’re not epic brick masters by any means, but we’ve been dabbling in a couple fields of LEGO structures.
As previously mentioned in a number of earlier posts, we bought ourselves a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit a couple months ago. The glory hasn’t faded, but we’ve built most of the models and part of me feels like we should be experimenting with our own designs moving forward.
we should be experimenting with our own designs
Also, I picked up a random collection of Technic bits off of eBay a few weeks ago, some random gears that I still haven’t quite figured out, and I’ve been looking for inspiration online, too.
So, we’ve dabbled. And we’ve been trying to piece together parts that turn other parts or do interesting things. Experimentally. Tinkering. It’s been fun, but until we deduce something more interesting than two or three spinning gears, I don’t know what the sense of hooking it up to the Mindstorms brick is quite yet.
When that happens… bwa-HAHAHAHA! [tents fingers and looks into camera…]
To be clear I haven’t actually bought any of the LEGO Architecture stuff (though I had the Architecture Studio kit in my hands in Toys R Us in New York and, oh… so tempted.)
That said, as a kind of poor-mans-set, I sorted through our existing LEGO collection and paid a little bit more attention at my last visit to the the LEGO Pick-a-Brick wall at the mall, and I managed to put together a fairly respectable collection of plates and bricks and connectors that comprise a pseudo-architecture LEGO kit. Lots of white and clear bits, supplemented by some smooth green, black and brown highlight elements: somehow it works.
I’ve supplemented some of that inspiration through picking up a couple (unofficial) books on the topic, like Brick City: Global Icons to Make from LEGO and another one that is (apparently) in the mail.
We’ve been building little buildings, mini-structures that look like micro high-rises and miniature office blocks. Claire gets it and helps in surprisingly astute ways, adding features or flourishes (though still needing some work on the foundational physics of the whole thing.)
Yes, we’re in deep. But we’re having a lot of fun.