Nanowrimo novel, chapter I’m Writing, I’m Writing, I’m Writing a Novel

It’s nearly November, and that means it’s time to write a novel, or fail trying. The impetus: National Novel Writing Month, a sort of double-dog-dare that I’ve taken part in every year since 2001. The goal is to produce 50,000 words in the space of November, which is a very foolish goal; but then, the whole enterprise is wonderfully, willfully foolish. Much more background can be had at the Nanowrimo site.

Each year, I have started a novel, and in the last four years I have finished one 50K mess and aborted three others which collected together would be about 50K additional words. I haven’t found a system, nor certainly even a successful formula — my one 50K winner happened in 2003, and I have since returned to failure. There is something humbling about launching enthusiastically, manically, into a creative venture like this only to find myself two weeks in, thousands of words behind, and rapidly losing momentum.

But I’m doing it again anyway. I have a few ideas kicking around, but nothing firm, and I’ve got about a week to psyche myself up, and I’m going for it, and it’ll be happening in something resembling real-time right here.

Stay tuned.

Open a Channel

Thesis: work as the partitioning of input-processing channels

Sometimes I think about my job (and not just my current one, but jobs in general, though I was thinking about my current job specifically when I got on this mental track) in terms of the input channels it occupies, and those it leaves open. I’m thinking both raw sensory input (hearing, sight) and more complex experiences (reading for comprehension, parsing (or ignoring!) graphical symbols, listening passively to music, listening actively to speech).

Generally, I’m happier with work that more consistently leaves me an open channel.

My current job has afforded me a lot of music-listening time. It’s the nature of the work — I’m doing a lot of reading and parsing and counting and typing, but there is almost no audio function to the work, and so I can listen to music eight hours a day if I am so inclined. (This has the adverse effect of exhausting the novelty of my music collection, however: I can understand better now how people spend so much money on CDs.)

The music channel stands open almost all of the time. What about language-audio? That’s a bit trickier — if I’m doing a task that doesn’t require any complex active language-processing, I can listen attentively to lyrics or even stand-up comedy. If I’m searching down a lot of word data, though, or parsing phrases instead of pattern-matching single words or symbols. (Ask my wife — I have a terrible habit of reading anything in front of me, and I’ll often lose a bit of conversation because the words on the screen completely hijack my language channel. People who can multiplex this sort of language processing amaze me.) Similarly, there are times when I have to just turn off my music if I’m trying to keep a running count of something — something about catchy rhythms combats my ability to keep a steady addition register going.

So I have an open music channel, with some exceptions. I don’t, on the other hand, get much free eye-time on the job. I’m almost always looking at something, and so I can’t do any reading — not just because of my previously-mentioned one-channel-of-language issues, but because I can only look at one thing at a time.

I can imagine other work environments that would introduce other channels, too — no doubt working in a bakery over-rides a person’s smell channel, as working on a factory floor would over-ride one’s audio channel. A closer (if more contrived) parallel to my own situation: working as a translator hijacks, rather than inhibits, the audio channel. It’s not that the translator (or the court stenographer, or the recording studio engineer) is deprived of audio input as a background activity — they are required to keep the channel tuned to work.

I think of all this, and write about it, in part because I’m pleased that there is an aspect of my current job (besides breaks and lunch) that gives me some unfettered recreational access to my sight and language channels. And with the new site functioning and allowing me to submit posts remotely, I can use that time to wax at great and unedited length about my ability to wax at great and unedited length.

So yes. The thesis: job satisfaction for me is based in part on the availability (and, I think, the variety) of open channels. Secondary, perhaps, to the portion of job satisfaction derived from enjoying the work itself, but that’s another topic entirely.

Millions of Birds, Several Colossi

Because I am bad at scheduling my life, the interview with Wilder was post-poned to accomodate a prior engagement: crafts and music at the Doug Fir Lounge. Angela works with a girl involved in a small crafting-collective who have just released a 300 page book of DIY craft projects, and as part of the release they staged an event at Doug Fir. Bands, some sort of I-think-it’s-performance-art appearance by AC [something], eBay Powerseller. I’m not entirely sure about the details.

We showed up, had some food in the not-so-crowded upstairs lounge, Angela said hello to the girl she knows, and we watched a three-piece band named Millions of Birds play a set. Keyboards, drums, guitarist/effectsnerd, with the keyboardist singing some of the time. Good, but sort of sedate — nothing to end up whistling after, more music than “songs.” Certainly worth the free cover, though.

And I spent about four and a half hours playing Shadow of the Colossus yesterday (which experience was made possible, on release day and without a pre-order, by my man on the inside — Nick, I salute you). And it is good. The game is, so far, as advertised: travel via horseback across an expansive and beautiful (but deserted) landscape, and engage in epic fights with various Colossi.

And it’s really, really epic. They have done something with this game that borders more closely to art than video games usually get. These Colossi, as strange hybrids of stone and fur and animation, are convincingly huge and powerful to a degree that embarasses most if not all “big boss” fights I’ve ever played. The scope of the monsters is stunning. The battles are more a matter of problem-solving and navigation than typical button-mashing attack-and-retreat combat — the Colossi are not just in the arena, they are the arena.

The effect of these huge fights is wonderful, and justifies what is otherwise an almost unforgivable lack of traditional gameplay: you’re just fighting the bosses. Ride around on your horse until you find the location. Climb around the location until you find the Colossus. Fight the Colossus until it dies. Repeat. It’s unusual; it’s even unusual compared to the spiritual parent, Ico, where there was at least a sense of constant tension throughout the levels as you balanced your navigation of the Castle with your need to protect the Girl from recurring shadow-monsters. There is none of that (so far, at least) in Shadow of the Colossus — just a series of quiet journeys punctuated by stupefyingly out-scaled battles.

It’s really great.

Interview with a Bassist

Ever since the band broke up, I’ve been out of contact with bassist and long-time friend Wilder Schmaltz. It’s not any expression of ire or bitterness; I’ve just been sort of letting things sit, waiting for a reason to give him a call.

Also ever since the breakup, I have been tossing around the idea of a documentary (originally suggested, as it happens, by Wilder) about the band, or about the breakup, or about the general notion of band breakups or perhaps simply about bands. Thesis indeterminate, but certainly a band-related documentary. I have a camera, I have a couple mics, I have the software and the hardware to edit a zero-budget film. I just haven’t been starting.

So I am trying to take two birds with one stone. I just called Wilder, engaged in a little “boy it’s been a while” chatter — he’s moving! he’s been dorking about with friendster! — and then told him I wanted to make him my first interview for the documentary. Tentative plan: tomorrow night, his place.

He is, I think, a low-risk first interview, insofar as he’s photogenic, likes to talk, and almost certainly won’t punch me in the face no matter what I ask him.

What You Can’t See Will Hurt Me

When I left for work I thought that I had the whole site up and running in a manner that, while far from perfect, was at least adequate. Functional. Lo, my dismay: when I went to make the first welcoming post featured below this one, I was met ultimately with an unpleasant message:

500 Internal Server Error

For whatever (probably diligent and wholly security-minded) reason, my place of occupation does not permit SSH connections. So no shell into the server for Josh. So no fixing the problem. So eight torturous hours of ignoring some glaring and site-paralyzing bug preventing me from making that cathartic First Post to justify the long weekend spent coding and debugging and cursing and annoying my wife.

It was a pretty stupid bug, too. Not even a bug. A permissions issue. A minor oversight in the workflow of a utility script that, in theory, I’ll never even have to run again.

It’s fixed now, though, because (and this is one of the key lessons I have learned as a programmer, one of those truisms of coding that should be written in a tiny black notebook of programmatical koans to be pondered by students of the arcane arts) at some point I will again run that script that I think I’ll never have to run again.

Anyway, welcome to the site. Soon, I can bury all this ridiculous “the site is new” omphalaskepsis in actual posts about actual things.

Look, I Do a New Thingy

After a week or so of effort, and especially a weekend of css tweaking and perl hacking (the spine of my aging copy of the Perl Cookbook having been left that much weaker, the pages that much more fatigued), the site is now in functional form.

Considering my penchant for starting projects that I don’t finish, I feel pretty good about what I’ve gotten done.

More work to do, though — the css could use some further tweaking, and the files need some cleanup and re-organization regardless. If you want to peek at the current mess, here it is. I also need to get an rss feed worked up for this thing, I suppose.

Oh, and content. I should probably add some content.