A Smudge and a Bird

September 10, 2010

I was watching reruns recently of my favorite show, ‘The West Wing’. There’s a scene in one of the last few episodes where the character Toby Ziegler, once a powerful figure at the White House, is now awaiting prison for a security leak. He is incredibly idealistic and the conscience of the West Wing. Now he’s reduced to sitting in his apartment waiting for punishment, so he starts rereading and comparing different copies of the Constitution (believe me, this is his idea of fun!). He notices a place where in some copies there’s a comma and in other copies not. It changes the meaning of the sentence, so he calls up and has someone check the original. He’s told, yes, there is a comma. Or is it a smudge? They’re not sure.

This is a kite

This reminds me of the famous Freudian analysis of Leonardo Da Vinci’s childhood, which, no matter  what else you think of Freud (in my case, not

This is a vulture

much) is fatally flawed because of a mistranslated word in a document he used in his research on Da Vinci. In one of Freud’s interpretations, he extrapolates from a childhood incident with a vulture that it is a symbolic remembrance of suckling at his mother’s breast, and interprets the memory as a fantasy with mythological connotations. All of this is moot, because it is based on a translation error where the word was for the bird  ‘kite’ instead of ‘vulture’.

What I learn from all this is how easy it is to say the wrong thing or build an intellectual edifice based on a small mistake. It makes one almost terrified to put any thoughts down.  I probably should reread this blog a few dozen more times.

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On Transferring the Story’s Vision

June 13, 2010

Since the first person told his story around the proverbial campfire, storytelling has been an attempt to transfer one person’s vision to another. The technology of this keeps progressing, oral, written and film. But they are all trying to attain that one basic transfer of what’s in one person’s head into another’s.

The medium dictates how it is shaped, and also limits what can be transferred. The written word can go into much more detail than the cinematic experience, but leaves it to the reader to recreate his own echo of the vision. The cinematic experience (whether movies, or television, or online video) allows for a more direct experience of portions of the vision, but of course video isn’t something people put down and continue later. The smaller details of the story are lost in the attempt to give a gestalt version that can be viewed in one sitting.

This is the reason books haven’t gone away with the advent of film and television.  They overlap in their attempts to convey the vision, but their approaches are ultimately not compatible. The vision can be partially transmitted in both media, but they won’t be the same.

The next big jump in transferring the vision is going to be the virtual reality experience. Reliving the story from the viewpoint of one or more characters. Or perhaps from some godlike overview.  Immersion in the vision.  It’s closer than we think, it’s already nibbling at the edges of story already.  What will this do to the written word and cinema? Let me know what you think.


On writing, or lack of it …

May 31, 2010

photo by Matt Namin

I’ve always wanted to be a writer.   I read constantly, I make my living selling books,  I am immersed in books, literally. Boxes of books totter over my bed threatening to collapse on me. I’m sure I’ll end up as one of those stories in the paper some day, ‘Recluse found dead under mounds of books’.  But for all the ingestion of the printed word over more than half a century, not much has been produced in return.  Occasional blogs, memoirs on the computer for my kids to find some day when they try to figure out who the strange person was that raised them, aborted stories and novels that never see completion.  It’s not that I don’t have a lot to say,  I’m a very opinionated person on almost every subject (though I do tend to change those opinions frequently).

So why aren’t stories and articles and scripts pouring out? What strange writer’s block has constipated the creative process for decades? I’m beginning to suspect that I have to stop reading much to start writing.  I think that the literary tunnel to my psyche is so flooded by the torrents of writing coming in,  that the struggling creations trying to work their way upstream to the outside are just swept away.

So to test this theory I am going to try to stop reading much.   This will probably prove to be much harder than giving up cigarettes or heroin, I have been reading probably an average of a book a day for most of my life.  I can’t envision what a life devoid of literary input would be like.   Has anyone else had these thoughts and tried to stop reading? Are there support groups where we can go and say “Hi, I’m Roger and I’m a reader”?


Twitterverse Magic

February 9, 2010

     As much as I’d love magic to exist in our ‘real’ universe, I have long ago filed it away with so many other things I wish were true. Sorry, Harry Potter. But a recent exchange on twitter has opened my eyes to the fact that there are other universes where magic might truly exist. One such is the twitterverse.

     Now the twitterverse has its own fundamental laws and particles, tweets and RT’s, links and follower bots. They interact in strange and mysterious ways, which our social media physicists are still trying to put into a grand unified theory. But at this point in the development of the twitterverse, I think we see things as being caused by forces we don’t understand (magic), perhaps we are at the beginning of an alchemical approach to it. So for now, we can just act like things operate here by magic, until somebody has an apple fall on their head and begins to really understand this stuff.

     My thoughts on this started when I was telling a friend on twitter how I had tweeted the name of a certain brand of coffee and I was immediately followed by a bot from that company. I was then contacted and I started getting free samples. She sounded skeptical.

But shortly thereafter she tweeted that  it was working and that she was being followed by friendly bots.

So wishes can come true in the twitterverse. I’m not sure if you have to tap your heels, though. And not sure if the ‘Only three wishes’ rule applies here.


Why are virtual chores fun but real chores a drag?

February 6, 2010

   

I’ve pondered the question many times of why people gladly spend endless hours performing virtual tasks that in their real life they avoid like the plague.  A recent post by @fjfonseca over at BitRebels touched on the subject, and as I have a 14-year-old daughter who has her virtual Facebook farm and aquarium and other examples too numerous to mention, I really started to think about it. Why does my daughter so gladly do these virtual chores in Farmville, but avoid helping take care of our real pony, dog, cats, and fish? When I try to get my kids to work on our garden every year it’s like pulling teeth, but her virtual garden is award-winning.

     Perhaps one reason is the feedback system involved. In Farmville she reaches levels, gets awards, and her accomplishments are sent over social networks to her friends. With her real garden she gets a ‘job well done’ from me, and far down the road some vegetables to eat. Maybe I should be learning from the virtual chores, I need to supply awards and badges, positive reinforcements and recognition of achievements. I guess calling her friends to tell them when she’s finished projects wouldn’t be appreciated by my daughter, though.

     Seriously, I would like comments on your take on this, it’s growing exponentially over on Facebook, and is just the beginning of a greater phenomena. Other examples are ‘games’ like the Sims, or the programmed pets that die on you if you don’t care for them properly. Can we learn lessons from their success in engaging people to apply to real life interactions?


Which Twitter are you using?

January 4, 2010

     We’re all on the same Twitter feed, aren’t we?  No, actually we each have our own customized feeds of those we choose to follow and I think we don’t realize how much these can differ. So is there really any such thing as a universal Twitter expert, guru, coach? Is there an Emily Post on Twitter that covers everyone? I don’t think so. You need to find and follow the people relevant to your particular community or communities. There are many different communities on twitter, and like communities anywhere they differ in customs and manners. Some people just endlessly tweet what they do all day, as so many people wrongly perceive Twitter is all about. Communities of online merchants see nothing wrong with talking about and promoting their offerings, public relations and marketing people see nothing wrong with endless self-examination of the effects of social medias on their fields. Charity fundraisers see nothing wrong with their endless appeals. Geeks chatter endlessly about the latest apps and gadgets, musicians connect and promote, writers network and chat. The list goes on and on.

     Some of the more well-known Twitter ‘personalities’ cross over many of these Twitterverses, but I’ve noticed lately a slightly schizophrenic tendency in their tweets and blogs as they try be universal to an increasingly diverse following. You can’t be all things to all people, as they say. And one set of rules of behavior won’t fit very different communities on Twitter. The way people use Twitter is their own affair, and shouldn’t be crammed down other’s throats like ‘the one true religion.’

     This is not to say there isn’t overlap, or that one is limited to one type of community. It’s my opinion one should broaden and connect with all types of people. I’m all over the place, and I think that has helped me realize how many different Twitters there are out there. And how different in intent and usage they are.

     Do you think there is some universal etiquette or set of customs applicable to everyone on Twitter?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Top 10 Strangest Top 10 Lists

December 26, 2009

This time of year we are deluged with Top 10 lists. Many are the predictable music, movies, celebrities, sports, news stories etc.  But there are the slightly more obscure and stranger Top 10 lists also. Here are my picks for 10 of the stranger ones!