Monday 28 April 2014

Pat your machine!

I have a coffee machine that sits there and makes coffee. That is its job. I don't pay it. I pat it. But coffee machines, like dogs, cannot live on pats alone. You also need to plug them in. The coffee machine, not the dogs. Do not plug your dog in. Unless it is a metaphorical plugging in, and you're actually taking them to socialise. Plugging them into the puppy social scene, so to speak. You can do that. It is good for them. Electricity is not. If you didn't already know this, you should find a new owner for your dog. Love is no substitute for basic household safety. No! No, it isn't.

The coffee machine used to be Steve and Selena's, but they put it in a cupboard for some reason, and then later offered it to me, which I subsequently accepted, which turned out really well for me, because I like coffee, so I drink a lot of it, and it really cuts down the amount of walking and paying that I do, and it is a little machine, and I like little machines, so it has a lot of positive aspects, which I feel we all need in our lives, because they're positive, and positive is better than negative, which goes without saying, but I said it anyway, because sometimes we need to be reminded of these things, and we have word counts we have committed to, but I digress.

If I were a Transformer, this would be my grumpy face.
Probably the best thing about the coffee machine is that it is just over there. Do you see where I'm pointing? There! See on the Ikea kitchen bench thing on wheels? Near the microwave. It is super close. It is two regular step and one big step away from where I am right now. The big step is to get over the pile of washing, which is on the floor. If you are wondering whether it is the same pile of washing, it probably is. It's like a hotel for clothes made of clothes. It is a sort of meta hotel. It only exists because it has guests. Without guests it is just an empty space. Some items come and go, only there for short stays, but there are shirts in there that remember when we served horse meat during the war.

I particularly enjoy making my own coffees, because it gives me a sense of accomplishment. I made something today. Well, I made seven somethings. They were all flat whites. Plus it has a knob, and a switch, and this thing that needs filling with water, and then the coffee handle bit locks into place and it is basically a big lever, so it is pretty much as close as I am going to come to being an astronaut. Man, I need a space helmet.

Ground control to Major Tom,
Take your coffee beans, and put your helmet on!

I guess what I'm saying is that I like coffee, and pretending to be an astronaut, and David Bowie.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Dancing with the Octo-Hoff

We're cheek to cheek at this stage, me and the Octo-Hoff. I'm seven stories deep at the moment. That's where we're at at this stage. That feels like too many, but I am trying to put some to bed. That is a process that I am coming to terms with.

For a very long time I made excuses as to why I would never actually finish stories. Lots of reasons. Some were more common than others, but the really persistent ones were kind of weird. I'm not really going to go into that now, because that is a much larger story for another day. This is an update: A progress report.

There is one thing that I have learnt, though, that helps a great deal. Something that i have observed, and also something that has been verbally thrust upon me by others that I deem important enough to repeat here.

When it comes to the written word, no author is ever forced to definitively say that they are finished with anything, and/or that whatever draft currently exists publicly of anything is going to be the last. Not until you die. That is what death is for. When you die all of your words stop, but until then you can revisit anything.

This isn't new either. This isn't something that is accommodated only by the technologies of the brand new 21C. Philip K. Dick reworked 'The Unteleported Man' into Lies Inc., Raymond E. Feist amended the pants off Magician, and Herge adjusted many of the early Tin Tin comics to better suit the collected format, and then again to more closely match his changing concepts of race.

If you write a story, and you think you might want to change it later, you can do that. That is a rule.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Backing up for Improved Wordy Prowess

There is this terrifying thing that happens sometimes, and it is the kind of thing that can rock you right to wherever it is inside you that your words are made. I don't know why I don't just say what it is straight up. You've seen the title, so you must know where I am going with this.

Losing all, most, some, or even only small amounts of your writing can be devastating. I have had all of these happen. Well, I thought I lost everything once, but I had a bunch of bits and pieces here and there on Zip disks, and as e-mail attachments, and what have you, but it took a very long time to get a lot of it back together, and I lost versions of things I have never since been able to replicate. I also lost all known versions of some stories, including what was at that stage the longest and most complete thing that I had ever written.

The process of recovering from this is horrible. You aren't quite sure where to start. Do you just start pouring out everything that you can remember? Where do you start with that? Losing a few small stories is not a good feeling, but losing dozens of stories, some of which are tens of thousands of words, is sickening.

There are a number of reasons that things like this can happen, but the most frustrating is when whatever method(s) of backup you have decided to go with are the failing point. No one method is infallible. External hard drives will just die one day, online services may change their policies on you, and all recordable media will eventually corrupt. Any of these can turn into an expensive and/or futile retrieval operation.

We need to protect our words. We need to make sure that they are going to be safe. we need to make sure that they will always be there for us when we need them. That is why I am talking about this now, instead of talking about it after the cool software that exists. This is way more important, and has very little to do with writing, and more to do with protecting your writing.

Ideally you want everything backed up both locally, on an external hard drive, flash drive, or other external media, and in the cloud in one of those cloud services. I live out of my Google Drive, because it is big enough and it is free. It was there for me when I was ridiculously broke, and so I'm invested now. There is a relationship with Google Drive that makes me feel that my things are at their safest when they're with the 'G'. The other major player is Dropbox, which plugs into everything these days, which is great. This compatibility is very important for a lot of things, but there are always going to be some file syncing issues no matter which services you try to use, so it is good to try and be aware of them.

I would steer clear of SkyDrive, only because they once changed their policy on me and I lost access to all of the things that lived there. I had quite coincidentally backed it up a few days before losing access, but I still maintain that there was a poor effort made to notify me of these changes and what they meant for me and my words. Will they change it again? I don't know, but I am not particularly interested in finding out.

A friend of mine makes use of a number of these services, because 'they're all idiots', which isn't a totally bad idea. It is actually a pretty good idea, and while making sure they are all up to date can be a bit of a chore, it is worth the time for the piece of mind. A few years ago I experimented with having them all overlapping, because I was curious to see how it be handled. It turns out that it causes some file duplication issues, as well as some syncing problems if you have more than one of them installed on a machine. If you're super keen to do this, I suggest putting the others inside your Google Drive, and only installing your Google Drive on all of your machines. You will still sometimes have issues, but...

Actually, don't. It is a pain. When things go wrong, I seemed to be always finding out when it was inconvenient to actually resolve the issue. Unless you are on top of this kind of stuff and you manage all your own IT toys, this has the potential to really annoy you. Keep them separate. I got into this a couple of years ago now, and I could imagine them being able to fix this, and having it not be an issue anymore, but I can also imagine them not prioritising it, because making sure their products play nice with their competitors' products so that you can pay them all zero of your money is not the kind of thing that they are likely to make time for.

When you are signing up for any service, whether it be for backing up, online tools, software support, hardware support, or anything else you don't ever want to lose access to, it is important to use an e-mail address that you 'should' never lose access to. Do not use work/school/university/group/organisation/friend's/partner's/family's/shared/ISP e-mails. This has often struck most people as the kind of thing that falls well inside common sense when I tell them this, but most of the smartest people I know have done this at some stage in their life. Even an e-mail that you have been promised 'for life' is not guaranteed, as these promises do not usually reflect the actual contracts, service agreements, or policies involved in their delivery. I should also point out that I have told people this, then had them give me a hard time for patronising them, and then had them do this very exact thing less than an hour later. If keeping access to an e-mail address is reliant on you maintaining your involvement in a workplace, organisation, or relationship, DO NOT USE IT TO SIGN UP FOR THINGS!

The safest thing to do is use a Gmail or Live/Hotmail e-mail address in your own name. Other similar services, like Yahoo, are fine too. This is one of those things that you should probably adopt outside of your writing life too. This is fairly solid advice. The likelihood that you will be able to maintain your non-fee-paying relationship with an organisation like Google is far more reliable than the likelihood that you will always be with Optus/Telstra/<current employer>. In the situation in which an employer has provided you with a Gmail account (yes, this is a thing), get your own.

While we're on the topic, if you feel like you need to chime in about the unreliability of modern technology and you keep everything in hard copy, then you are going to get burnt one day. No pun intended, but it was definitely appreciated. I used to do a lot of writing on a type writer, because I like the noise it makes, and even though I never got literally burnt, my writing got wet, and I lost a huge amount of work. I was young, and the whole process was an indulgence that ended in a hard-learnt lesson.

No matter what process you use, things can go wrong, and you will never stop feeling amazing when a computer dies, or a backup fails, and you can get everything you have ever written onto wherever it is you are writing on now with a minimum of fuss. The feeling you will get whenever you watch those file transfer bars creep across the screen of a clean computer will never stop being one of the best parts of your year, and in my experience, will only get better and better as that folder increases in girth.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Shuki and Louisa are ruining the dip curve

I don't often write about food, because of so many reasons. Mostly though I just don't have the required vocabulary. I will brazenly endeavour from time to time because of my affection for snacking, but whenever I do, I inevitably end up using words and phrases I would use in other arenas. So, when I say something like 'Shuki and Louisa's muhummara is a broad-spectrum solution to your flavour needs', what I am trying to say is it is good on everything. Well, not 'everything' everything, but enough of everything that it might be considered some sort of a flavour panacea.

Humus in a stylish harissa hat
It was introduced into my life, and my face, as a 'dip', which is a role that it plays well, but you will find that it excels when applied as a condiment. If you really want to get down to it, dips are a sort of condiment in a scenario in which the condiment is the primary purpose for culinary engagement. Shuki and Louisa's muhummara made everything that I put it on better. You need to put it on some sandwiches.

Muhummara was new to my life, but harissa, babaganoush, and humus are all things I have been partied too before, and these Shuki and Louisa guys do them really well. I have a humus story. I'm not going to tell it, but I'm completely cured. That is how good this humus is. If this were the humus standard from which a humus unit were derived, then the measurement of humus would resemble measurements of probability, because nothing would exceed one. That is what we're talking about here. This is the level of humus that we can expose ourselves to if we were to proceed with this proposed plan.

Their babganoush is, and don't bother disputing this, the best baba I have ever had. It handicapped my ability for conversational progression. I was stuck, and I got annoying. I actually annoyed someone with my smoked eggplant triggered repetition. Wood-fire smoked eggplant. If I were German-American, I would call it 'The Übergine Dip', but I'm not, so that won't happen.

The wood-fire smoked Übergine dip
It's wood-fire smoked and then lovingly annihilated by hand, and it tastes fresh. They smoke the eggplants, and they just taste really fresh. The consistency is another experience entirely from what you might be familiar with. It's not smooth. That's good. It is. If you have been consuming smooth babganoush all your life, you might just feel a little bit robbed that this is only happening to you now. It is exceptional in its deliciosity. This will be the frontline of the dip revolution.

The Moroccan carrot and beetroot and dukkah dips are also exquisite, and the green tahini and harissa are about as versatile as the muhummara, and I highly recommend you find a way to add them both to more meals. Personally, I think a good starting place would be using either with some fish, or eggs on toast, or sandwiches. I had an incredible time with the harissa and muhummara on a roast beef and vege sandwich. You could have that too.

They are also all vegan. If that sort of thing is something that you are likely to want to know, there it is.

If you are in Melbourne it is much easier to get this than if you live anywhere else. Here is a list of where they are going to be in the Melbourne market scene, and where you can find them in stores. Sydney-siders can go to the Gladesville Organic Markets on a Saturday, and/or the Marrickville Markets on a Sunday. Everyone else just has to keep eating whatever it is that you have going wherever you are. Sorry.

Saturday 5 April 2014

Tools for Improved Wordy Prowess

There are purists that argue that if you are a 'real writer', all you need is a pen and some paper. Maybe a few pens. The quantity of pens and paper is dependent on the length of your writing endeavour and your affection for rewrites. I think we should take it a step further. I believe that if you are a real writer, then all you need is your mind.

A real writer is engaged with the process of the art, and remains entirely apathetic to the final product. After all, if we were at all concerned with the final product we would make movies, the worst of which is a lot better than any book could ever be. The trick is in convincing others that they should pay for the book that you have written in your head. There are two obstacles that you will need to overcome. The first being whether or not you have actually written the book, and the second being the quality of the book. Both of these hurdles are easily circumvented through the liberal application of hypnotism. Hypnotism can also be used in a variety of non-literary scenarios, and I recommended it as a skill to be cultivated regardless of your intent to become a writer.

If you are in fact more concerned with putting actual words together into a final product that others are able to participate in without the use of mind reading, then an exclusive pen and paper set up may not be the way to go. You will probably need a variety of tools. Some different coloured pens, maybe some pads, a typewriter is fun, desktops are useful, laptops are better, and software is awesome.

There is a lot to cover here. I mean, the tools and arrangements that will change your life, are not counted upon a single hand, outstretched or otherwise. It is about being prepared, and making sure that you are prepared to operate in any given scenario. You will be like a Batman of words, except your stuff is not going to fit into a utility belt.

If you want a single tool to solve all of your problems, then I am going to disappoint you quite extensively, repeatedly, and probably on a number of levels. Unless you are doing only one very specific type of writing, then you are going to need some toys as opposed to one toy.

To absolutely contradict myself I am going to say that the one tool you really want is a laptop. This is the best case scenario. You can write pretty much wherever you need, or happen, to be. You can take it to interviews, or meetings, or the library for research, or cafes, or my mum's house. Well, not my mum. Your mum. Unless you know my mum, and she wants you to visit.

That said, there are ergonomic and productivity concerns with laptops. They aren't really good for you as a primary writing implement, because laptops on their own are basically RSI and neck pain machines. Then the screen space available is also going to drive you up the wall when you are in big edit mode. Fortunately you can get a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for your laptop and treat it as a desktop when you are at home.

The ideal scenario is a MacBook Pro or Air, and a Thunderbolt display with appropriate peripherals, because they have been designed as docking stations for your mobile life. But, starting at just under AUS$2,500 this isn't within everyone's price range. That is also before you start buying any software. So, how do poor, struggling writers get them some tools of the trade? And what tools should we look for?

The four 'F's of acquisition. Friends, family, found, and Freecycle (and similar services). If someone is throwing out a laptop, or has one sitting in a cupboard that they don't use, they might be willing to pass it on. Word processing is, generally speaking, not a hugely taxing activity for a computer. It can be, but that is usually when formatting and tracking changes, or poor memory handling if you happen to own some versions of Microsoft Word for Mac. If it is portable, and it works, it'll do. I've even part-timed a laptop in the past in order to get some writing done.

Monitors can be similarly acquired, but you will need to make sure that they are compatible with whatever display port your laptop has. There are a few different types of display port, and it is worth knowing what you have because you might need an adaptor, or preferably a converter cable (has a different port type on either end). Converter cables I find stay plugged in more securely, which is a plus for something that is getting plugged in and unplugged on a regular basis, and they're also, quite bizarrely, cheaper.

A mouse and keyboard will set you back maybe $10-$15 dollars depending on where you shop, but they are again something that people tend to have lying around, and may be willing to part with.

If you have some money, and don't really want a bunch of second hand computer stuff, which can be a valid concern, a new low end laptop, monitor, keyboard, and mouse can be picked up for as little as A$550, but this is also highly dependant on where you shop.

The one laptop accessory I think that everyone should own is one of those padded lap table things. They're pretty awesome even if you don't own a laptop. So many uses. I have no idea what they're called. They're called lap desks. I just googled it. Google wins again. So, lap desks are amazing. I'm not really sure how ergonomic they are, but they are fantastic for sitting the wrong way on a sofa, or in bed, in the garden, on the floor, or pretty much wherever really. I use mine a lot. A lot, a lot. Especially when I'm editing. You can get them around the place for a relatively small amount of money. I've seen them as cheap as $7, but the one I have was $15.

There are more parts to this, because the original draft got crazy long. About four times longer. You're not going to read all of that. Not in one go. There is a good chance you didn't even make it this far. But, when I post the other bits I will cover backing up all of your writing, as well as some software that will probably change your life. That might happen a few times. The software, not the life changing.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Jodorowsky's Dune DVD Special Features

I don't know that you've read Dune before. Some of you must have, but you should if you haven't. Despite the armada of lore expanding sequels, preludes, and interludes, it kind of stands on its own as a work of science fiction in terms of the important role that it has played within the history of popular science fiction. There are few works of fiction that are what Dune is. It is exquisite and exotic, and in its richness it refined a great many things we tend to take as given in epic science fiction these days.

The first attempt to adapt Dune never made it through pre-production, because people were pretty much out on the far edge of space trying to convince the money folk that if they made a 14 hour, science fiction bizarre-o-tron, then people would definitely turn up in droves to pay actual money for tickets.

Looking past the fact that a really good Dune would probably run somewhere closer to 14 hours than it would 3, they were getting on the different train to different town to the tune of many millions of dollars. This was all going on before Star Wars, which is very clearly heavily influenced by both the book and the the unmade film, came along and said, 'Relax, man. Space, you don't even know how cool it is. Have you seen these space wizards?'

Probably as a direct result of the Star Wars thing, a Dune would eventually be released to cinemas in 1984. Regardless, it would still be the first attempt that would leave the larger footprint in the landscape. While Jodorowsky's adaptation was never completed, the fallout of it's existence can be seen in Star Wars, and Blade Runner, and Alien, and Marvel's Avengers, and The Fifth Element. And. And. And. It may not have seen its own success, but it was muse to the greats. It mused? No. That means something else.

My own personal introduction to Jodorowsky's Dune was through 21st Century Foss by Chris Foss, which occurred years before I read the Frank Herbert novel, or saw the David Lynch film. The book contained only a few examples of Foss' contributions to the project, but they were striking. They were the kinds of burrowing insect that take up residence in your think organ. Over the years, my interest in science fiction art would bring me in repeated contact with the artefacts of this film that had never been made, and I discovered that it went beyond Foss. It was an artistic space conspiracy. Giger was there. See the picture? Moebius was there too. These were the guys that defined entire aesthetics for our amusement, and they were all there enrichenning the legs off this thing.

I could literally sit here for hours, so many hours, on end making up words to better talk/write about Jodorowsky's Dune (I haven't even started on the music), but I'm actually here to talk about Jodorowsky's Dune. Did you see the difference there? It is different. You missed it. Go back and look again. The second one is about the first one. It is a documentary, and I can't really explain how much wriggling I have done over this.

Being a man who derives an extraordinary amount of pleasure from the special features included with really beautiful science fiction films, this is most definitely in my wheelhouse.

I am deeply invested at this stage, and I'm wondering already if there will be special features on the DVD. Will it basically be a DVD of special features for a film that I can never watch? I crave this experience. You may not know me personally, but this is the kind of person that I am at my very core. We will become Tantalus. That is actually the second time in two days that I have used that reference. Anyway, we will be able to see, but never have. I'm not going to lie, I'm already excited about the 25th anniversary five disc collector's edition box set. Except, we won't be using discs in 25 years. Look out for it on Google Play, and Steam. They'll have it when the quarter century rolls around. In the meantime, hangout at the website, and watch it when it comes.

There is also a great interview with the Frank Pavich, the director of this thing about the thing, over at The Verge, which is worth the time it would take to read it.

I just went crazy with the pictures on this one. You need them though. They're good for you. Imbibe! I didn't really write enough words for all of these pictures. I could express my excitement with actual words, but it would probably be more concise to squeal and wriggle. There would also be yelping and snacking. Snacking!

Having not yet seen it, there is only one thing of which I am 100% certain: At 90 minutes, it isn't long enough.

And more pictures!

Did I tell you to go to the website? They have a gallery with high quality images that you can get excited about.