Archive for the “Writing” Category

The time has come to upgrade WordPress (the software that this blog is built upon) and that means that I’ll likely change the format of the blog.  I’ve got a few templates picked out already, so this weekend I’ll be tinkering to get the right one and set it up just the way I like.  Hopefully you’ll like it too.

One big change (that Tyrone will like) is that anyone reading this on Facebook (all my posts are imported through RSS) who leaves a comment there, will see their comment copied in the web version of the site.  Sadly, I don’t think it works the other way around, but those are the shakes.

For anyone with an RSS feed to this site, rest assured that your feed will continue to work as normal, but when all is said and done, older posts may show up as unread.  I think that happened last time I upgraded.  You can also rest assured that all your witty comments from the past will still be there when all is said and done.

If there’s anything you’d like to see format-wise in here, today is your day to request it as I’ll probably start the updgrade tonight.  No request is too wild, but I just might ignore it.  🙂

In other blog-related news, since we’ll be in Spain from September 30th to October 14th, and it’s unlikely that I’ll find a net connection (or the time) to blog each morning when I’m there, I’m looking for some guest writers to contribute in here while I’m gone.  You can offer to write every weekday I’m gone, for a few days or just for one day.  I’ll set up a schedule that works for you  and give you a personalized login to write your post. Keep in mind that if you’re reading this now, it’s probably because you appreciate that this site has regularly updated content that you can count on (for the most part), and this is your chance to pay that back to your fellow readers.

No one is asking you to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning essay on the deconstruction of the Warsaw Pact and the rise of the new Eastern Bloc (which is probably well over the heads of most my readership anyways), just write something interesting.  If you want to write, but have no ideas, I can help you out and even give you some editing help if you write it before I leave.  It’s that easy.

If you’ve ever considered having a blog of your own, this would be a great test-drive and I can give you nearly 5 years’ worth of pointers.  If you have no plans of ever having your own blog, this is your chance to step up on a soapbox and scream your lungs out.  You can make your identity known to the world or, if you prefer, you can remain anonymous and use a pseudonym (or ‘nom de plume’, which sounds WAY cooler).

So, any takers?  Feel free to leave a comment or email me and we’ll go from there.

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If you’ve been reading here for a while, you might remember that I’m a pretty big into war movies and TV shows.  Not for the gore or the glorification of violence, but more from an historical perspective.  Back in 2005, HBO aired a show about the US invasion of Iraq called ‘Over There’ that I was really excited about, and then really disappointed by, so now I’ve learned my lesson about getting my hopes up.

So after hearing about a writer for Rolling Stone named Evan Wright who was embedded with an elite group of Recon Marines during the initial invasion of  Iraq, then finding his serial he wrote afterwards for the magazine and loving it, I was even more pleased to find out that he had turned those stories into a book.  It’s a great book called ‘Generation Kill‘ and it really delves into all the problems in the Iraq war, the mindset of the men fighting it and how much can wrong when everyone is trying to do what they think is the right thing.  I’m having trouble putting this book down and I’ve only had it for a few days.

Imagine my excitement when I heard HBO was making a miniseries based on the book!  Well, I didn’t let my hopes get too high, but the miniseries has now aired, the reviews are in and it’s awesome.  I’ve seen a few episodes and it’s well written, well shot and the characters and acting are great.  Bottom line, if you like war movies, you’ll love this show.  Ditto for the book.

That being said, both the book and the series have some of the most shocking language I’ve ever seen or heard, so this isn’t for the faint of heart.  Check out this trailer on YouTube, and visit the official site for the miniseries if you want more info.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find an actor in this series that you can name from previous work, although a handful are barely recognizable from bit-parts in other series’, but that adds to the feeling of realism.  There’s also a LOT of military technical jargon that is explained in greater detail in the book, but would be really boring to explain in a TV show.  Just ignore it and treat it as though you’re watching people from another world, which you are.  Check it out.

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Here at my office, I’m a ‘budget guy’.  I spend most of my day with my nose in binders of invoices, or my eyes glued to insanely complex Excel spreadsheets with an occasional break spent modifying a Powerpoint presentation.  It’s a glorious life… for a CA or an Actuary, but is it the life for me?

To clarify, I don’t hate my job.  I find it quite rewarding and I work on a great team in a remarkably creative office (given that I work in the financial services industry), so it’s not like I’m playing Russian Roulette at my desk every morning praying for the sweet smell of cordite as the lights go out.   Still, when I think about the classic question asked by high school guidance counselors, “What would you do if you were rich and didn’t have to work for money?”, the answer most likely would not be to be a ‘budget guy’.

I guess that not being rich and having to work for money is the hook that keeps us all employed (or many of us at least) and as I get older, the talons of a career sink themselves deeper as financial commitments pile on.  So is there a good time to get out?

For years now, effectively since shortly before I started working full-time in a “real” job, I’ve been wondering what it would be like to just step out for a bit and focus on writing, to see if I’ve got what it takes to make a go of it writing fiction, magazine articles or TV scripts.  So, do I?  The fact that I still entertain the idea leads me to believe that I think I can, but the adult in me always weighs in with the classic list of pros and cons.

Pros:

  • A sense of fulfillment that comes from being creative and using my inherent and learned skills in a job I enjoy.
  • Can have the following conversation:

“So, what do you do?”
“I’m a writer”
“Oh yeah!  Have I read anything you’ve written?”  (This is as far as I’ve ever gotten in this conversation before I have to explain that not all professional writers work for MacLeans or Penguin Books)
“Why yes, I’m sure you have!

  •  Get to hang out in coffee shops and libraries frantically writing notes, character sketches and generally procrastinating while looking brooding and serious.
  • Can wear jeans and t-shirts every day.  EVERY… DAY!!!

Cons:

  •  Financial instability.  As two words, this seems a gross understatement.  Writers tend not to know when (or if) their next paycheque will show up, how large (or small) it will be and have few financial backup plans short of tending bar or serving tables.
  • Professional isolation.  I like water-cooler talk and having meetings. I like interacting socially and professionally with my peers and giving and receiving feedback regularly, and not just with editing.
  • Becoming one of those writers.  Every profession has their own snobs, and writers can be some of the worst.  They insulate themselves in an ‘us vs. them’ world where they think no one else understands what their craft requires and as someone who is already a snob when it comes to music, literature (don’t get me started on Oprah’s Book Club) and politics, I could easily become one of these people… and I don’t like these people.

That’s just a shortlist made up from notes in my writing journals going back a few years.  Every time I find myself considering making the jump, I tend to come up with roughly the same list, regardless of changes to my life.  So, what does it take to make ‘the jump’?  Has anyone out there done a big one like this?  Is it like jumping off a cliff into a cold lake, where it’s best to just close your eyes and leap?  Am I overthinking this WAY too much (which could be true regardless of the answer)?

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On my way into work this morning, I was really looking forward to sitting down with my morning cup of coffee and writing a well thought-out and witty post about something-or-other.  Alas, once I had said coffee and sat down to write, my mind was a complete blank.  That happens from time to time.  Then I realized that writing a well thought-out and witty post isn’t really in the keeping of this space, so I’ll probably just end up ranting for a few hundred words and writing “Screw Flanders” a few times to round out the word count.

That’s how it goes sometimes when you voluntarily hold yourself to a deadline like I do in writing for this site every day.  Sometimes I just don’t have anything to say, sometimes I don’t know how to say what I’m thinking about and sometimes (more and more often the case lately) I just find myself really short on time and concentration.  Still, I love the distraction and frankly, if I wasn’t writing in here, I wouldn’t be writing anywhere.  That would be the greatest shame as it’s something I love.

So is this your standard cop-out “I don’t have anything to write about, so I’m going to write about not having anything to write about” blog post?  Yeah, it probably is.  I’d apologize, but if you’ve read this far, you’ll probably keep reading anyway.  I’m just employing a technique that’s recommended in just about every book about writing I’ve ever read.  The best cure for writer’s block is to actually start writing, even if it’s just about writer’s block.  The simple act of writing anything is the equivalent of push starting your car and popping it into gear.  You fire up the part of your brain that gets into writing and the next thing you know, you’re off and running at 100 km/h.

Sadly, now that I actually find myself with something to say, the means to say it and the inclination to get it all down in words, I haven’t the time.  Stupid job.  I guess this is what I get for wanting to eat and stuff.  I’ll be back again tomorrow, but until then, screw Flanders, screw Flanders, screw Flanders.

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There are books that we all read in high school. They’re part of some canon of public school curriculum and their respective content, characters and themes are considered common knowledge to the point that their casual mention in pop culture gives them meaning.

We all read “The Stone Angel” by Margaret Laurence and felt what it was like to be old, we all read “Romeo and Juliet” and learned how dangerous young love can be. Many of us also read “Othello” or “The Taming of the Shrew” to round out a Shakespearean education, on top of “The Catcher in the Rye”, “The Great Gatsby” and/or “The Old Man and the Sea”.

As far as politically motivated modern literature, I read “1984” as part of a group project in high school about totalitarianism. I loved it. What a great book with such a powerful message about the resilience of the human spirit in the face of dire circumstances. I’ve even read it a few times since; once in university and once on a vacation after I started working.

So, how is it that I’ve come this far as an avid reader and a fan of George Orwell and I haven’t yet read “Animal Farm”? I haven’t even seen one of the many film versions. I just knew it was about a pig who takes over a farm. Well, before we saw “The Dark Knight” on Sunday, Danielle and I went to Chapters to kill some time and I saw the most badass book cover ever and decided that regardless of the book, I had to get it. It turns out it was “Animal Farm”.

Our Great Leader, Comrade Napoleon!

I’m now about halfway through the book and I love it. I’m going to be pretty sad when it ends, but I’m having trouble putting it down. Why, oh why didn’t I read it earlier!? The comparisons to Stalinst Russia are pretty blatant, but not ‘in your face’ blatant, and the story really drives home how the masses become victims of those in power quite easily, through intimidation and misinformation. It’s a remarkable read.

Another book I picked up is “Franny and Zooey” by J.D. Salinger. He also wrote “The Catcher in the Rye” which some of you may have less than fond memories of after enduring Holden Caulfield’s cursing rants about everything as he walked around New York City. This book is quite different, and comes highly recommended by more than a few good friends. Stay tuned for a review.

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I’m getting a little tired of all the Harry Potter hype (probably about as much as you’re tired of regular Linux posts).  I can understand kids getting excited, but the number of adults who are tearing their hair out and peeing their pants about seeing Harry defeat evil on a flying Quinch broom is just embarrassing.

On the other hand, I have to say I’m really impressed with the producers of the upcoming Simpsons movie.  Aside from a few promotions, they’ve kept the hype on this film to the bare minimum, and it’s brilliant.  After a few seasons of mediocre episodes, fans would be hard-pressed to get excited after umpteen thousand commercials about a movie they’ll likely see anyways.  It would be a recipe for disaster on the scale of Star Wars, Episode One.  Keep the expectations nice and low, and people will be a lot happier with the end product.  That’s my new mantra.

Speaking of expectations, I really hope that someone falls for my nerd test in this post.

And while we’re talking about nerd tests, I’m pretty excited about something right now.  After spending a bit of time fiddling with Batch Image Processor for GIMP in Linux (it lets you resize and edit a large group of pictures) and trying to install it (with Steve’s help), I’m writing up a ‘how to’ that I’ll post in here and link to the Ubuntu user forums.  All the documentation out there for installing the Processor is pretty bad, and it’s not really that hard to do.

You may be asking “what does this have to do with me?”, and here’s your answer… my gallery hasn’t been updated because it’s too labour intensive to individually resize each of my massive photos to post on the web.  I have a few batches of photos from various events (going back to early May) that I’m dying to get up online, and that I can link in here.  Frankly, the blog has been a little too text heavy for my taste lately.

Yeah for photos, yeah for Simpsons, meh for Harry Potter.

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The last time I bought RAM (without buying a new computer) was in the good ‘ol days (circa 2000) when it cost about a dollar a megabyte. Those were the days when 64 megabytes meant your computer was SCREAMING fast, but that was also back when having a CD burner meant you were ahead of the technology curve (I was the second person I knew to have one) and it took a day to download an MP3. Times have changed. Wow. I’m an old man.

Sadly, the time has come to do a few minor upgrades to my computer to increase its efficiency. It turns out that despite being both stable and efficient with hard drive space, Ubuntu is a bit of a memory hog, although it doesn’t eat it up like Windows did. I guess 256mb isn’t what it used to be. I blame all this new-fangled technology, consarnit.

From an email Danielle sent yesterday… “Have you noticed that since you started writing about linux, no one comments on your blog?”. Hmm. I did notice a bit of a drop-off, but few of my posts have specifically related to my switch-over, so I think I’m okay. My site stats lead me to believe that I have more regular readers than ever, but talking to a few of my friends who used to be regular readers, it seems that they aren’t coming here with the same frequency as before… so who’s out there? And do you hate Linux?

Taking a cue from Karim, I’m going to start a mini-art project of mixed media pieces using Rasterbated images and painting them. I’m going to try going with realism (painting the original colours of the photo) and with crazy-art-ism (using insane colours instead) to see which looks more awesome.

Speaking of awesome, rumour has it that the newest volume of everyone’s favourite online arts zine, SilentTalkie is one short month from relaunch. That means we’ll be hassling people for content shortly. You can avoid that by submitting beforehand if you’d like. Just send me an article by email and I’ll praise and laud you in here. How awesome would THAT be?

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In case you haven’t heard, this ‘electronic mail’ thing is a pretty big deal. You see, it’s like normal mail, but it’s on this so-called ‘internet’ thingy so it’s instantaneous (once it makes it’s way through all those little tubes).

If you’re anything like me (and if you’re a regular reader here, I’m sorry to tell you that you ARE like me), you probably have your life neatly planned and organized thanks to your email. Phone numbers, directions, recipes, events and important dates are all neatly stored in folders in your GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Splahoo, Fingaspleeconk or achtungdavey email accounts, and you refer to them often.

That leads us to today’s rant… the subject line. One of the great things about email is how the subject line is a neat and tidy little place to summarize what your email is about. It prepares the reader for what’s to come when they click on it, or sometimes it informs the reader that they don’t need to click at all (more on that in a second).

It should be brief and to-the-point (fun and cutesy emails are excepted and bulk forwards don’t matter… they just get deleted anyways), not just for efficiency in responding, but also to make important information easy to find later. I can’t even guess at the number of times a week I have to forward myself an email from someone with an important phone number because instead of a subject line like “Bono’s Home Number (you stalker)” I get something like “Toes and Peanut Butter make Turtles giggle with glee”. Granted, that’s pretty poetic… or soemething, but it doesn’t do me much good.

If you REALLY want to impress someone, pull out the old [EOM] trick. This really should be getting more popular given the number of people who use Blackberries or other handheld devices to receive and check email. Sometimes your email is so short that it doesn’t even need content. You can send a note with the subject line “Dinner at 7?” and your recipient doesn’t need to waste 0.4 seconds opening it. But how will they know that the subject is the End Of the Message? If only there was a standard acronym that was widely adopted and well understood… if only.

So that’s my rant. Rest assured that I won’t respond to your emails with tirades… nor will I just delete them out of spite (unless they’re forwards with surveys asking if it’s okay to cry or if I’ve ever been so in love I wanted to cry… those get burned and their senders blacklisted). I’ll just quietly suffer and reforward the note to myself for filing… under “Bad Subject Line”. Oh, and I’ll probably write a flaming blog post about it.

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