Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Oddly compelling. Told any other way, it’d be just one more story about giant robots and the people piloting them. But by telling it through interviews, to make it feel like you’re reading a classified dossier, makes it feel fresh and compelling.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Even old ideas can feel new again when told in a different way.
  • Interviews can let you do first-person narration without having to actually narrate. No need for detailed descriptions, etc. Can take a lot of shortcuts and still feel real.
  • Don’t forget the interviewer! They have their own agenda, and that should come through in their questions and reactions.

Doctor Who Psychology edited by Travis Langley

Disappointing. Most of the essays are too short to be rewarding, stopping just when they might be getting to something interesting. Several of them repeat the same answers to the same questions (what is the Doctor’s personality?).

However, a few of the essays stand out as offering interesting takes on the Doctor and his world:

  • The Doctor is a combination of id (easily bored, cravings for fish fingers and custard) and superego (this world is defended). No discernible ego, though: his companions fill that role for him (!)
  • The Doctor and the Cybermen represent opposed views of masculinity. The Cybermen are an emotionally stunted (but all too common) masculinity: closed off, suppressing emotion, stoic and expressionless. The Doctor is a healthier alternative: still paternal, still protective, but emotionally open and compassionate.
  • Weeping Angels are terrifying because they turn what should be a Great Mother archetype into the Shadow. From nurturers they become deepest evil; and worse, we cannot run and hide from this evil, we must look at it, must confront it, even though we don’t want to.

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Eerily prescient. Takes place in a California where water is scarce, most government has been privatized, and the President uses racial politics to push through reforms that weaken protections for workers and the poor.

Felt all too familiar. And she predicted all this over twenty years ago.

I usually don’t like post-apocalyptic books, especially ones that go in for the “slow apocalypse” where everything just collapses over time as people stop taking care of the things that keep civilization going. It’s depressing reading, but Butler’s writing is so compelling, I had to see it through.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Scarcities in society will be reflected in the social order. If food is scarce, being fat is a sign of wealth. If water is scarce, being clean (taking baths) will be seen luxurious. In both cases, being poor and engaging in “rich” behavior will be seen as uppity.
  • There’s life in the hero’s journey yet, if explored from different angles. Here the young protagonist grows up in a small town, yet feels called to greatness, then compelled to become a leader when driven out of their home.
  • Adopting a diary structure can let you skip past boring parts of the story will zooming in on the important ones. A well-written diary will do that, and still give you a chance to convey the rhythms of life, since it’s the story the person is telling themselves, as they live it.

Making Comics by Scott McCloud

Insightful, like all of Scott McCloud’s books on comics. Not enough on its own for me to go out and start writing my own comics, but helped me to see connections between storytelling techniques in comics, films, and novels.

Three things I learned about comics and storytelling:

  • Comics adds additional choices to the way you tell a story. It’s not just the events themselves, but which moments from those events you choose to show, as well as how you frame the “shots” for those moments, and how you render the images within those frames.
  • Manga often uses aspect transitions between panels to build a scene. Instead of a single wide establishing shot, will focus in on different “aspects” of a scene (e.g., rain falling from the sky, puddles forming in concrete, raindrops battering steel and glass buildings, etc) forcing the reader to assemble the scene in their own mind.
  • Giving your characters different philosophies of life can both enrich their inner lives and make the world you’re building feel more real to the reader.

Seven More Languages in Seven Weeks: Elm

Between the move and the election and the holidays, took me a long time to finish this chapter.

But I’m glad I did, because Elm is — dare I say — fun?

The error messages are fantastic. The syntax feels like Haskell without being as obtuse.  Even the package management system just feels nice.

A sign of how much I liked working in Elm: the examples for Day Two and Three of the book were written for Elm 0.14, using a concept called signals. Unfortunately, signals were completely removed in Elm 0.17 (!). So to get the book examples working in Elm 0.18, I had to basically rebuild them. Which meant spending a lot of time with the (admittedly great) Elm tutorial and trial-and-erroring things until they worked again.

None of which I minded because, well, Elm is a great language to work in.

Here’s the results of my efforts:

And here’s what I learned:

Day One

  • haskell-inspired
  • elm-installer: damn, that was easy
  • it’s got a repl!
  • emacs mode also
  • types come back with all the values (expression results)
  • holy sh*t: “Maybe you forgot some parentheses? Or a comma?”
  • omg: “Hint: All elements should be the same type of value so that we can iterate through the list without running into unexpected values.”
  • type inferred: don’t have to explicitly declare the type of every variable
  • polymorphism via type classes
  • single-assignment, but the repl is a little looser
  • pipe syntax for if statement in book is gone in elm 0.17
  • case statement allows pattern matching
  • case statement needs the newlines, even in the repl (use `\`)
  • can build own complex data types (but not type classes)
  • case also needs indentation to work (especially if using result for assignment in the repl)
  • records: abstract types for people without beards
  • changing records: use `=` instead of `<-`: { blackQueen | color = White }
  • records look like they’re immutable now, when they weren’t before? code altering them in day one doesn’t work
  • parens around function calls are optional
  • infers types of function parameters
  • both left and right (!) function composition <| and |>
  • got map and filter based off the List type (?)
  • no special syntax for defining a function versus a regular variable, just set a name equal to the function body (with the function args before the equal sign)
  • head::tail pattern matching in function definition no longer works; elm is now stricter about requiring you to define all the possible inputs, including the empty list
  • elm is a curried language (!)
  • no reduce: foldr or foldl
  • have to paren the infix functions to use in foldr: List.foldr (*) 1 list
  • hard exercise seems to depend on elm being looser than it is; afaict, it won’t let you pass in a list of records with differing fields (type volation), nor will it let you try to access a field that isn’t there (another type violation)

Day Two

  • section is built around signals, which were removed in Elm 0.17 (!)
  • elm has actually deliberately moved away from FRP as a paradigm
  • looks like will need to completely rewrite the sample code for each one as we go…thankfully, there’s good examples in the elm docs (whew!)
  • [check gists for rewritten code]
  • module elm-lang/keyboard isn’t imported in the elm online editor by default anymore

Day Three

  • can fix the errors from loading Collage and Element into main by using toHtml method of the Collage object
  • elm-reactor will give you a hot-updated project listening on port 8000 (so, refresh web page of localhost:8000 and get updated view of what your project looks like)
  • error messages are very descriptive, can work through upgrading a project just by following along (and refreshing alot)
  • critical to getting game working: https://ohanhi.github.io/base-for-game-elm-017.html (multiple subscriptions)

The Just City by Jo Walton

Inspiring. I could not imagine daring to try to write dialog for Greek gods and long-dead philosophers, but she did, and does it brilliantly.

Made me miss my days as a philosophy major, and that’s a good thing.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Long explanations of things are ok, but only after the reader has come to know the characters, and care about them.
  • Switching first-person narrators is fine, so long as you keep the number of them down and clearly label each chapter so we know which character is speaking.
  • Sense of place can come through not just by food and clothing, but architecture and leisure activities as well.

Average

There’s a video making the rounds on Facebook that claims to show how the “average American” views the Trump inauguration.

It’s shows a lone white male, surrounded by flag art, talking about how we liberals should suck it up, and that real Americans, like him, are happy Trump won.

This video pisses me off for several reasons.

First, the guy being interviewed isn’t one of the “real Americans” he claims to represent. He’s an artist, not a coal miner. He profits off of the people he wants to speak for, but he’s not one of them.

Second, the whole idea that “average Americans” are just like this guy, and all happy about Trump, is a lie. It’s code, code that only white, uneducated males are real Americans, and everyone else should sit down and shut up.

What would a video wanting to accurately show an average American be like?

Most Americans are female. So we have to swap the dude for a woman.

Most Americans live in liberal, coastal areas. So now we have to move the woman speaking out of the implied RustBelt setting and to one of the coasts. Maybe New York, maybe California.

Most Americans do think of themselves as white, so she can be white and still be “average.”

But uneducated? Not this woman. She’s got her high school diploma, and taken some college classes. She probably has an associate’s degree, which she’s used to get a better job.

So we have a white, working-class but educated, woman living on the coasts.

She’s probably Democratic. She probably voted for Hilary. She’s likely in favor of the ACA, and the protections it provides for her access to women’s health care.

It’s the exact opposite of what the video portrays, which is why it ticks me off so much.

But more than that, I hate the implication that other people, who aren’t white, or male, or uneducated, are somehow lesser citizens.

I hate the smug superiority the video reinforces. It’s the refuge of bullies and cowards, of people looking to blame someone else for their situation.

I understand that it’s hard to make a living without a college degree. I understand it’s difficult to change careers when the factory you depended on shuts down. I understand you don’t want to move to a strange town to chase a new job.

But if I could offer some advice to them: suck it up.

Because you had their chance. You made fun of guys like me all through school. You ditched classes and slacked off on your studies. You didn’t go to college, didn’t think it was something “real men” did.

You rule out taking on all kinds of jobs, from nursing to teaching to customer service, as “women’s work”. So your wife or your girlfriend has to support you, while you wait for the Industrial Age to roll back through town.

It’s not happening. No one is coming to save you: not Trump, not Pence, not Paul Ryan. They want your votes, but they aren’t going to help you one bit.

You’re going to have to do it on your own.

And it’s your own fault. You voted to cut the ladder of economic advancement out from under yourself and everyone else.

I sympathize with you, but I don’t feel sorry for you.

You’re a crybaby, whining about the good times that have passed you by.

You’re lazy, unwilling to do the work to make something better of yourself.

And you’re a coward, afraid to join the ranks of those who have their own business, who have to justify their existence through service to others in the marketplace.

You’re an un-American burden on the country, and I can only hope the next four years open your eyes to how your pride and the Republican party have deceived you.