Latest Obsession: Guitar

So a week ago, I decided to make a change, hobby-wise, and do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: learn to play guitar.

I’ve been playing bass for about two and a half years now, after a recess of a few decades. And bass has been fun, but I’d hit a plateau, and thought I’d try something new. I’ve never really played guitar, although my stepdad had an ancient acoustic when I was a kid, and I learned like maybe two riffs, and used to mess with it a little. And I’d tried to resuscitate a few unplayable garage sale guitars when I was a teen, with no real success. (I remember getting a department store Les Paul clone with a snapped neck and trying to fashion a makeshift one from a piece of dimensional lumber, which didn’t work at all.)

So, I ordered a cheap guitar from Amazon. I got the lowest-end Squier Affinity Stratocaster, in the “beginner” pack, which included a tiny shoebox-sized amp I’ll never use, plus other paraphernalia like a bag, a tuner, some picks, and a strap. I also started scouring the web for any lessons or videos that would be helpful. I also have a copy of Rocksmith, which I used for bass, but which works for guitar, too.

The guitar: well, it was DOA out of the box. The jack screws were loose, hand-tight.  I took it apart, futzed with it, and it’s fine now. It looks very nice: a transparent blue, with a white pick guard. It’s a Strat, same size and design, with the three single-coil pickups, and same curves and lines as the more expensive cousin. The neck isn’t too bad, with a couple of sharp frets, but it was playable out of the box with no adjustment. It’s amazing to me that in the day of CNC machines and overseas factories, a hundred-dollar guitar is much more playable than what I’d find in a pawn shop for $100 back in high school or college.

Physically, it’s taking some time to get used to it. It’s much lighter and shorter than a bass, which is nice. The strings are much thinner, and closer together, which makes it feel much different to me. And playing chords is an alien process, as is using a pick. After a week, I am starting to be able to play some chords without my fat fingers dragging across other strings, but it’s going to take much more practice to move around and get used to it.

I’m having a lot of fun with it, though. There’s a complete different psychology to guitar, and it’s the reason I wanted to try it. I like and appreciate the bass, but it’s a different mindset, and I wanted to shift gears. I am not at the point where I can sit down and play complicated things yet, but it’s easy to turn on the distortion and Iommi away on some power chords.

Anyway, here’s the short list of what I’ve found useful for learning guitar:

  • http://www.justinguitar.com – a great source of free lessons for beginners.
  • http://get.yousician.com - a fun game with a guided learning path and lessons. I’m just trying the free option, which is time-limited per day.
  • I got the Dummies book, but I’d only say it is half-useful. I don’t like the dead humor tone in it, and I think they burn a hundred pages on useless stuff before they really get going. Plus I don’t want to learn to play “On Top of Old Smokey” – I’m not seven.
  • This book is only four bucks in paperback, and is short (50 pages) but has good info. For that price, the back cover’s chord chart is worth it.

The Death of Aperture

So Apple has killed off Aperture, the photo program I’ve been using for the last few years to slog around the 30,000-some pictures I’ve taken. iPhoto is going to die soon, too. They’re replacing both with Photos, a dumbed-down port of the featureless picture program that’s on the iPhone. Oh, but that has The Cloud, so I’ll be able to dump 100 gigs of photos, pay $4 a month rent on them, and then live in fear that I’ll accidentally have some switch flipped in a system update and burn through my monthly data cap when it tries to sync all of that stuff to my phone seven times every time I leave the house.

I know, “why don’t you just put all of your pictures in a big hierarchy of folders on a hard drive and not keep them in a database?”  Because I actually need to find shit, and it’s not 1997 anymore.

I moved everything from Aperture to Lightroom yesterday. There’s a plugin for Lightroom that does most of the deal for you. I bitched about this endlessly, and it ate up a few days of my time, but I guess it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Here’s the various observations and gotchas:

  • It helps if you clean up your Aperture library first. I found I had an insane number of scans that were impossibly huge and didn’t need to be, and a lot of RAW files of dumb stuff that I didn’t need. I like to keep RAW files of Hawaii sunsets, but if it’s a picture of a dumb sign or a Taco Bell, I can smash it into a JPG and still sleep at night. My library was about 140 GB, and I got it down to about 85 GB before import.
  • You basically need your library size in free space on a drive to do the conversion, so good luck with that. I chose to convert in-place, so I freed up about 100 GB, put the new Lightroom in ~/Pictures/Lightroom* and then moved my old library off of my machine to a backup when I was done.
  • Back up your shit before you start. Back up your machine in general. Clone your entire drive regularly, not just your documents.
  • Lightroom puts all of your master photos in a hierarchical tree, just like I made fun of, and then keeps a separate database of metadata and non-destructive edits. The database itself isn’t that big. It keeps a previews database, too, and that can get big, depending on how big you make your previews.
  • Lightroom Folders = the hierarchy where stuff is stored in the above. I used Aperture folders projects as the “hard” dividers of what photos were captured in my library, although those are just virtual and you can move them around.
  • All of my photos ended up in a folder tree like this: LightroomMasters/YYYY/MM/YYYY-MM-DD/files* I don’t know how it decided on that hierarchy. I think it’s based on actual imports into my Aperture library, and not capture time or EXIF data or projects. I guess that format works for me.
  • Your tree in the left panel thing for Folders won’t look right. Right-click on the folders and do “Show parent” endlessly until it looks right.  (I.e. show the parent of the three levels of the hierarchy. Is there a faster way? I can’t find one. You only have to do this once, though, I hope.)
  • An Aperture Library = a Lightroom Catalog. I only had one Aperture Library. If you keep multiple Libraries, I don’t know what to tell you.
  • Aperture albums and projects are converted into Lightroom Collections. I.e. a Collection is a “virtual” collection of photos from your folders, and if you add or remove things to a Collection, you aren’t touching your stuff in folders.
  • If you edit the Collections made from your Aperture projects, you aren’t actually moving your masters in your folders. That’s a huge pain in the ass for me. Like I found a bunch of scans I took in 2006 that were pictures from, like, 1979. They should be in the folder for 1979, and they aren’t, so I had to find the pictures, then move them into the right folders.
  • All of your Aperture Smart Albums are broken. You can possibly use Smart Collections to replicate that, but you need to do it over.
  • All of your Aperture edits are gone. If you did edits, static preview images of the edits were imported, but you need to start over using Lightroom’s tools to do them again.
  • Any of those edited images will not have a Capture Time in them. The default grid view in Lightroom is sorted by Capture Time. So you’ll have a big mess there, and have to spend some time with the Metadata > Edit Capture Time settings.
  • I don’t even know what happened to shared albums. I don’t even care. I’ll start over. Nobody looks at my Flickr page anyway.
  • You end up with a huge shitstorm of dummy Collections with nothing in them. This is probably my fault, but I had to do a bunch of cleaning there.
  • At this point, this bulleted list is longer than I wanted and nobody’s reading, so figure the rest out. It will 90% work, but you’ll probably spend a weekend futzing with it after import.
  • Back all of your shit up again after you do all of this, and not on top of the old backup.
  • Do all of your imports in Lightroom. Don’t just dump images into your Masters directory or Lightroom won’t know they are there. If you want to dump them to a folder because you have a piece of shit phone without a modern sync, you can make Lightroom watch a folder and auto-import it. You can also do various schemes like watch a Dropbox folder and dump pictures there, like screenshots or your security cameras or whatever.

Here’s the main problem with Lightroom: there is no good way to sync with an iPhone (or iPad.)  You can set it up so when you plug in your phone and Lightroom will start and go directly to the Import screen and then import your photos, which is mostly how Aperture worked. (You could also just mount your phone and drag the files to your ~/Pictures directory if you are an idiot and want to lose all of your metadata and spend hours dealing with duplicates and creating new subdirectories and moving files around and whatever else.) So import is fine.

But there’s no real way to export and sync files to your phone. There are half-assed ways, but you can’t use iTunes to do it automatically anymore. It used to be in iTunes, I could say this:

  • Go to my iPhoto/Aperture library
  • Get my last X months of pictures, plus these other Albums I’ve selected
  • Sync those to the phone, and also clean up the ones that aren’t in the above, so my phone doesn’t slowly fill up and I end up trying to sync and I have 62GB of pictures on my 64GB phone and I have to spend a weekend deciding what to kill, and then the fucking thing will try to resync the 62GB anyway.
  • Do all of the above without me thinking at all, with no interaction, without opening iPhoto or Aperture, because life is too short.

There’s no way to do any of this in Lightroom. The closest I can think of is this:

  • Tell iTunes to sync from a folder.
  • In Lightroom, create a Publish Service that dumps a Smart Collection to a directory.
  • Remember to open Lightroom and click Publish before every time you sync your phone.
  • I don’t know how this handles duplicates or if it deletes old images. I haven’t tried it.
  • This is horrible.

There are some various plusses to Lightroom, I guess:

  • My library size dramatically dropped. I went from about 85 GB to about 70 GB. It’s possible that I just haven’t generated previews for everything and that will slowly climb.
  • Lightroom processing tools are supposed to be better. I haven’t gotten into that yet, but I spent a few minutes futzing with some RAW images, and it’s not bad.

So there’s what I did for the last few days instead of writing.

Mexican hookworms and shipping companies run as a hobby

I’m not sure which is more depressing: a long-running blog with no entries for months, or the blog post that has a giant preamble talking about how sorry the author is they haven’t posted, the promise to post more, and the likelihood that this post will be an island in the middle of a long body of nothingness. I guess both are better than then site vanishing and redirecting to a Chinese boner pill site, or the long “farewell” post announcing its closure.

I’m still semi-obsessed with hookworms. My allergies go in cycles — not seasonal, but they wax and wane, according to some unmeasurable cycle. And when they get bad, and it knocks 40% of my efficiency away so my body can run my immune system overtime, I start googling dumb cures, which is always a bad thing to do.

The other night, I ended up on some crazy helicopter parent autism site about antihistamines and diet. I’m not saying autism is crazy; just the ideas about crystals or chanting or gluten or whatever else that seem to cross-pollinate (no pun intended) into every other autoimmune disorder’s narrative. Anyway, there’s a low-histamine diet, I think it’s called, and I read enough to start thinking it almost made sense, until the person started talking about the evils of microwave ovens. Then I tuned out.

I already wrote about hookworms a few months ago, which is the danger of this blog. I have a dozen and a half years of various memories here, so when I am suddenly inspired to write about that Christmas in 1992, it turns out I already did. Anyway, I was thinking of the hookworms and that made me think of going to Mexico in 2009, and caught food poisoning. We took this tour of a coconut plantation, which was interesting, but then they had a huge lunch, and brought out a salad, and I think every person at the table stared at the washed greens, and thought “I’m going to get dysentery and die if I eat that” and the guy said “don’t worry, is filtered water!” and so everyone reluctantly took two bites to be polite, and everybody got sick.

I didn’t get as sick because I’d been taking probiotics prior to the trip, but to me, probiotics are the same logic the flu shot: you’re trading a low-level misery for a long time to avoid a brief burst of heavy misery. Some people love probiotics and think they cure everything from allergies to paralysis. Every time I suddenly decide “I’ll start taking probiotics” I get whatever supplement or drink, and it gives me a horrible taste in my mouth 24/7 and I think “this is the rest of my fucking life” and then stop.

And to some people, the simple act of me saying “no, I don’t think I’ll have crippling abdominal cramps and the taste of garbage in my mouth forever” is like taking a dump in the holy water at the Vatican. I get the endless “maybe you aren’t buying the right stuff,” which is basically like “maybe you’re not stabbing yourself in the eye with an expensive enough pencil.” So there’s that.

A lot has been going on, and writing’s been uneven. It’s been long enough since the last book, and I didn’t like the last book, that I feel an overwhelming need to put out another book, because the other ones are slowly rotting on the vine. But I have two projects, and one has no structure or purpose, and the other looks like it could take years to finish. So there’s that. I have a couple of stories out and accepted, and they’ll show up at some point.

I’ve fallen down a horrible music gear k-hole, and have bought three basses in 2015. For the record:

  • Ibanez BTB-686SC Terra Firma – very beautiful and great-sounding. But 35″ 6-string, which has me lost.
  • Squier Jaguar short scale – Great $170 bass, but incredibly neck-divey. I replaced the tuners with lightweights and the bridge with a heavyweight, but I still can’t get into the ergonomics.
  • Lakland 44-01 – love this bass. Lowest action ever, and very great sound. It has a really bright “modern” sound to it, which is the opposite of my Jazz.

I’ve also fallen into a Don Delillo thing. White Noise was exactly the book I needed right now, and is an absolutely incredible piece of absurdism. Libra was a great historical piece, about Oswald and JFK, but had me on the edge of an all-out Nov 22 Book Depository k-hole that’s endlessly deep with far too much online reading to do. I’m mostly through Falling Man right now, and it’s decent, although I typically can’t deal with 9/11 stuff. Ratner’s Star is in the mail right now.

Also, is it just me, or has Amazon’s service gotten much worse since they raised the price of Prime? I swear, before the increase, two day Prime meant two days. Now it’s “well, let’s take a day or two to get our shit together and ship, and then it’s two days from there. Unless it’s a weekend. Or you know, any of those 4 or 5 days take place on a weekend. Also, Mondays and Fridays are sort of part of the weekend.” It doesn’t help that our UPS service routinely takes multiple days after something goes on the truck, because we live in the ghetto, and when the sun sets, if the driver’s not done with his route, fuck it.

OK, need to figure out what I’m writing.

 

Sanjay Gupta and Jack Kevorkian went to the same medical school

  • I hate end-of-year lists. I didn’t even know it was 2014 for half of the year, and I can’t remember what I wrote, read, bought, or otherwise did. I published two books, and worked on two others, but you probably already know that.
  • I fell down a brief Jack Kevorkian k-hole the other day, probably because I spent too much time at the airport. I really want a copy of his jazz album. It always fascinates me when someone famous for one thing has a side-passion in something completely different.
  • This isn’t a good example, but I always found it interesting how prior to his career in blowing shit up, Ted Kazczynski was a math prodigy, and published several academic papers, mostly about boundary functions.
  • Both Kevorkian and Kazczynski went to University of Michigan.  (Not at the same time.)
  • I went to the same school as Jim Jones, Meg Cabot, and Joe Buck. (Jones was obviously before my time. Cabot lived in my dorm, I think, but I never knew her. I refuse to discuss Joe Buck.)
  • I went to Wisconsin for the holiday. I got sick. It did not snow. I’m still sick.
  • I guess a new year’s resolution, even though I hate them, is to not get sick anymore. This would probably involve jogging or something, and maybe not eating at Taco Bell four times a week.
  • A k-hole I plan to fall down, when I get off the DayQuil/NyQuil roller coaster, is Oulipo, and Raymond Queneau’s movement on constrained writing. He did this thing called A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, which is like a paper version of those random headline generators, but from 1961. I don’t know any French, and I have no idea what I’m talking about, but it’s a good rabbit hole to fall down, maybe.
  • I have some fascination with constrained writing only because I wrote a ton of stuff just like Atmospheres, and then after the audio book and having to re-read it a dozen times, got really sick of that kind of writing, and thought I needed to write another book where the prose was much more simple. I don’t know what rules I would follow, other than to make it less manic, and maybe stop drinking Red Bull.
  • I was futzing with this app called Hemingway, which calculates the grade level of your writing and points out passive voice and stuff that’s hard to read. Most of the stuff I wrote in Atmospheres is way above the 12th grade level. I think I should just write books of lists at the 3rd grade level.
  • Not to be confused with The Hemingwrite, which is a hipster digital typewriter for about $400, and a kickstarter, which means you probably won’t get it until 2027.
  • I am about 4 for 17 on kickstarters, and just got in the mail this stupid pet camera I must have ordered in like 2011. It showed up right after we got back from vacation, so it’s sort of useless.
  • In 13 minutes, I get to take another dose of DayQuil. I’m pretty happy about that.
  • Other vague resolutions that aren’t are the usual: write more, ignore the news, lose weight, hail satan, etc. You?

I stared at the Jackson Pollock painting for hours, thinking it was a Magic Eye image and I wasn’t getting it

  1. I like writing in numbered lists. But when my blog posts get sent to Goodreads, they strip off the HTML numbering, and that makes it look like a jumble of loose paragraphs.
  2. I take albuterol for allergies, and the smell of it is a very direct reminder of my childhood when I took it. They did change the formula at some point, I think to remove CFCs, but the plastic dispenser is the same shade of bright yellow, with an orange cap.
  3. Tennessee Williams died while putting in eyedrops. He would put the cap in his mouth when he tilted back his head, and choked on it.  (I’m sure he was drunk, too.)  I think about that story every morning when I put in eyedrops.
  4. I take too many allergy medicines, and I’m still miserable. I sometimes think I need to detox from all of them, or move to somewhere like Norway or Iceland where I wouldn’t get allergies.
  5. I once read an article or maybe it was an online quiz, where it determined the best places to live to not get allergies. I’d already lived in most of the places, and had bad allergies there.
  6. Although I am an atheist and do not believe in any sort of higher power, I do believe that I have bad luck, like when I move to an allergy-free city and get allergies anyway. But the belief in “bad luck” would define some kind of mechanism or power that would be causing it, which is confusing to me.
  7. I’m writing on the chaise section of my couch, and one of my cats (Loca) is sitting next to me and staring at me.
  8. I think I pay far more attention to my cats’ health than my own. Every day, I feel panicked that someday, their health will fade and they will die, and I will have to deal with it.
  9. It’s the same sort of distant fear that I had about retirement when I wasn’t working. I knew someday it would happen, and I felt powerless about it, but couldn’t do anything in the immediate future to remedy it.
  10. I like to think my retirement is under control, but I wish it was tomorrow and not in twenty-some years.
  11. My tax person called me today and said she was retiring. She’s going to South America. She did give me another tax person, so we’re not in a lurch. But when talking to her, I found it odd, because she’s probably the only person who knows how much I’ve saved for retirement.
  12. Maybe I should look into the allergy situation in South America. I imagine it’s bad.
  13. Everyone I knew who moved to the US from Asia developed very bad allergies. I used to think this was because of the different types of pollen, but there’s a theory that it has to do with the different bacterias in your gut. It’s why, they theorize, people in less hygienic countries never get allergies, and why they are becoming more of a problem now in sterile, developed countries.
  14. You never hear about the Viet Cong stopping a terror campaign because of hay fever.
  15. I read about this theory because one of the new treatment experiments involves implanting hookworms in your guts. You get sick for a few weeks, but then they balance out the immune system somehow. You can’t get it done in the US anymore, because of the FDA. There are clinics in Mexico, and it costs thousands of dollars. It’s a big new fad in other auto-immune disease communities, like MS.
  16. I’ve seriously considered the hookworm thing, except for the cost, the sickness, and having to explain the whole thing to everyone who asked me.
  17. I got food poisoning when I was in Mexico, but didn’t throw up or have diarrhea. I ate a salad at a plantation tour, and knew as I was eating it that it would cause me to be sick. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
  18. This was the same trip where my crown fell out and I had to get it repaired at a dentist that did not speak English, and I don’t speak Spanish.
  19. I always hated that when I was on a cane or when I had my broken arm, everyone asked me what happened and expected a full explanation. I couldn’t even buy a hot dog at a cart without someone insisting on a full recapitulation of my entire medical history.
  20. All of the good hot dog carts in New York were the ones that cooked them on rollers. Most of them kept them floating in a tub of hot water, though, and I always found those gross. I imagined catching Legionnaires’ Disease from that water.
  21. Legionnaires’ Disease is a bacterial pneumonia discovered after an outbreak at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in 1976, where 182 people got sick and 29 died. 
  22. The bacteria was subsequently named Legionella. It circulated in the air conditioning system of the convention hotel. It worries me that there’s something similar at our building, probably a pollution, that is causing my allergies, and I’ll be stuck trying to sell this house and unable to, like those fracking victims that have to bathe in bottled water and can light their tap water on fire.
  23. The best roller hot dogs were the ones at Papaya King. They seemed thinner than normal hot dogs, with a thick, crispy skin that had a lot of snap to them.
  24. At Juno, they would get a birthday cake for you for your birthday. This one girl who worked there did not like cake, so they got her a bunch of Papaya King hot dogs stacked in a pile like a cake.
  25. Now I am really craving hot dogs.

This week in data hoarding

I’ve been busy scraping stuff from open directories and dumping them onto this RAID array. Some of this week’s finds:

  • The complete run of Omni magazine, in CBR format. I wasn’t familiar with CBR files, because I don’t read comics, but they are essentially a collection of lossless images in a compressed container, along with some metadata so you can get all of the page flips optimized. Reading PDFs on the iPad can be a pain, because each time you page flip, the zoom gets all thrown off, and it’s made for scrolling more than reading. The CBR format, along with a copy of ComicFlow, make for a decent reading experience.  Old Omni is a lot of fun to read, because the ads are so goofy and the predictions are all off. It was a big influence for The Memory Hunter, so it’s nice for me to have them all in one place.
  • I’ve been trying to hunt down old Howard Stern audio for various people. I started by trying to find all of Gilbert Gottfried’s appearances, and then it spiraled from there.
  • My UFO PDF file continues to grow. I’ve been scraping FOIA requests from the Air Force and FBI, and I already have too much to read, but I continue scraping.
  • I found this colossal archive of scanned computer manuals, from mainframes and other big iron of the 60s/70s/80s.  It has an insane amount of DEC, Burroughs, Prime, CDC, and other manuals. I haven’t finished grabbing all of this, because there’s too much. But if you ever need to get a Prime 9955 running again, I can hook you up with docs.
  • I’ve also been trying to rip more of my DVDs. I don’t have my DVDs out anymore, because most of our viewing is on cable or streaming, and I don’t even have a DVD player in the living room anymore. I’m not going A-Z like I did with CDs; I’m mostly trying to hit any stuff that I can’t easily find on a streaming site.

So since 10/26, I’ve added 431 GB and counting, but a lot of that was schlepping things from external drives over to the RAID. Fun stuff.

 

Interactive fiction versus games

I’ve been thinking a lot about interactive fiction, trying to find good examples online and learn how to turn existing books into games, or write new hybrid game/books, and it’s made me consider the definition of the two.

First, I’ve been playing with this tool called Twine. It reminds me a lot of the old Hypercard, which is sadly gone. Twine essentially lets you create an interactive game by creating a bunch of little boxes or cards in its interface (they call them Passages) and then connecting them together. It uses a wiki-like syntax for creating the links. You can also use a collection of macros to do basic if/then logic and set/get variables, or you can use straight JavaScript to do more. When you’re all done authoring, it spits out the target in HTML, which you can easily host wherever.

I’d previously looked at another tool called Inform, which produces a compiled output that can run on a z-machine. Back in the Infocom days of Zork and other programs, they used the z-machine format for text-based games. Now, you can get a z-machine interpreter for just about any platform (including phones) and can play old games like Zork, or a multitude of other games that have since been authored.  (Although playing a game that involves a lot of typing is not that great on a touchscreen phone.)  For me, Inform was a bit of a dead end, because hosting a z-machine game on the web isn’t that intuitive (there are applets and whatnot, but it’s a huge pain and a slightly clunky end-user experience) and learning how to develop something in Inform has a massive learning curve.

As I thought about this, there were a bunch of different types of games or fictions possible with these tools. And in trying to differentiate them, I started thinking about them along three (or four) different axes.

First, there’s the content-per-page axis. Think of a conventional book: it’s got chapters, which vary in size, but are usually a few or a few dozen pages long. In a paper book, where you’re deeply immersed, that’s an okay chunking of the content. Contrast that with a game like Zork, and you’ve got maybe a sentence of content at once. You aren’t thrown long passages of paragraph after paragraph; you are presented with maybe a sentence or two between commands.  (If you don’t remember, here’s a video.)  On a web-based piece of Interactive Fiction, there’s going to be a sweet spot between those two. You want the person to be immersed into what you’re doing, but you don’t want to present them with ten thousand words of scrolling.

Second, there’s the linearity axis.  A conventional paper novel is completely linear: chapter 1, chapter 2, and so on. A choose-your-own-adventure book is a typically a tree structure – here is a great example of one. There’s no real outer bound on this axis, except that you can get more and more insane with the number of nodes, choices, choices per node, and endings. And you can loop. Go dig up an old C343 computer science book and read up on depth and breadth for more info. But there’s going to be a sweet spot there, too. The old Bantam Books CyoA books were bound by their published length, about 120-140 some pages. On the web, there’s no such limitation, aside from the reader’s patience.

(Also a note on linearity: just because a book isn’t having you make choices, doesn’t mean it’s not further down the linearity axis. Even the most rudimentary plotted books are sometimes jumping between the main story and a B story. Fiction can start at the end and work backwards, or jump around, even within a linear book. And things like footnotes and endnotes give you the ability to “jump” to the side for a moment to give you some side info. And you’ve got stuff like Nabokov’s Pale Fire or Cortzar’s Hopscotch, which make Zork look almost linear.)

Third, there’s the game logic axis. Printed novels have no game logic; there are no variables, no javascript, no programming. A game like Zork has a ton of game logic: you have inventory, there are combat rules, things happen at random times, and so on. A dungeon crawler text adventure could be entirely dynamic, spitting out a new map every time you came.

There’s also potentially a fourth axis, which is the presentation level. Books are text, maybe some images.  You could add in more styling, graphics, sound, video, and so on.  If you want to go whole-hog, consider a printed book versus the presentation in a Grand Theft Auto game.

All of this has me pondering what to do for a book like this. The simplest thing would be to take one of my linear novels, like Summer Rain, and make it web-based; a web page per print page, and maybe add in some pretty pictures. That’s pretty boring, and useless – you could just go download the Kindle version. The next level would be taking something like Rumored and arranging it in a tree-like structure, with wiki links between the nodes. That could be interesting. It also makes me think about going in the opposite direction, writing a book that’s interconnected in a web-based structure, and then flattening it into a linear print book. I kinda-sorta did that with The Necrokonicon, which went from wiki to print.  All of the hotlinked words were bolded in print, indicating you could manually page over to that topic.

A project I started messing with was the idea of a game based on a book, something with game logic built into it. I started writing a Twine mashup of Summer Rain and the Necrokonicon. You wake up in a boarding house room in Bloomington in 1992, and then you wander around the sandbox of campus, almost GTA-like, getting dressed and walking to Lindley hall to log into a VAX computer, find people to hang out with, spend your few dollars getting something to eat on Kirkwood.  This was a fun project to start, but exhausting. I needed a solid set of stories to tree up within this large matrix of the campus topics, like people you would need to meet or tasks you would need to accomplish, and I ran out of steam on that.  I also wasn’t finding the right balance on axis 1, unsure of how much text to put on each page. It was a fun distraction, but within a few days, I barely had my house and the few blocks around it mapped out; I could easily burn a thousand hours trying to world-build the thing, and that wouldn’t even get into the story.

I’ve got to get back to other writing, but I do want to do something with this at some point.

Unreliable narrators and autobiographical fiction

This Lena Dunham book has been huge in the memetic ten-second news cycle lately.  I haven’t read it, but the gist of the argument is that her autobiographical(-ish) book has some stuff in it about how she used to share a bed with her sister and occasionally jill off while they were both in bed, and maybe kiss her or not, or shove pebbles in her vagina. There’s a group of people who want to see her hung from a lamppost, and another who are defending her and saying that it’s normal behavior and/or they’re just jealous of her success and/or they don’t get how this could be fiction or an unreliable narrator situation.

I won’t get into my opinion on Dunham, because who cares.  But this demonstrates what I find an interesting flaw in the creative nonfiction genre.  Some people will take everything you say as face value, and even if you write an extremely exact, factual, researched and cited account of a situation, you will still have people tear it apart and give you shit about it. That gives you no latitude to be creative. If I were writing autobiographical fiction and I glossed over some event or fact or tried to frame things so I didn’t look like an asshole or looked worse off than I really was or whatever else, eventually someone is going to come forward and nitpick your work.

Was Lena Dunham adding in this stuff because her work is creative nonfiction and she’s free to be an unreliable narrator for the sake of art?  Maybe, I don’t know. But if she’s going to do that, she’s going to get people who don’t get it and freak the fuck out.  It’s one of the reasons I don’t like writing creative nonfiction anymore.  Any time I write a story about college or childhood and then fictionalize it by changing places and backgrounds and morphing together characters and altering sequences for the sake of storytelling, I always get some genius from the past who shows up and says “HEY MY CAR IN 1988 DIDN’T HAVE FOUR SPEAKERS IT ONLY HAD TWO.”

It’s just like how there’s always some asshole who’s got to reply to my one-line jokes on Facebook by closely analyzing it like I’m writing a peer-reviewed paper on nuclear physics.  It’s a goddamn joke.  Yes, I know that a duck can’t walk into a bar because all doors on commercial spaces open outward and the duck would need fingers to pull open the door.  That’s not the point – go do something more constructive, like telling kids there isn’t a Santa Claus.

What’s odd is that James Frey seemed to have the opposite trouble as Dunham about ten years ago.  He wrote a creative nonfiction book, which was pitched and sold as a straight biography, and then got torn apart because his crazy tales weren’t true.  I think at the time the Frey stuff happened, I thought he was a fraud and the whole thing was phony, but now in retrospect, I like the idea. I think if I did write a “nonfiction” book, I’d purposely make it outlandishly fake, and talk about my time in Japan studying to be a ninja, or how I do heart surgery on the side.

It’s almost bordering on Hunter Thompson’s Gonzo journalism.  And in the same sense, there’s been this whole cottage industry of picking apart HST’s life to prove what is and isn’t true.  (Same with Bukowski, same with Burroughs, and with a million others.)  But that’s the genius and the art of it: it’s all fake. Nothing is true; everything is permitted.  Good luck to Dunham explaining this to her humorless detractors, but it’s something to keep in mind when writing.

More on this “return to blogging” thing

Okay, so Marco Arment says this: http://www.marco.org/2014/11/01/short-form-blogging

And I agree, on a few things.  First, I never understood twitter. It’s a good format for telling a fast dick joke, or dumping a link to a news article with no comment. But it’s not a good way for me to communicate. I can’t even start to think in 140 characters, and even when sharing a simple news story (which I seldom do these days) I need some context around it.

The problem, though: I have this big blog and I have over a thousand posts of over a thousand words each, and I have this subliminal pressure that each new post here has to be a “thing,” like a complete newspaper article or short story. The bar is set too high for me to do anything less than that, and because of that, I go weeks without saying anything.

To me, this isn’t a tool thing. I don’t think anything beyond WordPress would naturally change things. It would give me a new box to not fill up, and make me worry about what belonged in New Thing versus what belonged here, just like how I worry about what belongs in books versus short stories I publish versus here versus twitter.  I could start a new blog, and call it something else (an “update site” or a tumblr or whatever) but, same problem.

This article is closer to my mindset on this stuff.  I need to stop over-thinking what belongs as a post here. I also need to stop thinking about tags and post types, and I especially need to stop thinking about what traffic I get, or how I can get more traffic.  That’s irrelevant. So’s the idea that if I put enough quality text here, that people will somehow find it by searching. The days of searching and SEO are largely dead.  I rarely fire up a raw google box and type in “cool stuff about ninjas” and expect to find a quality site or blog that I will fall in love with.  I shouldn’t waste my time trying to write content with that kind of mindset.

But I do enjoy reading sites like that, personal sites by people with content about their lives, and not just top ten lists masquerading as articles, or news sites.  It seems like all of the content I now read is nothing but this. I feel like I’m not alone in this, and if people actually blogged genuine, sincere content, people would want to read it.  The next question everyone will ask is “sure, but how do you make money with it?” And that’s the problem.  We need to stop fucking asking ourselves how we’re going to make money on it, and actually live.