magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Because definitely what I need is more webapp ideas that I don't have time to develop.



Anyway, following on from a Twitter conversation, I'm wondering how it would work to make a writing program which could track the genders of a number of characters and then arbitrarily shuffle them. What I'm picturing is, simplified, something like this:

• At the top of the document are a number of fields which ask for a character name (or a list of character references, such as name and nickname and other variations) and pairs the name with a gender (and its associated set of pronouns).

• Each character you add is arbitrarily assigned a color (or icon or other distinguishing visual marker).

• As you type, a parser will keep track of which name (or referent) has been typed last for each of the original genders. When you type a pronoun, it will look at the last character reference matching that pronoun's set, and highlight the pronoun (or assign it the correct icon) to associate it with the specific character. It'll also have some kind of (mouseover?) menu to allow users to correct its assumption about which character it refers to.

• When you finish writing, each pronoun will be associated with a character. So you can hit a shuffle button, and then the characters' genders will be shuffled, and each pronoun can be brought back into compliance with the character's gender.

Needless to say, this would fail in a lot of situations. Take, for example:

• Dialogue. "He's not coming today," he said. (I mean, I guess I could set up a sub-parser which kept track of the last character reference inside a set of quotes?)

• Ambiguiety. We'll just call this the Randall Munroe exploit. I guess people would just have to make close, personal friends with the drop-down menus?

• Gay porn. I am reliably informed by people who have tried to write gay porn that pronouns are a nightmare anyway. And humans are better at parsing language than computers are.

• Unexpected cases. Language is complicated, yo!

I feel like there should be a way to handle this, and that it probably involves algorithms. I'm a bit worried that trying to write a general-purpose pronoun shuffler would actually require re-inventing Google Translate. Any computational linguists out there who want to point out things I'm missing?
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Holy crap, I think I've got a short story done in draft. (Well, "short"; it's roughly 6600 words long. One of these days I'll figure out* how to write at commonly-acceptable lengths like 3000-4500 words.) I think I started this one sometime in mid-November. Not a bad start to the year, even if I probably won't have it out the door today!

* This is probably a lie.

Over the past few days of trying to tie everything together, I've been thinking about a couple of things.

Neepery on characters being afforded plausible choices. )

Neepery on plots that dig deep and plots that go far. )

And on we go. I've been writing for as long as I can remember, publishing for... yikes, 2005 was nine years ago already, wasn't it? –and editing professionally for over a year, and I've been to one of the most prestigious writing workshops in the speculative fiction field, and I still often feel like I have no idea how fiction works or how to write something that functions. Then again, I hear that this never really goes away, so I'd best get comfortable with continually working to figure things out and put neat labels on the tools in my toolbox.

[ETA] Welp, I read over it, and I'm still not entirely happy with the arc – but I'm not sure what I can do to fix it without writing a different story. So I sent it out! Because if nothing else, starting the year on a submission has some nice symbolic heft, and it is sometimes the case that other people like my fiction more than I do after a long writing/tweaking process. &o.o&

There are just about 50 minutes left in January 1. I'm doing pretty well!
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I'm staying home sick today. It's been one thing after another: waking up at 4 and being unable to get back to sleep, getting severe cramps, being unable to breathe due to congestion, getting a bloody nose... on like this. And because I can't go into the office, I'm missing a meeting, and because I'm missing a meeting, I spent a good two hours – before the workday would even start, mind you, as I sent in my sick note at around 6 – stressing about it.

And I think, you know, this is really sort of a screwed up system this society's built, isn't it, that I have all this guilt and stress over missing a day of work due to circumstances beyond my control? I'm eating healthy. I'm getting about an hour of exercise, if not more, just about every day. I'm sleeping enough. It's not as though I'm getting sick over some sort of negligence on my part, and the two previous days this week where I was too sick to go in, I worked from home and met all my goals and deadlines. Illness is a natural part of being alive, and should not be something to feel guilt over.

And yet.

And really, a lot of these fundamental assumptions of How Things Go are kind of screwed-up. I've been reading through The 4-Hour Workweek recently, and kinda going "Hm, I wish, I wish" at it, but the central message is something of a paradigm shift: the entire professional life is built around putting off the things that are valuable to you until you've lost the best (most healthy, most free, most able, for the most part) years of your life. And as an added twist, the thing that's to take up most of our waking hours, the thing by which society expects us to define ourselves ("What do you do?" "I'm a web application developer." I am is a powerful term) is the mechanism by which we make money. Making money doing something we find meaningful is considered an advanced skill – and something you're lucky to have.

...I've been reading a lot about earthships, too (in that same I wish, I wish) vein), and one of the things Earthship Man Michael Renolds says is that economies should exist to take care of people; people shouldn't live to take care of economies. (One of the tenets of the earthship philosophy is that people shouldn't be reliant on an economy for the basics of their survival.) It's a compelling idea.

I find that, more and more, I want to be engaged in something meaningful. I'm lucky to have my job, and I'm learning from it – not just about the technical skills, but also about things like project management, documentation and reference structure, interacting with people and communicating clearly, setting measurable goals and motivating myself through them – but there's only a very small service component (I'm helping to support the University, and education is one of my big starry-eyed idealistic values), and there's no spiritual component to it, at all. I feel like if I didn't have the dry, pragmatic concerns – cost of living, cost of paying debt, especially my mountain of student loan debt – I wouldn't be at this job at all.

I don't know what I would be doing. I have dreams, certainly – teaching (teaching something), writing, building Earthships, building communities – but they're all dreams at this stage. For some, I don't know what my criteria for success are. For others, I don't know the criteria to begin.

I want to do something more with my life than what I'm doing. I want to know how to start.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I blogged a little bit, earlier, about getting myself even-keeled through meditation, and I was actually kinda surprised at the response I got back from it. Given my own newfound fascination with the topic, I suppose I shouldn't have been, but I think I'm getting used to my interests either diverging sharply from those of my peer group or just being niche interests in the first place. So assuming there's interest in more of this, and proceeding on the assumptions that

1) Solutions are pretty meaningless without problems, and

2) Writing things down helps me order and deal with things,

I might as well write this up.

First,

A brief overview

Here's a snapshot of my life at the moment: I'm working 40 hours a week in my full-time job, an additional four hours (plus a few hours baking and possibly an hour in transit, setup, teardown, transit) at the Farmer's Market (Saturday mornings), and trying to rekindle an active life in the UU Church on Sundays. Combined, this is my major time commitment over the week, as well as meaning that there isn't a single day during the week when I can sleep in, unless I consider 9:00 on Sundays to be sleeping in. I'm working the Clarion West Write-a-thon, which, in my case, has me writing one complete short story or novel chapter, or revising one short story, every week. I'm in a two-bedroom house which is now housing three people, two cats, a dog, and some gerbils. I'm trying to untangle several years' worth of tangled-up finances, which keep getting compounded by red tape (Iowa Student Loan, I'm looking at you) and odd errors (such as the person at Paul's who accidentally charged me the last four digits of my debit card rather than the cost of goods, and then had to have it refunded through my bank). I'm preparing for a move, and a possible side gig as a freelancer.

Those are all big, overarching things, which aren't the same as specific issues, which is significant. But they're situational stressors, which are also significant. More on that later.

Wallowing and solving

I haven't talked much about the crap what goes on in my life, because I'm making a concerted effort to be productive about it, and I recognized a trap that I used to get caught in. Basically, there's a trick I noticed some time ago: if someone has a problem, and they talk a lot about that problem, but they reject all approaches toward solving that problem, odds are they're not invested in having that problem solved. Which is understandable. Attempting to solve a problem takes effort, and there's no guarantee that it'll work, and effort and failure are both daunting things. Someone may earnestly want a problem to be solved, but be unwilling to take any action to solve it. They'll find problems with all the proposed solutions, dismiss ideas with "I can't" or some variation without seeming to consider how they could, or put in token effort and then, when that fails, dismiss the entire thing as a wash. So I catch myself having mental conversations like this:

Me (whiny): I wish I had more money. I have all this debt to pay off.

Me (sensible): Well, let's look at ways of handling this. You could prioritize your spending and increase your payments.

Me (whiny): I've done that, but it'll still take a long time to pay.

Me (sensible): Then let's look at how you could make more money. Could you get a raise, or find extra work?

Me (whiny): I don't have time for another job, and I haven't been here for long enough to negotiate a raise, especially since I think we're under a pay freeze.

Me (sensible): Have you looked into the specifics of the pay freeze or salary increases? And if you don't have time for another job, how about freelancing? Or looking to prioritize your time a bit more?

Me (whiny): I can't prioritize my time any more! There are only so many hours in the day!

Me (sensible): And how many of those hours do you spend doing not much? How many hours do you spend doing things like surfing the internet or playing video games? Are you accepting those as a higher priority than making more money and solving this problem?

Me (whiny): I have to do those things to recharge my batteries. I don't have the emotional energy to start freelancing.

Me (sensible): Have you looked into ways of increasing your mood and building up emotional energy in better ways? There's great research on the mood-lifting effects of regular exercise, and often you don't feel that great when you're surfing the web or playing video games; you might be using those as a crutch rather than a genuine way to feel better and solve your problems.

Me (whiny, in summary): Look, solving this problem is hard and I don't want to try to! I just want to complain!

...and that gets me nowhere. So when I catch myself with this thought process:

1) I have this problem! I hate having this problem! => 2) I'm going to write a blog post about my problem!

I try to short-circuit it and turn it into this:

1) I have this problem! I hate having this problem! => 2) I'm going to sit down and find a way to solve this problem.

And when I do that, the funny thing is that I'll occasionally find a way to solve the problem, and then I'll solve it, and once I solve it, I don't really need to blog about it any more. As a result, I suppose the entire process has been pretty opaque to people who aren't me.

But there are things I haven't solved yet...

Which I've been shutting up about because I'm still in the "Don't complain, SOLVE" stage. It's interesting – writing things down, breaking things apart and examining the issues, is actually a really big part of how I problem-solve. It's just that when I do it publicly, I always have to be wary of taking sympathy and validation instead of solutions. Because the problem is, a lot of the time when someone complains and people come by and say "Oh, that's horrible! That is such a big problem!", they go away with this empty, palliative feeling. There, see? I have sympathy. People know what a terrible thing I'm enduring, and they agree that it's a serious thing, and they think I'm totally cool for enduring it. And they walk away with a temporary high and the same exact problem.

But I figure there's a middle ground to be had. So! If you folk will promise to keep me on track, I'll try to open up this process for you. And maybe we can all learn a few things from each other.

Deal?

Case study coming very soon.

*Subject line referencing The Willpower Engine, a blog dissecting specific mechanisms of motivation, willpower, behavior, emotional repair, habit-forming, etc. I've found it a fantastic resource.

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magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
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