Thursday, June 20, 2013

A creative slump

I am uncertain if this post making excuses for low productivity in the last two weeks or trying to resolve the roadblocks.  Last week I rarely had a day over 700 words and weekend was a write off.  This week I opened with 2100, hit 1000 on Tuesday and effectively nothing yesterday and some doodles todays.

Without going into specifics, I encountered a problem that some scenes are in the wrong order, and or setting.  Foolishly I added a secondary story arc. The appearance it is ill-timed because for the characters involved there are so little options for them to act on any rebellion would lead to a nearly identical action.  There are problems with pacing.

In any version of the story I will tell, a rescue craft gets sent on a dangerous journey to get help from a not particularly nearby outpost.  In the original vision of the project, this small boat trek was going to be an at the core of the adventure.  However now I am faced with the the problem of it starting very far into the overall narrative.  This has the net effect of nearly resetting things.  Essentially becoming a part two in what was to be a self contained narrative.  This irritates me. I am close to writing those moments.

The knowledge that I am at a point where, I could potentially repeat myself just to jump ahead to a second narrative is slowing me down.  Some of the writing has been treading water as I try to digest where I want to go with who.  It remains an open question if I want to stick with the first person singular perspective I started with or move to a multi character viewpoints perspective.

I have to give myself some credit I have written 29,000 words. That alone reminds me that this project is possible and finite in scope.  Some of the words are in the wrong order but scenes I have created will likely find a place even if the setting and order will change.

In fact the more I think about a change of setting the more I realise how much more story there can be told there and how much more I can capitalize on my love and hate for the north.  It also has to be noted that thanks to the Tens of Thousands of words I have hammered into this project, the characters are more complete and have lives of their own.  The world has surprised me with creating unplanned details and unexpected character motivations.

The problem it would seem is not a lack of ideas but an understanding that the structure I have them built into is deeply imperfect.  It has also come to my attention that my brain is too small for this project.  Thankfully a local dollar store had tabloid sized newsprint doodle books for kids on for cheap. With these I can refine my timeline and doodle the future. Mind you remapping the narrative reinforced the structural and plot holes I have created for myself.

The conclusion I have remains the same, write the parts I know need written, write the parts that connect them. I may suck, but this is still a first draft of what is the largest writing exercise I have undertaken.  A slump is not a failure, but it can not be encouraged either.  I am still pushing myself, but somedays pushing forward only keeps you in place.

Writing slightly too slow but  still writing.

Alexander van Houten.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Big Kid's Table

This post was started during the American election last year it is still relevant and will remain so indefinitely.

Frequently a report on the news illustrates a lack of basic science knowledge in elected officials. Any given week in the American news cycle will feature some form or willful ignorance or base misunderstanding.  While I largely believe people should be free to believe things as they wish, I also believe those representing the public have an obligation not be misinformed.

This post started to take shape after the incident at Fukushima Daiichi complex and when zealots were campaigning against smart meters here in Vancouver.  In the coverage of these stories misunderstanding of science at some basic levels lead to interpretations of risk that were far above the reality of the situations.  The ignorance extends from reporting to technical misunderstandings like these can lead to decisions that are ultimately not in the public interest.  In the interest of pushing for science in government and public discourse I propose the Big Kid's Table Quiz.  Just as a child at a large gathering will need to mind their manners to sit with the grownups, so our officials must demonstrate an understanding of reality to represent us on that topic.

Question 1
Which is larger

A: The Earth
B: The Milky way
C: The Moon
D: The Sun

Question 2
When is it appropriate to cite the bible.

1: On subjects related to environmental science, including but not limited to climate change.
2: On matters of personal freedoms, women's rights
3: On matters concerning legal structures and cultural practices of a bronze age nomadic tribe.
4: Never.
3: Which of the following are examples of Ionizing radiation

  1.   Microwaves
  2.   Wifi waves
  3.   Cellphone Rays
  4.   Gamma Rays
  5.   None of the Above.

4  A greenhouse gas is:

  1. Any gas trapped in a greenhouse
  2. A naturally occurring constituent of the atmosphere capable of trapping heat.
  3.  A liberal conspiracy concocted by Al Gore to increase his wealth through the use   of insider trading on carbon credits. 
  4.   Not at all responsible for the temperature regime on the surface of the earth. 
5: Carbon Dioxide is a what:
    1: A natural product of animal and plant metabolism
    2: An industrial waste from the combustion of fossil fuels
    3: A greenhouse gas
    4: A poison at high concentrations
    5: All of the Above
    6: None of the above.

6: Nuclear fission is.
  1. Any fish caught from the deck of the USS Jimmy Carter
  2. The process, there heavy unstable atomic nuclei are broken into smaller particles  and energy is released.
  3. A reasonably safe and clean form of energy that does not produce massive  quantities of greenhouse gases.
  4. The process that occurs in stars where light atomic nuclei are joined together to release energy and for heavier elements.
  5. 2 and 3
  6. None of the above.

7: which of the following are harmful to humans circle all that apply

  1.  A radio wave
  2.  The light from a light bulb
  3.  The light from a tanning bed
  4.  An X-ray

8: The scientific Consensus on the nature of Climate change and global warming is

  1.  Based on carefully collected and analyzed statistics of both modern and past climates.
  2.  A conspiracy put forth by freedom hating liberals.
  3. Wrong because it suggests policy should be influenced by facts not just beliefs.
  4. A conspiracy created by tens of thousands of scientists and technicians to undermine the american way of life.
  5. Alarmist because the facts suggest immediate action to avoid costly effects such as sea level rise, or radical climate change.

9:  When explaining the interactions of complex global systems such as weather and climate, what model do you employ.  A myth from a bronze age tribe, or models based on data collected and analyzed by trained professionals, justify your answer.

10: Rank in order of energy density. 1 for least dense 5 for most dense.

Wind power   ___
Coal, Natural Gas, petroleum __
Nuclear fission ___
Solar power ___
Hydroelectric ___

Etcetera.  Naturally this quiz is incomplete and only addresses natural science topics where ignorance of them irritates me.  It is also the recommendation that should enough of the representatives fail the test that legislative body should receive a suitable primer from a qualified expert(s) in the field(s) in question.

Be a radical with Science.

Over thinking the movies, Man of Steel

Point one, Spoilers.
Point two, I did enjoy the movie and I think great many people will too.
Point three, I will have fun at its expense.
Now to the fun bit.

Generic Superman origin story opens on Krypton with the Gladiator explaining geology to the government.   The armwavium used to explain the impending doom                  is the act of mining Krypton's core for energy has hollowed out the planet. This raises a few questions.

Firstly what was the core being mined for.  And don't say Kryptonite.  I am taking a mostly uniformitarian stance. I am assuming that physics is the same over time and space and therefore what happens on earth can happen elsewhere, it is a science fiction universe so there are some rules being bent but they are bent the same way every where.

It was stated that the interior of the planet had been hollowed out to power their civilization. A civilization with enormous power needs. Flying cities on a high gravity planet demonstrate that clearly.

Option A Heat. Assumption, Krypton is a super-Earth with a similar composition.

Cooling the planets liquid outer core to extract heat would provide massive power but would accelerate the enlargement of the solid inner core. The cooling would shrink the core contracting the planet around it.  While that could cause earthquakes and volcanism it would not explode.  Mercury has experienced a similar phenomenon and will not be going anywhere for another 5 billion years.

The down side is you would have to use the heat to produce secondary energy storage media. On the upside while you're down there you would have access to stupendously large amounts of iron.  However this model disagrees with the notion of physically mining the world's core.

Option B, Thorium and Uranium Assumption, still assumes and iron rich core but not necessarily having an liquid phase outer core.  Because of Krypton's advanced age Thorium with its approximately 13 billion year half life would be the most abundant fissile material on the planet.

I have no idea if there are any processes that could produce minable deposits of fissile elements in a planetary core, secondly I doubt the volumes would approach planetary collapse scales. If they were extracting iron and other industrial materials while they were down there perhaps they could shrink the planet a few tenth of a percent. Not that Krypton would stoop so low as to use fission.

Option C, Cavorite  a form of unobtainium opaque to all radiation including gravity.  Advantage, would be ideal for building floating cities, would be valuable enough to drive planetary scale ventures.

Now none of these options explain the later explosion of Krypton.  I propose waste plutonium was stored in the core as backfill for their mining.  When the exotic alloy supports failed and the mantle and crust fell on the core the mass went supercritical and kaboom.  Bonus Kaboom if there was an excess of heavy water on the planet. Though I suspect this would mostly result in a remelted and highly radioactive core and mantle which might just be the thing to revive the economy.

Now that I have the geologic arm waving out of my system its time to pick on the more conventional annoyances.

At the time of Kryptons collapse and detonation the skies were well with seemingly self contained flying skyscrapers.  They appeared able to hover at any elevation and largely ignored aerodynamics in favour of style.  Since they clearly knew the failure was coming why could not a few city ships escape. A failure made even more senseless in the face of two technologies that would allow a hot restart of the civilization nearly anywhere.  Replicator level additive manufacturing and exo-womb technology. With those technologies in their control extinction should have been near impossible.

Since Kryptonian technology is not to blame you have to consider their culture.  With both a planned economy and planned reproduction it strikes me that a metaphor of Communism. The American vision of a communist state, grey and colourless.  Krypton is nearly all in greys, with a few speckles of gold on the big hats to show rank. In the Fortress of Solitude, the communist metaphor is delivered with a proverbial hammer in the form of the animated history of Krypton done in the style of soviet art deco. Lastly baby pod was modeled after this classic space probe body.
Place superbaby here.
Luna 9

Yet even if I accept the soviet Krypton metaphor and the empire collapsed because the center stopped managing the fringes I still have trouble with the wholesale extinction of the race.  Zod states that their culture had an empire lasting 100,000 years.  A time span longer than we have been making cave paintings, alters my view of Ka El and any other surviving Kryptonians.

From that moment on Ka El, stopped being the lost son of a dead civilization, and became the last son of a has been civilization.  For at least 100,000 years they terraformed worlds, expanded through the galaxy and failed to produce splinter cultures.  Am I to believe that not one colony broke off to pursue its own agenda, or that the terraforming was so technology dependant that one failed energy shipment dooms your world.  Am I? If yes than I am convinced that they earned their doom, and Krypton truly was a has been civilization.  They had a run and failed.  To further doom them, the only template for the kryptonian people was on one memory chip modeled after Lucy's head.  The moral of the movie, always have an off site backup.

The nitpicking list.
  • As my sister pointed out if Superman can function in a vacuum and kryptonia air weakens him don't breath
    • Alternately He has a Cloaca and breathing is not the only gas exchange option for him.
  • The alien USB key was found not to be on the periodic table and therefore non terrestrial.  Find a better chemist. 
  • Metropolis is nearly equatorial, its antipode was depicted as being in the south Indian ocean, but native net fisherman was not dressed for anything but the tropics. 
  • The Phantom drive plus Phantom drive = black hole final battle would have won Stephan Hawking his Nobel Prize, if any instruments where their to measure it.  The resulting singularity would have been small enough to evaporate in a small fraction of a second, proving him right.
  • On Ellesmere island, night is a season.  And 40 below is only the beginning of cold. 
  • The west coast fourth wall is thin, in good ways.  Canadian Shoulders exist and only a Canadian production team would do with a logging truck and trees what they did.   
  • It took 12 years but a movie came out for the american audience that depicts skyscrapers being demolished.
  • During a redundantly long battle, full of hulk smash moments, was waiting for it to end so I could have more plot.  
  • In the Kryptonian sky a moon is shown as already broken up with massive chunks conveniently hovering in space.  Hollywood it is time you learn about Roche limits. 
  • What organ got repurposed to produce x-rays
  • Did Smallville have a cancer outbreak in the late 1990s from Clark Kents uncontrolled X-ray vision.  
There are naturally endless was to pick on this movie but this was my things. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Inspiration VS The other stuff.


When last I posted here I contemplated a terrible career move. I put my fingers to work because I realized it was not a joke and the conditions are favourable. The goal to finish a first draft of a novel before the money and time window starts to close. This I am taking seriously. Today, I find contemplate why this time window is being better used. And the answer is largely I said screw inspiration its time to get to work.  

Don't get me wrong there was inspiration. The inspiration for the novel is ten years old. The outline grew out of some narratives of Antarctic exploration. I toyed with, and day dreamed about various aspects of the fictional universe over the years. The first chapter was started several times over the years. Forward progress was always limited. The same mistakes kept me trapped in the first chapter.  

The first mistake, to proofread and revise freshly written work.  This sucks the momentum out of the project.  When the block you are fixing is the first chapter of many, trying to make it perfect is a waste. The full scope of the people and places in the universe is unknown, so how could you know what the perfect opening is.
Similarly I would delay because not all the technical details I needed to satisfy my intellect were filled. 

The second major mistake was waiting for inspiration.  Inspiration is great, a project of the scope which I am attempting is born of inspiration. The shape of the world the arc of the stories are inspired, but so much of what comes from inspiration for me are the big general things.   To write a sci-fi novel Grand Big Ideas are key, but they need to be connected with the little human moments.  

Now I choose to sit down everyday and write.  The skeleton created by inspiration gets its flesh when put myself down to the job of connecting A to B. I am not always sitting down on fire with ideas. Often I have a sketch of what will happen next and to whom.  I write it knowing it will not likely survive the rewrite and I may not even like the phrasing or style I just used, but I need to finish the draft. 

So I plug a head. I choose to keep myself thinking about the people and the world.  I will go for walks to clear my head, and often plot out the next 700 to 1000 words. It is a conscious choice, I fight the urge to land in a lower energy state that of not thinking about the project.  I do not spend my time being inspired I am choosing to spend my energy on being creative.  That choice has taken me from thinking 500 words is a good day to doing 1100 words on a regular basis. 

The novel exists as a nearly 4 dimensional object in my head, with past incarnations, future revisions and the central backbone. The first draft gets written with the knowledge that it falls short of what I would wish people to read. The first draft gets written so that it can be built into a book that others will find engaging.  The first draft is written with an awareness of its flaws but to keep moving I do not dwell. 

There is one other thing I know about the first draft. Each new sentence expands the world, both forward into the story and back.  This enrichment only comes from plowing ahead. That progress lets me tolerate the errors and shortcomings.  Only by writing to the end can I loop back and make the beginning and middle fit perfectly.  

Typing fast and living Cheaply.
Alexander van Houten.