Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

July 25, 2010

The flat-packed nightmare

Filed under: family,news of the day — lexifab @ 12:41 am

So back at the start of the year we ordered this sweet captain’s bed for the Joey’s room. Underneath the high-set single bed, it has a trundle bed on wheels and three drawers slung beneath that. Pretty damn cool, right? You can store stuff and have someone sleep over. Just what every growing boy needs (for a good many years, at any rate).

The first problem was the delivery, which was delayed, and then didn’t arrive at the new time, and then couldn’t be located at the depot despite the insistence of their online tracking software that, yes, that was where it had been for over three weeks now. Eventually they located it and called me to arrange a time to be home to take delivery of it. Then they delivered it the day after that. And the delivery guy dropped one of the boxes before he’d even managed to get it off the truck.

The next problem came shortly after the bed arrived, when we carted the thirty or so separate components upstairs, via the narrow staircase with the bend halfway through that was obviously designed to ensure that no plank-shaped objects would ever invade and terrorise the upstairs rooms. Shortly thereafter we noticed that one of the main pieces (like the headboard, but down the other end of the bed) was split almost in half, and even gluing it would not fix it as the split had gone through several load-bearing pre-drilled holes. This discovery may not have been entirely unrelated to the “dropped in the back of the delivery truck” incident. So after the back and forth of several explanatory emails which included photogenic evidence (including one where I had to print out a copy of the assembly instruction, circle what I assumed was the broken part and scan that back in to resend, so that “the warehouse” could identify the correct part for replacement) the new backing board – or whatever – was duly delivered. Two days late.

By this time our enthusiasm and opportunity for assembling the bed had passed, so it went into plastic-wrapped storage in the shed. Until this weekend, that it, when we finally decided that we had the time to tackle the long-overdue fabrication of our little boy’s exciting new furnishings.

We started with an instruction-translation error that resulted in about three quarters of an hour of undoing and remedial fixes, as well as the first trip across town to the hardware store to get some replacement dowels. Then to work, putting the main bed together first. That went pretty smoothly after the initial snafu, and for a brief but tantalising moment we imagined that the rest of the job would be smooth sailing as well. Not long after that we realised that several more  important components were, in fact, not present. These included the (not vital) castor wheels that would be attached to the base of the trundle bed, the (fairly important) drawer runners for the third drawer (two sets were present, though it took us some time to work that out because there were no instructions for assembling the drawer runners and we had no idea how to do it), and the (very fucking critical) bolts and locking nuts that held the frame of the trundle bed together. The trundle-and-drawer structure was pretty much unable to exist without those bolts.

So off to the hardware store for the second time that day, wherein I wandered about trying to match the vague and laughably inaccurate list of components that came with the instructions to actual hardware items with real world names and measurements. Eventually, with much head scratching on the part of the one-armed hardware guy (I didn’t ask how it happened – I just assumed like probably everyone before me that power tools were involved – but he did literally scratch his head with his cybernetic pincer-hand), we puzzled out how my bolt-and-nut needs might be met and I was on my way home again.

It turns out that while I did have the right sorts of components, they were perhaps not an exact match for the ones that should have come with the bed, because I couldn’t quite get them to fit. That would not have mattered so much, but the pre-drilled holes scattered through the boards were either precisely calibrated to fit the specified components and nothing else, or they were just drilled too fucking shallow to fit the nuts in. Eventually after wrestling with trying to get these damn things to lock together for about an hour, I resorted to the drill fitted with a boring bit and tore the bed about four new ones.

We started putting this thing together at about ten this morning – I was still drilling the last of the base slats into place at ten to seven, while the Joey was finishing his bath, the last thing in his daily routine before bedtime.

All. Freaking. Day. A Saturday, let me remind you. And I actually started the day feeling pretty good after suffering through the full gamut of flu symptoms during the week – but after eight or so hours hunched, twisted and slouched over this recalcitrant timber-and-particle-board nightmare, my back and arms and neck are all killing me. I’m going to need painkillers just to get to sleep, unless I miss my guess.

On the other hand – it looks fantastic. So job well done, eh?

(Never again. Please, never again).

July 23, 2010

A sense of incalculable loss

Filed under: now playing: anything,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 11:20 pm

I’ve managed to misplace the iPod Shuffle I’ve been using since Fiona won it as a lucky door prize at an Xmas function last December. But that’s just an annoying side note, it’s not what this post’s all about.

Four years ago, I orchestrated a Lexicon game – which, you will recall, is a wiki-based game in which, turn by alphabetical turn, the participants write a brief entry relating to some fictitious subject and linked to several other such entries, upon completion of which an encyclopedic summary of the hitherto completely nonexistent subject has been created – called (thank you Simon) The Sounds of Lightning: The History of Punk, Emo and Hardcore Bands in the New Salisbury Region 1975-2000. TSoL, as it was occasionally abbreviated, was set in – and greatly expanded – my fictional inland Australian city of New Salisbury (also known as the Sawl), a place I created originally for an Unknown Armies game and then kept adding to with various bits of (mostly unshared) fiction.

Since starting the 750 Words thing (yes, that again – get used to me bringing it up…), I’ve recently been digging through my old files trying to recover stuff I’d written about the Sawl. Last week I tried to access the Schtuff.com wiki site to haul the old TSoL entries out of deep internet storage, only to discover that Schtuff has been taken over by another company, and the old accounts had been suspended. Even worse, a couple of emails to the administrators of the new site owners confirmed that they had only migrated data from the original wiki infrastructure to their new site for a relatively brief period, after which all the unmigrated wikis were declared abandoned and (I presume) deleted – it is no longer possible to recover materials from Schtuff.com, according to the admins of the descendant site.

I was gutted by this news. Although I hadn’t revisited it in the intervening period, I have always been quite proud of the wealth of material generated during that game, by quite a few people whose imagination and creative flair i respect enormously (I have vague recollections of who the dozen or so initial contributors were – including that guy Jeff who just dropped in from the wilds of the internet when I linked from Lexifab to the site where Lexicon games were originally devised and discussed – though it’s likely I’ve forgotten several someones).

Of course it fell apart halfway through, shedding players round after round as busy lives and the relentless tedium of generating new ideas within highly restrictive writing constraints overwhelmed the sheer creative fun of it. If I recall correctly it died around the letter ‘O’. I have no way to check, though, since the computer on which wrote all my entries, my old orange clamshell iBook, no longer exists, but that would not be atypical. By comparison a more recent Lexicon game hosted by MizEmma, Eternity-8, on the subject of a future changed by the discovery of an age-suspending serum, stuttered to a halt halfway through ‘S’, so at least our collective endurance is improving, if fractionally.

I’m sad that The Sounds of Lightning seems gone forever. There was some real gold in them thar hills (some of which I had hoped to refer to in one of my current writing projects, hence my sudden and tragically belated salvage efforts) and it seems a shame that no traces remain of what was a massive collective writing endeavour. If nothing else, I am taking it as a salutory reminder to back up, duplicate offsite, encloud or in some other way preserve the stuff I’ve written. All of it, even the rubbish, because some day I might suddenly have a use for it.

(Additional plea: if you happened to be one  of the TSoL participants and if you happen to have kept any text files with your old entries in them, please get in touch and send them to me. I’d love to see what can be discerned from the arrow heads and shards of broken pottery that remain of it).

July 21, 2010

Alien Swarm

Filed under: fitter/happier,now playing: anything — lexifab @ 1:24 pm

Today I am still feeling under the weather and I’ve stayed at home, ostensibly to avoid the possibility of infecting anyone but mainly because I just can’t be arsed going to work. Everyone there is a bit under-motivated at the moment what with the director leaving and the staffing down to ridiculously inadequate levels.

So here I am at home, slightly dizzy and needing to go out, but not really keen to do so on account of the likely effect of the dizziness on the driving skills. On the other hand I also don’t really want to walk, so I am in a bind. Well, I’m not really in a bind, I’m just not going out yet. It only has to be a fairly short trip to the shops, but I’m really dubious about how good an idea that will be in my current state. Nothing like tempting fate to make you wish that you hadn’t. On the other hand, the cool air and daylight might actually contribute something positive to my condition, so I have not discounted the possibility of going out altogether. I’m just working my way up to it.

There are plenty of things keeping me indoors, after all. There’s the newly released Alien Swarm, for one. It’s a new game from Valve Software (makers of Half-Life 2, Portal, Left 4 Dead, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress 2 and the now-ubiquitous Steam Software). I’ve been playing the shit out of their stuff for the past few months – especially Team Fortress 2, which has single-handedly reversed my qualms about playing online shooting games – so the fact that they have a new cooperative alien-slaughtering game out is a no-brainer for me. I downloaded it last night and have had a couple of games this morning. The interface for finding an active game is a little impenetrable – I kept ending up in games that seemed to be full until I realised that I was sitting in the queue of a game in progress and that as soon as they finished a level or everyone died, I would be able to join.

So far I have not distinguished myself all that commendably – I played a medic, as is my preferred stance in any new online environment (because I want people to love and validate me, and everyone loves the medic right? Well right up until the moment he fails to deploy healing correctly and you die, so no, not everyone loves the medic…) – but healing is a tricky prospect in this game and it will take some practise to learn when and where to do it.

But what is Alien Swarm? It’s an overhead point of view cooperative shooter, in which four hardy marines stumble about a base/colony/ship overrun by sort-of-insectoid aliens, and blow them to bits with heavy weaponry. Of course, they can also blow each other to bits, especially when they are all running around like batshit four year olds blasting everything in sight. It is in fact rather a tricky tactical exercise, made doubly difficult for me since I forgot to order a sound card when I had this computer built and therefore I am unable to participate in voice chat. Makes it a bit hard to join in the fun of bellowing (via Hudson) “They’re in the walls, man!” and spraying automatic gunfire everywhere if you’re the only one who can hear you screaming.

There’s a bit of a tactical challenge involved at the start of each round, as well, in loading out your character with equipment and secondary weapons. There are essential tools like healing kits, extra ammo crates, body armour, and welding torches (for the all-important job of sealing off that hatch so the critters can’t follow you, or cutting open a previously-sealed door to get through to the mission objectives). You only get three slots – a primary weapon and two extra equipment slots, one of which can be a secondary weapon – so making the choice from the tonnes of kickarse guns and useful-sounding gadgets can be hard.

There’s also a limited range of classes – a leader type (whose virtues are not entirely apparent to me), a special weapons trooper (who gets a better array of guns to choose from), a medic (who can heal their teammates, obviously) and a tech, whose job it is to hack terminals, weld doors and probably do some other tricksy things that I haven’t seen yet in the hour or so that I’ve played. The tech is actually quite a challenging job – hacking terminals and locked doors involved a number of basic solo mini-games that are not really all that difficult, except that everyone else is being overrun by aliens and screaming at you to “Hurry up with the door, man!”. And of course you can’t defend yourself while you’re hacking, so if your teammates are not on the ball, something else will probably be hacking you at the same time (or at least your lovely torso).

There are the usual array of achievements, as well. No Valve game is complete without a tasty selection of essential-and-yet-meaningless Pavlovian motivators. So far I’ve managed to pick ones up for healing the whole party, surviving a mission without losing the technician (apparently the techs are made of paper, or else people just let them get murdered a lot) and, remarkably, for completing a mission without a friendly fire incident. I say remarkable because in most games I’ve played, your squadmates tend to walk straight through your lines of fire pretty much constantly, whether you happen to be emptying a magazine at the time or not…

Anyway, that’s a quick and dirty summary. Alien Swarm is available for free, so there’s no reason not to pick it up (well, you do have to have the Steam client installed as well, so if you object to that – and I can understand that you might, what with its relentlessly tantalising homepage advertising – then there is *one* good reason not to pick it up). if you do, though, send me a “friend” request (Lexifab is the handle, of course) and I’ll come do some bughunting with you.

July 20, 2010

I do reviews now?

Filed under: geekery,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 1:08 am

This is what I did for 750 words today. I wrote a review of “Predators”, immediately after I returned home from the cinema. Spoilers, I guess, although there’s not a hell of a lot to spoil:

(more…)

July 17, 2010

Filed under: political sniping — lexifab @ 2:55 pm

What follows is a long political ramble written as today’s 750 words effort. It’s not edited except for embarrassing spelling, so pretty much straight from the id. I admit I did sneak a quick look at the Liberal Party website to make sure I spelled the names of the people I don’t like correctly. After the cut so that anyone who doesn’t want to know my political bent (and has somehow resisted gleaning it from everyday conversation) can happily skip it.

To those people I say: “Look, a pony!”

(more…)

July 16, 2010

Addendum: Writing

Filed under: wordsmithery — lexifab @ 4:36 pm

Today’s 750 Words, rather satisfyingly, was the rough outline for what will probably be a longish short story (or maybe a shortish novella). I plan to use the next few days to do outlines (or maybe redo outlines, depending how things go) of four to five other stories, all of which I expect to be linked by themes, characters, and/or settings. After that I intend to write draft versions, using the daily speedwriting process that Clam discussed here  (maybe they need a name, like “tweetdrafts”, but longer than that implies, or “spewtext”, but less gross-sounding).

Those will need an editing polishes outside the 750 Word process – it’s not exactly conducive to careful consideration of the subtleties of tone, theme and dialogue. Not that I can make reasonable claims to subtlety, as you would know if you had read the outline I just textspewed.

I have some plans for what I want to do with them once I have something to show for the process. I will keep them under my hat for a little while, but not too long. Part of the purpose of this little exercise is to get myself writing again, out in the open where I can’t hide…

July 15, 2010

Writing but not here

Filed under: wordsmithery — lexifab @ 4:31 pm

Hmm, I haven’t been updating Lexifab as much as I ought to have been lately, but not because I’ve been idle (for once). Instead, I’ve just been churning words out on the page over at 750 Words, a website dedicated to the proposition that one should write a little every day. I’ve been tinkering with it for the past week or so to see if it’s of any use to me, and I’m not surprised to see that it’s had some positive results (albeit mixed with a few negatives).

Pros

  • Mindset – as anyone who does it regularly knows, half the battle of writing is making sure that you make a habit of it. Apart from certain minor flaws relating to planning, research, dialogue, description, passive language, excessive use of adverbs and frequent malapropism, this is my biggest failing as a writer – I don’t do it that much, and I can generally find excuses to do other things. That, and I never finish anything. And my characters are paper-thin caricatures of my insecurity and self-disgust. And I start sentences with conjunctions far too often. I stray away from the point a lot as well.
  • Habit – So to put it another way, 750 Words does sit there as a reminder to actually churn out some words each day.
  • Achievements – Modern computer games have these insidious things called (amongst other things) Achievements, which award a small merit-badge (good for absolutely nothing but ill-defined bragging rights or a largely unjustified sense of accomplishment) for minor in-game milestones or accomplishments like “Jumping over 500 barrels” or “Finding all thirty pieces of Cursed Incan Gold”. 750 Words uses the same insidious psychology to encourage you to keep writing every day, awarding “badges” for unbroken runs of days on which one completes the titular target word count. They are completely useless, but it’s impossible to deny their subtle compulsion, and I am always in favour of hacking my own brain with cheap and transparent psychological tricks.
  • Results – Obviously speed-writing for the twenty or so straight minutes that it takes to pump out 750 words does not guarantee quality writing. Well, it pretty much guarantees the opposite. But I have found that the act of needing to have a  constant stream of ideas coming down the pipeline ready to churn out onto the page has actually helped generate a few good ideas (and a lot of unrepeatable dross, of course). Some of this may actually translate into “real” writing as a result.

Cons

  • Speed writing – On the other hand, an awful lot of what comes out when you need to keep typing at full speed without any breaks for thoughtful contemplation or to grab a quiet cuppa is, frankly, unmitigated shite. I need to consciously balance the “I could have spent this time more profitably setting people on fire in Team Fortress 2” vs “Even if it was a wasted 20 minutes, it was only 20 minutes! Suck it up!” But see above for the compensatory pearls amongst the grit, slime and oyster guts.
  • Spelling – I find the inevitable typoes oddly infuriating, although this is something that I’m working on not getting worked up about. It drives me nuts that I can’t seem to speed-type an uppercase “i”, however.
  • Laziness – Even though I have been diligently writing at 750 Words for the past week, that hasn’t actually resulted in me doing any other writing. And since I’m not showing anyone any of the raw, unedited, horribly sloppy and largely random text from there, that translates into an effective productivity profile no different from my regular “not writing at all” stance. Still, small steps – it has at the very least prompted me to think about a writing project which would be stimulating enough to avoid  falling prey to my usual sharp decline in interest and motivation…

July 2, 2010

Forty

Filed under: fitter/happier,news of the day — lexifab @ 12:30 am

I went out of my way to slightly alter my usual routine on Tuesday, by way of marking the occasion of my fortieth birthday. Specifically, I took the Joey to see Toy Story 3 (which is, by the way – to my admittedly limited observation of current cinematic touchstones – probably the most perfectly realised film of the year and perhaps the last decade) and ate some cupcakes.

It was actually a pretty good day. The Joey was extraordinarily well behaved at the movies, staying in his seat for the whole film (except for one apocalyptically scary bit during which he justifiably scuttled over for a cuddle) even when the temptation to run up and down the stairs like several other kids were doing must have been awfully strong. And while he admitted afterwards that some bits made him scared or sad, he obviously had a lovely time with new Woody and Buzz.

His dad, meanwhile, was an emotional wreck. The tearjerking started about five minutes in, and I was sucked in hard. I was pretty proud of myself for getting the quivering lip and manfully welling eyes under control, until the last half hour or so of the movie turned me into a big soppy blancmange. I can’t remember where I heard someone call Toy Story 3Requiem for a Dream for kids” but that’s about right. It’s brutal – the kind of movie that the expression “emotional rollercoaster” was invented for, before anyone ever heard of Britney Spears. But there’s also flamenco, a thespian porcupine (Timothy Dalton chewing the scenery with delicacy and subtlety, for once)  and the creepiest tortilla in the universe. It’s funny, poignant, goofy, terrifying and deeply rewarding.

Later on in the day, we watched the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes, which was the perfect cure for any lingering psychic wear and tear. It contained high level snappy repartee, brutal fisticuffs, an exquisitely-filmed explosion and Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law as the best onscreen couple in years.

Oh, and Emma brought cupcakes and Chris gave me a Prisoner novel written by Jon Blum and Simon dumped a great big bag of schwag on me and Fiona. My favourite thing was probably the book collecting bizarre cricketing anecdotes ripped from the more embarrassing sections of a century of Wisden.

But – forty, eh? The things I’ve seen in those years that I never thought I might see – Australia’s first female Prime Minister. A man with droopy hair, a horsey face and the jaw of a singularly misshapen lantern turning out to be possibly the best Doctor ever. The English flogging the Australians at cricket.

Oh no, wait. All that happened in the last week, didn’t it?

Does everything just speed up when you get old? I thought it was supposed to work the other way around.

July 1, 2010

I knew if I stalled long enough someone would do a better job

Filed under: geekery — lexifab @ 11:08 pm

So, that essay about the final episode of Lost that I’ve written and dumped four times now? Yeah, this excellent piece in the L.A. Times entertainment blog pretty much sums it up, and comes up with the killer line that I’d been desperately floundering for in every single draft: the important thing is not answers…it’s resolution. (The linked essay also nails another thing I was trying to say with its bit about the show being a Rorschach test for its audience. And it reminds us that Watership Down is a really, really good book that is not, despite James’ contention, “all about bunnies”). If you watched ‘The End’ and were slightly disappointed or mystified, I recommend the essay. If you didn’t watch it, go do that first before you follow the link because it obviously has a lot of spoilers, starting with the photo right at the top of the page.

(Note: I also expect there to be spoilers in the comments, should anyone else still care about Lost enough to make one. And if you don’t I will be sad, because I still do)

Powered by WordPress