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

June 26, 2011

Back to the Island 1.26 – Exodus Part 3

Filed under: back to the island — lexifab @ 1:23 am

It’s late, I should have posted this yesterday, but life and jam-packed dinner party evenings got in the way. Actually, replace the phrase “jam-packed” with “boozy and fat-saturated” for accuracy. “Fun” should also make an appearance somewhere.

This is the final review of the first season of Lost. I intend to take a break of a month or so before I resume the reviews. It’s the end of financial year, so I have a heap of tax stuff to get in order, and I have some fiction writing that has been nagging at me for a while now that I should make some space for. I’ll be interested to see if I can translate the (roughly) 600-words-a-day habit that I’ve built up doing these reviews into an equivalent output of fiction. I think I’ll be happy if I can average half that, though that becomes rather a modest goal. I reckon I can probably do better.

Before I start the Lost hiatus, I think I will do a quick summary review of the season as a whole. Expect to see one more of these reviews – a much shorter one, I suspect – in the next week or so. When I do start one the season 2 reviews, as I’ve said, they will be shorter – I won’t bother with long summaries any more, I’ll just concentrate on the analysis. I haven’t quite settled on a format yet, but expect them to be far less frequently unbearably long.

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June 21, 2011

Back to the Island 1.25 – Exodus Part 2

Filed under: back to the island,fitter/happier — lexifab @ 4:22 pm

The outside world is conspiring to destroy all human life, with its belting rain and sub-zero wind chill. A great day to have nothing better to do than stay warm and snug indoors. A terrible day to have a need to be out and about without an umbrella. Guess which category I fall into?

 My imminent drenching and hypothermic demise is a certain consequence of my participation in the Global Corporate Challenge, a marathon health promotion for sedentary office workers like me. Over sixteen weeks, teams of seven pedometer-wearing wage slaves from all walks of life from across the (Western-, mostly) world compete to accumulate enough steps to walk around the globe. Or a virtual similuation thereof. While skipping most of the wet bits.

Corporations sponsor their staff to participate; they get pedometers and hats and backpacks and other such goodies. The entry fee for each participant goes towards a parallel program encouraging kids to be active. It amounts to a hell of a lot of people – some 300,000 if the website it to be believed. Nearly 20% of the people in my organisation are registered.

Each day, each participant records the step count showing on the pedometer – which they wear everywhere – into a web site. The site dutifully compares the day’s efforts against personal, team, organisational and world averages, calculates how many fatty burgers or sugary drinks you’ve burned off (it has less dubious metrics as well, but I find the Mars Bar count personally instructive), and shows on a satellite map how far you’ve come as a team since yesterday. Right now our team is halfway between two checkpoints in Turkmenistan, at either end of the Karakum Desert.

It has definitely changed my behaviour. Normally I sit down at my desk all day, only getting up for short breaks and often working (or writing) through lunch. The ritual of checking and resetting the pedometer each day keeps it near the forefront, and the instant feedback from the website – cheerful encouragement if I beat my average, or mild but hopeful dismay if I fell short – has me looking for excuses to get up and about more often. Take the stairs instead of the elevator (five floors each way for me). Go for a walk at lunch. I’m walking to work as often as possible, which is 40 minutes of pure step-count love, four mornings a week.

I’m not exactly shedding the kilograms, but there have been noticeable improvements, For one thing, walking up five flights of stairs no longer causes me to breathe heavily and feel sharp stabbing sensations in my upper thighs. That’s better than it was four weeks ago. For another thing…well, actually that’s it for discernible benefits. But that one is very noticeable.

The design is cunning. Aside from the unsubtle manipulations of the website feedback, and the weekly email summarising my personal achievements, participating as a member of a team exerts its own undoubtedly effective encouragement. It sits somewhere between spirited competition – “Can I beat the team average? Can I set a higher personal best that everyone else?” etc – and outright peer pressure – “You haven’t entered your steps for a week. Your step average is low. You’re holding us back”. That last is an exaggeration, but like all competitive endeavours I think it has the potential to develop an ugly side. I’ve certainly had to reign in my enthusiasm to avoid sounding critical of one teammate who tends to go a couple of weeks at a time without updates.

Overall I think it’s an excellent program though. I love the accumulation of apparently-meaningful statistics – after 34 days I am averaging 11,032 steps and have taken over 360,000 in total (for a dubiously-calculated total of 233 km). Having beaten the 11 thousand daily mark, I’ve set a personal goal to get it to 11.5 by the end of the competition. I know, I know – crazy, huh?

It’s like Principal Skinner says: “All you have to do is make a game of it…See how many envelopes you can lick in an hour. Then try to beat that record.”

Here the Lost review for today – but it’s not the last one for Season One. I hear you gasp, but you’ll just have to read on if you want to know what’s going on…

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June 17, 2011

Back to the Island 1.24 – Exodus Part 1

Filed under: back to the island,friends,the interweb she provides — lexifab @ 3:18 pm

Meagan has arrived, having single-handedly wrestled the controls of her ailing Virgin flight through the deathclouds of molten pumice billowing forth from the malignant heart of the Chilean Inferno-Mountain. Or something like that. I didn’t really catch all the details. The important part is that she is here for a couple of weeks of dinner parties, bad movies and discussing how good/bad our favourite television shows are. Just like old times. [1]

I am feeling dull-witted and out of sorts today. There are hockey fans rioting in Vancouver, the creator of Dilbert has gone screeching and flinging faeces off the brink of Misogyny Falls, and the Greek economy is collapsing so fast an event horizon has formed around it – but I couldn’t care less.

Help me manage my ennui: If something has you riled up or excited or pancreas-squeezingly bilious, tell us all about it in the comments. I crave novelty! Especially if it’s something good. Perhaps involving baby pandas or a new kind of caffeinated beverage. Or something good to read, perhaps?

I’ll be done with the Season One Lost reviews by tomorrow, so I will be looking for a new side project to supplement my other writing for the next month or so. I think I may solicit some writing challenges, or issue some myself, if anyone is up to a public game of ‘Write or dare’. Let me think about that.

Random wonderful thing from the internet for the day: here’s a 24 hour comic done by Australian artist Canaan Grall that mashes up Thor and the Muppets. He has some other long-running webcomics that I haven’t had time to check out yet, but based on how good this is I certainly will.

[1] Speaking of which, the Game of Thrones series is gloriously, sumptuously good, as long as you can keep up with the spectacularly vast cast and seemingly-disconnected plotting. It’s worth watching for the costuming alone. And the beheadings, of course (of which there have been at least four that I can recall). Man, they love them some decapitation in Westeros.

Behold now: the first half of the first season finale of Lost:

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June 12, 2011

Back to the Island 1.23 – Born to Run

Filed under: back to the island,business continuity,fitter/happier — lexifab @ 11:16 pm

I have – please forgive the medical jargon – jiggered my neck something fierce. Freedom of movement and freedom from piercing stabby pain are fond memories, at least for the moment. Today I’m popping cheap Aldi paracetamol around the clock, something I never do, and trying hard not to turn around at sudden noises.

I should certainly not be hunched over a keyboard typing. I will try to make this quick.

The suspected cause of my ailment is the uncomfortably hard Sydney hotel bed I slept in for a couple of nights during the week. I don’t travel for work very often, and I have failed by and large to accumulate the useful set of minor skills that take the burdens out of travel. Sleeping in unfamiliar environments is the one I’m primarily thinking of. This hotel had the full set of irritants – the aforementioned concrete-lined bed, window furnishings completely inadequate for the task of blocking out the unpleasant grey-yellow light pollution, mildly warm and poorly circulated air and an unidentified anti-soothing white noise generator stored somewhere behind the walls. I might as well have been in the house from Poltergeist for all the sleep I got. My neck didn’t start hurting until the day after I got home, but I’m not uncertain about the source of my ailment.

Travel woes aside (I will refrain from complaining about taxis and airport waiting lounges because that would be more pointless than complaining about hotel accommodation) it was an excellent trip. I have managed to make it into my forties without ever having attended a conference before. No, I don’t count gaming conventions.

In my public service career I’ve always been content to take a generalist approach, in which I develop a broad range of widely useful skills but don’t build up to any specific expertise. I have dabbled on occasions in semi-professional fields like team leadership and change management, but only long enough to recognise that I don’t find them sufficiently compelling to pursue them further. The idea of moving into a professional discipline, of obtaining qualifications and accreditation and something recognisable as expertise, has never appealed.

I’m not so sure that’s the case with business continuity. There’s something about it that continues to resonate with me well beyond having sufficient general knowledge  to get my work done, which is the point at which my interest in most work-related subject matter fades. It comes as a surprise that an unwanted piece of legislatively-obligated busywork assigned to me more or less at random should turn out to be compelling and stimulating, let alone that it might signal a potential new career direction. Yet that is how it feels.

I’ve managed to put my finger on at least part of the picture, though there’s no doubt more to it than this. As long-time readers of this blog will be aware, I have always been rather critical of the operational decisions of the government organisation for which I work, which shall remain anonymous so that nobody at work accidentally Googles me. There are any number of things that I think my organisation could do better, and a few that I suspect they could not possibly do less well. There’s not much I can do about most of those things without hauling my arse up a management ladder to which it is particularly ill-suited.

Having business continuity responsibilities gives me, in effect, permission to be openly critical, along with the reasonable expectation that my bitching and moaning will be taken seriously. It’s my job to look at the organisation and point out where, in the event of a crisis, things will fail and problems will emerge. Of course I also have to make sure that I have a plan to deal with those anticipated failures and problems, but that’s a fair price to pay for being able to mouth off (in a constructive and analytical fashion, of course).

I find myself rather caught up in it. I was just about to launch into an overview of what business continuity actually means and the rather radical cultural transformation that my colleague and I are planning to inflict on our organisation. That might be going a bit far for a Sunday evening.

Here’s a Lost review instead. This is the penultimate episode before the (two-part) Season One finale. I think I will take a break from the reviews for a couple of weeks after I get the ‘Exodus’ ones done.

In that time I will concentrate on rewriting a short story that I started and scrapped, and working on the outline of a started-but-stalled novel that is not about what I originally thought it would be about. More on that when I have a better grip on what the hell I am talking about.

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June 7, 2011

Back to the Island 1.22 – The Greater Good

Filed under: back to the island,news of the day — lexifab @ 12:08 am

This next Lost review was written over four separate writing sessions, so it’s bloated and rambly. Not some of my best work, I’m afraid. Hopefully I can streamline things a lot with the next episode (I’ll certainly want to, since it’s a story focusing on Kate, and I find her backstory oddly unengaging despite liking her on-Island character a lot). I’ll be in Sydney for a conference over a couple of days this week, though, so I don’t think I’m going to get much time to meet Friday’s deadline.

It might be interesting to try, but I will hedge my bets and say that if it seems like taking advantage of being away from the family in order to hit the cinemas and watch the new X-Men movie seems like a more attractive option, or if being out of my usual space and usual habits inspires some burst of creativity that can only be assuaged by a feverish hotel writing frenzy, or if there’s a really good bar showing the cricket from England within a short walking distance of where I am staying, then I will not make the deadline this week.

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June 3, 2011

BTTI 1.21 – Do No Harm

Filed under: back to the island,workin for the man — lexifab @ 11:54 pm

Back to the Lost reviews again. I don’t know how long I will be able to sustain the momentum since I only have a half a review in the bank at the moment, but I’m also closing in on the end of Season One, so that might give my enthusiasm some wings.

I doubt I will manage to build up much of a buffer next week though, since I will be spending two nights in Sydney for a conference (and I will want to tak advantage of at least one of them to get out and about and see the sights of the Big Smoke. At least the ones between my motel and the nearest cinema, which is a rare indulgence for me these days).

The conference is on business continuity planning, which according to the job description I rewrote a few weeks ago is my current vocational calling. BCP – roughly defined as “oh shit, the building burned down, now how do we do our jobs?” – is a field in which I am rapidly moving from complete ignoramus to ill-informed amateur, this being yet another step along the spectrum towards, one hopes, eventual competence. It’s a good suit for my temperament – I like telling my organisation what it’s doing wrong, and I get to draw on nearly thirty years of GMing to come up with worst-case disaster scenarios against which to test our plans. It was all I could do a few weeks ago, during the planning of a day-long desktop walkthrough of the plan (i.e. “roleplaying session where you play yourself”), not to recommend that we assess the viability of our BCP in the event of a zombie apocalypse. I think my supervisor would have gone for it, for one…

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June 2, 2011

Dawn of the Bacon Age

Filed under: geekery,the interweb she provides — lexifab @ 11:53 pm

I hereby resume my regular post-parental blogging with a shotgun-blast of unrelated topics cherry-picked from random corners of the new media. I’ll start with yesterday’s brush with internet superstardom.

The Bacon Age of Comics is here!

So I kind of said something that seems to have gained a little traction, thanks to my saying it to someone famous (well, someone more famous than merely internet-famous, at any rate). One of the comic writers I follow is Gail Simone, the tremendously talented and funny writer of Birds of Prey and the current incarnation of the Secret Six (amongst many others, including an apparent metric shit-tonne of Deadpool, about whom I know next to nothing…).

During the week it was announced that, as a result of reality-bending time-travel shenanigans (or something like that), the entire DC comics universe is going to be completely rebooted in September. There will be entirely new versions of all their iconic characters (this is the Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green lantern school of comics, not the Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America et al universe. You follow?) in slightly modified costumes, with 52 new titles launching in the space of a month. This was pretty big news [1] so of course everyone and his dog leapt immediately to Twitter to voice their outrage or whatever.

Into the swirling maelstrom stepped Gail Simone, who pointed out that there have been several “ages” of comics before now – the Silver Age (roughly from the mid-fifties to the early seventies), preceded by a Golden Age and followed by a Bronze Age and probably several other ages – all distinctive and recognisable  periods in the development of the mainstream comics industry and the superhero genre. Gail made the sensible observation that this was a little bit like that, and instead of doing work like I was supposed to be doing, I flippantly made the suggestion that this should be dubbed The Bacon Age of Comics. Being a discerning genius who knows a really stupid idea when she sees it, Simone ran with it and for some reason it seems to have taken off.[2] Simone herself described it thus: “Guys, it’s the Bacon Age of Comics. It’s terrible for you but it’s a thousand times more delicious. It will kill you, yes, but happily.” Heh.

That’s my ten seconds of fame, right there. I must say it was far more successful than my now-abandoned goal to inculcate the word ‘lexifabricography’ in the common vernacular. For reasons which are, I concede, obvious. What’s really strange is that, despite being kind of cool on reading monthly comics for the better part of the last decade, I must admit I am kind of interested to see what’s included in the (ridiculous) 50+ titles launching in September. I’ll almost certainly read whatever Gail Simon is writing, for one thing.[3]

Internet patronage

There’s a new trend emerging (or at least a new version of an old trend which has only recently caught my attention) for new creative projects to get upfront funding through pledges at sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. A project is proposed, and backing for some quantity of funding is sought – if a funding target is reached before a deadline, the pledged funds are leased and the project goes ahead. It can be used to fund everything from kid’s playgrounds to malaria treatment programs in the third world to independent films – but it’s caught my attention recently through some spectacular successes in roleplaying games – the kickstarter for Daniel Solis’ game Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple achieved its goal six times over – and fiction – podcaster-author Mur Lafferty’s quest to get the bucks together to publish her Afterlife series of novellas pulled in nearly ten times her original target.

The model of gauging interest through sorta-quasi-preorder-donations is a compelling one: if you’ve done your maths right, such that your target will actually fully fund your project in at least its basic form, then this patronage approach gives you a clear picture of whether there is an audience for your artistic work, before you commit to (expensive) production. It’s not quite that simple, of course – it’s quite apparent to me that these and other such success stories owe their big numbers at least in part to the effort that the creators have put into self-marketing. I don’t mean that in a negative sense, but rather to suggest that establishing a good reputation is an important first step in building the sort of support base that will lend this sort of business model its initial momentum.

On my radar earlier this week was Graham Walmsley’s Stealing Cthulhu, a preorder for a book of advice on designing roleplaying stories in the Lovecraftian style. The preorder has closed (another one that surpassed expectations by a considerable margin) or I would recommend it unreservedly (inclusion of margin notes from other authors is a stroke of genius). The other one I am looking at right now is Technoir, a cyberpunk game that seems like it might actually produce something resembling a William Gibson novel.

Western wire-fu

Another thing I’ve been following for a while now is Gareth-Michael Skarka’s incremental development of his Wild West/Wuxia/steampunk mashup setting, Far West. At one point it was going to be an RPG setting, then a series of novels, and now it’s evolving into a transmedia property, which is a creative approach that seems to mean different things depending on who is talking, but Skarka at least appears to have a clear picture in his head of what he wants to do with it, judging by his first design blog entry. It looks like an interesting setting to me, but regardless of that I commend it to your attention because they intend to release the Far West roleplaying game for free. At one point a while ago I was keen to pay for it, so obviously this is an approach that works for me. I’ll be interested to see how well it succeeds as a promotional tool though – and, for that matter, what exactly it will be promoting.

 

[1] The actual big news about this announcement is that all of the new titles will be released simultaneously in dead tree and e-readable formats , which represents a stunning shift in the prevailing attitudes of the big publishing houses and a genuinely transformational moment for the industry – but never mind the real-world implications when we can have a good old-fashioned meltdown about whether Superman looks a bit dorky with that collar on his costume.

[2] Following all those links will give you a pretty good cross section of mostly-sane responses to the announcement, but for my money the best one is the one by the Good vs Evil podcast writers, which cleaves pretty closely to my mildly-informed opinions on the matter. Hence they get two incoming links instead of the usual one 🙂

[3] By the way, consider this a recommendation for her Secret Six [4] title. I’m catching up on the series in trade paperbacks now. It seems to draw from the same well as John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad from the early nineties, down to the presence of one of my favourite villains, the depressive assassin Floyd ‘Deadshot’ Lawton. Secret Six achieves the remarkable – nay, astounding feat of making DC Comics D-list villain Catman into a well-rounded character.

[4] The downside of the reboot of the DCU is that titles featuring marginal characters like Catman and Deadshot and for-gods-sake Ragdoll are – no matter how well-written or fondly-regarded they may be – wholly unlikely to be early inclusions to the Bacon Age titles. On the upside (for me) it should be relatively easy for me to assemble a complete collection in trade paperbacks very soon. At least, I hope it will.

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