Archive for January, 2018

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

If bread and wine are the Flesh and Blood in our relationship with at least one name for God, then Paper and Ink do the same things for civilization. So say smarter people than I.

I covered ink, sort of, in that post where I named my pens like swords. I might have let fly a little scorn and slight regard replying to writers that love to assert the superiority of pen and paper (don’t confuse habit with better) saying my mind gets to the same places no matter how the words appear. I guess that just leaves the disguised product review and commentary about paper in general.

People comment about the notebook in my hand or nearby all the time. Similar to B.D. and his helmet (Doonsbury) or the average gun nut the notebook might need to be pried from my cold dead hands. Unless I actually use one up cover to cover (come close and I’ve spilled coffee), at which point I find a new one. It’s pretty much the same each time.

I write in 6”x 9” spirals with College Ruled paper. I usually get the generic ones from Office Depot with 150 sheets. Except for getting more than I need some days, I save money because these things are still $3.99. The similarly sized Moleskines and knockoffs may look good and have the hard cover, but then you see the price on the UPC for the “I’m an important writer” notebooks. Four times as much for about the same amount of paper.

Office Depot got my notebook business when Mead who used to sell this exact notebook stopped. The brand name stationary either wanted more sheets for more money at the cost of more weight in my bag or they wanted an up-sell brand for even more money over office supply store generic brands. Staples didn’t even stock these when Mead wanted to sell stuff as Cambridge. Leaving Office Depot.

Every now and again, I pick up a handful. Like any other consumer, I’m highly distracted by the cover color. Not sure why in addition to navy blue, red, green, purple, yellow and black, I have a decent amount of teal (when offered). All I can say is I’ve slowed down the habit purchases…sort of, until I use more up. I don’t have to justify the first, but the stack on my table? Maybe.

Other generic brands exist since Mead/Cambridge wants less of my money. They’re available at the supermarket or drug store. They don’t hit that sweet spot with 150 sheets. Mead might think I need 180 sheets in my spirals, but these other generics barely hit a 108 sheets good for when you really have to write. I like the paper thickness in the Office Depot books as well, until I spill coffee.

I know I sound like a crank, no different than Charles Schultz buying out the whole supply of his pens when the company folded to keep on keeping on with Peanuts. But, we do what we do to keep doing our jobs.

How did the habit of these notebooks develop? I want to say that I landed on College Ruled as a reaction to the Wide Ruled filler paper so common in school. I might talk about a certain Twelfth Grade English teacher that insisted on yellow paper from full size tear off pads, but the yellow paper drew more whines than the Wide Ruled lines. But, for lack of a better explanation why I like the narrower writing channels Agree, Give Thumbs Up and Go Get Lunch.

Why spirals? Tear off pads suffer greatly in my backpack or shoulder bag when I want to look good. Corners fray. The sun bakes the yellow ones. And, you got it, I spill coffee. Spirals survive these indignities with greater style (coffee being the Nuclear Option).

College Ruled paper has waited under my named pens practically since forever and it does things to how you write. Between the reporter’s notebooks (some of them need use as well) of my gloriously briefly journalist past, the spirals and those pesky Moleskines that have an even narrower ruling, my printing has shrunk to fit.

After giving me crap about the notebook in hand in the first place, then people comment that I write very small letters in a hand than is more printing than cursive (post for another day). This happens naturally when you’re trying to leave the top half of the line open for corrections and cross outs.

Similarly, the absence of lines on, say, a birthday card give me all kinds of fits just trying to wish Happy Birthday and sign without tailing the words down to the right. Supposedly, the purveyors of graphology assert I’m a Debbie Downer type with these handwriting quirks. Bite me! For me this is the same minor level of OCD that I have when saving the butt ends of the bread loaf for last…nothing more.

However, having lots of notebooks on my table waiting for recycling or use does mean I can scratch another itch: journals. Yes, my normal journals are the nice ones that you get at Barnes & Noble, but that may change in an effort to clear up the shit on my table left there in an effort to rub my nose in not cleaning up the space. But, I did start two special journals that use these spiral notebooks, a screenwriting journal and a composing journal.

As you’ll note from the continued dormancy of The Composer’s Counterpoint, I have a lot of internalized “you can’t do this” to overcome before I start composing and posting in that column. So ever one to burn beached ships behind me, I started recording in black ink my daily interactions with music. For example, I put in a line or two about screwing around with a jaw harp and not getting anything like what Pete Townsend or Snoopy got out of the deceptively simple instrument.

In a similar vein, the screenwriting journal also exists to focus my attention forward towards Troy. I don’t have a “you can’t do this” problem so much as an “I want to write a novel, the characters for which are also screaming in my ear” problem. This guarantees that no matter my future accomplishments I’ll have all kinds of incomplete projects doing almost much as my body to stink up the joint.

Both journals have to date recorded quite a bit of out and out procrastination or things that look like slacking off to, say, an agent. The common dodge in the screenwriting journal is “day spent doing other things.” Screenwriting as a hungry animal doesn’t care that I blog and do novels.

The refrain of “listened to music” is perhaps not necessarily a dodge. I try to use headphones sparingly preserving my ears and in writing groups the earbuds can be still too loud for other people, but when I can I listen to music as I work. If listening to music is a prerequisite for composing, then I can sell this to all kinds of internalized hungry animals that don’t give a damn what my excuses are. The difference in this journal comes when I can write a few sentences about the music. I was paying attention.

Using these notebooks as journals is a fairly recent change in my writing. The original purpose of these spirals were and remain notebooks in the sense of needing a quick place to bash out a first draft, or other variations of thinking in ink and hand gestures. Nothing that resembles order exists in my notebooks and/or the stacks of paper ripped from old notebooks that got blasted with coffee (sometimes it was ketchup or salsa, in case you care). It’s a notebook and I don’t have to justify Wonder Woman all cheek by jowl with Henry Picard (Jean-Luc’s apocryphal second cousin), especially to any poor souls doing the archeology on my papers.

For the foreseeable future the notebook stays helping me be ready to steal words during slow moments in the conversation and to occasionally commit random acts of journalism. Words appear with the slashing flourishes that come from Strauss waltzes airing at least twice a day. Like a fighter pilot, I record monthly progress with silver and gold stars plastered all over the cover. The notebook stays in the picture and I’m immune to your laughter.

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

A friend dropped a question where I could see it on Facebook – if you could be a Highlander type character, where would you come from and what weapon would you choose (not limited to swords)? Interesting question, especially since I didn’t want to Me Too once chainsaw appeared in someone else’s comment. For my version of an immortal wanderer doomed to duel and behead other immortals, I went with Sir John Cleese with a vegetable peeler.

Okay, exposition and explanation, like yesterday. Some cheeky Brit pretends to be Monty Python alumna Sir John Cleese and sends out slightly altered versions of the Independence Revocation Letter. The clockwork regularity of this snark filled shot across the bow surfacing when Republicans win the White House suggests to me a horrified Labour voter (the Orange One might convince Tories to join this bandwagon, a post for any site not named Smoking Lizard).

Basically the Queen using Sir John Cleese as mouthpiece and fall guy sends notice of taking back America due to the moronic (GOP, this meme disappeared during the Obama Administration) current administration. The snotty missive asserts we owe two hundred years of back taxes, Her Majesty doesn’t fancy a state (Kansas originally, but recently Utah) and that as newly reclaimed Crown Subjects our domestic arms race will be limited to vegetable peelers. My reply to the Bush 43 era version that dumped on Kansas has since been lost to the delete button, but the salient point for this post was me boasting – “I have a black belt in vegetable peeler!”

And so when prompted by a goofy question about immortal duelists, this moment bubbled back up. Suddenly, I’ve just created a fictional martial art that now needs a name. Enter my copy of the iTranslate app, the real purpose of this post on a writing column.

I write a decent amount of fantasy that requires two words in Church Latin uttered by wizards likely to piss on the complicated ritual spells in Dungeons & Dragons. Occasionally, I also need to render whole sentences in Spanish (or at least Spanglish, I live in California). For all of these, I use iTranslate entering words in English and then copy down what comes up in the output line if there’s something usable in the Roman alphabet. And the simple fact of regular use pretty much covers the review part of this post, because I haven’t used the audio translation feature due to a lack of travel or needing to order dinner.

My spells come out like Imperius Flama (fireball) or Dormir (sleep) and I’m constantly aware that in an effort to get something on the page and move on, I expect actual speakers to laugh hearing me say this shit out loud. Mostly, I think the machine doesn’t always know if I wanted the verb, noun or the adjective usages. You might get different results based on verb tense, case and irregular declension. For instance, if I hadn’t grown up in Amer-glish, Past and Future Participles or even Imperatives would fuck me up one leg and down the other.

I only need translations working in prose. English dialogue with Said in Spanish in the attribution craters the reading experience in a book. However, the opposite is true of screenwriting where all dialogue is given in English under the Parenthetical header indicating the target language. Pretty much the army of assistants and interns that read scripts whined creating a new rule for the format Nazis.

What did I get as output from the app lazily using Japanese to name The Sublime Art of Deadly Vegetable Peeler? Too many words given that real Japanese martial art names aren’t usually more than three or four syllables depending on a Do (Way of) or Jitsu (Fighting Method of) suffix. Even dropping vegetable from the input line still gave me Kawa Muki Utsuwa.

I have no way to know if the app thought I wanted a noun or verb, because my Japanese is limited to what can be picked up from Godzilla, karate class and cool anime. But, count ‘em seven syllables of Roman transliteration just offends me at a basic level and it becomes eight syllables when you try out Kawa Muki Utsuwa-Do.

Now, I get to thinking that the Sublime Art Of Deadly Vegetable Peeler is actually a rarified skill likely to merge with other rarified combat skills to justify classes longer than one session. I keep hearing from various thriller novels about poor souls wiped out with all kinds of everyday objects with specific repetition of chopsticks. Certainly, Trevanian’s novel Shibumi that asserted death by chopsticks and the related death by soda straw was a blast to read. No word on real or bullshit.

The thought of using chopsticks as a possible name for this facetious Japanese martial art for weaponizing regular stuff intrigues me. Why? Look, when humans get pissed off we kill each other at dinner.

Wikipedia asserts that a French king decreed rounded table knives to solve the violent dinner problem. Asian cooking developed chopsticks that only allows one knife in the room, held by the chef. Fictional movie assassins might say at their high school reunion – “I once murdered an Argentine presidential candidate with a salad fork. What have you done since graduation?”

Similarly, Emily Post instructed dinner guests to avoid religion and politics adroitly trying to regulate cause without also going for the logic of disarming guests. Lastly, roll tape on Game of Thrones “Red Wedding.” So if the name of the overall martial art derives from chopsticks, makes sense…at least to me.

Chopsticks in begets Hashi out in iTranslate. Two syllables. Three syllables when you go for Hashido. Hmmm! Bushido (Way of the Warrior). Kendo (Way of the Sword). Aikido (Way of the Harmonious Spirit). Yeah, in this context Hashido (Way of Chopsticks) sounds like it could be a martial art initially limited to the dinner utensils, but later expanded to include all kinds of everyday objects.

Even though my patience with holding the joke about the Sublime Art of Deadly Vegetable Peeler wore thin after chopsticks, I did need one other choice. Tools. Yeah, because boil everything down to first principles this fighting art is all about improvising weapons from tools. I got Tsu-ru-do (Way of Tools) out on the backend. Obviously, I like Hashido better.

So now that I’ve adroitly and humorously padded a three paragraph post about a translation app that I happen to use and told you to leave translation out of screenplays, I have one remaining question. Who wins the vegetable peeler duel between Toshiro Mifune and Sir John Cleese?

I suppose this one depends on which of Mr. Cleese’s Python characters shows up. His many asshole cops and Grammar Centurions have a chance against the master depending on conferment of Script Immunity in the script. But, the Dead Parrot Guy or Ministry of Silly Walks Guy is already dead and doesn’t know it yet. Good writing to you.

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Perhaps you’ve noticed the trend towards the one tool that does everything. The Defense Department wants a jet that mixes up in and wins furballs, employs stealth, fires the missiles intended to avoid furballs in the first place, drops a few bombs and depending on delivery options lands normally on runways, catches the Three Wire on carriers or launches and lands vertically to work with a different sort of carrier. An actual Journalist of War (at best I’m a Novelist of War cheating off their notes) might have more to say.

A more successful class of multi-tool is, of course, the Swiss Army Knife followed by my personal preference, the Leatherman (see picture). It’s reassuring to have a screwdriver and other basic tools in my pocket for emergencies (that never come because the thing for which you prepare never happens). Still when you can plan ahead, use a real screwdriver for more rotational leverage (aka torque).

Pretty much, our tools must balance the job completion efficiency of the single tool with the convenience of having many ready at hand. For shits and giggles, let’s cast about for literary examples of the multi-tool. Things that I just discovered, now that I need to fill up my creative blog.

The One Ring/Power Ring. Both Sauron and Green Lantern wield rings that seem identical in function. They focus energy according to the whims of the Bearer.

I suppose Green Lantern making green space fist to bash Sinestro or Sauron doing whatever the Ring was supposed to do for him (the point was to play Keep Away) gets a pass on believability. These tools/rings work by focusing energy and/or matter, so worrying about whether you have a long enough stick on the screwdriver is pointless. Total control of energy and matter means you shape your tools perfectly.

Similarly, the Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver seems to work in the mode deemed narratively convenient by his/her writers. Screwdriver, lock pick, sonic weapon, hammer for walls, the list of functions has not exhausted. Personally, I’d like to see the Doctor use the Screwdriver as a scalpel to do brain surgery; he/she says in every regeneration that he/she chose Doctor for the healing metaphor (not counting that one time between the 8th and 9th Doctors when he went to war and dropped the name).

And at this point I don’t need to beat the metaphor further bringing up Squire Trelane’s mirror. But, I will bring up Derek Flint and his cigarette lighter – “Sir, my lighter has 94 functions, well 95 if you include lighting cigarettes.” Yeah, we got the James Bond joke there.

In the real world, the success of a multi-tool depends on the intended user for whom all design consideration flow. Swiss soldiers and Angus MacGyver need a small fold up tool intended to save lives and so functions are grouped together towards that goal. So, yes, sometimes the user would like a bigger stick on the screwdriver, but is okay with what he has, because the magnifying glass makes fire.

And now we finally dive in on the why of this post brought forth now, instead of some other slow news day when I need to write anything on the subject of creativity. I saw an interesting pen cross my Facebook feed. It has seven functions, few of which hold much interest for me as a creative person. Pen. Philips screwdriver. Flathead screwdriver. Spirit level. English ruler. Metric ruler. iPhone stylus. I knew instantly I didn’t need this Contractor’s Multi-pen and said so on Facebook. Though I will say that the design requirement for fitting screwdrivers into a pen barrel probably makes for a better screwdriver than in other multi-tools.

Regardless, my reply also laid out the design requirements for a Creative Multi-pen, that I thought weren’t addressed. I want a pen with ink cartridges that last (I do first drafts in pen). I want a red pen (can’t avoid The Red Pen of Editorial Doom). I want a mechanical pencil with robust workings and sensible lead replacement procedures in either .5mm or .7mm (I do music, but others need to draw). And, yes, the iPhone stylus is a good idea anywhere.

Now, we get creative with our product requirements. I do like having both kinds of rulers, but I suggested it should detach from the body of the pen so that someone trying to draw straight lines for comic book panels or vanishing points within the panel so that the artist doesn’t get stuck searching for a second pencil (multi-tools are supposed to be the One Thing). And then I also suggested that they should attach a flexible thingamabob to the end of the detachable ruler that would either inflate/stiffen to rigidly hold shape in a variety of curves, circles and ovals to replace a host of French curves and other templates.

The pen that gave me the idea for this post clearly doesn’t fit these criteria being for contractors. It is, however, a shiny object that might help for those two or three times a year when I need to feed the Myth of the American Man and his Workbench. But, get real; otherwise useless shiny objects must be resisted as a rule. Well, now the design requirements are out there; we’ll see if the right industrial designer sees this post.

Few product ideas are completely revolutionary (in the above I’m betting on the detachable ruler and curve thing). Others sell similar products with fewer features. Cross sells a Tech Pen (see picture) which does the pen, red pen, mechanical pencil and iPhone stylus. I bought one a while ago and it was okay, but I have regular pens, red pens and mechanical pens hanging on against the day of a truly great product. A worthy intermediate step.

It works by twisting the neck to reveal the various attachments in the barrel. The pen cartridges are tiny compared to Cross’ regular ballpoint pens and I thought the weakest feature was the mechanical pencil without a whole lot of mechanical to it. Changing lead takes enough extra time that I’ll stick with the plastic disposables for now. Interestingly enough, the Tech Pen’s ink cartridges exactly fit the Livescribe note capture pen (see post), so it wasn’t a total waste.

There you have it, I’ve defined my Ultimate Creative Tool with nary a Ring of Power nor Sonic Screwdriver in sight. I freely admit that in coming up with a multi-tool for creative people I might have pressed forth an incomplete list of features and will slap my head like a tomato juice commercial after I hear your worthy additions when you write your post. Our perfect tools can be as individual as the artistic mayhem we create, so get back to it.

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Brought to you by some of the same people who ask awed questions and then don’t accept repetition as an answer, you’ll also hear “concerns” about writers sitting all the time. So to burn off calories and shut them up, we’ll consider buying something intended to do both exercise and write at the same time. And the purveyors of standing or exercising workstations just stifled gleeful giggles waiting for us to push Complete Sale. This is my adventure…

For a while now, I’ve had the stationary bike sitting under the new table (see top photo) so I could still watch TV (have to do something about the boredom of lots of exercise where the scenery doesn’t change). I use it when I remember (more often than the other gear), but there’s a time limit gifted by the seat…my ass hurts after two hours. I’ve pushed through a few times, but then my ass really hurts. And this arrangement didn’t fully help me the few times I wanted to write and burn calories.

Riding the stationary bike while finger tapping on my iPhone is possible and represents one of the few exceptions to the discoveries in my previous Write and Chew Gum post. I just don’t do this very often; single finger typing takes twice as much time as most other writing methods (time trials post to follow whenever). And there is still my ass to consider.

Thinking that I would at least conduct the same bicycle kick exercise motion while lying flat on my back easing up on my grateful ass, I bought a set of resistance bands, twice. The second, because it had a wider range of resistance. At some point, I’ll actually use them…probably when it’s time to do the upper body workout I currently lack. But, since I have yet to trust letting Siri do the typing, I won’t actually write that day.

I have a treadmill (now stored in my crowded back room) waiting for more days when I just can’t let my sore ass dictate my lack of exercise. Between the treadmill and actual walks of similar distance, I wrote the Write and Chew Gum post never feeling quite so much existential fear as trying to walk while banging out words on my iPhone (even regular walks require an orange walking coat). I suspect that the purveyors of the phone app that allowed me to type over a camera image are secretly culling the herd, like Blofeld in the book version of You Only Live Twice.

Hooking into the treadmill’s safety cord doesn’t actually lessen the feeling that I’m five seconds away from earning my Darwin Award in the Furthest Blood Splash from Impact Category. I did cut a board on which to type with an iPad and/or write pen and paper with a light. Nah, still Five…Four…you get the – THUMP! “Ow!” – idea. With the treadmill, put headphones in for good music and look straight ahead and it’s not a writing day because I still don’t trust Siri to type.

Next, still needing to consider upper body workouts, I harken back to my college days watching Chuck Norris shill the Total Gym and buy the second one in my life so far. At least, the fact that these bench and pulley thingamabobs have a price that settled to their natural level once the As Seen on TV aspect faded and you can just get them off Amazon or at Big 5. Work the upper body, yes, but I also thought maybe I can finger type while doing squats and step ups on the kickboard attachment. We’ll see.

Through it all, the bike beckons. The TV won’t watch itself and it does get some calories. I watch a movie or a few episodes. I adjust the pillows. I quit when my ass tells me to. So recognizing this pattern, I become susceptible to all kinds of advertising for bikes that either fit under standard desks or have flat platforms for notebook computers. I buy one of the latter (see third photo). And so now after much preamble, thus begins the assembly adventure where you have some days where you get more exercise building or moving the stupid thing than using it.

I put together the bike…sort of. I spend several hours reading the instructions and wrangling the shiny metal parts from landing on my crimson throw rugs with pseudo-Persian designs (chrome nuts and bolts will still disappear when you’re not looking). I turn on every light in the room and still have to use my cell phone light.

The thing works…sort of. I left off decorative plastic bits. I attached a column inside another piece when outside might have been what the picture in the instructions asserts (hard to tell, pretty much the only instructions not subject to interpretation must be IKEA). I attached the flywheel in the main body of bike to the controls in the column and here is where I lost most of my time that day because I’m absolutely convinced the gap in the connector hook for the tension wire was simply too long. Solving this with needle nose pliers that bends a claw attachment around the tension wire probably voids the warranty.

This new bike pedals stiffer than the older one with the uncomfortable seat leaving me to wonder if I need to break it in with more use or if manhandling the tension wire will always leave the feel too stiff. Additionally, this bike has a higher center of gravity leading to a little bit more wobble on the pedal. I suppose whining about the fact that the computer tray, while usable for its stated purpose, is visibly out of level by just a little bit defines piling on. Back to Amazon for the next thing…a projector cart table.

The table (see second photo) build goes a lot better. I end up using the whole day in a room that eventually must be lit with every light in the room and still will use my cell phone light. I chase parts across my floor. I read the instructions and move slowly. And like with the bike, the tools they give you suck.

What went wrong to be fixed after several hours? I put the framing for the flat small table top in backwards. Neither the instructions nor the actual pieces are easy to discern which way the framing should be bolted in (the difference is about a half inch from purely symmetrical) so you just unscrew it, turn it around and see what happens. Success!

And this is the bare bones of two different days where a writer built stuff to help him write and exercise and neither wrote nor worked out until the day after. But, there are a few lessons to be gained for when you have to build your exercise/writing station.

The tools in the box suck balls.

In both cases, I got a wrench without enough torque to matter (big sticks drive more energy into the bolts and fasteners, almost like with levers. See second photo). But find your beloved channel locks? Done faster. And I got a hex key that may or may not have also been too short to do the job. The table had that one hex key bolt that just wouldn’t bite into the hole, but bring out an interchangeable bolt driver as seen in the picture? Done in three minutes and two minutes to redo the frame by turning it around.

There’s always going to be something, so block out the whole day and turn on the lights.

And that, Folks, is what we learn from building things. Next time.