Archive for January 8, 2018

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© 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.

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Wow! There’s a pull quote for you contemplating seeing Guillermo del Toro’s new movie, The Shape of Water. Just wow. The director is back in his weird but playful element weaving a Cold War era tale of a secret base, the young mute lady pushing a mop therein and…her amphibian lover. And there is a Busby Berkley style dance number to boot.

Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is mute. She pushes a mop in a secret base in Baltimore, 1962. She lives alone above a mostly empty movie theater next door to Giles (Michael Shannon), a man in the closet living with cats. One day a new “asset” rolls into the lab with the strongest steel door contained in a secure fish tank. Elisa is curious to the consternation of her good friend and sign language interpreter, Zelda (Octavia Spencer). Romance and a daring escape from the facility ensue…

Mister del Toro brilliantly captures the nostalgia for the America that might not have actually existed except in the movies that distracted us. In the movies we danced with our lovers for whom we had undergone an emotional journey just to get to the black and white waltz in clothes for which the shoes were likely too small for the occasion. And then we popped off the screen in vivid Technicolor that requires a restoration print and celluloid surgery about every twenty years to preserve that feel.

And then because the director has read enough books about the real America of the time, he brilliantly reminds us that two 800-pound gorilla superpowers rattled sabers at each other. That a black couple in the South had about as much chance of sitting at the counter as I do being invited into Al Qaeda to lead the struggle. All of this happens in the background while we’re caught looking at Ms. Hawkins eat up her scenery and then chase it with the production scripts slathered in mustard.

I can’t speak highly enough about Ms. Hawkins as she gives Elisa an enigmatic smile, especially baiting Amphibian Man with hard-boiled eggs. And the lady in question doesn’t need words to express the eternal conflict between the Frankenstein Monster and his creator…how far do we go with a new mostly sentient creature that might teach us about our place in the universe, but will also eat our cats when we fall asleep at the switch?

Because of the all around deft handling of the seeming incompatibility between America as we wanted to see it versus the America as it really was, we see Ms. Hawkins be fierce signing a hearty “Fuck you!” in all-caps to the union mandated evil or perhaps just scared Security Chief. Of course, said torturer doesn’t understand American Sign Language and Zelda does a bit of creative “interpreting” to keep the guy about to lose fingers to gangrene from blowing his stack. The solidarity of ladies who push mops and clean up piss from places where urine should fear to tread.

Pretty much the rescue aided by a scientist spying for Russia takes place and Elisa and Amphibian Man get to know each other in her bathtub as they wait out the coming rains that will fill the canal to the sea. We hope Giles’ cat served raw tastes like chicken. Amphibian Man becomes progressively sick because the bath water isn’t exactly to taste for his survival. And for the second go around, Elisa floods her bathroom for the full aquatic experience. Then all the threads meet at the canal and bullets fly.

Anything, I might say bad about this film is so far into the realm of needing to invent things just so I don’t write a completely warm and gushing review. I got caught up into this world where principled people can see the Other as more than a lab rat. The music, photography and the probably disgusting key lime pie that informs Giles’ subplot popped off the screen as intended (the pie filling looked a lot like green Jell-O instead of actual Key Lime…ick!). So, I have to work to find things for Mr. del Toro to think about next time.

If I had my way, I might suggest making more of the downstairs movie theater as a story element. Amphibian Man escapes the apartment after eating Giles’ cat and he is found in a middle row staring at the screen. Could someone use a really good old movie to deepen Elisa and Amphibian Man’s relationship beyond the Nurse-Patient tropes we see on screen? Yes, and I hope Mr. del Toro lets us know on the Blu-Ray that he cut those scenes for time.

But, the problem for this thread is that you can hear gears of the studio footage-licensing machine working behind the scenes. The film in question is The Story of Ruth, to my mind a Sword and Sandals “classic” to which I’ve generally reacted indifferently in the past. I bet the studio producing The Shape of Water owns The Story of Ruth. Thought experiment time, what does Amphibian Man learn about Elisa and people if he sees Ben-Hur? Lawrence of Arabia? Casablanca? Or pick another classic movie from 1962 or before?

Of course, this suggestion only works if there is time to depict at least two back and forth exchanges of the conversation in American Sign Language between Girl and Amphibian Lover. It could be seen as an interesting parallel to the many conversations Elisa has with Giles at his TV set where the lonely gay artist next door needs company, but will do anything to skip over the disturbing TV footage of riots in favor of the Betty Grable movies that taught Elisa how to dance.

Now, if at some point Mr. del Toro says “Yes, I’m not stupid and could see the character possibilities sixty miles away, but we were five minutes long…” then okay, it’s called the Red Pen of Editorial Doom for a reason. Otherwise, pay for the meaningful footage and milk the thread for more. Just saying.

Quibbles aside, The Shape of Water is one of those movies we can’t be sure the Hollywood System even makes these days. Then they sneak it out while we’re still recovering from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This one goes on the disk shelf. High praise indeed. See you at movies.