Friday, May 30, 2008

Drabble part, I don't know how many: The Drabbling


She might have been crying before she jumped in, but when she surfaced, the tear-stains on her cheeks disappeared. She sighed. Her expression softened. She took a deep breath and swam, relishing the cool of the water on her face, the tactile explosion of exhaling. One two three exhale inhale one two three exhale inhale. Out with her anger, her fear; in with soft happiness. Like supports like: if she wasn’t calm, liquid, flexible, she would sink. Her troubles slowly dissolved away. She flipped over to her back and stared at the ceiling, perfectly relaxed. The water held her up.

I'm not super proud of this one; it was an image that was in my head and wouldn't go away, and I needed something to write anyway, so I wrote it, but I don't think it has anywhere to go and I don't think it's particularly good. Something better tomorrow, I promise! Well, maybe not promise. But hope!

Thursday, May 29, 2008



The kids from Boston and the kids from Texas and the kids from Pasadena didn’t know what they were doing. They were just kids after all. They thought it was a game. To be strictly honest, it was just a game, like hundreds of games before – see who could build the best.

But army officials don’t understand games, and the aging general public doesn’t understand computer games, and English-major journalists don’t understand robot games, and it started and it all went downhill from there.

If there’s one upside to the robot wars, it’s that now they won’t expect the Zombies.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

One foot in front of the other

My jaw clenched. One foot in front of the other. As if it was easy. I teetered, slid my foot forward, waving my arms to balance. One foot in front of the other. That was all she said, and now she was gone. I shouted her name; silence. I took a wobbling step.

One foot in front of the other. Oh, and don’t look down.

The wire swayed beneath me. I breathed deeply. I couldn’t see the end, but I couldn’t see the beginning and I had just begun.

I took another step. One foot in front of the other.

Ever since Ayn told me about naso-labial lines, I've been looking for them, of course, because you can't stop, and I've especially been looking for them in my face? It bothered me a little bit that I could see them in the mirror, not enough to go out and buy anti-wrinkle face cream or anything, but sort of "Am I getting old?" in the same way that my impending twenty-second birthday worries me. Should it worry me that when I read a book I usually identify with the sixteen year old rather than the twenty three year old? Is that even true? It's hard to tell; I don't know; I haven't paid attention. Should it worry me that I still identify with Peter Pan even if I'm approaching adulthood? Or is that the appeal of Peter Pan, that everyone feels a little bit like a boy who didn't grow up?

I think, in part, some of the reason I like circus people is that they're misfits; they don't fit the stereotypes for their ages -- they haven't settled down and grown up, or if they have they've done it without really doing it. So maybe the answer to my worry is just as straightforward as, well, walking a tightwire (or a slackwire I guess); which remains something that I want to learn how to do. Hah. The edge between childish irresponsibility and dowdy adulthood is narrow, and possibly razor-thin. But I can has metaphor. Maybe that will be my next drabble.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Inspired, oddly enough, by Troll 2

Energy was first to go. She slowed down. She stopped caring about little things, like who was running for president or if we were at war. She had never enjoyed sunbathing, but now there was nothing she would rather do. Getting up was harder every time.

“Mom,” her son called, “It’s almost midnight. You should come inside.”

She didn’t move.

“Mom, I’ve made breakfast.”

“Mom, there’s no food and I can’t drive to the store.”

“Mom, I’m hungry.”

“Mom, I’m going to Billy’s. He says his folks’ll take care of me.”

She heard the door shut. She shed a leaf.

I know there are like four hundred and fifty three stories with the same plot (person turns into plant!). They are almost all cooler than mine. I am okay with this.

Also, I found the autosummary feature, but it turns out it was not nearly as dadaist as I remembered (at least with the two tries I gave it). Also, it works by scoring each word by the number of times used, and then each sentence by the sum of the common-ness of its words (probably with some control for length). So I pretty much just got a bunch of sentences of the sort "(Main Character) (common verb)."

Too bad!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Old Microsoft Word (I'm talking at least eight years ago or something, so Word2000 or... whatever) had this hilarious feature called "AutoSummary" as best I can remember. I don't know how well it worked with a standard, by-the-book 5 paragraph essay of the type I would have been writing in middle school, when I discovered it, but I do know that it would give me what I can only describe as a dadaist summary of a lengthy work of fiction (I tried it out on my first novel, to quite amusing results. Yes, this is how I discovered the feature; no it doesn't just take the first sentence of every paragraph -- I would have noticed that). I think it had something to do with finding the non-article or preposition words you used the most frequently, and I only figured that out because my two main characters' names popped up repeatedly.

Now I return eight or nine years later only to find that the deconstructionist summary feature is absent! Or at least, hiding, in Word2007 (curse you, Vista!). Of course, I shouldn't really be complaining about the loss of an amusing but pointless feature. However, it did spoil what would have been my five minutes or so of fun, threading my verbose stories through the digital shredder and seeing which 100 words popped out in which order. I think the moral of this story is that playing Microsoft Word (TM) was way more fun when I was a teenager. Sort of like how playing Windows (TM) was way more fun when I was a little kid.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Another 100 words!

iFace: The Future of Beauty

Sally hated iFaces, even if they were “the future of beauty”. Hers, a gift from a fashionable aunt, was only good as a paperweight. No, she couldn’t turn her face blue to broadcast her misery, but she would rather focus on her drink.

“You know, if you hold that any tighter, you’ll break it.”

She slammed down the glass. “What d’you care? Go hit on someone else.”

“Most women today aren’t worth the effort. They’re either depressed or shallow.”


“You’re the only one who isn’t hiding her face.” Sally laughed, surprised. He smiled. “Can I buy you another round?”

The idea was for a monolayer-thin, flexible organic led screen in the shape of a mask with a wireless connection to a server in the sky for storing preset "makeover" files, which could do things like make it look like you had perfect eyeshadow/blush/lipstick or completely remove dark circles under your eyes, without the health risks of putting lots of nasty chemicals all over your face every day. I know, the details don't come through. Oh well. Hopefully the generalities (it's a mask, it's computerized, it has something to do with cosmetics) do. But might I actually have a little bit of plot, possibly even a character, in 100 words? Go me!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Another Drabble

It would appear that I feel like I'm floating away into nothingness. Given that I am waiting, bored for the summer to start and then graduate school to start and therefore my life to hit the reboot button, I think this is vaguely understandable. I'll try for a more cheerful 100 words tomorrow.

Peter was floating, his feet kicking freely six inches above the ground. He had always wanted to fly; and yet it felt so wrong now that it was real. It should have been invigorating to rid himself of the chains of gravity. But his stomach sank with worry. What if he could never land? What if he fell? What if… He rose another foot, and reached down, frantically grabbing Wendy’s hand. “Don’t let me float away,” he pleaded.

She smiled. “I won’t hold you down,” she said. He thought she might let go, but she didn’t. “I’m coming with you.”

Monday, May 19, 2008

Oh my; Elizabeth writing something short, again?!

Ayn suggests drabbles to help with short-form writing. I trust her since she is an expert in brevity and in wit. Here is one; for some reason I really want to title it with a reference to the Neverland. It doesn't make much sense.

If You Close Your Eyes And Are A Lucky One

The city floats on clouds, the grime of its streets seeping into the white cumulus mass, turning the sky ominous and dark. But the storm doesn’t break yet; it only drizzles. You can see the towers clearly, jet black standing out against dark gray. They seem too massive, too tangible to be floating midair, and you expect them to fade away into a mirage or fall, heavily, back to earth, shaking the ground and sending tremors out for miles. But the city stays afloat, and instead the mist seeps through your jacket and your skin and down to your bones.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I'll post with more pictures later. But an afternoon of waiting for PCR to be done has left me with several interesting oddities:


This is awesome. I wish I was one of those kids. Oh, how I wish I was one of those kids. Oh well.

2) The quote: "Monotremes are like the fantasy geezer aunt you never knew you had, breezing in from the other side of the world, with wild tales of the past and no plans for slowing down." (from here)

I never knew I had a fantasy geezer aunt I never knew I had; it's even better that she's a platypus.

3) I might be done with Scav for the foreseeable future, but the San Francisco Bay Area has something perhaps even better: Maker Faire. So I will not be starved for annual festivals of creativity and wackiness.

4) I agree with this article on just about every count. The revolution is coming, and it will be a revolution on the level of Galileo and Darwin. The argument of whether or not "God" exists fails intrinsically since "God" as a concept is so poorly defined (or impossible to define, take your pick). The real argument and the real paradigm shift we need to be considering is the shift away from any particular "God", the shift away from the revealed faiths, the faiths-of-the-book, and the shift towards and more accepting and more understanding and more universal faith that does not and will not contradict reason. (I'm sorry; any time you write down what "God" says is right or true in any but the vaguest and most general terms, you open yourself up to being contradicted by the wisdom of later days.) The interesting thing, to me, is that such a more universal faith seems to necessitate the abandonment of any corporeal/describable "God" de facto: In order to incorporate all ideas of "God", you cannot cleave to any one idea.

There was also a lot about Global Warming and Polar Bears going extinct that made me sad. But I don't want to post about that.

Pictures of Scav and a follow-up on the half-pony half-monkey monster later!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Scav: A Summary?

It's over. My last Scav at the U of C is over, and I don't know if it's really hit me yet. Knowing myself, I probably won't come back next year, and even if I did it would be different and probably not as much fun.

Hah. I am done being a Scavenger, and all I have to show for it is this awesome half-pony half-monkey monster. So that's the first story, which is that I got to do the Jonathan Coulton Item, number 164: I made this ____ to please you. But I get the feeling that you don't like it; what's with all the screaming? ... Maybe I used too many monkeys. Isn't it enough to know that I ruined a pony making a gift for you?

Yes, he is holding a Jonathan Coulton ticket stub, and yes he is wearing an NIH tee-shirt. I'm going to ask JoCo to sign the ticket stub the next time I see him in concert. Any suggestions on names would be appreciated, though, since I am not good at naming things that aren't Armadillos.

More pictures to come later, as I upload them from my camera and/or am sent them by friends. I had a hell of a time tracking down the page captain for this item, because after I heard it my eyes pretty much bugged out of their sockets and I thought "Oh man, I MUST do this item". But once I found him, told him that I really really really wanted to do the item, and also told him I would dress as a mad scientist and sing the song (if he wanted me to) at Judgement, well, he seemed pretty pumped. And when he saw the finished product, his eyes bugged out of their sockets in much the same way mine had when I heard the item read.

It is a very cute, and very cuddly, abomination, and I will display it with pride in my apartment at Stanford. I can't wait for someone to notice it and ask "What's that?" to which the only possible response is "It's a half-pony half-monkey monster."

I would wait for them to ask "Why, exactly, do you have a half-pony half-monkey monster?" before I explained that it was a Scav item, and what Scav is, and how awesome this year was.

Because this year was, in my opinion, the awesomest of my four years doing Scav. The half-pony half-monkey monster was probably my favorite item, and I absolutely loved how it turned out. The Monowheel was so very much fun. (And all of our showcase items worked -- Gir (cartoon dog balloon, item 18) was stupendous, the Zeusaphone could play recognizable tunes, and the potato gun that shot fire as well was, an exercise in hilarity). The dance at Daly Plaza (Blues Brothers item, number 136) was incredible fun, although I must admit (sadly) that as an item I liked Stick to the Status Quo a bit better from last year. I actually enjoyed the party more since (most) people weren't getting raucously drunk, and ours was, I must admit, absolutely amazing (in fact, everything that Anna McGeachy did in Scav this year was amazing, from what I heard). The Doll House was gorgeous, and I am so proud that I was able to do a tiny bit to be a part of that mammoth effort. Of course, there were parts I definitely didn't like (the Thursday Quads item comes to mind), but there weren't many (read: that was basically it). Even judgment was better this year than in years past, probably because I didn't have to stress and fret until the very end at which point a judge would ask me to do something totally ridiculous and absolutely absurd, and I would feel obliged to do it and possibly get hurt. Possibly because I had gotten at least a little bit more food and sleep than I had in years past. Possibly all of these things.

In the end, I hung out in Ross' room and pretended to be Ross with Emblies and Alex (yes, we were all pretending to be Ross; it was classy) between the judging of items and the final judgment. It was nostalgic in the extreme, and goofy and wonderful. THAT is my college experience (or at least the good parts): Hanging out in a dorm room, absolutely exhausted, chatting with good friends about life and the crazy stuff we just did, and getting ready for more wackiness. I worry a bit that I won't find that again, or that I won't find friends good enough, or something. It's hard to put a finger on it. But sitting in that room with those people I couldn't help forgetting that they had graduated and I had moved out and soon I would be in California, and just remember my second year -- only better, in a way, because this year has been so much better than my second year.

At final judgment, I was tackled and held in place while William Dix drew a mustache on me in sharpie, which was a combination of shame that I am small enough to be tackled so easily and pride that they thought I was enough a part of the team to force me into a victory mustache. Alex got away without one, and I don't know if that's because he's a black belt or he didn't really Scav this year or both. The chanting was hilarious (at the beginning, at least, although it did get old by the end), GASH rick-rolled everyone universally and went on to beat the FIST, Burton Judson came out incredibly strongly for third place (hooray!), and we won by a whopping seven hundred points!

The party afterwards made up in raucousness and insanity for the lack of booze at the Friday night party. We took over the third floor of section five, the RAs didn't care (neither did anyone else I don't think), there was dancing and cavorting, shouting and whooping and reveling that you could hear from the street, bad champagne and bad beer and bad mixed drinks (I had maybe two sips of champagne). And Dominos Pizza never tasted so good. The Burton Judson captains came over and William Dix gave them victory mustaches. It was, in short, everything that Scav was supposed to be, everything that Scav is, and everything that I wanted from Scav.

Next weekend, though, I am turning my sonic screwdriver into a screwdriver. Why? Because even if it isn't Scav, I still can.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Cuba is changing... a little.

My memory of Cuba will always be of a messed up, beautiful place with messed up, beautiful people. I don't know if that makes much sense. And I think the most significant part of this isn't that Cubans can buy certain consumer goods, but that they're noticing the "messed up" parts of the country. Because by far the strangest part of talking to Cuban high school students, for me at least and for a lot of the other students on the trip I think, was that Cuban high school students honestly thought that we were the ones with the repressive government and they were the ones with freedom of speech and expression. And as much as I hate the Department of Homeland Security and think that George W. Bush and his administration have hijacked the country and stolen many of our liberties, well, we're still pretty far from Cuba. To put it bluntly, our acceptable political expression is more than a tongue-in-cheek comment and a knowing smile, which was basically the most that any Cuban would do even in private.

So if young Cubans are noticing how messed up the country is, well, that's at least a step in the right direction. I know it's not much, especially not in such a brutal dictatorship. But it's a step. It means it's not hopeless.

The other thing of note is that, well, Raul Castro isn't much younger than Fidel, and Fidel's son ("Fidelito") has no interest in running the state. So in the foreseeable future, there will be a Cuba run not by a Castro but by... someone else? And who knows what that mystery person will do, or who that person will be, or how much unrest there will be in the country due to that exchange of power. Fidel to Raul was remarkably easy; I remember people worrying (hoping?) that when the elder Castro resigned or died, Cuba would explode or implode or whatever it is that such countries do without a leader.

But another interesting thing, for me, is that I don't really think China's model will work so much in Cuba. This is for purely personal reasons. The culture and the persona of Cuba was shockingly similar to our own. I got a strong sense of individualism and enterprise. (As perhaps best indicated by the pimp/economist who would not leave Noah alone. To this day I swear they were talking about Bush's economic policies.) This is in the middle of one of the most oppressive communist regimes, and people were still thumbing their noses and winking their eyes as if to say "Yes, it's wonderful isn't it, we all know that, but..." The 'black market' was blocks and blocks and blocks of stalls. It's obvious even from the article: the cab driver who wants to make himself an expert in cellular phones the minute he can buy one. In customs, everyone pushes and jostles to get to the front of the line. People weren't shy, they weren't formal or deferential or whatever. They were rowdy and noisy and alive.

And I haven't done the research to know if this is really different or not, but Raul Castro opened up the internet and immediately, there were people publishing blogs that were unfriendly to the state. They hide their faces and their names but they post candid truths anyway. When he said obliquely that people should make their concerns public, women came out in the streets to protest unjust imprisonment of their husbands. It doesn't work; the government tries to stamp it down, but if after such a veiled offer of an ear people are willing to take the chance and speak their minds, well, that's got to be a good thing.

On the other hand, this isn't the sense I got while in China; in a purely cultural respect. So much more of China's culture seems to be based around respect for your elders and knowing your place, it's hard to fit a raucous and brazen personality into that. That might be part of why communism (or authoritarianism, really) on such a massive scale has worked in China. If there were 1.3 billion Cubans instead of 11.39 million (that's a 100-fold, yikes!), Cuba's policies of repression might not work as well as they do. Of course, I'm not an anthropologist and I might be completely wrong, and in any case it's impossible to know for sure.

Part of me hopes that a little bit of economic freedom in Cuba will force the political freedom that I would like to see. It's interesting to me because of how I reacted to visiting both Cuba and China. I felt like China had the bad parts of Americana without the good parts -- McDonalds and Microsoft without pick-up games of softball in the park and laughter in the street. Cuba seemed, at least a little bit, closer to the good parts of my culture, the parts I'm proud of. The personality and the vitality was there, half hidden under the dust of the crumbling buildings. So every time the reporter compared Cuba to China, I winced a little bit. I hope that, with these small economic reforms, parallel social reforms are made -- I wouldn't want Cuba to turn into China.

Edit to add: On a more hopeful note, who wants to go back to Cuba with me when they open the borders again? Mango? Easha?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Well, when you put it that way...

Cory Doctorow posted about how awesome young adult sci-fi/fantasy is lately.

I no longer feel guilty at aspiring to be an author of awesome young adult sci-fi/fantasy rather than something "real" or "more serious".

Now I just have to work on the awesome part.