Saturday, June 28, 2014

Increasing Creativity Part 2: Compounding Sources


SECTION JUMPS:

I. CURRENT TECH BLOCKING CREATIVE CONTENT DEPOSITS INTO MY MIND
II. NOTICED REDUCTION IN CREATIVE PRODUCTIVITY
III. INCREASED UNPUBLISHED CREATIVE CONTENT UNQUANTIFIED BY BLOG POST TABLE
IV. ANALYSIS SHOWS: CONTENT CREATION REMAINS STEADY, THE TYPE AND PUBLIC ACCESS TO IT CHANGES
V. RELATING CONSUMING/PRODUCING CONTENT TO COMPOUNDING CONTENT
VI. LINKS OF NOTE

The last entry established a groundwork by explaining compound interest. This entry will start porting compounding conceptually for increasing creativity.

The short quick answer: Our minds can work like an interest-bearing bank account. Instead of increasing the balance of monetary value, our minds can increase the balance of creative content.

The mind should probably be looked more like an income stock that can go up and down in value day-to-day but still pays dividends and capital gains. The vagaries and demands of life and near-certain biological degredation of the body causes this additional nuance.

Understanding doesn't always come with short answers. Read further for elaboration.

Return to beginning

CURRENT TECH BLOCKING CREATIVE CONTENT DEPOSITS INTO MY MIND

My access to other blogs has become problematic. I like reading them on my mobile devices: 2+ year old LG Android and first generation iPad. I use the Feedly app, on the mobile devices and on my laptop.

Blog reading works fine on the laptop. I have no complaints about the technology. My issue revolves around my attitude problem. I don't care for consuming content on the laptop, except for background media like music. Laptops and desktops should focus on producing and developing content. I feel lazy and passive consuming content on these devices.

The Android works fine, but the small screen makes reading difficult and it gets slow. I get impatient. My eyes and brain strain focusing on such a small device and scrolling so often.

The iPad has the best dimensions and user interface for reading blogs via Feedly. I don't have to scroll much. When I do, I simply flick the wrist.

First generation iPads have become overweight paperweights, though. Apple no longer supports them or provides OS updates. An OS update would likely cause more problems. The first generation iPad doesn't have enough memory. To make things even worse, it can't handle the methods new apps use to manage memory.

My iPad has the habit of closing apps with little notice. OK, maybe some notice. It stops doing anything onscreen for a few seconds then closes. Using the browser or anything with major graphics for awhile likely triggers this reaction. Even without some kind of obvious trigger, music stops and an app will close after extended use. Music has also taken to skipping like a scratched CD Without clicking.

Webpages with lots of ads and sophisticated coding makes text flash in and out multiple times before stabilizing. Many times this indicates a trigger that an app will shut down. Even if it stablizes, it gets annoying.

I want fast action on my mobile device, consuming content, especially articles. I could get information faster from a newspaper or book.

My mobile tech has become obsolete. It happens. I've come up with an affordable solution: buy a high-end big-screen mobile phone. It provides the benefits of:

  • Having just one device and provider
  • Continued unlimited data
  • Decreased costs
  • Added network access flexibility
Hopefully it will last and provide me with ease of use.

Return to beginning

NOTICED REDUCTION IN CREATIVE PRODUCTIVITY

I inarticulately addressed this topic previously a little more than eight years ago. I ruminated about feeling disconnected from the world since I had no Internet. You can read it by clicking here.

It has more of an emotional philosophical tone to it. This time, creative content development is king.

I develop more creatieve content when I maximize my creative, information or news content consumption. Since my mobile content consumption has slowed down, I've noticed a reduction in generation and publishing of my own creative content.

My RSS feed reading and resolution to post more creative content and more regularly started around January 2013. The table below shows the trend of my blog posting for the months between January and June for the years 2013 and 2014. I include this entry on the table.

Month 2013 2014
January 4 1
February 0 2
March 2 1
April 2 0
May 3 3
June 3 1
Total 14 8

Other than creative, information and news content consumption reduction, these explanations could also apply:

Increased hours at work from January to market and verify delivery of health insurance policies after retail market purchases during the first Affordable Care Act retail Open Enrollment and launching of healthare.gov could have played a part. This issue spanned from January to April. Entries posted during this time span was 8 in 2013 (not ACA affected) and 4 in 2014. That matches the overall trend.

The decline trend also remains relatively consistent for the months of May and June. 6 in 2013, 4 in 2014. I have a hard time correlating the decline with the Affordable Care Act. Besides, I did most of my creative, information and news content reading during private times that polite company doesn't discuss. That activity has remained consistent.

I have taken on more DIY projects and chores at home. I have increased the steps/procedures for my dental hygiene. Both of these inreases add to reproductive chore time and take away from leisure/production time. I can't dispute the contribution this factor has played into reducing time to write creative content.

Even while engaging in reproductive activities, though, I often ruminate on concepts, information and ideas. I do it without trying. My brain does it to stay occupied while doing an activity that requires little attention. The little monkey in my brain doesn't stop.

Personal issues also go through my mind during such ruminations, too. I observed a lower frequency of those during this span of time in 2014.

Reduction in cognitive and time resources, in general, have probably played a marked influence on my reduction in creative content creation. Above has already addressed time issues.

Riding in temperatures down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit created by the weakened polar vortex in very constricting layers took its toll. I'm still traumatized and expect sudden downturns at any time. The emotional toll of trauma, no matter the absence or presence of evil, has its costs.

Teaching and selling a product and system while learning it thorughly at the same time makes for a rough time. Add onto that managing time to make sure money gets made rather than just tutoring people. Frustrated people facing much increased costs and getting marginalized by not-fully-thought through requirements weighs down the emotions. Such a cognitive load will take away resources from creative content creation.

May remained steady between the two years, which supports the Affordable Care Act hypothesis and weakens the cognitive load argument.

June makes the Affordable Care Act hypothesis less strong but strengthens the cognitive load argument. I have had a hard time with time management lately. So many things to do and so many people to see. I'm back to fighting for my time again.

Return to beginning

INCREASED UNPUBLISHED CREATIVE CONTENT UNQUANTIFIED BY BLOG POST TABLE

I rediscovered Rollo May. More apt, I found his work discussing how much significance and meaning has to do with people's happiness and well being. These works also had less talk about love. May's writing about love felt a little too wishy washy and mystical for my tastes.

May's writing about significance and meaning had so much to do with my project that I found myself inspired. I had to get another book of his about about violence. It focuses more on how lack of inherent significance and meaning can lead to violence and/or an ideology of violence. These days with terrorism, shootings at schools, violence against the marginalized and many stories hitting the news, May's writing doesn't just ring true for my project. It also has relevance to the contemporary human condition.

I've also rediscovered and started reading Dr. Chris Ferns' Narrating Utopia: Ideology, Gender, Form in Utopian Literature. I had bought it years and years ago in my spate of getting as many sources on utopianism as I could, looking for a definition or characterization that I could use.

Narrating Utopia helped me dig deep to discover/remember the purpose for my project and led me to rediscover Rollo May. In addition, I have a better understanding why The Project consumes me. Suffice to say, it remains a core process I started as a teenager to find my identity then move onto my next step. I like to think of it as a meta-project. I study how other people have defined significance/meaning and try to create an ideal humman and society based on that definition. I want to help society and me to better find significance/meaning and fill life with it.

I started The Project years and years ago without knowing why and forget it every once in awhile. At least I tell myself that. Seriously, I should just read the beginning of one character's journey in my novel's first draft. He practically says word-for-word my question and goal.

The fact that I wrote the last four paragraphs with little effort and could write plenty easily goes back to this post's argument. Instead of working against the argument, it supports it. Yes, I haven't written many blog posts in June. Instead I've redirected my attention toward a project that I've had at the center of my teenage and adult life. The quantification of blog posts written does not contain all of my content creation.

I have produced content, just not for public consumption at this point in time.

Return to beginning

ANALYSIS SHOWS: CONTENT CREATION REMAINS STEADY, THE TYPE AND PUBLIC ACCESS TO IT CHANGES

Consuming content inspires more content. The more content taken in will lead to more content going out. Nuance brought about by analysis: the type of content coming in influences the content going out.

I started writing this post thinking that content only included creative, information or news. Like astrophysicists talking about information and black holes, I find myself broadening the definition of content to also include:
  • Physical things
  • Abstract objects/products (insurance really comes down to being a promise with rules as to when it applies and how it gets delivered)
  • Emotions
  • relationships between people
The list probably goes into infinity.

Production of content for my blog has gone down as my consumption of other inspiring blogs has gone down. During the first quarter of the year, insurance, Affordable Care Act and business content consumption increased. My output in these categories increased during that time.

DIY reproduction chore content has increased. Since it has the function of reproduction, it consumes and produces at the same time. I have little choice whether to deal with it or not. It generally must be addressd.

Reproductive content generally acts more as a time consumer. Unfortunately, time isn't content, it stores content. Like any storage device, time is limited. Unlike a storage device, we can't replace time or our allotment of it. At least not yet.

Other than reproductive content (notice that who does reproductive labor often becomes a contentious issue), the form of content generates more of that form of content. Doing reproductive content hopefully reduces it. In a sense, efficient reproductive content helps to produce future free time, or more philosophically, event-oriented content storage.

We absorb ourselves into content. Our minds ruminate over new content to adjust our concept of the world and universe. We are what we eat. Even food can be categorized as content, but probably more along the reproductive line of content. Whether we remain conscious or unconscious about our content consumption and production, the more we take in, the more we digest, the more we produce.

Return to beginning

RELATING CONSUMING/PRODUCING CONTENT TO COMPOUNDING CONTENT

This process acts as a form of compounding. Like I said in the beginning, though, our biological and social conditions make the quantity and value of our content more variable, unlike an interest-bearing bank account where the value of principal remains the same.

We can become damaged and we degrade. Content gets destroyed. Our productivity processing content, in and out, degrades. Thankfully the human race has developed technologies that can immortalize intellectual and certain experiential content.

Society and history, in a sense, can act as a mind that does the same as our own minds through material and social technology. The types of content we spread around, the more that the rest of society generates, good and bad.

Technology in the form of writing and other content form factors allow us to transcend time with our content. Neil deGrasse Tyson discussed immortality granted to us by writing in an episode of Cosmos. Tyson stresses the fact that our future generations can judge us as good or evil by our content, and we won't be around to defend ourselves.

Technology and our impact on society and other people allows our content to travel in time to the future while those in the future can connect with the past. Society then can process our content like our present day society processes it, whether to stop it or let it compound to produce more.

People and societies will determine the content's value in the marketplace of ideas like Wall Street determines the cost of stocks. Our content enters a marketplace of content, either to continue compounding in other organisms if found valuable or to possibly go extinct from lack of interest.

We consume and produce content everyday, whether conscious or unconscious of
  • Doing it in the first place
  • How we're doing it
  • What kind to focus on
We can choose the focus and quantity of what kind we produce by choosing the kind and quantity we consume. The value of the content is up to the consumer. Content acts as the medium we use to interact with the world and leave our impact.

Manipulate it often and well to maximize your interaction in a way you want. On the one hand, what do you want take away from the world? On the other, how do you want to be remembered by the world? Who knows where it all leads?

I know we can control our content output by controlling our input, though. We have a powerful tool available to us here. I have some ideas how to use it. How do you want to use it?

Return to beginning

LINKS OF NOTE:
Return to beginning

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Increasing Creativity Part 1: Compound Interest, An Applicable Financial Concept



Skip to Links of Interest

Books and articles about personal finance often bring up compound interest. Put simple as I can: When a bank pays a consumer interest on money in their savings, checking, CD or whatever account, the bank deposits it into the same account.

If kept there, the bank continues to pay interest on deposits. They will also pay interest on previous interest deposited into the account. Each time the bank pays interest in the future, they will pay for both consume deposits and previous interest they had deposited into the account.

Here's an example with numbers:

On January 1 consumer puts $10,000 into an account that pays 12% annual interest (good luck with that! I'm trying to keep this simple). The interest breaks down to roughly 1% a month. For simplicity, let's just say every month is 30 days. Let's also say the rate is fixed. It doesn't increase or decrease (again, simplicity, folks!).

On January 30, bank deposits $100 into account to pay the 1% interest on the consumer's original deposit $10,000. If the consumer doesn't withdraw or deposit anything, next interest payment deposit will be based off $10,100.

February 30: Payment of $101. based off $10,100 in account and 1% monthly interest. End balance: $10,201.

March 30: Paid $102.01 End balance: $10,303.01.

April 30: Paid $103.03 End balance: $10,406.04.

May 30: Paid $104.06 End balance: $10,510.10.

June 30: Paid $105.10. End balance: $10,615.20.

July 30: Paid $106.15 End balance: $10,721.35.

August 30: Paid $107.21. End balance: $10,828.57.

September 30: Paid $108.29. End balance: $10,936.85.

October 30: Paid $109.37. End balance: $11,046.22.

November 30: Paid $110.46. End balance: $11,156.68.

December 30: Paid $111.57. End balance: $11,268.25.

Over that one year after the consumer deposited just the original $10,000, the bank paid them $1,268.25 total interest.

Before I knew better, I would have calculated interest on a straight 12% for a year. Done that way, interest payments on that $10,000 would come to just $1,200.00.

Getting interest payments monthly at 1% compared to a straight annual 12% gets $68.25 additional through the whole process. $68.25 doesn't sound like much after putting in $10,000 and also getting $1,200 in interest payments. It isn't if we just take into account that one year.

What happens if we ran those numbers for 12 years, though? I won't show my work like above. Instead I'll just jump to the conclusion.

Total interest at 12% straight interest annually for 12 years on originally $10,000 deposited: $28,959.76. End Balance: $38,959.76.

Total interest at 1% compound interest monthly (12% annual paid every month at rate of 1%) for 12 years originally $10,000 deposited: $31,906.16. End Balance: $41,906.16.

That $68.25 one year additional from compounding turns into $2,946.40 after 12 years. Maybe not up there like $30,000 or so but still a pretty good chunk of change. Every little bit counts.

Compound interest works to the consumer's benefit when the bank pays it. It loses its fun when borrowing through credit cards. Instead of getting paid more thanks to compounding, the consumer ends up paying more to the bank because of compound interest.

For the sake of simplicity, just reverse the calculations above. Most banks require initial payments soon after they issue a loan. Imagine that the bank makes a deal with the consumer that they don't have to make their first payment in the first year or in the first twelve years.

For the one-year deal, the consumer pays $68.25 extra because of compound interest. For the twelve-year deal, the consumer pays an extra $2,946.40. Who wants to pay that much just for the privilege of using money and not having to make their first payment for awhile? The consumer could have used that money to pay down the balance.

Compound interest has the bank paying the consumer interest on accrued interest in deposit accounts. A phenomenon that yields some amazing results.

On the other hand, compound interest also has the consumer paying the bank interest on accumulated interest in loan accounts. A frustrating process that makes paying back credit cards and other loans so difficult.

Reality makes the process more complicated. For deposit accounts, the consumer could deposit and withdraw during the process. Each month has a different number of days, which affects the monthly interest payments.

For revolving loan accounts, the consumer could charge and will pay back the loan during the process. The days in the month also affect the interest charged to the account.

Things get even crazier, for better and worse, when it comes to shares in mutual funds, stocks and other products that reinvest dividends and capital gains. Since the value of shares change day-to-day or even moment-to-moment, the re-invested dividends and capital gains can mean losing more or less money every second as share value changes.

The consumer can even buy and sell shares to take advantage of fluctuations to create their own manual compounding process (timing the market this way not suggested, even though I try to do it sometimes -- let's just say I didn't reap the high 30% gains that many passive investors did in 2013). Much more complicated stuff.

Using compound interest and other financial methods can help grow wealth. A lot of wealth can help free up time and provide freedom tocreate. All well and good. I follow these practices to reach that point. If you try, too, I commend you.

For this series of entries, thogh, I plan to port the concept of compounding from the financial field into the field of creativity. Unlike a bank account and interest, compounding in creativity doesn't happen automatically. It requires adoptiong personal habits and taking actions. It requires fighting inertia. After building some momentum, though, it could almost feel automatic.

I'll delve a little deeper into practices that compound creativity in the next couple of entries (at least soon to be posted entries).

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LINKS OF INTEREST:

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Sick of Metaphysics: Genesis of My Projects and Today's Frustration



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I've grown impatient with metaphysics in my adulthood. Scarcity of free time and desire for productivity may have more to do with this distaste.

Twenty or so years ago (feels like lifetimes ago), I had little problem reading a work that made little sense to me. I enjoyed it. Four things generally happened:

  • I came up with my own interpretation
  • I would skip over parts that made little sense to me then paid more attention to parts that did
  • I would slow down to try understanding better (probably the slowest and cognitive taxing thing to do)
  • I would just keep reading, try to pay as much attention as I could, then eventually just get it spontaneously, as in an AHA! moment
I enjoyed reading more back then. It probably had a hypnotic effect on me. A little younger than than then, my parents had no problem taking me around town as long as I had a book. Just sit me down, I'd read and stay out of their hair.

The shapes of words, letters and paragraphs fascinated me on some level, I think. At an even younger age, I would cover different parts of book titles on covers with colored labels. Something about it fascinated me. Maybe it had something to do with my ability to read even when I didn't fully comprehend.

Science fiction, role-playing rule books (mostly Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) and psuedo science, social science and philosophy books became my steady diet. The social science and philosophy came about mostly through a fascination with Terence McKenna, a combination of psychonautic anthropology and drug-induced mythology. Beat literature also caught my attention, too. Some amount of outrageousess every once in awhile kept me attentive.

Work on my novel started around this time, too. I had read the beginning of the teenage dystopian canon: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Much of my real reading into the genre took place during my college years and after. Suffice to say, these three books influence my novel quite a bit.

On an embarassing note, so did my adolescent hormones. The novel started as a patchwork of scenes in my brain that I wrote down in random order. Many of them focused on a date between a man and a woman that turned sour when she found a book he had squirreled away. Books are forbidden, see!

Before that point, though, the man and woman had the teenage fantasy of a great date. It had a late-night skinny dip scene that took place in a swimming hole deep in the woods. Even better: the woman had helped liberate the man out of his clothes after some bashfulness on his part.

How ironic that later in the night, after seeing the book, she ran away to report this guy to the authorities because he had a book. Liberated, indeed!

Hindsight pats me on the back for cranking up the taste levels on those scenes. Wish I came up with that improvement myself. Let's just say good-natured ribbing by critics of different genders helped. Looks of horror prove even more helpful with more offensive fare. Youth. . ..

Looking back, I have a hard time gauging what precisely I wanted to write. So many influences. For awhile in my adulthood I thought I wanted to write a simple thriller set in a superficial dystopic setting, focusing more on the natural human fight against a shadow conspiracy that somehow shaped the world and conditioned people into boring lives. If only I could minimize my ambitions that much.

My disorganized brain back then had great imagination but little control over scope. It somehow had created a proto-dystopian society that drew on a lot influences. Funny, really, how we get bombarded by so many influences and never realize it.

I guess it explains how a phenomena I've experienced occurs. I just write something that comes to mind, which I think works. Other people that give it a read come with a pretty cool interpretation for its significance that I could never have consciously created. Always a fun experience.

The project became less fun and more complicated by the college experience. Just writing a piece of fiction wouldn't cut it. It needed the backing of some kind of academic project. My project sponsors and I reached an interesting project goal: Dissect three pieces of utopian/dystopian literature and three historical utopian communities to see what attracts, repulses and makes people go meh about them.

Fourteen years after my last semester at college, without a degree, I still work at this damnable project. The novel hasn't received any worthwhile attention for years. The academic side has sucked me in, along with all the usual adult things like work, chores, social life, investments, gaming and all that stuff. First drafts for five essays have come out of it.

Mr. George Ripley and his community, Brook Farm, in 1840's West Roxbury, MA exasperates me. They do so because I don't understand their metaphysics, some strange mish mash of European Romanticism, New England Transcendentalism, Utopian Socialism, New Engand Unitarianism and whatever other influences this guy could grab onto and digest into his sponge of a brain.

Errrmmmmm. . .sounds familiar.

Seriously, though, why does the definition of Nature have to change over the centuries? How does the implications of realism change from Plato to today? What motivated some German guys, some English folks, a few New Englanders and apparently people in France that their individual sentiments and passions are better than a well-designed society? How did they create enough of a heritage that we respect it today? How do they say they want to write in plain language of the people, but readers today get lost in words we recognize but somehow their combination just puts us to sleep? And what's up with Kant, German Idealism and how it's supposed to reconcile the mind, the world and some crazy realness that we can perceive with our direct senses?

I probably don't have to answer all the questions there. Mr. Ripley could have helped much if he had written more clearly and succinctly about many of these things, though. Maybe if he delved deeper into HIS understanding of the metaphysics he read rather than just quoting a lot of it and expecting his adversaries to just nod their heads and agree.

For the Constitution of Brook Farm, he, along with his fellow organizers, wrote as motivation many effects and symptoms in society of problems they saw. They hardly addressed any root cause other than just human nature or the organization of society.

If he just said the organization wasn't efficient, and they started Brook Farm as an experiment to see if they could stumble onto something better, I could work with it. Even better, if they kept copious notes, analyzing and dissecting all the little experiments they did to see results.

But no, they saw Brook Farm as some grand solution. They hardly seemed to know how to articulate specific problems, though. They didn't do so through materialistic descriptions. By that time, Mr. Ripley didn't do so much metaphysically, at least nothing in writing at the time. They just focused on promoting this community doing things right, and the people in it just kinda did what they did.

I can appreciate not having time to write anything. The last couple months took a lot out of me and didn't give me much energy for writing. Nonetheless, beforehand Ripley had written so much intimating his intentions without articulating his reasons.

Maybe afterward he could have written something a little more reflective highlighting things that worked, things that didn't work, how they worked, how they fulfilled goals and so forth.

But no. . .he just sunk into literary criticism journalism and paying off debts from the venture. OK, that might be understandable. Getting saddled with debt on something that didn't work out, did Ripley want to revisit or did he want to move onto brighter pastures.

I wish I could take that approach. Unfortunately, I've somehow convinced myself that these projects have reached high levels of importance and will make a difference. Much more important than doing everyday things to make other people's lives betters. Something about it has convinced me that I'll make a much bigger impact by finishing it and releasing it into the world.

Dang it. To do so, I'll have to dig through metaphysics and philosophy to figure out what organizating principle this George Ripley followed.

LINKS OF NOTE:

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Saturday, May 03, 2014

EPIC POST: My Last Five Months and Missing My Creative Side


Section Jumps:
I. SURVIVING ACA-COMPLIANT POLICY SELLING
II. SURVIVING THE POLAR VORTEX BIKING MOST DAYS
III. PIZZA DOUGH
IV. TABLETOP GAMING
V. GEEK CONS & EVENTS
   A. Chi-Fi 0
   B. C2E2
   C. CNSC and Chiditarod
VI. MISSING MY CREATIVE SIDE
VII. LINKS OF INTEREST

Just a funny note: Apparently after the US, Russia and Ukraine vie for 2nd highest sources of traffic on The Lextopia for all time. Ukraine wins in the last month. They have a a long lead ahead of Russia for the month.

What's up with that?

Anyway, the last couple months have kept me busy and worn thin.

SURVIVING ACA-COMPLIANT POLICY SELLING

First three months of the year, I spent long hours at the office selling Affordable Care Act-compliant policies. A lot of new products to learn. I also had to learn a lot of new procedures, Website portals and what to expect for tax filing time.

The new plans, themselves, didn't cause difficulty. Procedures, portals and tax stuff came easy after seeing it all repeatedly everyday. Odd new question here and there didn't cause much challenge after awhile, either.

The volume of demand caused the most trouble. I had to wait for hours on end to get in touch with representatives at insurance carriers for answers. New and current clients filled up my days trying to secure new coverage. Their feeling intimidated by everything didn't help, either.

Repitition got to me by the end. Sending out form e-mails with information here and there changed didn't tax me much.

Giving the same verbal presentation, whether in person or on the phone, started wearing me thin. My throat and neck (from keep phone steady on my shoulder) had gotten pretty sore. My brain and mind had grown fatigued, too.

I survived the labor-intensive three months of the first open enrollment of the Affordable Care Act, though. Coming home at night, I had plenty of laundry, dishes and ironing to do. TiVo needed its attention, too. Michi showed great patience throughout the ordeal. Now I need to make sure all these new clients pay the first premium. They only have one more week!

SURVIVING THE POLAR VORTEX BIKING MOST DAYS

Could commuting to and fro work during this Chiberian Polar Vortex have drained me even more. Covering all of my skin in four layers of clothes and accessories, I could tolerate all the way down to -20 after windshield. I might have found it even a little comfortable by the end, temperature-wise at
least. All that bundling got me a little stiff after awhile.

Most of the time I would don the same clothes for the bus commute when the temps got lower. I might have biked when things got a little colder every once in awhile, too. No one born in the last forty years had seen anything like this! Seriously? A day that got lower than -50 windshield? I had no precedence to follow.

Temperatures rising might cause me more difficulty. I still have trouble figuring out how many layers to wear and which accessories to use. People complain about it not reaching 60 on a consistent basis in May yet.

I fear it a little. I still don't feel comfortable wearing fewer than a couple layers at a time.

Trying to predict the rain gets irritating, too. I can ride through snow, as long as the city salts and paves the roads. A couple weeks ago I had a fall during a freak icy storm without salty roads. Oops! At least with snow, though, I don't get too drenched.

I look forward to warm weather again, though. Putting on all those layers takes time and effort. Will it actually get warm, though?

Return to Section Jumping

PIZZA DOUGH

Still experimenting with dough. I've found a good base "regular" pizza dough: 1 cup pure gluten, 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1 cup bown rice flour. It does poweder the trick well enough.

I'd like to figure out a recipe that friends who have celiac disease or a gluten-restricted diet can eat. In my opinion, people who haven't been diagnosed with celiac, allergies or intolerance to gluten shouldn't hesitate to eat gluten.

I like having my friends that have gluten issues around, though. They should have the chance to enjoy food, too.

Maybe I also look forward to the challenge. I have yet to hear anyone rave about any gluten-free recipe that synthesizes a food everyone expects to have gluten in it (pizza dough, bread, etc.). I more often hear about the recipe not having a taste or tasting like cardboard.

I like receiving praise like anyone else.

Over at Gluten Free Girl, I found a guide of gluten-free flours. It does a good job explaining textures, flavor profiles and how the flour can work in a recipe.

Based on the guide, I'll probably end up with 1 cup teff flour, 1 cup sourghum flour, 1 cup brown rice flour and a yet to be determined amount of amaranth for taste.

My last batch of flour used some tapioca. It may have made the flour a little too sweet, though. I'll try it without tapioca in the next batch.

Up to now, I've tried taking a gradual approach from my base "normal" recipe toward a gluten-free recipe. Changing just one part at a time would help me figure out the properties of each ingredient.

This approach proved wanting, though. The pizza would have that tasteless/cardboardy taste right out of the oven. Some time in the fridge fixed it. Waiting for pizza to "ferment" in the fridge doesn't strike me as the way to go. I want it ready to eat out of the oven.

I think I depended too much on psyllium husks and guar gum. People had told me about using them in gluten-free recipes. I've seen xanthan gum as another popular ingredient. I think depending on these ingredients for their binding properties made the pizza too fragile and liable to fall apart.

Apparently teff makes a great binder. It doesn't have gluten, but it has a similar part to it called prolamin. Both gluten and prolamin act as storage proteins. All grains have some type of storage protein. The proteins have their amino acids in different orders, though. Prolamin could have similar enough properties to make teff a good replacement.

I won't know for awhile how this recipe will turn out. I hate letting stuff go to waste and sit around. I want to use up the flours with gluten in them, so I'm mixing all of it together. This process also satisfies my desire for trying to learn the different properties of ingredients.

Funny thing I've noticed over the last couple weeks: people write and say that a good gluten-free dough requires a mix of flours. My experience has shown me that even a recipe with gluten in it requires a mix of flours to get the recipe right. I can only think that maybe people buy a pre-mixed mixture of flours for their recipes?

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TABLETOP GAMING

Tabletop role playing remains my constant nerd activity. Playing in a Pathfinder group and a D&D 3.5 group. Both mark my first extended time playing either game. Nothing too much to report there. They both do a good job distracting me from the day-to-day and get me to hang out with people. Only so much goal-directed productive stuff you can do everyday.

I've found myself questioning what I'm getting out of the games, though. They haven't grabbed me as much as in the past. A friend and I agreed that sticking with just a somewhat serious fantasy genre might have gotten monotonous. Maybe I want to switch it up after one or both these campaigns conclude.

Couple weeks ago I helped someone play test a tabletop boardgame. My first time playtesting something. They've put years of thought and work into this thing. I can't really say much about it since it's proprietary. I wouldn't want anyone to steal his idea.

I had a fun time at it. I'd love to play again. Us play testers and Michi spent a lot of time encouraging the creator to finish up the game and release it. I could see a lot of people getting into it.

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GEEK CONVENTIONS & EVENTS

After Chicago TARDIS last October (or was it November?), I've wondered if I want to go to cons as much as I have. I can appreciate them. I question what I get out of them, though.

My fandom runs to a more casual bent. I don't have anything to market (yet!). I don't have money to spend. Visual arts don't grab me. Panels haven't gone as in depth into things as I'd like (people tell me I should check out WisCon for more depth). I find myself more tired than invigorated or inspired lately from going to them.

Ah well. I'll probably take more of a break. Try to focus a little more on myself, trying to build up some assets and projects. Maybe if I can chill a little more, I can get into these things a little more.

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Chi-Fi 0

A little more than a month ago, we went to Chi-Fi 0, a one-day con in downtown Chicago. They originally wanted to have it a weekend long event downtown, which would be something new since I moved here seven years ago. A dispute with the original venue caused them to downsize to one day, however.

I prefer a one-day event. This one delivered a good time. Maybe it didn't have the breadth of say, a C2E2 or a Wizard World, but it had some degree of intimacy they don't. It felt a lot less intimidating. I found myself chatting with vendors a lot more rather than feeling like I have to rush all over the place to SEE EVERYTHING.

A one-day event also doesn't tax the body as much. Walking around for a day doesn't require as much recovery time. Smaller crowds minimize the irritability and tension from dealing with claustrophobia. Plus I rather like the ability to take in everything a little more indepth while having time for other things during the weekend.

I spent most of my panel time at ones about diversity, creating safe spaces and issues of harassment at cons. I learned a thing or two, had a couple laughs and enjoyed the personalities of the panelists. Disclosure: Michi was on most of those.

These panels were more on a 101 level. Living with one of the panelists proves difficult to hear about all this stuff, already. Michi and the other panelists do a great job, though.

Maybe one of these days a panel or workshop for "allies" would do some good. If I had more time, I might consider it.

I had a good time in a panel on World Building. I tried writing a more involved blog entry on it. No luck there. It just wouldn't come out the way I wanted, and I gave up. I also have forgotten a bunch of details.

The panel gave me a trick or two for fleshing out characters. I might have made a useful connection for the future once I get one of my projects finished. Some underlying tension and differences in style between the panelists proved compelling but nothing too extravagant. Nonetheless, I found myself in a good mood afterward and inspired for some of my own projects.

Most of my socializing with vendors occurred after this panel. I tried attending a panel on community building through gaming. The panelists couldn't make it, though, so someone else got that room.

We attended the Geek Bar Chicago room party. As Chi-Fi was my first small, intimate general interest con, this was my first con room party.

A lot of people had a good time. Exhausted and feeling a teeny bit introverted, I didn't engage as much in the party as I would have in a better mood. They served some good drinks that I believe acted as samples for what they'll have once they open this Spring. They had food, too, but nothing ovo vegetarian.

The party got a little too loud, though. Hotel broke it up after other guests complained. Ah well, it was late and fun while it lasted.

We topped off the night by catching Raks Geek. Michi performed with her LED poi and flags. She did a great job. So did everyone else in the troupe. This happened long ago, I was tired, memory not so great, so no indepth review there.

Overall, a good time. I wouldn't mind Chi-Fi 0 sticking with the one-day format. I understand the motivation for a whole weekend: more people will come, more ability to get big talent to sign autographs and do panels, it's expensive in downtown Chicago, etc. etc. Yet, a one-day event allows me to manage my time sooooo much better.

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C2E2

This makes the fourth Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) I've attended in its five-year history. It keeps expanding, getting bigger spaces in McCormick Place each progressive year. I only made it for Friday and Saturday.

Not because of anything bad, C2E2 may have sealed the deal on me pulling back on attending cons so much. I listed a whole bunch of reasons above.

One other thought: I feel like C2E2 might emphasize the comics a little too much and not enough on gaming. I know it highlights COMICS in the name, but I'm just not so into comics. And as things stand presently, the city of Chicago doesn't have any gaming conventions. Games could use some con love in this city.

For panels, I only went to ones organized by Michi: Opening the Clubhouse Doors -- Creating More Inclusive Geek Communities and Glass Ceilings, Missing Stairs and Gatekeepers: Geeks Still Deal with Sexism.

Both good panels on a somewhat 101 level but still providing a few insights I hadn't heard before or thought up myself. Actually, enough insights that I don't feel like I'm doing enough to be an ally or to be educated on these topics.

If you get a chance, go check out Michi's panels and essays. People come for the topic, but they keep coming back for more because Michi does a good job putting these things together, recruiting talent, writing and analyzing these topics. A bunch of change has and will come about because of all the energies she puts into these issues.

Saturday morning I spent a couple hours event marketing for The Chicago Nerd Social Club (CNSC) table in artist alley. I had a ball!

For once, I got to use my event marketing experience to promote a group that I have an emotional connection to and would love to see grow. Plus I find that I socialize better when I have script or some kind of framework to use.

The amount of people who live in Chicago that haven't heard of us surprised me. We have over 2,000 people in the Facebook group. They've sponsored Michi's panels in the past, and many people planned on going to her panels that day.

It's a big city, though. As much as the group pervades our lives, I guess it doesn't pervade the whole of Chicago Nerd Culture yet.

I would feel remiss to not mention the upcoming Maneki Neko Con. I'll admit, I probably won't go. One of the organizers of it manned the CNSC table with me, though. It sounds like a fun time for people into anime being run by passionate people.

Most of the time, I had great, positive interactions with people attracted to the table. One negative conversation sticks in my mind, though. Some guy just walked up to the table. He said, "Isn't the CNSC name opposite of what nerds are like?" or something like that.

I responded simply with "Oh, we've found that nerds are quite social."

He quieted and walked away. I'm just amazed that someone walked up and said this at C2E2, a con catering to nerds! Of course, I guess it could have been someone from one of the exhibitor tables that just wants to make money off nerds, not connect with them.

Otherwise, I spent most of those two days following Michi around. I made up a schedule of panels for Friday. General mental fatigue overtook me before I could put a schedule together for Saturday. I bet I really wouldn't have bothered going to any other panels, though. I just didn't have it in me.

C2E2 gave me the chance to see a few people I haven't seen in awhile and meet some new people. The event didn't give me a bad experience. My general status of mental fatigue and exhaustion just makes big things like this not really my pie these days.

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CNSC and Chiditarod

Even longer than a month ago, I volunteered for the CNSC station for Chiditarod: A grocery cart race with the goal of raising money and food to help feed Chicago's hungry. CNSC volunteers turned one half of Emporium Arcade & Bar into Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars: A New Hope.

I manned the check in station, making sure racing teams complied with requirements to enter, start the clock and tell them to have fun in the Cantina. They had to hang out for 30 minutes to stay out of the cold and have a good time. We had some Star Wars trivia, but they didn't have to participate if they didn't want to.

Good time meeting and working with some new people. I enjoyed being something of an authority. Just being amongst all that excitement and general giddiness was a fun experience in itself. Seeing the novel costumes and themes that teams took on made for an amusing time. Plus, all the shenanigans, the shenanigans!

Chiditarod pushes for a great cause, makes for a fun time and raises quite a bit of food and money. I encourage anyone and everyone to participate in it, whether as a racer or a volunteer. You'll have lots of fun!

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MISSING MY CREATIVE SIDE

I've felt at a loss for the last couple weeks. Not much creativity has occurred. With so much focus on work and chores around the house, I've felt stretched thin and a little depressed. I've wondered if I've lost touch with myself and who I am. All this has led me to believe I need to take more care of myself. . .somehow.

Last night I went the annual meeting of our local credit union, Northside Community Federal Credit Union. As I told a fellow member, I joined the credit union a few years ago for the good yield on my savings and, as I found out later, my savings would get invested in the community rather than farmed out to suburbs and more affluent areas. Michi and I live in a good part of the city, but the credit union's neighborhood can always use some investment.

I went to my first annual meeting a couple years ago. That one seemed a little looser and less about sticking to a schedule. The board and other presenters brought up some interesting history about the neighborhood, the credit union and also the state of the economy back in the '70s when the credit union started. I enjoyed that presentation and learned some stuff.

I enjoyed winning some Cubs tickets, too.

Last night's meeting proved lackluster compared to the first meeting. One of the board members seemed to want to get into some of that history stuff, but we had to stick to a schedule. It was mostly business last night with an interesting video recording of one of the original founders. She made a point about the economy in the '70s and how important the credit union was back then to unconventional savers and borrowers.

The weather last night felt comfortable enough that I walked the mile and a half home. It gave me some time to think. Like my response to the annual meeting, I thought about more interesting times that I've had in the past compared to my fairly repetitive present days.

Back in high school, I published a very low budget 'zine called The New Beat. It stressed creativity, literature and an attempt at culture. I wouldn't really consider it of high quality, nothing that I would publish today when I'm trying to be professional.

It had a bunch of creativity, though. My friend who I convinced to act as editor for a bunch of issues wrote an interesting essay on Mozart and Salieri. Sure, you could look it up on the Internet today. Then, though, no easy to access Internet, and I had never heard of Salieri before then. I tried my hand at writing short reviews of books, movies and music.

We also reaped the benefits of being part of the press. I received at least a couple demos from bands. I did an online interview with an electronic musician who performed in Boston.

Erik, my friend and editor for a couple issues, and Igot to go backstage to interview Sam Black Church, our favorite Boston hardcore band and fun, down to Earth guys. Those made for some experiences.

In college, I contributed to a 'zine called FEED. I started writing a column called "The Partee Man." It followed a style similar to this blog entry and like many of the entries I've done about events.

I went to parties and reviewed them. I let my writing get a little bit more personal then, so they came out more like this entry than most of my other ones.

The editor of that 'zine and I would spend late nights laying out the thing and finalizing it. We didn't get the interesting benefits of the press like I did with The New Beat. I guess I could have done stuff like that if I wanted and tried.

At the time, I wanted to focus more on my creative writing. I probably could have gotten some interesting experience and learned things if I pushed that angle.

Later when that editor graduated, he handed the reigns to someone else. I continued doing the layout (got some college credit for it, too).

The 'zine still needed a "Partee Man," so I gave the title to someone else. I didn't have as much fun working on it that way, but I didn't want to see it just disappear. I gave it another semester or two then let it die. More serious academic and writing duties called to me.

Around the time of FEED, I also had a two-year stint as manager of the band Aesthetik (hey, I'm credited for the lyrics I wrote on one song, whoo!). The band played a bunch of gigs around Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.

I followed them to a bunch of gigs that I booked. We had a lot of adventures. My last adventure with them included one late one spring/summer night in Boston after gig, public transport having closed, no shelter arranged and ending negotiating the rate on a hotel suite down for a roof over our head to sleep.

Near the end of that time, I had taken a couple other bands on to represent.

Gave up all that for my college studies and creative writing.

Sixteen years later, I've moved halfway across the country. When I find the time and energy, I'm still working on those studies and creative writing. It has become something of a compulsion. I feel lost without thinking or working on it.

Now that I've found some time for it, I've run into some researchers and writers block. The writers block extends to other things like this blog or what have you. The mental exhaustion, the work, the chores, trying to save up money, etc. etc. it has all just piled up.

Maybe a lot of this thinking comes up because I grow a year older in just a little over a week. I have no idea why I don't have as much time as I used to. . .. I'm surrounded by some degree of creativity, but I'm not really engaged in it. I'm blocked.

I'm missing my creative side.

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LINKS OF INTEREST:

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Writers, Know Thyself


I don't have any success as a writer yet. I do as an aspiring, sane writer, though. The last couple weeks or so has tested both my sanity and self-assigned status of writer. My seasonal allergies had crept up on me to alter the base of my being (again!!!).

On the surface, my seasonal allergies come off as a superficial challenge. That statement has an ounce of truth as long as I have the presence of mind to take my OTC meds. Nonetheless, my latest initiation to the allergy inconvenience has taught me, once again: Know thyself.

I didn't discover until my late twenties that I had seasonal allergies, let alone debilitating ones. Symptoms beforehand included: frequent bloody noses, stuffy nose and post-nasal drip. I can also now add oversleeping to the list. It took expelling colorless mucus and sleeping for days without improvement to reach my diagnosis and take loratadine (generic Claritin).

Learning to navigate the allergy meds has taken a little time. I took it so regularly at one point that I developed a tolerance. Same thing occurred when I moved onto other medicines.

I've also taken to honey and stinging nettles. I can't say how much effectiveness the last two have except I believe they help.

I end up going on and off the OTC meds. I even drink grapefruit juice to extend the life of the medicine in my body. I don't have any exact science or anything for it, but I have to go through the cycling to remain cognizant and capable.

Apparently the meds fend off the allergy depression. I get depressed and hopeless. Over the last couple weeks I've entertained the idea of giving up writing, say screw trying to save and invest for financial independence and just give up doing anything substantial. I could just continue working the day job, pay the bills and just accept that my lifestyle today will remain my lifestyle forever.

Rationally, like voters not going to the polls, I asked what has all this done for me in the past.

Luckily I have a stubborn disposition to remain positive. This recent experience has shown me. I can't provide any other explanation for how I mustered the motivation to continue researching and working on my writing despite the extreme funk.

My stubborness probably played a big part in realizing allergies make me depressed (at least indirectly, lack of breathing well while sleeping prevented me from getting enough oxygen). How could I want to try so hard to maintain my current course of accomplishing little while aiming so high? I could sell out to courses of action that would bring quicker material success.

I haven't known myself well enough when it comes to my allergies. My thoughts don't jump to allergies when I start descending into them. I tend to ask myself things like:

  • Have I been getting enough sleep (ideally, I'm not)?
  • Have I been getting enough exercise (ideally, I'm not)?
  • Have I been eating right (most likely am, but I always find new ways to tweek my diet for better health and efficiency)?
  • Have I gotten a cold and should I take the right meds to prevent it from getting worse (probably the trickiest one to figure out since cold meds could mask allergy symptoms, too)?

Going through this cycle of possibilities doesn't help. My productivity and enjoyment of life spirals down. Taking the allergy meds too regularly doesn't do the trick, either. It reduces their effectiveness.

I seem to know when to discontinue the allergy meds. It could easily have to do with them building up in my system enough to keep working for awhile.

I need to adopt the habit of using the meds at the first sign of feeling crappy, depressed and tired. Loratidine doesn't mask symptoms of a cold or of being unhealthy. Treating allergies as a first line of defense looks like the most logical thing to do. Allergies have the highest chance of causing me difficulty.

If the meds don't fix it in a day or two, I probably have another problem. Nothing much lost for the possibility of big gains.

The last couple weeks have taught me the above lessons. My seasonal allergies can debilitate, both physically and emotionally. They can prevent me from engaging in my writing and other things I do to try improving life. I have to take my allergies seriously.

Whenever I think about the phrase "Know thyself," I generally think about knowing your emotions, good and bad habits, motivations, disposition, beliefs, etc. etc. From a quick look at Wikipedia, one of the original meanings has to do with not becoming arrogant, not losing yourself in the multitudes giving you unrealistic phrase and not getting full of yourself.

Our physical well beings and the silly ways our bodies can affect our minds (and vice versa) can fool us into not knowing ourselves. Our bodies don't fit our intuitions all the time, much like many things in existence. Our bodies also change throughout our lives.

Not knowing our bodies or losing track of them are ways that we don't know ourselves, like me with my allergies. We lose touch with ourselves. We end up falling apart, going in directions that we don't want and working against ourselves.

With that in mind, writers and pretty much everyone else, too, know thyself and don't fight yourself. You will find yourself happier and working towards your goals and dreams. Who doesn't want that?

LINKS OF INTEREST:

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Person of Interest: Realistic Thriller Science Fiction TV


SPOILER LEVEL: LOW. Not too many specifics mentioned that don't arise within the first couple episodes of the show, but there are a few. For later things, specific names not used but relationships alluded to. If you're a Person of Interest virgin and don't want to be primed how to watch the show from any out-of-show sources, stay away until you've reached half way through the third season.

Chatter on the Internet has highlighted how Person of Interest uses realistic computer code. The Nerdist and others have point out the prescience of Person of Interest on how surveillance has become pervasive as it has. Interesting as these topics get, this entry doesn't touch on that topic. Just wanted to make that clear in case readers came here to read about it.

Instead, the narrative structure and character interactions lends a lot to the show's realism. The show still uses refrigerator logic and other believability-bending techniques to move narrative forward, but interactions between characters and organizations feels true. Much of this hypothesis comes from some marathon second viewing with Michi, catching things I hadn't seen the first time.


Not to say that I didn't have an inkling of this structure first time through. Person of Interest gets messy with its broadcast-TV level ultraviolence within the first couple minutes. John Reese beats the living crap out of a couple street hoods that underestimate his skills as a living weapon. Viscerality overwhelms senses, but the techniques and human factor break through, too.


Person of Interest extrapolates this messiness outward as Reese and Harold Finch's influence and footprint on New York City and world stage grows larger. The dynamic duo develop friends and foes that can change allegiances at the drop of a hat. Sometimes we wonder if Reese and Finch should become enemies themselves. Person of Interest has created a paranoid setting where everyone should look twice at who they count as innocent or guilty. This status changes more than a few times as Reese and Finch have tried to evaluate a 'number.'


The way narrative structure and human/organizational relations interweave strikes fascinating realism. Most television and movies follow a pretty conventional narrative structure that has become familiar and comfortable, almost right and correct on some level. Some genre shows, like LOST, have broken away from tradition. Even then, though, LOST doesn't maintain such a dynamic messiness. Every season had something of its own set of stories that reached conclusion by the end.

Person of Interest has its plot arcs. Some of them reach a climax or catharsis at midseason or end of season. First season ends on a cliffhanger in the middle of an arc. Second season resolved an arc, but the arc itself had only lasted a couple episodes. It added a lot to the show and characterization to a character. Watching it provided intensity. The show didn't change much because of the conclusion, though. For all intents and purposes, the season three opener returned to its tried-and-true procedural format with some titillation of a developing larger story.

These points often don't make solid conclusions. They act more as catharsis, characterization and raising further questions. Many conclusions, more often than not, come as surprise or low-key revelations. Many characters that have become apparent major antagonistics or valuable assets can end up dead with little notice, in the middle of a season, at the end of a season, anytime. In other shows, such built up characters either have wrought out or quick, cheap death. Person of Interest feels real. The death feels like real injustice and a bad break, not bad writing.

Just as fascinating, the show doesn't hesitate to mourn a death. Many other shows would have a death occur, shed a couple tears then move forward with the plot. Person of Interest knows to walk the line between mourning, getting back on track and the difficulty of doing so. Not everyone can do it so easy. Sometimes mourning gets depressing and messy, but that's real.

In two and a half seasons, Reese, Finch and their small group of friends have made enemies of two social institutions (New York police & Federal Intelligence Agencies), a governmental black ops organization, multiple organized crime families (including a criminal mastermind that would probably have taken over the city if it weren't for Reese and Finch), an ugly criminal organization of corrupt cops and NYC governmental officials, a vigilante group that feels the government and big data business has too much power in the form of surveillance and some shadow organization that we know practically nothing about but fear only after a couple episodes interspersed throughout.

The team converted a couple cops to their side. Short-term alliances have occurred with some enemies to take on a larger enemy. Protagonists have made us believe that a couple antagonists have faced defeat and death. . .sometimes at great cost. Such victories come few and far between, though, often with setbacks, losses and frustration before the win.

Unlike other shows, though, the war with major enemies doesn't remain constant, doesn't last for just one season and doesn't always remain a constant threat to always keep eye open to remain defensive. Probably good idea to do so, but easy enough to become a little complacent as they recede into the background.

I can't blame the characters for letting their guard down against particular antagonists every once in awhile. The most striking narrative tool: a lot of it happens at once. A collage of plot arcs and characters come to the fore or recede into the background. They do so depending on the agenda of characters/organizations or with supposed randomness. With multiple dangerous antagonists coming at the protagonists at varied levels of intensity and timing, how can they keep them all in mind all the time? Just look at the difficulty us regular, everyday people have with time management, remembering all the tasks we have to address and our everyday politicking following these types of patterns?

Antagonists coming in and out of play the way they do even becomes a compelling part of the show. How much do the varied interactions occur at random and how much as manipulative design? I point this question as an in-story question, not at the writers.

Still, with the level of execution at play, how much have have the writers and directors designed the plot and how much has occurred through spontaneous creation? I don't really read or listen to many commentaries out there. I may have to check out Person of Interest commentaries and interviews with writers/directors to get further insight.

Other shows oftimes use one-up episodes or enemies as distraction or filler. Person of Interest presented itself at first as procedural. The show can use the procedural and one-time enemies as filler and distraction, too. Even as a back from the heavy plot arcs.

As one of the most recent episodes makes clear, though, the common everyday person IS relevant. Forget the government-developed parameters that petty crimes, non-international-intelligence and non-terrorist threats are irrelevant.

The minor one-time enemy and everyday person remains the blood and guts of Person of Interest. Big enemies distract us and the team from the relevant everyday but all of it sucks the viewer in. The non-linear vacillation between short attention spans and hyper focus of plots and characters/organizations coming in and out of life at their own pace and sometimes all at once feels almost too real.

Few other shows have accomplished this level of realism and attraction when it comes to the human factor and experience. These factors have contributed a lot to Person of Interest becoming one of my favorite shows on television presently. I look forward to more of it, even as I fear for our protagonists that we've let into our living rooms. Hopefully Person of Interest can also become a good influence on other TV shows and TV writers.

LINKS OF INTEREST:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Wife's Panel at University of Chicago: Unmasking the Fake Geek Girl


Michi Trota, my wife and burgeoning local geek-justice celebrity, along with her nerd panelist associates bring "Unmasking the Fake Geek Girl: Confronting gate-keeping and sexism in geek culture" to the University of Chicago Hyde Park campus.

Information as follows via the Facebook Event page:

The "Exorcising the Spectre of the Fake Geek Girl" group is thrilled to announce that we've been invited to the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Chicago to continue our discussion!

Returning are Chicago Nerd Social Club panelists: Johnny Grey, Laura Koroski, Kate Lansky, Karlyn Meyer, Dawn Xiana Moon, and Michi Trota.

We have a revamped title and will be taking the topic forward with a more in-depth discussion of how the idea of the "fake geek girl" represents our perceptions of gender, social power dynamics and just who geeks are supposed to be.

This event is FREE TO THE PUBLIC.

Place: The Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, University of Chicago, Community Room (105), 5733 S. University Ave., Chicago, IL 60637

Date: Thursday, January 30, 2014

Time: 4:30pm-6:00pm

Description: As line between "geek" and "mainstream" culture becomes more blurred, the debate about what makes someone and "authentic" or "fake" geek has taken on an unmistakably gendered tone. Women are no strangers to having to prove they belong in perceived male-dominated spaces, and perception that women are "invading" geek spaces has invariably led to the label "fake geek" being appended overwhelmingly on women.

What exactly is a "fake geek girl" and why does she need to be barred from geek spaces? Who gets to define what makes one a “real geek,” and Do “fake geek girls” really exist? If so, does it even really matter? Is it really about keeping geek culture “authentic” or about keeping certain people out? Six women from the Chicago Nerd Social Club with a diverse range of experiences and expertise in geek culture look at how expecting women in geek spaces to be "fake" reflects our ideas of gender, power dynamics and cultural biases, and what happens when those ideas are challenged. This discussion will include time for Q&A with the audience.

Persons with disabilities who need an accommodation in order to participate in this event should contact CSGS:

Phone: 773.702.9936
Fax: 773.834.2000
Email: csgs@lists.uchicago.edu

All further information, please go to the CSGS's event listing: http://gendersexuality.uchicago.edu/events/calendar_detail.shtml?guid=CAL-ff808081-4358f2e4-0143-6e06f376-00001801eventscalendar%40uchicago.edu&calPath=%2Fpublic%2Fcals%2FMainCal

She makes me proud and has done some good with these panels. We're both real excited that the panel has advanced another level to a college hall or room. Seeing them getting a little more in depth into the topic should make for a good time.

So go to the Facebook event page for the panel, RSVP and come on down to Hyde Park for an interesting talk. See you there!

LINKS OF INTEREST:

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Time of the Doctor: See an Earlier Entry I've Written for My Thoughts


I have the compulsion to voice my disappointment in The Time of the Doctor.

Seeing Matt Smith go makes me sad. He has portrayed the Doctor in some of my favorite and most unliked ways. I feel that most of the affectations that have endeared me most to the Eleventh Doctor have come from the actor, not the writing.

At the same time, he has chosen to leave at a good time. He has brought the Doctor to a height never before seen. Who knows what the future will bring? Anything great that comes will very likely come from Smith popularizing the show more than ever. The height of his reign came at the end of Series 5 but slowly descended from there as the three-season arc grew convoluted and full of holes.

I gave these plot holes the benefit of the doubt. I called them dangling plot hooks. Either they would go nowhere as happens with a lot of postmodern literature and science I've read in the last few years. They could, even better, have explanations that the audience would glean someday with a sense of wonder. Unfortunately, last night let me down and loaded a weight of disappointment on me.

More time for Smith would not likely have helped the arc unravel in a more satisfying fashion. We would likely just see more and more plot hooks pop up without any intention to resolve them in a satisfying fashion. The show would have just provided more of last night. I don't know if Doctor Who will improve on this track record. With such improvement in doubt, though, I think Smith made the right decision.

Smith is a young man. He has a long future ahead of him with much opportunity available. Doctor Who makes for a great stepping, but I would hate to see him typecasted as the eccentric Mad Man in a Box. I see Smith with a bright future of entertaining the world in the many ways that he does. Good luck, Mr. Smith with your future!

As for the episode, itself, I feel like I've already written the criticism on it. I don't really have anything new to say. . .just check out my past entry, Doctor Who: More World Building & Strong Secondary Charcters Plz.

LINKS OF NOTE:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Freema Agyeman Q&A at Chicago TARDIS: An Interaction Highlighting a Peculiar Phenomenon of Fandom


A couple weeks ago I went to Chicago TARDIS, thanks to the generosity of a family friend. Freema Agyeman was probably the highest profile New Who actor there.


Agyeman's Q&A session highlighted an interesting phenomena I never spent much time thinking about. Fans had the show fresh in their minds. They could recall episodes, events and relationships between characters as if they just happened. Fans showed a sense of emotional immediacy about the show.

Bless her heart, Agyeman did not. Fans would ask her about her favorite episodes, how she felt working with a certain actor, how she felt that her character should feel in a situation, what it was like to do this and that. For Agyeman, though, playing the part of Martha Jones seemed like a distant memory.


I think the Doctor Who experience has become more a memory than anything. A good one and important one, but a memory, nonetheless. Honestly, at her age and point in her career, I'd feel a little pity if her time on Doctor Who remained so immediate to her.

Agyeman has come some ways since playing a companion to the Doctor. Just based on my own knowledge, she played a main character in Law & Order: UK. She now has an important role in The Carrie Diaries.


As the first, and presently only, black female companion to the Doctor, she has an important place in the history of Doctor Who. Her place as one of the most divisively loved and hated companions demonstrates a job well done connecting and alienating audiences.

Martha Jones voluntarily left the Doctor for her own emotional well being and without duress. Her exit portrays her as one of the strongest, smartest and most independent companions in New Who (great that Amy Pond chose her husband over the Doctor but it occurred under duress).

Many young women and girls told Agyeman that they consider her a strong role model for them and others out there. These proclamations show the resonance that Agyeman has had on Doctor Who fandom as Martha Jones. I haven't followed Agyeman much since Doctor Who. Nonetheless, from my perspective, I think she deserves all her praise.

Agyeman or some other Doctor Who actor had once said something about taking a role on Doctor Who is more than take a role, do it then consider it done. Doctor Who fandom has such passion that playing that role will stick to an actor.

It has some positive aspects. Looked at as an investment, an actor could look at it as something of a retirement plan. Many of the Classic Who actors make a run of the con circuit to help pay the bills.

I think many of the professionals who have worked on Doctor Who also see it as a family. Just take a look at Peter Davison's fun parody production, The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.

The production makes jokes about professionals in the game ignoring has beens trying to get onto the The Day of the Doctor. As parody, they want favors and such, but they won't help each other.

If you see these professional together or hear them talk about each other, they can't help but speak about each other on familiar terms. It also happens when they haven't worked together but have had their own isolated thing to do with the show.

The interaction with fans probably also gives these professionals some sense of belonging. Some familiar and strong relationships have probably also come about through these professional-fan interactions.

Whereas actors without connection to Doctor Who may remain a familiar name and face, how often can they bank on getting a nearly full room for a Q&A session at some kind of convention? Many other actors probably have a much higher chance of becoming a has-been. Spend one season on Doctor Who, however, and an actor can probably get plenty of attention decades later.

The disconnect between the fans' emotional immediacy and Agyeman's distance from playing Martha Jones illustrates how the professional-fan relationship can get peculiar. An instance in this type of relationship between computer game developers and a fan shined a negative light on the developers.

I doubt anyone at Agyeman's Q&A expected her to have the nuances of Doctor Who canon down pat. From the questions, though, fans did seem to expect her to have her experience on the show fresh and clear in mind.

Who can really blame her for not meeting this expectation? She last played Martha Jones semi regularly in 2008. She had cameos in Doctor Who and Torchwood.


That's nearly six years ago! I can hardly remember events from then except for a few random instances. I had the second year at my current job then, and I now feel like I've been there forever without beginning or end, it has all blended together too much.

I would have two reactions if Agyeman still felt the emotional immediacy of her time as Martha Jones, depending on how she kept it. I would feel awed if she could recall every event in her life with such intensity as part of her genetic code.

Otherwise I would have a general sense of worry that this young woman with a long bright future ahead of her put so much energy and free time rewatching and going over the product she contributed to six-seven years ago. Or worse, I would worry about the trauma required to keep experience that fresh.

Yes, playing a companion on Doctor Who has a lot to it and makes for a big, important line on the resume. The part of Martha Jones probably has a lot to do with who Freema Agyeman is now and where she is in her career. It likely made for a big stepping stone.

But the part lasted one season. It was only a secondary part. Even though Doctor Who can play with genre, it still falls within adventure and science fiction.

The world offers us more than one activity. The TV and movie industry offers more than one type of show or role. In fact, both offer a variety.

We, as humans, can't engage in a single activity or a limited series of roles and activities without getting bored. Even in less advanced animal behavior, animals will engage in repetitive, unhealthy behaviors when they find themselves in environments that don't stimulate them. Life needs variety or it grows unhappy, depressed and even self destructive.

I often hear of actors complain about getting typecasted and not able to find different roles to keep their interest. Freema Agyeman has done a great job showing range and finding a variety of roles. From the science fiction adventure of Doctor Who to the procedural fairly serious role in Law & Order: UK. Now she has what sounds like a fun and more lighthearted role in The Carrie Diaries.


I congratulate Agyeman for expanding her experience, showing a range in her acting ability and, in general, becoming successful. On top of being a good actor contributing to a bright future, her diversification of roles will play a large part in that future of hers, too. It probably provides her with satisfaction, too.

I would hate for fandom to discourage Agyeman from sharing her gifts with the wide world and also doing what's best for her professional career. Yes, she has chosen a very public career where she becomes exposed to this kind of scrutiny. She had to know that it could occur.

Yet she remains a human being with her own needs, desires and future independent of our own. She has every right to pursue all of those without the judgment from legions of fans.

To me, her emotional distance from Martha Jones shows her success as a human being that can act as an example for the rest of us. We, too, can transcend our present situations, whether we enjoy them or not, and grow into a more fluorishing human being with a range and bright future for ourselves.

Regarding the phenomena, itself, I noticed that most of the fans who showed emotional immediacy to Agyeman's tenure on Doctor Who tended toward the younger kid category. Their age has a lot to do with their experience of immediacy. Still, I think it also shows how much the technology of our modern contributes to the phenomena.

Until the revival of Doctor Who, exposure by most people in the US came as episodes on PBS. It would often come on as full stories during PBS pledge drives. Otherwise PBS would show 20-minute parts of stories as frequently as the network wanted to show them.

Up to this point, Doctor Who existed in a traditional TV paradigm. Fans would catch the show by chance in their free time or check TV listings then schedule time for Doctor Who. People couldn't re-watch the show unless they caught a re-run. Such infrequency contributes to emotional connection but not as much as we can get with technology today.

Now, though, we have

And on and on with a near infinite selection of purchasing, recording and watching TV shows and movies. We don't need to catch a show by chance or schedule our lives to watch a show we love anymore.

This ability to watch and re-watch entertainment whenever we want -- dependent on the studios making it available or getting illegal access, of course -- has changed our relationship to it. This change becomes especially apparent with children of means. They have more time than adults to spend with entertainment. They also have more capacity and desire to watch the same or similar thing over and over again. They like their consistency.

At some point, this kind of control for more exposure to Doctor Who came in the form of novelised versions of the stories. The industry at some point started releasing audio adventures. These became even more prevalent when the BBC put the show on hiatus during "the wilderness years" between 1989 to 2005. Both these forms of media allow for repeated interaction, but they require more energy to imagine details and everyone has their own interpretations.

Doctor Who is a good, fun show. It wouldn't have lasted fifty years if it wasn't. I can't blame anyone who watches repeatedly, especially if they have the time. Part of this quality comes from

  • Caring about sympathetic characters
  • The excitement of danger
  • Having something at stake
Along with the catharsis of going through all these emotional ups and downs.

We can now get our fix as much as we want, barring any other personalized limitations we face. All these ways for repeated exposure allow fans to refresh their memories and emotional connections to the episodes and characters. Fans can sustain the memories and emotional immediacy through these repeated viewings.

No wonder the fans and Freema Agyeman had different levels of emotional immediacy regarding her time on Doctor Who. Agyeman worked a job. No matter how much she enjoyed her time on Doctor Who, she has had to move on and probably have a very busy life.

I'm even willing to bet that watching TV doesn't always count as leisure time when you contribute to it a lot. Watching yourself on TV, even when seen a lot and professionally, probably remains strange and a little unpleasant.

Fans love the show. They have numerous opportunities to watch each episode numerous times as much as they like. The more they watch, the more it sticks with them and easier it becomes to recall the memories and emotions, the more it becomes immediate to them. As they immerse themselves deeper into it, the more it stays with them.

The experiences between the consumer and professional creators/contributors has always had their differences. Lately, though, the disparity of emotional immediacy between the two has grown more intense. The increased availibility of playback technology has contributed a lot to it.

Does it mean anything beyond an uncomfortable relationship between professionals and fans?

Will professionals feel more obligation to meet the expectations of their fans?

Will fans continue with this implicit demand for professionals to feel the same level of emotional immediacy?

Will technology advance to a whole different form of creativity that blurs the line between professional and fan? Just look at original fans of franchise creating their favorite properties:

And probably many many other examples.

Will things just continue as they are?

Who knows? We can only find out with time. It still makes for an interesting phenomena.

LINKS OF NOTE: