Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

24 December, 2012

The Slump

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

It never fails. The last couple of weeks of the semester, as the exams loom overhead and the list of things that absolutely critically need to be done this very moment is always at least a few points too full, I get filled with creative sparks and a burning desire to do anything but this. The procrastination muscles work overtime, and I am brimming with energy I want to apply to something not at all exam-related – start up that online D&D game, finish a stupid story I’ve been neglecting for years and be done with it, reorganise the shelves and sort through the piles and piles of comics that my childhood built up. The second the exams are over, I’ll be ready to go.

And then the exams are over, and I’m not really doing anything at all. Plenty of time now. It can all wait. Let’s play a short game of Sims instead.

In case you’re not familiar with the game yourself; there is no such thing as a short game of Sims.

This post-exam slump is as predictable a part of the process as the panic-induced burst of procrastination energy that precedes it, and yet I never get around to counteracting it. It is at its worst in December, as this break is so much shorten than summer, and as I am a big Christmas fan, I also want to just wallow in holiday bliss without doing more work that strictly necessary.

Speaking of, unless something’s gone wrong, this post goes up on Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas, the lot of you!

The next semester will be my last as a student – at least for the foreseeable future – so I guess the pattern of panic and slump will also reach its end. I don’t think life in regular gainful employment has quite as many crunch periods. Next December, I’ll be making tests rather than taking them – which I’m sure is still a good bit of work, but probably with less of the stressful wait beforehand. So no more slump? I’m hopeful, ’cause I’m an incurable optimist, but I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have Sims to rule and cookies to eat. Merry Christmas, once more.

17 December, 2012

Tools of the Trade

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I’ve just finished up what I think is the most intensive exam period of my academic career, and good riddance to it. The exam period, that is, not my academic career – although the results are not in yet, so we’ll see. Prior to the exams, I had a quite full semester, with teacher training eating lots of time, so all in all it’s been a busy six months.

Because I am, as previously established, crazy, I decided to add to my work this year by forging ahead with NaNoWriMo for the first time since my very first year at university. Back then, in the innocent days of 2006, I concluded that there was just no way to complete the challenge with university work on top! I clung to this established truth until now, the busiest semester yet, before throwing caution to the wind, and I actually ended up with a workable first draft of a story I have been brooding on for far too long.

A graph charting my progress thorugh NaNoWriMo

But spot the bit where I gave up in despair for a while.

Anyway, this is all preamble, what I actually want to talk about are word processors.

I know, right! Sexiest blog in the ‘verse, right here.

The purpose of a word processors, as I currently see it, is to get out of the way and allow the user to just write, and then be ready with whatever features are needed to polish the product afterwards. Pretty easy and straightforward, no? Hard to see how it could be screwed up, really.

But it can. Oh, but it can.

I’ve been using OpenOffice for, oh, several years now. I can’t quite recall when I made the switch, but it was sometime after 2005, when I no longer had a school computer with Microsoft Office on. During my aforementioned teacher training, I had to use one of the school computers they had lying around there, and it came with Microsoft Office 2010. I think my feeling can be pretty much summed up with a tweet I made at the time:

I do not understand how that thing can even be sold. When last I used Microsoft Office it had looked pretty much like OpenOffice still does, but now the UI was clunky and unnavigable. It was made so user-friendly as to be unusable. And every time I tried to scroll to a different part of a document, the would automatically jump back to wherever the cursor was. Maddening. I wanted to throw that machine out the window at the end of every day. Ugh, never again. I hope.

As I’ve pretty thoroughly established by now, I’ve been using OpenOffice. During the writing sprint in November, however, I suddenly discovered that OpenOffice isn’t what it used to be, and that LibreOffice is its spiritual successor. I’d heard the name LibreOffice before, so I’m not a complete shut-in, but I’d never bothered to look up why all the people who used to push OpenOffice had suddenly switched allegiance. What I had worked for me, and I never even noticed that there was a change in update frequency or support systems. Now that I do know, though, I think I might switch over. Just because it seems better to use a piece of software that’s actually in development and with a support structure around it. I realise that OO still has that to some extent, but hey – support the open source guys, yeah? Also, it looks prettier.

But there’s another piece of software I’m quite excited about – something new and shiny that’s caught my eye. It’s called Scrivener. OK, it’s not all that new, only to me, but it sure is shiny! Scrivener is one of the sponsors of NaNoWriMo. I didn’t actually notice it until after the month was over, but I downloaded the demo to see what everyone was raving about then. And since I did manage to squeeze out the 50 000 required words, I then almost immediately used the discount given to winners to buy a full copy. That’s how much it impressed me. It looks good, it makes organising notes easier, and its non-linear approach to text handling – because writing often is about shuffling bits around until they work – just appeal to me tremendously.

Now, there’s a part of me that is eager to jump into the old trap of thinking “If I just had the right pen, the work would do itself!”. Scrivener, or LibreOffice, or anything, obviously doesn’t do the work for you. And you don’t need any of it, you can write with a piece of coal on a slate if that’s what you have handy. But these tools can make the process easier. They can sit back and just let you write and be there when you need them to help you polish stuff once you’re done. And I’m eager to find the optimal setup here.

Because as long as I’m looking, I have an excuse not to do real work. Zing!

8 October, 2012

Managing Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Predictably, writing about my D&D withdrawal didn’t alleviate the problem so much as exacerbate it. I have passed the week with the possibility of a game swirling around my head, a maelstrom of ideas and notions and desires. Of course, it always comes back to the same stumbling block: I don’t have the time.

Or maybe that’s just what I tell myself? When am I ever going to get more time? Could I do it if I just managed my time better? There’s probably no question that I could squeeze out some extra hours if I accomplished that, I am terrible at time management. Or, viewed from a different perspective, I am great at it, and really do need quite a bit of time to just digest.

I have, fearfully, toyed with a thought of jumping in with both legs and just see how much of a train wreck would result if I did try to do everything I wanted. This is a busy and important year in my education, my final year at University, and there are quite a few things I need to do and write over the course of this fall. I have, for many years, bemoaned the fact that NaNoWriMo takes place in November – the only moth that could possibly be worse for it is May – but in this dread fantasy of late I actually try to do it again this year. After all, it is lots of fun.

And maybe I could try running a net based game on top of that? It couldn’t hurt, my fevered brain whispers, what’s the harm in trying. That’s an argument that’s hard to counter with just a general feeling of impending doom, but you have to work with what you have.

Of course, maybe I’m overestimating the amount of work such a game would be; it’s not like I have any experience running one. Maybe it could be a slow runner, where I’d only have to post up a thing once or twice a week. Maybe I should just post an ad and see where it goes?

Of course, I have no real plan yet. My explorers idea is just that, an idea, not fleshed out at all. If I send players out to explore the world, I ought to have some world for them to explore as well, it seems to me. I could go against my every instinct and try to wing it, but I don’t know if that would end up fun or just messy.

I realise, by the way, how self-indulgent and spoiled I am – oh, no, not sure if I have the time to play a purely entertaining game on my magical electronic box – but I am blessed with a fairly drama free life, so this is what I angst about. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have wallowing to do. See you next week, when I’ve probably already posted an ad at this rate.

20 August, 2012

A Long Way

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I wonder if Europe is just poorly suited for road narratives.

I have this idea for a story, see, that I have been kicking around in my head for a while. It would be a very episodic type of story, structured around a set of protagonists who move from place to place and have different adventures in different places. It’s the same basic sort of set-up as Doctor Who, or Quantum Leap, or Touched by an Angel, or early seasons of Supernatural. I doubt I’ll ever break into TV, but there are other ways of telling an episodic story. The thing is, though, I have a hard time picturing it set in Europe.

There’s a saw that goes along the lines of: “Europeans think a hundred miles is a long way. Americans think a hundred years is a long time.” The European bit definitely rings true to me; I sure as hell think a hundred miles is an inconvenient distance. America, as a continent, is just so big, with lots of open spaces with scattered settlements spaced far apart. It lends itself to a narrative with travelling baked in. Europe, by contrast, is all scrunched up and packed tightly. The Romans founded heaps and heaps of cities within a day’s travel of each other. And where fjords and mountains once isolated small villages that are actually pretty close as the crow flies, modernity have brought these right next to each other as well. The story idea I have wouldn’t work here. Are there any road narratives that do? Surely there must be, I just can’t think of any.Doctor Whois British, and had to go into space and time to get anywhere. You don’t go exploring the open road in Europe, you backpack through it, from convenient point to convenient point.

The thing is, I don’t really trust myself to write Americans. I’m not an American; I’d mess up the idiom. I never went to a High School, never grew up with the US Saturday morning cartoons, never ever recited any pledge of allegiance. I haven’t even lived in America, all my info about life there comes from the media. I do not think I would do it right, were I to attempt to write Americans in a sustained, episodic format. It would ring false.

There isn’t really a solution to this, I guess, beyond practising. Maybe hope that a media caricature of real America is close enough. Maybe retool the idea from the bottom up to make it work in a setting I do know. Look for some good examples of this kind of story set in Europe, for inspiration. And, as the advice always goes, write, write, write.

13 August, 2012

Fiction: Red Flag

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

“It’s red, captain!” Bill shouted. The blood red flag filled the whole view through the spyglass. He lowered the glass and squinted towards the approaching galleon, already too close for comfort.

The deck was silent. Everybody knew what the flag meant. No quarter given. None would be spared.

The captain scratched his bushy beard with his hook. Some crumbs fell out of it. The rest of the crew watched him, waiting. Bill knew they were all feeling the same thing. Excitement. Expectation. Nerves. All the standard pre-battle jitters. The other ship might have treasure.

“Do we have a red flag?” captain Davies finally asked. Bill could tell from his tone that he was uncertain. The approaching galleon was much larger and finer than their own ship, which was simply flying the old black flag Red Willy had painted a crude skull on.

“We’ve a dark pinkish one, cap’n!” Raving Trevor responded. He was rummaging through the small flag chest, and pulled out a flag of dark but decidedly pink colour.

The captain sighed and scratched his beard again. “Anyone remember what deep pink means?” he asked the assembled pirates. Bill ran through all the flags he knew in his head. Deep pink wasn’t a common one.

“Er, I think it means ‘We don’t quite know if we’ll bother with quarter, we’ll see when we get that far’,” he finally said.

“Nay, that won’t do, can’t look uncertain,” the captain said at once. “Have we any others?”

Raving Trevor rummaged through the chest again, while a sense of inferiority spread through the crew. Bill could see it in their faces, and knew it would be visible in his own as well. The other ship had better flags than they did. And it was bigger. And, he could see now, painted in a rather impressive shade of black. Bill looked down at the brown planks beneath their own railing, and wished they were a just slightly cooler kind of brown.

“We’ve a Union Jack, cap’n,” Trevor said. Bill could tell he didn’t have much faith in the suggestion.

“No, we’ll meet them as honest pirates, not under false colours,” the captain cried to general sounds of assent. He sighed.

“There’s a green one as well.”

“Green? What’s green?”

There was a pause as the pirates puzzled through this question. Bill was sure he did not know himself. After a few seconds, Blue Balthazar gave a small, embarrased cough; he rarely spoke in such public circumstances.

“It means ‘vegetables for sale’, captain.”

“Vegetables for sale?! Why the blazes do we even have that flag?”

“We got it off that potato transport we took a week ago.”

“Oh. Well, don’t hoist it!”

“Aye, cap’n.”

There was another pause. Bill looked over at the enemy ship, which was drawing ever nearer.

“Well,” the captain finally said, resigned, “We’ll leave the flag as it is. We’ve no room for prisoners, so try not to give quarter anyway.”

“Aye, captain!” fifteen voices replied. Bill looked over at the other ship again. The men crewing it were visible now, and the sunlight gleamed off polished steel. Bill looked on his own rusty blade in shame. It was unlikely to gleam in any light. Several of the others seemed to have reached the same conclusion; Blue Balthazar was trying in vain to polish away a particularly ugly spot of rust with his sleeve.

“Look on the bright side, lads,” the captain said, his voice full of forced cheer. “We’ll give the lot of ’em tetanus.”

There were new sounds of assent, but less eager now. Bill kept his eyes on the other ship, which would soon be in firing range. The cannons were already loaded, but he could see that the enemy’s cannons were bigger, and also polished to a shine.

Bill sighed. Even if they won this skirmish, the other ship had already taken the moral victory. He could see them fully know. He heard the captain moan behind him, and he could see why. There was no end to ignominy; even the kerchiefs of the enemy were cleaner and costlier than their own.

“All right, lads,” the captain said, with no real enthusiasm. “Fire.”

2 August, 2012

Welcome to My World: Space

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

In my last post in this series, I talked about time keeping in my D&D world. Now, I’ll say a word or two about space, the kind that’s outside the atmosphere, and it’s application.

If you recall way back when, the post that started this madness had a map that included a model of the world’s solar system. I’m not going to embed it here, but have a look at it if you want. I set up a geocentric model, ’cause, hey, magic!, and am going to ignore any potential problems this creates, because, again, magic! There’s three planets circling the world, and one rather unpredictable one that has its own entry in one of the Monster Manuals and won’t feature further here. The Eye of Aurom is the closest planet, named for a god of death that died long ago. Athas is another planet that has plenty of books devoted to it; the only semi-novelty here is that I put it in orbit around my main world. The final one is Cé, named for the legendary first elf, father of all the elven races, because that’s the sort of title that gets you elevated into the heavens upon your death.

I don’t really plan on space travel in this world, and if you’re adventuring on Athas, part of the shtick is that you’re stuck there anyway, so I haven’t developed these beyond names and orbits. What I’m more interested in is how astronomy can be used for astrology back down on the ground. Prophecies, even randomly generated ones, can be interesting fodder for games, I think. So I figured out a calculation for finding their position on the ecliptic on any given date.

There are nineteen constellations along the ecliptic, each but the last of them explicitly claimed by a specific god. You can see them indicated on the top left of the previously mentioned map. They are, in order: the Swan, the Claw, the Spear, the Hammer, the Sickle, the Spider, the Horse, the Tyrant, the Wheel, the Ear (of grain), the Dragon, the Serpent, the Maiden, the Mother, the Rat, the Sword, the Icicle, the Conqueror and the Arrow. That last one is the wild card of the heavens, no god is associated with it.

So let’s take the only character in this world of mine that ever established a birth date; an unfortunate gnome known as Jed. Jed was born on the 12th of Peloma, in the year 460 of his local calendar, under the following astrological conditions: The sun rose in the Ear, making that the dominant constellation – his sign. The moon rose in the Spider and set in the Horse. The Eye of Aurom was in the Horse, Athas was in the Serpent and Cé was in the Rat.

And from there, it’s just a matter of making stuff up, really, until enough stuff is made up to reuse. I’m stealing stuff from real world astrology, ’cause why make up new stuff when someone’s already done the work, and stitching together something halfway coherent.

The Ear is a mutable fire sign, speaking of change, enthusiasm and self-expression. It is associated with wealth, generosity, purity and success. It’s associated god is the god of the Sun, of time and brotherly love and summer and agriculture. Considering Jed, this world’s astrology seems to be about as accurate as out own, so far.

The Eye of Aurom is associated with death, and the sign it was in, the Horse, is the sign of the goddess of luck, change and trade. The Serpent’s god is the god of darkness and poison and indeed serpents. Cé could be especially significant here, as Jed is a Fey creature. The Rat’s god is the god of prisons and torture, it is a fixed wood sign.

Now, like I said, this doesn’t really describe Jed very well, but that wouldn’t be much use anyway. What’s the point in predicting personality? The player decides the character’s personality! What this might do is generate ideas for what could happen to the character, help plan the story of his life. Jed is pretty greedy, and quite keen on economics, so a death planet in the sign of trade could mean I make his trade activity highly dangerous to his health. Since his main sign is all about success and wealth, that gives a story where he gains plenty, and then drowns in it – unless the dice are on his side, of course. Someone will try to poison him at some point, or maybe the poison is metaphorical, a poisoned gift. It’s all vague, as a horoscope should be, but I like it as a starting point for idea generation nevertheless. It’s like using Tarot cards to make story outlines. Or the Deck of Many things. Yeah.

Jed is currently in the stasis of an inactive character, and somewhat unlikely to be revived, so I might as well make it semi-canon: He got hugely wealthy and then chocked on a gold coin after a biting it a bit too enthusiastically. Boom.

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