Writing

Japanese writing
Japanese writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve written about my process or lack of one when writing these posts. They sort of grow from an idea, a seed, a notion, a comment on something I’ve read. I rarely have a plan. I rarely have even an intro in mind and I definitely don’t have a finish in mind.

Mostly I write these 1000 word posts. In the past I’ve written some poetry, much of which I can reread without wincing too much. I’ve had goes at writing stories, technical articles and philosophical pieces of various lengths. I’ve never published any of this stuff, as I’ve never considered it good enough to be worth the effort. Or maybe I’m just lazy.

My success in keeping the blog going for over 250 posts has encouraged me. I’ve lately been writing something which I hope to make novel length, and I’ve learnt a few things.

When I thought about writing something novel length I researched the topic of novel writing a little. I found that a useful length for a novel is around a hundred thousand words. The number doesn’t scare me, as I’ve written around 250,000 words in this blog, admittedly spread over five years or so. If I write 1,000 words a day for one hundred days, that’ll do it. (Yeah right!)

The Majestic Hotel - geograph.org.uk - 654966
The Majestic Hotel – geograph.org.uk – 654966 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Advice about novel writing is scary though. You have to a plot, a timeline, a list of characters, and so on. Yikes! Then I stumbled upon a method called the snowflake method. The author writes that you still need the plan, the character biographies, and spreadsheets! Spreadsheets for goodness sake! But his overall concept attracted me. It’s based on a fractal called the Koch snowflake curve.

The Koch curve is easy to draw. First you draw an equilateral triangle, then you divide each side into three. On the middle bit you construct and outwards facing triangle. Then you erase the middle thirds of the original triangle and bingo, you have a six pointed star. Then you repeat this process a few times and end up with a fuzzy six lobed figure – the start of the Koch curve. Since this is a fractal you could do this forever and produce a rather boring snowflake shape.

A Koch curve has an infinitely repeating self-...
A Koch curve has an infinitely repeating self-similarity when it is magnified. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

THAT process I could work with. Unfortunately when I read further on, as I said above, the author recommends spreadsheets, and character biographies and so on. I find that very off putting.

I had an idea, right from the start, for the main theme, the crux if you like. I had a main character. I had some of the development of the story, and some of the locations that the story took place in. And a scary fate, which led to the key story line. All good. But no supporting characters and no real way to go from premise to conclusion.

Spreadsheet
Spreadsheet

I decided to just go for it. While spreadsheets and lists sound like a good idea, I don’t think that I could work that way. So I just started.

I set up the main character in the prime location and I wrote his story. I filled in his back story, and suddenly he had a companion! I’m not too sure where she came from but the main character needed her. She knew the fate of the main character, and became close to him in spite of it. A potential reader, should the story ever get finished, is only given hints as to what that fate is.

In some sort of seismic story shift the main character became the son of the character facing the scary fate, and the father also acquired a partner. The son would also face the same fate but long in the future.

Now I had four characters needing a back story. Slowly but surely the female companion of the main character took over and became the main character. How did that happen? She quickly acquired a family who were mostly less important characters. Well, at the moment that’s true, but who knows? Certainly not me, and I’m writing the damn story!

The female main character had a female friend from the start. Well, from when she appeared that is. Originally the friend was going to serve as a brash contrast to the quietness of the female main character, but she swiftly mellowed to be just a bit more lively than the female main character. The friendship between the two girls became deeper and they became true BFFs. That meant that the friend had to come along with the now main character and soon developed her own story lines in parallel to her friend. She even gained a male partner of her own.

The main male character’s mother, the wife of the character who was the original main character also blossomed into a major character. She had to mentor the female main character and her origins became relevant so she also developed a story line.

Queen Wilhelmina & Juliana
Queen Wilhelmina & Juliana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pause for thought. Oh yes, an additional theme running through the story is an unknown technology that enables a few things. If all goes well, it will remain a secondary theme and won’t crucially change any of the story line. It won’t be a magic bullet, and the characters will have to work hard to figure it out, like real technology. It won’t save any lives or change the characters into god like beings, if I have anything to do with it. But what do I know? I’m only writing the story. At the moment there only the merest hint of a link between the technology and the fate awaiting the main male characters.

So, at around 40,000 words, aiming for 100,000, where am I? Well, I started with one male character and an idea, but the girls have largely taken over, which is weird. They are strangely chaste – no sex scenes thank the little gods, but they are passionate – think Jane Austen. The girls outshine the boys in almost all departments. A gay couple appeared from nowhere. The BFF is poised for a major story thread. A couple of minor characters are begging for a story line, and I need to step back and review what I’ve done so far.

Jane Austen
Jane Austen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been illuminating. It’s sort of like the snowflake method of perpetual refinement, and sort of like sheer random development, a mind dump put into words. I can only wonder where it will take me from here.

Snowflake
Snowflake

Two Hundred and Fifty

Ferrari 250 GTO
Ferrari 250 GTO

This post will be my 250th. 250 times approximation 1,000 words. A quarter of a million words. Wow. I didn’t think that I could do it. I hit the target. I reached the summit of Everest. I ran a marathon. And other similar metaphors for success.

Of course, I could be posting into a void. I see that I get, usually, a few dozen views for each post and some people are actually “following” me. I even, now and then, get a comment. I’ve done zero in the way of self promotion. I finish each post, figuratively pat it on its back and send it on its way, never to be seen again.

On its way
On its way

This doesn’t concern me. It seems that, for me, writing this blog is a bit like playing a piano in an empty room, or doing a jigsaw on the Internet. The reward is in the doing. I certainly feel a sense of achievement when I hit the “Publish” button, but I don’t often follow up on the post.

What I found amazing is my ability to ramble on for 1,000 words on any subject. I reckon that I could probably stretch any subject out to 1,000 words. In fact, I usually go over. Around the 300 to 400 word mark I’m wondering if I will reach the 1,000, and then suddenly I’m a couple of dozen words past the mark and wondering how to stop. Many times I will just stop so if you think I dropped a subject abruptly, you are probably right.

Analog television ends in Japan
Analog television ends in Japan

Some subjects have come up more than once. If you have been a regular reader you will have noticed themes running through my posts. There’s science, particularly physics and cosmology, there’s philosophy, there’s maths. I’ve tried to steer away from politics, but Trump has crept in there somewhere.

There’s weather, there’s seasons, there’s discussion on society, as I see it, and occasionally I discuss my posts themselves. These things are, obviously, the things that interest me, the things that I tend to think about.

River Arun
River Arun

Apparently I have 144 followers. That’s 144 more than I expected. I hope that some of them read my posts on a regular basis, but that’s not necessary. I hope that more dip in from time to time and find some interest nugget.

That sound disparaging to my followers, but that’s not my intent. My intent is to reflect on the realities of blogging. I follow other blogs, but I don’t read all the posts on those blogs. Maybe one or two of them I read pretty much every time the blogger posts a new post.

Someone's blog post
Someone’s blog post

That’s the reality of blogging I think. Millions of blog plots are published every day, and I reckon that very few of them are read by more than one or two people at the most. Some blogs strike the jackpot, though, and have millions of followers.

I’d guess that the big blogs are about politics in some shape or form, or fashion and fashion hints and tips. Maybe cooking? I’ve seen a few cooking blogs and they seem to be quite popular. Some big firms have taken to publishing a blog. Some people blog about their illnesses and their battles with it. The best of the latter can be both sad and uplifting.

Protest
Protest

You know the sort I mean? You go to the firm’s website and there’s a button or menu item that proudly proclaims “Blog”. When you look at the blog, it’s simply a list of what the CEO and board have been up to, or releases of new products, or sometimes posts about workers at the firm getting involved with the local community. All good earnest stuff, but scarcely riveting. I wonder how many followers they get? Probably about as many as me! I hope so. At least they are trying.

(Approaching 600 words of waffle. I can do it!)

Since I’m not doing a political blog, I don’t think that anything I post is controversial, which is probably reflected in the number of my followers. I don’t stir up any furores with my words on Plato’s Cave analogy, so far as I know. I get no furious comments about my views on Schrodinger’s Cat. “You should see what he says about Plato’s Cave! You must go on there and refute it!” Nah, doesn’t happen!

Plato's Allegory of the cave, Engraving of Jan...
Plato’s Allegory of the cave, Engraving of Jan Saenredam (1565-1607) after a painting of Cornelis Corneliszoon van Haarlem (1562-1638) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I said, the low number of hits doesn’t worry me. It would be a hassle if suddenly my followers shot up to thousands, and I felt obligated to provide all these people an interesting post on a regular basis. As it is I can ramble on about prime numbers or the relationship between the different number sets and potentially only disappoint a few people. If any.

What have I learnt from all this blogging? That it is hard. It’s not just a matter of sitting down and blasting out a 1,000 words. Well sometimes it is, actually, but most times I grind it out in 100 word or so chunks. I aim to write the blog on Sunday and add pictures and publish on Monday.

Hard work
Hard work

Sometimes I miss the Monday deadline, out of sheer forgetfulness, mostly and pop it out on Tuesday or even later. Sometimes I forget to write my post until late on Sunday, but it is only rarely that I have to write it on Monday or even later. So far as I can tell, I’ve not completely missed a weekly post since the earliest days.

This is not the first blog I’ve tried to write. I had several goes before this one and I think that maybe this attempt “stuck” because I set out my aim to publish weekly early on. Maybe. It may also be the target of 250 posts that I set myself early on. Now I’ve achieved that goal.

Mud
Mud

So what next? I’ve not decided. I might stop now, or I might go on to 500. I may not know right up until the last minute. 500 posts is approaching 10 years of posts which seems a phenomenally long time. But then again, 250 posts is around 5 years of posts and I achieved that. We’ll have to see.

(As I sail past 1,000 words, I reflect that I can extract that many words from practically nothing. It seems to be a knack.)

Fireworks in NZ
Fireworks in NZ

The Universe in a Hair Tie

Hair Ties
Hair Ties

I’m constantly bemused by the Universe. Why are some things the way they are? What is the Big Bang all about? Why Quantum? Why do people seemingly like to kill other people? Obviously on average this last is untrue, but that’s little comfort when a significant portion appears to be inflicting mayhem, in the forms of wars, terrorism, traffic accidents and even simple murder, on other people.

But let’s not get too serious. One quirk of the universe caught my eye in the supermarket. No, it wasn’t the solid wall of fizzy and sugary drinks. It wasn’t the half wall of cotton wool masquerading as bread. It wasn’t even the rows of vegetables liberally sprayed to make them look fresh, or the wall of salty crunchy snacks indistinguishable in look and taste to everyone except teenage boys who are picky connoisseurs of the things.

Chip Aisle
Chip Aisle

No, it was a humble object, a truncated ice cream cone shaped in plastic containing a small bag of hair ties, the sort of thing that girls use to put their hair in bunches. At first sight a good idea. It can sit on the dressing table, resting on the flat base, and the owner can remove one or two ties as required and replace them in due course.

Except – The truncated cone didn’t look very stable and the ball just rested on the cone, and would presumably roll away if the cone was upset. And the ball. In my limited experience of hair ties, they end up capturing loose hairs, the sparkly sheath snaps exposing the elastic core, or the elastic core breaks rendering them useless. They don’t have a long life.

Pigtails
Pigtails

In addition they get lost. Just like the planet of lost pens there is a planet of lost hair ties. Like the pens the hair ties rings around the planet just as ice and rocks form rings around Saturn. Just like a pen you can put one down anywhere and when you come back the hair tie has completely disappeared. Because of some law of probability or something sometimes there’s a pen in its place bearing the logo of some firm that you’ve never heard of and which operates in a different area to the one that you live in.

So after a while the semi stable holder of a ball of hair ties becomes a depleted bunch of hairy broken hair ties and a tipped over holder which has rolled off under the bed. I admit that much of the above is speculation. I’m not a girl, don’t wear hair ties, and I’m not an astronomer or statistician. But I suggest you try the experiment. Buy an ice cream holder and hair tie ball set and observe what happens. I reckon that it will be uncannily like the scenario I suggest above.

Ice Cream Cone
Ice Cream Cone

But think of all the unlikely things that had to happen to create that unlikely supermarket item. Firstly we had to have the Big Bang. But not just any Big Bang. This one. A slightly different Big Bang may not have resulted in a liveable Universe. The Big Bang might also have created a liveable Universe but not one where life evolved.

Life evolves on planets. Planets revolve around stars. Stars and planets have to be of right sort that life can evolve on. One of the things that is essential is a mix of elements which can only be created in the heart of a star. You see, the Universe is mostly hydrogen, as free protons, the occasional hydrogen atom, and the even rarer hydrogen molecules.

Pens
Pens

And that would be it, but some of the hydrogen/protons condensed into clumps or clouds, which grew until gravity compressed the hydrogen atoms to the point where they fused and produced helium and gave off energy. Stars. Generation I stars. Eventually pressures increased to the point where other elements started to be produced, and finally the stars exploded!

The Big Bang that started all this is the precise one that embodied or encoded all the nuclear interactions that I’ve just mentioned. Oh, there is a possibility that there was only one possible Big Bang – the one that led to us, but that doesn’t explain why all the universal constants have the values that they do. If any had been slightly different we wouldn’t be here.

Big Bang
Big Bang

When the stars exploded all the elements necessary to life were blasted into space. Over billions of years these very rare elements condensed to become our sun, and our earth. The earth and any rocky earthlike planet consists of a vast collection very rare atoms. We consist of a vast collection of very rare atoms that have somehow sprung to life. You can almost see the point of that religionists make when they say that such happenings as you and I could not have occurred by chance.

But of course they are wrong. Chance is the only reason for things happening, and it is so long since the Big Bang that unusual clusters of rare atoms, such as us, even though they are of very low probability, have come to pass, and all this was implicit in the Big Bang.

Periodic Table
Periodic Table

By some chance some collection of very rare elements sat down one day and thought about hair ties and how to keep them tidy and protect them from being lost and came up with the ice creme cone concept. I’ve wondered about the concept above, and whether or not it is in fact a useful one. My feeling is that the flaws outweigh the advantages, but of course I may be wrong.

For all I know, the concept works fine, and is the greatest advance in hair tie technology since someone had the original concept of a hair tie. When you think about it, it is a pretty cool technology which does away with the need for ribbons and strings, and the difficulties of tying and adjusting them. The ice cream cone holder concept could be the next step in the evolution of hair technology.

Hair Tie Balls
Hair Tie Balls

The truly wondrous thing though, is that the ice cream cone hair tie holder concept and its execution and appearance on the supermarket shelves is implicit in the Big Bang. The Big Bang led to stars, supernovas, more stars, planets, life, supermarkets and ice cream cone hair tie holders, and that is truly amazing.

Supermarket
Supermarket

The Lurg

The Lurg
The Lurg. This lady does not have the lurg. She looks amazingly healthy so this is a set up. If she had the lurg you would not instantly and would contemplate being elsewhere as soon as possible.

The invading army expanded in both directions from their beachhead. Soon they were almost everywhere, even invading the outlying areas. The resistance had little time to prepare, but soon they were building up their forces. The battle raged everywhere, noticeably raising the temperature.

Yes, I have the lurgy. It started a week ago with a sore throat and progressed to a crippling cough. Soon I was aching all over and doing anything at was getting very hard. My muscles ached from coughing and my back hurt, probably as a secondary result of the coughing.

Coughs and sneezes spread diseases
Coughs and sneezes spread diseases

I felt hot and sweaty, and got an appointment with the doctor. She told me that it was a “viral infection” and that I had to “last it out”. I didn’t have bronchitis or pneumonia fortunately, so I came out of the medical centre with no prescription. That’s fine by me. Antibiotics wouldn’t help with a viral infection and most cold “remedies” are hokum.

What I had was a bit more than a cold though, so over the next few days I was mostly collapsed in bed, sometimes listening to radio or playing games on the tablet. Did I feel sorry for myself? Not really, but my mood was sombre. Even in the depths of depression I haven’t felt sorry for myself and I rarely do. It seems a pointless way to feel, and depression, for me, is colouring of the world as grey (but see below), not a personal attack by the Universe.

Depression
Depression means many things. I was searching for an image related to the mental condition but came up with the meteorologic phenomenon instead.

The thing about this particular “viral infection” is that it has left me feeling weak and tired 24 hours a day. Sleep has not been easy as I wake up sweating and coughing several times a night, once I drop off. It hasn’t been too good for my wife who has been disturbed by my nocturnal coughing spells.

Only once, fortunately, was I woken by the shivers. I hate the shivers. I felt reasonably warm in bed but my body decided it wasn’t. I struggled against the shivers for a while then snaked an arm out to grab a sweater. Fighting the weakness and the shakes I managed to pull the sweater on and still the shivers without getting out bed, then relaxed into the warmth. Of course I was soaking in sweat when I woke up. Yuck!

Warm bed
Warm bed

A deep cold or maybe flu like this makes things hard to do. There’s a general feeling of weakness, but I think that’s mostly a mental thing. I had to swing an axe at some blocks of wood out of necessity (It’s winter here) but I was able to do it, albeit with lengthy pauses to cough my lungs out, Muscles complain if you ask them to do work, but with “viral infection” they do that anyway.

Maybe the system is marshalling all resources to attack the invader and resents having to let resources go to other ends. Speaking of resources, food and drink lose their savour with a cold like this. Solid food tastes of nothing much and tea and coffee taste strange. (I don’t actually drink coffee so I’m extrapolating here!) I don’t know why this happens, but it’s like half of your taste buds are MIA and the others only have time to register “food of some sort”.

Tastebuds
Tastebuds

Also you eat at strange times. Struggling out of bed, it is often quite late in the morning before breakfast happens. Since my usual breakfast is pretty bland (oat biscuits and milk) you can imagine what it tastes like… Well pulped cardboard would probably have more flavour.

Lunch time has been straying into the early afternoon. Whatever is for lunch, it is probably quick and easy. Tinned soup, something on toast, or similar. Not that I can taste what it is, of course. I made scrambled eggs today (whisk eggs, pinch of salt, milk if wanted, pepper if wanted) and I had eaten half of it before I realised that I had forgotten the pinch of salt In normal times I would have spotted that in the first mouthful, even though I only use a little.

Scrambled eggs
Scrambled eggs

The really annoying thing, though, over the course of the battle for my body is that my brain functions have been “softened”. I think that’s the best word. Just like a landscape is softened by a veil of rain, my brain feels a little fuzzy, like an out of focus photograph. The sharp edges are still there, though it is more of an effort to utilise them.

Puzzles, for example, are doable, but with more effort than usual. I quite like Sudoku puzzles and can complete them at my usual level, but I’m tired afterwards. Even Solitaire (what else can you do when you can’t go out, when you’ve completed all the Sudoku puzzles available to you) can seem like a pretty daunting proposition.

Sudoku
Sudoku

I was going to mention colour, wasn’t I? Colour leaches from the world much like it does when depression hits. You look at something and the colours are there – you can notice to a block of red in something for instance – but somehow colour doesn’t figure much in the composite image that your eyes report to your, or is dropped as irrelevant by your brain. Something in the visual presentation of your vision system appears to dial down the colours.

It doesn’t go completely monochrome (though deep depression does, occasionally, for me). It’s just that colour seems to lose significance. It’s AS IF everything was grey and white until you actually look specifically at something. Still it is not as unpleasant as those time when depression blasts everything with light, where everything feels metallic, there is a metallic taste in the mouth. Total sensory overload that won’t stop. I call it the “neon world”.

Grey Skies - Belgium
Grey Skies – Belgium

I’m approaching the end of this post, which shows that I must be much improved from how I was before! Yeah! Yeah, the defenders of my internal galaxy! I still have the nose runs and still have the coughs, but the aches have retreated to only the coughing muscles. I think that I’m going to survive. Well, I always knew I would really, but it’s hard to maintain the positiveness when you’ve been coughing for 10 minutes and can’t see the end.

White blood cells
White blood cells