Saturday, September 26, 2015

When all you have is a hammer...

I have been reading more about the art of writing.  In one article, they talked about the need for beta readers, who review in addition to your first draft readers.  Another article talked about getting a plot idea vetted by editors or publishers before you embark on writing a novel.  A third talked about how you revise and revise and revise until it's the best work you can do.

Then it hit me: writing a story is like writing software.

Getting a plot idea vetted: that's a design review.  It's the high-level structure without too much detail except in a few troublesome areas.  It lays out the idea and goal of the work with a little bit of how it will be accomplished.

First draft reviewers: that's the initial code review.  A complete work exists, but it may not look right or it may not be as clean as it could be.  You will probably go back and make substantial changes to the structure of the work, but the basic idea usually doesn't change.  There are often multiple rounds of this as you refine the work.

Beta reviewer: that's the "approvals" code review.  The work exists in a polished form that you believe to be ready for the world.  The review is often done by someone not as familiar with the creation of the work who knows what they're looking for.  They view the work overall and know where it fits into the world.

Thinking of writing in this form makes me much more willing to revise a story.  Previously, I thought of the first draft as something fairly set in stone.  After all, I took a lot of time to create it!

When I think of a story as software, I realize that telling the story is important, but how you tell the story is where the art is.  I wouldn't reject a code review comment just because I really liked a function.  Likewise, changing large parts of a work is a reasonable thing to do in the service of a better told story.

Of course, when all I have experience with is software, on some level, everything looks like software.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The future of smoking guns

I love a good turn of phrase.  I also love the age they imply.  If you say "I'll be there in a jiffy" you give a different impression than if you say "OMW" or "I'll be there in two shakes of a lamb's tail".

I'm fascinated by where phrases like that come from, how they age, and how they die.  Recently, I was describing a problem and a potential solution and said, "it looks promising, but it's no smoking gun".  Then I wondered if guns even smoke any more.  Was that a phrase that came into being when black powder was measured by hand?  Or did guns just smoke more in the early 20th century?

What were the phrases in the middle ages that have been completely lost to history?  Something involving horses or tools that we don't use any more?  I think of the phrase "changed horses in the middle of the stream", which isn't that old, but just isn't as commonly useful as it might have once been.

What about the future?  Just as OMW and other text-isms became common, advances in technology will certainly change language, too.  If you need to get somewhere in a hurry, maybe you'll say, "let's JohnnyCab" for taking a self-driving car, just like we've turned other technology into verbs ("Google it", "let's Uber there").  At a crime scene in the future, maybe cops will say, "it's a good lead, but it's no super-heated fusion coil".

Saturday, September 12, 2015

We don't have a Geiger counter, do we?

I recently came back from a trip to my mom's house.  While I was there, she gave me a mixing bowl that had been my grandmother's.  It's a pale milky green.

When I showed it to my husband, he said, "we don't have a Geiger counter, do we?"

Back in the 1920s, it was popular to mix Uranium oxide with glass to give it a slight green color.  At the time, this was called vaseline glass.  Now we call it Uranium glass.

The color of the glass could have been Uranium glass, so I got my hands on a small, fairly sensitive Geiger counter.  (My coworkers have an amazing array of weird stuff.)

The levels reported were the same as background radiation in the apartment.  I also tested it with a black light, just in case the Geiger counter wasn't sufficiently sensitive.

The bowl turns out not to be Uranium glass but FireKing Jadeite.  That's not as rare as Uranium glass, but it's also not radioactive.  I consider that to be a fair trade off.