Posted tagged ‘Technology’

I absolutely don’t encourage you to try this at home unless you want to electrocute, burn, or harm yourself in some other novel way…

March 21, 2010

….yet this is still pretty cool! I don’t endorse smoking or pyromania though if that’s your thing then have it but this was pretty creative.

Now, for something far less dangerous and a bit more retro, here’s a laser phaser! Beam me up Scotty!


The Creative Writing Process: Part 3

March 20, 2010

Wow. I apologize for the delay in posting. The past week has been all about catching up with things I should have been doing over spring break. Oh the life of a college student but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. In fact, with the end of my senior year looming, I find myself wishing my under graduate career would just go on indefinitely. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that and we all find ourselves having to move on to the next phase. But enough of my personal musings and let’s get down to some writing!

So, you’ve come up with an idea that you want to expand on. You think it’s grand and you want to turn your vision into something that people will talk about and other writers will turn to years down the line. There’s just one problem: you need to start somewhere. How? We’re talking about a major undertaking and you haven’t a single word on the page. What I did to start out was to put it together like a puzzle. You can do this in your head but the problem is you will forget things. This may be a good thing sometimes. A little chaos is necessary for creativity but if you have a great idea or have plans for a plot twist you just know will wow your readers and you forget it, you will be kicking yourself for a long time. So what can you do to get your ideas down without actually writing out the story?

There are two very useful programs available that can help you trace out the possible routes your story can go down. The first is a program called FreeMind. FreeMind uses a wire diagram setup that allows you to create nodes from which other nodes can be attached and branch off. Want to brain storm a complex series of double-crossings and deceit? Make a “parent node” with lots of little baby nodes that will represent the literal web you are creating with the exploits of your characters. The same can be done for plotting and it will definitely help you keep it all straight. It’s a versatile system with a fairly small learning curve though you will have to get used to it. The second program requires far less practice time.

yWriter, now in its fifth version, can be used after you’ve completed your graph of the plot. What it does is provide a small but useful suite of functions that allow you to create folders for character biographies, setting descriptions, and finally, a robust system that breaks your novel up into chapters, allowing you to concentrate on the dynamics of character, setting, conflict, props, and other important aspects that contribute to a chapter functioning.

I used both programs in the planning stage of writing a novel but neither of them can really write your novel. Instead, you’ve got to pull the ideas together into something coherent and these programs can help with the organizing procedure. So where do you start? At the beginning is what I’ve heard works best. How do you know what that is and what’s worse, how do embark on this adventure? When I started my novel, I felt like I was about to jump off a ledge. It was a strange, out of control feeling, like if I started, I wouldn’t be able to change course. Once you’re falling, the only thing that will stop you is the ground. But that’s not true. You are in control at all times which is why you should start by thinking, “Alright, I have an idea for my story. This is a test run of sorts, a first draft of a first draft. A pilot episode of a book.” Test out a first chapter or two.

The two big questions you must ask to test the beginning of your chapter are: “If I picked this up in the book store, would I continue reading?” and “If I start here, will I be able to get where I want to go?” If the answer to either question is “no,” then you must switch things up. “But I thought my work with those programs would have fixed this!” you might be saying. All I’m saying is that even after I did all that work, I still discovered that when I went to write the novel, the ideas proved less secure than I had thought which meant that I had to modify them. I no longer have the first draft but if you looked at that then at the current and, I think for now, final draft, of the first chapter, you would think you were reading totally different books. This is okay and you should never be afraid of changing your ideas if you discover they are going to limit you and prevent you from telling the story you want to tell. Still, where do you begin in your story?

For my novel, I begin in media res which means, “in the middle of things.” In many stories, you will have to do this if you wish to avoid four chapters of pure exposition. This will force you to consider how you will get your reader to follow along with the narrative since they will be dropped into a world that is going full tilt. The up-side to this is that there is no down-time. The action or at least the intrigue begins at page one with later chapters providing the much-needed, and necessary, moments to pause and build your characters. The in media res method will give you the opportunity to introduce your problem or conflict that will be the center that your characters will circle around and it may introduce one of your major characters as well. You could begin with a description of the scenery if you wish and if you think that it will be important to adding atmosphere or revealing some important detail of the world. However, do not wait too long to introduce some human element, even if you use the method of a false protagonist in which the first character we meet is not actually our protagonist and may even be the antagonist. The fun for the reader will be the surprise that comes from the switch to the protagonist or main character’s narrative. Whatever the case, do not make the reader wait too long to encounter a human they can identify with. People want and need to have a person to ground them, to make a new and unfamiliar world you are introducing them to a little more recognizable and easy to follow. Whatever you do, don’t start off pummeling your readers with back story of the world or character. Readers don’t want a history lesson or a case study. They want a story about characters living and operating in the world you are creating then and there. So now we know that, where and when can we begin?

Start your book where your conflict starts. This is the most efficient method I know. What is the first encounter or first action that draws your character into the main plot of your story? That is where your story begins. In an action oriented book, what is it that the protagonist does or has done to her/him that brings the character into the main web of the story? Is it a plot to steal valuable secret from a science lab? Maybe your character is a con man who manages to con the people behind the theft into letting him in on the robbery and he steals the info for himself. In this story, you might start right at the heist detailing the run then surprise your audience with the character running off with the info. Why not start when he joins the group? The group stealing from the research team hired the con man, yes, but the actions of the thieves only start to affect him when they go after him. All the rest is exposition you can fill in as the story progresses.

That’s about all I can say for actually beginning your novel. Hopefully this was helpful in making that first big leap into the story. For the next time, I’ll see what pops into my head. Possibly I’ll talk about how to introduce background information and maybe I’ll talk about writing style though that might have to be a separate subject all its own. Until then, good luck starting your novel!

The best part of waking up is coffee in your car… What has science done?

March 11, 2010

I love it when science gives us something to smile about. It’s not all just dystopian futures and killer robots but sometimes it’s cars powered by espresso. The Volkswagen Scirocco is powered by coffee grounds that go through a fairly complex processing system that derives energy from them to power the car. While I don’t suspect that you should look forward to a coffee bean powered car, I still think it’s pretty great to see the ingenuity it took to make this slurping speedster. Another example of how machines and humans are becoming more and more alike: we both need that pick me up first thing in the morning.

The new Tron Legacy trailer. I need a neon suit!

March 10, 2010

I love Tron. Its color scheme, its imaginative portrayal of the life inside a computer, and its gladiator games! Now, we finally get a new trailer that shows more than the VFX test shown at 2009 ComiCon. All I have to say is… well, I’d have to pick my jaw up off the floor to actually verbalize and even then I don’t know if I could put my racing thoughts into words. Tron is back and in a big way though I have to admit that I am a bit disappointed with the costuming. The original code costume design glowed brilliantly but these have gone for a sleeker, black motorcycle gear with running streaks of neon reminiscent of circuitry. The new light bikes open up a fifty gallon drum of ass whoopage and dumps it all over us. What I worry about is the story and whether Disney will muck up all the works. What I am not worried about is the music. When it kicks in you will feel the force of a dozen teravolts of cool slam your eardrums. Though what else could you expect when Daft Punk is doing to music for the movie? Well, I’ll keep my hopes up and follow this film as it progresses and I’ll have plenty of time to do that since the film comes out in December.

It's so darn bright!

The digital world has digital cows?
It’s certainly stricking.

Silly and sleek technology on display in Germany’s CeBit convention.

March 4, 2010

That's what I call a fashion statement

At the CeBit technology convention, there was plenty of new tech on display to get any gear-head’s heart racing. There was an assortment of innovative new technology that will be hitting the market and will both be useful tools and useful for making some mischief. On the useful side of things is a robotic tutor who will teach you how to speak Chinese (it wasn’t specified whether it was Cantonese or Mandarin). Her/its name is Amy and she comes equipped with over 400,00 sentences and the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in her head. Using AI and voice recognition she can communicate with you in real-time. A screen serves as her face or it seems she can project her avatar on a wall as well. Another interesting gizmo is the eye tracking computer. One can control a computer just by the movement of his/her eyes. A proposed use given in the article is to allow business people to know what products a customer looks at first.  However, I think this could also be used with people suffering from neurological problems such as stroke and brain damage to train their brain to keep their eyes level or focused on a certain object, a problem people will sometimes suffer after these incidents.

Not all the devices on display were so serious. A little gadget called the Tunebug Vibe can turn any surface into a stereo by sending vibrations through it, making it create sound. Another fun thing was a team of four robots who could play football (i.e. soccer). Another neat thing to program a smile to your face was a remote control that can turn off any television in Europe. This was just a sample of the tech on display. Some extra bits of info and lots of pictures can be found through the link.

I honestly wish I could have been there. The great thing a show like this does is to demonstrate that technology can be as fun as it is useful. The AI in the Amy system is really exciting as it shows progress in the way we can interact with intelligent machines. Voice recognition is still a big problem since there are so many parts of language that need to be understood for the meaning of something to be ascertained. Syntax, semantics, the sound and rhythm of the voice are all things that must be picked up on. But this certainly shows we’re making strides in the right direction. Still, technology can just be fun and some of the devices on display have a wonderful, childlike sense of fun about them. A lot of technology can seem far removed from us, locked away in special labs, or threatening us with import impinging on our lives. This expo, and expos like it, give us a chance to see that technological progress can be a boon for us and can add some novel fun to our lives.

Science fiction today, science tomorrow and I’m not even through the first chapter.

March 2, 2010

One of the problems that comes with writing science fiction is that science is moving so quickly. Come up with an idea you think is ahead of the curve and maybe a month or so later you are likely to hear about developments in or relating to that idea. By the time you get your novel out, the technology you thought was so cool and sleek is old news. Every sector of technology is shooting ahead at blinding speed. So what can science fiction writers do to stay ahead or is there any point?

Part of the problem relates back to the issue of creativity. How can one be creative when everything has been done? Synthesis proved to be the answer as far. One can combine parts of existing things to make something new. But does the same apply for coming up with a convincing sci-fi world? Let’s look at the world of computers and cybernetics. Human augmentation, making us faster, stronger, and smarter, depends on robotics, bio-electrics, and neuroscience. All these things have gotten to the point where there are now working prototypes of a system that augments human strength by reading the user’s nerve impulses and telling the exoskeleton to move in the way the person wants. The idea of preserving memories in an external device is also coming closer as neuroscientists learn about how the brain stores memory and the way the brain communicates with itself.  So, these once fictional devices that that would make a human being more human than human are now in the process of being realized as science plunges forward. Even with combining different existing things together, can we ever get ahead of this tidal wave of science? Well, yes and no. Yes, we can stay ahead by imagining what the world would look like with new or developing technologies in full swing. What would happen if every surface could be used as a touch screen? What if we all had augmentation? Part of what sci-fie does is look at not only the technology but our interaction with it as it influences the way society functions. While technology may surpass us, even while we’re in the writing process, there is still the opportunity to examine what would happen once the technology is released into he world. There’s a second option available as well that fairly insures that the science remains fiction and tantalizing for a long time to come.

Stories set in the far future, with technologies that we could only dream about, may not come to be for years. The best part is that one could simply take technologies that exist now and ramp them up the the nth degree. In this way, one maintains the fictional element for much longer though, in this day and age, even that is no guarantee that you might read an article about one of your ideas that will make it seem like you simply copied the idea. The point is that the stories that survive are those that are timeless and having dated technology can either be seen as a benefit, like in Neuromancer which we now look at as a major contribution to our idea of the net, or it can make it seem quaint. A far future story allows one to create a world of technology that will remain elusive for much longer. The final part of the puzzle is how you use it.

The technology being developed can be used in many ways and have many implications. Part of what will keep your story fresh for a long time is the way it addresses social and human issues. People want characters, people they can identify with or at least admire. People are also interested in their social environment and how they relate to it. While society is always changing, always picking up new traits and developing new cultural practices, we can look at cultures around the world and learn how they developed and borrow from them. In the end, characters have to interact with the society in which they live which leads to things we can all identify with or understand. Some characters may want to destroy society. Maybe another wants to fit in. Maybe another is looking to defend society. There are a myriad ways we interact with the social world that, no matter when a book is read, we can understand. These human elements in the end may make the story stick around in people’s minds. Of course, that shouldn’t prevent you from trying to create a world that people will dream about or tremble over for years to come.

Wecome to the human network. Literally.

March 1, 2010

You're never alone with your little chip buddy around.

My recent post on the advanced, ahem, “partner simulator” Roxxxy asked the question of how we can be replaced or replicated by a robot. We’re all just a little curious about robots that could blend the lines between human and machine, let’s face it, but what about mechanizing a human being. This doesn’t need to be like a total systems overhaul, not anymore. Do you carry a Blackberry? How about an iTouch or iPhone? What about the new Droid by Google? If you have one of these you are already taking a step in the direction of mechanization or at least integration since you are carrying around a portal to the world of the net. However, let’s take one step further and say you get permanently connected with a microchip under your skin. According to a new poll, one fourth of Germans said they would not mind as long as it provided some kind of benefit.

I think  that human augmentation is a really exciting idea. Imagine swiping your hand and something being charged to your card or having a rescue team come straight to you in an emergency. Furthermore, imagine being kidnapped and being able to have the police find you before you come to any serious harm. It could even theoretically be used for people with diseases in order to monitor their health. There are a myriad of uses that this could have, including some that aren’t so positive such as having governments and businesses monitor where you are and such. The second someone puts a device they can access inside you, your liberties will take a hit. So what’s better? Do we take the potential benefits and accept there may be some drawbacks or is this getting to be a bit too much for some? Could there maybe be a middle ground?