May. 7th, 2017 03:59 pm
plonq: (Please Sir May I have Some More)
The basement file server has been driving me to drink lately. It was rock solid when I was running it under Windows 7, but when I upgraded it to 10 (to try and address some network issues between it and the upstairs machines), it became unreliable. The networking is rock solid now, but the basement machine has issues.

It would run for about a week at a time before locking up and requiring a power cycle. I did some clean-up and repair, and got it to the stage where it could go for about two weeks at a time, but unless it was restarted in that time, it would eventually die again.

One of the last fixes I did was to set up a reboot script to restart the machine every Sunday morning. Yesterday the machine was working fine, and this morning I had to trek down to the basement to restart it. When I checked the logs, I saw that it had not restarted this morning like it was supposed to. I checked the schedule I had set up, and I caught my mistake there - I had not given it sufficient permissions to run when nobody is logged into the machine. I changed the settings, and I'll look in on it again next Sunday.

The issue seems to be one of resource exhaustion. A small handful of services are slowly chewing up the system resources until it does not have enough left to create a login session. I did a bit more Googling this morning, and I discovered that the swUSB process I had assumed was a Windows process is actually part of the drivers for the RealTEK LAN device I'd had hooked up to the machine when we first set it up. I was using that device until sometime after the swap to Windows 10, and I am thinking its drivers did not like the update.

I replaced it with a better ASUS device awhile back, but I guess I neglected to uninstall the RealTEK drivers. A couple of sources I read mentioned that their driver had a serious memory leak, and since it is one of the culprits that always comes up when the system runs out of resources, it was an easy hit.
Resource Exhaustion

Another process that keeps coming up in the list of resource-hogs is SMSvcHost.exe. It is a legitimate service (I checked to make sure it hadn't been replaced by a Trojan), but when I poked around at what it does, it did not seem especially critical. I have disabled the service for now to see what kind of an impact that has, but so far I have not noticed any difference. If I start seeing errors and warnings in the system logs about it, I'll turn it back on.

On a completely unrelated note, while I was puttering around the house this morning, I got to mulling on old friends I had in the Lion King fandom community back in the day, and it occurred to me that I have lost touch with all but a few of them. Some of them were very talented writers, and we would often bounce our stories off each other for comments and critique. One writer was a giant in the community, whose fan fictions spawned a whole genre of fan fictions of their own. When I say "he", it was actually a collaborative team. This one writer did most of the work, but he often paired up with others in the fandom to produce the stories.

I was never a huge fan of his work, but I was also not his target audience. They were very popular with the 13-21 age group, in part because each of his stories was as much an emotional roller-coaster as it was a tale. While I admired his work, and never really begrudged him his popularity... well, ok. Maybe a bit, but who isn't a bit jealous of the popular kids now and then? Anyway, I always felt that his writing was top quality, but I also found it to be somewhat manipulative. He was a master of wresting emotion out of his readers.

Anyway, he started on a fairly ambitious writing project with a mutual friend, and as he went, he often sent me chapters to review. For some reason he respected my opinion. For the most part I did not have much feedback, other than pointing out areas where the prose became a bit too purple, or minor issues like confused attributions and the like.

Then there was the chapter.

He sent me several chapters to read through, and I dutifully read through them, making minor notes, suggesting small revisions, and rolling my eyes at obvious emotional tugs here and there. Then I got to the chapter where he excruciatingly killed off one of the main characters in a very long, emotional orgy of sadness. I could tell that he had poured a lot into this chapter, because it really stood out from the others he had written. He had obviously given it a lot of thought. It looked like the chapter he had been waiting to write.

The problem was that it did not fit. It seemed to have no place in the story other than to make the readers sad. Other than that character falling out of the story from that point forward, nothing changed. It did not inspire any action on any of the others in the story, nor did it even affect the overall plot. Everybody else in the story continued on as if nothing had happened, other than expressing their sadness that the character's passing once or twice in the next couple of chapters.

When I gave him feedback, I fear that I may have been a bit too ruthless. I told him that the chapter was wonderfully written, but that it was just an interlude of pointless pathos. I asked him to explain its purpose in the story, and pointed out that if the chapter did not exist, the story would not actually change at all. He offered up some justifications for the chapter, and I pulled out the passive-aggressive card and said, "Well, it's your story; include or exclude it as you choose. You asked for my opinion, and I gave it."

In the end, he removed the chapter, but I think it hurt him to do it. I do feel a bit bad about that in retrospect, since it didn't really hurt anything by being in there, and I can't help thinking that I overstepped a bit by calling him on it. He stopped sending me stories for feedback after that. I guess I can't really blame him.
plonq: (Omgwtf)
It is possible that I have spoken of this in the past, but [personal profile] atara has accused me of repeating myself on more than one occasion, so if this is a repeat, then know that it comes naturally to me.

Any time I get sucked into a community, I invariably get sucked into the writing side of the community. At various points over the years I have written stories based on Dungeons and Dragons, Star Trek, The Lion King, Furry, and My Little Pony. Since I consider myself to be a moderately better-than-average writer, I will sometimes roll up my sleeves and jump in to help other writers who are still learning the craft. This can take the form of giving helpful critique, all the way to actually doing rudimentary editing for somebody if they are especially receptive to help, and are taking the assistance to heart.

I have my biases, but I try to avoid steering people toward the way that I would write something, and just stick to steering them away from stylistic pitfalls and rookie mistakes.

One mistake that is surprisingly common among beginning writers is changing tense during the story. Their narration swings between past and present tense without it being relevant to the story. Most writers seem to be surprised when I point it out to them, often claiming that I was the first to notice it. How could one not notice? Another common mistake is switching speakers in mid-paragraph, often without changing attribution. Maybe the rules have changed since I was taught, but I learned that any time the speaker changed, you started a new paragraph. One of the benefits of this is that even if you did not attribute the new speaker, the paragraph break gives a clue that it may have changed. Finally, there are writers who switch the narrative voice throughout the story. They will jump from first person to third and back for no reason other than that they forgot which voice they were using between writing sessions.

Does nobody ever go back and re-read their own work?

Stylistic pitfalls are a messier subject, because that starts to tread into the territory of, "This is just how I write." While there is nothing technically wrong with some of the styles, I have noticed that they are often popular with novice writers. I recognize some of them from my early writing, and I owe a debt to a friend who helped break me of some of the habits.

One that I see often is staccato writing. The author uses really short sentences. The sentences are all grammatically correct. They are all strung together into a story. The story will have a character. He walks to the table. He picks up a book. He reads the book. He puts it back. He walks to the door. He opens the door. He goes outside.

I think you can probably see the problem. The story never gets a chance to develop much of a flow, and it becomes fatiguing to read.

Another style that I see fairly regularly is what I call the witness testimony style of writing. This happened, and then that happened, and then they went over there, and then that happened, and then he said this, and then he did that, and then... I started counting the uses of "then" in one story, and hit fifteen by the end of the second paragraph. As with my first example, it is not technically wrong, but it flows badly, and is very dry to read.

Two more styles that I often see with beginning writers are where every line is a combination of dialogue and action. Usually the story alternates between each of the characters in the scene, with each one taking a turn to say something, and then do something. The other style is what I call the Superman narrative. Virtually the whole story is told through narration by the characters. It's a style better suited to old radio plays than a written story.

"Why are you walking over to that table and grabbing the gun?" said the professor.
"I plan to shoot you, of course. See? Look at how I am pointing it at you and pulling back the hammer," said the mobster.
"Are you mad? Can't you see that I am just sitting here at my desk writing down formulas and smoking a cigar? Clearly I post no threat to you," said the professor.
"And now you pose even less of a threat as I have unloaded three bullets into you," said the mobster.

Finally, there are the writers who combine many of the above with a need to find their own voice by playing with conventional style.

"I am going to write my entire story in future perfect tense!"

The problem with picking a weird tense (even present), is that writing in past tense just comes naturally, and the writers invariably slip in and out of past tense as they are writing. My advice to them is usually to try and master the easy stuff before they start trying to stretch their skills.

I think the worst are the ones who decide they are going to write in second person. I don't know why anybody would write in second person other than when they are writing an instruction manual, or a "build your own adventure" story. Yet in my experience in some writing circles, this is a strangely popular thing among younger writers, and goes over remarkably well with some of the younger readers. I do not find second-person stories to be the least bit immersive, and in fact they often come across to me as slightly insulting. I don't appreciate a story that tries to tell me what I am doing, or thinking, or feeling.

My response to the author boils down to, "You seem to think you know me, but you don't. Please stop writing with the misguided conceit that you do."

A lovely day to get out in #winnipeg. #kildonanpark was busy.
plonq: (Somewhat Pleased Mood)
I keep falling in and out of the habit of writing. This week I fell back into it again thanks to a writing contest that I decided to join on a whim. The contest is being sponsored by a subreddit where the goal is to help starting writers, and the prize is to have your story illustrated by the artists in a subreddit whose goal is to assist starting artists.

At first I felt guilty about writing something to compete against starting writers, but the other two entries I have seen so far are pretty darned good, so I don't think this is going to be a cakewalk. My subject matter is also not something that typically resonates with the fans, to wit, I tried to write something that flows more like an actual episode; no sex, no humans, no violence.

I decided to stay true to myself, even if it hurts my chances in the contest. I guess that makes me one of those narcissistic artistic types I used to make fun of before I became one.

Anyway, the contest rules only said that it had to be short (<20,000 words), complete, original, and finished before the contest deadline (which is Saturday). They did not say that it could not be shared in advance, so I'm sharing it here.

The story is called Majija, which I had written down because I would swear that I'd found a reference to it as an African storm spirit, but I can find no such reference now. Pesky little spirits. I like the name though, so I am sticking with it regardless.

Since I have a couple of days before the contest deadline, I'd love any feedback or criticism anyone feels like offering here (besides "Ponies - ick!").

In case you missed the link above, you can find the story here.
plonq: (Grammar Nazi)
Against my better judgement I've made a point of reading a few fan stories from one of the fandoms that I follow (but which I shall not name here because I'm sure that many of you are sick of hearing about it).

When I say that I read these stories, it would be more accurate to say that I read the first bit, then skimmed the rest to see if it was following the predictable path for these things (pick any 3):

1. Insert self into story as a Mary Sue character.
2. Write the canon characters as exaggerated caricatures of themselves or...
3. ...give them no real personality at all because they are just foils for your Mary Sue.
4. Rules are for egg heads. Spelling, grammar and story structure are for the weak.
5. Pathos! Whether it advances, or even fits the story never miss the chance to try and squeeze out some manly tears.
6. Dark. It has to be dark. Somebody needs to be depressed, hooked on heroin, and selling him/herself into prostitution in the first chapter.

Sadly, there are some really bad writers out there who don't know that they are bad. There are too many readers who are either very indiscriminating, or are so desperate for genre-specific stories they will heap praise on anything just to keep the writers producing.

I read and skimmed one yesterday that was, on a technical front at least, much better than most. It was a typical teen-pathos story line (pretty character gets badly burnt in a tragic fire and learns about empathy), but it followed most of the accepted rules for spelling, grammar and style. I read the first couple of pages and found it hard going though. I pondered on why that might be, because the writing was technically sound, and - tear-jerking aside - the story itself was not the worst I have encountered.

As I began to skim the story, the answer became clearer. There is more to telling a story than having an idea and being able to produce good, technical writing. This person knew how to write, but he did not know how to tell a story. His tale read like an ordered list of events akin to a witness's testimonial, rather than the spinning of a story. It followed a choppy flow that went something like this:

First this person said something, which triggered an event. Then that person said something, which triggered another event.

I scrolled to the end of the story (or as much of the story as he had written by that point) and the comments section below as filled with lots of kudos and circle-jerking by other writers on the site. As I read some of the comments, the rather sad realization came to me that this writer - who actually showed decent potential - would probably never improve his craft because others had convinced him that he was a good writer.

The author had written a short blog post along with his story, where he outlined how he and some others on the site were putting together a tutorial on how to be a good writer. I admit that I did a spit-take when I read that. It would be like me writing a tutorial on how to become a good musician because I can hit may of the right notes on a kazoo. On the other hand his writing was a whole order better than most of the fan stories I have read, so I guess he has a few good things to teach.

The self-affirming praise-fest was the most depressing part for me though, because this is not the only site on which I have seen this kind of behaviour. Sometimes it feels like nobody has any interest in helping their fellow writer to improve. The implicit message on these sites is I'll stroke your ego if you stroke mine.

I may not have sounded terribly grateful at the time, but I want to thank all of you who have savaged my writing over the years.
plonq: (Creative mood)
The first time or two that we came to this convention, we sat in on the morning Pawpet show. There were a few amusing skits, but the bulk of it seemed to consist of hand puppets lip-synching to canned songs. Sometimes the puppeteer would act out parts of the song, but often there was little more than just a bobbing puppet with a mouth moving in time to the lyrics. While I don't want to take anything away from the skill involved in synching that well, at the same time, there is a very strong sense of "seen that" by the time you get to the fourth or fifth number in the show.

The tilting point for us came at the end of a particularly long song, where somebody was obviously just hunched behind the stage drinking coffee while they flapped their other hand - inside a puppet - in time with one of the (subjectively) longest songs ever recorded. When it was done, we quietly ducked out the back door, never to return.

On our way to the sponsors' brunch this morning we passed the pawpet room, and the whole memory came flooding back to me like it had happened yesterday. I had promised myself that I was going to write something before the con was over, and suddenly I had a germ of an idea. I have no experience at writing scripts, but it was my thinking that even if my script sucks, it's still a far cry better than lip-synching to old songs. Without further ado, I am please to present...

The Pawpet Skit That You Will Never See Performed )
plonq: (Creative mood)
I didn't win, but I got honorable mention. Apparently my entries for the contest were too "good" to be considered "bad". I choose to take that as a compliment. Congratulations to [ profile] dronon on taking second place.

Anyway, I believe that I threatened earlier to post my one-liners here if they returned my hard copy, and they did, so here they are.

Here is the one that gained me "honorable mention".

The Siamese goddess flowed into my dingy office like a furry beam of catnip and lavender-scented sunlight, where she poured her lithe, silky form into the unworthy naugahyde swivel-chair, crossed her legs enticingly, tipped back the brim of her broad sun hat with a perfectly-manicured claw and said, "I thought the little one-eyed Moroccan hamster seer was speaking metaphorically when he warned that trans-dimensional gerbil ninjas were coming to abduct my brother, but now he's gone, and the seer has fled, and I desperately need your help to find that small medium at large!"

My second entry:

Freddy the furry ferret philanthropist and part-time bee keeper was widely recognized around the town for his broad, flamboyant hats, colourful lederhosen, spicy hungarian meatballs and his propensity for stripping down to his bare fur and dancing in the fountain at the town square, tapping a frantic beat with his wooden peg-leg while his prosthetic tail swung in time - which is exactly what he would have been doing now if he had not mysteriously vanished on his way to the bakery two nights back like the last bath towel in a shared room at a furry convention whose existence is universally acknowledged, but whose present location is obscured behind an opaque veil of evasion, misdirection, denial and innuendo.


Oct. 30th, 2005 11:48 am
plonq: (Creative mood)
Everyone has heard of NanNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and as much as I find the idea intriguing, I lack the discipline to make a serious effort at writing a 50,000 word piece in a month (let alone a year).

Fortunately somebody has started a writing exercise for the rest of us.  Not only does NaDruWriNi (National Drunken Writing Night) require but a single night of commitment, it also gives me an excuse to overindulge in spirits for a good cause.


I can't guess what the results will be - I've done some of my best writing while drunk - but I'll definitely be participating in this exercise.
plonq: (Creative mood)
My muse has been hounding me lately to write this little story.  I started rather late this evening so I only got a couple of pages done.  Here's a little snippet from partway in.  I promise that I'll post the whole thing if I ever manage to finish this story.

"Gah!" responded Plonq, jumping six inches out of his chair and whirling around in one motion.  If the otter was nonplussed by the feline's response, he showed no indication.  "I've asked you REPEATEDLY not to sneak up on me like that when I'm plugged into the computer," the cat growled.  He glowered at the offending otter and, after a couple of attempts, managed to snag his own thrashing tail and carefully brushed the puffed fur down flat again.

"I didn't sneak up on anyone," said Giblet defensively.  "I even knocked... sort of."  He stepped past the feline, turned, and balanced himself gingerly on the edge of the desk with one buttock.  "Anyway, now that I have your attention, I think we need to talk about something important."

"Is it about the pair of my underwear that was stuck to the wall?" asked the snow leopard.  He had apparently just noticed that in his startled state he had become intricately entangled with his headphone cord.  He tugged on a length of it experimentally to determine where it led.

"It's not about the underwear on the wall," said Giblet.  "It's water under the bridge as far as I'm concerned."  He coughed to suppress a snicker over the snow leopard's predicament.  The feline was obviously still a bit rankled, and the otter decided that it probably wouldn't do to stir him up any further.

"Is it about the fact that YOU were the last one to be wearing them before they wound up stuck to the wall?"  An undertone of snarl in the cat's voice warned Giblet that the other did not consider the matter to be "water under the bridge".  Apparently the emotional wounds from the incident had not been licked clean of infection yet.  Perhaps an hour wasn't long enough for the healing process to run its course.  The otter mentally added fish to the dinner menu for a couple more days later in the week.  The snow leopard continued to mutter darkly under his breath about underwear, walls, and the laws of physics, but Giblet could only make out a few key words.

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