Dog Ear
Books as lives (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 18 July 2018 20:34

unny think about work – my team has shifted from being a collection of Indian moms to being a team of millennial boys. And with that comes all sorts of problems. Normally I’d not concern myself with the tribulations of the trophy crowd but I’m a scrummaster – I have to run a team. And I’ve got one little tyke who is particularly troublesome.

You’ll remember from an earlier Dog Ear how I mentioned pulling one of my dad’s old sea stories from his shelf while stuck in a family event with nobody to talk to? Well, I was just getting into the story – the young lieutenant comes aboard a ship and finds morale in the scuppers. Men will only do what is in their direct area of responsibility and they do it sullenly. And this lieutenant thinks that there is always one guy, one little hardcore, who brings morale down. And I’m reading this, nodding, thinking, “True, that.”

And that’s the thing about books. Even in our darkest times, when we are grieving a loss or feeling lonely and depressed, we can find someone sharing our same troubles, who we can identify with and smile when they overcome their adversities. Sure, we usually can’t win against our world, but they can and we can feel good about their success. In my case, I was told that this twirp had gotten “managerial counselling” and would be on “a year-long improvement program”. In my day, it would be called “a warning letter in your file and termination to follow”. And in the 1790s, our lieutenant just told the guy that sure, raising masts might not be in this guy’s “domain” but the heads were, so he could scrub them out until they shined (and it’s hard to make oak shine). So in my real life, I’m listening to “corrective plans” with complete disinterest, but sitting before my open book I’m smiling.

Another book I found a connection to, my recent enjoyment of A Man Called Ove. Yes, I’m cranky, and yes, my life is to be lived lived my way, according to the world I came up in and not the way of coddling and delays and empty promises. And with Ove, I could identify, even when he truly was an asshole.

Thinking back, I always liked Goshawk Squadron, and the in-for-the-kill squadron CO who has to teach his version of millennials (the 1900s variants, I suppose) how to be killers in order to survive. But I can’t put the squadron in the air and dump tin cans for them to weave about and shoot at while avoiding each other. I have to hope for a year-long improvement program.

Oh well. The characters in the novels I read have interesting lives that generally meet with success (unless you are a downer like Ensign Flandry, just holding off the “long night”). But then again, my characters get shot, lose family, undergo hardship, get shipped off to death camps and even see their homeworlds destroyed. So maybe I’ll stick with my comfortable reading chair and let them dodge Zulu spears.


Slate (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 12 July 2018 18:01

aw a curious thing yesterday. I was working on my StoreyMinus CYOA (choose your own adventure) text game. It takes place in the subterranean world beneath London and will be up for walkthroughs (so you can see what it’s like) in a week or two. I’ve talked about Squiffy before and even did a short game about it HERE. Now that I’ve been playing with this application as a hobbyist programmer/writing, I’m ready to go full out on my first full-scale game.

Anyway, I realized as I played that with flashlights and torches and rooms that are lit and ones that are not, it’s a little difficult to keep track of if you are actually in light or not. See, if you are in pitch darkness, you move a lot slower (and that means you’ll face hunger and thirst problems after a shorter number of moves (since each move takes longer to complete, right?)). Since the game’s basic background is a scene-setting black, I decide to make the part over the text a little lighter to indicate that you are under low light (rather than no light) conditions. To do this, I kicked over to a site discussing HTML (don’t ask) to see what colors were available.

For this, they had a color background and a name. And there was a different color for each row. It was pretty distinctive, all sorts of alternating colors, one per line, looking like a rainbow on steroids. But then I saw a double-thick band of gray, an oversized thickness. Looked at the color name. Wait, names? Two names for this:



I looked at this for a bit before I realize that what I was seeing was the spelling from either side of the Atlantic, Gray for the colonials, Grey for the Isles. And this is because both nations spell it differently. The rule here is “A”=American, “E”=English (this is Babelfish serendipity of the highest order). But it makes sense. Most people aren’t going to look up the specific names on the site. They’ll just know they need the basic color (or colour) name. And this would cause problems in one country or the other, depending on who is chosen to be “right”. So, interestingly, they decided to officially use both names so coders on either side of the heaving Atlantic would be able to find their hue.

Just interesting, how spelling changes across time and location.


Cold Dead Hands (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 04 July 2018 19:47

really wasn’t into the family gathering on the 4th – I’d have rather stayed home and done my own things. But family gatherings are like gravity wells; hard to escape. We drove out to the beach and went on in.

My siblings were tech-talking, swapping aps and gesturing to tiny videos on tiny screens. As far is inclusiveness goes, it’s like those times I walk into a workplace galley and the Indians huddling there switch from English to Hindi. So I’m not sure what to say and I foolishly didn’t bring a book.

But dad’s shelf is in the hall, and dad’s books are in its ranks.  There were a lot of nautical historical fictions, Hormblower and Aubry and the like. And there on the bottom, a single book all on its own, not part of any evident series (though the author wishes it were so). And as I pulled it out, I realize that my dad might have been the last to touch it. This was his book, and I know what goes into the thought on adding a novel to always limited shelf-space – the book earned its way in.

Settled down on the couch and started to read, ignoring the background noises.

A hard gale blew off the Atlantic at dusk, west by south, raising a steep, breaking sea. All through the first watch pale crests surged out of the darkness, lifted in ghostly rumblings, then boomed against the forward quarter, staggering the ship.

And thus I was transported to a beleaguered short-handed ship fighting for its life in the wet dark. There is death about, and worse. And it took me into my own place, not with my siblings but with my father. I just enjoyed my time with him. Happily, mom let me borrow it so I can finish it at my leisure (still have a huge Stephenson to knock off).

Books do that. They are our companions when none are about.


p.s. I’m going to catch shit for writing this.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 July 2018 21:19
The Good, the Bad and the Chekhov (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 27 June 2018 22:03

or reasons mentioned HERE, every year like clockwork I watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. As a Western placed in the Civil War, it is as sprawling and vast as a huge budget can make it. But when I was watching the heroes get past their final object, two armies poised over an idiotic bridge, I began to wonder.

In a nutshell, the Good and the Ugly (reunited after a series of parched misunderstandings) are bootstriding their way towards their final goal, a military graveyard (poetically named the Sad Hill Cemetery) and bumble into a Union Army. They are facing off against the Confederacy over a long rickety bridge which both sides seek to secure. Every day, there is clockwork bloodbath. The Union commander curses the bridge, wishing he could blow it up. Finally, Blondie and Tuco sneak down in the bloody confusion following one bloodbath, lay charges under the bridge and blow it sky-high (a magnificent shot). The bridge is gone, the armies shoot at each other for a while then decamp to fight elsewhere.

As a viewer winding this thing up at 2am, I rather wondered about this scene – everything else in the movie focuses on the strategies and interactions of the three protagonists. This whole side-adventure makes no sense. They arrive, they interact with a strange but resolvable situation and depart without gain, loss, or point. It seemed odd.

But then I remembered Chekhov's gun.

Chekhov's gun is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed; elements should not appear to make "false promises" by never coming into play.

It loosely refers to a play where, if a gun is placed on a mantle in act one, it had better be used by act three. Everything strange and interesting in a story requires a point. You can’t write about a hardboiled detective and then describe him grocery shopping (unless he sees something that clicks in his brain about the current case). Pointless side trips and meaningless actions are out.

So why this side story? Then I realized that this entire movie was set in the Civil War. We’d seen troops marching. We’d been inside a Yankee prison camp. We’d suffered indirect bombardment. And yet, other than some guys in blue and some in gray (and some, hilariously, in gray-dusty blue) we had no direct involvement with the Civil War itself. So the director decided that he had to put us into a battle, a crazy ranging battle with thousands of men, shooting, screaming, bleeding, and top it off with a massive detonation of something, the brilliant physical manifestation of resolution, to satisfy us. He could not have placed the Civil War, with all its struggles, on the mantelpiece and not use it.

It was, quite possibly, the most amazingly vast example of Chekhov’s Gun I’ve ever witnessed.

If you’ve never seen this flick, you gotta watch it, if only as an exercise in storytelling.


p.s. Interesting factoid – with the bridge wired up by the Spanish Army (who were also suited up as background actors for the sprawling battle), a fumble on the set walkie talkies resulted in the bridge being blown up (fully and completely) with the cameras not rolling. There were screamings and firings, but then the level-headed Spanish Commander calmed everyone down, had his men rebuild the set in record time, and blew it up a second time, all for your enjoyment.


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