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The Ninja Pencil

Jan. 6th, 2013

02:11 pm - Please Stop Proclaiming to be “Telling it like it is"

One thing that really sets my teeth on edge is when individuals stick their chin in the air and declare that “people hate me, because I tell it like it is. They hate the truth and I speak the truth. They don’t wanna hear the truth, so because I speak it, they hate me.”

If you are someone in the habit of doing this, please put yourself on pause for a moment and listen.

Nobody hates you for “telling it like it is”. They hate you because you tell it like it is impolitely. You do it belligerently, aggressively, you do it without considering the feelings of the people to whom you are speaking, and you do it with the assumption that nobody but you cares how it is, whatever the “it” may be. Everyone is interested in clearing things up and getting to the bottom of problems, and so to proclaim that you are the only one with an interest in improvement is extremely offensive. Nobody hates the truth – they only hate rude assholes, who cannot communicate like civilized adults. They don’t hate the things you are saying, they hate the way you are saying these things, because the way you say these things lacks respect for the people with whom you are trying to communicate.

In all probability, you feel the need for this belligerent approach because you are accustomed to not being heard, especially when you have tried politeness several times, and this did not work. Nobody listened. This is frustrating, and stirs up anger. This frustration and anger causes you to drop the pleasantries, increase the volume and aggression in your inflection, and yell out at inappropriate times what you have been trying to say all along. Suddenly the room goes quiet, and mission accomplished – you have now been heard.

But the things you were saying were not actually heard at all. All that was heard was your bark, your implied threat, your aggression and your instability. People heard your volume; you made them jump. They heard your anger, which to them came out of nowhere; this makes you seem irrational and unpredictable in their eyes. They heard you throw a tantrum, and they suddenly feel less comfortable being around you, to the point where you stop getting invited to meetings because you tend to conduct yourself like an asshole.

Here is the point where you draw the conclusion that people hate you because you just speak the truth and tell it like it is. You are reaching the wrong conclusion, and in doing so, decreasing the likelihood that people will want to listen in the future.

There is a polite way to tell it like it is and be heard, which is delivered respectfully, in a non-threatening or aggressive manner, at appropriate times, when it is your turn to speak, and with relevant, logical background information to support the reasons they should pay attention.
Try this approach, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

CC

Dec. 2nd, 2012

08:24 am - Bringing Computers, Puzzle-Solvers and Wizards together

Something I’ve been pondering lately is how our species love puzzles of all kinds, (from crosswords to Sudoku, Connect 4, jigsaws, chess, cryptograms, you name it.) But so many of the general populous of puzzle solvers are terrified or oblivious to the fact that learning to write computer programs comes from the exact same place & passion. If you hunger for mental challenges, putting pieces together, figuring your way through a maze or connecting dots for fun, then you could apply this pastime & hunger to something that will have so much leverage in your life, it’s phenomenal. Learning how computers work, and then how to expand this understanding to make them do more, was by far the most powerful thing I ever directed my hunger towards. I went from being terrified of touching Excel (because it did things I didn’t understand) to learning how to get under the hood, break down the walls and limits and make that one program do virtually whatever I wanted it to do. But getting there was just another puzzle and series of basic steps, to which I applied my crossword-brain.

I took some classes and have a ton of books about everything and anything; I learned several languages from C to php to VB to VBA to whatever. But to this day, the most important 2 things in my entire learning arsenal were:

1. A basic class on how computers work, which essentially said: “they are dumb”. They follow steps, and only when told to do so. They don’t make assumptions, and they need explicit instructions, or they can’t do anything.

2. A language-independent class on the fundamentals of programming. It taught me how to drop my assumptions, think in smaller and smaller terms about how things come to be, how to forget what I thought I knew, and then how to reconstruct my knowledge whilst paying attention to the things we tend to overlook, due to their simplicity. “Otto the Robot” was the most important puzzle I ever solved, and this was before I allowed myself to even consider what a development environment was.

When you make a program which automates and simplifies someone’s life, they look at you like you’re an alchemist. You just turned lead into gold, you just wove magic out of thin air. The inevitable next question is: “How can I learn to do THAT?”

The unfortunate answer is, “by becoming obsessed, dedicated, single-minded and applying hundreds and thousands of hours into wanting to do it, never accepting no for an answer, never accepting that something is beyond you, and by so much patience and self-forgiveness that nothing will beat you into submission, no matter how hard it tries.” (We make it look easy so folks often assume it is.)

For the first time in my life, my twisted obsessive personality worked in my favor, because I HATE not knowing things, I hate when something won’t work when it should, and I especially can’t accept this when I know that every single thing is made of a system of steps and checks.

Bottom line: If you like puzzles, then learn how computers work, and apply that passion towards making the world a better and more efficient place.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no magic involved.

CC

trainbox.jpg

Nov. 25th, 2012

04:37 pm - Word Geekery: Plumbing

I am a word geek. Etymology is up there among my favorite subjects in life. I love words, language, where stuff can from, how it came to be known, how the words were formed and what cultural influences were involved – the more word-geekery I can find, the better. One of my favorite constructions is “plumbing”.
A plumber didn’t always just fix your toilet. “Plumber” was a collective term for anyone who worked with Lead, including roofers working with lead tiles, cannery workers canning food (prior to us learning that lead was toxic - incidentally, this is what killed English explorer John Franklin, on his expedition through the Northwest passage through the Arctic ocean), and of course, our traditionally known plumbers, who worked with lead pipes. The periodic table symbol for lead is Pb, from the Latin name of the material ‘Plumbum’.
So to “plumb the depths” of something came from when we would hang a lead weight on string, to measure the depths of a hole or body of water, which we still do today, all the time, when we go fishing. Although lead has been replaced by less toxic materials in most cases, as nobody but the most twisted of our species likes to cause Swans & Mallards to die horribly.
Plumbers’ Arse, however, is taken from the more modern phenomena of today’s plumbers failing to wear belts, and then bending over and revealing their butt-cleavage while they stop your sink from leaking. Hopefully, they do not leak themselves.

Chris

Plumb.jpg

Aug. 25th, 2012

12:19 am - Going through the Stargate, feet first and pants down

I had a CAT scan this morning, and it wasn’t much like I expected. I was picturing the enclosed MRI torpedo tube, but it was nothing like it.
Highlights were:
Drinking 2 bottles of “Blueberry” flavored Barium Sulfate solution or something. Not very pleasant, but tolerable.
A blood-dyeing IV that created the warm-crotch sensation of having peed yourself
The machine looked like a Stargate or a Donut, and the bed moved up and maneuvered me though the center while it scanned me. I felt very phallic.
Being in and out within half an hour, and back at work by nine.
As the technician stuck the needle into my arm, it occurred to me: this is about the best thing that’s happened to me all week.

Aug. 9th, 2012

07:21 am - Why I Love Love

Since Monday, I’ve had the apartment to myself while my wife is having a mega-needed vacation with her sister and sister’s granddaughter, following a year of hell. I was unable to get this week out of work, as I just had 2 weeks out, and much is happening right now. So brief background: I’m from England, my wife is from the US, and after we fell in love, it took another year and a half of immigration paperwork & waiting before we were allowed to be together. That was eight years ago, and I have been clinging to her leg ever since. Not a day goes by in which I don’t enjoy the hell out of her company, marvel that I scored her, or laugh because she is freakin hilarious. We’re not accustomed to being apart, and neither particularly relished that specific aspect of the idea of this week. But anyway – it was happening, so what was I to do but plan to make good of my evening solitude for the next 5 days. I was going to A) attain full Zen / GodHead / Nirvana. B) Finish a 20K novella I started writing last week. C) Get another ~ 15 – 20 pages done on the script and D) Cook ,walk, exercise, play some Spanish guitar each day, get an oil change, etc etc etc.

But I wasn’t duly prepared for how mopey I was going to feel when Adrienne wasn’t around. The place sucks without her, I don’t feel like doing any of that stuff, I’m uninspired, and work was busier than anticipated, so I’m also pretty tired by the time I get home.

So instead of the above plans transpiring, I have: Eaten too much take-out food, watched about nineteen episodes of Hell’s Kitchen, finished a big tub of mint choc chip ice cream and a bottle of chocolate sauce, and almost moped a hole right in the hardwood floor.

Big revelations: I’m a baby who doesn’t function well without my other jigsaw piece. I love love, this is why I have drifted over the years from writing horror / horrendous material to writing light hearted romantic comedies. It takes a loooooong time immersed in your own world to write a novel. When I would spend that time in a horrendous world, my sunny disposition began to duck behind clouds. But when I spend it in a love story without any real pain or danger involved, I feel good. Pretty basic emotions 101; Laughing = Good. Terror = Every cell in your body is afraid, and concurs that you need to escape this situation STAT. Maybe this is why so many horror writers are weird, and the cynics & realists commit or attempt suicide. (Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert E. Howard, Hunter Thompson…)

I actively avoid and reject reality – it’s better for my mood.

Jul. 30th, 2012

07:05 am - And we're back (again)

[Edit – I screwed up some formatting last time and it chopped half my post off]
Going back to work today after 2 weeks out of the office. I am a little tired, pretty well rested, mentally recharged and de-stressed (that was my primary objective). I’m surprised to hear myself wanting to go back, but I miss it. I miss the people, the place and the work – I love my job. I also found that without a set routine, after a while my head turns to crap. I lose focus and this makes me feel bewildered, and that leads to some kind of panic that everything is going to implode. But I’m not crazy or unstable, how can this be?!? (As stable as a 3-legged giraffe, you might say...)


The first week wasn’t a vaca per se, but I had to go to Montreal for week of training, which was a lot of fun and pretty much a vacation. Adrienne came with me, we stayed on the South side of the St. Lawrence river in Longueuil, (which allowed me to avoid that unreal rush-hour traffic over the knackered bridges), but we were next to the metro at Sherbrooke University, only 2 stops on the orange line from St. Catherine Street – the metro in Montreal is an amazing system. Training was easy, I scored a 98% in the final, so it seems I will remain securely employed for the next 2 years.

(As long as I pass the big, long ASQ Certified Quality Auditor exam in December...)



So what did I get from these 2 weeks out?



* I got over a disappointing lit rejection and back on the horse, starting my next book. That was my fault for almost ‘expecting’ that it would be accepted.

* I have a solid schedule down for finishing the script and books-in-progress, which will lead to the film script being done by September (1st draft).

* I have coded nothing in weeks except some simple html updates, so I’m jonesin to get back into php and take over the world

* I fixed the knackered P key on my laptop, (which I almost had to hit with a hammer to get any P output) – that was very, very frustrating, and turned out to be a tiny splinter of wood under the contact.

* I set up a Reddit account so I can pitch my own woo on my way to world domination

I’m sure there was more, but it’s < 7am, and did I mention I was tired?

Oh yeah – book wise I re-started The Wayward Bus, which I haven’t picked up since Feb 14th 2010 – Valentine’s Day last year, while I waited for my wife to come out of surgery. I have read a lot since then – haven’t been too negligent – but the Wayward Bus wasn’t holding my attention the way Grapes of Wrath did. I also learned that TWB was the first thing Steinbeck wrote after Grapes of Wrath, but wasn’t finished until 8 years later. That makes me feel better about my own delays.

Anyway, I hafta go. Wish me luck.

07:02 am - And we're back

Going back to work today after 2 weeks out of the office. I am a little tired, pretty well rested, mentally recharged and de-stressed (that was my primary objective). I’m surprised to hear myself wanting to go back, but I miss it. I miss the people, the place and the work – I love my job. I also found that without a set routine, after a while my head turns to crap. I lose focus and this makes me feel bewildered, and that leads to some kind of panic that everything is going to implode. But I’m not crazy or unstable, how can this be?!? (As stable as a 3-legged giraffe, you might say...)



The first week wasn’t a vaca per se, but I had to go to Montreal for week of training, which was a lot of fun and pretty much a vacation. Adrienne came with me, we stayed on the South side of the St. Lawrence river in Longueuil, (which allowed me to avoid that unreal rush-hour traffic over the knackered bridges), but we were next to the metro at Sherbrooke University, only 2 stops on the orange line from St. Catherine Street – the metro in Montreal is an amazing system. Training was easy, I scored a 98% in the final, so it seems I will remain securely employed for the next 2 years.

(As long as I pass the big, long ASQ Certified Quality Auditor exam in December...)



So what did I get from these 2 weeks out?



-- I got over a disappointing lit rejection and back on the horse, starting my next book. That was my fault for almost ‘expecting’ that it would be accepted.

-- I have a solid schedule down for finishing the script and books-in-progress, which will lead to the film script being done by September (1st draft).

-- I have coded nothing in weeks except some simple html updates, so I’m jonesin to get back into php and take over the world

-- I fixed the knackered P key on my laptop, (which I almost had to hit with a hammer to get any P output) – that was very, very frustrating, and turned out to be a tiny splinter of wood under the contact.

-- I set up a Reddit account so I can pitch my own woo on my way to world domination

I’m sure there was more, but it’s < 7am, and did I mention I was tired?

Oh yeah – book wise I re-started The Wayward Bus, which I haven’t picked up since Feb 14th 2010 – Valentine’s Day last year, while I waited for my wife to come out of surgery. I have read a lot since then – haven’t been too negligent – but the Wayward Bus wasn’t holding my attention the way Grapes of Wrath did. I also learned that TWB was the first thing Steinbeck wrote after Grapes of Wrath, but wasn’t finished until 8 years later. That makes me feel better about my own delays.

Anyway, I hafta go. Wish me luck.

Jul. 27th, 2012

08:55 am - Because I love you

Just a quick question for anyone reading:

Yesterday I noticed my blog had 43 people who had subscribed to it. I had no idea this was even being read by anyone other than me, so I’m all aflutter with girlish delight. Thank you and welcome! I promise now to try harder, knowing this.

But I am also crap at Wordpress, and would like to know – how and where was this post visible, and where do I go to see or promote more just like it? Where did you see this post or learn about my blog?
(And how do I get it to update my Facebook feed automagically?)

I have this set up so I just post by email, so I don’t see anything outside of an email window. The only blog platform I’m familiar with is LJ – is this WordPress a similar thing, or does it show up in lists according to what you tag in the post? Would anyone be willing to spend 10 minutes to educate me on WordPress and promotion? Because if 43 people read my blog completely by accident, then I would like to know how to do this deliberately.

Thanks!

Chris

Jul. 26th, 2012

10:50 am - Extra Curricular Activities

I have to periodically remind myself to lay off the self-chastisement when I don’t produce as much as my calculations had figured I woulda shoulda oughta have by now.
Because no matter what I do produce, it is never enough, it doesn’t take into consideration (or give me credit for) the 50-hour work week which real-life requires from time to time, and the world isn’t going to end if I go slower than I originally intended, in my extra-curricular activities. This is a very difficult thing to accept when you so desperately want to liberate yourself from the grind for good, and live on a mountainside lakes writing poetry from your canoe, but there you are. Time is finite, and you get the best results when you do slow down and focus on one thing at once.

So I am working on a film script which will hopefully be a big deal when it is done. I’m over a third of the way into my first draft, not quite halfway. But some days it doesn’t feel like it will ever be done because it is too much work, and there is the real battle to be fought – inertia. I was working with a writing partner, but they didn’t initially appreciate the effort involved, and so had to respectfully step down. That’s OK, life happens, but I had kinda hoped to share that workload. But payday, if it arrives, will feel great.
But there is also something about this business I have observed: The times you need a boost of energy or feedback, you may sit and write a great story and send it out, but then you get nothing back for months. By the time you hear back you have almost forgotten about it altogether, so while it is equally nice to receive the feedback, you never get what you need at the exact moment you need it. Like you never get the good review when you feel like shit; it comes afterwards, when you have dealt with feeling like shit on your own. You never get the financial bonus when your car dies; you get it when things are going OK, and you have dealt with the crap by nothing but your own volition and wits. Shame you can’t put self-esteem in the bank for when you need it the most.

So sometime in August / September, I hope to type “The End” on the script, (but not until I have earned the right to do so, and not by jumping ahead for gratification.)

Waterfire_Minuteman_Flowers.jpg

May. 29th, 2012

11:41 pm - Insomnia

Had crazy insomnia lately, and have been up at all hours of the night. Tonight around 4 am it’s forecast to thunder; maybe I’ll see it, but hopefully I’ll be soundly asleep, dreaming about ice cream and small, rubbery, purple aquatic amphibious water-giraffes, and oblivious to weather of any variety. I haven’t had the patience or inclination to blog in months; I have started several blog posts since my last, but every time I get so far, my brain says f-it and I just close the window. I write most days, usually just to rein in my wandering attention span; getting my thoughts down on paper is sometimes the only chance they have of retention. I have been busy though, so writing blah blah blah into a blog has been the last thing I felt like doing outside of my real writing, plus writing at work and then writing for school.
I have a lot of new tech to learn too, so despite not taking any more classes in school until September, I still need to get my head around CodeIgniter (php framework), jquery, SharePoint development and some bogus VB.net database programming pain in the ass. But I am writing like crazy, and working on some great projects right now, the main one of which I aim to see through to completion around mid-July.
But hooray, I feel like sleep is coming anon, because my eyes are getting heavy and my brain is telling me f-it, that I should just close this blog window and lay down. I’m about to defy my own brain, and hit “send” on this damned email right now.

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