Monday, February 28, 2011

Shorthand-- Stenography

Whatever happened to Shorthand? Stenography, Secretary shorthand, tachygraphy, whatever you want to call it. It was a short, scribbly, artful way to take notes. Somewhat like the Japanese system of writing (In a way) it has a symbol or way to write everything. It's simple, quick, and somewhat artistic. So why don't we use it?

I would guess that most learned to type, but even in Bram Stoker's Dracula the titular character was confused by another's use of shorthand. This means it was likely never very familiar everywhere, but the idea was always around.

Perhaps, though, secretary shorthand has evolved to a near-universal level. Don't believe me? Think of the last time you typed "brb" (some time today, I'd bet). It's short for "Be right back". An extra eight characters, not counting spaces. You shortened eleven characters and two spaces into three letters. Interesting evolution, no?

Personally, I think I would like to learn a bit about Shorthand. It will certainly make taking notes far easier. Alas, it is late. I shall have to learn it another time. Maybe I'll expand on this later. It's late and I wonder if I still have time-traveler's jet-lag. ...Can you get jet-lag time traveling? I shall have to reflect on this later.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

For the school-goers freaking out...

An actual speech I gave to a friend via messenger to help her get through some tough times at school:

"First step: Deep breath.
Are you breathing?
Second, don't type while I'm trying to help you. Keep breathing.
Organize your projects into what is most necessary, stop worrying about your family's having fun. Your pain is temporary but WILL PAY OFF.
So, organize. And keep breathing while I keep helping.
Next step, think about how bad your situation is, but don't panic. Never panic. Whatever is coming up first is your biggest priority.
If you have two things on the same date, focus on THOSE things. Split up your time, then split up what you need to do into lists. Everything. No matter how small. Then, as you do those things, cross them off one by one. Yes, there's a time crunch, that gives you more cause for focus.

Still helping. Keep breathing.


Organize the other projects into lists, too. Yes, there's a lot. yes it will seem overbearing, and yes, you may have to turn something in a bit late if you have to.

Keep. Breathing.

It's not so bad as you think, no matter what people tell you. It's like when someone runs to class when they have plenty of time and everyone on the way says "Run faster!" Just to get on their nerves. Don't quit school.

Quitting school is a sign of weakness, and moreover: not necessary. Don't get something? Ask someone. Anyone. Find someone to explain it to you. Classmates, teachers, people who work with teachers, read the book, whatever. There are explanations and there are ways to understand, otherwise they wouldn't teach it in school.

And lastly, probably the most importantly: Stop worrying about your writing. You will write for fun again, you just have to be patient. There may be a lot of patience needed, but as soon as summer is in or you get a nice long break you'll have time to write. You'll be fine. Writing is not essential to life, and though it is fun, you will have time for it later. For now, focus on studying.

Make that list, start working, keep breathing, get off the computer, and work on it in a -QUIET- room.

Don't listen to music.
DON'T listen to music. Don't say "it helps me focus" because it doesn't. It triggers the speech center of your brain and you focus on that instead. Acceptable alternatives are classic, techno, or foreign music you don't understand.

Keep breathing.
Now you may type."

I hope it helps her, and maybe it will help someone else out there, too. If not, it was sure fun to type.

Don't panic, and carry a towel!
Keep breathing!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Time Traveling for Dummies

In relation to my posts on One Cleric Short (if I have any readers who read here, but not there, shame on you. Go read it!) I may have mentioned (if it doesn't get ripped out in editing) that I had made "time traveler preparations" before traveling to the future. (I am more in character on that blog than this one, and for that I do apologize). I would like to then explain what my time-traveler preparations are, for those curious readers who may be interested in knowing how I "prepared" for traveling in the future.

1. Money

Money is a big problem for time travelers. As you may notice, traveling back in time from the future makes most kinds of money completely worthless. Check your wallet, if you don't believe me. If you travel back from the future, the majority of that money will be useless, depending on how far back most of your money is dated. If you've been to the bank recently, chances are your money is newer, and therefore is considered fraudulent money in the past. If you go to 1999 and pull out a bill dated 2001, people will raise an eyebrow and report you to the police. Traveling from past to future, on the other hand, is MUCH easier.

If you travel from past to future, there are a few things you must do:
* Make it accessible from any place via a banking system
* Leave the money to someone you trust not to use it, as seven years in the future you'll be considered dead.
* Make sure that none of the future family of the person you left it to will get at the money, but knows how to get into it for when you need it, or in case something happens to the bank
* Make sure you can find the family of the person you left it to.
* make sure that the money is earning interest over time in the bank.

When you go through time and get to the future, provided all of these steps have worked out for you, you will be able to collect a fortune, guarantee the children of the person you've left the money to will go to a good college, and will be able to live in comfort in your new home.

If those steps are too risky for you, take all of your money with you when you go:
* sell them to a coin collector in the future
* hope you traveled far enough that they are worth something.

2. Language

Learn English and Chinese, as they are the most common and most flourishing languages you can find. If possible, also learn the most universal Sign Language you can find. Keep in mind that the slang will change, but the basis of the language should remain relatively similar. Just in case, bring along a dictionary (picture dictionary is even better), and if you have the means, bring along some way of showing what you want in any language. my suggestion? Bring clay with you. Clay can be molded into any shape. If you want food, mold the clay into the shape of an apple and point to your mouth. Someone should be able to figure out that you need food. It is rare that this may not work, but if it doesn't work, chances are you were doomed from the start anyway.

3. Culture

When in doubt, be as respectful as possible. Watch where you step, copy the first friendly soul you meet if you cannot understand them. If you can communicate, ask about their culture the first chance you get, and see if there are any do's and don'ts of the culture. If they seem confused, just shrug and say you would hate to offend such a kind soul, or something to that effect. The last thing one would want to do is offend the natives. And don't call them "the natives".

4. Be ready to die

No seriously. Nobody knows when the apocalypse is, what will happen to the planet, or if the planet will even be around in a few years. It might be a good idea to be ready to die, just in case. If you have any opportunity for it, though, try to make sure your time machine has plenty of food, water, oxygen support, and the capability to go back to where you started from, just in case. Oh, and a window. I wish I'd installed a window. While you're at it, it might be good to keep protective gear handy, including oxygen mask and heavy gloves.

5. Location, Location, Location.

Carry an atlas with you when you go, to ask where you are. The geography might change, but if you are still on earth and something terrible hasn't happened, someone may have some inkling where you are in such a place through a basic knowledge of history. This is much easier traveling to the future than it is for the past, in which case I would suggest also carrying a map from the beginning of each century (half-century or decade, if you have the space), and showing only the closest previous map to ask where you are(provided you know -when- you are). Try to absorb the culture of the time and place to the best of your abilities, and make a friend as quickly as possible.

6. How to ask "when am I"?

For this, try to carry around a picture of your time-machine. if your location pre-dates the picture, it may actually be to your advantage.

* find that friendly soul to take care of you
* Strike up a conversation until it's comfortable (provided they don't immediately ask what the devil you're wearing)
* If they -do- ask why you're dressed so strangely, laugh a little and say you're a little lost.
* When the kind soul is either suspicious or adequately softened up, suggest that you would like to admit to them something you doubt they will believe without seeing it for themselves.
* Show them the picture of your time machine and explain what it is. If they disbelieve, suggest showing them in person, and point out that you did warn them they would never believe in you.
* the subject may be resistant to the idea that time travel is possible. If they do not believe you, tell them to forget it, try to make friends again.
* If at all possible, show them the time-machine in person. If they still doubt, show them how it works. This may prove exceedingly dangerous, if you are not entirely sure how well it works, yourself. Don't actually go anywhere unless you are convinced you can go back to the same time and place.
* If the subject is still disbelieving, you may get on your knees and beg their assistance. This may get you locked in the madhouse, but time machines are not without their risks, and you really should have considered this before time-traveling, you dope.
* Hopefully the subject will finally believe you and agree to help you. Do not resist getting in on the culture unless you find it completely barbaric, or think it will get you killed or harmed. If you think so, go back to your time machine and go back home as quickly as possible.
* Never -ever- let the time machine out of your sight for longer than you can help it. It may get towed, stolen, taken apart for scrap, lifted before you can prove to your friend you are a time traveler, broken, crushed, maimed, or a variety of other things.
* Try not to take people or animals along with you in your time-traveling adventure if you can help it, unless you have a VERY supportive significant other or children who desperately wants to go with you. If you do, then bless you and your journey, I wish you all the best.

7. Note:

If your time machine looks like something you see in your era and you intend to travel to the future, make it look unique or completely harmless, and not like something else. The TARDIS made this mistake by turning into an old police callbox, which looks rather suspect in modern times, appearing and disappearing from place to place. People -do- notice that sort of thing. If traveling to the past, however, please have some idea of where you're going before you build the time machine, and make it fit in with the time, accordingly. Otherwise villagers may destroy your time machine and you'll be stuck in the past until you can whip something together, fate decides it loves you, or you die.

you have been warned. Let me know via comments if I missed anything important to time-travel so I can add it here!

How did -my- first time-traveling excursion go?

Being from the Victorian Era, I somehow wound up traveling from foggy England to the rainy West Coast of America, and found this extraordinarily frightening. My time-machine was not well crafted, I admit, so I had no idea where or when I was. Luckily, wandering around some city streets I met a kind young lad who seemed to like my clothes (they being victorian, which is apparently more unchanging than I ever would have expected)who chatted me up about this phenomenon called "Steampunk". Being that I easily slotted into that fascinating subculture, I admitted to him quite easily my time-traveling roots. Of course he did not believe me, but I had the fortune to have brought with me a selection of poetry books from my era, each in mint condition, having been freshly-printed, but dated from my era.

After carefully flipping through these tomes like they would break at the slightest mishandling (honestly, it's just paper and ink!) he grew wide-eyed and believed my story, even before seeing the time machine. He was more than a little fascinated with that, spouting off terms of mechanical endearment (I think) that I will never fully understand, he inspected the handiwork of the machine from top to bottom, seeming fascinated with its mechanisms.

With some careful work, he detailed every piece of information on the ship on some notebooks he needed for school, took each piece apart, and with the help of a few friends he called, we moved the machine to his apartment, where he reassembled it in secret with ease. I was fascinated and silent through this whole procedure, not trusting myself to speak around his unusual friends.

I am rather well-to-do for my time, and so was both fascinated and somewhat repulsed by his apartment, but did not mind much. He allowed me to stay a few nights while I got my funds back from the bank, and found myself one of the richer men of the world. Keeping this quiet, I gathered up my funds, paid for a very nice house, and now keep company with my young friend (his name is Erik, by the by) and hired a butler to tend to the house just as I had in England. Having set up a safe-haven in this unfamiliar world, Erik has taken it upon himself to teach me the ways of the new world. I have found myself falling in with the geeky crowd, and do very much enjoy the movies, videogames, literature, and sounds of the era.

I do hope that things will proceed in an orderly and fascinating fashion for me. Wish me luck, and I wish you future (and past) time travelers the best of luck in your endeavors!

(The first in-character post for DarkSteam's Cogs of the Earth. From here on out, I will attempt to post in-character, and warn ahead of time when it is not.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011


So, what kind of post-apocalypse are we thinking of here when we say "zombie invasion"?
Almost every time I hear it I think of a desert, despite probably having never seen one up close. Not one with sand and cacti anyways. I think most think of dust storms and abandoned cars, with rotting iron everywhere. What -exactly- are we expecting to happen?

If it's a zombie invasion, I'd presume things would look relatively the same, only a bit more broken and blood-spattered.It's just how the zombies roll. All they want is brains, right? Well then all that would come of things is blood, right?

Well, what about an asteroid? Presuming it doesn't completely destroy earth, it'd just leave a big dent, throw up a LOT of dust, presumably the dent would fill with water if it's not filled with asteroid. It might cause those dust storms previously mentioned, but what exactly will that do? Block out the sun for a bit, I guess, but if you just stockpile food and find some live plants somewhere the world can re-grow, provided nobody takes advantage of whatever sorry place gets invaded.

Ooh, but what if the asteroid hits water? Well, presuming it doesn't just turn into mist, the massive splash would likely drown parts of continents if big enough (if I have an Australian readers, sorry mates, you're a bit apocalyptic right now. but if it's all cool with you, I'd rather party with you guys during an apocalypse than any other country. Just sayin'. )and if not, it'l be one hell of a tsunami, but that's about it. We see those all the time, it's not exactly post-apocalyptic.

If the sun goes out, yeah, we're screwed, but there won't be a whole lot of opportunity to come back after the apocalypse unless you're talking about the poor abandoned robots.

Don't even suggest a vampire apocalypse.

Robot uprising: To quote Ken Jennings, "I for one welcome our new computer overlords." So... Not too worried, so long as I'm not being killed. If computers go and try to kill us all, sure they might be able to win... if not for the fact that we made them. Mind you, it's still very possible that they would win, but in the same sense that much of the time any war that lasts any length of time has a fairly decent chance of going either way. Otherwise it wouldn't be a war, or at least it'd be a lot quicker. To be honest, I'd probably be a robot sympathizer. Sorry mates, I like synth voices and explaining complex ideas like love into simplest computable terms. It's kind of a pastime.

Aliens: I don't think we're interesting enough or obvious enough to attract aliens, but if they do come looking for us, I think they're more likely to quest for information (or die on contact with us) than to come to any real harm for us.

So how would we fare in an apocalypse? It depends on the kind. My personal favorite option for a -zombie- apocalypse, at least, is to seal up either a Walmart of a mall. Just as a thought. Give me feedback!

Tell me: How would YOU survive an apocalypse (of your choice)?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Valentine Horrors.

Yes, in the spirit of the season I will talk about survival horror today!

...What, you don't see how horror works with valentines?

Well, to be honest, it is more of a Halloween thing, but if you're expecting it, it's not very horrifying, now IS it? Anyways, who wouldn't want to take their date to a horror movie as a chance to get a little closer (if only out of fear)? Either way, it was talking about this or spend another twenty minutes trying to figure out what to talk about, so this it is.

Effective horror is NOT jump scares. Jump scares are easy to get. Just shout "BOO!" in someone's ear when they don't know you're there. They'll jump, but is that really a satisfying scare? Sure, you laugh at how they were (very reasonably) startled, but that's not true fear. True fear is when that person hides in a corner from your very presence, and stays that way for a few minutes without moving for fear of what may happen. THAT is fear. How does one get to this level of fear?

Well I'll make this list as if we were referring to videogames, so we can make inevietable comparisons with Silent Hill.

1. Tension.

When you want to make tension, hint at things. Don't ever explicitly say it. One of the most frightening things about Silent Hill was probably one single line that inversed everything about the scary little town. "Monsters? ...They look like monsters to you?" How many people, I wonder, immediately took a breath and tried not to cry when they realized they might have been hurting the normal people, and the only real monster... is you?

2. Make the player go insane.

Not talking about "Nintendo insanity" or making the player's character go insane. I mean make the player think things that aren't true, or question existence of things.
Did that door just open in the game? Go back! No. It was closed. What if I open the door? Oh, it's locked. I'll visit later. Then the door disappears when the camera isn't looking a few minutes later. There's no comment from the character on it, there's no remark about disappearing doors. It just never existed. It didn't even have a room behind it to go to. It will certainly drive the player absolutely mad. Throw this sort of thing in every so often without a sound or sound effect or music change to alert the player that something is up, you'll effectively make the player think they are absolutely mad. Disappearing monsters could likely have the same effect if done properly.

3. Musical scores are key.

action music will do you no good here. Violin shrieks can help here or there, but don't stress them. Piano can help a lot, and music boxes can do wonders around childish or feminine scenery. Nothing should be overdone, and there should be plenty of variety. Add a slow accordion around seafaring scenes, an off-key organ in church or a carnival, things like that can do wonders. Slow and off-key are very important parts of the music. My suggestion? In big boss fights and the scariest moments, play calming music in off-key tones. Like a music box playing ring-around-the-roses while you're fighting off armies of undead toy soldiers.

4. Monsters have subtlety.

The best examples of this are the Silent Hill monsters from the first second and third games. They are symbolic and truly menacing. Best way to make a monster:
Find something to symbolize; make a figure behind it; add stitches, injuries, blood, and the like; give it slow or jerky motions for some creatures, slow dragging for others, or maybe even fast running and jumping. Nothing should move smoothly if you want it to be menacing unless it's a creature of the air or the water. Even then...

5. Scenery.

Pick your scene. At home, at church, at ballet practice, the carnival, the swamp, the forest... Any scene you like can be made scary. Dim the colors for some things, make some things even brighter. If you're in a carnival, washed-out colors will look silly. Wash out the corners of billboards or some such, but on the rides? Let those colors rock the house. Bright reds and saturated yellows with faded edges give an aged look and will break up the monotony a bit. But don't confuse that with

6. Lighting.

Lighting is your best friend in survival horror. Blues give a creepy and haunting look, but is also unnatural. Reds are angry, violent, and ramp up the tension (in horror, best to ramp up tension when there's nothing to be afraid of at all, or only minimal threats), greens give off an alien or swampy look depending on how diluted they are, and purple is a bit relaxing. Unnatural colors in unnatural scenes can really cement the fact that you're in another world, or they can completely throw someone out of the experience. Use wisely!

Comment below if you have any suggestions for other ideas around this, or if you just have any questions, comments, concerns, anything! I'd love to hear from my readers!

Happy Valentines' everybody~! Go get scared with someone you love!