Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Journaling

Pro: You are writing something every day.

Con: You are not necessarily writing any fiction every day.

Pro: Your life has some legitimately funny moments in it.

Con: Your life is dull as dirt most of the time.

Pro: You'll have happy memories to look back on one day.

Con: Dropbox ate your happy memories.

Pro: You have a backup drive for your happy memories as well.

Con: Your happy memories just got leaked on 4chan.

Pro: No they didn't.

Con: People are laughing about the bit with the cat. And not in a good way.

Pro: You're just trying to bring me down.

Con: I think your pretentious little journal is doing that for me.

Pro: At least I'm doing something. When's the last time you did any work on the Dead Empire book?

Con: Worldbuilding is a slow, painstaking process.

Pro: And it's a lot slower when you never open your Scrivener file.

Con: Hey, fuck you buddy! I didn't bail on the book to write a story about a painting magician.

Pro: Well I can't twiddle my thumbs while you fuck around with the finer points of fantasy geography, now can I?

Con: Oh, yes, it's so helpful having you use up his headspace on a short story that's not going anywhere. Remember the one about the girl on the ceiling? How's that going?

Pro: I finished the first draft.

Con: Which you're not editing.

Pro: Pot and kettle, asshole.

Con: Fuck you!

Pro: Fuck you!

Scuffle, shots fired, sirens wailing.

Ahem. Sorry about that, the stream of consciousness took over.

Anyway, I've been doing a daily journal for the past month, roughly. Just details out of my day, occasionally a bit of a rant to let off steam. Lots of stuff about my son, naturally.

I'm not writing every day, although I am going back and filling in missing days when I slip up. I don't think I'm writing fiction any better or more often, but I don't think I'm doing worse on either of those fronts either. The most I can say is that I am writing something which I find valuable for its own sake on a regular basis.

Which is nice.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Playstation TV Review

Yes, wildly off-topic again. If anyone's interested, I've got a short story I'm working on with (what I think is) a really neat emotion-based magic system to it, and I may have cracked the code on my long-suffering "Anita Blake becomes human again and goes on a rampage" book. Which is good for everyone, because the original thought train has expanded into an urban fantasy epic I'm going to write one day, I swear.

But for now. Playstation TV.

Background: I started a diet plan a few months ago that was designed to work on a modified swear jar system, where I'd reward myself for good behavior (eating meals from home, eating fruit and vegetables) and punish myself for bad behavior (take-out dinners and drinking soda). The reward cash would go toward a Playstation Vita, because I wanted to play Persona 4 after watching the anime and I'm scared to go into the closet and look for my old Playstation 2. (Also, Persona 4 Golden, the Vita one, has new content I wanted to see that's not in the anime.) Punishment deductions went to my wife for whatever she wanted.

The end result was that my wife got a ton of cash and I didn't lose any weight. Poor diet design, plus the motivation fizzled after I did the math on how long I needed to keep up the diet to get the Vita, which with mandatory accessories and the game runs about $260. Then I heard Liam talking about the Playstation TV on the Super Best Friendcast, and how it's the perfect device to play Vita RPGs on if you're on a budget.

And it is. It really is!

The cost of the system plus the game is $99, and a bundle with a game download (the LEGO Movie game), a Dualshock 3 controller, and an 8 GB memory card is $139. (This is a deal even without the game - Playstation controllers and memory cards are notoriously expensive.) With Persona 4 added in that's about $160 for me, which coincidentally I'd actually managed to save up through the diet system by the time I found out the Playstation TV existed. So I declared the diet on hiatus and picked up the system.

Rear-view of the device. Don't put it on your TV, the cables will drag it down.
The Playstation TV is about the size of a Raspberry Pi, or a larger cellphone. Really tiny. I can hold it in the palm of my hand. The guts are the guts of a Playstation Vita, minus the touchscreen or any screen at all. It plugs into the TV via HDMI and has an Ethernet port plus wireless capabilities. The controller plugs in via USB, but only to charge and do the initial sync-up with the system. You can plug in up to four controllers, though I'm not sure how many of the games will support multiplayer.

Initial set up is fairly easy. You will need a Playstation Network account to get full feature access, and the website's a bit of a pain to deal with. (You also can't register the hardware yet for some reason.) But if you just want to get started playing a game all you have to do is insert the game chip, turn the system on, answer a few questions and you're good to go. Or you can download the day one update, which will add most of the system's features to your front page.

What the hell am I looking at?
The menu system is not pure crap, but it's pretty bad. There's no rhyme or reason to the way things are laid out, and games (you know, the things you'll actually want to play) are all hidden off the front page by default. And there's no intuitive way to rearrange things unless you go online and read the manual. There's also a news feed you can't get rid of, apparently, whether you want it or not.

Go away!
Actually gaming is much better. The Dualshock 3 is a solid controller (my toddler is already a big fan), and Persona 4 Golden (above) looks great on a big screen. There's a compatibility list for the Playstation TV that covers the games you can play on it, and you will want to give it a look. If you like role-playing games, then you're pretty much set - the Playstation TV supports most of the Vita RPGs. If you sign up for Playstation Plus, you also get access to a few free games, which right now means Spelunky (technically a PS4 game, but it at least installs), Pix the Cat and Rainbow Moon. A new set of games turns up monthly (I think The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is out next month), and you keep everything as long as your Plus subscription is current. I signed up for a 14 day demo and I'll probably get a full membership.

As a media center, you've got much better options. Even the 3DS has better app support than the Playstation TV right now, although Sony swears the apps are coming. I still have my 360 plugged in for Netflix and the like, so this really doesn't bother me.

Overall, for what I want it to do the Playstation TV is a great little bargain. It's not for people who want next-gen graphics or lots of streaming apps, but if you just want to play some Vita games without shelling out for a Vita, I'd say go for it.

*sees Disgaea 4 on the compatibility list*

*runs off whooping*

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fall

I love fall. Always have, probably always will. It's the time of year when some relief comes from the dog days of summer, when the air turns cool and a man can go for a walk without drowning in his own sweat. The grass is still green, but the leaves have burst into orange and yellow and red, and the sky tends to cloud up and you get breezes, breezes you don't get during the rest of the year. There is nothing better than a stiff breeze under a cloudy sky, when the air is charged with the potential of great change. You can go outside and stand on the edge of the world, close your eyes, and breathe deep.

The dog, naturally, doesn't share my appreciation of the edge, and would much rather hide indoors any time a bit of wind comes along. My son gets it, though, and wants to spend his time in the evenings outside, toddling around with a broom three times his size and making me catch him when he goes marching off the side of the deck. It's nice, when he's not testing gravity, to sit in a chair and "take it all in" with him.

And thank God for those quiet moments, because the rest of the world seems to be somewhere over the edge, about a hundred feet down and picking up speed. Everywhere you look there's some new form of madness taking root. I understand the need to keep informed, but I'm finding it harder and harder to cope with the deluge of fear and horror coming out of the news these days. 30 years of war, police brutality, innocent people imprisoned and men guilty as sin allowed to walk out of court free and wealthy... to quote Hunter S. Thompson, "How long, oh Lord, how long?"

I could go on, but it's late and I need sleep more than I need to ramble on about the state of the world. Suffice to say we're standing on the edge, all of us; and it's best we take our bearings before we step over. But before that, go jump in the leaves, give your family a hug, and take the time to breathe deep.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Update on Patrick McLaw

More details are coming out about Patrick McLaw, the author of two books about school shootings who was removed from his teaching job last week. It now seems that Mr. McLaw was removed because of a number of issues, mostly centered around a letter he sent to a school official that was described as "suicidal". From there authorities performed a limited search of Mr. McLaw's home, which he consented to, and found a model of a school building and some more material they deemed worrying. Currently Mr. McLaw is not under arrest, although no one can reveal where he is or whether he's permitted to leave, citing HIPAA.

I'm a bit torn on this one. On one hand, the school seems a bit more justified in wanting Mr. McLaw vetted, and there's no indication as of yet that he's being held against his will or treated badly. Also, the State's Attorney claims that everyone knew Mr. McLaw had authored his books back in 2012, which is heartening; if true, it would tend to rule out the idea that Mr. McLaw is being persecuted for writing fiction.

On the other hand, if this is all above board then the details of the investigation were released/leaked in the worst possible order for the school and the officials involved. And I'd note that Mr. McLaw has no recorded history of violence, certainly nothing that's been reported, and he's an upstanding and well-liked teacher. That he's been "disappeared" is troubling, though it's likely his family knows where he is and, if he actually needs the help, it's far better that he have his privacy than not.

The official narrative is that Patrick McLaw is cooperating with authorities while they do due diligence on a bunch of minor but troubling incidents. No one's accused Mr. McLaw of being an actual threat up to now, thankfully, and there isn't much evidence that anything illegal or abusive is being covered up by authorities. I still think it's likely the risk posed by Mr. McLaw is being overestimated, but as heavy-handed tactics go we've seen a hell of a lot worse in the past few weeks.

I'm going to keep an eye on this and see how it develops. There are a few petitions on Change.org to the school superintendent and the county sheriff, if you feel like signing them; otherwise there doesn't seem to be much that needs doing. I do hope everything turns out well, for Patrick McLaw and everyone else involved.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Patrick McLaw and the Terror of Words

This story crossed my feeds today and scared the living crap out of me. Short version: author Patrick McLaw also works as a middle school teacher. He wrote two books set in the United States two hundred years in the future, dealing with a pair of school shootings. When school board officials found out about this, Mr. McLaw was put on administrative leave and taken in by the police for an emergency psychiatric evaluation, while the police searched the school for bombs and guns and came up empty. He's also been banned from county and school district properties.

Another story. In high school I wrote a short story for my school's literary magazine. The story involved two friends blowing up a chihuahua-focused dog show. It was a dumb comedy, really a rip off of Mark Twain's story Tom Quartz, in which a cat gets blown up in a mine shaft. I don't know where the chihuahuas came from. I expect if I read it now I'd be happy with the voice and nothing else.

The story was published without incident, and a few months later the Columbine shooting happened. A few days after that, I was called in to see my guidance counselor, who asked me a few questions about the story and myself to make sure I wasn't planning to shoot up the school. Luckily I was an AP student with no history of misbehavior, and that was the end of it. (Nobody really knew I played video games, including Doom II, all the time at home.)

Now, all that happened to me was I got talked to for a few minutes, and it was still one of the scariest experiences of my high school career. I was worried I could be suspended, maybe even expelled.

Today, that would be the least of my concerns. I would be immediately escorted off school property, temporarily if I were lucky, and handed over to the police. I'd be charged with issuing threats and almost certainly end up in court, with the full weight of the local legal system gunning for me. Saying that I was ripping off a story from the 1800s to practice my writing and had no intention of doing anything wrong would be no defense. I would be doomed and damned, my education cut short and quite possibly locked away for years.

Patrick McLaw wrote two books and self-published them. He did not write a manifesto, or a lunatic chatroom screed. He wrote two pieces of fiction and sought to sell them for money. So far as anyone knows that's the extent of his crime. He was nominated for Teacher of the Year and helped a student self-publish his work on Amazon. There is no hint in the stories I've read that he had a truly violent impulse in his body. Yet he's been banished from his workplace and detained, while police stand by in his district's schools to make sure he doesn't come back.

I understand the need to prevent school shootings. I don't see how throwing a respectable teacher onto the street does that. I'm relieved, and sick, to think of what could have happened to me. And I'm terrified to think of what could happen to my son in a few years, in an environment where even pointing a finger and saying "Bang" can get you suspended or expelled.

Mr. McLaw's book, The Insurrectionist, is still available on Amazon. It wouldn't be a terrible idea to give it a look; at the moment I have no idea what else can be done to help the man. But I wish him better luck than he's had so far.

Correction: Police searched the school, not Mr. McLaw's home. This post has been corrected.

Correction again: As of yesterday afternoon police have searched Mr. McLaw's home.