Monday, April 29, 2013

A Plethora of Storylines: A Feast for Crows Review

I just finished A Feast for Crows, or at least I finished Arya and Sam's parts. I felt bad about skipping ahead, since I value residing cover to cover, but it's hard to leave a cliffhanger chapter when you know you're not going to find out what's going to happen for 12 more chapters.

What I found at the end though, was that my skipping around reflected George R. R. Martin's choice to split A Feast for Crows and A Dance of Dragons not by timeline, but by characters. I thought that his choice of who to put in which book a bit odd though. Characters are getting further and further apart, geographically, but I would have stuck to known entities in Affc, such as those in King's Landing, the Wall, Dorne, maybe Meereen. That would have left only those who were going on quests, but more importantly, those who all those at home are wondering about. That way Jaime and Cersei would continue to wonder about Tyrion, Jaime might wonder about Brienne, Jon would wonder about Sam, and we could all wonder about Arya, Brandon, and Sansa.

I'm not sure why the book was split the way it was. Maybe an editor went through it, marked all the ones that mentioned crows feasting, and said: those. I've never seen such heavy-handed references to the title before, though (maybe because of the references) I did get the idea of the decay left over now that the war is at a hiatus. I also think that if A Feast for Crows had followed Jon, that would have been an interesting play on how the Crows are doing.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Questing and Traveling

Quest (n.): a search or pursuit made in order to find or obtain something: a quest for uranium mines; a quest for knowledge (

A quest is traditionally a journey, for one seldom gets what one wants by standing still, but nowadays quests take place in one place (usually New York City), whether for a job, for a partner, or for a good public school. The hero doesn't stand still; she (or he) runs around, often in circles. It's a rat race.

Maybe that is unfair. Stories don't only take place in the City Where Nothing Is Ever Good Enough The City that Never Sleeps. Stories can take place wholly in a small town, where the moving is of the souls, usually towards each other, whether in new love or healing old hurt.

Traditional quests though, are about moving and searching and encountering things stranger and greater than seen at home. What is the purpose of questing? What are we searching for when we travel? To see from different perspectives? Perhaps to find a different place, because one never belonged anyway. Either way, you always come back changed.

I am starting to like the quotes on Mindbloom, or at least my collection of them. Among quotes devoted to treating your body like a temple, eating well to live well, and treating the earth respectfully are quotes related to the usefulness of art, imagination, and books. I need more quotes about books. Books are a wonderful way to travel, not only through places and on quests, but through other people's eyes.

A sociology professor at my university once quoted a man who said, "I don't read books. I live them." I don't see why one can't do both. So that is what I am trying to do. I want to live a life worth writing about. I hope it won't be a tragedy, or even a drama. But I do hope it might be a travelogue. My AP Literature teacher confused the hell out of me by asking us (while we were studying Heart of Darkness) what the point of a travelogue was (and then never telling us). I have thought long and hard about what the point is. I still don't have the answer.

Instead, I'll just share a few of my favorite quotes about traveling.

For Perspective and Education
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine
"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." – Henry Miller
"Travel far enough, you meet yourself." – David Mitchell

For it's own Sake 
“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” – Ursula K. Leguin
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
"To travel is to live." – Hans Christian Anderson

Miscellaneous: For Adventure, Renewal, and to Seek
"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." – Anon
“You lose sight of things… and when you travel, everything balances out.” – Daranna Gidel
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin

Friday, April 5, 2013

7 Rules for Writing in the Internet Age

Bora Zivkovic wrote an article posted in the Scientific American has some tips on how to break into science writing, but it has good advice on how to write, or get read, in the internet age. His original piece is a mine of useful links, but I'm posting a summary below for my own purposes.

1) Find a niche:
"Try to figure out your beat (or obsession) – what is it that excites you the most? Write about that. Try to find your own niche. Become a “go to” person on a particular topic, become an expert (or at least a temporary expert) on that topic" (18).

2) But show your writing versatility:
"Practice the usual journalistic forms – the feature, the interview, the brief news story with inverted pyramid. You will need to demonstrate that you are capable of writing in such forms and styles. But don’t limit yourself to traditional forms. Experiment with new forms. Explain animal behavior by letting animals have a dialogue. Explain science in the form of a fairy tale, Science Fiction or a poem. Try your hand at photography. Draw or paint or graph your own art, illustrations, infographics, cartoons and comic strips. Put some effort into making a video or animation every now and then. Record a podcast sometimes. Give data journalism a try. Try your hand at learning to code (but see). See what works for you" (17).

Also, see this prezi.

3) Don't worry about what's hip:
Blog with some regularity, even if it's just a few links, but you don't have to blog every day. Your readers will find you if they like you Make your blogs as long or as short as you want.

4) Practice:
Writing, of course, even if it's not something you publish, but also reading. How do writers accomplish their goals. Emulate them until you develop your own style. Pay attention to what editors change about your writing.

5) Get some training:
In addition to full-on master programs, there are summer workshops. You can also try an internship.
Educate yourself about writing ethics. Build credibility by citing your sources. Moderate your comments and be present to respond to comments occasionally.

6) Promote yourself:
Don't be afraid to write for free. Nominate yourself for awards. Submit to contests. Make a nice homepage with a simple URL that contains links to everywhere else you are present on the web.

"Your blog can serve as your homepage, or be a prominent and central part of your homepage. If not, make sure your homepage prominently links to your external blog. Make sure your homepage has a well written and accurate About/Bio page, contact information, link to your CV, and your Portfolio with links to all of your published work (perhaps your photography or videos or art on separate tabs). And of course, provide links to all the social media where you have accounts."

As for managing social media, Zivkovic recommends choosing two that work well for you (probably twitter, a professional facebook account, and google+ for the heck of it) and managing those, but also get accounts at other ones that can link back to your homepage.

7) Collaborate instead of compete:
Before, newspapers had to compete for readers. Now, there's so much competition that media outlets need to make allegiances with other media outlets with similar goals. After all, there's so much bad stuff to wade through, the best way to get your message out is to get other people to recommend it--if you recommend messages of similar caliber. This makes sense. Previous advice on how to get into blogging suggests that you comment on other blog posts and post a blog roll. It's also a good idea to join a group blog or do guest posts. Attend some events and network.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mindbloom Review: Grow Your Productivity

I just did some floor exercises. Usually, I would continue surfing abyss of the internet, not even really reading anymore, but scanning, but I was smart enough to recognize the diminishing marginal returns. That, and I wanted to water my poor tree.

You see, in Mindbloom, every time you complete a task that you've set yourself, a little rain cloud hovers over your tree and your tree gets 5-10% more water. Of course, your tree also needs sunlight, which can be accomplished by you viewing your inspirational quotes and pictures once a day for a 10% sunshine boost. If that's not enough sunshine for you, you can also add inspiration to your inspiration roll.

I like Mindbloom. I came across in lifehacker. It's like a productivity game. When I tried to get one of my friends to try it though, she asked me if I was trying to ruin her life. That's because "productivity game" is an oxymoron, and the danger is that you can sucked into the game part instead of the productivity part. You can also hack your own game. It is fun though, like Sims for your real life (which means that it caters to the superego instead of the id). Why get satisfaction out of making your Sim wash the dishes when you can grow a virtual tree by actually washing the dishes?

My boyfriend would make fun of me for the above statement, but Mindbloom works fairly well for me. I'm not interested in culling through quotes, pictures, and music to find the perfect montage of inspiration (though there are some nice quotes in there). This can actually be a downside, because my tree is skewed in terms of its water/sunshine ratio. I really just want to water my tree though. I get sad when its leaves turn brown (or red), even though I swear I've been more consistent about my goals than usual (maybe I'm just setting the bar too high?).

That's one of the nice things about Mindbloom. It has a built-in calendar so you can go back and check how consistent you've been completing your tasks. It can aid you in your quest to form a habit (research shows it takes 21 days).

Mindbloom can also replace your to-do list, as long as your to-do list has a lot of repetition built into it. You probably need a separate to-do list  though, for more specific tasks or tasks that you'll only do once (unless you just want an excuse to add it and water your tree).

Mindbloom is also tapped into the most motivating factor of productivity: the observation effect.

Okay, there has to be a better name for it. But people do tend to perform better when they know they are being watched. More importantly, if you have a companion who pushes you keep up a habit (as opposed to agreeing with you that it's better to sleep in than go jogging), or even push you to do more, you are more likely to succeed. Plus, it might just look bad to have a dead tree in your backyard. Mindbloom also allows you to send rain or sunshine to your friends if you've accrued enough seeds, which serves as a kind of virtual encouragement.

So that's the good. Now for the bad. Like I said, I don't like the inspiration gathering aspect of it. It might help some people, but it doesn't do much for me. Plus, adding new inspiration is a potential time-waster. My other critique is that Mindbloom doesn't have a button to let you water your tree more than once a day for the same task. For example, when I finish writing this blog post, I get to water my tree again. But what if I write two blog posts? If I work on Chinese for 10 minutes (one of my set tasks), I get to water my tree. But what if I work on it for 3 hours (which is really what I should be doing)? Of course, I can get around that by setting another task, like "write two blog posts," but then my tree might suffer because I never write two blog posts in one day, and the extra task makes my leaves bigger, which means that it needs more water.

Hopefully Mindbloom can add a feature that allows for watering more than once for a task a day soon. If not, it's not a big deal. My main issue is that there is no real ipad/iphone app for Mindbloom. They have a version called Bloom, but it doesn't sync up with Mindbloom on your computer, and it seems designed to get money out of you. I don't grudge them that much for it. After all, the company has to make money somehow. Unfortunately for them I won't be participating in it.

Now, if you'll excuse me. I'm going to water my tree.