Friday, January 02, 2015

He obviously didn't do it

I want to write a murder mystery. I'm picturing a six-part miniseries.

There are a bunch of suspects early on, mostly from one single family. Maybe there was an old-fashioned feud with the victim's family, maybe there was a business deal gone bad, but either way, people were at each others' throats figuratively before it was literal.

In the second episode/part/whatever, there's a red herring, probably some action as the police try to apprehend someone, but ultimately they arrest the killer and get him in custody. (Gender isn't set in stone yet.) After this point the police are mostly doing procedural work, but not actually looking for clues or arguing with witnesses with questionable alibis across a table.

The third and fourth episodes focus on the fallout. The killer's dad doesn't believe his son is guilty, mom believes he did do it and is glad, big sister has an agenda of her own and is keeping some secrets. The victim's family is torn apart. They're grieving, and not always in healthy ways. The police investigation revealed a skeleton in their closet or two. Some may even try to get vengeful. Then there's the red herring. His name was dragged through the mud by the media. He's a pariah. His life and business are ruined. He might eventually turn up dead - and whose fault is that?

The fifth episode introduces some concern that the police might have got the wrong guy or screwed up the evidence in a way that makes the case fall apart. If they got the wrong guy, who's the real killer? And is he likely to try again? In addition, the police also realize that the victim had a lover no one knew about who's still out there. Who is it? What's their agenda?

In the climax, the police and the few trustworthy members of the families have to find out who the victim's lover was to stop them from taking revenge and more! Along the way, the concern about the original case is resolved neatly - additional evidence is found, they really did get the right guy.

I enjoyed Broadchurch, but it shared a problem with most of its genre: you can safely ignore all but the beginning and the end. At least three characters are treated as serious suspects despite the fact that in the end they're completely innocent. More people are involved somehow, but not remotely the way it seems at first. Innocent people knew about the crime before the police, or knew that other suspects were acting suspiciously, and did nothing about it for one contrived reason after another. The detectives allow and writers force this to happen by having everyone mislead or outright lie to the police about embarrassing foibles the police wouldn't remotely care about if they knew. Apparently absolutely everyone would rather be suspected of murder than exposed as having gambling debts, or has done something that sounds like a sex crime if they describe it vaguely enough. This is a tiny bit annoying in hour-long TV shows but really can be a problem for a six-episode miniseries. Broadchurch was six hours long but you only need to see the first and last 10 minutes or so to understand the murder.

Partly, of course, this is a genre convention. In a murder mystery, the whole point of the story is generally the mystery about who committed murder. But watch enough of them that use innocent suspects as a source of drama and it gets annoying.

Broadchurch was a perfect demonstration of why that shouldn't be necessary - the show is only vaguely about whodunnit; it's much more of a soap opera with a lot of secrets and lies in apparently normal families demonstrating how you never really know someone. The death of some kid, and finally catching the killer, is almost a framing device. But there's no reason the writers had to do that.

Monday, October 06, 2014

World of Warcraft rules

  1. No 5-man or raid content starting after 9:30 p.m., and even 9 p.m. is pushing it. I can never really be sure how long they will take, and I need my sleep.
  2. No WoW between 9 a.m. and noon on my days off during the week. There's always something more productive I could do with that time.
  3. Remember that it's just a game, and it's not possible to do everything in it. I never could, even if I hadn't missed two years. In the future I should make more realistic to-do lists for the game than my current one, and/or be more willing to give up on them if necessary.
Anything else?

Last night I was up later than usual, and abandoned a group in progress to log off as early as I did, despite the facts that I've been playing quite a bit lately and I'll be up even later tonight. I have to draw lines somewhere, and those lines above seem like good places to start.

I'm not too worried about my Warcraft habit at the moment for two reasons. I can point to an objective deadline to complete most of my to-do list, because they're making big changes to the game soon and some things will be harder if not impossible after that. And my habit isn't all that bad in an objective sense. I've only been up after midnight due to the game two or three times since I started playing again, and it hasn't caused problems at work or with friends at all as far as I know.

But being overly tired is a problem itself, and if I still play just as much after that deadline goes by, well, I'll have a problem and should probably quit.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How to use a door

The pace of technological change may leave many of us adrift, confused by a world of new apps, gadgets with more and more uses, and a constant bombardment of information. One new innovation that apparently confuses many people, both in its basic function and in the wide variations in individual design, is the door. Here, I hope to enumerate some principles that may help you navigate these dangerous machines.

  1. Follow all instructions intended for travelers in the form of signs, placards, indicators written on the floor, walls, or doors, or similar guidance.
  2. If you want to go somewhere on the other side of a door and it does not open automatically, open it, then proceed. To open it, push on the door. You may have to operate a lever, handle, knob, or lock first, as appropriate. Some doors also have buttons - see the advisory note below.
  3. If you reach the door at the same time as or slightly before someone with impaired mobility, yield and hold it open for them to go first. Some common causes of impaired mobility include carrying heavy loads, being wheelchair-bound, or being very old. If the door opens in both directions or in the direction you're going, the preferred way to hold it open is to go through it, stand aside, and then hold it open with one hand while gesturing with the other to indicate that the person may pass. If the door only opens contrary to the direction you're going, then pull it open and stand aside as much as possible while you hold it. In either case, do not proceed or hold the door in such a way that you cause further problems for the person with impaired mobility.
  4. You may choose to yield and hold a door for someone without impaired mobility. However, remain aware of your surroundings: if they have stopped for some reason, weren't going the way you think they were going, or yield passage back to you, you may be delaying things further.
  5. Some doors are double doors, meaning that there is a vertical opening with two doors that meet in the middle when closed. If there are no signs indicating how to use them and if both doors are in equally good repair and equally accessible, follow the same rule of thumb as in traffic: use the left to pass and stay on the right otherwise.
  6. Some public spaces have several doors side by side, all allowing passage to the same place. If they are all unlocked, then use as many of them as necessary to avoid congestion. Do not go to the one already in use if there is a long line for it.
  7. When doors allow access to enclosed spaces such as elevators or subway cars, the people leaving those spaces have the right of way. When you are trying to enter such spaces, yield to people leaving by standing to one side before you attempt to enter so they have room to safely proceed.

ADVISORY NOTE: Some doors are designed to be used by people with impaired mobility. Such doors generally have a button nearby so they can be opened with little force, leverage, or fine motor control. While it is not against the rules for people without impediments to use these buttons, they should be aware that doing so is generally slower than just opening the door on their own.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

You don't know what you've got until it's gone

About a month ago now, my computer's hard drive died. I installed a new hard drive and I got all my personal files off the old hard drive by myself, even though I hadn't been using a backup program, and set up the new drive. I was proud of this. It involved DOS commands, safe mode, and five-year-old installation CDs, but I probably saved about $150 off the cost of taking it to a professional. I may have never changed a car's oil, tire, or battery, but it takes some skill to do all this for just the cost of the drive.

Pride gave way to dread, though, when I went looking for my computer game CDs and was unable to find them. I'm running out of places to look.

I haven't played any computer games that much lately, but I've spent an hour or so on them now and then, and it's still been comforting to have the option. World of Warcraft in particular was a big part of my life. I stopped playing it almost two years ago now, but until then it was a more efficient pasttime than anything else, more personal than books or TV, and more social than any of my other hobbies, at least the way I did them. I was part of a guild, working together to bring down huge monsters. I attended the wedding of people in it. When I quit, T. and I were about to make some big purchases that would eat up some of our free time, so cutting out an unnecessary hobby with a time commitment and a monthly subscription fee just seemed responsible. And I was getting bored with the game at the time anyway. But since then they've made big changes to it, and we've got those purchases out of the way. As some current hobbies became boring over the past month or even longer, I've wondered now and then about WoW. I didn't act on that until I finished installing the word-processing software and iTunes and printer drivers and planned to install the game disks and couldn't find them.

I always assumed I could come back to the game, if circumstances were right, that Furryous and my other characters would always be there. Outmoded, way behind in the gear needed for competitive raiding, I'd have to relearn a lot about how to play due to changes since I left, but still, they'd be waiting for me. Or even if Blizzard deletes inactive accounts after a certain amount of time, the World itself would be. I could go fly over Stormwind, dig up a few more archaeological relics in Outland, or start trying again at anytime I felt like it.

Or so I thought.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I think I've become more antisocial over the past few months than I was, say, two years ago. Worse at small talk, not laughing at jokes unless I really genuinely find them funny, not worrying so much about getting together with friends, hanging out at Unfogged a lot less, oversharing or being too closemouthed at random. It worries me a bit.

Is it caused by some problem in my head? Maybe I am relapsing into depression. I had a mild case of depression for several years, for which I was both medicated and in therapy. I weaned myself off the medication with help from the therapist, and made some good lifestyle changes, and I'm pretty sure I haven't been depressed in three years in any meaningful sense, but who knows, maybe I'm just falling back into that condition. Or maybe I'm getting complacent because I'm happily engaged, so I can relax about socializing, even in ways I really shouldn't. Or maybe my job is getting to me. I've never been enthusiastic about it, and it's getting worse soon because the office is moving.

But then again, maybe it's a totally healthy response to just not liking people much. Sorry if I don't always feel like playing along with my supervisor's jokes, I don't actually dislike him, he's just not my favorite co-worker, nor even in the top five. Another co-worker I fail to banter with, I actually do dislike. As for feeling pressure to socialize, well, why should I?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

I found this interesting, both as a funny story and as something I should think about when/if I get back into writing.

It’s eerie to open your email and find a message from one of your characters. It’s downright surreal when he threatens to sue you. A few years ago, I published a story in Tin House which (for reasons that should be clear later) I’ll refer to here just as “Peter T_____, Falling Apart.”... As always, I Googled the name. Not to ensure there were no real Peter T______s in the world—it’s very hard to find reasonable names that no one’s ever had—but so I wouldn’t make the mistake of naming him after some football player known to everyone but me...

In a story, I’d tone down the following for believability; but what follows is the verbatim email: “i thoought when you write a novel all people whom have that name should be notified before writing a novel for the people won;t sue you for infringe ments on said name. and also royalties there are three of us left with the name peter t______.”

I have to admit, I've been shameless about naming characters after people I know, so if I ever finish something I could be in trouble. Fortunately, my habit seems different from this in three ways.

1. I've never used full names, just mixed and matched first and last names.

2. The more important to the story the character is, the less important the person has been to me, and vice versa, and the biggest characters' names are completely made up or named after fictional or historical characters. No one is going to care if a character is named after a common-sounding name from the Mayflower. And if any of my co-workers or friends of friends object to having parts of their names used, it would be fairly easy to change the three or four mentions of those characters to something else. 

3. I've never been in danger of being published. Closest I've come to even finishing fiction since college is my experiment with NaNoWriMo. I don't really feel bad about not making that goal - November was busy in general, and of course, I got interrupted - but I do wish I'd done more since then. I've written about three pages since the end of November. My characters have literally and figuratively been stuck in a boring meeting.

The good news is, I think I've finally figured out how to get it moving, how to get from where they are to where I want them to be. Knock on wood.

Although, uh oh, this made me think of Googling my main character's name, and there might be only one person by that name in the country. Not as common as I thought.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I've never tried using a "Starbucks nickname" before. Suddenly I wonder if I should.

My unusual names, first and last, bugged me as a kid. When I was young, I just wanted to fit in and be normal and a distinctive name, first and last, made that hard. It was also corrupted into lots of weird nicknames, which I didn't like. That was mostly me being hypersensitive rather than anything insulting about them, but still, yet another unavoidable problem because of what I was called.

I've mostly made my peace with it by now. I can better appreciate the meaning and history of "Cyrus." Having a weird name is actually useful in at least one way: weeding out telemarketers. It can be a conversation starter, now and then. And of course, I've grown a thicker skin. And while a "Starbucks nickname" might be be nice, I rarely actually go to Starbucks.

However, I am planning on simplifying my last name when I get married. It would be too confusing to have a hyphenated name when neither part of it came from my wife.