I confess: when it comes to automated translations, I am a hypocrite. As a reader, I have turned to them on a couple of occasions. They are clumsy, and at times almost unreadable, but I admit I find them useful as a last resort. As a writer (one who does some translating on the side and is used to agonizing about each and every word), on the other hand, they make me cringe.
Yay, I finally managed to get the third book of Citlalli into some semblance of a readable form… of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t have half a dozen rounds of corrections to look forward to, but for the time being I’m aiming for a late July, early August.
That’s a little later than I would have liked, but nowhere near as late as I had feared it would be.
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Keyboard shortcuts are a wonderful invention. They allow us to integrate common tasks into our typing without really disrupting its flow, and for the most part they follow rules that are more or less consistent. We have that ‘i’ is for ‘italics’, ‘b’ is for ‘bold’ and ‘o’ is for ‘open’ all of which seem reasonable enough, but then we have that ‘x’ is for ‘cut’ and ‘v’ is for paste, simply because no one else would have them, and because they are stuck on either side of ‘c’, which is for ‘copy’ (that, and because ‘p’ is for print and because, with copy already hogging the ‘c’, cut is out of luck). So far, so good… well, more or less.
The problem is that we are just as likely to make mistake when typing a shortcut as when typing anything else, and our keyboard layouts can give rise to some rather dangerous clusters, such as (U)-I-O-P and B-N. While underline is not much of an issue, this means that all of a sudden you may find yourself being presented with a dialog window helpfully asking you which file it is that you would like to open when what you all you are trying to do is italicize some text, or with a print dialog when you are trying to open a file (though that is nowhere near as annoying, as in both instances you are expecting a dialog window to pop-up and ask for your input)… and that is only if you don’t find yourself suddenly in front of a brand new file when all you are trying to do is add a little emphasis.
No, these shortcut typos that bring up an unwanted dialog window don’t happen often enough to be a major issue, but I admit that, when they do, they tend to get on my nerves (especially because, at least in my case, they become more frequent when the juices are flowing, and I’m typing a little faster than I should). The good news is that this is a situation can be addressed by remapping or disabling some shortcuts either throughout your system, or for any given app. The bad news is that, if you go that route, you are likely to have to make some compromises.
If you want to shift a shortcut on a system wide basis you have to make sure you are not going to be creating a conflict with some obscure shortcut used by some app, meaning that the alternative shortcuts are likely to be less than intuitive. If you want to modify your shortcuts on an app by app basis you can avoid this problem, but then you’ll have to remember which shortcut goes with which app. As far as I’m concerned, neither one of these options is worth the hassle.
A more realistic solution that can be applied on a system wide basis -but one that does take some getting used to, and will drive anyone who happens to borrow your computer crazy- is to have bold and open switch places. That way you get one cluster with underline, italics and bold, and a second cluster with new and open. Of course, if you do this, then print becomes more of an issue, as -just like open-it brings up an unwanted dialog window.
The easy alternative is simply to get rid of ‘open’ and ‘new’ in your main writing apps. That way you don’t have to worry when trying to use bold or italics. Unfortunately that means that you are giving up some functionality, as you are then stuck selecting those options by hand.
Anyway, if you want to remap your shortcuts you can do it from from the system preferences on a mac (go to ‘keyboard’, select ‘keyboard shortcuts’, and then click on the plus sign to bring up a window where you can remap your shortcut). If you are running windows I think you need a specialized program to do this, but there seem to be a few of those out there.
As for me, for the time being I am still trying to implement the other choice I have when it comes to this particular issue, but I admit hasn’t been easy: I’m trying to learn to own up to my mistakes, quit whining, and become a better -or at least a more careful- typist.
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I was reading an article about a new kind of film rating that is being introduced in Sweden: one that is meant to address the problem of sexism. It is one of those things that sound like a good idea until you start thinking about them. I mean, encouraging writers to include more female characters, and to have them talk about something other than men is a great idea (sorry guys, you are not that central to our lives), but the problem is that that places a number of artificial restrictions that can be downright ridiculous under certain circumstances.
After all, if a movie has to feature at least two female characters, talking to each other about something other than men to get a passing grade, what would the rating for a classic such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) be? Well, on the positive side we can safely say that the movie got part of it right, as none of its female characters can be accused of wasting their breath talking about men. In fact, in three and a half hours (or more, depending on the version), there is not one single word that is actually uttered by a female character (come to think about it, I don’t think there are any female extras either), and the truth is that it doesn’t really matter. The reason: given the nature of the plot -and when and where the story is supposed to take place- their absence felt appropriate. That in turn brings me to the reason why a rating that is meant to police a ratio of male to female characters, and dictate how those characters are supposed to interact with each other is a bad idea: the fact that different plots call for different things, and I’d like to see writers and directors retain the right to tell their stories as they see fit without being penalized for it… even if that calls for a movie that is well north of the three hours mark, and in which women are nowhere to be seen.
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I have a confession to make: I have an aversion to adjectives. Not all adjectives, but rather to that tendency to attach three of the blasted things to each and every noun (though I suspect Tolkien used to be believe that five was the absolute minimum). In fact one of the things some have mentioned about my books is that they feel lost because, unless it is relevant to the plot line itself, I tend to leave descriptions of people and places to my readers’ imaginations. If you see the characters as being green with purple polka dots in your mind, more power to you, and if you want me to tell you where on earth a story takes place, well, that’s just too bad. Add to that that I don’t particularly care for action or romance, and you will soon realize that my books can probably be described as ‘weird’.
Is this a problem?
Well, I do realize that some people don’t like it, that it doesn’t meet their expectations, and this tends to throw them off a bit, but at the same time I think there is a freedom to not having the book predigested. It can also lead to some pretty amusing reactions because people keep reading things into my books that I never really put there… I’m either smarter than I thought, or the book they are reading is surprisingly different from the one I think wrote.
Still, I love creating new worlds, bringing them to life… and then allowing my readers to do the same, and to do it in their own terms. You’d be surprised at just how unlike each other’s our worlds can turn out to be, and that’s the beauty of it.
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Yesterday Amnesty International released a report on the dismal conditions experienced by migrant workers in Qatar, where preparations are underway for the 2022 World Cup, and something that seems to amount almost to modern day slavery is legal (that would be the Kafala system).
Anyway, the BBC’s headline reads: Qatar migrant workers ‘treated like animals’ – Amnesty
CNN’s headline is: Amnesty International: Qatar rife with abuse of migrant workers
Reuters’s reads: “Alarming exploitation” of workers in Qatar: Amnesty
The Guardian’s is: Amnesty Report on Qatar exposes ‘grim’ abuse of migrant workers (BTW, The Guardian also features a piece on the rather amusing design of one of the stadiums, you can find that one here)
I think you get the general idea as to what the content of the Amnesty report happens to be, but then -if you dig a little deeper- you come up with the following gem from The Gulf Times, a Qatar-based, English language newspaper: Amnesty commends ‘accessible, open’ Qatar…
Say WHAT? Are these guys even reading from the same freaking report? Well, the truth is that they probably are… with a magnifying glass, and looking for the one or two favorable sentences that were inserted out of politeness.
Of course, while this example is more transparent than most (in fact it is so transparent as to be downright pathetic), the fact that Qatar is a tiny country that is not English speaking serves to make the discrepancy even more glaring by providing us with a single headline from the one local source that is trying desperately to put a favorable spin on a train wreck. If Qatar were a large, English speaking country, the general picture would be more balanced, and the truth is that there is always some bias when it comes to the local news. In other words, while this is an extreme example, it probably reflects a reality that is far more common than we’d like to believe… so, how aware are you of what your country looks like through the lenses of foreign, and preferably foreign language, news organizations?
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I’m currently working on the first readable draft of book three of Citlalli, and I have come up against three stubborn chapters. I knew this was coming, of course (after all, it’s not like they were all that agreeable the first time around), and I also know why it is that they are giving me so much trouble (in fact I freely admit that I brought this on myself), but that doesn’t mean that dealing with stubborn chapters that refuse to be written is one of the most annoying aspects of this whole writing thing. Still, we have to come to an understanding somehow…
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Like too many people, I spend hours a day sitting in front of my computer. For the most part I do what I’m supposed to be doing, but being a writer I freely admit that at times the line between work and play can get more than a little blurry. I may be writing a story, and all of a sudden I realize that, to keep myself from looking like a fool, or like more of a fool than I usually do, I need to do a little research. Having the ability to do that almost without giving it a second thought is awesome. I type a few characters and, more often than not, the answer is there, before my eyes. The problem is that once I’m done I often find myself going off on some sort of tangent, rather than getting back to whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing, and to be honest most of those things are a waste of time… the kind of lumber that accumulates in our minds, and winds up clogging everything. That’s the downside of having the world at our fingertips.
In the ‘old days’ if I wanted to do some research I had to reach for a book (if I was lucky… otherwise I had to go to that daunting place called ‘the library’); if I wanted to catch up with the news I’d have to either buy a newspaper or turn to my trusty old TV (either way I was stuck with one, or maybe two, points of view); if I wanted to watch a movie chances were that I’d have to leave my house altogether, either to go to a theater or to a video store. Today I don’t even own a TV, and books, music, news and movies are all a click away (as for games, I refuse to install any, not because I’m not interested, but rather because I know I’m too easily distracted, and I know that if I happened to get hooked on a game I’d never get anything done). In other words, as our gadgets converge our activities too become intertwined. For the most part that is a good thing, as many of the divisions that are being torn down were artificial (research may involve a news-former-paper article, a book, a documentary or a lecture, and being able to jump from one of those to the next, to say nothing of having them immediately accessible, is most definitely an advantage), but then there is the problem of our ever shrinking attention spans… or maybe I should say ‘my’ (hence my reluctance to install a single game).
I freely admit that, while I shake my head at my own inability to concentrate, the idea of doing research the old fashioned way terrifies me. I have gotten used to the convenience of having everything at my fingertips, but at the same time there is a problem with the fact that, as walls are torn down, and everything is at my fingertips, that is bound to include, well, everything, and that is where I tend to get in trouble. Put a kitten or a puppy on my path and all thoughts of doing what I’m supposed to be doing fly out the window.
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Yesterday I stumbled upon one of my very old books… and by that I mean one of those my mom used to read to me when I was only a couple of years old, long before I could read them myself. The thing was falling apart, and there was some evidence that it had been patched up more than once. In other words, it showed all the signs of a children’s book that has been ‘well-loved’ (read ‘thoroughly chewed’). When I saw it, I was overjoyed. It was such a seemingly insignificant thing, but it brought back so many memories. I spent a couple of hours getting reacquainted with some I hadn’t really forgotten (though I admit I was surprised to realize that that little book included The Three Astronauts, a very short story by Umberto Eco) and getting a little teary eyed.
It was, in other words, a wonderful experience… and then I started thinking about kids today, who are learning to read on a tablet, that will get replaced and discarded in a couple of years, kids who will never have a chance to stumble upon an old friend as I did yesterday, and I couldn’t help but to think that they will be missing something… and the worst part is that they’ll never even notice.
Oh, I’m not denying that there are plenty of advantages to technology, but it is a trade-off, and the kids that are growing up glued to their tablets will never know what they are missing. They will never know the joy of stumbling upon an unexpected treasure in a pile of old books, they will never wonder about the hands that held the book they are currently reading a hundred years ago. In short, we are heading into a world in which there are no first editions, and in which getting your favorite book autographed by its author is no longer an option. Granted, moving half a world away with a library comprising thousands of volumes is bound to be easier with a tablet or an ereader than with thousands upon thousands of pounds of dead trees (I’ve done it, and I’ll be the first to admit that it is not much fun), but there is a certain kind of magic to the printed page. Cracking open an old book brings back a scent of the past… and that is a scent that is on the brink of being lost for good.
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Well, it looks like there are going to be some minor delays when it comes to the release of my new book. The reason? The proofs never got here. Do I even have to say that I am more than a little frustrated?
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So Apple’s new OS is out and it is free. Users should be delighted, right? Um… maybe not so much. The problem is that, very quietly, Apple has gotten rid of a tiny little feature: the ability to sync locally. In fact you are now forced to use iCloud… whether you want to, or not.
Well, I hear you say, the cloud is the way of the future. Who syncs at the local level anyway? What decade do you think this is? The answer is that I know what decade it is, but I also know Apple cannot be trusted with my private data, what did you do? Sleep through the revelations that came out this past summer? Does the name Snowden ring a bell? And before you tell me that I shouldn’t worry if I don’t have anything to hide, let me tell you that the fact that I don’t have anything to hide doesn’t mean that I’m going to be volunteering to be strip searched any time soon either.
Oh, and before you decided that I’m a tinfoil hat nut, let me reassure you that I do use cloud storage on a daily basis, and I find it extremely convenient… I just refuse to use Apple’s version of the blasted thing. They can choose to collaborate with the NSA, but if they do I want to retain the right to store my information elsewhere.
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In these past few days we have seen the innocent, and terrified, face of a cute, blonde, little girl plastered over the news as Greek authorities try to figure out who she is. That all efforts should be made to find her family is undeniable, but I can’t help but to find the emphasis on her blondness and the assumptions surrounding her being discovered in a Roma camp in Greece to be deeply disturbing.
That she was found with a family that was not her own, and in the company of adults who haven’t exactly provided a consistent account as to how it was that she came to be with them in the first place, is undeniable. This means that it is possible that she is a victim of child trafficking, but in light of the racist attitudes that have historically tainted the perception of all things Roma (aka gypsy), and the way in which not too long ago children were routinely told that, if they didn’t behave, the gypsies would take them, I am deeply disturbed by the way in which the story is being presented.
The charity currently caring for her said that when she arrived the girl was filthy (something that tends to happen when poverty forces your family to live in squalor), and traumatized (to be expected when a child is torn from everything that is familiar to her, and tossed into a completely alien environment, with no explanation whatsoever). This doesn’t mean she was loved or properly cared for, but at the same time it doesn’t necessarily follow that she wasn’t… and then we have the fact that the story originates in Greece, a country with a resurgent neo-nazi movement embodied by the Golden Dawn.
Considering the fact that in quite a few countries Hitler and his followers killed a higher percentage of the Roma than of the Jewish population (though coming up with an exact figure is much harder), the role of such an ideology should probably be taken into account. Add to that the fact that the gypsies have long been one of Europe’s favorite escape goats (while Greece is a country in the throes of a devastating crisis, where escape goats are desperately needed), and what we have is a rather disturbing picture of the biases that may be fueling this story.
Yes, all efforts should be made to locate this little girl’s family (though the fact that brown-skinned girls attract no such attention is in itself telling), and if she was kidnapped, or if she is a victim of human trafficking, she should be allowed to go home, but at the same time there is something to that old ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thing that seems to have been lost somewhere along the way. This is not unique to this case, a rush to judge is part and parcel of what the media usually does, but even though the evidence seems to be compelling, this is one case in which I wish they would exercise more restraint.
After centuries of discrimination the Roma have no reason to trust the authorities, and they tend to live on the the edges of society, where the proper paperwork is not exactly the norm. This means that the possibility that the adults that were with that little girl when she was found, adults who insist that what we have here is an unofficial adoption, has to be considered (though, unless the girl’s birth mother comes forward to confirm their account, chances are that they will never be able to prove that they are telling the truth either, that’s precisely why it is so important for the legal standard to be ‘innocent until proven guilty’)… and, sensational as the story may be, I wish the media would reserve judgement before fueling the fires of a hatred that has been with us for hundreds of years.
UPDATE: So Maria’s mother has been identified. She is a Roma woman from Bulgaria who has corroborated the story the adoptive parents have been telling all along, namely that she gave her away because she could not afford to care for her. She insists that no money changed hands, though efforts seem to be under way to charge someone with something… whether anyone is guilty or not. As to the question of what’s in store for Maria, that is unclear. Will the authorities that now hold her fate in their hands acknowledge their mistake, and return her to her own community, or will they place her in what they deem to be a ‘good family’… with ‘a good family’ being defined as ‘one that is not Roma’?
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Yesterday I went grocery shopping, and as I was walking down the cookie aisle -salivating like a good Pavlovian dog- I heard someone mention a recent study that found that ‘oreos are as addictive as cocaine’. I had seen the headlines, of course, and I had found them amusing and bordering on the absurd, but at the same time I was worried about what those headlines seemed to suggest: ‘oreos are as bad as cocaine’, and that’s where the difference kicks in… not that the similarities along the addiction line can be stretched as far as that headline would seem to suggest.
Yes, sugar tickles the same pleasure centers of the brain as drugs do, that has been known for a while (hence the ‘salivating like a good Pavlovian dog’ bit), but while we can be said to crave both substances to a certain extent, there is a difference both in term to how we are likely to respond to being unable to get a ‘fix’ are, and in terms of the damage the substance in question does to our bodies.
Simply put, most people I know can skip their daily cookie fix without displaying any obvious withdrawal symptoms, and -diabetics not withstanding- the likelihood that you will eat enough oreos in one sitting to kill yourself are… well, they are pretty much nil.
And if you are wondering if my passionate defense of the blasted things means I’m secretly in the employ of the food industry, let me reassure you that that is not the case. My defense of the cookie industry has to do with something more fundamental than that: even though I am not particularly keen on oreos, I do have a massive sweet tooth, and I am not to happy about the growing criminalization of sugar I see all around me. Yes, I realize that we should try to exercise some self-control in that regard (or maybe that we should try to exercise, period), but while I am aware that sugar is not the healthiest of foods, putting it on the same level as cocaine -or even nicotine- is downright absurd, and I am not particularly fond of the fact that sweets have somehow been turned into a guilty pleasure… so excuse me while I go grab a cookie.
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Yikes, a week after wrapping one project up I am all but done with the first draft of book three of Citlalli. No, that doesn’t mean it’s done (in fact I think that, between revisions and rest periods, it still has something like a year to go), but even though a part of me knows that the fact that I could cross all three of those things off my list in a matter of days is mostly a coincidence, it is still a rather nice feeling… especially because when it came to Citlaill I had to deal with quite a bit of writer’s block.
Of course, I also know myself well enough to realize that, as soon as I start revising it, I will probably also start cringing at the sorry state of that first draft, but then again that’s why it is called a first draft (actually, it’s not even called that, as I usually refer to my ‘first draft’ as a ‘rough draft’… the ‘first draft’ is actually the second one, which is the first one I expect to be sort of legible).
Well, that’s how a writer’s life goes, but for today I guess I’ll just revel in the fact that that draft is done… tomorrow I’ll go back to cringing.