Computer Input

26 October, 2007


Sometime over the past twenty years or so, there was a shift in thinking of computer users.  The two primary inputs for computers – keyboard and mouse – have switched places in people’s minds as to which is the more intuitive input.  In previous years, computer users could grasp typing just fine (even if the letter appearing on a screen was just short of magic), but explaining a mouse was difficult.  There was this issue of mentally mapping: you push forward to move the cursor on the screen upward.


Nowadays the mouse is the assumed easy input.  Casual online games will often be designed to use only mouse input.  Including any keyboard input (even if only the unmistakable arrow keys) means that fewer people will be able to ‘get’ the game easily.


I’m not entirely sure why this shift happened.  I suspect that mouse input is actually more intuitive and easier to understand.  Keyboards were only more immediately graspable because people were already familiar with typewriters.  Now that people are using computers first (rather than re-learning word processing from typewriters), we’re seeing mouses as the preferred simple input.


On Wisdom Teeth

23 September, 2007

Having one’s wisdom teeth removed is a sort of rite of passage.  It’s something that most people in our society will go through at some point.  One feature a lot of these rite (be they weddings or college graduations) is that they aren’t particularly interesting to people who haven’t gone through the process, but to those who are about to perform the rite or have performed the rite, any and all stories of the rite are engrossing.

I think there should be a website that just collects stories about people’s wisdom tooth extraction.  (There do appear to be individual stories on different blogs, but no compendium appears to exist.)

I had three of my four wisdom teeth removed a little over a year ago.  I just discovered some notes I wrote to my wife in the few hours after the operation, before I could talk with any comfort.  Alas, this text can’t quite convey the charm of the handwritten words — clearly written with both careful concentration and sloppy through the recovering fog of drugs — and penned the back of a doctor’s prescription note.

“I totally can’t feel my tongue.”

“I have teeth”

“Can you ask about the sneezing thing?”

“There’s something about how I’m supposed to sneeze.”

“I think it’s on their website.”

“So … they only took out the left ones?”

“We’ve got new prescriptions?”

“Can you ask when I should come in or the other side?”  (Yes, depite the progression toward clearer thought, I forgot the f in for.)

“When it hurts?”

“Some other time?”

This reminds me: I should make an appointment to have my last wisdom tooth removed.

A Play

16 September, 2007

A friend of mine had a birthday party recently.  He encouraged people to bring one-act plays, which would then be performed (script-in hand, not memorized) in front of the group.  I wanted to write something myself, and wanted something that wasn’t quite a standard play.  The best way, I thought, was to add some improvization elements.  So I came up with what is essentially a MadLibs-style play.  After taking audience suggestions for the blank words, a trio of actors performed the play without any prior rehersal.

The performance ended up being funnier than I could have imagined.

I’ve uploaded the Word Document of the play below:

A Very [adjective] Play

Edit: trying a new link to the play:

A Very [adjective] Play


6 May, 2007

People have different reactions and relationships to the shows they watch or games they play.  For me, my reaction in seeing this particular Perplex City puzzle card was that the six words in all caps and underlined would be good as sestina keywords.  So here it is: my ARG-inspired poem.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rage modifiers

15 April, 2007

There’s regular rage (or hate, or passion, or a variety of other emotions and states).  And you can have pure, unbridled rage.  Can you have impure, unbridled rage?  What about pure, bridled rage? I’m pretty sure you could have pure rage and unbridled rage alone.  Maybe?

I wrote a haiku while eating some fruit

8 April, 2007

Plums are like cherries
Only a little bigger
And they taste diff’rent

Cartoon Attractiveness

6 April, 2007

Cartoon characters are generally attractive — in many cases unrealistically so.  However, I would claim that this is not just wish fulfillment or objectification.  The nature of cartoons themselves may actually contribute to their attractiveness.  Namely:

1) Symmetry is easier to draw.  As I recall from the news or from a science museum, body and facial symmetry are attractive.  I would also claim that drawing an asymmetric character and having that character not look goofy (or just plain wrong) is a lot harder than drawing a symmetric character.  So attractiveness is easier to draw.
2) Artists accentuate differences.  A reader or viewer needs to be able to tell characters apart, and so the artist needs to be able to make differences obvious.  One way to do this is by accentuating the differences between males and females — clearly delineating two groups of characters.  So, males will gain larger muscles and squarer jaws, while women will gain larger breasts and hips.  (Increasing ‘male-ness’ and ‘female-ness’ also serves to highlight the sexual or romantic tension that exists in lots of comics, and thus a character or story reason beyond just ‘big gazongas sell comics.’)
3) Clear skin.  Clear skin, free of blemishes, is a sign of health and attractiveness.  Cartoons convey a person with few lines and colors compared to reality.  Similar to a soft focus in film, or airbrushed pictures, the uniformity in color in a cartoon creates the impression of good skin.  An artist will draw a face or a leg without wrinkles or pores, making it inherently better looking.

It’ll be interesting to see if more sophisticated computer generated characters will affect these traits.

Skills can make the character

30 March, 2007

One of the things that makes a character in a story likeable is being good at something important to him or her.  Or maybe not just good: exceptional in in an unique area of expertise.  A likeable character is one that, at least in some way, the reader or audience can respect.  It also helps if the character knows what they’re good at and uses that knowledge well.

One good example is Han Solo — who transcends just being a witty bad boy by actually being an exceptional pilot.  Similarly, Marshall from Alias is the most sympathetic character partly because he (unlike the others) is great at his job and doesn’t make mistakes.  The audience of Buffy the Vampire Slayer can like Giles because he is, in fact, a great researcher.

With a real hero character, the special skill that makes them great may not be immediately obvious.  The thing that really allows Mr. Incredible to be an effective super hero isn’t his strength or indestructibility — it’s the fact that he has a perfect understanding of physics.  He can calculate in a split second exactly how to jump or how to throw something in order to do what he wants.  Captain Jack Sparrow’s capability as a pirate comes not only from his charm, but from the fact that he as really good balance.  In Pirates, Jack is able to perform most of his amazing feats thanks to the fact that he can stay upright and functioning against the odds.  The audience may not consciously realize it, but part of Jack’s appeal comes from his understanding and inventive use of his great balance.


29 March, 2007

            Was there to be true love & sunshine for the princess?


            The ampersand didn’t particularly like the sentence.  But who was she to complain?  It was good, honest work, and they couldn’t all be Shakespeare.  The ampersand would be a little sad to see it go.  Nowadays, her main employment was on standardized, sanitized marquees or hand-written signs.

            As she headed home, the ampersand wondered if she had always been this lonely.  She had usually been a few words apart from the other written symbols – except for the few times when she got within waving distance of a period.  The signage work only made it worse, as there was almost never anyone else around (except perhaps a flighty apostrophe, with its head in the clouds).

            The ampersand could even remember some times when she had been happy for her separation from the others.  The steadfast and diligent period had revealed in his gravelly voice that he hated the times when necessity required that intimate work with quotations.  The single quotation, while a little smarter than his double-quotation brother, was equally as stuck-up.  The period had then expressed his opinion that he would trade any of his easy work with quotations for a hard run in sentence with a semicolon.  Not that the period was impartial – the stop and pause punctuation usually stuck together.

            Putting the keys on the hallway table, the ampersand turned on a light in her apartment.  Dusk was just beginning to settle when she decided that this would not be just another night of staying in with the cats.  Less than half an hour later, the ampersand had changed into a dress that took advantage of her curves in a way that her work clothes did not.  She was picking up her keys again, ready to meet someone new.


            She hadn’t ever seen him before.  He looked young and lost in the bar – clearly working up the nerve to talk to her.  She wanted to talk to him too, but wasn’t sure if her being forward would scare him off.  What the heck, she thought, may as well try.

            As she sidled up next to him in the corner, a look of fear and relief flashed across his face.  They shouted smalltalk over the music and burble of other patrons’ conversations.  Eventually he suggested getting some coffee, and the ampersand beamed acceptance.


            “Do you go out often?” she asked over a slowly cooling third cup of blackish ooze.

            He had explained his job as the interrobang was to be a sentence-ending punctuation combining the functions of an exclamation point and a question mark.  ‘What’ was the signature phrase of his job.

            “Go out?  Not much,” the interrobang smiled slightly to show that he was both joking and earnest.  “I’m not terribly busy with work, but I don’t always feel entirely comfortable around other, more established punctuation or other symbols.”

            She liked him.  She liked the precision of his use, the concision in his form.  He may have been different, but he was more than that: he was special.

            The interrobang looked at the ampersand.  “I would like to go out with you again.”

            Her eyes focused on the rim of her coffee cup.  “I think ….”

Greeting Cards as Comics or Jokes

17 March, 2007

There’s a certain type of greeting card designed to be humorous.  Some setup on the front of the card, then turn to the inside and there’s a punchline.  This is similar to a newspaper-style comic strip in its graphic layout.  Though I would claim that the constrained setup-then-punchline structure  of a greeting card may be more similar to a spoken joke than a comic strip.  Greeting cards can have a long or short setup, but require a short punchline.  Comic strips can have multiple sub-jokes within them.

Newspaper-style comic strips also have a fundamentally different timing than a joke greeting card.  Comic strips tend to be either one panel (in which case the entire thing is designed to be a humorous snapshot) or three to four panels (which can give a sense of time passing and can include a blank panel for a pause or beat).  Again, a funny greeting card seems more like a spoken joke in format, even if the medium is more like a comic strip.

The innovation I think greeting cards can give to newspaper comics is the page turning.   Readersof newspaper-style strips may read ahead, effectively diminishing the joke.  If one has to open the card, it’s hard to accidentally read ahead.  So, what I would like to see is a three or four page card that has one panel of a comic strip on each page.  I don’t think it’s terribly practical on a large scale, but it seems like a nifty little project.