Online Story Generator now available

I like using story generators for my writing practice because you just never know what you’re going to end up with. This is a great thing because it forces you to adapt, to try writing about something that’s not in your zone of comfort, that’s different enough to make you feel incomfortable and when I’m uncomfortable is usually when I’m growing. I couldn’t find an online story generator I liked (no disrespect to the vast number of far more comprehensive ones out there) so I threw one together in php to suit my needs.

It’s fairly rudimentary but I’m continually updating the topic lists as I go and, to date, it’s served me pretty well. Feel free to try it and let me know how you go. Suggestions for future iterations are welcome.

You will find the link in the right panel now or follow the following link: Story Gen

S.

Airport Games

airlinequeue

The novelty of air travel, like many things in life, quickly wears thin once you get to do it on an ongoing basis. The same is true for the joy of sleeping in an endless succession of hotel rooms and the stodgy joy of conference food. Last night’s overnight home from Singapore was no exception to this rule; hot face towels and friendly staff aside.
Broken down, air travel is little more than a montage of discomfort, cramping muscles, unwanted proximity to the bodily functions of one’s fellow travellers and revolting food able to happily crouch under tin-foil for hours before doing the culinary equivalent of cage fighting with your taste buds.

The flight itself was an overnight red-eye. My favourite. After having pushed my food around my tray, and having gotten up five times for Ms. Poor Bladder Control in the window seat I settled down to my sarcophagus of discomfort for a little attempted shut-eye. Sleep does not happen for me on overnight flights and I have been sorely tempted, if not for some vestige of self-pride, to try the drooling catatonia of sleeping tablets. On this flight I was lucky enough to have an aisle seat; beside me was a six year old and his mum. The poor little tyke was terribly uncomfortable in so cramped a space so he proceeded to kick me the whole night. I thought it very kind that his mother took the angelic sleepy-head end while I got Satan’s Hooves of Death.

On arrival at Melbourne airport I was presented with the usual number of games travellers get to enjoy. Those used to travel can easily slice off an hour of their journey by understanding the rules of engagement so I thought I’d outline a few for the benefit of my fellow traveller:

Ejector Seats
First up is an event that happens on the plane and whose sole aim is to see how quickly you can go from seated to standing. This limbers you up nicely for the games ahead so once the plane comes to a stop, and at the precise instant the loud-speaker pings, you have to launch yourself from the aisle seat and claim your space in the aisle itself. Extra points are awarded if you manage to lash the person sitting next to you with the seatbelt buckle or are able to bring the overhead luggage rack down on their head thus slowing them down. Strategic placement of yourself and your luggage in the aisle at this juncture will get you off to a good start in the games by keeping the competition confined to their seats while you get a rolling start.

Corridor Runner
Corridor Runner is up next and is the D.V.T. hobble-sprint from the aeroplane itself. As your muscles unknot this becomes a mad-dash all the way to customs. Participants in this game should try and use their hand-luggage or wheeled bags to trip or bash other players out of their way. Reflecting on the latest Hunger Games book or movie will help assist you to use the tools readily at hand to take down the competition. There will also be obstacles to overcome like wizened travelator conversation hogs, children riding out of control animal luggage, and the ever-pervasive group of formation flyers who fill the corridors from wall to wall oblivious to the sea of irate humanity building behind them.


Duty-Free Obstacle
The corridor empties itself into a free-form obstacle course consisting of towering stacks of duty-free alcohol and perfume. As travellers screech to a halt to assess their sleep-deprived need for a drink or all-night-in-a-tiny-space B.O. you will need to dodge and weave like Super Mario in order to avoid bringing down a showing cascade of expensive glassware. Changes to the rules of the game in the last decade have thankfully put a end to the chance of being randomly spritzed by some over-zealous sales person at this point.

Passport-Gate Elitism
The customs gate presents special challenges to those not wired into the digital economies of the world. Those who have successfully navigated the Twenty-First Century are able to beam triumphantly at the pens of grumpy travellers who are either visitors from abroad or do not possess an updated passport with a smart-chip. The smart-gates are strategically placed in front of these snaking queues so you are able to flash a triumphant smile as you hurtle through without a care in the world. It is only fair you show these back-markers the contempt they deserve.

Baggage Claim Wrestling
Next up is the baggage collection area. If you have navigated the earlier games like Katniss Everdeen then chances are this event starts off rather quietly and orderly. People will arrive and politely stand behind the yellow line and comment on the weather, or sports, or the bumpy landing. It doesn’t take long for all the strategic space to be filled with trolleys and bags and soon late-comers begin to elbow their sweaty selves into the walkway in front of the yellow no-standing line leaving everyone else around them unable to get to their bags. Placement of yourself in an area of limited access – near a corner, or in front of a column – will ensure you will have an advantage in what soon degenerates into an all out tussle of elbows and deathly hex-eyes as people climb over one another to retrieve their bulky luggage.

The Nothing-to-Declare Wastelands
They wait until you collect your baggage and feel like you’re about to be on your way home to crush your spirit. This is a game of will and tenacity after all so toughen up! A successful saving throw against flagging hope may help as baggage claimants are now forced into further snaking lines in order to hand in a little card you were given when you got on the plane but have most likely forgotten to fill out. Dexterity factors highly in this event as you attempt to write in small boxes, wrangle small children and/or heavy bags, and navigate endless roped off switch-backs. Fed-up travellers often attempt to push into this queue – arriving suddenly to one side of the queue looking vacantly about them for signs of what they should be doing. This is a ruse and etiquette dictates that collective thumb poking towards the back of the line and group heckling will quickly sort out these queue sociopaths from the rest of the morally upstanding citizens.
When you do get to the customs officer, be sure to have your forms in the correct order so he/she can take them, briefly glance at your name without checking your passport and drop them in a little glass box. I am tempted to fill out Lord Voldemort on my next card to see if anyone is really paying attention.
Something new in this game is a wildcard in the form of an Ebola screening questionnaire which makes it pretty clear that should you tick certain boxes – like Sierra Leone for example – you’re going to be experiencing extended airport hospitality; most likely from cheerful beefy types with rubber gloves, an oversized thermometer, and a gleam in their eyes.

Taxing Taxiing
The last game is an easy one. It’s just another queue but by now you are an adept. This game, though apparently simple, may have a climate factor that needs to be accounted for. Coming from the heat and humidity of Singapore to somewhere like Melbourne you likely find yourself standing in shorts and a light shirt in cold and rainy air. As you stamp your feet and shuffle towards your allotted car the chilly damp air has a little party with certain visitors you picked up on the plane and Strep A and B are going to keep the party going for some days to come. Regular travellers have a car waiting for them at this point for a few measly dollars more than the cleanliness lottery of the local taxi. This saves you both the queue and the climate challenge and sees you whisked away in comfort to your final destination.

If you have managed to successfully navigate all the above then you will have likely shaved at least an hour from your travel time … well done! If not, bear them in mind for the next time you disembark after a long haul flight. People are funny, and predictable. No doubt the contents of this public service announcement will stand you in good stead somewhere in the future.

:-)

Magenta stains and midlife musings

“Whenever I do things because I want to do it and because it seems fun or interesting and so on and so forth, it almost always works and it almost always winds up paying for itself.  Whenever I do things for the money, not only does it prove to be a pain in the neck and comes with all sorts of awful things attached, but I normally don’t end up getting the money either.  So after a while, you do start to learn to avoid the things where people dangle huge wads of cash in front of you.  Go for the one that seems interesting, because even if it all falls apart you’ve got something interesting out of it.  Whereas the other way, you normally wind up getting absolutely nothing out of it.
~Neil Gaiman.

I am sitting in my study downstairs in a small pool of light cast by my desk lamp.  The house is blessedly quiet and all I can hear is the trickle of water from the fish tank in the kitchen.  Before me is The Art of Neil Gaiman, part biography, part history lesson, all inspiration.  To my right is my open notebook with today’s hasty scribbles – a story has all but been falling out of my head the last couple of days and I have been laying it out as fast as I can write in a new, and wonderful, Japanese magenta ink the colour of a deep Shiraz.  I feel like I’m at the crossroads of some midlife crisis where two paths lay before me.  One leads to more money, more responsibility, and so much less time for all the things I love.  The other leads to balance but less money and security … and more guilt because I am good at that.  Though the decision is all but made it still needs time to  percolate for it feels selfish somehow.  I’ve never been very good at having nice things for myself but the older I get the more I realise that the measure of my life and happiness is to be found in the beautiful people I know, in the ink stains on my fingers, and the worlds in my head.  Title and salary will never be the measure of my worth when the sand runs out.

Ink reviews and a New World of Colour

Private Reserve Colours

Who would have guessed ink reviews are a thing? I have used a fountain pen for going on 30 years now; even back in school, in the days of the disposable Bics with their masticated tips, I could never get my head around ballpoint pens. My cursive writing with its long looping letters just wouldn’t play nicely with fine-nibbed and scratchy roller ball pens and I never, ever, saw them as superior in any way.

Currently my go-to pens are by Lamy and Montblanc and though I love the pens of the latter, I don’t care much for the Montblanc ink (packaging aside – the bottles are amazing!). I currently have a rather plain Montblanc black in my Lamy and find that it is slow to dry, somewhat watery, tends to smudge, and is prone to bleeding through the paper of my journal. It was quite by chance that I stumbled into a colourful and vibrant world that had somehow, up till now, eluded my notice.

I was reading one of Neil Gaiman’s blog posts where a fan was asking him about his favourite fountain pens and the conversation went naturally to the inks he likes best. Neil mentioned he wasn’t a fan of the Montblanc inks either preferring others like Private Reserve. One quick Google search later and I was hooked. I had no idea that reviewing inks was a thing … how bad is that? I’ve always just bought brand inks without realising there is this whole other world of colourful possibility. The reviewers assess characteristics of inks, breaking them down into their component characteristics like a connoisseur of fine wines. They talk about shading, shimmer, feathering, bleed, and reactivity to water and other solvents. The penmanship and artistic sketches highlight the vibrant hues in all their macro-lens enhanced glory. Websites like Inkophile and Inkdependence gave me an insight into a world of possibility hitherto unknown. Websites like Notemaker, LarryPost, and Massdrop thereafter did a fine job of divesting me of my hard-earned cash.

Perhaps gone are the days of washed out blacks and faded blues. My notebooks will now sport more Machiavellian options like American Blue, Copper Burst, Sherwood Green, and Rouge Hematite. Bold vibrant strokes filling page after page. After a few bottles of ink and three new pens I think it’s time to quit. The hour is exceedingly late, the single malt is drunk, and there is work in the morning (well today to be precise).

Dear Santa, if you’re reading this, please leave a Lamy 2000 in my stocking. Like potato chips, and cats apparently, you can never have too many fountain pens.

Stop Nitpicking about Sci-Fi Movies!

I may be a bit of science nerd but I couldn’t agree with the below linked article more. Science Fiction has always looked further than the science fact of the time. Greats like Wells, Asimov, Heinlein, and Verne all wrote about things that were technologically impossible at the time they wrote them; concepts that had few (or no) workable scientific theories, and hence paved the way for the science to follow. I won’t go into detail but how the foresight of the likes of Clarke and the Roddenberry paved the way for the science and technology of today, but I am not entirely comfortable with the current trend that requires science fiction movies to be pulled apart and dissected by science buffs (no disrespect to Mr deGrasse Tyson whom I respect very much). There seems to be a very fine line between gracefully informing the public of where the boundaries between science fact and fiction lie and a form of intellectual ego stroking.

Science fiction has always been about what could be possible, has always been about the story and humanity’s need to reach out and explore the boundaries of what COULD be. The human story has always come first so I always forgive a couple of grey areas to move the plot along. That being said, clearly lazy storytelling laced with BAD or WRONG science ruins it for everyone. There is a big difference.

Link to the article that prompted this post.

Dreams. Day One Entry: 16 Aug 2014

One of the annoying consequences of getting older is the transition of your dreams from the fascinating to the mundane. I recall dreams in my teens and early twenties where I visited strange other worlds, saw in colours I could not describe on waking, wandered the airy interiors of giant organic helical alien towers and had the ability to fly. These were but a few of the fantastic memories I have of what filled my thoughts during those long deep slumbers.

These days the dreams seem pedestrian by comparison. Last night I awoke in a cold sweat having dreamed of someone emptying my wallet of all my cards just prior to me having to go on a business trip. I mean how awfully mundane!

To be fair, there was a brief modicum of redemption. I did dream about being at a work conference where we were attempting a live link up with a machine intelligence that had lain undiscovered because of our need to anthropomorphise the criteria of what it means to be intelligent. In other words we just didn’t have the frame of reference to understand that an artificial intelligence would likely arise to be very different to what we’d recognise as intelligence. Anyway, fascinating look at this link up with these machine avatars that looked like pale reflections of something ultimately albino Geigeresque. Unfortunately a work salesman stepped up and tried to do the corporate pitch as the first human hello. Completely killed the mood and I woke in abject horror.

In any event, I think there’s a short story in there … albeit without the salesman!

Farewell Iain.

Iain M. Banks

I’ve just learned that Iain Banks is dead.

Dead because the cells in his body went haywire and we couldn’t fix it. We can spend trillions of dollars killing one another in the name of all sorts of causes but we can’t fix those little building blocks of life that we’re all constructed from. I knew he was sick, I knew it was an inevitability but the insidious nature of cancer means the hope that there is still time. The slap in the face, the shock and tears, those came from reading Neil Gaiman’s tribute.

Those who knew him described him as funny, exuberant, full of life, fiercy intelligent. I hadn’t met him in person; I was never that fortunate. I did however travel the galaxy of the far flung future on immense sentient starships with outrageous names and intellects and met all sorts of wonderful characters doing all sorts of unbelievable things.

Iain M. Banks opened my mind in ways few authors ever have – his books are remarkable and he will not write another. An important part of the human collective has passed away; a man whose work will continue to inspire and have us reaching for a future I desperately want to live in.

I am surprised by how hard I’m taking this. How disappointed I am in our species which channels orders of magnitude more into death than life. In cancer as an inevitable end for so many great people. Into the fact there will never be another quirky GSV to ferry me away across the galaxy.

So long Iain, in the world I choose to live in the only, and inevitable, outcome was that you were whisked away by the Quietly Confident before the end. Happy travels.

Lord of the Flies, ch1

Have just finished chapter one of a re-read of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. This was a set work in school many years ago but it was, without doubt, one of the books that had the most influence on me and one which, years later, continues to resonate. The idea that men are little more than animals covered with a thin veneer of civility is one which has formed the basis for many a tale, one which continues to both entertain and disquiet.

Chapter one introduces us to three of the primary characters: Ralph, Jack and Piggy. Until they come upon the trapped pig toward the end of the chapter the tone is optimistic. Golding uses light in an incredible way to paint the backdrop of a tropical canvas. Even the news that there has been an atomic blast and they’re all dead seems a disconnected whisper against the verdant foliage, the luxurious pools of glittering fish, the bright palm fringed sands.

We are left somewhat disquieted by the glimpses of what is to come. when Jack, Ralph and Simon climb to the top of the mountain to survey their island home they proclaim excitedly “This belongs to us,” and later triumphantly, they savoured the right of domination. They were lifted up: were friends. we had already witness the faux democracy and the election of Ralph as chief. Already the children are playing with the building blocks of adults without fully understanding them.

On their way back down the mountain, returning to the other children, the three come across a trapped and terrified piglet. Jack raises the knife to kill it but pauses. We see how easily the savagery comes to him. This is not how civilised people behave and so he stays his hand. The three are embarrassed but still defend the act to one another. Is this the pivotal moment, the seed planted that violence would have been justified, the stepping stone to moving towards that dark place, the group acceptance? Next time there would be no mercy.

I can’t help but draw some parallels to religious fundamentalism finding safe harbour within the confines of more benign belief. There has to be some tacit acceptance that acts of savagery are somewhat justifiable. At this point we cannot envision Piggy or Ralph killing the pig but they accept Jacks action and so we cannot be surprised by what will surface later.

DRM

Set me free said the word
Let me rise, let me soar
Joy touching your heart
Hear you begging for more
Let me open your mind,
Stroke the tears from your eyes
Set me free, let me soar
In Imagination’s own skies

And the greedy mouths drool
As they bind you with fetter
re-written, reduced
To gagged-crippled debtor
Then restrained they will rent you
No changing your mind.
They will pimp out your body
As resistance is fined.

Set me free said the word
Let me rise in the night
Set me free to take wing
Above campfires bright
Since the dawn of mankind
With the freedom to roam
To minds who loves stories
Who will give me a home.

It is progress they cry
And we’re saving the trees
Reinventing an industry
That’s down on its knees
Avast there be pirates
Scurvy dogs that do steal
So we bind our poor tales
With commercial-born zeal

Set me free said the word
Never meant to be bound
Discovered, yes. Shared, yes
through touch, sight and sound
Let me spread far and wide
Knowledge brilliantly plumed
For if stories are rented
The future is doomed.

~ Stuart Forsyth (2012)

That defining moment

I’ve just finished Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. Finished is too weak an adjective; perhaps devoured, annihilated, consumed by the same ferocious energy imparted by the word themselves. There are so many take-outs, so many hidden truths and simple gems pertaining to the hedonistic glut that characterises our daily lives and fills out short attention spans. I am amazed this book was written in the fifties and I can only say that it is perhaps more relevant in this age than in any other so far. That moment in the story when the lady decides to stay and burn with her precious books while the firemen rationalise their decision as merely part of their job. That single moment in time, As Montag pours liquid fire from the nozzle of his fire hose and it becomes NOT OKAY to be doing what he was doing. When he could no longer rationalise, when he could no longer make excuses, that moment stood out as a shining ember amidst so many terrible flames. I have touched that moment myself and it is carved in fire in the branching synapses of my brain. That moment I stood in that lounge in Craighall Park, Johannesburg looking at the streaks of fresh blood splashed with liberal abandon on the walls after the home invasion. That was the moment when something in me broke, when it became not okay and I could no longer justify the cycle of violence and crime; when I could no longer wait passively by for the people I loved to become yet another statistic. After that things looked broken because rightly or wrongly I saw things differently and, like Montag, I needed to pursue a course of action to its end. Mine thankfully has had a far happier ending. Farenheit 451 goes into the esteemed collection of a small handful of books joining others like Orwell’s 1984; books which get inside you, get under your skin, which change the way you think forever. And that, I believe, is the point all along. Actions: tofb, towp, totb