Go go, gadget Go! Time to play Baduk!

If you know me,  you know that I love the ancient Asian board game,Go (also called Baduk in Korea and Weiqi in China).  So today I’ll try to convince you to give it a shot.

Why should I care about Go / Baduk / Weiqi?

  • First, it’s the most infinite board game we know of, which has made conquering it the holy grail of AI research. In fact, human professional players used to be considered unbeatable by computers because they played on intuition, which computers just couldn’t do.
  • In 2016, Google DeepMind created a AlphaGo, which for beat a human prosfor the first time. Consequently, this means a board game will end up changing the world at a fundamental level!
  • Hey, did you know it’s is the oldest board game we know of that is still being played? Cool, huh?
  • I’ve written a couple of cool stories about it, but they’re not published yet. You can check out my go-less bibliography here.
  • It takes 5 minutes to learn the rules if someone shows you. If you have 25 minutes free, you can get a pretty detailed course here. 
  • Othello is based off of it
  • Child prodigies in Asia study from the age of 6 in full-time academies in hopes of going “pro”. Only 10% of child prodigies that try to go pro ever succeed.
  • It’s pretty damn fun for us non-pro, normal mortals
  • Hey, there’s even an anime about it! Check out Hikaru no Go.
Go / Baduk Anime!
Hikaru no Go

What I’ve been doing

Well, I’ve been focusing on improving my ability to read ahead and improving my opening moves, and it seems to be paying off.  In fact, For a while there my rank shot to 6 kyu, which is amazing for me. (Ranks in Go start at 25 kyu and go down. After 1 kyu they start over at 1 dan and reach as high as 9 dan. This is very similar to the belt system in Karate.)

To get there, I did lots and lots of problems. All sorts of riddles.

In other words, I did drills! Deliberate practice. Look at me, a broken record!

Tsumego for You!

The Japanese call Go riddles “tsumego.” C’mon, check this one out! Black to live:

Go riddles!
Tsumego

Once you get into go (baduk, weiqi), the game just gets deeper. There’s a point where the board seems suddenly smaller and less intimidating, but that’s when you realize just how infinite the game really is. It keeps going and going, neverending.

On this board, whole universes are created and destroyed.

I keep seeing a statistic that shows there are more possible board combinations than there are atoms in the known universe. While I have no idea if this is true, the factoid pops up all over the place. That no one’s questioned it should give you a clue about how vast the game really is.

Enjoy, and have a good day writing!

My Korean Language Journey

Over the past year or so, I’ve been studying the South Korean language (not North Korean; that’s way different) and it’s been going well!”Why Korean?” I hear you ask.

I could tell you that I had a love of Korean dramas. Or that Korea is breathtakingly beautiful and I want to go there. Or that I love the food. And all of that is true, but it came later.

The whole place!
Jeju Island is a Word Heritage Site

Honestly, the answer is a little odd. I’ve always studied random languages (usually learning nothing in the process), hoping one day to be a polyglot. I just happened to be on Korean when I finally figured out how to get good at learning languages.

Rather than drop Korean and move to another, day-to-day useful language and have to start over from scratch, I decided I’d go down the rabbit hole as far as I could. I mean, why not learn one of the most difficult languages on Earth, when you have no particular reason to , have never been there, don’t plan to go, and you don’t know the culture? What could possibly go wrong?

Well, How’d Your Language Adventure Turn Out?

I’m reaaaaally glad I did it.  I heard a lot of advice not to pick a language where you don’t know about the culture. But I ended up learning about the culture along with the language, so it turned out great.

The people I’ve met so far are kind, polite, and diligent, and I love them all.  They are very good, if very busy, friends. The food is exotic and great, even if it takes a little getting used to. I’m a sucker for all sorts of Korean dishes now. Especially Kimchi Jeyuk Bokkum.

Learn a language to eat better food!
Kimchi Jeyuk Bokkeum

Here’s a recipe.

The culture of South Korea, as I said, is fascinating, if sometimes tragic. All cultures are tragic, I suppose. I know the U.S. certainly is. Utopia means “no place” for a reason.

South Korean Culture – Oh, the Humanity!

South Korean are probably the most capitalistic society in the world. It’s really survival of the fittest, with barely any rules to level the playing field.  Most of the population lives in Seoul, which is just… so unimaginably big to me. Wow. It’s huge.

cityscape
Seoul at night.

In South Korea, like the US, you have to work extremely hard just to get an interview for a good corporate intern job, but if you get it, you are expected to get certain promotions at certain ages. Most people in corporate jobs get to 39 or 40, and then miss the promotion to executive level. They’re out on  their ear, and have to work menial jobs for the rest of their life. It’s pretty unforgiving.

That means South Korea has the most highly educated and business-skilled janitors in the world! And the thing is, even if you’re one of the very few to get to the executive level, and you’ve focus your entire life on it — you’ll never get to be a C-level. All the major corporations in Korea are family owned, and all top level positions are inherited. Because of the family aspect of corporations in Korea, there are always sex scandals and government bribery scandals. Never a dull moment!

That said, South Korea is the only country in the world that I know of to use it’s legal system to oust a corrupt President. So they do have that going for them. And their health care is very inexpensive, unless you go for their gene therapies (which are some of the most advanced in the world).

Epic Koreans

I find it ironic that North Korea is the most Communist country in the world while South Korea is the most Capitalistic. My take away is this: Koreans don’t do anything half way.  They are truly epic!

Also, if you haven’t watched a Korean drama and you like romance, check it out. There’s a joke among Koreans that all their TV dramas are romances, and it’s pretty much true. Series are usually 1 season long, 16 episodes each, with a full, completely wrapped-up plot arc.  Usually episodes are 45 minutes long.

You don't need to speak the Korean language to get there, but it helps
Epic, beautiful nature!

So, How are You Progressing with the Language?

I’m getting pretty handy with rudimentary conversation, and  I have over a thousand words in my working vocabulary. But I have a long way to go to be fluent or even to understand a TV show (I can understand about 25% of one right now!). Korean’s a fun language, and I’ve made some fascinating friends and learned a lot about South Korea.

I can talk with folks about a lot of stuff, though. So I guess I’m bilingual now. I never in a million years would’ve thought my second language would be Korean. But I wouldn’t change a thing.

Soon it’ll be time to dig in deep on Japanese. I’m already messing around with it. I know hiragana, katakana, a handful of kanji, and a few dozen words, but the way I’m going at it won’t ever work. I have to shift into high gear for a few months so I can get a solid foundation to build on.  Then, if I’m lucky, maybe after a year or two of consistent work I’ll get my polyglot unlock.

Maybe by then I’ll get a novel sold to a big publisher, too! (Cross fingers)

If you’d like to see some of my fiction, check out my bibliography here.

Writing – Whassup with me!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there was a terrible commercial where people said “Whassuuup” to each other over and over, and this commercial had nothing to do with writing.  But…. I’m gonna use it as an excuse to update you on my writing anyway! Mwuhahaha!

First, I’m writing again. Yay!!! And for 143 days in a row!  Double yayyyy!!!

My minimum is 1 sentence, and many days I get less than 100 words. But word count per day has been getting bigger, and my last session I hit 2,300+ words. Triple YAYYY!!!

If you want to know what I’m up to, I’m doing my own version of the mini habits system by Stephen Guise. Basically, it’s a really low-bar checklist so I don’t wimp out. Here’s the book that got me started, and it’s working for me:

good writing habits!
Yes, this an affiliate link! But it’s a really good book about he started writing.

Getting stronger after hell

My writing muscles are building back up, and my prose quality is going up. I have better control over the pacing and emotional beats of my scenes, as well. Basically, I’m getting all those skills back that I lost after my Three Years of Hell (TM), where my mother died,  grandfathers died, my house burned down, and I almost died and lost a lot of mental sharpness because of a surgery gone wrong.

Writing novels only for now

Writing wise, I’ve been working exclusively on novels. Honestly, I don’t have the time or the emotional fortitude to submit my short stories, so no sales there.

I’ve currently got two projects in the works:

  1. A rewrite of novel (first book in a series)
  2. A new novel (second book in said series)

I work on both every day, minimum 1 sentence each, and I also work on outlines (minimum one step/spreadsheet cell) or scene sketches (minimum three bullets) every day. Them’s the rules, and they’re working for me.

The daily grind!

The rewrites on the first book are soaking up most of my word count. It was a particularly hard book to edit, and I edited it 3.5 times line-by-line before I figured out what was wrong: The writing just isn’t up to my standards, and a simple edit will never fix it. Normally I’d trunk it and move on, but the structure is strong, and there are some really kick-ass scenes, and I like the characters. Complicating matters is that I’m about 22,000 words into the second book of the same series.

So I’m currently in the process of taking scene sketches and rewriting the entire book 1 from scratch. It’s the first time I’ve ever done a rewrite from scratch, and it scared the hell out of me at first. Honestly, it’s not terribly hard. It’s just loooooooong. It takes a lot of time because you’re doing double work, scene sketches, then writing. I know someone’s going to say I don’t need the sketches, but I think I do; I need the buffer so the bad writing of the earlier drafts doesn’t “infect” this one.

Results for my Writing

The results so far have been fantastic. It’s gone from a book that I couldn’t say enough bad things about to one I’m actually satisfied with. Quadruple YAAAAAY!

I know I know, you still have one more question: What ELSE am I doing (because I can’t possibly be busy enough)? Well…

한국어 배우고 었으습니다. I’m learning Korean!

NOW…. Whassup with you? C’mon… WHASSSSSSUUUUUUUP with you?


I have quite a few articles  on  writing. If you’re interested in them, may I suggest you start here with “The Path to Mastery”.

Project Resurrwrite!

So what have I been doing? Writing! Very slowly… But slow is better than no.

My brain feels rehabbed, my writing is getting stronger again. I no longer look at my old stories and feel like that kind of writing is impossible. But I’m a different person now. Less dark, less brooding. And that is reflected in my writing. And that’s fine.

my habit was DEAD ASLEEP

But I had a problem- my writing habit was dead asleep. I could do a week in a row, but then I would always miss a day, and some days 250 words seemed outright impossible. Eventually I kept giving up.

So right now I’m focusing on rebuilding the never-miss-a-day rhythm I used to have. How? By avoiding procrastination. How, you ask again? (Because avoiding procrastination is everyone’s problem.)

I avoid procrastination by removing all the road blocks. I have a super-easy goal of one new sentence every day. Even if I’m sick or crazy with work, I can still hit it, but usually I blow it out of the water.  Almost never do I feel resistance for this habit, and even when I do, I tell myself — remember, one sentence and you can bail.

But you know something? Other than two days where I was terribly ill, I’ve never done just the minimum. I always do more, and sometimes way more. Sometimes a thousand or two thousand words.

I’m 15 days in with no misses, and it seems pretty do-able to keep going for a year like this.  That’s my real goal. Resurrect the writing habit. Make writing and the  tiny sub-habits surrounding writing automatic.

Instead of making glorious, insane goals, and then having me and my sun chariot careen drunkenly into Mount Olympus, I’ll just keep plugging away and see how it all works out. One step at a time.

No magic here. No super secrets. Just slow, consistent grind.

Lost in the mist, returning to the light

For the last year, since I nearly died from a rare complication after a routine surgery, I have felt crushed down — a lesser version of the person I was before.

I still completed a novel. I still bent my brain to learning languages and Go and story structure and poetry and music composition and piano. But memory was slipping away from me. Only bits and pieces would stay. One day I would feel like I was the old me again, the next I would be a shattered mirror with the biggest and most important pieces lost in fog.

I wondered if this was it,if I had gone as far as I could go; if this wall in front of me was unclimbable for my every-day-older-and-weaker hands. I am not young anymore, in my body, but I am still young inside. Reaching. Striving. But my grasp was so short, so weak, I felt like every time I tried to climb up I slid back down farther.

But now I see the hope. I ate better, began exercising again, and began researching supplements. I researched anti-aging supplement and supplements to clear up mental fog and fight Alzheimer’s/Parkinson’s. I read all the scientific studies I could find on Google Scholar, made grids and tables, dug deep, or at as deep as I could for a brainfogged man.

Just three months ago, I began taking some supplements (50 mg pterostilbene, 100mg 7-keto-DHEA, and 120 mg Niagen, all once every day; 300 mg Citicoline and 10 mg Noopept a few days a week when I really need to be sharp). All of these are available over the counter.

My eating is still far from perfect and my exercise could use work too. But there’s a big gap between PERFECT and GOOD ENOUGH, and I seem to be at Good Enough.

The results? Great. Essentially, my brain and body are working again. Better than they have in a looooong time. The supplements, the exercise, and the eating all stack with each other and reinforce the results.

My body moves faster when I sword fight. I have more endurance, and I can do much more before I am injured, and my injuries heal faster. Not like wolverine or anything. But I’ve been fighting crazy hard every week for 6 weeks and I am am still going. In one battle, I defeated all 12 opponents on the other team after my own team had been destroyed. It has become common for me to steamroll 3-5 people of low skill with few problems.

I’m entertaining to talk to again; witty. Remembering random trivia is easy now instead of like slamming my head into a wall.  My Go and languages are easier to learn (still difficult but easier). Even my writing is getting easier, faster, better. The clouds come less often and are almost always a result of simple sleep-deprivation. (Side note: when I hit exhaustion on this stack you are well and truly exhausted and will want to lay down and go to sleep no matter what time of day it is.)

I don’t know how long the stack will work, or if my body will eventually adapt to it so that the benefits disappear. But I am happy with it for now.

I am turning back into me again.

Note: I found this stack out of desperation, and I don’t recommend it for anyone except myself. Every brain and body are different, and everybody reacts differently to supplements. Please do not take a supplement stack without consulting your doctor and doing all the research for yourself; it can be very dangerous. Never take a stack with SSRIs or MAOIs or other strong medications. There are all sorts of possible complications from drug interactions, including fatal ones. In addition, I want to be clear on this: No one under the age of 25 should take Noopept. The brain is not done developing until 25, and there are no studies on what Nootropic substances might do to a developing brain.

Go / Weiqi / Baduk

folder

So as an escape from the mundane (and a vent for stress), I started studying Go (a.k.a., Weiqi in Mandarin, Baduk in Korean). It’s the oldest board game we know of that is still played today, with boards and pieces dating from 2,000 years ago.

We call it Go because that’s what the Japanese call it, and they introduced it to the west.

If you are after a challenging, infinite game that has no luck to it, this is your game. It FAR easier to learn than chess — almost as easy as checkers — but the strategy is much deeper.

Only this last year did a computer finally manage to beat a top human player in Go. (They started beating Chess Grandmasters in the 70’s).  According to one article, there are more legal board positions in the game then there are atoms in the universe. This has made Go the holy grail of AI research, because if you can make an AI that can learn to master Go, it can — by definition — master anything easier than Go.

All hail our new AI overlords, AlphaGo and (soon) Zen. May they be kind and gracious tyrants. 😉

The Hallelujah! Booth

So… How am I increasing my productivity? Well, there are several techniques I’m using, but here’s a really simple one to implement…

The Hallelujah! Booth

I get this idea from Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and the source of most commercial fiction/movies plot structure as we know it. His idea is that you  a “Sacred Space” and a “Sacred Time” will nurture your creativity.

This is the space you have that is dedicated to you and your creativity. You go here to create and to do. In my experience, this is perhaps the easiest way to start making time for your writing habit, and teaches your brain that there is a time of day to be creative. That said, you don’t HAVE to have one. Jay Lake, one of the most productive writers I ever met, wrote anywhere anytime.

But I do have one.

So what’s my sacred space/time? It’s a specific booth at Chick Fil A that I show up to before work. I put in a solid hour of writing, and sometimes, if i get there early, a little more. The weakness of this is that 1) Weekends as a whole are difficult, since I don’t go to work those days, and 2) Sundays are really hard, since Chick-Fil-A is closed. But I’m learning to work around that. Slowly.

Whether yours is midnight in your closet or mid-day in your car in the parking lot of an Office Max, defining a sacred space and time will get your habit rolling.

Writing lots of words!

So, I mentioned recently that I’ve been researching productivity and how to speed up my writing. Well, it’s been going pretty well. Actually, I’m lying.

I’m bouncing with joy at the results!

–Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics–

Here are my results. As always, statistics should be taken with a grain of salt:

  • 51,780 Total Words for the entire month of January, 2016
  • Writing
    • 26,747 new words
      • all before Jan 16, when rough draft was complete
    •  2578.2 average WPH (words per hour)
  • Editing
    •  22,276 words edited
    •  869.7 average WPH

The remaining words fall into a misclellaneous bucket of brainstorming, plot noodling, etc.

–How Many I Keep–

I keep getting this weird question, over and over: “But how many do you keep?”

This is a weird question, that seems to assume that more productivity is worse productivity. I’ve actually seen a reverse trend. I’m getting out lots of words, and while they might not be perfect, I have, out of 17 scenes written with the process, only tossed half of one in the garbage.

…And that was a really complicated fight scene.

…And what I threw away gave me a much firmer grip on what needed to happen and what order.

So no real words lost. Instead, mostly, I end up expanding the words.

–Some Cold Water–

This is nothing compared to some authors, who get 10k words per day on a consistent, repeatable basis. I can only dream of getting there.

I’m currently at about 3-4k per day for new words, and 700-1.9k for edits.

That said, I’m doing pretty well, a lot better than any time I’ve had before. It’s massively more productive than the 0 words a day I had been getting, that’s for sure!

And, fingers (and toeses and noses) crossed that I’ll get better! Especially on my editing speed!

Feet back on the ground

It’s been a tough few years. My grandfather died, followed by my wife’s grandfather, and then my mom. Grieving while sorting through complex reams of estate paperwork, overwhelmed by my mom’s thousands of collectibles filling up every corner of the house.

Then the house burned down, and we lost everything of both ours and my mom’s, and we were living in an apartment again on month-to-month lease fighting with the builders who couldn’t seem to figure out to make a house even pass a code inspection.

This year I had a minor surgery followed by a major complication, and I was in serious danger of dying or having massive brain damage (none of which came to pass, knock on wood-grained polymer composite). To top that off, I fell down a flight of wooden stairs over Christmas, breaking a 1.5″ thick piece of pressure treated lumber with my spine.

Thankfully over the last month things have slowed down enough that I can write for an hour a day, and that’s awesome. My feet are back on the ground. Literally. Take it from me, this is a lot better than having them up in the air, past your head, as you plummet ten feet down.

But now I am obsessed with writing productivity. Part of me is absolutely sure that I have lost three years of prime creative time, and I have to catch up some how. So I’ve been researching. Testing out theories. And last month I reached 54k words and finished the rough draft of a new 100+k book I’ve been working on since last August.

This pretty awesome, but I have a long way to go. A lot of successful selfpubbers produce 30-45k per week, which is about 4x what I’m at. Maybe I don’t need to keep up with them, but I feel the pressure to try.

Still, I’m proud. This is a big first step in the right direction. I’ve got tons of ideas I want to write, and now I’m not scared to invest the time in some of the stranger ones.

Let the novels fall like dominos!

New Writing Exercise: TV Episode Breakdown

This is a fairly common exercise, but if you haven’t run into it before, here you go:

1) Pick a TV Show you like, or at least that you are interested in learning about
2) Play an episode in a medium where you can pause it
3) take notes on the high level what-happens and the emotions that occur; if there are commercial breaks, mark these, as they are often act breaks.
4) When the show is done, go back through your notes and see if you can identify patterns, structure, and what was good about the episode

Be warned, this can be very enlightening. Too much so.

I did this to an episode of Bleach once, and now all the combat-escalation based Anime are easy to predict.