Category Archives: Research

Go / Weiqi / Baduk

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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.

Robert Johnson, the Rock and Roll Faust

If you haven’t heard about the blues legend Robert Johnson — who supposedly sold his soul to the devil to master music, and who sang about walking with the devil, being chased by hell hounds, and making a deal with the devil at the crossroads, and who supposedly died at age 26 howling and barking like a mad dog at the moon — then you have now. To say his impact on rock and roll was astronomical would be to put it too weakly.

robertjohnson

Robert Johnson has often been held up as one of the most amazing musicians ever by many rock and roll legends, however a lot of his songs sound very high-pitched, eerie, and can be offputting to new listeners. This is because they were recorded slightly too fast on the record machine, probably to cram more songs on the record and save money.

Well, now someone has at last gone in and slowed them back down again, and man, I like them better this way. I could listen to them all day. As an added bonus, you can now hear the influence of Son House on his singing, hear the emotion and humor in his voice, and his songs also feel like a natural extension of the Mississippi Delta Blues.

Listen to them here:

 

Looking without looking, seeing without seeing

When you look at a field, what do you see? Do you see “green” or “grass” or even just “field”? If so, you’re not really looking.

I am looking at one now, and I see at least five to ten different shades of green, at least 3 different shades of tan and brown, and everything bit of grass, living or dead, at a different length. Even grasses of the same species look unique. They clump together, run in strips or curves, and the leave huge open spaces. Fate and randomness has textured like the rind of an orange.

This field was once a building, a vast warehouse, and the foundation of it is still there underneath, and there are tiny bits of rubble just beyond sight. The bulldozers scraped the whole surface clean once, long ago, and so the field always looks like it has been plowed for crops where their teeth dragged and then overgrown even though it has never been plowed before.

But what really amazes me are the bushes. You don’t even see them when you look at this place at first — you look and you see “field” and that’s all, and all the bushes disappear from your eyes because you see a category, a shape, an abstract object instead of the thing itself. It is cruel and heartless dominance of the abstract over the real.

Really, it’s like Plato and Aristotle had it all backward, that the abstract, perfect world of “forms” is not a thing beyond or behind reality, but an instinctive creation of the mind, a simplification that the brain resorts to in order to be able to process all of the data and sort it and organize it in a useful way. The “shadows on the wall of a cave” are not the physical world at all, but the cognitive system of grouping, classification, and ordering that our mind uses to construct meaning.

Reality is always complex, textured, nuanced, with layers of history right there, visible under the surface, between the bushes and the blades of grass, but the mind cannot handle all of this information at once. It is too much. It is not useful, not relevant to survival or thriving, and it is discarded. And that is the way it should be. Usually. But sometimes you need to turn that filter off, and you need to see what is actually HERE.

Because sometimes the “perfect form” is not enough.

Because sometimes you need the truth, with all its various shades.

Because… sometimes… the world is beautiful.

What I am currently reading

"Writing the Breakout" Novel by Donald Maas.

Good info about the book premise, which I, personally, really needed.

Also reading:

Three of the 4 classics of Chinese literature:
-"Outlaws of the Marsh" (aka "The Water Margin") by Shi Nai’An
-"Romance of the Three Kingdoms" by Luo Guanzhong
-"Journey to the West" (aka "Monkey") by Wu Cheng’en

"A Handbook of Chinese Mythology" by Deming An and Jessica Anderson Turner

"Chinese Mythology" by Claude Helft and Chen Jiang Hong

"Story Structure Architect" by Victoria Schmidt

Plus:

All of John Brown’s fabulous posts on writing (especially plot-related)

All of Jim Butcher’s posts on writing (especially plot-related)
Dan Wells’s "7-point Plot System" lecture on YouTube

And I have read a vast amount on Wikipedia about the 8 Supernatural Races of Indian/Chinese Buddhist mythology, as well as huge swathes of material on the Mara and Hanuman/Sun Wukong

As you may be able to tell, this reading list is very focused on two different things: Plot and Chinese Mythology/Literature.

There’s a few reasons for this, and I’ll go into them later. 😉

A noticeable lack of writing that must be corrected

I have not been writing. Instead, I have been “researching” wuxia fiction and TV shows for the past several weeks — that’s my official excuse.

I’ve always wanted to write a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon style story — possibly a whole epic fantasy trilogy — and, for some reason, I decided to start researching it now.

That said, I still have not finished the Dark Sequel. Instead, I’ve been watching a Wuxia TV series. Bad me! I know! But now that series is done, and I have my life back — I believe it is time to start back on the Dark Sequel and knock the rough draft out of the way so I can start writing other stuff.

The Interconnectedness Of the 1970’s – Monty Python, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Timothy Leary

I’ve been reading quite a few books; in case you haven’t been reading my other posts, here are just a few:

The Life of Python
Michael Palin’s Diaries 1969-1979
A Liar’s Autobiography (Graham Chapman)
Timothy Leary: A Biography
John Lennon: The Life

What strikes me about Lennon (and the Beatles), Timothy Leary, and Monty Python is how they intertwine through the years, indeed how all the icons of the era — including the Rolling Stones and the WHO — all seemed to hang out together on a relatively constant basis.

Leary shows up in Chapman’s autobiography, and mentions of him meeting Eric Idle are present in Leary’s biography. The Beatles, especially George Harrison, became very close to the Pythons — GH funding five million pounds of “The Life of Brian” at extreme personal risk.

Per Chapman and Palin, Eric Idle starts to hang out with the Stones constantly and was very close to George Harrison, Chapman hangs out with the Who and helps train the fledgling Douglas Adams, Palin becomes very close with George Harrison as well and is friends with the whole world, and Pink Floyd helps fund “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

It’s like some vast, tangled web of interwoven causality, where the whole counter culture (especially in Britain) conspires to lift itself higher and higher, until the whole period is still iconic today.

It really does echo down, even to Gen-X icons. Johnny Depp and Wynona Rider were very close to Timothy Leary (Rider was his god-daughter), and Uma Thurman was the daughter of one of Leary’s ex-wives and a Buddhist monk that had interacted with Leary on several occasions.

An aristocracy was formed during this period, a clique of people and hedge-maze of relationships that helped create modern entertainment and came dominate the last quarter of the 20th century, especially many pop-culture icons.

Is there anything similar happening in the world in the present? It makes me wonder if this aristocracy continues, or if our isolative technological culture that make each person into an unassailable island fortress has turned even this network of entertainment cognoscenti into a group of lonely hermits.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Monty Python, the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd, and Depp, but I never realized exactly how tightly locked together all these gears were in the turn of the years.