Japanese Game Shows

This post is entirely the fault of Natalie Whipple, who with a single YouTube link, got my family to spend all Saturday morning watching Japanese game show videos.

I love these things. You just don't get game shows like this in the States (even when they're taken directly from Japan). I think it's a combination of wacky challenges, insane costumes, and contestants who aren't afraid to ham it up, even if it means losing. Watch and enjoy.
  1. In which contestants wearing bug costumes must navigate a scooter through a narrow passage. Try and figure out what their punishment is.
  2. In which men in suits must charge up a treadmill, eat four cookies, and get to the end before time runs out.
  3. My personal favorite, in which contestants must position themselves to squeeze through oddly-shaped holes in a moving wall.
  4. In which players must successfully swing over a rolling log and onto a floating platform, while wearing the worst costumes imaginable.
  5. A combination of 2 and 4, in which contestants must swing onto a moving treadmill, grab a platform, jump OFF said platform to grab another rope so they can land on the floating goal. (I'm not sure, but I think they put something in the water on these last two. Some of those contestants seem to be reacting to more than just cold.)

Boys Read! Stop Saying They Don't!

Every so often you get an article like "10 Tips to Get Boys to Read" or "Books Boys Will Actually Like". Or else you get someone super excited because, "Oh my gosh, it's a miracle. My son actually likes to read!"

Okay, listen. I'm all for encouraging anyone to read, especially kids. But this whole "boys don't read" thing has to stop. (A) It's not true and (B) it seems to be leading the publishing industry to the more sinister "boys don't read, so we better stop publishing books for them or else we'll lose money."

Start with me: I'm a boy, and I read. I always have. And I know other boys who read. My dad reads, my best friend MattyDub reads, my friend Cory reads, Bear, Emmet, Jamie (he reads like six books a week), Whytey, Mike, Dave...

Those are men, Adam. I thought we were talking about boys.

Fine. Forget the fact that most of those guys have been reading since they were boys. I've also got three teenage boys who come over every week to borrow every book I've got: Pratchett, Card, Tolkien, Rowling, Collins, Gaiman, Crichton, *DEEP BREATH* Asimov, Sanderson, Cashore, Brennan... (The only book I couldn't get them to borrow was Silver Phoenix, I suspect because of the girl on the cover -- sorry, Cindy, I tried).

Anecdotal evidence not good enough for you? All right. I searched for actual statistics on boys not reading and found a single article. I guess in 2002, for overall book reading (whatever that means), young men were at 43%.

That's not a lot, Adam.

I know, hang on. It also put girls at 59%. Fewer boys than girls, but not much. It's still A LOT OF BOYS READING. In a classroom of 30 kids, it means half of them read. Of those readers, 9 are girls and 6 are boys. Certainly enough that books should be published for them, right?

Well, no, apparently. The biggest push still seems to go to books with lips on the cover, "Kiss" in the title, or protagonists with pink, sparkly tasers (for the record, I'm very excited about Kiersten's book that comes out in 4 days, but you have to admit we boys are not the target audience).

There are exceptions, sure. But hearing from people in the industry, it sounds as though they're AFRAID to market books to boys. Jason Pinter suggests this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Publishers believe boys don't read, so they target their book at the biggest market (girls). Boys find only romance stories (with girls or unrealistically hot boys on the cover) and head for the comics section or out the door. Publishers say, "See? They didn't touch [obscure boy-oriented title stocked between "Girl's Rock" and "My Secret Desire" (totally made-up titles)]. They must not like to read at all!"

And the cycle continues.

Jason also says that if the industry pushes boy books, boys will come to read them, even if it's slow at first. I agree. But for now can we stop being surprised when we see boys reading? Can we just believe that a lot of boys DO read, even if it's a whole 15% fewer than the girls?

Cuz the statistic that really worries me is that half of the kids in that study DON'T read. Let's work on them instead, aye?

Writer Tips for MS Word (and to a Lesser Extent, Open Office)

There's lots of great novel-writing software out there, but chances are good you don't use it. Chances are, like everyone else in the industry, you use MS Word. But how do you use this thing -- designed for 10-page essays and well-outlined reports -- to keep track of 100,000 semi-organized words? How do you critique someone's novel so it won't be hard to find your notes or make use of them? Here's what I do. (Note: screenshots are from Office 2010, but all these features are available at least as far back as Office XP. Probably farther.)

DOCUMENT MAP
Also known as the Navigation Pane, this useful feature allows you to see all headings and sub-headings in your document at a glance. It appears on the left as an outline structure. You can click on any heading, and Word will automatically take you to that spot in your document. Also it will highlight the section where the cursor is at the moment, so you don't have to wonder which chapter you're in.


Unfortunately Word doesn't do this for you automatically. You have to tell it what your headings and sub-headings are. To do that, select a line of text, right-click, and choose "Paragraph...". Then look for a drop-box called Outline Level. In that box, "Body Text" is any text you do NOT want to show up in the Document Map. "Level 1" is for top-level headings, "Level 2" for sub-headings, and so on.

I use Level 1 for my chapter titles and Level 2 for each scene (enlarge the picture above to see what that looks like), but you can use it however you want. If you get tired of manually selecting outline levels, you can use Styles.

STYLES
In the toolbar on top, MS Word has a number of styles preset for you -- a list or drop-box with selections like 'Normal', 'Heading 1', 'Heading 2', etc. These are a quick and easy way to use consistent formatting throughout your document.


You probably won't want to use Word's default styles, but it's not hard to set up you're own. If you use them for the months (or years) it takes to write your novel, it's time well spent. Decide on a font, typeface (bold, italic, etc.), and an Outline Level, then save it as a new style. (I forget how it works in Office XP, but 2010 lets you select text, right-click, and choose "Save Selection as a New Quick Style...").

NOTES
This is my favorite feature of MS Word. Anywhere in the text, you can hit Ctrl-Alt-M (in Open Office, Ctrl-Alt-N) to add a note or comment in the margin.


I love it because it lets you type anything you want without screwing up the formatting or word count of the manuscript AND it's really easy to scroll through without missing a single note. (Open Office actually keeps track of Notes in the Navigation Pane, so it's even easier).

They're great for critiquing other people's manuscripts or just for making notes to yourself that you don't want to forget. In the screenshot, I've used it to record comments people made when Natalie workshopped my prologue. I also use it when I'm revising my own stuff and get stuck on something. Rather than sit there for an hour trying to think of a better phrase than "She ran", I'll add a note that I don't like it and come back to it later.



SIDEBAR: OPEN OFFICE
A quick note on Open Office. It's open-source software designed to do everything MS Office can do, but for free. That's a major plus, and if you're low on cash or want to go legal, you should check it out.

But even though it costs over $200 less than Microsoft, I'm hesitant to recommend it. Some of the things that bothered me (they might not bother you, so pay attention):
  • Open Office lost outline levels when opening or saving from Word Doc format.
  • Bulleted lists and outlines didn't play nice when swapped between OO and Word.
  • For the life of me, I could not get OO to save my manuscript in RTF without totally screwing up the formatting. (This one made me particularly mad as an agent asked for my full in RTF format).
  • OO's thesaurus sucks.
  • This has nothing to do with novels, but MS Office has a nice feature that allows you to compress all pictures in a document or PowerPoint slideshow (meaning it reduces the size and resolution to what is actually displayed), thus significantly reducing the size of your document. Open Office doesn't do this, and as far as I can tell has no plans to.
  • Numerous minor, mostly-cosmetic annoyances (many to do with Notes and Track Changes) that I would normally put up with if they were the only problems.
Now back to our regularly scheduled post.



TRACK CHANGES
Last one, then I'm out. You know how to use Track Changes, right? No? Man, it's the best way to do line edits. Turn the feature on (it's in Tools or Review or something) and then make any changes you want to your buddy's manuscript. Your changes will show up in a different color, making them easy to spot. Deletions will either be struckout or put in a Note on the side, so all the original text is still there. And of course you can add your own Notes to explain why you're making the change.

When your friend goes through the changes, they can cycle through each change individually, accepting or rejecting each one (so you don't have to manually make the changes if you don't want to). Optionally you can choose to accept or reject all changes at once.

So that's how I use Word. What program do you use for writing? If you use Word too, are there any features I neglected to mention that you find useful? (Maybe I don't know about them!).

Accomplishments

I feel a little weird just jumping back in with a post on writing, so here are some things I accomplished in the last two weeks:
  1. I did not die. Surprisingly, no one else did either.
  2. I discovered the most awesome Lando Calrissian ever:

  1. My wife and I celebrated our 10th anniversary. We even got to go out!
  2. I learned that no matter how many toys you have, Children A, B, C, and D will always fight over the one Child E has. (I already knew this, but I learned the theorem scales to any number of kids).
  3. J. J. DeBenedictis enriched my life with this tiny, fully-functional cannon.
  4. I discovered this guy's videos. They're kinda hilarious.
  5. I had a weird/awesome dream about Dr. Horrible.
  6. I learned how to say "Don't be bossy" in Thai. Repetition is key.
  7. After a month's forced vacation (that only partially had to do with the new kids), I finally added 2,600 words to Cunning Folk.
  8. I did not hear from a single agent.
There, I hope that's thorough. If it's not, we can do an informal question/answer session in the comments.

Hiatus

Those of you who follow me via other means may know we recently added to our family. That is, we added FOUR KIDS to our family.

Being as fatherhood is my primary job, and as these kids are far more important than writing, blogging, or even (dare I say it?) reading your blogs, I'm going to focus on them for a couple of weeks. So the blog will definitely be quiet. I probably won't be commenting on your blogs (though I'll try to read them when I can, honest), and my Twitter/Facebook updates will be focused on letting people know that I and the kids are still alive (so remember that a comment about Nathan eating trash bags means we're well and in good spirits).

Two weeks. I plan to be back on August 23rd, if only to say, "Hey, guys, I need another two weeks to love on these kids."

If you want to know how the kids are doing, what they look like, or how long it takes for five little boys to turn the rest of my hair gray, you can follow my other blog, Facebook, or Twitter (depending on your surfing preferences). I'll still be checking my e-mail too.

Otherwise I'll see you all in a couple of weeks.

Piracy Part 2: Culture Change

On Wednesday, I talked about how piracy isn't just a legal matter. It's an entire culture that believes digital media should be cheap or free, and that if it isn't, they have a right to pirate it.

How can you fight something like this? How do you fight a culture that looks at you like a freak just for obeying the law? I don't know how to change a whole culture, but I know it starts with the individual.

Do the right thing. It's hard to fight piracy if you pirate (though I guess there are levels of piracy, and you're welcome to fight at whatever level you're comfortable with, aye?). It can be super-hard to tell your friends you don't want to borrow their pirated DVDs (I know!), but doing so raises their awareness that maybe NOT everyone does it. It shows them some people still care (even if they think you're weird for caring).

Talk about piracy. Some people may have no idea what they're doing is illegal. Others figure that since "everybody" does it, it's okay. The more people talk about it, online or elsewhere, the more others will get that it's illegal. But while you're talking, remember...

Don't judge. This is probably the most important thing to remember. It's easy to care about piracy laws if you don't own anything pirated. But you have to understand that when you say, "Pirating is illegal," some people hear, "You're not a good person unless you throw away all your favorite stuff." Keep that in mind when you bring it up, and don't make it worse by hating on people who do it.

Know the law. There are a lot of myths about what is and is not legal, so it helps to do your homework. Loaning a book? Legal. Burning songs you own? Usually legal. Giving that burned CD to a friend? Probably not legal.

Support anti-piracy laws. One of the things that encouraged my wife's conviction was when the police cracked down on some of the illegal movie shops here in Chiang Mai. The law won't solve the problem, but it's easier to do the right thing if the authorities are doing something about it too.

I mean, I don't know how culture changes, but I figure this is a good start, yeah? What do you think? (By the way, there's no part 3, so if this mini-series was making you feel guilty don't worry. I'm done.)

Piracy Part 1: Free Culture

Piracy is a difficult topic for me. On one hand, I like free stuff and I'm a professional at justifications (we all are, really). On the other hand, the logical flaws in those justifications irk me no end. Plus, you know, my conscience.

Up until recently, we owned a fair amount of pirated stuff -- movies, music, software... Not because we are evil people, but because we live in a free culture. I can buy a DVD of any movie or TV show for $3, not in a back alley, but at a kiosk in the mall. To find legal software here, I have to walk past four illegal shops just for the privilege of paying 30x the price.

As we got rid of our illegal stuff, I realized the fight against piracy is not just about enforcing the law. Legislation and enforcement is part of it, sure, but free culture is powered more than anything by belief.

How do you fight it when your friend tells you about this awesome game that you just have to play with them. "Oh, I can't afford it," you say. "That's okay," they reply, "I made you a copy. Here."

Or you're homeschooling your kids, but curriculum costs more than you make in a month. "Don't worry," your friend says, "I'll copy my books for you at Kinko's."

Or say you love the TV show Babylon 5, but the entire box set is almost $300. What do you do when your friend gives you the whole set as a gift, knowing (because of the distorted disc labels and DVD jackets with Chinese on them) that he paid less than $50 for it?

That's what free culture looks like. When we got rid of our pirated stuff, we heard a lot of comments like, "I wish I could do that," or "You're just throwing it away!" or "I don't know how you can live like that in Thailand." (And these were from the missionary community).

When people believe that digital media is cheap to make, that corporations are extorting us, that everybody pirates and nobody gets hurt -- at that point it doesn't matter what the law is. People will look at you funny, even resent you, when you pay full price for stuff. In many ways, we're there already. I've got more to say, but that will have to wait until Friday.

In the meantime, I'm curious, what is piracy like in your own community? Is it something people look down on, or is it considered normal? Does anyone do it? Does everyone do it?

What's Wrong With The Last Airbender

I don't do movie reviews very often -- or rants for that matter. But I'm so sad. I have to get this out so I can go on pretending this movie never happened.

My family and I ADORE the cartoon of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It felt kiddish at first, but I fell in love with the characters and the fantastic action sequences. I was hooked by the third episode. During the final four episodes I literally sat on the edge of my seat, shushing anyone who spoke.

So. You know where I'm coming from.

I took my older daughters to see the movie because, even though I knew the reviews it got, it was something we enjoyed together and I really wanted them to see the story in Thai. For the record, they liked it (though they both wanted to see Eclipse, so...).

I will grant the movie these two things: (1) the sets were beautiful and spot-on faithful to the series and (2) for a movie accused of whitewashing, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of Asian and Indian actors involved. But that's it. Be warned there are spoilers below. Usually I don't spoil, but then usually I'm talking about media I want you to enjoy as much as I did. For this, I just don't care.

The pacing was awful. It felt like all the best, most emotional moments of the TV show were included, but stripped of any context that would make them emotional. Everything happened so fast, there was no time for any real character arcs.

Bending was boring. In the cartoon, bending the elements was a natural extension of kung fu. When a bender struck with his fist, fire shot out. When he drew his fingers delicately through the air, a stream of water followed the motion. The result was martial arts that were fluid, effective, and super-cool to watch. By contrast, the movies felt like watching a turn-based RPG. Zuko does a complicated move while Aang stands still. Then a fireball shoots at Aang who flips away, and it's Aang's turn to do his move.

Aang and Sokka don't smile at all. I mean, come on. In the cartoon, Aang was a playful kid who rejected the weight of saving the world. Halfway through the final season, rather than talk about what to do after their attack on the Fire Lord fails, Aang wants to play around the Western Air Temple. And Sokka... his jokes were their own running gag. He said it himself: "That's pretty much my whole identity. Sarcasm and meat."

The ending sucked. While most of the movie went out of its way to include the cartoon's emotional moments, the ending ripped them out for no good reason. Instead of fighting Zhao, Iroh sets his hands on fire and Zhao just runs away. Instead of obliterating the Fire Navy as the Ocean Spirit, Aang makes a giant wall of water and the navy just...runs away. And instead of facing off with Zuko and the Ocean Spirit, Zhao is defeated by four random waterbenders who kill him with no struggle at all and then walk away.

Maybe the movie's better in English, but I doubt it. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch Zhao and Zuko duel for real while I get excited about The Legend of Korra.