Monday, April 28, 2014

Defenestrating Mule

The curse and the blessing, they're one and the same. 
      ~The Indigo Girls, "Fugitive"

I'm sure Amy Ray had a completely different situation in mind when she wrote those words, but they perfectly describe my relationship with computers. My own much less poetic description is, "Computers are like the opposite sex. I love what they can do for me, but I hate what I have to go through to get them to do it."

Sometime last night, a tree swaying in the wind leaned on a wire somewhere around here. At least that's my theory. The result was a series of brief power outages that stopped our clocks, paused the humidifier, messed up the furnace cycle, made the phone beep, confused the heck out of the DVR, and--apparently--turned my laptop on and off and on again.

All these lovely electronic devices that keep me on time, moisturized, warm, amused and in touch with the outside world went haywire. I can deal with most of them, although to be honest, the remote for the DVR must be approached with the proper incantations and burnt offerings.

Mule--and I'm sure you appreciate why I named the laptop thus--is another story. I always turn it off at night, removing the widget that transfers signals from my wireless keyboard and mouse. Always. Every night. I'm more likely to shut down than I am to brush my teeth. Mule was zonked out in his stable when I went to bed last night.

So why was his power light flashing this morning? Why, when I tapped the touchpad, did my desktop come up? Perhaps, I thought muzzily, my husband, he of the magic fingers, had turned it on when he got up. He often checks the weather on Mule rather than on his own machine before he goes to work.

Hubby claimed he hadn't even entered the office today. And Mule's light might have been on, but nobody was home. When I clicked on any of my icons, nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen for a very long time. At last a message appeared, informing me "the signal failed to transfer." I was advised to shut down using Ctrl+Alt+Delete or the power button. I tried both methods, and nothing stubbornly went on happening.

So I took a shower. Well, I shrieked and swore and sniveled, then took a shower. Dammit, Mule, I have work to do! People are depending on me. I'm depending on you, you thick-headed, literally half-assed creature. You see that window beside the desk? You know what happens when I stick you out there and let go? Think about it.

He of the magic fingers waited outside the shower curtain until I paused for breath. "It's up now," he said. "Everything works."

I poked my head out of the shower and breathed a seductive "Huh?"

"All I did was hold the power button down for three seconds or so."

See what I mean? Proper incantations and burnt offerings. Magic fingers help, too. Then again, maybe it was the threat of defenestration.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The GoPro(c) Technique

Recently I watched the 900th Formula One Grand Prix, a breathtaking spectacle of high-tech cars glittering under brilliant lights in the night-time desert of Bahrain. A feast for the eyes even if you don’t care about the intra-team rivalries or the fine details of aerodynamics or the constant jostling over rules.

But I digress.

The pre-race show featured a 20-second montage of those 900 races, dating back to the 1950s. What struck me was not the percentage of the drivers I recognized (a benefit of my age), but the progressive improvement in the images. From grainy black and white stills to handheld newsreels to helicopter shots to in-car cameras, we got closer and closer to the action. During the race, we were able to watch from just above the driver’s head as his car was speared by another and did a barrel roll.* The capability now exists, as in Ron Howard’s film Rush, to show a driver’s pupils narrowing and widening.

In other words, we’ve moved from telling to showing.

It’s one thing to tell the viewer that Esteban Gutierrez crashed; it’s quite another to show the sky rotating over the rollbar of his machine. Though I was ensconced on a comfy sofa, my head spun after that shot.

All of which is to remind you that this is the effect you want to create in your writing. Imagine you are a GoPro© camera attached to your character, seeing through her eyes, hearing through her ears. Even better, imagine you’re a next-generation GoPro©, with the capability to record every physical sensation--the racing heart, the roiling stomach, the aching muscles. And once you’ve done that, take it a much deeper step. We’ll call it an In-Heart camera, perhaps, one that portrays love, hate, anger, joy, fear, rejoicing.

But you don’t need a camera. You’re a writer. All you need are imagination and words. Go on--show the world.

* The driver’s reaction: “Whoa, what was that?” He climbed out unassisted and walked away safely.