Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Reader, Part 1

With Google Reader’s demise little more than three months away, I have to start looking for a new reader for my blog feeds. There are quite a few out there, but they have to meet my stringent standards if they want me to use them. So I’m going to spend a week with the different possibilities and see which one is the best.

What, did you think it was about book readers? Sorry, but there are more important things to worry about right now.

First up, Feedly.

First of all, I used this in Chrome so your mileage may vary depending on your browser.

---I was able to import my blog feeds from Reader (I hope this sticks after it disappears).
---Very easy to access my lists and change them around (easier than Reader, in fact).
---They have this thing called the Feedly Mini, which is how you can share things on Twitter.
---Navigation is very easy.
---I like how it shows only the blogs with new posts in my blog list. Usually those are the only ones I want to see and it’s easy to click if I want to see the others.
---There's a wide variety of options to view the posts with.

---The presentation could be better—themes have fancy names, but just change the color. Whee.
---Posts come up in the standard Feedly font and colors rather than whatever the blogger chooses.
---I don’t like that it sorted my lists alphabetically. I have my own order.
---I hate that I can’t go to my reader with the click of a button anymore. Not that I’ll be able to do so after July…
---It would be nice if the Feedly Mini, I don’t know had the ability to take you to the Feedly homepage. Seriously, how is that not there?
---The next button doesn’t actually click to the next one in your list. It’s...confusing. I still haven’t quite figured it out.

Overall, it’s kind of a watered-down Reader clone. Not great, not terrible. I’ll use it if I don’t find anything better and I won’t complain about it toomuch.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Language of Confusion: Only a Test

Bear with me because this one is actually kind of interesting. Test seems like such a simple word, but it’s got quite the backstory. When we hear test these days, we think of some form of exam, and while that definition showed up a long time ago, in the 1590s, it’s not the original meaning. When it first showed up in the late fourteenth century, it was just a “small vessel used in assaying precious metals”. Seriously. It comes from the classical Latin testum, which is an earthen pot. Apparently the reason for the radical definition shift is because metal quality was, ahem, tested by melting it in a pot (i.e. a test). So that examination became a test and a couple of centuries later, the verb “to test” showed up, too.

That’s not the end of the story of course. Testum is related to another Latin word, testa (like a piece of clay), as well as texere, to weave. Texere happens to be the root of the Latin word textura, which might look familiar because it means texture. Makes sense, right? Weave, textile, texture.

Next, we’re going to look at the word text. It showed up in the late fourteenth century as the words on a page (I’m guessing you all know that the texting we do with our phones came much later ; ). It has its origins in the Old French texteand Old North French tixte, but as always it comes back to Latin, in this case the word textus. Now, textus has a few different meanings depending on which version of Latin you look at. In Medieval Latin it can refer to the Scripture or the just plain text of a book. Late Latin uses it similarly to the latter definition, with it being a written account or the content of a document. Both those versions come from classical Latin, where it means texture. The reason I bring up all this? It comes from texere.

Tester as we think of it didn’t come around until the seventeenth century, about seventy years after the new definition of test did. Before that there was tester, but it was a canopy over a bed. That obscure definition comes from the Medieval Latin testerium and testera—“head stall”, and Late Latin slang for skull, testa. Since this tester is obsolete, this might not seem important, but it’s funny because the word testy can also be traced to the Late Latin testa. So rather than the route you might think, it came about because of a word none of us use anymore. It’s not related to any part of the male anatomy. Unlike, say, the word testament


Dr. Rebecca R. Harrison’s page at Truman State University 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I’ve been working on sensory descriptions in my WIP, so yes. A post on that subject.

The five senses are part of any story. (Technically there are more than five, like estimating how much time has passed is actually the real “sixth sense”, but we don’t want to get too complicated.) A world can’t be fully built unless the character is able to sense every part of it, from the smell of a grill to the color of the sunset.

1. Sight.
Sight is the easiest, obviously. Describing a person or a place is pretty much lesson one of writing. It’s important to make the descriptions vivid, so the reader can “see” it correctly, not necessarily by going into excessive detail, but by using a few strong words carefully.

2. Sound.
Sound is easy to describe, but also easy to forget about. Wherever a character is, there’s not nothing going on around him/her. Maybe it’s the approach of a pursuer, or maybe it’s just the rush of air over their eardrums as they’re panting for breath. Sound can even be used to emphasize boredom. They hear a television on in the distance, or someone walking upstairs as they sit in a waiting room.

3. Touch.
What are you touching right now? A computer/laptop. A chair. Your clothes, I really hope. The point is, it happens a lot. It’s also a good way for a character to judge something and then communicate those feelings to the reader. For example, they see what looks like a child’s toy ball on the ground but when they pick it up, they find it’s too heavy and smooth like metal. BOOM. It’s not a toy, it’s something else.

4. Smell.
Smell is one of the more forgotten senses. Truthfully, it can’t always tell as much as a simple glance will. But smell is the most evocative sense we have, so using it to show that food has gone bad or that someone splashed on too much cologne rather than washed is pretty powerful. Also gross. You can also do it with nice smelling things.

5. Taste.
I would say taste is the least used of the senses in terms of writing. It’s rare that a use pops up for it outside of a few mentions of what the characters are eating. Still, it should pop up at (appropriate) times to fully round out the world of the book.

See? Five senses. They’re used to describe everything and keep the reader involved with the story. It sounds so much simpler than it actually is.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Since I was all ranty last week, here's something more fun from SMBC...


It all makes sense, doesn't it?

Now I want some cheese.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Language of Confusion: About Times

Sometimes, I write a post simply so I can use the title I came up for it.

Future first showed up in the late fourteenth centuryfrom the Old French futur. The classical Latinform of the word is futura, coming from futurus and futurum, or “going to be” so you can see why we started using it to reference the time after the present. That futurum is literally translated as “going to be” is kind of interesting. It makes it a form of esse—to be—which sounds totally crazy until you realize that that kind of thing happens all the time in languages. See, futurus is what’s known as an irregular suppletive, basically a form of a word that’s completely different from other forms, like am/is/are or go/went. So because Latin speakers had a weird word form for “going to be”, we have the word future.

Present—the time present—first showed up in the fourteenth century, at the same time as the “I present to you” present and a century after the “gift” present. Time present comes from the Old French present and classical Latin praesentem(same meaning), from the verb praeesse, or “be at hand”. As you can see, that’s a mix of the prefix prae- (before) and suffix esse. Oh, and the other meanings of present are also related to praeesse, but that’s a story for another day.

Finally, we have past. The time period past didn’t show up until the 1580s, much later than the other ones. It came from the other definition of past, as you would say “the past year”, which showed up in the fourteenth century. It’s the adjective form of “to pass”, which appeared a few decades earlier from the Old French passer and Vulgar Latinpassare, “to walk or pass”. Because it can be both literal and figurative, we now have a lot of words related to pass.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013


I’m a nerd. Most of my friends, past and present, are nerds (or geeks, or whatever you want to call them). So I feel I’m at least somewhat versed in what makes up a nerd, and I’d like to make a few points based on what I often see nerds portrayed as in television, a few books, and, well, every form of media ever.

1. Not all nerds are unpopular.
Maybe it was just my high school, but several of the nerds I knew were fairly popular. They had a lot of friends, were well liked by even those outside their circles, and weren’t picked last for sports teams during gym class (that was always the freshmen). And things are a lot different as an adult, but the rule still applies. A nerd probably isn’t locked in his parents’ basement playing video games. He’s probably at work like anyone else.

2. In general, nerds are not socially inept.
Over the years, I’ve known several people who were socially awkward (myself included). Not all were nerds. In fact, most weren’t. The people I know who like comics, video games, and anime among other things aren’t the type to show up to a black-tie event wearing jeans and sneakers. It just means they like “nerdy” things.

3. Just because someone is ridiculously smart, doesn’t mean they’re a stereotypical nerd.
The valedictorian for my high school class was super smart, like straight A’s since middle school, perfect attendance, and tons of extra credit assignments. She was also a huge athlete and one of the most popular girls in school. She was one of those people who does everything and does it well, and no one held it against her because she was a really nice person. The next highest GPA belonged to a girl who was the same, minus being a big athlete, and plus being a hardcore party girl. These days, it’s pretty much the same. The smart look like everyone else. Where’s that in your TV nerds?

4. Most nerds don’t dress wacky.
Seriously, what is up with this trend? The women always have flamboyant hair and three-inch nails while the men are always wearing nerd glasses and miss-tucked shirts. I have never in my life met someone who dresses like that, not in high school and not now. Most of the nerds I know dress exactly like everyone else. Not that there aren’t people who dress to get attention. It’s just…that isn’t the calling sign of the nerd.

5. Not all nerds are bullied. Not all those bullied are nerds.
On TV and usually in books, high school nerds seem to be bullied all the time. But in my experience, not so much. The bullied were shy, awkward and bad socially, but not nerds in the traditional sense. Not that nerds weren’t made fun of for their tastes sometimes. However, that isn’t unique to nerds. Anyone who liked something that could potentially be made fun of was most definitely made fun of. It’s called High School.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

In Memorium

We are gathered here today to mourn the future loss of a dear friend: Google Reader, who is due to expire on July 1st of this year. I’ve known GR for only a few years, but they were great years. He taught me how to organize lists of my favorite blogs and easily click through posts. And if I wanted to save the post or favorite it, why, he was more than happy to oblige. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t terrible good with computers. He was easy to work with and required little from me, like a good aggregator should.

Seriously, Google. What. The. Hell. “Usage is down”? “It’s time to focus on other products”? Reader needs to be “retired”? You have email. You have maps. You have the freaking king of search engines. You dominate almost every other facet of internet usage. If you want to get rid of unwieldy, redundant programs, eliminate Google+ because Facebook is a thing and leave Reader alone. And the gall to call it “retirement”. Come on. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and is being discontinued like a duck, I think you might have a discontinued duck.

Don’t involve me in this mess.
There’s actually a petition going on at Because why not? Petitions are what internet people do. And honestly, they’re about as likely to listen to us as they are to realize on their own that killing it is a dumb idea. No, it’s not going to do anything unless every user manages to band together and sign it, but accepting defeat is the first step toward failure. Or something.

Anyway, you can download your Reader data if there’s anything there you don’t want to lose. I’m going to go start looking for another blog reader. Maybe we should do like a reality show and have all the aggregators try to prove why they’re the best one for me ; ).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Secret Origins: N

It’s been too long since I did one of these—five whole months! You’ve probably been terrified that you won’t get the information you need but don’t worry. It’s here.

First, some review. In English, we sue the Latin alphabet cultivated by the Romans. For the most part, they adapted the alphabet of the Etruscan region, a place with a unique language now losteven if we still use the symbols. The Etruscans actually took their alphabet from the Greeks, who adapted the alphabet of the Phoenicians for their own use with one major difference: the Phoenicians did not use vowels. Their alphabet was developed from the more pictographic Proto-Sinaitic, one of the first alphabets, created using Egyptian hieroglyphs as symbols for consonant sounds.

Anyway, pretty much all throughout history, versions of N are just M with a leg missing(except for the Greek lowercase nu, which for some reason is just ν). But although M always looked like N, its appearance still evolved over time. In Etruscan it looked like a y or a lowercase n with long legs. If you go all the way back to Phoenician, it looks even more like a y, or even just like a hook. Apparently this is because in the Proto-Sinaitic language, they chose the symbol for “nahas” to signify the n sound. Oh, and nahas? It means snake : ).

TL;DR: it wasn’t enough for M and N to sound alike. They had to look alike too.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Idea File

Every writer has one, whether it’s physical or a storage unit in the brain. I have many ideas I look at and love the concept, but realize it isn’t developed enough to become a story. Even when I find the lynchpin, the thing that will make it a novel, it’s not always strong enough to live. There are several ideas I’ve tried only to die on the first chapter, or even the first word, either because I was so in love with it that I thought I could make it work or because it hadn’t been given enough time to “grow” in my brain first.

It’s why I have an idea file, one physical (well, as physical as a file in Word is) and the other mental. The mental one gets more ideas every day, from dreams, me asking myself “What would happen if…?” and just plain random inspirations (that’s a cool picture…I must make a story for it). For a few days after being put in there, the idea is at the front, where I can look at it every time I open the drawer. But it gets pushed back every time. Unless it’s really strong, the kind that jumps up and says “Still here!” every time I open the file, it gets pushed so far back that only random chance brings it up again. And then it just disappears among the neurons in my brain.

Self-destruction is a good thing. Most of my ideas are only good when I’m in that spot after I’ve woken up but before I’ve really escaped sleep. Only the really, really (I hope) good ones even migrate to the physical file.

The physical file isn’t much different from the mental one. It’s got a bunch of scraps, good ones yes, but still scraps. I haven’t found the spark that makes me have to write it down yet, so they’re usually vague, stumbling attempts at making it into a story. And because the delete process isn’t automatic, it’s a lot harder to get rid of these. There’s something there, damn it! Just, sadly, not enough. It isn’t “right”. Yet.

Anyway, that’s my writerly ramblings for the week. The idea file, that sliver of unconsciousness all writers carry around. Thoughts?