Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sketches and Love Letters

I recently watched at TED talk (recently being a few hours ago) while being stuck inside due to the beautiful Michigan weather (rain, still.) I was inspired, a little bit at least, because I finally figured out how visual artists manage to post all of these things online (via tumblr or blogs or any number of different things) and still be able to pursue their craft more formally. They show sketches. They show little pieces of things that aren't exactly finished product, but are still good. Still at the heart of what they do and produce.

I wanted to share a sketch of mine with you guys. I know that I don't get a lot of comments on here, (something that really was brought home as the first comment on my blog was "test" just a few days ago) but I'd like criticism, and I want to sort of know what people think about it. I tend to write this blog in a more personable way (at least I think so) and... I don't know. Maybe these love letters to the internet are a little taxing to write when you never get a response.

Sorry about all of that, but sometimes it's nice to hear back. I submitted a few works recently, and it'll be a while to hear back from them, but I can share something I've been working on. It's a little rough, but I have a feeling it needs to be a much longer piece than I can write right now. Maybe I'll pick it up at a later point and polish it properly, but right now it's just a sketch.

The Shaman

Thomas was known to most as a skilled bike mechanic with a head for numbers, but he truly had a heart of iron and breath of smoke. His family had come over from the old country, from the highlands, years and years ago. He grew up with his mother and younger sister, and though not easy, life was never bad for them. He had a knack for getting machines to work properly, which seemed magical to most, but to be honest: he just read a lot of manuals and had the right tools. A logical mind his teachers would call him, but they didn’t have funds for college so he just sat around the garage fixing bikes and the occasional car, but only an easy fix. He made enough cash to spend on his personal ride and enough to keep his family comfortably living, but that was all he asked for.
There was a lot that he could do that might seem magical to most: clear a fuel line properly, set wheels spinning symmetrically so that they wore even, and could put a bike together from parts in just an hour or two. These were skills to Tom, not tricks. He never boasted about how to get a bike tuned so tight that it could off road without new shocks, or how he could make a three-eights outside hex fit every bolt. These were just things that people expected mechanics to be able to do, and so he did them. He always did little things wrong when someone knew what they were doing though. It made them feel a bit better to get to yell at him, but the results were always what mattered and he delivered.
There was little magical about what Tom did when he was fixing bikes, but that wasn’t the case for when he rode them. To him, riding a bike was a religious experience. There was a transformation occurring, turning gas into energy into life. It made the bike pulse under his hands and breath under the saddle. The roar of a bike was like a song conducted by an orchestra, and he could hear every part clicking together. He could even tell you when your brakes were going bad just by the sound of your engine turning over.
When he rode, the bike didn’t feel like and extension of himself, as many others would describe it, but as a living thing that he meshed with so perfectly it was hard to see a real difference between the two. He once sent a kid to the hospital for spitting on his bike. Not in any malicious way, but people get violent when other people spit in their face. The air rippled across his skin and against the metal of the bike when they rode. He could feel it as well as the beating of the pavement under the wheels and the circulation of gas and oil through its veins. He was alive when he was riding, and though he wasn’t like a bird soaring through the sky, it must be a similar experience.
There was a difference between his bike and cars. He didn’t care for driving cars, but not for the reasons you’d expect. They were still alive, but they were a different beast. They were more docile and more skittish than a bike. You could run them for harder and longer, but they had a heavier sense of self. You could get lost in a car, all the parts spinning and flexing like some great oxen, but a bike was a mutual thing. You felt the bike and it felt you. That’s what Tom always believed at least.

They had asked him to do a speed run. That’s what Tom was good at, and honestly he didn’t need the pay but they insisted and they cashed out very well. Small package, but that had never affected the run or payment before. The went over the route, and Tom made sure that he mentally shaved off seconds with shortcuts and free speeding areas. The item was only going to be available for a second or two, so the timing was critical. He was good at that timing though. He set out, his bike sporting a fresh set of black coverings and a spoofed license plate, and began. The most difficult part of these jobs was thinking about the job. He fell into the speed, the exhilaration and the feeling of the machine rush with him. He never had to check where the other vehicles were, he just could tell with that same sense as when he drove. He felt them on the roads, plowing along, unconnected to their drivers. Sometimes he would feel another true rider, but that was a very rare event. 
The package was being switched between two individuals and he simply had to cut between them and grab it. This was the hard part, but even then he knew when they would be there. They had people that knew these sorts of things, but he never questioned the timing. The timing was always right with these people. He just had to be there to take advantage of it. He saw the scene as they described it: a woman in a yellow dress and a man in a tattered suit. He honked as they held the package between them, startling them both. He gripped it as he pushed between them, and kept going. This was the point where he could just let go.
He revved the engine and let the road take him. The sooner he got there, the better, and the faster that meant he could go. The wind rushed in his air and he weaved through the traffic like smoke. This why he did the job: the feeling of true speed and purpose for his gift. This is what he considered to be close to flying. Then something went wrong. 
There was another rider there with him. Not on another car or bike, but riding with him in his bike. It felt strange, like someone watching you make love or staring at you while you slept. He didn’t like this feeling, but he didn’t know what to do about it. He clicked the radio button at his helmet and voiced a concern. They sounded alarmed at the other end. They wished him luck, but that they wouldn’t be there when he arrived. He wouldn’t get paid, and if he made it out of this that he should never contact them again. For safety reasons, they explained and then wished him luck again. The radio went dead silent, and Tom would have felt truly alone if he didn’t have someone riding in the bike with him.
He put extra gas in the engine and gave the issue a serious thought. What was he going to do about this? He didn’t know his employers real well, and he certainly didn’t know what to do about the package safely nestled behind his handlebars. What was he going to do about the extra person riding with him in spirit? He though it over as he took a short cut and then came up with an idea. He looked at the man like he looked at bikes when he was fixing them. He saw the person behind the facade, and then he pushed. 
Kicked would be a better word for what he did. He mentally kicked the rider in the face, or the face equivalent and felt as their grip left the bike and it disappeared behind him. He then sped up. He took a slightly longer route home. Went past a few spaces that were out of his way, and though spaces that normally weren’t open to the public. When he got home, the plates and covers came off as quickly as he could shut the garage. He would deal with them later.
His mother was taking a mid-afternoon nap and his sister had yet to come back from high school. He began to put some ramen on the stove for himself when the doorbell rang. He opened the door carefully, and there stood the man that had hitched a ride, standing on his door mat. He looked different from when he was riding: the hair was dyed and the teeth weren’t as perfect, but he was unmistakable. The man saw Tom and just smiled. Tom reached over to the hall table and picked up the small package and handed it to the man, who began laughing when he saw it.
“Well, that certainly saves me a lot of trouble,” said the Rider as he took the package from Tom’s hand, “and I don’t suppose that you are looking for new employment, are you?”
Tom just nodded slightly. 
“Good.” The man smiled again, “Because I have a job that I think you’d be well suited for.”
It was at that point that Tom could tell that this was the beginning of a interesting series of events.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Spirals, Tidings, and Rain

Hey guys,

Lovely weather (and by that I mean rain) here in metro Detroit. Been doing yard work and trying to restring my guitar. Also mid-way through putting up a Pergola in the backyard for my sister's graduation. It's been a quiet week at home and it's nice just being able to hang out with my family a little bit, especially when I'm going to be traveling so much for the next little while.

It's been kind of exciting ordering plane tickets and trying to figure out grad school stuff. I've been a little hesitant about getting around to it because frankly it's a little scary that it's already coming up. I have a hard time facing big changes head on, so I've been doing my best allowing them to sneak in through the edges of my daily routine. Perhaps I will get over that and dive headlong into these adventures, but that might take a little more time.

Along with my usual reading (I'm part way through House of Leaves, and it's starting to get really odd/exciting) and writing stuff, I've been amusing myself with a couple of side projects. A bit of coding and a bit of statistics, but I've been trying to make them fun to do. One of these is a dungeon simulator done in a rogue-like style, and in doing research for it a few friends of mine have been doing a succession fortress in Dwarf Fortress

As a side note for those that aren't familiar with Dwarf Fortress, it is a game revolving around managing and building a dwarven outpost in a procedurally generated Tolkien-eske high fantasy world. Oh and the graphics are all in ASCII.  Saying that the learning curve for the game is steep might be a bit of an understatement, and it is very common to have the entire fortress crumble down around your head for any number of reasons. The level of tracked detail in the world and lack of prewritten narrative allows for story telling of great epics and harrowing tragedies that aren't often seen in any other game. A succession fortress is where you start a fortress and pass it between players every in-game year, simulating a sort of change in government. 

I would like to begin telling you the story of Rockspirals, the volcanic succession fortress. 

The three of us began by digging into the earth near an active volcano, and establishing our base a the peak of the mountain. It was called Rockspirals, and we quickly established magma forges to begin taking advantage of the rich galena veins and pockets of highly valuable native aluminum to produce innumerable amounts of lead, silver and aluminum. We also found sand, and were able to construct several magma glass forges to secure a near limitless amount of green glass trade supplies.
Soon, midway through our second year, a miner fell into a strange mood and demanded bone. Lacking a depth of raw materials or bones from butchery, he took matters into his own hand and... procured dog bone from one of the several dozen puppies that roamed the fortress. After his fevered carving finished, he held The Euphoria of Limbs, a dog bone ring that held a heartbreakingly beautiful scene of far off grass plains. The artifact alone would be considered meager by the standards of the great works, but he did not stop there. He wandered to the depths of the fortress and began digging. A maddening, curving labyrinth into the deepest part of the mountain. No branches, no maze, just an endlessly long spiral into the dark. When the spiral closed into itself, he dug down again and dug out a vault and painstakingly cleared it of stone.
In the halls of that spiral cursed vault, he placed the ring upon a pedestal and returned to the fortress a changed dwarf. Other dwarves made artifacts: a wombat leather helm that bristled with spikes of stone like a delicately twisted rose bush, and a sinister dog leather turban from the remains of the crafted ring, which featured images of itself repeatedly embedded on its surface like a mad mirror. Each was made and then its maker wordlessly wandered down to the deepest part of the fortress to walk the spiral. They always returned empty-handed as their precious work rested in the brooding darkness of the mountain. 

The fortress is still going, and I will write little updates once it gets back around to me. I hope you guys enjoyed one of the many stories that have come out it though.

I'm personally going to go and keep restringing my guitar and finish another chunk of House of Leaves. Take care, and I'll see you again soon.

Best Regards,

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fun and Games

Hey guys,

It's been a nice spring, for the few weeks we've had of it here in Michigan, and I've spent the last week doing gardening around my parent's house in prep for my little sister's graduation party. I've also been getting the specifics of by big trips ironed out, though I still need to order plane tickets to San Diego.

I've finally gotten my stuff together and started submitting stories to a couple of different publications. It'll be a little bit nerve-wracking waiting to hear back from them, but I hope that I might be able to get some more stories out to the public. I will be very excited if I don't get all rejection letters, but it'll just have to go into the pile of rejections.

Along with that fun, gut-wrenching anticipation, I've been practicing my object oriented programming with a rogue-like dungeon simulator. It's not very far just yet, but it'll be a cool little program to play around with. All I currently have is a basic floor plan generator and tracking a few environmental constants. I'll be trying to implement skeleton generation/movement next, but we'll see how well that will go. I'm looking at possibly using PyGame for tile output, but that'll probably be after I get some proper dungeon rendering. I'm also doing some cost analysis on DOTA 2 items, but I am still drawing conclusions from the number crunching. That analysis will just have to be a later posting.

All in all, it's been a quiet summer and I can't wait until the end of June for Clarion to start. There are many adventures left ahead of me, and I am ready to meet them head on.

See you later guys,

Friday, May 10, 2013

Skipping Town and Other Misadventures

Hey guys,

Sorry I haven't been posting as much as I would like, it's been kind of hectic as of late.

I'm sitting in my favorite tea house in East Lansing, and have been informed that they are shutting down. It's a weird feeling. They stopped ordering their teas, and many of the bottles on the shelf that once housed some of my favorite blends of tea now sit empty. I'm leaving East Lansing, and I feel as though it is leaving with me a little bit.

I went through all of my graduation ceremonies this past weekend, and am now a proud owner of a BS in Microbiology. The whole ceremony was rather entertaining (and long, but that's because the college of Natural Science is the largest college at MSU.) Mostly spent making fun of all of the Human Biology majors that didn't get into medical schools, which was as funny as it was heartless.

I got into many graduate programs (despite my fears and trepidation) and, after making some hard decisions, will find my self going to Pittsburgh next fall. I'll be joining Carnegie Mellon's Master's program in Computational Biology, which I am terribly excited for. I am excited partly because it's a field that is both interesting and rapidly growing, partly because it is one of the best schools in the country for computer science, and just a little part that their school colors are Tartan.

Last but not least, I got into Clarion. (I know, it's a little late to be spreading the news now, but as I said, I've been really busy.) Which means foremost, that I'm going to be heading to San Diego in a matter of weeks to spend the rest of my summer diligently writing and editing with some of the finest minds in fiction and some of the best and brightest up coming writers in the country. I'm not entirely sure how it all happened, but we will just have to see what will become of it. I'll try to keep you guys in the loop though!

Big changes are headed my way and Michigan is suddenly feeling a little bit small. It looks like it's about time for me to move on. As brilliantly terrifying as that suddenly feels.

Best Regards Guys,

P.S. The tea house has been playing Disney Music the entire time that I've been writing this, and it is wonderful. I am going to miss this place terribly.