Monday, December 22, 2008

Links of Interest - on the sidebar

I'm now sharing interesting links from my Google Reader feed directly to this blog.

Check the sidebar for more. I've been trying to get this to work for a while; should result in less link posts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hiatus explanation

Posting has been slow due to promotion + moving + love + proofing + trip to the Ngai Tahu AGM in Kaikoura + cognitive overload + gaming + learning to drive + life planning.

More later.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

West Wing Season 6

I have never seen a TV show bounce back so well. It's gone from fun (under Aaron Sorkin) to kind-of-a-slog in Season 5, to utterly compelling.

I love how, having heard spoilers for nearly everything, the show continues to surprise me with great developments for its leads. Especially CJ Cregg - she's entering a list I never knew I had: my Top 10 favourite characters.

Definitely a show to rewatch from the beginning. And I've still got the Santos-Vinnick election plot to come. In fact, check out this little article about the parallels between Santos-Vinnick and Obama-McCain. (THERE ARE SPOILERS ALL THE WAY THROUGH, BUT ESPECIALLY AT THE END)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pop quiz: sexual chemistry

Pop quiz: name the last mainstream movie from Hollywood where there was sexual chemistry between the two leads.

Your answers will be assessed on (a) how recently it was made, and (b) how long the leads are on-screen together.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

[The Gap] Finding people who are into what you're into

This one's for Morgue and Sean.

Colin Meek tipped me off to In Colin's words, it's:

a new social bookmarking site underpinned with semantic technology. For journalists it is Facebook on steroids.

Through Twine you can join groups (called Twines) where people post interesting links, bookmarks and resources on specific topics as diverse as the 'Financial Crisis' and 'Beer'. Based on your activity and items you have bookmarked, the site 'recommends' twines, connections with other members and other items people have saved.

This site is crucial to the development of Sean's and my new movie.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I don't care if it's repudiation or change

CNN just called Ohio.

Congratulations, President President-Elect Obama!

I will now go do something productive with my day to celebrate.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] Negotiating through a complex problem (Part 3)

In 'Solving Tough Problems', Adam Kahane talks about his involvement in a negotiation about what post-apartheid South Africa would look like. Could they achieve the seemingly-impossible, and negotiate a peaceful transition in power that would lead to a prosperous country? The negotiations were held at the Mont Fleur Conference Center. What follows is part 3 of a series of direct quotes from the book:


The most extraordinary characteristic of the Mont Fleur process was the relaxed openness of the conversation. The team members not only spoke openly but, over the course of the meetings, changed what they said.

Open listening is the basis for all creativity - in business and engineering as much as in politics.

"[Work hard] to learn how to listen, without judging, to what the other person is trying to say-really to be there. If we listen in the normal closed way, for what is right and what is wrong, then we won't be able to hear what is possible: what might be but is not yet. We won't be able to create anything new."

The members of the Mont Fleur team had listened, not only openly, but also reflectively. When they listened, they were not just reloading their old tapes. They were receptive to new ideas. More than that, they were willing to be influenced and changed. They held their ideas lightly; they noticed and questioned their own thinking; they separated themselves from their ideas ("I am not my ideas, and so you and I can reject them without rejecting me "). They "suspended" their ideas, as if on strings from the ceiling and walked around and look at those ideas from different perspectives.

To create new realities, we have to listen reflectively. It is not enough to be able to hear clearly the chorus of other voices; we must also hear the contribution of our own voice. It is not enough to be able to see others in the picture of what is going on; we must also see what we ourselves are doing. It is not enough to be observers of the problem situation; we must also recognise ourselves as actors who influence the outcome.

Bill Torbet of Boston College once said to me that the 1960s slogan "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem" actually misses the most important point about effecting change. The slogan should be, he said, "If you're not part of the problem, you can't be part of the solution." If we cannot see how what we are doing or not doing is contributing to things being the way that they are, then logically we have no basis at all, zero leverage, for changing the way things are - except from the outside, by persuasion or force.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] Negotiating through a complex problem (Part 2)

In 'Solving Tough Problems', Adam Kahane talks about his involvement in a negotiation about what post-apartheid South Africa would look like. Could they achieve the seemingly-impossible, and negotiate a peaceful transition in power that would lead to a prosperous country? The negotiations were held at the Mont Fleur Conference Center. What follows is part 2 of a series of direct quotes from the book:


The first brainstorming exercise produced 30 stories. The team combined these and narrowed them down to nine for further work, and set up for some teams to flesh out the scenarios along social, political, economic, and international dimensions. The subteams worked from September through December, when the whole team reconvened at Montt Fleur for a second workshop.

They first addressed in nine scenarios in more depth and then narrowed the field to four that they thought, given the current situation in the country, were the most plausible and important.

After that workshop, the team went back to their own organisations and networks to test these four scenarios. At a third workshop, in March 1992, the participants reviewed and refined the write-ups of the final scenarios and agreed how they would be published and disseminated.

Finally, in August, the team held a fourth, one-day workshop to present and test the logic of the scenarios with a broader and more senior group. The team's final scenarios asked the question: How will the South African transition go, and will the country succeed in "taking off"? Each of the four stories gave a different answer and had a different message that mattered to the country in 1992.

Once the four scenarios had been agreed on, the team introduced them into the national conversation. They inserted a 25 page booklet into the leading weekly newspaper, arranged for the work to be discussed in the media, and distributed a cartoon video of the four stories. Most importantly, they ran more than 100 workshops for leadership groups of their own and other influential political, business and civic organisations, where the four scenarios were presented and debated.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] Negotiating through a complex problem (Part 1)

In 'Solving Tough Problems', Adam Kahane talks about his involvement in a negotiation about what post-apartheid South Africa would look like. Could they achieve the seemingly-impossible, and negotiate a peaceful transition in power that would lead to a prosperous country? The negotiations were held at the Mont Fleur Conference Center. What follows are direct quotes from the book:


The teams at Mont Fleur started off in mixed small groups, brainstorming possible scenarios for South Africa over the decade ahead. I asked them to talk not about what they or their party wanted to happen - their usual way of talking about the future - but simply about what might happen, regardless of what they wanted.

Each small group could present back to the whole group any story that day they wanted, as long as they could argue that it was logical and plausible. The listeners in the plenary were not permitted to shout down the story with "That couldn't happen" for "I don't want that to happen." They could only ask "Why would that happen?" or " What would happen next?"

The team found this scenario came to be fabulously liberating. They told stories of left-wing revolution, right-wing revolts, and free-market utopias. They told some politically incorrect stories, and also rejected as implausible some politically correct stories.

These scenario exercise also encouraged openness and reflectiveness. The scenarios were what if stories to play with, not predictions or proposals to sell. They emphasised multiple views about what might happen, rather than a single story about what would or should happen. They dealt with dynamic complexity because they addressed the whole situation in terms of causes and effects; with generative complexity because they addressed ways the future might be different from the past; and with social complexity because they created space not just for one "official future" but for many perspectives. Above all, they articulated links between the choices that the team members and their fellow citizens would make and the way in which the future would unfold.

(SJH: It appears that this exercise took place over a few days)

The first brainstorming exercise produced 30 stories. The team combined these and narrowed them down to nine for further work, and set up for some teams to flesh out the scenarios along social, political, economic, and international dimensions. The subteams worked from September through December, when the whole team reconvened at Montt Fleur for a second workshop.


I've broken this description of the Mont Fleur process into a series of posts. The next one will be up tomorrow.

Monday, October 27, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] Upcoming Articles

Here's some of the stuff I want to tackle soon:
  • Profile James Hanson
  • Profile Valev Smil
  • Investigate the 100 months movement
  • Publish more notes from Solving Tough Problems by Adam Kahane
  • Discuss why long-range thinking could be a bad thing
  • Summarise the WWF (wildlife, not wrestling) report, 'Weathercocks and Signposts'
  • Summarise 'Plan B'
  • Research VBN theory (Gardner and Stern)
  • Conduct some polarity management between climate change deniers and believers

Sunday, October 26, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] An initial summary of the issues with LRT

Here's a summary of some of the important concepts I've been writing about for the last week or so. I'm trying to articulate some of the elements that make it more difficult for people to think long range:

The 'timeline' is the length of time a person is comfortable making plans for. A gambling addict can have a timeline of between 30 seconds and a couple of minutes. "Where's the next $2 coin for the pokies coming from?"

The 'responsibility' is how much action do you personally need to take, or think you should take, vs. how much action you think everyone else is taking.

The 'scope' is the limits of how complex a situation a person is comfortable making plans about. Many people are daunted by the scope of an issue like climate change. There are many variables involved, including a mass of scientific data to assess and reinterpret into terms intelligible to you, decisions to make about likely scenarios, and a global ecosystem to try and visualise. It is a complex problem.

In 'Solving Tough Problems', Adam Kahane defines three types of complexity:

  1. Dynamic - how close together are the problem's cause and effect?
  2. Generative - how familiar and predictable is the future suggested by the problem?
  3. Social - how much to the people affected by the problem agree about what's causing the problem?

Kahane suggests that to solve problems with a high dynamic complexity, you need to examine the interrelationships among the pieces and the functioning of the whole system.

If you want to solve a problem with a high generative complexity, you can't calculate the solution in advance, based on what has worked in the past; you have to work it out as the situation unfolds.

When solving problems with a high social complexity, the people involved must participate in creating and implementing the solution.

To solve a complex problem, we have to immerse ourselves in and open up to its full complexity. Dynamic complexity requires us to talk not just with experts close to us, but also with people on the periphery. Generative complexity requires that we talk not only about options that worked in the past, but also about ones that are emerging now. And social complexity requires us to talk not just with people who see things the same way we do, but especially with those who see things differently, even those we don't like. We must stretch way beyond our comfort zone.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] A game about climate change

Earlier this year, I spent about a week obsessed with this game:

Climate Challenge

It's a flash game where you play the president of the European Nations. Over 100 years, you must tackle climate change and stay popular enough with the voters to remain in office. It's really about the trade-offs between effective policy, electoral popularity, and earning enough money to keep the EU afloat.

For the first six days I played it, I was an ecological saviour at the cost of my policies crashing Europe into a new barbarism due to hyper-inflation.

Climate Challenge gives an entertaining intro to the feel of long-range thinking.

Friday, October 24, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] The Wiki is up

I've created the Long Range wiki, to organise all of these thoughts. You can find it here:

Long Range

The wiki is a work-in-progress, so it may look a bit messy. My hope is that it helps me in creating some regular 'summary' posts, that'll keep the writing on track.


'Long Range' is my attempt to apply the lessons from my script blogging: I started to put everything onto a wiki way too late in the script blogging process, and the whole thing became quite unwieldy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Useful links

I've been cleaning out the backlog from my Google Reader. Here's some stuff that survived the cull from last week and the last year: provides us with 30 free ebooks to learn about personal finance.

Trent at the Simple Dollar discusses how to build a master information document. This is:
a guide to the executor of your estate, containing all important information not contained in the other documents and also explaining online account access and other such information, like where a safety deposit box key should be and such. This may also include personal letters to people for them to read in the event of your passing and so forth.
Trent also talks about creating a silent room to enhance productivity.

Dane lists 20 things you shouldn't do when starting a business.

Jenni links to Instructables and Wikihow - two sites that tell you how to do most of the things you need to know how to do. (And happy 5th blogday, Jenni!)

David Milch (Deadwood) discusses writing.

David Simon (The Wire) gives a talk at Harvard University.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] The dilemma

Hypothesis: People make the best decisions they can. When deciding, their short-term interests (the ones that have an immediate impact on them) usually outweigh their long-term interests.

I suspect that one's reasonably uncontroversial.

I wonder if you could say this, though: People make the best decisions they can. Under extreme circumstances people could be persuaded to think about their best interests in terms of things that will happen in their lifetime. They might possibly think about it terms of their children, and maybe maybe in terms of their grandchildren.

People who voluntarily think at the century or millenia level - like Jim Hansen or Professor Vaclav Smil - are extremely rare. What makes them different?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] Types of LRT

So, what types of long-range thinking am I talking about? Here's the start of a brainstorm:

  1. Pressed upon you. You have a big life decision to make, and not much time to make it in. A job opportunity has come up that will require you to move cities. You've been dating for a few months and now you have to assess if it's going anywhere.
  2. Big picture, little person. There's stuff going on that's so big you can't solve it by yourself. And yet it's caused by the contributions of you and thousands or millions of people like you. What do you do? In fact, do you have any obligations to do anything?
  3. Known unknowns. You've heard about something (like climate change). You think it might require understanding, but something's stopping you or you're procrastinating.
  4. Unknown unknowns. Paraphrasing from Adam Kahane's 'Solving Tough Problems' again, the future's tough to predict because it can be influenced.
  5. Predictable. Known knowns. At the moment, you need money food and shelter to survive. How will you provide those for yourself and your family?

Monday, October 20, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] What inhibits LRT?

Hypothesis: your ability to think long-range gets better or worse depending on the situation.

In some areas of your life, you'll be great at it (finances or writing, for example), and in others you will suck (finances or writing, for example).

Pressure is probably a factor. Situations that have long-range implications but require an immediate response may lead to you not making the best decision. Pressure may inhibit long-range thinking.

... But I'm not entirely sure that this is what I mean when I talk about 'long-range'. Probably time to start unpacking that, and figuring out the different types of 'long-range thinking' there are.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] Why don't we recognise problems?

To paraphrase a synopsis of Stumbling onto Happiness, we're not very good at recognising what the future will be like.

To mash-up a famous quote, the problems of the future are already here. They're just not evenly distributed yet.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] The simplest way to think about it

Understand there's a problem.

Understand what the problem is.

Understand how to solve the problem.

Friday, October 17, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] The Goal

The goal is to improve our ability to see problems that aren't problems yet (or that don't seem to be problems yet).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] Problems where the people involved disagree

From 'Solving Tough Problems', by Adam Kahane:

... problems are tough because they are complex, and there are three types of complexity: dynamic, generative, and social.

A problem has low social complexity if the people who are part of the problem have common assumptions, values, rationales, and objectives.

In a well-functioning team, for example, members look at things similarly, and so a boss or expert can easily propose a solution that everyone agrees with.

A problem has high social complexity if the people involved look at things very differently. South Africa in the early 1990s of had the perspectives of black versus white, left versus right, traditional versus modern - classic conditions for polarisation and stuckness.

Problems of high social complexity cannot be peacefully solved by authorities from on high; the people involved must participate in creating and implementing solutions.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] Problems where the future is unfamiliar

From 'Solving Tough Problems', by Adam Kahane:
... problems are tough because they are complex, and there are three types of complexity: dynamic, generative, and social.

A problem has low generative complexity if its future is familiar and predictable.

In a traditional village, for example, the future simply replays the past, and so solutions and rules from the past will work in the future.

A problem has high generative complexity if its future is unfamiliar and unpredictable. South Africa in the early 1990s, for example, was moving away from the peculiar rigidities of apartheid and into a new, post-Cold War, rapidly globalising and digitising world.

Solutions to problems of high generative complexity cannot be calculated in advance, on paper, based on what has worked in the past, but have to be worked out as the situation unfolds.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] Superstruct

Obviously I can't start posting about long-range thinking without mentioning Superstruct - a new online game that is going to last for another 5 weeks where you play yourself in the year 2019 dealing with a global threat of your choice. Available threats to choose from include food shortages and ubiquitous surveillance.

Here's the tutorial:

I have some concerns about the game's presentation - in that it feels a little like unpaid market research - but totally applaud its open-source optimism.

Have a play round with the site. Watch the videos. Think about it.

Update: What I'm trying to imagine at the moment is a world in which people from all over the globe can contribute to forecasting about real-world issues. In my head, it has these qualities:
  • a short-term commitment
  • limited group size (120 or so?)
  • produces results or next-actions-to-take or synthesises its findings into a readable / viewable form
I guess it would look a little something like World Without Oil. And maybe that's where the superstruct team are going.

[Long Range Thinking] Problems where cause and effect are far apart

From 'Solving Tough Problems', by Adam Kahane:

... problems are tough because they are complex, and there are three types of complexity: dynamic, generative, and social.

A problem has a low dynamic complexity if cause and effect are close together in space and time.

In a car engine, for example, a cause produce effects that are nearby, immediate, and obvious; and so, why an engine doesn't run can usually be understood and solved by testing and fixing one piece at a time.

By contrast, a problem has high dynamic complexity if cause and effect are far apart in space and time. For example, the economic decisions in New York affect the price of gold in Johannesburg, and apartheid-era educational policies affect present-day black employment prospects. Such problems - management theorist Russell Ackoff calls them " messes" - can only be understood systemically, taking account of the interrelationships among the pieces and the functioning of the system as a whole.

Monday, October 13, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] The two concepts, plus a third

You could sum up the two concepts in the previous post as:

a) the 'timeline' - the length of time a person is comfortable making plans for

b) the 'scope' - the limits of how complex a situation a person is comfortable making plans about.

A gambling addict can have a timeline of between 30 seconds and a couple of minutes. "Where's the next $2 coin for the pokies coming from?"

Many people are daunted by the scope of an issue like climate change. There are many variables involved, including a mass of scientific data to assess and reinterpret into terms intelligible to you, decisions to make about likely scenarios, and a global ecosystem to try and visualise.

And that reminds me, we need to add a third concept:

c) the 'responsibility' - how much action do you need to take, or should you take, or do you think everyone else is taking?

I'm not totally happy with the labels for these concepts yet, but they'll do for a start.

[Long Range Thinking] The Basics

When it comes to thinking about and planning for the future, my intuition tells me that most people are better at thinking about short-term consequences than longer-term ones. The graph could look something like this:
The question is: what tools and techniques can we use or create to make it look more like this:

Also, my intuition tells me that most people are better at thinking about things in their immediate vincinity than bigger ones.

Other things to consider:

Danyl once told me that we evolved on the savannahs to think about things that move slower than running speed, occur in the space of a day, and involve numbers less than seven.

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell cites a study that found our social structures start to break down as soon as they're larger than 120 people.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Useful links

Here's the stuff that made it through my cull of Google Reader this week:

Let's make some animated movies. I haven't played around with either of these sites yet, but the tutorials make it sound like it simply a matter of typing and clicking to create a short film. (h/t Pulp 2.0)


Also over at Pulp 2.0, Bill Cunningham talks about having a 'pulp notes' file, a nice tool for storing fragments of dialogue and ideas for later use.

Let Michael Caine teach you about film-acting.

I link to Morgue linking to Matt and Jon's applications for the Evil League of Evil. Really good, sharp characteristions from both teams (and I suspect Morgue might also find himself in contention for his 15-second cameo as the Devil's Advocate.)

Vincent Baker has written a new fantasy RPG. At the moment it's free, because he wants to see if it's readable - is it communicating the play experience he wants?

Here's a hack to improve pretty anything in your life. I first read this on Seth Godin's blog, but Trent over at the Simple Dollar generalises it.

The Casual Kitchen compiles a whole bunch of links on low-cost cooking.

An overview of some of the thinking about climate change we'll be doing as a society and as individuals over the next few years. Check it out.

Some Paul Krugman and Americablog linkage to analysis of the financial crisis:

If you want to kick arse at folding t-shirts, then here's how: (a 22-second instructional video)

Have a great week

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

[The Limit] How to finish - Redefine your identity

I used to think of myself as "the man who is writing The Limit."

Now I'm thinking of myself as "the man who is finishing The Limit" (or "has finished it", on a good day).

I think that redefinition is important. Maybe part of the reason I've kept rewriting this for so long as because that is how I've defined myself.


I'm about a third of the way through the script now, and am very pleased with how this final, brutal cull is turning out. I reckon it is approaching being something very special, but the ending is gunna be very tricky.

Monday, September 22, 2008

West Wing - When Presidents collide

Because the West Wing and I are dating again after seeing other TV shows for the last five years, I link to this: a conversation between Barack Obama and President Jed Bartlett, as written by Aaron Sorkin.


What makes it strong, I think, is Bartlett's acknowledgement that he is a fictional character.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

[The Limit] How to finish - Submit the script

Talking with Mum and Dad last night, it suddenly became clear to me: at some point I need to stop giving my script to readers.

My writing cycle has gone a little like this: finish the script, give it to some trusted readers to see if it makes sense, they comment, I adjust and finish the script, give it to some trusted readers to see if it makes sense, they comment, I adjust and ...

Wait. That is a cycle. I am using the process of 'giving the script to readers and getting insightful feedback from them' as a form of procrastination.

At some point I need to declare that I have confidence in my own writing, and that the work needs to be submitted to the actual audience for them to judge (in the case of the Limit, that actual audience is my list of producers).

The new process: figure out the standard I want to hit, determine if I've hit it, then make sure I have confidence in my own writing.

Submit. The. Script.

The next Batman movie

Given where The Dark Knight leaves Batman (and given who managed to make it through to the closing credits), I got my pick for one of the new characters in Film 3:


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

N - an animated Stephen King story

There's a new Stephen King story on the net. This one has been done as a series of two-minutes episodes, drawn by Alex Maleev, and partially animated.

The story is a neat cthulhoid take on obsessive-compulsive disorder, and some of the animation works better on screen than I think it will on the pages of the soon-to-be-published short story.

Watch it here. (And count the stones!)

There are going to be 25 episodes in total: a new one will be published each weekday, and they're about halfway through at the moment. There's some weak-ish voice acting to start with, but that soon gets better. I'm also a fan of its mood.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Gilmore Girls - the final season

Just finished Season 7 of Gilmore Girls - an occasion that needs to be marked.

When I first started this blog, GG was the fifth show I mentioned. I've posted news about it ever since, including the depressing Sherman-Palladino contract negotiation debacle. As a result of (basically) firing the show's creators, I couldn't work up the enthusiasm to watch the seventh and final season at the time it aired. I heard rumours on the internet - that it had a wavering tone, there'd been a dulling of the dialogue, and that there was an implausible - or at least irritating and obviously time-marking - romantic relationship for one of the leads.

But I tuned in occasionally - mostly in the second half of the show's run. And what I saw impressed me. The episodes had moments that counted as series highlights for me: Lorelai and Luke meeting in the maze, Lorelai singing karaoke.

So I guess I was predisposed to like Season 7 when I finally sat down to watch it on DVD, because I had faith that it would go to the right places and find the right tone.

I'm not going to say much more than that I enjoyed it, and that I loved the final episode, but in the spirit of analysis I do have some observations:

1. We needed the Christopher arc. Chris has been a part of the show since the beginning: he was a strong post-Max Medina romantic possibility for Lorelai, and since then he's orbited her for five seasons. I appreciated that we got a definitive answer to the nature of their relationship - and that the story was based on their character flaws.

2. But lots of Chris means very little Luke and Lorelai. Removing their scenes removes a central dynamic that makes the show what it was. However, I coped with having very little Rory and Lorelai in the first half of Season 6; I found it pretty easy to deal with this.

3. Michel - gay or not? Okay Jenni, you might have a point on this one.

4. Talk, talk, talk. I found a lot of the early episodes had scenes of main characters confiding to secondary characters about how they felt about things that had just happened or were going to happen or which might happen. And lots of secondary characters (like TJ) who were obviously introduced as a means of giving us access to Luke's thoughts on the Lorelai situation. On the other hand, this eased off as the season went on. Characters began to act, decide, and repress and compartmentalise in really interesting ways. Overall, I can forgive the sometimes not so interesting talky-talk as a side-effect of the writing team developing a post-Amy-Sherman-Palladino groove.

5. The show seemed to move faster. This is the first time I've watched a whole season of the show in roughly 24-hours. Each episode dealt with a pretty big chunk of emotional territory, and the whole thing felt more soap-opera-ry than usual.

To synthesise all that - you've got a show that (early on) often lacked scenes that pushed the story along, felt more like a soap opera than its normal shaggy easy-going self, and removed a key relationship (Luke and Lorelai) for a large stretch.

On the other hand, you've got this:

And this:

So, yeah, I'm gunna say: Amy and Daniel, and David Rosenthal, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel - thank you very much. You done good.

Friday, March 28, 2008

[RPG] Bad Family - Shooting the Sacred Cows

Tuesday night, my friends helped me out with an enlightening playtest of my game-in-development, Bad Family (previously known as the Lucky Joneses).  “Enlightening”, because this playtest helped me realise how I can tackle the process of rewriting games, much like I’ve spent the last few years figuring out how to rewrite scripts.

Coming back to it after a break of maybe a year allowed me to see where it was working and where it wasn’t. Now I’ve realised that I can use playtests to isolate areas that aren’t working. Working on just those areas gives me an achievable problem to fix, and encourages me to try out different iterations of the game. Rather than try and make it perfect all at once, I can just hone in on creating the type of fun I want.

Ralph Mazza calls the process of realising that the cherished parts of your game aren’t actually working and that you’ll have to change them, “Shooting the Sacred Cows”. I now know what he means. Bad Family is definitely working in the way it creates an unstable and funny situation - the places where it isn’t working are due to me designing the game so that it doesn’t encourage the behaviours I want.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

[TV] Well done, New Zealand TV

I don’t know if this has hit the news here yet or not, but the creator of Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas) will be showrunning the American remake of Outrageous Fortune.


That’s right, a NZ show being remade for the American market. Which may not have happened since Julie Christie sold the format for ‘The Chair’. And I’m not sure has ever happened for a drama. This is a huge thing, and my congratulations to James Griffin and Rachel Lang – the creators of the original thing.


… And how cool was it to see two Kiwi actors in Lost last night? Especially the actor who plays Wolf in OF as the mother-freaking Captain!


Hopefully, the final test

Just checking the formatting of blog posts when I’m sending it from this new email address. My holiday has ended, so I’m expecting posting frequency to decrease again. I also finished formatting the Limit yesterday, using a free scriptwriting package called CeltX – it was good stuff.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Duma Key

by Stephen King

Rather than talk about the plot of King's latest novel (the owner of a construction company loses his arm in a horrific on-site accident, and has both medical and supernatural difficulties adjusting to his new life), I'd like to talk about the way it feels.

The novel's beginning is both brutally efficient at changing the status quo by destroying a man's life, and contemplative - it's interested in and observes the ideas of healing, and of establishing a new routine. It takes about a hundred pages to deal with this setup, and then the focus clearly shifts into the main character's new life, his new routine, meeting new people, and slowly ramping up the supernatural elements. From there, it's the steady accumulation of back story, placing tension on old and new friends, and a rising animosity (from the supernatural threat.

Duma Key is definitely a companion piece to Bag of Bones - almost an echo of it in some ways. The two stories both deal with grief, relocating, and a generational mystery - but Duma Key feels looser, more relaxed, and King is diving right into an exploration of the creative process (this time painting, rather than writing) rather than exploring the idea of writer's block. The threat here is also far more epic than in Bag of Bones. Its reach is (theoretically) global, and the sense of power and evil that King manages to create at times approaches the One Ring.

The writing contains King's standard tricks - end of chapter foreshadowing, italicised inner voices speaking in sinister fragments, wealthy protagonists, and Outsiders versus the White (although not referred to by those names). These things have been done many times before, but they're still effective. What's even more effective is his gift of creating characters you care about - which leads to a great 40 pages towards the end of the story that are so desperate and awful, so unafraid to truly screw with the characters you care about, that is easily matches Bag of Bones' concluding experiment in point-of-view for horror.

Recommended - and it makes me wonder if he's gearing up to write stories that are completely non-supernatural, non-thrillers. A fulfilment of the "modern Dickens" label that some publishers and reviewers have been applying to him ever since the Green Mile.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

[Script] More on the 20 Sentence Outline

I've taken an initial crack at outlining Possessions, just jotting down all of the ideas that come to me about where the plot could go. There were a bunch of ideas about charcter mixed in with all that, as well ... which led me to my first discovery:

Brainstorm till you're out of inspiration, then process the results. 'Processing' in this case means taking all the ideas about characters, transferring it to their sheets, and scratching them off the
brainstorming list.

I can take all the plot ideas and transfer them into three separate columns - Beginning, Middle, and End (or as I call them, A, B, and C).

For me, it's important to process this list while I'm still in the moment. For some reason, I find it more difficult to read once I've left it for a while. Perhaps it's because it's impossible to capture
the full implications of an idea just by jotting it down on the page in a single sentence - leaving it for a while means those representations of your ideas become less alive to me.


A second discovery is that outlining like this makes it possible to overview the whole story, which makes it easy to view the story from each main character's POV in turn - something that can take hours if you're doing it at a fully-written script level.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Yet another test

I'm experimenting with posting via email - to see what the formatting
looks like.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Another test


This is just a test of the new system.

multi-dimensional: read what I'm writing about.

Express yourself instantly with MSN Messenger! MSN Messenger

[Script] Holidays might be a good thing

Think I'm going to try scheduling these breaks a bit more formally, actually. I reckon something like 2 months of writing at operational intensity, followed by ... two? three? weeks off might be the way to go.

And at the moment, that time off isn't really a break; it's more an opportunity to play around with several ideas (especially a couple of games) that I've been neglecting. Emphasis on the 'play'. It's fun, and kinda productive.

(And scheduling '3 days off' in the middle of those two months of writing could be smart, too.)

... I'm beginning to realise that between the much-more full-time job this year, the full-on writing, and the intense gaming, that there's a pretty reasonable explanation for things being quiet on the blogging front.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

[The Limit] On holiday

The last two months of hard slog to rewrite act three have paid off. I typed in ALL of the changes on Tuesday, spent yesterday making the minor edits to acts one and two (and roughing out the scene where those parts meet act three), then knocked off for a beer.

Now there's just an exposition scene to try and simplify, format the whole thing up, and send it out for an embarrassment-check draft (to make sure I haven't written anything too cringe-inducingly stupid).

It's been great rereading it though, after such a long break. I was held rapt by the first half of the film, and could see that my rewrites had made it a very different and (hopefully!) more powerful story.

Now to take some time off.

[Script] What I've learned

Here's another couple of principles I've managed to extract from this rewrite:

-- If I can think of writing as 'helping' myself - possibly by treating my projects as being by someone else - it activates my desire to help, and makes the writing easier

-- Scripts are all drafts. Nothing is ever finished. Thinking of it like that is a way to beat back perfectionism.

[Script] An experiment - the 20 sentence outline

This weekend I'm going to start trying to outline one of the new movies in 20 sentences. It's an arbitrary constraint, but one that I think focuses the process down into an achievable bit.

The idea is that each sentence describes a sequence in the film.

1. Using my Brainstorming 20 ideas (B20) technique, I'll come up with a whole list of ideas for plot directions. Some of which, I assume, will be incompatible.

2. Arrange those ideas into a rough order, read through them, and figure out where the story goes off the beam.

3. B20 another lot of ideas for that juncture

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3, all the while capturing all of the other plot ideas and character insights that come out of doing this.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

[The Limit] The last scene to rewrite

All of it, the last seven years of writing, it all comes down to this: What's the expression on Tracy's face when she opens the door?

Friday, January 18, 2008

That last entry reminded me that I hadn't linked to our 48 Hour film from 2007. It's called 'Destination Earth'. We got the genres of science fiction and monster movie, and the film had to include three compulsory elements:
-- rope
-- the line of dialogue, "What do you call that?"
-- and the character of Jerry Reid, a hypochondriac.

Here you go:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Zero budget filmmaking

If we get war movie in this year's 48 Hour film contest, we should do something a little like this: