Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day and what's your reading level, or writing style?

Welcome to Memorial Day. I hope you are having a great extended weekend and sharing it with family and friends and there are good times all around.

A moment if you will though, to remember all those who have fallen trying to maintain our freedoms and our way of life. May we begin once again to remember that we only sacrifice for what is our basic human needs, in defense and no longer for oil. I so look forward, I so do hope to one day see us off that disease ridden fuel. As well as coal and gas. Thank you to all those who have perished in the wars of necessity (certainly WWI and WWII would fall under that), and perhaps more so, thank you to all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for reasons of power and ill judgement.

Also, it seems to be a national paradigm going back to before this country was founded, to even the Revolutionary War, to not properly take care of our veterans. This is a small but profound and powerful, impact filled request: Can we please do that, take care of our vets? I'm a vet, I hadn't seen battle but I'm horrified at how our vets are being treated; like trash no longer needed, to be thrown away or simply, ignored. As usual in government, if they don't know what to do, they ignore it, misdirect us in order to keep their jobs, but they do nothing.

Nothing is defined here as not doing enough when vets are left in need, with treatments when they can even get them that are poor, or completely wrong, with back logs on appointments for months or years when they needed help yesterday. Part of the issue comes from our longest wars, turning out our biggest numbers of patients, something that should have been seen at the start, and does not have the numbers of needed healthcare workers, doctors and mental health specialists. Our only recourse now is to turn these patients loose in the private sector along with the rest of America, as single payer supported patients. That being said, Vets should not have to pay for this healthcare as do the rest of us with co-pays and deductibles. I do fear their getting abused in that way. Regardless of their volunteering for battle, we pushed them into it and so, we should pay their way.

Our government is famous for waging wars, on other countries, on drugs, on women's rights, on the poor, minorities and illegal aliens. Stop waging wars and focus on this. If and when we send people to fight and die for us, people who come back damaged in taking our places for us on the battlefields that we send them to, then let's take care of them afterward; let's suffer our woes privately in how much the money hurts us to do so; let's shut the hell up about it and bleed money for them, as they have bled their own blood and suffered through the same with their battlefield compatriots. We owe them at very least, that.

Okay then, that was uplifting. Moving on....

I found an interesting little web site where you can paste in some of what you have written and it will analyze it and tell you who you write like; what famous author's style you imitate. It's called,

Since I've been working on re-editing my book Death of Heaven, I pasted \ analyzed some passages from the chapters within it. I got various author similarity ratings, kind of as I'd expected. I have always tried hard to not write my style all the time but to choose a style that fits that story, more than myself. If and when possible. This analysis would seem to support that. Not that it's perfect, but it's kind of fun.

By the way, I should finish up the re-edit on my book this weekend and will be re-releasing it soon. Keep an eye out for it. Hell of a book, if I do say so myself. I'm working on finding other author blurbs on it. Yes I'm shooting for the sky in Clive Barker. We shall see.

Anyway, here's what I got off that author style web site.
  • First from the short opening chapter, The Steppes, I got James Fenimore Cooper. 
  • From, The Conqueror Worm chapter I got Stephen King. Not surprising perhaps.
  • Rosebud came up with both S. King and David Foster Wallace.
  • From, Harbinger and Going Home, Dan Brown. Bummer. Well, his books are enjoyable enough pulp and I would love to have his income (or even his tax return).
  • Still, another part of Harbinger gave me James Joyce. Well, I'm in good company anyway.  
  • A Thirst Divine gave up Bram Stoker (awesome) but another section of that chapter reverted back to King.
  • Marking Time gave me Stephen King again. Hmmm... seeing a pattern here.
  • From later in the book and the book's longest section, Vaughan's Theorum, I got Harry Harrison. 
  • The Mea Culpa Document of London (which actually refers to a document not included in the book, but is available in another book of mine, Anthology of Evil), a short section, came up with... Dan Brown again. I did three paragraphs and all were Danny boy. Which I suppose isn't surprising considering his genre and style as this section is supposed to be a professionally written, academic document about an antique document, much like Dan writes about much of the time. 
So what about all this? I don't know what I'd have had to do to come up with Clive Barker. Maybe they didn't include him in the analysis? Well, I don't know, why are you asking me? Still, it was kind of fun. It reminds me of a time before college when my friends complained that they didn't understand what the hell I was writing about half the time, in my stories with no endings (see, I was terrified to attempt endings back then). Especially one story they challenged me to write, "In Memory, Yet Crystal Clear". I promised them I'd write that at my most comfortable and then write stories that were easier to read.

Years later I ran that story through one of those grade analyzers which tells you want grade level a piece is written at and it came up grade seventeen; so the first year of Grad. Yeah, I don't know either. After that I tried hard to write at a more general audience level like newspapers and magazines do, at around 9th through 12th grades. I like to believe that today's reading levels have gone up. Average reading level in 1935 was grade 7.8. So yeah, I think it's gone up a bit.

I just read on a web site that said "The average newspaper is written at the 11th-grade level, the tolerable limit for a 9th-grade reader" and that people generally like to read about two grade levels below their ability to read. It also said that, "experts recommend writing documents intended for the general public at the 9th-grade level, health and safety information at the 5th-grade level." Okay then....

Through most of my life I have preferred to read mostly above my grade level, with a peppering of slightly lesser works for pure guilty pleasure. My grandmother used to tell me that every other book we read should be uncomfortably above our skill level. So I always did that (literally; I didn't try to do that, I followed it like gospel) while growing up and yes, I spent a lot of time not understanding, at first and wondering why I was doing it. But over time it paid off, and much of that I was later able to remember and eventually understood.

Reading levels are something to consider, both for the reader and for writers.

As writers we need to know our audience and write for them, always trying to elevate though not talk down to them. As readers it is our responsibility as it is in all communication, to understand more than we need to. In interpersonal communication some people think that it is the job of the communicator to communicate. Which is somewhat of a fallacy.

Indeed it is the job of the communicator, he or she who is speaking, not only to convey their meaning, but also to see to it that the one being communicated to, understands. That, is always not the case. There is nothing more annoying than someone who speaks over your head and then after the interaction, you are clueless as to what they just said. It's a waste of time to both the individual listening, but mostly and more likely, simply an ego trip for one of those involved; most probably, not the more ignorant one involved in the intercourse.

As for the one being communicated to, it is our job in listening, to, well... listen. But also to understand. To, THINK. Reference what is being said, store some information, remember some key words for later, in case you need to look something up; rethink it, in order to better comprehend it. A word or sentence spoken, is something that should last beyond the words spoken. Otherwise, it's just common speech which should be used for commanding and acknowledging in merely getting through the day. Other than that, speech should convey and instruct, and educate.

We've mostly lost that common way of speaking now a days. Our leisure speaking tends to be fluff mostly, about sports, or celebrities, TV shows or films. When we should be talking about science, politics, philosophy, family dynamics, life. Things that enhance our lives and culture. No doubt we all need down time and fluff has it's place. But in a world where we are supposed to "seek our bliss", to "pursue happiness", we've kind of gone off the deep end. A little ice cream is good, but a fifty gallon barrel is too much. The trouble is, our stomachs physically let us know when we've overdone it (not that you could tell from the average weight of an American, but still....). Our minds however will allow us to "eat" all the crap we could ever want, with no real warning (like weight gain or diabetes) and all we get out of it is an addiction for more and a bloated and ignorant mind (supported by the internet where there are plenty more of the same).

So look, have fun, don't get me wrong. Do have fun, just don't kill yourself, or your mind, or the rest of us, over it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Will we be dating AI and machines some day?

Futurist Ray Kurzweil: Dating artificial intelligences could be possible within 15 years.

While building a relationship with your AI is reasonable in some ways, it does raise concerns as it could quite easily make human relationships appear at some point to be simply too much trouble, or toxic.

There was a sci fi story that I read many years ago about clone handlers on another planet. One good handler could run up to nine clones in the field, using a kind of technological telepathy, to direct the clones to mine or process product. In the off hours as many did, the protagonist frequented the company supplied brothel. 

There was one sex worker he frequented more than any others until he saw no others. Eventually, he fell in love with this woman, only in the end to realize that "she" was just another clone. This was something the clone handlers found disgusting as they manipulated these every day and felt them a lower form of life, which essentially, they were.

When he found a telepathy tech unit beneath the bed, he finally came to realize that he had fallen in love with himself. He was therefore, more or less having sex with himself by proxy.

My point is that in "dating" an AI type personality, a person would basically be dating themselves. As the AI "earns you it shapes itself to fill in your needs, which would be the ultimate form of what can only be considered technological masturbation; the ultimate form of narcissism. We already have quite enough narcissism in the world, more than we need really, in government, in social environments and in interpersonal relationships.

Part of what makes us human is not that we exactly fulfill one another, but approximate it in as much as we can comfortably handle. It is in part within those differences that we find fulfillment in human relationships. Many times it is the unexpected in the relationship that endears us to someone and not in the exactitude of being complimentary to another personality. As I had posted the other day about music, it is in the "inexactitude" that the true quality and affection of human performed music comes across to us.

Yes, that could all be programmed in, but don't we need technology to bring us closer together and not further apart? We are presently already seeing human relationships, true physically close human relationships, suffering. In some countries, like Japan for instance, there is already gap growing between close intimate contact. True, there are robots now that are giving shut ins fulfillment and that is one thing, and I believe it is a good thing, but it will only speed up what I am talking about.

I just think we need to be careful about this. In my short sci fi story "Simon's Beautiful Thought", his AI does him a great service and if that is how things will go, then good, great, that is how it should work out. Our robots and technologies should aid us and not work against us, or inadvertently through artificial means, increase the distance between human beings. But if they do, where will that leave us,as individuals, or as a race of beings?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Wisdom in Business, and in Life

There is a lot of knowledge already known out in the world and through history. There is great wisdom available, you just have to look for it. Mostly you will have to find translated versions if you don't read in the original language and who translates sometimes is very important. Just translating is one thing, understanding a language in the period in which it was written is important as well as an understanding of accurate history during that period.

That being said, it's all in what you are looking to find and what you find, which may not be what is there, or may be an epiphany that others who read the same words, do not "see". One of my favorite sayings is, "Even the village idiot has his story." It means that you can find wisdom anywhere, if you pay attention. Staring at a blank wall can give you great insight, if you are prepared to "hear" it.

I've been told that knowledge with experience, is wisdom. Acquiring information, as in book learning, simply isn't enough. Experience, isn't enough either, but extremely valuable. Still, in adding to experience, book learning, you can go leaps beyond by utilizing other's experience, who have mostly likely tried the wrong ways. That being said, sometimes revisiting those wrong ways can lead you in the right direction because those others missed something. But you don't want to haphazardly just waste your time on that, either.

Wisdom is a tricky things sometimes.

When I was starting high school I asked a lot of questions. Until one day a teacher, frustrated with my constant questions finally told me I was holding back the class from moving forward and I could question him after class. He said I was asking good and relevant questions but I should give others a chance to ask them. Except that I wasn't seeing that anyone else was asking these questions. Still, I got his point.

He also said, if I would just wait and listen, to pay attention closely, I would most likely hear the answer at some point in the class, or someone else would as the question. Or, I would simply find the answer within myself before the end of the class period. He told me that I may already know they answer (to paraphrase him) if I just listened to my own interior dialog.

That may have been the greatest single piece of advice I had ever been given.

People suggest reading Art of War for business awareness and I fully agree. It gives you a template you can hone to your understanding of a compassionate way, but you do have to read it first.

Another book that I found perhaps more useful is The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli Written c. 1505, published 1515, in business endeavors. Many read his book as a very dark book but I found it useful in warning me, making me aware of things, more than how I should act toward others, and if you read it for that you are ahead of the game for those reading it to find how to abuse people in order to maintain power and rise above them.

There is another book I like on this type of book, a few really and there's others, but to be brief here's a few I'm fond of:

The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Balthasar Gracian

In a different vein and perhaps a bit more obscure but still useful, a few others....

The Art of Peace by O'Sensei Morihei Ueshiba
The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) by Miyamoto Musashi

And the more esoteric....

Zen Essence The Science of Freedom Translated by Thomas Cleary
[Another is Rational Zen The Mind of Dogen Zenji by the same]
I Ching The Book of Change Translated by Thomas Cleary

Monday, May 5, 2014

New Musical Artist - Amanda Dewell

Amanda "Cat" Dewell, remember that name.

Live It Outloud! is a Ted Brown Music outreach program and a Rock Music Summer School out of Tacoma, WA. My sister's husband Joe Wilson is deep into running it, or helping run it. I'm not quite sure how that works out and it's pretty unimportant for our purposes here today.

I wrote about this last year and the year before when I went to their final concerts. It's about sixty miles for me to get there so that says something. Not a real long trip but more than popping down to the local theater. And it was great fun just to hang out and see everyone, too.

That first concert assured that I would see the second one, and so I did. I'll be there again, next time, too. I had a great time and the kids and their bands were very entertaining. Some of them unbelievably professional for their age and a few bands about ready to be touring. What is important here are the kids and how positively this is affecting them.

This is an awesome project!

Joe has been very pleased with the talents of these kids and those who excel in the program. Particularly one exceptional individual that I would like to point out here. I met her briefly at the first and second concert and she is very sweet and still quite young. Which makes her talent, all the more amazing. 

Perhaps I'll just let Joe talk about her in his own words:

"Years 2011, 2012, 2013 - Amanda Dewell AKA Cat Dewell. Available on Amazon and YouTube.

"Amanda came to us, an 11 yr old seemingly very shy girl, dressed like a rocker, (with the added dimension of also dressing in “Hello Kitty” Pj’s and slippers at times) and surprised everyone with a rendition of “Misery” by Paramore the first year.

"2012’s concert saw her play the cello and perform “Broken”. The audience appeared fixated on this young girl who wrote lyrics and melody to a song orchestrated with Jonathan Irwin. The appeal of that song got the attention of Mark Simmons at Pacific Studios, members of the Vicci Martinez band and a recording session was born. That song was subsequently made into a simple video that garnered 8000+ views in 6 months.

"Surprised at the reaction a decision was made to finish an EP, “Notes From the Out Crowd” and was released on iTunes, Amazon and all the other digital services the 1st of April. She was contacted by a lawyer in Seattle who worked for Nirvana and all the rest of the grunge scene at Sub-Pop Records during her 16 year tenure.

"She is looking into sync- licensing some of Amanda’s work for Television, Film and other venues. We’re learning how all this works and are privileged to have Amanda help us on this journey that will help other musicians in the program, past and present, find a way to get their music heard. Amanda will finish her album this summer with a release date in September."

And so, congrats to Cat! Congrats to Joe and the others behind the scenes!
Check her out and keep watching....

UPDATE 8/9/2015 - Cat's new CD should be available sometime in September 2015.