The Quest for Excellence

Now that my daughter has turned three, she’s moved up to the next level in gymnastics. Instead of having myself out on the floor spotting her in a class of younger kids, she’s now out on the floor with a group of older kids and a coach. The difference has been spectacular. As the youngest kid, she has suddenly become motivated to try harder, to follow instructions, and generally behave more responsibly than when she was the oldest. Where a month ago she was afraid to let go of my hands while walking on the balance beam, for three weeks straight she has walked solo, without a hitch.

Gymnastics, like many other sports, encourages participants to excel, not just through self improvement and positive reinforcement, but also through the examples set by more experienced gymnasts. Before her sessions, my daughter watches the teenaged gymnasts practicing their backflips on the floor. “That’s cool!” she exclaims.

This same quest for excellence can be seen in the technical fields. With the recent launch of Google+, many authors have begun writers hangouts, where they can talk shop and write together. More traditional writers groups, such as the East Block Irregulars, continually challenge each other to write great fiction. The results can be seen by the number of nominations the writers in the group have received recently. The trick with writers groups is to properly match the skill levels of all the members. Just as it wouldn’t make sense to pair a three year old with a thirteen year old at gymnastics, a beginning writer such as myself would slow down an experienced group such as the Irregulars.

Even without participating in one of these groups, the wider writers community still provides support and encouragement. Attending local conventions provides inspiration and a sense of belonging.

Of course, nothing helps quite as much as the practice of writing words down. This too is an area where accountability with other writers can help. Some authors can seem to write two thousand words in a day. I’m not anywhere near that point in my writing career. I’ve got enough other things on the go right now that I’m happy with a few hundred words a day. Right now, I just think it’s cool to see how many words the writers I look up to can write in a day. Someday, maybe I can reach that same level of excellence.

Murdoch Mysteries

The realm of television crime dramas is rather crowded. With the remaining Law and Order spinoffs, there are the various CSIs, the JAG spinoffs of NCIS and NCIS:LA, and any number of cop and lawyer dramas. It’s difficult to find a part of the market that isn’t already saturated with the competition.

Murdoch Cast

source: murdochmysteries.com

Murdoch Mysteries, which airs on City TV, fits an interesting niche, breaking new territory as a Victorian era detective story set in Toronto, which strives for period authenticity, within a fictional narrative. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of competition in this admittedly small niche.

Stephen Harper in cameo for Murdoch Mysteries

Stephen Harper in cameo role for Murdoch Mysteries. Image from CityTV

Still, it is a niche that has found its fans, including our current Prime Minister. Murdoch Mysteries is not the first show in which Stephen Harper has played a cameo role. Like former Prime Minister Paul Martin, Harper has previously appeared on Corner Gas. What’s not to like, for our prime minister? Victorian crime fighters may have had limited tools, but punishments were severe. Capital punishment was still on the books, and a failed hanging formed the plot for one episode of the show. The current government’s “tough on crime” persona seems to be a good match for Murdoch Mysteries, where the lead character is morally upstanding, almost to a fault. Murdoch’s morality works to humanize the Toronto of the 1890s, bringing compassion to the otherwise unenlightened days of criminal enforcement.

What then, can we find of interest in Murdoch Mysteries? The fictive detective brings a scientific method to his investigations. Detective Murdoch investigates crimes using the precursors to the more modern techniques used in shows like CSI. The writers appear to take pleasure in their numerous anachronisms, by playing this man of science against adherents of other, more traditional forms of investigation, mainly coercion and interrogation.

Parts of the show have been filmed in Cambridge, Ontario. With modern signs covered up by period pieces, it retains the feel of Victorian Toronto.

While the show attempts historical accuracy, it very much plays to our modern conceptions of the Victorian era. Historical figures such as Nikola Tesla, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and H.G. Wells figure in the plots of several episodes, emphasizing the science and imagination that Murdoch represents.

A significant theme of Murdoch Mysteries is retrofuturism, particularly when compared to these historical figures. While the television show remains too firmly grounded in historical reality to be truly considered steampunk, there are clearly elements of several episodes which could be seen as steampunk. In particular, the season three finale, the “Tesla Effect” involved a microwave death ray machine.

Of the characters in the show, perhaps the most amusing is Constable Crabtree, whose youthful enthusiasm leads him to extrapolate towards modern technology from what he sees Murdoch use on the show. As noted on the Steampunk Scholar blog, Crabtree’s role in the web series “Curse of the Lost Pharaohs” leads much closer to the realm of steampunk, incorporating other common steampunk elements.

Writing With a Baby

With an infant, tablet computers like the iPad are great. They provide casual use of the internet from an extremely portable position. The thing is, they still aren’t that great for content creation. The adage of “butt in chair, hands on keyboard” is difficult to do without a keyboard.

It’s even more interesting when there’s a three year old around as well. It’s very difficult to find the time or energy to find some time to sit down and crank out any writing.

The trick appears to have a chair where you can partially recline at your desk, with the keyboard within reach, and have your infant on your chest, snuggled up against your shoulder. There isn’t much mobility available, make sure the mouse is within reach.

In the reclined position, the monitor is likely further away than usual. Increasing font sizes, or remembering the hot key combinations to increase zoom levels would be a good idea. On the Mac, pressing control while scrolling your mouse wheel will zoom the screen in.

Inevitably, you’ll end up shifting slightly, disturbing the peaceful rest of the little furnace on your chest. If you’re lucky, this will be momentary. Other times, it’s game over, and your writing will be left in stasis, until your eventual return. Over the past month and a half, I’ve had a number of half-finished posts which seem to take forever to complete.

When I come back to them, it is sometimes difficult to piece through the half-connected thoughts on the screen. Other times, I’m just too tired to think through them coherently. I’m reasonably certain that this post is going to come across as a stream of consciousness. The trick is to let the words flow.

Some advantages of writing with a baby on your shoulder is that you’re likely to be left alone. After all, you’re making sure the baby isn’t crying. (Note well: this advice does not apply to three year olds. They’re even more likely to want to interrupt if you’re trying to write and hold a baby at the same time). Disturbing your peace is likely to wake the baby. There is some common advice, “don’t wake a sleeping baby”. Use this to your advantage.

And keep the words flowing. Seriously, the slight tapping of the keys gives a gentle rocking motion to your body, and to the small bundle you’re supporting. With a proper writing cadence, this can be relaxing. Or maybe that’s just my overtired eyes closing on me.

Hush! The little one awakes…

Tron: Legacy

Unless it’s a Disney animated flick like Tangled, I generally don’t get to see movies in the theatre. Tron: Legacy, didn’t quite make the cut, but I’ve finally had a chance to watch it on DVD.

How does this match up with the legacy of Tron? While the original movie was revolutionary, the animation has not aged well. Tron: Legacy is a visually stunning film, paying homage to the visual style of the original film, while making many visual improvements. In particular, the youthful face of Jeff Bridges in the opening, and as CLU are very well done, especially when compared to the older, bearded Kevin Flynn we see later in the film.

Where the film fell flat in my opinion, was the underlying plot. The “Isomorphic algorithms” was not sufficiently explained, for them to be as important a plot point as they were. In particular, the actions of Kevin Flynn seem relatively obscure. The “vast potential” of these new lifeforms are mentioned several times, but never in any way which proved meaningful. The best the movie manages is to get us to understand that Kevin believes they would change the world.

Kevin also appears little like his impetuous character from the previous film. The Zen inspired themes are an interesting addition to the film, and increase the way in which young Sam acts as a foil to his meditative father. The example of the game Go fits this theme quite well, in which caution and planning form the foundation of many good strategies, much more than the game of Chess.

While I found Tron: Legacy to be an enjoyable film, it doesn’t have the same cultural resonance that the earlier movie did. The original Tron dealt with an era where mainframe computers were new and poorly understood. The idea that people might be pulled into some alternate universe inside the computer was outlandish, but so was the idea of actually using a computer. Today, computer use is ubiquitous, and thus better understood. The changing technologies, from mainframe technology through the personal computer age, until the current cloud computing networks is not adequately represented in the film. Part of that can be explained by the fact that the virtual world of Tron: Legacy was built in the 1980s, building upon the fictional technology of the original film.

I’ve heard there’s a sequel in the works, which should be able to capitalize on the technological advances made during the research and development for Legacy.