OMG: Lol and Behold

Posted: 28 February 2014

How writing and its technology has changed in the last few years...
How writing and its technology has changed in the last few years…

“Language changes very fast” – John Maynard Smith.

As a wordsmith trained in more traditional ways of writing, Bradscribe cannot help but notice the strange, swift and staggering shuffle that has beset the English languge in the last twenty years.

When at university (and loving every windswept, rain-soaked minute of it), up to seventeen years ago(!), mobile phones were just catching on; it swiftly became apparent that texting was becoming the new norm for faster and shorter communication.

With a monumental growth in urbanization, and a corresponding rise in the percentage of the world population who inhabit an urban environment, work-patterns and lifestyles in general have altered tremendously. Cultural values have played a part in the transformation of language(s); but ultimately, the phenomenal proliferation of hand-held technology has had a dramatic impact, bringing a new wave cascade of abbreviated, truncated, slang-driven jargon – completely ripping up the rules of language and how it is utilised. The “written word” seems to be an out-dated concept in itself, with this tendency to text, and even use symbols (emoticons being particularly rife) on rapidly evolving small, touch-type devices.

New words constantly enter the English language (directly derived from texting and other communicative media no less), while disused ones drop into oblivion; moreover, existing words have been swiped by the new-gen to carry entirely different denotations.  

These days, less people write longhand, while more people text
These days, less people write longhand, while more people text

“Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Whether it be on the train in England, or in the shopping malls of Thailand, most people seem to have their heads bowed towards their smartphones, endlessly texting, besides loading apps or playing useless games. Bradscribe just glances at this thoroughly modern crowd with a slight amused grin.  If the trains weren’t so ridiculously packed, you could most likely find me ROTFL.

One would say this scene is extraordinary, but it is so mind-bogglingly prevalent that it must surely now count as ordinary activity.

Interestingly, if a peep at some of their texts was possible, the chances of actually understanding any of the slang and abbreviations on show would be minimal. This should not come as a surprise. Such is the bewilderment of a constantly fluctuating language, transmogrifying through multifarious phases since its inception as Old English (derived from Old German) in tangible written form during the 5th century CE. Shaped by social upheavals of the Medieval Period, it twisted and turned into what is labelled Middle English, and then into Early Modern English, before settling on the Modern English used in the present.

With the upgrades in English Comprehension described (and dreaded!) above, it would appear that we are already immersed in the next tantalising stage of this incredible linguistic journey.  

The most widely used language in the world is constantly changing.
The most widely used language in the world is constantly changing.

“Viewed freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all” – Walt Whitman.  

Increasing my presence on Facebook in the last 18 months, the major aspect one has had to get used to is working out what the mass of assorted acronyms included therein actually stand for. Easily, the most common expression to be found amidst the Comments must be the acronym:”lol,” short for Laugh Out Loud.

Originally appearing regularly on Usenet, this expression has since become ubiquitous on just about every other form of computer-mediated communication, and made its debut in the Oxford English Dictionary in March 2011. It is only in recent months that Bradscribe has succumbed to utilising it in his own brief texts.

Will my writing style have to change in order to accommodate these changes in my language? One hopes that drastic alterations will not be needed. While some people strive to move with the times,  it is comforting to know that others will appreciate my adherence to more traditional creative values.   

Part of the wonder of English lies in its ability to have adjusted and adapted across many centuries, while stagnant languages have completely died out.

It just remains to be seen what other tectonic shifts are in store for the English language, and how and when we will seize the chance to use them.

 

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It’s Only a Movie

Posted: 21 February 2014

Historical accuracy or entertaining inaccuracy: which is best?
Historical accuracy or entertaining inaccuracy: which is best?

“Film-makers have a great responsibility. How they present the past is how it gets remembered” – Kate Williams.

Movies cannot be treated as historical records; no matter how much attention to period detail goes into a feature film, as a seasoned historian myself, it should be my duty to point out those glaring discrepancies that litter some epic movies, not just lie back, enjoy a fantastical dramatisation and let blissful miscomprehension, or downright ignorance, of actual past events prevail.

This year, with a slew of big historical movies nominated for Oscars, it becomes imperative that a higher standard of care and attention should be put into such productions.

Yet some directors believe they still have every right to change – even distort – historical facts to provide a faster, leaner – dare one say it – more awesome spectacle. Should they be permitted to do so? 

Winner of Best Ways to Irritate Historians
Winner of Best Ways to Irritate Historians

“Creative artists need to be granted some poetic license, but that should not be a permit for the wholesale disregard of facts in historical fiction” – Allen Ward.   

Here are a couple of examples most relevant to this post. They are fine, classic bodies of work, but when analysed from a historical perspective, they flounder miserably.

One notorious example is Gladiator (2000), which won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but none, it seems, for historical accuracy. Bradscribe hates to say this (as it’s one of his faves), but the collection of inaccuracies on show here are… legion.  

Despite the vow of the renowned director: Ridley Scott to uphold high standards of historical research throughout, one advisor resigned and another requested to go unmentioned in the credits because those standards were simply not met.

Such extensive use of ballistae and catapults in the opening battle would not have been used in a forest-setting; both Roman and Germanian costumes are extremely questionable; stirrups were never used by the Roman cavalry despite being on show here… and so on. 

There is no way one can link this celluloid Commodus to the real-life emperor (hey Joaquin, where’s your beard?); he certainly did not commit patricide, and he lasted 12 years before being assassinated, not 3 hours. And the factual errors which beset the character of Marcus Aurelius are compounded by the inexplicable casting.

Nice helmet, shame about the historical inaccuracies
Nice helmet, shame about the historical inaccuracies

“I didn’t think they had guns then… in the days of Kirk Douglas” – Bunny Warren.

To show that this is not just a problem of modern cinema, enter: The Vikings (1958). Kirk Douglas! Tony Curtis! Ernest Borgnine! How could it possibly go wrong? Well, on several different counts in actual fact.

Kirk Douglas looks fab, yet anything but a Viking. No matter how big a star, if there’s no beard, there’s no credibility. He wears such a cool helmet but – let’s be honest – it was more a product of Hollywood imagination rather than Norse craftsmanship.   

One of the best scenes in the film is also one of its most annoying. The Viking siege of the castle is theoretically absurd; castles were not built until after the Norman Conquest, by which time Norsemens’ raids on the English coast had long since finished. After all the excitement, the drama, not to mention that stirring music score, no one can escape the fact that this whole charade centres around two immigrant boys from the Lower East Side gallivanting around in fancy dress…

Bradscribe will always love this film, but then again, it will always wrestle with his academic sensibilities.  

In conclusion then, movies should not be used as the source material for history essays. These movies can inspire a greater appreciation for history which a lot of books and uninspiring schoolteachers could never do, but the poor research in some productions suggests that not only a greater awareness of the value of history is needed, but the general attitude towards historical knowledge deserves a thorough revision.

This writer is left bemoaning the fact that instead of nitpicking the factual errors of others’ work, he could be working on such storylines, ready to prove that history in itself produced some stirring and dramatic events, packing more punches than any CGI can muster.

 

Energy Boost

Posted: 17 February 2014

What is it that draws writers to coffee?
What is it that draws writers to coffee?

“Coffee is a language in itself” – Jackie Chan.  

The inspiration for this particular post came (funnily enough) purely by accident – ruminating over what would be the next topic for discussion while the daily mug of coffee sat beside the laptop steaming away…  

This marvellous brewed beverage, using roasted seeds of the genus: “Coffea” just happens to be the second most traded commodity (after oil) – let’s face it: dark liquid makes the world go round. Don’t all writers grab a coffee first thing in the morning to zap away the drowsiness? Just what is it that blends (sorry) creators and coffee?

Some brain chemistry is required here. Possibly the most potent psychoactive stimulant in the known universe, caffeine blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine responsible for that drowsy feeling, while increasing the potency of other excitatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine, thus heightening alertness, energy and – yes!enhancing the ability to get some work done!  

Wonder how many cups of coffee those scientists downed in order to acquire that data?

Bean there, done that
Bean there, done that

“Science may never come up with a better office communication system than the coffee break” – Earl Wilson.  

In the average cuppa there are approximately 200mg of caffeine, and in an average day no more than 600mg (3 cups) should be downed. Whoa, go easy there!

You would think that the humid climate at which this writer chooses to pursue his profession would necessitate the desire for iced coffee, but that’s not the case, especially when sitting in a comfortable air-conditioned cafe. In actual fact, the most common brew in Asia: iced cappuccino offers more sugar and fat than caffeine, so it’s better if you served my drink pipng hot, if you please…

As long as he could remember, the bane of Bradscribe’s existence has been lack of energy, but nowwith a coffee-maker amidst the items in our new abode, my mornings have got off to a bright and proactive start. Moreover, in addition to caffeine, a well-brewed cuppa offers antioxidants. Both of these substances are known to have substantial health benefits and anti-aging qualities. 

Yay, drink up!

This blooger loves Mocha!
This blogger loves Mocha!

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt” – Charles M. Schulz.  

Personally, above all others, Bradscribe loves Mocha – that scintillating mix of espresso, milk, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. If anyone is taking notes, this year sees the tenth anniversary of my passion for Mocha. Not so keen on latte, and wary about downing a dodgy cappuccino (it’s amazing how frequent they can be…), yet traditionally a happy tea-slurper, it’s staggering to think how Mocha could have tantalised my taste buds in this seemingly unexpected manner.

So, what’s the Story of Mocha? Where does it come from?   

The rise of Islam played a pivotal role in the rise of coffee consumption. With alcohol prohibited to Muslims, coffee became a regular staple in Arabia. The first (recorded) instance of coffee drinking comes from the Sufi monasteries of Yemen.  Indeed, the Yemeni town most closely associated with my fave hot beverage is… lo & behold: Mocha.

The Arabic word: “qahwa” became the Turkish: “kahve” but it wasn’t until 1582 when the Dutch name: “koffie” entered the English language under its present form. Out of the numerous tomes on “The History of Coffee” there does not appear to be a “History of Mocha.” It looks like my next writing project has just nudged its way forward…

In this modern age, with the advent of big multi-national brands, coffee is ubiquitous. Whether it be Bangkok, Singapore or even London, you can find this writer sipping a tall, hot Mocha while editing his papers.

Until the next brew Blog, enjoy your coffee, but watch those calories!

 

The Midnight Special

Posted: 12 February 2014.

On with the Nightshift
On with the Nightshift

“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day” – Vincent Van Gogh.  

The clock strikes Midnight, and yet Bradscribe is still at his desk hammering the keys on his sturdy laptop. The early hours of the morning have always held a very special appeal.

During those three memorable years at university, studying by day and thinking twice about venturing out to the dangerous city centre at night just hindered my progress, and had to be rectified. When this routine was reversed – thankfully for the better – the rate of productivity miraculously increased. Long after university this habit has joyously continued.

This writer takes pride in being a Night-Owl. Whether in the east or the west, gradually the lights of the other houses in the street go out, leaving me to revel in the solitude. With a purring laptop, some dishevelled notes and the pleasant addition of ambient music, the night becomes a most magical time. 

Sometimes it’s amazing to just slink away from the desk, wander onto the quiet balcony, be fanned by a comforting cool breeze and just gaze at the stars…

Great solace can be attained from nocturnal graft.

The Desktop Companion
The Desktop Companion

“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask: ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ and a voice says to me: ‘This is going to take more than one night'” – Charles M. Schulz. 

In countless Q&As, writers state that they prefer to spring to their desk at the crack of dawn and work out a cache of pages before midday, then carry out chores during the afternoon.

In my case though, the exact opposite applies; a replenishing afternoon nap and then my mind will function splendidly after dark. This writer has tried – Good Lord, has he tried! – to conform to this so-called conventional day-time formula, but has struggled to produce decent material; not even a good flow can be worked up before lunch. The trouble with writing during the day is the noise, business that can only be sorted out during daylight hours, and other needless distractions.

Sooty, our cat, likes to be with us wherever we go in the house; in the evening, she prefers to stay in and curl up at the foot of the bed, rather than mingle with the local alley cats. At some point during the early hours, she will wander in, just to spend time with me. Usually she will jump onto the desk and rearrange the papers to use as a pillow; as long as she doesn’t go mental and “file” my papers with her teeth, then she can be quite a lovely companion.

Somewhere in another street, a stray dog starts howling; Sooty sits up and glances anxiously out of the mosquito screen, her tail flailing from side to side. Quickly realising that there is no danger, she settles down to dream once more…

Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me

“I’m a night owl… My goal as a writer is more to comfort, than to disturb” – Joni Mitchell.   

The nightshift has become an irresistible part of my life in Southeast Asia. The early hours of any day out here are pleasantly cool (in surprising contrast to the humidity at high noon), and apart from the obstreperous bin-collectors or a speeding nocturnal motorcyclist, the peace to be attained here is really conducive to sometimes lengthy creative sessions.

Being in this particularly captivating part of the world, if you listen carefully at 4am, a monk in a nearby wat (temple) clangs a big bell, calling all his brethren to start their Buddhist routine for the new day.

When the heavens open up and the torrents lash against my office window, it’s always so inspirational. In September & October, the monsoons are fairly frequent, and thunder always invigorates an atmospheric session.

As the roosters over the road start their shrill hollering, heralding the imminent dawn, this writer does feel his inner data bank shutting down…

Time to get some well-earned napping in before lunch, then start the new Blog during the afternoon.

A Matter of Time

Posted: 6 February 2014

Time to travel. Travel in time.
Time to travel.
Travel in time.

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst” – William Penn.  

It had to happen sooner or later. Time travel has languished within my imagination ever since my grubby infant mits got hold of science fiction books and comics.

Since the novella: The Time Machine by H G Wells was published in 1895, popularizing the concept of travel in time, a whole cascade of time-twisting tales has hit the shelves. To go back and relive a special time in one’s past, explore an ancient period in world history, or even delve into how things might look in the future present limitless opportunities for fiction.  Moreover, its popularity stems from the fact that a considerable number of people would jump (time leap?) at the chance of immersing themselves in a simpler, less stressful time.    

While Space is three-dimensional, consisting of length, width and height, Time offers the fourth dimension, a variable element which Einstein showed to be relative: moving forward; for the moment (whenever that is!) the ability to go back exists only in the realms of science fiction.

Wrestling frustratedly with such story-lines, fuelled by copious mugs of coffee, Bradscribe has ruminated over the notion that maybe – in time – there will be a device which allows the writer to slow the passing of time, spurring him on to increase the level of his productivity and conquer his deadlines…

“About time something was done about this.”

Time Vortex: go back go forward or just go bananas
Time Vortex:
go back
go forward or just
go bananas

“Leonardo… You remember Mona Lisa? That dreadful woman with no eyebrows who wouldn’t sit still, eh? Your  idea for the helicopter took a bit longer to catch on, but as I say, these things take time” – The Doctor.

For a recent fiction project, the quandary of whether to opt for a sci-fi or historical theme was swiftly settled… by combining the two together. Bradscribe concocted an awesome scenario: what if a select band of scientists had formulated “the system,” whereby (for a hefty price of course) people could “escape” into a time period of their choice. Therein lay the dilemma: the popularity of the virtual reality thus created (based on the most accurate historical knowledge) meant that real society was being severely depleted… For the time being, no more plot details will be dispensed here.

Mind you, this is just my twist on time travel, not a blatant distortion! And the working title? “Euhypnion”…

“…What?” you all cry out, in unison.

In the 2nd century CE, Artemidorus – a diviner from Asia Minor – produced a five-volume treatise: “Oneirocritica” (The Interpretation of Dreams) in which Euhypnion has been described as “a routine dream whereby the mind sorted, processed and computerised the previous day’s events.”   

This aptly represents the weird yet wonderful delights this writer aims to create. Amazing how the study of one discipline: history, can enrich the development of another: writing fiction. So many plot-strands to contemplate, and… (ahem) so little time with which to develop them.

Time is most definitely not on my hands.

By the way, what is the time?

Tom Baker  The 4th Doctor  1974-1981
Tom Baker
The 4th Doctor
1974-1981

“I never read the scripts at all carefully, and never wanted to know what was going on, because I felt that being a benevolent alien that’s the way it should be” – Tom Baker.

It seems inevitable that a Blog on this subject should mention a few words about a certain very British television institution. After all, when viewing my first Dr Who story: “Destiny of the Daleks” with Tom Baker (the best Doctor of course) in 1979, the dip into the bizarre arena of transdimensional engineering became an enjoyable and inspirational Saturday evening ritual for me – and countless other younglings. Something about that absurdly long scarf, or his amusing knack of offering jelly babies to the surliest of adversaries… 

Although the last three regenerations of everyone’s favourite Gallifreyan did not appeal to Bradscribe, it undeniably – and quite rightly – has become a behemoth of modern broadcasting, celebrating its 50th Anniversary only last November.  

You could say that time is running out here, but then again, there always seems to be plenty of it. It’s what you do with it that counts. Will time ever wait for us? How successful will this Blog be?

Only time will tell… 

To Remake The Remake

Posted: 31 January 2014

Do we REALLY need another version of this?
Do we REALLY need another version of this?

“Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor” – Alexis Carrel.  

The new movie is Coming Soon… but we’ve seen it before, countless times if you regard it as a classic of sci-fi action movies.

Robocop, originally released in 1987, was a fine piece of work, a futuristic action (perhaps overly ultraviolent) thriller, deftly melding sci-fi with black humour and cultural satire, elevated above tawdry run-of-the-mill video-rental status by deep drama laden with themes of identity, memories and loss.

But why, oh why, do we need a new version of it?

Those fans who were awe-struck by it enough to go out and buy the VHS, VCD, DVD (tick appropriate box) would certainly not want to have it rehashed; the negative reaction to the two inferior sequels provided ample warning to leave this vehicle alone.

Accepting the ideology that a remake should exist primarily to improve or enhance the qualities (or lack thereof) of a misfiring original, the case for a rebooted Robocop is decidedly flimsy.

Critics can get really animated about this contentious issue
Critics can get really animated about this contentious issue

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past” – George Orwell.

The most recent waste-of-space that was Total Recall, and a pointless retread of Evil Dead, has turned the phenomenon of the remake into an all-too-familiar blight on our already sullied “modern” culture. With a steady torrent of new movies comfortably  sourcing from Marvel or DC superhero comics, it would appear that the scope for fresh and original movies has been diminished. Of course, it has got to the point where the likes of Spider-Man are being rehashed again and again. The word: ‘tiresome’ springs to mind.

Does this mean that all the good ideas have run out?

On the contrary, frustratingly, there is an abundance of talent, but it is stymied by an industry with a certain agenda and umpteen millions of dollars at stake; in addition, where ticket sales exceed every aspect of the (so-called) creative process, the big studios simply cannot gamble with an untried concept, no matter how intriguing the premise might be. Thus, alas, there is no chance of seeing any of my fresh material produced (especially by those big studios), and the prospect of rewriting one of my favourite movies just to showcase the next level of insipid CGI is, quite frankly, not relished… in the slightest, thank you.

Ho hum, this writer ponders whether there have been any decent remakes. Hmmmm…

Thinking…

Erm, still thinkingOh for the love of…! It’s difficult to think of just one… isn’t it?

…!

One of the finest shots from arguably the best remake
One of the finest shots from arguably the best remake

“There are a lot of movies that I don’t care about, especially not remakes” – John Carpenter.

Aah, yes! Cast your mind back to 1982, and a certain sci-fi horror, which did not fare well because it repulsed most of the unsuspecting cinema-goers. The Thing was not so much a remake of the (rather tame) 1951 RKO picture: The Thing From Another World, but a tougher and more engrossing reworking, directed by cult movie-maker John Carpenter – who (guess what!) has had to endure at least three of his pictures remade recently.

With the almost unbearable isolation invoked by its remote setting and the fears which it induces – not to mention the inability to deal with something beyond the ensemble’s wildest imaginations – a truly horrific situation, there is some of the most irresistible dialogue on offer; many a time Bradscribe has sought to replicate that style of hard-hitting and memorable banter, but ended up with inferior results!

The film’s major – certainly most enduring – element is the wildly original visual effects created by Rob Bottin. Besides the gruesome spectacle, there are some memorable shots and scenes; even selecting just one pic to illustrate the film’s strengths was a challenge – there are so many to choose from. To round off, The Thing is a true classic, perhaps the greatest remake ever done, worthy of a blog all to itself…

Perhaps the (ill-advised) maker of the new Robocop should have watched The Thing to see how remakes ought to be done; if he has already… then why hasn’t he learnt anything?