Monday, April 30, 2012

Style success

A new post in my series on has gone up, this time edited by Jayme. It's about using styles to ensure correct formatting in translation.
You can follow @KJIntResources on Twitter.

Can I just say -- Christopher Lee is a dreamboat. A creepy, creepy dreamboat. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Linkfest [3]

A collection of language-related things that caught my attention last week:

The two basic parameters of the type family were interpreted by musical devices. Dynamics were used to translate the weight of the letter, so the music gets louder as it the letters get bolder. The width is expressed through the use of modulation, using the 4th and 7th degrees of the C major scale, playing the same musical motive.
  • I’ve been quite enjoying The Truth podcast, “movies for your ears.” I particularly liked “Tape Delay,” the episode about recutting a conversation so it’s how it should have been... and beyond. I wish I could do this.

One more thing that's not really "wordy" -- but it's fun: Here's a video of me and the hubz singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" for our friend Moobs.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Localizing acronyms

The third in my series on specific localization items in translation has gone up on
I also want to give a big Thank You to internet acquaintance Roman Mars (@romanmars) of 99% Invisible for sending people this way after I wrote a little about his show. It was a boost to my very modest readership and much appreciated, even though I really only wrote it so that he would read about how much I love his podcast. (There's only so much fangirly squee-ing you can fit into 140 characters.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

On having the curtain pulled back: Two perspectives

Developing a Creative Process, part 5
This is part of a series of posts on the nature of art, why I'm not as good at it as I'd like to be, and how I'm trying to be better. For the rest, see the tag Developing a Creative Process.
There is a Fender Rhodes in my living room, and last week, I asked Bella Ruse if I could see the inside of it. It was not what I expected it to be; it was better! Tines, hammers, damper, tone bars – I poked and pressed and marveled at the simple mechanics that create those smooth, clear bell tones. I really, really love seeing how something works, especially when there is someone there to walk me through it and point out what I wouldn’t see on my own. 

But sometimes... Sometimes you’re cleaning the house so you put in Twilight and decide to turn on the commentary, and then your carefully crafted self-deception that Robert Pattinson is a hot, smart guy with a British accent which you’ve worked so hard to protect by not reading anything about him ever is shattered by his constant sad, self-deprecating comments about his eyebrows and his gelled bouffant. Ugh, why couldn’t he have just stayed Cedric?

I’ve been in this weird middle ground of trying to analyze others’ creative processes – but I realized that I’m pretty uncomfortable with it. I want creativity to only be a bolt of lightning that strikes you, like god has chosen you, like the starstuff of the universe is coming out of your fingers and your mouth in a moment of divine inspiration. So to see the undercarriage of hard work is a little sad for me. 


One of my favorite podcasts is 99% Invisible, “a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture.” It’s short but almost every episode has a satisfying depth, and it’s aurally pleasing thanks to Roman Mars’ (@romanmars) quiet but earnest, affable voice. It’s like he’s sharing a secret with you, and in a lot of ways he is since the show is about paying attention to the things no one else does: the shape of your toothbrush, the sound of the crowd in a televised basketball game, the bathtubs in the basement of a city hall building. 

The days that I’ve got 99% Invisible in my brain, I am more aware of the architecture around me and the soundscape that surrounds me. Because I’ve been thinking a lot about crafting music, my favorite episodes have been the ones about sound. (Go to YouAreListening.To/Minneapolis (or a different city) then listen to the podcast (23) about it and the amazingness that is RadioNet.) 

The funny thing is how much I’ve gleaned listening not just to the content of the podcast but the podcast itself. If I could capture the aural aesthetic of the podcast in some of my music, I would: calm but energized, candid, good-natured, multilayered with poignant juxtaposition... modest but broadcasting because it’s worth being heard.

99% Invisible has made my ears happy while listening and helped me remember to keep my ears and eyes open when I’m away from it. I’ve seen the strings, so now I can recognize the puppets from afar -- and that only makes me appreciate the Geppetto’s skill all the more.


Lightning list of my favorite (fiction) authors no regrets no takebacks go: Card, Wilde, Vonnegut, Dahl, Steinbeck, LeGuin, Lewis, Rothfuss, Poe, Pullman, Salinger, Kundera, Rice, Hobb – wow, that’s a pretty nerdy list. 

Even though these aren’t actually in order, I knew Card would be first. Heaven bless you, Karen LeSeur, for handing me a copy of Ender’s Game in ninth grade. Even though we’re not friends anymore, you hold a very special place in my heart because 1. You asked me to sit with you for lunch on my first day of school in a new state and 2. You gave me Orson Scott Card.

<3 : Also, you should read
the graphic novels.
I haven’t read all of Card – he’s quite prolific – but the Enderverse and Hatrack are places I know well. So, yeah, I bought Shadows in Flight the day it came out, and, yeah, I follow Asa Butterfield on Twitter (@asabfb) because he’s playing Ender in the 2013 movie, and, yeah, I want this framed and hanging in my home. And, yeah, this is how I define myself:
I choose to be a maker, because I love the making.
Card is a great writer. He crafts likeable but flawed characters in totally believable worlds – even though there are aliens and spaceships and magic and Jesus allegories out yer hoohah. When I start something new, I am instantly committed.

But here’s the thing: I don’t really like Mr. Card when he’s speaking in his own voice. I mean, I’ve never met him, but anytime he writes as himself, I’m turned off by his politics, his Mormonism, or his ehh conceit – even though I LOVE HIM as an author and think that he totally has earned the right to be conceited. 

I’m almost done with Keeper of Dreams, a collection of short stories by Card. Every story in it has resonated with me emotionally or given me a really cool idea to chew on for a while -- but I kind of hate it because at the end of every story, there are two or three pages of Card explaining when or why or how he wrote the story. The last few I’ve skimmed over because I realized something about myself: I hate seeing the curtain pulled aside. Card captures something really true and good and real when he writes, and I want to think that that happens magically. 

The reality of it is that he’s really good at crafting stories because he works really hard at it. He’s written books about writing. And that drives me bonkers! I want to go on imagining that he is just a mirror of a writer, capturing little moments of reality when they so fleetingly flit by him... like maybe he’s a hunter, stalking through the world with a laptop under his arm just waiting for something beautiful to happen, something so true it just burns itself into the pages. But, alas, he works at it. It’s his job

So I’m torn. This whole investigation I’ve been conducting is about peeling back the layers to see what’s in the middle, but I really prefer the outside. If I can end up hating my favorite author a little, will I end up hating my own work after messing and fussing and teasing it during the crafting process? 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Vocabulary building

Developing a Creative Process, part 4
This is part of a series of posts on the nature of art, why I'm not as good at it as I'd like to be, and how I'm trying to be better. For the rest, see the tag Developing a Creative Process.

I learned it as an inverted pyramid,
but I guess it's a hamburger now.
Oh, it’s time to write a persuasive essay? a literature review? an analysis of a set of phonological data in Optimality Theory? Give me a choice of music, caffeine, and a word processor, and I’ll hand in at least a B-grade paper in just a couple of hours. But the roadmap for how to do that has always been very clear: prescriptive rules for what makes a good sentence, prescriptive diagrams for how to organize your ideas inside a paragraph, and sometimes the basic outline of your paper is literally handed to you by the professor. One of the conversations that started this introspection into my creative process was Joseph whinging about how even if you do go to school and get a degree in music (performance, production, whatever), there’s no clear-cut career path to follow once you’re out. Creative endeavors don’t really have a roadmap like academic or professional endeavors do.

That’s why I want to make sense of all this: I am a great navigator if I’ve got the map in hand. I’m hoping that if I write enough description of my process, maybe a prescription will emerge. Amateur cartography.

Can’t describe anything without words. Developing the vocabulary to talk about something is a giant step toward understanding it. Every field has its own specialized jargon: wine tastingMMORPGs (wrote a paper about WoW jargon once), linguistics, music. Most people talk about music using words like “awesome,” but when you hear a guitarist talk about tone, you’ll hear things like “crunchy,” “syrupy”, “beefy” – which are fairly intuitive in meaning since everyone can relate to food but still odd until you’re used to the dialect. You’ll also hear a lot of comparisons to other musicians or albums, and if you’re not familiar with them, it’s like that moment when you mean to turn on the subtitles but you really change the audio and suddenly Indiana Jones is speaking French: very confusing. Also, you’re not cool.

When I played WoW, I was an undead frost mage.
Now that I know I can decide what my music sounds like, I’ve been listening to music differently. Even though I don’t think it’s my favorite album of hers, Ingrid Michaelson’s new album, Human Again, has a lot of great things about it, and I kept thinking, “THAT, right there, that part, that one moment, I want Joseph to make my music sounds like THAT.”

Knowing there was probably not going to be an opportunity for us to sit down and have an album-listening party, I took my lunch break at work to sit and listen and think and write about what exactly I was pointing at so fervently in my head. Instead of reviewing the album as a whole, or thinking about the lyrics, or even the melody very much, I focused on the instrumentation, the mix, the balance, the space between the music -- the stuff I typically let wash over me or ignore.

The album is all standard Ingrid, and I think that’s good: candor, vulnerability, hooks like woah. But what’s new and what I love most about the album is the DRUMS. It’s hard to talk about drums without the vocabulary. I need to have a date with Alex so I can learn to talk about drums. … And I want to have a date with Alex.

What I wrote about Ingrid was way longer than I thought it would be. I ended up deleting it instead of sending it because I just didn’t think Joseph would read it, but I wish I had it now. Things like: “80s booming snare,” “final consonant devoicing for a falling feeling,” “disco beat set perpendicular to the lilting melody,” “deep floor tom reverb.” Even though I don’t have anything tangible to show for that hour, I think I learned a lot from the exercise. Once we move to recording, I think these details will be more important for me to be able to express, so I want to try it again. Anybody know any good pop music featuring accordion?

(I wrote all this yesterday, and this review of the 1982 book Music: Ways of Listening popped up today in my Google Reader feed. The book proposes the “seven essential skills of perceptive listening,” which Elliott Schwartz says have been “dulled by our built-in twentieth-century habit of tuning out.” (Point number four is to develop a vocabulary for talking about music. I have the urge to say Swish!, but I don’t think anyone says that anymore.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Inflation and despondency

Developing a Creative Process, part 3
This is part of a series of posts on the nature of art, why I'm not as good at it as I'd like to be, and how I'm trying to be better. For the rest, see the tag Developing a Creative Process.


Here are a few different awesome songwriting experiences I’ve had in the last few weeks, followed by my feelings of crushing defeat after hearing the demos.

So cute you wanna punch her.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a really great collaborative songwriting experience with my roommate Kay of Bella Ruse (@bellaruse). The first song started with a mostly-formed song-poem I wrote that had a rhythm and a rhyme but no melody. Kay picked out some chords she liked and started humming to fit in the words. After a couple of tweaks to the melody to make it a little jazzier, we were cruising. Kay filled in a couple of lines for the chorus, we tag-teamed the bridge, and bam -- there it was. Joseph even sat in on the drum kit by the time we were running the whole thing (which means Kay was playing and singing, and I was bopping my head).

The second song started with a melody Kay had written but didn’t have any words for. She sang it through a couple of times, and I pulled up some words I had written that seemed like they might fit. They were rough around the edges and needed a lot of shaving and reshaping, but the idea (blood) fit the mood of the melody quite well. Kay ended up changing my favorite line to mean pretty much the exact opposite of what it had meant, but I rolled with it. I wrote the second verse on the spot to fit the melody and rhythm we had established in the first verse.

Considering how musically particular both Kay and I can be, it was a great experience, an exercise in flexibility and letting things happen with the understanding that they’re still “drafts,” like Joey’s talking about. Just get it out and stop worrying that it’s not all perfect. Heartbarf, knowing it will change later.

A few days later, I had a great co-writing session with my hubz Natey. Nate is a brilliant musician, but where I lean heavily on pop influences and general simplicity in songwriting, Nate intentionally makes music that is challenging for himself and the listener. I’m pretty sure he’s a genius. We’ve tried writing songs together before, but our approaches are really different; I think in skeletons and the “sound” of the whole song, and I think that Nate writes in a straight line, like he’s telling a story.

But this time, it was different. We started with another song-poem frame I had written and a chord and fancy-sounding picking frill Nate liked. I made up the melody for the first line, Nate did the second, and we pulled that trick a couple more times to mix things up. We didn’t finish the song, but we got through two verses and a kickass chorus, so I’m proud of it. Again, it was all about flexibility -- which Nate has told me all along I needed to work on when it comes to collaborating. The difference was that this time I didn’t have a thing that was already a thing that I was trying to make someone else make sound like what I heard in my head.

I learned how to write songs from Ghostwriter.
I’ve found it can be really valuable to separate myself from the words I’ve written with time. When they’re down and out of my head and in front of me, I don’t feel so bad about cutting them up and rearranging them. They feel more like craft supplies then: I’m supposed to cut the edges off to make it look pretty, even if I waste a little bit of the material. (Usually I keep any remnants I like that didn’t get used. I’ll make a quilt-song one day, I guess.)

Finally, last week, I wrote two songs on guitar, the first two songs I’ve played on guitar in months. It felt so good. I had been staying away from guitar because I felt constricted by the chord progressions (I can play “rhythm guitar” well-ish, but I don’t have much theory) -- but it wasn’t like that this time because I already had words that I was building the song around instead of filling in a chord progression with a song.

All of this is to say two things: I am awesome at songwriting and sometimes I really believe that, but I get intense feelings of insecurity and absolute disappointment in myself that all culminates with this idea: Why do I even bother? 

This was most apparent the day after Kay and I wrote together. Kay is completely amazing. Her voice is pristine and shiny and tinkles like a bell even on the iPhone demos of our half-written songs. Listening to them, I felt first a rush of pride that my words were coming out of someone else’s mouth, and so beautifully, but that was quickly replaced with a despondency that stayed with me for a couple of days: Even if I hired a voice teacher and worked my ass off, my voice does not and will not ever sound remotely close to how good Kay’s voice does. The same feeling struck me listening to the demos of Nate’s and my songs: I’ll never play guitar like that.

Yes, a lot of these feelings are related to the cycle of my hormones and my general fight against being pessimistic. To be honest, I have to inflate my ego pretty near to bursting to be able to continue writing and singing -- and those closest to me have either been told this explicitly and comply, have a deep well of patience for my narcissism, or are really in tune with my emotional and creative needs. They agree when I say I think I’m a genius (or at least resist dissenting), they smile when I’m clearly on a making-high, and they help me by accompanying, writing, playing, singing, recording, cheering, and sharing. Thank you to those people that help keep me afloat.

What I’m practicing now is acceptance of myself. I wish I were the kind of person who is driven by their deficits, but I’m not. I get bogged down by too much criticism, or the wrong kind of criticism, or even the right kinds of criticism when I’m not emotionally and mentally prepared for it. If I focus on what I’m not good at, I’m not focusing on my strengths. I’m a pretty okay singer, I’m an okayish guitar player, and that might change if I work really hard, but I think I might actually be getting good at songwriting, so I should work harder at it.

I’m also practicing joy for others when they are talented, reaping the benefits of hard work, or extremely motivated. There is not a finite amount of any of those things in the world, and I am a better person for being glad for others. Kay, Nate, and everyone else I’ve ever had a spiteful or jealous thought about: I love you, and I think you are amazing. Furthermore, you already know that about yourself, and I love you for that too.

So here’s me: writing frantically but still green, okay at guitar but lazy, piggybacking on my friends’ talents and hard work, easily discouraged by the awesomeness of others instead of inspired but trying to fight it. And the next thing I need to figure out: Why do I bother?

Maybe I'll figure it out. Stay tuned to find out: "Follow" this blog, follow me on The Twitter, bug me on The Facebook, etc etc. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012


I've spent the weekend in Chicago with my Busty (best + buddy) Amanda (@amandalester), who's not very busty but is hilarious. We were up late at a 90s dance party with her boyf Riley (@riley_bennett), her roommate Emily, Emily's girlf Deanna, Emily's bff Tashia, my friend Brian's brother Keith (@keithhabs) [who is Benjamin Franklin (@gogofrankie) of I Made America (@imadeamerica)], and Keith's girlf Becky. Got it?

Busty and Briley.
Busty's still asleep from this late night of painfully hip things like two-tone Oxford shoes, PBR, and early 90s hip hop BUT WHY WASN'T THERE MORE DESTINY'S CHILD? So I'm taking this time to throw up some wordy things from this weekend in the windy city.

My Daddio called me this morning to say hi because he loves me and because he had a phrase and a word to share. I get a lot of my appreciation for words from my dad. It started with him reading Superfudge aloud to me as a kid, but these days it's Steinbeck excerpts -- usually passages that are so sad they're beautiful. Here's what Dad had for me:
  • "hot day at the zoo" -- Dad suggested this be a band name, but it already is. New England blue grass. He heard it in the context of something stinking like a hot day at the zoo. A very visceral simile. I need a shower.
  • the word "cleave" -- The secret of this word is that it means the opposite of itself; that is, it has two definitions that are antonymous. It can either mean to cling fast to something, like your beliefs -- or to separate from something, or split in two ("cloven").
(Dad calls Busty "Merry Amanda" -- or maybe it's "Mary Amanda", but I'm sure it's not "marry Amanda." I don't know how it started, but he's been calling her that for nigh on fifteen years now. It makes me think of Amanda dressed up like Maid Marian.)

It's Easter weekend, so I've got a neat etymology I learned while writing a horribly, brilliantly blasphemous song. The chorus goes a little something like this:
Jesus, you’re a friend of mine; I like you too much to ever repent of my sins:
as long as they’re mine, you won’t have to pay for them.
Since I’m keeping them, Jesus, just close your eyes and pretend.
As long as we’re here at the bottom, let’s sin.
What I really pat myself on the back for about this song is that it can read two different ways depending on if you think "Jesus" is a vocative or an expletive. Anyway, the great etymology is the word "repent" -- apropos, no? It's from the Latin poenas "pain, punishment" from the Greek poine "blood-money."

Since that's now two things I've mentioned that have two interpretations, I'll take this time to point out some cool ambigrams. Joey loves these. Ambigrams can be the same word that's legible from two different directions, like this:

Or they can be different words
I wanted to be a badass so this second image is rotated with CSS. Sorry, Opera users.

But you should probably check out the Wikipedia article because there are more and they're really cool.

And finally, here's something horrible I saw in Chicago. Happy Easter.

The horriblest thing about this is that to make pretty much any word processor get those opening quotes wrong like that, somebody wrote this then decided to go BACK and INSERT the quotation marks for emphasis. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Localizing Measurements

How will the measurements in your document look different once they're translated? The first in my new series on specific localization items in translation has gone up on
Radix points, digit groups separators, and thin spaces: if that doesn't get you hot, you probably don't need to see your doctor about it. If it does, this post's for you! But I'm no doctor.