Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Interlude X

Let us pause here, on the cusp of the current serial's second part, to take a collective virtual breath and catch up. I say this as if it's a suggestion but really this is a complete dictatorship. The blog knows no master but me.

Your only choices are to read or to not-read. I defy you without taking advantage of serious head trauma to un-read, de-read or anti-read a single syllable.

Beneath the fold: questions, answers, rants, excuses and promises, ambition and melancholy, car chases and shoot-outs, pie fights and teleconferences, sex and violence and catchy drum machine loops.

Location, Elevation, Situation

If you love classic science-fiction you'll have long ago grokked my obvious love for Alfred Bester. (If you love classic science-fiction and enjoy my writing but are not familiar with Bester, throw down this blog immediately and go read 'The Stars My Destination' (or, if you're in the United Kingdom, 'Tiger! Tiger!')). Under no circumstances should you wait for the cinema adaptation.

It's basically 'The Count of Monte Cristo' in space. I feel that as a cultured person I should also highly recommend that you read the original Dumas novel rather than just its pulp-fiction counterpart, but the fact of the matter is I've never read it myself because of how little I enjoyed 'The Three Musketeers' as a boy. Thus when I say one is "basically" the other I'm borrowing a stranger's opinion, in order to be pretentious.

Answering Gulliver Foyle's quatrain as asked by Bester:

Who are you? Cheeseburger Brown.
Where are you from? Mississauga is my nation.
Where are you now? Treading water at a confluence of absurdities.
Where do you go? I don't know, I don't know.

As many of you know when I'm not serializing unproofed pulp on the web I'm[1] a professional[2] napkin-folder[3] with my own napkin-folding enterprise, providing top quality artistically folded napkins for galas and balls and award shows. We don't do weddings.

[1] Under my proper name.
[2] I'd lie about the degree I don't have if anybody ever bothered to ask.
[3] An analogue for my field, which I pseudo-obscure for reasons of pseudo-privacy.

Anyway, I'm awfully sick of it. Somehow all the fun has been sucked out of serviette topography by the wearying repetition of its dullest battles.

To illustrate this, I have composed a highly condensed but very representative dialogue. It ends at the next instance of bold text below, if you feel like skipping it. I wish I could.

"I need to understand how my gala napkins would look, once they're all folded and put on the tables."

"They would resemble the napkins seen in this photograph."

"But those are all wrong. They're white, and our napkins need to be yellow."

"Please look at the photograph while wearing these glasses with yellow-tinted lenses."

"They do look yellow now, but I can't escape the feeling that I'm not seeing yellow napkins on gala tables but instead holding a small picture of white napkins while wearing yellow glasses. It just doesn't feel right to me. Could you fold an example napkin for me?"

"Certainly. The cost in materials and labour is one dollar. The cost in time is six minutes."

"I don't want to pay for materials I may not end up liking. Can you use another material which is cheaper, but looks and behaves like a more expensive material, and then since it is cheaper just throw it in for free?"

"Certainly. We will use yellow paper instead of yellow silk."

"I don't want to pay for labour that may not contribute to the real final product. Can you give me the labour for free, in order to help me make up my mind about what I want to pay you for?"

"Certainly. We will use in-house staff to create your example."

"I don't want to wait six minutes, because I am very busy. Can you complete the process in half the time without compromising quality?"

"Sadly we cannot accommodate this request due to the laws of thermodynamics."

"Can you make an exception in this one case, just for us?"

"We would like to but are regrettably unable."

"All of this dickering is wasting time. I wanted my example napkin two minutes ago. So really if you start now it's going to take eight minutes, not six."

"Here is your example napkin. Note how artfully it is folded."

"It looks all papery. Like it's not even real silk."

"That is because it is made of paper, as an approximation of the final product."

"This approximation isn't exact enough. Because I am not a quote unquote creative person, I require an approximation whose fidelity to the final product is total."

"We can create this prototype at a cost of one dollar."

"You're forgetting my earlier directives: I do not wish to invest in materials, labour, or time that is not directly reflected in the final product."

"Development is reflected in the final product."

"Not obviously. In a movie I once saw artists for hire create a model of the work for the client to approve before starting any work. Can you make me that?"

"Certainly. Here is a model of a gala table with tiny model silverware and plates. Beside each plate is wee model napkin, yellow, folded as per your brief to us."

"It's all wrong."

"In what way?"

"For one thing, it's the wrong scale. Our tables will be much, much larger. For another thing, this model only shows one table with six settings whereas our ballroom needs to accommodate forty tables with six settings each. It's pretty hard to extrapolate from a model of six napkins how two hundred and forty napkins would look."

"Here is a model of the full ballroom, with forty model tables of six settings and two hundred and forty tiny paper napkins."

"Why did it take so long? I've been waiting all minute."

"We had to fold two hundred and forty tiny napkins with tweezers. This activity takes one worker two hundred and forty seconds, or two hundred and forty workers one second each."

"So why didn't I wait for only one second?"

"Because you did not wish to invest in labour."

"I was told yours was a full-featured service provider. Why aren't your resources infinite?"

"The resources available to your project scale with your budget."

"The napkins have to be blue now. It's been decided. Please remake all of the examples and models for me to show to my boss."

"Would it be okay if she wore these blue-tinted glasses?"

"No. She doesn't care for eyewear. The point is non-negotiable. Why am I still waiting for those revised models?"

"Two hundred thirty-nine seconds to go."

"That's too long."

"Too long for what?"

"Too long for me to wait."

"So what are you going to do instead?"

"You can't make my boss wait. She won't stand for it. Is there no way of accelerating the process? I need these examples and models in one second."

"We could hire two hundred and forty workers at a cost of one hundred dollars."

"Spend it! Spend it!"

"Certainly. Here are your updated examples and models now featuring blue napkins."

"Well, blue and folded differently, of course."

"You had not mentioned a change in fold design."

"I wasn't informed before, but now I am informed so I'm informing you."

"We will need another one hundred dollars, to hire the workers again."

"Honestly I don't see how fixing this mistake has to come out of my budget. It's just the cost of doing business for you. My budget is non-negotiable. I cannot go over my budget by one penny."

"How much is your total budget?"

"I'm not prepared to share that with you. Now: where are my revised examples?"

"We need two more minutes."

"Your estimate was one second a moment ago."

"That was the estimate with two hundred and forty workers. Without two hundred and forty workers the estimate is four minutes."

"You're keeping my boss waiting, and I'll totally tell her it was your fault."

"How about half the cost, delivery in two minutes?"

"I'll need a minute to think it over."


"Where are my updated revised examples?"

"We await your decision."

"Go! Go! Go! Damn the cost!"

"Certainly. Here are your updated revised examples."

"I showed them to my boss and she said the napkins would be better if they were made out of spun-gold with intricate and unique designs woven into the face of each one."

"This will affect the budget."

"I don't see why."

"The material is a different material with a different cost, and the labour is a different process with a different cost."

"But napkins are napkins! This is outrageous. You're not servicing me well. I'm underserviced. I'll tell everyone I know how much you underserviced me."

"What can I do to make you happy?"

"I require spun-gold at the cost of yellow paper, and I need two hundred and forty examples each with unique detailing done immediately and covered under the cost I've previously paid for to generate examples."

"Those were different examples. You have already spent that money."

"Did you not hear me?"

"Here are your new examples."

"My boss thinks they're great. You're very talented. Now: we have only one hour left before the gala begins, so please get cracking on making the final product."

"Very well. The cost for a rush delivery of two hundred and forty folded napkins with individual designs will be five hundred dollars."

"Why is it a suddenly a rush delivery?"

"Because we have spent all of our time building examples, and now we have only one hour left to create the real thing, obliging us to hire many extra hands."

"But we gave you lots of lead time! How do you justify waiting until the last second to begin?"

"You ate the lead time making your decisions."

"Well, it's beside the point. My entire budget for is only three hundred dollars, and you've already charged me two thirds of that to create examples that weren't even exactly what I was imagining."

"For the one hundred dollars you have left, you can have paper napkins with a simple traditional dinner fold."

"That's not acceptable. We need what we just decided we need."

"Very well. The cost is five hundred dollars."

"You're not very smart, are you? You keep forgetting the parameters: my budget cannot be exceeded by one penny, and we cannot compromise on my boss' vision."

"I do not know how to resolve this impasse."

"My nephew says he can fold all the napkins out of any material I want for $20. I'll take my business away from you if you don't become more flexible."

"We wish your nephew the best of luck."

"My nephew needs your designs, your fold pattern masters, the example prototypes and all models delivered to his villa in Spain five minutes ago."

"The cost on that is one hundred dollars."

"I think those things should be free."

"Here are the things, here is our bill for services rendered to date."

"Wait, I have an emergency! My nephew has done a terrible job, and nothing is right, and the gala begins in ten minutes. Can you help me?"


"I'll take whatever napkins you've got, using whatever fold is cheap, as long as they're on the tables in nine minutes."

"It is done."

"It's a bit underwhelming. Just regular napkins, folded regularly. I just don't understand. You have such a strong reputation for creativity. Why aren't these napkins creative-looking?"

"Because you elected not to take any of our recommendations."

"I may not be a professional napkin folder, but I know what I like."

"You do longer like your choices?"

"I was forced into them by circumstances."

"We are sympathetic."

"Here comes my boss. Please stand in the kitchen so nobody sees you. I want to receive my congratulations for how wonderful the ballroom looks."


"It's fabulous! The gala was a complete success, and all the credit has gone to me. Thank you so much for going the extra mile to rescue the process! Bill me now so I can pay you quickly and close the books on this event."

"Here is your bill."

"The bill is too high. Listen: if you give me a special discount on this project I'll make it up to you on the next one."

"We have already applied every applicable discount to your total."

"But the total isn't as low as I want it to be."

"You have our sincerest condolences for your recent loss of money."

"You may have to wait up to ninety days to be paid."

"The terms you agreed to were all invoices payable upon receipt."

"That's not our policy."

"In thirty days your account will become delinquent and interest charges will accrue."

"The agreement is for a certain amount of money and that is what we will pay."

"The agreement is for payment within a certain amount of time. If you wish to adjust the amount of time, we must adjust the amount of money."


"Because pulling on one end of a rope makes the other end shorter."


"Thank for your business. Come again."

"Oh, I also need miniature versions of all the napkins to send out with the thank you notes. Like, origami. Do you know what origami is? I can send you a link."

"This project has concluded and been billed. Extra services will precipitate extra billing."

"I don't have more money to spend this quarter. Couldn't you just throw them in for free, for the sake of our business relationship?"

"We reluctantly confess we are not wealthy enough to offer you a gift of this kind."

"I don't think you're being very flexible. I like to work with flexible people. It's a give and take world. Your business needs to be more agile, more responsive to client needs."

"Thank you for this free advice."

"So can I have everything I want now at no additional cost?"

"We are sorry, but you cannot."

"I thought we had an understanding here."

"Go fuck yourself."

I should point out that the preceding dialogue has a fanciful ending. In reality people seldom let me tell other people whether they ought to self-fuck, because they're afraid it's bad for business. We're nodders, not head-shakers. We're problem-slayers! We roll with the punches, and so forth. Everything is awesome when you're part of a team.

Indeed, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the things the team really has actually accomplished. We've folded napkins up and down this continent, from snowy Toronto to balmy Palm Beach. We've kept everybody paid without outside financing or loans even though we're a startup. We've even opened a napkin folding academy for underprivileged people of colour in the inner city.

But just by the skin of our teeth. Cash flow remains a recurring nightmare. The money guy turns all shades of sickly before the shareholder meetings. Our operation keeps being lucky somehow, despite our quarterly projections being dire. We squeak by.

What the team has not accomplished is this: enabling me to step back from hands-on folding.

What the team has also not accomplished is this: relieving my money anxieties.

So, are things better since I quit my job three years ago? A quick inventory:

Instead of driving one hundred miles each and every weekday and many weekends (through whatever weather the boreal world cared to serve) in order to fight my way along highways clogged like a fat man's arteries, I now take the train into the city just once a week[1]. Verdict: Better.

Instead of having my work judged by a jealous and petty management layer before being picked over by fickle clients, now my work is simply picked over by fickle clients. Verdict: Better.

Instead of sitting in an office in an office park in a non-walkable part of the city every day I sit in my own studio in this old schoolhouse out in the countryside. Instead of whiny co-workers I hang around with my children and milfy wife. Verdict: Better.

Instead of being stuck in said office with sealed windows and fake walls I now leave my desk whenever I need to in order to take a jog through the village and say hello to everyone walking their dogs and babies, to get fresh air and feel real, to close my eyes and hear wind. If not that it's always nice to walk down to the end of the road and jump in the lake. Verdict: Better.

Instead of showering, shaving and dressing up pretty every morning I now pull on whatever seems clean and do my job looking like a hobo[2]. I only deign to appear professional on train day. Verdict: Better.

Instead of taking advantage of the inefficiencies of business life to spend idle time writing science-fiction novellas while still getting paid, I now go totally neurotic during idle time fretting about making payroll for everyone and whether we're doing enough to push ourselves on the sales and promotions front and therefore work myself into an exhausted and largely ineffectual frenzy turning in circles and tilting at windmills. Verdict: Worse.

Instead of having my asshat boss and a broken corporate structure to blame for limiting my reach, I now have only myself, my inadequate motivation and mediocrity of skill to hold accountable for any lack of breakthrough success. Verdict: Worse.


[1] Well, I'm supposed to. To be completely honest I haven't gone into the office for over a month. But I do have to go in twice next week, which means I'd better do some laundry soon.

[2] Actually I have a very conservative haircut, so this is only true for sufficiently broad definitions of "hobo."

So now instead of being plump and pale and trapped in office jail while I hate my work and miss my family, now I get to hate my work at home as a fit, generally happier individual who sees his loved ones all the time. I am no richer, but no poorer. I have new crippling anxieties (financial solvency of the enterprise) but I've been able to give up some of my old ones (dying in a snowbank at the side of a multi-car pile-up).

All in all, I do not regret leaving my stable, secure, dehumanizing job. I do wish sometimes, though, that I had a way to leave my current unstable, insecure job. At this point I'm very interested in moving on in my career to being a cashier at the drug store or maybe a bag boy at the grocery store. Something low pressure and uncomplicated. (If you have an opening, drop me a line.)

It's possible there is some other blog out there detailing the wacky adventures of my enterprise, with added layers of pseudo-anonymity to shield the narrator from reprecussions. But this is purely speculation on my part. You never know what you've been typing when you fall asleep on the keyboard.

The Commentariat

Please excuse the lateness of my replies to your comments. It's not personal. In order to keep this blog alive I had to make some hard decisons about how to parcel out my time, and one of the areas too time-expensive for me to accommodate is delving into the commentary.

If you have pressing questions or observations you'd really like to hear from me on, please do append your comments to this post. I will put aside some time for thoughtful replies in the coming days.

Revenge of Herobrine

It's also true that some amount of my flow-time, creatively speaking, has been reapportioned with less available to writing. There are some decent reasons for this (interfacing with my children) and some less decent reasons for this (mindless play). Though I have not in my life ever been much of a gamer, it's true that for the last year I've been putting hours and hours into a video game.

If you have children between the ages of 5 and 15 it is virtually certain that you are well familiar with Minecraft.

I've been using Minecraft to build intricate puzzles for my children, obliging them to assemble and follow multi-part clues in order to locate and solve academically-themed riddles hidden deep within my (ridiculously large) Minecraft world. Once the answer to the riddle has been correctly translated from Latin and answered I take my children to the comic shop or the hobby shop or candy shop for rewards.

The image at the head of this post is a screen capture from my Minecraft world. (Pictured: looking west along River Street from Foyle Avenue.)

If you're not familiar with Minecraft you may have heard it described as "digital Lego" which is superficially true. In Minecraft all building blocks are cubes, and each cube has properties which define how it behaves and/or combines with other cubes.

For example, a block of raw iron ore mined from the ground can be combined with fire and smelted into a block of iron ingot, suitable for further processing into iron tools. Dirt blocks grow grass on top if exposed to sunlight. If tilled with an iron hoe and planted with seeds, dirt blocks sprout wheat when reasonably proximate to water blocks.

Lava cubes plus water cubes make opaque volcanic glass, whereas sand plus fire yields transparent window glass. And so on.

Upon starting the user is presented with a procedurally seed natural world of different biomes -- jungle, desert, arctic, savannah, et cetera -- and invited to mine and craft the blocks found there into whatever they please. Swim along riverbanks to retrieve clay for bricks, chop down trees and refine them into lumber, mine coal and combine with sticks to build torches to light the way…

It is best to get a simple shelter erected quickly, because come nightfall the cubic sun sets and all sorts of predators come out of the dark to hunt the user -- alpine wolves, ocelots, cave spiders, giant silverfish, and something that looks like an orc but which my children call a "zombie pigman."

My kids collaborate online with other kids to create insanely complex structures, or to build moving pistons and sensors with electromagnetic blocks, or for team combat in Hunger Games-style arenas hosted on personal servers and styled in homage to one franchise or another -- Super Mario, Sonic Hedgehog, Five Nights at Freddy's, Pokémon.

One morning shortly after telling my son he wasn't allowed to play 'Grand Theft Auto' I woke up early in the morning to find him in front of the family computer gaming on a private Minecraft server that had been force-fit into a crude approximation of GTA. Minecarts sped recklessly down city streets while players used rapid-fire automated archery gear to simulate firearms. A zombie in a miniskirt wandered out of an alley, dead arms hanging before her as she groaned.

"Oh no, it's a prostitute!" my son cried into his headset.

This all goes to say that custom mods of Minecraft have evolved to fill every conceivable niche. I once saw a faithful recreation of 'Call of Duty' in Minecraft complete with Nazi sheep and SS cows, the server populated with Christian kids and homeschoolers whose parents had forbidden them to play the actual 'Call of Duty' game because of the violence and the profanity of the community, but who were allowed to "play blocks" with Minecraft.

At any rate when I've needed to switch my brain into low power mode for the last year I've been whipping out my Minecraft world to mine and craft in various airports, hotel lobbies, and backstage at events. I know you'd probably prefer if I spend this hover-time on science-fiction stories, but the fact is my kids just aren't reading science-fiction stories much these days. They care to dwell in Minecraft, so that where I've got to be, too.

And so, yes, like a drooling fanboi, I'm ridiculously excited for the 0.11.0 update for PE to hit the App Store in a few weeks. My city is so ready for boats. I've got the waterways all ready in advance.


The current serial resumes next week, kicking off Part II. Thanks for reading!


Sheik Yerbouti said...

My kids have been begging me to get Minecraft. Not only am I afraid of the time drain, but I'm concerned that all the 3D scrolling on a small screen will make me inordinately dizzy and nauseous in a very short amount of time.

Other than that, yay for engaging with your kids!

Tolomea said...

I threw some screenshots up on flicker

Tolomea said...

Your commenting system is getting worse, it ate the first comment which said the wife and I have been playing on and off for years. The screenshots are from our current world.

pso said...

Good to know that you are still hanging in there! Hopefully the good parts will continue to be good, and the bad parts will get better over time. Looking forward to lots more fiction in the years ahead!

SaintPeter said...

I'm always happy that you're posting at all.

I did make a vain attempt to find your obscure napkin folding blog, but all I found was this:

I'm reasonably certain that that is not the blog elliptically mentioned. I also checked your HuSi posts, but to no avail. Alas, your obscurity is sufficient security.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Sheik Yerbouti mentioned, "My kids have been begging me to get Minecraft. Not only am I afraid of the time drain..."

Be afraid. Minecraft keeps getting me with the old "I'll just finish this one task before bed" trick where one task bleeds into the next and suddenly it's the middle of the night. Though this hasn't been as bad since they introduced the day-night cycle in creative mode, because it's easier to keep track of time.

The other day I unplugged the family computer and hid the power cable because I'd become frustrated with my son's inability to self-regulate his Minecraft time when unsupervised. After a day he remember all about his other toys and how it's fun to play outside, so today I told him he could have computer time again. Which meant we spent the next forty-five minutes trying to find the damn power cable I'd squirrelled away at 6 AM before I'd really woken up enough to form persistent memories.

Tolomea said, "Your commenting system is getting worse, it ate the first comment which said the wife and I have been playing on and off for years. The screenshots are from our current world."

That's some nifty stuff there, Tolomea. I totally dig the rainbow-clay castle. Clay is so satisfying to work with in Minecraft, plus it makes a cool noise when you walk on it (at least in PE).

The children and I built a house for my wife for when she visits, and though she does like the house she does not visit often. Perhaps when boats to come PE in a few weeks with 0.11.0 I can take her on a romantic row through the waterways, and throw rosebush drops at her.

As for the comment system I'm pretty sure I'm getting my money's worth.

That being said I have been talked to a guy about whipping my whole web property into this decade with modern coding and responsive layouts and so on, with a WordPress base so blog and site could run as one. I think that would improve things. I just don't have the spare change right now to invest, but I'm looking forward to getting his estimate for the services I've outlined.

SaintPeter commented, "I'm always happy that you're posting at all."

Me too. It's like a breath of fresh air in my brain. I'm sorry the pace is what it is. I'd love to do more but this is a very, very busy time of year for me. A number of posts making up the current serial have been automated deployments, scheduled ahead of time, and unminded by me. But I have just two more large events to get through in the next couple of weeks and then things may ease up for me a bit, work-wise.

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

And pso said, "Good to know that you are still hanging in there!"

Well, despite it all, it does still beat having a proper job. ;)