Write a Screen Play, A Story, A Pterodactyl

Phteven
Phteven

Have you ever wanted to write a screenplay?  Me neither.  But if you didn’t want to write a screenplay, have you ever wanted to write a story?  How about a short story?  Essay? A Tweet? A Haiku? Nothing?  OK, this book is not for you.

I figure only a subset of humans want to tell stories that are fictional outside of the dog eating homework genre.  But if you put your mind to becoming the next Stephen King, Steven King, or Phteven King, consider checking out the book Story (amazon link).  I was listening to the Michael Hyatt podcast and he listed 10 books that were most influential to him and one of them was this book Story.  Since I subscribe to Audible I thought I’d check it out eventually (I have an ever growing wishlist over there) and what I found most fascinating is that of all the books on Michael’s list, this one was less business oriented.  Unless you’re in the business of telling stories, I guess.

The power of the book lies in how the author grabs onto the demands of a professional story teller and pushes them into the reality of the job.  And then pushes some more to get them to hone their craft.  And then pushes them some more to keep honing their craft.  He made a statement that really got my attention [paraphrased because it’s an audiobook]:

The reason Hollywood is putting out the movies with the plots that it is putting out is because this is the best writing that they can find.  They would love more and better writers.

Now, please don’t quote me on that, but that was the gist of the sentence that almost caused me to stop mid-run and post the quote to facebook.  I believe this was a jarring first point in the book to begin digging into the craft of story telling in movies (and in part other forms of story telling).

After laying down his perspective so tersely the author leans in and pushes in towards how to fix this problem.  Along the journey he points out other issues like audiences not being able to follow, authors wanting to add in irrational or unexplainable twists, and the need to write characters just the right way so that the writer doesn’t over build something that will become a distraction or leave the audience wondering why so much energy was put into someone so unimportant.

This book is a great introduction to thinking through fiction, thinking through your audience, and thinking through story quirks.  If you find the analysis of stories, the analysis of the writing, and analysis of movies interesting, you definitely need to check this out.  It’ll ruin every movie you’ll ever watch ;)

Essentialism

What’s the most important thing you could be doing right now?  It could be reading this blog (I’m skeptical of that myself).  The book Essentialism (Amazon Link) is a focused book about the idea of doing just the most important thing. For now.  The point is not that you can do more things, but that you can do the most important thing and, as the author Greg McKeown says, “less, but better.”

What I found the book challenged me to think about, that I’ve wrestled with for some time, is really putting some grey matter into thinking about what I really want to do with my life and then actually cutting out the things that are not that.  Not to the harm of others, not to be ascetic or to be removed from the world around me, but to push forward in some way that will put a dent in history and leave behind something that is life changing for future generations.  I suppose everyone searches for those sorts of things (or maybe not?), but the book has pushed me into considering the opportunities or commitments I have said no to, I have assumed as defaults, or that have me unnecessarily trapped.  In short it has asked me to dig deeper into my thought life and sense of purpose.

So far I’ve basically come to the conclusion that I need to

  1. Work on discipline

I know it’s a short list, but the purpose of the book is to work on the most important thing.  Which is singular, not plural, and is required to be the most meaningful thing you could work on.  Discipline requires me to focus on less, but do better on the smaller list.  So I will try to be disciplined and then we’ll see how we go from there.

About the book: I really enjoyed this book and recommend you consider getting it.  There’s a lot of valuable perspective in the book and I think it will really challenge today’s modern workforce to say no more, but to get better work done.  It will challenge todays relationships to be picky about their commitments so that the ones that they do have are extra rewarding.  The audiobook is read by the author, and he’s quite listenable.

How To Name Your Mega-Church

Mega-church naming suggestion: avoid naming your organization things that don’t imply most small towns outside of the city are smaller than your weekly attendance. Calling your behemoth congregation, “The Village,” Or “Hillside Family Fellowship,” when you can seat a basketball arena’s worth of attendees is misleading.  When the likelihood your attendees will run into a familiar face increases with the number of, “where are you sitting?” texts they send you need to help people understand how vanilla things are giing to be. Go with something like “church of the 80-20 rule.” Or “Jesus loves our headcount fellowship.” If that doesn’t work try something more medium sized like, “church of the wholly ambiguous,” or, “The Catholic Church.” [JUST KIDDING THE CATHOLICS ARE HUGE]. Also consider going with J.P. Morgan/Chase/Church.

Sauce

When I was a kid I went through a bbq sauce phase.  I would eat anything with bbq sauce on it. Then I moved to Texas as an adult and could not fathom why someone would ruin their Texas bbq with slathered sauce coating the delicious bbq. Apparently I’ve grown up somewhat.  However,  in Texas is a place called freebirds, and they have bbq sauce in their burritos and it is amazing.  It’s a funny thing,  but I dig it.

Get Your Bucket List Of Your Back

I realized in a bout of insomnia that I have a bucket list problem.  I live with some wierd internal regrets that are not useful in function or legitimate in source.  I really wanted to grow up to be a rock star musician when I was a teenager. It was on my bucket list that I record an album and every year I tell myself,  “This will be the year.” And then it isn’t.

I have two months left until I’m 37, and I no longer want to be famous,  I just want to leave something behind. And with that in mind my bucket list is dumped out. I will try to record some music,  I’ve recorded some already,  but really I need to do what’s important to get to the next phase of maturing. And that doesn’t need regrets or an album. Besides,  who buys albums any more?

Behold the waffle song, a song I recorded despite not wanting to put it on an album.

Smart Coding is Hard Coding

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I have coded with some difficulty lately. I’ve been wrestling with the code. But it isn’t because the code is hard, it is because it must be good. It must be better thought out. It must be the best I can produce.

This has lead to less code over all, but that code has been cleaner, easier to read, and makes my life much easier because of those things. It’s part of my attempt to continue to be a craftsman.

1) write the tests to break my code
2) write my code until it works
3) write that code cleaner and better

This isn’t revolutionary by any stretch, but I’ve been disciplined about it, and that’s been key. Discipline is revolutionary.

Jelly

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My brother gets to go work as an assistant to a master brewer at Elk Mountain Brewery in Parker, CO. It’s just one day, but still, it’s amazingly cool that he gets the opportunity.  I’m stoked for him with equal parts of jealousy and pride :)

Quick Tips on Audio Recording from Years of Hating My Results

Today on Twitter Eric Lawrence, creator of one of my favorite debugging tools, Fiddler, mentioned that he wanted to clean up some crumby audio that had lots of noise in it.  Having spent most of my adult life as an amateur musician and having recorded some pretty lousy audio I thought I’d share some tips from my experience.  These will not help everyone (possibly even Eric) but they’re here for posterity.

The first issue I faced was having a built in microphone on my laptop.  In my experience this always leads to bad results.  The first problem is that fans and electrical currents always seem to interfere here.  You can try to use tools like Audacity or Adobe Audition to clean up the recordings, but they’ll often sound different when you’re done because pieces of the sound wave will have been clipped due to the filters that remove the noise.  If you can: get a secondary microphone that is away from the laptop even by a foot.  You may still pick up some background fan noise, but it will be significantly better.  I have a simple recording studio set up in my office and I still get laptop fan noise in the background if my microphone is too close to the MacBook I have.

I mentioned to Eric that I’ve used my Samsung Galaxy 4S to get great recordings of conversations and aside from people touching the phone the microphone is already geared to handle a speaker-phone setup so it does a good job.  If you can’t get an external microphone for your computer a phone may be a good working solution.  Several apps exist for the different platforms for recording lectures and these tend to work well.  The smart phones don’t have fans, and they tend to be designed for picking up audio.

One useful trick for making sure you don’t get feedback and to confirm you’ve got good audio input is to use headphones.  I like over-the-ear headphones because they are not noise canceling [which is cool, but can also fool with your perception of what you’ve recorded], but will block some of the external sounds.

In addition to equipment sound settings on your computer/laptop/recording device can have a big impact.  To get louder sounding audio some hardware/software combinations will do either hardware or software amplification and this can really add to background noise or distortion.  It can also amplify electrical interference or line noise.  Check the settings on your device and confirm that you don’t have the microphone or line-in volume set to 100% as this can be a problem.  Rather than assuming this is the problem it’s recommended you do a test with the settings adjusted at 100%, 90% and so forth.  It’s funny, but you can use the microphone at 70% [for example] get your recording and then use Audacity or a similar package to normalize the audio and it will up the volume, but you’re less likely to run into distortion or clipping.

On my mac I use GarageBand for all the recording I do because it’s there.  GarageBand gives me control of the input sources under preferences.  It gives me control over the master volume, the track volume, and I can enable the compressor to maximize volume consistency for each channel.  If you’re not familiar with the workings of GarageBand you may need to do some help file scanning, but it’s pretty direct and you should be able to get to a stable starting point relatively quickly with its podcast settings.  I haven’t used Windows for musical recording for about 7 years now so I’m a bit behind on what’s there except Audacity and Audition.

I hope this help!  If you’ve got questions please feel free to leave a comment.

15 Years

There are few things that I’ve done for 15 years.

Programming? 13.x years.

The guitar, the drum and the piano. All for 20+ years.  But with moderate commitment and I’d burn some of my guitars if I needed a fire.  The piano needs a good tuning and at least one key repaired.

Reading? 31 or so years.  But I don’t read so gooder compared to this.

Parenting? 11.1 years.  But nothing as important as being married to my Jessica.  Being a dad is a pretty big deal.  But I need the one before the other.

I think being married to Jessica is the second most important relationship I’ve got.  God, then Jessica, then my kids, then the rest of everything else.

Thanks for all the rest of you for helping support this pretty darn important relationship! You have witnessed a miracle in 15 years and I can’t  wait for you to see the rest of  it.