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Archive for September, 2009

cat dressedThey sit down to write, but they might open a can of cat food first. Complaining about writer’s block is like looking at the cat food dish and complaining that it’s empty. Of course it’s empty — you have to fill it. When you have deadlines and commitments, not writing isn’t an option. You don’t have the luxury of being blocked.

Don’t have a cat? We all have dragons. Dragons and cats have a lot in common. They’re independent, dislike being ordered about and respond in kind when treated with respect. And they like to be fed.

When you think you have nothing to write about, think again. Simply entice your dragon to come out and play. What? You can’t find him? Get your can opener and open a can of dragon food. He (or she) will come running.

Dragons, like cats, are highly sensitive to the smell of a freshly opened can of food. All you need is a can opener. You’re not likely to get at the food inside by staring at the can and wishing it would open. Grab that can opener, open your text editor and just start sniffing around to see what’s inside.

You may not find a scent worth following at first but you will. Keep writing and sniffing. If you can’t think of anything to write, put your hands on your keyboard and write “I can’t think of a thing I want to write about, I’m stuck, just like I was stuck in traffic the other day. That was…”

It makes no difference what you write at first. Just start.
Writer’s block is simply your inner critic getting in your face. Ignore him (or her). When you write freely, not worried about what you’re saying. When you allow the ideas to flow uncensored, your inner critic will grow bored and leave you (and your dragon alone).

You can’t “force” your writing but you can create the conditions that allow ideas to pour out. The door isn’t locked. Quit pushing. Turn the knob gently and the door will open.

Writer’s block is expecting perfection before you even begin. Not likely is it? So what if your first draft is mostly junk that you’ll throw out. You’re interested in finding the gems — and you will — just keep writing whatever comes to mind. When you find a good idea, latch on and see where it leads. You’ll be surprised and delighted.

Writer’s block? Nah. Just keep that can opener handy.

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Wheels circle round on edge

Not yet now comes past and gone

Unwinding life’s line


I wrote this poem, a haiku, earlier this year.
The seed came to me as I clustered on “circles” one day. I got to thinking about the wheels on my bicycle as I ride, how a small patch of tire comes around, touches the earth for an instant, then begins the journey all over again, leaving a line in it’s wake.

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Here, the tire is still, resting after climbing a hill. Actually, I was resting — I doubt the tire cared. I snapped this closeup on a whim. I always carry my little digicam with me on my rides.

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And when I come this way, I always stop to rest beside this cornfield. Here is the new corn, the promise of early summer.

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And here, the mature corn waits for the harvest.

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And finally (until next year) the stubble left after the combine scythed through the cornfield. I missed seeing the combine in action this year. It’s an awesome thing to watch as it rumbles and cuts the rows of corn.

Bicycle wheels unwinding the road. The cycle of nature winding through the seasons until the harvest — until next year.

This cornfield is destined to become a public park.
It was purchased by the County as part of the farmland preservation program. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to photograph this field with the stubble poking through a light snow cover. I’d like that.

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How moving my desk helped boost my creativity and changed the way I write.

The empty nest has given me the use of a couple of rooms. My “office” is in the back of the house. I keep my main computer with my window on the world via my Internet  connection in this space. I have another larger room in the front of the house where I keep my old computer. It sat out of the way in the corner on an old battleship gray desk. I only used it to scan my negatives.

frontoffice

I decided to move the desk and the computer to the middle of the room. What a difference this has made. I get tons of north light from my two windows and I’m not connected to the Internet. Not only that, I’m using an old 14 inch CRT monitor I’ve had for 15 years and I love it. Talk about no distractions. I can’t check my email and don’t have the screen real estate for multitasking windows.

MaxscreenSo where does MaxThink fit into this picture? Take a look at the screenshot. I’m still using my old DOS version of MaxThink from 1994. It’s a perfect match for my monitor. No mouse, no distractions as my fingers fly over the keyboard. I love it.

Use free-form thinking when you’re shaping your ideas in the beginning. Don’t stop to organize when you’re on a thinking/idea roll — just keepon keeping on. Organize your ideas later.

All outlines are lists. No matter which outliner you choose, they are all big lists in the end. And the best outliners assist your thought process and let you organize on the fly.

Outline hierarchy or flat list — your choice. It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve finally realized that the best way is to think first and organize my thoughts later. The flat list is perfect. Whatever your topic, simply enter each idea as it comes to you and move on to the next. Only when you’ve exhausted your ideas do you come back to put them into categories.

MaxThink makes categorizing ideas a delight. I use the binsort command to cycle through the list and toss each idea into an appropriate category. When I’m finished, I have a hierarchy that I can continue to massage until I have a logical flow of my ideas.

And I can flip back to a segmented list (more on segmented lists in another post) any time I like. MaxThink makes it easy to switch between flat or categorized

Mouse? What mouse? My hands never leave the keyboard. What good are windows when you’re writing?

I’m having fun and being much more productive now that I’ve moved my desk and decided which program, MaxThink or BrainStorm, I’ll use to organize my ideas in the beginning. MaxThink wins this round. MaxThink beats BrainStorm on a couple of counts — the ability to quickly manipulate flat lists and to flip back and forth between flat and categorized.

BrainStorm stomps MaxThink in some other features, but they come later. I’ll keep you posted on the outcomes as I explore and experiment.

Meanwhile, I think I can use MaxThink to do clustering on the fly from the keyboard.
I haven’t tried it yet, but when I do, I’ll chronicle my adventures.

As I said, I’m using a very old DOS version of MaxThink. I see no reason to use the new windows version. If you want to know more about MaxThink, head on over to the website. The price is reasonable (I have no connection with MaxThink except as a satisfied user) and comes with a one year money back guarantee.

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How we see and what we choose to see are only the beginning. “With perception we do not see the world as it is but as we perceive it.” [Serious Creativity — Edward de Bono]

vase_filtered

I took this photo a long time ago. I won’t call it a vase because it is more (and less at the same time). The subject is blue. The subject is tall. How big is it? I won’t say because it makes no difference — the image is less than a vase and much more.

Swirling, liquid, solid, light and tones abstracted as only black and white can do. Move in close, play with light, change your viewpoint and your perception of the world changes. Perception organizes our world. In fact, our world is our perception. Is the world “out there” or within our minds?

My readings are taking me on a fascinating journey. First Art & Physics, then The Tao of Physics, Chaos, and now the works of Edward de Bono. What goes on within our minds? Our society is obsessed with linear thinking and the logic of the left brain. What a shame. We need to admit the non-linear part of our mind into our thinking as a regular partner.

Left brain, inner critic, logic is sterile without the insights of our intuitive right brain. And our dragons are lost without the organization that can give voice to our conversations with them.

To say that she is a right brained person or that he is a total left brain misses the point. We are both, even when we fail to recognize the holistic nature of our minds.

The photographer, the writer, or any other artist cannot bring their vision into being without the co-operation of logic and organization. Einstein could never have made his profound impact on science using logic alone. He imagined what he would see if he were riding a beam of light at the speed of light.

Where is this all taking me? I’m not sure, but stay tuned. We’ll journey into creativity and the mind together.

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owl galaxiesA finished article is linear (unless you’re James Joyce writing “Ulysses”). In the beginning, when you write your first draft, non-linear thinking is best.

The first stage of writing is YES, a mind dump, a free flow of thoughts, nothing held back. Don’t worry about where the thought(s) come from — suspend judgment and see where your thoughts lead you. Everything is YES in the beginning. Edit and justify what you will keep or toss out later.

The second stage of writing is PO. The word PO was coined by Edward de Bono. When he created “Lateral Thinking,” he invented the word PO as a “practical language tool.” “PO is an insight tool. PO is the laxative of language. It acts to relax the rigidity of the tight patterns so easily formed by mind and to provoke new patterns.” [de Bono].

NO is a stop sign that excludes. PO counters the absolute block of NO and says “let’s wait and see where this thought or idea leads — no judgment now.” PO doesn’t suspend judgment, PO is like the esc key on your computer. PO escapes judgment altogether.

PO is a notation that describes the “forward use of an idea.” PO is a notation that tells us we are operating in the “movement” system, not the “judgment” system — at least for the moment [de Bono].

As you read through your first draft, instead of deleting ideas that don’t seem to fit, prefix them with PO and move on. When you’ve finished your first reading, go back and look at each PO. What do these ideas suggest? A new approach? A break in the pattern? PO gives you permission to include provocative ideas and to follow where they might lead you.

You might discover better approaches, other new ideas and directions for your piece. Say what you want. Challenge old assumptions and cliches. Use PO as a lateral thinking tool to take you in different directions for the sake of exploration. You may arrive at a dead end or not. You won’t know what you’ve missed unless you go there.

NO is the final re-write where you decide what to leave out, where you think vertically and put your article into a logical hierarchy. YES, PO and NO are all necessary and compliment each other. Save NO for the end and your writing will be that much richer.

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Monday Musings: Red or Green?

Red or green? Full bloom or the promise? The hibiscus is a showoff flower. I never saw such big blooms until my wife planted her hibiscuses a few years ago.

Image101w

I like the crop of the interior. The blossom envelopes and forms a kind of stage. I seldom use the entire area of 35mm. I love to play and crop. I shot the whole flower, but I liked the interior detail best.

Image102w

Speaking of best. I like this shot of the buds, the promise of the future. The tendrils are like hugging arms. Walk past those buds and you would never notice. Zoom in — look what you can discover. There’s an entire world in a small space.

Some people are horrified to think that someone would actually crop and not tell the “truth” of what the camera saw. Horse hockey. The camera is a dummy. The vision belongs to the photographer.

Ansel Adams was a master of darkroom manipulation. The image captured by the camera is only the beginning. Being able to work with our captured images in a computer trumps the darkroom.

I think all creativity can benefit from editing. When we write, we pour our souls onto the page and edit later. Writing is rewriting. Why not do the same when we photograph?

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Police_BoxMaxThink is, in the words of it’s author, Neil Larson, a HyperText Outline / Idea Processor. It’s still alive and kicking in a windows incarnation after all these years. I bought MaxThink from Neil around 1990 and upgraded to Max94 a few years later. I still have the wonderful printed manual. I figured out how to get the old DOS program running in dosbox on my ubuntu linux system. It’s still better than anything out there today, including the mind mappers.

I think I stepped out of the TARDIS into the past because I found a piece I wrote over 25 years ago. I’ll have more to say about my adventures with outliners in general and MaxThink in particular in another post.

Meanwhile, here’s the piece I wrote in the early 1980s.

Need method of getting raw ideas into a computer in a smooth, natural flow. As ideas occur to the user, that person should be able to transfer the ideas to the computer quickly. But ideas are not isolated symbols. To have real meaning as an idea, many? symbols are ‘related’ to form more coherent thoughts.

Ideas could be thought of a patterns of smaller symbols that make up a whole that is greater than the sum of it’s parts (GESTALT?). The ‘linkage’ of these ideas is the tough part of using a computer as a ‘thought processor’. PROCESSOR? The human brain is the ‘idea generator’. How do you process ideas? To process something seems to imply that you DO (act) on something. Maybe to process something you ‘change’ that something so that something becomes something else.

Using a computer only makes sense if the particular task is easier to perform with a computer. If a task can be better performed by ‘hand’, then the task should not be put on the computer.

The following is an example/analysis of the though process of a person who is thinking freely (intuitively if you like), and a possible method of using the computer productively as an organizing tool. Computers are much better at ‘remembering’ details than a human brain. The computer’s process is strictly a ‘left brain’ type of activity, while the creative process is a ‘right brain’ type of activity.

It’s fair to say that the idea of AI or artificial intelligence is more concerned with the ‘right brain’ type of activity. Think of the implications of being able to enter right brain thoughts directly into the computer, then being able to easily establish linkages in the computer. That is what I would call an idea processor.

The earliest programs that call themselves idea processors are just now hitting the market. These programs are tools that allow the user to create an outline that can be expanded/contracted on command. What I have in mind goes beyond the outline type program.

The first step in my program would accept free form words/phrases, allow a screen display of the words/phrases, and also allow linkages between words/phrases to be created and shown graphically. This could be accomplished using keyboard, graphics tablet, [no mice yet — remember this was written in about 1983] or voice input. The idea is to allow the user to enter a screen full of words/phrases that have been freely generated from a key word or phrase and to allow the user to establish linkages between the words/phrases that show on the screen.

Once the words/phrases have been linked, they can be further organized using a hierarchy beginning with the linkages, extending through various outlines leading to the final product that can be thought of as the same as a product delivered by a ‘word processor’.

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I typed this word for word from an old printout. I changed the paragraphing and corrected a few spelling errors but left the wording and punctuation alone. I wrote the above piece on a TRS80 Model 100, the first real laptop computer, and printed it out on a pen plotter on adding machine paper. I pasted the printout onto a blank 8 1/2 x 11 and made a copy in the office. I didn’t date it, but the method did.

This was written before desktop computers used DOS and Microsoft was a startup. It was written 4 or 5 years before I had my first desktop. It was written long before I bought MaxThink.

I look back and wonder. After more than 25 years, people still use their computers like expensive typewriters. Good outliners are things of the past and that’s a shame. Computers should be helping us think better and mostly they do the opposite. I’ll have more to say later. I’ve gone on long enough this time.

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