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New music and a Patreon account…

Over the weekend I finished a short composition called A Stargazer’s Lullaby:

As I write in the video’s description:

This piece is part of a short soundtrack for a book series I’m working on called Insane Fantasy. “A Stargazer’s Lullaby” provides the theme for the main character, Coptivon, who’s growing up in a crater in the Crater Lands. There’s not much life out there, but the flat landscapes offer a nice view of the stars. With little else to do in the Crater Lands, Coptivon has memorized all the constellations he could learn. His theme is meant to capture his boredom giving way to fantastical dreams as he gazes at the night stars.

This was my first try at screen recording on my new computer with Nvidia’s ShadowPlay that came with their GeForce GTX970. I’d say it’s definitely the smoothest animation I’ve ever been able to record, so this is definitely the way I’ll do it from now on.

Also, I went ahead a set up a Patreon account here: Sean on Patreon. Of course, funding is always a great help to any artist. This will also allow me to sort-of sell tracks as I finish them rather than having to put out singles on bandcamp or something while I’m saving tracks for an album. Although I’m not really selling them; rather, I’m offering them as a reward for tip-jar donations. Which may amount to the same thing in some people’s eyes, but I’m not sure I’d really consider Patreon that sort of an eCommerce site.

This will also ensure that I release at least two new pieces a month, as I’ll be obligated. (I suppose if something drastic comes up, I can always suspend donations for a month or two, but completing at least two tracks a month won’t be difficult.)

A big thank you to anyone who pledges!

Common story arcs as identified by AI

According to this article:

researchers from the University of Vermont and the University of Adelaide determined the core emotional trajectories of stories by taking advantage of advances in computing power and natural language processing to analyze the emotional arcs of 1,737 fictional works in English available in the online library Project Gutenberg.

The paper can be found on arXiv.org. They discovered six emotional arcs (which also just happen to exhaust all possible alternating binary arcs… in other words, they didn’t really “discover” anything, haha)

1. Rags to Riches (rise)
2. Riches to Rags (fall)
3. Man in a Hole (fall then rise)
4. Icarus (rise then fall)
5. Cinderella (rise then fall then rise)
6. Oedipus (fall then rise then fall)

I’m not sure their results are all that helpful; any experienced storyteller understands this stuff naturally. It is somewhat interesting to see it correspond so strongly to a story’s word usage, though.

I was also interested in their little plot of the emotional arcs in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, which can also be found in this article from The Atlantic. If you check it out, you’ll notice that the second act conforms pretty perfectly to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat story beats. The first act mirrors this, in terms of there being three main peaks, or three pairs of falls and rises. I’ve started calling these “the three trials”, and most stories tend to conform to this. After the story’s catalyst (or including the story’s catalyst), the story goes through three falls and rises before reaching the “false high” of the midpoint. Many times, a rise will cause a fall in the B story. That is, the plot lines tend to alternate naturally with direction of the emotional arc (though not only at these points, mind you). For example, the hero might, say, punch a bully (rise in plot line A), only to discover his girlfriend wants to break up with him (fall in plot line B).

The “three trials” may be subtle, such as the thematic arguing in the first half of Jurassic Park. (Though if you’re going to make them as subtle as they are in Jurassic Park, the theme better be as interesting as resurrecting dinosaurs. And the characters should actually argue their sides as adamantly as John Hammond and Ian Malcolm; they can’t just stand there and wonder.) I’d identify the three trials of Jurassic Park as:

1. “Life finds a way” – After the thrill (rise) of seeing their first dinosaurs, Ian Malcolm argues the whole thing is bound to end in disaster (fall)
2. “Dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour?” – The guests are excited to start their tour (rise) but fail to actually see any dinos (fall)
3. “Nedry’s betrayal” – The guests are happy to gather around a sickly dino (rise) but as a looming storm forces the tour to be cancelled, Nedry begins his plan of betrayal (fall)

The escape of the t-rex then serves as the midpoint of the film.

OK, that was a tangent, but it’s a good plotting exercise to identify the “three trials” of a story’s first act; I have found it helps a lot in plotting. The arcs of stories that are more “episodic” may not be connected so much, whereas in tighter stories, each rise causes the following fall, and each fall leads to or makes possible the following rise.

(On a side note, it would be interesting to see how film music conforms to these emotional arcs.)

The Atlantic article goes on to mention:

Eventually, he says, this research could help scientists train machines to reverse-engineer what they learn about story trajectory to generate their own compelling original works.

OK, good luck with that. I think emotional-arc mapping should be the least of your concerns if you’re striving for computer-generated stories.

The article writer from the No Film School article, on the other hand, goes on to write:

But I sincerely doubt a computer or AI that we train to write stories will ever be able to find joy, no matter how much emotional value we assign to its database of words.

But, uh…. who cares if the computer can “find joy”? Your role as an audience member, as a consumer of a product, does not necessarily need to include making some emotional connection with the author, as that can only ever be imagined in your own head to begin with. This is similar to the morons who experience an uneasiness listening to computer generated music, as though all this time they were imagining the beauty of music came not from something eternal in nature, but was rather infused into the music by the author’s brain, as though the author created the beauty rather than merely discovered it in the realms of infinite possibility. Does that distinction make sense?

I doubt anyone needs to be concerned about AI storytelling anytime soon though, anyway, as we still don’t quite understand our human ability to use language. We’re much closer to programming a Mozart Symphony Generator (we’re only a fraction of an inch away from that, if not already there). Problem with language programming is that a lot AI researchers try to “cheat”; rather than searching for a deeper understanding of how humans use language, they try to turn it into a simple numbers game, like gathering statistics on word associations. That may be useful for autocomplete functions, but won’t help much with the creation of a serious story, or even a serious paragraph. Words have meanings, and you can’t simply take those meanings for granted, as if they’ll just take care of themselves if you map out word associations enough. We may need to figure out a way to represent those meanings without having to create a bunch of “experiences” for a computer to associate them with, if that’s possible. I have no idea. (And if I did, I would keep it a secret so that I could use it in a grand conspiracy to take over the world, which would fail, but would be turned into a great Hollywood film.)


Another interesting website to fool around with is whatismymovie?, an attempt at creating an AI to help you find an interesting movie. It sometimes comes up with some strange results, but it’s fun to play around with.

Media consumption log

I have started a new blog called Media Consumption Log.  I will post my comments (for they are often too short and inane for me to consider them “reviews”) on the media I consume over there.  My comments on films I’ve watched will also appear over there.  I wanted to keep a log of my own consumption and commentary for my future reference, but I didn’t want to bog down this blog with such posts.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’m also not linking my media consumption blog to Twitter or Facebook, so I won’t be inadvertently spamming friends every time I update it.

Goodreads

I finally created an account on Goodreads not long ago, so if you’re ever wondering what I’m reading or what page I’m on, you can find out there on my account. I’m usually reading multiple books at a time, and I’m a slow reader, so it can take me a while to get through just one book. I’ll be interested to see precisely how long as Goodreads helps me keep track. You can also see most of the books I finished reading since middle school, at least the ones I remember, and some of the books I’m planning on reading at some point. I know the world is very interested in this information, so there it is.

Dragon catching

I started a new blog called Catching a Dragon, which is where I’ll start posting anything having to do with my adventures in writing fantasy. It’s very much a branding decision. If I ever have the slightest possibility of getting a middle-grade fantasy novel published, would I want potential readers coming here, where there are random philosophical essays on morality and controversial blatherings on the state of public education? It might be wiser to have a site dedicated completely to the fantasy writing part of me. So that’s what I’m going to start doing. Not that I’ll abandon this blog, but I might take my name off it so that Google will eventually point to the other blog if some potential reader Googles my name. And when I give up on writing, I’ll just delete that blog. But that’s never gonna happen…

VUDU looks useless

This article seemed interesting. I guess the movie studios are really hating not being able to capitalize on Netflix’s streaming success (which, quality-wise, isn’t even that great):

At a press conference today in Los Angeles, the company announced that, as rumored, it’s launching a new program called the Disc to Digital service. Starting on April 16, anyone can bring their DVD collection into a Walmart store, and copies of each movie will be loaded onto your account on VUDU…

To make this happen, Walmart is partnering with 20th Century Fox, Universal, Sony Pictures, Paramount, and Warner Bros., and it sounds like the program will include any DVD released by those studios. (Executives from all five took the stage at Walmart’s event.) The system will also integrate with the UltraViolet digital locker platform that the studios have been pushing, making UltraViolet titles available through VUDU.

Um… I guess that’s nice, but are they really loading your movies on to VUDU, or just unlocking access to them? And if they’re just unlocking access to them, should that really cost so much?

I personally prefer to watch blu-rays on my laptop. A movie theater provides the best movie-watching experience (though I wish I could help them get the sound and focus at just the right levels), but a blu-ray on the laptop is the next best thing. Then DVD. Then streaming. Streaming is awful, quality-wise. VUDU says it allows HD streaming to TVs via various devices, but I’m not sure most Internet connections can support that yet, at least not around here; and even if they could, it seems like a terrible waste of resources. And it doesn’t support HD streaming to PCs. And it doesn’t support mobile Android devices.

And the prices to rent or buy digital content from them are ridiculous.

So, as far as I can tell, this is pretty much useless at the moment. I’ll stick to buying blu-rays, or renting them from Netflix.

Roll of queries, hear my cry

Last night I sent out another small batch of query letters to producers regarding my screenplay The Melody Box, only this time I made mention of my small new site www.TheRealMelodyBox.com, showing off my attempt at programming a program that does what the melody box in the screenplay does: generates melodies. I’m hoping the potential software-movie tie-in will appeal to someone out there. It’s a bit of a long shot, but any attempt to break into the film business from the outside is probably a long shot. But it would probably be the most rewarding, I imagine. So we’ll see what happens. I hope to send out some more query letters over the weekend, and a friend suggested making a YouTube video with some of the melodies arranged into a more orchestrated piece, which I also hope to do over the weekend. Luck, be a lady…

Homepage redesign

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’ve redesigned my main site. It is now extremely simple, mostly just a collection of links. That’s really the only purpose it was serving before, but it was much more cluttered and clunky, and the CMS I was using (called “Dragonfly”) was out-of-date and had some problems rejecting certain IPs and newer browsers. I did have some forums there which had about 35 members, but I doubt many will miss it; most people registered, posted a few questions to me, then left forever. In case any future visitors want to do the same, I created a new forum with phpBB, though until I become rich and famous, I know that it won’t get much traffic. Now I just need to recreate a “links” section for it…

What do you think of the WizardWalk.com redesign?

  • I have never seen true beauty until this day (67%, 2 Votes)
  • It's just OK, and I don't really care (33%, 1 Votes)
  • It's pretty good, but not great (0%, 0 Votes)
  • It's kinda lame (0%, 0 Votes)
  • I have never felt so sick from just a website (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 3

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Freedom to Learn by Peter Gray

I recently came across this blog: Freedom to Learn by Peter Gray.

There are a bunch of interesting articles there, and I haven’t read them all. But I really appreciate some of them; they echo what I’ve been saying all along, and it’s always nice to feed my confirmation bias.

In one article, Gray writes:

We can use all the euphemisms we want, but the literal truth is that schools, as they generally exist in the United States and other modern countries, are prisons. Human beings within a certain age range (most commonly 6 to 16) are required by law to spend a good portion of their time there, and while there they are told what they must do, and the orders are generally enforced. They have no or very little voice in forming the rules they must follow. A prison–according to the common, general definition–is any place of involuntary confinement and restriction of liberty.

I recently talked to a teacher who was complaining about the things the school system made teachers do, and I asked: “Then why do you do it?” The answer was something like: “For the hope it might get better.” I said: “That’s pathetic!” but at least it wasn’t some BS about how much the teacher loved kids and knowledge and making a difference, etc. Some teachers will make a huge point of their pure intentions, as if that somehow absolves them of any wrongdoing. The truth, however, is probably quite apparent to most of us, it’s just considered rude to talk about: most teachers became teachers because they didn’t know what else to do.

I can certainly sympathize with the plight of getting out of college and not finding any jobs available that I would actually want. But becoming a teacher, especially if you have serious disagreements about how the education institution does things, seems pretty dumb to me. What should you do instead? I must admit, I’m not sure; not going to college in the first place might help.

But don’t you think an excellent way to make our education systems change would be to help them experience a shortage of teachers? I can’t imagine you being able to change too much from the inside, after you join a labor union which doesn’t agree with your position.

In another post, Gray responds to Daniel T. Willingham’s book Why Don’t Students Like School?, a book I blogged a bit about on my Book Quotes blog. Gray writes:

Willingham’s thesis is that students don’t like school because their teachers don’t have a full understanding of certain cognitive principles and therefore don’t teach as well as they could. They don’t present material in ways that appeal best to students’ minds. Presumably, if teachers followed Willingham’s advice and used the latest information cognitive science has to offer about how the mind works, students would love school.

Talk about avoiding the elephant in the room!

Ask any schoolchild why they don’t like school and they’ll tell you. “School is prison.” They may not use those words, because they’re too polite, or maybe they’ve already been brainwashed to believe that school is for their own good and therefore it can’t be prison. But decipher their words and the translation generally is, “School is prison.”

See? I told you so.

OK, most of Gray’s articles are not about schools being prison, but he does bring up the notion of “freedom” a lot from a psychological point of view, from the idea that a sense of freedom is an innate psychological desire for all humans, including children. And it seems right to me; I certainly have a sense of freedom and hate having to do stuff I didn’t choose to do. In fact, (and I’ve said this before) I’d say the common reason parents and teenagers clash is because the teenager is psychologically ready and thirsty for more freedom, but parents and society don’t give it.