RIP, Sir Terry Pratchett

66 years old. Far, far too soon.

One of the few authors for whom Kate and I have tried to maintain a complete collection. We've never quite been able to keep up, because this brilliant, funny, angry man was simply so prolific.

He is one of my favorite authors to read; I did so in small doses because even the lightest-seeming book contained themes that deserved weeks or months of reflection.

He was a giant, and he will be missed.

Pratchett Himself
Terry Pratchett kindly posed with his hat for us.

Hit the dog park this morning with Kate. Spent most of the walk getting her reaction(s) to the new book, so it's already a pretty good day

It's difficult, I've found, to figure out what you've got when you finish a big story (and this one is big) – it's like working as a blind sculptor: you know the shape of the thing as you perceive it, but really have no idea if it scans as intended for anyone else.

Kate's approach to reading something new is always as a reader, first and foremost – for the enjoyment of it – and after having put parts of this thing through so many technical feedback loops and workshops, getting a "reader reaction" from someone was so incredibly helpful (and gets me past the post-completion "I suspect this thing I made is terrible" funk.)

The upshot of the conversation was "the story is doing all the things I want it to do," so I'm happy.

Technology

I've been thinking about this more and more as I consider the idea of friction — of resistance — in my life, and how to eliminate it.

To paraphrase and subvert the standard definition, technology is the collective term for techniques, methods, and/or processes that make an activity easier. Cooking has tech. Hunting has tech. Manufacturing, from machinery to millinery, has tech. Scientific investigation has tech.

Basically, if it's something humans do, we've come up with tech that makes it easier to do.

Sometimes, we iterate on that tech endlessly (see: ways to kill each other), sometimes, we figure out the best option right away and leave it (see: the wheel and/or lever).

Sometimes – the majority of the time, probably – an attempted improvement to existing tech fails to make The Thing easier (whatever The Thing is). In those instances, the iteration is discarded or is itself iterated on until is does improve The Thing.

This is so obvious it seems silly to say; if you do a thing that makes the existing tech worse, that is failed tech. (Maybe not a failed attempt, if it teaches us something, but it is failed tech.)

In short, good technology – functional technology – reduces friction: it makes the effort required for A Thing, less. If it doesn't do that, it is not technology.

By this definition, DRM – Digital Rights Management – as it is implemented today by various media industries, is not technology.

It's not a failed iteration of technology; if DRM were completely successful in its purpose (it isn't), it still fails to meet the one criterion for technology: it does not reduce friction for whatever Thing it affects. In a perfect world (which, again, this isn't) it might theoretically achieve a state of adding no additional friction, but it will never make friction less.

It is, in short, doing nothing but making things worse.

Today, it makes it harder to get to your stuff. Tomorrow, that difficulty increases, and as time goes on, so does that difficulty, until we reach a point where The Thing no longer works because of this anti-technology.

Until we reach a point where we've lost years or decades of our culture because we let our Things be locked in vaults we didn't control, to benefit people who only exist to sell keys.

Silly Old Bear

This evening, while getting ready for bed, Sean pointed out the lamp on his dresser and said "I have a book about that bear."

The lamp in question is a ceramic sort of thing, the body painted to look like a tree, and the broad base painted to look like grass. On the grass there's a rather mopey looking Eeyore, and Kanga and Roo, and about three quarters of the way up the tree there's a somewhat faded bear, trying to look innocent, with a paw buried inside a hole in the tree.

It's quite an old lamp – I'm pretty sure my mom bought it to decorate my room before I was born, or perhaps a bit after – and it's the reason there's a Winnie the Pooh theme to Sean's room.

Sean has never so much as mentioned it before, ever.

"Yes," I said, "I'm pretty sure you do have a book about that bear. Would you like to read it for bedtime?"

Sean frowned. "No, the book is at school."

(Sean has a very… proprietary relationship with the small classroom library at his pre-school.)

"We have one here too," I explained, and pulled out a very hefty Complete Winnie the Pooh hardcover book from the bottom of his bookshelf. "Do you want me to read you a story?"

"I wanted a super hero story…"

"Well," I said, checking the clock, "I can read you one of each, as a treat."

He considered this, somewhat suspiciously, but seemed moved by the offer of extra stories. "Okay."

So I read the very first Pooh story, in which Pooh climbs a tree for some honey ("Like on the lamp!") and falls back down, and gets help from Christopher Robin in a rain cloud-based bee deception. There was a lot of giggling and complete concentration from Sean.

It's pretty long for a four year old: twenty pages, with only small illustrations, and probably the longest single story he's sat still for, as far as I know.

We finished the story and, as I've done in the past, I told him the title of the next story in the book, so he'd know what to look forward to, and turned to check out the selection of "Golden" super friends stories.

Sean kept looking at the opening illustration of the next story (something about Pooh getting stuck in the door at Rabbit's house… you might have heard of it), and fingering the pages.

"Sean?"

"Yeah…"

"Do you want me to read another Pooh story, or a super hero story?" I asked.

He paused, really giving it some thought. It's no small thing, if you're this kid, putting Batman on the back burner even for one night.

"I want another Pooh story," he whispered.

So I hid a smile, we read, and when we were done Sean climbed up, retrieved a stuffed Pooh-bear from a shelf above his bed, and tucked into his pillow without a word of complaint.

First couple steps into the hundred-acre woods. A pretty good night.

Past vs. Present

Something I find interesting about the past-vs-present storytelling debate: despite the perceived/actual dominance of past tense in novels, many stories and anecdotes people tell each other face to face are told in present tense, even though these events obviously happened in the past.

This isn't a perfect example, but if you listen to this interview with my grandfather – http://www.dakotastories.org/homefront/Miller/RussellTesterman.html – at 8:11 or so into the interview, when he's talking about going fishing with hand grenades and starts telling the story, a lot of his phrasing is in present tense.

The captain says, "I need you to get these men out of here…"

The sergeant says to me, "We can take em fishing…"

So we toss in the grenades, and they stun the fish, which just float up to the top of the water…

As I said, it's not consistent in this example, but my recollection of stories told among family and friends is that they often almost lapse into present tense naturally, to draw the listener in, perhaps, or put them in the moment, or just because it's more comfortable for the speaker.

Come to think of it, jokes are often told in present tense, too.

A man walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder…

Anyway, the point of this musing is that I don't personally think present tense is as unusual in storytelling as some of the essays I read seem to imply. I certainly don't think past tense is any more (or less) the 'natural mode' for such things.

Homefront South Dakota
HOMEFRONT: South Dakota Stories Russell Testerman, veteran. Miller. Russell Testerman, 2007. Audio interview. Listen to the following interview sections by scrolling forward to the time cue. 0:00 Drafted into the military at 18. Married and a father 3:14 War is over 6:14 90 day wonders …

"In the Canon MF8280’s world, paper has only one side. If paper has TWO sides in your world, this is the wrong machine for you."

I posted a product review on Amazon, today.

I do not do this very often, so you know this particular product had to really be something special.

Amazon.com:

D. Testerman’s review of Canon imageCLASS MF8280cw Wireless 4-In-1 …
Find helpful customer reviews and review ratings for Canon imageCLASS MF8280cw Wireless 4-In-1 Color Laser Multifunction Printer with Scanner, Copier and Fax at Amazon.com. Read honest and unbiased product reviews from our users.