by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Internet”

Draw Something

Posted 25 March 2012 in by Catriona

Like so many other people with some sort of iThing, I’m completely and utterly obsessed with Draw Something at the moment. In fact, both Nick and I are. We’ll sit there, each with our iThing, in front of the television and catch up on our current games.

Hmm. That makes our lives sound a bit like a blackly humorous 21st-century BBC sitcom.

Either way, we’re not above boasting to each other about our favourite of our own drawings. And while boasting to one’s partner has its advantages, sooner or later one tends to crave a larger audience.

I think I’ve just about perfected my tentacles by this point:

I’m also rapidly improving my Vikings:

And then, every now and again, you get to stretch yourself a little:

Clearly, my primary artistic influences are Monet and Renoir.

Oh, and Dick Bruno.

Urban Futility

Posted 29 July 2010 in by Catriona

I added Social City on Facebook this week, because a friend has become addicted to it and was begging for more neighbours. But like the Sim City on which it is, I believe, strongly modelled, it’s a strangely compelling game.

Compelling and horrifying.

At least, I find the following things disturbing.

My little bungalows (the only type of housing I can currently afford) put out ten new citizens every seven minutes. Really? What on Earth are they doing in there? I asked Nick this, and he said, “Um, bonking, apparently.” But even that doesn’t explain the sheer scale of the population growth—unless perhaps this is a city for rabbits.

I can only assume they’ve got some kind of accelerated cloning apparatus in each house. That would explain why all my citizens look slightly similar.

I also built a road all the way around two edges of my map before I realised that I’d need to con friends into adding the application if I wanted to expand the map any further. I might delete the road, but in the meantime, my citizens are strolling happily along the footpaths on the very edge of the map. It makes me vertiginous just watching them. I keep wanting to shout at them, “You’re going to fall off the edge of the known universe! Right off the edge!”

Sometimes, the citizens also get trapped. I built them a leisure centre because apparently they were unhappy. And then I noticed one poor citizen was trapped in a loop in the parking lot, just walking in circles and occasionally pixellating.

She might still be doing it, actually. Eventually, I grew too horrified to look, and moved the map down on the screen so I couldn’t see that corner.

But the futile horror that underlies the city really shows best in the factories.

The factory actions are mechanically repetitive. I’ve got a little blue truck in my Blamco factory (Blamco is currently manufacturing soft toys) that has been accepting crates off a conveyor belt for at least the last four hours. I mean, I haven’t been watching it steadily all that time, but every time I look, the conveyor belt is still stuffing it with crates. Is it a TARDIS? Where are all the crates going?

And next door to Blamco, there’s a forklift in the grounds of another factory. It lifts a crate, does a U-turn, and drops the crate. Then the crate vanishes and reappears in its original location, and the forklift driver does it all over again. And again. And again.

And the only products I’m allowed to build in my factories are soft toys, prom dresses, CDs, and something that looks suspiciously like Twinkies. I have a hideous feeling that my city is populated entirely by characters from 1990s’ high-school movies—or, in other words, it’s a population of clever but plain girls (plain, that is, until they take off their glasses, swap their paint-stained overalls for a cute dress, and take their hair out of that ponytail) who go dress shopping because the cute-and-popular guy just asked them to prom, but then find out it was all for a dare, slap him, and go home to hug their soft toys, eat Twinkies, and listen to country-and-western music.

Is this city some kind of Purgatory? That would explain my citizens restlessly prowling the perimeter but never actually falling into the void.

Are all the high-school mean girls forced to live out their afterlives here as the objects of their own cruel jokes, while Sisyphean forklift drivers toil endlessly in the background?

Can I accept being the architect of such a demi-Hellish landscape?

Moffat's Women (Via Tor)

Posted 30 January 2010 in by Catriona

This never has been a link blog, but sometime I come across things that I really want to share, and this is one of them.

Thanks to a link that Matt Smith tweeted today, I’ve come across a series on Tor.com about Steven Moffat’s women.

My deep and abiding love for Doctor Who is no surprise to anyone reading this blog—or, if it is, hit the link to “Doctor Who” on the right there.

My deep and abiding love for Steven Moffat is no surprise, either.

So how could I not offer these links?

I suspect the series is incomplete: after all, Steven Moffat also created River Song.

But here are the first three parts:

Nancy.

Reinette.

Sally Sparrow.

(On a side note, I spent some time while reading these wondering if the writer had ever watched Press Gang. If you grew up on Lynda Day, you tend to expect strong women from Steven Moffat—and he hasn’t let me down yet.)

I Make My Own Fun

Posted 2 November 2009 in by Catriona

I spent much of yesterday completing a job-application package and occasionally tweeting about the process, as follows:

Selection criteria are sent to try us. Is it too much to ask that someone just give me a job without my applying? Oh, wait: yes. Yes, it is.

Still, I think academia should have the option to just “discover” an academic, maybe in a library. You know, like a model in a coffee shop.

I mean, how great would that be? “Excuse me, Doctor. I see you’re reading up on Victorian literature. Have you considered academia at all?”

“Here’s my card, if you want to give academia a try. Don’t worry: it’s a real university. Bring your research assistant, if you’d rather.”

“I mean, I’ve seen a lot of potential academics come through this library, but your brain’s really unusual, you know? That’s hot right now.”

“Let me guess: your father was a Leavisite, but your mother was part Marxist—New Historicist, maybe? Yeah, yeah: I can see that, now.”

“It’ll just be a couple of Tier 2 journals to begin with: can’t expect the big time straightaway. Seriously, Doctor, take my card. Call me!”

Sadly, It's Not That Kind Of Blog This Time, Either

Posted 28 October 2009 in by Catriona

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy the Google searches that bring people to The Circulating Library. So here’s another selection of Google searches from the past few weeks.

People have been busily searching for Nancy Drew, it seems, because I’ve had hits from the following searches:

  • “Nancy Drew pants.” I love this one. Are these like Daisy Dukes, d’you think? Because I seem to remember Nancy favouring skirts.
  • “Nancy Drew: Who is the champion of cheaters now?” I don’t know! Though there was that one time the young Nancy investigated the case of someone wiping her name off the list of volunteers for an ice-skating competition. I think there was some cheating involved in that.
  • “Nancy Drew using a torch.” I have no idea whether the impulse behind this is a little kinky or not, but I should try and find a picture of Nancy using a torch, just in case the search is repeated.

This one is only peripherally related to Nancy Drew:

  • “Detective girls in bondage.” I said to Nick, “How do you suppose, if they’re in bondage, you can tell they’re detective girls? D’you think they’d still be holding their magnifying glasses?” Still, it’s all in line with the most popular search that brings people to my site, which is still “Agatha Heterodyne porn.”

There’s also been a small flurry of Barbie searches, including the following:

  • “Servant Barbies.” Sadly, for all her unrealistic body image, I think Barbie’s careers were always more high-flying than this, weren’t they?
  • “Barbie and Ken in bedroom.” And the dolls aren’t even anatomically correct . . .

And some slightly more random searches:

  • “Three pairs of tweezers.” Gasp! The geckoes’ invasion plans continue apace! Quick, anonymous Googler: hide your cheese slicer!
  • “The dangers of coffee.” I suspect they were thinking more of heart palpitations and less of that time I spilt it on myself and then blogged about it.
  • “The song that the boy is trying to run away and he has to marry the goblin princess.” I’m sorry that I’ve never heard of this song, because it sounds fabulous.
  • “Fictional characters with heart disease.” So specific! I always wonder about the impulse behind these types of searches, but I dare say it’s just rampant curiosity. Wikipedia should have a list of these fictional characters.
  • “Leavisite English department.” I wonder: running towards or running away from?
  • “Cow + gate.” I mainly included this one because I cannot for the life of me remember using those two words in conjunction on this blog.

But this one is my current favourite:

  • “Brust milk.” I said to Nick, “A fellow Kiwi? Or do you think Steven Brust has started a side business?”

The Books of the Circulating Library

Posted 4 October 2009 in by Catriona

I’ve mentioned before my struggles with Delicious Library 2, and my belief that, while it’s a wonderful invention, adding my back catalogue to it might actually kill me.

(Okay, I may not have phrased it quite that way, but I was thinking it.)

So this brings me to the new link I’ve added to my blogroll over there to your right: a slightly inaccurate link, since it’s not a blog, at all. It’s my library, which I’ve uploaded to space on the Internet.

Partly, I’m looking for a way to catalogue my books offline (though, having cleverly downloaded the app. before Amazon removed the rights to their catalogue for mobile apps, for reasons best known only to themselves, I do also have a copy of the catalogue on my iPhone).

Partly, though, it’s because this is, after all, the Circulating Library. I talk about my books here. I even fetishise my books here (and, honestly, everywhere else).

And linking to this catalogue means you can take a wander along my shelves, if you so wish.

The application does set the books out on shelves, so it feels as much like browsing a library as you can get on the Internet.

The application generates a primary shelf, which includes (in alphabetical order by author) every book you enter, and then allows you to create sub-shelves by author, genre, or any other category that helps you make sense of the chaos. When you’re dealing with a large number of books, the sub-shelves help keep the system saner than it often is in real life: they contain everything that’s on the primary shelf, but in small, easily digestible packets.

I chose only to publish my sub-shelves. I store some items on multiple shelves, so, for example, vampire boarding-school stories turn up under “Children’s Fantasy and Science Fiction” and “Girls’ School Stories,” just so I can always be sure of finding them. And some categories are under-represented, so far—like “Art”—because I haven’t made my way around to the bookcase on which they’re stored yet.

These 1800 books are not a complete record of all the books I own: it’s a library catalogue in progress.

Feel free to browse.

A Poor Excuse For An Update

Posted 21 July 2009 in by Catriona

I’ve been at a conference today—and, I tell you, you will never see so many male librarians in one place as you will at the annual conference for the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand—and I’m there again tomorrow, presenting a paper that, now I’ve seen the sort of hardcore bibliographical studies that made up today’s programme, I’m more than a little worried about.

So this is a poor excuse for an update, before I go back to my large glass of wine and Sookie Stackhouse novel.

Back in March, we celebrated Ada Lovelace Day, which I marked with a fairly nondescript post to links about Lovelace.

To make up for that, here is Ada Lovelace: The Origin, thanks to John over at The Memes of Production.

Talking About The Hottest 100 Of All Time

Posted 13 July 2009 in by Catriona

I’ve given a cursory glimpse at my reaction to the Hottest 100 Of All Time here.

But for a much cleverer engagement that looks at the overwhelming absence of women vocalists—two women? Both guest vocalists on Massive Attack songs? Not a single band with a permanent female vocalist?—head over to The Memes of Production right here, where there’s a fascinating post and quite the discussion building.

Tweeting Triple J's Hottest 100 Of All Time

Posted 12 July 2009 in by Catriona

Why, yes: I am lazily copying content from one site to another. But what happened for (much of) my immediate social group and extended Twitter network was a flurry of tweets on the this weekend’s Hottest 100 Of All Time on Triple J. I didn’t contribute yesterday, particularly, but I did tweet extensively today while streaming the radio over the Internet, and I’m not keen on letting all that material disappear into the ether—or, at least, not my selected tweets.

So if you follow me on Twitter, you might just want to skip this post. But at the very least, it gives you the chance to mock my taste in music.

(For the record, I’m running them in chronological order, starting with the earliest.)

First positive love song Axel wrote? Well, as an adult woman, I don’t care to called a child, but then I’m not the only woman in the world.

Smashing Pumpkins allowed me to strip my bed linen. Spend your early 20s exclusively socialising with guys, & you get over Smashing Pumpkins.

Does anyone else feel compelled to shout, “Run, Rorschach! Run!” while listening to “All Along the Watchtower”?

I will remain silent on the subject of Radiohead for fear of virtual lynching. (“Burst into tears straight afterwards”? Snort.)

Dangling modifier! Hunters and Collectors were never “quietly released as a single,” in the ’80s or otherwise.

If I had my way, Madonna would never sing anything ever, and certainly nothing that Liz Fraser could sing instead.

So number 20 is by a band I’ve never consciously listened to? This is it: I am officially old.

Now this is seriously one (hee!) of my favourite songs. Who is up for a bit of synchronised head-banging?

Ah, Kirk Hammett. I’d tell you I love you, but you’re not actually, you know, within earshot right now.

Now we’re with Muse? Well, guess I’d better be getting my Twilight novels out, then.

I thought I was listening to Muse, but this seems to be Queen’s Flash Gordon soundtrack, here . . .

Radiohead? Wake me up when this is over.

“The feeling of life sucking or being pointless is not the same as the feeling of listening to ‘Bittersweet Symphony’.” Hee!

Come now—the early ’90s were all about self-loathing. It was our schtick.

Hee! [Nick] is playing air-guitar to Radiohead, and don’t let him tell you otherwise.

Oasis? OASIS?! Well, all right then. As long as I can think vicious thoughts about Liam Gallagher while it plays.

Still, Oasis is a good chance to walk around. Bits of me have gone a little “number 53 on the countdown” by this point.

“And no religion, too”? “And no religion, either,” I would have thought. But I suppose that doesn’t scan. Fair enough, John.

I’m sorry, Led Zeppelin, but I’m inclined to be highly alarmed by bustling in my hedgerow.

Foo Fighters? Well, I have to admit that I didn’t see this coming. This is becoming the Dave Grohl Hottest 100 of all time.

D’you, I’m genuinely surprised to see “Under the Bridge” up here. It’s of my youth, of course, but I thought we were over it.

“You sit around doing heroin or cocaine, you’re really going to hurt yourself”? Quelle surprise!

Well, [Nick] managed to kill the stream for the entire duration of that song. He needs to stop touching things.

I have nothing else to say about Radiohead. But I might be the only one.

Why, however, am I listening to Wil Anderson on the topic of Rage Against The Machine? Please, no.

I can sympathise with Daniel Johns on the pain of growing up in the era of Warrant.

Sadly, It's Not That Kind Of Blog

Posted 28 May 2009 in by Catriona

I’m been obsessed with reading my visitor logs since I started this blog last year. And one of the things I love most is seeing the Google searches that bring people here.

Unfortunately, I suspect that The Circulating Library is a disappointment to some of these readers.

Nevertheless, these are some of my favourite Google searches from the last few weeks:

  • “pompous Victorian male.” You know, I really should have more pictures of pompous Victorian men on this blog, now I think about it. For now, I’ll have to settle for this one.
  • “deaths of fictional characters.” This is a far, far more popular search than I had ever imagined. Then again, I do often find myself, halfway through novels, thinking, “Oh, just die!” I can be an impatient reader.
  • “Jack meets Ianto.” See, to me, this is one of the delights of Torchwood: the programme is its own slash fiction. (I know that slash fiction originally marked fan fiction about two heterosexual characters, but when we met Ianto, he had a girlfriend and we had no idea he also liked boys, and Jack is interested in anyone, regardless of gender or species. So “slash” still fits.)
  • “Victorian plaid.” Yet another topic I don’t cover often enough on the blog—except for that one time. May I also suggest (yet again!) the excellent Hugh Trevor-Roper chapter on the Victorian creation of Scottishness, from this book? You won’t regret it.
  • “tied-up kneesocks.” This suggests to me a curiously specific and accessory-focused type of bondage porn, but I suspect they were really looking for something more like this. Or perhaps this. Actually, I could become a sock fetishist quite easily.
  • “worried about young Christian Anholt.” Oh, me too, anonymous reader! At least, I was worried about Christien Anholt when he was Perkins in “The Curse of Fenric” (Doctor Who): that was a bad situation to be in. And I was even more worried about him when he was Donald Cooper in “The Last Word” (Press Gang). I’m excessively worried about him now I’ve just found out he was in sixty-five episode of Relic Hunter, but I suppose you’d call that a different kind of worried.
  • Naughtiest Girl in School pictures.” Much like the “tied-up kneesocks,” I think this sounds more salacious than it’s supposed to . . .
  • Agatha Heterodyne porn.” Not on my blog! Though considering how often she appears in her underwear in the first few books, Girl Genius itself basically is Agatha Heterodyne porn—if you have a penchant for corsets and bloomers.
  • “Davros + narcissist.” Well, I won’t disagree with you there, anonymous reader. But I have a feeling that if I used the word “narcissist” on the blog, it would have referred to a different character altogether . . .
  • “textual criticism of Mary Poppins.” Well, no. But it’s an excellent idea, and one I might well come back to.
  • “inflatable Dalek.” Finally! A reader who shouldn’t be disappointed by the results of their search!
  • “Sontaran haka + ridiculous.” Well, that was technically Tim’s argument rather than mine, but I’ll take all the Google search results I can get.
  • “Barbie syndrome.” According to the infallible Wikipedia, Barbie syndrome is the desire to look like Barbie. And I’m glad I looked that up, because all I had was a vague memory of reading somewhere—probably in Marie Claire or HQ in my dim and distant magazine-reading past—of a recognised phenomenon among young children of viciously mutilating Barbie dolls. Apparently, Barbie syndrome is not at all what I thought it was.
  • “Mr Darcy + wedding night.” Sorry, anonymous reader, but I have to refer you back to the title of this post. Sadly, this is simply not that kind of blog.

(And in the space since I started writing this, someone has come across the blog by Googling “David Eddings in prison + locking a boy up.” I can’t help you with that query, anonymous reader, but that is now by far my favourite Google search ever.)

Worst. Blogger. Ever.

Posted 31 March 2009 in by Catriona

I know. I know. And I don’t have anyone to blame but myself.

Well, myself and a combination of the following:

  • my parents visiting this week, which necessitates scrubbing out the spare room: it hasn’t been slept in since they visited last December for my graduation, and the dust levels were fairly bad—as you’d expect from a largely unoccupied room containing some thousand-odd books. It also contained the entire contents of the office that I had to give up last semester, so cleaning it wasn’t just cleaning it, but also involved finding space for eight years’ worth of office clutter. But I succeeded! Mostly. I still need to dust and vacuum.
  • a hideous cold, which I suspect I caught from either the wizard or the other ranger at last weekend’s Dungeons and Dragons session—I don’t know which, so shall mutter mild imprecations directed at both of them until I feel better. [Slight update: the wizard blames the halfling, but I have my suspicions about the veracity of that.] In the between-mutter spaces, I shall panic about how I’m going to lecture tomorrow, and what the chances of infecting my students are.
  • technically, the weekend’s Dungeons and Dragons session was another interruption to ordinary blogging activity, but it was such excellent fun that it doesn’t count.
  • interrupted sleep patterns. I think I know, largely, what’s causing them, but last night’s bad night (I didn’t get to sleep until well after three a.m.) was down to this hideous cold’s first symptom, a sore throat beyond any that I have previously experienced. After spending hours trying to beat it into submission with hot tea and my other favourite sore throat remedy (hot water and honey with a tablespoon or two of vinegar), I eventually had to take Panadol—Panadol! for a sore throat!—so I could snatch some sleep.

So now I’m snuffling, feeling sorry for myself, and drinking enormous quantities of tea, but the tidying of the spare room has at least turned up some odd stuff on the shelves.

I see a real post in the future . . .

My Day On Twitter; Or, How I Blatantly Recycle My Own Material

Posted 26 March 2009 in by Catriona

I’m very new to Twitter: I’ve not been using it for much more than a week. And, like many people, I was driven to it by Facebook.

Not by the new Twitterised Facebook design that so many Facebook users are denigrating, but by the fact that I really enjoy writing my Facebook status update. I started worrying that I was changing my status too often, and that this wasn’t giving people a chance to comment—and the ability to comment on status updates is one of the better changes Facebook has made in the time I’ve been using it.

Twitter seemed like a useful alternative: I could minimise my rewriting of my status update and yet still indulge my desire to frequently describe what I was doing in 140 characters or fewer.

That’s what delights me about both Facebook status updates and Twitter: that severe restriction of the word limit. I’ve worked with restricted word limits before—almost everything I write has some kind of word limit. But never, ever as restricted as this.

And I love the challenge. I love the way it forces me to sharpen my syntax, to think of synonyms that are equally effective but shorter, to make my point clear while removing all the pronouns from a sentence.

Oh, I’ve seen the arguments against Twitter, but that challenge is why I’m enjoying it—like my live-blogging over the last year, it’s a form of writing like no other I’ve ever done. With live-blogging, I have to be able to write quickly but succinctly, to be accurate and descriptive but also to provide commentary, to be able to keep the shape of the plot in place, to decide immediately what can be omitted without losing the reader. With Twitter, I’m forced to think constantly about the shape of what I’m writing, to compress it to a smaller, neater form.

But what’s an argument without examples? Since I’ve been writing on Twitter more often today than usual, here are today’s tweets in chronological order, earliest first:

Wondering what the “remember me” button on Twitter log-in page does? (Except for reminding me of Futurama episode.) It’s not remembering me.

Forced by presence of giant moth in garage to climb into car through passenger side. Hand brake really inconveniently placed, in my opinion.

Then nearly hit garage door on way out, because was for some reason obsessively checking whether moth moved, even though was secure in car.

Couldn’t get parked at uni, and had to drive home frantically and try to catch a bus that would get me in for my AFS hours. Success!

But had to leave car in driveway because of running late. If anyone drives though fence, may implode like Jagoroth ship in “City of Death.”

Then sat on bus behind teenage boy who had exactly the same haircut as I do—only it may have looked better on him. Strange day.

No students have come to see me. Such odd work, this: hours of frantic marking activity followed by stretches of silence and self-doubt.

But at least I’m not pursuing either a real or metaphorical Minotaur through stretches of labyrinthine programming code beyond my ken.

Nearly sideswiped by red Mazda with “That’s so sexual!” decal. Feel presence of such a decal cannot but cheapen my tragic, untimely death.

None of this is great literature, of course. No immortal thoughts. No “Eureka!” moments. Just anecdotes about my day in 140 characters or fewer, each one a tiny, unique writing challenge.

Why I'm Suddenly Not So Enamoured Of My Paladin

Posted 26 November 2008 in by Catriona

You know, I’d thought that Paks the paladin was a more successful adventurer in the Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures universe than retired Saeana, whose less savoury adventures I’ve chronicled elsewhere on the blog.

(Honestly: that elf and her predilection for incubi.)

But Paks—helped, I admit, by the Vorpal Greatsword I carried over from Saeana’s pack, which is really not a level one weapon—seemed to be passing through the adventures with more success and with fewer problematic moral choices—well, except for the time he faked a marriage with an orc maiden and then legged it with the wedding presents.

That was aberrant, hopefully.

But my brief absence from Tiny Adventures seems to have caused him to lose his panache: perhaps he’s rusty from disuse?

It seems so, since so far in today’s adventure—Red Plume Mountain, in which I’m apparently chasing down a thousand-year-old wizard called Byron Silvertongue, who has been leaving mocking poems at the site of cunning thefts. Naturally, when your parents saddle you with a name like “Byron,” you have to live up to it—he has:

  • fallen into a pit trap, while wandering casually around a deserted mine.
  • successfully beaten up some hobgoblins, which was a measure of success that didn’t last, since he was then
  • successfully beaten up by four brigands, after comprehensively failing an Armour Class check. But, seriously? Four brigands? That’s hardly a fair fight.
  • been skewered by the poison spikes of a kruthik. I don’t even know what that is, but it caused fourteen points of damage, which seems to be the main thing.
  • completely failed to find a mysterious and familiar-sounding bird that he could hear in the woods. On top of that, while he was searching for the bird, the merchants he’d been chatting with disappeared. Double fail, there.
  • more or less managed to outdistance a goblin horde, until he tried to jump off a cliff into a river, missed (how do you miss an entire river?), and broke his leg. That’s going to make the rest of the adventure a little tricky.
  • been severely beaten by a strongman who managed to get his Vorpal Greatsword off him. Now what’s the point of carrying a Vorpal Greatsword if you’re going to allow a long strongman to just take it off you?
  • fallen down a mountainside trying to help a young man who was hanging over a ravine. To add insult to injury, the man then broke his leg and Paks had to carry him up the mountainside—which is odd, since I’m quite certain Paks himself broke his leg jumping off that cliff. Perhaps there was a silent passage of time in the middle of the adventure?
  • ultimately failed the entire adventure—no surprise there, then—after this woeful encounter:

Paks found Byron Silvertongue sitting on a rock overlooking a beautiful mountain vista. Byron rose, turned, and confronted Paks. After a moment of baleful glaring, the wizard shot a vicious poem Paks’s way.

Paks made a Wisdom check with a difficulty of 17 . . . and rolled 9

Paks shouted some vulgarity back at Byron and charged. What Paks hadn’t realized was that the wizard’s words were also a spell, and he ran smack into an invisible wall of force, knocking himself out. When Paks awoke, Byron the Silvertongue was long gone, with the only remaining evidence being a small scroll with the poem inscribed upon it.

Really, Paks? A wizard—a one-thousand-year-old wizard, in fact—shouted at you and it didn’t occur to you that it might be a spell? So you knocked yourself out on an invisible wall? Now, that’s just embarrassing.

And “some vulgarity”? I hope, for your sake, it was at least a rude limerick.

Ack! It's Everywhere!

Posted 4 November 2008 in by Catriona

Okay, this rant is a clash between two of my current obsessions: Bones and sentence-level punctuation and grammar errors.

I’m not concerned about my obsession with Bones: it’s one of the few shows that we actually watch on telly, rather than waiting for the DVDs to come out, so it’s not much of an obsession. But the show is simultaneously grotesque and frequently hilarious, and I’ve always enjoyed David Boreanaz much more in comic roles.

(Angelus, for example, was much more fun than Angel—not that Angelus was funny. Well, in an incredibly dark sense, he was.)

The obsession with punctuation is not something I’ve kept secret.

I don’t claim for an instant that my writing is perfect at the sentence level. In fact, I know it’s not. Sometimes, when I look back over the past entries on the blog, I have to silently correct embarrassing mistakes that I should have spotted the first time around—especially in the live-blogging, though I tend to leave anything that’s not a factual error, to maintain the authenticity of the process.

But I maintain that it is at least competent.

And for five years or more, I’ve been teaching writing courses that rarely extend beyond the paragraph level, so I’ve become more and more attuned to spotting sentence-level errors—largely, of course, the more common errors.

And today those two obsessions clashed horribly, when I was looking up the details on a forthcoming episode of Bones on Your TV:

Bones
The Pain in the Heart
9.30pm – 10.30pm Seven
Monday 10 November 2008
In an episode that will rock the lab to it’s core, a well known serial killer strikes again and when crutial evidence mysteriously goes missing, every Jeffersonian employee becomes a suspect.

The odd thing is that I’ve never noticed this quantity of errors on the site before.

I could let the absence of a hyphen in the compound adjective slide.

But that mistake with “its”? That’s basic—and it’s not that difficult to distinguish between the two uses. Though we all type the wrong one occasionally, it’s not too tricky to correct any errors on a read-through.

And the misspelling of “crucial”? Oh, lord.

In the courses that I teach, we have a draconian attitude towards spelling errors because, as we emphasise each semester, nothing will ruin your credibility with a reader faster than a spelling error.

That’s certainly true here—especially since any computer-based spell checker would have picked that one up.

The Television Without Pity Malaise

Posted 2 November 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve been putting off writing about my current discomfort with the way in which Television Without Pity has been reshaped recently.

But I’m cranky today.

Partly it’s general end-of-semester tiredness.

Partly it’s because I just made it to the end of a Lego Batman level, realised my computer-controlled companion—needed to help me operate a two-handed switch—had disappeared, and had to run all the way to the beginning of the level, where I found him hiding under a set of stairs. Why? Who knows. He wasn’t stuck; he was just standing there.

Partly it’s because I’ve finally begun reading a Margery Allingham novel—the only one of the four great female writers of Golden Age detective fiction whom I haven’t read—and, only twenty-two pages in, Albert Campion is irritating me.

But partly it’s because I read a Television Without Pity recap this morning, for the first time in some time, and it reminded me of why I don’t bother with the site much.

Now, I never was an indiscriminate reader of the site. The recaps are enormously long, which pleased me when it was a show I enjoyed—I adored the Deadwood recaps, for example—but bored me when I wasn’t interested in the show in question.

Fair enough: I didn’t read those ones, and everyone was happy.

But the recappers were variable, as well. Generally, the standard was high, but sometimes the general attitude towards the show, the recapper’s tone, or the framework for their recaps began to frustrate me after a while.

One recapper, in particular, I had to give up on, despite the fact that they recapped shows in which I was interested, because something about their writing brought the teacher out in me. It wasn’t to do with the quality of the writing, per se. I don’t quite know what it was, except it brought out in me an overwhelming urge to write “so what?” in the margins.

(I do not, by the way, write “so what?” in the margins of my students’ work. But we do tell them to apply what we call the “so what?” test, to make sure that every sentence and every paragraph in their writing advances their central argument. That was the problem, for me, with this recapper. When it reached the point where they declared that the episode they were recapping that week would be read through Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam,” despite the fact that there was no real or concrete connection between the two texts, I decided I was out.)

But that’s the nature of a large site such as Television Without Pity: you read the bits you enjoy and ignore the rest.

Then it all started going rather odd.

The first thing that annoyed us was the cancelling of the Doctor Who recaps: I’d stopped reading them, but Nick still enjoyed them.

Recaps are cancelled fairly frequently, if the reader figures are low or the show turns out to be either less successful or less interesting than anticipated.

But these were cancelled with only a brief, bitter message: “If you want to know what Bit Torrent is, ask a Doctor Who fan.” When people queried this, they added an explanatory note: “(Translation: y’all have already seen the episodes by the time Sci Fi airs them anyway.)”

Well, yes. Because it’s a British show—and when you’re writing for the Internet, not all your readers are going to be American. And as Nick pointed out, people watch the show then read the recap. How does it matter when they watch it?

Still, that’s editorial policy. It annoyed us—and many other readers—but it’s their decision.

As was selling the website to Bravo Television, but that’s where they really lost me. And, indeed, the three creators of the site and some of their longest-serving recappers also left rapidly after the sale.

Which is when I noticed a noticeable drop in the quality of the writing.

It was evident even in some of the long-serving recappers, such as the one who, I noted above, brought out the blue pencil in me. It used to be, with their recaps, that I’d read them and think, “Wow, this recapper needs some rigorous editing.” Now I read them and think, “Wow, this recapper used to be edited rigorously, after all.”

But take, as a different example, this recap of a 30 Rock episode:

“Hey dummy I was just telling all these dummy’s that we used to go to the park and make fun of all the joggers,” says Duffy to Lemon. Lunch arrives and Lemon and Duffy double-team Toofer for having ordered a salad from a burger joint. The whole room yucks it up as Duffy casually puts his arm around Lemon who suddenly becomes aware of the moment. A single Cheeto stays dangling in her mouth.

That quote’s from the second page of the recap, but it’s not the only example. For example, there’s also this one, from the first page: “In walks Kenneth who looses it like he’s just seen Hannah Montana.”

No. I’m sorry, but this degree of poor sentence-level writing is sufficient to completely kill my interest in a professional website.

Even when the show or recapper held no interest for me, I could at least recognise that the entire site was rigorously edited. It was, in fact, one of the aspects that appealed to me the most.

To see this quantity of basic grammatical and punctuation errors on a site such as Television Without Pity is bad enough.

Throw in the new Flash-driven site, where it’s almost impossible to find the recaps among the advertisements, video files, and picture galleries, and I’m not interested any more.

It’s a shame, though. I know that certain groups of readers, such as the ones who run this site, have always been uncomfortable with the level of moderation in the TWoP forums and the perceived socio-cultural snobbery behind the site, but at least it was a site that recognised that since the Internet is a text-driven medium, it should be held to the same standards as we anticipate from print media.

Not any more.

And that is a shame.

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