October 20th, 2008


Practical uses for black light: banana ripeness

Check out this amusing article from Ars Technica last week: it turns out that, when a banana is perfectly ripe, it glows bright blue under black light. Taking bets on how long it takes before someone comes out with the Home Banana Ripe-Checker (available for $19.95 only on TV if you order today!).

Of course, my other immediate reaction is that this is surely a good thing to know for Paranoia Live games: they've now come up with a way to create Higher-Security-Level bananas. There's the hook for a game right there...

Major overhaul on iGoogle

Those of you who (like me) had written off the personalized iGoogle homepage, because the boxy widget layout didn't provide enough room for things to be useful, may want to take another look.

They've just done a serious revamp of the look and feel, and at first glance I suspect they've finally gotten it right. Instead of having separate pages, each of which contains a bunch of side-by-side widgets, they've switched over to a master/detail view. On the left is a list of all your gadgets, leaving the bulk of the page to act as a big canvas, showing the gadget you've selected. The result is that gadgets are now naturally nearly-full-screen, so you can really use things like Gmail and Google Reader in iGoogle.

Very nice change, and enough to make me seriously consider it. I've avoided iGoogle despite the fact that I use most of their tools, because the iGoogle view of those tools was so bloody useless. But the new style instead focuses on being a desktop for them (as well as for many other gadgets), and that may be convenient enough to be worth seriously considering...

Storytelling as a composite skill

Saturday's Tall Tales event was a fine outing -- a solidly good feast (as one would expect given the staff) and a remarkably good collection of entertainments. I don't think any of the performances were less than good, and some were really outstanding.

It was the first time I've done formal storytelling in *years*, and it was interesting to see how I've come to think of it. My big weakness in storytelling is that I really kinda suck at improvisation: when I'm thinking on my feet, I get ever-more pedantic and dull. I think I did decently on Saturday (I told a highly-embroidered version of The Pike Company On the Causeway), but I didn't really think of it as storytelling.

Instead, I put on a combination of my Writer and Ritualist caps. I spent the two days before the event "writing" the story in my head, and rehearsing it probably two dozen times. Never *quite* the same way twice, but gradually finding the gags that I really wanted to hit and memorizing them top-down the same way I do Masonic ritual: first the broad structure and the relationships of each point to the next, then gradually narrowing down the internal structure of each segment. The only real difference was that I omitted the usual step of word-for-word memorization, but even there I'd probably gotten about half the wording down solid before going on. For the actual performance, I had my verbal brain semi-disengaged (as I generally do in ritual), so that I could focus on hitting the emotional notes without worrying too much about the words.

It seemed to work: it got reasonably good laughs, and was probably the tallest tale of the bunch. (I was surprised that most of the war stories told were so *true*.) But I don't quite think of this process as "storytelling", which I envision as a somewhat more verbally-improvised art. I know that several of the people here are highly experienced storytellers, so I'm curious: how does this relate to how you do it? How much rehearsal and pre-structuring do you do, and how much do you just wing it based on a rough structure?
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