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Synergistic Chaos

Or just possibly chaotic synergy. Or something.

It’s what happens when all those threads you weren’t really focusing on stop being threads and start making a picture. When you can see the shape of the picture in the partly-finished jigsaw puzzle.

Or, if you’re me, you’re researching something and stumble across something that’s kind of related but is also completely different (To be fair, the something in this case was/is an inventory of all the automated emails my workplace’s headline application sends, along with why they get sent, what the opt-in/opt-out measures are, and samples so the marketing folks can pretty them up and make them not-confusing to customers who apparently find it a bit unnerving to suddenly get emails without any warning… it would seem that my team believing that we were asked to make those emails happen because customers wanted to get them might have been a little… er… optimistic? Anyway, the sort of related but not really thing I stumbled across was a serious problem with the email sending mechanism for a different part of the system, and it sparked the Mother Of Email Threads and an assortment of other work-type flurries as well as a certain amount of re-evaluation of just why certain things happen at work).

This is why I call myself a chaos magnet. Stuff like this happens to me. Mostly in the bug finding realm, but not entirely, and certainly not when it comes to writing. Although if I’m writing something and I manage to inadvertently turn my word processing software into an Elder God or something I reserve the right to go rather specifically medieval on all parties involved with that piece of software.

I’ve found getting people to understand how this processing – and this way of processing works is… challenging. It’s hard enough to do it, because all humans are the product of untold generations of awesome pattern-finders who’ve gotten so good at finding patterns in random stuff that we see patterns which aren’t actually there. It’s bloody hard to sit there with a pile of mess and hold onto the belief that with a bit more work and a bit more patience and maybe a few more threads of this and that the mess will resolve itself into an understandable pattern.

It’s like the way to torture a classically-trained musician is to play all but the last note of a Bach chorale. Because the final chord progression will hang there, unfinished, and itch at the musician’s mind (Whatever you do, don’t use Rossini. There are dozens of endings in the William Tell Overture alone, and only one of them actually finishes the piece). Or the way, half-way through a book I’ve often got the feel of where it’s going, what the big beats are going to be, and sometimes, how it’s going to end. It takes a damn good writer to carry me through and enjoy it or to surprise me along the way (Hi, Dave, Sarah, and a fair few of the rest of y’all!). It’s the pattern pieces slotting into place and making the picture clearer.

But actually holding the mess and doing little bits here and there that don’t seem to make any kind of difference, like when you’re pantsing deep in the treacherous kudzu of a middle? That’s hard work at the best of times, and at the worst can lead to a whole lot of story starts where things kind of fizzled partway through (yeah, guilty as charged, yeronner). I can’t even give advice beyond practice and patience, and lots of both.

Oh, yeah. And have faith that even if your file ends up summoning the Great Old Ones and unleashes eldritch horrors on the world (personally I think they’ve already been unleashed. They just thought they’d have better PR if they renamed R’lyeh  to Washington, D.C., and I’ve got to admit it seems to have worked), you can still find the pattern that makes its contents a story.

  1. I think I have been living in a chaotic mess now for a year and a bit. Just waiting for things to collapse into some sense of order now. Threads have been started to pulled into some semblance of “goes here somewhere”.
    When it comes to my writing I am throwing words down on the screen/paper and all these little threads crawling here or there and I see different paths ideas before they all collapse into something I didn’t realize I was working towards. Got to love pantsing at times.

    February 8, 2018
  2. Luke #

    This seems like a perfect time to invoke James Burke’s “Connections” series. (Which can be watched for free online!)

    Those who are familiar, are likely nodding. Those who aren’t, are encouraged to get their binge watch on.

    February 8, 2018

    The End Times are near… unless we jam a nuke up his nose. Ka-POW! Back to sleep, squid boy.

    February 8, 2018
    • Draven #

      ia ia etc.

      February 8, 2018
  4. Vague memory of a related story, because of tech anecdote: someone was looking for help in – I kid you not – ‘compiling Chrome from source’ from a FOSS person online. Chrome is closed source. The person kept insisting, and then insulting FOSS whenever told wrong, til the FOSS person snapped, and started denigrating the idiot’s intelligence for not knowing the difference between closed-source and open source to begin with.

    Idiot: Typical male, screaming at a woman to shut her up.
    FOSS tech: I’ve opened a voice chat.
    Idiot leaves the chat.

    Why the idiot left: the FOSS tech was female, and the voice of the idiot was very, very male.

    There’s also been an influx of people apparently going into FOSS channels and ‘asking’ that the channel name 10 women in FOSS. (Most have issues doing so because they don’t care about the gender of the other person, just their code and attached handle.) When that ‘challenge’ is failed, cue screaming about how programming and FOSS is soooo misogynistic. (That person got shut up when someone named more than 10, offhandedly.)

    February 8, 2018
  5. And a yippy-ki-yay! Merry Christmas to you too, Innsmouth!

    ~ “Die Hard: Dead Lie Dreaming”

    February 8, 2018
    • (Meant this to follow “fthagen!” or whatever that noise was…)

      February 8, 2018
      • Fhtagn. I think that is the preferred spelling.

        February 11, 2018
        • And you’re probably right.

          Still makes an interesting fanfic mash-up…

          February 11, 2018
  6. Basara549 #

    When it comes to tech, I tend to be a chaos magnet. Touch screens hate my touch, power switches ignore me, etc.

    However, the biggest one dates from the 90s, where I was trying to OCR documents from 8 years of gaming and fiction writing from where I worked on a 128k Atari (which I had one incredible system for the time, with 3-5 different floppy drives in case I needed spares, and both dot matrix and LQ printers). My brothers’ idiot addict friends had stolen the Atari 130XE (and only took the console, not the peripherals or even the power supply!), and it had taken a minor miracle to find the first one, and track it down 250 miles away for sale via a weekly shopper classified type rag.

    Now the first dilemma was purely format based.
    I couldn’t just OCR into Word – it turned 1-2 page printouts into 5-20 MB monstrosities, with all but 10-30k of that code being it changing fonts, bold/italic/underlining/subscript/superscript, font sizes, and other forming almost between every letter). What it did to punctuation was worthy of a firing squad.
    WordPerfect didn’t support direct scanning/OCR at the time (and as I owned it, and was taught in my classes to use it, it was my preferred product, and still is).
    I could scan into RTF format, and have about 1/4 the size issue of Word (most of the non-font-related issues disappeared, which was good for things that had syntax concerns aka the classic “Let’s eat, Grandpa!”/”Let’s eat Grandpa!” issue). Some items got that treatment, and a lot of substitution routines (find all codes for a certain font, replace with nothing).
    Most items, though, just got scanned into plain ASCII, requiring me to go back in and fix a LOT of early OCR errors (Especially ones originally that had been dot matrix printouts), and replace most of the punctuation and text modifiers. I’m still occasionally finding almost 25 year old files with the occasional “rn” instead of “m”, “ln” instead of “h”, etc. despite some of the files having been edited dozens of times. I even did some of them on an early Mac, then sent the ASCII text files through the early internet to a PC.

    Now, you’d think this would be the end of it — but, no….

    I’d go into the text files with WordPerfect, and working. I’d get a few pages (or, sometimes, just a few lines) past the last save point and the “SHIFT that would not die” would kick in. Not a caps lock, but the computer (both inside and outside the program) would act like someone had taped down a Shift Key (as the numbers, Function Keys, etc. all acted as if shift was applied – which doesn’t happen in CapsLock”). The only fix was a reboot, and it took me several days of frustration to realize there was a way to un-select the text that was being selected via the false shift, to not deal with the program trying to save “selected text” instead of the whole file.

    I couldn’t figure it out. The three computer departments on campus (CS, Business, and the general computer labs) could not figure out what could conceivably cause it. It happened on dozens of different machines (I even tried switching machines every time it did it) in 4 different labs, plus my own PC. Intel processors (486 and Pentium) and AMD (plus 1 Mac that I tried switching to in frustration). FOUR different versions of WP5 (Mac, and 5.0, 5.1 and 5.2 for PCs), 2 versions of WP6, and 2 different versions of WP7 (and, after I left campus, WP8 as well), under 3 different company brand names (as the parent company underwent some mergers and buyouts during the period).

    The only common denominators were that the files had SOME (not even all – as little as 5%) text, that had ONCE been an ASCII or RTF file (often far from the area where I was working in it, typing totally original material), and that _I_ was the one working with the file (it was if the problem wasn’t reproducible by others, even if they started on the same computer, with the same original file). At least accidentally summoning Elder Gods would have at least have EVIDENCE.

    I actually considered writing an original story once (feel free to steal this, just send me a copy if it gets published), where the hero was the only person experiencing a glitch in some vitally important software/hardware (planetary defense?), and no one could replicate it (even using the same terminal), or even believe it was happening if they weren’t there watching him when it did. It eventually cost him his job.
    Then, as he was out job searching, aliens tried to invade, and got roundly defeated. They had been trying to hack the defense systems, to aid in their invasion, and it seemed to work most of the time when they tried. But, they had somehow been exploiting a weakness that only existed when the now-dismissed sensor worker was hooked into the VR system, as if their hack only worked when his mind was the one interacting with the system. When it was finally figured out what really happened, they hushed it up – but gave the worker a pension with the caveats to never reveal the truth, and never work again in a computer-based field.

    February 8, 2018

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