Friday, May 30, 2008

Sean 2, Virus 0

Judging from the occasional pop-ups and the fact that a few weird files kept appearing in my HijackThis logs throughout the evening, I figured that there were still some traces of the adware programs left on my computer. The real kicker came, however, when we tried reinstalling Yahoo! Messenger and it wouldn't budge on us. Big mistake -- that allowed me to pinpoint the malware's identity and jimmy a solution.

Based on my efforts last night, I knew that I had already knocked the adware infestation down to one knee. The program was taking longer than usual to regenerate due to a massive wall of updated antivirus software, I had restored access to various Internet search engines, and my computer was no longer resisting my efforts to hunt down and eradicate rogue files. The only open issue lay in locating each and every one of the infected items; once I knew what I was dealing with, however, everything suddenly became a whole lot easier.

Moreover, it also gave me insight into how the computer still came back infected even after a full master drive reformat. I have to admit that it was a cunning move, placing key initiator files in external and slave drives; now I have to go around and make sure that our flash disks aren't infected as well.

Still, I've obviously won this second round. Yahoo! Messenger is working again, our connection speed is a lot faster, and I haven't seen any pop-ups or warning messages for the last hour. This might not be a guarantee that the system is fully cleansed, but I'll take whatever good omens this little piece of technology will give me.

And in case you were expecting something literary today, I must point out that the rudimentary technical expertise is part of my background. I can do HTML code, study process logs, write macros, and open up a full-sized tower casing to a certain extent. But beyond that, I also use this stuff as the basic groundwork for science fiction-type explanations. I've drawn upon my experience as a literary resource for the past few years, but given what's happened over the last few days, I can apparently still use it for other -- more technical -- requirements.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to let this stew for a day or so. If I don't run into any other anomalies by the time the weekend is over, then that 2-0 score up there will be enough to win the whole thing. It'll also be a lovely way to wrap up the month, if I must say so.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sean 1, Virus 0

"Now we are so happy, we do the dance of joy!"
- Balki Bartokomous

Ironically, the PC came back still infected, even after a full reformat and reinstallation that took two days to finish. So at around 11pm tonight, I rolled up my sleeves, pulled the kid gloves off, and dove into the old familiar realm of system language and MS-DOS.

Thanks to some judicious fiddling with those few search engines I could access, a HijackThis console, a Windows installation CD, some elbow grease and a lot of reboots... I finally managed to isolate the two- or three-odd pieces of adware and wipe them from the system. The fact that I've managed to log into Blogger for the first time in four days should be proof enough that I've won this battle; now I just have to monitor the PC for a while and hope that what I did was good enough to win the war.

I'm still getting the odd pop-up window, mind you (even in Mozilla Firefox, which testifies to the irritation factor here), but at least it's more manageable this time. And at least I can access Yahoo and Google like any normal person should be able to do.

Hopefully my current setup will be able to last me for at least this weekend. I don't get much surfing time to begin with, and I don't relish the thought of sacrificing it for the sake of some inconsiderate script kiddies who have nothing better to do with their time.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Worst Virus in the World

It's adware, actually.

I expect to be out of sorts for the next couple of days -- my computer's been infected with some of the nastiest adware I've ever seen, and I'll have to take some time out to try and fix it. If I can't do it on my own, I'll have to get to a technician and ask for a reformat and reinstallation. The outlook seems to be rather bleak; I spent nine hours trying to remove it yesterday afternoon and evening, with few visible results apart from a slow computer.

I've done my initial cursing already, and I'm firmly in resolution mode right now. I'll get back to my ranting and whining once I can get normal operations resolved over here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fiction: Naked, She Wrote

Naked, she wrote.

She sat perched on a chair in the middle of her empty apartment like some ungainly harpy who had forgotten her siren song. Her computer stood, the bare glow of an ancient monitor illuminating the keyboard, touching the edge of an ashtray where eighteen cigarettes smoldered in the digital light.

Sometime in the middle of the night, she had decided that conservativism was to blame. So she stripped off her clothes one by one, scraps sodden with sweat against midnight, and deposited them in the space under the tiny table. There they waited impatiently, for they knew that she had to regain her sanity sometime.

She tapped the "L" key once, twice, and then held one finger to the strange tile of white, watching as the screen filled with a succession of meaningless letters. She shifted uncomfortably, finding no solace in a silence that pulled every drop of inspiration from her lips.

The sweat gathered on her forehead. Grim tears of salt cried at the roots of her hair and conspired to drip into the edge of her left eyelid. Her breath caught itself in the folds of her sternum; her heartbeat dropped twelve inches to the place where her stomach purred contentedly to itself, amazed at the sudden interruption.

Almost absently she slid a new cigarette out of her last pack, placed the dog-eared end into her mouth, and bit tightly into the tobacco-and-nicotine flavor. She flicked open her lighter and lit the other end, the flame heavy with the fleeting dust of dreams. A moment later, she blew an indifferent trail of smoke into the air.

Naked she wrote, her finger slowly tracing the pale outlines of words on the foreign letters. She pondered love and death and mystery and things better left unsaid, and felt the next chapter rise like a hard lump in her throat. She tapped in the shadows of the room, tapped small white tiles before the gaze of the ancient monitor, and tapped some more.

She rose, and folded both hands across the bridge of her nose, as though she were a witch who had finally caught the plumpest and tastiest of children to eat. She brought her face to the shimmering display before her, almost as though she would kiss the screen and tell it the most beautiful of lies.

And then her hand hovered over the Delete button as though she was a woman spurned. She considered it in a single moment of indecision, anxious thoughts flitting through her mind, seconds before she pushed a finger against it and held it there. She watched as the cursor stole through her words, taking everything like a thief and leaving nothing behind.

She dragged on the cigarette, feeling the ashes burn in their last moments of heat and passion, until the point where she scrubbed those sins among the others in the ashtray. She left them there, dog-eared and defeated, like a remnant of her previous life.

Naked she wrote, and in those last minutes she stared at the clean slate before her, and laughed. The night laughed with her, its mirth mixing with the acrid stains of cigarette smoke and its tears dripping with the strange smell of sweat against the cold air.

Naked she laughed, the words filling her mind against their better nature. On and on she went, knowing that her letters were finally protected against the cells of the strange white keys, and the prison of the empty screen.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

His Tinkertoy Musings

If you're wondering exactly what the title of this post means, it doesn't mean anything in particular. The phrase just came to mind earlier this evening as I was heading home from work.

If it means anything, though, then it happens to be a descriptive reference. I figure that it can be used to refer to an inventive mind, or perhaps a series of thoughts that sound both creative and rickety at the same time. A lot depends on how you interpret the word "Tinkertoy."

I suppose that most people will take it as a made-up compound word nowadays. Putting the words "tinker" and "toy" together implies the creation of something for one's own amusement, perhaps for others as well. This is probably the reason why the phrase "tinkertoy musings" would have the impact that it does.

The irony is that "Tinkertoy" is the name of a real-world brand. Its products involve a set of varied components that you can use to build various structures, much like Lego did for kids in the 80s and 90s. The basic difference is that, instead of using bricks and other custom-crafted parts, Tinkertoys use circular spools and sticks of varying lengths. The result is a scaffolding-like product that can represent buildings, windmills, and basic machines.

Tinkertoys were popular before the advent of Lego -- I inherited one from my dad, who apparently had received a set when he was a kid. Half the pieces were missing, but it was complete enough for me and my brother to build the aforementioned windmills and basic machinery. So technically, if my chronal calculations are correct, I was playing with something that dated back to the 1960s. The fact that our components were wooden (whereas modern Tinkertoy sets are plastic) further supports my assumption here.

So when the phrase "his Tinkertoy musings" suddenly popped into my mind, there was a second set of questions in there: Would contemporary readers be able to understand the reference? Was it logical to present an outdated notion as part of modern descriptive style? And above all -- would anyone get the reference?

So far people seem to accept the phrase, which only partially assuages my concerns. The usual interpretation involves "inventiveness" or "reckless creativity" of some sort... but very little knowledge of the toy that inspired the phrase in the first place. I find this pretty ironic somehow; it means that further readers -- now or in the future -- will probably be able to understand and appreciate the description, even with no knowledge of the original reference. Imagine a future where people can read our modern l33tspeak or txtspeak, and you'll see why my thoughts are so confused at the moment. We might as well add "LOL" to the dictionary right now.

Now, the notion won't stop me from using similar references in my writing. It will, however, make me stop and think whenever I use something that's likely to age with the work. I have to admit that Tinkertoy probably lends itself well to contextual clues... but it could be more an exception than the norm.

Whatever the case, "his Tinkertoy musings" does roll off the tongue well, at least in my book. I don't know how I'll use it just yet, but I'll probably find a place for it somewhere.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

F Before G Before W

Having canvassed a number of keyboards in the computer shops around here, I determined that the best replacement for our old, ailing device was a four-hundred-and-fifty-peso Samsung number with a warranty of six months and an expected two-year lifetime. I was feeling miserly this afternoon, though... so I went instead for the one-hundred-and-fifty-peso rustbucket with a one-week warranty. When I asked about the expected lifetime, the salesperson laughed.

In the larger scheme of things, a keyboard is a keyboard is a keyboard. My family does a lot of writing on the computer, so it's common for this component to wear out for us at a regular rate. Unfortunately, it also means that keyboards are largely disposable for us -- so long as it allows us to type and scroll and dictate strike force assignments in Warcraft, and as long as it gives us at least a few months of service, then it's good enough for us.

The old keyboard actually managed to last us longer than usual, to be honest. The "F" key gave way about six months ago, closely followed by the "G" key. Having sat through a keyboard repair session at least once in my life, I knew what this meant -- somewhere inside, the rubber sensor array had developed a hole directly underneath those keys. We could have just taken it somewhere to get fixed, but I figured that the repair costs would have amounted to buying a whole new keyboard anyhow. The end result was that we elected to tough it out for a while.

After a few months of punching the "F" or "G" keys whenever we wanted to type those letters, a few more things started to give out. The "H" key began having problems. The "B" key occasionally went on the fritz. It was only when the "W" key began skipping that we started looking for something within our low price standards; until then, we were all forced to either spell-check or manually edit our typewritten work.

Now there's a new keyboard sitting in front of me, and I'm writing this blog post as a test run. It's nice to see that I don't have to hunt and peck for missing letters anymore, but I can already see a few things that I have to get used to. For starters, some of the keys stick a little. In addition, the Insert / Delete / Home / End / Page Up / Page Down bank is located a little lower than usual, which stymied my first few efforts to navigate my words. Overall, however, it seems to work okay; it's even more quiet than the constant "tak-a-tak-a-tak" of the old keyboard, which'll be welcome for those occasions when I write at night.

And of course, my "pack rat" mentality still shines through -- I still have the last four or five keyboards we replaced lying around somewhere, and the newly-outdated keyboard will soon be joining them. I have no idea why I still keep these things; maybe I have this weird fetish for keyboards for some reason.

And when it finally comes to the point in the future when this new model will have to be replaced like so many others, I can look back on this post to a time when things were still pristine and innocent. Or... maybe not. I mean, it's just a keyboard.

Now let's see if the numeric keypad is working...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I'm aware that I use a very distinct method of description. Some people are gifted with a fine technical style -- they can describe the lines of faces and expressions, they can discuss the details of various material components, and they can remember what even the most complex abbreviations mean.

On my end, however, I find it difficult to go into extensive detail about a single object. Instead, I tend to work on initial impressions a lot -- that is, I consider the first things that I would notice about the object in question, and then base my introductory descriptions solely on those. From there, I try to flesh things out as I slowly fill out the story or the essay at hand.

Over the last decade I've found that this approach doesn't serve me well when it comes to mundane things like academic reports, corporate presentations, and personal contracts. These things all require some form of accuracy in words, which is something that my sense of vaguery is ill-equipped to deal with.

With literary, critical and reflective writing, however, it's quite a different thing. I can be about as obtuse or analogical as I want, so long as I make sense and get my point across. In a sense, I can't give you a lot of really specific details as to what a bomb looks like or how it works... but I can easily imply how big a boom it's likely to give out.

This dates back to my elementary English classes, I think. I was constantly fascinated by my English classes, mostly because I was already very fluent in the language and thus did not have to struggle (much) for good grades. As a result, I was constantly skipping to the more advanced lessons and spending a lot more time in the library than was healthy for me.

This was where I learned the various aspects of literary analogy. I love the concept of analogy, and I feel that it's a little like the learning process: you get to compare unfamiliar ideas with established concepts, and every little piece of commonality that you manage to realize between the two simply increases your knowledge of both.

In a sense, an analogy stretches the capabilities of the human mind. It's a little challenge all by itself -- I mean, do you understand why the two objects in question are being compared to each other? The fact that it single-handedly prepared me for my one and only SAT exam just happened to be a bonus.

My first lesson on literary analogy covered three basic approaches, which I discuss here without benefit of reference. (So I'm going purely on what I remember at this point.)

Simile - this is a direct comparison in every sense of the phrase. A simile merely takes two objects and compares them to each other in such a way that the association is extremely straightforward, i.e. "one is like the other." Similes are easily identified by phrases such as "like" and the "as... as" combination:

He was like a shadow that had suddenly sprouted up from the sidewalk: thin, spindly, and ready to cast you in darkness if you so much as moved in front of him.

He was as tempermental as a rattlesnake on a bad day, and as foolish as the man who would have poked it with a stick.

I normally use similes whenever I introduce objects or characters in the middle of a story. I feel that a direct comparison usually implies a greater public consciousness about the subject in question -- as though the description is part of a larger consensus that you tap into when you read the narrative. In addition to that, it also helps you get inside a character's head -- especially under a first-person viewpoint -- and lets you see things based on whatever the character has in mind.

Metaphor - a metaphor is an indirect comparison where a reader isn't automatically forced to compare the two given subjects. Instead, metaphors try to get you to imagine one object as a different object, allowing you to juxtapose the two items and therefore get a general idea of how one acts just like the other in the given context.

He was a shadow that slunk along the walls of the alleyway, a silhouette against the glare of the guttering street lights.

He was a snake, a skunk, a lizard who somehow crawled up from the cracks of wherever they kept lizards nowadays, all balled up with the crocodiles in the sewers below.

Oddly enough, I hardly use direct metaphors nowadays. I try to be a lot more subtle than the examples above, but more often than not, you can see the legacy of my English lessons by the gross exaggerations that I use every now and then. Otherwise I use them in stories whenever I want to put a little distance between the reader and the subject in question; a metaphor seems to add an extra layer of mystery to the situation, as though you're wondering if you're comparing two things in the right way.

Personification - this involves the attribution of human characteristics to an object that otherwise doesn't have them. I figure that, in some situations, it's easier to envision the story's developments if the narration can pander to human experiences and emotion. This, I suppose, is why we get stuff like the samples below:

His shadow slunk along the alley's brick walls, mortally afraid of meeting the street lights' gaze.

He smiled. I didn't know how the sewers had felt about him, how the depths beneath the city had seen fit to unleash his own personal hell upon humankind, but here he was right in front of me, and that was enough.

I use personification mostly as set dressing; I find that if the story's backdrop can be portrayed as "alive" in some way, then it greatly adds to the atmosphere of the tale. I think that I might overdo it every now and then, however, and it usually results in my descriptions giving a sense of gripping unease.

This, of course, was only the coverage of my first lesson in analogy. Years later I would devour reference books that discussed every single foible of the English language: I learned how to use hyperbole and meiosis, for example, and how to express my thoughts in terms of euphemism. Even beyond those, I gained a disturbing love for idioms, gained a wicked fascination with oxymorons, and learned exactly what onomatopoeia was (apart from being one of the stranger words I've ever typed).

So you'll have to forgive me if I think of things in terms of completely different things. That's just the way that my mind works nowadays.

It might not be a fine technical approach, and it might botch up the occasional corporate presentation every now and then... but it's interesting, it lends itself well to storytelling and vivid imaginations, and it does hit people with a sense of understanding without necessarily boring them along the way. As I said, it's a lot like a bunch of little challenges all inserted into the narrative style of each story, just to see if you understand exactly what the writer is talking about.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The New Profile

Just so that you all know, there's a new profile up for this blog:
Sean has been writing since he was 12 years old, and is a writer of essays and short stories. He writes mostly about life, logic and imagination in general: Sean writes, Sean writes about writing, and sometimes Sean even writes about writing about writing. Then, when he feels like scribbling down a few other things, he concerns himself with games and game design, some contemporary issues, and a few jabs at artistic design and authorship. He is a silent anti-plagiarism advocate, an occasional critic of modern storytelling, and a lover of stuffed toys. Given the right circumstances, he may turn into a homicidal maniac one day. Or even worse... an accountant.

For the meantime, I offer my heartiest apologies to all accountants, auditors and actuaries everywhere. I would have made the eponymous lawyer a part of the joke, only I'm aware that even Shakespeare himself has done it already. (Bonus point for you if you get the reference here.)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Back to the Drawing Board

Every time I go over that little profile write-up I have on the right side of this blog, I feel as though I need to rewrite it. Note our aforementioned Exhibit A here:
Sean is not an internet celebrity. He is neither a food critic, a gossip columnist, nor a political commentator. He is not an entrepreneur who uses a free blogging service as a means to make money, nor is he an itinerant spammer who foists product promotions on an unsuspecting audience. He is neither an activist nor a spectator. He is neither an instigator nor an irritant. He is neither the hunter nor the hunted. But he tries to tell things like they are, and he tries to do this from a logical and an introspective viewpoint as much as possible. He tries to take in many different opinions as a cohesive whole, and he tries to use this to touch upon many aspects of life. Sean tries to write. Sean tries to be a writer, and that makes him a very dangerous man. Who likes stuffed toys.

I don't have a clear reason to do so, but I do have any number of small reasons to change it: I don't think that it provides a clear description, I think that it's a little too highbrow, I'm not sure if it's supposed to be serious or funny or anything like that, and I feel that it sounds like a bunch of random lines smashed together at a moment's notice. Basically, each time I read it, I feel like balling it up, dunking it into the wastebasket, and starting from scratch.

The catch is that I now have to ask myself exactly what's supposed to go into a Blogger profile. Is it supposed to contain your real name, for instance? Can you portray yourself as a purely fictional construct that nevertheless reflects your personal life? Just how much can you give away in a blog profile that you can't necessarily give away in a plain, ordinary blog post?

Part of me feels that I should sit down and lay out some ground rules for myself. We already have a couple, for example -- the write-up needs to be short enough to hold peoples' attention, and it has to compress everything into a single paragraph (for lack of HTML tags). But what else can I throw in at this point?

As far as I can tell, I want to work the following items into the base description:
- The fact that I try to write about writing.
- The fact that I enjoy games, puzzles and probability exercises.
- The fact that I am vehemently against plagiarism and other literary offenses.
- The fact that I have an unhealthy obsession with stuffed toys.

What I'm sure that I can't do at this point is provide outdated references (my stint for the Anito: Defend a Land Enraged computer game is already far in the past at this point, for example). I'm also pretty sure that I don't want to mention specifics about my occupation (which is probably unimportant) or my home life (which I hardly mention here in any case). A telling of the true story behind the monkeys, the forty pounds of overcooked noodles, and the whipped cream is most definitely out of the question.

This is surprisingly hard. It's not quite as difficult as writing a short story and polishing it until your hands fall off, but it's hard enough for me to want to come up with a bunch of different drafts and see which of them fit best. It's a little on the overkill side, especially when I realize that this involves a tiny profile write-up for an obscure little blog.

I can't think of any other alternatives, though. That current write-up really has got to go -- the mark of progress is always measured by man's desire to improve the wallpaper and rearrange the furniture, and I'm really no exception in this case.

Maybe if I mentioned that I was really a quadriplegic prodigy who knows how to talk to various woodland creatures... naaaah.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Disclaimer: May 2008

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