January 27th, 2009

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Omens Read from a Horse's Mane

This piece originally appeared in the late, lamented Eggplant Library -- a webzine collecting excerpts of books that don't wholly exist. I had cause to share this with someone today, so I figured I might as well share with everyone. This comes from my main fantasy world, Hallelaine, and the Whispering Sands desert; the foreign language is Seshaa.


Omens Read from a Horse’s Mane:
A Collection of Khazals and Commentaries

by Atiyya binte Hameed


Havataan:
Khazalim va Khoteshim

eylu Atiyya binte Hameed


As with many poems known to originate with Mujeed ibn Ahad, this one traditionally appears attributed to Pakiimey the Bone Horse. Mujeed often claimed friendship with this most honored spirit of death. Certainly we have accounts, predating the life of Mujeed, that the Bone Horse appreciates fine verse. However, this particular poem attempts to throw its source even further afield, as the title mentions yet another mythic figure. Close examination of the imagery reveals nothing inconsistent with either an equine or aerial perspective; note especially the conclusion with its reference to the Bone Horse’s legendary selectivity regarding riders. The audience is therefore invited to draw their own conclusions as to the authorship of this poem, mortal or immortal.


Wind Woman Writes My Poetry



The wind is my muse. She
Writes in my mane when I run.

She touches my tail with ribbons
Of words trailing behind me.

In my forelock, the breeze
Braids fine metaphors.

When I prance, poetry
Falls from my fetlocks.

Even the sea-sweat on my sides
Makes meaningful lines there.

Always and always, her voice turns
The white shells of my ears toward her.

Ah, everyone wants to ride me!
But I only want to ride her.

-339-
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A New Project in Online Education

I spotted this interesting article about plans for an online university:

On the Internet, a university without a campus
An Israeli entrepreneur with decades of experience in international education plans to start the first global, tuition-free Internet university, a nonprofit venture he has named the University of the People.</p>

"The idea is to take social networking and apply it to academia," said Shai Reshef, an entrepreneur and founder of several previous Internet-based educational businesses. "The open source courseware is there, from universities that have put their courses online, available to the public, free. We know that online peer-to-peer teaching works. Putting it all together, we can make a free university for students all over the world, anyone who speaks English and has an Internet connection."



This has potential. I suspect that it's easier to build a successful online school with plenty of funding to pay good teachers. The sliding scale for student fees is prudent. This project has a chance; I'd love to see it succeed. But wow, I hope the organizers talk to some folks who have already done this. There are a lot of pitfalls in the field of online education, and many of them aren't where you'd expect.
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I Write ... Widgets?

This week I've been studying widgets and plugins. I've also been exploring comment managing systems, only to discover that all of them have substantial flaws, because the technology is new and still materializing. Essentially, the basic comment functions on the Thesis theme in "Gaiatribe" don't do everything we need, so we're exploring other options.

I just realized one of the crucial things that makes my own writing unusual: I write the equivalent of widgets and plugins for wetware. I can take something I know how to do and break it down into steps that you can follow. If it's something I do based on intuition and talent more than facts and premises, I can usually still find facts and premises to frame it, shifting the intuitive to the intellectual so it can be taught and learned. You might not get exactly the same results, because the content will vary; but you'll have the process. If you've got the basic "how to write in the English language" program in your head, I can give you a widget for writing a poem or a ritual. If you've got the basic "how to make food in a kitchen" program, I can give you a widget for pear-ginger ice cream or mango-glazed ham.

It occurs to me that, somehow, this is not the way most people write. I've seen other people do it, yes, but it's not as widespread as I'd expect. I'm often startled by how vague an author's instructions are, when it seems so easy to lay things out in little bits. Replicable bits in a neat little package you can memorize and use forever. I think this is part of what makes people look at some of my writing and say, "Wow! You explain this so clearly!" (That was the #1 reaction to Composing Magic.) I remember when my mother gave an assignment in class for us to write instructions for a robot to make a sandwich; when the bell rang, I'd written several pages of instructions and I don't think the poor thing had even gotten into the refrigerator yet. Happily, writing for humans can be much more concise because of shared basic assumptions, but the concept is the same. It's all about figuring out how a process actually works and describing it bit by bit, creating that little widget for other people to use. It has to be complete; it ought to be elegant.

I think my farmemory is showing again: this is how a lot of wetware is written, so you can buy, say, a language instead of learning it piece by piece out loud. If you do a LOT of that, the habit sticks in your mind as well as your brain. Knowledge as packets. Instructions as plugins. Writing wetware widgets that you add, as computer programs were once added, by keying them in manually.

I am fascinated that my study of blog code and construction has thrown another spotlight on a facet of my writing that has long puzzled me. It's been a while since I really dug into something that I didn't have an innate knack for and had to work hard for modest progress. It's frustrating most of the time, but occasionally there are these exhilirating epiphanies. As much as I enjoy the things I'm best at, I think some part of me is happiest when working at the fringes of my ability. At least until I rip a mental muscle in a really painful place.