Tag Archives: research

Don’t fall down the research rabbit-hole

Phil: Have you ever found yourself on Wikipedia reading up on something and unable to resist clicking on a related link? At the time you tell yourself it’s relevant to the topic, but then there is another link, and another. And another.

You start reading about tractor production in post-war America and half a day later you’re learning about the proclivities of minor German aristocracy in 1830.

It’s addictive, something to do with dopamine in your brain, and the urge to procrastinate while kidding yourself that any education is good. I mean, who doesn’t need to know about flat-roofed pubs for example?

I’ve just finished the enjoyable Funny You Should Ask book by the QI Elves. It’s full of unrelated facts such as what would happen if you tried to dig through the Earth, or what causes deja-vu. If you enjoy odd snippets of information, it’s a good fun read.

The most useful fact in the book isn’t in the main text, but the introduction.

When writing for the quiz, they start with the answer and then craft a question around it. Working the other way around means endlessly researching as they fall down the rabbit-hole (named after the rabbit-hole Alice falls down in Wonderland) finding linked facts when they should be working.

I’m not sure this will help cure my procrastination, but maybe it will do something for you. In the meantime, I need to go a read up on The Auburn and Lidcome Advance. You never know when knowledge of old Australian newspapers will come in handy!

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They’re playing Video Games

Phil: Research, research, research. I know people say “write what you know” but if I only did that, Candice wouldn’t speak to me and the chance of us making it in the chick-lit world would be slightly worse than a snowball in hell.

So, no nerdy train stuff Parker. Instead, I need to look into video games.

Might as well keep the anorak on then.

Seriously though, in the book, one of the characters plays video games with a group of people he’s never met. This provides some important plot points and a interesting twist. Apparently I am the best suited of the pair of us to write this bit. Any complains about stereotyping are met with a hard stare.

I was given my first computer, a ZX81 in 1982. It came with hardly any memory and a cassette containing 10 games that would fit into this tiny space whilst not taking very long to load. They kept me amused but I preferred writing my own programs, or at least fiddling with the ones on the tape.

A few months later, I received what might have been the first game with what’s called a “First person” perspective, the brilliant 3D Monster Maze. You ran around in a maze and somewhere there was a T-Rex. Since the computer didn’t have sound, warnings appeared at the bottom of the screen such as “Footsteps approaching” and the terrifying “Rex has seen you.”. I played that a lot, fascinated that you were running around and could only see what your character could see.

I was rubbish at it though.

After this, there was a ZX Spectrum with a few more games. Like all speccy owners, I had The Hobbit, a text adventure that followed the book. Sadly, I hadn’t read the book so didn’t progress very far, spending far too much time listening to Thorin sitting down and singing about gold.

Basically, I was rubbish at it

Later there was Knight Lore, an early 3D game where you watched the action from the top corner of a room, controlling your character from there. I liked the cartoon style and recall playing it enough that I recall the screen every time I hear King singing “Love and Pride” on the radio.

I never completed the mission, ‘cos I wasn’t very good at it. No staying power.

After this I didn’t play games until working at a vegetable research centre, I found myself in the IT department where someone set up a “First Person Shooter” type game we could play over the network against each other at lunchtime (cough).

My attempts involved bumping into walls and being killed by all my colleagues. Rubbish.

And that was it. Since I needed to write video game sequences, I felt it was time to have another go. £1.10 worth of spending at the local branch of Entertainment Exchange furnished me with two games – seriously, is there anything that depreciates faster than a video game? – one of which is called IGI Strike 2.

igi22As it turns out (I celeverly read the blurb on the back of the box) you play a special forces operative who has to sneak in to buildings and do stuff. There are missions and guns’n’stuff. It’s a lot like the game I’ve invented for our character. OK, it’s not cutting edge but I’m getting the idea.

Well, sort of anyway. Obviously I’m still rubbish at it. I couldn’t even work out how to get in the first door without looking it up on the web. When I do, there is running around and getting killed. I think is 40 goes, I nearly reached the first objective twice.

It’s all so confusing. Why are there so many keys to remember? Why can’t I move fluidly around the place without running at walls or taking 6 goes to manoeuvre through a door?

Still, I will persevere. I think I’m getting the idea now. I just hope not too many of our reader are hard core gamers.

Oh no, you can actually PLAY 3D Monster Maze here. No work for me then…

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In the club

Red WinePhil: While it’s important to research your writing, it’s not easy to gain entry to everywhere you need to write about, so I was pleased recently to find out that we’d got our guesswork right.

Early in our book, there is a scene that takes place in a club. Not the sort of club la Nolan goes to boogie to phat beats by Chaka Demus & Pliers, but a proper Gentleman’s club. The sort with fine dining and comfortable furniture dating back to the middle ages.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a business lunch to discuss a new project. The man who set it up works in the City of London and it appears, does this sort of thing all the time. Very nice.

When I mentioned this to Candice by e-mail, the response asked a question that hadn’t crossed my mind.

OMG. What are you going to wear?

Hmmm. Well, I’d sort of got it in mind I’d wear my nice interview jacket from Next, black trousers and shoes and a shirt.

We then proceeded to have a discussion where I learned that I might not actually be suitably attired for such an occasion. It didn’t help that the dress code according to the website was “city smart casual” which means nothing to me. A dark jacket, or better still a suit would have been better, “as long as it’s not too old”. Too old? Why does that matter? Something to do with style apparently. I don’t have it but was ominously told that “anyone can be styled”.

Anyway, out of the three of us at the lunch, I was the second smartest which was fine. The scruffiest, wearing all the right clothes but looking rumpled, was the guy who was a member so obviously it didn’t matter that much. Having said this, the people at the other tables were pretty uniformly dressed in black or dark grey suits.

The club itself was very nice. In The Book, we describe wood panelling and leather chairs and that’s pretty much what I got. Service was discrete but polite with the members name being remembered as well as the (presumably) good red wine he favoured, a bottle of which was proffered within a few minutes of arrival.

Basically, I can see why Gareth would like it and how Kate would feel like a fish out of water. Lunch lasted three hours for a start and could be described as “convivial” even a bit old-fashioned. If you are a go-getting young business woman, learning to slow down and get the best out of it will be a challenge. At least, unlike Kate, I didn’t need to nip off to the loo to jot down notes in case the alcohol dulled my memory. Mind you, if I had, the loos were very nice as well.

Anyway, last week, I described this to Candice and mentioned that I’d brought back a souvenir. I meant a postcard from the club advertising the facilities, not a nipple tassel as she suggested.

What sort of place does she think I frequent?

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A clash of cultures

Conference junkPhil: My work allows me the opportunity to visit trade shows now and again. These days it’s often halls full of interesting things to play with. Years ago, it was halls full of techie people trying to flog me things for Internet stuff.

Once upon a time, though, for one day only, I was actually one of the people manning a stand.

It was Hortex 2000, the horticultural industries biggest event of the year. I had spent month creating a CD-based manual for growers of ornamental plants. Well, I had taken the text provided by people who knew what they were talking about and beaten it into the publishing software that the thing ran on anyway. At least this was a prettier than the previous manual we’d published, on cabbages and Brussel sprouts!

Anyway, because I could wear a tie and was supposed to know about the disk, it fell to me to do some time on the stand.

My day started with getting lost in Telford. When I did make it in to the hall, I was largely ignored by the visitors. This was a relief as there wasn’t any point asking me technical questions on the content of the disk. Mind you, despite me, we still won “Product of the year” with it. Ha!

No, for technical grower stuff, you were pointed at one of the scientists.

Now, if I wasn’t wild about being on the stand, this was nothing compared to how they felt. The very concept of selling the results of their experiments was an anathema to them. Sadly, the world where bucket loads of government cash was being sloshed around had long since gone. Now we had a commercial arm of the organisation and a very impressive stand, the cost of which would have been the topic of conversation over many coffee breaks in the months to come. They were there to sell.

One or two saw this as an opportunity and tuned up in sharp suits with clean shoes. Most of the others didn’t see why they should dress any differently to the way they did at work. And that wasn’t very Saville Row. Our beautiful, gleaming white stand was occupied with people who, if they hadn’t needed them, the commercial staff would have shooed away for making the place look scruffy.

I can’t blame them. I didn’t want to be there. They didn’t want to be there. Unknowingly though, they have provided ideas for our book I didn’t know I’d be writing over a decade later.

Nowadays, I go to shows and collect freebies just like everyone else. I’m polite to the stand staff in case they too don’t want to be there. Worse, they could also be collecting ideas for a book…

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Getting your facts right

Liseuse de microfiches Micron 355Phil: I performed a little bit of research for my old job a couple of months ago. Proper research involving a trip to the library to look at books and even use the microfiche machine to view old newspapers. Just like people used to do in the old days.

After a happy couple of hours I returned to the office with some scribbled notes and terrible quality printouts. An hour later the early history of the theatre was ready to go off to the framers and be part of our 40th Anniversary celebrations. I managed to distill the early days into an accurate and hopefully slightly humorous page that you could read and enjoy despite the effects of any free wine you may have consumed. Better still, there was enough material left out to give me the basis of a short article for the local history society.

People tend to forget libraries but the resources found within the walls are often not to be found with a quick Google. Sometimes you gotta do the leg work.

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