In which I rant about the study of English

So, I had my first classes today – a math class (Ordinary Differential Equations) and the first-year English Composition class. The math class was awesome. The English class wasn't.

Before I go on, let me make it clear that I'm not picking on this class or this professor in particular; I'll be naming specific things from this class, but I'm mainly doing that in order to talk about a general attitude about the study of English composition.

Item 1: What Is Good Writing?

First, the professor said that good prose was “a lot less subjective than you think”. That's a laughable claim, for two reasons. First, it assumes [...]

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Prose vs. graphic narration

So, I was thinking about prose and graphic storytelling (comics). My thoughts might be hard to explain, so how about an example? Here's a line of prose:

“I knocked. No answer. Let myself in anyway. Where was he?”

I think pictures can normally communicate faster than words, but I tried to make that line the opposite on purpose: something that words can express more quickly. Let's look at how we might write that in pictures:

Image: Three panels. The first panel shows a person knocking at a door. The second shows zem waiting impatiently, thinking about the time. The third shows zem entering through the door, looking around. At the bottom left is a note that says 'Eli Dupree - 25 min sketch'

If we were going to print this in a book, those three panels might take up about a third of a page. The line of prose takes about, what, a twentieth of a page? Sure, you can read the pictures faster than you could read a third of a page of text, but that's not what we're comparing. The prose version gets the job done in a single line.

On the other hand, the prose glosses over a lot of details. The pictures show the style of the person's coat, zir attitude about [...]

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(This post will assume basic knowledge of the United States college/university system.)

I've just returned to college, unpacked my stuff, and organized my new dorm room.

This semester isn't going to by my favorite. For some reason, pretty much none of the theater/art/writing classes I want to take are being taught this semester. So I'm mostly doing math classes instead. Now, for me, math is great; it's easy, useful, and enjoyable. It's just not what I'm truly passionate about.

Also, I'm stuck taking my college's English Composition class that's required for all students. (Normally you're supposed to take that in your first year (I'm in my third year now), but due to a series of inconvenient coincidences, I haven't been able to complete it yet.) I love composing English prose, but writing academic essays is completely uninteresting to me. Oh well; I just hope I end up with a professor who can make the material interesting.

On the plus side, since I'm a math whiz, taking mostly math courses means that I'll have quite a bit of free time during this semester, which I will be able to use to do stuff like drawing graphic stories! And college is an interesting place from the outset. I get lots more contact with people, and lots of opportunities to attend talks by interesting people who are doing cool things around the world.

In short, my idle time of this summer is now over! I'm going to be engaged in a lot of things, and I hope to blog about them frequently.

– Eli

Recommended website: Riot Nrrd

Image: A panel of a comic. Some interesting people stand around; one says, 'So, do you like, gender and stuff?'

That's a panel from Riot Nrrd, a wonderful webcomic.

I think Riot Nrrd was one of the things that helped inspire me to make this website when I did. If you read it, you'll certainly notice some similarities between its style of talking about social issues and mine. (Heck, the first strip opens with one of the characters ranting about portrayals of minority characters in popular media!) I'd say it's a great example of how a highly accessible1 (and enjoyable) format like a serial webcomic can be used to promote good ideas about gender and stuff.

(You might also guess that its drawing style inspired the style I used in People Are Wrong Sometimes, but then you'd be wrong, since I hadn't found Riot Nrrd when I wrote that. But I would totally have been inspired by it if I had!)

Oh and also, it's hilarious!

I recommend Riot Nrrd without reservation. The first page is here. At the time of this writing, it's about 120 pages long, so it's a relatively quick read compared to the 1000+ page webcomics that you can find elsewhere on the Internet.

– Eli

  1. Not perfectly, of course. You can't read a webcomic if you're blind, for instance. But most humans find it easy to take information from visual images, and a prudent webcomic author will provide a text transcript for those who are vision-impaired. back

A little update

I still haven't been doing much for a while - mostly playing online games, watching videos, and so forth. Oh, and running a quirky Mafia variant on an internet forum - you can check it out over here on the XKCD forums if you're into that sort of thing. My inactivity has a lot to do with the fact that it's late in the summer, it's hot all the time, and I haven't been talking to other people too much. (Getting at least a little interaction with other people helps me, because it stimulates my mind and gives me new ideas.) I'm going to be going back to college relatively soon, too, and that's discouraging me from getting into projects a bit, even though I still have about three weeks left.

That said, I've still got a couple of projects running. I'm working on them occasionally, it's just that they're not taking the majority of my time.

One of them is that I'm learning more Javascript, so that I can make cool online games and utilities. Check out this extremely-unfinished game for an example of what I'm messing with.

The other is this: Since I'm blocked on the graphics editing software project, I've started just drawing stuff in an existing graphics program (namely GIMP). Here's something I randomly sketched [...]

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Some thoughts about expressiveness, socializing, and honesty


I once had a conversation with two friends. At some point, we said something like this (I don't remember the exact words, since this was more than a year ago and I didn't write it down):

Me: This is kind of an oversimplification, but: Privileged people make statements about the world, and oppressed people make statements about themselves.

Friend 1: I hadn't thought about it that way. I can see how that relates to my experiences.

At which point Friend 2 pointed out how I'd made a statement about the world, while Friend 1 had made a statement about zemself! (I'm pretty sure I'm more privileged than Friend 1, so this matches what I said.) The theory goes [...]

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Imagining pain

Remember when I said we should talk about how we experience the world? This post is me doing that.

I can't imagine pain. At all. Or, since even the word “imagine” might have slightly different meanings to different people, let's be more specific:

There's something I can do that I call “imagining”, which works very well for sight, and sound, and physical touch, and a few other things. I can conjure up the feelings in my head, and feel almost as if the thing is actually happening. But this doesn't work at all for physical pain. I can try to conjure up the feeling of pain, but nothing happens. I can imagine reacting to the pain, but I can't imagine the pain itself.

The same is true in my dreams and my memories. Even if I've actually experienced pain recently, like if I stubbed my toe, I can't remember the actual feeling of pain afterwards, not any more than I could normally imagine it.1 My dreams usually have visual images in them, and occasionally have sounds or touch-sensations. They try to be semi-realistic, so, for instance, if someone hits a gong in my dream, the dream provides the sound of a gong. But if someone drops something on my foot, then the dream tries to provide a pain sensation, but fails.

Since I've never been anyone but myself, I don't automatically know whether anyone else shares this quirk. So, after I was thinking about this yesterday, I decided to ask my biological parents.2 And that was interesting, because one of them said ze could imagine pain as easily as anything else, and the other said ze couldn't.

So, dear readers, I'm curious: Does your imagination work this way? Please leave a comment if you feel comfortable doing so!

– Eli

  1. As far as I've heard, when the brain remembers a sensory experience, it uses pretty much the same process that it does to imagine one. So this shouldn't be too surprising. back
  2. Who are also my legal and social parents. I say “biological parents” because the genetic relation is probably the most important thing here. back


Before we can really talk about pornography, we have to know what it is. Of course, defining “pornography” is notoriously difficult. There's even a quote from a former United States Supreme Court Justice saying “perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so”.1 I usually don't like going to dictionaries for answers, because dictionaries are often behind-the-times on social issues, but here, I'll go ahead and ask a dictionary. At the time I'm writing this, Wiktionary defines “pornography” as:

The explicit depiction of sexual subject matter, especially with the sole intention of sexually exciting the viewer.

That wasn't so hard.2 So, we're basically talking about stories, pictures, videos, and so on, of people having sex or being in sexual situations, whatever that means.

Anyway, sounds great, right? I mean, most people enjoy a certain [...]

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Tired of coding


I'm ready to post the novella that I mentioned in my first post here. I did some last editing earlier today. But before I can post it, I have to make some changes to the website, because I don't want to just copy the text into a blog post. And I can't make those changes right away because I'm tired of doing computer programming (colloquially, “coding”).

I don't know why it happened. It's not because I'd been doing a lot of it, because I can sometimes code for weeks on end without getting tired. And it's not because I was failing to make progress, because I had been making progress on my drawing program when the tiredness hit me a week and a half ago. I suppose I could make an analogy to [...]

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Story idea: The shell

I had an idea that doesn't fit into any of the current stories I'm developing, and basically wants to be a novel in its own right, so I'm probably not going to be able to write it. So I'll write about it here instead. For fun, I'm going to describe it in the order I thought of it.

It started with the idea of destroying a person's mind. Zir body still functions, and ze can even still talk a little and give basic replies, but most of zir personality is gone, ze doesn't recognize people ze used to know, ze's completely cold and unfeeling, and ze barely bothers to fulfill zir basic needs. This kind of thing can happen in real life, but it's more common in fantasy settings, especially horror-fantasy; I was thinking about it because something similar happens in HP:MoR.

I've got a lot of respect for good horror stories. After all, what is writing if not an attempt to effectively convey an image or idea, and what is horror if not a [...]

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