Saturday, May 16, 2015

My ‘Man on a Hill’ arc

Man on Hill

Last Tuesday, I described insightful work by Kurt Vonnegut and computer analysis by Matthew Jockers outlining the Sentiment Arcs common to many novels.  But stories are also the way that way organize and narrate events in our lives, so it’s tempting to ask which model best fits my style.

I suspect I’m a classical “Man on a Hill” sort.

narrative 2

The day usually starts out a bit south of neutral: it’s earlier than I’d like, there’s a lot to be done, and I haven’t had my coffee yet.  A glimpse of the overnight emails doesn’t help, and I DSC00905 (1400x917)start making notes for the day’s work while waiting for the shower to open.  I’m not working, but not yet in my happy-zone.

At the opening bell, though, I’m getting on-pace, finding my rhythm.  The phones start ringing, the train’s on time, I’m connecting with people.  There’s a growing sense of possibility. 

I probably crest in the early afternoon: I’ve got a fair DSC00986 (1400x1288)number of things ticked off and hours left to make headway on the rest.  Its likely some things are settled, and I’ve taken time out for lunch and a quick walk to shop.  The sun is shining, the birds are singing.

Late afternoon, the undone things become won’t-be-done’s.  A last few calls are asking for things that would require evening work (I decline).  ‘off to the Leisure Centre to pound the bike while trying not to watch Jeremy Kyle.  I can feel things slipping.!cid_172C3079-97FC-4200-B14D-46B9B2C8DC04 - Copy

Home by 7 and making a light dinner before settling in with a book, movie, or series show (I get fewer answers correct on University Challenge than I should).  I’m tired, but make a couple of calls to the US, worried that I might have forgotten something important.  The day winds down.

Its been pointed out that Flowers for Algernon is the classic Man on a Hill story.  Not a good model.

Upward StoryIt could be time to fit mood and habits to a different arc, perhaps  cumulating the positives through the day and ending with a joint shore walk.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Going Greek for Friday

DSC00977 (1400x1335)I thought we were making hummus.

I’d bought a batch of chickpeas and tahini, lemon juice and garlic, and  picked a couple of authentic recipes.  The package suggested at least 12 hours soaking for the lentils, so I put them in a pot on Wednesday morning.

Greek-mom was waiting, hands on hips, by Wednesday-noon. 

First, the water is wrong, the size of the bowl is too little, it needs to soak longer.

I thought she might be missing the point, and went back DSC00967 (933x1400)to the computer for the recipe.  I pasted the instructions into Google Translate and printed the serving objective in Greek.

Greek-mom shook her head.

Tahini?  Never!       ‘Out it went. 

Olive oil, salt, pepper, tomato juice, onion, a carrot…, she counted off.  I scurried to the store.

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This afternoon, everything goes on the boil.  First the peas, two hours.  The Olive Oil, Passata, a chopped onion, lots of salt.  It all started to cook down and thicken.  Good, but definitely not hummus.

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Revithia, she proclaimed.  I wad dubious about putting it through a blender.  On the salad, olives, anchovies… more slicing and dicing ensued.  The cardiologist arrived, and we all decided a family dinner was in order after a hard week.

I’m finally seeing daylight on my fundraising and legal questions; Laura has her dissertation defense on Wednesday, and the Greeks have been hard at their English practice (we read out loud from Dorset Magazine every morning over coffee).

Everyone is getting tired.

DSC00974 (1400x933)So we made a party out of it.  Dinner was simple and superb; the conversation flowed in three languages.  We congratulated one another on how the plants were growing,DSC00979 (1338x1400) compared plans for the weekend, and teased one another’s work styles.  We pooled our berries for dessert.

All good fun and a nice evening.  And, secretly I’ve brought back the tahini and still have plans to try a hummus recipe when nobody’s looking.

For the house, I think we were celebrating humans, ‘better than making hummus.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Parkstone morning

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‘starting to think ahead to the weekend, and the possibilities for some walks, pictures, and cooking.   It’s not summer enough yet to plan more ambitions sailing, art, and travel, but some great possibilities are starting to bubble up.

Armed with shopping lists I made the trek down to Parkstone, the butcher, baker, coffee maker, before laying into the day’s work.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

London to Studland Bay

DSC00893 (1400x933)It’s been a road week, headed north out of the weekend, a big pitch in London on Tuesday then back to Poole this morning.  We are on a two-pronged strategy for fundraising, one aimed at a couple of healthcare groups who could invest larger amounts, the other to secure a flock of angel investors who could invest smaller amounts, collectively large.  Either one puts us over the line and closes the round, opening a clear path to product approval and market.

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I arrived in London early for Tuesday’s meeting, trying to find the London Library so that I could sit and practice for a couple of hours.  But I got lost along the way to St James Square, finding myself on the meandering paths and reflecting ponds of St. James Park. 

It made more sense to enjoy a serendipitous moment than to try to correct the error.

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The talks went very well, and we start diligence on Thursday.  I headed back to Poole to prepare, breaking only for a supplier meeting in a Sandbanks café.  We finished business with an hour still on my parking, so I went out along the sands to take a few pictures.

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One of the Tall Ships from the Poole Boat show was rounding Old Harry’s Rocks into Studland Bay.  Racing it to Sandpoint Terminal, I was able to arrive just before it motored through the harbour entrance.

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A friend recommended taking the 100 day Happiness Challenge.  The goal is to submit one picture that makes me happy, every day for 100 days in a row.  The organizers claim that benefits include

– Start noticing what makes them happy everyDSC00938-ANIMATION day,
– Be in a better mood every day,
– Start receiving more compliments from other people,
– Realize how lucky they are to have the life they have,
– Become more optimistic.

I have to admit that I’m liking the whole idea, breaking up the travel with a trial run on instagram.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Good news, bad news and the novel


How many ways can you tell a fictional story?  British newspaper columnist Christopher Booker suggested in 2004 that the answer was “7”: 1. Overcoming the Monster, 2. Rags to Riches, 3. The Quest, 4. Voyage and Return, 5. Rebirth, 6. Comedy and 7. Tragedy.  All  but the seventh have happy endings, either the restoration of order or the promise of renewal.

‘nothing magical about 7, of course, and other authors argue for anywhere from three to vonnegut graphthirty-six basic plots.

Complementary to that was Kurt Vonnegut, who argued for Universal Shapes of Stories in his rejected Masters thesis.  In it, he traces the sentimental arc of stories, the shifting balance of happiness and sadness as the plot unfolded.  He identified eight basic types of story arcs, well illustrated here and charmingly presented in video by Vonnegut here.

Enter Matthew Jockers, a University of Nebraska English Professor.  He assigned a sentiment weighting to any word that carried some emotional affect: for example, Pout, Powerless, Prejudice are all unhappy; while Gallant, Generous, Gentle are all happy.  As computers scan text, they can assign emotive values to each word, calculate cumulative sums and averages, and thus follow the ups and downs of sentiment across a work.  So, for example, Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist:


A few things to note: the average sentiment is positive (μ > 0.0), the novel has many ups and downs (black annotated line) but the smoothed trajectory is sort of happy-sad-happy (blue line).  It roughly follows Vonnegut’s Man in Hole model (top of page). 

Analyzing 41,383 novels with Syzuhet, he concluded that there are six, maybe seven, basic sentiment plots.  The two Primary arcs were Man in Hole and Man on Hill, with variations on each.


It’s not a perfect path to analysis.  Jockers notes that happiness can be false-notated in sections where the bad guys are having a very good time.  It completely misses British subtleties of irony or dark humour (as do I). 

Still, I find the whole analysis sort of delightful, I’m looking forward to an atlas being published so that I can see how some of my favorite works are diagrammed (the software is available if you want to do your own analysis as well).

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Along the line–Burghfield

Some events need no explanation.  The Tug-of-War at the Burghfield May Fayre today (and the egg toss) speaks for itself.

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