Paris – Solidarité

Paris – Solidarité
By Ben W. | BlueCatShip

I woke up and went online and have just seen the news. Terrible.

Why Paris, or France? Good question.

As a broad generalization, French people tend to react passionately towards social justice issues, philosophical issues, and so on, on a somewhat different level or manner than do Americans. Are they any more or less passionate or idealistic or realistic? Well, probably not, but there are differences in national character in how French people express themselves.

This is my impression as a French-speaking American. If I were to live in a natively French-speaking area, I’d have to learn a lot of vocabulary and review some things, but my French is still pretty fluent, thanks to several semesters in college.

Paris is a large international city and a center of commerce as well as the national capital. It’s older and more historic than, say, New York City. This makes it a target for people who want to cause disorder and terror.

France also has a long history, both as a colonial power, but also as an exploratory and trading nation, and a long history of contact with northern Africa and the Middle East. So there’s a long history of both friendly and unfriendly feelings going on between those nations and France. France and French-speaking areas tend to have tolerant relations with these areas, but that isn’t to say that there isn’t also prejudice and tension between French-speaking and north African / Middle Eastern peoples.

So while France has a minority population of people from the area, Muslims and others, Arabic-speaking people and others, there are still tensions, despite tolerance. And that leads some to want to put a wedge in and use those sore spots and prejudices on both sides as a way to drive people further apart or to get what a given person or group wants, disorder, terror, as a way to grab power, wealth, beliefs, and so on, while people are looking the other way. By giving both sides more reasons to dislike (or hate or fear) each other, the people behind such attacks want to gain for themselves and their beliefs.

So never mind an overall history of relations between France and north African / Middle-Eastern nations, any tendencies towards tolerance and peaceful relations, trade, and so on. Never mind that there’s a minority population throughout France. Instead, people bent on causing hate and fear as tools would rather cause hate and fear and try to make people believe what their group wants, to grab what they want to get, make some political or religious statement, further divide and stir people up, and so on.


One of my professors when I went back for my associate’s degree was an immigrant, a Syrian and Muslim, fluent in English, working toward citizenship for himself and his wife, with a child born here in the US. When someone had asked him, during an informal class session, about the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, about perception of Muslims, and so on, he gave an interesting answer.

He said that it’s one thing to be over here and hear about the conflict going on. But it’s another to be over there and have one group fighting another group, back and forth, this group, that group, another group, both within one’s own religion or nationality and outside it from neighboring countries or from minority or majority groups within one’s own country. That is, if someone attacks your neighborhood, your friends, your relatives, assaults a woman you know, kills or maims kids, etc., attacks buildings, monuments and historical sites, sacred areas (mosques, temples, churches, synagogues), then of course people get angry and retaliate. They take things into their own hands to protect themselves. Or they get angry and fight back and cause more violence against whoever they think hurt them. That goes back and forth, on and on. It causes animosity and hate and division, over generations, even if people want to be moderate or peaceful. People can only take so much, and then they react, whether it’s wise or justified or not. And the cycle continues on and on, over and over — because no on stops it and keeps it stopped. No one says enough’s enough, I won’t do that anymore.

He said also that you could either stay in all that and live as best you could and do what you can, as a moderate person, peaceful, religious or secular — Or you could decide enough was enough, and take yourself and your family and move somewhere else, where there was more opportunity and a peaceful life and some more degree of tolerance for differences of religion, ethnicity, and so on.

He chose to move to the US, study here, live here, become an American citizen, and to marry a young woman from his country who had come here, where she was working toward citizenship too, and where they married here and had their first child, who was therefore an American. His English was good, he was mostly moderate both in religious views and in secular views. He was a professor, so an academic, and education and intelligence were important to him.

Be it noted, I didn’t always agree with him or how he did things. Heh. But he was an OK guy, a reasonable person, I thought, and someone you could deal with. He sincerely wanted that American life and ideal for himself and his family. — I can also say he had the worst handwriting I think i’ve ever seen. I can’t vouch for how his Syrian and Arabic writing were, but his English handwriting? Awful. LOL. I relied on taking notes from his speaking, not from what he was putting on the board, which I could hardly read, even knowing what it was. Heh.

But I took his points, his experience and perspective, as key in understanding what it’s like to live in an area where so many very different groups are often in armed conflict and competing for beliefs and ideas, for worldly goods and land to live on, for their perceived ways of life. — And his demonstrated choice, to move out of that and seek a new life elsewhere, even while keeping his own beliefs and his family contacts (of course), that spoke to what he thought, believed, how he viewed things, and his ultimate goals.


Around the same time, my mom and I also often ate at a local restaurant that served mostly “Italian” dishes. We were regulars and got to know the owners a little. When we asked where they were from, the answer, carefully, was that they were Persian. (Note that. Not stated as Farsi, not stated as Iranian.) My mom and I both knew “Persian” is “iranian, Farsi.” They said that they put it that way because of so much prejudice against Middle Easterners, especially Iranians, and Muslims. (They were Christians.) They stayed in business a few years before closing the restaurant. But this shows how people’s perceptions and ignorance and prejudices can operate. Tell someone they were Persian, and most people would think that was wonderful. Tell the same someone they were Iranian, and the perception would’ve changed, for most people, because of preconceived notions of what Iranians (and Muslims) are like, versus the romantic notion of what “Persian” is. As someone who knew a little (very little) about history and language, like myself or like my mom, it was as frustrating for us, as mainstream, majority Americans, to run into that from people who only wanted to build a new life in America, assimilate, and leave that old life behind. They had left their home country to escape the bad situation over there.

Later that same semester, I learned from another professor (white American) that a fellow professor in her department was Farsi / Persian / Iranian and having real trouble, because she and her family had had to leave Iran to be safe, and yet she (and family) was (were) facing prejudice over here, due to prejudices about race, nationality, and religion. (Whether the other prof was Muslim or Christian wasn’t stated, but she may have been Christian instead of Muslim.)

So — The problem is ongoing from both (or multiple) sides.

Where does it stop? When do enough people stop and say they’ve had enough of the endless cycle of violence and intolerance, and they don’t want to fight with their neighbors anymore?

When and why does it become acceptable to hate so much over religious beliefs or some other ideology that you and your group think that hurting and killing people who live nearby, neighbors, is justifiable, or even a good thing?

How can anyone believe in any god and claim to want tolerance, peace, love, forgiveness — and yet actively hate and exclude and hurt other people, just because they are different, or believe or act differently?

Note: I don’t exempt my own country or my own religious background from those questions. I am just as offended by that as any “foreign” actions.

The level of ignorance, of prejudice without thought, of outright hatred and greed and intolerance, instead of a willingness to live and let live … offends me greatly. But I don’t therefore want to go out and hurt or kill or drive out or shun anyone because of it. You go your way, I’ll go my way. If we interact, then be decent and civil. Treat the other person like you’d want to be treated. Don’t be awful to someone, just because they are different or believe differently. Why treat someone badly for that? And how is that going to influence them to listen to your ideas, to think about them, and maybe to change their minds to agree with you? It won’t. It only drives people apart. I want a better world than that.

“We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
— Benjamin Franklin

“I may not agree with you, sir, but I shall defend to the death your right to disagree.”
— Voltaire (very) paraphrased

“They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
— Benjamin Franklin, 1755, to the Pennsylvania State Legislature


Prelude to the Wookiee Problem

I am thinking up an article / essay on “the Wookiee problem,” or alien speech and the related problem of including mute characters.

I am not sure when this will show up as a finished post, but when it is, I’ll have it posted on my site and blog and will link to it from a few forums and blogs I visit.

This also relates to the portrayal or inclusion of mute people in fiction, though I’m not sure yet how I intend to address that.

I don’t know yet if I want to go even broader, to portrayal of things like handicaps or ageism. I don’t yet know if it’ll be more than one post.

But I want to write something, because the problem of how to write a character for an audio or video play, or for a novel, without having the character be a sidekick, and with taking into account the realistic things a character has to deal with, when he or she can’t avoid or magically cure the condition: a realistic, strongly portrayed character.


Ben’s Fonts – The Long and Winding Road

Way back in the 1990’s, I had Fontographer and Freehand, and created several fonts in various draft stages, a handful of which were nearly complete.

But these were backed up on 3.5in floppies, or (maybe) on a Syquest cartridge, or old iomega Zip disks, because “optical drives” (later called CD-R/RW drives) were so very pricey.

This also wasn’t my “real job” (though for a while it was part of it) and I didn’t get much support work-wise or personal-wise, from my folks. So I could only work on them in my spare time. A project for a friend produced a font based on Kabel Ultra that might still be out there somewhere, for all I know. But that was about the only thing that got released. (No excitement from my folks, either.)

Through a long comedy of errors, in which I didn’t personally have enough backup disks, and others that were backed up were destroyed (media life gave out, the drives died, water damage ruines some backups) — I have not run into backups of those old Fontographer source files. (I’m still hopeful I’ll find them in some usable form on some backup, but I’ll have to get more creative about it, with old, no longer supported media and drives.)

Ah, but I also had Freehand drawings: Freehand 3, 5, 10, 11 or MX, up through the last-ever supported version. Usually, it was only the .fh* files, though depending on a project, there might be .eps or .tiff or other formats exported.

My own copies of Freehand started as university student discounts, for which you had to be currently enrolled. This meant that at some later point, I had to buy the program at full price, because it refused to upgrade. Fine, I had Freehand on Mac originally, then later on Windows.

And then a couple of computers died. One was taken out spectacularly when my cat jumped on the desk…and knocked a full, large glass of iced tea into the laptop…which died a horrible death then and there.

This meant my only working copies of Freehand were gone. — And because Adobe had killed the old Macromedia website domain name by then, and had dropped support, I couldn’t re-install and get a working version up and going. (I intend to see if I can bypass that somehow, with old, old Mac versions. But that probably is a lost cause.)

This meant I have a ton of old vector outline drawings that are useless. — Adobe Illustrator would do only a partial import, and sometimes not at all — on a file format that was by then also owned by them. Wow. Impressive. Not.

Along the way, they also stopped supporting Fontographer, and for a while, only the big, pricey competitor, FontLab Studio, was available. I couldn’t afford it then.

For a very long while, I was very, very (VERY) unhappy about this. I had a huge amount of good work that I couldn’t show and couldn’t import and reuse, because the file formats were no longer supported. This was years worth of work, essentially my entire professional and personal career. I was not a happy camper. At all.

But then FontLab bought Fontographer and resurrected it, along with FontLab Studio. Oh, that was really good. Maybe. I went over-budget and bought Fontographer, then a few months later, went over-budget again and bought FontLab Studio.

And then everything went kablooey, in my finances and personal and professional life. The economy crashed, my finances with it, and my grandmother’s health was really failing by then, a long, drawn out slide towards the end. For several years, the only “work” I was doing was unpaid volunteer work, and also unpaid, full-time primary caregiver for my grandmother. Things were pretty dismal. At the end of it, I’d lost nearly everything.

I had to pick up the pieces and start over somehow, though. I had to make a living too. I was living month-to-month on minimal income. (I still am.)

Font production was one thing that turned out to be promising and maybe workable. I had Fontographer and FontLab Studio. I’d have to start from scratch, but I could do that. I remembered much of what I’d done on those old fonts, all those years ago. (By now, it was the 2010’s.)

It is not encouraging to start redoing all the work you know you’d done twenty years ago, completely from scratch, when you know that somewhere, on some diskette or other media you haven’t run across again, or that you don’t have a drive for, you have old, but now reusable source files, with all that work already done and ready to go. Somewhere. But I wasn’t finding the files.

So I started with redrawing old stuff and of course, to make myself feel a little better, to try to get excited again, I began new drafts, new ideas.

There was some progress there, but it was slow. I was trying to do other things (fiction writing, getting my life and my home and my finances back in some kind of order) and well, I was a mess, and so was my house, reflecting that, and…for a very long time, I couldn’t see any progress happening. It kept getting eaten up by things, or I’d stagnate from depression.

Well, I kept at it. But I wasn’t concentrating on the fonts. That turned out to be a mistake. I was also falling further and further behind in my life, and had to reassess several times, and also had to pay from remaining savings to stay afloat.

After yet another very down period, I reassessed again. What I was doing just wasn’t going anywhere fast enough, and I was desperate for some way to improve things. If my fiction writing still wasn’t proceeding fast enough to gain income…that meant font production was my best answer, at least for now.

I began doing that, devoting more time to it. I also saw I had to step up work on my house…without enough budget to do that. Very discouraging, still.

But font work began gaining speed and momentum. It began to be exciting again. I could see progress. Still not fast enough to make a difference, maybe, but it was better than nothing, and better than before. So OK, let’s keep at this.

Meanwhile, I had, for a while, bought Adobe Illustrator. But the interface was very, very weird, even though (or because) I was an old hand at Freehand. I would go along and Illustrator would do something completely strange, or I’d have so much trouble with it that it wasn’t worth it. I had CS3 and CS4. … And then Adobe went to their Creative Suite subscription model, monthly subscription to use the program. Don’t pay for even one month, and the program, and thus all your files, become unusable. The fees started at $19 per month and went up to $29, $39, or more, per month, depending on what suite options you had. Uh, no, I could not afford to do that, to pay monthly or to pay yearly for $240 or 150% or 200% or more of that, the cost of the program new, or the cost of an upgrade before. So I swore off Adobe’s products completely. Can’t afford ’em. (I’m not the only one. Just look at the reviews of Illustrator on Amazon: 1 star reviews from over 20 former users and new users. People are looking for competing programs that don’t cost too much and that work well.)

So…I was very, very frustrated still, with very limited ways to get artwork in and out of Fontographer, and no usable scalable vector outline drawing program. (I’d tried Inkscape several times, but it refused to work on either a Mac or Windows for me.)

Just recently, Inkscape has come out with Inkscape 0.91, which I *can* use, at least partially. Now that I can get it to work at all, I’ve begun trying to learn it. This might (at last) give me a workable vector drawing program. (I haven’t yet figured out where and how to control snap-to and the grid spacing, something very, very basic. But I’ll find it, or find that it doesn’t work, still.)

And then — Omigosh! I can (partially) import/export SVG to EPS, and due to another program on my Mac that likes (partially) some old Freehand format (.fh10 and up?) — I can now import at least some of my old artwork (drawing files) into Fontographer and into Inkscape. Oh, hot diggity! Excellent! — Hmm, but both Inkscape and Fontographer are buggy about this. For example, if I output EPS from Fontographer, especially for a sample of “All Glyphs” in the font, to have a backup and printable art from the font drafts…that EPS from Fontographer…is buggy and refuses to preview or open in absolutely anything I have, including the Mac’s own Preview and Finder views.

Also, I’ve discovered that Fontographer insists it wants individual characters on a single line, or else it scales the whole drawing. Oh, ugh. It omits some things too.

But it’s usable, sort of. I can get *some* of the old vector drawings I have into Fontographer, which saves me somewhat from starting completely from scratch. Oh, if only I had those old .fog Fontographer source files!

But between the work I’ve been doing on font production, and newly discovering I can import and export some things, both for Inkscape and Fontographer… I am suddenly a lot more able to do something, and do it faster, than before. If I can overcome a few more things, to ease the import/export process, I’ll be even more productive.

I have some things nearing readiness, but it will still be a while before they’re ready for submission, before they can be considered for publication (and sales) and (ahem) income I really need.

But now I have real progress! This is terrific news!

Hmm, I see that due to the scaling and importing, I’ll still have to redraw some things, but at least I’ll have what I did before to go from. Maybe-maybe I can convince it to scale so I can adjust the old art more easily, so I can avoid some redrawing. But even if I do have to redraw, I now have more to go on than memory alone.

I just spent about 2.5 hours importing some old artwork, a drawing for a font idea, nearly 52 letters, and putting those into place in Fontographer. But I see those will have to be rescaled and adjusted, or redrawn, because there’s something slightly off in the scaling factor. OK, so even if I have to draw from scratch, I still have my old artwork, usable vector outlines, to go on.

It only took freakin’ 22 years, from 1993 to 2015, to get that old drawing into the start of a Fontographer font file.

If that isn’t dogged determination, stubborn patience, and a lot of crud along the way, I don’t know what is.

I have a fair number of other source drawings I can also import and use, again, even if I have to redraw because of scaling or other issues. I still have those to go on. They date from about 1993 to 2010, originally in Freehand, a few from Illustrator, by importing EPS or exporting SVG or AI files to EPS.

Fontographer and FontLab Studio will not import SVG in their current versions. Only EPS. They’ll import bitmap files from TIFF or PNG to trace. I really hope they’ll be upgraded to import/export SVG and web fonts.

But… This is a big deal. I can now open and use at least *some* of my old drawings from part of my professional career, over 22 years and since.

I would be exceedingly happy, excited, overjoyed, if I could import, open, save, and export everything from my old Freehand files, versions 3, 5, 10, 11, MX, up through the final version.

If I could open and use those, import them in my programs, and save/export to other usable file formats — I would be unbelievably grateful, relieved, and…ohhh yeah. — I would love it if Inkscape or some program could do that! Absolutely, I’d love it.

Hmm, I’m not sure how much I have from before the 1990’s still, but I started out back in 1984, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

I still need to see if I can reuse whatever I still might have on old media, if it’s readable at all. — I was surprised, you can still get a floppy drive that claims to work on a modern Mac or Windows PC. Not sure about old iomega Zip disks. Old Syquest cartridges? I’m not sure I have those, and pretty sure I don’t have the drive, which died and would need to be replaced.

But dang it, I can now use more of my old files than I could before. This is a real improvement.

I’m getting closer to having fonts ready to submit for consideration for publication and sales.

More on that when I’m further along and have more progress, or a submission ready.

But hurray! Overall, I’ve just had a win that was 22 years in the making! Imagine being able to use a file from 22 years ago, to finally get to make a font from a drawing I made back then.

That’s really something! Maybe you have to be there to understand. But I’m pleased. Still a lot of work to do to get it done, but — It’s really something! Yippee! Hurray!

Oh, I’d be so happy if I could get Freehand files to open/import and save/export into other, modern formats. So, so happy if I could do that. How happy, you ask? Heheheh, you have no idea!

Writing – Stories, Poems, Non-Fiction

On my site (see the link to the Site above) you’ll find a few short-short stories, first installments of long-form stories, a collection of many freeform poems, and several non-fiction essays or articles.

These cover whatever subjects might interest me.

The non-fiction has some geeky technical pieces as well as human interest or general topics.

The poetry can cover darn near anything, and is more poetry by ideas or connections, mood and style, than by rhyme and meter. So far, I haven’t done much that could work as song lyrics or traditional poetry. But for me, at least, they work as something akin to poems.

The fictional stories I have publicly available are short-short stories and a few intended as novels or anthologies or serials, but so far, those have only one or two installments each.

That brings up a major point. I have a folder full of story ideas, anything from brief notes, bits and pieces, to several chapters and larger world-building. One in particular is a story-universe intended for many stories. That one started in college, and has gone through some important morphing of the ideas and world-building recently. My goal is to get more stories completed, so there’s more out there for readers to enjoy.

Though many of my stories are present-day, here-and-now, and though I like several genres, I have always had a love for science fiction.  I want to get those stories written, besides the world-building, the background of the story-universes those play in.

I always seem to have several ideas running in my head, and new ones can pop up at any time. This has, in recent years, made it hard to pay attention to one story and bring it to completion, when the background, the story-universe it lives in, has been changing, growing.

I still feel like an amateur fiction writer. Though I’ve had ideas going since college, it’s only recently that I’ve been writing things seriously, towards being a full-time writer. I have other projects I do (audio, font design, artwork, web/print design) that I’m trying to get done too, and to teach myself new, needed skills, especially in the changing web and ebook and print publishing fields. So I’m distracted with a number of things going, and I don’t yet have the progress, the completed output, I want to see.

It’s a major goal to get things written, both in what I already have started, and in ideas and stories still in progress, in their various stages in my writing folders.

From time to time, I expect to begin releasing new stories, poems, and non-fiction again. I will keep readers posted on the process and on pieces, novels, or collections, as they become available.

If you enjoy a story, poem, or non-fiction piece, or if you have comments or suggestions, I would love to get feedback from you. In fact, I’d be surprised. I value positive feedback and value negative feedback when it makes me think more and learn from it.

Future plans include bringing my fiction and poetry into ebook formats (for very reasonable prices), rather than web pages. I expect my non-fiction articles to remain available online as web pages, with the addition of ebook formats. These should happen as I can get to them. I am learning EPUB3 and need to learn PHP too.

Stay tuned for more!