Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Can gears be sexy (but brief)?

In inviting comment on a problem in the novel, I reduced the question to that of a principle or a technique. What I hadn’t made clear (to avoid complications) was that the passage was short, it fitted into a chapter several thousands words long and couldn’t be hugely expanded just to animate the problem. I took in suggestions where I could and, for what it’s worth, here’s the result. Hatch is speaking to other employees in a TV production company.

At three he faced half a dozen Gamester employees, all younger than him, all shabbily dressed, all incapable of sitting upright. “This is a techno-test based on understanding gears. The contestant arranges a sequence of gears - a gear-train - on this frame. If she’s done the arithmetic and got it right she turns this wheel here at the bottom a full 360 degrees and gets the necessary result on the sixth gear at the top.”

He paused, “I know ‘result’ sounds vague but I’ve been learning how to dumb down. My first idea was that the bottom and top wheels could be clock faces. That way two o’clock became, say, four o’clock. But it wasn’t dumb enough. Now I prefer the correct result being flagged as ‘Bingo’ in a panel. Or whatever.

“So, that’s what the viewer sees. The contestant does her sums, puts the gear-wheels in the right order, twiddles the bottom gear and ‘Bingo’. The arithmetic is simple and it’s based on the number of teeth per wheel. Plus one other factor. Can anyone guess?”

No one spoke. Hatch said, “I take it you all did eng-lit at uni. I can demo it, though cardboard wheels aren’t perfect.” Hatch slotted two wheels on to the frame so their rims touched. “I now turn the bottom wheel clockwise and you notice this drives the second wheel. But the second wheel turns – wait for it - anti-clockwise! That complicates the arithmetic a little and the contestant must take it into account.”

A long-haired woman in a kaftan said, “That point should be made clear for viewers. It’s got a low-grade woo-factor.”

“I’m glad you told me,” said Hatch, grinning. “Something terribly complicated that can only be understood by scientists?”
Novel progress 18/3/10.Ch. 17: 2653 words. Chs. 1 - 16: 73,302. Comments: Clare unhappy at home.


Hattie said...

That's good. Really good. And funny. How do you communicate across the gap?

Relucent Reader said...

"Incapable of sitting upright"; "Low grade woo factor" : what a hoot, very funny! I would change 'woo' to the more frequently seen 'woot' (on the web anyways) which means the same thing, I believe.

Julia said...

Sounds like it could be a cool game, have you seen it before? I've got games in my head recently as I have been designing a few for a local bank interested in educating kids. It's fun to spec them!

herhimnbryn said...

Yes, they can and funny too. I recognise your description of the 'tech-heads'.

Barrett Bonden said...

All: This probably wasn't a good idea, although I appreciate your comments. Too many loose strings were left dangling after I'd separated this bleeding chunk from the complete beast.

Hattie: Hatch, an engineer, is explaining a system to people who know how to put TV shows together. Two skills look to merge.

RR: The novel is set in 1990, pre-web. So woo, a word I invented, will have to stay.

Julia: Hatch's contribution is only one part of a TV Superwoman contest which tests intellectual, mental agility, technical, sporting and other skills and which flirts (via a hidden agenda) with their looks.

HHB: The trick is to explain a mechanical system so that readers understand what it is yet are not bored by the experience.

herhimnbryn said...

Well, I wasn't bored!

Rouchswalwe said...

I have to admit, the 'woo' had me scratching my head. But once again, I very much liked the flow of the conversation. Natural. I heard it in my head and the characters came alive. The techies who work around here have a lingo all their own, and I often find myself wishing I had brought along a scratch pad and a pencil.

Julia said...

A superwoman contest? Sounds intriguing!

Barrett Bonden said...

RW (zS): Would you be happier if I inserted an h - eg, Whoo (it can be done at a stroke) thus creating a sound that people make when they're suprised.

Julia: I fear the contest will only provide a background to my characters. But if you're really keen I could make it the central event in a novel yet to be written. Provided, as my Grannie used to say, I am spared.

Julia said...

I think whoo (or maybe oooh) might be clearer. When I read woo I thought you meant woo as in "to woo someone". Perhaps this is a North American thing?

Rouchswalwe said...

I have been pondering the addition of an 'h' and I can't help but think of whoop then. Julia's idea of oooh works. I suppose you don't want to use the word wow. Which brings me back to woo. And yes, the first thing to cross my mind then is the romantic kind of wooing.

Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: I think you're right about whoo and I shall add the h. Your sensitivity in this is proof that either you, or your friends and relations, or all, have ears so finely tuned that you can detect the absence or presence of h in the word. But then anyone who can rush off the unaccompanied partitas probably needs bat-like ears.

RW (zS): I invented the phrase "woo-factor", now changed to "whoo-factor" following both your representations. I prefer it to "wow-factor" because that sounds as if it already exists and I was wanting to sound as if I were ahead of the game.

Rouchswalwe said...