The Hieroglyph Project

Here’s a new project from Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, inspired by a 2011 call to action from Neil Stephenson. What’s the Center for Science and Imagination, you ask? Bruce Sterling explains it well in a 2012 Wired article.

The goal of the Hieroglyph Project is to rekindle the spirit of mid-20th century “Big Idea” science fiction: the kind of writing that described (and inspired) a future society in which communications satellites, robots, and rocket ships were common technologies. The idea of Hieroglyph, then, is to provide a forum for 21st-century writers and researchers to dream up new big ideas to inspire new generations of engineers and scientists. To give you an idea of the scope and vision we’re talking about here, two initial projects are an insanely tall tower and a plot to send a 3D printer to the moon. Here’s an excerpt from the project’s ‘about‘ page:

What science fiction stories—and the symbols that they engender—can do better than almost anything else is to provide not just an idea for some specific technical innovation, but also to supply a coherent picture of that innovation being integrated into a society, into an economy, and into people’s lives. Often, this is the missing element that scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and entrepreneurs need in order to actually take the first real steps towards realizing some novel idea.

This should be interesting.

Novel uses for VoodooPad

I’ve been off the grid for the past several days getting ready for a job interview. Now that it’s over, I want to share a tip about a tool I used to help me prepare.

First, I’ll define the problem. I typically prepare for an interview by writing out potential questions that may be asked. I then add some ‘answers’ after each question in a bulleted list. I then sit in front of my Mac and practice answering my fictitous questions. This works fairly well — and I own several programs that handle simple bulleted lists with flair (Pages, Tinderbox, and OmniOutliner, for instance).

But I wanted something a little different this time around. Instead of viewing my questions and answers all on one page, I wanted the ability to view my questions separately from my answers. In other words, I wanted to see the questions without the ‘answer’ bullet points. Then, after I practiced responding to the question, I wanted to compare what I said with the bullet points. It dawned on me that what I was looking for was a simple ‘flash card’ system.

Enter VoodooPad. If you’ve never used this tool, it’s worth trying out (especially considering that the developers offer a free Lite version that is surprisingly capable and feature-rich). What is it? Essentially, it’s a tool for taking freeform notes that gives you the power to quickly and easily create links to new pages of information. It’s like having a little stand-alone I’ve previously noted that VoodooPad is a nice tool for fiction. Create a character sketch for a person named ‘Tim,’ for example, then link this character information to a sub-page named ‘Tim.’ Once you create this sub-page, every time you type the name ‘Tim,’ VoodooPad automatically links this character name to the character sketch sub-page. It’s a handy way to track and develop people, places, and things when writing a story.

It’s also a handy way to create hypertext fiction. It’s certainly not as robust as Eastgate’s StorySpace, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper. StorySpace is $295 (to be fair, StorySpace is a very specialized writing tool designed for very long and complicated hypertext stories). My point is that VoodooPad Lite is free and does a fine job if you’re looking for a simple tool to try out non-linear writing.

VoodooPad works very well as a ‘flash card’ system, too. It was the perfect tool, in fact, to help me practice for my interview. All I had to do was type out a question, create a new link to it and paste my bullet points for that question in my newly created sub-page. I listed all of my practice interview questions on my main ‘index’ page and linked to sub-pages for each answer. I also created some links to hold background information about the job for quick reference. My interview ‘prep package’ was easy to set up. It was convenient to have all my interview notes contained within one little stand-alone VoodooPad file.

VoodooPad comes in three different flavors depending on your needs. I’m currently getting by with the free Lite version, but I’m getting ready to upgrade. Why? I’ve come to depend on it. And I keep finding new ways to use it. This is not to say that I find the Lite version of this app lacking for my simple needs — it’s more about supporting Flying Meat (the developers).

I could have written that last sentence differently, but I may never get the chance to use the phrase “supporting Flying Meat” again…