Tweaking English For Fun And Profit … Facilitating Poetry

As a software developer I periodically find that I need to dabble with a bit of poetry (yes one is a consequence of the other – sort of – see my post about software developer traits for an explanation that almost makes sense). However, every time I start dabbling I find myself getting annoyed very quickly. Poetry is difficult and I don’t necessarily mean writing it, even reading it is difficult.

Well, not the actual reading part, but trying to puzzle a meaning out of the twisted phrasing, allegory and the absolutely stupendous number of hoops that people jump through to get the darned things to rhyme. And are they always successful? Well, you can be the judge, here is a “fine example” called Gap Toothed Know-It-All.

I am thinking English is just not a very flexible language, there are all these rules and regulations you have to follow, or the grammar police will eat you alive. Well, I spit in the face of the grammar police, I say, why should I adjust to English? English should be forced to adjust to my needs. We don’t need to do any major changes, but just tweak it a little bit. I’ll demonstrate with an example.

I want to write a poem which will convey the following thoughts:

I like walking in the park on sunny days. I find that it makes me more productive and focused at work.

Here is what the poem would have to sound like without tweaking English in any way:

I spend my days in silent wandering
Through verdant glades of oak and pine
And if the sun would smile upon me
I’d find myself on cloud nine

New strength would flow into my limbs
With heart and purpose I would roar
Prepared for the ordeals before me
And primed for the challenges once more

Not too bad, gets the meaning across, but is too long-winded and so much unnecessary allegory! Would you even know what I was trying to say if I hadn’t told you?

Let us try this again, but now we can tweak English to suit our purposes:

The walkies in the park are good
The sun is tops and all that jazz
My productivity improod
And so do my focusazz

See, this is much better, short and sweet and almost no extraneous words to clutter up the verse. The meaning is completely transparent, if you didn’t know what I was trying to convey you’d easily be able to work it out almost exactly.

So, I threw in a little bit of slang and made up some new words by “tweaking” the endings of some existing ones to facilitate rhyming, so what? The funny thing is that the meaning of the words I “tweaked” is still obvious. Everyone can easily tell what the un-tweaked versions of the words are.

To summarise, doing some minor creative surgery on the English language allows us to not only maintain clarity and create more compact verse, but also to completely retain the meaning of all the tweaked content :).

So I put this to you, why shouldn’t we tweak language? I tweak my code all the time to make it more compact, more concise and more readable. And yet here is poetry, coming in and doing the exact opposite. I tell you, it conceptually undermines the structure, clarity and higher productivity that we as software developers are trying to bring to the world. And anyway it surely is against some sort of best practice somewhere. Right? Am I right???

This post has been marked with my funny flag:

For other example of flag usage see this post marked with my sarcasm flag. It is so sad that I have to do this, but otherwise some people would undoubtedly take this post seriously and try to sic the grammar police, poetry police and who knows what other police on me.

The 4 Unlikely Traits of Good Developers

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what makes a software developer a good software developer. All the generic things that you would expect came to mind, knowledge, skills with tools/frameworks, memory, teamwork skills, caffeine etc. But all of those are boring and predictable, noone wants to be boring, so I thought harder, I thought and thought “till I couldn’t think no more”. Then I had some tea, then I watched “The Simpsons”, now I am writing this article, but I digress, which actually illustrates my first point fairly well (in a roundabout sort of way, so bear with me).

1. Creativity

While drinking my tea and munching on my crumpets (that’s a figure of speech I wasn’t actually eating crumpets, I was having a croissant … I think I just made it worse). Where was I, oh yeah, while doing something completely unrelated I was able to come up with some interesting points about what makes developers, developers. Unlike what TV and certain other elements would have you believe, most good developers are not just single-minded calculatory automatons obsessed with algorithms, but are rather very creative people. Notice how I made up a word in a very sentence preceding this one, I bet most of you didn’t even realise “calculatory” wasn’t a real word.

The point I am trying to make is that the ideas for this article came to me not through rigorous calculation and formulaic thinking but through inspiration. I stopped focusing on what I wanted to do and let the universe fill me with its goodness (in a completely figurative way) and then all of a sudden KABLAMO! Inspiration strikes and I am able to go and paint a painting (if I could paint), or create a little application to help me manage all my passwords (which I certainly can do), or write an article about developers (which I am doing right now). I bet you missed how I made up another word, kablamo, yeah I know, I am plagiarising it from someone, but plagiarism is the reality TV generation’s brand of creativity so it still counts.

2. Insane Curiosity

Many people are curious, but I find that many good developers are overly curious even when compared to your average Joe Curious. I would certainly fit that description. You’ve probably guessed that I am writing all this while operating under the assumption that I am a fairly good developer, since I use myself as an example so much. So, if you could all just suspend your disbelief for a few minutes and share that assumption with me we’ll be able to proceed with the rest of this article.

This trait of curiosity doesn’t just begin and end with software but extends to all facets of the life of a software developer. This is why most good software developers that you meet have one, two or sometimes even more alternative “things” that they really like doing and could probably make a living in if they weren’t doing software. It is also a really helpful trait in the IT industry with it ever-changing landscape. If finding out new things and learning new skills was a chore, one would find it very hard to keep up with the pace of the industry. But when you take insatiable curiosity into account, keeping up with the industry becomes a natural thing, a result of the personality of a good developer.

Finally it certainly doesn’t hurt to be a curious individual when your job involves constantly trying to get to the root of complex problems. You have to have the “need to know” rather than just treating it as a job.

3. Finding Fault With Absolutely Everything

Good software developers are ornery and opinionated, it is a fact, accept it. And the special power that the lot of them share is the ability to always find something to complain about. When it comes to code this trait presents itself as the perception that nobody else’s code is ever good enough, not even your own.

No matter how well the code is written, when good developers get their hands on it, they will always find a reason why the code is crappy and should be re-written/refactored to be “better” and of course they are just the person to do it. In this light this may not seem like such a desirable attribute, but consider that this trait is synonymous with a constant desire to improve. Notice that I never said that good developers like to find faults for the sake of finding faults, but rather they are able to find areas where they can use their expertise to improve the situation and create a better/cleaner/faster/etc system overall.

You could only hope and dream that the person who is building your house has this kind of attitude, if they did we might be able get some damn decent construction once in a while. For the moment though we’ll just thank the all powerful spaghetti monster in the sky that construction workers don’t build software, and hope that this trait of good software developers gets the recognition it deserves.

4. Working Hard To Facilitate Laziness

Developers are the hardest working lazy people you’ll ever meet or possibly the laziest hard working people. Developers love to write little tools and find little ways to make everything more automated which would of course make our lives much easier. Our goal is to get to the point where we just sit there and our little automated tools do all the work, from writing code to calling home and telling our wife/girlfriend/robo-doggie that we’ll be late for dinner.

At least that’s the myth that we all perpetuate amongst ourselves. We are all well aware that the more we streamline and automate and find ways to make our life easier in general, the more work appears to fill that five minutes that we’ve saved. Applications become more and more ambitious and the good developers have to once try to flex their ingenuity to shave off some time in all the right places. And then the application will become more ambitious still and the cycle begins again.

This trait is the reason that the software industry has come as far as it has in such a relatively short time-frame. The good developers find ways to do stuff more efficiently, to automate and streamline, all in the name of supporting their laziness habit which allows more room for grander scope and vision. If it weren’t for this trait that all good developers share we’d still be writing the next greatest calculator application using LogoWriter and punch cards (Go LogoWriter!!! You shall live on in our hearts forever! Amen!).

Well that’s it, I had all this other stuff to say, it was all really awesome, but I can’t be bothered. Hmmm, an application that figures out what I can’t be bothered saying and notes it down anyway. That’s gold! I’ll make billions! Where is my drawing board…?

Would you like to share your thoughts on the unlikely traits that good developers have, or maybe you’d like to critique my thoughts? Leaving a comment is your opportunity, you could even try to automate the process and then I’ll have to put capchas in (*sigh* it’s a never-ending dance).

10 MORE Awesome Fantasy Series That Are Not Potter or LoTR

I received a massive response to my previous post that attempted to showcase some less well-known and under-appreciated fantasy series. Infact I received so many great comments with people recommending their favourite series that I decided to create a definitive list of great fantasy series (stay tuned for that one, it is coming in the next few weeks). But since it is a pretty big job to compile such a list (I already have well over 80 series on the list and it is still growing), I thought I would create this little list of 10 MORE under-appreciated fantasy series in the meantime.

This list incorporates some of the great suggestions made by readers in the comments on my previous post. These are excellent fantasy series that I, for one, enjoyed tremendously and yet most of these still went unmentioned in the comments to my previous post, despite the fact that it received tens of thousands of visitors with people recommending dozens of great series. This should give you an idea of how under-appreciated these series are.

Once again this list will not include, Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” or Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” (you will have to wait for the definitive list to see these) since they have received more than their fair share of spotlight. Without rambling on for too much longer, here is the list of 10 more fantasy series you may not have heard of.

10. Initiate Brother by Sean Russell

There aren’t many mainstream fantasy series that take place in an oriental setting (the only other one I know is number 6 below). So, this series is truly a breath of fresh air. The setting is the Empire of Wa (a sort of amalgamation of Japan and China) and the title character is Brother Shuyun a young Botahist Monk, with a destiny, sent to serve Lord Shonto as a new spiritual advisor. Lord Shonto is probably the main character and we follow his journey as he navigates the plots and intrigues of the imperial court, trying to stave off the wrath of an emperor bent on destroying him and his family.

The scope of the book is epic; there is plenty of politics and plots as well as some nice action thrown in here and there. The dialog is truly magnificent and the author succeeds admirably in creating a sense of mystery around the setting and the people involved. It has been years since I read this, but I have some fond memories that I am now re-reading it :), so read along with me. [column size=”1-2″ last=”0″ style=”0″]

The Initiate Brother

The Initiate Brother

[/column] [column size=”1-2″ last=”1″ style=”0″] Gatherer of Clouds

Gatherer of Clouds


9. Dragonlance Legends by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

This series often goes unmentioned as most of the spotlight inevitably goes it its more famous prequel The Dragonlance Chronicles. However, in my opinion this series more than holds its own when compared to Dragonlance Chronicles (just between you and me, I personally enjoy this one more).

The story takes place two years after The War of The Lance as Raistlin Majere sets events in motion to challenge Takhisis (the goddess of darkness) and become one of the gods of Krynn. Without giving away too much of the plot, most of the heroes from the previous trilogy make an appearance here (Tasslehoff, Tanis etc.), with the Majere twins being the main characters. With an adventure that spans multiple time periods in Krynn’s history (Raistlin is a powerful mage after all) this series pits brother against brother in a battle that will decide the fate of the world. This is much more standard fantasy fare, but no less brilliant for being such. This series is pretty much the best of Dragonlance. Highly recommended! [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″]

Time of the Twins

Time of the Twins

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″] War of the Twins

War of the Twins

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”1″ style=”0″] Test of the Twins

Test of the Twins


8. Chronicles of the Cheysuli by Jennifer Roberson

This is another series that I read a long time ago and haven’t heard anything about since. This series reminded me a little bit of “The Belgariad” by David Eddings in that there is a prophesy that underpins the lives of all the characters in the series. (Note: this series was recommended by reader Erin in a comment on my previous post)

The idea of this series is that there are 3 races in the world, humans, Cheysuli and Ihlini. The Cheysuli are shape-shifters, each bonds with a particular animal when they come of age and from that point on can transform into that animal. The Ihlini are magic users and are mortal enemies of the Cheysuli. Although there are certainly main characters in the books, the conflict between the races is what drives the series. (Hint: the Cheysuli are the good guys, the Ihlini are the bad guys :)).

The series was originally meant to be a trilogy and so the first three books are a bit better than the last 5, but the whole series is certainly original, fast paced and exciting. It is also suitable fare for teens who are into fantasy although, fair warning, there are scenes of extreme graphic violence in these books (i.e. torture). A great read and highly underrated. [column size=”1-4″ last=”0″ style=”0″]



[/column] [column size=”1-4″ last=”0″ style=”0″] The Song of Homana

The Song of Homana

[/column] [column size=”1-4″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Legacy of the Sword

Legacy of the Sword

[/column] [column size=”1-4″ last=”1″ style=”0″] Track of the White Wolf

Track of the White Wolf

[/column] [column size=”1-4″ last=”0″ style=”0″] A Pride of Princes

A Pride of Princes

[/column] [column size=”1-4″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Daughter of the Lion

Daughter of the Lion

[/column] [column size=”1-4″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Flight of the Raven

Flight of the Raven

[/column] [column size=”1-4″ last=”1″ style=”0″] A Tapestry of Lions

A Tapestry of Lions


7. Deryni Chronicles by Katherine Kurtz

I would say this is one of the series that helped launch the fantasy genre to the heights of mainstream appeal that it enjoys today. Yet, when people go on about the virtues of Tolkien or even Edgar Rice Burroughs I never hear them mention Katherine Kurtz and this series.

The main hero in this series is Alaric Morgan a Duke and mentor to the new king Kelson Haldane. Alaric is also half Deryni a powerful race possessing magical powers. This however is not an advantage as the influential Church condemns the magic users and the Deryni are persecuted throughout the land. If this sounds like a pretty generic plot to you, consider that this series was written almost 40 years ago, so the only reason this kind of plot has become generic is because this series and others like it helped make it so.

This series is an extremely fun read, the good guys are really good and the bad guys are really bad, but don’t let that fool you there is plenty of intrigue and suspense and the action never seems silly or contrived. Have a look at this if only to see where some of today’s big names got their ideas and inspiration from. [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″]

Deryni Rising

Deryni Rising

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Deryni Checkmate

Deryni Checkmate

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”1″ style=”0″] High Deryni

High Deryni


6. Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn

As I mentioned previously this is one of only 2 fantasy series that I know with an oriental setting. (Note: this series was recommended by reader Zach in a comment on my previous post).

This series is set in a fantasy land clearly based on Japan and tells the story of Otori Takeo a youth who is also one of the “Hidden” a people persecuted throughout the kingdom for their beliefs. When Takeo’s village is destroyed, he is rescued by Otori Shigeru a Lord of the Otori Clan and is eventually adopted by him. Takeo also falls in love and finds out he is one of a group of people called “the tribe” who have special abilities and demand that he join them. When Shigeru is betrayed and killed Takeo must decide which path he will follow.

This series introduces some unique settings and characters and provides a great blend of high fantasy wrapped up in oriental sensibilities. If you love fantasy but are tired of dragons and trolls, then give this series a try, satisfaction guaranteed! [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″]

Across the Nightingale Floor

Across the Nightingale Floor

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Grass for His Pillow

Grass for His Pillow

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”1″ style=”0″] Brilliance of the Moon

Brilliance of the Moon


5. Mancer by Don Callander

I found this series accidentally a few years ago while browsing around my local library and it was one of the most fun reads I’ve ever had. The writing reminds me a bit of Robert Asprin or perhaps even Pierce Anthony, the most interesting thing is that this series is virtually unknown. Try browsing around the web for it and you will find that the information is very sparse.

These books tell the story of Douglas Brightblade who comes to be an apprentice Pyromancer when he sees an ad by an older Pyromancer Flarman Flowerstalk. Douglas learns about the mysteries of fire magic and as the series continues meets his future wife, Myrn Manstar an apprentice Aquamancer, as well as his familiar a talking otter named Marbleheart, while having all sorts of adventures. There are also talking kitchens and magic is not only used to battle evil but also to cook supper and wash underwear :).

These books are a real gem, they are light hearted and fun. The dialogue is often humorous and the bad guys are bumbling buffoons at best. There is no drama and subtle plot twists here and it is certainly not epic in scope. But these are the kind of books that make you feel good about reading them. I very highly recommend these, a relaxing read and a refreshing change of pace. They are however hard to find. [column size=”1-4″ last=”0″ style=”0″]



[/column] [column size=”1-4″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Aquamancer


[/column] [column size=”1-4″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Geomancer


[/column] [column size=”1-4″ last=”1″ style=”0″] Aeromancer



4. Fencer Trilogy by K J Parker

This is an awesome trilogy, a bit rambling at times but it doesn’t detract too much from it. This is a story of Bardas Loredan a fencer-at-law, living in Perimadeia a city that is the merchant capital of the known world. Law cases here are settled using swords rather than words and Bardas is one of the best. When Perimadeia is about to be invaded it falls to Bardas to organise the defence of the city.

One of the things that really struck me about these books is the level of detail and knowledge that Parker puts into describing the sword battles that take place in the book. They are so vivid that you almost feel like you’re part of the action. Another interesting thing is that as a series progress things change quite radically, to give away a little bit of the plot, Bardas changes professions in the second book and lets just say that Parker seems to know a lot about making bows and is somehow able to make it interesting for the rest of us. This one gets my vote and then some. [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″]

Colours in the Steel

Colours in the Steel

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″] The Belly of the Bow

The Belly of the Bow

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”1″ style=”0″] The Proof House

The Proof House


3. Runelords by David Farland

I love series that have an innovative magic system and this series certainly delivers in that regard. I must confess, the only reason I picked this one up was because of the cover of the first book, but when I started reading, I couldn’t tear myself away.

Farland creates a massive world with an epic conflict, but the magic system is the real star here. The idea is that people is this world can gift other people with physical and mental attributes, so that a person can give another person their strength which means one person will have the strength of 2 while another becomes as weak as a baby. The person who receives the gift is then obligated to take care of the other.

These gifts are called endowments and people with many endowments are called Runelords. The scope of this system is enormous and the series deals with moral and ethical issues around purchasing endowments and taking care of the givers as well as the implications of having too many endowments and becoming almost super human. Of course all this weaves around a plot with factions and invasions and princesses and supernatural entities. You’ll just have to pick it up and give it a read if you want to know more :). [column size=”1-4″ last=”0″ style=”0″]

The Sum of All Men

The Sum of All Men

[/column] [column size=”1-4″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Brotherhood of the Wolf

Brotherhood of the Wolf

[/column] [column size=”1-4″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Wizardborn


[/column] [column size=”1-4″ last=”1″ style=”0″] The Lair of Bones

The Lair of Bones


2. Dragoncrown War Cycle by Michael Stackpole

This series is another epic struggle (you can probably tell I am partial to epic struggles :)). The four books are not really a series but are rather one book followed by a trilogy. The first book is a prequel and tells the story of Tarrant Hawkins as he transitions from boyhood into adulthood and is in the process swept up in events of great significance. The world Stackpole creates is not your standard fantasy setting, I don’t know quite how to describe it; suffice to say it is different, vibrant and alive. You really identify with Tarrant as the book progresses and feel the injustice that leads into the trilogy very strongly towards the end.

The trilogy itself introduces a host of other characters, a powerful but immature mage, a warrior princess who is the hope of her people, a street urchin who is the fulfilment of a prophesy and Tarrant is still there, but not as you remember him. The characters are well developed and the story moves along at a nice pace. Stackpole is also one brave author in that he is not afraid to kill off a main character or two along the way, (you don’t really believe it or expect it until it happens). If you like epic fantasy you will definitely enjoy this series. [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″] [/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″]

The Dark Glory War

The Dark Glory War

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”1″ style=”0″] [/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Fortress Draconis

Fortress Draconis

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″] When Dragons Rage

When Dragons Rage

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”1″ style=”0″] The Grand Crusade

The Grand Crusade


1. The Darkness Series by Harry Turtledove

Those of you who like alternate history know that Turtledove is a master of that genre and in this series he brings that expertise to a fantasy setting with a twist. This series is hard to describe. Imagine you were living in a world where society progressed by improving and refining magic rather than inventing technology. Imagine that this world parallelled ours in development and reached a stage where we were around the middle of the 20th century and then a world war broke out, just like it did on our world. This is a story of that time. This series is literally all about a world war fought through magical means and is based very closely on the Second World War. If you are a history buff you will be able to match the countries in the books to their real world counterparts, which from personal experience is pretty cool.

This series is told from a multitude of viewpoints of people who are tied up in the events. There is really no main character here. You will identify with some characters more than with others, but there are way too many to successfully keep track of all of them. The idea of this series is not to tell the story of any particular person, but to almost be a historical account of this fictional war.

This series truly is something completely different in fantasy. Dragons are formed into an air force, tanks are rhino-like creatures and orcas are used like submarines. The weapons do not used bullets but must be charged by magical means. Mage scientists work on great magical weapons that can turn the course of the war overnight. A whole race of people are being rounded up and exterminated and their energy used for magical experiments. At the same time it never seems like individuals can have a major impact on the events (unlike regular fantasy), but are rather moved by events while trying to preserve their lives and struggling to survive.

I will be the first to admit that this series is not for everyone, it is so different from any other fantasy series that it is not possible to make a valid comparison. I will say that if you enjoy reading history you will probably like this. If you like truly epic events and a great story is what you’re after than once again you will probably enjoy this. If however you’re looking for a hero to ride in with a magic horse/sword/ring/wand and save the day for everyone than you will not find that here. I for one would not pass up a chance to read this if I were you if only to experience the different possibilities that the fantasy genre has to offer. [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″]

Into the Darkness

Into the Darkness

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Darkness Descending

Darkness Descending

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”1″ style=”0″] Through the Darkness

Through the Darkness

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Rulers of the Darkness

Rulers of the Darkness

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Jaws of Darkness

Jaws of Darkness

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”1″ style=”0″] Out of the Darkness

Out of the Darkness


Alright, One More As A Bonus – Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is not really a series. Besides being set in the same world, there is really no common theme, although some of the characters in the books are related to the characters from the other books. However, these books are brilliant. (Note: “The Curse of Chalion” was recommended by reader Kosigan in one of the comments on my previous post). I also heartily recommend these books. “The Curse of Chalion” has won the Mythopoeic Award and was recommended for multiple others while “Paladin of Souls” has won both a Hugo and a Nebula.

If you like Lois McMaster Bujold’s sci-fi series (e.g. “Vorkosigan Saga”) you will definitely enjoy these books. A great quasi-series by a master of sci-fi and fantasy. [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″]

The Curse of Chalion

The Curse of Chalion

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″] Paladin of Souls

Paladin of Souls

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”1″ style=”0″] The Hallowed Hunt

The Hallowed Hunt


Stay tuned for my Definitive List of Great Fantasy series which I am compiling right now, subscribe to my feed to be the first to know when it’s up and how you can help make it better.

In the meantime, if you liked these suggestions don’t forget to visit my first post for 10 more great fantasy series you should take for a spin. Once again don’t be afraid to leave a comment if you know an awesome under-appreciated fantasy series that deserves a mention.