Cliff Jones [vokation]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I'm pretty sure Hop on Pop was the first book I read all the way through. A little later, I remember Pilgrim's Progress, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Indian in the Cupboard, and that sort of thing. The first author I got into who wasn't writing specifically for children was H.G. Wells, I think. I've never been very keen on showing my writing to familiar members because they all write too, and that makes me self-conscious. Most of the writing I did early on was assigned for school. I really got into it, but I was more focused on visual art at the time. But I do remember at least one book I wrote and illustrated just for my own amusement. It was basically just like H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, but with a little Jurassic Park and Back to the Future 3 mixed in.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
I definitely like speculative fiction the best. This genre is better know as "sci-fi/fantasy", but I think that label really misses the point. What I nerdily call "spec-fic" is simply fiction that isn't bound by our present understanding of reality. Even the universe is a fictitious character! I've posted a little bit of my work on my LP Notes blog (http://lpnotes.blogspot.com), and I hope to post more soon. I also post the occasional children's story on Vokation (http://vokation.com).
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
I like first person, but the narrator doesn't necessarily have to be the main character. Then again, an omniscient narrator can really let you forget you're reading a story if it's done right. My main problem with third-person narration is that writers tend to get too formal and flowery when they don't have to stick to a character's voice and keep it believable.
What well known writers do you admire most?
Off the top of my head, I'd have to say Kurt Vonnegut, Orson Scott Card, Neil Gaiman, and Haruki Murakami. They can all do speculative fiction without putting all their energy into the speculation. The fantastic elements are just the setting, not the story.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
No, I really stink at that. Just ask my daughter.
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
My motivation for writing, like everything I do, is probably mostly selfish. I want to express my worldview as thoroughly and concisely as I can so that I don't have to worry about forgetting things that I've learned, realizations I've had, and that sort of thing. When I die, I'm pretty sure I'll forget everything, so it's nice to be prepared for that too.
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
Definitely my wife Tina. I might share rough drafts with other family members if I have time, but Tina first. She's a connoisseur of fiction, and she doesn't hesitate to critique.
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
Read them again and then write something new. If it's been years since you wrote something, you've probably changed quite a bit. Let yourself cannibalize from the old stuff, but use it to write something that you really want to write now.
How did you begin programming and at what age?
I had done a bit of Web development in Jr. High (back when we had AOL and paid by the minute), but I didn't actually start programming until freshman year of high school. I was required to take one computer course, so I signed up for "Computer Science I" with no idea what it was. I just thought "science" sounded interesting. The first day, while the teacher, Col. Warr (no joke), was explaining that we'd actually be making computer games in the class, I was almost jumping out of my seat with excitement. I was such a nerd and I didn't even know it yet!
What languages do you code, and in what platforms?
From the outside, it seems a rational job, but is creativity necessary for programming?
Absolutely. Programming is like any other craft. You can have more creative control or less, more artistic vision or less. Anybody that says it's not an art form probably isn't a very good programmer.
What do you learn from software users?
As far as using software is concerned, most people are surprisingly alike, but programmers are totally different. That's why you can't get your programmer friends to do your beta-testing.
Would you consider yourself rigorous in the organization of the coding that you write and on commenting it?
Yeah, pretty rigorous. I don't go crazy with comments, but I do make sure that if I look back at the code years from now, I'll see what's going on pretty easily. I got into the habit of organizing and commenting thoroughly while I was writing books on developing in Director at an old job.
Do you work alone or in a team? Which do you prefer?
I've worked in teams before, but I definitely prefer to work alone. It just feels much more efficient. In a team, I feel like a large portion of my time is spent trying to get on the same page with the other programmers, adjusting and re-adjusting our code to make it all work together. And the end product isn't as tight as if it were made by a single individual. Sometimes teamwork is necessary to get large projects done faster, but I'd much rather take a little longer and get it done right.
Do you recommend Vitamins and nutritional supplements? Do you believe their benefits have been proven?
I can't speak for everyone, but for me, magnesium works wonders! Without it, I get all twitchy and irritable and my back starts hurting. I give all the details on what sort of supplement to get and/or how to adjust your diet on The Autism Spectrum (http://theautismspectrum.blogspot.com/2009/05/magnesium-first-thing-to-try.html).
What is your opinion on the use of medical marijuana for terminal illnesses.
People should only be allowed to smoke marijuana if they're going to die soon. That way, our kids will associate marijuana with death and keep away from it. I'm kidding, of course. The whole drug war is ridiculous. It's like locking people up for overeating.
How do you asses the potential or the risks of genetic engineering on nutrition and human health?
With new technology, it always takes us a while to until we know what we're doing. Lead pipes sounded like a good idea in ancient Rome. Using mercury as a preservative in vaccines seemed harmless enough just last century. We really shouldn't gamble with our food supply. That's beyond stupid.
Do you believe legalizing the use of narcotics would increase or lessen the damage caused to public health?
Legalizing street drugs would result in more people using them, but only right at first. Right now, people have this false dichotomy between prescriptions/over-the-counter drugs ("good drugs") and street drugs ("bad drugs"). Street drugs are so strictly forbidden that they have this mystique around them like "Wow, they must be nuts if they're that off-limits!" So yeah, some people would want to try them. But in time, I think people would learn to better weigh the benefits of a drug against its drawbacks. There are plenty of prescription drugs that do way more harm than good but people still just trust their doctors and go right and swallow anything they're given.
What subjects do you teach? What types of students do you have?
I taught English conversation for little over a year in Japan, and I've been tutoring ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students since then. Next semester, I teach my first university course in ESOL. The students will be almost entirely native Spanish speakers.
What is your educational philosophy?
The brain has a mind of its own. It won't remember anything unless it thinks it's going to be useful. And if possible, it'll only remember things for as long as they remain useful. (That's why cramming for a test might work, but the knowledge fades immediately after the test is over.) Material has to be presented in bite-size chunks and in such a way that it lets the student see how each chunk is going to be nourishing. Yeah, learning is a lot like eating. That's why if you try to study too much at once, you'll get full.
What qualities would you need to see in someone before advising him/her to go into teaching?
Patience, flexibility, and empathy. These qualities matter much more than being knowledgeability. Teachers have to be really humble, too. If you're asked a question and you don't know the answer, you should admit that and try to help the student find out. And a large part of teaching is entertaining, keeping everyone interested and motivated, so you'd better be OK with that. And once again, let me stress: patience!
What is your blog address? What subjects do you deal with?
I have three blogs going right now: Vokation (http://vokation.com) is about language (teaching, learning, linguistics, etc.), The Autism Spectrum (http://theautismspectrum.blogspot.com) features a collection of short interviews with autistic individuals, and LP Notes (http://lpnotes.blogspot.com) is my own personal blog for whatever's on my mind.
What was it that made you create your blog? On what date did you start it?
I'd started blogging a couple of times in the past, but I always forgot about it pretty quickly, just like the journals I started when I was younger. While I was working as a teacher in Japan back in 2007, my wife created a new blog, and I decided to make one too. My first post was about my new ukulele and the bizarre system I felt compelled to develop in order to keep track of notes and chords and such (http://lpnotes.blogspot.com/2007/11/i-gots-me-ukulele.html). I think I felt particularly lonely at the time, so the blogs gave me somebody to talk to besides my wife and students.
Does blogging bring in income for you? Can one make a living from posting?
Not a bit of income so far, sadly. I blog because I've got a lot to say and I don't like repeating myself.
How do you see your blog evolving in the future?
When I get some more free time to put into Vokation (http://vokation.com), I'll be adding a lot more practical guides to various foreign languages. As it is right now, I mostly just have time to post things I wrote for other purposes. I'd like to see many many more profiles (http://theautismspectrum.blogspot.com/search/label/profiles) on the Autism Spectrum (http://theautismspectrum.blogspot.com), but that just depends on people answering my questions (http://theautismspectrum.blogspot.com/2007/11/open-invitation.html). As for LP Notes (http://lpnotes.blogspot.com), it'll change as my life changes. I'm hoping to be posting a lot more original fiction and less political stuff. But the way things are going, I don't know.
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to begin a blog?
Even if you just want to create a personal blog, you have to have some sort of unifying theme in mind or else eventually you'll think, "What's the point?" So will your readers.
What do you currently have in your MP3 player?
A rotating list of all-audio language programs such as Pimsleur and the Michel Thomas method. Beware of imitators; these two systems are awesome! They're actually pretty complementary, so you can get started with Michel Thomas and then go to Pimsleur for review. I'm currently working a lot on Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, but I study whatever I find at the library.
Places in the world that you have visited recently.
Marugame, Japan. I left my heart there. Sigh.
What is that special film you never tire of watching?
I have two, actually: Raising Arizona and Joe vs. the Volcano. I watched them so much when I was little that they had a pretty strong influence on my personality and worldview.
What do you use: Mac or PC and why?
I use a Mac these days. They're just more dependable, easier, and nicer.
What were your favourite subjects when you were in primary/secondary school?
Art, Computer Science, and the grammar portion of English class. I also liked this special class I took instead of Reading class when I was younger. We did logic puzzles and stuff like that.
Where have you thought of going for your next holiday?
Right now it's between Roswell and New Orleans. I'm thinking New Orleans would be more fun, but it's farther away, and we've already been there once.
Two-party systems are on the rise: is this good for politics?
Hell no! We don't even need political parties in the first place. Instead of just casting one vote for one person, we should be narrowing down the candidates with a popular ranking system. It's better to have somebody who 90% rank as their second choice than somebody who 40% rank #1 and 40% rank unacceptable.
Should any territory have the right of self-determination if a majority of the population votes in favour of doing so?
Yeah, I think that's a basic inalienable human right, the right to self-governance. The tricky part is that once that territory has split off, they might not be strong enough to defend themselves against invasion. For example, it was perfectly legal for the South to secede from the Union in the U.S. Civil War. But then you have two sovereign nations, and if one decides to invade the other, that's just how it goes unless other countries decide to step in and help.
Why did the economies of communist countries fail?
As a general rule, people don't give up what they have voluntarily. Therefore, if you want to have a communist country where everybody shares the wealth, somebody has to force them to share. That somebody is the government, and it has to be pretty powerful to control all the property in the entire country. With this powerful government in control, you can bet the leaders and lawmakers will make sure they get a little bigger slice of the pie than everyone else. Plus, the whole pie is a little smaller because people aren't working quite so hard. All the profits get so spread out and diluted that the individual can't see any real payoff for working hard.
Are you pro-choice or pro-life?
Very strongly pro-life. It doesn't matter if people will try to abort their babies anyway (the most convincing counter-argument I've heard); ending a human life should never be legal. As soon as it's legal for you to choose to abort your own baby, we're on a very slippery slope. If you're one of those people who tunes out when they hear comparisons to Nazi Germany, then just look at Communist China! It's horrific how little respect they have for human life, and it all starts will saying a fetus doesn't really count.
What is the secret to happiness?
Not looking too far ahead and just trusting your instincts.
If you were a millionaire, what would be your charitable work?
I'd like to provide free food and education on a massive scale. Of course, right? Here's the part that might sound a little strange: I'd like to provide the food as a reward for studying. Of course I realize a large portion of homeless people have mental problems, and I certainly wouldn't fault them for that. As long as people really put effort into their studies, they'd get food. The idea is that these people would develop skills and specialization that would make them more employable, and eventually they wouldn't need my program at all. This is sort of like "teaching a man to fish" but with the realization that a new fisherman might need to eat before his first catch.
Please list three important words for the world today.
History, honesty, liberty.
El Paso, Texas