Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Twenty One

Previous chapter: He Came Back.

Chapter Twenty One: Evening Matters.

Yet another day, and Attie came home early. She looked about and headed to the garden to water the flowers. As she did so, her twin came back. Isabel stifled a laugh when she saw her twin gardening. "I thought you weren't fond of flowers," she said.

"I'm not, but someone has to look after them, not leave them to rot like businesspeople do with their so-called unprofitable ideas," said Attie.

"What are you going to do once we're tired of the flower bushes?"

"Sell them to someone who cares," Attie replied. "Still better than leaving them to dry up and die."

"Let me do the rest of the flowers, Attie," said Isabel. "You should go make a vegetable omelette for dinner."

"Hmph, alright then," the younger Lion said. She turned around and went back inside to prepare the food. Francesca soon came back from work, and greeted Isabel with a little more enthusiasm than usual. The older Lion followed Francesca inside curiously, and they sat at the dinner table.

"What's the big news?" Isabel asked. "You said your parents have a surprise."

"One of my cousins is coming to the United States to study in a few months. Aunt Greta wants my mother to do the arrangements before this cousin sets off to university in upstate New York."

"Another cousin?" said Isabel. "What's she like?"

"I've no idea," said Francesca. "All I know is that she's a pastor's daughter from England, and her grandma's my Nona-oba's sister. Her name's Prudence, I'm not sure of her Japanese name."

Attie remarked, "Speaking of guests, I think I should bring one over. My boss told me I should make more contacts."

"How did your oba's sister get to England in the first place?" asked Isabel.

"She ran away from Japan as a young lady because she wanted to sell hats," Francesca replied. "I haven't actually met her, but my mother says this grand-aunt's hat trade really took off."

"Who's this new acquaintance of yours, Attie?" Isabel said to her twin.

"She's a bartender, Nathalie Lindsay," Attie said, as she put the chopped tomatoes in a bowl. "Do you mind if she comes over tomorrow evening?"

"Not at all, but I can't imagine what you'll want to talk about," said Isabel. "Add some pepper to the omelette, will you?"

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Twenty

Previous chapter: Storyteller, Storyteller.

Chapter Twenty: He Came Back.

Isabel shuffled back home from work. "Ah!" she muttered. "How tiresome things are nowadays. Bills, not knowing whether my application to be a tutor will be accepted. If I had been made of weak stuff..."

She chose not to finish that thought and plodded over to the mailbox. Before opening it, she stretched. Pop! Crick! Isabel really worked the kinks out of her bones as she twisted around. "Crackling and popping at twenty two? Really now?" thought Isabel. "Must have gotten it from my mother."
Isabel stretched.
She looked in the mailbox. Nothing except some forms for magazine subscriptions in there. "Cosmo, Vogue, PopTeen USA?" Isabel asked herself. "Must be from the magazine house Fran works in. Didn't think she had an affinity for fashion, not mainstream celeb fashion anyway. Then again, still waters run deep."

The elder Lion Twin went in after closing the mailbox. She grabbed a quick meal of a chicken sandwich and ate it quickly. She then went upstairs to have a shower. After the shower, Isabel felt much better, and went out to draw on the balcony.

She looked at the town in the golden sunset, admiring its shining glory. Then she began, sketching furiously on the canvas before refining the sketches into something with clear flowing lines.

In the meantime, Isabel's housemates returned from their work. Hera first, for she had finished her game session early and got tired before she could be interviewed. "I can always do a web interview later," thought Hera, as she went to listen to her phone's collection of music.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Nineteen

Previous chapter: It Was A Sunday.

Chapter Nineteen: Storyteller, Storyteller.

Attie rolled about in her bed, trying to sleep through the noise. It wasn't easy, as Vernon was very loud and had turned on the radio's pop station.

Attie hopped out of her bed when the noise got too loud for her liking, and came down to see the new young guest. "What do we have here?" she said sharply. "When did this turn into a nursery?"
The boy stared back at Attie. "Is something wrong with wanting to visit Hera?" he asked. "I'm not just a shrimp."

"I like your attitude, champ," said Attie. "You'll go a long way in life."

"Attie, do you really want a smart-mouth in the neighborhood?" Francesca said to her cousin. "First Ana, now him, really..."

"I don't mind that at all," replied Attie. "Nobody's going to make smart remarks about me."

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Eighteen

Previous chapter: Scary Saturday.

Chapter Eighteen: It Was A Sunday.

The first thing Hera usually did on Sundays, after breakfast, was to read some religious scriptures. "Three days after the execution, Christ rose again and appeared before the apostles," was among the things Hera wrote in her computer's notepad as part of her studies. She then flipped to the chapter on the creation of the world, looking in awe at the feats of the week.

After that, she tried to read about the fall of Gomorrah, and shivered in terror at the retribution. "Gee, you don't see miraculous retributions like these nowadays," thought Hera. "Not even speaking in tongues you haven't heard of!"

She logged on to the net and started browsing the web, while chatting to her parents about her life in Willow Creek. After that, she logged on to VaudeVille, and found that she wasn't banned, much to her relief. After checking her game character, Hera checked her email and noticed one instant message from Vernon.

He was already online, and his message was asking for permission to visit Hera. She read it, thinking of a good reply.

"You can come over this afternoon," Hera typed in reply to Vernon's question. "Just watch out for my housemates. There are Lions and one little dragon in there," she added, mentioning her address as an afterthought.

After sending the message, Hera went out to run on the treadmill in the hall and watch some news.

Francesca came downstairs and said in surprise, "I thought you still hate running."

"No mice, I hope."
"My mother went on about laziness spoiling my health. You know her spiel about doctor's kids having to set a good example in terms of health," Hera replied and stepped down from the treadmill. She looked aside, just behind Francesca. "Did I see a mouse?" asked Hera. "You know what I think of them."

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Seventeen

Previous chapter: Hera's Day Out.

Chapter Seventeen: Scary Saturday.

It was the day after Hera's visit to the park. Isabel was drawing out in the weekend sunshine, feeling good about life. She saw Francesca clear the weeds from the flowers down in the garden. The brunette wasn't feeling well as the neighbors were much too near for her liking.

Isabel stepped back from her drawing of a parent and child fishing, and smiled. She then headed downstairs to prepare a lunch of salad and mustard-coated fish steaks. Francesca scuttled indoors to hide from the neighbors.

"Fran, could you help me with the salad?" said Isabel as she fried the fish. The young woman crept over to the pile of vegetables and started tearing them apart. "Something's bothering you," said Isabel. Francesca muttered something in reply as she put the leaves in the microwave and warmed them. Isabel knew it was tough to get Francesca to talk, she would have to coax her over the food later.

--------

The lunch was soon ready, so Isabel set out two plates for food. As the elder Lion wasn't very hungry, she served herself some salad. Francesca picked a fillet of fish and a bit of the salad. They sat down to eat.

"I have a confession to make," Francesca began as she tucked into the fish steak.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Sixteen

Previous chapter: A Resolution of An Upsetting Week.

Chapter Sixteen: Hera's Day Out.

It was a Friday. Of course it had to be a Friday. Hera blinked as the sunlight peeped into her room. That meant one thing, a weekend! Hera got out of bed and strolled to the washroom to clean herself up. After she finished, she looked in the living room. There was a note on the table. It read:
Hera, we're working a bit late today. Do what you want. ~Isabel.
"I'd better not waste this chance," thought Hera. "I can sing to my heart's content today without getting scolded by Attie."
The blue-eyed woman then remembered the flowers! She would have to water them first. Hera hummed a tune by Vivaldi as she watered the bluebells, which turned into a recital of an old pop hit. "Let's twist again, like we did last summer. Yeaah, twist again, like we did last year," Hera sang, going completely out of tune. She put away the watering can and looked at the crossroads.

Hera strolled down the road, whistling the tune to Chubby Checker's Twist instead of singing it. She headed towards the large park in the middle of the housing estate.

Hera snarled for fun.
When Hera got there, there was a crowd of adults. She decided to play the violin as she walked towards the pirate playset. Heads turned towards her as she covered the Pink Panther theme. Hera then put away her violin as she finished and asked the lone little boy if he wanted a monster attack. The boy nodded, and Hera got into the role.

"Leviathan to starboard! Three o'clock! Man the guns!" the boy yelled. Hera snarled and hopped about as the boy pretended to be afraid. It went on until the boy got tired of playing. As Hera sat on a nearby bench, the boy joined her.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Fifteen

Previous chapter: An Upsetting Week.

Chapter Fifteen: A Resolution of An Upsetting Week.

Hera decided to conduct a war in one of the games she was assigned to at the computer club. It was a pantomime game that started in a burlesque house in an alternate America, and the players were vaudeville performers turned militia. Hera's character, Channah, was a chanteuse gunmaster. Much like Hera, the chanteuse had black hair, brown skin, and sky-blue eyes, while wearing fine blue clothes. Hera made Channah go to the central inn of VaudeVilla in order to seek out team mates.

After Hera posted her mission on the bulletin board, she screened the applicants. The applicants included two belly dancing sorceresses who could play castanets, a cancan dancer who was handy with a gun, three tap-dancers who knew fisticuffs, and one warrior who performed strongman tricks. Hera made small talk with the virtual performers, then led them on a short mission before her real big act began. The strongman decided to mock her as he had slightly better stats.

"Dumb nuts! Loser! There's no such thing as a black with blue eyes!" the strongman typed into the game, along with some other insults directed at Hera's ethnic background after she tried to reason with him. Hera bit her lip till it turned pale, then threw the player out of her group.

"Channah, what the hell?!" one sorceress typed. "That was one of the strongest warriors in our team!"

"I'm not going to stand for insulting remarks, not on my watch," Hera typed in reply. "That guy should keep his mouth zipped about races."

"You idiot! You're having a dance battle very soon and that guy could have helped us win."

"If you watch my conducting, you all should do fine," Hera replied. "Stop worrying."

Unfortunately, the other team members decided to snub Hera and ignore every single one of Channah's gestures later. They ended up losing the danceoff as the players were penalized for not working together. Finally, when the players were sent back to VaudeVilla, Hera blew up. She sent a barrage of messages criticizing all her team mates for their selfishness, then logged off in a sulk.

Hera took the late bus back home, still brooding about her failed game mission. She shoved the fare into the bus driver's hand when the bus stopped near her home, then hopped out. As Hera skulked to her house, she noticed the big black dustbin sitting by the sidewalk.

"Should I kick it? Nah."
Hera entertained the idea of kicking the common dustbin over, before dismissing it as a waste of her time. "I won't get banned, that's for sure," thought Hera. "Vaudeville Journey allows flaming as long as it's within the boundaries of the game. Insult the character, not the player, that's their motto. But to be on the safe side, I didn't criticize their race or looks."

--------

The next morning, Attie had the day off and was jogging on the treadmill upstairs. She wore a skimpy crop top and shorts, exposing her midriff and long legs. Francesca thought it was over the top to dress like that.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Fourteen

Previous chapter: Bad Omen.

Chapter Fourteen: An Upsetting Week.

Several things happened days after Isabel put up that angry picture. The first was Hera getting scared by rodents. She was searching for guides to write an Actionscript program when a fuzzy thing brushed by her foot. "Did Francesca leave one of her stuffed clockwork toys running again?" thought Hera, as she leaned down to check her foot. The fuzzy thing wasn't there.

Hera scanned the room with her shocking blue eyes, and spotted a little gray ball of fur. It squeaked and looked back with little black eyes, and something clicked in Hera's brain. She started screaming at the little gray blob of fur in the corner. The mouse squeaked in fright and scurried out of Hera's room. The blue-eyed woman screamed even harder, "MICE! HELP!"

Isabel rushed inside when she heard Hera's yelling, although she had to leave the flowers half-done. "It's mice," Hera said with a shudder when Isabel came in. "Heaven help me, or rather, you help me get rid of the mice."

"What makes you think mice are infesting the house?" Isabel asked. In reply, Hera got up and walked out of her room. Isabel followed her to the side of the house, just outside the kitchen. "Well?" said Isabel, a little impatiently. "If you're going to scream like a baby at every creepy crawly that comes by, mice, lizards, et cetra, what does that make you?"

Mice, we must get rid of them.
Hera pointed at the base of the house. "I think the mouse came from a hole there. I'm scared," she said. Isabel looked at where Hera was pointing. There was a hole, just big enough for a mouse's head.

The Lion remarked, "I'll get some mousetraps soon."

Hera replied, "Oh, thank you!" and hugged her friend in gratitude. Isabel patted her back and stood back.

"I'll buy those traps after work tomorrow," said Isabel.

--------

The next day, Isabel woke up late, just half an hour before work was supposed to begin. "Oh no! I'm late for the art con!" Isabel exclaimed when she saw her phone. She hurriedly dressed and rushed off to the museum, forgetting all about her breakfast. When she got there, the pavement was crowded with tables, and the supervisor was tapping her foot impatiently.

Freelancing's Beginning Pains

I signed up for several freelancing networks in the span of a week, mainly under the username of TheOriginalFive. I learnt several things:

1) Most freelancing gigs expect too much for too little.
-Seen those $1 per 500 words articles? According to what I've read, these kinds of gigs are the source of rubbish spam posts. You know the kind, shilling dubious medicines and nothing worth reading. They give me a headache when I'm trying to find a decent beginning job like proofreading a book.

2) It's tough to show that I'm not just another spambot writer as I come from an ESL country.
-Sure, if I don't mention where I'm from, you'd take me for a native speaker. For verification purposes, I have to be up front about where I'm from despite the stigma.

3) I might consider becoming a tutor instead.
- Then I'd have to brush up on my Mandarin so that I can reply to what I hear.

4) It takes time to build up confidence. Maybe too long considering point 2. I'll maintain this blog as proof I can write well despite being from an ESL country.

5) People don't seem to take someone who combines an enjoyment of casual things (on their social networks) with a desire for work seriously. It has to be one or the other for most employers.

6) I am leery of connecting a lot of my financial details. You never know what they might be used for.

7) Freelance networks that take ages to load, then nag about verifying cards instead of just Paypal; and shill you on getting a subscription are not the best idea. Even if you signed up for free!

I'm hoping for the best, but freelancing in my experience, has been a series of long periods of boredom.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Thirteen

Previous chapter: Nasty Little Prank.

Chapter Thirteen: Bad Omen.
I heard of angry works. I didn't expect Isabel to still have the power to paint influence. ~ The Watcher.
It all started when Isabel got worked up into a rage. She rushed off and made a very quick sketch that was later drenched in red. It showed two people fighting on top of a cliff. Isabel put up the painting after glaring at it, then stormed off to the master bedroom to have a long nap.
Isabel drew this.
She didn't expect Francesca to get influenced, however. In fact, the falling figure in the painting bore a resemblance to Isabel's cousin, having a very long ponytail trailing behind it. Francesca blew up when she saw the picture and felt insulted by the doodles. She stormed downstairs to where Hera was jogging on the treadmill while watching television.

Francesca plopped down on the pink sofa near the stairs and sighed angrily. "Something eating you up?" Hera asked. Francesca snorted in reply, Hera's voice was too chirpy for her liking at the moment. The brunette got up and poured herself a glass of soda. It was at that moment that Attie came back from work at the police station.

"Oh Attie~"
Francesca walked up to the Lion and said in a very sickly sweet voice, "Attie dear..." while carrying the soda daintily.

"What?" said Attie, as she leaned in closer to her brown-haired cousin. Hera chuckled when she saw a predictable plot twist in the current soap opera on television.

"Take that!"
"Mehehe."
Francesca suddenly poured the soda all down Attie's front. "Take that! How dare you make fun of my back end?!" yelled Francesca.

Attie shook the drops of soda out of her hair and frowned. "Why do you think throwing soda down my front will help?" she asked, as Francesca grinned.

"Crocodile face!"
"Your face looks like a crocodile. Tick tock tick tock, tick tick tick!" Francesca exclaimed, ignoring Attie's question.

"I'm not a clock-o-dile," Attie remarked, looking ready to cry. "What's wrong with you?"

"The problem's with you, not me!" Francesca replied. "Mean old lady who mocks me all the time."

"This calls for a distraction," thought Attie. "Fran, there's a three-headed monkey in the house," she said and pointed behind her cousin.

"Oh really?" said Francesca. She refused to look over her shoulder, so she didn't get startled by Attie's little roar. The Lion blinked and stepped back, wringing her hands. Then she decided to do something drastic.

"Alright, I'm sorry," Attie said. "Let's shake hands. No funny business from me."

"Hm, okay then," Francesca said, looking out of big black eyes as she put out her hand again. Attie was ready to jab her cousin's hand, but set the pin out too soon.

The pin backfired on Attie.
Ok, never mind that.
It was Attie's turn to jump up in shock when she accidentally stabbed herself with the hidden pin. Francesca stepped back until the shock ran its course.

Attie grinned nervously once the shock wore off. "Yeah, about that... It was a reflex," she said. Francesca shrugged, then giggled.

Doesn't appreciate pranks.
"So, what got you so mad?" Attie asked, since Francesca was no longer cross.

"I-I saw a picture that really set me off," said Francesca. "Not to mention your prank the other day when you zapped me."

"What's wrong with that?" said the Lion. "You didn't seem cross then."

"It was your laughing at my backside that was the last straw. I don't like being made a fool of, you hear me?"

"Right. I hear you," said Attie. "I'll back off from playing tricks on you. Hm, I wonder how Hera would take it if I played tricks on her instead."

"Oh, don't you try that, I heard you," Hera said. "Even if you two sillies thought I wasn't paying attention. What picture?"

"I think Isabel drew it. She drew someone pushing me off a cliff."

"What on earth?" Hera said in surprise. "Isabel doesn't usually draw violent pictures," she said as she hopped off the treadmill. "Shall I ask her what she meant by drawing that?"

Francesca nodded. Then the three of them heard Isabel's footsteps on the stairs. The elder Lion Twin had finished her nap.

Hera was first to speak, "Why did you draw that fight upstairs?"

"What fight?" asked Isabel, raising her eyebrows. "Wait, you mean that red painting?" When the others nodded, Isabel explained, "I was upset about the national news when I was drawing, and made that. I wasn't thinking... Let's hope this is not an omen for the coming days."

Next chapter: An Upsetting Week.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Twelve

Previous chapter: One More Outing.

Chapter Twelve: Nasty Little Prank.
Cheeky little sod, that lion. ~The Watcher.
It was one of those calm evenings on a day off after hectic days of work. Francesca was running on the treadmill when Isabel came back from the museum. Attie was watching a squash match on the television as her shift ended early.

"Where's Hera?" Isabel asked.

"She took the evening shift at the computer club this time," replied Attie. "How's work?"

"Fine, I'm giving tours about local artists for the time being," Isabel said. "How's your work going?"

Francesca said as she continued pacing on the treadmill, "I'm now proofreading consulted articles for the likes of Cosmo, Hello, and Women's Weekly. The day before yesterday, I had to deal with an angry reader and I called security on him once he started saying I was a pathetic loser. Just because I wrote a short piece about villain-worship-syndrome and how straightforward heroes should have more love."

Attie rolled her eyes. "That's nothing compared to what I did a few days ago," the younger Lion said.

"Try me," said Francesca. "Maybe your adventures top having to deal with a troll who thinks all heroes are lame-brained losers and only villains are worth one's time. Pah, pah, and PAH!"

"We were raiding a smugglers' hideout, had to choose between the basement or the attic. We chose to get into the attic, but the smugglers came back," said Attie, "I held back the line for my team to escape, then got out by rappelling down with bedsheets tied as ladders before the smugglers saw us." Francesca nodded, almost doubting the fanciful story.

Just then, the squash match took an abrupt turn as one of the women fumbled the serve. Francesca peeked over her cousin's head to watch the match. "Nicol David saves it again! One up over by the wall, she catches it and hits back before the second bounce..." the sports reporter blared. Attie was as calm as ever.

"She really deserves the moniker Squash Queen," Francesca remarked, then yawned suddenly. Attie nodded in agreement. Isabel took out a bowl of soup and sat at the table to eat it. The squash match ended with a victory for miss David, so Attie and Francesca went to help themselves to dinner. They joined Isabel at the table.

"Now, why are you so sleepy, Fran?" Isabel asked her cousin, who looked about ready to drop beside her soup. Francesca mumbled something in reply.

Attie got up. "I don't know what she just spouted, but I've got something to help," she said. "Fran, please get up."

Francesca got up and shuffled over to her second-eldest cousin. "What is it?" she asked, then put out her hand.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Eleven

Previous chapter: A Little Solitude, Please!

Chapter Eleven: One More Outing.
I'd like to clean up their pasts, but I can't fix everything. ~The Watcher.
It was a particularly gloomy morning when Francesca woke up crying. She wiped her eyes as she got out of bed. "The nightmares came back. Always the same. I'm locked away as a toy to some rich person and not allowed to 'suffer' the mundane," Francesca muttered, her heart feeling hollow yet heavy. "But the way I was treated in the dream made 'mundane' life bearable."

Woke up on the wrong side of the bed?
She logged on to her computer and tried to distract herself by playing Puzzle Cove. It didn't help, although Sinopia collected some more money in her fortune. After an hour, Francesca logged off from the game and browsed random things, including ideas for work in the next few days.

The bad dream still bothered her as she read jokes. She heard one of her cousins call everyone to breakfast, so she shut down the computer and went downstairs.

"It's not like I can tell Attie or Hera about the nightmares, they won't understand. I told Isabel about these nightmares before we moved here, but I don't want to burden her again with the same," Francesca thought as she took a plate of pancakes and sat down to eat them. They were coated with a thin layer of honey and topped with a cube of boiled pineapple, which she enjoyed.

She listened to her housemates go on about work. Attie complained, "I don't understand it, why on earth do I keep missing the meetings when I stay to work overtime? Even if I drink some energy soda, I crash anyway."

"You should lay off the soda, it's bad for you," Hera remarked.

"Who's the dunce who decided to fix a programming bug and ended up taking the blame?" Attie snapped back. "I didn't ask for your advice. Next time, tell tales on your coworker. Sneak, it's not that wrong to tell tales when it's something important."

Isabel glanced over to Francesca and said, "Hot day, isn't it?" Francesca nodded. "Don't get snappy, dear cousin," Isabel continued.

"I won't, not without good reason," Francesca replied as she finished her pancakes. She left the plates for Attie to wash up. The younger Lion was still complaining to herself when Francesca went back upstairs to brood.

Hera was about to see herself in the mirror.
"I need to catch up on my running," Hera said when she saw herself in the mirror. "But first, I've got to settle my work for the computer club. Good thing I'm off today."

--------

Francesca went out by herself again when Hera was napping, and after the Lions had gone to work. She sent a simple message to alert Isabel just in case. This time, she headed to the public park. "Maybe I can stop thinking about those nightmares if I hang around other people," she thought.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Ten

Previous chapter: More Voodoo and Hoodoo.

Chapter Ten: A Little Solitude, Please!
To Francesca, Japanese is a second language. One she speaks badly. ~The Watcher.
It was a fine morning as Attie padded downstairs. She found her twin washing up her breakfast plate in the sink. "Morning, sis," the younger Lion said as she got some vanilla cream from the fridge. As she scooped it into a bowl and topped it with raspberries, she asked, "How's the day?"

"I'm alright," said Isabel. "I screwed up a painting at work yesterday but nobody else out of this house knows about it."

"Why?" Attie wondered, sitting down with the cream pudding.

"I named it something else because I thought I'd screw up even worse if I tried to fix it."

"What'cha call it?" Attie asked, now curious. Isabel sat in the chair opposite her twin and grinned.

"Candy Gramps," Isabel said with a giggle. "Nobody noticed that it was supposed to be of Nefertiti before I painted it wrong." Attie snorted with laughter as well when Hera came out of her room for breakfast.

Attie ate some pudding.
Hera ate pudding for breakfast too.
Hera plopped into a chair after grabbing some quick pudding from the fridge. She chirped, "I didn't know you had the heart to be a prankster, Isabel."

"My pranks are harmless unlike certain imbeciles," Isabel said, "I don't mean you, Attie," she added when her twin scowled.

"That's good to hear, cause someone in this house is too gloomy for pranks," said Hera. "It's your cousin."

"She's usually uptight about practical jokes," said Attie. "She's a sad snob."

Francesca slunk by.
"Speaking of sad," Hera said, "Your cousin looks like she'll burst into tears at any minute. I think she's still homesick or has unfinished business in New York."

At that moment, Francesca slunk by the half-wall separating the kitchen from the hobby corner. She looked down at the floor and avoided the others' gaze. Her phone went off with a shrill voice screeching about mirrors. She picked up the phone and held it to her ear as Hera and Attie ate their puddings.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Nine

Previous chapter: Voodoo Tricks.

Chapter Nine: More Voodoo and Hoodoo.

Pleased as punch with the success of her first prank, Attie decided to continue playing with the dolly in the afternoon. She tossed it up and down and swung it by its arms, occasionally confusing Francesca when she felt like she was floating. Hera went to the computer club to work again, as per her routine, so the Lion Twins and Francesca remained home in the evening.

"I've got Hercules, Casino Royale, and Johnny English on the record tonight," Attie said to her cousin and twin. "Shall we vote?"

"I'm not in the mood for movies, Attie," Francesca said. "Ask Isabel," she added.

"You decide, Attie, I'm busy preparing food for tomorrow," the elder Lion said. Attie looked at the video previews again and chose to watch Casino Royale.

When Francesca went upstairs to browse the web on her computer and Isabel was engrossed in making the next day's meals, Attie took out the doll. She grabbed the prodder and stabbed it in the dolly's heart.

Furious.
Too angry to slam the door.
Francesca was busy reading some story and beauty tips when she felt a burning pain. The pain shot from Francesca's heart to her head, then radiated all over her body. She stomped out of her room in a rage. She was so angry with the pain that she couldn't be bothered to slam the door. "What's wrong with me?" she groused. "I feel like beating the snot out of something."

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Eight

Previous chapter: Faraway Tree Found.

Chapter Eight: Voodoo Tricks.

It all started when Attie ordered a dolly from the internet. It wasn't the first thing on her mind. To be fair, she had been browsing joke sites, superhero stories, and Reddit all afternoon when she came across an advertisement for a voodoo doll.

"Stuffed with magic herbs and comes with its own prodder," Attie said when she read the ad for the dolly. "Jinx your buddies and make them puppets of your will. Disclaimer: Success rate varies."

"It costs twenty dollars," she remarked when she read the price. "Pretty cheap for a magic trick ever since I worked that desk clerk job. Well, I'm ordering one for myself." So she did, and read that the package would arrive in a few days.

--------

It was the weekend when Attie received the package in the mail. She eagerly opened it after dinner while her housemates were chatting about their work, but had to wait till the next morning to try the dolly out.

She woke up early the next day before her twin Isabel, and crept over to Francesca's room. It was silent save for a little sleep-giggle now and then. Attie changed her clothes as she meant to get in some taekwondo practice before brunch.

Attie took out the doll and examined it. It was wrapped in a sheet of instructions. She unwrapped the doll and read them. "Bind the dolly to anyone you know of. You can stab the doll to irritate a real body, make it dance to cheer them up, or kiss it up to make them ready for love," the sheet read.

Attie decided to kiss up the doll. To her surprise, the doll became indignant and threatened her with its prodder.

"Whoa there dolly!"
She jerked the doll away so that it wouldn't stab her in the face. The doll continued to wave the prodder at her, so she spoke to it in a trembling voice, "Don't stab me, I'm not going to hurt you."

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Seven

Previous chapter: Finding The Faraway Tree.


Chapter Seven: Faraway Tree Found.
So much for a literary parody. ~The Watcher.
Things went on as usual until the next morning, after a simple breakfast. Hera whipped out her phone and said, "Fran, let's take a picture!"

"Selfie?" Francesca asked.

"No, not selfie, and it's not a groupie either," Hera replied as she stood beside her friend. "Now, smile up!"

The two smiled, and Hera snapped a shot.

"Say cheese, bub!"
The two friends looked at the picture. "See? You're so cute!" Hera exclaimed.

"You look good, too," Francesca said, pointing out Hera's shocking blue eyes.

"It's not everyday you see a blue-eyed black," Hera chuckled. "Anyway, I'll go for a spot of violin playing before I have to work at the computer club again. See you."

As Hera strode off, Francesca glanced around. Attie had gone off to the police station, and Isabel was washing the plates while in her pajamas. Isabel dried her hands after putting the plates away.

She whispered the secret into Isabel's ear.

How to Make A Character: Francesca Takahashi

Part of a series of how I actually went about redesigning leftover character concepts. Expect explanations on my design principles behind the Lion Twins and Herakaris in the coming weeks.

Original Incarnation.
There's not much given about Francesca Takahashi in Artix Entertainment's HeroSmash. No surprise, as the character who inspired her was called Demolicious. The original character was a guardian of a powerful artifact, Pandora's Malachite.

The NPC in question.
The official art style of the game made her appear slender, but I found this inaccurate considering she was shown throwing her wrecking ball with great force. She seemed stoic but broke down when she was defeated in her storyline.

All she wanted to do at that point was help her ill father, but she never got the chance. It seemed that she had no mother, possibly because she was never mentioned at all. The consensus among players was that Demolicious' mother was dead, though I believed that her mother had run away.

How She Got Her Name.
Unfortunately, I can't take credit for naming this character Francesca, even though I gave her the surname Takahashi. It was another HeroSmash player who suggested that. Why? The reason has been lost to time. I do find that this name gives an image of someone who's of noble ancestry.

Back when she was a side character in my old HeroSmash story American Lions, her civilian name was Toriko* Takahashi.

*Bird-child, badly translated on purpose.

In My Hands.
It seemed straightforward enough for a non-player character in a fanfic, being a side character who didn't have much of a role. As I continued to expand her backstory along with the other characters', I felt that she had a bigger hand in the mythos of the game, if only Artix and co. would explain it. They never did, for the game was suddenly abandoned in late 2011, never to be officially continued again.

Regardless, I stuck to two major ideas in Francesca's appearance: corpse-like and stout. In this regard, my fanart depicted her with these two ideas. As she had gotten injured by a robot in my old story American Lions, she also had a huge scar on her right thigh.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Six

Previous chapter: Childminding Again.

Chapter Six: Finding the Faraway Tree.

My chosen ones can pursue their hobbies now that they're not being crushed by supervillains. ~The Watcher.
Francesca had taken a day off from writing and proofreading for the SimLady magazine. She wondered what she should do with herself as her housemates had gone to work. "I can't lie around all day, I need to observe people and get some ideas on the current cultural trends," she thought. So she went to the park again.

When she got there, she regretted her decision, and busied herself by admiring the parts of nature instead.


She picked at a little rocky outcrop and peeked into an old log to pass the time. She then tried her luck at catching frogs by the fish pond. The frogs kept hopping away, as she didn't want to fall head first into the pond.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Five

Previous chapter: Babysitting at Dinner.

Chapter Five: Childminding Again.

Child rearing? Not the first thing any of my chosen would go for. ~The Watcher.
A week went by after the four housemates had started their jobs. By the weekend, Isabel and Francesca got promoted to full-time shifts, and Attie was making a little headway beyond a receptionist for the local police.

Hera, on the other hand, had a hell of a time as she was pushed right into learning Actionscript and Basic. She managed to slog her way through the programming classes provided by the computer club, and eventually rearranged her schedule a bit.

"I didn't know how much effort goes into making video games," Hera groaned as she flopped on the sofa in front of the television. "Should I stop complaining about them?"

"You can complain about them, within reason," Attie said with a snort of laughter. "Or else we'd still be stuck in the pixelated era of games."

"Indie companies are going back to the pixelated look, just with advanced gameplay," Hera said. "Plus better music."

"Right, you can't say something without shoehorning Broadway in," Attie sneered. "Do you ever have anything else on your brain besides Broadway and games?"

"She has Nightshade on the brain," Francesca piped up.

"If my dog could sing and dance, I'll ask her if she'd like to join me on Broadway," Hera murmured.

"You've only got a few years to do that," Francesca said, then looked glum. "Dogs live for about a decade on average."

"Oh, please don't brood so much," said Isabel, as she stood beside the long sofa the other three were sitting on. "You look so pitiful when you're sad."

Francesca's phone rang at that moment. "S'cuse me," she said, and got up to answer the call.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Four

Previous chapter: Later That First Week.

Chapter Four: Babysitting at Dinner.

"Surely something will crop up soon." ~The Watcher.

While Francesca was playing about in the park, Hera decided to trim herself on the treadmill. It would have gone well if it wasn't for one thing, clumsy feet.

Hera fell down.

She fell and knocked her head on the floor, along with her elbows and knees.

She got up awkwardly.
"Gosh, I shouldn't have set the treadmill so high," Hera muttered as she hopped back on. She continued running until Francesca came back.

"Hi Hera," Francesca said when she saw Hera run. "How's your day?"

"Good," the skinny woman replied. "How did your park outing go?"

"I introduced myself to a young mother, and her kid. Ouellettes."

"Oo- what?" Hera asked, trying to watch Gordon Ramsay as he stuffed a chicken with mashed chestnuts on television. "What kind of name is Ouef?"

"French, I guess. They're not named after food."

"Alright. When will the Lions be back, Fran?"

"Attie will be back soon, Isabel's not back till five. Did you make anything for dinner?"

"I made a salad, I had trimming on the brain instead of Broadway," Hera explained, as Francesca made a face. "Look, I don't cook as well as I conduct," Hera continued. "Deal with it, bub."

"No wonder you're watching Gordon Ramsay's show. When's your job starting?"

"Ten o'clock tomorrow morning, game tester at the local computer club," Hera said tersely. "I'll be back after sundown."

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Three

Previous chapter: The First Week.

Chapter Three: Later That First Week.

"I'm not going to abandon this experiment." ~The Watcher.

"Fran! We're back!" Attie shouted as she approached the front door with Isabel. Francesca opened the door with a nervous look on her face, and let the Twins enter.

"Look, cousin, we got your favorite chips and ice cream with the rest of the groceries," Isabel said in a coaxing tone. "Help us sort out the food."

"Yes, Isabel," Francesca said in a little voice.

As she stuffed the packets of food in the cupboards and fridge, her elder cousin continued talking. "We saw the cutest pile of toy puppies in the store on the way home," Isabel said. "Black and white and polka-dotted."

"Like Hera's dog?" Francesca asked.

"Yep, just like my Nightshade," Hera interrupted. "She was such a fluffy wiggly girl."

"Do tell," Attie said in a bored voice. "If you ask me, I'd rather have a copy of the latest Assassin's Creed. Pirates, just like that Puzzle Cove game Francesca used to play."

"I still play it," Francesca said in that little voice. "Sinopia's a famous sailor now."

"Sharpens your brain, doesn't it?" said Hera, arranging the cold meat in the freezer.

"Kinda. The sea battles helped me plan ahead," Francesca replied as she put the last packet of biscuits in place. "I've made the sandwiches as you asked, Isabel."

"Great! I'm famished," Attie said boldly.

"Then set out the plates," Isabel said, deflating her twin's bravado. Attie sighed and started arranging the plates to put the sandwiches on.

--------
Francesca felt unhappy.
That evening, Francesca went to the balcony after another dinner of the remaining sandwiches with her housemates. She started drawing, and could hear Attie's noisy video game through the window behind her. Francesca was overcome with longing for her family back in New York, along with her childhood days.


She cried softly as she tried to finish her drawing. "I've been a fool to mope my youth away," she sniffled. "Yet I can't help over-thinking everything."

Attie was too engrossed in her game to bother about Francesca crying outside, even though she heard the sniffling. After a while, Francesca managed to stop crying so much, and hid in her room to think things over. She fell asleep while thinking about her high school days.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Two

Previous chapter: Moving Day.

Chapter Two: The First Week.

It's so much easier for sims to get work than in our world. ~The Watcher.

The first thing the four friends did next day was to find work that would start later that week. Isabel jumped at the chance to work for the local art museum, while Francesca timidly applied for work at a magazine house. Alas, neither Hera nor Attie could decide what to do. They sprawled on the sofa while mulling over their decisions.

"Don't tell me you DON'T want to go on Broadway, Hera," Attie said as Hera scratched her head about the online classifieds.

"I do want to go on Broadway, but I want to play computer games as well."

"Choose one or the other."

"If I could do that, or both at once, I wouldn't ask you, Attie," Hera said peevishly, "Not that you'd give me good career advice either." She stood up, shut off her phone, and went to her room to sulk.

"Attie, you're a big hypocrite," Isabel remarked. "You're also having a hard time deciding now that there's no more openings for sportswomen."

"Unlike Hera, I have a backup plan in mind," Attie said proudly. "Look, clerk required for the Secret Service."

"You don't even like office work," Isabel said in surprise.

"If I play my cards right, Isabel, I'll be out as a super spy in no time," Attie said. "Amelia Bonn sounds like a pretty good spy name," she said with a grin and applied for the job.

Isabel sighed. "Once an adventure junkie, always an adventure junkie," she muttered. She then went upstairs to the balcony and started drawing. As she drew, she became aware of a brassy little voice talking in her ear. She turned to see Francesca complaining about something while holding the remains of her bacon breakfast in one hand.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Four Stars Chapter One

Previous chapter: Prologue.

Chapter One: Moving Day.

The new world's ready, I'm ready to guard it and guide my chosen. ~The Watcher.

A red car with silver trimming went down the winding road to the outskirts of the city. The car was packed full of luggage, and the rear passengers were snoozing on the luggage put in the back seat.

"You sure we came to the right place?" Attie asked her twin sister Isabel, pushing her sharply cut fringe away from her face.

"Yes, Willow Creek. You asked that same question last month when we were first looking up real estate to move into," said Isabel.

"I asked that because Willow Creek was an area in one of the old video games we used to play in high school."

"Yes, it is named the same. No, your game didn't come to life. Tell me if any turns are coming up," the older Lion said.

Attie imitated the GPS in her hand, "Turn out left in five kilometers. Signboard will tell you anyhow."

"By the way, wake Hera and Francesca up. They ought to clap eyes on our new home."

Attie looked at the back seat and hissed, "Wake up, you lazybones."

The two rear passengers, one a plump young woman with brown hair, the other thin with dark skin and black hair, replied with snores.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Four Stars: Main Characters

Main Characters (Click to enlarge)
Some of you won't be familiar with these people's origins, so I shall explain to the best of my ability. I have a personal connection with each of my chosen ones in some way as their patron.

From left to right, the four stars are Herakaris Keller, Isabel Lion, Attie Lion, and Francesca Takahashi.

Herakaris Keller

She is a musical maniac, a lazybones, and a gamer. In the old world, her music was so powerful that she could either fell people with her singing or calm down a crowd with a well-played song. Her singing is terrible no matter what reality she lives in. Should her music fail, she turns to guns as a backup plan.

Today, she only needs to worry about her bad singing irritating everyone else instead of felling them, and can lie around as much as she likes until business calls. My reason for being her patron is her passion for music and our shared fault of laziness.

Isabel Lion

She is a lover of books, art, and goodness of humanity. The elder twin sister of Attie, Isabel used to wield the power of life itself whenever she painted. In this world, she is simply a talented painter and craftsman. My reason for being her patron is her passion for art and loving nature.

Attie Lion
She is a lover of sports, self-confidence bordering on vanity, and the occasional unkindness. Despite this, she loves her twin sister Isabel. In the old world, she used her long legs and arms to fight. She also had an immense knowledge of poisons unprecedented in any superhero. My reason for being her patron is her passionate temper and her relation as Isabel's sister.

Francesca Takahashi
A tragic story follows this one. A loner who loves books but has an easily hurt heart. To put it simply, she (in her superhero persona of Demolicious) committed the crime of abusing the old world's most powerful artifact, as she wanted to sell the artifact in order to pay for her father's treatment. The artifact fell into the villains' hands instead of being sold on the black market, and Francesca could not cure her father.

Either way, Francesca/Demolicious was scorned, hated by all save my other three chosen. I became her patron out of pity, and hope to cure this wounded heart through her new life in my reality. To this end, I patched up her family as well as I could, for the old gods did not bother to elaborate on her home life. Mind you, she pronounces her name as "Fran-sess-ka" instead of the other way, a verbal tic.

Signed,
The Watcher.

Article summary: Linguistic features in Norwegian SMS. (Part 3)

Previous section here.
First section here.

My Reaction

    This section includes my thoughts on the article, such as the possibility of carrying out a similar research in this country, and how different the results of this research could be if repeated today. The article's organization could be improved by adding an abstract at the start, even though the whole article is a mere nine pages. The abstract would give potential readers an idea of what the article contains, and might spark further interest in reading it.

    The topic of sociolinguistic features in SMS is an interesting one, as Malaysians frequently use SMS and other forms of electronic communication in for many purposes. The main purpose of SMS, emails, and calls remains constant, that is, to communicate. However, another study on the various ways of Asian communication in electronic form would be something to consider.

    Since the research mentioned in this article was carried out in 2002 and technology has advanced rapidly in the years after the study, research on this topic today would probably show different results. A study on the Malaysian use of SMS is bound to showcase the characteristic features of Malaysian English and code switching, and how SMS can change the way we express Manglish.

    The researcher discusses a few ways in which his research could be improved. In the article's introduction, he mentions that there may be selective filtering as respondents may be reluctant to share embarrassing or private messages. He has a point, as many SMS users, myself included, are bound to have messages that we'd rather keep for a few certain eyes, not for strangers to read.

    He also states that the respondents had to read out three of the last sent messages in their phones to an interviewer, which made it difficult to get an accurate transcription. Now, with the advent of email, collecting more accurate samples of SMS messages will be easier as respondents could copy the text of their messages into their emails and send them to an interviewer; should this research be carried out again.

    The researcher mentions that abbreviations do not appear very often in the sampled messages. At the time the article was written, SMS messaging was a relatively new system; so most of the widely known acronyms found in a modern SMS wouldn't exist back then. If this research was carried out again in Malaysia today, there might be more instances of abbreviations, especially Manglish-related ones.

    Women and teenagers often send more emotional SMS messages. In my opinion, this is because of the social norms in European culture, where men are expected to be stoic compared to women. This expectation is slowly being eroded as men express themselves creatively nowadays.

    In the study, users in the 20-24 age group were more likely to capitalize and punctuate their messages. This may be attributed to the fact that these users are usually in tertiary education, and the formalities of university may influence the way they compose their SMS messages. The researcher doesn't really address why young Norwegian adults tend to use relatively formal punctuation, so this is just a guess.

    Perhaps the researcher could study the effects of social class and education level on the sociolinguistic features of SMS messages, as many people from various walks of life have at least one cell phone at this time of writing. The article does not make any mention of the general social class of the randomly sampled Norwegians, although a pilot study was carried out on small-town teenagers. To sum up, the sociolinguistic features of SMS messages is a good research topic, although Rich Ling or another researcher could expand on this.

The Four Stars Prologue

Prologue: The Watcher Disapproves.

I see a world very like our Earth that its creators have abandoned for lack  of their own initiative. The fools. Just because the viewers in our world think this world's uninteresting and unprofitable, they gave up. What happened to their verve of years past?

They say that the gods gave up as people no longer wanted to be heroes or villains in that particular universe. I say they were more interested in making celebrities in their medieval "pantomime" world.

Worse still, the old ones have committed one of the worst sins in creating worlds: refusing to salvage any good ideas from the husk they leave behind. For no work is completely irredeemable unless one is already terrible at creating worlds. The gods I criticize in this case are not bad at making worlds, but bad at maintaining anything but medieval Broadways.

I have asked them time and time again whether they will revive the idea of a superhero who is filial to her father, or a supervillain so suave that everyone believed him at first hearing. No, was their answer each time.

Very well, I will salvage the scraps they don't want, and use them in my own reboot of Super City. I have already salvaged the Lion Twins and Herakaris long before I started questioning the creators for abandoning their world. Francesca, you're coming too.

I'll make sure that all of you will have nothing to worry about but yourselves, ever again. I will not leave you to rot unlike your old gods. I shall protect this world with a vengeance.

Signed,
The Watcher.

Next chapter: Moving Day.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Pondering on Prudence

Prudence, a noun and a name, a virtuous one at that. Supposedly for good judgement. The first time I saw this name was when I read Enid Blyton's "Summer Term at Saint Clare's."

Prudence at Saint Clare's.
Unfortunately, the Prudence who features there is a hypocrite and a spiteful sort. Pretty much the opposite of good judgement. First of all, Prudence Arnold makes nasty remarks on almost everyone, and constantly tries to get her opinion heard.

Her first line of dialogue is a mean remark about Sadie "being a bad influence" on the class, simply because Sadie is an American. Later, she complains that playing cards will lead to gambling, and tries to get the others to debate on feminist issues. The other students blow her off as being uptight.

It is mentioned by Blyton that Prudence was brought up in a vicarage, under the strict eye of her parents. This may be part of the reason Prudence thinks she is better than the other students at school. She is portrayed by Blyton as a manipulative person, only befriending those who could help her and ignoring everyone else. She befriends Pamela because of her great intelligence, and tries to strike a friendship with Sadie after learning that Sadie will inherit a fortune as an adult.

Prudence is also unwilling to help the other students due to her mix of loner and self-righteousness. When Janet (a trickster) accidentally spills some water on Prudence, the latter starts complaining and saying that Jane meant to do so on purpose. Janet tries to get Prudence to tell the form teacher to let her off, but Prudence refuses because Janet and Bobby (Roberta) constantly play "silly" tricks in class.

Prudence did not even consider that Janet needed to go to watch a film in order to complete her history assignment, but continued to push her serious attitude in this case. Adding insult to injury, she mocks Janet for having to write out Prudence's homework notes. Bobby tried to help Janet out by imitating her writing, but Prudence, bearing a grudge, makes a fuss out of this. This causes even more trouble to the class and the other students start to notice her spiteful nature.

Throughout the novel, Prudence also sneers at Carlotta and tries to smear her reputation by finding out about the latter's background. Prudence is under the impression that if the other girls know that Carlotta isn't from a noble background, they will snub her. This backfires because the other girls happen to like circuses and aren't so particular about good backgrounds.

Another incident in the book brings Prudence's hypocritical nature to light. Bobby's second trick with a squealing biscuit irritates the French teacher into threatening the class with a test the next day. Prudence, fearing a scolding from the headmistress if she fails the test, thinks that it would be a good idea to look up the questions and answers for the test, then get top marks.

Prudence tries to explain Bobby's joke to the French teacher, hoping to sneak a look at the test as it is prepared. The French teacher becomes irritated with Prudence and sends her away. That night, Prudence decides to sneak into the teacher's room and look up the test that way. She is caught by Bobby and Carlotta. When Bobby tells Prudence off for being a hypocrite, she cries and causes the headmistress to come and investigate the situation.

It would have been better for Prudence if she studied for the test the honest way even if she didn't get good marks, in my opinion. For some reason, the French teacher decides not to hold the test after all, rendering Prudence's attempt to cheat worthless.

Near the end of the novel, Prudence becomes an accessory to kidnapping completely by mistake, thinking that a letter from a shady character was meant for Carlotta. Spite clouded her mind and made her irrational, so she went along with the shady guy's plan despite being warned by Pamela.

Personally, I believe that Prudence was expelled mainly for attempted cheating, and her part in Sadie's kidnapping was the last straw. If her serious attitude had been tempered by a kindly or just nature, she might have been able to stay on at Saint Clare's.

Why the name, if its bearer was the opposite?
I was struck mainly by the sound of it, and thought it would make a good pseudonym for someone who has completed her journeyman years. The unusual sound and virtuous meaning is why Purpure adopted Prudence as her time-traveling name, despite its rarity.

As for Prudence Trenton (alias Purpure), she is just as serious as Prudence Arnold, but Miss Trenton's serious nature is tempered by a love of jokes and the occasional trick. Miss Trenton is also very forthright and honest about everything except where she really comes from. As far as anyone can get out of Miss Trenton, she's from England.

Purpure might not be from a good background, as she's a bastard child, but she stepped beyond it to leave a legacy of an intelligent traveler with a sense of justice.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Article summary: Linguistic features in Norwegian SMS. (Part 2)

Part 1 of the summary can be found here.

This study was conducted by Rich Ling in the early 2000's, thus some of the phones described have older features.

Statistical summary.

The messages were analysed by their type/token ratio, defined as the number of different words (type) compared to the total number of words (token). The researcher's hypothesis is that the faster a medium of producing language becomes, the lower the type/token ratio would be. The researcher also justifies the hypothesis, saying that writing by hand, or even writing for formal purposes takes a long time, and one would be likely to draw on a wider range of words when there is a longer delay between thought and expressing said thought.

However, based on the type/token ratio of the studied SMS messages, it appears that SMS is an unusual case. The range of type/token ratios mentioned in the article is between 0.487 and 0.609. SMS messages are typed in with the keypad of one's cell phone, which can take a longer time to produce coherent messages.

According to the hypothesis stated in the previous paragraph, a slower method of writing should give more time for the user to think of different words, leading to a higher type/token ratio. The results in the article show otherwise, having an average type/token ratio compared to several reference texts.

The researcher points out this discrepancy by stating that SMS users often have to focus on the writing tool, that is, the keypads of their phones, so they are less likely to think of unusual words. Users between the ages of 16 to 19 years of age have the lowest type/token ratio, whereas users between the ages of 35 and 44 have the highest type/token ratio.

When the messages were analysed by mean word and message length as well as complexity, there were no statistically significant differences in the length of words between genders or age groups. There was also no significant age-based difference in the mean number of words per message. There were gender-based differences in SMS message complexity and number of words in a message.

Women were more likely to write longer and more complex SMS messages, with 6.95 words per message on average. In contrast, men tend to write simpler and shorter messages, with an average of 5.54 words per message. Females in the 16-19 age group were found to write the highest amount of complex SMS messages, while males in the same age group wrote the simplest messages.

Surprisingly enough, abbreviations weren't used often in the sampled SMS messages, and any abbreviations that showed up were mainly used by teenagers and young adults. Users who were between 20 and 24 years of age were also more likely to capitalize and punctuate their messages properly. Besides, women or younger users wrote most of the messages that included salutations or closing phrases.

The article concludes that SMS messages have features of both spoken and written language with their own unique characteristics. SMS messages are similar to spoken language in terms of immediate communication and informality. SMS is similar to writing in the assumption that the participants aren't in close proximity, and the text of an SMS message can be edited before the message is sent.

The unique characteristics of SMS messages arise from the electronic medium they originated in, such as the ability to save messages in one's cell phone. These messages only last as long as the phone's memory remains intact, which may not be as long as a letter's storage period. Norwegian women are more likely to send complex SMS messages, express their feelings and plan for more immediate events. Young adults are more likely to write messages that contain advanced capitalization and punctuation.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Article summary: Linguistic features in Norwegian SMS. (Part 1)

This is a review of a Norwegian research article back when the short-messaging system of mobile phones (SMS) was in its infancy. This text was part of an assignment in university.

Article Summary (General remarks).

Rich Ling wrote this article in 2005. It is about research on the sociolinguistic features in the short message system (SMS) as used by a random sample of Norwegians. The article introduces a brief history of SMS and its general usage in Norway. The research objectives in the paper include determining whether SMS is spontaneous or rehearsed communication, and how the desire to communicate overcame the technological limits of SMS.

In this article, the researcher examines 882 SMS messages from a random sample of Norwegians. These SMS messages were collected in May 2002 by telephone. The researcher requested demographic data from each of the respondents, as well as the last 3 SMS messages sent. However, only 463 (23%) of the respondents managed to provide the SMS messages that were requested by the researcher. 40% of women in the survey sent at least one SMS message a day, compared to the 36% of men who did. The women who sent the most messages were in the 16 to 19 age group, with an average of 9.03 messages a day.

The SMS messages were first analysed by the themes they contained, such as coordination, grooming, answers, questions, information, commands or requests, personal news, and diverse other categories. Although grooming was defined as miscellaneous emotional remarks in the analysis of the data, the “diverse other categories” grouping serves a similar function. The most common theme in the messages was coordination, which appeared in 33% of the samples, implying that most users send SMS messages in order to set up meetings or plan events.

Next, the SMS messages were analysed by socio-demographical differences. Gender differences were mentioned in the article. Men were more likely to use one-word replies in their messages and plan activities in the middle future. The middle future was defined as a few days later. Women were likely to send “grooming” type messages and plan activities for the immediate future.

The researcher also analysed the types of words that often appeared in the SMS messages. The most common word used by both men and women was du (you) while other common words included jeg (I), (on/in/at/to) and i (in/at). In general, prepositions appeared more frequently in the SMS messages studied.

The frequent use of prepositions can be attributed to the role of SMS in coordination of events. Adverbs do not usually show up in the analysed messages due to the character limit, so the messages appear telegraphic in nature. Further analysis of a sample of words shows that women often used more verbs, adjectives and prepositions. In contrast, men tend to use more pronouns and nouns.

Part 2: Statistical details.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Mekageddon concept: Song of A Gun.

Another character concept for Mekageddon this week: Singing gunwoman.

Herakaris (Click to enlarge)
The idea is that Hera is good at guns and music, except singing. Places would freeze over if Hera suddenly became good at it.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Confessions on Character Wasting.

Or Why I Felt Like A Hypocrite.

Shortly after I wrote about Artix Entertainment leaving their HeroSmash characters to rot while making new projects, I was reminded of one of my abandoned concepts that I had "discarded" out of embarrassment.

This character in question was Purpure, a pirate catgirl. When I first designed and roleplayed her in 2007, she was portrayed as a pushy and somewhat nymphomaniac illegitimate child. It wasn't who I was at all, and I had gotten to a bad start in Puzzle Pirates because of it.

In 2008, I had changed her concept slightly, and she supposedly went back to England to study as a governess and become a time-traveler. That was around the time I quit Puzzle Pirates for several years out of boredom.

Now, in 2014, I have gone back to playing Three Rings' flagship game due to my dissatisfaction with Artix Entertainment. I have seen that although Three Rings focuses on other projects like Spiral Knights and Whirled, they still pay attention to Puzzle Pirates and don't over-extend themselves to the point AE did. (AE expanded at a rate of one major game project a year as of this post.)

Another key difference between Three Rings' and Artix Entertainment's approach to being close to players is that the former participates actively in their own sites and games, while the latter prefer external social networks to playing their own games.

Three Rings hasn't left as many games to rot like AE did, the former might still conduct maintenance checks even if there are no major updates. Artix Entertainment? To hell with everything except AQWorlds, it seems.

As befitting a return to an old game, I revised Purpure's concept once more. She is no longer a nymphomaniac, but she's still be a British catgirl, a bastard child adopted by her kindly step-uncle, and a fairly successful governess among the pirates.

If I hadn't, and continued to ignore the potential an ex-pirate time-traveler has in my repertoire of characters, I'd be hypocritical for criticizing Artix's wastefulness and being wasteful myself.

Afterword: Seems that pirates don't really mind English governesses after all, even if they've got animal bits where human parts should be.

Purpure's looking quite lost. (Source)