Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New draft "Moving Day" is about 4200 words, all produced last night

My goal last night was to write a new draft that would glue all the pieces together neatly and reduce the wordcount. I got there, but I was up pretty late.

I had the evening planned out: I had a crockpot meal ready when I got home, and I would sit down and write 1000 words, then do a chore or juggle or read a little bit. I had to take breaks because I've spent so much time at the keyboard in the last four days that my back is on the verge of a breakdown.

I'm pretty happy with last night's progress. I'm sure I'll hate it when I'm editing it tonight, but hey, I've got a coherant draft. A little editing and tomorrow's deadline is a shoe-in.

On this and other recent projects, I've been starting new drafts in empty files. Frankly, I've hardly ever done that before. Usually when I talk about a new draft, I mean a heavily edited version of a prior one, or one with lots of new chunks. But I'm finding that starting over, even if I end up retyping a lot of the same sentences, is a great technique:

  • It's very satisfying. You produce words fast.
  • It's easy to get into the flow of the piece in a writing session when you have something to start with. I get the same effect by starting a new scene in a notebook in an odd moment, and then using that to start my day's session at the computer. Just retyping what I wrote is a great way to get started.
  • It's a great way to unify the story and fix/catch logic errors. You can't ignore stuff when you have to retype it. I now see that a lot of problems I encounter come from reusing old text.

This is hardly a new idea, but I think it's worth highlighting for anyone who grew up with word processors from the get-go. I don't think I'd have become a writer if word processors weren't available to make the typesetting feasible. But I see a crutch in my process now, and this simple technique of redrafting from scratch is proving valuable.

Online text utilities page

This page provides for some handy text conversions through a text field. So if you're on a box that doesn't have your favorite utilities installed, this might come in handy. Case conversion, hashing, URI encoding.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Free wargame rules website

This site has a ton of free downloadable wargame rules, sorted by categories like SciFi, Fantasy, Ancient.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

3000 word story ballooned to 7k when the limit is 5k

So I was putting together various pieces that I'd written for this story "Moving Day", and it added up to 7500 words or so, which was kind of a shock. The wordcount limit for it is 5000 words, for the Armadillocon workshop.

I hadn't realized I'd collected that much material. I'd decided to write a decent conclusion for the thing, in a new file, and the conclusion was as long as the rest of the story. The story was only about 3500 words on Friday. Okay, I guess if I wrote 3000 words yesterday and 500 words this morning, then that adds up, doesn't it?

But it was kind of a false alarm: there was a lot of cruft in the draft when I put all the pieces together, including two versions of one scene, so when I threw out a bunch of notes and duplications and some pieces that were no longer relevant, I was down to 5500 words pretty fast. I think I can deal with that in the next draft without much trouble.

Still kind of funny, though. The whole reason I switched to this project, over the other one I was working on, was I was sure this one could be done in about 3000 words.

Something to be said for deadlines

I wrote about 3000 words yesterday. That's the good news. I'm still not done with my Armadillocon entry, so that's the bad news. I got a lot of good work done though.

I basically didn't go anywhere yesterday. I biked around a little, went to a garage sale, but I decided to focus on the writing .

I worked on one thing that has been bothering me: fixing the gas tank on my mower. It has a leak. I think I've got it licked, but I have to wait for the JB Weld to dry and then test it.

Free miniatures rules (Battlefleet Gothic)

Games Workshop put all the rules for Battlefleet Gothic up on their website as PDFs. They changed the links a while ago, here's the current page.

More miniatures companies should do this. If people can download the rules, read them, and get interested, they'll buy the miniatures that will make you the real money.

Or am I just miffed that GW's Warhammer 40k main book costs $50? No, miffed would be belittling my emotions there. I'm curmudgeonly on the issue. I bought one, too. Sheesh, $50.

Of course I've actually played some Warhammer, unlike a lot of games I spend time thinking about. ;)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Some cyclopean beasts for Lily's birthday

I made Lily some creatures for her birthday (and because I wanted to make some creatures, let's face it). Look hard. They may not survive for very long.

Stone golem sculpture, with work-in-progress pics

This fellow has been building an amazing sculpt of a golem, the kind of golem that appears in China Mieville's Iron Council: a golem made of bits of masonry brought to life. The model includes moss and grass. It's an amazing piece. He's using sculpey as his material and has lots of in-progress pics you can get tips from.

UPDATE 9/11/09: I never mentioned the fellow's handle in this original post, which made it hard to find it later. He calls himself "Fichtenfoo".

Friday, June 26, 2009

Concept space ships blog

I like to check up on this blog now and then; it posts spaceship designs, and related vehicles....some of the designs are atmospheric jets or fanciful grav vehicles. Let's not be picky. If you like sci fi vehicles, you'll get a kick out of it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Games are expensive, except used

Went to visit my sister a couple of weekends ago, and my brother in law bought a copy of Ticket to Ride while we were there. We played and enjoyed it, but it was $50, which is the price of a lot of big boxed games now. That pushes my curmudgeon buttons, makes me want to pick up a cane and tell the kids to get off my lawn.

But yesterday I popped into Goodwill and found a copy of the Order of the Stick board game for $4, so I feel much better. There are lots of games out there I'd like to try, and if other people will just buy then and then get rid of them, I can get round to trying them.

Of course my family is going away on a trip so I won't get to try the game out with them for a bit.

We've had good luck with finding games at garage sales and Goodwill and such. When they show up used, they're usually priced pretty low.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A year of slow cooking, blog

Here's a blog that not only posts a bunch of slow cooker recipes, but reviews them. The author cooks the recipes and tells you how they turned out, including how her kids liked 'em.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

_Cloverfield_ delivers the monster fun

I liked the teaser trailers for the movie Cloverfield (imdb). Although they were a little cryptic, I was pretty sure they were about a monster attacking New York. It took me a while, but this past week I got around to watching the movie.

They did not lie. The basic schtick here is a first-person handicam view of a monster attack.

Spoilers coming.

The thing that pleased me most about this movie is that it never gave in to the temptation to make heroes out of the characters. They were pretty small people caught up in a big thing. Okay, they try to save a friend who's trapped in the rubble caused by the monster. But they never try to attack the monster; they don't turn out to be critical to the creature's Achilles heel or anything like that.

It's a bit the opposite of something like Forrest Gump, where Forrest just happens to turn up at every major event of the 20th century. Maybe they encounter the monster a little more than chance would lead you to believe; that's about it for coincidence here. The characters do some dumb things that are pretty believable for real people caught up in a nigh-incomprehensible crisis.

The special features indicate that the big monster was actually a newly-hatched baby, flailing about out of fear. However, the movie doesn't convey that. I'm glad they have the backstory, and I'm glad they didn't shoehorn it in....didn't have the characters encounter a scientist, for example, who wanted to talk about his pet theory of the monster, a pet theory that of course would happen to be exactly the truth, but which no one else believed.

I'm not bitter about bad exposition in scifi at all.

Frankly, we hardly get any information about the monster's origin, and that's just fine with me. The movie is about ground level at a monster attack. It's a realistic portrayal of that.

There are some great scenes and images. My favorites include:
  • When the characters hunt up the apartment building their trapped friend is in, and finally get within sight of it, only to see that it's slumped over, leaning against the neighboring building. Their friend is on the 39th floor.
  • When the head of the statue of liberty barrels down the street and lands in front of the characters.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A great little father's day

Had a great weekend, I have to say. We scheduled Lily's birthday party on Father's Day, but the family, mostly Tanya, put together a nice dinner for Saturday evening, when I returned from playing wargames at a friend-of-a-friend's.

I came home a little late and just hoping they hadn't already eaten without me, to be greeted by food and decorations and presents. I even thought the decorations were for me for a moment. They were purple decorations put up early for Lily's purple party.

Kids were great this weekend, or maybe they benefited from the rosy glow of the rosy feelings that father's day brings. We had a lot of laughs is all I know.

Doing some wargaming with adults for once was great, and a surprise invitation out of the blue, but the best gaming was being beaten soundly by Ethan in a modified game of Heroscape. We threw out the weird move-order rules that the game has and just took turns where each player moved all of his units once in a turn. I'm not sure whether I engineered my own destruction or what, but it was fun, and it only took about three turns for Ethan to demolish me. Regular rules would have taken 30 turns. Plus I got to satisfy Ethan's desire to play Heroscape, without playing Heroscape.

I like one thing a lot about this game: the dice. Units are rated for attack and defence in numbers of dice. If I attack you with seven dice, then I see how many red skulls I roll in seven dice. The other guy rolls his 8 or whatever dice of defense, looking for blue shields. Each of his shields cancels one of my skulls; if there are any skulls left, that's how many hits he takes. Simple, fast, and fun, although it leaves you without the opportunity to use regular dice.

One Laptop Per Child: Vision vs. Reality

The Communications of the ACM has an article about the state of the One Laptop project. Some interesting notes here. The project has perhaps changed the competitive landscape for netbooks and cheap PCs. It has not met its stated goals. Does that matter? It's been a really interesting project. I've mostly been interested in the technology, never believing that a laptop was going to change the world, but the low-power, ruggedness, and mesh network of the thing attracted me. I can't wait for these technologies to proliferate.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

How to solve the Singularity

Here's an interesting article in The Atlantic that suggests that we've been getting smarter in response to evolutionary pressures for a long time, and that we'll continue to do so, and that the development of AI will thus come about as a tool of expanded intelligence, not an event that destroys human history as the Singularity idea suggests. This idea smacks of synthesis, a sensible response to the frightening concept of the Singularity.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ethan 12th birthday party pictures

You know, you get together now and then, to celebrate an event. To open presents. To play with Nintendo games.

I have a twelve-year-old child.

Don't tell people what you plan to do

I've often heard, as part of motivational advice, that you should announce your goals, so that other people will hold you accountable for them, or that you will feel accountable for them. However, this article says the research shows the opposite: that telling your plans to people makes you less likely to accomplish them.

Friday, June 19, 2009

100 bike rides to work this year actually

So I have this NODRIVE concept going on, and I posted earlier about how I achieved 100 of those. But I'm biking more than anything else; I'm not working from home an awful lot. And so today I reached 100 bike rides, which is pretty neat. I've been biking a whole heck of a lot. A lot I tell you. 100 times in fact.

Evening visits to the playground

Practically every day, when I get home from work, Lily asks me if I'll take her to the playground. These photos are from June 2, an occasion when I took all three of the kids and they wanted me to document how they buried Chloe in the gravel.

The bailout visualized

This graphic compares the bailout monies spent to all the big payouts we've done as a government in the last 200 years. Guess which amounts are higher?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Superhero postcard display

My brother in law gave me some postcards. I have them on my office wall now.

Monday, June 15, 2009

100 NODRIVE days

I reached 100 NODRIVE days today. That's 96 days of biking and 4 days when I didn't drive for other reasons. And it's only mid-June.

Might not be able to reach my goal of 200, though, because I may have to drive Lily to child care in the fall. We'll see.

Also, 12-year-old Ethan biked to work with me today, to spend half the day and bike back on his own.

Friday, June 12, 2009

At Both Ends, by K. C. Ball

Here's a nice piece of flash fiction, At Both Ends, by K. C. Ball, that brings up an issue I've often wondered about. It's flash, it's short, you might want to read the whole thing before you read the rest of this post.

The story brings up the issue of power to help. It's an issue that we all face every day, but somehow we manage to ignore it. All of us could be working on saving someone's life, essentially, at any time. We don't spend most of our time on it. Probably the answer is as simple as getting through the day is tough enough for us that we don't have the energy to think of others.

When you think of someone like Superman, or any ridiculously powerful comics figure, it becomes a starker issue. If Superman stops to enjoy a hot dog, isn't someone somewhere dying because he's not there? It'd be enough to drive you crazy, and the excellent comic Astro City brought the issue up in exactly that way, describing two characters, one who chooses to use powers by applying a help-the-most, most efficiently, rule, and another who chooses to help women preferentially. This was addressed in the very first Astro City story.

But the crushing thing about these ideas, for me, is that, really, anytime I'm sitting around watching TV...I could be feeding the homeless. Or something. We all have the power to do more. How do you you decide when you've done enough? Clearly, this is a problem for some people.

But for most of us, plenty of healthy selfishness prevents this from even becoming an issue. I can't say this idea bothers me all that often. But I spend plenty of time thinking about super powers. I think if I had actual powers I'd use them in pretty selfish ways, much more as they are portrayed in The Fermata than anything else.

The Fermata is an excellent book about a fellow who discovers he has an odd and unreliable power to stop time. He never does much with it. But it's an interesting story all the same.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Applied Schiz: Using the wisdom of the crowd in your head

BoingBoing linked over to a Scientific American article that describes how you can apply principles from the 'wisdom of crowds' ...using only your own brain.

The wisdom of crowds principle is that if you gather a group of diverse people who are not idiots, then ask them to estimate something, and average their answers, their errors will be different and tend to cancel out. The result is that the averaged answer will be more accurate than the answer of a randomly chosen group member.

The SciAm article describes how you can simply make two estimates for a problem, and get some of the same advantages...if you use a process for your second estimate that stacks the deck in favor of mitigating your errors:
“First, assume that your first estimate is off the mark. Second, think about a few reasons why that could be. Which assumptions and considerations could have been wrong? Third, what do these new considerations imply?... Fourth, based on this new perspective, make a second, alternative estimate.” When the participants used the more involved method, the average was significantly more accurate than the first estimate. The “crowd within” achieved about half the accuracy gains that would have been achieved by averaging with a second person.
So you can actually apply some of this recent research without gathering a crowd.

I just realized that here I'm using the popular misconception for schizophrenia in my title...referring to split personalities, which are extremely rare, while schizophrenia itself is pretty common. Wikipedia says it's commonly described as affecting 1% of people but that a review of multiple studies came up with a smaller .55% figure. We're talking about something like 1 in 200 people having schizophrenia at some point in their lives. The true workings of schizophrenia, which happens when your sense perceptions get messed up, are pretty interesting; a good discussion of it is found in The Throwing Madonna: Essays on the Brain, which I read recently.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How to make emergency kits, go bags, etc.

Here's an interesting page about how to set up go bags (like on Criminal Minds!) or emergency kits for various situations. Nice idea re: preparedness.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

8 bit bedtime stories

I needed to distract 3.95-year-old Lily the other day. So I started telling her a story about a frog who needs to cross a river, but it's too far for him to jump all at once, so he has to make his way across on various rocks, floating logs, swift-moving crocodiles...

Tanya immediately recognized the hallowed plot to Frogger (free online version of the arcade classic).

I think this could be expanded. Donkey Kong, at any rate, has a lot of potential.

This points up a mystery, though: why would a frog die from falling into the water?

Grants for writing, from speculative literature folks

You can get a grant to write speculative fiction...sci fi, fantasy, etc...a travel grant or an older writer grant. Neat stuff.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The JFK administration, as a wacky comic book

What if someone reimagined the JFK administration, in wacky comic book form, with shrink rays and cloning? What if they put that on the web for free reading? Todd Ramsell is just that crazy.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

XKCD figures out the Voynich Manuscript

....and you'll immediately understand why I liked the punchline so much. XKCD applies Occam's Razor to a cryptic old text that has stumped scientists, producing a distinctly modern answer.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Stupid superpowers and Daisy Owl

I've been making a list of stupid superpowers. I've come up with more than a hundred of them. Some of them are pretty good. My favorite so far is called "Motherportation." It ends any superhuman battle immediately, because it allows you to teleport your opponent's mother right into the fray.

Then your opponent has to drive her home.

But I thought of this because of Thursday's episode of Daisy Owl, where Steve the Bear's new girlfriend displays a pretty specific superpower of her own. Let's call it langvoyance: she can tell what language you took in high school.

Friday, June 05, 2009

I've had no time to sculpt in a month

I really intended to do some more sculpting and post photos of it this past month, and I did nothing with it at all. I'm going to blame this on my very full schedule and the fact that I'm consistently prioritizing writing over all other activities....which I can't say that I'm bothered about.

Here's what I'm talking about. This morning I thought I might get a little time alone to write, but shortly after I got started with breakfast, Lily came and found me. She alway acts like she's pulled off a great coup of sneakwork by showing up unannounced at the breakfast table.

Then the rest of the family got up...the kids had sleepover guests last night...and the house really came alive. I fled to work.

I got caught up in work and didn't get home as soon as I liked (reaping a foul mood from my better half) and after dinner, I had to spend some time wrestling with Lily and Chloe on the front lawn, then more wrestling was required to put them to bed, and they didn't want to stay in bed. Chloe had forgotten a stuffed animal outside, which required a full-on search with flashlights.

After I got them all down, I didn't much feel like writing -- I felt tired and lousy. I sat down anyway and reviewed some notes on the Dragon Scouts story idea I'm working on, and I already feel much better. I need this piece to be less than 5000 words, and I finally have a plan that I think can make that happen.

I went into all this in hopes of impressing you with my many distractions but I think all I've done is show that kids are fun. That's okay. They are fun.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Romantic comedy cab ride, via Improv Everywhere

I really love this idea from Improv Everywhere: they staged a little romantic event in a cab. The idea was to have several people take the same cab...in this case, 3 people. The first and last riders are two folks trying to meet for a date, who have missed each other; the middle person is just a spacer to prevent the cabby from figuring out the fakery. The goal is to give the cabby the experience of bringing the daters together and making the romance happen. It's pretty sweet.

Romantic comedy cab ride

It's an interesting idea...by having several people serially ride the cab, they are able to control what the cabby experiences. Each person is picked up and dropped off at a planned location. This makes the cab rides into a controlled plot, but the cabby doesn't perceive that; to the cabby it seems like serendipity.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Boston Review has web submission system

The Boston Review has a handy web-based submission system with a nice interface. You can create an account and submit your first piece on the same form. And once it's submitted, you can log in any time to check its status. This is a lot easier than messing with mail.

After I sent something in yesterday, I got a confirmation e-mail and a note with my login info.

The submission status page immediately showed my piece as 'recieved.' I wonder if they have a queue workflow on the other end, where editors could grab a piece and take ownership of it while they review it, something like that. Seems likely, and awfully handy, if you're running a magazine.

I found the Boston Review through the duotrope web site, a database of writing markets. I was looking for mainstream fiction paying venues.

Monday, June 01, 2009