Wednesday, October 29, 2014


So have you seen the Hemingwrite? Here's a rendering:

 In a nutshell:
  • "Mechanical" keyboard (meaning using switches like the coveted IBM Model M)
  • e-ink screen
  • Aluminum body
  • Aiming for 6-week battery life
  • Magic hand-waving about saving to the cloud (Google Docs, Evernote?) over WiFi
Knowing my gadgetry predilections, my well-meaning family keeps emailing me stories about this mockup/prototype/thingus.

My honest take: I don't like it.

Or more specifically, I don't like what it touts itself to be: some kind of a return to the "simplicity of a 90s era word processor" (their words.) Really, I think it's just trying too hard, like the highly-priced reproductions of vintage technology from Restoration Hardware. It's just so... twee. And I remember the word processors of the 90s, and they were far from simple. Disk drives, endless functions and modes and styles and so on. Hateful things.

But why stop at the 90s? Why not go back another decade or so? What's that old quote about failing to learn from history?

Tandy Model 100

Cambridge Z88/Sinclair Z88

And of course the modern incarnation, evolved from decades of being in the single-purpose device market. A market that has shrunk drastically, alas.

Neo Rhino

This is a well-worn path, and I'm just a shade skeptical of the Hemingwrite, if it ever comes to pass at all. Six weeks of battery life, you say? Yeah... maybe. The Neo claims about 700+ hours on AA batteries, with no WiFi on board. Oh, and it's light, durable, and dead simple.

But maybe Hemingway would have thrived on a more high-tech typewriter? Ruben Bolling speculates...

(click to read on Boing Boing)

Thursday, October 23, 2014


First: NaNoWriMo starts in ten days -- less, actually. So I'm freaking out, because of this year's pledge to Lack a Plan and just to Go With It Come What May.

I'm drowning the panic in tasty snacks...

Planning versus pudding

and getting the Beast in its usual spot...

NaNoWriMo: the niche

...and for some reason, this year, I have decided that a board game needs to be designed, allowing the hapless reader to re-live the dramatic point of the plot when [REDACTED], which I'm sure you'll agree might be kind of interesting. And this means that I need to archive a link to this hex graph paper PDF generator. Because, you know, it's not like I'm going to be writing a novel or anything during this time.

So this is how my brain rewards me for joining the "Team Pantsless" crowd this year. Yay brain!

Monday, October 13, 2014


Holy crap this year, guys. It's just been... and then this summer... I have no words. Honestly.

Normally this is the point of the year where I humblebrag about outlining and plotting and prepping for NaNoWriMo. It's become something of a thing.

This year? Nothing. I really have nothing at all. The muse? She is silent.

I have no outline, no notes, no cards. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I'm fully and squarely in the Pantser Club this November for the first time ever. Even my inaugural year way back in 2007 had a loose outline cobbled together on Halloween night. Never mind that I rapidly diverged from it and wound up skipping whole sections when I got stuck. I'm older and wiser now.

Older, anyway.

The forums are reset, the Typewriter Brigade rises again...

...and I've got a set of "Rory's Story Cubes" that my kids gave me some years back to provide impromptu inspiration.

Rory's Story Cubes

This could go well, this could go horribly, but I need a little crash of rhinos this year (or a crash of little rhinos.) Who's in?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Magic Redux: A Gift from the W.W.W.W.W.W.

The "witchbox" project came to a close this morning, as my youngest tore into her stack of presents. Front and center on the table was the gift in question, which my wife and I denied all knowledge about. You learn very quickly as a parent that lying and messing with your child's head are two simple, but deeply satisfying joys. So let's follow the deception train to from start to finish:

If you read the post from the start of the week, you'll know that my wife and beloved co-liar were informed recently -- in the matter-of-fact way that six-year-olds have -- that my daughter, was, in fact, a witch. As she kept scavenging scraggly, splinter-laden sticks from the yard to wave at us and her siblings, we figured this was a fad that was going to stick for at least a little while. Since she's been using the laundry soap cups to mix up sand-and-leaf "potions" in the yard, and since we're tired of sand-and-leaves in the laundry, we set out to make an inexpensive witches kit for her birthday. We pulled this together in about a week and a half, with inspiration nearly completely stolen from Dante's Wardrobe and her excellent faux package projects.

Step one was sourcing replacement bottles for the potions. Assorted bud vases from local thrift stores supplied these:

Bottle assortment

Tip: the more exotic-looking the bottle, the better the effect. That tall white bottle with the faded gilt (?) designs was the hit of the day.

Since they are secondhand, and some are a little past their best days, I had the idea that these would be a gift from a real witch, made up of some of her leftovers. Co-conspirator was tasked with finding a box big enough to hold all these, which she did with excellence:

Box and such

It's difficult to tell but this is a decorative book-shaped box made from heavy cardboard. She also picked up some fancy tissue paper and ribbon, and raided the papercrafting aisle and our own craft supplies for more items to include. Here's what it looked like last night, minus the bottles, which are off-camera.

The withbox, pre-assembly

For wands, we have a couple of pieces of leftover dowel rod from the garage, sanded down a bit and sprayed with scrapbooking sealant containing glitter. Clear plant marbles went into an old bag we had around. Given her steadier hands, the missus volunteered herself to fill up the tiny glass vials of "potion ingredients" (glitter, flakes of paper, tiny beads) while I worked on wrapping and packing up the bottles, and the small mortar and pestle that's packed up here in cardboard and tape.

I brought all my Tetris skills to bear:

The withchbox, bottles, balls, and wands

...while a lot of careful funneling and filling happened next to me...

A few potion/spell ingredients

Pack into the open space with some remaining tissue, and add a few feathers... "phoenix down," suggested my middle child, a Harry Potter fan. Better than my suggestion of "squished owl."

The witchbox complete

And seal it up with some more ribbon, which we were surprised to discover was two-tone:

Witchbox ready for delivery

To provide a cover story for this assembly, and because I always relish an excuse to play with pens, there was a letter enclosed (click for more readable size):

Letter to a witch, part 1
Letter to a witch, part 2

My only regret with this letter -- beyond my penmanship -- is that I did not include "Wizard" in the organization name, because seven W's in a row is just that much funnier than six.

The unboxing was a great success:

The witchbox revealed

Grizelda's letter was read aloud by the recipient, and I'm pleased that she both laughed and said "ew" at all the right places. Clearly, my target audience is seven-year-olds.

Our goals for this project were do amuse and delight, on a budget, and to get nature out of the laundry room. Did we succeed?

Amusement and delight are a huge yes. As I was packing up for work this morning, youngest was already preparing to mix up some concoction in the back yard. I expect we'll be finding gold glitter and mysterious purple powders in our lawn for years.

On a budget
is an optimistic maybe. There were a number of new items in the mix, like the glitters, the box, ribbon, the tiny bottles. Everything purchased was on clearance or came from a discount or thrift store. Some of the items were things we had around the house. That tall white bottle that was so awesome cost all of 25¢  Kids of this age don't care.

The old adage about "time is money" applies here, too. If we had started sooner, I bet we could have sourced more of these things at lower cost. Those tiny vials arrived about 10 hours before the package was actually opened, for instance... but they are the same bottles for sale at the craft store across the street, which I could have snagged with a coupon. Admittedly, it's hard to plan around the whims of a 6 year-old, and who knows where we would have hidden everything in the meantime.

In general, though, I'll say we got far more for our time and money than the standard pink plastic playset. It's easy to pick something off the shelf and hand it to your kids, and I will be the first to admit that we've done that on more than one occasion. We are not a Pinterest-type household. But I also see the worth, and yes, the magic, in doing a project like this, especially an open-ended one that encourages imagination. Already we're wondering how to write a thank-you note to a witch.

I'm certainly glad we did it, and I don't even feel a little bit like a liar.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


I woke up early this morning to something that's too rare right now in California: the sound of rain, draining down the downspout outside my bedroom window. This is our first serious rain of the season, one that's been anticipated for a week at least. I never had an appreciation for something as simple as rainfall until I moved here. The climate in the areas where I grew up were known for their general unpredictability (standard joke: "Don't like the weather? Wait five minutes.") Nearly two decades a Californian now, I've gotten complacent about weather in general, and tend not to have as much awareness of the passing of the seasons. This isn't meant as a brag, honestly! Despite the autumnal equinox arriving this past week, my days are the same as they were in April, or June, or August. Only the early darkness belies the fact that time is, in fact, advancing. Thanks to the ongoing drought, the hills and trees around me are in a permanent state of late summer: withered leaves and dried grass (we say "golden" to make ourselves feel better.)
The tempo of the rain just picked up, it's delightful. It's complacency-shaking, too. A reminder that change can and does happen, and that it happens whether or not we're ready for it. Now a rumble of thunder: this is a rare storm, indeed! Of course everyone along my morning commute route will also be shaken up. Californians are notoriously bad drivers, tops in many polls, and the rain brings out a special degree of incompetence. I'll need to be on my guard, as I take my future driver to school this morning. There's nothing like driving in the rain to summon Fatherly Judgment about everyone else on the road. ("You call that a turn signal?!" "Hey, headlights on! It's the law!" etc.)
Of course I'm also going to summon the spectre of NaNoWriMo in this post. We're under a month away from October, and whether it's due to new management at the Office of Letters and Light, or whether it's just blue-car syndrome because I'm unprepared, there seems to be a lot of discussion about planning and preparation this year. My initial reaction is one of the California driver, faced with the first precipitation of the season: lose all common sense, and veer wildly. "Write? Plan? I can't do it! My God, it cannot be October already."
My second reaction is that of the seasoned vet. This will be my seventh(?) foray, and all but one of those years in the Typewriter Brigade. I know I can generate 50K words in the allotted time, though let's not talk about the quality or editability or the future of those words. Like many vets, I'm not doing NaNoWriMo to prove that I can. The challenge isn't the thing any longer, and honestly hasn't been since year two.
Quite frankly, at this time of year, I'm just parched. Sapped creatively from a long development project at work, from the daily grind of drives to school, stops at the grocery, and kids' sports on weekends. I wear the same clothes every week, and do the same tasks, and attend the same meetings. It takes something like NaNoWriMo to break up the sameness. To water the mental grass, to mangle a metaphor. I have tried writing and editing on a daily basis, but the inertia of my daily life is strong, and it's hard for me to get motivated to change my habits.
When the improbability of November rolls around, though, the herald of the end of the year, and long nights, holiday plans, and other demands... somehow that's just right. I do subscribe to the philosophy of "when you have a million things on your plate, what's one more?" And NaNo is finite . By definition, it won't last forever, it makes no demands after the thirty days, there are no obligations or even expectations. A month of cutting loose, talking typewriters, photographing toy rhinos -- occasionally even writing. It's a welcome shower of weirdness on thirsty soil.
This year has been particularly withering, and I've got a lot of low-level stress that's chipping away at me right now. I'm not anywhere as prepared as I like to be for this, attempting to craft a whole novel, with my little story point milestones all typed up on notecards. Frankly, I'm a mess this year. But I'm also not going to miss out on the chance to play in the rain.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

That Magical Age

20140921 typecast pt1

Bottle assortment

20140921 typecast pt2

Box and such

20140921 typecast pt3

Typed on a very Muggle-ish 1952 Skyriter
Smith-Corona Skyriter c. 1952

It's alarming to me how out-of-practice I've gotten at typing. Typos, dropped words... you'd think we were in the middle of NaNoWriMo. Which, incidentally, is approaching at an alarming pace: even faster than my kids are growing, it feels like. I hope to get some more limbering-up typecasts in during the next month.