Friday, July 31, 2015

The Chain Unbroken: Feeding the Daily Beast

The way up

So, it's been a month. How's it been going?

The daily writing is definitely a thing that's happening. Like NaNo, the first week was exhilarating, the second was suck-laden, and the third and final weeks have been feeling more downhill-ish. This is probably a good thing. I'm rewriting my 2011 NaNo draft, an effort that I've started and abandoned many times before. I've dug out the draft and have it standing by, but so far have not needed to refer to it. Somewhere along the trail of aborted rewrites, Things Changed Direction, and now the typescript is more of a ghost of Once Was than a skeleton of What Will Be. But it's still comforting to have around, totemic in a way, and of comforting heft.

View from the top

So I'm not exactly at the top yet. In fact, I'm not sure I'm quite halfway. But I'm happy with one of the big decisions -- putting most of the book in first-person present tense -- and have come up with other things that I want to incorporate when this is finally in digital form, for at the moment, it exists on paper, in my head, and in various iterations of Chapters 1-Through-3 sprinkled across my hard drive and my email folders. The Inner Critic is loose, alas, since he only gets chained up during November, so he keeps whispering in my ear that This Is All Boring Tripe and What Gives You The Right and so on. I'm trying to rise above, mainly by putting my main characters through hell and/or making them more mentally unbalanced than originally drafted. I don't know if this is a healthy approach to deafening the self-criticism. It feels a bit sadistic. I'm not sure that I'm supposed to be enjoying that.

At the start of the month, I ran off a simple* 6-month calendar for myself to cross out. For July it looks like this:

     July 2015
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
          X  X  X  X
 X  X  X  X  X  X  X

 X  X  X  X  X  X  X
 X  X  X  X  X  X  X
 X  X  X  X  X 31

The chain remains unbroken, but there's many more links to forge. Time to grab the AlphaSmart and a quiet corner** and hammer on some words.

* Thanks to the excellent cal program built-in to Linux and Mac OS X: cal 2015

** Ha ha three kids ha ha "quiet corner" ha ha ha

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Shortcuts, long cuts, and the unbroken chain

The summertime NaNoWriMo event is going again, "Camp NaNoWriMo" for the uninitiated. The very last thing I want to do in July is sit and write, though. It's hot here in Northern California, and especially hot this week, with rare humidity to up the ante. I'm taking sunrise walks to try to get the step count boosted in our office FitBit competition without actually having to step outside during peak heating hours. I have a physique and temperament much more attuned to cooler autumn days, and feel that summer heat is best experienced from indoors though insulated glass, with a cooling iced coffee at hand.

Morning walks have advantages. Solitude, for one, and lovely views that remind me why I'm glad to live where I live, when the sun and ongoing drought is trying to turn us all into people jerky.

The rewards of getting lost

This view, for example, which greeted me as I headed off in a new-to-me direction, and discovered a park that I'd never visited before. I think I've found the site of next year's Typewriter Day celebration, for sure. I look at a slightly different face of this mountain from my office. It's good to see it in a different context. I also got to be warned on the way out of the park with the possibility of mortal peril. That wakes you up a bit:

Take a little time out

That arrow is pointing in the exact opposite way I intended to travel, of course. And from this vantage, I wasn't entirely sure where I was. So, instead of making a poor choice and taking the short-cut to the right along a busy sidewalk-less street, I veered left, looking for landmarks. Being the suburbs, it didn't take long: the trail crosses the street at a known point, so I set off along it, thinking that eventually it would give me the option to go right again, back to home and breakfast. And yes, after a lot of wandering and one bad turn up a service road, I made it. The long route was worth it in the end, terminating just up the street from the campus where I set up for this year's Typewriter Day.

My pace was easy, and I passed only three people for the hour I was out. I was in no hurry, though shortcuts were plentiful, if not particularly useful.

The shortcut less-traveled

I know I've spent a lot of bytes here alternating talking up NaNoWriMo and bemoaning not having the motivation to sit down and really finish any of the many, many drafts that are stacking up in my life. I've started and stopped multiple times, and spent more time searching for "the one true editing solution" than I have actually revising.

Let's face it, it's a slog. A long, tedious slog, and there's no short-cut for it. Ignore the signs at your peril, and prepare to be run down by criticism if you do. And most importantly, take it a step at a time.

I read Jerry Seinfeld's "Don't Break the Chain" advice for the first time a few weeks ago, and I've been (of course) procrastinating about applying it. But with the news about Camp NaNo starting up again, and a fresh month on the calendar, and the good habits of daily steps under my feet... I think it's time to break out the red marker and set up my own unbroken chain this summer, even if the trail is long and points the wrong way.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Fringes

Typewriter Day 2015
The original typing spot, more comfortable than it looks

20150623 typecast

Pro tip: make sure your ribbons aren't dry before Typewriter Day, and allow settling time if you must re-ink. Splotchiness aside, it was good to get fingers on keys again, and I attracted only a small amount of attention from a group of passing students out early on campus. Summer sessions must be starting up since I saw more people during my half-hour typing walkabout than I have in the last three weeks. Or maybe it's just the attractive magic of the day.

Typewriter Day 2015
The backup typing spot, once the aural assault began

The Corsair still surprises me for being less-awful than I imagine it to be. For this purpose, it's just about perfect as it is light enough to carry, with the enclosed plastic body and sealed bottom keeping it free of dents and making it suitable for just about any surface.

Typewriter Day 2015
How convenient: waist-level typing stations with their own outlets for your coffeepot

Typed on a SCM Corsair Deluxe, nee Skyriter
SCM Smith Corona Corsair Deluxe

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Cat Named Abraxas: the Mythos Continues

I'm not sure what brought it on, but the witchy gift prepared for my youngest last fall finally paid dividends with an outbound letter left on the porch last night full of questions in scrawly pencil. The response letter is below.

If nothing else, it's a chance to play with calligraphy nibs, which don't have nearly enough opportunities for use in day-to-day situations.

20150618 pencast pt1

20150618 pencast pt2

With a nine-month gap, this may be the slowest interactive fiction experiment ever... but it's still a lot of fun.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Weeding Wednesday, and the Battle of the Bloat

Weeding out
The task at hand

This morning I made a start on one of our summer obligations: working service hours at our local swimming pool, as per our membership terms.[1] Ten hours in total of some upkeep-related activity is required, and we habitually choose the weeding/sweeping of the parking lot. Done in the early morning, it's cool and vacant, and given our normally dry summers[2], once weeded, it tends to stay weeded for the duration of our duties, only needing the weekly sweep to keep it looking nice. Little maintenance is required if you do a good job up front.

My entertainment -- and the above photo -- is provided in the form of a hand-me-down smartphone from a relative that was mouldering in a drawer (the phone, not the relative) after being outclassed and out-spec'ed by the relentless advance of its successors, marching to the beat of Moore's Law. As urged by several articles on the Internet, and after being assured at how easy it would be by following the step-by-step instructions, I did what any sensible person of my technical background would do: wasted a lunch break or two trying to unlock it, then surrendered and handed it to my teenager, invoking the ancient ritual of "Root the damn thing for your incompetent father and I'll take you out for burgers." A day later, he dropped it off in my hands with the appropriate response ("Double-Double with an extra large vanilla shake and fries") and lo, it was good. Evidently, so was the burger, shake, and fries.

I've recently been in the phone market, since my current one is now at death's door, and, as the Son gleefully points out, "It's so old the keypad is in Roman numerals." Smart-assery aside, he's right. And thanks to a good decision by the federal government, the market for phones is as broad as the Internet itself. After researching and comparing, I've bought a phone online (Arabic numerals) and picked a carrier, and am getting hooked up. I'll miss my old phone somewhat, as it's dead-simple and survived much neglect at my meaty hands, not the least of which is frequent drops (the new phone is also rugged.)

Alas, in this enlightened iEra of iSmart iPhones, even a "feature phone" as mine is classed is not free of that most dreaded of infections, bloatware, aka, crapware or (politely) handy software add-ons from your truster carrier. Thanks to the "unlock law" cited above, the vendor for my phone is actually not my carrier, so not only am I stuck with applications that I don't want, but they are applications I can't use, since they are tethered to a service I don't have.

The Son was, as expected, not impressed. "Ugh, Facebook? Twitter? What's this 'YP' thing?"

Yellow Pages, I explained, and then I had to explain the notion of a phone book[4].

"Well, can I root this for you?" he asked, angling for another free meal.

"I don't think so," says I. "It's not Android. It's a proprietary closed OS. It's not like there's factory images out there." This is me, trying to salvage my own failure with the music player setup by recycling some jargon I read. It sounded good.

The Son handed back the phone and unconsciously wiped his fingers on his shirt, like they were soiled. Pah.

What's worst, of course, is that he's right. Bloatware really is a nuisance, taking up limited memory on an already low-power device, and I bought the damn thing. Thanks to the FCC, I even was able to snip the software tether that tied it to the old carrier. But the traces remain. Unlike the logo on the faceplate, there's no easy way to pluck out all the weedy code that's infesting my new device. Given my fruitless experiments with the supposedly open Android system. I know that if I suddenly lost my senses and wanted to blow a mortgage payment on a carrier-subsidized phone, it, too, would be saturated with useless and immortal apps and "features," testaments to a business partnership that may not have any relevance to the customer.

I know this is my usual sour-graping. I basically got the new phone for free, by converting piles of loose change from my drawers into online store credit. I'm only one phone-technology generation behind the curve, and because of my inherent cheapness and utter lack-of-being-a-teenage-boy-ness, I am squarely in the boring demographic of phone plans.[5] And this whole discussion is so #firstworldproblem that in the grand scheme, it makes little difference.

But dammit, I want my space looking nice.[6] I want to weed this silly thing down. Every time I have to jog past some useless icon -- looking at you, "YP" -- it's an automatic reminder of the automatic obsolescence that surrounds us, and the silent pressure that we're all faced with to stay ahead of that march. Eventually the teenagers will grow up and move out and buy their own burgers, and then where will we be?

[1] Unlike the pools of my youth, which were public, this part of California at least is very big on members-only neighborhood pools, usually the nexus of the other local phenomenon of neighborhood swim teams. "Our" pool is mercifully swim-team-free, which is why this dramatic low-angle photo of the parking lot shows no cars. Swim team practice usually starts at Ungodly O'Clock in the morning. This would have been packed if we had a team based at our pool.

[2] Except this morning, when it was -- and is still -- lightly raining. This is cause for celebration in our drought-stricken state, and especially coming a few days after a patch of baking heat. I have learned to appreciate water like no other resource since becoming an adopted Californian. [3]

[3] Can you tell I've been reading David Foster Wallace lately, he of the meandering footnote?

[4] And then a digression on public pay phones, and how it was amazing to me the first time I saw a major metro-area pay phone with a massive book suspended from a don't-steal-me chain, between those thick black plastic covers. The "Appliances" section alone was easily larger than the entire directory of my hometown. The Son tuned out about 3 seconds into this digression, as I'm sure you have.

[5] You know it's bad when the salespersons look at your current phone, shudder visibly, and then point you towards the Carrier Aimed at Seniors, with Very Basic Phones containing No Sharp Edges and having Large Easy-Read Buttons on them. And you know, I really did consider it.

[6] "My" meaning "really I'm licensed to use this device and theoretically don't own it, due to some Byzantine click-through contract, oh and by the way, the carrier now owns my teenage son in perpetuity under the terms of the Family Plan." They're welcome to him, I say. He's expensive to feed, and awfully smug.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Thixotropical disasters at dawn

After a brief Twitter exchange of you show me yours, I'll show you mine yesterday -- of pens, thanks -- and paring down the bag to a reasonable Every Day Carry configuration, I extracted my beloved Fisher Space Pen and got it packed up for my summer morning walks. I get an hour back in the morning where I'm not toting a child to school, and I've been using it for self-improvement purposes, i.e., undoing all the recent pinic-food binges and trying to crush my co-workers in our weekly office Fitbit challenge. Summer is advancing rapidly here in California, and by 8:00am it can get uncomfortably warm uncomfortably fast. Better to take to the paths at dawn, I say.

So in the pocketses goes all the Precious: step counter, music player, pen and index card... because always a pen and index card. The Space Pen is perfect for this task, and has given me years of trouble-free writing, despite being dropped, laundered, lost, found, lost again, lent to children, and tossed in endless pockets.

Evidently, today was the final straw, for when I uncapped the handy ball-point... no handy ball point met my eye. What did meet my eye is an overlarge quantity of thixotropic ink, which is a fancy science term for "an intensely gooey substance that stains everything it touches, especially skin, sinks, and pets." Somehow the ball broke free off the end of its little pressurized cartridge, and, free at last, the contents of the refill took that as an invitation. The ink didn't so much ooze out as erupt. The entire inside of the cap is covered in, to be equally scientific, inky assploded deathsplooge. Luckily the ink isn't so thick as to merely collect in the cap, and handily seeped backward into the body and grip sections of the pen.

It does not rinse out. It does not swab out. You can put a swab in the affected parts, but what comes out resembles less of a writing instrument's insides and more of an unfortunate sea bird after a run-in with BP. After covering my fingertips and most of my kitchen sink and parts of the dog with sticky indigo spots, the pen has been banished to a bath in the thrift-store ultrasonic cleaner in the garage. It's currently trembling like a beetle drowning in espresso and turning the water toilet-bowl blue. I think the ink is enjoying the ride.

Luckily, a refill awaits in the EDC bag. And hopefully this one will give years of splooge-free service, because honestly the last thing my wife needs to hear again is "Honey, there's a thixotropic storm in my pants, and I don't know how I'm going to clean it up."