Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On the Wings of Random Thoughts

I wanted to write about the Senate's pending refusal to confirm someone to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but I'm nauseous at the idea of doing more than one paragraph on it. So here's the gist: Shit like Jefferson County happened. The CFPB is supposed to stop this shit. The Republican caucus in the Senate won't let anybody run the CFPB for these reasons. I find their arguments lacking, but nobody listens to me so hey, whatever.

There's a new XBox Live update out today - technically yesterday, but I didn't get it until tonight - I guess some people might still not have it - oh enough! The point is I got it and it kind of looks okay, I guess? Like Zune, which does not seem like an improvement to me. The new Netflix app is a pain in the ass; Tycho Brahe sums it up pretty well. I might like it better if I had a Kinect, but I don't. I might have a Kinect if I could find a game worth playing with it, but I can't. There are some cool hacks you can run with it, but so far they're not worth $100+.

You know, the problem with stream of consciousness writing is that sometimes it just plain peters out. Let's move on.

I recently won an advance copy of Deliverance Lost
by Gav Thorpe, from Gav Thorpe, as part of a contest on his blog. (I've had an odd lucky streak with author blog contests - I still owe Phil Athans and Ari Marmell some book reviews on Amazon.) Deliverance Lost is part of the Horus Heresy series, and so far it's an excellent addition to the story. I think Corax may be the most likable Primarch we've seen yet, and it's great to see the Alpha Legion active again.

Last random thought: I promise! (Not really.) She doesn't need the traffic from me, but are you reading The Bloggess? Because she's hilarious. And she wears a wolf pelt in public. You can't top that.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 Postmortem

I meant for this blog post to be a postmortem on this year's National Novel Writing Month, but I can't do it properly, because I'm not done yet.

Oh, I finished, despite my earlier fear mongering: I reached 50,000 words two days before the deadline, and I'm quite pleased with what I've written so far. But at 50,000 words, my main characters are all lost in a forest, being held captive by gypsies, and I've got to get them to Dracula's castle and put a stake in the fellow's heart before I can call my first draft done. I figure that should take another 20,000 to 30,000 words, and that's a rough estimate.

That's the thing about NaNoWriMo: 50,000 words is usually considered a novella, something Chris Baty himself admits, though he doesn't like to dwell on it. A full novel usually comes in at between 60,000 words for something short to 100,000 words for a fairly hefty book. So at my current pace, I should be done sometime in the middle of this month.

Good advice from Gav Thorpe, who should know.

"Done" being a relative term, of course. Even when I finish the first draft, I'll have, oh, maybe a year editing the thing before I get something publishable, and at that point I'll probably still be unhappy with it. But God willing, I'll be okay with sending the manuscript out to a few publishers (or agents) and seeing if I get any bites.

So what have I learned this year? First of all, I've learned that I'm capable of writing 5,000 words a day if I push myself. 5,000 freaking words! Par for NaNoWriMo is 1,667 words per day. That I can write 5,000 words in one day (and more than once) is fairly surprising, at least to me, and definitely pleasing.

I learned that if you aren't writing with an outline, you can still get some of the benefits by jotting down notes for the next two or three chapters you're going to be working on. It doesn't let you jump from location to location at will, but it does mean you have a pretty good idea where you're going in the next few days, which does a lot to keep writer's block from setting in.

I also learned that you don't always make the right call when you're writing by the seat of your pants, but you don't need to let that stop you. A few chapters ago I wrote one of my characters, a werewolf, out of the plot for basically the remainder of the book. Didn't think I'd need him! Imagine my surprise when the gypsies that turned him into a werewolf showed up four chapters later. I had to make a note to revise the previous three chapters to keep the hairy bastard in play, and then kept writing as if he'd been there all along. (Maybe I'll need a year and a half of editing.)

And I learned that NaNoWriMo really does help you improve as an author, as long as you stick with it. My first NaNoNovel was never finished. My second reached 50,000 words, but it was a structural and temporal mess and ended up in my trunk. My third and fourth books were also finished, but both of those required me to use a lot of summarizing to fill in gaps I never wrote, and neither look to see print anytime soon.

This will be my fifth NaNoNovel, and all signs point to me having a complete first draft of it by the end of the month, and hopefully a fully revised draft by the end of 2012. It should have well-rounded characters, and a plot that moves from start to finish in one solid (if slightly squiggly) line. And it should be thick enough to kill a small animal with if dropped with enough force.

Not that I would ever condone that.

Finally, to all those who participated in NaNoWriMo this year, I have one final lesson I've learned, and this is it:

Keep writing.

Write every damn day. Write through December. Write through 2012. Write through 2020. If you don't want to keep writing your NaNoNovel, write something else; but keep writing. If you can't make 5,000 words, 2,000 words, 1,667 words, 1,000 words a day, don't sweat it; but keep writing.

As long as you keep writing, you can keep getting better. As long as you keep writing, you're not giving up on anything, even if you set your manuscript on fire and dance around it. As long as you keep writing, you might just churn out the Next Great American Novel (publishable or not).

Writers write. And you're not going to get worse with practice.

And one last thing. If you did participate in NaNoWriMo, whether you won it or not: Congratulations. You've done good. If you haven't celebrated yet, crack open the champagne or other beverage of your choice and party. You've earned it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ah, Crap: Lessons of NaNoWriMo

Behold the horror of my word count for NaNoWriMo. (If you're viewing this at a later date, it was 15,704 words at the time of writing.) Now keep in mind that the word count I should be at, if I want to finish this month, is around 31,666 words.

All together now:

So before I go on a massive noveling binge for the rest of the month, here are the things I've learned so far this year during NaNoWriMo:

Plan, you stupid bastards: If I'd managed to finish outlining my novel before I got started writing it, I wouldn't feel compelled to write in a straight line as a do now. And if I could jump around from scene to scene with ease, I'd probably be about 10,000 words ahead right now. So outlining would have been a big help.

Be consistent: I haven't been writing every day. This doesn't just diminish my overall word count, it actually makes it harder to get started writing again later. This is a very bad thing.

Don't be afraid to follow the unexpected development: I didn't plan to include a sex scene featuring my main character in the first three chapters: it just happened, as I suppose these things do. But it was good for at least ten manuscript pages, and it didn't throw off the main thrust of the plot, so screw it! (And them, I suppose...)

Don't set unreasonable goals: At some point before NaNoWriMo kicked off, I think I said something about finishing the whole novel in a month. That's 100,000 words on average, not 50,000.

Ha! Ha ha! HahahahahAHAHAHAHAHA...

Set unreasonable goals: I've now got to write 35,000 words in ten days, which is the same rate as writing 105,000 words in a month. And I'm Goddamn jolly well going to do it!

Onward and upward! I am so screwed...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

On Once Upon A Time

Not the opening phrase, the new television show from ABC. Consider this your spoiler warning for the first two episodes.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Open Letter to the ACLU and the NRA

To the representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and National Rifle Association,

Let me begin by saying that I admire both of your organizations. I am a firm believer that the Constitutional liberties our country was founded upon must be protected, regardless of whether they suit the left wing or the right wing of our government better.

With that said.

When I support a charitable or activist organization, what I want to do is send a reasonable sum of money, either by mail or online transaction to the organization in question. For my trouble I expect a simple membership card where appropriate, or perhaps a set of inexpensive address labels, like the ones I just received from the wonderful Chesapeake Bay Foundation. (Keep up the good fight guys, I want my grandchildren to enjoy blue crabs as much as I do.)

I am open to an annual letter documenting your organizations' accomplishments over the past year, and a brief reminder that another simple donation would not go amiss. I would also not mind the occasional missive encouraging me to write my elected representatives if, by doing so, I can help your causes.

What I do not want and will not stand for is weekly letters and emails demanding more and more and more money in exchange for fucking tote bags, of all things. If you intend to shill for money under the guise of an annual membership fee, I intend to pay the fee and no more. The only thing you've accomplished by bombarding me with pleading missives is to convince me that your organizations aren't worth my fucking time or money.

If you are willing to abide by these terms, you have my contact information (do you, fuck), and I would be happy to support your organizations again. But only if you leave me the fuck alone.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: Nail Your Novel

Dear readers: Can't finish writing your books? Do you habitually get stuck on word 5,000 of that 8,000 word short story? Is there a pile of abandoned manuscripts threatening to bury your dog? Then I have a solution for you.

Nail Your Novel - Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, to give the full title, is a little book by Roz Morris, an author who runs a blog by the shorter name. It is not a manual on how to write well. It does not dwell on the best ways to improve your characterization, your settings, or your plot (well there's a bit of that, but not much).

What Nail Your Novel does do, and it does it very well, is give you a structure for writing a book or short story or whatever you want. It lists of series of steps you need to take, from before you put word one on paper to the moment you send a pitch off to the agent/editor, to get the job done. And it does it in a clear, easy to follow style that you can absorb and put into practice quickly.

I tried out the Nail Your Novel method for my latest short story pitch. Before, my writing process was something like this:

  1. Come up with an idea.
  2. Write an outline based on the idea.
  3. Write as much of the story based on the outline as possible - usually 2,000 to 3,000 words.
  4. Revise the text I need to include in my pitch.
  5. Mail out the pitch on deadline day.
  6. Pray. And drink.

Note the thing I wasn't doing: finishing the damn story. I'd get enough together for a pitch and send it out, undoubtedly overlooking massive structural problems I couldn't see in the parts I hadn't written yet.

After using the methods detailed in Nail Your Novel, I have a big pile of (virtual) index cards with character, setting, and plot points listed. I've got an outline, but also a beat sheet, which sums up every character's story arcs and the dramatic high and low points in the story. And most important of all, I have a finished first draft of my story, straight from beginning to end. It's rough (I haven't revised the whole thing), but it's complete.

I cannot overemphasize how much of an improvement I saw just from working out the structure of what I wanted to write in advance. I wrote out nine excellent short scenes, then cut them because I was able to recognize that they didn't connect to the rest of the story. And one of the major plot twists in the story became ten times better after I was able to look at the characters' story arcs properly. Prewriting and structuring don't raise your word count, but they are absolutely vital.

NaNoWriMo is coming up next month, and if you have trouble finishing your books, I recommend it as the ultimate motivational deadline (that doesn't involve money or death). You'll have fun, you might get your 50,000 words, and who knows, you might even publish the result. But if you want to learn good writing habits that will help you finish your work on a regular basis, pick up Nail Your Novel. You won't regret it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

To Read List

I'm currently putting the finishing touches on a short story pitch for Black Library. Yes, I said I'd be moving on to my own work by now, but they had a surprise submissions window open up, and I had an idea. Couldn't be helped, really.

Anyway, while I've been procrastinating on that last round of edits ("Tell me what you're feeling, Xaphan. I need to know."), I've put together a list of what I want to read in the near future, which is as soon as I have the time and enough money for the eBooks.

Matt Taibbi's tale of the Wall Street crisis isn't particularly fair-minded: he's out to get everyone he holds responsible, and he's not shy about saying so. Still, based on his Rolling Stone articles, I'm expecting Griftopia to be an engaging description of the some of the worst excesses of Goldman Sachs, Wall Street and our politicians. Plus he swears a lot.

The Chronicles of Prydain were some of my favorite fantasy books growing up. Honestly, who wasn't scared of the Cauldron-Born? They've recently been released for the Kindle, and as soon as I have forty dollars or so to spare, I'm snapping up all five.

The Outcast Dead is the latest book in the Horus Heresy series by Black Library, which remains on my must-read list every time something new comes out. This one looks especially intriguing, since it takes place on Terra and promises to deliver some soul-shattering revelations.

Finally, there's Moneyball, which I wasn't sold on until today, when I saw the movie. Brad Pitt had me rooting for Billy Beane, the Oakland A's general manager, and as with Goodfellas and Casino, I want to get the full story. Plus Michael Lewis is the author of The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, which I've read and found to be an excellent explanation of the 2008 financial crash, so I trust him to do a good job here, too.

Alright, then. Back to editing! Oh don't cry, Xaphan, don't cry...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

On Preordering

So there's a new video game coming out in a few days/weeks/months. You want to get the game on day one, because it's awesome, or you've got a friend who thinks it's awesome and you enjoy multiplayer. You've got three different places you can order from: Best Buy, Gamestop, and Amazon. Depending on what you pick, here's what you get to go through:

Amazon: You preorder your game the same as you'd order anything else. You aren't charged anything until the day the game is released. The game shows up at your door the day it's released.

Gamestop: You go into a store and pay $5 down (or more if you like) at the counter to reserve the game. On release day, you go into the store and pay the difference. The cashier hands you the game from behind the counter.

Best Buy: You go into the Best Buy store and ask someone in the video games section to preorder the game. He prints you out a ticket. You go to the front counter and pay $5 (and only $5) to reserve the game. On release day, you go into the store and hand your ticket to someone in video games. He tells you to go to the returns counter. You go to the returns counter and they demand your driver's license, because you're technically returning your ticket for $5 towards the price of the game you reserved. You hand them your ticket and your driver's license and verify your address. If it's wrong, the cashier corrects it, but the correction does not stick. The cashier walks over to the video games section to get your game, then comes back with it after ten minutes and rings you up, after you once again verify your address, which may be entirely different.

Hands up if you can figure out why Amazon is winning at business.

So why preorder anywhere else? Well, with the advent of XBox Live and the Playstation Network, video game publishers have figured out that they can sell little add-on packs for five or ten or fifteen dollars a pop to the games they put out. The biggest sellers are things like map packs or song packs (extra content), but you also see novelty add-ons like different costumes, weapons and paint jobs.

And as add-ons became more popular, publishers also figured out that they could use add-on packs to encourage people to preorder games (which means more money faster). So now games have special exclusive add-on packs you can only get if you preorder the game.

Fair enough so far, but then some bright spark came up with the idea of making these add-ons exclusive to specific stores. So, for example, you can order Batman: Arkham City from Best Buy to unlock Robin as a playable character, or order from Gamestop to get the Joker's Carnival challenge map, or order from Amazon and get $10 off and an exclusive comic book. And a whole lot more weird stuff: Gamestop stores in the United Kingdom get a Batman: Beyond costume instead of the carnival map.

Now here's the rub: None of this stuff is likely to be available for individual download, certainly not at launch, maybe not ever. Effectively, you cannot play the whole game, not unless you want to buy the game repeatedly, or else buy the codes on eBay at a premium.

And that sucks for the customer. But it's not really unethical for the companies involved; and let's face it, Best Buy and Gamestop could use the help. So I hereby propose the Video Game Downloadable Content Resolution:


That in the interests of fair play, no downloadable content will remain exclusive to a platform or retailer for more than one month, excepting cases where copyrights or technical problems make this impossible,

And be it further resolved, that no downloadable content will be produced which makes it impossible for people who do not purchase said content to continue to play the game, I'm looking at you Mortal Kombat, you know what you did.

I think that this resolution will be agreeable to all parties, and will cut back on the amount of nerd rage involved in ordering a video game. Because I like the animated Batman and Batman Beyond and Robin, and I don't like having to choose. Or having to buy games at Best Buy.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Badass Adventures in Real Estate

Today Sarah and I went hunting for a new house. First of all, let me give a shout out to our agent, Georgia, who was friendly and extremely helpful and made the whole thing a blast, even when we were viewing the lousy houses. And oh, Lord, there were some lousy houses.

House Number One: This house came with a bad first impression, in the form of a shared driveway that was narrow and had little room to park in. I'm still not sure how one house gets two cars parked without causing a turf war. But the rest of the house: gorgeous. A beautiful kitchen, tons of space in the bedrooms, a large living space downstairs, and a big old yard that Lina could run around like a maniac in (once we fenced it in). Sadly, this house was the highlight of our day.

House Number Two: Corgi house! Whoever lived here looked like they were actively stalking Lina: just a ton of Corgi portraits, statues and other furnishings. Unfortunately the actual Corgi wasn't present, just a cat I never saw because it bolted immediately. Also a deck that looked like it was going to fall apart, a driveway that mandates a parking brake, a door that leads to empty air, and half a fence. I admire whoever lives there (excellent taste in dogs and reading material), but I'm not going to.

House Number Three: A horticulturist's dream! I'm not kidding about that: there were plants growing in every room in the house, and the backyard looked like an enchanted fairy forest. Great if you like gardening, but I want a yard where Lina can run around like a psychopath, not something I have to pay someone to keep trimmed. To its credit, the house did have good bathrooms and a spacious (if not modern) kitchen.

House Number Four: This is where we really started running into trouble. And tenants. Someone had called the girl living at this house and told her our walkthrough was cancelled, and she ended up spending five minutes throwing things in one of her bedrooms before she left for her job at the local barbecue hut. The house was decorated in Rue Morgue Red carpeting and featured all the amenities you'd expect to find in a college dorm. The outside included a messy backyard, house-killing trees, and a spider the size of God.

I think he was the landlord.

House Number Five: This one started off well with a covered driveway with ample space. The rest of the exterior was a bit overgrown and crumbly, but that didn't seem like a big deal once we got inside. A beautiful kitchen and living room, with a furnace and a cast-iron stove/fireplace. I also liked seeing ceiling fans that weren't threatening to crack my skull open. Aside from the yard and some slightly undersized bedrooms, it was a fine house, and a nice palate cleanser for House Number Four. Which was good, because next was...

House Number Six: Or as Sarah keeps calling it, the meth lab. Have you ever seen a house where the sidewalk looked decrepit? Because that was our first sign of danger. The second sign was the lack of a For Sale sign. The third was the fact that the door was ajar, and Georgia had to yell inside for the tenant to put his shirt back on. There was a door with what looked like knife scratches in. There was a shattered ping-pong table that didn't come with the house, and a massive hole in the ceiling right above it. And the asking price was the same as what House Number One was asking. Georgia shooed us out of there before we saw the second story.

That was supposed to be our last house for the day, but Georgia had seen a listing for a house that had been on the market for a long time, and she was curious as to why. So we drove out to...

The Bonus Mystery House: Which is called that because we never saw the inside of it. Georgia recognized it as soon as she saw it and advised us not to go inside. We understood why as soon as we saw the fence in the back. Still, morbid curiosity prodded us to carry on; but the driveway was narrow, hilly, and positioned right off a main road, and we didn't have the heart to make Georgia drive down it (and possibly get us all killed in a T-bone accident). She ended up showing us the local Adam's Ribs restaurant instead, which was probably for the best.

So! No real luck today, although House Number One is going to stay on the list for now. But we'll keep looking, and we've got every confidence that Georgia will have us sorted out; if not by Christmas, then shortly after. We're not in any rush, after all. Neither is Lina.

Hell, she'll wait forever if we let her stay in that corner.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Irene Retrospective

So I'm still alive! I'm sure you were all extremely worried.

Sarah and I took Hurricane Irene seriously from the get go: shopping for non-perishables, wrapping bungie cords around the Crepe myrtles in our backyard, that sort of thing. Our friends, Tara and Mike, took things a bit more seriously, because they live in Queen Anne's County and they had to deal with an evacuation order. So come Friday night my house was temporarily converted into a refugee shelter / hurricane party.

Despite the circumstances (read: a honking great hurricane bearing down on us), we had a great time hanging out together, and I heartily recommend getting together with friends if you know you're going to get hit with a big storm. Super Mario Bros. Wii filled a lot of time before the power went out: we actually were about 40 seconds from finishing off Bowser when the storm finally cut us off. There may have been a bit of screaming at that point (don't worry, we'll get him one day).

This is a marked dinosaur/dragon thing.

We should have known it was coming. Saturday was pretty much all rain and wind as soon as we woke up. We got through most of the day on our supplies (pancakes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), but we did end up ordering Chinese food from the local Joy Luck for dinner, maybe an hour before things started getting nasty. They were willing to deliver in heavy rain and winds with a massive storm incoming, and for that I salute them (and tipped well).

Irene took out our power around 8:30pm. We ended up playing a couple rounds of Uno (which I was stomped in unmercifully), followed by a team game of Trivial Pursuit (during which Sarah and I stomped our friends unmercifully). At one point Tara left the room for a moment, and when she came back in Lina jumped on her leg in greeting. Tara may have screamed, which may have caused Sarah to scream, which may have caused me to shout a bit when she dug her nails into my arm. I didn't see Lina chuckle, but I assume it happened.

The following morning was damage control, which mostly meant cutting up tree limbs that fell in our yard. Queen Anne's County lifted the evacuation early on, and Tara and Mike said their goodbyes once they got their power back. We figured we'd have our power restored similarly quickly.

Oh, how wrong we were...

As it turned out, Anne Arundel County was one of the hardest hit areas in Maryland in terms of power outages. Only Baltimore had more outages (the city, but the county came in third). Our local power company, BGE, had prepared for about 500,000 outages, but we ended up with close to 750,000 throughout the state. So even with a few advantages (i.e. living right off a major highway), it was 48 hours before we got our electricity back.

The details of the outage are inconsequential, to paraphrase Mike Myers. Suffice to say Sarah and I spent a lot of time reading, keeping our phones charged up enough to stay on the grid (which involved cannibalizing my laptop's power supply), trying to get Lina to stop barking at nothing, and plotting a takeover of our neighbor's generator.

A scenario we narrowly avoided.

I strongly recommend the Mighty Bright clip-on Kindle light if you need a good flashlight, by the way. It lasts for hours and hours, is bright enough to illuminate a room, and can clip into place if you want to read something.

We gave up on sitting in the dark early this afternoon, and visited my mom's house to recharge our batteries, both literal and metaphorical. Also to get out of the stifling heat of our house, which is what happens when you have no power in August. By this point Sarah was constantly tracking BGE's press releases, local blogs and her Facebook friends to figure out when we'd get our power back, and we'd half convinced ourselves that we'd be powerless until Saturday (BGE's worst-cast estimate for the county - and if anyone actually reaches that estimate, you have my deepest sympathies).

Fortunately reality trumped the ironically evil hand of Bad Luck, and the power kicked in just after Sarah went to bed. She sat up to try to figure out how the fan was running, and was treated to the sight of me dancing for joy in the bedroom.

I'm scared it looked like this.

So the power's back, the house is nice and cool again, and the dog finally seems willing to sleep with both eyes closed. All things considered, we got off very lightly. We spent a weekend with good friends and family, played a lot of cooperative games, and ate a ton of junk food. If I'd remembered to go get booze before Irene hit (and if the power hadn't gone out), I'd have rated it a 10/10.

The missing ingredient.

And happily, it doesn't seem like I missed anything major on the Internet while I was (mostly) offline. Oh, wait...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On

I was standing in the bathroom at my office, washing my hands, when the sink began to bounce in front of me. I felt dizzy and vaguely nauseous. "Oh holy shit," I thought, "I'm going to pass out in the sink." My chronic sleep deprivation was finally going to do me in, and in an office bathroom of all places.

Then my brain flipped, and I realized I was in the middle of a damn earthquake. Not just any earthquake, mind, but a record-setting (for Washington, DC) 5.8 magnitude earthquake. The last one we had in my area was only a 3.X, and I never even felt it.

There is something profoundly disturbing about an earthquake that you're not going to understand unless you've been in one. It's not like being in a bumpy car or a carnival ride: reality itself is warping around you. The ground, that thing you understand as defining "solid", is now juddering like a living thing in the grip of a seizure. If you're indoors, your whole world could literally come crashing down on your head.

5.8 on the Richter scale. That's peanuts compared to what hit Japan, which was an 8.9. And Richter isn't linear: 5.8 to 8.9 is a difference of tens of thousands in terms of destructive power.

There wasn't any real destruction in the area: a few damaged chimneys, some minor bits and bobs that fell down. I think the only injury near my home was an older man who fell down in his shower (and I do hope he's okay). My office was evacuated and I was sent home as a precaution. A pipe may have broken on the first floor; I'll have to call in to see if I'm going to work. That's 5.8.

I'm going to send some money to the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund tonight; also the Red Cross. Late, I know, but still not too late.

I got to my cell phone half an hour after the quake ended, but the lines were still choked with traffic. By the time I got through to Sarah I only had 5% of a charge left on my battery. That was hours after the actual quake, and we only had enough time to make sure the other was okay.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Comics I Liked This Week

It's Wednesday, and that means another in my intermittent series of comic book reviews. I'm just focusing on what I liked this time, so if you don't see something here assume it got 3/5 stars.

Here Comes... Daredevil #2 is probably the best comic this week, and honestly I think the new series is the best Daredevil has been in years. Don't get me wrong, I'm not slandering the past couple of (much darker) runs, but I like Daredevil as a happy-go-lucky, witty, gymnastic... well, daredevil, and Mark Waid is nailing it. (And if you'll permit me a brief tangent, the same holds true for Nightcrawler. Marvel, if you bring him back, bring him back as the fuzzy swashbuckling elf we loved for so many years. Please?)

Legion of Doom #3 wraps up this Flashpoint tie-in miniseries in high style. If you don't know, Flashpoint is an alternate-reality crossover where heroes are villains, villains are worse villains, and you've seen this before. Legion of Doom follows longtime Flash villain Heat Wave as he attempts to escape from a supervillain prison (modeled after the Legion of Doom's headquarters) and take revenge on his nemesis (in this reality) Cyborg. The in-prison villainy is pretty cool, but the real standouts here are Heat Wave's crazy ass and a surprise guest star who isn't quite as heroic as he usually is. All three issues are well worth tracking down.

Journey Into Mystery #626 continues Loki's adventures behind the scenes of Fear Itself, Marvel's summer crossover. Having been reborn as a somewhat innocent child, Loki is trying to help Thor by wheeling and dealing with some of the most diabolic beings in the Marvel Universe - and somehow, so far, he's coming out on top every time. I've found Loki is much more interesting as a hero than he was as a villain, and this series shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

Abin Sur: The Green Lantern is another Flashpoint miniseries that wraps up with its third issue this week. For years, Abin Sur's only been the dead alien who gave Hal Jordan his ring (except when he was being manipulated into an early grave by demons under Alan Moore). In this series Abin is alive and well, and proving that he's a more than worthy predecessor to Jordan as he takes on his best friend, Sinestro, and tries to preserve life on Earth at all costs. A fine read for Green Lantern fans.

Avengers Academy #12 continues strong this week, as the kids take on two supervillains that have been turned into Asgardian demigods (Fear Itself again... I swear, tie-ins...). This book's traditional superhero action: fantastic settings, dangerous villains, and heroes trying to save the day while dealing with their own life issues, all done excellently.

Finally, Thunderbolts #162 sees the team of former supervillains start to fracture while battling an army of monsters. Baron Zemo, the original team's founder, is making his presence felt in the book again, just as half the team decides to break away and turn villain again. Whatever comes up in the next few issues should be damn interesting to read.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

From My Phone

Continuing with the Android theme, I'm writing this blog post from my phone. It's two-thumb typing with the slideout keypad, fairly quick but no PC keyboard. I sense that this will not be a regular occurrence.

Anyway, for indulging this little experiment and because I ought to test out the image feature, here's a picture of my Corgi Lina in a bee costume. You're welcome.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Love My Droid Apps Too

Yesterday I discussed some of the reasons I bought a Droid 3 instead of an iPhone. Today I'm going to talk about why I really wanted a smartphone in the first place. Apps, baby.

But first let's talk about the Droid's hardware. It's a fairly hefty phone, probably the biggest I've ever owned, but it's not oversized; to fit in a full keyboard and a touchscreen, the Droid is just as big as it needs to be.

I already wrote a love letter to the keyboard. The touchscreen is also nifty. It's responsive, and most of the things you'll press give you a little jolt of haptic feedback to let you know you've pressed the thing correctly. It can be a little tricky to hit a button on the very edge of the screen, but I've never had to press anything more than three times to get it to respond, and that very rarely.

There are four buttons on the bottom edge of the touchscreen: a Settings button, a Home button, a Back button, and a Search button I've never had cause to use. They all change their function based on what you're doing with the phone - for example Settings gives you a way to edit phone settings by default, but if you're running an app it'll let you change the app's settings instead. These buttons aren't full keys, but haptic feedback again lets you know when you've pressed something.

What else? The keyboard slides out with little difficulty, though I get a bit of a squeak every time I do it - I may need WD-40. The camera works fine, and is a massive improvement over my old phone's camera, but I haven't played around with it enough to say anything conclusive. Battery life is good enough to get you through a day. The phone charges very quickly from an outlet, and very slowly from a USB port. And I think that sums up the hardware.

I said I'd talk about accessories, didn't I? I'm not sure why. The case snaps on and protects the phone adequately, and I've got a clip for my belt if I want to use it - mostly I don't. My old Bluetooth headset still works with the phone, though the sync isn't 100%. I don't really have anything else for the phone except chargers. Let's move on to apps.

Most everything on the Droid is an app, even basic functionality like an alarm clock. Once you figure this out it's all very intuitive. The Droid ships with a selection of starter apps and Let's Play Golf 2, which is just one piece of the bloatware Verizon curses your phone with. It's easy to hide, but good luck getting any of it off your phone entirely - if someone figures out the trick to this let me know. I never even liked Let's Play Golf 1, and I'm pretty sure that game doesn't exist!

All of the Google and social networking apps work great. I've got Gmail, Google Reader, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter at my fingertips. The Twitter app even does you a favor and memorizes where you are in the stream, which is a huge plus if you're prone to losing your place. It's also very easy to upload photos - I needed to use my old phone's crappy email client to do it before, so this is a big improvement.

Games are great so far. I've got the whole OMFG ANGRY BIRDS library already - all free, though there's a bit of advertising included that can get irritating. Words with Friends is also free, and I've already found myself in four games at once. So far I'm holding my own, though I've already been stomped into the ground by my Aunt Susan. Cut the Rope, the third game I was looking forward to playing, is not free, but it is dirt cheap and I'll get around to buying it any day now. But, y'know. OMFG ANGRY BIRDS.

A brief aside on ringtones. I was worried about getting my iTunes library onto the Droid. For videos this is indeed a pain in the ass, and one I've given up on fixing. But my actual music is, for the most part, the DRM free stuff Apple switched to a while back, and plays on my Droid with no problems.

I've got a Final Fantasy victory fanfare set up as my main ringtone, and I get to wake up to Ke$ha's Tik-Tok in the morning. I originally wanted to use Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien by Edith Piaf as my alarm clock - that's the Kick from Inception, if you were wondering, and if you still don't know what the hell I'm talking about go rent the movie. Unfortunately the first time I tried it my wife wanted to know why the hell I was playing music from a horror movie on my phone. When I explained where it was from she got the joke, but I'm still forbidden from using it. So I wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy.

Back to apps. I downloaded FBReader, a free eBook reader app, and after using Calibre to convert a ton of .mobi files into .epub files, I'd turned my phone into a perfectly functional eBook reader. The screen size is problematic (it's a phone, this is a given), but the text is clear and readable regardless. And, since the screen is backlit, my phone makes a useful substitute for my Kindle if I'm in a dark space.

The Barcode Scanner app is technically impressive, though I can't see myself getting much use out of it. I was able to use it to scan a QR code at my bank and download a mobile banking app, at least. The banking app is nice, but too much like the bank's normal website to be truly excellent.

I've just now set up HBO Go, HBO's free streaming app for, well, pretty much every series they show, and a bunch of movies too. So far it works great, much better than it does on a computer, though I'd never dare use it without a wireless connection. I may end up watching every episode of Game of Thrones on my phone. This is weird, but also pretty cool.

What else? I've got the Kindle app, but with all the non-Amazon books I buy FBReader is the better option. Text messaging looks very nice. Contacts include all the information you might want, although there is a wrinkle in that the phone will automatically import your Gmail contacts along with any numbers you already had in your phone - for me, this meant merging quite a few contacts to get rid of duplicates.

Overall I'm very happy with the Droid 3 and with Android, and if you're looking for a smartphone I'd recommend them. As of this moment, the only thing I can think of that I'm missing out on from the iPhone is Futurama's "Put Your Head in a Jar" application. I'm pretty sure I'll live.

Monday, August 1, 2011

I Love My Little Droid

Look there, to your left. Say hello to my new little friend. Hello new friend! See the red eye-looking logo? It is staring at you. It is staring into your soul.

I've been interested in a smartphone ever since I heard the iPhone was coming to Verizon. Well, that's not true, I've been vaguely interested ever since my coworkers all got some and started bragging about the cool shit they can do on a smartphone. And I listen to Tech 411 which is always going on about some cool new app of the week. And OMFG ANGRY BIRDS!!!

This bird will fuck you up.

So I've had an interest for awhile, and two weeks ago my phone plan discounts finally vested. If you don't have a cell phone plan, understand that the bastards phone company likes to lock you in for two years at a time, and charge you ruinous early termination fees if you jump ship early. To sweeten the incarceration deal, they'll give you a discount on your next phone if you stick it out. Well, Verizon used to, they don't do that anymore because they sell smartphones and they know that people who buy smartphones are like crack addicts for hot new technology. Luckily I was still grandfathered in on the fabled "New Every Two" deal, so I got the discount this time (for the last time).

I was dead set on an iPhone, but my wife suggested that I might like one of the new Droid 3 phones instead. This sounded like blasphemy, but she convinced me to listen to her before I broke out the rack. Why would I want a Droid?

"They've got a real keyboard, and they're on a two-for-one sale."

Compelling arguments for a heretic, it must be admitted.

I went to the store two days before Purchase Day and checked out the two phones. Now, iPhones are famous for not having a physical keyboard. There's actually a cottage industry of massive bluetooth keyboards being built into cases to make up for this shortcoming. But they do have a touchscreen with a keyboard. Surely, I thought, Apple would be an improvement on the touchscreen keyboard I was used to, the one on my enV Touch, which is a sort of short-bus smartphone. Right?

Well, no... I can't get the hang of a touchscreen keyboard. Haptic feedback helps, but I still end up fouling up one button press in three when I'm trying to type. I'm also reduced to two-fingering on a touchscreen, which is a real pain for someone who's been trained in the deadly art of touch-typing.

(As an aside, since this is still nominally a writing blog: Take a fucking touch type class. I don't care how much you like writing longhand. That goes for any programmers who might be reading as well. It's a simple skill to pick up and it will massively improve your output.)

As for the Droid, it does touchscreen too, but that slide-out keyboard is nice. It's full QWERTY, with numbers in a row on top and no squirrelly space-saving bullshit. They keys feel nice under your fingertips, soft and rounded and vaguely like leather. Mmm...

Plus I'm familiar with Android as a smartphone OS. I'm up to my neck in Google as-is, so I'm not shy about adding something else to my omni-account. Plus it's pretty easy to develop Android applications on a PC, if I'm so inclined, and of course there's a great app library in place with OMFG ANGRY BIRDS:

Seriously man, just walk away.

Sure, I miss out on iTunes syncing, which is a pain. I've got more music in iTunes than I could sync to anything short of an iPod Classic, not to mention a few movies I'd like to have available on the go. But then again, I've got the iPod Classic. I don't need my phone to play movies for me; I've got that covered.

And I mentioned that one of the Droids would be free, right?

Next up: Apps, accessories, and using French music to terrorize my wife.

Friday, July 22, 2011

For Your Consideration, A Metaphor

Imagine two pilots are flying in a small plane. The plane runs out of fuel and begins to crash.

There is one parachute in the plane. If either pilot takes it for himself, he'll survive unscathed, but the other pilot will die. But if the pilots cling to each other as they use the parachute together? They'll come away from the crash with some broken bones, but both of them will still be alive.

Now imagine that the two pilots are sitting in the cockpit as the plane falls, arguing not over who gets to use the parachute, but who's going to take the blame for the crash.

That's about what the debt ceiling debate looks like to me right now.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Status Report! I'm two weeks out from a submission deadline and feeling, for once, pretty confident in my work. Project Oh God It Burns and Project Lost In The Woods are both revised, polished, and sitting with beta readers for a quick once-over before I give them a final bit of shine and send them out to the God-Editors. Let me take a moment to thank my beta readers, better known as my wife Sarah and my best friend Colin. They don't generally read the stuff I like to write, but they're still willing to take time out of their busy lives to pore over manuscript pages and tell me where I've gone and fucked up. They both rock.

Project Long Hard Slog Over Broken Glass has not been so much fortunate: For the moment it's sitting in a drawer, waiting for me to dust it off and get it on its feet again. That could happen in a few weeks; that might not happen for months. I'm not sure at the moment which: at the moment it depends on how well Project Oh God It Burns is received, in my mind if nowhere else.

I am currently casting Project Sexy Golem, which involves taking a hard look at the characters I know I want in the story, and making sure they have what it takes to carry a story. That means giving them names, faces, goals, loves, hates, quirks, neuroses: the whole gamut of what makes someone interesting to read about. Once I've got a few sketches together, I'll be outlining. Once I've outlined, I'll start writing. That should still happen in August.

* * *

I'm slightly scared about taxes.

Well, that goes for everyone. What I'm worried about is paying my taxes when (never if) I reach the next level as a writer, which is making enough money at it that I'm forced to register myself as a business. So far my income's been meager enough that I've been able to file this as a hobby.

No writers write about taxes. Stephen King discusses how his short stories helped him scrape by before Carrie, but Uncle Sam does not appear once in On Writing (he's probably got a guy). A few books about writing take a stab at the business end of things, but never in great detail. The books that devote themselves entirely to freelancing never tackle the question of what you do if you already have a day job.

I have a job I'm not quitting anytime soon. I get taxes withheld from my paycheck and a W-2 at the end of every year. I do not want to layer quarterly tax filings on top of that if I don't have to. I don't know if I have to. I don't know anyone who's dealt with this and spoken about it publicly.


* * *

I'm developing an unhealthy obsession with OCD: Obsessive Corgi Disorder. It's just pictures of Corgis. There's nothing else to it. But it updates faster than a speed freak and it always brings the cute. I'd contribute, but the lighting in my house is horrible and Lina refuses to take a good picture recently.

* * *

True Blood has me actively hoping for a black panther massacre. If you're following the show you know why. It's something that bothers the living fuck out of me whenever I try to read supernatural romance of the Charlaine Harris or Laurell K. Hamilton variety. The main character typically gets fed on, mesmerized, cursed, raped, infected, and God knows what else by the cast of a Hammer horror film in every book. Yet, somehow, thoughts of stakes or silver bullets never enter the heroine's mind, at least not associated with the sexy bad boys gnawing on their neck.

I wonder to this day what would happen if Anita Blake got loose from all the shit flowing in her veins and reverted back to the no-bullshit investigator we met in Guilty Pleasures. I guarantee you Jean-Claude would be a tiny pile of ash inside of a week. Which is kind of how Project Sexy Golem came about, now that I think about it.

* * *

Two last bits of business.

Ari Marmell has a new book out. The Goblin Corps is epic fantasy written from point of view of the monsters: the orcs, gremlins, trolls, bugbears, and other miserable creatures bound in service to the titular Dark Lord. Except this lot is foul-mouthed, crude, treacherous, and somehow quite sympathetic on top of all that. It's a load of fun to read and well worth your time if you've ever enjoyed anything with an orc in it.

Chuck Wendig also has a new book out, but electronic-only I'm afraid. 250 Things You Should Know About Writing is a dirt-cheap collection of his 25 Things You Should Know About... blog posts, all of which have been informative. You also get some articles that were never posted on the blog, such as 25 Things You Should Know About Writing A Fucking Sentence. For 99 cents, you've really got no reason not to pick it up.

Go. Read. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Debt Ceiling for Dummies

I've been watching the debate over the debt ceiling closely over the past few months. I haven't written about it until now because I'm reluctant to talk about politics, and because the whole thing makes me so angry that I'm not sure I can talk about it intelligently.

My average reaction to debt ceiling news.

But the debate has gotten so bad at this point that I can't keep silent, or I'll end up with a massive ulcer in addition to the intractable GERD. So I'm going to try and tackle this from an educational perspective. I'm going to explain what the debt ceiling is, why it needs to be raised, and why no one in Washington, D.C. can agree to raise it. Hopefully I'll be able to get through this without my heart exploding.

If I get something wrong here, feel free to point it out in the comments, but politely. I read more news than is healthy for me, but I don't claim to remember all of it with 100% accuracy.

What is the debt ceiling?

The debt ceiling was enacted by Congress prior to World War I. Beforehand, each issuance of government debt (i.e. Treasury bonds) had to be approved by Congress individually. To streamline the process, they established a ceiling for the amount of debt the government could incur, which has been raised repeatedly over the decades since.

No other country has a debt ceiling. As a practical matter, Congress dictates the level of government borrowing every year when it passes the budget. However, the debt ceiling has remained in place, if for no other reason than for the minority party in any given Congress to pound their desks over the majority's outrageous spending.

Why do we need to raise it?

The United States spends a lot more money than it takes in. At the moment, the federal government takes in revenues from taxes that total roughly 15% of the our gross domestic product (GDP), and spends about 25% of the GDP. This means we're growing our debt every day.

Back in May, our level of debt reached the debt ceiling. Since then, the Treasury has been engaged in various measures to keep from defaulting on any of our debts, but Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says that we will begin defaulting on our debt on August 2nd. At that point a whole slew of bad things happen, which might include seeing our country's credit rating lowered, trouble in the bond markets, and a shutdown of many government services, possibly including Social Security payouts.

Why hasn't Congress raised the debt ceiling yet?

As I mentioned above, raising the debt ceiling is always a vote where minority party Congressmen will stamp their feet and raise hell over wasteful spending. This time, though, the Republican party has control of the House, and they're insisting on tying the vote to massive cuts in federal spending. Roughly speaking, they'll only raise the debt ceiling if Congress also reduces spending by the same amount.

To raise the debt ceiling enough to get us through 2013, Congress will have to raise it by about two and a half trillion dollars. Cutting that same amount will require Congress to make painful cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and/or Medicaid.

Couldn't we cut defense spending?

For the most part, no. Republicans are opposed to major defense cuts, and no one else is particularly keen on them either.

What about other parts of the government?

None of them have enough funding to cut to make up the numbers on their own, though many other parts of government (education, EPA) would face budget cuts.

Couldn't Congress raise taxes instead?

That would be reducing the deficit, not spending. Republicans are opposed to any tax increases, even if they're in a ratio of $1 in tax increases to $3 in spending cuts. At one point Republicans indicated they would accept an 85:15 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases, but they've rejected a ratio of 83:17, and are now insisting on 100:0.

What about reforming the tax code to cut out loopholes or subsidies, without actually raising tax rates?

Not good enough. Blame Grover Norquist.

Go on. Blame him.

Norquist heads Americans for Tax Reform, and he's gotten the vast majority of the Republican Party to sign a pledge not to increase taxes. By his standards, that means that tax code reforms that increase revenue by closing loopholes (or ending subsidies to oil companies, ethanol, whatever) can't be passed unless they're offset by spending cuts in the same amount.

In other words, Norquist's primary goal is to shrink the size of government. Shrinking the deficit doesn't matter so much.

Why don't we just raise the debt ceiling and worry about cuts later?

The GOP is adamantly against raising the debt ceiling without spending cuts, and a bill can't pass the House without their support.

What if we get to August 2nd without a deal?

Several GOP House members identified with the Tea Party (including presidential candidate Michele Bachmann) claim that a short default by the United States would not have any long-lasting consequences, despite warnings from economists, rating agencies, and businesses. Additionally, the last time the U.S. defaulted on its debt back in 1979, the increased interest payments on U.S. bonds cost the country billions of dollars. Still, President Obama is unwilling to risk calling the Republicans' bluff.

So how do we get a deal?

With great difficulty.

The initial talks on the debt ceiling led by Vice President Biden came close to a deal of about 2.4 trillion dollars, but ended in a walkout by House Republican leader Eric Cantor over the idea of having some of that come from revenue increases.

After that, President Obama attempted to negotiate a 4 trillion dollar deal in private with Speaker of the House Boehner. The deal would have required tax increases of about 1 trillion dollars, through cutting subsidies and ending the tax cuts passed by President Bush for people making over $250,000 per year. President Obama in turn would have agreed to significant cuts in entitlement programs, possibly including raising the minimum age for Social Security from 65 to 67. The deal was a non-starter for Republicans and never really made it into negotiations.

Currently President Obama is holding daily meetings with Congressional leadership to try and hammer out a deal. He's continuing to push for a 4 trillion dollar deal, which is raising the hackles of Republicans opposed to tax increases and Democrats opposed to entitlement cuts.

Republicans in the negotiations are pushing to revisit the 2.4 trillion dollar Biden deal, but without revenue increases; aides on both sides claim that the actual number without those increases is closer to 1.5 trillion.

Senator McConnell today suggested a plan by which the President could raise the debt ceiling over the course of three to six votes between now and the 2012 elections. This would put all responsibility for the debt ceiling votes on Democrats, and would not guarantee any spending cuts. Reaction so far has been mixed, tilting negative.

So what can we do?

Just kidding.

I wish I knew. I would encourage you to write or call your Senator and Representatives and urge them to raise the debt ceiling, regardless of whether a deal over spending cuts is made. You may want to do that repeatedly. You could also consider shorting Treasuries, but that's unpatriotic and not guaranteed to pay off.

Probably your healthiest course of action is to take a deep breath, count to ten, and try not to worry too much. Whatever deal is reached, it will likely take years to go into effect, regardless of how much you might hate it. A default, on the other hand, will happen on August 2nd with immediate consequences, or not at all. Please, encourage the latter.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Dropbox TrueCrypt Paranoia Corollary

Well, it's a week now since I started using TrueCrypt to encrypt all of my files on Dropbox, as detailed in my last post. And, I'm sad to say, after one week I'm ready to drop the encryption and go back to using Dropbox, um... unprotected. I've got a few reasons why:

TrueCrypt adds extra steps. I'm annoyingly fragile when it comes to getting into a writing frame of mind. Most anything can distract me at a critical juncture, be it a Corgi jumping in my lap for attention or that pile of laundry I forgot to pull out of the washing machine three hours ago. So having to find and mount a TrueCrypt volume before I can find and open the Word document I want to work on can actually stop me from opening that Word document. And I can't have that, now can I?

TrueCrypt nerfs Dropbox's versioning system. An obvious point I think I mentioned before, but as long as my files are in a TrueCrypt volume, Dropbox can't version them individually. For the most part, I haven't had to take advantage of this feature. Still, I've done enough development work with Subversion to know I damn well want it.

TrueCrypt slows down my syncing. I noticed this right from the get-go: with TrueCrypt, it takes Dropbox about a minute to two minutes to sync any update I make to the files in it. It's not enough to be unusable, but it's just enough to get annoying after awhile, especially if I just want to turn my computer off and go to bed after a save.

TrueCrypt actually makes me more paranoid. This is the biggie. I don't keep anything on Dropbox I would mind people looking at. Mostly it's backup copies of eBooks, evidence of CISSP CPEs I've earned, and my manuscripts. Now, it's conceivable that Dropbox is going to steal all of my shit and do nefarious things with it, but I can't imagine what. The same goes for any random hacker who breaks into my account. At worst, I'd expect to get hit with some jerk deleting everything in my Dropbox, which is why I keep offline backups.

Now, with TrueCrypt, I get the added fear that my encrypted volume might get corrupted, either from bouncing it between operating systems or by forgetting to sync updates to the volume in the correct order and having Dropbox introduce a mess of file errors. I've made that kind of screw-up before, and I don't want to do it again and have it blow away all of my files.

So, no more TrueCrypt, at least not with Dropbox. I may go back to using it to encrypt some things down the line - an In-Case-Of-Emergency file, for example - but right now it's worth more to me to have an easy time using Dropbox.

I'd go into the annoying filename quirks I ran into when I copied everything out of my TrueCrypt0 volume, but the Corg0i just jum1ped int0o my lap and star1ted1 licking my keyboard. Stop that Lina!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Dropbox TrueCrypt Paranoia Conundrum

I've been using Dropbox for months now to back up my important files to the Mystical Cloud that drifts through the Internet. Aside from one minor wrinkle of a file conflict (which I easily resolved), it's done sterling service. My files are backed up across multiple computers and their associated backup hard drives, not to mention the Dropbox servers themselves. Losing my work in a catastrophic incident should, theoretically, be impossible.*

But over the last couple of weeks Dropbox has gotten some bad press. Aside from the security breach (see "bad"), none of this is really a surprise; if you put your data on somebody else's computer, they are going to have to protect themselves legally in some fashion. And because copyright law is a hydra with infinite heads and a bad attitude, even an innocent company is going to look bad trying to comply with it.

That said...

The security breach did bother the heck out of me. I don't know of anyone who'd want to look at my files with malice in their heart, but I also didn't know anyone who'd want to run up a $300 bill on my Amazon account. Shit happens. And while all of my files are perfectly innocent**, I still feel less than clean knowing that someone could be looking at them right now with their filthy eyes...

Enter TrueCrypt. My files are now wrapped in one big, ambiguous blob of encrypted data, one that no one is liable to crack open in the next decade without the correct password. So I am, relatively speaking, secure.

But can I still be productive?

TrueCrypt bundles your data into what is effectively an encrypted hard drive. With the right password, you can mount it and edit everything on it just like any other filesystem. So what's in my Dropbox account now is one big file that is 1.99GB in size. There are some issues with this:

Syncing. The initial upload of this file took a good three hours. Fortunately Dropbox does bitwise syncing, so it only needs to resync the bits of the file that change during an edit. I opened up a Word document and added some text, and Dropbox updated it in about a minute.

Syncing again. The encryption works fine if I only edit the file on one computer at a time. Since that's what I do anyway, this is no big deal. But if I forget and let my systems get out of sync, I'm going to wind up with a 4GB conflict that could potentially corrupt my data. So be careful with those edits, m'kay?

Nerfed features. Dropbox allows you to access your files from the web, but not if they're in one big encrypted blob. Ditto for sharing files with other people, or versioning them. Happily I'm not using these features anyway and don't plan to start.

So this isn't a perfect solution. Still, I think it's a happy balance between ease-of-use and security, which is all I can ask for.

And if it turns out to be more annoying than I bargained for, I'll store my files in my data dog instead.

*This is tempting fate. I'm certain some alien intelligence with a global-scale EMP generator is reading this and giggling.

**Pay no mind to that donkey in the corner.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Weird Shit That Brings People To My Blog

If you have a blog, I encourage you to play around with Google's webmaster tools if you get the chance. Seeing what sort of search queries bring people to your blog can be instructive. Like so:

Crazy Dave - My #1 search query. Thanks, Google, I'm fucking flattered.

Free Emo - Well I don't recall writing about this, but I do support getting Emo released from prison, whatever his particular crime may be.

Sixty Dollars - Huh. Can I, like, have sixty dollars, Google? I feel I should qualify for sixty dollars because of this.

Club Crab - I don't know what this is, but I want to go there and have crabs and beer. I would add "in the company of beautiful women," but I fear pubic lice.

How To Get An A Writing To Describe - What? I don't... Who even typed this into a search bar? Also, I'm sad to say this is the first time "writing" appears in my list of search queries, and I called the goddamn blog Author's Log. (Wait, no, "writing to describe 2011" comes first. Still. Fuck.)

Black People Running - This one was so damn odd I had to run it down. Turns out it's from my Games Day post, where I talk about Black Library and people running around a convention hall. So no, I did not get drunk and post about some track event.

Emo Pake Topi - I'm pretty sure this is a Pokemon.

Horus Helmet - Once again I didn't write about this, ever, but now I'm fascinated. Presumably Horus had a helmet of some kind or another. Why haven't we seen his helmet? What are you trying to hide, Black Library?

Gruskin - A horrible creature that lives in small caves. It crawls out at night and lies down on forest paths until something trips over it, then disembowels the unfortunate victim for sustenance.

Crotch Crabs - Damn it, I knew I'd have to worry about pubic lice! I'm totally suing Club Crab for this.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Alright, everyone, repeat after me:

I hereby give myself permission to fuck up when I write.

I will not berate myself for misplaced punctuation, be it comma, period, semicolon or colon. Nor will I whip myself with a cat-o-nine tails for using a semicolon in the first place.

I will pay no attention to the failings of grammar. Sentences shall be allowed to end with prepositions. Neither Grammar Girl nor Nazi shall stay my work.

I will not pay any penance for plot holes. If a MacGuffin is required to move the story along, it shall emerge as from thin air. If a character must do something against his nature, his nature shall change. Forward momentum shall be the rule of the day.

I will show no fear of the beginning, nor the middle, nor the end. The story shall start and stop where I damn well please. If I wish to write the ending first, so be it. I shall jump from scene to scene like a kangaroo on crystal meth if the mood takes me. The tangled snarl of my plot structure shall hold no power over me.

I solemnly reaffirm that I have permission to fuck up when I write... long as I Actually Write...

...and so long as I promise to fix it all in revision.

So let it be written. So let it be done.

Friday, June 17, 2011


"Hur hur hur," said the Scrapman. He walked through valleys of broken machines, his beady eyes seeking and peeking, skittering over rusted-out hulks as they sought any signs of movement. The Tallyman had said there were artificials wandering the scrapyard, and that meant money.

The Scrapman's ears perked up. A skitter, a clatter! Around a pile of industrial piping he ran, and found a sleek black artificial lifting a pipe and putting it back down, over and over again. The artificial looked at him with one good glowing red lense.

“Disassemble/recycle?” it said. Its voice was a static-laced blurt. The Scrapman chuckled, and slipped the slaver cube out of his satchel. It was the work of a moment to affix the cube to the artificial’s chassis. Nanofilaments extruded from the cube’s surface and wormed their way into the artificial’s logic centers, imparting new directives, new loyalties. The artificial set down its pipe for the last time and followed the Scrapman as he continued his hunt.

Man and machine walked twisting pathways through the scrap, around mountains of twisted metal, cracked gears and sparking circuitry. Here and there, the Scrapman spotted a bit of yttrium or lanthanum, and slipped them into his satchel; it never did to turn down easy money, after all. But for hours more artificials eluded him.

The Scrapman saw the sky lightening in the east and cursed, knowing that he would have to leave the scrapyard soon or risk running afoul of the Reclamation Authority. He was just about to turn back when a bit of light caught the corner of his eye. A pair of green glowing lenses was peeking at him around the side of a cracked maker engine.

“Here, little one, don’t be afraid,” said the Scrapman, smiling with an easy charm despite his missing teeth and growths of patchy stubble. “Come to your old uncle Scrapper.”
The Scrapman bent low and made welcoming gestures. The artificial, a small silvery unit, inched out from its hiding place. It was missing a manipulator unit, and sparks flew from the broken stump, but otherwise it seemed in fine condition.

“That’s right, you beauty,” the Scrapman said as the artificial crept closer. “Come to poppa.”

The black artificial perked up then, its red-lensed gaze locking on to the smaller unit. “Disassemble/recycle?” it said, raising its long, pointed manipulators and clacking them together quickly with a sound like chattering mandibles.

The smaller artificial started, then turned and ran. The Scrapman cursed his luck and went running after it, his inconvenient companion following along behind him with a smooth, unhurried stride.

The silver artificial ran like a kangaroo, springing from point to point in a way that would have been comical if it hadn’t allowed the machine to cover so much ground so quickly. The Scrapman was hard-pressed to keep up, puffing and wheezing from his exertions.

The Scrapman’s foot caught on an outstretched artificial limb, and he went down heavily, the air whooshing out of his lungs. He cursed again and looked up, expecting to see the silver artificial fleeing out of sight and out of reach.

To his surprise and pleasure, he saw instead that the artificial was bounding into a narrow gap between two large mounds of scrap, one even the Scrapman could see was a dead-end. The thing’s pathfinding algorithms must have been damaged. The Scrapman scrambled to his feet and got running again.

He caught up with the artificial at the end of the gap. It was bouncing up and down in place, it’s green lenses sweeping back and forth as it tried to decide where to go.

“You led a good chase, little one,” said the Scrapman, moving forward carefully. He kept both arms outstretched, in case the artificial made another break for it. “But Scrapper’s here now. Scrapper will take care of you.”

The silver artificial turned around at last and fell over in surprise. It scurried backward on ball-jointed arms and legs, clambering up the wall of scrap metal behind it in its desperation to get away. The scrap shifted and collapsed, keeping the artificial from making any progress.

“All be over soon, don’t worry,” said the Scrapman, pulling another slaver cube from his satchel.

The artificial’s frantic scrambling increased as the Scrapman drew close. The sparking stump of one of its arms clanged against a large square piece of blackened metal revealed by its struggling.

The spark travelled through the metal, down into circuitry and synapse structure that had been left cold and depowered years ago. The flare of electricity interacted with redundant power systems, jump-starting batteries that had been believed long dead.

The blackened metal shivered, then shook, then started to rise. The Scrapman and the artificial leapt away as the mound of scrap shifted and collapsed from the efforts of the immense form that had been hidden under it. The slaver cube dropped from the Scrapman’s hand and bounced under the collapsing heaps of metal.

The immense artificial was canine in appearance, a military-class artificial judging by the spikes and broken turrets that bedecked its emerging form. It regarded the Scrapman with eyes that burned like furnace doors as control systems tapped into the local network and tried to determine its current assignment.


The Scrapman shivered and whimpered, his motor functions gone the way of his bladder control. One hand desperately reached into his satchel, but shook too badly to grip the cubes inside.

TIME’S UP, the guard dog said, and leapt.

A short time later, the guard dog had curled up in a rest state. The silver artificial was sitting on top of its head, gently polishing the dog’s head with its undamaged manipulator, when the sleek black artificial arrived. The guard dog ignored it – it was authorized, after all.

The black artificial looked down at the remains of the Scrapman. “Diassemble/recycle!” it said happily, and did just that.

I wrote this for a flash fiction challenge on Chuck Wendig's blog, TERRIBLEMINDS. It's a great blog, go check it out!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Code Names

Maybe it's just me, but I've been seeing a lot of writers referring to their Work in Progress (WiP) by a code name lately. Since I'm as much of a trend-follower as the next E! zombie and I want to limber up my fingers for some proper fiction, I thought I'd post an update about what I'm working on at the moment.

Project Oh God It Burns is a complete pitch at the moment. It took me about... a week? Maybe two weeks? to get this down in type. It's a very fun little short story, and I'm feeling optimistic about it. I've got a little over a month to polish it up before the deadline comes up, so I'll be coming back to it on odd days for awhile.

Project Lost in the Woods is a bit more problematic. It's also a complete pitch, but one I'm much less confident about. I came up with what I think is a brilliant little plot point to include, but it needs to get set up right at the beginning of the story, which means rewriting the entirety of my pitch. I have no excuse not to get this done, but the fact that I have to depresses me to no end... couldn't I have thought of this a little sooner? Like, before I wrote all this stuff I have to junk now?!

Project Long Hard Slog Over Cracked Glass is a novel pitch, it is not complete, and I have my doubts that it's going to get done by deadline. I have the plot outlined, I know who the characters are and what they want, but I just can't make the damn thing feel feasible. It would be much less of a problem if I didn't have to hit certain story points, but I'm writing to an existing piece of fiction and I can't go too far away from what's already in print. I'll get a pitch done if nothing else - I'd go crazy otherwise - but I might to wait for another year to actually get it to editorial.

Project Sexy Golem is still percolating in my brain and I'll be starting it in August, or whenever I get the first two projects outlined above pitched. (I'll do Long Hard Slog in parallel if it doesn't get done on time.) This is the only original work I'm thinking about at the moment, and it's one of those stories I simply can't not write. It's like an unquiet ghost that floats next to your bedroom window at night and stares. (Or anything that stares. It could be a cute little puppy that stares. The point is that you'll do anything it wants if it'll just stop.)

So that's my workload. If I fail to mention any of this ever again, you have my permission to come over to my house and punch me in the face.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hacked: The Resolution

This is a follow-on from my last post, so start there if you haven't read it. I'm going to start out with a huge shout out to Amazon here: they've handled this entire incident with pure professionalism, unlike some other companies I could name, but won't because I don't even own a PlayStation.

As of today I have a new Amazon account, using my original email address. This was very easy to set up. My wish lists and gift card balance are going to be moved over to the new account. My Kindle books won't - Amazon doesn't have that capability - but I've been offered a gift card to cover the cost of the books and repurchase them. So I'll be buying Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey twice, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas yet again. The rest, we'll see - UR was a fine story, but I'm not sure I'll ever want to read it again.

I've also been offered a credit for the MP3s on my Amazon Cloud drive. Happily, I'd already copied those songs to my computer, so I don't really have any reason to buy them again. Unhappily, I only had 99 cents of MP3s in the first place.

My Amazon Prime account won't transfer, but I did get refunded for the time I didn't use, and I intend to sign up for it again. It really is ridiculously awesome to get free two-day shipping on the amount of stuff Amazon has available.

The only problem I've had with Amazon is dealing with my Kindle. I had to deregister and reregister the device with my new account, which should have deleted all of the old books I'd bought through Amazon automatically - not an ideal result, but expected. What actually happened is that all of the old books were not erased, but ended up in a weird "hidden" state on my Kindle. This included books I hadn't bought through Amazon, but loaded manually onto the Kindle. And, for some reason, a few books I did buy through Amazon (i.e. Fear and Loathing) stayed readable.

Because I'm relatively honest (and because I'm getting a gift card to cover the repurchase) I wiped all the old files from my Kindle, as Amazon intended. Still, if I'm going to have to deal with drive-wiping DRM, I'd like it to at least do the job thoroughly and correctly. I'd especially like it if all the eBooks that aren't under DRM stayed put. Luckily I kept backups of those, so no harm done.

So is all forgiven? Heck no. I'm still changing passwords everywhere I go. I had to close two credit cards that might have been compromised, and my third card keeps getting locked out by my bank's fraud prevention measures because I've hardly used it before. My purchase history with Amazon is gone, and I actually did listen to their recommendations sometimes, so I'm going to need to rebuild that by hand. And the jerk who did this will, in all likelihood, get away scott free - I've only held back from throwing his email address to the spambots because I know he'll probably never check it again.

But "David Ford", wherever you are, whoever you really are, know this: You're no hacker. You're not Kevin Mitnick, you're not Adrian Lamo. You're a cracker, Ford, just a thief with a PC. And when you inevitably fuck up and get busted, no matter how far away you are, I'll know. And I'll laugh like a Goddamn madman.