Thursday, March 31, 2011

Non-Fiction/Technical Writing

Whenever I'm writing something that isn't a novel, with a linear story and accompanying outline, the process becomes more difficult and lengthy. I've been pretty hard on myself for taking as long as I have with my Storytelling Sciences books, but I've come to realize recently that such things are written over time. It's why reference books have editions and are revised often.

Things change.

In sitting down to finally write the more arcane portion of the SS System I realized that it was something I've been writing for a long time, little by little. I have files written in MS Publisher format that contain text I'm pulling for my current work, that's how far back this thing goes. Think nothing of recounting the play test hours spent and all the people who sat around a table with me at one time or another. Some I don't talk to any more, while others have moved beyond this life.

It feels good to draw near what seems to be the completion of this particular work. Like anything written in this way, it will require revision over time as I find things to add or change. It'll be nice to sit on the other side of that project and be able to focus on the Setting Books and the novels based on them.

Even better, I might get to play the game that I built. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Amazon Cloud Player vs. Music Industry

This issue caused significant disruption to my workflow today. I posted a link to an article I found on the subject to Facebook and began asking questions. The three people I really wanted to collect opinions from ended up offering them up during the course of the thread. I really didn't know what to think but I assumed everyone with an internet connection familiar and with cloud computing would be quickly forming their own opinion.

As yet, I haven't formed mine.

Ian D. Mosley, a Graduate Student at Idaho State University Department of Sociology, Social Work & Criminal Justice said this about what he thought Amazon was doing:

"Expanding public access to information, ideas and perspectives. Removing the barriers between ideas and people. The digital world is growing, whether /they/ like it or not."

I think that with regard to cloud computing he's absolutely correct. People tend to go toward outcomes that give them more choices. I have a hard time thinking of a single person I couldn't talk into getting a DropBox account. Having more options relative to the access of your own data is a good thing. I think Ian's wise to see it that way.

Chris DeMarcus, a skilled musician and producer, who used to teach music business courses weighed in as well. He was concerned that people would use the service for nefarious purposes and that the laws governing the protection of copyrights were antiquated. I wondered if the changing of the law could help the situation because I'm a creative independent as well. He said this:

"I think the problem can't be solved. It's like when recorded music came out and you didn't have to hire a band anymore, or when PAs became so big, you just needed a DJ. Getting an album is a boutique thing. There is also so many other forms of alternative entertainment; Film, Cable TV, Video Games, and random other stupid amusements that keep human happy, unless you permeate into these markets, you're not going to live on your music. It will be a hobby. The only way to move into these markets is from the top down, with the aid of a label. That's how you're going to be the next NIN, Metallica, Coldplay, or U2."

Somewhat bleak, but apt.

I know you can self-publish through Amazon. I'm wondering if they will eventually include a social networking aspect like Apple's "Ping" that could be exploited by independent folks to promote their music or gain traction in the marketplace. I'd really like to see a situation where a regular Joe or Art could compete for attention in the global marketplace. I don't see why Amazon wouldn't push something like that, for them... sales are sales, right? While I'm dreaming, I'd like a flock of unicorns and a firmware update for my Samsung Focus.

Matthew Klundt, a Videographer & iOS Developer said that removing the middle man would make services like Amazon's Cloud Player better for creators and consumers. I wondered who he thought the middlemen were exactly. He said this:

"I see the labels being the problem middlemen between an artist and their customers. It is history repeating, VHS, CD's, internet, cloud. Industries who miss the technology forefront go down kicking and screaming (down, but not out)."

I agree that the Record Labels are part of the problem in that they themselves have become reliant on Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and others to peddle their digital goods to consumers. If there is going to be a middleman, there might only be room for one in what is already a pretty competitive market. I have the same questions and concerns about my novels. Do I want to go through a traditional publisher who in turn goes through yet another middleman to sell my book to an audience seeking digital reading material? Or, do I decide to approach Amazon and try to promote myself?

I don't honestly know the answer at this time.

Creative folks everywhere, I'm sure, are watching stuff like this. I'm wondering if it will help the little guy or more firmly assert the dominance of the traditional checkpoints between creator and consumer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Head Down

Thinking out loud. Disregard unless you like visiting the frantic portion of my brain.

The next six weeks will be much the way January was. Busy.

I'm writing two novels, three game books, and one novella as of this moment and still trying to find the time to poke pixels for my WP7 endeavor. I've had to clear my schedule and just decide that the text was going to get generated. My latest game book has 19,000 words so far and my two novels have outlines and the first few hundred words of their first chapters. The Novella would be just mist in my mind if not for a previous 16,000 word document I generated to establish the premise for a separate but related project.

It's only Wednesday. I still have five weeks or so to pull this all together. Just gotta keep my head down and my fingers moving. The novella should be easy. I just need to keep telling myself that.

The two novels are not going to be easy. Completely separate worlds, narratives and character structures. I literally have to shift gears and work completely different mental muscles to write them. Thankfully, one of the two needs a lot more research done. It's an excuse to stretch my legs and visit the libraries within walking distance of my home.

The game books won't be hard. I've been generating the text for fifteen months, and it's all sitting in plain text format waiting to be moved over into a shiny final form. Some of the text goes back to 2006, but was never intended to be consumed by anyone but me and my play test folks. That stuff will have to be rewritten for my purposes. Yeah, never thought I would decide to try and market SS.

How fluidly our values can change.

Hopefully, before my birthday, I can look back at this blog post, then turn and nod approvingly at the finished works sitting beside me at my desk.


Monday, March 21, 2011

What if.

What if everyone you knew was there to show you something about yourself? Could you be that selfish, to assume that they are simply fixtures in a reality designed to make you into something more than you were? What if you were the one who was there to show someone else something about themselves, slipping inside their reality, just for a moment?

What if being blind isn’t the disability people thought it was?

What if you could see where all these metaphysical spheres of identity and personality overlapped and you could see the parasites inside the system as a whole? What if you can’t save all those people who are drowning in only a foot of water? What if by saving them you are delaying necessary Justice?

What if you could let it all be very simple?

What if you imposed a cold methogology to your life, an absolute order that allowed you to pursue the work you’ve chosen? What if that’s the only way you will ever feel human, even for a moment. What if you allowed your humanity to flow from you hands to the people that can truly appreciate and make use of it?

What if that was easier than you thought? You just might be a writer.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Laying Hands on the iPad 2

Went down to my local MacLife Store to lay hands on the new iPad 2. If you don't already have an iPad and you are wavering on details, just go buy one. It's pretty much as advertised, five stars, etc. What follows is for folks who have owned the iPad 1 for the last year and contemplating trading up.

Going to knit-pick a little here.

Viewing it from the front, the buttons are indeed invisible. They fall on the sloping edges on the way to the flat back of the device. The slope comes to a rounded bull-nosed edge. I hate to say it, but even being 33% heavier (~0.2 lb.!), my iPad 1 is more comfortable to hold in my hands due to the flat edge about it's perimeter. Now, I didn't get to hold one that had the smart cover which could completely change my opinion. Really wish the floor models had been equipped with the cover.

Maybe the Apple Store in the Mall has floor models with smart covers? Not sure it's worth the trip. I find the Mall and the staff at the Apple Retail Stores irritating. I could write a thousand words for my blog on that.

Thinking out loud.

Yes, the device is snappier for anything that is graphics intense and I'm willing to bet you can have more layers in Sketchbook Pro before it crashes on you. For content creation the bump in speed might be worth trading up. In the latter part of 2010, I used my iPad for a lot of front end textual and visual creation. Now that I'm at the back end of so many projects, my MacBook Air is the device of choice. In a couple months, it'll flip flop again.

That's when I'll probably have to contemplate upgrading.

Conclusions. More of the same.

If you already have an iPad 1, and use it primarily to consume media, email, web content and similar. I'd probably stick with it. If you use your iPad 1 as part of your workflow, the iPad 2 might be worth some consideration for the speed increase. Especially if you use your iPad to create visuals and poke pixels in the low to medium resolutions.

How Do You Write?

In meeting with some people to review their writing, investigate forming a writing circle and encourage people who are trying their hand at crafting text, I've been asked a hard question. To categorize it as difficult is probably misleading. It's a question I haven't probably considered since the early days of my blog.

How do you write?

My answer to people is generally quick, vague, and malformed. Not because I want to be evasive about what I do, but that my method is constantly evolving. Every 10,000 words or so I am probably doing some small thing different. 100,000 words later, my style and motivation have probably departed the old and entered something entirely new. To write in that kind of volume, on a large number of projects ,while trying to find the time to play your (never gonna see 85) goblin on World of Warcraft? You get creative about being creative.

Stuff that occurs to me:

1. Be prepared to write anywhere.

Whether it's a 99 cent notepad and a pencil you stole from the bowling alley or a $300 iPod Touch with the PlainText and DropBox apps, make sure you have the means to write wherever you are. The most mundane parts of our life generally contain lots of waiting. Pass the time by creating text. Yep, I often generate 350-500 words on my iPod Touch, with my thumbs, while lying in bed waiting to get sleepy. It's not a lot, but it adds up.

If you did that much every night, it would add up to a novel-sized amount of text in 6-7 months.

2. It's all in your mind.

People make up all sorts of excuses as to why they can't write that book they believe is inside them. Generally speaking, I used to think there was a magical formula or set of circumstances required for good writing. Total and complete fabrication. It's all in your mind. People don't need more/less distractions to write, they just need to focus on the line or the blinking cursor and make text appear instead of excuses. Harsh but true.

Quit perpetuating your own belief that you need to have more/less people, space, noise, sugar, caffeine, motivation, or small gerbils named Kevin and just make the text happen. One. Word. At. A. Time.

3. Write Badly

This is something I've blogged about before and it is worth revisiting. Expect that more than half of the text you write will deserve little more than to gather dust on a shelf. If you plan to write in any kind of volume, quite a bit of it is going to be mostly unsalvageable crap. Depressed? Don't be. Lots of authors and novelists go right ahead and publish that crap anyway (that's what pen names are for) and guess what... people buy it!

4. Keep Track

Any good workout will require that you track your progress, writing down how many reps you did, and the amount of weight. If you're smart you'll add notes about whether it was hard or easy so you know what you need to do next time. Writing is no different. Keeping track of your average daily word count is a fantastic motivator. Set a goal and make sure you keep your average up while slowly increasing the volume.

I know I can write 5000-7500 words on a good day, but my average, counting only the 5-day work week, is somewhere around 3800 words since I started doing WP7 development. I've been trying to get my average back up over 4K but circumstances continue to conspire against me. Thank goodness I can catch up a little over the weekend. Nevertheless, I know where I was, where I'm at, and where I want to be in concrete tangible numbers. I can't stress how important that is.

5. Personal Fitness

I thought that taking a couple of hours worth of time out of my day to work out and get in better shape would hurt my daily average word count. A 60-75 minute workout in the morning and a 30-45 minute walk in the afternoon is a considerable chunk of my day. Still, it's done nothing to hurt my daily average word count. No, I don't think I'm generating a noticeably larger volume of text though either. Yes, the stuff I've written in the last six weeks since I started my work out regimen has been of much higher quality.

It goes without saying that eating right and getting your sleep is important. This is something every creative person I know struggles with. That being said, staying up until 1 AM writing this after an espresso and a pastrami sandwich is probably a little hypocritical. Just a little.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Writing in the Dark

I've been reaching out to some friends and acquaintances about pulling together a writing circle. In theory it would give participants some structure to help schedule their writing habits, folks to bounce ideas off of, and other creative fuels. Creating a web presence of some sort that would allow people to work together on projects in a pseudo peer-to-peer way might be a nice addition to the writing circle. In that regard, I'm somewhat anxious to improve my meager web design/development skills.

I think one's writing can garner traction within the illuminated zone of a specially purposed social network.

However, I think that those people can only enjoy that illumination if they have done plenty of writing in the dark beforehand. By my own definition, writing in the dark involves the creation of large sums of text for the purpose of impressing no one, approaching only yourself as an audience, and existing for it's own sake. Journals, list making, outlines, world building and so forth, writing in the dark has many contrived titles. In the end, you are generating text within a context that does not include external illumination.

A truly great writing project is born of internal illumination after much of this writing in the dark. Try it. You'll see what I mean.

Preparation. Forethought. Taking notes. Call it what you like when you're sitting with your peers or your friends.

... but know it for what it really is.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Friend Vinnie, Rest In Peace

My friend Vinnie passed away tonight. To say that I am distressed falls utterly short of describing how I feel right now. Even at my most cold and analytical I can see no silver lining or positive side to her loss. It is a tragedy that could be likened unto anything that inspired Shakespeare or Tennyson. My world is less one valiant person to share time and creative energy with.

Veronica "Vinnie" Goodman lived her life unfettered by regret or sorrow and would not deny anyone close to her the same, even as we are bereft of her presence. Nevertheless, I mourn bitterly her loss and in particular the empty place within my creative endeavors no one else can possibly fill. Her empathy and intrinsic goodness have and will continue to form the basis for many of the characters in my works of fiction. My memories of her will have to suffice.

You can't write of the human nature the things you have not been witness to. To that end, I can write so much better of things that amount to courage, perseverance and spiritual latitude. Vinnie approached life with a mind that was as open as her heart. She denied herself nothing that amounted to an experience worth having.

I have particular feelings about the use of the word "warrior". I believe in earnest that the folks who bear that moniker are defined as much by how they live life as how they face death. I sat with her often in Hospital rooms and marveled at her fearlessness. Through it all, she had but a single fear, that her young son would not remember the person she was, or what she stood for.

That will not happen. Her only fear in life will never be a reality following her death. Never.

Update: "I don't want anyone to say I lost my battle. If I lose my life to cancer it will not be because I lost my battle it will be because cancer is a sneaky bastard and it cheated." - Veronica Goodman

I wouldn't claim otherwise. Cancer is a sneaky bastard and it does cheat us out of people we'd prefer to have in our lives.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Vinnie's Warriors Fundraiser

Thanks to everyone who showed up and helped out.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Trolls, Spam, Anonymity and Censorship

There was a pretty decent editorial on Engadget about anonymity on the internet. They seemed to be trying to find a way to combat the excessive amount of trolling in their comments sections and made a thinly-veiled suggestion that maybe things would be better if people had to sign in under a verified real name. I'd link the article but it got pulled right after I commented beneath it. If it is still there somewhere, darned if I can find it.

My response to the editorial was shorter... but here's the expanded version:

I've been pretty hard on the US Government for their inability to find proper ways of regulating the internet that didn't amount to stupidity or censorship. If heavyweights like the folks at Engadget are struggling with the moderating the comments sections beneath articles, maybe it really is a problem. I was just spinning through Boing-Boing and saw a similar post about using mini URLs in the comments section to combat spammers and advert-bots.

I went ahead and committed some of my not-so-considerable brainpower to the problem and did a quick look around at the various sites I read and contribute to. Other than taking the Daring Fireball road and just not having a comments section at all there are three things I see to being key to preventing spam, trolls and so forth. None of those things have a thing to do with depriving people of what I see as their right to privacy online.

1. Hire professional writers who have a college level vocabulary.

Articles and content that are written well, by professionals, will deter a portion of the sub-human population that assuredly makes up a percentage of online trolls. I believe that an article written by someone who knows how, sans 1337speak/slang/etc, should act as a natural deterrent to certain types of trolls. It's clear from the way many trolls use language, words with more than two-syllables are pretty tough.

You can't fix stupid. Trolls are almost universally ignorant and will generally seek to verbally spar with people they consider their near equal intellectually. I find that whenever I engage or confront trolls in the comments section a few well placed ten cent words take the wind right out of their sails. Where pointing out how ignorant or irrational they are fails, illuminating their stupidity sometimes succeeds.

Read an article at Gizmodo (if you can figure out their cockamamie new format) and then read one from Ars Technica. Look at the threads beneath the articles on both sites and draw your own conclusion. From my perspective the comment sections on Ars Technica are far less painful and sport fewer trolls*.

2. Exercise Editorial Control

Sites that act as thinly-veiled mouthpieces for controversial corporate entities are going to be targets by trolls and regular folks alike. People crave objectivity most of the time and innately sense when you're faking it. If you're going to play that game with your readers, expect them to give you crap. When it's clear you're doing whatever you have to just to get hits and/or sell advertising anyone with a brain can generally tell.

If you don't seem to care about your content, no one else will either. It's common sense.

I rarely see someone giving the folks at Mac Rumors crap for their content. It's clear which team they are rooting for. They don't prevaricate with their audience in the slightest and to that end seem to suffer fewer trolls* than sites who aren't up front about who they think is a good and who they think is crap.

EDIT: Ask your readers within the textual portion of the article or content what you want to see in the comments section. Give them a clear option to participate in a positive way.

3. Forums

Having a separate place where people can discuss and moderate themselves is always a good thing. Generally they can find others of a similar mindset, commiserate in an area designated for the purpose and move on. The trolls, spammers and advert-bots will continue to do what they do, but they'll be easier to spot and kick without accidentally alienating someone who was just having a bad day.

Setting up a forum is easier than dodging around two dozen comments sections a day hunting trolls.

Why is anonymity important?

The internet is a wondrous resource, but there are many times when people need to be anonymous. To that end I think a lot of people would or could be barred from contributing to the online community if they had to shed that buffer.

Folks with general anxiety disorder come to mind. The folks who are related to a member of law enforcement, a federal judge or celebrity probably find anonymity a necessity every once in a while. Then there are all the other occasions when having the option to be anonymous is important.

Example: Your mom/brother/spouse/gerbil is dying of AIDS. You want to find a support group to help you cope with everything going on without compromising your own or your mom/brother/spouse/gerbil's identities online. It's an extreme example, but I can think of plenty others.

The moral of the story?

You can't get people to make good choices (for the right reasons) by reducing the number choices available to them.

*Maybe these sites do suffer the same amount of trolls and have found an efficient way of weeding them. It speaks to their perseverance and the pride they take in the content they provide regardless.

iPad 2, why I might get one.

I was stinky mad about Apple's decision to not release the full technical information about the iPad 2. When I went through and read the reviews of the device by John Gruber and Engadget a few things occurred to me.

First, by my own reckoning, the amount of RAM being placed in other tablet devices seems excessive. This isn't to say that your casual user wouldn't benefit from a full gigabyte of RAM occasionally, but I struggle to think of when. Not releasing the spec might be Apple's subtle way of avoiding the issue.

The Engadget reviewer seemed to think the device should have had more than the 512mb that everyone seems think the iPad 2 has. Like everyone who makes that assertion, they are vague as to what exactly that extra RAM would be used for. John Gruber didn't have much to say other than folks with 1 gigabyte expectations would be waiting awhile.

I didn't have those expectations. I assumed it would the same RAM it had before. For a device that basically does one thing at a time while keeping track of a few small things in the background, 256mb is plenty. That manufacturers who went with Android seem to consistently go for 1 gigabyte of RAM makes me think those devices need it for some reason. That, or you are being charged for 768mb of RAM you don't really need.

Both of those situations are not very appealing.

Even Notion Ink's Adam is outfitted with 1 gigabyte of DDR2 RAM. Does Android and it's derivatives, having been designed for the smart phone form factor somehow need more memory when optimized for a tablet? Sure, seems logical.

Gruber said the Xoom scores ever so slightly faster during one comparison but states that the test (Sun Spider) relies on the underlying JavaScript engine and not so much on hardware.

Considering the most rudimentary function of RAM in a device it's importance seems to diminish where solid state drives are concerned. That being said, your bottleneck would seem be the processor in that case, the part of the iPad 2 that saw the biggest upgrade.

Hardware monkeys correct me if I'm wrong.

I guess my question then becomes how many of these Android devices have expandable memory slots and what role does RAM play in accessing storage placed in those slots if any? I wish I was a more casual consumer of technology and could just take all this for granted.

Regardless, Gruber's review all but sold me on upgrading to an iPad 2 just for the iMovie and Garage Band apps. Having seen the dual cameras put to good use with FaceTime is pretty compelling. Given my previous posts on such things it would require some considerable humility to trade up.

I'm all about seeking humility.

-- sent from my iPad mini. n_n

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Graphic for the mobile game I'm working on. It's blocky-simple because at the back end, the visual will only be the size of a postage stamp on the screen. I did one for each of the weapon selections, sword, bow and staff.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The iPad 2, why I won't be getting one.

From the best "iPad 2 hands on" article I could find from the good-good folks at Ars Technica - "The several Apple reps that we spoke with in the briefing area were not willing to give up details about how much RAM the device has; one representative said that those details "aren't important" and that the company would rather keep that under wraps to focus attention on the new A5 processor instead."

Oh really? Apple, allow me to retort.

Let's assume that one of your users is a writer who regularly generates anywhere from 3000 to 5000 words daily in his eternal quest to be a better writer and uses his iPad as an essential part of his workflow. THAT USER has an iPad that he often reaches for to make tweaks and edits to sizable (75,000 words plus) works, in the middle of the night, on the go or hanging upside down. For the most part THAT USER's original iPad performs that duty admirably, even if it takes a few moments to render those documents.

To that end, THAT USER is regularly cutting and pasting large quantities of text, graphics and similar between various apps to create and edit his works and projects. THAT USER's iPad is his sketchbook, notepad and even a place to refine and finish textual and visual works on the go. THAT USER can't sit at his desk for eight hours straight and sometimes needs to sit in a coffee shop, under a tree or out in the urbanscape to garner the needed inspiration.

THAT USER's iPad is important. Would THAT USER want to know the amount of RAM the iPad 2 had relative to making the choice to trade up?

Yes, of course he would.

Apple's decision to play games with my (and my wife's) iTunes Account was frustrating. The lackluster customer service I've received them from the past was disheartening. Prevaricating with me on a device that is important to my workflow?

Too. Far.

Microsoft. Courier Device. Now. (*Dreaming*)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

iPad 2, First Impressions

Looked at everything I could find online, watched the keynote, etc.

I think if you already have one of the first iPads there won't be a lot of reasons to head over to an iPad 2 unless:

1. You want to use it as a semi-serious mobile gaming platform.
2. You want to use it for video conferencing, or video/photo geotagging, etc.
3. You're a Verizon customer and you want a 3G model.

Sadly, the two things that make me really want one, is the option of a White Bezel and the 33% thinner and 15% lighter features. Weight and aesthetics. Internal tech be darned relative to comparing the iPad 1 and 2 for my purposes. Those reasons would actually be enough for me to trade up if there weren't rumors of another refresh later this year.

Regardless, I think I'll ponder this device beyond the threshold of any desire to impulse buy.

Personal Darkness

Most of us have demons we grapple with. Some are mighty, while others take the form of a package of chocolate zingers. Lately, it seems like that struggle has bled out into everything I do. I've written before about how important mental health can be to the writer, even if the act itself is a compulsion. I'm compelled to write about it again.

The struggles I endure and bear witness to in my personal life have taken a toll on my work recently. Sorrow can be a powerful creative fuel... particularly for the things I like writing about. Some of the best works depict the full landscape of human tragedy. Read anything Shakespeare or the poetry of Leopardi and you'll see what I mean.

If you've ever grappled with depression that borders on or crosses over into the clinical definition, you know how debilitating it can be. Like any crippling physical malady it severely limits what you can do and a person's will to persist is ultimately finite. Speaking from experience, understanding our own finite nature does not preclude the guilt that comes from lost time... because you couldn't get out of bed on a particular morning.

I can always tell when I'm depressed by my sleeping habits. My worried mind won't let me sleep, and when I do achieve a restful state... I'm loathe to depart it. During the last week, I've risen barely in time for my 11 AM workout with a friend. The bulk of my writing has been from a beanbag chair on my iPad or iPod Touch using PlainText. Thank God for small mobile devices and well-made text generating applications.

The blissfully personal feel of the devices and the fact I can use them comfortably wherever I happen to be has allowed the bulk of my works to continue in spite of my depression. In my mind I know it's dumb to feel occupational pressures while sitting at my designated workspace (in my own home no less), but I can't help it. To that end, alternatives that allow me to be productive elsewhere are a life saver... throwing salve on the guilt I feel wasting even a minute that could have been spent writing.

The sun came out yesterday and it was warm. Even if it was only for a few hours I felt like I was able to perform getting a lot done in the afternoon at a favorite coffee shop. I even exchanged pleasantries with a fellow MacBook Air user. I used mine to arrange a PDF and generate a couple thousand words. She used hers to teach a child about math and science.

I woke up at 5 AM this morning feeling ready to sit at my desk again.