Category Archives: personal

Various Updates for Sunday, July 27, 2014

First, sorry I haven’t been as active here as usual over the last week or so. As you might have guessed, things have been busy. But even for me, they have been unusually busy. Two big projects at the day job reached simultaneous critical milestones last week, and that took up a lot of my time. I’ve also been busy writing articles, and working on stories. And on top of that, I’ve been writing a bunch of code. Here is what RescueTime had to say about my productivity last week:

My productivity for the week of July 20

Keep in mind that my productivity pulse is typically in the 65-75 range. When it is in that range, I feel comfortable, and not overwhelmed. Below 65 and I start to feel a little lazy. Above 75 and things start to get a little intense. My average for the entire week was 78. There were days when I was close to 90.

In any case, here are a few updates of possible interest to folks:

1. R.I.P. Maggie: On Friday, we said goodbye to one of our two cats, Maggie. Maggie was nearly 18 years old, and had been healthy her entire life, except for the last few weeks. She had a tumor combined with some other infections. We thought that with some medication  she might rebound, but it wasn’t to be. She was a sweet cat, and will be missed by all of us.

2. Part 2 of my Going Paperless series on how I’ve simplified my Evernote organization will appear on Tuesday. Part 1 covered how I’ve simplified my notebook organization in Evernote. Part 2 will cover how I’ve simplified my tag organization. I had to delay it last week because–well, see the chart above. But it will be out on Tuesday.

3. My latest column for the Daily Beast went live on Thursday. The third piece in my column on quantified self for The Daily Beast went live on Thursday. This piece, titled, “Self-Tracking for N00Bz1 provides a simple 3-part framework to consider for folks who want to investigate self-tracking.

4. I’ve added some features to my Google Writing Tracker. I posted about it on Friday. I’m in the process of doing some major refactoring, and I’m alpha-testing some new functionality that breaks my writing down into fiction and nonfiction. (Hint: so far, so good.) In the meantime, I’ve made my Daily Almanac script–which works with the writing tracker to produce a daily summary email–available to anyone who wants to use it. I updated the project on GitHub for anyone interested.

5. For the first time in nearly a year, I’ve done no reading for 2 consecutive days. That’s how busy I’ve been. Seriously, it has been intense.

6. Some changes to the blog are coming. Nothing too dramatic, but I am testing out some new styles. For the most part these will be subtle changes that should improve the look of the site, and take advantage of improvements to CSS and browser capabilities. The biggest change will be to my How I Became a Professional Science Fiction Writer page. That should be pretty cool, so stay-tuned for that.

7. I started watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon series. Since I’ve stated here often enough that I’ve pretty much given up television, it is only fair when I admit to slipping. The Little Man had been watching episodes, and occasionally, I’d hear one in the background while writing or doing some other activity. What struck me first was how much better they were than the last 3 movies. The writing is pretty darn good. So are the story arcs. The Little Man has just finished the first season, and I’m only on episode 6 or 7, but I am enjoying it. Usually, I’ve been watching an episode or two just before bed. On some nights, I’ve tried for more, but I’ve just been too tired lately.

I think that’s about it. Once again, sorry for not being as active here as usual. Hopefully things will return to normal soon.

Notes

  1. As with a lot writing for news and magazine outlets, I write the article, but the editor typically comes up with the title. I mention this only because Kelly said that “N00Bz” didn’t sound like a word I’d use.

Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead

Kelly has been watching Doctor Who. She watches an episode or two each evening. Usually I am writing or reading while she is doing this, but occasionally, I’ll get sucked into an episode. It’s rare, but it happens. It has, however, happened the last two nights in a row. She watched an episode called “Silence in the Library” and I was vaguely reminded of Audrey Niffennegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. It was a fascinating episode, really. And it ended with a “To be continued…” cliff-hanger.

So last night, she watched the concluding episode, called “Forest of the Dead,” and once again, I was sucked in. But I liked it. In fact, the double-episode quickly rose to the top of my favorite of the small handful of episodes that I’ve seen, eclipsing “Blink,” which was the first episode I ever watched, after a crowd-sourced recommendation. The ending of “Forest of the Dead” was spectacular.

Now, before anyone jumps into say, “Oh, you have to watch episode x, or y, or even z!” understand that this was a fluke. As much as I liked the episode, I just don’t have time for TV. Unless I really need to give my brain a rest, the time I spend watching TV is time that I could be writing. It’s not that I don’t like what I see. It’s that I like writing more.

Well, also, with rare exception like this double-episode, I can’t really stomach TV dramas anymore.

In any case, I thought I should at least mention that I saw and enjoyed both these episodes of Doctor Who since there are people out there who can’t believe that, as a science fiction writer, I don’t watch the show regularly.

A Full Day

This was a full day. I was at the office early, and immediately head-down in development work. And I mean head down. I ate my two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at my desk, almost oblivious to them. By the time I came up for air, it was nearly 4 pm. But I had made substantial progress, and that pleased me.

I came home and set about writing. I completed the second draft of an article for The Daily Beast, and put some more work into the first draft of another article for The Daily Beast. I also roughed out an article for another market. I squeezed in a little work on the novel as well.

Kelly to the kids out this evening (we were all out at a birthday celebration yesterday evening) so when I had finished with the writing, I returned to the day job work and made even more progress. Productivity-wise, it was one of my better days in a while, and in fact, tied my best ever “productivity pulse” in RescueTime.

RescueTime July 17

But days like these also leave me completely mentally drained. At this point, I don’t feel like reading, writing, browsing, or anything but getting into bed. I may even watch a TV show to give my brain a break.

Then, I’m back at it tomorrow.

I am aiming to have the re-outlining of the second draft of my novel completed by the end of the month, and then getting aggressive and seeing if I can manage to write the complete second draft in 3 months (August, September, October). I’d like to have a proofread version done by November, before the World Fantasy Convention.

Blood-Sucking Ticks and Clocks

We seem to have a tradition for the Fourth of July that goes beyond spending the holiday in the small town of Castine, Maine. Last year (2013), the Little Man, slipped coming out of the bathroom, and cracked his head on the floor. He didn’t require any stitches, but there was a good deal of blood and crying. Fortunately, my cousin is a doctor and he took a look at the wound and said it would be okay. This year, I jokingly told him I’d make sure the Little Man avoids any slips or spills. And to his credit, the Little Man did not fall on the Fourth of July.

But after the morning parade, I got a text from Kelly. I’d walked back to the house with the Little Miss, while Kelly took the Little Man on a firetruck ride. She texted with the gleeful news that the Little Man had managed to acquire a passenger: a small tick, which found a comfortable spot on his head. Not wanting to freak out the Little Man, Kelly said nothing to him, but when they returned to the house, my cousin, the good doctor, took a look, and, as Dr. Seuss once said, with great skillful skill, and with great speedy speed, successfully removed the tiny hitchhiker.

Jump-cut ahead to a few days ago. The Little Man was taking inventory  of his many wounds, tiny scratches that he has on his legs, for instance, the kind of scratches and scrapes that all five year old boys and girls collect. He called the more prominent of these scrapes “blood holes” which sounds gruesome until you actually see what he is talking about–and then it takes all of your will not to smile or laugh. He was explaining why he needed one snack or another.

“It will make new blood,” he said, “to replace the blood that came out from the blood holes.” We’re talking volumes of blood measured in microliters, picoliters, even.

“You really didn’t lose that much blood, buddy,” I said. “Those are very small scrapes.”

“But Daddy,” said he, “I also had the clock.”

I stared at him, utterly baffled. “The clock?”

“Yeah, the clock. Remember, in Maine. It got on my head and drank my blood.”

I stared at him some more, thinking I’d stepped into some alternate reality populated by blood sucking clocks, à la Salvador Dali. I had no idea what he was talking about. I just stared, mouth agape.

“Remember, Daddy? At the parade?”

And then it dawned on me and I couldn’t help myself. I burst into laughter. “A tick!” I said. You mean a tick?”

“Yeah!”

This, of course, was yet another insight into the mind of a five year old. After the tick was removed, we showed it to him and told him what it was. A tick. Five year olds know nothing of ticks, except that they are half the sound made by–you guessed it–a clock. In this case, a blood-sucking clock.

I have a feeling I am finally beginning to understand from where Dr. Seuss derived much of his inspiration.

The Junior/Senior High School Years Playlist

I said this on Twitter earlier today:

and then I ran off to the dentist leaving people guessing what that playlist might look like. I’m too lazy to type it all in, so here is a screen capture of the list, which centers around the years 1989 and 1990. This is part of my Autobiography playlist, which I put together mostly from memory of what songs I associated from what periods of time. It does not necessarily mean the songs are from that period of time; that just when I was listening to the song. It also doesn’t necessarily mean I like the song, just that it reminds me of the time–although in the case of this period of time, I like most of the songs on the list.

Here it is:

High school song list

ETA: At my friend Lisa’s suggestion, I made this list available on Spotify.

Sometimes I See The Moon…

Sometimes I see the moon high in the eastern sky, with plenty of daylight left in the day, and I think: 45 years ago, we were walking around up there. How bad-ass is that! Then I remember that it has been more than 40 years since we’ve been back. A kind of miniature battle takes place within me, an angel and devil duking it out to determine what matters more: that we haven’t been back, or that we got their in the first place.

For now, at least, the angel is winning.

Yes, I am Alive–and Finally Home

I know that things have been quiet here for the last few days. Part of the reason is that we’ve spent two long days driving back from Maine to Virginia. The other part of the reason is that those two long days of driving came on the heels of what looks to be a minor food poisoning incident I experienced on the Fourth of July.

Things should return to normal here beginning tomorrow, including details of the vacation and the aforementioned incident. Just wanted to check in and say that we are home, and I am, indeed, alive.

A Week in Maine

As we’ve done each 4th of July week for the last several years, we are spending the week up in a small coastal town in Maine. I have cousins who live up here, and who have a wonderful cottage across the dooryard from their house, and we stay in the cottage. It is perfect for the four of us.

We arrived here yesterday, after a 7-1/2 hour drive from Saratoga Springs, NY. We barbecued for dinner, and spent time catching up with my cousins. It was very nice.

I slept really well last night, despite the fact that the Little Miss wandered into our room several times to tell us how dark and quiet it was. It is dark and quiet here. We are right on the water. We had the windows open and the air was just perfect for a good night’s sleep. The only sound was the occasional gentle splash of water in the distance, or the croak of a frog from the pond behind the cottage. Those frogs can go all night long, but it is a pleasant sound to fall asleep to.

We are usually early risers, regardless of the day of the week, or vacation. The kids have us up at 6:30 am at the latest. But not today. We slept in until 7:30 am. I think we all needed it.

Our week up here is off to a very pleasant start. Blogging may be a little more intermittent than usual because I am, after all, on vacation. That said, I have been writing every day, and as of this morning my streak stands at 343 consecutive days, and 486 out of the last 488 days. Indeed, I’m hoping to do a little more than my usual writing while I’m up here.

Congress Park, Saratoga Springs

Congress Park
Congress Park, Saratoga Springs, NY
We began the first leg of our annual summer trek up to Maine withe a drive from our house in northern Virginia to Saratoga Springs. We’ve generally been very lucky with this drive. We’ve made it to just across the New York border in Rockland County in just over 4 hours in the past. Yesterday, was not our lucky day as far as traffic was concerned.

We decided to leave at 11 am to try to push through Newark, NJ before rush hour. I  think everyone else in the D.C. area had the same idea. As soon as we slid onto the Beltway, we were mired in traffic. That didn’t last too long. The next batch of traffic we hit was in Delaware, not uncommon, but we usually miss it. We hit the really whopper of traffic somewhere around Exit 7 or Exit 8 on the New Jersey Turnpike. Over the course of an hour, I think we made it 17 miles. When we turned onto the Garden State Parkway, things were clear for a while, and then, right around Newark, rush hour was in full force and slowed us down once again.

We stopped for dinner near my old stomping ground in Spring Valley, NY. The last leg of the drive, to Saratoga Springs, was traffic-free. That said, we didn’t arrive at our hotel until almost 9:30 pm. Considering that we left at 11 am, that was a lot of traffic. Without traffic, that trip can be done 3 hours faster.

We spent today with old friends in Saratoga Springs, walking around Congress Park, eating lunch at the Circus Cafe, visiting the Children’s Museum, and finally capping things off with some hard-earned Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. I’ve known my friend for 27 years. We went to high school together, and it was fun to watch our own kids play together.

Tomorrow, we leave early (as in between 6 and 7 am) for Maine, where we will be staying though the Fourth of July. The GPS wants to take us down to the Mass Pike, but I managed to wrangle it into taking us through some smaller roads in southern Vermont and New Hampshire so that we can cover territory the kids have never been through before. I can’t imagine the traffic on those roads will be anything like we encountered yesterday on the interstates.

The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual

Student Pilot's Flight Manual

In the category of Books That Have Made an Impact on Me, there is one that I always seem to forget, although it’s impact has been profound: The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual by William Kershner.

I first encountered this book (with the cover seen above) in 1980 or 1981 when I was 8 or 9 years old. My dad was taking ground school at T. F. Green airport in Warwick, Rhode Island. The book was sitting around, I guess, or maybe he gave it to me to look at. The result was astounding. The minute I began flipping through its pages, I knew I wanted to fly.

I believe it is the first book I ever memorized from cover-to-cover. Much of it I didn’t understand, despite having memorized it, but a lot of I did. For one thing, the book taught me that flying a plane was not as simple as driving a car. For another, it taught that in many ways it was far simpler. I could draw the control panel of a Cessna 152 from memory, thanks to that book. I would draw them and pretend I was flying. A few years later, when the first version of Microsoft Flight Simulator went on the market, I began pretending on those as well.

When I was 15 years old, my cousin, a pilot, took me up in his Cessna 182. We flew over parts of New Hampshire, and he let me at the controls. That just confirmed what the book told me when I picked it up. I was supposed to fly.

In 1999, I began taking flying lessons out of Van Nuys airport in Van Nuys, California. On April 3, 2000, I passed my practical examination (on the first try!) and was a licensed private pilot. I don’t think we used Kershner’s book in the ground instruction I took for my license. There was some other book. But I still had Kershner’s book, tattered though it was, and I read and re-read it. I had about a year and a half of flying before 9/11 made it difficult and expensive for fair weather pilots like me.

I haven’t thought of The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual in years, and I’m not sure why I thought of it recently, but I’m glad that I did. I think it is the perfect demonstration of the power of books. Give a kid the right book when he’s 8 years old, and 19 years later, he’s achieved one of his dreams.

General Updates and Notes on the 1st Day of Summer

Summer has arrived, and it did so in mist and gloom, at least here in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. We took the kids to the National Zoo early today, and got to hang out with fellow Analog writer, and friend, Juliette Wade and her family. This evening, we are celebrating a friend’s birthday party by going to see an 80s cover band.

I’ve been pretty swamped lately, and so rather than making lots of little posts, here is a summary of various things that have been going on in my world this last week or so.

1. I have new freelance writing gig, which I believe will start up middle of next week. I’m excited about this one. It marks a significant step forward in my writing career. But I’m holding all of the details back until I can point you to the initial results, so stay-tuned.

2. I am participating in the Clarion Write-A-Thon this year. Since I’m already writing every day, I might as well try to raise some money for a good cause by doing it. You can find the full details here, but the Write-A-Thon begins tomorrow, and continues for 6 weeks. Expect weekly updates of my progress.

3. In other writing news, I’ve passed 33,000 words in the first 20 days of the month, and about 150,000 words year-to-day. I’ve written now for 335 consecutive days, and for 477 out of the last 479 days.

4. I finished reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving earlier in the week. First Irving I’ve ever read, and contains what has to be the single funniest scene I’ve ever read. I really liked the book. Since then, I’ve been enjoying Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon.

5. The Little Man graduated from pre-school on Thursday with a nice little graduation ceremony in which the graduates sang songs, and wore the cap and gown, and moved their tassels from left to right when they graduated. He will continue at the school through the summer, and then move to his new school to start kindergarten. I’m so proud of him.

6. We’ve taken the training wheels off the Little Man’s bike. Since then, we’ve gone to the park twice to practice. Very rocky the first time, much better the second. I think one or two more sessions and he’ll be riding on his own.

7. Our kitchen remodel wrapped up last week, but I haven’t had time to post the final pictures. I will do that soon. But spoiler alert: WE LOVE IT!

8. Our summer vacation is almost upon us and not a moment too soon. With the house-sitter arranged (so that the cats don’t go hungry), we will be off to our annual summer trek up to Maine in week. We’ll be stopping near Albany, NY to see some good friends, and to spend a day with them in Saratoga Springs. Then it’s on to Maine, and small town relaxation.

9. In a most unlikely turn of events, Kelly, who would barely consider herself a fan of science fiction, has become addicted to Doctor Who. That means that I have been watching the show, although mostly through osmosis.

Clearly, I’m keeping busy, and that has taken some time away from my posting here, but I’ve been trying not to allow more than a day go by without posting something. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish up some writing, and then get ready for the date night tonight.

College Graduation, 20 Years Later

I graduated from the University of California, Riverside on June 22, 1994, twenty years ago today. It is supposed to be closer to 100 ºF in the metro Washington D.C. area today, and it was probably at least 100 ºF in Riverside on the day I graduated. Not the kind of weather you want to be decked out in black and sitting for hours on end. I mocked this bit of meteorological irony in my first published story, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer”:

However, it was also my graduation day and the high-noon sun would allow none of us graduates to forget that summer was upon us. The graduation ceremony was like a final exam: one in which we demonstrated that we were smart enough to follow one another in an endless procession, under a blazing sun, draped in black. We sat there baking while the speaker cast his arms about the similarly-dressed audience, praising our individuality. Finally the dean of the school conferred upon us our respective degrees, and we tossed our sweat-drenched caps into the air and plotted our escape.

I did indeed plot my escape. My memory of the exact course of events has become fuzzy, but I seem to recall that after I received my diploma, I was supposed to process back to my seat in the audience. Instead, I walked passed my seat, past all of the seats, and back to my apartment, which was heavily air conditioned, and awaited the arrival of the rest of my family. This may or may not have actually happened. I tend to think it did, but memory is a funny thing, and twenty intervening years serve to disrupt it.

There is a lot of debate these days about whether or not college is worth the cost. Twenty years ago, it was worth it to me, although I did come out of school $11,000 in debt. My degree, a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Journalism, did not help me get a job in my field, however. I worked in the dorm cafeteria all through school, mostly in the dishroom and doing custodial shifts. In my last year, I started doing computer work for the managers of the cafeteria. I continued this work throughout the summer of 1994. I’d drive out to Riverside from Los Angeles listening to the O.J. Simpson trial on the radio. In October of 1994 I did get full time job doing IT work and software development for a think tank. I have been at that job ever since.

Could I have gotten the job I have today without the degree? Well, technically, no, because an undergraduate degree was required at the time. But no specific degree. It didn’t matter if it was in computer science, political science, or dance. That said, I don’t think I would have been as successful in my job had I not had a degree because, looking at the big picture, my education at UC Riverside provided me with two things that have made me successful both in my career as an application developer, and my avocation as a writer.

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