Christmas Tree, 2014

We set up the Christmas tree yesterday. Kelly stood up the tree. I helped string the lights and a handful of ornaments. The rest of the decorating was done by the kids. Later, they made holiday cookies for the neighbors. Of course, now that the tree is up, it no longer feels like winter. The temperature is approaching 70 F today. Go figure.

Christmas Tree 2014

Novel Status and Writing Stats for November 2014

For many writers, November is NaNoWriMo, which means a month of highly productive writing, often resulting in 50,000 words or more in 30 days, a rather remarkable feat. I wanted to take a moment to congratulate everyone who successfully completed the NaNoWriMo challenge, and also to everyone who attempted it, but didn’t complete it. Writing words is (for me, at least) the hardest part.

I did not participate in NaNoWriMo this year. As I have explained, I think NaNoWriMo is extremely useful in teaching people how to write every day. I have learned that trick, however. Today is my 498th consecutive day of writing. That said, I used NaNoWriMo to jump start the second draft of my novel, in the hopes of breaking through the struggles I’ve had with it. Overall, I think I was successful.

I wrote just under 25,000 words in November. That’s half of what is expected for NaNoWriMo, but it is up 10,000 words from October. It brings my 2014 word count to 280,000 words. Here is what November looked like for me:

Writing Stats, November 2014

I spent a total of 21 hours 45 minutes writing in November, and averaged about 45 minutes per day. I mention this stat to once again emphasize the fact that large blocks of time are not required to write every day. Here is what my day-to-day time spent writing looked like in November:

Time spent writing, November 2014

Finally, here is what my year-to-date looks like (month-to-month) compared to last year. (This year is blue and 2013 is red. Note that my data for 2013 begins in March.)

Words Per Month

Novel status

With 25,000 words under my belt in November, and with my goal to get the second draft of my novel jump-started, one might think that I’ve written about a quarter of the novel in the month. The truth is, I have written far less.

Continue reading Novel Status and Writing Stats for November 2014

Recuperating

We had a full house for Thanksgiving this year, and it was a blast. Lots of turkey, lots of food, lots of drinks, fires in the fireplace, and even some snow to start things off. All of our guests headed back home yesterday, and we used yesterday afternoon to recuperate. The kids napped for hours, and we lazed around much of the afternoon and evening.

Today, we are setting up the Christmas tree, cleaning up more of the house, and getting in some more rest before we head back to work and school tomorrow. It has been a great long weekend, but it has to come to an end at some point. On the positive side, in less than two weeks, we’ll be on vacation.

In any case, if you’ve been wonder why things have been quiet here the last several days, now you know.

FitBit Milestone: Ten Million Steps!

This morning at around 9:15 am Eastern Standard Time, I surpassed 10 million steps on my FitBit device. Here is what it looked like after I passed this milestone.

10 million steps

For those wondering, 10 million steps comes out to about 4,600 miles.

4600 miles

 

According to Google Maps, that about the distance from Washington, D.C. to the crater of Vesuvius in Naples, Italy.

Vesuvius

The 10 million steps covers 2 FitBit devices spread over more than 2-1/2 years of tracking. I used a FitBit Ultra from early March 2012 until I lost it a year later in March 2013. I went a month and a half without a FitBit device and then I got my FitBit Flex in May 2013, and have been using that ever since. You can see that gap when I was missing my device in the chart below. The chart shows my steps for every day in the 2-1/2 years it took to accumulate 10 million steps. The red line is a 7-day moving average.

Ten Million Steps Over Time
Click to enlarge

I clearly began to pick up the pace when I got my FitBit Flex, going from an average of 10,000 steps per day to 15,000 steps per day. I’ve done fairly well at maintaining that pace, which amounts to about 5.5 million steps per year.

On my single best day, back in May 2014, I walked over 31,000 steps in a single day. It was exhausting.

In any case, it was pretty exciting to see the numbers flip from 7 figures to 8 figures this morning. Of course, at this pace, it will take close to 20 years before the 8 figures flip up to 9 figures and I reach 100 million steps. Stay-tuned…

 

Less Than Three Weeks to Vacation

We are down to 20 days and counting before we head off on vacation, and what has become a December tradition for us. I have been looking forward to this vacation for a long time. I need the break. The day job has been busy and stressful lately, with no sign of letting up. It will be nice to have some time away from that.

And it really will be time away. I learned a long time ago that vacations and work do not mix. When I go on vacation, I completely disconnect from work. I don’t check work email, I don’t log in. I don’t have a work mobile phone so I don’t have to worry about phone calls, but I also make it clear that I am on vacation and not answering calls anyway. To help mitigate this, I usually prepare a detailed set of notes that people can refer to in my absence. Around this time each year, I spend time bringing it up-to-date.

Of course, I don’t consider writing work, and I look forward to being able to do a little more writing, since the pressure of the day job is temporarily neutralized. I managed to write 30,000 words last December, about 20,000 while I was on vacation. I hope to do even better this year.

All told, we’ll be on vacation for 23 consecutive days. We begin our drive down to Florida on December 13. As this is a Disney World year (we take the kids to Disney World every other year) we arrive at the park on the 15th. We are there through the 18th. That afternoon, we’ll drive down to my in-laws, and spend the rest of our time there, until we head back sometime around January 1.

We’ve been prepping for the trip for a while now. We’ve arranged for a house-sitter, we’ve taken the car in for maintenance before the long drive, and we’ve started to figure out what we need to bring with us.

Still, I keep eagerly counting down the days until I am actually on vacation. I look for milestones along the way. We have a lot of family coming into town this week for Thanksgiving, which will be a nice milestone between now and vacation. We spent much of the day yesterday cleaning the house and getting it ready for our guest. That included doing some rearranging of furniture so that we could support 10 people at the dinner table.

I’m hoping to make a lot of progress on the second draft of my novel while I am on vacation, something about which I’ll have more to say soon. And of course, I will be posting here as well.

Recent Reading

I completed my 34th book of 2014 a few days ago, and realized that I haven’t said much about my recent reading, which has branched out in many different direction. The last I mentioned was how much I enjoyed Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators. Since then, I’ve read a couple more books.

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

This Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the father of the atomic bomb was a great read. I’d previous read Richard Rhodes The Making of the Atomic Bomb, a book which I’ve cited as a great example of a project management guide, in addition to being a great history. The Oppenheimer biography filled in the details of the man who led the project. Perhaps what stood out most to me was Oppenheimer’s persecution in the communist witch hunts of the 1950s, and even more, the lengths through which J. Edgar Hoover’s establishment would go, legal and illegal to try to take Oppenheimer down. Definitely a good read.

Revival by Stephen King

I’d been looking forward to this new book by King, which was being promoted as his darkest book since Pet Semetary. I don’t about that. I absolutely loved the first four fifths of the book. The real dark stuff didn’t enter into the story until the final fifth, and while it was dark and disconcerted, I felt this was one of those times when the build-up King made didn’t deliver to my expectations at the end. I still enjoyed the book, and David Morse’s narration was fantastic. But I was hoping for a little bit more when it came to the end.

Hope by Richard Zoglin

I’ve mentioned before how celebrity biographies–particularly celebrities from long ago–are guilty pleasures of mine. So when I saw a new biography of Bob Hope, I couldn’t resist. I’m about a third of the way through the book right now and loving every minute of it. One added bonus is the voice actor for the book, Martin Hillgartner. He does a perfect Bob Hope impression, and uses it whenever there is a quote from hope in the book. Adds a nice dimension to it. It wouldn’t work well, if he couldn’t pull it off, but he does it spot on.

Coming soon…

We head off on vacation 3 weeks from today. I’m counting the days. Looking at what I have on my list of things I want to read between now and the end of the year, in addition to finishing the Bob Hope biography. Here are a few:

  • Coming Home by Jack McDevitt
  • The Abominable by Dan Simmons

After that, it really depends on what I’m in the mood for while on vacation. I’d really like to read Will Durant’s The Age of Faith, which seems like a good read for the holiday time of year. But at 61 hours, it is also a pretty big time investment. I also still have John Scalzi’s Lock In, and Winston Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking People so who knows where things will go.

“What Other Rides Can We Go On, Daddy?”

There are certain moments from childhood that I look back on fondly, and somewhat wistfully. Rarely have I experienced the feeling from those moments as I felt them as a child. There are some things that seem lost in time in that way. But last night, something I thought was lost in time was found again.

I lived in L.A. growing up. Going to Disneyland wasn’t a frequent thing, but we probably went once a year or so, probably a little more as we grew older. One thing that stands out in my mind was one of the first times we went to Disneyland after moving out to L.A. Somehow, my brother and I had acquired a wall map of Disneyland. We would pour over that map, admittedly, me more than my brother. And then, at night, after we went to bed, we would plan out our visit in our imaginations, talking back and forth about which rides we wanted to ride, and in what order we should ride them. In hindsight, those late night conversations with my brother were often more fun than the actual trip to the park.

Last night, the Little Miss wasn’t tired when it was time for her to go to bed. So she came into our bed. The lights went out to 9 pm, and Kelly was asleep almost at once, but the Little Miss still had energy. So we started talking in whispers. She asked me how long before we went to Disney World.

“Three and a half weeks,” I whispered.

I then started reminding her of the some of the rides that they had. She’d been there once before, when she was about 17 months old. I told her about the carrossel and she got very excited.

“What other rides can we go on Daddy?” she asked.

I told her about Dumbo, and then Tea Cups, and Peter Pan’s Flight, and the Arial ride, and It’s a Small World After All. This went on for more than 40 minutes, back and forth, back and forth, all in hushed whispers. She seemed delighted by it all. And as she finally grew sleepy, and only muttered, “What other rides can we go on, Daddy?” as her eyelids flickered, I realized that I had just had as much fun with my daughter as I had with my brother when we much younger.

I slept pretty good last night.

My Semi-Annual Reminder That I am Not a Fan of Science Fiction Movies

Because I’ve been asked nearly a dozen times what I’ve thought about Interstellar, let me remind folks that while I am a science fiction writer, and I love reading science fiction, I am not a fan of science fiction movies. Sure, when I was a kid, I loved Star Wars. But as I got older, the science fiction movie gene within me atrophied. Indeed, the movie gene seems to have withered within me, and so it should come as no surprise that I have not seen Interstellar.

Nor do I have any interest in seeing it. I never saw Gravity either, and I feel no worse or better because of it. I’m not saying that science fiction movies are a poor substitute for books. I am no position to be a judge of that. For me, however, I’d much rather spend my time reading or writing science fiction than seeing it on the big screen.

For those who are curious, the last science fiction movie that I saw in theaters and truly enjoyed was Contact. But that was a long time ago, and my movie gene has withered tremendously since that time.

Once again, no judgement for those who enjoy such movies. I enjoy watching my friends talk about science fiction movies they loved or hated. I just have no desire to see them myself. Personal preference. And now I have another post to which I can point people when asked what I thought of Interstellar.

How I Used RescueTime to Baseline My Activity in 2014 and Set Goals for 2015

Since early in the year, I have been using Rescue Time on all of my computers to track how much time I spend in various applications, websites, and documents. Rescue Time is great because you install it, and it runs in the background, without ever needing me to take any action. Like a FitBit device, it just collects data as I go about my day. Rescue Time has a nice reporting interface, but it also has a very useful API that allows me to pull specific data and look at it interesting ways.

Tracking the time I spend writing

For instance, I’ve always wanted to get a good measurement of the time I spend writing each day. That said, I didn’t want to have to remember to “clock-in” or “clock-out.” It seemed to me that Rescue Time could help with this because it is constantly tracking my activity, and Rescue Time should therefore be able to tell me how much time I spend writing. After some exploration of the API, I found out how to pull the information I needed from Rescue Time, and now, I have scripts that can automatically produce a chart of the time I spend writing each day. Here’s an example of the last 60 days of my writing:

Time Spend Writing

The top 10 tools I’ve used in 2014

As part of my effort to simplify the tools and technology I use, and to automate as much as I can, a baseline of what exactly I use would be a helpful starting point. Fortunately, RescueTime captures all of this data and has some canned reports that show just where I’ve spent my time in front of they keyboard. I started using RescueTime in January, so this data covers a period of January to the present, nearly a full year. Here, then, are the top 10 tools I’ve used on all computers during that time.

RescueTime - All Activities
Click to enlarge

Twitter is number one on the list, and while that surprised me at first, I quickly realized that I am constantly jumping in and out of Twitter, in an effort to keep up with those friends and colleagues that I follow. (I rarely post from Twitter. I use Buffer for that.) Still, 221 hours for the better of the year is quite a bit of time spent in Twitter. Red items are those that Rescue Time considers “unproductive.” Twitter can certainly be a distraction, but I wouldn’t consider all of it unproductive.

Next on the list at 219 hours, much to my dismay, is Microsoft Outlook. This is what I use at the day job, and it is among the worst email programs I’ve encountered. The thing is, I’ve also been using it since it first existed, and there’s no way of getting away from it. What it tells me is that a great deal of my job–too much, I think–is spent dealing with email messages, and calendar appointments.

Google Docs is next on the list at 205 hours. The vast majority of this time–probably 90% or more–is spent writing. Ideally, I’d like to see this move up to number one over the next year.

Gmail follows at 169 hours. It’s still a lot of time to be spending reading and writing email messages, but that number is almost certainly down from what it would have been the previous year, thanks to a great deal of automation I’m able to do with Gmail using tools like Boomerang, for instance.

From there, things begin to drop off pretty rapidly. Facebook shows up in 7th place, but even that seems like too much to me.

Using the RescueTime baseline to find more time to write

With actual numbers in hand based on my behavior, I can begin to change my behavior and measure that change over time. First and foremost on the list is a tradeoff: more writing time for less social media time.

My Twitter and Facebook time totaled 310 hours in 2014 to-date. My writing time totaled under 200 hours. I could easily get more time for writing by cutting back on social media. Cutting back doesn’t necessarily mean no participating. Tools like Buffer have allowed me to schedule tweets and Facebook posts head of time. Whenever I post to my blog, it gets automatically posted to various social media outlets. What I think I need to do is make better use of the time I spend reading my social media feeds.

Right now, I read stuff throughout the day in a very fragmented fashion. I only follow people on Twitter that I am interested in keeping up with. I know that conventional wisdom is that if you want more followers, you follow everyone. But I honestly don’t know how people with 17,000 followers and who follow 19,000 people can keep up with it all. Probably they don’t even try to. Yes, there are lists that I could build, but that takes time to create and manage, and I’m looking to spend less time here, not more.

It seems to me that a fair number would be to spend half of the time in social media that I spend on writing. This year, the hours for both categories gives me a total of about 500 hours. So if I have 500 hours to spend between social media and writing, and I want to spend double the time writing than on social media, then let’s assume w represents the time I want to spend writing:

0.5w + w = 500

This simplifies to:

1.5w = 500

And solving for w, we find that,

Continue reading How I Used RescueTime to Baseline My Activity in 2014 and Set Goals for 2015

An Open Letter to My 20-Year-Old Self Regarding the 2014 World Fantasy Convention

Dear Jamie,

Well, this is a little awkward, but I can assure you that is just as awkward for me as it is for you. Us. You We know what we mean. I spent the past weekend attending the 40th annual World Fantasy Convention, which took place in Arlington, Virginia, practically down the street from where I work. Laws of causality prevent me from going into too much detail about the event, but there are a few things worth noting, and I wanted to make sure you knew about them.

First, the event was a lot of fun. I know it might seem odd to you, to hear that in 22 years, you’ll be attending the World Fantasy Convention, what with your great desire to write science fiction, but there is a good reason for attending. Many of your friends are attending, too.

I can’t go into a lot of detail, and so name-dropping is, for the most part out of the question. In some instances, you wouldn’t recognize the names yet. In others, well, the surprise will be more pleasant without the spoilers. But there are a few names I wanted to mention, which I think, given your age and yearning to become a writer, I thought you would find them motivating.

You probably remember recently reading Jumper by Steven Gould. Well, I got to spend some time this weekend hanging out with Steve,  and chatting with him, and telling him how much I remember enjoying that novel.

You may have noticed a slick new science fiction magazine on the newsstands, called Science Fiction Age. One of the best magazines ever produced. Keep your eye on it. The editor is Scott Edelman, and he’s a regular at the conventions that I attend. I sat with Scott at the award banquet dinner on Sunday. It’s always a joy talking with Scott about the history of the genre, or exotic food.

I had dinner with the editor of Analog one evening. It’s not the first meal we’ve had together, and it’s always fun hanging out with him, and chatting about writing, magazines, and other stuff. I had breakfast with the editor of the first magazine to which I ever sold a story. I won’t say which magazine that is. I don’t want to spoil the surprise. I think saying that “I sold a story” is enough.

I spent a lot of time in the bar with people, talking shop, which is a big part of the World Fantasy Convention. A lot of business happens in the bar. I had dinner one evening with friends I made at the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop a few summers back. And I can’t even begin to count how many people I had drinks with while at the convention.

On Sunday morning, I gave reading. That’s right, I read stories in front of an audience. It was a small audience, only 6 people, but having even one person willing to listen to your stories is humbling. I read two very short stories, neither of which I have sold. When I finished my reading, one of the audience members–a science fiction magazine editor–rushed up to the podium and grabbed the manuscript of the second story. I found out this morning that he is buying the story. That’s a first for me: submitting a story via a reading.

The World Fantasy Convention served as an excellent reminder of one of the things I love about the science fiction/fantasy genre: the people. As you well know, I wanted to be a writer because I like to write, and to tell stories. It’s nice to be recognized for those stories. But the real reward are the friendships I’ve made since starting out.

So for the sake of those future friendships: keep writing.

Sincerely,

Jamie Todd Rubin
Falls Church, Virginia, 2014

 

Server Upgrade is Completed

In the end, I probably made it a little more complicated than it needed to be, but the site has been moved to a better server environment with improved performance and room to grow. I’m hopeful this means an end to the downtime issues I’ve had over the last few months. They haven’t added up to much overall downtime, but each one of them is a minor headache for me, and I’d just as soon do without them.

Comments have been enabled again, and the site is back to normal. Thanks for your patience.

Temporarily Disabling Comments for Server Migration

In order to avoid changes to the site during the migration to the new server, I am temporarily disable comments. This is just temporary. Once the site is up and running on the new server, I will re-enable comments.