NEW STORY: “Meat and Greet” is now available in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Issue 43

I have a new story in the latest issue of InterGalactic Medicine Show. “Meat and Greet” is short metafictional piece, and my only attempt at ever writing a zombie story. Those interested can head on over to IGMS to read the story. The stories in this issue will be freely available when the next issue comes out.

There are a couple of unique things about this particular story:

1. It marks my 10th professional piece of fiction, which is something of a milestone. Three of my stories have appeared in IGMS, including my very first one.

2. The story sale has a unique provenance: I gave a reading at the World Fantasy Convention here in the Washington, D.C. area back in November. I read two short stories. “Meat and Greet” was one of them. After the reading, Edmund Schubert, who edits IGMS, came up to me and grabbed the manuscript. 2 days later, he emailed me letting me know he was buying the story. So: first story sale from a reading.

3. Check out the amazing art work by Scott Altmann. Scott did great art for my story, “Big Al Shepard Plays Baseball on the Moon” and he did another fantastic job on the art for this story.

Major Code Update to the Google Docs Writing Tracker

I made a major update to the Google Docs Writing Tracker today. Although the update does not introduce any new features, it does bring the code up to the current standards for Google App Scripts. Back in December, Google deprecated a big portion of its Google DocsList code in favor of the DriveApp code.

DocsList Service

The Google Docs Writing Tracker referenced the old code in dozens of places. Today, I replaced those old references with references to the newer DriveApp object model. This means that if you are using the new code, you should no longer see any messages about deprecated code in the execution logs.

The only significant change, from a user-perspective, is how folders are handled in the Config tab of the spreadsheet. For now, I did the simplest possible implementation. The values for the Sandbox and Snapshot folders should refer directly to the folder name and not include the path. So if you used to do something like this:

Old Folder Model

You should change it to do this instead:

New Folder

This looks for the idea of the folders named above, and uses their ID instead of their name throughout the scripts. It does mean it will cause problems if you have more than one folder with the same name, but it is good enough for now.

One small bug fix

Included in this refactor is a minor bug fix. Some people have reported no data all of a sudden, after the code has been working for a long time. The problem, it turned out, was happening with people using the RescueTime integration. If, for some reason, RescueTime could not by reached by the API call, the JSON file returned was empty. This wasn’t handled properly by the scripts.

Now, it is.

So if you use RescueTime integration and the API call fails for some reason, it won’t break the rest of the script from running. You just won’t have RescueTime data for that day.

Getting the new version

To avoid confusion in the short term. I have checked the new code into a separate branch in the GitHub project. If you want the new code, pull the google-drive-refactor branch. If you want to see how much of the code actually changed, check out the differences.

I’ve done some testing on my own machine and it seems to work okay. When I feel that enough general testing has been done, I’ll merge this code into the master. If you find any problems, open up an issue.

More coming soon

I’m also working on a new feature that I’ve wanted for a while now: Project Tracking. This allows you to assign arbitrary project names to documents. The words counts are tracked daily by project on a separate sheet in the workbook, allowing you to track words and time by project, as well as by day. Especially useful if you work on multiple projects in a day (as I sometimes do) or have multiple documents in a project (as I do when I work on novels).

And as always, if you have suggestions, let me hear about them. Or better yet, fork the code and try to implement them yourself.

I’m Talking Golden Age Science Fiction, Evernote, and Lots More on The Three Hoarseman Podcast

Sunday evening, I had the wonderful opportunity to be the guest on the Three Hoarseman podcast. I chatted with hosts Fred Kiesche, Jeff Patterson, and John Stevens about Golden Age science fiction, Evernote, productivity, what I’m reading, and much more. If you’re interested, you can check out the podcast for yourself.

As always, I sound just like my brother whenever I hear myself speak.

Thanks, once again, to all three of the hosts for having me on the show.

Google Docs vs. Scrivener for Writing

I used to be a hardcore Scrivener user. Over the last 2 years, however, I’ve used Google Docs almost exclusively for everything but my submissions drafts. In the last 2 years, I’ve put nearly 600,000 words through Google Docs.

Because of this, I am often asked why I use Google Docs for writing instead of Scrivener. Or, put another way, I am asked “Which tool is better for writing, Scrivener or Google Docs?”

The answer, of course, is both, depending on how you work. When I write posts about the tools I use, I write them from the point of view of me as a writer using the tools. My process may be different from yours and the process one uses often dictates the best tools for the job. For some processes, Scrivener is a far better tool than Google Docs. For others, Google Docs is sufficient. For others still, another tool might be appropriate. Let me expound upon a few things that might help distinguish the pros and cons of the tools

Process

I choose a tool based on how well it fits my writing process. There are two things that are important to know about my process:

  1. I am more of a “pantser” than a “plotter”
  2. I track my writing in order to track my progress, but I’ve automated this because I don’t want to spend time doing it manually.
  3. I want to spend as much of my available writing time writing.

Everything about my process is driven by these three basic requirements.

Bud Sparhawk and I have, over the last few years, given a talk at Capclave on “Online Writing Tools.” We demonstrate our processes through the tools that we use. It’s great because, as it turns out, Bud and I are opposites when it comes to process. Bud is an extreme plotter, while I am a pantser. But I wasn’t always a pantser, and when I did plot out what I was writing, I used Scrivener almost exclusively.

Scrivener for plotters

Scrivener is, in my opinion, the single best all-encompassing software tool for writers available today. And if you are a plotter, Scrivener is probably the best place to get started. Scrivener has a set of features designed with plotters in mind. Scrivener makes it easy to lay out scenes, outline stories, shift things around visually, and have those shifts reflected in the manuscript with little or no effort.

Scrivener also does something that I believe is critical for a word-processing tool for writers: It separates the content from the presentation-layer. In other words, how the content appears on the screen when you write is completely separate from how it appears when you compile your manuscript. You can have large, easy-to-read fonts on the screen, and Scrivener will still compile the document in standard-manuscript format. This means that as a writer, you can focus on writing, and not be distracted by formatting.

Scrivener also has advantages for self-published writers. It makes it easy to produce e-books in multiple formats.

It has hundreds of features that speed up the process of managing your document so that you can concentrate on plotting and writing. I can’t think of another tool that does all this as well as Scrivener does.

Google Docs for pantsers

On the other hand, many of these features, for me, are overkill. I don’t create outlines. I don’t generally have a need to shift scenes around in my manuscript while I am working. I don’t prepare e-books. What I do is this:

Continue reading Google Docs vs. Scrivener for Writing

I opted for The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub

In regard to the last post on Stephen King books that I haven’t yet read, I got quite a few recommendations, and enough to change my mind about what I was thinking about reading next. Instead of Insomnia, I’m now reading The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub.

Just in case folks were wondering what I settled on.

Stephen King Books I Have Not Yet Read

Back in November, as part of his 6-city tour for Revival, Stephen King came to the Washington, D.C. area as a guest of the Politics & Prose bookstore. I wasn’t able to attend, but last night, I watched the talk on YouTube.

As often happens after I see Stephen King speak, I thought to myself, “Gee, I wish I was a writer!” It also makes me want to read more Stephen King. I have, over the last several months, been reading a good deal of nonfiction, although I did take a break in November to read Revival. But in the last two weeks or so, I’ve been so busy with other stuff that I haven’t had a chance to do much reading at all. This morning, I woke up with King’s talk still on my mind and decided that I’d start on something else of his today.

But what?

I went through the list of books I’ve read since 1996, looking for all instances of Stephen King. There were 66 of them (+ = e-book, @ = audiobook, * = recommended, ^ = re-read):

  1. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (9/16/2001)
  2. Needful Things by Stephen King (9/25/2004)
  3. On Writing+ by Stephen King (9/16/2009)
  4. Carrie+ by Stephen King (9/21/2009)
  5. The Shining+ by Stephen King (9/28/2009)
  6. It+ by Stephen King (10/28/2009)
  7. Night Shift+ by Stephen King (11/3/2009)
  8. Under the Dome by Stephen King (11/30/2009)
  9. Different Seasons+ by Stephen King (12/9/2009)
  10. The Stand+ by Stephen King (6/2/2010)
  11. The Dead Zone+ by Stephen King (6/11/2010)
  12. Firestarter+ by Stephen King (6/25/2010)
  13. Pet Sematary by Stephen King (6/29/2010)
  14. Blockade Billy+ by Stephen King (6/9/2011)
  15. 11/22/63*+ by Stephen King (11/18/2011)
  16. The Green Mile+ by Stephen King (11/23/2011)
  17. Full Dark, No Stars+ by Stephen King (7/5/2012)
  18. Bag of Bones+ by Stephen King (7/10/2012)
  19. It*+^ by Stephen King (7/30/2012)
  20. 11/22/63*^+ by Stephen King (2/19/2013)
  21. Misery@ by Stephen King (2/23/2013)
  22. Gerald’s Game@ by Stephen King (3/3/2013)
  23. Hearts in Atlantis@* by Stephen King (3/8/2013)
  24. On Writing@^ by Stephen King (3/14/2013)
  25. Needful Things@^ by Stephen King (3/20/2013)
  26. ‘Salem’s Lot@^ by Stephen King (3/25/2013)
  27. From A Buick 8@ by Stephen King (3/29/2013)
  28. The Tommyknockers@ by Stephen King (4/6/2013)
  29. Dreamcatcher@ by Stephen King (4/13/2013)
  30. It@^ by Stephen King (5/2/2013)
  31. 11/22/63@^ by Stephen King (5/16/2013)
  32. The Shining@^ by Stephen King (5/21/2013)
  33. Danse Macabre@ by Stephen King (5/27/2013)
  34. Carrie@^ by Stephen King (5/29/2013)
  35. On Writing@^ by Stephen King (6/4/2013)
  36. Joyland@* by Stephen King (6/5/2013)
  37. The Dark Tower, Book 1: The Gunslinger@ by Stephen King (6/7/2013)
  38. The Dark Tower, Book 2: The Drawing of Three@ by Stephen King (6/12/2013)
  39. The Dark Tower, Book 3: The Wastelands@ by Stephen King (6/18/2013)
  40. Hard Listening+ by Stephen King, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, et. al. (6/24/2013)
  41. Dolores Claiborne@ by Stephen King (6/27/2013)
  42. The Dark Tower, Book 4: Wizard and Glass@* by Stephen King (7/10/2013)
  43. The Dark Tower, Book 5: Wolves of the Calla@ by Stephen King (7/26/2013)
  44. The Dark Tower, Book 6: Song of Susannah@ by Stephen King (7/30/2013)
  45. The Dark Tower, Book 7: The Dark Tower@ by Stephen King (8/7/2013)
  46. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon@ by Stephen King (9/24/2013)
  47. Doctor Sleep@ by Stephen King (9/29/2013)
  48. On Writing@^* by Stephen King (10/31/2013)
  49. The Wind Through the Keyhole@* by Stephen King (11/5/2013)
  50. The Langoliers@ by Stephen King (11/15/2013)
  51. The Library Policeman@ by Stephen King (11/21/2013)
  52. The Sun Dog@ by Stephen King (11/27/2013)
  53. Nightmares & Dreamscapes, Volume 1@ by Stephen King (12/4/2013)
  54. Everything’s Eventual: 5 Dark Tales@ by Stephen King (12/26/2013)
  55. The Man in the Black Suit: 4 Dark Tales@ by Stephen King (12/27/2013)
  56. Christine@ by Stephen King (1/8/2014)
  57. The Shawshank Redemption@* by Stephen King (1/17/2014)
  58. The Body@* by Stephen King (1/24/2014)
  59. It@*^ by Stephen King (4/3/2014)
  60. From A Buick 8^*@ by Stephen King (4/18/2014)
  61. 11/22/63@^* by Stephen King (6/1/2014)
  62. Mile 81@ by Stephen King (6/2/2014)
  63. Mr. Mercedes@ by Stephen King (6/6/2014)
  64. Joyland@^ by Stephen King (6/9/2014)
  65. The Shawshank Redemption@*^ by Stephen King (6/29/2014)
  66. Revival@ by Stephen King (11/20/2014)

I then compared this to the list of books in Stephen King’s Library to see what I haven’t read. The list turns out to be an interesting one:

  1. Rage (as by Richard Bachman)
  2. The Long Walk (as by Richard Bachman)
  3. Roadwork (as by Richard Bachman)
  4. Cujo
  5. The Running Man (as by Richard Bachman)
  6. Cycle of the Werewolf
  7. The Talisman (w/Peter Straub)
  8. The Eyes of the Dragon
  9. Thinner (as by Richard Bachman)
  10. The Dark Half
  11. Insomnia
  12. Rose Madder
  13. Desperation
  14. The Regulators
  15. The Plant: Zenith Rising
  16. Black House
  17. The Colorado Kid
  18. Cell
  19. Lisey’s Story
  20. Blaze (as by Richard Bachman)
  21. Duma Key

I haven’t read any of the Bachman books yet. Perhaps the biggest standout on the list is Cujo. I’ve started it a couple of times, but have always ended up distracted by other things. I take it as a sign that I just can’t get into the book. King says his favorite book is Lisey’s Story, and I’ve managed to make it halfway through that one, but have given up. I was thinking about re-reading Hearts in Atlantis, which I thought was great the first time I read it, but I do want to give something a try that I haven’t read yet. So at this moment, I’m leaning toward Insomnia. I’ve stayed away from that book mainly because King himself has said it was overly plotted. But it can’t hurt to give it a try and see for myself.

I’m still undecided, but I’ll let you know what I choose. If there are any books on this list that you feel are a MUST READ, let me know in the comments.

Imagined Conversations with my Dentist

Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “Is it a logarithmic scale?”

Dentist: ???


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “Well, I’m a software developer and I tend to think in either base 2 or base 12. Could I give it to you that way?”


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me:  “Does 1 mean no pain? Because it seems weird to me that a 1 would mean no pain. What would a 0 represent on that scale? Less than no pain?”


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “Do you get tired of asking the same question over and over again?”


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “About as painful as this conversation. Where would you say it falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “No.”

Dentist: ???

Rewatching M*A*S*H

Sometimes, my brain needs a break. Lately, to give it that break, I’ve been rewatching M*A*S*H. All things considered, it is probably my all-time favorite TV show. The show first aired the year I was born, and I remember watching it (and its reruns) as youngster. Hearing the theme song bring a kind of comforting feeling to me that no other show manages to achieve.

Watching M*A*S*H as a kid, and as an adult, are two very different experiences. I laughed at the physical comedy as a kid. I still laugh at that, but I also laugh at all of the jokes that I didn’t get when I was 8, 9, 10 years old.

I’ve been watching an episode or two each night. The last few nights I’ve watched a few more as an anodyne to the pain from my wisdom tooth extraction. It relaxes me, puts my mind at ease, and give me laughs.

This evening, I will likely watch the final episode of Season 3, “Abyssinia, Henry.” And while I’ve seen that episode countless times, I always get a little anxiety as I approach it. Of course, it’s a remarkable episode, but I don’t think I realized just why it hit me so hard until this current pass through the series. I always thought that my favorite character was Hawkeye (Alan Alda), but I’ve recently decided that the character that makes me laugh the most, is Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson). No one on the show comes close to his physical comedy. He was a genius as a physical comedian. But he also has impeccable comic timing. He delivers his Henryisms perfectly. He is, by far, the most likable character on the show, at least for me.

Then, too, the end of Season 3 marks the end of the pure genius episodes of M*A*S*H. Seasons 4 and 5 are still exceptionally good. After season 5, while I still enjoy the show, it is clear that it is not what it was in its early days.

In any case, I’m having a blast watching the show. My brain is getting needed rest. For the longest time, I never owned Season 11, but this week, I corrected that. Along with it, I finally did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I got myself a M*A*S*H t-shirt.

MASH Shirt

General Updates, 1/15/2015

It occurred to me that I haven’t posted since Sunday, so here are some general updates for folks who might be wondering what’s going on.

1. Recovering from wisdom tooth extraction. I’m still recovering. Things were going pretty well until yesterday when it seemed that I started to have a reaction to the antibiotics. I’m off those now and on a special mouthwash. The pain is okay during the day, but pretty bad at night. This was expected. I have a follow-up appointment on Monday and hopefully things will look much better then. Needless to say, it has been slowing me down and making me grumpy.

2. Writing. As of yesterday, my writing streak stands at 542 consecutive days. Despite the pain, medication, and grumpiness from the extractions, I am still writing every day. My numbers over the last week or so are down, but that is to be expected. My mind is fuzzy with pain medication and it is harder to write, but I am writing and making forward progress on the novel draft.

Writing without wisdom

The data in the red box shows my writing since my wisdom teeth have been yanked, and it is clearly down. But the extraction isn’t the only thing causing the lower word counts. I’m busy with other stuff as well, including day job projects and setting up a new work laptop.

3. The new work laptop. I got a new Dell Latitude 3800 laptop at the day job and have been setting that up. It is by far the fasted Windows machine I’ve ever had. It boots in seconds, which is pretty amazing. I’ll have more to say about the laptop (and the setup process) in a separate post when I have more time.

4. Morning routines. A while back I was asked to participate in an article that would discuss people’s morning routines as they relate to productivity. I’d written and sent my responses a while back and pretty much forgotten about it. This morning, I learned that the post went live. If you are interested, check out, “22 experts share their morning rituals to stay productive” and you can see what me, and 21 other people have to say on the subject.

That’s it for now. I hope to get things back to normal here shortly. I have some ideas for new Going Paperless posts, and lots of other good stuff, once I can find the time to sit down and write it.

Science Fiction Conventions in 2015

I am planning a relatively quiet year where science fiction conventions are concerned. Originally, I was really looking forward to going to the World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, and the Nebula Award Weekend in Chicago, and the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs. But the travel gene has withered in me somewhat this year. I also have a goal this year to finish the second draft of my novel, and that means my focus needs to be more on writing than conventions. So right now, I don’t plan on attending any of the conventions I just listed.

But I won’t be absent from conventions entirely. I plan on attending two local convention this year.

  • RavenCon. I will be at RavenCon in Richmond, Virginia in April. My friend, Allen Steele, is the guest of honor at RavenCon. Jack McDevitt will also be there, and I am looking forward to seeing both of them. As it is only a 2 hour drive from my house, it doesn’t involve a lot of travel or time away from the family.
  • Capclave. I have attended Capclave more times than any other convention, and it makes sense since it is my local convention. Right now, I plan to be there, at least for one day.

That will likely be my science fiction convention schedule for the year. It keeps me close to home and family, but it allows me to focus on getting my novel draft finished up. Of course, I’ll miss hanging out with friends at Worldcon, and some of the larger conventions. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.

4 Elements That Make the Apple Genius Bar Experience Effective

Having been in I.T. for more than twenty years, I am loathe to call technical support numbers or take hardware in for technical support issues. A few months back, when I cracked the screen on my iPhone, I took my phone to the Apple Store and it was fixed in under an hour. A very positive experience.

Recently, I noticed that my iPhone was not charging. I’d plug it into a charger, but nothing would happen. If I spent 10 minutes jiggling the cable I might get it to connect and the phone would charge, but it was a pain. And it was getting worse and worse. So on Tuesday, I made an appointment for the Genius Bar at my local Apple Store. I took the phone in at the appointed time, and ten minutes or so later, I left the store with my phone charging properly again.

Apparently, dust, and grit can accumulate in the cable slot. They blew it out with compressed air (something I should of thought myself, but something which I didn’t happen to have handy, even if I had thought of it), and it has been charging good as new ever since.

These two positive experiences at the Apple Store have impressed me. Ultimately, what we want when we go to technical support is for our problem to be resolved, but I think what we really want is for it to be resolved efficiently with as little hassle as possible. I was able to make my appointment online, for a time that was convenient for me. That was the first positive moment of truth.

I have a real pet-peeve about asking customers for information which is available elsewhere. So when I checked in, I was asked to provide my iCloud account information. I was then asked for which device I needed help. That was all I needed to provide. They had information about my phone and my Apple Care plan without having to ask me to provide the information again.

When I arrived at the Apple Store, it was crowded. I was directed to a person to check me in. This is always slightly nerve-wracking because in the back of my mind, I think, “What if they don’t have my appointment?” But they did. They told me where to wait, and a few minutes later, an apple technician came out to assist me, identified the root of the problem in under a minute, took my phone back to resolve the problem, and returned with my phone five minutes later.

She then did something very important, and often missing in customer service calls: She verified that the problem was fixed in front of me, and before I left the store. The problem was indeed fixed, and hasn’t recurred since.

What I think made the process so painless and effective was four things that Apple has identified that other customer support organizations can learn from:

  1. Make it easy to request help.
  2. Ask only for the information necessary to identify the problem and the hardware (or software) involved.
  3. Have people on staff who know how to triage and resolve problems quickly and accurately.
  4. Verify the fix before the the customer leaves the store.

So kudos once again to Apple. Not only do they make great products and software, but they support them with some of the highest level of customer service that I’ve seen out of a large organization.

Wisdom Tooth Extraction Completed

I am home, and lighter by two wisdom teeth. The last two. As Hawkeye Pierce might say, “Hopefully they took the took and the left behind the wisdom.”

I’m feeling better than I expected to feel. They put me completely out for the procedure, and the numbness around the affected area is still pretty numb, although it is beginning to ache. Kelly is off to the drug store to pick up my prescriptions.

I plan on taking things easy today. I’ll probably alternate between watching episodes of M*A*S*H and listening to the current audiobook I’m working my way through, Will Durant’s The Age of Faith. I got some writing in first thing this morning. Later today I might try for some more.

I’ll be keeping an eye on Twitter and here on the blog as well. But I’m glad this is finally done, and I’m glad I did it with a weekend to back me up on the recovery end.