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October 24, 2010 Shopping Hell

We are going to be in Britain for Christmas.

It's a logistical challenge made vastly easier by staying with my sister and borrowing her car, but one major feature of the planning is what to do about Christmas presents for my family.

We basically have four options:


  1. bring them with us
  2. post them ahead
  3. buy them online
  4. buy them when we get there

Option #4 sounded like a good idea, since we'll be arriving over a week before the day itself, but I've had a couple of conversations in the last day which remind me what an absolutely insane thing to do that would be. It's not as if I could deal with Christmas crowds all that well when I lived in Britain. Portland has nothing comparable, so it's ten years since I have had to shop in the retail nightmare that is a British city centre at Christmas time.

I did my degree in Liverpool, and Christmas shopping in central Liverpool was astonishing: the whole city centre was awash in people. There were no gaps in the crowd. In one sense it was easy to navigate: since all you could do was to trudge along with a stream of people, there was no choices to be made. But it was a bit crushing.

Nottingham was better, because at least there was a non-zero chance of being able to breathe, but it was still exhausting to get between the shops.

The very worst Christmas shopping experience I had was in Guildford, though. First of all you had to drive into the town early enough to get a parking space, which meant well before the shops opened at nine. Then you needed sharp elbows and a keen sense of where you wanted to be to make your way into and through the shops: the interiors were often at least as much of a scrum as the streets, but there was always some idiot stopping to count their change or ostentatiously talk on their phone (this was in the late 90s when mobiles were still new) in a shop doorway.

So perhaps going into Leeds just before Christmas to buy pressies is not such a smart idea.

Back to sticking things in the post.

Posted by Dunx at 07:39 AM | Comments (3)
September 17, 2010 Tumbleweed

Gosh, quiet around here.

It's been a busy summer. Fundamentally, I have been too occupied doing summery stuff to do much of anything else. Here are some of the highlights.

Firstly, I started the second draft of book one but that fell by the wayside as the frenzy of Other Stuff swept away pretty much all creative endeavours. I have about 17,000 new words, and lots of ideas for the remaining 83,000, but not much finger time lately. I may just devote this year's NaNoWriMo to this task which is, in point of fact, not in the spirit of the event but since the probable alternative is to not participate this year at all then cheating seems like a better prospect.

Secondly, I changed jobs. I had been at NVIDIA since my previous gig at a silicon startup blew out at the end of 2008. Truth to tell, I knew it wasn't a very good fit when I joined the company but since the alternative was no job and given that there seemed to be a non-zero chance at the time of an actual depression it was the expedient thing to do to take the offer. But it really was a very poor fit, and I had been spending an awful lot of mental energy in not letting myself admit that I was unhappy because I didn't see a way out without a significant reduction in income.

Suffice to say that I found an exit. I am now working for a contract development business, and the location is more or less down town Portland, which is nice.

Beyond that, it's just been keeping the boys occupied, and doing house and garden projects, and just generally living life.

Time for some more writing, though.

Posted by Dunx at 05:47 AM | Comments (0)
May 25, 2010 Heroic Endeavours

Time Yesterday: 1 hour
Time This Week: 1 hour

I have made miserable efforts at trying to write of late. My goal is to have chapter (or, more precisely, scene) outlines ready for the beginning of June so that I can start work on the second draft of book one, and I have done some good work on that, but it has been very fragmented. The worst of it has been the head cold and laryngitis that I suffered from for most of the last week. Very frustrating.

I have outlines for about a sixth of the scenes I have planned so far. More work needed.

However, one benefit of being too sick to do anything useful is that I have caught up with some television that I was beginning to think I would never see: Heroes. I've watched almost all of season one over the last week, and greatly enjoyed it. I am looking forward to seeing the season finale, and although I have heard that the series rather declines in seasons two and three I am still looking forward to seeing the rest of what's been made. I am also sad that the story won't now be concluded. Not as brutal an ending as to Firefly, but still disappointing.

One thing that annoys me about the show is how the superhumans all have different powers. Not only that, but superhumans who have children then have superkids who have completely different powers from their own.

That kind of bugged me about The Incredibles too, but there again the mechanism for superness was never explored in that story, whereas in Heroes they posit mutation of a small number of genes. Why the high rate of mutation though? Why would someone super strong and someone with matter phasing ability produce a child with the ability to hack computers with their mind?

But the stories are interesting and the setting is rich so I don't really mind that much.

And maybe I can get some more writing done too.

Posted by Dunx at 11:22 AM | Comments (0)
May 04, 2010 Seconds Out

Time Yesterday: 1 hour
Time This Week: 1 hour

The story arcs for the individual characters are looking pretty good. The key insight was in thinking about what the character's problems were at the start of the story - what is it that they are trying to overcome in their life? That gives the story arc some energy and makes constructing the story much more interesting. There are still timing elements to work on, but I will shake those out in the chapter outlines.

I was using index cards for the scene and character work, as well as making notes on setting. Sometimes working with physical artifacts is the right thing to do, but I try very hard not to get too bogged down. There's a term from software (which also pops up in business practice) - analysis paralysis: continuing to draw diagrams and break down the details of the solution when you're past the point when it is a useful activity - the analysis documents are not the product, after all.

In my development work, I try to do just enough modelling and analysis to get me to the core of the software problem; in writing it means using a tool to get me past a creative block. In both cases I want to be writing the product (code or words) in preference to the scaffolding. Unless the scaffolding is a deliverable, there's no final value to it.

So having used the cards to force myself to think about the problem, I will now go on to doing scene and chapter outlines in a brand new second draft document. And then I will start writing the second draft.

See you in 100,000 words.

Posted by Dunx at 10:31 AM | Comments (0)
May 03, 2010 Nub

I have been effectively taking a break from the hour-a-day writing that I was doing since we were away for ten days in April. It would have been nice if that trip hadn't completely sabotaged the month's writing, but it rather did.

However, I have been doing some novel work this last week, in two areas: research and plotting.

The research has been a continuation of my investigation of orbital mechanics and object visibility in space, while the plotting is looking at each viewpoint character's story in isolation and trying to figure out things like timing.

It has brought me to the nub of the novelling experience: are the character's stories interesting?

I have a multi-viewpoint story. Looking at the novel as a whole I considered that the story as a whole was pretty interesting. But if each individual character's story is not very interesting then I run into a problem, one that goes back to Frodo Baggins in the wilderness of Mordor: good novels get hurt by boring bits.

I've been working with index cards (sometimes using physical props is a good idea) and writing short character and scene descriptions on them then sorting by character. This led me to write down the individual story arcs on cards, and it just makes me wonder about what I can do to make some of the stories more interesting.

But that is the kind of thing that writing is about really, isn't it?

Posted by Dunx at 06:37 AM | Comments (0)
April 06, 2010 Plot Enrichment

Time Today: 1 hour
Time This Week: 2 hours

Having figured out some good things about the setting, I have been trying to work a bit more on the characters and the plot.

I have three main characters (which may seem excessive to some, but is a common device in science fiction and fantasy). I have a pretty clear idea of what each character is for, but am a good deal less clear on how ell each character fulfills their role.

So I have been thinking of more intense plot points, and it seems to be going quite well. I am hoping that this will make the book more compelling to read.

Posted by Dunx at 08:55 PM | Comments (0)
April 05, 2010 Un-Timeliness

Time Today: 30 mins 1 hour
Time This Week: 30 mins 1 hour

Last week was way better than the week before.

I didn't do exactly what I had planned on, but I spent the time I had wanted to on setting detail which sparked a cascade of other ideas. Some ideas I'd had before the orbital mechanics apocalypse were swept away as infeasible, while others have become yet more profound.

Very pleasing.

I also dug out a day book to carry. It's not quite at the point of having earned its keep, but I've done the right thing of writing things down and then reading them back before pouring them into a text file for further rumination.

Today has not been so hot so far: I've been very tired from excess sugar yesterday, and I am just drained right now. I was going to work on timelines for the characters, but that is a difficult activity when I am this whacked so I am going to see about some more social ruminations instead. See how that goes, but if I fall asleep in my keyboard then I will go to bed instead.

Update - ruminations continued quite fruitfully, made my time goal for the day.

Posted by Dunx at 08:07 PM | Comments (0)
Reading Now
Beautiful Code
Guardian Style
Successful Lisp
The Stack
Refactoring to Patterns
Recently Finished
Eccentric Cubicle
Pattern Recognition
Project
Unstumped
Picky Picky
Compost, Bringer of Guilt
Trellis Part Two
The Setting of the Posts
Trellis
Backups
Ochmir
Five Minutes
Plotting and Mapping
End Points
Reviewing the Troops
Time Lines
Arrogance
Overloaded
Mind Maps in Action
Maps and Diagrams
Beginning Again
Book Two
Throwing Away
Anatomy of Editing
Five Minutes: The Missing Posts
On Editing
On Not Editing
Drafts
Titles
Another Five Minutes
Five Minutes
Baby
Talking
Movement
Ta Very Glad
Arrival
Blocks
Over-Engineering
Showering
Novel Writing
Heroic Endeavours
Seconds Out
Nub
Plot Enrichment
Un-Timeliness
Process
Orbital Mechanics
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