“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads.”
Erica Jong

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

i know i know just let me farm another 800 stone bricks ok
Wed 2018-10-10 22:30:25 (single post)

OK, so. Confession time. I'm addicted to smartphone app games, and I don't even have a smartphone.

What I have is a laptop running the Android simulator Bluestacks. I installed it several years ago when John showed me the game he was playing at the time, Two Dots, and I got hooked hard. Then I found out there wasn't a version for regular computers. This struck me as a great injustice. Surely every game on the smartphone had a regular computer version too, didn't it? Why not?

So, Bluestacks. It's come along way since then, through two full version numbers and into much better compatibility with more or less anything I try to run on it. And, to my chagrin, it's commercialized itself a lot more thoroughly. It's always had a for-fee mode, where you pay to get rid of the advertisements. It used to randomly play app trailers at me; no longer. Now it mostly contents itself with manifesting an icon of their Featured App of the Day in among my installed apps list.

But it's still got enough going on to get me into trouble.

It's got a metagame. It's got--whatever it's calling itself these days, what is it? Pika Land? Bluestacks World? In Bluestacks World, it runs periodic events where you enter a prize drawing by playing this or that app for ten minutes. Generally this is easy to ignore. I'm interested in none of the games, and I'm interested in almost none of the prizes. (It's a beautiful desk chair, ergonomic as hell, but entirely incompatible with my office environment.) So. Great! I'm safe! Except one day, the featured app was Two Dots. And, hey, great, I already play Two Dots, why not?

Why not, indeed. See, that's how they get you. It goes like this: The event that was running the time, "Deities of Egypt", asked you to play Featured App of the Day for ten minutes in order to open a divine scroll, summon the God or Goddess within, and, incidentally, get entered into the day's prize drawing. Well, now I've opened the Day 1 scroll. I've summoned Bast. Hooray! Guess I might as well participate in each of the following days, right? Just to see? Shame to give it up when I've gotten off to such a great start, right?

I am a filthy, rotten completist. Also a perfectionist and mildly obsessive. I did the Day 2 thing. And Day 3. And so forth. And I meant--I really meant!--to just leave the featured app running unattended for ten minutes while I did other things. Like, y'know, write. Except, a couple of those games, I clicked on. Just to see. And I found them oddly compelling. And I wound up playing them a whole lot. Dammit.

Guns of Glory had me addicted for two or three weeks before I got free. It's a resource-management kingdom-builder thing. It's also multi-player. I swore I wouldn't get involved in the multiplayer side of things. I'd restrict myself to upgrading my military tents and farms and stuff and not join an alliance. Not! Except then I saw an exchange on global chat (which appears impossible to disable) that went something like this:

"Alguien quiere unirse con nuestra alianza? Hay muchas ventajas en hacerlo."
"ENGLISH PLEASE"

And I was all like, "Screw your 'English please!' This is an international game! Deal with it! Just for that, I am going to join their alliance!"

And so I did. And I went into the game's settings and changed my language to Spanish, and forced myself despite my embarrassment to converse in Spanish with the other alliance members. I felt very virtuous about this. I wasn't just wasting time on a clicky game--I was taking advantage of a great opportunity to practice my second language in a real-life situation! Yay! Brava, chica. Meanwhile, a whole new part of the game I'd written off as off-limits, because I'd planned not to do the multiplayer thing, was now accessible, and it was fun and rewarding.

It was also more demanding. Everyone else probably looked in on their estates every time their smartphone gave them a notification about whatever. I felt obliged to log in more often throughout the day so as to be a good alliance member.

And then, one day, another alliance declared war on our alliance. I logged on and my castle was on fire. My troops were all in the hospital--in shifts, because hospitals have a limited capacity depending on how far you've upgraded them--and healing them was using up all the food and wood I'd had earmarked for structural upgrades. No sooner had I recovered and built up more reserves than another attack came in. Basically, they were using us as a resource farm. It made the game a lot less fun and rewarding.

And then, one day, I logged in and discovered that my alliance's leader had stepped down from his position and made me the new leader in his place. And nobody had heard from him since.

I gave him the leadership crown right back, apologized for the confusion to whoever happened to be reading alliance chat at that time, and then I logged off. And uninstalled the app. With prejudice.

So that was my brief foray into kingdom-building resource-management multiplayer clicky-games. Well and good. No harm done, right? Except, before the death throes of my brief love affair with Guns of Glory had ceased, I had yielded to temptation in the matter of Merge Dragons.

Here we go.

Merge Dragons does pretty much what it says in the name. You merge three dragons of the same type, you get one dragon of the next level up. (Or you merge five to get two. This is important.) You get dragons by merging eggs. You get eggs by, among other methods, completing levels, during which you merge all sorts of things into other things. Meanwhile, your dragons flit about the landscape, harvesting stuff from the objects you've merged and occasionally spitting fire at what emerges. There's a vague story involving a quest to heal the much-beleagured land of Dragonia of the blight laid upon it by the evil zomblins (zombie goblins, don't think too hard about), but it's not really the point. The point is, DRAGONS. And GETTING ALL THE THINGS. And DISCOVERING ALL THE MERGE CHAINS. And completing all the random goals, like "merge 5 seeds of the prism flower," which involves fending your dragons off from your slow accumulation of necromancer grass tufts so that they don't prematurely harvest them into seeds which will turn themselves into prism sprouts before you can accumulate the five you need to merge, and also you have to do that sixteen times to achieve the goal. This is how I find myself attempting to basically tire all my dragons out, like fractious toddlers, by distracting them with rocks they can harvest for stone bricks.

Oh, and there are events. Events! In which you have three days to work your way through a very, very large level, healing as much of its land as possible and maximizing its resources to earn points to get special trophy dragons and prize objects to take back to your Dragon Camp. I may have left Bluestacks running for the entire 72-hour period so that my dragons could harvest everything while I was at scrimmage or asleep. Whatever. I'm not proud of this.

Thankfully, there is only so much you can play at a time without spending money. Each new level costs a certain amount of "chalices" to play; you generate one chalice every hour; you can only hold seven chalices at a time. When you don't have enough chalices, all you can do is hang out in Dragon Camp, where each dragon eventually runs out of actions and has to go to sleep for a bit.

But, still, it's amazing how much time one can waste clicking around even a moderately advanced Dragon Camp, even when all one's dragons are asleep. There are processes that continue in their absence. Seeds blow in on the breeze. Rain clouds spawn. Bushes spit out mushroom caps. There are two entirely separate merge chains for mushrooms, do you realize? It seems unnecessary. Oh, and if you progress through all the levels of mushrooms (of either type), or bushes, or prism flowers, or whatever, you might unearth A WONDER OF THE DRAGON WORLD. Exciting! I merged some high-level bushes and unearthed RUINS OF THE SKY PALACE. (Oh, hey, did I just generate a fourth chalice? Great! Time to play the next level!)

So that's the story. I am trapped in Dragonia. There is no exit in sight. Do not send help. Stay away, far away. For the love of little yellow dandelions and all that is good in the world, not to mention your productivity in general, also your loved ones' expectations that they continue to see your face from time to time, save yourselves.

whether it's an excuse or an explanation depends on the night
Tue 2018-04-03 23:52:51 (single post)
  • 4,600 wds. long

OMG lookit me I'm writing after derby. Help.

I go back and forth on whether I can usefully get stuff done after derby. When I started this post during the last half hour before practice, I was thinking, this whole "can't work after derby, sorry" thing is just an excuse. But at that time I hadn't had derby yet. It's easy to plan to be virtuous when I haven't had three hours of skating hard, hitting and getting hit, attempting to perform strategy while metaphorical bricks are being thrown at me, and then doing a whole bunch of off-skates conditioning hell. Now that I have done those things, I'm feeling less gung-ho about writing, or in fact doing anything other than collapsing into bed. But I had a Perfect Day on Habitica yesterday--a day where I completed and checked off all my Dailies--and I'm damn well going to make today a Perfect Day, too. So I'm doing writing stuff after derby. Gods help me.

In addition to finishing this blog post, I also committed to doing my submissions procedures. Submission procedures isn't just one of my Habitica Dailies, and thus required for a Perfect Day, it's also hours I count toward my Camp NaNoWriMo goal! Any work done on drafting, revising, or submitting short stories counts. (I'd already done today's short story revision work, which was also a Daily I needed to check off. I only worked on it for about a half hour, but that counts.) But the thought of attempting to put together a submission late at night on a post-derby brain is kind of scary. I mean, post-derby brain is capable of all sorts of ridiculous mistakes. Post-derby brain has trouble telling black from white and counting to five, y'all. How am I going to rely on it to scrupulously follow submission guidelines, remember which editors I'm emailing, and attach the right file?

Theoretically, this can be easy and even mindless. Take that same manuscript file that went out last time, attach it to an email going to the new place (or upload it via their submission form, whatever), and off you go. Theoretically. But that's before you consider that some markets require blind submissions, so you have to scrub your identifying information off the page headers. And some editors prefer real italics and some prefer you use underlines in place of italics. Some editors really, really hate the Courier font, so you probably better change that to Times New Roman or Verdana or whatever it is they like. (Or maybe you hate Courier, but the market you're considering is all MONOSPACE OR DIE. Everyone's a potential casualty in the font wars.) So it's in the author's best interest to read the submission guidelines carefully and make whatever adjustments they require.

But before I get into all that, I have to know which story I'm sending out and where I'm sending it to. And that's really hard for post-derby brain to figure out, especially when pre-derby brain kind of had no idea either.

Thank goodness for the Submissions Grinder. It's a free-to-use submissions-tracking system built on top of a truly enormous market database. The whole thing is a labor of love and community service by Diabolical Plots and David Steffen, and I don't know what I would do without it. Poor post-derby brain Niki can just log in, click "Manage Pieces," and scroll down the list, and say to her self, "Oh, 'Caroline's Wake' isn't currently out in slush, is it? It should be. It's one of my best stories. I should submit it somewhere." Then I can click on the corresponding "Run Search" link to pull up a market search form already filled out with the stats for this particular story, and easily get a list of markets which accept submissions of that length, in that genre, and which I have not submitted this story to before. (That last is important. I got that last bit wrong once recently and it was so embarrassing. The rejection letter was very kind. They said they remembered the story and how much they admired it the first time they read it, but they would really like to see something else by me, pretty please.)

Anyway, that's what I did when I got home from derby. And while I didn't actually find a place to submit that story, I found a place I could submit it just as soon as they reopened to general submissions. In the meantime, they are reading for a very particular theme and format, for which one of my other stories might be a perfect fit, only first I need to trim it down to about two thirds its current length.

Which I will attempt to do tomorrow because, having fulfilled my duty vis--vis blogging and submissions procedures, collapsing in bed is imminent. Me and my sore, beat-up, worn-out body wish you a good night.

watching the time as it passes in tomato-sized chunks
Tue 2018-03-06 17:41:41 (single post)

4thewords.com has made a huge difference in my productivity as far as word count goes, but I seem to have let it diminish my productivity in terms of time. Measuring my writing in terms of monster battles is not of universal utility. It's amazing how I can log two successful monster battles a day of babble-draft on the current Friday Fictionette and still not have a coherent story ready on time. Meanwhile, if I don't pay attention to time spent on writing tasks and, more to the point, time spent getting around to the next writing task, it's very easy to look back on the day and wonder where all the hours went.

So I've begun using the Pomodoro technique again. And that's making a huge difference in my productivity. Holding myself to four 25-minute sessions separated by breaks of no more than five minutes means I get a lot of work done in two hours. And since two hours isn't such a large percentage of the day, I have plenty of day left after those two hours to deal with household stuff, catch up on email and other communications, cook and eat and clean up after a meal, maybe play some quick video games, and still put in another two-hour writing shift after that.

When last I used this technique with any consistency, I used the app Productivity Challenge Timer. But its toxic attitude really wore me down, not to mention its extremely male-centric design. Eventually I stopped using it. I used Focus Booster instead, but the version I had installed was clunky, and upgrading meant either paying money or limiting myself to twenty "poms" a week. That's less than helpful when I'm trying to get up to eight a day five days a week. So I needed to find a new timer program.

I found Tide.

Tide is very simple. It shows you a peaceful image (it chooses them at random) and plays peaceful sounds (you choose by swiping between the five options) during your work session. At the end of your work session, it flips directly into break mode. At the end of your break, you hit the START button to do it again. After four work sessions, it gives you a long break. All times are adjustable. It has some other features about keeping track of your progress and letting your share it on social media, but I haven't been interested enough to mess with them. I'm mainly here for the session timing. The gentle sights and sounds are a pleasing bonus and a huge improvement over Productivity Challenge Timer's calling me a lazy slob, demoting me for insisting on a reasonable weekly schedule, and asserting that Male Is Default.

(To be fair, screenshots of PCT's latest version appear to indicate that the Man Doing Science in the Projects screen is now a Woman Doing Science. This means PCT currently has at least one non-male illustration of Humans Being Productive. Its attitude, however, has not improved.)

So there we go--one concrete action toward getting all the things done. So far, so good--in addition to doing my daily gottas, I actually spent some time today on a fiction revision and got this blog post done before roller derby practice. I get to play video games tonight! ...if I have any energy left for staying upright after derby, that is. Good luck me!

and then jerk-brain tried to drink up all my rocket-fuel but i said
Thu 2018-01-11 23:56:32 (single post)

There's another side of the Jerk-Brain vs. Gamification battle I didn't talk about yesterday because, frankly, that post had already gone on long enough. That was a post all about what happens after the writing that determines whether I get to actually feel accomplished. (It was also, briefly, a post about fruitcake, because I am a multidimensional being.) This post here is about what happens before the writing that determines whether I wind up writing at all.

It's the question of motivation.

The motivation aspect is a lot simpler than the External Validation Brain-Hack Machine. It's what gets talked about more. Almost every new member of 4thewords mentions it in their introduction post on the forum: "This is giving me so much motivation to write!" Motivation works in opposition to avoidance, the way thrust opposes drag when you're flying a plane. Motivation pushes you toward writing; avoidance pushes you away. It's never a matter of not having motivation; if you want to write, you've got motivation. It's a matter of which force is stronger at any given time.

To be clear, when I say "avoidance" I don't simply mean procrastination. I mean anything that acts to push the writer away from the act of writing. The looming difficulty of finding time and energy after a hard day of work, the inevitable drama of stealing back time and privacy from a demanding and unsympathetic family, the feeling that time spent writing is time stolen from more important pursuits. And yes, the temptation of just one more game of Two Dots. If motivation says "I want to write," avoidance says, "but I can't/won't/shouldn't right now."

Jerk-Brain is very good at strengthening avoidance and whittling down motivation. It says that whatever you're contemplating writing isn't important enough to be a high priority. It says you're selfish for demanding that people leave you alone to do it. It says that freewriting and other forms of writing practice are just busywork, that drafting new stories is your excuse for of abandoning other projects as soon as they get difficult, that the story you want to revise is pretty much awful and unfixable and no one's going to want to read it so why waste your time.

Jerk-Brain tells poisonous lies with lips all stained from drinking up all my rocket fuel to keep me from achieving anything like escape velocity.

Enter gamification. When natural sources of motivation fail, gamification is pouring a gallon of 100% Synthetic Motiviation in the gas tank. In the case of 4thewords, that motivation is generally something like "I still need 300 more words to beat this monster and only 5 minutes to do it in!"

Well, usually it's something less high-pressure, like "I'm on a quest to make a bunch of stone blocks, so I need to defeat a bunch of Grult since they drop raw stone. Then I need to find rope somewhere. I could buy it, but that's hardly satisfying. Guess I've got to go back to Mama Tree and fight a bunch of illi." But today after my fictionette work I got distracted watching Team Colorado's bout against Team Kansas and only remembered belatedly that I was still in a battle with the aforementioned Grult.

So I was all like, "Shit! I'd better get to it! Five minutes! Go!"

And it was like I was running at full-speed and then flying (thrust and lift beat gravity and drag!) while way back behind me on the ground Jerk-Brain was all "But, but, but, I was talking to you, I was saying--" and I wasn't listening anymore because I HAD ALL THE WORDS TO WRITE HURRY HURRY HURRY--

And that's how the bulk of tonight's blog post got done.

all this and hot water too
Tue 2018-01-02 23:55:06 (single post)

OMG you guys. I took a bath today. In my own bathtub. With hot water and everything. And the new furnace is working great. The big open vents in the laundry room, rendered obsolete by the new units, have been capped off, making things a lot warmer on that side of the house. And the new thermostat is really cool too--we spent a little extra to get a 7-day programmable one so that we can differentiate our derby weekdays from our regular weekdays from our Sunday with derby in the morning from our Saturday with nothing scheduled at all.

The systems that support our comfort and energy efficiency are greatly improved. Today was a good day.

(Also, that bath was just as sorely needed as I expected. After so many missed practices due to holidays and/or weather, my body was not ready for all the plow-stops, hockey-stops, and sprints. My adductors, y'all. My adductors are very, very angry with me. My ribs aren't too pleased either, but they're not what's yelling at me every time I sit or stand.)

So. Writing? Yes.

Yesterday I said, a little of each of the things in every workday: drafting, revising, submitting. And while it's true for yesterday and today, it takes a bit of a stretch to see it. Drafting--no problem. The daily gottas take care of that handily. Submissions--more or less OK. Today I mentally paired up a market with an existing story, but the story is at this time a drabble and the market wants flash of about 1,000 words in length. So that will require some rewriting. But it still counts as submission procedures, by golly!

Editing, however... Well, I'm trying to stick to my mantra of "If I can't do a lot, I'll do a little." And what with the eight hours of appliance installation labor going on in my house today, I couldn't really do a lot. That dang brain glitch struck again: I felt paralyzed by being "on call" all day, obliged to remain AVAILABLE while the technicians were working. I worked through it, sure, but it was there to work through. It slowed me down. It especially made difficult the transition from one task to the next.

So I did a little.

In the case of the NaNoWriMo novel, and specifically the task of preparing the first 4,000 words for submission to the 4thewords contest, "editing" has so far only consisted of reading the first few scenes to remind myself what I wrote. What I wrote was a mess. I think when I finally get something concrete done, it won't be editing so much as notes toward editing. I'll go through those first few scenes and just catalog what information is being communicated by the text on the page. Then can I decide what information needs to be communicated and what information does not. Not to mention what information is being communicated redundantly; when I draft with daily word-count targets in mind, I'm not exactly terse. So, once I've done that, I should be able to cut whole swaths of unnecessary gabble, clearing the way for brand new draft.

In the case of this week's fictionette, it, too, got merely reread yesterday. But today--while I was in that lovely hot bath, bliss!--I revised the first half of it substantially. I'm still well on target to release it on time, if not early. Well, I mean, not release it early. But finish it early, and upload it early, and use the SCHEDULE feature so that it will go live on time with no further input from me.

The Fictionette Artifacts for November 2017 went into the mail today; the ones for October went a few days ago. I am all caught up. As long as I send December's on time, which is to say by the end of this week, I will remain all caught up.

So even with a little stretching, I think I can say that, two days into the new year, I am still on point with my New Year's Resolutions, such as they are. Two whole days, y'all! Let's go for three!

it's all fun and games 'til the cat gets confused
Thu 2017-12-28 23:44:55 (single post)

All right. So. Still no hot water over here, but we have accepted Blue Valley's proposal on a new water heater. Also a new furnace, because 95% efficiency and hefty rebates and also PVC venting which means finally sealing the combustion vent holes in the laundry room wall. It's dang hard to keep a house heated comfortably when one exterior wall is letting the ten-degree weather in through two holes the size of softballs. And that door between the kitchen and laundry room? It's just a regular interior door. Big crack under the door and everything. I keep a rolled-up afghan against it during the winter, sort of a makeshift draft-dodger. After Tuesday, probably, that will no longer be necessary.

Yesterday around eleven, noon or so, after Blue Valley had already visited but just before they emailed the proposal, Save Home Heat finally got back to me. We set up a visit for today during the noon-to-two window. But by today 9:30 we'd already examined Blue Valley's proposal, gone over it with the EnergySmart advisor, and accepted it. So I called Save Home Heat back and canceled. (It was really handy to have those two hours back, actually.)

So no hot water until Tuesday probably, but in the meantime, still cat-sitting for generous friends with working showers. And boy did I need that hot soak after scrimmage tonight. (We actually had scrimmage tonight! It was warm today, and overnight lows will be in the 30s--bliss!) And it wasn't the usual format. It was Team Colorado versus The World format. So those of us Boulder County Bombers who aren't on Team Colorado, we got our asses handed to us in a most educational way. No, seriously, it was amazing. I have never had so much fun dying on the opposing team's wall or getting blown up by offense. But, as you might imagine, I expected to really need some quality bath time for my sore muscles after that. I had been looking forward to that bath all day.

And I'd planned to write this very blog post while in the tub, as I sometimes do. I have a system! It involves setting the laptop on a stool or chair well out of harm's way and not touching it at all, putting a pressboard plank across the tub in lieu of a desk, and using a wireless keyboard and mouse to interact with the computer. This also might involve dinner and a beer or a glass of wine. I have my needs. I am not proud.

Except I forgot to bring the wireless keyboard over. Now that I have a laptop with a functional keyboard, I don't carry the wireless keyboard around by default. It lives in the drawer in our bathroom, precisely for use during long hot baths. But I did not bring it with me to my friends' house. I brought the wireless mouse. I brought the pressboard desk. But I did not bring the wireless keyboard, damn it.

I did bring my typewriter.

I'd brought it earlier this afternoon because I'd thought to have time to do some catch-up work on Fictionette Artifacts during that visit. Only I didn't. So I left the typewriter there thinking, OK, well, maybe after the blog post tonight. Or maybe during tomorrow's visit.

Turns out, manual typewriters are perfectly safe around water. They are not electric! And mine fit on the pressboard plank just fine, and the plank was sturdy enough to hold it. The set up was perfectly absurd, but it worked surprisingly well. The first of the two Fictionette Artifacts I still owe for October 2017 got typed up. Nothing got damagingly wet.

Meanwhile, I totally confused the cat. I count that as a win.

And now this blog post, having more to report than originally planned, is longer than it would have been, which 4thewords counts as a win. So.

starting bid 48 hours, do I hear 24, do I hear--SOLD (probably) to the contractor with the two MINUTE response time
Tue 2017-12-26 23:34:35 (single post)

OK, so, derby practice was canceled. When outdoor temperatures are 10 degrees Fahrenheit at sunset, it's too dang cold to drive the roads, let alone skate in a mostly non-climate-controlled practice building where the floor gets really slick under low temperature conditions. But I am having that hot bath anyway, and not by dint of lots of stovetop activity either, but rather by the good graces of some friends we are cat-sitting for. Turns out their vacation timing was impeccable, and they are very generous with their facilities.

In order that we not have to impose on their generosity longer than necessary, I got on the phone about the dead water heater this morning.

08:30: Called EnergySmart and pled ignorance to all things water heater. They got us enrolled in their program and then talked me through my options for replacement units (tank or tankless), asked me about our furnace (which may also need replacing or at least servicing), and queried as to other related appliances in the house (yes, we have a programmable thermostat, but we would like one that is more programmable; between roller derby and working from home, a basic Honeywell of type WEEKDAY Y/N? doesn't cover all the bases). Then they sent me a list of contractors whom they have vetted as both trustworthy and having energy efficiency priorities.

EnergySmart's services are free: Boulder County tax dollars at work! And doing a brilliant job, too. A+ would pay my taxes again.

09:15: Called Save Home Heat Co first; of the contractors on the list who handled both tankless water heaters and gas furnaces, they were the company that were physically nearest to our address. After about ten rings I got patched over to their answering service. No one was in the office, doubtless because everyone was out tending to other emergencies that had cropped up during the December 25 Federal Holiday. Their answering service was professional and efficient, not to mention brusque and rapid-fire. They evinced some impatience with me for my constantly asking them to repeat that, please, more slowly? as they rattled back the info they'd interrogated me for. They told me to expect a call back as soon as someone returned to the office.

11:00 It turns out I can't get anything done while waiting for a call-back. Just another little glitch in my brain, I guess. (As though I don't have enough.) I could not seem to bring myself to tackle even a half-hour's worth of writing. Not even my morning pages. I mean, I guess I could have, if I'd exerted more willpower, but it would have been miserable. The feeling of paralysis was strong. It was like, in some mental/psychological way, being still on the phone and on hold for almost two hours.

Which is not Save Home Heat's fault nor their lookout. My brain glitches are mine to manage. Besides, EnergySmart says they ask the contractors they vet to return calls within 48 hours. That I had waited two was hardly unreasonable.

Still, I did have to manage that brain glitch if I was going to get any work done. So I went ahead and called a second contractor, Blue Valley Heating & Cooling. And their receptionist was really patient with me before patching me directly over to a tech, who was also patient and friendly. He listened to my story with sympathy, answered my questions with care (including giving me a rough price estimate on the unit I was interested in, subject of course to the details of my installation; it was about what I expected and quite reasonable for the expected lifespan of the unit, not to mention the savings in energy efficiency). Turned out that, hey, he had a call-out in Boulder tomorrow anyway; why not arrange for a consult while he was in the neighborhood? Since my plight was an uncomfortable one and shouldn't be prolonged unnecessarily, and all.

I said yes please thank you you're the best. We agreed he'd visit tomorrow around 8:30 AM. I hung up the phone. And breathed a huge sigh of relief, feeling immensely more psychologically free to get things done.

It's recommended to call multiple contractors anyway, so one can get multiple bids and make a sound economic decision. I had not been looking forward to this. It would involve multiple contractor visits which would probably entail multiple days or weeks before we could have hot running water again. But it seems like I did, in a way, get two separate bids just this morning. Only, instead of being expressed in job price, they were expressed in terms of rapid response and friendliness.

And though I got a late start on my workday, I did get to start. And continue. And finish. Which I might not have otherwise, because...

23:32 (at the time of this writing) ...I still haven't heard a peep from Save Home Heat. I guess they're just super busy and never got back to the office at all.

Cover art incorporates public domain vector images from Pixabay and Public Domain Pictures.net
this fictionette is entering a world of longer days and shorter nights
Fri 2017-12-22 23:43:20 (single post)

As hoped for and expected, the Friday Fictionette for December 22, 2017 did not suffer for the two days I took off from writing for Yuletide preparations, observance, and clean-up. It is out and ready for your perusal, should that sound like a good time to you. It's called, "The Croquet Lawn, and What They Found There." Here's your usual bouquet of links: ebook ($1/month patrons), audiobook ($3/month patrons), and teaser excerpt (available to all). It is about portals and why you might not want to go through them. Also entomophobia, nicknames for golden retrievers, and needing to buy a new Christmas tree.

It's the Christmas edition of Friday Fictionettes. Well, sort of. I mean, there's a Christmas tree in it. Only there isn't, but that's the whole point, really. Nothing that should have been in that closet is there, and a whole lot of something that oughtn't to be is. Portal fantasy, y'all.

All the above-mentioned Yuletide preparations went to plan. All the food got cooked, sampled, and declared delicious. I now have a lot of leftover pie, which takes care of the majority of my meals for the next three days. Egg nog got drunk on rum. People got drunk on rum. People came over! Some people stayed until very late at night! It was swell.

I even managed to convince my Pandora station to behave and play me songs like "The Holly King" and "Dark Mother." (Also a bunch of random Celtic tunes, a selection of Arthuriana set to harp and guitar, and a whole lot of Loreena McKennitt. Which near misses beat the heck out of random Pete Seeger. "I hear you like folk music so I brought you some folk music." That's nice, Pandora. Good try.) But I didn't end up listening to it much once I stopped cooking, because by then I was either socializing or playing Rock Band.

I played a lot of Rock Band. Rock Band got me through those final few hours after the last guests left (around... 3:30 AM? Maybe?) and John went to sleep (ditto) and staying awake became a real struggle. On the downside, my left wrist is extra sore from curving awkwardly around the controller to get to the overdrive trigger. (Also from mildly spraining it doing dishes the next day.) On the plus side, I've gotten a lot better at sight-reading for pro keys.

Then the sun came up and I went down. I woke briefly as John was leaving for work. He gave me the news that scrimmage had been canceled due to icy roads and stupidly cold temperatures. So it turned out I had only two things to do with my Thursday: 1. Clean up after the party. 2. Continue improving my Rock Band 3 scores. I did those things. In quantity.

And then today happened and I got back to work. For the results of which, I refer you to the first two paragraphs of this blog post.

In addition to my regular Friday writing tasks, I had my very first solo Boulder Food Rescue (BFR) groceries delivery. I've just started volunteering with them. My roller derby league turned me on to them; they were on the list of community organizations which members were encouraged to go pitch in with toward the end of the year. I joined them as a last-minute volunteer sous chef for their "lunch bunch" event back at the beginning of December, and subsequently decided I'd like to work with them more. So I went to the orientation last week, shadowed one of their veteran volunteers Monday morning, and had my first solo shift this afternoon.

It went OK! I arrived at the donor grocery, loaded up the BFR bike trailer with some 150 pounds of donated produce, and rode that sucker the couple miles up to the recipient community. The delivery was a success. I did not bump the trailer into any cars, curbs, or people. The bike did not fall over in what was left of the ice and snow. No food fell off the trailer. One volunteer fell over once trying to get off the bike, having forgotten that the bike's crossbar was too high for her usual dismount maneuver, but she picked herself up again and carried on.

BFR are pretty well known around here, and their trailers are distinctive. Several people recognized the trailer while I was sorting the food, loading it up, or riding it to its destination, and they thanked me. I didn't know what to say. I thanked them back and wished them a good evening. It was awkward and sweet and it kind of made me glow.

I like the gig so far. I'm going to do it again next week.

Also, that early-wee-hour freewriting session got me my 30-day streak wings. It's my wire anniversary!
a reminder that gamification exists to serve the writer, not vice versa
Thu 2017-12-14 00:31:49 (single post)

So I've been praising 4thewords to the heavens, but I haven't mentioned, possibly because I hadn't been acutely aware of them until recently, its detrimental effects. Welllll, "detrimental effects" is putting it a little strongly. It's more that the RPG quest-and-battle style of gamification, in addition to infusing my writing tasks with extra motivation and enthusiasm, also adds complications.

For instance, I've already mentioned the challenge of choosing one's battles. I don't want to "waste" words by not being in a battle. But I don't want to end a writing task with an inconvenient amount of battle left to go. My work day turns into a sort of jigsaw puzzle, where I try to fit tasks and battles together just so. It's not a bad problem to have; generally, if I've got a bit of battle left over, I'll find there's another writing task, one I had originally planned to work on the next day, that I can instead jump on immediately. This leads to more projects making more progress more quickly.

So it's not really a problem at all, is it? It's 4thewords acting exactly as advertised. It's great.

4thewords has also improved my workday pace to no end. Instead of taking long, leisurely breaks between writing tasks, procrastinating when I ought to get back to work, and suddenly finding I've run out of day to do things in, I've begun moving more briskly from one item on my list to the next, mainly because I still have a bunch more words to go before the current monster is defeated. And I've only got 40 minutes left write them in! All right, fine, I'll take that 5-minute stretch break, I know it's good for me. But that's all! I've got to get back to beating up that Nitana! I will defeat it! It will not defeat me! I WILL TAKE ITS FEATHERS AND MAKE THEM INTO A HAT!

Besides, it's an RGP-style video game after the nature of its species. It comes with that classic temptation to keep playing just a little longer, complete just one more quest, defeat just one more monster before shutting things down. Only, in the case of 4thewords, "just one more monster" doesn't keep the player from getting back to work; it requires the player to get back to work.

So this is all wonderful. In addition to encouraging greater discipline, or at least a really convincing cargo-cult imitation of it, it's made me more often successful at getting through my task list by five or six in the afternoon. It's an amazing feeling to get to the end of a three-hour roller derby practice and remember that all my work is done. No obligations are waiting for my tired brain to tackle them. I don't have to do anything but rest, play video games, take a long bath, maybe even go to bed early. Bliss!

Except.

Except 4thewords has to complicate matters by making certain monsters only come out at night. If I am very good and do all my writing between 8 AM and 5 PM, there are monsters I will never see, whose unique battle rewards I will not get to collect. And that's tragic!

So yesterday I deliberately left myself some work to do after derby. (Mainly my blog post. Which was just as well, given the news that altered its subject matter.) And, yes, that meant I got to fight the nocturnal Mawt, the defeat of which rewards the player with Fur and Claws, which are needed to complete certain quests and craft certain objects.

And then my blog post was done and I still had like 800 words to go and it was midnight.

And that's how I got today's freewriting out of the way before 1 AM. Hooray for silver linings, I guess?

Silver lining or not, it remains that, in this particular case, 4thewords is actively working against my personal writing goals. It has put certain in-game accomplishments out of reach of my preferred writing schedule. Oh, there are workarounds, like temporarily changing my computer's time zone or clock. And I haven't ruled out experimenting with late-night sessions as my schedule (and energy level) permits. But it's still a little jarring to encounter a situation where I do have to adapt either my writing routines or my use of the gamification app to make both sets of goals coincide.

And now I have about 50 more words to write to finish off this adorable but inconveniently timed Rudakai. Blast. Guess I'll pull up the new short story and hammer away on it for a minute or two.

A little hard to see, but: firefox, scrivener, editplus, gimp, and bluestacks, and also RED KEYBOARD.
in praise of new high-powered tools and toys
Mon 2017-12-11 20:58:53 (single post)

It's here. The new computer is here. I'm using it now. And it's amazing.

I tried to overload it. I've got three windows of Firefox up, one with some 90 tabs open. I've got Chrome running. I've got LibreOffice Calc and Google Sheets ticking away. I've got four Scrivener projects open. And I've been running the Android emulator Bluestacks intermittently so I can play a few clicky game apps between tasks. Two Dots and Dots & Co. and Amazing Katamari Damacy. You know. Clicky games.

And everything's still running smoothly.

I only just discovered the Katamari app, by the way. Once I'd installed Bluestacks, the first app I installed on it was APK Pure for finding and installing the rest of my habitual apps (I prefer that over Google Play), and APK Pure was featuring Amazing Katamari Damacy prominently on its front page. I downloaded it, installed it, tried it out, and accepted it as my new addiction. It runs perfectly, no hitches or skips at all, and it's adorable.

I've only had Firefox hiccup on me a couple times, when I had it load a huge number of tabs all at once. It went into Not Responding mode for about five seconds and then came back. And it didn't take the whole computer down with it.

When I click the sound icon in the systray, the volume slider appears immediately. When I click the Start button, the Start Menu comes up right away.

Every key on the keyboard is functional.

I've had a few frustrations, no lie. There's the usual whack-a-mole game involving Windows 10 "features" that need to be turned off yesterday or, for preference, ripped out of the OS entirely. There's the Dell BIOS default of F-keys' firmware hotkey functions being primary rather than, as I'd have preferred, secondary to their assigned software keyboard shortcuts. (In other words, I'm used to pressing F2 when I want to rename a file or edit the contents of a spreadsheet cell. I'm not used to having to simultaneously hold down Fn to get that functionality. So I keep accidentally lowering my speaker volume, and it's irritating.) I'm going to have to toggle that next time I restart the computer. And, speaking of keyboard shortcuts, the latest version of Audacity has swapped the ones for "record to new track" and "append record to existing track." This is not a trivial change. I do find the new arrangement more intuitive, but the whole P, END, CTRL-S, P, SHFT-R routine is embedded in my muscle memory and it's going to take effort to dislodge it. (Also the shortcut for Stop and Set Cursor is no longer SHFT-A. Now it's just X. That messed me right up.)

But these frustrations are transitory and not originating with the computer itself.

The computer itself is amazing, if somewhat heavier than I expected. I suppose when you pack that much power into a 15" laptop (and also this many watt-hours into its battery), the poundage has to go up. (The power cord, too, is unusually hefty. Its surge protector brick could brain a squirrel.) I used to mindlessly grab the Asus by the top of its monitor in order to move it small distances; just the thought of doing that with the new Dell makes my wrist ache. This morning I woke up with a dream to write down; finding a comfortable and non-disruptive way to grab the laptop and haul it over and prop it up on my knees so I could type the dream down without having to sit up and shake that half-asleep feeling... was a little bit of a challenge.

(The keyboard lights up in the dark! It lights up red. It's very friendly on the night vision, a useful feature when trying to preserve that half-asleep feeling while recording a dream. Also it is stylish. Nothing says MAD GAMER SKILLZ like thin lines of neon red.)

I'm not really complaining. Pack it all in my bookbag, and put my bookbag on my back, and I don't really feel a difference. But let me try to carry my bookbag one-handed by its top handle, and I remember the wisdom of putting the damn thing on my back. At least I'm no longer obliged to pack an external keyboard too.

Oh! And it's got a fingerprint scanner. Because passwords are just so 2015.

It needed a name, of course. Given that this computer is about ten times the computer I probably actually need, I wanted to name it after some over-the-top kick-ass warrior queen or Goddess. So I did. Its name is BOUDICA.

I've just about got everything copied over from the Asus. Of course my writing directory came first; the least work downtime, the better. Also my Firefox profile so I could procrastinate in the manner to which I am accustomed. (What was that about the least work downtime...?) I recorded Sunday's show for AINC on the new machine. I did Sunday's freewriting on it as well as today's full writing workload. Pretty much all I've got left to do is port over my Edit Plus preferences and install the three flavors of Puzzle Pirates.

I have successfully moved MY ENTIRE LIFE onto the new machine, is what I'm saying. And it is good.

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