Sunday, February 24, 2008

BYBS: Luck

Most of the time, I don't consider myself to be very lucky, but compared to some people I'm familiar with I've hit the lottery, made it big, retired, etc. For all my bitching and moaning, I've been incredibly fortunate.

I have a friend who is a single mother. She's in her early twenties, has a crappy job, etc. She was recently injured and is in great deal of pain when she moves. The web is filled with blogs about people whose situations are similar.

It's when I read about stuff like that and meet the people behind them that the reality sets in for me. I'm living in a fantasy, they are living in reality. The reality where you are 4 flat tires away from bankruptcy. The reality where you'd better not loose your job or you could literally be on the street.

While I can take credit for some of my situation, the fact of the matter is that I got lucky. I got lucky in that I was born into a family who were doing well financially, and who cared about me. I got lucky in the opportunities of my life. I got incredibly lucky when I found my wife.

I don't believe that this is a result of having been good in a previous life and I don't believe that I'm chosen by some super natural being. There are simply too many examples of people suffering due to nature, circumstances, etc. for me to accept that.

I do believe that I've been lucky.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Runaway Story

I try to be short and to the point, I really do, but this story is getting away from me. Currently, I'm looking at 16 to 30 pages plus 8 to 16 more that I haven't edited and there's still a lot of stuff I need to write. My goal is to keep the story below 30 pages.

It's times like this that I look back fondly on the days when I had writer's block.

I would sit there, literally all night, write out a sentence, decided it sucked, throw it away, and start over again. If I was lucky, I managed to write one page, but usually I ended up with nothing.

These days I plop down in the chair and force myself to write about a page, and then reward myself with some quality time on World of Warcraft. I realize that it still probably stinks, but hey, I still get to play WoW. After about a month and a half of this I have 30 to 45 pages to work with.

Then the dreaded editing process starts.

The goal is to shrink the story down 30 pages or less. Cut out all the fluff and drivel (well most of it anyways), so that what's left is just the essentials.

At least that's the theory.

The reality is that I'm faced with 30 to 45 pages of drivel that I can try to splice together into something comprehensible. This prospect alone is enough to get me to shuffle off and spend lots of quality time with WoW in order to avoid it.

So, the good news is that I don't have anywhere near the problem with writer's block that I used to. The bad news is that now I have editor's block.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

BYBS: Exercise

A device that bears a striking resemblance to a to torture rack.

This posting is about how much I love exercise!


The fact is that I think exercise sucks. It's boring. It's difficult to get my lazy butt to do it. At times it can be painful. I pretty much hate exercise.

As the picture above shows, this is about that wonderful, exciting thing called "Cardio-Vascular" exercise. The stuff where you plod, plod, plod and sweat, sweat, sweat in order to get in 30min or whatever your goal is.

But wait – there's more! An extra blessing you can get is a heart rate monitor. This gadget will monitor your heart rate and inform you when you are cheating and not working hard enough.

That way you can work harder. Isn't that nice?

I do like the benefits though:

  • Weight control – you burn calories while exercising and but also when not exercising. This is due to increased muscle mass. Honest. For Sure.
  • Cardio – your heart is in much better shape than if you don't exercise. You'll live longer. In fact, all the extra time you'll live will be spent exercising.
  • Overall health – exercise is associated with all kinds of other aspects of health, from a better immune system to improved mental outlook. I know I feel much better after I exercise...dammit.

On the last point I think that the improved mental outlook comes from realizing that any moment you spend not exercising is a good one. If you see someone smiling in a meeting, it's probably because they think "Yes, this meeting is a boring waste of time, but it could be worse…I could be exercising!"

Sunday, February 10, 2008

BYBS: Thoughtspace

Stop for a moment and think.

Take a piece of paper and draw a triangle on it. Think about it for a sec – are the sides of equal length, does it form a right angle, etc.

Now crumple up, shred, etc. the paper.

Does the triangle still exist?

My answer is "yes." You can draw it again, you can describe it to another person – the notion of a triangle exists in my mind after destroying any artifact of its existence.

Now consider this: at some point you or I first became aware of this concept. What came before that?

In other words, you did not always know what a triangle was, so did it exist before that? Well yes, other people knew about it they could teach each other, etc. so it existed long before you or I knew about it.

Now consider this: did it exist before the first human being?

Regardless of your beliefs, there is some point of time before human beings existed. There could be no people teaching each other about triangles because there were no people. Did triangles exist?

My answer is yes. The notion of a closed polygon in 2D space with 3 segments does not need anyone thinking about it to exist – it is a concept.

I always thought that this was a cool idea – that there is a whole universe that touches ours. It has no concept of time in that all ideas that have ever been thought or ever will be thought exist there at the same time. There is no space in that it is everywhere and nowhere.

The only really analogous property is being aware of some concept or thought. You can tell someone about triangles or what have you that they didn't know about before. They can then go to that "place".

An idea like this of course requires a cool name. So I give you readers Thoughtspace.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Less is More

When it comes to writing, I think less really is more.

In the case of editing a story, I think trying to limit the length results in a better story. It forces me to cut out scenes, dialog, etc. that are superfluous in favor of those that are absolutely necessary. The scenes that are left end up getting picked over to make them more efficient.

The result is a story without a lot of filler. It gets to the point quickly and takes less time for my readers (both of them) to get through.

I've heard this sort of thing from a couple of my favorite authors. Roger Zelazny and Larry Niven both had several short stories that they turned into novellas or novels – in a couple of these cases I recall reading that they preferred the short story because it was "tighter" or that it tried to communicate fewer ideas.

I have to say that as a reader, I agree with them.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

BYBS: W. Edwards Deming & SPC

Deming was an American statistician who is somewhat famous for teaching the Japanese statistical process control (SPC) after World War 2. The Japanese used tools such as this to great effect after WW2 in fields such as automobile manufacturing, electronics and semiconductors (computer chips).

The basic ideas that I associated with Deming are:

  1. Statistical process control (SPC) can increase quality and reduce costs at the same time.
  2. The tools of SPC are not a panacea.

The notion of higher quality/lower cost is illustrated by observing that a product you have to throw out because of defects costs the same to make as one that you can sell. If you make fewer defective products, then the cost of making them goes down because, for the same cost, you produce more.

SPC allows you to optimize production, but it does not tell you what to produce. For example, you can make the best, most inexpensive video tape player in the world and still go out of business because everyone now uses DVDs.

I always like it when "geek ideas" end up changing the world.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Hoity-Toity Features, part 2

Several months after switching over to the new and improved Blogger template scheme, approach, whatever - I've finally used something that I didn't have before! Behold! The amazing...poll...

OK, well, maybe it's not that amazing...but it is new.

In retrospect, I have not really used many of the new capabilities, but I do like it better. The layout manager is much more convenient than just hacking the raw, seething, slimy HTML. Instead, the raw, seething, slimy HTML is put in little blobs. This may not seem like much, because it certainly isn't noticeable by looking at the site, but it makes managing all that stuff a lot easier.

I also like the fact that I switched my hit counter to something that actually works. Blog explosion seemed determined to not work and stay that way. Stat counter, on the other hand, works but displays rather depressing statistics. I don't think that is the fault of the people at Statcounter, but I blame them nonetheless.

So avail yourself to the new poll! Let your voice be heard! Many exclamation points!!!