Tech Hell

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Fun things for Christmas: To video Giftmas morning and all the opening of the presents, only to have that video be borked beyond repair.

The SD card in the camera became full, so I downloaded it to the desktop, then deleted everything on the card. Immediately after, I got a message from PHOTO saying some files were corrupted and couldn’t be viewed.

Had I stopped the import before it was finished? (It LOOKED finished). Were the files recoverable from my SD card?

One $20 app later, I undeleted everything I could from the card and saved it to my drive. Unfortunately, none of the recovered files (I tried twice) are viewable. The video “type” is unrecognized (they’re avi files) and the jpeg photos “have no metadata.” Neither can be imported into my Photo library and neither can be viewed at all.

Late last night I made another small video to make sure it works. It does. I have no idea why or how I lost my Christmas video for 2016, but I suspect it’s my fault and this bullshit year keeps getting worse. Watch this be the year I keel over dead and because of my own stupidity my family doesn’t even have a record of our last Christmas (which is not a thing I can say to them but I’m thinking about it).

Anyway, that sucks. All advice on restoring those files gratefully received through LJ or social media.

Baby Bird Asks to be Pushed out of Nest

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Well, I just got back from the airport after putting my son on a plane. Actually, I hugged him goodbye at security, but you know, 2016. If I’d seen him actually walk down the ramp I would be okay right now, but with my uncertainty that he actually made it on the plane, plus the election, plus everything, I’m feeling sort of stressed.

This is one of the few times I’ve wished we all had cell phones.

But his plane took off more than an hour ago. We would have come home to an email or voice mail letting us know if things had gone wrong. We didn’t. That means it’s all fine, right?

Right.

I’m meeting friends for lunch, then I’m coming home with a six-pack of beer and I’m sacking out on the couch with Netflix until the results are in. I can’t hang on the news all day, it’s just too much. I’m feeling really stressed out today.

My kid is on the plane and he’s fine.

I voted for Clinton, and hopefully most of America did the same.

There is beer in my future and possibly also a large pizza.

The world is doing okay.

In case you’re wondering, my son is flying to Denver to spend two weeks with long-time friends of mine to learn AfterEffects and Photoshop. And while he would dump a bowl of ramen noodles over my head if he saw me refer to him as a “baby bird,” he did ask for this trip. I’m happy to give it to him, and incredibly grateful to my friends who have taken him in.

I miss him already.

It’s how you spend your free time: the power of small decisions

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One of my friends said something really smart on Sunday, and I thought I’d share it.

She and her partner live in Denver, and my son (who is 14) is planning to spend two weeks with them to pick their brains about Photoshop, After Effects, and a number of other programs they use. They make their living using all sorts of fancy software that I don’t know anything about, so he has a lot to learn in those two weeks.

ANYWAY. What she said, which I have to paraphrase because it was during an extended conversation, was: “What matters is how you spend your free time.”

To which I say: Yep.

Her story is that she was in college some years ago, learning software as part of her design class. I think it was Photoshop, but there was some cross-talk. Anyway, it was relatively new, and she and her friend were so fascinated by it that they spent their free time on a deep dive into the program, learning all the things it could do. In not time, the professor realized that she and her friend were more capable of teaching the software and asked them to do so. When she graduated, they offered her a teaching position.

It wasn’t because she was so good in class; it was because she was so engaged outside of it. The same is true of any kind of challenging field. If you want to be great in the arts, you have to cut out time from your daily life to practice and improve. That’s time you could be spending watching TV, going to the gym, sleeping in, playing video games, or making money.

If you click on the Tweet below, you’ll get a thread by comics writer Gail Simone on this very subject.

[Update: she deleted the whole thread. The gist was that people determined to be writers have to make the time to practice.]

I’ve tried to explain this to my son, because he acts like his great ambition is to be the best Overwatch player ever. It’s gotten to the point that I’m tempted to take away his computer games for good, even though he and I built a gaming computer for him just this past January. (Personally, I try to avoid most games because they’re addictive, and I’m vulnerable to that.) Choosing to spend all his free time playing video games is essentially choosing to be a regular joe with a joe job, and the US culture and economy squashes people like that now. If he’s going to be squashed, he ought to have the satisfaction of making art (or something!)

And what of myself? Thinking about spending down time always makes me audit myself, and I have to confess that I’ve been obsessing over Twitter and the election these past few months. It seems like my duty as a citizen to be as informed as possible, but how much of my time and energy do I REALLY need to devote to this? How much can I push off onto other citizens?

Clearly, I need to cut back and focus more on my work. The book I’m revising is complex and I need to get it to my agent so she can sell it. But Twitter is soooo tempting, almost like a video game.

And that’s the power of tiny decisions. Not the big stuff, like Where should I go to college or Should I quit my current job for that new one? No, the really important decisions are the huge clusters of tiny ones that we all make every day. Should I work on my book, or should I watch this tv show/go to the gym/hit the pub/etc?

Obviously no one can spend every spare moment of their lives writing (nor should they) but if you never choose writing over those other things that’s a clear statement of priorities.

[Added later: See also: Twelve Years from Hobbyist to Pro]

Want to see the cover for the German edition of The Way into Chaos? (train trip wrapup)

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I should have written this post last week I guess, but I returned from vacation and landed with both feet on the run. I’m working hard on One Man again, and making good progress. Homeschooling is on again. My wife has a computer station I need to set up. My niece, who has been housesitting for us so kindly while we’ve been taking trips, is having a birthday.

So I haven’t really had time to write an in-depth report on the 30-day train vacation I just took. Here’s the short version: It was great to see family. It was great to see friends. I was lucky enough to eat a bunch of regional foods: jambalaya in New Orleans, pepper steaks in Philly, Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago. Splashing around in the ocean in Miami was fantastic, and so was seeing the monuments on the National Mall in Washington DC.

And then there were the long, quiet moments with my family on the train. Sometimes we played games, or read, or talked with other passengers. Sometimes we just stared out the window.

Sleeping was a bigger challenge than I’d expected and those east coast trains carry more people than this Seattleite is used to, but it was a beautiful trip with a lot of family time, and that’s what I wanted.

We also stopped in at every bookstore we could find, but none of my books were on the shelves. It’s just been too long, and I need to finish this one asap.

Speaking of which, the German edition of The Way into Chaos has come out, and I like the cover. Check it out.

Brief trip update

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As I write this, I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Chicago. Last Wed, the 13th, my family boarded a morning train and arrived in Sacramento about 6am the next morning. We ate a (too-) big breakfast at a place nearby, then caught the California Zephyr to Denver.

We took a lot of amazing pics from the train (check my Twitter account for them) and arrived in Denver just in time for a spring snowfall of about eight inches. Things were so overcast that we didn’t get to see the mountains. We stayed at the home of a friend of mine, a guy I’ve known for more than 30 years, and spent most of our time hanging out and talking.

It was great. Also, the weird food reactions I get were much reduced there, which helped convince my wife that many of our nagging but minor health problems were related to our apartment/the city of Seattle.

Now we’re in Chicago. We ate German food and had an Italian beef sandwich–exactly as good as we’d heard. Now we’re resting before we catch a night train to Boston.

No lie, it’s been more difficult to get the sleep I need on the train than expected, and this is only the first week. Luckily, after Boston we have several days of very short trips. Maybe we can catch up.

Otherwise, it’s been great.

And away we go! Off on our train trip

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I scheduled this to post at about the time of our departure, so when you read this, I will have said goodbye to the relative who’ll be watching our apartment, ridden the bus to the King St. Station, boarded a train, and begun my 30-day family tour of the country.

I don’t know how much connectivity I’ll have so I don’t know how often I’ll be able to check my LJ friends page, Twitter, Facebook, etc. If I don’t note some important event in your life, it’s not that I don’t care. It could be that I’m in the middle of the Rockies with no connectivity.

Also, I have an iPhone (borrowed–thanks, Jeff!) so I hope to tweet pictures of our adventures. Give me a follow if you want to see.

In the meantime…

Wish us luck!

The Long Train Trip

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Today I picked up the USA Rail Passes for my family and myself. The short description, for those who have not clicked that link: With a pass, you get to travel for a set number of days to anywhere in the US. We have a 30-day pass, which means we get 12 “segments.” Get on the train, get off the train, that’s one segment. We get 12 of them to use in 30 days to go anywhere we like.

It’s my birthday present, delayed from last summer because I wan’t sure how much money we’d have after Uncle Same came around for his share of last years book sales.

Can I take a moment to say “Thank you,” to everyone who bought a copy of my books, and “Thank you very much” to everyone who helped spread the word? We wouldn’t be doing this without you.

Anyway, we have a set list of cities to visit, mainly to see family and friends. Denver, Chicago, Boston, NY, Philly, Washington DC, Miami, New Orleans. I think that’s the list.

Most of our time in these places will be catching up with old friends, hanging w/ family, or being tourists. I won’t be meeting online friends or readers on this trip, because there just won’t be time. We’ll be spending, like, a day in each of these places. Maybe two. Philly gets three because that’s where my family is and I haven’t seen any of them in a dozen years. My son was a toddler the last time we visited; now he’s a teenager.

Did I mention that this is a birthday present for me? We’re spending 30 days together, and if you add together all of the segments (none of which will be longer than 30 hours, I think, until the leg home) they come to about 10 days out of the 30.

That’s a lot of time to spend on trains. If we were flying, we would probably spend 4 days tops, including TSA checkins. We’d have more time in the cities, seeing folks, maybe even visiting a few bookstores. So why the trains?

Well, for me, the time spent on the train is the whole point. We’re together, without TVs, or internet. We can’t retreat to various bedrooms, have no chores to spend our time on. All we can do is hang out together, talking, playing card games, reading, or just being family.

As I mentioned above, my son is a teenager now. He turned 14 last winter, and he’s almost too old to go jaunting around the country with his dorky parents. Not quite too old, because we mostly get along pretty well, but he’s starting to suffer from the stormy teenage temperament, and he can be a bit of a pill.

Still, we have a good relationship. I’m pleased to be hanging with him, and I’m always pleased to spend time with my wife.

Plus, we’ll get to see the Rocky Mountains, travel through the southwest, and Florida, and the eastern seaboard, and we’ll visit the National Mall and Freedom Tower, eat po’ boys, walk on Boston Commons, snorkle, and who knows what else.

Maybe I’ll even get to finish this damn book.

Anyway, on Sunday I’ll be at ECCC signing books, and the following Wednesday I’ll be hopping the Coast Starlight for some intense family time. If I won’t get to see you on the trip, I’m sorry. Hopefully, I’ll sell a shit ton more books and we’ll get to do it again soon.

State of the Self, 2016 (aka, the “We’ll see” post)

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On Tuesday, I hit 100K words on the work in progress, currently titled ONE MAN, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to assess where things stand in a general way. No encouragement or advice, please, especially about the medical stuff.

Me, personally

I turned 50 last year, which I guess is supposed to be a big thing but it didn’t feel like it. Mostly, it felt (and continues to feel) like a timer ticking down. As more and more of “my” pop culture figures pass away (and more and more of them are closer to my own age) I’ve become increasingly aware that my own time is growing short. Right now, somewhere inside me, I probably have a cancerous tumor that’s lying quiet, small for the moment, but ready to expand aggressively under the right circumstances. If I’m very very lucky, I’ll live long enough to see my son married and living a stable life, to have earned a sense of accomplishment with my work, and to feel as though I’ve lived enough.

I can’t really imagine that, but that’s my hope.

The petty medical issues that have plagued me since 2012 haven’t gone away, but I’ve decided to work through them to focus on my weight. I’m down 10lbs in the last two weeks and plan to continue. The first few are always the easiest, of course. We’ll see.

Finally, for a long time I’ve pretty much avoided social situations. I talk to my wife. I talk to my son. I order coffee at the cafe. Beyond that, it’s extremely rare for me to speak to anyone aloud; all my interactions have been online. I guess the only exceptions have been the two-hour SF2W meetups that Django Wexler arranges, and I’ve been to, I think, two in the past year. Once in a rare while a reader drops me a note and we’ll meet face to face. Very rare.

Aside from that, I’ve been actively avoiding social events. I don’t go to conventions. I haven’t contacted the roommates I had 20 years ago to suggest we grab lunch. It’s been a very quiet life, and I like it.

But a week ago I cashed in the Christmas gift that my niece gave me: a tour of some of her favorite brewpubs in Ballard. It was extremely mellow, and we got the chance to just hang out and talk, which I don’t do much.

The following Friday, I had the event at the UW Bookstore, where a number of authors in the anthology Unbound signed books for readers. I suspect most of them were there to see Terry Brooks, but people were nice and it was good to talk to them. It had no noticeable effect on my book sales, but I enjoyed myself, and I enjoyed hanging out with the other authors afterwards. (What I could hear of it, anyway. People in bars are noisy.)

So I’m thinking I should put more energy into that sort of thing. Talking to people. I dunno. Maybe.

Family

My wife is doing pretty well, especially now that she has an APAP machine to help her sleep through the night, which she can do now, sometimes. She’s also spending more of her time painting. Making art was hard for her after her father died. She and her siblings inherited his canvases, which no one outside the family wanted and no one inside could bear to dispose of.

She began to feel the same way about her own work. Our apartment is already crowded, and she didn’t see a point to creating more stuff that her kid will have to deal with when we die. Slowly, she’s moved past that and is doing the work for its own sake, which is fantastic and makes me very happy. She’s also gotten into a couple of shows. Did I say it makes me happy? It really really does. Now I just need to write a hit book so we can afford a place with a studio. North-facing, naturally.

My son turned 14 a few months ago and starts high school in the fall. Homeschool is coming to an end, and I’m hoping that a) he’ll make more real life friends and b) I’ll have more writing time. It’s going to be a rough transition, but he’s ready for it. His sleep schedule might not be, but he is.

Games

I’m still playing Sentinels of the Multiverse on Steam. In fact, I’m playing it too much. I should probably download a program that will block Steam for most of the day. I’d get more done, and do less obsessive clicking.

BUT! I should say that, when I’m playing SotM, I don’t feel hungry, or itchy, or sad. I’m almost completely absorbed, even moreso than when I’m writing. It’s worth keeping around just for that. I just wish it was less irresistible.

Reading

After several years of feeling burned out on reading inside the fantasy genre, I’m finally feeling burned out on crime and mystery. It doesn’t help that I tried to shift from old classics to books that are popular and current, and really really did not enjoy them.

Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, which I picked up solely out of a sense of gratitude for the social events mentioned above, is a flintlock fantasy that I enjoyed way more than expected. Recommended. At the moment, I’m reading Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon because everyone on reddit loves those books passionately. I’m 80 pages in and mostly enjoying it, despite the fact that I’m not usually fond of high magic settings.

Watching

I took the family to DEADPOOL, which is an objectively bad movie, but hugely enjoyable anyway. It’s been a while since I saw a modern Hollywood film (that wasn’t SPY) that made me laugh really hard. Now I hear that the people behind Batman v Superman are planning an R-rated version, because… I don’t know, they think it was the rating that made DEADPOOL a hit and not the humor? Don’t know. Don’t care all that much.

I’ve also dropped a number of TV shows that I was watching through sheer momentum, not because I enjoyed them. Most of what I found compelling in season one of ARROW is long gone, and I just don’t have space for it anymore. After trying both LUCIFER and LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, I’ve decided that they aren’t going to do that Star Trek thing where it takes them a little while to find their rhythm and they become awesome. Both are dropped. At this point, I’m only watching ELEMENTARY, FLASH (which has been way less fun this season) and AGENTS OF SHIELD (which has been improbably improving).
I’m looking forward to season 2 of DAREDEVIL, even though it will probably be a disappointment. We’ll see.

No one in my family is remotely interested in the upcoming DC adaptations. We’ll see, redux.

Writing

As I mentioned above, last week I crossed the 100,000 word mark of ONE MAN. What I didn’t mention is that last August 26th, I was at 31,000 words.

I know this because of this horrible new record-keeping that other authors suggested I do. All it does is tell me things that make me unhappy.
For example, last fall I took a month-long trip to Portugal, and my plan to squeeze out a few pages during quiet moments never worked. I got zero new words done that month.

After Thanksgiving, I stopped writing the first draft and went back to revise what I had. Revise it extensively, which took a month and a half.

When that was finished, I realized the game supplement I promised my Kickstarter backers was way overdue, and I spent three weeks revising that.
When I returned to ONE MAN, I re-outlined the rest of the book (using the virtual whiteboard app Scapple, which I like) and now things are tearing right along.

It’ll take another long revision process, and it’s going to be a long-ass book: at 100K words, I’m still looking ahead to the beginning of the climax. Still, I feel like this is good work. I just hope the market agrees.

I haven’t decided what I’m going to work on after that. The next book in the series is TWO DRAGONS, but I have a short story due for an anthology (soon) and I might want to write something else in between. Plus there’s that game supplement.

I wish I could be more prolific.

And that’s where things stand.

New blog series: I went to Portugal

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I have recently taken a “social media vacation” that lasted about a month. I wasn’t completely gone, but I wasn’t posting much, wasn’t reading much, and barely responded to people. The reason was simple:

I was on a month-long vacation in Portugal with my family.

My wife’s sister and her husband have lived in Lisboa and Porto for over ten years, and this was our first visit. We set aside a whole month at the end of the tourist season, late September through October, to see the sights, drink cafe on the sidewalks, and generally hang out and get to know the country. We did some things designed for the turista and some that locals do.

And yeah, the trip has been a secret, mostly, because I don’t think it’s wise to tell the world when the whole family is going out of the country together. It’s not that I’m afraid people would rush to my empty home to rob it, it’s that they’d rush to our home to rob it and find my niece living there, house-sitting for us.

So: trip reports, with pictures, coming up.

What makes a classic, according to a 13 year old

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On Thursday afternoon, I was working with my son on his homeschool reading. He’d just finished Fahrenheit 451, and he explained that he liked the chase scenes at the end more than the setup at the beginning and middle.

“It seems to me,” he explained, “that in books that are considered classics, they’re more concerned with the… psychology of the characters than in the chase stuff.”

I agreed with him.

That night was family movie night. we picked MARATHON MAN, which was on Netflix Streaming. Spy thrillers are a big hit with the kid, because he’s a big fan of, as he puts it, “smart people being smart.” That’s why he prefers Mission Impossible to James Bond, and why he had an allergic reaction to Dumb and Dumber.

Anyway, Marathon Man’s dental stuff went by without much comment, but the movie was slow (compared to the stuff we make the time to see in the theater) and it was low-key, and it was concerned with the relationship between the characters. When it was over, I asked him what he thought.

“I liked some parts.”

That’s his answer when he finds long stretches of a film kinda dull.

“It’s a classic seventies thriller. Remember what we said earlier about classics? The long shots of people’s faces, or the awkward conversations they have, are their to show the psychology, like you said. Maybe the greatest story ever would combine the character and the exciting event, but we can’t all be Shakespeare.”

Then he nodded and pointed at me, and retreated to his bedroom to draw or read his latest light novel. Anything to avoid a longer conversation about a movie or book.

My wife squeezed my hand and said “Very good. Very good.” She’s happy when we can explicitly tie movie night into his schooling. “But it was pretty slow.”