Out of Commission

Today is really my first day back after a cold that just wouldn’t quit. The worst of it was two weeks ago and lasted from Monday night until the following Sunday, with a follow-up week of reduced energy and a continued cough.

This often seems to happen to me when I start with a new project, or when I’m getting into a groove. This happened to my external projects, and even a bit with my work writing. Ironically, I can program under almost any conditions, but writing seems to require a baseline level of health.

Still, I’m pretty stubborn. I’ll call one day off work maybe, but after that I’m back it, both for the job I’m paid for, and for other work. The only trouble is that I don’t really feel like doing anything but watching TV and/or reading comics books (and maybe some casual gaming if my energy level goes up by a micron).

How do you write when all you want to do is die?

Okay, maybe there are some authors who feel like they’re going to die all the time and that actually serves their work, but as a non-fiction/mystery/sci-fi writer, feeding off lows isn’t really my bag.

As always I fall a little back on the mantra of non-fiction, which is to do something else. If you’re not feeling writing, do something else productive, even if its just organizing files, selecting research materials, or re-reading source material. Production may not be possible, but that doesn’t mean brain storming isn’t. After all, it was mostly my head that was affected, maybe some neurons were knocked around in patterns that would be helpful for the work.

But admittedly it might be just as helpful to surrender for a little while, only to come back swinging when you’re really feeling up to it. Even though I feel like a fairly disciplined author, capable of long swings of constant production, I still have to be attuned to the up and down motions of moods and phases of life. It may be that in the times I’m not writing, I’m doing the most creating.

Okay, that felt pretty hippy-dippy, even for me.

Seriously, being a writer is a constant battle between being honest with how you’re feeling, and what you want to do. And always thinking up ways to make the best of how you’re feeling at the moment, while also constantly evaluating and beating yourself up for the times you haven’t been productive.

Well beating yourself up isn’t exactly helpful per-say, but it’s just part of the DNA.

Maybe that’s enough rambling from now, and I should just get back to work. That said, I am thankful for the little joys even of being sick, the ways in which my wife takes such good care of me (making food and tea and covering me with warm blankets). I enjoy my animals (even the dog who is making some pretty disgusting chewing noises against rubber at the moment). The cat even slept on me when my wife was away (which is a mixed blessing but a very nice gesture). I finished a couple of games I never make any time for, read a crap ton of comic books, some of which I’ll be reviewing later in the week and slept more than I have in months.

What do you do when you’re sick? Do you still try to work, or do you just rest?

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Stop Watching Gracepoint

gracepoint-vs-broadchurch

Image Source: Variety

Not that you were anyway.

As a Doctor Who fan not blessed with BBC America, I had heard of Broadchurch (the show upon which Gracepoint is based), but I had not seen it. Still I was excited to see David Tennant was in the American series, and I thought it couldn’t be that bad.

As I was to discover later, in many ways the American version is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the British original, but something about it falls flat. After the first episode my wife and I decided to hop on Amazon Instant video and pick up the first episode of Broadchurch for $1.99.

The episode is 7 minutes longer than the American version, begins and ends in the same place, and yet feels paced better. Some scenes do move quicker, the scene where the mother is running toward the beach in particular. The American version seems to take this as a way to show an attractive grieving woman moving slowly. The British version, shows the woman’s clothes blowing around and ballooning so that at times she looks kind of ridiculous (and human and realistic). The scene with the father first seeing his dead son in the morgue is much longer in the British version, and played with a great deal more emotion.

And Anna Gunn lacks the chemistry with Tennant that he had with Olivia Colman. Many critics have made the comment that the people in the American version are “too pretty”, especially Gunn, who comes off as not really being of the place where all this is happening. My feeling is more that Gunn has tapped into the cranky parts of this character more than the caring parts. Colman’s performance could involve tantrums and swearing (and a particularly colorful threat which made me laugh out loud in a later episode), but she equally was a considerate and caring person, and her humanity is key given the direction this case leads.

Another funny thing is that the American version seems more crass, even though it doesn’t have the swearing of the British original. In the second episode we’re treated to a lesbian describing the moment she “stopped liking penises”, which while intended as a strong comeback, damages her credibility as the head of a newspaper, and seems out of context in the argument. There’s other little things like the use of a needle for treating Tennant’s condition rather than just pills and the slight ramp up in the violence of the crime (though strangulation is pretty bad too).

And since we’re heading into nit-picky territory anyway, when drugs are discovered in the teenage sister’s room, Gunn’s character takes her out onto the sidewalk to discuss it privately, with people clearly in the background! In Broadchurch this scene happens far from the house in this huge back yard shared by multiple homes, but unable to be heard by anyone but the people talking.

I really don’t know why Fox made this, particularly since the filming and dialogue are so close to the original. If you’re not going to make your own unique take on this, then why not air the far superior original, with the swears beeped and the one scene with male butt cut out?

Tom Shaw from Bubble Watch says it best:

Gracepoint always seemed like a tough sell; you have all 12 or so people that had heard of Broadchurch but were scared away by British accents, and whatever tiny sliver of demo is interested in long-form mysteries. Unsurprisingly, this arrived DOA. Fox doesn’t have much to replace this with (as it is, they have an hour of repeats scheduled for Fridays), so they will likely just ride this out.”

But you don’t have to “ride it out”. You can stop, and if you haven’t seen it, buy Broadchurch. I promise you it is worth every penny.

*And as an added bonus you get Arthur Darvill in Broadchurch for all you Whovians.

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Fermenting Ideas

Writing, especially regular writing like blogging, requires a pretty steady flow of ideas. There are lots of ways to get new ideas every day, but the easiest way is to consume a lot of information and media, and then to do something with your week. Create something for yourself, or do something physically exerting outside. Anything to keep the ideas flowing.

But some ideas sit with you for a while. You may have jotted them down in a little notebook, or it may have been percolating in the back of your brain for weeks or months on end. Some ideas need a little aging before they’re ready to see the light of day.

I try to keep a few things in my back pocket so I have something to talk about on days I otherwise have little to write about, but that’s a different. The ideas don’t really get any better, they just happen to be on deck.

But other things are really getting richer, like 10 year Scotch. I see something on the news, or out in the world, and it tweaks a little detail of a story I’m composing. Or I make a new connection between two disparate pieces of information that were filed in two different boxes in my head.

As writers we need to be able to do both. To think about something for 5-10 minutes, and then be able to write 500-100 words about it. And we have to be able to think for months or years about the same subject, and be able to feel like the material is as fresh as the day we first thought of it, but with all the rich full body, smooth finish and hints of oak we expect from a really well brewed idea.

The risk, especially if you’re not writing anything down, is that you can forget ideas. Sometimes that’s a good thing, just because you’ve been thinking about something for a long time doesn’t mean it should see the light of day. My feeling is if an idea is really something I should write about, I’ll remember it, or I’ll write it that day.

Usually I check in with my longer term ideas in the morning and evening commutes. This can involve visualizing a scene, or incorporating a new piece of information, or debating when I should actually start writing something down. The rest of the day I’m focused on the particular day’s work, but the longer term idea is never far from the surface.

Admittedly I don’t stop and think about this process much. This is just something that’s kinda in my writer DNA. Ideas fall into the two hoppers of long term and short term naturally. But occasionally it can be a good idea to examine your writing process, just to be aware of how you work, and maybe make adjustments as necessary.

In that spirit, how long do you think about ideas before you write them down?

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AFK

We don’t notice how dependent we are on technology until it fails us.

Now I’m pretty flexible when it comes to tech. I can get productive work done on just about any device, no matter the operating system, software or hardware involved. But the one thing I really can’t compromise on is a good keyboard.

Often when I’m out writing in a coffee shop I play a little game with myself where I try to bring the least amount of tech possible to get the night’s work done. I’ve recently adopted a “one bag” (I used to carry three) policy with my work tech, and that’s been going great. I used to (and frankly still do) lug around a lot of things I don’t really need, because I wasn’t making decisions about what I was actually going to do.

So for a writing night “one-bag” becomes “tablet bag”. Now I’m still traveling with two tablets, a notebook, chargers and a crap ton of pens, but at least it doesn’t weigh very much. I even have a plug-in keyboard for one of the tablets, so I can turn one of them into a micro-computer even smaller than my old netbook.

At first I tried to convince myself that writing slower is good for me. Having to type and retype each word was good for organizing my thoughts, much in the same way people use writing by hand. Punching the keys as hard as I can is just a way of more physically engaging with the piece beyond just the simple mental exercise.

Or maybe the keyboard, particularly the space bar, was unresponsive, designed for short e-mail compositions of maybe 50 words, not 500 words synopsis. The evening was saved by having the notebook, so I could at least take some good research notes for fleshing out when I get back to a proper computer. But I doubt I’ll be taking out that portable keyboard any time soon.

I’m not used to attacking my keys. Most keyboards I’ve worked with allow me to apply light pressure to accurately type each word. And I’m not even particular about “correct typing”. Like a lot of people of my generation I tried to “learn to type” long after I’d already developed bad habits of using computers, and I still type in a way that never uses my pinky finger, often having it just pointing up in the air. Probably this will be responsible for hand cramps later in life, especially considering the volume of typing I do, but maybe at that point text to speech will be to a point where keyboards will no longer be necessary.

Writing by hand isn’t frustrating because at least my fingers do not rebel and write the wrong letters (though from my handwriting it might be hard to tell). I don’t miss spaces, and I can write at a speed a lot closer to the one my brain moves at. There’s definitely an optimal speed to writing, fast enough to keep up with your brain, but slow enough not to skip words or whole thoughts which you’ll just have to come back to later.

How do you do most of your writing? Are you as particular about writing implements as I am?

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Trube on Tech: WordPress eBooks and Star Trek Games

This week I got a couple of questions on some older posts asking for a little tech assistance. Rather than reply in the comments, I thought a special post would best serve to answer their questions, or those of anyone else in the future:

ennoundinga asks on Converting Your WordPress Blog to an eBook (Part 2)  : In my Blog export I would like to grab the comments also. Do you think there is a chance to extend the XSL transformation to evaluate the comments?

For my solution I wanted to do two things:

  • Add a “Comments” header if comments existed, and hide it if there are none
  • Format comments with the comment author and comment content

Testing for the existence of comment elements can be accomplished with an xsl:if test:

<xsl:if test="./wp:comment[1]">
  <h2><b>Comments:</b></h2>
</xsl:if>

The xpath statement “./wp:comment[1]” looks for the first comment element that is a child of the current post. If one is found the “Comments” header is printed. If not the parser moves on to the next post.

If comments are present the following code will format them into our working HTML:

<xsl:for-each select="wp:comment">
  <b>
  <xsl:for-each select="wp:comment_author">
    <xsl:call-template name="print-paras"/>
  </xsl:for-each>
  </b>
  <em>
  <xsl:for-each select="wp:comment_content">
    <xsl:call-template name="print-paras"/>
  </xsl:for-each>
  </em>
</xsl:for-each>

Both the comment content and author name are stored in CDATA statements and need to be processed by our print-paras template. This code will format the comment like this:

Name of Commenter

What the commenter said in all its glorious detail.

I’ve uploaded an update to the XSL template here (again note since WordPress has filename restrictions the extension has been renamed .xls).

Next question, I’m on a rampage!

WZ writes on AGFV: 20 years of Star Trek 25th AnniversaryBen: Followed your instructions carefully for Star Trek 25th using DBGL, but I only have the CD not floppies version. DBGL is fine. This game appears to not run because (per dos window) the game is looking for a CD to be in the CD drive. But need this to run from the hard disk instead because of physical disability makes it hard to always be putting cd’s in and out of the drive bay. Is the CD game version hardcoded to only run from CD bay? Please reply to my email… Thanks for your gaming blog, it’s great, I enjoyed all your gaming entries.

As it happens, I was reorganizing some of my DBGL files this week (no joke) and managed to create a solution to this very problem.

The 25th Anniversary Enhanced Edition CD-ROM is a little unusual. It’s an Enhanced CD, meaning it has both CD Audio content and CD data content. This means it can’t be fully ripped to an ISO image, since ISO’s only deal with CD data. But there are programs available that allow you to rip an enhanced CD, one such being CloneCD.

To rip an enhanced CD using CloneCD:

1) Open CloneCD and click Read to Image File:

CloneCD_001

2) CloneCD will analyze the disc in the drive, and ask you to select the type of CD. Many selections will work for our purposes, but for now select Game CD:

CloneCD_002

3) Browse to a folder and choose a name for your file (the program will actually create four different files so maybe store in a blank folder). Check the box next to Create “Cue-Sheet”:

CloneCD_003

4) Click OK to begin ripping the CD:

CloneCD_004

5) When you’re finished your folder will contain four files that will look something like this:

CloneCD_005

6) Create a folder in dbgl\dosroot called TREKCD (full path dbgl\dosroot\TREKCD). Copy the folder containing your ripped CD to this folder.

7) You’ll need to install the game from the CD first, then set DBGL to run it. Add a mount for the C drive to the TREKCD sub-folder. Add another mount for the D drive and select the Mount Image(s) radio button. Click Browse, browse to your CUE file and select it as the mount point.

DBGL_Mount

8) With the imgmount selected, click the Grab button next to the main then Browse to add files from the CD image to run at startup. Select INSTALL.EXE. Your run window should look like this:

DBGL_ReadyToInstall

9) Click OK, and run the file to run the install program. When the installation is finished copy the files it installed into your TREKCD folder. Your final directory should look something like this (you may not have the CFG or savegame files):

DBGL_Folder

10) Edit the Profile again and change the Main to STARTREK.EXE in the TREKCD folder, and Setup to SETUP.EXE (in the same folder). Your final setup should look like this:

DBL_PlaySetup

Note: You probably want to set your machine to 7500 cycles for optimum performance.

GameRunning

And you should be good to go. Let me know if you have any further questions.

 

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Halloween Traditions

I was out walking my dog early this morning, which frankly at 5am can be a little spooky with just the baseline chill and darkness. But something happened between Monday and today to make the world a more mysterious and deadly place, Halloween decorations.

Now I’m explaining to my dog that the tombstones in someone’s yard are not a threat, and that the flashing light across the corner is not gunfire, but someone’s idea of fun. I walk under street lights and by orange strands of the nightmare before Christmas lights. And I have the resist the urge to literally punch a cackling skeleton pirate at the thrift store yesterday. It was right by the checkout aisle and was continuously being set off (while some of us where just trying to browse for CD’s). If I worked in that place I would have beaten that thing to a plastic pulp after a few hours of that maniacal laughter.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Halloween, specifically the candy and movies part. On Beggar’s Night I will sit on my porch, playing spooky music out of my laptop (or watching the classic Trek episode Catspaw), and handing out chocolate (because that is the best candy no matter what anyone tries to tell you). I will complement people’s costumes, and reward the unique and the strange with extra candy. Fair warning, Power Rangers and Twilight characters get nothing. Also teenagers above the age of 14 should be handing out candy, not asking me for it (if you hand it out, you still get to eat it).

In the month leading up to Halloween I will make a point of watching It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Young Frankenstein, the aforementioned Catspaw and all 25 Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror episodes (including the new one). I’ll equally throw in a couple of the Home Improvement Halloween episodes, Boston Legal, Community and maybe Garfield (though frankly that one is kinda bad).

I will even succumb to eating a little candy corn which is like eating candle wax but is strangely irresistible each year.

But decorating for Halloween like it’s Christmas, this I can do without. Actually you can do whatever you want, but if you have a ghost on your front lawn that spooks my dog, don’t be surprised to find it chewed to bits the next morning ;)

What are your Halloween traditions (and am I way off about the decorating thing being weird)?

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Time is not on my side

Ben Trube:

How is your time spent when you don’t make specific plans?

Originally posted on Going Deeper:

Last Sunday’s sermon was a concluding sermon to a long series on the Christian life, and as such, it was kind of a laundry list of topics. We could probably write posts every day for three weeks on some of the questions raised, but for today I’ll be focusing on one, how am I claiming my time?

The principle here is very simple: If we don’t make a point of setting aside time for something, something else will fill that time.

Ben TrubeFor me the things that fill random available moments are watching TV, and organizing files on my computer. I keep active libraries of DRM free eBooks, comic books, music and video games I’ve purchased stored on a number of different computers and hard drives. Everything is backed up in multiple places, and needs to burned to disk so it can really be permanent. Occasionally my organization results in a…

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