Sunday, December 27, 2015

Space Jellies

“I can just see it now, first alien species discovered. We’ll be famous!” Yasir stood up from his station, arms waving in early celebration.
“Shut up and monitor them. We need to start getting behaviors. Also I would rather not attract their attention. Keep the active sensors off Yasir.” Roger focused on the orbital charts.
“Alright, but really we should celebrate.” Yasir grumbled and sat back in his chair.
“Yeah, later.” Roger growled. For a few minutes the three crew members on the exploration vessel focused on their tasks.
“Look at them, floating in space. They look like jellyfish, maybe space jellies...” Yasir tried to describe them.
“Yasir,” Jane looked over her shoulder from her station and gave him a warning head shake. Roger was studiously ignoring them.
A few more minutes passed. Roger grunted, “Hmm. Looks like they are tacking against the solar wind toward that asteroid field. Unusually dense.” As the pilot, that was saying something; usually only rings around planets gave the small ship any navigational issues, but this was at a trojan point trailing a rather large gas giant. “Zoom in as far as you can Yasir, and send us the views.”
“Sure.” Yasir already had zoomed in as far as he could with one telescope, but Roger rolled the ship just enough to bring both the dorsal and ventral telescopes to bear. Using the telescopes in conjunction meant the computers could interpolate more detail, making the two telescopes act like a larger one.
All three were riveted to the view. About twenty of the massive jellies were circling a section of the cluster, well sphering, but that isn’t really a verb. Yasir watched as jets of matter puffed out from the giants, maneuvering them between the much smaller asteroids. One shot forward through a gap and sent a tendril of gossamer out to a particularly rough rock. But rather than pulling the whole thing to itself a chunk flaked off. Interest turned to confusion as the flake of asteroid developed two bright blue points of light.
“Ion engine signature detected,” intoned the ship’s computer.
They sat for a few moments in shock.
“That’s a ship.” Jane’s voice trailed off.
Roger started to curse with less reserve than normal. His hands flew over controls.
“Rog, three of them see us.” Jane recovered. “They are accelerating for us. Contact in five minutes.”
“I’m going. How’d they see us? Yasir?” Another string of invectives quickly followed.
“I don’t know.” Yasir watched in horror as the one that had caught the ship ingested it and began to process it. First the bright pinpricks of blue died. Pieces started to peel off the ship. Gases started escaping, but they didn’t spread out like in vacuum, but rather bubbled as though inside a viscous fluid. Finally the ship cracked in half. Yasir turned off his screen, too horrified to keep watching.
Jane and Yasir looked at each other as Roger turned the ship and started to accelerate away. She turned back to her station to figure out what was happening. Yasir didn’t really want to turn back to his station.
“At our current rate of acceleration they will catch us in six minutes. How far until we reach the trans-point?” Jane asked.
“Six minutes twenty seconds.”
“Can we give it any more power?” Jane’s desperation started to show through her schooled demeanor.
“Nope, we can’t, our ion spikes are already at max capacity.”
“Twenty percent above recommended, it’s more due to frequency at that point. We’ll hit a third of c right before the trans-point.”
“Are we going to make it?” Yasir asked. Both of his seniors turned to stare at him.
“Not by the numbers.” Somehow Roger’s demeanor was morphing into an oddly jovial one.
“What if we lose some mass?” Yasir tried not to bounce.
“It won’t be enough to make a twenty second difference.” Roger smiled. Yasir didn’t like that smile, it seemed a bit careless in their situation.
“But it might distract them.” Yasir countered.
“He’s got a point Rog. But what can we space?” Jane looked hopeful.
“We could ditch our spare air. Hopefully the recycler won’t cut out on us.”
Jane looked a bit concerned. “What if we spaced half?”
“Half measures so we won’t be eaten? Might as well give them the back half the ship.” Roger waved his hand and laughed.
“Roger,” She almost never used his whole name, working together for ten years called for some familiarity. Yasir wondered if they had ever been in such a dire situation before.
“Alright, let’s keep one of the twelve.” He gestured in a placating manner, hands out. “We are still about ten transits from an inhabited system. If something goes wrong six won’t really do us any more good. One will still work with the suit recyclers though.”
“Let’s start rolling them out.”
The three hurried out of the small bridge and went ten meters back to where engineering started.
A few minutes of lifting the heavy cylinders into the airlock and they were ready to go.
“What about one of the emergency pods?” Yasir asked.
“Might as well. Go forward and launch one. Not both.” Roger turned back to the airlock control.
Yasir sprinted back up the short length of the ship and stood at one of the pod chutes right behind the bridge and in front of the small quarters. He knew the procedure well enough, but in this situation he wasn’t sure how he was going to launch it without being in the pod himself.
He yelled down the length. “I have a problem.” His com blinked on his wrist. Oh yeah.
“Yes?” Roger asked.
“How will I launch this without getting inside?”
“The panel with the red line around it. Lift that. There will be manual overrides. We’ll be right up, just one more thing to space.”
Yasir flipped back the panel and saw a long red handle. “Manual launch. Only use as last resort.” The warning message made him shiver. Who would stay behind if one of the three of them had to launch the other pod manually? He pried the handle out of a clasp and started to pull on it. The first few inches were almost too easy. Red and white doors started to slide closed in front of the entrance to the pod.
But then he encountered a huge amount of resistance. After straining and pulling he put his feet up on the bulkhead and braced to pull sideways. The resistance gave way and he found himself swinging from the bar, feet coming off the bulkhead. His knees landed with a loud noise on the deck. Fortunately there was another spot of resistance, otherwise Yasir would have crashed himself against the oncoming bulkhead.
“Good job Yasir.” Roger never gave complements. Maybe it was sarcasm?
“Just need to get it a few more inches. Let me help you.” The two of them pushed it into another clasp. The red and white passage doors denoting that the pod was used closed with a click. The ship juddered as the pod launched.
“Let’s get up there and see what they do.” Jane came up behind them.
They entered the cockpit and took their respective seats. Yasir turned on the screens at his station again.
“Two are peeling off,” reported Jane, “but that big one didn’t take the bait.”
“Hopefully we can transition before we lose anything important.” Roger was almost maniacally happy.
They all sat in tense anticipation, waiting for an imagined but very close doom.
“It’s in range.” A massive spasm ran through the length of the ship. “It didn’t hit too hard. No damage.”
“It’s pulling us in.” Yasir shuddered.
“Trans-point in ten seconds. Please prepare for transition.” The calm tone from the ship’s computer barely registered.
“We are inside, telescopes obscured.” Yasir muttered.
“Transition.” Yasir never liked transitions before, they always made his head ache and his stomach twist. This time he was anticipating it joyfully because the discomfort told him the happy news.
“Whoa. Look at that.” Jane sent a screen around showing an trailing cloud of debris. As the alien’s goo sloughed off of the hull it crossed the realspace bubble into subspace and dissociated into component atoms becoming rainbow colors on the subspace sensor.
“Now, Yasir, we can celebrate.” Roger seemed a bit more dour.
“I think I’m good.” Close calls didn’t sit well with Yasir’s stomach.
“But we discovered two alien species in a single day!” Roger said it with a straight face, much less scary than his smile.
“Two?” Both Jane and Yasir asked in unison.
“Yep, that other ship wasn’t human, or at least nothing I’ve seen before.”
“Yeah, but they have a bug problem.” Jane shook her head. “How will they escape?”
“I don’t know. But what I do know is that we need to get back home after all those supplies we pushed out.”
“Yep, it’s going to be tight.” Jane agreed.
“I thought we only need to worry if we start leaking air.” Yasir stared at Roger.
“We also spaced about a month’s worth of rations. We’ve got about ten days of food for a nine day trip. Not much of a margin of error.”
“Ah.” Of course Yasir didn’t feel like eating right at the moment, but packaged food was certainly better than the recycler’s version.
The ship made it back to Earth’s system a few hours ahead of schedule. All the slime had sublimated away before doing serious damage, but one thing still stuck to the hull. None of the ship’s sensors detected any anomalies as it detached itself just as the sun’s strength reached the right parameters. The clear melon-sized envelope expelled a bit of mass, stabilizing its orbit.

And just for fun here are the Slow Mo Guys with Jelly Tennis.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars Review

Disclaimer: Reading the following will most certainly SPOIL certain plot elements or SPOIL your excitement to see the movie. SPOILERS ahead.

This movie goes loosely into my category where the Hobbit movies are, however, I was hoping that it might be a bit closer to the extended cannon. So I broke my general rule of lowered expectations for a better movie experience and had the reason why I hav my rule reinforced. I loved it and I hated it. Let's get the love part out of the way because it is much shorter:

Diversity of cast: excellent. Just the ships, the planets, and all but the desert scenes: awesome. Orange Yoda: necessary and pretty interesting, but this starts getting into the negative part of this whole thing. The story telling: if I hadn't seen episodes I and IV I would be enthralled and would have missed many of the weird plot holes and conveniences.

Alright, here we go down the rabbit hole of negativity. If you end up going to the dark side just because you hate me after this, well you might already be there.

First, the plot: Are you kidding me? Same exact story as much of the rest of the franchise, including a desert world, though this time Tatooine has a different name, but it seems to have less important cities, but the same terrain features and much more imperial interest at one point. No explanation why anybody cares so much about Jakku that the old empire ditched star destroyers on the planet surface. To have wreckage on the surface they must have been fighting in decaying orbits or even sub-orbital, but why would they be fighting over Jakku that close in the first place? Maybe they knew that someone would need some major obstacles to scavenge and then fly around. Or maybe ill-maintained ship breaker yards?

Also with all that imperial hardware on the ground maybe our force sensitive Rey may have come across a hidden stash of sith holocrons... Conclusion: imagery great, convenience too great.

Although BB-8 is somehow a cuter version of R2-D2, I have a problem with his physics, but I will leave that at that, though I would be glad to discuss it. Also a paint job that can stand up to a world full of abrasives and abuse by starship would be well worth looking into.

What is with the Orange Yoda? Maz is certainly one of my more favorite characters in the movie, however, she feels like a direct replacement for Yoda, a sort of under-powered orange version. I think a sister duet could have taken the obviousness out of such a direct replacement, but that probably would have taxed the already over taxed CG crew. And if she was my favorite character, what does that say about the rest of the movie?

But here are many major questions. What happened to the Yuzon Vong invasion? What happened to Jaina, Jacen, and Anakin Solo? Ben Skywalker? Basically all the cannon was thrown out. Bring back Chewie, kill Han. What? For as meticulous as Lucas was about cannon it seems that Disney just threw away everything. Ugh.

So as much as it is a fantasy in guise of a sci-fi flick I was hoping for a story fit into the existing universe. A universe, despite its magic, that is large and involved, a universe people have imagined for millions of hours, fitting events, characters, and technology together. A universe that has sabotaged many of my writing attempts because I feel the need to give everything technical specs and fill in back-stories to the point of overkill. I guess what really drew me to it was the amazing collaboration into one universe.

If you noticed I called it a fantasy, it has been called a space opera, and it might have been better as an opera in three acts. But it is a fantasy and I will be reading Star Wars on Trial after this disappointing repeat of a movie. It will hopefully help to lower my expectations and be able to concentrate more on my own universes.

I mostly stayed away from reading fantasy recently on David Brin's suggestion that we really need more forward facing literature. Although it is fun to indulge in well written fantasy it is too often looking back and not forward. But if you know me I do fencing, archery, and longsword, so how can I not be steeped in this stuff?

Well if you saw the scenes that passed for sword fighting in the movie, there are many authors and choreographers who know little to nothing about sword fights. Maybe we can learn from this article by John Clements? Of course the movie had two novices picking up a lightsaber for the first time, but what really disappoints me is that Kylo Ren wasn't any better, probably something to do with being injured? Still I guess they couldn't just kill the main characters in the first installment.

Enough. I will see the next one barring cancellation, however unlikely for either of us, with much lower expectations. Maybe I will write more about this later.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Course Correction

“Course correction filed. Target centered. Time to transition, five minutes thirty-four seconds.” The light synthetic voice droned, obviously bored with simple things, but it took an edge that Jordan didn’t like, “Captain,” A word without much of the tonality it should have, “The problem with subspace disk four seems to increasing. I would suggest that we don’t use it as it may interfere with the more stable bubbles generated by the other three.”
Jordan couldn’t decide if it was good or bad to have an AI that was worried about their welfare. Mostly good, but they really needed to make this run as quickly as possible. “What alternatives do we have?”
“The first, and only real alternative is to leave the disk out of the jumps, of course we will have to course correct again and make a slightly shorter hop for Proxima Centauri in order not to risk a long burn on the other side.” Of course, the disks were what kept them together in subspace, protecting them from the different physics existent in the parallel universe. The disks also kept them from floating up out of subspace in some unknown part of their own universe, like anchors or down planes.
“Any other options? How bad could the interference be? You know they have an inverse payscale, the longer it takes, the less money we get and the less likely it is that I can get that repaired.” Hauling zettabytes of data was the high-tech way between systems paid well. With exclusionary pricing on data via quantum entanglement an industry of a sneakernet spaceships making jumps several times a day between systems.
“Based on rough models,” That phrase sent chills through his spine, all too often those models were spot on, it must have been a colloquialism that the ship’s computer acquired from the previous owners, a cantankerous elderly couple that had been wandering the stars for nearly eighty years. “The interference would certainly take out the number two disk and possibly the number one disk which would roughly halve or quarter our distance.”
“Oh.” If you were going five light years you really wanted to arrive in a spot that wasn’t too far away. The three standard hours it would take to get to the Sol system would turn into years of relying on the standard ion-spike drives and hoping none of the recyclers brokedown. And there was that whole time dilation thing too. All in all, not something you really wanted to risk hopping between stars. “Turn it off. Correct our course again.”
“Course correction filed.” The stars swept from left to right. “Target centered. acceleration time: twenty seconds. Time to transition: two minutes eight seconds.”
“Carry on, Jean.” Jordan put his feet up and reached for the first edition Asimov, quite a rare find, maybe he should replace the disk next time.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Running is not allowed

“Running is not allowed.” This was the third time and much louder.
Jordan gave up ignoring the the otherwise unperturbed voice in his ear. “Yeah, yeah. Only on treadmills. Shouldn’t you be asking me to walk?”
“I tried but it seems your receptiveness to well reasoned suggestions is lacking.” She could say that again.
Jordan glanced up at the displayed time and saw only a few minutes before the scheduled departure. He didn’t need to make the launch, but he wanted to see her again.
“I will have to notify the authorities as you are not self-regulating.” The tone of voice didn’t change for the threat, but Angie didn’t have that capability as a ten year old version of the virtual assistant software.
“Ang, could you give me two more minutes? I promise I will keep the running to just the gym after this.” He dodged past surprised tourists visiting the habitat. Their guide calling after him.
“I cannot promise that others are not going to call you in, and I will definitely have to file a report.” Jordan could imagine her as a woman taking a grumpy tone and crossing her arms. He had to grin at that.
“It’s totally worth it.” He thought of the girl he had met so many months ago, Gertrude. She was on the habitat with her parents, inspectors, for the last three months. No one really wanted to get to know her because inspectors were an odd entity, both ensuring the safety of the habitat but also finding things that needed money in order to fix.
They were also there for only three months, another reason that the shy, pretty girl really wasn’t making any friends. Jordan had his daydreams, what boy doesn’t? But he was so unsure of himself that he really didn’t meet her until last week when his parents invited her and her parents over for dinner.
They hit it off, and talked most of the rest of the week whenever they could get a bit of free time. They mostly discussed sci-fi, specifically from the twentieth and early twentieth-first centuries. They both had vast electronic libraries that their parents had allowed them to read as well as a few very precious volumes of printed books. With all of that distraction all of his teenage romantic plans disappeared while they discussed how it must have been back then. The wide range of sci-fi that had never come true, or was yet to come true, and the very few that did.
How could those people live without all the conveniences of today? And all but a very few were stuck on the planet surface, living out their entire lives without visiting Jupiter or Venus.
He skidded to a stop and hit a clear section of rail causing the other onlookers to give him nasty looks. He scanned the line and saw her scanning the railing. He waved, she waved and smiled. If he had only been able to get up earlier then he could have said something to her, because last night he had a realization, he really enjoyed spending time with her.
He watched as she boarded the sleek HAL (High Altitude Lander.) It detached from all the different tubes and maneuvered away from the habitat. Just then Venus came into view with its swirling yellow clouds and silver towers stirring the brew. The white ship with red-striping became backlit, even with the habitat lights on it. A silhouette of darkness.
“Was it worth it?” Jordan was glad that her inflection was non-existent, he was sure she would have put a bit of sting into it.

“No,” if he had been ten minutes earlier he could have actually talked to her, not just waved like a maniac. “Yes.” It was, she had asked him to wave at her as she left and he had. They would be able to communicate, and Jordan was looking forward to it, though maybe he should remember to write his grandmother, the one who got him hooked on sci-fi in general, and thank her.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


John studied himself in the mirror as best he could through tears. Red, puffy eyes stared back at him, a running nose already leaked just a minute after using a tissue. He couldn't do his job well if he always looked like this. He readjusted his coat and a sneeze caught him unaware. At least he had an appointment with the doctor today.


 "Mr. Filner, I am afraid that the results were inconclusive." Dr. Snozuk came bustling into the small room a clipboard in one hand with papers folded over the top and a pen in the other hand. "We only found one thing that you seemed to have a serious immune response to, and it simply doesn't grow in this environment."

"But if I am not allergic to anything else why do I have all the symptoms?" He tried not to wipe his nose on the jacket sleeve. Dr. Snozuk must have noticed John's involuntary half-lift of his arm because he grabbed the box of tissues behind him and set it next to John.

Dr. Snozuk waited while John finished clearing his nose. "The only thing we found was a pretty bad reaction to puffball mushroom spores." John froze in mid wipe. "They really don't have a chance to grow in this dry of a climate, but it seems you know what I am talking about. Do you handle puffball mushrooms?"

"Uh..." Of course he handled the mushrooms, but he really didn't want to explain why. But the alternative was to lie to a very observant doctor with scientific evidence that the only thing causing his allergies was the puffball. "Yes." Short, simple, no need to elaborate.

"May I ask why?"

Of course the doctor could, but John couldn't answer truthfully, it would be stupid. Not only that, it could be suicidal.  "It's for research." Skirting the truth.

Dr. Snozuk squinted, realizing the lie, or the multitude of unspoken reasons, but shook his head. "Well you need to wear a basic dust mask when you handle them. Also change your clothing if you don't have lab-wear. He indicated his white coat that went past his knees on his short frame.


John hadn't managed to convince the doctor to prescribe him anything for the allergy beyond the usual over the counter drugs. Of course he wasn't going to wear a mask when he handled the puffballs. He could just imagine it, go into a city official's office and put on a mask before releasing his precious cargo. Unlikely, he would probably get put on a very bad list, if he wasn't already.

Doctors had been much less likely to prescribe any drug since antibiotics were no longer useful. If you didn't have a life threatening disease and a simple way to avoid symptoms then you were out of luck.

John sighed and coughed. He might as well make his way to his supplier, he would just have to find other ways to expose corruption and graft. The months of suffering had to come to an end.


Walking into the warehouse always spooked him. Two large men, maybe men, flanked the entrance and waved him in without cracking a smile. Even given his previous job as a traditional lumberjack for eco/self-sufficiency tour groups he was sure that those two could snap him in half with their eyebrows. Also this time he was telling Timothy that he had to stop, definitely asking for trouble.

Tim made him wait fifteen minutes, not so bad, but still showing him who was in charge. Finally Tim came out of his office grinning, but stopped when he saw John's face.

"What's the matter Johnny?" John didn't cringe, but it didn't seem fair that he couldn't use 'Timmy.'

"I have to stop." It was out, no going back now.

"Stop what?" Tim's face showed surprise, but John knew him well enough to see that the expression was only an amplified reaction, for his benefit.

"Stop using the puffballs. Look at me I can hardly breathe." He coughed but then it actually took and he coughed for longer than he wanted to, leaving Tim to wait. It was finally over, definitely not his best moment.

"Are you sure it's the puffballs? They are engineered for a very specific purpose." An inscrutable look settled over Tim's face, a mask.

John smelled trouble. "I'm sure, I got a doctor to do the test, you know find what I am allergic to?"

"But you weren't allergic a few months ago."

"I am now, must have visited forty or fifty offices."

"They give you anything?" Tim had to be referring to the doctor, he knew all the dark sides of the officials because of John, no need to get anything from them.

"No, I asked."

"Hmm..." Tim looked thoughtful, with and arm across his chest and hand on chin. John started to get uneasy, possibly even jumpy.

"Do you have anything else that could replace the puffballs?" Maybe there was a chance, however unlikely.

"No, everything else is already out of date."

"But I can't wear a mask to interviews." John started to doubt he could really get out of this cleanly.

"Of course not. Who knew that you would develop an allergy?" John supposed that question was rhetorical.

A creak on the metal floor outside the second story office gave away that someone was coming up behind him. At the same moment Tim dropped his arms. John dove to his left. A hand caught the shoulder of his jacket but he slipped out of the grip and landed hard on the dirty metal surface.

"Secure him." Tim pointed at John. and one of the large men advanced, or maybe it was a third one.

"Hold on." John caught his breath. "I have a network right here. It's been recording our whole interaction." He had patted his jacket at very strategic intervals, releasing the recalcitrant spores to take a video recording of what happened.

"So?" The range was short and both of them knew it, for John to collect the information from his targets he needed to go back for follow up interviews and let the little devices dump their data directly to him.

"I set it up so that I could get to a node down the street. My jacket is so full of them I only had to move in order to leave a strong enough trail."

"How convenient, fortunately you are smart enough not to have alerted the authorities. It would have been a silly misunderstanding to deal with."

"No, but it has a deadman switch. If I don't check in soon it will dump the whole thing to Charlie, and several others," he added, getting up into a crouching position, trying to figure out how he could get past the giant.

"But if my memory serves we really haven't said anything other than about your unfortunate allergy. We'll figure something out. Meanwhile you should really consider finding a new career."


"Of course we will need to clean you and your apartment."

"But aren't you going to kill me?" Confusion, were all the rumors untrue?

"No. But you might feel a bit worse after the scrub-down, that is why we need to secure you." Tim signaled and the brute took John by an unresisting arm and then by the shoulders, guiding him down the metal stairs.


A short vignette about the possibility of micro recording devices. Not perfect by any means but just working on a couple different things.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

NaNoWriMo Conquered

I made it. I wrote 50,000 words. Now I need to write a few more parts and then start editing.

I finished the last day writing just over five-thousand words. My fingers flew and I think I put down some very good scenes. I have let it sit for over a week so that I can have a bit of a fresh view coming back to it. I will also look for excerpts to post in the coming weeks and months. I am shooting for a small novel ~70k words and will probably just have electronic versions because it is a bit shorter.

Jessie has offered to read it so I really need to think about putting it in readable format for her as well as having a good way for her to mark it without going through a horrendous rigamarole in order to take her suggestions. I write with Scrivener and although I don't know all of its features and how to use them I do like the interface.

So really I am writing this to get my gumption up to open it again and start writing or editing. I just need to carve out time. I also need to keep writing in order to make it a habit, a few hundred words per day isn't much, but, here goes the math again: ~300 * 365 ~= 100k words which is a fine length for a novel, so a bit more here and there and a bit less when crunching for class or work means I could have a somewhat serious hobby.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Update for Week Three

Saturday I hit the halfway mark of 25,000 words and Sunday I managed to reach 28,000 which is much more than I ever thought I would write.

The toughest part about writing is to continue writing. Often I want to go back and edit, or focus on something a bit more. But I know if I do that I will have about a few thousand words of story and many thousands of backstory. I find that I am putting quite a bit of backstory in the story, but just writing and trying to hit the 50k. Hopefully this week I will be able to focus a couple more days of 2,000 or 3,000 plus word days. Since I need 22,000 more words I will definitely need to get a few more big days.

I expect that I might be able to start editing in not too long, and Jessie already has some good feedback.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Focus has Changed

I am happy to announce that I have dropped the "blog" part of the web address in favor of my own domain: Of course this is much like a vanity plate at the moment while I figure out what I am going to do next, but I am enjoying it thanks to Google's cheaper domain name service.

It is still written on Blogger, hence the weird layout, but I am working on that too. I am looking at several options from Wordpress to hosting on a cloud such as Google or AWS. Probably Wordpress since it is so popular and maybe I can get better formats without giving up basic control over the layout. It also has quite a few plugins that I could probably figure out though I really don't want to go overboard.

But really I am more focussed on writing and work at this point, so maybe next month. Also check out my pages links over on the right. I mentioned that I reformatted the links, but I haven't gotten around to fixing the projects or the sci-fi writing links.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Weekly Novel Writing Update

Or "WeNoWrUp" for NaNoWriMo.

This week I never got ahead of the writing. I started the week with about 8000 words which was only 5000 words behind. Monday evening I pounded out 2000 words in a couple scenes that are quite important to the plot, and then followed up the stellar performance the next day by writing nothing. So this week definitely had its ups and downs.

I am slowly increasing my average words per day so that I am moving my expected date of finishing up, but I really need a few solid hours.

Last week's tirade about suffering sounds either more poignant or just ridiculous after Friday's events, probably a little flat. I could write on that sad event, but I think it would just be a bunch of righteous rage and freaking out that our intelligence communities really didn't have the group on their radar. The whole thing makes me sick.

Back to writing, normally scheduled events were not so nice to my writing schedule. Work was pretty solid including a meetup of beCraft on Thursday that talked about the Go language and a specific use case. Am I getting old that I just enjoy Python and don't really want to learn yet another language? I still find Go interesting, it has some built-ins that make it pretty good for, well, okay, aren't I writing about novels?

Back to writing, again. With a trip to see our Hawaii friend before she goes back this week, Saturday just disappeared. Not in a bad way except for writing-wise. So now I am looking at nearly a 10,000 word deficit. My best day has been around 2,000 words, so I really need a few 3,000 word days to make it a bit easier on the days that I can't sit down and write that many. And now this post is getting pretty long itself.

Let me know your thoughts about Friday, if you need a place to vent, or about languages if you understand the programming world. I am writing this early so that I might have a chance after church to put in many solid hours of novel writing. I remember back in the day when a few pages for a paper was back-breaking, now though I am pushing for a novel, crazy.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Writing Update and Other Things

I have ten things to write about that aren't part of NaNoWriMo, of course. My story isn't quite on the rocks word-wise, but I just wrote a post and have a few other things that are on my mind thanks to work and church.

Suffering is Not for the Faint of Heart - Talking about suffering, let's hope all your tribulations are small and solvable.

I also would like to write about how faith can come with writing. A small sticking point that somehow reason can't be applied to faith. Or maybe, it can't lead to faith. It is a very interesting question that I am somewhat invested in.

So I hope my unwritten words this week read my post on suffering, because they are suffering from me not writing them. Currently I have 6,987 very rough draft words. At the end of today I am supposed to be done with 13,333 words. A difference of nearly seven thousand words. Which if you read my post means that I still need to write nearly four hours today. Oof.

You can follow my progress at the NaNoWriMo site. Any encouragement welcome.

Anyway, I need to change my writing situation physically for a while. More words will come, hopefully a story with them.

Suffering is Not for the Faint of Heart

In case you haven't read my byline, I am a Christian. It doesn't mean so many of the things that people think it does, sure some of the rumors are true, but really?

Anyway, I would like to broach the topic of suffering. It's a bit scary to look for a definition to back up my thoughts and find that Wikipedia has a pretty in-depth article on suffering. Most of the time suffering is all about physical pain, Sure I have my aches and pains. Many other times suffering is about the mental issues. People are generally focused on their own problems, and many have issues that need help, and need work.

I could talk about what Christians consider suffering, being persecuted for our religion, but I think that there is a suffering that everyone is subject to in life.

This week has been a tough one for our office. Who hasn't had a tough week at work? My previous job had four years with the possibility of losing funding. Our leadership was extremely supportive throughout the whole process, but I was suffering from a few related issues, despite the support. I was tired of the island, near the end, tired of possibility that I wouldn't have a job, and just all the thoughts about where we would go and what we would do.

I did not handle it well, my work certainly suffered and I regret that I could have done more. But how can we do better? Is there a way to suffer joyfully? I would say that the answer is yes and there is a belief system that could definitely help with this. However, if you don't want to listen to that from me, there are still a few things to consider.

First: Are the people causing you suffering really just trying to make your life miserable? This is a really tough question because most people don't want to think about how the people causing suffering could possibly not be doing it intentionally. If the answer is still yes, even after you try to figure it out, then there is another question to ask: Are they trying to make me suffer just to make themselves feel better? If they are you have much deeper problems and should be considering formal action or moving away from the situation. But in both situations you need to be joyful. There is no other way. Not so obviously "fake" happy, because then you are probably going to try to take things, like revenge, into your own hands. That bent means that you are going to do ridiculous, potentially dumb things just to be able to rub their face in it.

Second: Sitting around wondering what a weird exchange means and being crabby about it is not going to do anyone good. Unfortunately I suffered from this malady on Tuesday and have been a bit slow in connecting my recent knowledge about suffering to this situation. I became overly righteous, condemning the action, not realizing that some leaders aren't leading because they are trained leaders, but rather are in the position because they were there.

Some people are born leaders, sure, some people will get training and be good leaders, some will fail and make mistakes that may seem obvious, and then there are those who will never learn but still have more power than they know how to handle. To put a leader in the fourth category right away without any thought to situation, background, training or lack thereof, and experience, is to write them off. It is not recommended as humans are not perfect representations of their own abilities at all times.

In a situation where there can be no mistakes, maybe putting a new leader in the position will solve the problem. That certainly worked well for Abraham Lincoln after how many generals? The problem is when the leader is seen to be failing at many levels and we are suffering because of it. Is there insight we could lend? Experience leading, pointing out concepts and language that might very well cause suffering?

I could go on about leading, having some experience myself, but we need to get back to suffering.

Third: Are we, ourselves prolonging our suffering because we are comfortable? It sounds strange but it is much easier for us to deal with the current discomfort than to try to imagine stepping out and changing something. I am talking positive change, though there may be suffering in it too. Can we help to alleviate suffering? Can we take the demotivation and turn it into motivation and action? Can we ask for help? Can we leave?

The reason I left the last question to last is because I am afraid of some people answering that question with a "yes." But is is a possibility. To focus on the more constructive, grumbling and moving on is one thing, grumbling and never getting over it but prolonging it just to feel better about grumbling? I am guilty. In a previous post I said that I would not complain without result. I have complained all this last week so now it is time for me to push for the positive change. Learning leaders are just human means that people suffer, knowing they are can help us to suffer joyfully and then help to change the climate.

When suffering at a small scale, such as this is, can be done joyfully, then when the true suffering comes we will have better tools to deal with it. Don't be afraid to suffer, just don't wallow in it, please?

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Growing Culture

A pre-post edit: I am finishing writing this and editing with the events of Nov 3rd in mind, which were certainly a hugely negative approach to motivating our team that my interest is a bit shaken, or maybe I just have to be more cynical, or less?

The Center for Open Science is growing, and its culture is changing. It sometimes seems like a confusing jumble of all sorts of not quite conflicting interests, but order has been coming to our controlled chaos. In some ways it is awesome, in others it might just deaden things.

I write this as one of our developers is leaving us. He was the first developer hired by the center and laid quite a bit of the groundwork that we use day-to-day. He has his reasons for moving on, but it is still sad to see him go. His enthusiasm really solidified my interest in working for COS, it was serious development, as well as being a serious cause.

I started in February when we had about 30-ish full time staff and many fewer projects going on. There was quite a bit of nebulous thinking with some really nice features that were making the OSF much more of a usable product. There was quite a range of ways to do things, different ideas and lots of freedom to learn and do.

At the beginning of the summer we brought in 35+ interns, doubling our staff numbers and blowing away any possible workflow. Some interns were working on small projects and others were working on large “R&D” projects that may never get integrated into the OSF. Essentially chaos ensued that we are still trying to dig out from under.

We hired a Product Manager and she brought more Agile methods as well as Jira and other ideas. This is certainly still a work in progress but a better definition of how a feature or a fix gets defined, worked on, and merged is a huge improvement over the previous workflow.

Unfortunately with the recent experience and some burnout starting to rear its ugly head, especially with a negative motivation speech to seal the deal and thinly veiled diatribes against the method we certainly need a moment to collect ourselves and our thoughts.

There are two huge projects that are essentially due this month. The problem is with the approach to these projects that it was not managed in such a way that makes much sense.
  • One project was given to an intern. Not that interns can’t do a good job, however, he can’t put in the time when it gets to the point where we need daily turnaround on code review response rather than weekly.
  • This project is now up to 12k lines. By far the biggest chunk of code that has been “through” code review. Why wasn’t it put through in a more piecemeal manner as it was being written? Because it was an R&D project, and though it had people signing off on the proposal, no one was assigned to help the intern bring it up to speed until two weeks ago.
  • Now they are trying to solve the crunch time by putting more devs on it. It may work, but really the fight was lost when it wasn’t converted from an R&D project earlier in the game with more code review done on top of that.
  • Also the full time dev assigned is one of the three code reviewers, meaning that he hasn’t really been able to do code review for other smaller PRs coming through the system.

So I could go on about the negatives of how we aren’t experiencing management in a good way, but I think it is not malicious, just some line of communication was not very clear, and now we are rushing to meet a deadline that we have just learned about.

So my first suggestion is that if the R&D project is ever going to possibly be more than just a learning project then it needs to have definite code and functional milestones where code and functionality can be assessed and reviewed in order for the storm to be avoided when we find out just how close we are to a deadline, at least we will know exactly how the project is going.

We also need everybody doing code review. I know most people aren’t very good at it, but that is why we have more than one level of code review. But three people looking at code that nearly twelve of us produce means that they are always falling behind. Always playing catch-up.

If we have better incremental code reviews with better chunking of the tasks, then we get feedback on smaller bits of code that can be implemented for the next chunk. When 500+ lines of code are changed in a Pull Request, it starts getting troublesome for the more thorough code reviewer to trace down all the implications.

I was going to end this, before today, with an inspirational thought about how we all need to be one of a kind without breaking companies when we leave. But I would like to focus on the more practical. We have a much better, tighter approach than we had before, but we still have some major hurdles to overcome.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Beginning of November Updates

Ran a 5k yesterday. It was a trail run, which was fun, but I am certainly not in the shape I was when I discontinued running a few years ago. Despite the varied terrain I managed a time of 32:42. Which is about the time of my first ever 5k. Definitely room for improvement. I know there has to be a Turkey Trot or something similar around here near the end of this month, so I hope to improve incrementally.

Also updated my Links page so that it actually has consistent formatting. For some reason Blogger's formatting is not very healthy. You may have noticed that my blog has changed formats quite a bit, but that is all in an attempt to keep it legible. Maybe I will have to switch back to the Magazine or other formats.

Also carved a pumpkin and gave out very little candy.

After getting home and giving the Subaru a cursory brake inspection to see if the pads needed replaced, I realized that today is the first day of Novel Writing! I almost forgot. I will start, right after this:

Here is a pumpkin picture.
Displaying _MG_2864.JPG
This is my pumpkin. It was interesting to work with a 45 lb white pumpkin.
Thanks to Jessie for taking pictures! I didn't put her pumpkin up, but she did a really good job with the patterns she chose.

Friday, October 30, 2015

What is Heritage

What is Heritage

We went to an Oktoberfest on the 24th of October in Staunton. And while the music was good and there were many food offerings by local shops of somewhat German cuisine, it was smaller than expected. Fortunately the location was quite interesting itself.

The Frontier Culture Museum is quite similar to a museum that we visited in 2012 in Norway, the Norsk Folkmuseum. It seems to be a favorite type of museum for Jessie, and I quite enjoyed wandering around as well. Looking at the houses brought in from around the countryside and talking to the recreators made me think about how we interpret history, both culturally and personally.

Since the festival was based on a royal marriage in Munich, Germany, it is definitely a German festival, though often people love it for the beer. I am about half-german with my mother’s side mostly German peoples, or nearby as I have learned from my mother. This certainly influenced my decision to take German in Junior High and High School.

Did my heritage influence more than my language selection in school? My grandfather and my great-grandfather were both engineers, and despite both my parents having formal training in biology, my brother and I both pursued engineering. I went with computer engineering and my brother mechanical.

It would have been easy for me to pursue a biology degree, at least I am pretty certain. In fact I still enjoy going out to count birds or help out in other volunteer capacities. Was my outlook for imposing order on the universe ingrained so much so that I needed to be a doer rather than an observer? Was I more entranced by figuring out how to make something work than to watch a process?

I know that this could easily turn into a debate of nature vs. nurture. I really don’t think it is one or the other. Even though my mother never did formal engineering she has been doing “quilt engineering” which for some patterns is really about the engineering. And the most influential toy other than rocks, sticks, and mud was probably Legos. I spent hours making buildings and spaceships just to keep them for a few days and then make a new design.

I could draw parallels between the way I approach software, always tweaking, sometimes tearing down a whole design to build fresh.

But also just the enjoyment of building things that work. There is such an innate feeling of satisfaction when something that I built works smoothly, maybe this is a bit learned but it feels more basic than that, like it has been passed down.

It isn’t just the joy of making something work, it is also the persistence. In general I am easily distracted. Even if the bunny-trails are all work related I find myself tracing back on paths of thought that were all relevant, but quickly got into the “not now” realm. However, when it comes to it I can really make solid progress on my projects, quickly depleting known requirements.

I think part of the heritage question is just confirmation bias. I know that my ancestors were engineers, so when I became an engineer it was like, “Of course, I am predisposed to becoming an engineer.”

Then the question becomes, what heritage are we leaving the next generation? Partly I think we are leaving a pretty poor heritage, there is just so much “me” going on that the next generation is either going to rebel or become even more deeply enthralled by the focus. I just wrote a whole post about myself, why should you care?

We should all be looking at our actions, what heritage we are leaving. Even if it isn’t for our direct descendants we have a lot of influence with people not much younger than ourselves, not rebuking or chastising, but by being a model, and a friendly ear.

The festival was pretty good, especially the Band from Munich near the end. A festival based off of a festival that started 205 years ago, let’s keep it going and not forget why it’s celebrated. Just like we shouldn’t forget why we need to think about our heritage, even at my age.

How do you look at your heritage? What are you hoping to leave as your future heritage?

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