What do you know now?

This is a page I ran across years ago when Mistress Krista’s site was in an earlier stage of development. At the time, I was into lifting weights and trying to find the “right” way to do it. Krista’s advice is pragmatic, funny, and no nonsense; she’s a great teacher.

Here’s how she describes the page of pithy quotes and hard-won experience:

“Recently, the folks on misc.fitness.weights were asked the following question: What do you know now that you wished you’d known five or ten years ago? Here are their responses and ruminations about training and life in general.”

I always hated the term “knowledgebase.” Semantically, it meant nothing to me. When you have a “wisdombase,” I’d say, then come and talk to me. Until then, pages like this (much like The Commonplace Book of earlier centuries) will be the places that capture our personal wisdom and experience for others both to benefit from and laugh at.

Betty Jo's Valentines

Susie Bright has a lovely blog entry on finding a scrapbook of valentines her mother, Betty Jo, received as a child in the late 1920s-early 1930s. It’s a poignant story.

Susie has slaved over a hot scanner to create a gallery of these wonderful paper ephemera that hail from a slower, different time, where even the paper goods had quality and charm and sparkle.

Trackback

Oooh, that hurts

From NY Times’ William Grimes review of the book Beyond Coincidence:

The award for the most painful coincidence in recorded history must go to the poet Simon Armitage, who chanced upon a used copy of a book of his poems in a trash bin outside a thrift store. On the title page was the following inscription, in his own handwriting: “To Mum and Dad.”


via

Panhandling

Walking along Ninth Street in Durham, or Queen Street in Toronto, or anywhere, we’ve been approached by vagrants, panhandlers, the lot. They’ve even knocked on my door and asked for money to help them pay their rent.

I’m conflicted. I know I’m a soft touch, and my heart goes out to people who, through bad luck or bad choices, ended up in a place they never expected. There but for the grace of God, etc. Yet, I know I’ve been taken advantage of more than once by people exploiting my generosity and it galls me.

Searching the web yields a few approaches. At Christmastime, Jeanette Winterson puts a few fivers in her pocket and has them at the ready:

I also have the £5 principle in the month of December. If anyone on the street asks me for money - they get one of the endless fivers stuffed about my person. We are told not to give to beggars - stupid advice - we should always give if someone asks us. Street donations don’t solve the problem - we need to support homeless charities - but I think it is wrong to walk past a person who has nothing. We could all be that person.

So give what you can, according to your means, however small.


A typically strong Winterson opinion, unequivocal. I like it.

On Ninth Street, the merchants advise not to give money to individuals and instead to make a donation to the Durham Rescue Mission or other similar organization. The Regulator Bookshop, in its online email newsletter, recently offered a write-in contest for “true stories of especially considerate or especially rude behavior that they had encountered, sparked by the publication of Lynne Truss’s new book, Talk to the Hand: The Utter, Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door.”

The runner-up was this piece, by Bobbie Collins-Perry (and the prompt for this blog posting):

After dark. A man approaches me in a parking lot. He asks me for a dollar for the city bus. Normally, I don’t give money to strangers, remembering the counsel I’ve been given that panhandlers will just spend the money on drugs or alcohol and the cautions about opening myself up to crime. I call out, “I’m not sure I have any change.” “You’re going to see if you have the change?” He approaches closer. I’ve got myself in it now, and I’m feeling uncomfortable and pressured. I begin to run through scenarios and questions. Is he homeless? Or is he just having a bad day? Well, he doesn’t look like a typical street person, and I’m close enough to the side door of the restaurant to feel more secure. I fish for my wallet and come up with a dollar bill-this will at least get me out of the situation. I hand it to him. He thanks me and says I’m very kind. I hurry my hands to get the wallet back in my purse and turn towards the entrance.

“Wow, pretty too. You married?” An affront has transformed into an intrusion, and I have allowed this rudeness by not being indifferent to him. “Very,” I replied and beat a hasty retreat. I berate myself–he was just a freeloader. And he thinks I’m willing to give him much more than money. I know better, and vow to never let a vagrant take advantage of me again. Yet, I’m still conflicted-feeling disrespected, but still wondering how I can help.

Okay, give to a homeless shelter. I’ve done this before, but it’s in the past; it doesn’t help alleviate the feelings of immediacy each time I’m approached on the street. Ruminating while I drive, knowing full well I have a dollar to spare and a vehicle to transport me home, I come up with a solution: “I’ll start a jar-each time I am panhandled, I’ll politely say “no,” and put money in it.” I’ll feel good about not supporting substance abuse, not being violated, and being able to respond right away. I should be able to make a healthy contribution and help people who want to be helped on my terms in the light of day.


Another good, sensible tack.

What are the economics of begging? Robert Klein has a funny routine on one of his albums about a panhandler whose heart-rending screams of PLEEEEASE!!! in downtown Manhattan bring in contributions. Klein follows the beggar at the end of the day to a side street, where the beggar puts his stuff into the trunk of a shiny Cadillac. Klein said he yelled to the guy, “Hey, PLEASE!” And there’s a Sherlock Holmes story, “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” about a middle-class man who finds begging more lucrative than being a reporter (I can verify that fact).

Marginal Revolution, a libertarian economics blog that more than occasionally drives me up the wall and across the ceiling, usually provides intellectual cud for me to chew on or spit out. In this post, Tyler Cowen directly confronts the economic situation of all the beggars he sees in Calcutta. Using his typically cool-blooded economic reasoning, he concludes that giving to beggars who ask for money encourages more beggars to enter the market, thus increasing the number of beggars and more aggressive behavior from the beggars because their actions are rewarded with money. Better, he says, to give money to the poor person who is not begging and so is expecting it least.

In the comments to Cowen’s posting was this reference to a Tom Stoppard quote from his play “Indian Ink.” Stoppard blends economics with self-satisfaction:
Dilip: You have to understand that begging is a profession. Like dentistry. Like shining shoes. It’s a service. Every so often, you need to get a tooth filled, or your shoes shined, or to give alms. So when a beggar presents himself to you, you have to ask yourself– do I need a beggar today? If you do, give him alms. If you don’t, don’t.”


So, where does this leave me? I already make regular donations to the Durham Rescue Mission. If, on a particular day, I’m feeling generous, I’ll make sure I have some singles folded up in my pocket. How much harm can a person do with $1? But I won’t give anything to the beggar who gets in my face.

Yet a further reason to join the ACLU

This has convinced me it’s time to join the ACLU. The security paranoia has to stop.

via

Update 2005-01-06

Some good news, according to the papersplease.org site:
Not only will Deborah Davis not be prosecuted on charges related to her refusal to show ID on a public bus, but she is now able to travel on the route 100 RTD bus without showing her ‘papers.’

Deb’s lawyer, ACLU volunteer attorney Gail Johnson, was informed shortly before noon on December 7th by the office of the US attorney in Denver of their decision not to prosecute.


Score one for the good guys and against the security state.

Back in the Nanowrimo game

Well, sort of. I wrote earlier about retiring from the field when I found the story I was working on uncongenial. But I couldn’t get some of the images out of my mind, and I had certain key moments in the long life of the main character appear in front of me as I went about my other chores.

I had also promised myself the New Yorker DVD set if I successfully completed nanowrimo. While I always intended to buy the set anyway, I can’t forget that carrot I dangled in front of myself. I felt I needed to put in at least a good-faith effort in order to justify buying the DVDs.

So I went back to my file and basically started the story over again for at least the third time. It’s interesting to me how the story started as a sprawling, dozens-of-characters murder mystery, to a more constrained, cozier setting, starting with two characters but in the last few writing sessions, settling on the main character, a 96-year-old woman on her deathbed remembering key events of her life.

I don’t believe I’ll make the 50K word count by Nov. 30, though. I’m at about 23,700 right now and can’t do much more than 2000 words in a sitting. The week I took off left me way behind, and I went to bed early last night. So I’d need to push out about 3000+ words a day to make the goal. Hm. Well, maybe if I intersperse writing sessions with leaf-raking on my days off Friday and Saturday, maybe I’ll get up to the mid-30s by the 28th.

My Nanowrimo profile page: http://www.nanowrimo.org/userinfo.php?uid=62444

Blog diet

Up till the middle of last week, I had about 80 blogs on my Bloglines list. Many of them were divided up into Monday, Tuesday, etc. categories, as they didn’t update often but I didn’t want to miss them. So I’d be able to check them at least once a week.

But I found myself obsessing over checking them like I obsess over checking my email. I feel it was severely impairing my workday, my time at home, and, really, who needs that much information every day? Every week? So I pruned them down to the core, about 8 blogs that I really don’t want to miss, and they’re all pretty reasonable with updates: maybe once a day, some 2-3 times/day, but quickly read and digested. When I now obsessively click onto Bloglines, I see a mostly empty page. I feel a slight disappointment, then see it as a reminder that it’s time to move on to better things, and close down the window wth a self-satisfied air.

This rather strict rationing came about from my periodic reading of this Jeanette Winterson column, where she rails about people consuming more than they process, and what that excess leads to: fat, restlessness, malaise. (Note that the quote is sandwiched between the positive benefits of sex, so it may not be a work-friendly link.) Blogs certainly deliver excess. It’s fun, I enjoy it, but I wind up being a consumer, not a creator.

The other was reading an article about an entrepreneur who favors physical solutions over mental solutions, as a way to guide the behaviors he wants to encourage in himself. (Like, absolutely no work on the weekends or talk about work after hours, punching the clock, etc.) I exported my blog list to an XML file that I can re-import into Bloglines later, if I want. And then I deleted most every folder there and settled on my core blogs (like Catarina.net, 43 Folders, and The Comics Curmudgeon). A physical solution to the problem. The kid-in-the-candy-store is crying because the misses the candy, but the adult who’s watching his weight is rather glad that the shop has closed.

Retiring from the Nanowrimo field

I was looking forward to it this year, but hit the sand early and never recovered. I started out as I had done last year, with an image, a situation, and then started to run with it. But the material didn’t form under my fingers as naturally as last year. I finally switched from a male, first-person narrator to a female, third-person narrator, and that helped a bit. I got several days of writing out of that.

I also adopted the Jeanette Winterson/Diana Gabaldon method of composing scenes out of sequence, thinking that if I could get the juicy scenes out first, then that would give my mind time to generate the connective tissue.

Well, it’s a good idea, and I should try it sometime. But tonight I sat at the keyboard and the ideas just didn’t come. I think the past that one of the main characters, a 96-year-old rural woman, on her deathbed, has lots of sadness and compromise in store for her, and I plain don’t want to go there. I don’t want to put her through it. There’s also the niggling feeling that I’ve read this kind of story before, that I’m just going through the plotting motions, and the sense of discovery I had last year isn’t there.

There have been pleasant surprises along the way, and I’ve rediscovered the truth that 50% of the material I generate will come out of the writing and I don’t need to do much in the way of planning. I did hit on some interesting connections in some of my daily writing, and some haunting (I think) images that I will want to come back to.

But as for making the 50,000-word count by Nov. 30 – nope. I’m bowing out. Nanowrimo should be fun, for me, and I don’t need the extra pressure of generating plot and words for a story that I am resisting. I reserve the right to continue to play with the story through the rest of the month (and beyond), however, and may break through whatever I’m resisting. But not today.

The Revenge of the Novelist

From the NY Times obit of John Fowles.

As much as it frustrated some of his readers, Mr. Fowles always believed he had done the right thing by leaving the endings of his most celebrated novels open-ended. But he was not above bending his own rules when the occasion called for it.

He once told an interviewer that he had received a sweet letter from a cancer patient in New York who wanted very much to believe that Nicholas, the protagonist of “The Magus,” was reunited with his girlfriend at the end of the book - a point Mr. Fowles had deliberately left ambiguous. “Yes, of course they were,” Mr. Fowles replied.

By chance, he had received a letter the same day from an irate reader taking issue with the ending of “The Magus.” “Why can’t you say what you mean, and for God’s sake, what happened in the end?” the reader asked. Mr. Fowles said he found the letter “horrid” but had the last laugh, supplying an alternative ending to punish the correspondent: “They never saw each other again.”

"Due to..."

From Melvyn Bragg’s latest In Our Time newsletter:

Monica Grady’s other mission seems to be to stop her students saying “due to” when they ought to say “owing to” or “because of”. She pointed out that in the case of libraries, babies and rent you can use “due to”, everything else is “owing to” or “because of”.

NaNoWriMo: The Adventure Begins

Yes, I’m one of the hairpins doing the NaNoWriMo challenge, though I will only use lowercase letters from here on out because those intercapitalizations drive me nuts.

Last year, I signed up on October 31st, just for a lark. I wasn’t working, nothing was going on, and I thought it would help me pass the time. I emailed my friend Sue in California, also a writer, and said this looked like fun, I may try out. Well, she signed up too. I got the No Plot, No Problem book, read through it, and plucked out a situation I’d written down in my notebook years ago but had never done anything with. I didn’t know where it might go, but thought I’d give it a try.

It had a magical, fantasy type atmosphere, and I read a couple of Lon Milo DuQuette’s books that helped feed my imagination during the process.

I wound up creating enough situations and piling up enough detail that I eventually “won” with about 51,000 words. Sue actually crossed the finish line first and called to tell me. This inspired me to sit down, finish mine, and upload it to the site (which I did before her). We were both abuzz for the rest of the year, comparing notes on the experience, and patting each other (and ourselves) on the book for taking on a crazy project (crazier in her case, as she’s a freelancer and mother of two little firls) and actually succeeding at it.

The lessons I learned and things I noticed:

  • I’d been rather glum and mopey for most of the year, with good reason. I didn’t feel that way during Nanowrimo month. (Sue noticed the same thing.)

  • I started out with only a situation–no plot, no characters, no themes. As I wrote, plots, characters, and themes emerged.

  • When I had a strong situation, the scene almost wrote itself.

  • When I could see the images in my head very strongly, the scene worked out pretty well.

  • When I had nothing, it was work to squeeze out the word quota.

This year, I also pulled a situation out of my notebook, what I had long thought of as a murder-mystery idea, even though I have no idea how to write a mystery story. The situation stands on its own as very melodramatic and maybe ludicrous, but it’s stayed with me for some reason, so I’m using it as my prompt to get the story started.

As it happens, tonight’s writing went OK (but I found myself checking the word count every 5 minutes towards the end–was it this hard last year?). I’m already finding that it’s going to contain lots of personal history and thoughts about my family, and the place of the outsider in the family. I didn’t actually get to the prompt scene. I started the novel after the funeral service; the narrator will be flashbacking to the prompt scene, and I’ll see then how plausible it feels.

But even if it doesn’t, who cares. It’s Nanowrimo month! I have license to be creative! I can splat things down just to see what happens! I don’t have to go back and edit or delete! God Bless Us Every One!!

10+ year old files

During the New PC Blues upgrade process, I ran across a 5.25” floppy disk Liz had used to store files related to a musicology paper she wrote back in 1989 – well before I came on the scene.

Why we hadn’t done anything with this diskette before, I don’t know. But what to do with it now? Our last two PCs had only 3.5” drives, and the current one has no floppy drives at all. Who needs the things, with USB flash drives?

Unfortunately, Liz didn’t have any other copies of this paper and wanted to keep them. What to do?

Few friends or co-workers had a 5.25” drive, even in a closet, let alone installed in a working system. Fortunately, Michelle’s boyfriend was visiting his father in Fayetteville who, amazingly enough, had a 5.25” drive on one of his computers. Michelle assured me that 5.25” diskettes were tougher than the 3.5” disks and that the files were probably still readable.

Her boyfriend copied off the files, zipped them, and emailed them to me. Easy as pie.

Next: Let’s try opening them in Word, surely there’s a converter … Ah, but no. Most of the text comes in, but the formatting codes interfere with too much of it to make the file easily readable. Then Liz remembered that maybe it was Wordstar for DOS instead of WordPerfect that she’d used for the paper.

I fiddled with downloading Word 2000 converters but instead invoked the Google oracle. Up popped several Wordstar sites, including several utilities to convert old WS files. The one I picked converts Wordstar files to formatted HTML. It runs from a DOS window and uses the command-line to specify the source and destination filenames.

Voila – it worked. The HTML files come up with the original formatting preserved and all the text in place. The text can now be easily copied into Word files or wherever they will sit for the next 10+ years.

Links: Writing tips for academic papers


I compiled the following quickie list of paper-writing tips for a co-worker who is taking online classes and has been away from paper-writing for a while. The whole process seemed difficult for her, so these links cover a broad range of items. Some of the links to academic papers at the end of this list may have good clues, especially with selecting thesis statements. I’ve not vetted all these, but they’re a start. The little comments for each are reproduced from my original email to her that contained these links.



A good book I recommend is this:
Amazon.com: Books: Thinking on Paper

–Just read the first half (the second half is all about the Latin names for types of logical arguments). it sets forth a very good simple process for building a piece of writing from the ground up so that it isn’t as painful as you think.

Writing tips compiled by Mike Shea
–Here’s the PDF version

Poynter Online - The Writing Tools
–Just scan the list and read whatever article is of interest. His focus is on journalism so his approach might conflict with academic writing. but the writing tips are good and solid. You’ll be able to devise some simple rules to help you in your actual writing.

43 Folders: Hack your way out of writer’s block
–Entertaining list of bullet points and good comments. but lookit the next link too.

Google Groups : 43 Folders
–Advice on paper writing from a grad student

TOC About Writing
–I’m also interested in fiction writing and this page has mainly tips for that side of the house.

50 Strategies for Making Yourself Work
–A great page of tips to bust procrastination.

Study Guides and Strategies
–Scroll down to the writing sections, but good general advice to students.

Google Search: tips academic writing papers
–The search i used to dig up some of the links in this mail.

Timed Essays: Planning and Organizing in a Crunch
–This is for when you’re writing for an in-class test, but some good advice.

Thesis Statements: What are They?
-This might be more practical for your needs right now. BE SURE to click on the Related Links in the right sidebar. You might get good ideas there.

Academic Writing Handouts – Dennis G. Jerz
–The top page from which the previous two links were drawn.

Sally Slacker Writes a Paper (Dennis G. Jerz, Seton Hill University)
–I haven’t read all this but I like the title!

Tips for Writing Academic Essays and Term Papers in Philosophy at Erratic Impact
–Good numbered tips after the intro.

Writing Help
–Ton o’ links. Don’t know how many of them are still good.

Academic Center :: Writing Tips
–More basic tips on academic writing. After you’ve read about 10 of these kinds of pages, you’ll notice they start repeating themselves.

Checklist
–A pretty good checklist to use after you’ve written a draft.

True Work

I had this on my office wall many many years ago, and can’t find the source again. But I think I remember it word-for-word:

True Work is that which occupies the mind and the heart, as well as the hands. It has a beginning and an ending. It is the overcoming of difficulties one thinks important for the sake of results one thinks valuable.

Jacques Barzun

Phrases and misspellings to expunge forever

Mike Shea has a nice list of phrases to be avoided (as well as writing rules from Orwell and Struck & White) here. Among my pet peeves on his list are “on steriods,” “think outside the box,” and “talk offline.” (But I have no idea what “goat rope” refers to.)

Herewith, a few of my additions, culled from everyday readings of stuff on the Web:

  • (anything) from hell Even Matt Groening is tired of this one

  • may or may not Just say may!

  • impact as a verb

  • loose for lose Why is this the most common misspelling I see nowadays? Lazy typing?

  • alot for a lot But this lamentable misspelling has been around for years

  • peak or peek when the writer means pique

  • pour when the writer means pore As in “I poured over the pages” – what did you pour – milk?

  • “ping so-and-so,” when the speaker means “contact” or “call”

  • “Well,…” at the beginning of a sentence Way overused by journalists and columnists for the last several years

Nice phrases

These are some phrases that have passed my way that have struck me, for whatever reason.

  • constructive novelty

  • serious fun (a phrase used by one of Liz’s professors)

  • productively idle/idly productive (haven’t decided which I like better)

  • effortless effort


I have a mild idea what some of them mean. “Serious fun” is my favorite.

Personal Inventories and Piggy Banks

Whilst reading through some collections of old David Allen essays I’ve culled from his newsletter, I ran across one intriguing nugget that went something like this: Every now and then, take a top-to-bottom inventory of your assets, your processes, your systems. Everything from the shirts in your drawer to the way you pay your bills and so on.

As I moved through my routines, I evaluated what traveled through my hands. I got rid of some old clothes, piled up all the magazines in my closets into one big pile (I remember that big pile when I’m tempted to buy a new magazine).

And of all things, I re-evaluated my need for my battery-powered automatically sorting loose-change bank. I’ve had banks like this in one form or another for nearly 10 years; it made it awfully fun to save my spare change. I got the coin wrappers from the bank and happily rolled my pennies, dime, nickels, and quarters until I had about $20 or so. Then I’d put them in a little ziploc, take them to bank, and exchange them for folding money.

That’s usually when the process got troubled: if I didn’t make it to the bank that day, I was left hauling around a little bag of heavy change everywhere. Then, when I joined the credit union, I discovered that they wanted my account number written on every roll before they’d cash them. And sometimes going by the bank (a bank different from my credit union) that would cash them without any quibbles meant disrupting my workday schedule so I could get to the bank before it closed. (And bring them inside please! No coin rolls allowed in the drive-through lanes.)

But what else to do?

Well, after several years of walking past that green Coinstar machine at the Harris Teeter, I decided to try it. It wasn’t without its problems: so many people have used it that the buttons don’t respond so niftily and so I kept trying different ways of pressing them to get them to take, and Coinstar takes about 8 cents on the dollar or something like that for its trouble.

But you know what? It works. Since I go to HT every Sunday morning to do the weekly grocery shopping, I wasn’t travelling out of my way. The receipt that’s dispensed can be exchanged for cash at the register or (what I discovered on my last trip) I can put it toward my grocery bill. Talk about convenience–no more wrestling coins into wrappers, driving to the bank, waiting in line. It’s worth whatever minimal charge Coinstar takes to make that little nothing routine run much more smoothly.

The coin bank was donated last week along with the clothes. Now I have a nice-sized jelly jar that holds my loose change and I’m enjoying a lot more space on the top of my bureau. Such a tiny thing, but it feels good to get something right.

In case you needed another reason to join the ACLU

The Transportation Security Administration maintains “no-fly lists” of people whose names match those of suspected terrorists. As this article reports, the now officially brain-dead TSA maintains lists that include babies under 2 years old.

As someone with a very common name, I’m sensitive to these issues. Especially since I recently had to fight a stubborn and stupid background check company that got my records mixed up with those of a convicted criminal.

Well-known people like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and David Nelson, who starred in the sitcom “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” also have been stopped at airports because their names match those on the lists.

The insidious thing about the TSA is that it’s a black box: what’s the criteria for putting names on the list? It’s important to know that your name never comes off that list; more information is added that supposedly lets you board a plane, but to the best of my knowledge, your name is never taken off the list.

I remember reading recently about a critic of this government’s also-brain-dead executive branch who found his name on a no-fly list, which effectively grounded him. Retaliation? Who can say? The TSA is not telling how it compiles or maintains its lists.

This safety paranoia has got to go. Gore Vidal has often said that governments need enemies to keep them in power and to keep the military-industrial complex well-funded–what better enemy for this modern age than one you can’t see? During the Watergate hearings, Sam Ervin said, with disbelief, about Richard Nixon, “He’s afraid of freedom.” I would say, this country’s administration (and its loyal, unquestioning bureaucratic drones) is also afraid of freedom.

Here’s a quote from Stephen Fry’s novel Making History, one of the few passages that struck me as admirable in that lamentably bad book.

If there is a word to describe our age, it must be Security, or to put it another way, Insecurity. From the neurotic insecurity of Freud, by the way of the insecurities of the Kaiser, the Fuhrer, Eisenhower, and Stalin, right up to the terrors of the citizens of the modern world –
THEY ARE OUT THERE
The enemy. They will break into your car, burgle your house, molest your children, consign you to hellfire, murder you for drug money, force you to face Mecca, infect your blood, outlaw your sexual preferences, erode your pension, pollute your beaches, censor your thoughts, steal your ideas, poison your air, threaten your values, use foul language on your television, destroy your security. Keep them away! Lock them out! Hide them from sight! Bury them!

And no, the irony is not lost on me that I do not fear “them,” as much as I fear my government’s actions toward innocent people. As the saying goes, who watches the watchmen?

(Link to the article courtesy of Core Dump.)

The Dalai Lama Shower

I saw the following originally in Thirty Thousand Days, the newsletter for The To Do Institute. Given that we’re in one of our periodic droughts (down 5.5. inches from normal), it seemed a good time to post this. I don’t have the original article (which I think appeared in one of the Dalai Lama’s books), but I’ve adapted his process for my ablutions.

  1. Turn on the shower and rinse. Turn off water.
  2. Soap your body.
  3. Turn on water to rinse. Turn off water.
  4. Shampoo.
  5. Turn on water to rinse. Turn off water.
  6. Shave. Quickly rinse the razor as needed under the faucet.
  7. Turn on water to rinse. Turn off water.

(originally posted in 2005-08-14, updated for micro.blog)

Doomsday Algorithm

I’ve loved this little trick for years: the Doomsday Algorithm, a creation of Dr. John Conway, he who gave us the game of Life.

The Doomsday algorithm gives you the day of the week for any date, based on the last day of February.

Lots of great links at the bottom of the page, too.

(originally posted 2005-07-14, updated for micro.blog)

Checklist for fiction writing

Back in the days of iron men and wooden computers, I was a denizen of Compuserve.

I remember in the Compuserve Writers Forum a gadfly named Alex Keegan who ran a private writers group called Boot Camp. They had developed something called The Grid that they used to critique every story the members submitted; the pet name for those critiquing were “critters”.

A post retrieved from the Internet Archivegives some idea of how critiques used the grid to basically weight how each component of the story. A 2013 post on Keegan’s siteshows how he intends the Grid to be applied. (See also, his post on why he believes his grid is a better way to critique.)

Far as I can tell, here’s Keegan’s grid:

  • Opening
  • Character
  • Dialogue & Voice
  • Plot & Structure
  • Theme
  • Seduction (Show-Tell, Author Intrusion, 'Carry', Dramatic Flow, Fictive Dream)
  • Language
  • Pace & Pacing
  • Ending
  • Bonus

It inspired me to write down the following list of things I’d like to remind myself of or check myself against when critiquing my stories:

  • character
  • setting
  • dialogue
  • tone
  • interest
  • conflict
  • advancement of plot
  • sensual hooks
  • energy
  • transitions
  • narrative
  • pace
  • backstory

(originally posted 2006-06-30, updated for micro.blog)

"Those were softer days"

I read to Liz before she goes to bed, and lately, we’ve settled on memoirs. The first was a joyous treat, Milking the Moon.

Tonight, we just finished Barbara Holland’s When All The World Was Young.

These quotes are from the end of the book, where at 18, after being turned out of her family’s house and dwelling in deep depression, she gets a job at Hecht’s department store in Washington, DC, and her life takes a sharp turn to happiness. The time is the early 1950s.

It was an era of lavish employment. Since then, the Personnel Department, with its echo of “personal,” has been replaced by Human Resources, with its echo of iron ore, petroleum, and other profit potentials, but those were softer days…

She describes how companies in that era kept on incompetent employees, provided free access to a doctor, and other perks.

Cynics might say that this corporate kindliness was designed to forestall the unions–which it did–but kindness is kindness and I lapped it up like a stray cat. Starting out in this generous atmosphere shaped my whole working life as a lark: jobs should be fun and bosses gentle, if not this one, then the next; plenty more where this one came from. Nobody nowadays expects to have fun at work. They want to get rich instead, but I could see from the start that the two were probably incompatible; too much pay would mean taking the work seriously. Believing it was important. The less money I needed to make, the more elbow room I’d have for fun. I held firm to this resolve through good times and bum times…

…Virginia Woolf, speaking from a different world, said what we needed, what women needed, was “a room of one’s own” and a modest allowance so we wouldn’t be distracted by money worries. But under what guarantee? What happens when our benefactor whimsically cancels the lease on our room and cuts off our funds? No, Mrs. Woolf. A job, Mrs. Woolf.

(originally posted 2005-05-28, updated for micro.blog)