Who needs emojis? I do!

I admit it, I like emojis. But I use them in that hipster, post-ironic “I’m too cool for you” way, sort of the same way I use “lol.”

This probably makes me a horrible, petty person in some way, but it’s balanced out by how adorable I find kittens.

I installed the Super Emoji+ plugin for the blog. How is it? Let me sum it up:

If you look carefully, you can see the crying emoji above appears to be an actual severed head as the tears are pooling directly under it. No wonder it’s so sad. Poor body-less little guy.

EDIT: The plugin doesn’t seem to work with the current version of WordPress. Just pretend that giant question mark above is crying.

EDIT, The Sequel: I’ve removed giant question mark and added an image that captures the essence of the missing emoji. My work here is done.

Black Friday now starts on Wednesday

It should come as no surprise in a world where Christmas ads start showing up in October (or September) that Black Friday, officially the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday (this year that would be Friday, November 24) now starts on Wednesday or just whenever. Every sale right now (and ads for such are overflowing at the moment) is either a Black Friday Already Sale or a Pre-Black Friday Sale. It is now and shall continue to be Black Friday. Which actually sounds a little ominous when you think about it.

I mean, I like sales. I want to buy that new fry pan that promises to never ever let food stick to it for real, and I’m glad that I’ll have a chance to get it at a really good price. But is it worth the relentless barrage of ads and yet another lengthening of the time frame in which we need to endure the things? I even had an obnoxious banner ad show up in the WordPress dashboard of this blog for one of the plugins I had installed.

Had, because I’ve since uninstalled it and sent the company behind it a brief note explaining how I don’t care for obnoxious banner ads on my WordPress dashboard. Perhaps they didn’t know. Now they do!

Anyway, I should try to focus on the positive rather than just carp and be negative, so let me conclude by saying that I’m really looking forward to getting that magic fry pan. If they haven’t sold out of it before I can get to the store.

Book review: Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing

Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better WritingTake Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are plenty of books out there explaining how and why you should outline your novel. It always seems like drudgery to me and so I’ve avoided it, for the most part.

As I write this review, my attempt at National Novel Writing Month 2017 is a smoking ruin. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. It was never smoking at all, more a damp lump of coal that never caught fire. In the vernacular of Libbie Hawker’s book, I wore my pants, refused to take them off (commit to an outline) and stalled before I could get anything going. This was also my experience on several dates ten years ago.

It’s been even worse, too–sometimes I’ve committed thousands of words to a story before realizing that it was going nowhere.

Having just gone through another stall-out, I was more receptive to the idea of outlining.

Hawker’s book is brief, more a bookling than a book, but the brevity works as a strength because you’ll whip through it quickly and be able to apply its lessons all the sooner. Hawker also smartly realizes many will read the book through first before going back and using it as reference, noting where to keep a bookmark so you can jump back in when you’re ready to go.

The process she uses for outlines is simple and leans heavily on using the hero’s journey as your story’s template. She provides some wiggle room but there is a basic assumption that you will be writing about a flawed main character (or several) who is thwarted by one or more antagonists, and ultimately overcomes their flaw or at least fails to in an interesting way, completing the character arc/journey.

And she makes it seem tantalizingly simple, extolling the twin benefits of locking down your story in advance (while still leaving plenty of space to be creative once you start writing scenes and chapters) and cranking out a completed first draft significantly faster than the pants-wearing method (she has completed first drafts in as little as three weeks). Hawker references several well-known novels (an eclectic group, ranging from Lolita to Charlotte’s Web), as well as her own work to provide examples of the different parts of the outline.

In brief, she says every well-constructed novel has a Story Core that consists of a flawed character who wants something, is thwarted, struggles to overcome their flaw, then ultimately fails or succeeds. The Story Core is built on a structure she compares to a three-legged stool, consisting of Character Arc, Theme and Pacing. It sounds simple and really, it is. As mentioned above, it’s the hero’s journey, a story archetype that has been around for thousands of years. As Hawker notes, your story will shine not because it’s outrageously original, but because it’s well-told and in a voice that is distinctly your own.

Even as I was still going through Take Off Your Pants! I was imaging the outline of my still-unfinished NaNoWriMo 2014 novel, a story that is pretty solid in some ways, but a bit of a meandering mess in others. Applying Hawker’s outlining methodology, I can see what’s missing from the story and identify entire scenes that can be chucked (goodbye, thousands of words, *sob*).

Take Off Your Pants! is highly recommended to those with a fear of outlining but still willing to take another look at it. I think it’s made me a convert.

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Five inanimate objects that would be better presidents than Trump

In no particular order as I feel all would perform equally well at the task, while also being superior to the person who actually, regrettably, holds the title:

  • a bowling ball
  • a toilet plunger
  • a smooth, round rock
  • a 25 year old Twinkie
  • a piece of lint

This is actually a trick list because it could include every inanimate object in existence, including those from other dimensions.

I don’t know why I picked today to take a vague potshot at the worst modern U.S. president (and, I would argue, the least qualified president ever). Perhaps The Rains have made me cranky.

Run 553: An experiment and a confrontation with an old nemesis

Run 553
Average pace: 5:40/km
Location: Burnaby Lake (CW)
Start: 12:20 pm
Distance: 10.01 km
Time: 56:45
Weather: Cloudy
Temp: 8ºC
Humidity: 80%
Wind: light
BPM: 169
Weight: 158.3 pounds
Total distance to date: 4300 km
Devices: Apple Watch, iPhone

Today’s run was also an experiment in which I deliberately slowed my pace–as evidenced by my 5:40/km average–to see how it would impact my BPM. It turned out to not impact it much at all, as it went from 174 on my last 10K to 169 today, a marginal improvement at best.

I’m not sure if it’s the slight weight gain, increase in body fat, temperature change or alignment of the planets that’s causing my BPM to be higher lately and I’m not overly concerned as long as it doesn’t go higher than it is now.

I did feel slower on the run, especially going up inclines. Keeping my speed down made it feel slog-like on the hilly parts. I was tempted to speed up at times but resisted.

It also didn’t rain, which was nice.

Due to my late start I felt there would be no problems with running clockwise today, so I did and it was fine. This also led to the confrontation with my old nemesis, namely the nasty tree root that I tripped on in August 2016, still my only run where I finished with gravel embedded in my flesh. On my clockwise runs I usually start out on the Conifer Loop by running on the left, then switch to the right after passing the evil root. With the leaves cleared and the trail scoured by recent storms, I felt there was little chance of missing the root, so I stayed on the right as I normally would. What struck me upon seeing the root is how it really is kind of right there where your feet would be if you’re running clockwise. You do have to detour around it. This makes me feel a little better about tripping on it two summers ago.

Overdressing: It was 8ºC but not windy and as mentioned, it stayed dry. I chose to wear two layers on top and for the walk there and back it was fine but after a few km I started to feel a bit too warm–not horribly so, but enough that I think a single layer would have sufficed. Noted for future runs.

Overall, a kind of bleah run, though it gets a few bonus points by being dry.

Book review: The Folcroft Ghosts

The Folcroft GhostsThe Folcroft Ghosts by Darcy Coates
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although not specifically branded as such, The Folcroft Ghosts struck me as a story aimed at middle school kids. It’s short–more a novelette than a full novel–there’s no foul language, the scares are relatively mild, and the heroes are a plucky young sister and brother.

This is an easy read but by the end the experience felt a bit underwhelming. The brevity of the story, along with a curiously abrupt wrap-up at the end brought to mind a treatment for a half hour TV anthology series or perhaps an expanded short story. What’s here is good, it’s just that it all feels a bit thin and rushed, as if written with a short deadline.

I wasn’t bothered by the ghosts not being particularly frightening, as the story is structured more as a mystery, with suspense ratcheting up not because of the ghosts, but due to the folksy homespun charm of the matronly grandmother morphing into some seriously questionable applications of the concepts of family and “love.”

Overall, this is a solid if slight read that eschews big scares for lingering unease. It’s a story that will likely be enjoyed even more by kids around age 12 or thereabouts.

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Food(ish) things I strangely crave

Lately I’ve been getting cravings for food (I almost wrote “things” which may be more accurate) I haven’t had for a long time. Here’s the list so far:

  • Eggo waffles (I swear it has nothing to do with Stranger Things)
  • Sausage and egg McMuffin (I’ve indulged this one a few times already)
  • Oat fudge bar (from Starbucks–like the above, I’ve gotten a few of these recently)
  • Apple pie
  • Stuffed olives
  • Breakfast cereal that is really just candy. You’re not fooling anyone, Reese Puffs (which I bought on sale this week)
  • Goldfish crackers (judging from previous purchases I’d probably take these intravenously if possible)
  • chocolate of almost any kind

None of this is good for my weight loss goal. In fact I was just slightly over 160 pounds yesterday morning, a depressing setback considering I was down as low as 153 pounds just a month or so ago. It’s enough to make me want to eat four of the eight items listed above in a self-defeating attempt to console myself.

On the plus side, the time it took to write this blog entry was time not spent eating any of the listed items.

On the less-plus side, I had a bowl of Reese Puffs earlier this evening.

Unrelated but still food: Tim Hortons is selling a “snowflake” donut. I don’t like the implication there. We don’t need snowflake donuts. How about a nice sun donut to celebrate global warming instead?

NaNoWriMo 2017: A loud deflating sound

There are two weeks left before the end of the month. As of today to be on track with my NaNoWriMo novel progress, I would need to have written:

26,672 words

As of today, I have actually written:

2,557 words

This gives me a word deficit of:

24,115 words

In order to successfully complete NaNoWriMo 2017, I would need to increase my daily input of words from 1,667 words to:

3,388 words

This is actually not an impossible goal. It would require several hours of intense writing every day, though putting in extra time during the remaining four weekend days would help offset that a bit.

The reality is that’s not going to happen. NaNoWriMo has often been the tonic to cure my writing blahs but this year–even with the regular writing group I’ve been going to–it just hasn’t happened. November has been a busy and stressful month, I’ve exercised less, eaten more, and I now seem to have some kind of official fall/winter sinusitis thing going which is making me seriously consider one of those horrible “nasal irrigation” devices because thirty seconds of shoving this weird thing up my nose in exchange for being able to breathe normally has real appeal.

I’d prefer to just be able to breathe normally.

I’m still hoping to kickstart my writing before the end of the month, but I know the only secret is to just make myself do it and the fact that I haven’t is maybe underlining the fact that I just don’t care enough anymore. Maybe all the future holds is blog ramblings and funny cat pictures.

I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

People are looking at my profile. All one of them!

I love boilerplate email.

LinkedIn (now owned by Microsoft) sent me an email with the following subject line:

Oh boy, people are looking at my LinkedIn profile (which I haven’t updated in probably three years)!

And in the email itself, all of the juicy details are revealed:

Yes, one person or possibly not-a-person-at-all has viewed my profile. This is very exciting indeed. Thanks for letting me know, LinkedIn!

Run 552: The paws that does not refresh

Run 552
Average pace: 5:10/km
Location: Brunette River trail
Start: 11:23 am
Distance: 5.04 km
Time: 26:07
Weather: Cloudy
Temp: 10ºC
Humidity: 76%
Wind: moderate with gusts
BPM: 173
Weight: 158.2 pounds
Total distance to date: 4290 km
Devices: Apple Watch, iPhone

With today being the statutory holiday in lieu of the actual holiday on Saturday, I opted to go for a run today instead of having to run that horrible circuit around the golf course at noon tomorrow. Also, it’s supposed to be raining and super-windy, so there’s a good chance I wouldn’t even be running, anyway.

The forecast was similar today, with winds up to 80 km/h forecast and a 70% chance of rain. I managed to both duck the rain (very light showers started shortly after the run) and the wind (it only got up to maybe 15 km/h, so it was breezy but not “duck as large branches tear off trees and fly at you” windy). There were some parks workers out pruning some branches, possibly trimming down the ones most likely to go a-flyin’.

Because of the wind I wore two layers up top, even though it was a mild 10ºC. I think I may have been okay with one layer, but two definitely didn’t leave me overly warm.

I felt a bit tired for the first part of the run, likely because I was running too hard and didn’t realize it, but my pace stabilized and I felt fine after, with no issues to report. My BPM is stubbornly staying around 173, still too high for my liking, but we’ll see if it drops the next time I go for a longer run. Or maybe I’ll force myself to mellow out a bit and see what happens. My pace was 5:10/km, which is pretty much back to form, so that was good, at least.

The river trail was host to a few other runners, some people out walking and the occasional cyclist. The most memorable person, though, was a woman out walking her large white fluffy dog. An older woman was jogging ahead of me and this woman and her dog were to her right. As the jogger moved past the dog started running after the jogger in a “playful” manner. The jogger was obviously alarmed and put up her arms as if it surrender. As I caught up to the woman I turned my head to her and said, “Leash your dog.” I continued past the other jogger and the dog then decided to playfully run after me and caught up and then jumped on me, putting a couple of paw prints on my shorts. I then turned back to the woman again–she was already making some kind of noise to call the mutt back–and yelled, “LEASH YOUR DOG!” I no doubt sounded very macho. I happened to pass her two more times and the dog was indeed leashed both times.

The best part is during the entire incident the song that was playing on my phone was The Cars’ “Let the Good Times Roll.”

It was a perfect illustration of why the bylaw to require dogs on leash in public areas exists. This person had zero control over her dog and the only reason no one got hurt is because I’m a 5’10” man and not a five year old girl. Had the dog approached a little kid the same way the kid would have gone splat and likely been hurt, possibly seriously.

It continues to depress me that people do not think of others. It doesn’t even matter that it’s a bylaw, it’s just common sense. A dog is not a four-legged person. You can’t reason with it logically. It is not as smart as we are. It doesn’t understand that jumping on a person can cause injury. We do, so we leash them and keep them under our control.

Anyway, I hope the dog owner learned something today and will actually keep her dog leashed in the future. She probably won’t, but I’m ready to yell in a macho manner again if I need to.

Bad design: Soylent green is people (not physicians?)

The Dragon Naturally Speaking site has a Solutions section at the bottom of the site that seems to suggest that physicians are not people:

Then again, it does separate business and people, which makes sense, as people are not businesses.

The real problem, of course, is using “people” because no matter which version of Dragon Naturally Speaking is chosen, it’s a pretty safe assumption that it will be used by people rather than cats, robots or giant carnivorous plants.

The solution would be to replace “people” with something that more accurately reflects the product:

Speech recognition — for individuals
Speech recognition — for business
Speech recognition — for medical use

Note that I also changed “physicians” to “medical use” since you kind of need to be in medicine to be a physician and this better aligns with “business” being the other non-individual choice. Note also that the link for Speech recognition – for people actually leads to a page offering Dragon Professional Individual so I’m wondering why I even have to suggest this change in the first place.

Finally, note that there is no way to easily see a list of features to differentiate the many flavors of Dragon Naturally Speaking. What makes Home different than Premium, other than the latter costing $100 more? Premium obviously does more, but to find out what you have to read through a lot of material on the site, where a simple side-by-side comparison of features between versions, like this page showing the differences between Art Rage Lite and Art Rage 5 easily demonstrates what is or isn’t included.

I wonder if Dragon can tell the difference between pastor and pasta?

Run 551: Deja vu, leaf cull and the return of sensitive nipples

Run 551
Average pace: 5:26/km
Location: Burnaby Lake (CCW)
Start: 11:14 pm
Distance: 10.04 km
Time: 54:36
Weather: Cloudy, light showers
Temp: 9-10ºC
Humidity: 78%
Wind: light to moderate
BPM: 174
Weight: 156.9 pounds
Total distance to date: 4285 km
Devices: Apple Watch, iPhone

There was a threat of rain in the forecast today but at least the temperature was back to seasonal, hovering around 10ºC. I wore a long-sleeved t-shirt and shorts and was fine for the run.

The rain held off for about the first half but light showers persisted through the second half. Fortunately they were genuinely light, so I never felt I was getting drenched. The showers turned heavier for the walk home, which had two consequences I will get to shortly.

I was a tad concerned about the run because I missed both of my usual weekday runs but in the end my pace was the same–5:26/km–and the overall length of the run was nearly identical, with today’s being three seconds faster–again, that’s over a stretch of 10.04 km–than last Saturday’s. A little weird.

BPM is still higher than I’d like at 174, possibly a combination of being off form and the cooler temperatures. Or something.

Generally I felt fine, though the upper left leg started stiffening up in the last few km. It felt fine after.

There were more people out than expected (looked like something was happening at the rowing pavilion. Rowing, perhaps.) and this led to several traffic jams where I had to actually jog in place before I could get through.

I also had two near-collisions with other runners, which is pretty rare. The first came when I make a sharp left coming off the narrow feeder trail near the sports fields. A runner came up on my blind side and was dressed darkly. I scooted around him and all was well. The second runner was being naughty by cutting a corner, putting him in my direct path. He dodged out of the way on that one.

The trail was actually in good shape, the park workers having removed the five billion leaves that had been piled up all over.

On the walk home the rain picked up and this had a couple of undesirable side effects. The first was the return of the chafing on my ever-so-sensitive nipples. While they didn’t gush blood they got as close as possible and are still feeling unhappy now. Stupid nipples. If rain looks possible next time I will dutifully wear my nipple guards. As soon as I invent them.

The other consequence was tracking the 4 km walk home. I actually thought about locking the face of my Apple Watch, as it tends to get squirrelly and do its own thing when it gets wet. Sure enough, after 2.87 km (when I was walking along North Road) it managed to shut the walk activity off and change my default watch face. It then restarted the walk somehow for about five more minutes, stopping for good midway through Hume Park, so it got most of the walk recorded. Next time I’ll lock.

Overall, the pace of the run was better than expected, though the various complications were annoying. I give it three out of five chintzy jogging trophies.