Writing group, week 8 and 9: Words a-plenty and organization

Somehow I missed writing about last week’s writing group. There were only four of us but it was a good group and I was productive again, finishing off the new chapter I have inserted after Chapter 2, cleverly called Chapter 2b for now.

This week I cleaned up some stuff near the end of the chapter to better align my intention for the chapter with the actual words. Having done that I next worked on some organization of the novel in two ways. The first was in Ulysses, where I moved the story into a manuscript folder underneath the main folder, then added a Notes folder also separate from the story. I find this easier than using Ulysses built-in notes function, at least on the MacBook Pro where screen real estate is more limited and you can’t have a bunch of windows open without reducing everything to “must have the eyesight of a 20-year-old.”

Having done this I next worked on hashing out some ideas on how to fix inconsistencies early in the story because even though I know it’s better to just forge ahead now and fix this stuff later, I’m the kind of person who hates the idea of leaving large-ish sections of the story in a state I think of as “wrong” and if I don’t go back to fix them now, they will serve as constant distraction.

Also, there is the possibility that in fixing these I may come up with other zany ideas that might work.

As for the group itself, there were six in total, though only four had confirmed, including several people I hadn’t seen before. I was early as usual but the previous group had cleared out, so I set up in my usual spot and began clacking away almost immediately.

The men’s washroom was out of order so I had to use the women’s. It’s pretty much the same, except it had a shelf holding a dangerous-looking (because it had the word DANGER on it) yellow plastic box labeled “BD Sharps Container.” It had a line on it that said not to fill it past that point. I could tell by the shapes pressed against the translucent casing that these sharp objects were needles. It looked to be nearly full.

One thought was “ew” over how many people apparently shoot up in these washrooms. The second was more about what a weird place to keep a box full of needles. Shouldn’t they be stored in the back out of reach of customers? Maybe customers are expected to safely dispose of their needles in the box, as civilized junkies would do. I don’t judge, I just ask questions.

Anyway, the writing session was a success once again. I am going to try to get more into a regular writing habit during the week but for some reason, it’s been even more difficult than usual this month, as the number of blog posts attests. Between having a billion things to do at work, health concerns, starting up with running again and other stuff, I have a lot on my mind and it’s been tricky to clear out the head space to just sit down and write.

Excuses, for sure, but there you have it.

Book review: Writing a Novel with Ulysses

Writing A Novel with Ulysses IIIWriting A Novel with Ulysses III by David Hewson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have no idea why the Kindle edition identifies this book as Writing a Novel with Ulysses III as there is no version 3 of the program (it’s at version 2.7 as of March 2017 and the book is based on version 2.6. The differences between these versions have no impact on the advice offered). That aside, David Hewson’s book–more of a booklet, really–is a fine guide on covering the basics and some of the specifics in using Ulysses to write a novel. As a bonus, he also includes a chapter on how to use the program to write a screenplay or radio script, too.

Ulysses bills itself as a “pleasant, focused writing experience.” It’s a minimalist writing program, using plain text with markdown to provide a very clean writing environment. As with similar programs like WriteMonkey, it is meant to be a distraction-free way to write, where almost all formatting is handled separately from the actual writing, through an export process done after the project is complete.

Ulysses is not a complicated program. In use, it is rather the opposite and intentionally so. It wants to get out of the way so you can just write. The value in this book is in how Hewson concisely covers its features while offering enough specific tips to further smooth the experience without having to search forums or other resources for information. The combination of his writing experience and familiarity with the software work well to provide advice that is of immediate usefulness.

He peppers the book with general writing advice while also encouraging writers to use their own approach if their methods don’t match his own. You may organize your manuscript, research material, and other notes differently, but Hewson’s suggestions in regards to Ulysses remain useful.

Overall, this is a quick, useful read for anyone interested in fiction writing and has chosen Ulysses for the task. It has helped me to better organize and tweak my writing projects.

(Ulysses is only available for macOS and iOS.)

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Bonus amusing cat image, March 2017 edition

Lately, my mind has been going blank when I sit down at the ol’ home computer. Perhaps it’s some kind of defensive mechanism.

As a result, here is a second amusing cat image for the month of March.

This is some seriously lazy cat fighting on the part of the tabby. In a way I kind of admire the minimal expenditure of energy.

lazy cat fight

Run 483: Two runs, one week!

Run 483
Average pace: 5:40/km
Location: Brunette River trail
Distance: 5.04 km
Time: 28:35
Weather: Overcast, some drizzle
Temp: 9ºC
Wind: moderate
BPM: 162
Stride: n/a
Weight: 167.2 pounds
Total distance to date: 3805 km
Devices/apps: Apple Watch, iPhone

Yes, it may seem crazy but here it is the same week and I’m posting another outdoor run. Woo.

Today I went to have blood taken for some testing and did what one would naturally do after losing some blood–I went for a run.

(I did eat a banana first.)

I headed out mid-afternoon under gray and threatening skies–they threat never materialized beyond some very light and sporadic drizzle) and even though it was warmer than Saturday at 9ºC, I wore a long-sleeved shirt because the wind was promising to gust again.

It turned out the wind was not a factor at all and I never felt cold. Perhaps because of this, I was faster, beating my sloth-like previous pace of 5:54/km by coming in at a less-slothful 5:40/km. This is still well off my usual 5K pace and I’m feeling tired right now, but I know in time my form will return. I can already tell the legs won’t be as stiff, so hooray for that.

The trail was in respectable shape and I saw no other runners. There were a few people walking their dogs, including several letting their precious scamps run off-leash. I especially liked the guy with two larger dogs letting his dogs squeeze under the fence to frolic around the “Restoration area – no dogs or people” sign. One of the dogs made a desultory attempt to follow as I went by and as I was near the end of the run, I’d likely face the dogs again as I double-back at the end to reach 5K.

Instead, I decided to keep going and hope I could hit the required distance in Lower Hume Park. I did, though with literally no room to spare. I dinged 5K just steps short of the tree that’s fallen across the trail at the bottom of the stairs. But at least I didn’t have to deal with those dogs and their dumb owner again.

My next run is tentatively set for Thursday after work–my first post-work run of the year. It looks to be mild but soggy. I can live with that.

Goodbye, winter, I’ll miss you least of all!

Today is the last day of winter 2017. Well, I suppose to be more precise it would be winter 2016/17 since it’s the one season that nuttily starts in one year and ends in another.

This winter we had more snow than we usually see in about five winters combined. Maybe ten winters combined. I am not exaggerating. Some winters we get a dusting or two, maybe a couple of centimeters for a Lower Mainland “blizzard.” Just as often we can get no snow at all and maybe a handful of days where the temperature drops below freezing.

We had so many snowfalls this year I actually lost track. It snowed on probably ten different days, if not more, and most of those days the snow was significant to pile up. Two of those days it was enough to shut down my workplace early. I couldn’t run at Burnaby Lake for nearly three months because the snow and ice would simply not go away.

So now, with temperatures closer to normal, trees beginning to bud and the first flowers starting to blossom, I bid this horrible sneaked-in-from-back-east winter adieu, and welcome spring, even knowing it is probably going to be soggy as all get-out for the next two months.

But at least it won’t be snow.

Here’s hoping my next “damn snow” post is in December, or better yet, 2069. I’ll be 105 years old then so I’m secretly hoping we will be able to control the weather then and also have discovered the secret to eternal life, otherwise I’ll just be a very old man yelling at (snow) clouds.

Run 482: Windy city (trail)

Run 482
Average pace: 5:54/km
Location: Burnaby Lake (CCW)
Distance: 5.06 km
Time: 30:04
Weather: Partly cloudy
Temp: 6-7ºC
Wind: high, with gusts up to 13 km/h (probably higher, it was reporting 13km/h when I got home and the wind had eased up a bit)
BPM: 162
Stride: n/a
Weight: 166.5 pounds
Total distance to date: 3800 km
Devices/apps: Apple Watch, iPhone

For the first time in three weeks, I returned to Burnaby Lake, the snow at long last completely gone. It was around 7ºC heading out–not exactly balmy, but with the sky clearing and the sun poking out, I figured I could safely switch from my long-sleeved running shirt to a short-sleeved one.

This proved to be an interesting decision.

Every other jogger I encountered was bundled up like it was winter (it is, officially for two more days). Some wore gloves or long pants, others wore jackets. I was the only one dressed as if for summer, wearing only a t-shirt and shorts.

The one thing I hadn’t anticipated was the wind. Sometimes it can be breezy. Today was not one of those days. The wind was ripping. The flag at the Hume Park Home Learners School (a name that seems like an oxymoron, really) was pointing straight out and rippling so hard you could hear the fabric snapping.

This made the 7ºC–which dropped by a degree by the time I started the run–feel more like something much, much colder.

As I entered Burnaby Lake Park the inevitable happened and the wind whisked the cap off my head. I retrieved it and screwed it down tight. It didn’t come off again and for this I was glad because my buzzed head would have been frigid without.

I ended up frigid, anyway, just not my head. For a few moments I marveled over the impending signs of spring: the fragrant aromas in the woods, the trees starting to bud, even the skunk cabbage starting to sprout in the numerous stands of water along the trail. This marveling went away as my arms and hands turned to icicles. They were so cold that in that first five minutes I considered calling off the run altogether.

Instead, I kept going, hoping the thin warmth of the sun would provide at least a psychological boost, and that the activity would warm me up enough to ensure this wouldn’t remain Mr. Freeze Goes Jogging.

It sort of worked.

After the first km (a sluggish pace of 5:33/km) I did warm up a little but it remained uncomfortable until around the 3 km mark, where it finally became tolerable. My second km was a staggeringly slow 6:20/km as I simultaneously passed the initial burst of speed and began feeling the full effect of the icy wind.

The wind did not relent for the entire 5 km. It didn’t even really start subsiding (a little) until the walk back. It was not fun. I blow a raspberry at you, wind, though I’ll know to check wind conditions before the next run.

The trail was dotted with puddles from yesterday’s monsoon-like rain, with many areas of mud, more mud and also mud. I finished a bit muddy, though I skirted all of the puddles. Despite never really feeling warm, I opted to walk home instead of taking the shortcut to the Production Way SkyTrain station. It just seemed like too much of a bother to go up there and wait for possibly multiple trains before getting on one. Plus I was already cold so it didn’t seem to matter much by that point.

I could feel the effects of the exercise even as I walked home, the rare treat of being sore not the day after but the hour after. I expect it to be worse tomorrow, but in time my legs will get back their sexy running form.

Despite the chill wind, it was still good to get back on the trail. But, uh, no wind next time would be spiffy.

Important iPad rumor update!

A poster regarding a story about (potential) new iPads on MacRumors said, and I quote:

But no, Apple is going to wishy wash (being forum appropriate with word choice) and let Microsoft (for one) continue to climb higger.

I’m pretty sure if you go to the Microsoft site right now, the slogan they have displayed there is Climb Higger.

It’s a reference, of course, to the world-famous Mount Higger, the tallest mountain in all internet comments sections. Meanwhile, Apple is going with the wishy wash, a new, magical method for manufacturing processors in super-clean rooms.

These are exciting times for both technology and random people making comments on the internet.

(Ironically, I think the point the person was making as he fought with his keyboard, is not entirely inaccurate, that Apple is being conservative with their technology while Microsoft, with products like the Surface Studio, is championing the sort of innovative design Apple was once known for. Still, I want a new iPad, anyway. Microsoft could still make my socks roll up and down with a Surface Pro 5, but probably only due to its price.)

Sarcasm

From Merriam-Webster, the definition of sarcasm:

Definition of sarcasm

  1. a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain

  2. a) a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual
    b) the use or language of sarcasm

When I was younger I employed sarcasm so regularly it was entitled to full benefits and vacation pay. Thinking it over, I haven’t really reduced my usage of sarcasm, I just have fewer opportunities to wield it. For example, I’m wise enough to know that sarcasm is often not the best tactic in the workplace (co-workers do not seem to share this trepidation based on the regular barbs that go a-flying).

Looking at that first definition, though? Designed to cut or give pain? Ouch. Literally. When I employ sarcasm, it’s certainly meant for effect, chiefly to skewer the target of said sarcasm. In that sense, it can be said to be intended to cut. Give pain? Not so much. I’m not a sadist, not even a linguistic one. When I use words as weapons I’m more like a mug swinging a club I can only manage to lift, rather than a skilled fencer darting to and fro, stabbing at will.

The second definition, though, that’s entirely me. When I prick a finger and draw blood I’m fairly certain a little sarcasm leaks out. I don’t always target individuals, though, preferring to broaden my targets to entire institutions or groups.

What brought on this bit of self-reflection was a perusal of some of the posts on this blog, specifically my writing prompts (the ones I create, not the ones I tackle) and how they are uniformly sarcastic. Why is that? Am I secretly afraid of producing mediocre prompts and so write ones that aren’t intended to be taken seriously? Is it a reaction to so many writing prompt collections being silly while trying to be serious? More the latter, I think.

Coming up with a few decent prompts is pretty easy. Coming up with a dozen? Trickier. Coming up with hundreds, especially hundreds that aren’t spewed out by an automated process? It is difficult, so bless those brave souls that try, even as I mock their efforts. I don’t mean to be cruel and fully open myself to similar mockery with the hundreds of nonsensical posts I’ve written here.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I blame my head cold and the obligation to write. I’d rather be sleeping and don’t look forward to staggering into work tomorrow, still feeling unwell and having to battle stuffed-up sinuses, caustic co-workers, and other stuff, all of which could be solved through the simple expediency of winning the lottery.

Time for bed and NyQuil-fueled dreams. The best dreams.

Filtering for a better future

I subscribed to a Pinterest newsletter until it started regularly including content that I was not only not interested in, but found unwelcome. This happened despite specifically indicating what my interests were. Somehow I still ended up getting loads on “pinterests” featuring topless tattooed women on motorcycles. I mean, if you like that, great. But I don’t and Pinterest really, really thought I did.

I subscribed to a Medium daily digest and the first one I got was an unusually rich trove of interesting topics and info. This proved to be a fluke as it subsequent digests were nothing but self-referential articles about getting more people to read your posts on Medium mixed in with right-wing screeds or poorly-written and unoriginal stories. I’m perfectly fine with being unoriginal, provided the spin provided is interesting or well-constructed. Instead, I find articles where the rules of English have been tossed aside in favor of a weird quasi-informal tone that reads like something halfway between a Facebook post and a text message.

I unsubscribed to the Medium digest.

The Pocket digests still arrive every few days but I find I’m looking at the stories less, in part because some of the digests are thinly-disguised collections of links to support the inevitable “sponsored” story (which is really just an ad) and also because the political stories are almost uniformly depressing these days and much of the rest of the news is the same as well. It feels like hope has been crushed down in favor of the rich and stupid being allowed to shape our inevitably dismal future.

Mostly I wonder if it will ever be possible to filter this kind of stuff so it shows things I find genuinely interesting, while at the same time avoiding the creation of an echo chamber where I only get news or exposure to ideas I already accept. I keep at open mind and I’m always willing to listen (within reason). I imagine a world where I didn’t have a Facebook finger. The Facebook finger is represented by the ‘swipe down’ gesture used by my index finger as I go through the Facebook news feed, vainly hoping for something that isn’t a regurgitated meme, insipid “like and share of you agree” bit of inspiration or an allegedly cool thing/video someone (along with thousands of others) found.

But I don’t think it will ever be possible, at least not until the far future (if we as a species make it), so for now, the only way to filter is to do it manually and suffer the memes, the self-indulgent nonsense and the “you’ll find this interesting!” stuff that is actually the opposite of what you’re looking for.

Bleah. Time to read a book.

Writing group week 8: Postponed due to illness

Strictly speaking, the weekly write-in wasn’t postponed, only my participation was.

Friday: I felt that weird little twinge in my sinuses and throat that said, “You may be catching a cold!”

Saturday: The twinges became manifest. I officially have a cold, but it’s not too bad. Some NeoCitran helps me feel better. I still plan on going to the writing group.

Sunday: Nose is very irritated. Sneezing develops. Generally feel blah and listless. Decide not to inflict my potentially contagious self on the others attending the write-in. On a day when it reaches 9ºC and snow is a literal impossibility, I also do not run.

I eat toast and jam instead. It leaves me unfulfilled because my nose still hurts.

Now I’m having tea, which will temporarily soothe but also lead to me getting up multiple times to use the bathroom because that stuff goes through me like nobody’s business.

Also today, I started reading an article linked on Medium that lists 50 ways to make yourself better and gave up after realizing the list is a few common sense items wedged in-between a bunch of unsubstantiated nonsense, like “have faith” or “create an automated source of income.” The author also keeps citing the wealthy as inspiration, overlooking the fact that wealthy people are among the worst people on this planet. He cites Peter Thiel, for the love of…Pete. His advice boils down to “Be white, male, super-rich and you’ll do just fine!”

The Jerk: SkyTrain edition

This guy is a jerk. Why is he a jerk? I will tell you.

transit jerk

This picture was taken during my commute home, on the Canada Line, around 4:40 p.m.

Transit Jerk Explained

  1. He’s sitting on the outside seat, making it more difficult for other people to get by to the empty window seat next to him
  2. He has his legs crossed, which makes it even more difficult and sends the implicit message, “Go away, don’t even try.”
  3. He is doing this during rush hour when the train is inevitably going to be crowded.
  4. He has his bag in the “Keep Area Clear” space at the front of the car. Stuff left here can go flying if the train makes an emergency stop.
  5. His water bottle is on the verge of popping out of his bag and rolling onto the floor.
  6. Bonus: He’s wearing a vest.

Today on the commute home four of the seats up front were occupied by people’s baggage (said people obviously riding in from the airport). Question: What is more deserving of a seat: your baggage or another human being? Answer: You know the answer, jerk. Move your damn luggage.

This concludes my yearly transit rant. Since switching almost exclusively to riding the SkyTrain rather than the bus, I find most of my complaints are of a mechanical nature–that is, taking issue with problems besetting the system such as stuck cars, failed switches, etc. In the olden days of bus riding my complaints were almost exclusively about the people on the bus rather than the bus itself. So in that sense, my complaints now are a lot milder.

But still, the jerks are still out there, with their fancy bags and crossed legs and, “Oh, you want to sit here? I had no idea other people rode the train!”

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Book review: Fifteen Dogs

Fifteen DogsFifteen Dogs by André Alexis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a fine story and an interesting idea–what would a group of dogs do if suddenly given human intelligence? The problem comes not in the quality of the novel but in terms of my expectations of it.

(Minor spoilers follow but they reveal nothing the reader won’t encounter in the first few pages.)

The framing device of the story is that the gods Hermes and Apollo place a bet on whether a group of dogs, given human intelligence, would be happy at the time of their deaths. Occasionally Hermes, Apollo, Zeus and other gods step in to interfere or complicate matters further for the dogs.

I found this a little too twee and it also saps much of the emotional depth of the novel, since the author has a literal set of gods that can and do change things on a whim. Just as the reader becomes immersed in the struggles of the dogs to balance their canine and human selves (one dog creates poetry, even as he still craves to eat poop) another scene comes along that reads like a smirking college paper interpretation of the Greek pantheon, employing a droll sort of wit that wears thin quickly.

My other problem with the story is the strong tone of the author’s voice. With (god-like?) omniscience, the author often explains precisely what every character is thinking, whether they are right or wrong, what consequences are to come and so on. At times it feels more like reading a detailed summary of events rather than vicariously experiencing them.

Still, these are deliberate style choices and while they didn’t work well for me, it is very much a matter of personal taste. The meat of the story still holds up so anyone who appreciates the framing will simply appreciate the novel all the more.

Given the unique subject matter and the way the author Alexis commits to the dogs’ perspective, I would still recommend Fifteen Dogs, just be aware of what you’re getting before jumping in.

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