Sunday, November 30, 2008

Finishing NaNo Today

Writing to you from the NaNo trenches: I have 47,285 words written right now. The 50,000 word finish line is in sight! I will be holed up at Peet's Coffee today until I cross it. I am going to win this year. Woohoo! :)

Update, 1:13 PM: I'm now at 48,325 words. 1.7k left to go!

Update, 5:37 PM: I did it! 50,000 words! I win! :D


Friday, November 28, 2008

Literary Books

I'm at Barnes & Noble, about to start writing for today's NaNo session. About a month ago, this particular bookstore had rearranged its shelves so that "Fiction & Literature" is on one side of the building, while things like Mystery, Romance, and Science Fiction & Fantasy are on the other side.

So as I was walk past the information booth on the way to a comfy seat with electricity, I overhear an employee talking to a customer: "I think we're trying to separate the more literary books from the, um..."

I can't help but smile, hearing her talk herself into an awkward corner. She notices me smiling; she half-smiles back at me. I laugh, having caught her in her literary snobbery. She laughs too, as does the other customer. We all know what she's avoiding saying. (I happen to disagree that non-"literary" books are the bane of literature like some do, but it was still an amusing moment.)

...Can I include these 171 words as part of today's word count? ;)


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

This is the very first year I've not gone home for Thanksgiving. It feels weird. But Forrest, Jerry, and I made a pretty good showing at our Thanksgiving dinner. They cooked most of the food — I only contributed Stove Top stuffing and fudge-in-a-box — but I kept them supplied with clean knives, pots, pans, measuring cups, etc by washing everything as they cooked.

We have sooooo much leftovers now! We, um, possibly had too much food: roasted turkey (only 8 pounds!), stuffing (both in-bird and on-stove), mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, lefse, waldorf salad, peas and pearl onions, pumpkin pie, a mini cranberry tart-pie-thing, fudge, chips, milk, Dr. Pepper, Johannesburg Riesling, Franciscan Merlot (2004 vintage, a little too young), and some mead. And we still need to make turkey carcass soup!


Friday, November 21, 2008

TypeRacer is Addictive Fun

Do you have skills of a typist? Go type at TypeRacer and see how you do!


Monday, November 17, 2008

Decaf, Half-Caf, Whatever

This weekend I had an annoying headache for much of Sunday, which I'm attributing to caffeine withdrawal. I had switched to half-caf at work to avoid just such a thing, but when I drink 2–3 half-caf cups of coffee every day, they add up. Forrest suggested I do a taste test to see if I can even tell the difference between half-caf and decaf, and switch to the latter if I can't.

So I enlisted my friend Hugh's help in doing a single-blind taste test between half-caf and decaf. (I didn't compare them against regular coffee, since I'm perfectly happy with half-caf and don't want to discover now that I actually prefer the fully leaded version. I'm looking to downgrade, not upgrade, my caffeine intake.)

Hugh made up three cups of coffee — using the "odd man out" approach is a bit better than just two options to compare against. Each cup was discretely labeled A, 1, or unmarked. He obviously knew which was which, but he left the room while I tried to distinguish between them so that he wouldn't influence my decision.

And damned if I couldn't tell the difference! I was very mildly suspicious of cup A, thinking it was the half-caf and the other two were decaf. But really, I couldn't tell a major difference and I wasn't even sure there was a difference. I made up my mind at that point to switch to decaf, since my silly taste buds don't know any better.

Afterward, I asked Hugh which was which. It turns out that the unmarked cup was the half-caf, and the other two were decaf. I was so wrong. :P

So I start my weaning off of caffeine tomorrow!


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Halfway Done with NaNo

I hit the halfway mark — 25,000 words — just one day behind schedule. Wootles! This is the most I've ever written for one story, so this is rather exciting for me. :)


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pet Sitting: Boarding vs In-Home Visits

Forrest and I are looking for a pet sitter for the cats while we're off visiting family for the holidays. I hadn't heard of in-home pet visits before, and I'm of two minds about it. On the one hand, the cats would definitely be happier on their own spacious, familiar turf. On the other hand, it would be some stranger we'd met only once before (during the "consultation" most of them do) in our house, and the cats would be unsupervised for most of the day. I'm sure they're already calculating the perfect place to pee. (The cats, not the sitters. ;))

Have any of you had experiences one way or the other?


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Watching My Bus Drive Away

I woke up late, looked at the clock, saw I had 13 minutes to get to my scheduled company bus pickup, and jumped up out of bed. So I'm bleary and tired, rushing around getting ready. I drive over to where the bus will pick me up, since I don't have 20 minutes to spare to walk there. As I'm parking a block from the bus stop, the bus comes by, picks up the people waiting for it, and drives off. Arrrrg!

So I drove to work today, which means no morning NaNo word count. :( Plus I feel groggy. Bleh. JIT mocha to the rescue!


Monday, November 10, 2008

15k and Picking Up Steam

Chris Baty threw down the gauntlet last night in his Week Two pep talk email:

Meanwhile, back in the trenches, I sent out a pep talk [Sunday night] challenging everyone in NaNoLand to get to 15,000 words by bedtime on Monday.

I so totally kicked that challenge's ass: 15,005 words, baby! I'm only one day behind now, which means I've already made up for one of the two days during the first week that I barely wrote anything. As Baty points out in his pep talk email, this year's November is blessed with 5 whole weekends, so I'm gonna catch up before the end of the month. I'm excited. :)

Things are starting to pick up in my story, too. Dark secrets are coming to light, both for Our Heroine and someone who was supposed to be just a "scenery" character but is now vying for a larger supporting role. Cardboard-cutout mean characters are discovered to have good reasons for their actions. Our Hero is finally showing a little bit of interest in Our Heroine; sure did take his sweet time about it!

The writing is still atrocious, of course. This is NaNoWriMo, after all. But I'm actually getting more enthusiastic about my story than the first couple days, which is different from my two failed NaNo attempts in 2004 and 2005. Whee! Later is the time for atrocity-fixing; now is the time to put butt in chair, fingers on keyboard, and get that first draft out of my head on down on paper (as it were).

I fudged the timestamp of this post, but it's only 15 minutes after midnight and definitely before bedtime, so it's still within the spirit of Baty's challenge. I don't feel guilty, not one bit. :)


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Characters Should Not Have Minds of Their Own

Dear Heroine,

Please do not break the rules of the world you live in. You are messing up my story. Go do as you are told... or tell me how you did the supposedly impossible!

The Author


/me does the 10k dance

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Saturday to announce: I just broke 10,000 words for my NaNo story! Wheee! :) That is all. Now back to your regular Saturday activities.

Shhhhh, don't point out that 10k was Thursday's target word count. I'm celebrating over here.


Reports of 401(k) Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

If you google for "Ghilarducci 401k," you will find a lot of outrage over Professor Ghilarducci's proposal to change 401(k)s. I heard about this back in October from one of my finance blogs (although now I can't find the original post...). Read the google results for details of her proposal itself.

Her plan sounded to me like a pretty bad overreaction to the current financial situation. Representative McDermott was mentioned in the blog posts and news articles as being in charge of the hearing where Ghilarducci spoke, so I sent him an email telling him my opinion.

"He" (by which I mean his staff) sent back a form letter saying it's all blown out of proportion and not likely to actually happen. His response says bloggers have got things wrong, but in my Google alerts I haven't seen anything but "the sky is falling" about Ghilarducci and 401(k)s. So here's the reply he sent me, so it's at least out there somewhere on the internet:

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns over testimony by University of Notre Dame economics professor Teresa Ghilarducci regarding her proposal for eliminating preferential tax treatment of 401(k) plans. I welcome your interest in this matter.

A number of bloggers have incorrectly characterized my intentions and actions concerning this tax issue. I did not convene the hearing on this issue, though Professor Ghilarducci did testify before the Education and Labor Committee as a member of a panel discussing retirement savings. I am not a member of this committee and was not present and therefore did not attend the hearing.

Please be assured that I have no plans to eliminate the tax incentives for 401(k) plans. Rather, I am actively exploring ways to provide more incentives for families to save and to prepare for retirement. I regret that some blogs have misinterpreted my intentions. I share your concerns about Ms. Ghilarducci's proposal; at the same time, we must continue to encourage discussion of thoughtful proposals that can help to improve income security for retirees. While Ms. Ghilarducci's plan is not one I support, I am willing to listen to new and innovative ideas from many sources; certainly, careful scrutiny of new suggestions is always appropriate as we attempt to effectively address issues of retirement security.

Again, thank you for sharing your views and concerns. I appreciate hearing from you.


Jim McDermott
Member of Congress

Sure, it's generic politispeak, but I couldn't find this response (or really any page saying anything other than "oh noes, the Democrats be stealin' your 401(k)!" (What's a financial post without a lolrus link?)

Update, November 10th: I'm finally seeing calmer posts about this in my google alerts. Blogger John Clinton writes, "All in all, it looks to me like a case of someone in the media going after the big attention-grabbing angle of the story — Congress wants to kill off 401(k) plans! — and ignoring the other four sides of the issue."

Update, November 20th: And now weighs in!


Exclude Comments from Google Docs Word Count

Google Docs has no way of excluding comments (from the Insert > Comments menu, or Ctrl-M) from a document's word count. This bugs me; for NaNo, I want to know my real word count, not my story+comments fake word count. I sent in a suggestion to the Great Google, but there's no guarantee that they'll ever decide it's worth implementing a "word count minus comments" option.

So I took it upon myself to write a Greasemonkey script that toggles comments in a Google Document. When comments are hidden, they won't contribute to your word count.

Technically, I manage this by stuffing the comment text into the comment <span> element's "title" attribute and deleting the text content of the comment. Toggle again and the title repopulates the text content. This makes sure the comment text is never actually removed from the HTML source of your document, which is what Google saves.

I sorta doubt that any other Wrimos (that's a participant of NaNoWriMo) will use my script, but I will use my script, and that's all that really matters. :)


Friday, November 7, 2008

Scammy Car Warranty Phone Call

I got a phone call from 978-409-5210 today. I usually let weird area code numbers go to voicemail, but I was in a curious mood, so I answered it.

This is your second notice [actually, this is the first I've heard from them] about the factory warranty expiring on your vehicle. It's not too late to renew! This is the final call you will receive. Press 2 to be removed from our list [didn't they just say this was the final call?], or press 1 to speak to a representative. [Sure, what the hell.]
You are number 1 in line to speak to a representative.
Would you like to find out more about continuing your car warranty?
First, who are you?
[pause] Well, my name—
What company is this?
My name is is Aaron.
But what company do you work for?

I don't know why, but the <click> response to asking such a simple question really amuses me. Although I think the Spanish scam phone call was more fun. :)

A quick googling shows that someone else also had a run-in with our scamsters, although he had much more fun with the scammer. According to Google Phonebook, 978-409-5210 is a Massachusetts number belonging to Marilyn Freedman. I doubt that info is accurate, though.

Update, November 28: I just got a second call from these scammers! The new number they called from is 505-986-8074, which the Internets says is a Santa Fe number this time. I talked with "Fred" today. I immediately asked him what company he worked for. Rather than hang up like last time, he just stopped responding. I could hear his call-center scammer buddies in the background, but he wouldn't respond to anything I said. So this time, I hung up on them.

According to 16 Ways You Can Be Phone Scammed, this auto warranty call is #1. Says the site:

Typically the goal is to get you to reveal personal, bank account information, or to make you do something that will result in unwanted charges on your account. ...

Tracing the calls to the companies is difficult. The calls often come from telemarketing centers located overseas. Also, the companies often spoof their caller ID information to display someone’s else’s real number. When people receive these calls they dial the number they see on Caller ID and leave angry messages for an unsuspecting victim. Two-three days later the telemarketers change the Caller ID number and the scam continues.

Indeed, calling the number back results in that error tone and That Lady saying, "We're sorry, the number you have dialed has been disconnected."

Update, August 31, 2009: The FTC filed suit against these guys (or at least someone running the same scam) this May. The FTC complaint names Voice Touch Inc, James and Maureen Dunne, Voice Touch called Network Foundations LLC, Damian Kohlfeld, Transcontinental Warranty Inc, and Christopher D Cowart as defendants.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Comments are Fixed

Eek, posting comments was broken! I've revert back to the "full page" comments like they were before. I'll try following a suggested fix for embedded comments later. Sorry 'bout that, guys!


Help with Story Names and Terms

Yay bus! I figured out how to write on my laptop without getting motion-sick. I write with the laptop lid mostly shut, so I just have enough room to type but not see the screen. Works wonders for shutting up the Internal Editor, too. :P

Because I took the bus, I wrote 1690 words yesterday! And this morning, I woke up early, wrote 300 words before I left the house, and wrote another 842 while on the bus. Of course, the NaNo goal for today is the 10k mark, so at 6854 I'm still pretty behind. But I do feel more like I can catch up, so that's good.

In other NaNo news... Perhaps my dear devoted readers could help out with some naming problems I'm running into. Here's what I need named:

  • Drei LastName, something that sounds good together for yelling at a teenage girl; Drei is an addict, runaway, and thief, so she's going to regularly get yelled at :)
  • the Something Tavern, where Our Hero goes to drown the sorrows of his young daughter dying
  • Grandfather Rordechin, Our Heroine's grandfather and the leader of their guild. He's a mean, demanding old coot but he's done Good Things for the guild
  • GuildLeader Master, a title for the, well, guild leader :)
  • better, more fantasy-esque terms for cremation, the cremator (the man who runs the shop), and the crematorium (the shop itself)
  • psychic energy, the source of magic. All people have energy; only magic spirits (who were once people) can use said energy to do magic.
  • a follower, someone who gives their energy to a spirit (usually voluntarily)
  • a mind controller Memorist, a type of spirit with the magical ability to read, create, or extract memories from both the living and the recently dead
  • the sacrifice ritual Sacrifice, when a normal person does some ritual, gives up their body, and their energy becomes a spirit with magic instead
  • a priest or priestess, someone who oversees the sacrifice ritual and is a caretaker of knowledge about the spirits that isn't "common knowledge"
  • a binding token spirit gem, some physical object with both a person's and a spirit's psychic energy imprinted on it, to establish a bond for giving energy and performing stronger magic on the person

Any suggestions?


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Two Days Behind for NaNo

NaNoWriMo conveniently started on a weekend this year, which was great. I was right on target both Saturday and Sunday. Then the work week started up. :( Monday, I wrote 519 words while waiting for a doctor's appointment. Yesterday, I only managed 165 words. That puts me two days behind already! (See the Google spreadsheet of my sad progress.)

I decided to take the bus today for the sole purpose of giving myself an hour and a half of dedicated writing time during the work day. So this morning I wrote 515 words on bus ride to work. If I write around the same on the way home, that'll be 1000 words, leaving 667 to pick up to meet the normal quota. Of course, because I'm behind I need to hit 1818 words per day now instead of 1667... *sigh*

Unfortunately, writing while driving seems almost as bad for me, motion-sickness-wise, as reading while driving. Maybe some I should stock up on non-drowsy dramamine for NaNo. Or practice typing without looking at the screen. :)


Code Monkey Like Fritos

I've had the song Code Monkey Like Fritos by Jonathan Coulton stuck in my head today, and realized that I had never blogged about it! Now, I know most of my geeky friends have already heard the song, but just in case you haven't, go listen now. :)

The first stanza of the song is probably my favorite:

Code Monkey get up get coffee
Code Monkey go to job
Code Monkey have boring meeting
With boring manager Rob
Rob say Code Monkey very diligent
But his output stink
His code not "functional" or "elegant"
What do Code Monkey think?
Code Monkey think maybe manager want to write god damned login page himself
Code Monkey not say it out loud
Code Monkey not crazy, just proud


Saturday, November 1, 2008

1690 Words Down, 48310 To Go

As you can see from the fancy-dancy progress meter in the sidebar, I'm 3.4% of the way done with my NaNoWriMo writing. The goal is 1667 words each day, so I'm a tiny bit ahead with 1690 today!

On the downside, I'm writing really slowly: only 440 words per hour. I'm spending way too much time wondering what exactly to write, or deleting a sentence and re-wording it. This is not how NaNo is supposed to be. This is supposed to be a quickly written first draft, no Internal Editors allowed. So I need to stop editing even as much as I'm doing (which is only half-assed editing, since I know I'm not supposed to be editing during NaNo), and I think I need a more detailed outline that covers what to write for the next day.

So maybe I'll go outline a bit before heading to bed...

And here's a shout-out to my two friends who are also doing NaNo this year. They haven't posted today's numbers yet; I wish you both 1667 words! :)