Posted by Jarsto in Media
January 25th, 2009 | No Comments »

I like what I tend to call “low impact documentaries” as my moving wallpaper when I’m home, both when I’m working on something and when I’m just trying to relax. How much I see of these can differ, which has a positive side-effect of allowing me to watch the same thing more than once, especially if I wait a while between showings.

Recently I’ve managed to get hold of a good number of episodes of the British TV series “Time Team”. It’s not 100% documentary technically, but it falls into the same sort of watching. For those who don’t know it, I’ll give a quick overview of what the show is like.

Each episode of Time Team consists of a team of archaeologists going to a site which has (usually) turned up some indications that there might be something in the past. They then do a 3 day exploratory dig to figure out what’s there. This is always limited to 3 days, which provides part of the entertainment component of the show the “will they or won’t they” excitement.

At the end of the 3 day exploration the team presents its finding to the locals or whoever called them in, and of course to the TV audience. There’s no faking the findings either, so if they find absolutely nothing that’s what they’ll have to present.

Which brings me to the episode that prompted me to blog about this show. In an episode in 2007, a dig taking place near the village of Warburton in Cheshire, the Time Team – in the words of presenter Tony Robinson did “… what we’ve always threatened, after a hundred and sixty programmes we found absolutely nothing.”

The episode had been prompted by people finding artefacts while walking a field, but in the end the field proved not to contain any detectable buildings, in fact the only real conclusion about the field was that it had been farmed since Roman times.

But that didn’t mean there weren’t valuable results. Granted I’m not an archaeologist, or even for that matter any other sort of historian. But even so I think I know enough to know that a negative result doesn’t mean no result. By finding out that all the objects found in the field were – in the words of the show – “the background scatter of history” it managed to show that finds in the topsoil don’t mean there has to be something major underneath.

Which I suppose, or at least hope, is part of the explanation for why I like shows like this. There may be an entertainment component in them. And they don’t, generally, even claim to be the greatest form of discovery in history. But they do deal with real evidence and real science, and I like that in a show.

Posted by Jarsto in Media
January 2nd, 2009 | 4 Comments »

I’ve been looking back at 2008 recently. During my annual wake of course, but also during other moments. And one of the things that I realised is this: I’ve seen almost no TV commercials for a year now. I haven’t watched a lot of TV, and I’ve gotten good at avoiding the commercials when I do (some sort of sixth sense allows me to hit mute at pretty much the right time, and come back without missing too much, having done something else during the actual commercial break).

But the main reason I haven’t seen a lot of commercials isn’t that I’ve gotten so good at avoiding them when I watch TV. The main reason really is that I just don’t watch a lot of TV. What I do watch tends to be BBC a lot, which doesn’t really have commercials, so that’s a further bonus, but the main change, just over a year ago now, was that I re-evaluated what I would and wouldn’t watch on TV.

The basic premise when I sat down to take another good look (if you’ll pardon the pun) at my TV habits was this: would I miss a show enough to record it if I couldn’t be home during an airing, all shows that didn’t meet this basic criterion were immediately axed. Then I decided to go a step further: if my recording failed for some reason, would I mind enough to start trying to download it. Again all shows that garnered a “well if I actually need to spend time looking for it…” got the chop.

I was left with surprisingly little TV too watch once I’d applied those two, and over time I’ve refined it a bit further. I will still watch some shows that don’t make the grade, just as background filler, but about the only place I’ll watch them is the BBC, because there at least I can watch them without commercials. It’s not hard and fast, but it doesn’t need to be to cut out an awful lot of more or less useless time spend in front of the telly. Which gives me more time to find interesting stuff online, or to read (not that I’ll ever have enough time to allow me to read everything I would like to, but at least this allows me to come a little closer than I would otherwise).

Posted by Jarsto in Category 42
January 1st, 2009 | 4 Comments »

It’s 00:55, the new year is less than an hour old, and the fireworks, having receded to just occasional bangs at least a quarter of an hour back, now seem to have gone almost completely. It’ll be sporadic for another few hours, I know that much from experience, but a point of rest is approaching, which means it’s high time to get this blog entry written – though as it’s being written on my PDA it will have to wait a while a before it’s published.

What else can I say about the present moment? I’m at my father’s house for newyears. And I’m the only one still up. I’m sitting by myself in a darkened livingroom. I could, no doubt, put more light on, but for now I prefer to have just a few candles, and the light of my PDA screen as I write this post. The year is now exactly one hour old, and the fireworks are sputtering occasionally outside.

There is a reason I’m sitting here in the darkness, waiting for quiet. It’s not just to write this blog post – it’s important, but not thta important (sorry) – but it’s to do with the fact that I’m still up. In fact I’m highly unlikely to go to sleep any time soon, or indeed before the evening of January first. The only way that’s going to happen is if I really find I can’t last the night.

You see, for the past few years I haven’t slept between the morning of December 31st and the evening of January 1st. Instead I stay up. It started partly when I noticed that New Year’s eve was no longer special. Staying up past midnight is routine for me, in fact sleeping beforer midnight tends to be more special. But just doing something special on this night, something as special as being up until midnight felt when I was younger isn’t the only thing.

There’s something strange, almost magical, about being up in the deepest part of the night, when all human life around you sleeps. It’s as though certain thoughts only come at the times when the brain isn’t usually awake to receive them. A facet of that thought is expressed by Susan Ivanova, in the Babylon 5 epside “The Hour Of The Wolf”, which also mentions quite specifically the moment I too have found to be the “hotspot” for nightly insight: the hour between 03:00 and 04:00 in the morning.

To put it another way, with a slight hint of melodrama if you’ll permit me: always be careful around mirrors between 03:00 and 04:00, at that time of night chances are you actually will see yourself if you looki n them, not just the faint copy they usually show you. And like all insights gained by waking through the night that may be useful, but if it comes at you while you’re unwary, it may not always be welcome.

It’s ten minutes past one now, and the fireworks have fizzled out even further, so I’ll call it quits for this blog entry. The new year has started, and so, for me, has a new wake to ponder what’s happened in the last, and what may happen in the new. It’s an odd habit, and probably not “the thing” for everyone, but I find it works for me.

Update 04:00 – I’ve made it through the most important part of the wake, and am now about to do something I haven’t done for a few years: go to bed. Not to sleep, at least that’s not the intention, but just to lie down. My back’s been acting up the last few days, and it’s starting to again now. Lying on the sofa isn’t going to cut it so I’m going to risk the bed.

Update 09:00 – Just as I’m posting this I’ve been up again for an hour or so. I don’t think I really slept, though I may have dozed of a little bit once or twice. Most of the time was spent in contemplation as intended though, and my back is certainly feeling better than it was about 5 hours ago.

Posted by Jarsto in Category 42
December 28th, 2008 | 1 Comment »

Spring cleaning is a tradition, winter cleaning probably isn’t. Even so I decided to stop waiting for spring and give my kitchen a really good winter cleaning today. With NaNoWriMo in November, and “things to do” just about every weekend in December my kitchen has been running on a “clean what’s absolutely necessary” basis for far too long.

So I spent the last 60 to 90 minutes running around with cloths, scourers etc. and working on the kitchen (I’d already managed to get most of the dirty dishes waiting for me cleaned earlier). That’s quite a bit of time to spend on a small kitchen, but it was sort of necessary. And more to the point it’s really clean now.

In the process I did rediscover one of those profound truths you run across every once in a while: if your tiles have a reasonable camouflage colour they don’t look dirty, except when you’ve just cleaned some of them. I won’t claim I don’t recognise the place, but I will say I didn’t quite remember just how much light those tiles can reflect when there’s no dirt in the way.

Of course the work is never really done, there are still plenty of things to clean, even in my kitchen. But I feel quite good about having done what I have so far. It may seem like a weird way to spend what is essentially vacation time. But having this out of the way somehow feels a lot more relaxed, which is what I want for the next few days.

Posted by Jarsto in Technology
December 15th, 2008 | 1 Comment »

I spent quite a bit of time yesterday, as well as most of today so far, playing with code. Some PHP and some javascript. I’ve never done much with the latter until quite recently, so a lot of that is not much further than “Hello World”, but it’s fun.

I’m actually still in two minds about most javascript uses. Or rather in one mind: don’t do it. As a rule I believe sites should use as little javascript as possible. For one thing javascript, like flash and other client side scripts, is somewhat impolite. Rather than using serverpower to present the site you want, you use the processor power of person showing an interest by visiting the site.

Granted there are things that simply can’t be done serverside, and javascript is usually a better way to deal with them than flash. But quite a few sites use javascript even when there are perfectly valid serverside alternatives. In fact there are sites where, even when I’m not doing (or looking at) anything special I can still watch my processor usage spike just from having them open.

I’ve had a look at some more advanced code as well, and I find that it’s getting easier and easier to figure out what’s going on just be reading the code. That should translate into an ability to either adapt or write more advanced pieces of code, which is my real aim: Combining the clientside effects of javascript with the serverside power of PHP through AJAX.

Most of that’s still in the future (though I hope in the near future), but however that may be, I’ve rediscovered something: playing around with code is almost as much fun as writing fiction. My ideal is still to make my living by writing fiction some day, but if I can make some of my money by writing code, that would be good too.

Posted by Jarsto in NaNoWriMo 2008, Writing
December 9th, 2008 | 5 Comments »

jnl-new-light2 A post by Starstuff reminded me that I’d taken some pictures of my own setup during NaNoWriMo. Unfortunately, when I finally dug these out today, it turned out that the ones without the flash were all blurred, while the ones with the flash didn’t adequately display the setting. So I started playing with the lighting and taking some more pictures. There was more light when I took this picture than there usually is when I write, but you should get a good flavour of my setup.

The only real change since NaNo is that my PDA and PDA keyboard are on the desk far more often now. And the pages with character info for my NaNo, which were against the wall where the image of the wolf is, are now gone. Those used to be lit up by the tealights I’ve got there, which was just enough to be able to read them when I needed to look something up.

Now I have to admit this image was altered. No matter what I did with the lighting the screen ended up showing as almost completely white. So in the end I decided to go ahead and improve the image somewhat. What you’re actually seeing there is part screenshot and part photo. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I could do on short notice, and at least it conveys some sense of how I write.

Posted by Jarsto in Writing
December 8th, 2008 | No Comments »

I wrote this on my PDA yesterday, but never got around to transferring it to the blog. So here it goes, just one day late.

10:30 I almost regretted having a write-in to go to today when my alarm went this morning. I’ve gotten over the shock now, but it would have been nice to have been able to sleep in a bit more. Still there’s no helping that, and I know I’ll have a lot of fun once I get to the write in. Right now I have another 45 minutes to go before I change trains, and then after a wait, another 40 minutes or so on the second train of the day, so travel is the first order of business.

The good news, certain for this first stretch, is that I’ve managed to find a place in a special ‘silent’ carriage on the train. I’m still listening to my music most of the time, but these carriages are pretty nifty. They are marked on the windows with a band on the top. There’s a big “S” in the centre of this band, and the word silence on either side of it. Once in Dutch (stilte) and once in English. These carriages are meant to allow people to get some work done on the train, and I can attest to the fact that they work. I’ve written over 800 words already in the first 30 minutes or so of the journey. That of course puts me well clear of my 500 word daily goal, and is also a nice boost going into the write-in. For all that we like to complain about them, sometimes the railways do apparently get things right.

20:30 My plan to write a couple of entries in this file during the day didn’t really materialise. Once we got to the write-in we were having too much fun to really get into this file again. We – or at least I – didn’t do a terrible lot of writing while actually at the writein this time, by I still did some. And of course just being around other people as crazy as me – about writing – was a lot of fun as always.

Most of the writing for the day was/is being done on the train. I’m on my way back home now, and in the process of putting in another stretch of words. And my total for the journey to the write in was 1474 in the end. Not bad for a couple of hours on public transport. In fact my total for the day has just passed the 2614 words I did during the first 6 days of the month. That’s great of course, but it does give me a bit of a problem now: I have to find yet another goal to keep myself motivated for the rest of the journey. Beating the rest of the month was what kept me going through the last scene I wrote. The inspiration is there for the next one as well, but having a bit of an extra spark never hurt the writing progress. Maybe I’ll aim for a nicely rounded 3k, I can always see where I can go from there.

21:00 I’ve made it past 3k now. In fact I made it past 3k about ten minutes ago. Since then I’ve been working on another document. But I just realised I hadn’t blogged yet about the way I’m writing now. On the two trains this morning, and the first train tonight, I was lucky: I managed to get a seat with some form of table to work on. But on this train, covering the longer stretch of my journey tonight, there was no such luck. I did get a seat, which is always a good thing – this is a pretty busy train – but it doesn’t have a table.

Fortunately I’d planned for this eventuality. Brought along 2 ringbinders today. One with my printed manuscript, should I want to consult that, and just for situations like this. Not aimed specifically at the train journey, but at the write-in as well, where depending on seating arrangements I might have ended up having to do lap-top writing. It still imposes some limits on the way I can sit to have the keyboard on top of a ring binder in my lap, but it’s a lot better than sitting with my knees close together in order to sufficiently support the part of the keyboard holding the PDA while I type in my lap. I may eventually look into getting something specifically for this, like a piece of thin ply-wood roughly the same size as a sheet of A4 paper (slightly smaller than my ringbinder), just to have something thinner – and therefore even easier to carry – to support the keyboard on. But for the time being, the ringbinder does very nicely, and I’ve got enough of them stocked up to be able to take one along whenever I need one.

Posted by Jarsto in Writing
December 5th, 2008 | 3 Comments »

My writing performance these days is a mere shadow of its November self, but I have been writing ona daily basis. Most of the time it’s not all that much, but it’s still going. I’ve been keeping up a pretty steady 250 word minimum per day, trying to finish last year’s NaNoWriMo manuscript.

That’s not a lot of writing, but part of what I’ve been doing is reading back the manuscript, while writing at the same time. That’s going to come to a close tonight or tomorrow (depending on how soon I feel like sleep). So far I’ve actually quite enjoyed the read. And I’ve got a decent start on a list of the characters I’ve had appear so far. At least those not limited to now-closed sub-plots.

Anyway I just finished printing the pages I hadn’t previously printed – in blue because I’m currently out of black ink in my printer. Still this is just to hep with the read-through so the colour doesn’t really matter. And at least I’ve managed to avoid dropping into a complete black hole after NaNoWriMo this time. Once I’ve finished the re-read I think I can aim for at least 500 a day as a steady goal.

Posted by Jarsto in NaNoWriMo 2008
December 1st, 2008 | 8 Comments »

12:30 Well it’s about time I started this post. The Great Maker knows I have enough I want to cover in it. And as I’ve already been hit by yet another plotbunny (I wasn’t even showering this time, just reading the Babylon Lurker’s blog) so I guess it’s about time I did something creative. But first the ‘not so creative’ part of the post: some more numbers and statistics.

So I wrote 166,661 words. Which comes to just over 900k characters according to OpenOffice. Add in 12.5k words of blog posts, another 65k characters, and something similar to the blog in #dutchnano, and my suspicions are confirmed. Without even adding in blog-comments, forum posts, or typing at work (or for that matter corrections) November is already well over 1 million characters, which also means over 1 million keystrokes.

Even taking just 1 million, which is decidedly low, that means I’ve done just over 23 keystrokes a minute for the entire month. Or put it another way: if I’d stayed up all month, and stayed at the computer without sleeping, or eating (or strangely enough in the scenario: dropping dead) I would have had to hit a key once ever 2.6 seconds to make it this far.

Translate that (again roughly) into words, and I would have had to write over 4 words a minute to get everything I wrote for the month typed out. Even if we reduce it to just the novel, I would still have had to write 3.9 words per minute for the entire 43,200 minute long month. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but again that doesn’t leave any time to sleep, work, eat, bathe, or actually do anything other than type. When you take all those into account, you start to realise just how much of a strain writing for a month puts on you.

15:15 The day is going pretty much as expected so far. Not a lot done yet. I’ll try to the the kitchen sorted out a little later. And about the only truly useful thing I’ve done so far has been to convert a beautiful burned out candle into a tealight holder, which seems to be working surprisingly well.

I’ve also decided to upload my wordcount sheet for this NaNo, in order to save myself from having to retype any more numbers. It’s available both in the original OpenDocument format, and in Excel. I’ll freely admit I haven’t checked how well my formulas have converted to Excel, so ymmv on that one.

Finally, and perhaps the most important thing I’ve done today: I’ve added the NaNoWriMo 2008 icon to my front page, and to the My NaNo History page. The other pages will have to wait, and so will the retrospective for the History page. There are too many other things I should probably be doing right now. So I’ll take another break from this post before coming back with my final thoughts on the month.

17:15 Well I haven’t done many of the things I’d planned to do after writing the last little instalment of this post. Instead I’ve been dealing with some email, hanging out in the chat, and playing lemmings, because that’s pretty much the only speed my brain seems to want to operate at right now.

I’m not sure I’m terribly upset about that either. It’s a pretty natural place to be after doing NaNo for a month, and the fact that I didn’t want to have to force myself to do much more than that was one of the reasons I took today off.

Still, looking back on NaNo, what is there to be said. I’m tempted to just say “go read the 47 posts I did last month” but there is a bit more to it than that for this retrospective. I had a lot of fun this year, and I wrote a staggering (even for me) number of words. Where I’d thought I might struggle to get to 50k, with everything else going on this year, I did more than 3 times that.

I think that all the other things happening may actually have had something to do with that. When you have to make time to write, it also forces you to spend that time writing. You can’t get away with thinking “I’ll do that bit tomorrow morning” when you know you have to be at work tomorrow morning.

Something else that may have a lot to do with it is that I haven’t been writing enough this year. Even with the 166,661 I put in for NaNo I’m pretty sure my total ‘words written’ for the year is under 200k. I’ve had 300k years in the past, so that figure is just a little bit of a let down in some ways. But more to the point for this post, I’m pretty sure that figure means there was a lot of pent-up inspiration waiting to come out last month.

The trick now is going to be avoid the biggest pitfall in doing NaNoWriMo: the post-NaNo dip. Of course you can’t avoid it entirely, and I’m still pretty sure I won’t be doing any writing or editing today. But I want to get going again pretty soon this time.

At least I have a write-in scheduled next weekend to help me get started again, so I guess I should be all right. Even in a worst case scenario it shouldn’t be a multi-month drag to get back into the groove this time – I hope.

So, finally, looking back, I’m very happy about this NaNo. I went in not looking for much more than 50k, and came out with over 160k. And what’s more, for only the second time in my 6 NaNoWriMos I got to write “The End” as my last two words during November. And for all the speed I don’t think my writing quality suffered too much.

That if anything is the worrying thing about this NaNo, I’m pretty sure this is a pretty normal – for me – first draft. And one thing I know about my own first drafts: I’m always light on description. Chances are this going to gain more words than it loses in any edit.

Of course the other worrying thing is just what I put my body through this month. As you can read nearer the start of this post I did over 1 million keystrokes in a month. I’m pretty sure that’s another record. But my body seems to have held up pretty well, with only the occasional slight twinge or ache to show for all the strain. So even there it seems I do have cause to be content.

And in a final bit of news, something I did shortly after midnight last night. I updated my NaNoWriMo countdown script to count down to NaNoWriMo 2009. Because that’s the real joy of NaNo: we get to go through this insanity again in a year’s time.

Posted by Jarsto in NaNo Musings 08
November 30th, 2008 | 6 Comments »

NaNo is just about over now. And mine is done. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few musings left. I’ll probably have a few more of them over the next few days, but here’s one I wanted to get in before the month is out. And no, the title of this post isn’t a Tolkien reference.

What this post is about is something I’m doing right now, and something I have been doing once or twice the last few days: I’m wearing rings. Now I’m not generally much of a ring wearer, but I do own exactly two of them. And for some reason putting one, or both of them, on occasionally helps to get the words going. It also seems to help keep my hands feeling good.

The rings mean I have to hold my hands just a little differently as I type. And that seems to serve as a good way to take some of the strain off them. I’m not sure I can tell why, but somehow having them on also seems to help keep the inspiration going. Possibly because the feeling of wearing them reminds me that I’m supposed to be writing.

This may not, strictly speaking, count as magic, but well, while it’s not a Tolkien reference I just couldn’t resist the fantasy feeling. What can I say, it’s late at night, and I’ve finished 166,661 words in the last 43,200 minutes. I’m entitled to make some weird references, right?