Archive for August, 2008

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Story Bits for 8/30/2008 – Mining our Foundation

August 30, 2008

John Scalzi tells the story in his post titled “The Big Idea: Tobias Buckell” of how Buckell came to the setting for his recent novel “Sly Mongoose” – a planet called Chilo.  Chilo is a world modeled after Venus, where air suitable for humans is actually a lifting gas, which means airships and floating cities are all the rage.  It sounds a little like Cloud City in the Star Wars universe.

In Star Wars, the economy was focused around gas mining.  For today’s Story Bits, imagine a world like Chilo or Cloud City, and over the decades the gases that have been holding the cities up have been so overly mined that they are threatening the overall stability.  Could the city residents mine the “unbreathable” gases steadily enough to eventually drop their cities to the surface (essentially terraforming the atmosphere)?  Would they have periods when atmospheric conditions throw the cities around like corks in the ocean during a storm?  Is there something on the planet’s surface that the government is trying to keep hidden, and the mining is threatening to reveal it?

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"Alina’s Gambit" First Draft Completed

August 23, 2008

The first draft clocks in at 390 pages, 27 chapters, and just shy of 98,000 words.  What’s ironic is that the first draft has taken just under 13 months to complete, but only represents 769 KB of storage on my hard drive.  I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard for so long for a file that small.

Now comes phase two: editing.  My wife and I have been reading the early chapters and making notes about things we wanted to change and add, but the vast majority of those haven’t been incorporated yet.  Additionally, while we’ve started the second draft already, there’s only about 2 chapters worth to show for it (the prologue, all of chapter 1, and part of chapter 2).  That should hopefully speed up in a couple of weeks.

We’re going to be going on a new schedule starting this fall where we work on the novel together in the mornings before our respective days really get going.  That will be an interesting change for me.  I have historically been a morning person, but the overwhelming majority of “Alina’s Gambit” was written in the evenings.

Our goal is to get the manuscript to the point where we can start sending it out by the end of the year.  We have just over four months.  I think it will be tight, but doable.  We’ll see.

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Nearing the finish line

August 15, 2008

Well, I managed to get roughly ten and a third pages done tonight – a new “single sitting” record for me.  I reached the climax of the story, culminating in the big chase scene and most of the cats being let out of their bags.  I couldn’t exactly stop in the middle, now could I?

The first draft now stands at just about 92,700 words.  It will probably be very close to 100,000 by the time all of the loose ends get tied up.

However, that will have to wait for tomorrow.  I’m off to bed.

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Home Office Reorganization – Future Tasks

August 6, 2008

The previous four posts in this series described what I was actually able to accomplish in my reorg-weekend.  This final post has a couple of things that I needed more time, or some money to get done, but are natural extensions of the reorganization.

My most glaring need is the pile of books that sits on the floor behind me.

Books on floor

A new thin bookshelf, would fit nicely there.  I have several of these around the house now, but they are (shockingly) covered in books already.   My wife and I have been on a steady household diet over the last few years, trying to fight back against the “save it for later because you never know when you’ll need it” instinct.  We are both voracious readers (her being an English teacher for 10 years hasn’t helped), and as a result have tended to collect a few books here and there.  Once we can prune that down a bit, and start relying on our local library for books-we-only-want-to-read-once-every-ten-years, at least one of those bookshelves should become available again.

The second thing that I still need to do isn’t nearly as obvious, but is many times more important – a good data backup system.

All of my work is stored on an external USB Hitachi hard drive.  It’s small, lightweight, whisper quiet, and has more than enough space (120GB) for everything that I do – both for software development and for fiction.

Hitachi HDD

I am paranoid about losing data, so I go to great lengths to make sure I have backups of everything.  As a result, I currently have two separate backup strategies in play.

The first uses SyncBack from 2BrightSparks to nightly copy my files (as well as the files off of my wife’s machine) to a file and print server that we have downstairs.  This provides a very quick and easy way to back up files, and makes retrieving them quite simple (just browse out to that server, and pull down the file you just accidentally overwrote).  I intended this process to get me back up and running in the event that my computer (or my hard drive) has a complete meltdown.

The second uses a combination of WinZip and Carbonite.  Using WinZip, and specifically the Command Line add-on for it, I created a batch file that compresses all of my files into a small number of encrypted ZIP files.  Then, I scheduled them for backup using Carbonite.  Carbonite backs the files up only when it notices that they’ve changed.  In this way, I have a secure off-site backup of all of my files in the event that the house burns down, taking my Hitachi hard drive and the backup server with it.

Carbonite is usually pretty reliable, although there have been a couple of times when the service isn’t available, and so I went days without a successful off-site backup.  Besides providing off-site storage, the advantage to Carbonite is that it will work as long as I have a broadband connection to the Internet.  That means even if I’m on the road in a hotel, I can back my files up.

The SyncBack method works well, so long as I’m home, and so long as I remember to keep the password up to date.  The scheduled tasks that I have running SyncBack rely on the username/password maintained by my company.  Their policy is to force me to change that every few weeks, which means I need to manually keep the passwords for the scheduled tasks in sync, otherwise they can’t connect to my file server.  I’ve gotten better at doing this over the last few months, but it’s still something I need to think about.

What I want is a reliable, don’t-have-to-think-about-it solution for backup.  I’m not sure such a solution exists, but I think I can move towards it if I can reduce the number of moving parts in the solution (thus making it simpler and less error-prone), and building in notifications when it fails (so I don’t go days or weeks without a successful backup before realizing it).

Oh well.  There’s always something to fix.  My N-T personality won’t let me see the world any other way.

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Home Office Reorganization – Wrapping Up

August 2, 2008

Now that my computer was organized and functional, it came time for all of the secondary tools: inbox, pens, paper, and whiteboards.

I found that the keyboard tray on the corner desk would work quite well as an inbox – someplace where I could throw paper and other items to sort into my organizational system (a modified version of David Allen’s method described in “Getting Things Done”).

Secondary Tools

The corner desk proved to also be very useful for holding things like my writing instrument tray, a pad of paper, a box facial tissue (you can never have this too close to you), and a clock.  After a few times working at the new desk I found that I also needed a small fan – while the temperature in the basement was usually comfortable, a current of moving air made it nicer when it got humid, and my arms started sticking to the desk as I typed.

The wall space to my right turned out to be perfect for my two whiteboards.

Whiteboards

It’s a little hard to see in the picture, but the left whiteboard has a series of paper strips, fastened to the board with magnets (the colored dots), describing the major plot points of my current WIP.  Previously I had laid out the story with the board in landscape, but it fit better on the wall with its twin in portrait, so after I had my office in order I reorganized it.

In the final post in this series, I’ll describe some things that I didn’t have time for over this reorg-weekend.