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Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Process: Fiction Novels  

the centaur in a coffeehouse
Recently I commented on Facebook that I was working with editors on Frost Moon and a friend asked:
"I've always been curious about this process. Generally speaking, what kind of changes are they asking you to make?"
Well, my writing process involves many, many drafts before it ever hits the editors, so the changes are generally minor. I write large chunks of everything I write in a writing group, reading sections aloud and making corrections before the first draft is ever finished. I then print out the first draft, read it myself, and make corrections to produce a second draft, which I give to trusted "beta readers". Some of my beta readers give me very detailed comments, almost copyediting, so the "gamma release" that I send to the publishers is pretty polished.

However, the editors have an eye for the market and audience, and will generally ask to tighten things up. At Bell Bridge Books, you work with an editor who first tackles theme, plot and logic - in Frost Moon, she asked me to reduce the emphasis on the romance in a few places, to improve the clarity of the action, and to clear out some of the deadwood; in response to these changes I send them a revised draft. For Frost Moon, the same editor then did a closer edit with some suggested changes right in the text using Microsoft Word's track changes feature, focusing on on general style to sand off the rough edges - intensifying some scenes while muting others to make them more realistic. I tweaked these changes, she approved them, and then I sent them a cleaned up copy with all formatting and Track Changes removed - a "final author's draft".

From then on the editing of the document is in the hands of the publisher, so they know what changes are happening to the text. This goes through several stages. First was a "line edit" where a new editor looks at the sentence structure for clarity. That's what we're doing now through an email exchange and I have to say it's been a pleasant and professional process. Next up is a "copy edit" where a third editor specifically looks for errors that the I and the other two editors have missed. In parallel with the whole editing process they're also putting together the bio, acknowledgments, cover art, cover text, frontispiece, etc., usually generating the materials themselves but occasionally asking me for input or text or images (like the author's headshot above). Finally there will be "galley proofs" where we all look at a quasi-finished document for anything that looks wrong.

And once we're all happy with that ... then that will be it.

-the Centaur

Pictured: me, in Atlanta Bread Company, as taken by Bolot Kerimbaev at the time of this post. This will most likely be my author's picture on the back of Frost Moon

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I'm very depressed...  

... I researched the Blogger issue. Three, maybe four of the blogs I manage will work well with the new system.

This one, the one I post on the most, won't. And there's no good workaround yet, though I am looking into it.

*sigh*.

I'm pretty sure I *can* do this - keep the Library of Dresan site completely static HTML pages so that there's no software on it to hack - but the existing FTP blogging clients seem pretty niche. And using WordPress or MovableType in this mode will, as I understand it, require that I set up WordPress on my laptop or desktop and write some software to rewrite the files and FTP them up to the site. You know, the feature Blogger handled automatically for me.

*sigh*

-the Centaur

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Blogger FAIL  

Blogger is discontinuing FTP:
In evaluating the investment needed to continue supporting FTP, we have decided that we could not justify diverting further engineering resources away from building new features for all users. For that reason, we are announcing today that we will no longer support FTP publishing in Blogger after March 26, 2010. We realize that this will not necessarily be welcome news for some users, and we are committed to making the transition as seamless as possible.
Looks like it's time to find a new blogging provider.

-the Centaur

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Sooooo gooood....  

Old Port Lobster Shack in Redwood City. Get the "naked lobster roll", that's all I'm saying. Full review later.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lovecraft on Youtube  



Yes, it's apparently a hoax. But a good hoax:
There, in what appeared to be a 30s-era newsreel, was H.P. Lovecraft, uncomfortable and uneasy, gaunt and pasty, speaking in an educated 19th century New England accent, displaying socially awkward mannerisms, and sitting at a desk talking about his work. I'd read a lot about Lovecraft, and had never heard any mention of him ever having been filmed, but the illusion was so well done, that it had me thinking, just for a second, that somebody had dug up some long-lost footage of Lovecraft. It is part of this attention to detail, for example the use of material drawn directly from Lovecraft's voluminous body of letters in the newsreel monologue that really places this portion of the film a cut above.


It sure sounded like him. That's because the words were by him.

-the Centaur

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How quickly can lava burn through your shoe?  

Not fast enough:
There was a case a few years ago where a geologist accidentally stepped into some lava. The nylon laces of his boots burned off almost instantly but the thick leather did not, and he had only minor burns on his foot. After that we all made sure that we only wear real leather boots out on active flows, not the lightweight part-nylon kind.
Revenge of the Sith, it ain't. Still, I'm not swimming in it.

-the Centaur

UPDATE: Reading around a bit on the site, it turns out if you aren't wearing one of those metal bunny suits you can catch on fire from radiant heat, so Revenge of the Sith, it is.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

That's Sir Captain Picard To You, Ensign  



Patrick Stewart was knighted on Dec 30th 2009. So it's Sir Patrick Hewes Stewart, OBE, from now on. The man is pushing 70 and he's still a total stud: make up your own "tea, earl grey, hot" jokes. Geez. I need to eat right and go the gym.

-the Centaur

Image of Patrick Stewart by UrbanTog, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Hey, *my* birthday is coming up *too*...  

... you might think about this:
Space shuttle for sale, fully loaded, air conditioning, one careful owner. It's the ultimate bargain. NASA has cut the price of a space shuttle to $28.8 million. The vehicles will go on sale after they finish constructing the International Space Station, scheduled to be later this year.
I take no credit for the "my birthday is coming up" joke, which I stole shamelessly from my coworker Othar Hansson.
-the Centaur

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If the stars are aligned just right, you may be able to pick the Shuttle up at the Unclaimed Baggage Center.
# posted by Blogger bolot : 5:51 AM
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I got teary-eyed  



Yes, it's an ad. So sue me.
-the Centaur

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The RTS That Would Not Die  

starcraft at christmas

Over the Christmas holidays I and my friends like to play some kind of cooperative computer game. The realtime strategy game (RTS) Starcraft is our current favorite, though Left For Dead 2 is nipping fast at its heels. This Christmas, I went into a Best Buy, and idly checked to see if it was still for sale. As I expected, it was. But still, this shocked me:

starcraft is still 19.99

In case you don't get the point, it's an eleven year old computer game - and it still sells for19.99. Even, as of this blogging, on Amazon. That's eleven million copies - a million a year - at $20 bucks or more a pop, for a total of two hundred and twenty million dollars. I'm sure that copies sold for more or less, but counting all the related media, you're talking a quarter billion dollar franchise.

starcraft ten year anniversary game

If you've ever played it seriously, you know why.

-the Centaur

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Rise, Lolho the Squamous!  

lenora and tachikoma

If the world didn't have enough evil already, dedicated computer engineers have figured out how to put it on tap. Behold the terror that is the Lovecraftian Name Generator! Go on, click on it, see what I'm talking about.

Back? Ok, I admit, "Lolho" and "Ual'ke" aren't the scariest Lovecraftian names. But it's programmatic. You can create more than one. The current limit is 25, but by the unholy names of Anai, Bbhaaat, Bosaush, Cazagorarl, Ch-yos, H'eligthorteg, Han-dha, Ibhagugu, K'zaru, Kephoital, Mazazho, Mephangos, Mmililog,Nacharsar, Nali-yatl, Naquggo, Niquggolo, Phomasothugn, Ralellosaq, Rhub-harny, Rlakibha, Uga-urshu, Uggugakithu, Ygg-cyo and Yishotha, not even in Lovecraft's coldest visions of an indifferent universe could he have imagined you'd be able to create an entire pantheon with the click of a button!

Even worse, that limit is no doubt arbitrary, designed to protect their computing infrastructure if not the fabric of space-time. A truly evil black-hatter could use a sequence of queries to generate matched sets of Cthulukin at the upper limit of the QPS (queries-per-second) their servers could handle! Hopefully they have some kind of DoS (Denial of Shoggoths) throttling on their servers to protect humanity. If not-

the mind reels.
-the Centaur

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Friday, January 22, 2010

The Future Will Work  



I've seen and heard a lot of craziness lately. It's making smart people say very stupid things. Look, I know these are trying times. Depression. Layoffs. Earthquakes. A Republican elected to Ted Kennedy's seat (just kidding). A Kenyan in the White House (even more kidding). Global warming hysteria / denialism. Cats and dogs living together: mass hysteria.

But be not afraid.

Humanity and the Earth have been through this before. Depression? We survived the Dark Ages. Layoffs? We've survived the collapse of industries and even civilizations. Earthquakes? We survived Pompeii and Krakatoa. Political shifts? God save the queen, we don't need her any more, and we even survived Communism. And global warming? Once the entire ocean became an algal bloom and almost everything alive died - and we're still here.

We can fix the atmosphere by taking measures that won't ruin the economy in case global warming is wrong and will start us on the path in case global warming is right. We can live with political changes and shifts and learn from the battle. And we can build a better world by recognizing that there are things wrong here and now that need fixing, and fixing them - while remembering human nature will always be with us.

Stop scaring yourself with imagined fears born from the latest crisis. Take a deep breath and look back through time. Look at all we've been through. Look at all the disasters that, too, have passed. And look at all we've accomplished. Sometimes it took great vision and immense amounts of hard work, but, praise God, he really does help those who help themselves.

The future will work. You can count on it. If you're willing to make it happen.

-the Centaur

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The Sexiest ... Brain on Earth?  

From Coilhouse's shoutout Stephen Hawking - "It matters if you just don't give up":
Hey, guess who else was born on Jan 8th? World-renowned theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking. He turns 68 today. Here’s a small assortment of reverent (and not so reverent) clips and quotes concerning a brilliant and resilient man whose mind is arguably Teh Sexiest human organ on this entire planet:
One of my favorite of the clips in that article follows:

"I hope I would not use the [robotic boxing glove the Simpsons gave me]. But sometimes I'm sorely tempted."

Filed under "Thank You, Carl Sagan" because, well, he's practically the next best thing to Carl we have now.
-the Centaur

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Also candidates for next best thing to Carl: Steven Pinker; Richard Dawkins. Both are esteemed scientists who write well for the general public. Dawkins also has the resemblance to Carl with his skepticism.
# posted by Blogger Jim Davies : 9:36 AM
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Real Fortress of Solitude  

More than a sixth of a mile underground. 122 degrees Fahrenheit. 100% humidity. An environment that could kill a man in ten minutes - filled with 35 foot long selenite spears straight out of the Fortress of Solitude.

They're the Naica caves, one of the most beautiful environments on Earth:
No images, they're copyright, so click through to the links.

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*ARE* you feeling lucky today?  

A friend of mine really likes the Chinese Tank Man picture: a lone figure carrying a grocery bag standing up to a whole line of tanks. To him it symbolizes the challenge of the individual against authority, even though he was ultimately disappeared ... though not necessarily killed.

Today a colleague at the Search Engine that Starts With a G forwarded me a new riff on that image:



"I'm feeling watched" indeed. Apparently this cartoonist is not alone in using that image to talk about issues with Google and China, though the sense today in the picture above is far different from the sense in 2005 when it was first riffed on:



So ... are you feeling lucky today that you are allowed to read this?
-the Centaur

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Spam comments: the new black.  

Hey black hat guys, comments are STILL MODERATED. This is doing you no good. Cut it out.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lagging Indicators Can Still Suck  

I know unemployment is a lagging indicator of the health of the economy, but it is a measurement of real human pain. I know half a dozen friends who have lost work or hours because of the recession; here's how hard this is hitting the rest of the country:

Ouch. More data here. My man John Garrison of Carolina Home Automation hooked me up with this data.
-the Centaur

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Don't let your cats watch you play Portal...  

...it can have ... UNFORTUNATE ... consequences:



No cats were harmed in the linking of this post ... but, well, I can't say that for the photography.

-the Centaur

P.S. The cat is not mine :-), but I do like playing Portal. For those that don't get the joke, Portal is a game in which players have a "hole gun" that can create a magic portal on a wall that the player can jump through, unless the player is a cat. My buddy Gordon hooked me up with this meme.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Frost Moon in the Publisher's Marketplace...  

... thanks to Bell Bridge Books:
Last but not least, our new fantasy series, SKIN DANCER, by debut author Anthony Francis, is careening through production and drawing absolute, total RAVES from early insider reads. Filled with adventure, humor, edgy characters and an incredible alternate reality, this story of a "magical tattoo artist" in modern Atlanta is going to rock the fantasy readers' world. Book one, FROST MOON, introduces the coolest heroine evah: tattoo specialist and "skin dancer" Dakota Frost, a tall, gorgeous, bi-sexual twenty-something whose tats are admiringly known as "Frost bites."

Ahem. I'm very flattered. I hope Frost Moon lives up to that description!
-the Centaur

Crossposted to the Dakota Frost blog...

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Qumana FAIL  

A nice blog editor, but when I tried more complex formatting in the last post it didn't display it well in preview mode, leading to errors which required heavy editing on the actual Blogger side. Still, it helped me get the essay written.

-the Centaur

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Making Blogging Easier, Part I  

chihuly art at palo alto medical foundation

So I want to blog more, ideally approaching one a day.  If I was just tossing up blog entries for filler, like I sometimes do, that wouldn't be a problem; however, I'd like to put up more substantive articles.  But I find that putting up more substantive articles takes a lot of time - so keep up the pace I need to improve my process.

I already have trained myself to use Blogger more efficiently, use tools like Qumana to make it easier to access Blogger while offline, and am experimenting with AndroBlogger in an attempt to make it easy to post while, well, anywhere I've got my Nexus One.  But there are still barriers to putting up entries.

One barrier is my process.  Note the last paragraph?  It has four links.  I like to put in links to topics I reference, so a certain amount of time is taken up finding appropriate web pages and linking them in.  There isn't much I can do about this except not go down the rabbit hole - ideally, I'd like to post a short paragraph about each link, but that's too much detail.

Another barrier are my goals.  One of my friends, Jim Davies, thinks that blog posts should have pictures - and I agree, though I can't immediately find the blog post in which he said it - perhaps that means we discussed it aloud.  So ANYWAY, there was another chunk of time wasted trying to find a link.  Where was I?  Ah.  The barriers of my goals.

If I want to blog an article with a picture, the picture needs to be on the web.  But I try to avoid linked images for copyright  reasons (and to prevent brittleness in case the target takes it down; for embedded Youtubes, which, well, there isn't a good substitute for yet).  So I need to upload the image to MY site, a chore I currently do with the Cyberduck ftp client.

And here the constraints get harder: in precisely the same way I don't let iTunes tell me where to put songs, I choose not to use Blogger's interface because I have scheme for posting images which predates Blogger and which I will continue to use after Blogger is gone: http://www.dresan.com/images/imagename.jpg, which is simple and easy to remember.

What's worse, my cameras take images at huge resolutions, so I need to shrink and resize the images to fit in the width that fits on my website.   For a variety of reasons, I go with 800x600 or 600x800, in a standard block of HTML which shrinks the image, adds a link to the source of the image, and ads some alt text.

So now I've put on myself a huge set of constraints which makes the simple task of putting up images on my website a chore - get the picture, resize it, start Cyberduck, upload it, write the two lines of HTML gloop necessary to display it, and then and only then see the preview so I can see I made a mistake.  There has to be a better way.

chihuly art at palo alto medical foundation

Enter UNIX shell scripting, Python and the ImageMagick toolkit.

The first thing that I did to make my life easier was to auto-generate the stanza of text that displays the image.  I mean, it's the same thing each time - an anchor tag pointing to the image, with alt text, then the img tag itself, with the same alt text, sizing and border information, like this:

<a href="http://www.dresan.com/images/image.jpg"> 
<img border="0" width="600" alt="some alt text"
src="http://www.dresan.com/images/image.jpg" /></a>

So why write ALL of that every time? Why not just write the changes and let the computer do it for you? SO I wrote a piece of code in Python which does just that, produces that text for me:

#!/usr/bin/python
import sys

TEXT= """
<a href="%s"><img border="0" width="600" alt="%s" src="%s" /></a>
"""
if len(sys.argv) < 3:
print "usage: %s image alt text" % sys.argv[0]
else:
image = "http://www.dresan.com/images/%s" % sys.argv[1]
alt = ' '.join(sys.argv[2:])
print TEXT % (image, alt, image, alt)

I'm not going to turn this into a Python tutorial, so, briefly, all this does is check to make sure I specify a filename and some alt text, stuffs it into a template, and prints it out so I can cut and paste. Here's an example of that in operation, turning chihuly.jpg and "chihuly art at palo alto medical foundation" into a stanza of HTML (spaces added for readability):

centaur@Deliverance (Wed Jan 13, 22:48:25) [520] ~/Development/Workspace/Webworks:
$ ./imagelink.py chihuly.jpg chihuly art at palo alto medical foundation

<a href="http://www.dresan.com/images/chihuly.jpg">
<img border="0" width="600"
alt="chihuly art at palo alto medical foundation"
src="http://www.dresan.com/images/chihuly.jpg" /></a>

That saves me several minutes of typing each time. This is one of the great Programmer's Virtues: laziness - making the computer do something you don't want to do for yourself.  The maybe thirty minutes I've spent tweaking that little script have paid off not just in the time that I saved typing, but in the extra blog posts that I've done because they were easier to do.

In the next installment (or two, depending), I'll write a tool to shrink the images to size with ImageMagick and upload them automatically with UNIX tools, and discuss some of the other tools and organization schemes I use which make it easier for me to collect the images and keep them organized - schemes that work even if you switch between operating systems.

-the Centaur

 chihuly art at palo alto medical foundation

The images are Chihuly glass sculptures hanging in the Mountain View campus of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

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The image thing can be a pain, yet.
I am also concerned with copyright issues.

My solution to the problem is to use wikimedia commons, which has a huge DB of images you can use. So if I'm typing about monks, I just type "monk" into the commons search engine, and select a picture. I then use the blogger interface to get it up there.

If I'm writing about something unimageable, I look at their featured pictures. An irrelevant picture is better than an irrelevant one.
# posted by Blogger Jim Davies : 11:16 AM
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AndroBlog FAIL  

First posting claimed it failed; retrying resulted in a double post. Plus it can't handle multiple blogs on one Gmail account, and capitalization of the first words in sentences is oddly broken. And it crashed while writing this post. Meh.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Testing AndroBlogger  

posted from my nexus one ... hopefully.

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Testing AndroBlogger  

posted from my nexus one ... hopefully.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thank You, Carl Sagan  

"Thank you, Carl Sagan" is an in-joke I and my friends use which requires a bit of explanation. I've been a member, on and off, of the Planetary Society since ... oh, heck, I don't know, since I lived in Greenville, South Carolina ... which makes it at least 25 years, a credible guess since the Planetary Society was founded by Carl Sagan in 1980.

Back in the 80's, I was first coming into my own as a space enthusiast - getting a subscription to Scientific American, joining the Science Fiction Book Club, and of course joining the Planetary Society.

A few years after I joined, I opened my mailbox in Greenville and found a renewal letter for the Planetary Society. That was great - I had planned to renew - but when I pulled out the envelope and prepared to write my check, I found the following (roughly reconstructed from memory):
Thank you, Carl Sagan for the opportunity to renew my subscription at the Planetary Society! Yes, I'd like to sign up for another year of the Planetary Report and to contribute to all the Planetary Society's great causes!

I was flabbergasted. This was my first barely-adult encounter with marketing speak and I couldn't imagine the hubris of someone asking me for money writing the response letter in such a way that it looked like I was thanking them.

Even though I was young and naive, on some level I knew Carl Sagan hadn't written that letter, and even if he had seen it he would have approved it without a second thought (I mean, come on, the Society IS providing a valuable service). But it was funny enough at the time to show it to all of my friends, most of whom were also big fans of Cosmos.

So every time Carl Sagan's name was mentioned, it was immediately followed by a chorus of: "Thank You, Carl Sagan!" I still hear those words every time I hear his name ... but the meaning has changed:
Cosmos. Contact. Intelligent Life In the Universe (with Shklovskii). The Pioneer Plaque. The Pale Blue Dot. The Planetary Society itself. And A Still More Glorious Dawn Awaits (with Stephen Hawking and Colorpulse).

Thank you, Carl Sagan, indeed...
-the Centaur

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Best definition of recursion EVAH.  

recursion did you mean recursion

For those that don't get it, recursion in computer science refers to a process or definition that refers back to itself. For example, you could imagine "searching for your keys" in terms of searching everywhere in your house for your keys, which involves finding each room and searching everywhere in each room for your keys, which involves going into each room and looking for all the drawers and hiding places and looking everywhere in them for your keys ... and so on, until there's no smaller place to search.

So searching for [recursion] on Google involves Google suggesting that you look for [recursion]. Neat! And I'm pretty sure this is an Easter Egg and not just a bug ... it's persisted for a long time and is geeky enough for the company that encourages you to "Feel Lucky"!

-the Centaur

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

"He always had a lot to say ... too bad he left so soon"  


Carl Sagan ruminates on life on Earth, how, as seen by a far-off camera on a spacecraft, a pale blue dot houses everyone anyone ever has known in the course of human history.

the pale blue dot

From his speech on the Pale Blue Dot:
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Thanks, Carl.
-the Centaur

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Just found a short between the keyboard and monitor...  

... otherwise known as an ID10t error in the operator component.

Trying to install a new device, wasn't working, and the reason was I never applied the firmware upgrade that the instructions clearly said had to be required. Anthony's nth (7th?) law:
If you don't follow all of the instructions, you won't finish in the goal state.(*)
(*) Except through dumb luck, or just possibly deep knowledge. Did I have deep knowledge in this case? No. So if you're doing voodoo, try, perhaps, following the complete recipe before you complain your zombie isn't coming back to life as advertised.

-the Centaur

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Eaaarthquake!  

Mild shaking in the house, like it was shoved sideways half an inch and sprung back. Apparently that's this one:

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsus/Quakes/nc71336726.php

Only my second quake in my 4 years in California. SO far, SO good...
-the Centaur

UPDATE: Sandi felt a quake earlier last year while I was at work. I believe it was this one:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/30/san-jose-earthquake-43-ma_n_180814.html

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

3:30am - pager duty suuuuuuuucks EOM  

PS: For those not in the know, EOM stands for "End of Message" - generally used for a subject-only email without a body, like sending someone an url:
Here's the presentation: http://short/url EOM
Technically I guess that means the EOM in the header is not an EOM, and also by corollary the PS is not a PostScript since it introduces the body of the message.

Well, then, in that case: Hello, Internets!

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Year of Blogging Dangerously  

So, last year I had an extraordinarily complicated series of New Year's Resolutions which almost completely failed. Looking back, I succeeded at my major goals for the year, but the complex plan of weekly / monthly things completely failed.

So, here's a simpler set of New Year's resolutions, goals, what have you:
  • Establish a weekly pattern of exercise, including some karate
  • Set aside some time each month to do art in addition to writing
  • Post to this blog on the average once a day, measured each week
The last one is the hard one, of course; I'm already 4 posts behind. But I have such a huge backlog of articles and ideas in folders that I shouldn't find this too hard ... if I can just change my habits.

In other news, Warren Ellis has already blogged 365 times since January 1st. Damn him.

-the Centaur

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