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Writing Habit Help

I wish I hadn’t gotten out of the habit of writing every day.

But, well, life happened. I got a job which became a career which quickly became a life that included responsibilities like car payments and mortgage payments and health insurance. Not to mention a wife and kid, followed by a divorce, health problems and the bills that come with it, and a new wife and all that entails. At some point in there, there just wasn’t time for writing. Now, I’ve lost the habit of it. My schedule revolves around trying to work off the extra weight I put on eating all the delicious food my blushing bride makes me and trying to get to work on time.
Yes, I do manage to write these weekly notes with a few free links in them, but, honestly, that’s not really writing. Not the way I mean it.
But, if you’re like me and you harbor that hard-to-kill dream of one day writing again, this week’s links are for you, starting with Get Back Into Writing by a blogger who calls herself Verily Mary. I haven’t read the other resources she promised, but you may find her encouraging words, well, encouraging. One thing that might help is knowing that if you write 750 words per day, you’ll have written about three pages worth of whatever you’re working on. And, if you need help staying motivated to do that, you can try using the on-line app 750 Words. It’s based on some ideas found in The Artist’s Way and will give you stats on your writing which you may, or may not, find inspiring. And, everything you write, they claim, will stay private.
Finally, if you do get a manuscript produced, Lara Willard has some great advice on formatting your manuscript for submittal in the modern world.

Beyond that, there’s no substitute for sitting down and doing the work. Maybe one day I can get back to that. Knowing that my blushing bride supports me will help, for sure, but she can’t do the work for me. I have ideas, one day maybe my life will slow down enough that I can share them.
Until then, keep coming back here for more of whatever this is!

Ambient Sci-Fi Sound

I love me some ambient, sci-fi atmosphere!

For you poor souls who are regular readers know I am a little obsessed with science fiction. And, I also am on a constant quest for the perfect background sounds to keep me from cracking up in the silence, without getting to “into” what I’m listening to at the moment. I think that started with an ex who used a white noise machine at night, which started me using one. Eventually, though, when I was travelling, I started using my phone. I tried a number of white noise generator apps, but the most fun was one that had science fiction sounds. It was good, mostly, but pretty limited. Now, though, there’s an alternative; 42 Hours of Ambient Sounds from Blade Runner, Alien, Star Trek and Doctor Who Will Help You Relax & Sleep.

A sound artist who goes by the on-line name of “Cheesy Nirvosa” has been creating these ambient sci-fi soundscapes since 2009 and they are absolutely fantastic. Now you can fall asleep to the comforting background noise of Rick Deckard’s apartment from Blade Runner. Or, use it as background noise while you work on your latest science fiction masterpiece! You can head over to Cheesy Nirvosa’s YouTube channel and play them from there in your browser or even download shorter loops. You can also find “real world” loops like the ambient sounds of a nuclear submarine, which sound surprisingly similar to some of the spacecraft. And, if you want to cut out the middle-man, so to speak, and just download the MP3s, you can check out Cheesy Nirvosa’s Bandcamp, where, for a few dollars each, you can buy the sound files to play on the digital device of your choice. (Don’t tell my wife, but I think I’m going to get a couple!)

Anyway, it’s been the kind of week that leaves me wanting to sooth my nerves, and these seem like a good start.
Y’all enjoy your weekend and come back next week for more!

Napping Videos

I think I’m too tired, because I think about sleeping and naps all the time.

Look, I’m middle-aged and I totally own that.  And, for most of my life, I haven’t gotten enough quality sleep.  I own that, too.  It’s probably one reason I’m a little over-weight and have high blood pressure.  Sure, I do a lot of stuff while I’m not sleeping, but, lately, I also find myself falling asleep on Sunday afternoons, often in front of the television.  I remember my father doing the same thing, though he usually fell asleep to sports.  I’m not so much a sports guy, but while I was going through my divorce, I used to fall asleep to samurai movies.  They had the perfect blend of random sound and speech, but in a language that was unintelligible to me so it didn’t engage me.  Sadly, the channel I used to watch those on seems to not play them any more.  But, I’ve found an alternative: Napflix.

You read that right.  It’s a collection of free videos with music, more peaceful than my samurai epics for the most part, but pretty much perfect to nap to.  Like this three hour video of a deep sea fish tank set to orchestral music.  Seriously, if that playing on your high-def, big screen system with the volume down low doesn’t lull you to sleep, what will?  And, there are others, too.

So, hey, this weekend when you’re looking to nap, why not call up one of these and get some good rest?  It’ll prepare you for the coming week work, or the intense party you’re going to later.  Either way, they’re free and restful, so enjoy.

Old School Newsletters

Not so old school that they’re printed, but, still, pretty old school.

I’ve always been an email sort of guy. And, I pretty much hate the modern forums. I hate having to go to a web interface and deal with all their junk and advertising. Also, as regular readers may have noticed from my blog, I’m a pretty text-heavy sort of fella. When I started in IT, fancy interfaces were the stuff of science-fiction. We did our work in the digital uranium mines via text interfaces, and we liked it!
Okay, all joking aside, my first work with computers pre-dated both Windows and the web, and maybe I never got over the simple beauty of straight, text-based information. No real fancy formatting or anything, especially in email. I still tend to view and write email messages in plain, raw text.
In any case, back in the day, the way we shared information was the old-fashioned newsletter. And, let me tell you, there were some ultra exclusive email lists that people fought to get included on. My favorites were the slightly secret UNIX security email newsletters. It felt very, very exclusive and, as they said far too often in the movie Hackers, “elite”.

Now, mostly, that time is gone. People, including me, use blog aggregators and RSS feed readers to keep up on the latest news. But, the venerable email newsletters aren’t entirely dead. As the folks at Discover write, “There is something beautiful about the personal newsletter. We love the depth and admire writers who cover niche topics in great detail. We love the intimacy of seeing these notes arriving in our inboxes directly from our favorite authors. And we love the serenity of reading every word without being interrupted by notifications. … We often wake up in the morning, eager to check if the latest issue by our favorite author has arrived, much like we used to check the mailbox for the daily newspaper or weekly magazine in the old days.” And that sums up why I like email newsletters better than anything else. It IS like a very specialized electronic newspaper emailed to me on a regular basis. Like Dave Pell’s NextDraft, which I look forward to every week day.

So, if you’re like me and enjoy information at a slightly slower pace than firehose that is the web, check this out and subscribe to some of these personally curated newsletters.
Hope to see you back next week, and, until then, enjoy your reading!

Unleash your Creativity Scientifically

I am NOT feeling creative this week.

And, I mean, not at all. Not even a little bit. So, what’s to do? Well, for one thing, I’m going to go ahead into work and be not creative there. I might as well collect a paycheck for not feeling creative and force myself to solve problems for profit. Honestly, when I read about breaking writer’s block, one of the most cited solutions is to just sit down and write anyway. I know for me, having a set routine helps me a lot. But, I’m a big believer in science, so what can science do for me when I don’t feel creative?

As it turns out, quite a lot, and Scientific American magazine happens to be running a special issue on just that subject. So, what I’m going to do is go into work and do things and leave these links here for you.
Six Articles on Creativity from Scientific American:
1. Your Fertile Brain At Work
2. The Science of Genius
3. Triumph of the City; Engines of Genius
4. Answers In Your Dreams
5. Living in an Imaginary World
6. Let Your Creativity Soar:

Hopefully, one of those will appeal to you and help you have a more creative weekend. Read them quick before they disappear behind a paywall!
And, we’ll see you next week!

Neon Flames

It’s like finger-painting with stars.

You know how there are all those studies that say coloring is good for adults? That it helps us manage stress and all that? Well, I believe them. I have found that a little bit of coloring really has taken the edge off for me. I’m not quite as convinced about some of the smartphone apps or the programs, but, I suppose, if it works for you, then great. And, I know that general doodling has helped me relax, too. When I was a kid, I would just scribble out shapes and creatures and faces and whatever came to mind. It was, if you will, a form of self-soothing. Guess what? I found a new internet toy that does the same thing; Neon Flames. And, yes, it’s just like finger-painting with stars and nebulae. It’s super simple, and free. Just click on a color, then click and drag your mouse over the black background and watch. Just go play with it.

And, as a side note, I can actually see a use for it as a background creator. Maybe even as the background for the cover of that self-published science-fiction ebook you’ve been meaning to write. (Or is that just me?)

Anyway, it’s free and fun and a great way to waste a little time.
Enjoy!

Pretty Pictures

So, I’m not quite done with the photography links.

Seriously, though, I’m working on some other things to share. I promise. Still, I have this one last thing from last month to share with you.
We all like to look at beautiful things, right? And free things are great, too, aren’t they? What about free things that are beautiful to look at? Yeah, pretty much the sweet-spot of ways to waste time on a Friday. So, that’s what I’ve got for you. Free photography that’s pretty much gorgeous. And, I really mean free. You can do whatever with these photos without worrying about violating some poor photographer’s copyright and stealing money from their family. Trust me, it’s cool.
The site is Unsplash. And, it’s just what I said. Beautiful photography, for free.

Go look.

Photographic Software Tips

The fourth post in this month’s themed series of useful photography information focuses on the big two photographic software programs; Photoshop and Lightroom.

So, while the information is free, the software isn’t.
Personally, I try to get as much right in the camera as I can. Photography is my hobby and I work on computers all day long, so I’m not particularly interested in spending a lot of time on using software to “fix” my pictures. Still, I don’t know where I’d be without the software I do use. Mostly, I work in Lightroom, with the occasional Alien Skin add-on, but I also know that Photoshop is the “gold standard” in the minds of many photographers and creative professionals. So, the first ling I’m sharing this Friday is Are you a Photoshop Master? Even you may not know these ten features! It’s a short video of some helpful, but lesser known, features in Photoshop. It seems like every big program like this has at least one hidden feature almost no one knows about, so it’s always cool to find some, even for software I don’t use a lot of the time.
On the other hand, I do use Lightroom after pretty much every photography session. And, lately, I’ve been very interested in printing my work for easy display around the house. Of course, I’m mostly going to send those to a specialty printing company, but I still want to proof them and, possibly, try them in a spot on the wall before committing to a more expensive print. Or, I may want to do a little more “pre-procesing” before sending my work to the printer. No matter my goal in regards to printing, the Photofocus tutorial on Mastering Lightroom Print Layout Styles will definitely help me save time. Honestly, it’s a feature in Lightroom that I haven’t used, but I hope to use more this year.

So, there you have it. Two tutorials in the most popular photographic software packages to round out the month.
See you next week!

Building a Great Minimalist Studio

Another resource for photographers.

I think one of the reasons I initially was interested in photography was because I was shy, but wanted to meet people. I figured that a photographer would meet beautiful people, which seemed like a great idea in my teens and twenties.  Actually, it’s still not a bad idea, except I’m a little less invested in meeting new beautiful people now that I’m married.  Now, I’m strictly interested in the photography.  But, like a lot of amateur photographers, I don’t really have the time, space or money to justify having a big, fancy, dedicated photography studio in my home. I’ve mostly made do with some seamless paper in my garage, which, to be fair, has pretty much worked okay. It worked well enough, in fact, to take not only my LinkedIn profile shot, but also get paid for taking someone else’s LinkedIn headshot.  So, you know, it works well enough.  But, what if you want to go a little farther than that?  What if you want to do more than just the occasional headshot?  Well, my favorite commercial photographer and author of Studio Anywhere, Nick Fancher, has written an article for PetaPixel about just this subject titled You Don’t Need to Spend a Fortune to Have a Great Photo Studio.
It’s a great article and shows you some really creative options for a small, but very versatile studio you can use to make some really inspiring photos.
To his article, I’ll only add that you can get really creative with cheap LED lights and shop lights, not to mention rechargeable light bars and automotive lights.  I recently shot some still life photography in my kitchen using a glass shelf and some cheap LED flashlights and was very pleased with the effect.
So, go read his article and see what Nick has to say about textures and space and see if you can’t apply that to your own situation and find some available space for a studio, even if it’s temporary.

But, above all, keep shooting!

Artistic Constraints

Any good artist knows that constraints make better art.

My experience has been that limitations force us to make better work and make it easier for us to create. It’s been true since those creative writing assignments I used to get in Grade School, where we were assigned a title and had to write a story based on it. Back in the Fifth Grade, I could take those titles and warp them into something completely unexpected. For example, I managed to take “My Adventure at the Circus” and turn it into a subterranean fantasy that started with a trap door found under the edge of a circus tent. Seriously. Good art, which may or may not include “My Adventure at the Circus” circa the Fifth Grade, happens when artists bang up against the constraints of their chosen medium. And, when even those constraints feel too open, additional restrictions help them make better art, believe it or not. In the case of the writing exercise, being forced to start with that title was usually enough for me to really turn loose.
But, these days, I don’t have as much time as I feel like I need to write, so I’ve changed mediums.
When I was in school, I wanted to make art and felt drawn to photography.  But, when I was a student and had the time, I didn’t have the money to buy a camera, much less the film.  Now, thanks to the speed, ease and relative low cost of digital photography, I can indulge myself in photography.  And, for those of you who know me, you know I have, in fact, done that.  But, my work there has stalled.  I need constraints.
Last week, I posted a link to a Daily Photography challenge.  I don’t know about you, but I think a daily challenge may be a bit too much for me.  Luckily, DIY Photography has a 52 Week Photography Challenge that may provide the subjects I need to force myself to get creative with photography, with just a little less intimidating frequency.    Every week, they have a subject, or theme or specific instruction, to help a photographer constrain their art enough to get creative.
I’m not sure that I’ll do it every week, but you, dear reader, certainly can.

 


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