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Santa Tracker

Next week is Christmas, so, as I have traditionally done, I’m reminding you of where to find Santa.

During the Cold War, NORAD stood between us and what we were sure was complete destruction at the hands of the Soviets.  Thankfully, that never came to pass, and I have often wondered what NORAD has done since.  Well, apparently one thing they’ve done is track Santa Claus in his mythical journey around the globe, spreading Christmas cheer!  And, they have a website, which they do seem to improve every year.  So, now, whether you’re young or old, or whether you have children or not, you can have fun tracking Santa with the Official NORAD Santa Tracker!
And, since I probably won’t post between now and then, have a very merry Christmas!

Another Lap Around The Sun

I’m not sure where I picked up that particular turn of phrase.

Well, it’s my birthday again. I almost didn’t bother with a birthday post, since I had a post earlier in the day, but, it’s sort of gotten to be a tradition with me, so, here I am.  Honestly, it seems kind of impossible to me that I’ve survived this long, but, according to the actuarial tables, I can still expect about another 30-odd years of life. Which is a good thing because, in spite of being statistically middle-aged, I come from fairly long-lived stock and there are so many things still undone in my life.

I’ll be honest, this year hasn’t gone quite as I’d planned it.  For instance, I have a new job, which is definitely a good thing.  That change has brought some special challenges as well as opportunities.  Of course, that change has kept me busy, so, in spite of what I wished last year, I still haven’t done as much photography as I’d like, or written as much. Neither here nor on Diary of a Network Geek, which is my other, “original”, blog. That change is also my excuse for not participating in NaNoWriMo again this year, even though I did share links relating to that all through November.  My relationship with my wife, Sharon, still makes everything else I do seem more worthwhile and important, though I wouldn’t say that I live only for her.  In fact, the only thing I’d say that found really lacking this year has been her health.  If there was one thing, really, that I would change if I could, it would be to have eased some of her struggle and lessened some of her discomfort.  Still, even that is happening, so I don’t have room to complain at all.

I did, thanks to my blushing bride, save two great domain names, and, which I hope to develop this coming year.  In fact, I’d say that my biggest hope for the coming year of life is that I’m finally able to teach myself some better than basic WordPress theme design, specifically with those two sites in mind.  Well, that and learn some basic Mandarin, which would help me at my new company, and in life in general, from the way things seem to be working in the world today.  (I, for one, welcome our new Chinese over-lords!)

And, of course, my birthday wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention all the other famous people who had the good luck to be born on this particular day. Famous people like Frank “Chairman of the Board” Sinatra, Jennifer Connelly, Bob Barker, Gustave Flaubert, who is the author of Madame Bovary, the painter Edvard Munch, and Wells Fargo founder, Henry Wells. Not to mention, Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues, Tim Hauser of Manhattan Transfer, Dickey Betts of the Allman Bros, jazz musician Grover Washington Jr, and former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch.
All heady company to be sure, but for whatever reason, it tickles me the most that I share a birthday with Frank Sinatra. I guess it’s because he was such a unique and original character who really fought against and beat some long odds to become an amazingly famous, generally well thought of character. I can only hope to do the same, one day.
Also, I think it’s interesting to note that on this day in 1896 Marconi first demoed radio and, again on this day, in 1901 made his first Trans-Atlantic transmission. (Though, of course, all right-thinking people know that Tesla was really responsible for those first advances in radio.)
And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the computer mouse made its debut just four days before my birth! How crazy is that? The mouse, which makes graphic interfaces so practical and easy to use, is actually four days older than I am!

So, once again, I’ve made it through another year of life quite rather successfully, if I do say so myself.  Granted, I would be hard pressed to name another year that was so radically different than how I expected it to be, but, still, things seem to have turned out okay.  And, maybe that’s the most important lesson I’m learning with each passing year; generally, things turn out okay, if I just keep doing the next right thing and trusting the long-term results.  Or, as quite possibly my most famous friend would put it, I’ve got champagne problems and caviar nightmares!
I may have my down days, but, over all, life is pretty sweet.  I’m not sure what my forty-seventh year of life will look like, exactly, but, if the last forty-six are any measure, the next one will be filled with surprises, challenges and opportunities, struggles, the occasional failure, and more love and joy than I ever thought I might have coming to me.

Thanks for hanging out with me on this ride so far and I look forward to the coming year!

Free Indie Christmas Music

Yes, free Christmas music.

I love Christmas music of almost any kind.  And, of course, I love things that are free.  So, combining the two is my way of spreading some holiday cheer!
For many years, the music blog Stereogum shared a special Christmas mix of free, downloadable MP3s from Indie artists, some you may know and some you may not.  It was always a fun mix and almost always introduced me to new music while also giving me different Christmas music to listen to every year.  Sadly, as far as I can tell, the last year they did that was 2011.  But, I’m still going to share that last year’s list here: 20 “New” Indie Rock Christmas MP3s for 2011

This year, though, they did share Mad Decent’s “A Very Decent Christmas Mixtape“, which you can stream.  Try it out!  It’s fun, too, though not quite as easy to listen to in the car as burning a CD of MP3s.

So, there it is.  Short and sweet, just in time for the last of the holidays!
(Also, today is my birthday.  I almost forgot!)


GIF Christmas Tree

That’s pronounced like the peanut butter brand, by the way.

Here’s a fun, free way to get into the holiday spirit; make an animated Christmas tree graphic!
Giphy is a site that collects animated GIFs.  It’s an interesting site, but I honestly am not sure how they make money.  In any case, last year at Christmas, they shared this generator that lets you make and share your own, customized animated GIF of a Christmas tree.
Okay, it’s corny, but it’s still fun and a great way to get into the holiday spirit!

Self Publish Your Book

Theoretically, if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this month, you should be just about done with your novel.

I’m going to assume this is true and that you’ll want to publish your novel, eventually and that, in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, you’ll want to do it on your own terms.  So, in that spirit, I’m offering you some resources to self-publish your book.
First, here’s a link to CNET’s article Self-Publishing a Book: 25 Things you need to know by David Carnoy.  It’s a couple of years old, but I think it’s still essentially accurate and definitely worth reading.  This article is geared more towards self-publishing a physical book, but he did write a follow up, How to Self-Publish an eBook.
Since I think we all know that the easiest place to self-publish a book is via the many eBook services, I think I should include some detailed information about eBook creation, so, although it’s a little stale, here’s what Paul Salvettee has to say about How To Self-Publish Your eBook on Nook and Kindle and Smashwords.

Although I’m not sure I agree with everything in the list, Search Engine Journal, of all places, has a good article about some peripheral components of a self-published book, titled Essential Elements of a Self-Published Book.  For instance, that list left out ISBN numbers and how to get them, which might not be quite so important any more since places like Smashwords generally include an ISBN as part of their self-publishing packages.  And, I’m not even sure that you would need one if you sell your ebook directly off your website, for instance.

Finally, if you’re not participating in NaNoWriMo and just want to publish a book, especially a non-fiction book, you can use all the above resources, but you may also want to look at How to Self-Publish an eBook by Nicole Young at Photofocus, who specialize in photography-related material and How To Self-Publish a Bestseller: Publishing 3.0 by James Altucher.  (I’m not always as impressed with Altucher as some people, or even as impressed with with him as he is himself sometimes, but this is some pretty good advice.)

So, there’s mostly everything you need to get your epic self-published, and hopefully provide a little inspiration to finish if you haven’t already!


Future Bookcovers

So, it’s a little early to think that anyone writing a NaNoWriMo novel is done, but I think maybe people could use a break.

Hopefully, you all haven’t given up yet and are still writing.  But, I know it’s a hard slog, so I thought maybe taking a break to think about a cover for your future novel might help keep you inspired enough to make it the rest of the way.  So, I’ll start by sharing a tutorial from Thomas Sinfield at Standout Blogger called How To Create An Ebook Cover with Photoshop, which I shared last year about this time.
Now, if you’re into the classics, or really into design, you’ll recognize the Penguin Books distinctive looking cover.  And, thanks to that last tutorial and Paul Murray Design, you can download a fine Penguin Book Cover Template which you can use to make your very own stylish, possibly retro, book cover.
And, if you want something even easier, certainly more campy, you can try the Pulp-o-mizer, the custom pulp magazine cover maker.  Granted, it is slanted toward a very particular flavor of science-fantasy, but it is easy and fun, which is the point here.

Hopefully, one of those will give you enough distraction to refresh you and enough inspiration to get you going again.  Keep writing!

Genre Writing Rules

First of all, there are no rules.

No, seriously, this is fiction we’re talking about here, so the rules are what you make them.  At this point, pretty much every “rule” you can think of when it comes to writing fiction has been broken.  For instance, when I was more dedicated to the craft (ie. fresh out of high school), I read a book titled Mister Johnson, which was written in the present tense.  Generally, that’s a “no no” in fiction, but, Joyce Cary pulled it off.  But, since I know that working within a certain set of rules can sometimes unleash creativity in surprising ways, and you all are probably here reading my blog instead of working on your NaNoWriMo novel because you’re stuck, I’ll offer you several links on rules that might inspire you to get unstuck.  And, since I mostly enjoy science-fiction and fantasy, those are the rules I’ve collected.

Let’s start with the science-fiction links first.
First, let’s consider how to write Killer SciFi without breaking the Speed of Light.  There are some doozies in this one, basic rule.  It makes a lot of space opera stories really difficult, in an interesting way.  Of course, I think there’s a lot to be said for this.  So much so, in fact, that I hired an astrophysicist to develop that idea for me, resulting in Hoffman’s Quartet, a rather unique setting for science-fiction stories.
And, while we’re at it, have a little fun with Ten less-than-serious rules of space opera.  Honestly, I only included that link because of the homage to the old Buck Rodgers TV show of the 80’s.  You’ll have to go read the list to see what I mean.
Personally, I love it when science-fiction tries to explain the impossible, even if I have a hard time writing it myself.  So, I encourage you to look at the  Ten Science Fiction Myths about Space Travel that Make Better Stories and see if you can work out a way for them to happen that readers will buy.  That really ought to inspire some creativity!

Then, of course, there’s the sub-genre of so near and dear to my heart; the hacker/panopticon dystopia.  And, frankly, I see these two things as inextricably linked now, thanks to my work and Anonymous.  Of course, because my “day job” is basically being a system administrator, it may be especially easy for me to identify with the hacker as hero.  So, keep in mind that these Eleven “L33t” Rules of Hacker stories are pretty tongue-in-cheek, or, at best, cliches to be avoided, unless you’re writing satire.  And, naturally, if you’re writing the hero as hacker, especially these days, there’s a better than even chance that you’re writing a story about a surveillance dystopia.  Which is perfectly cool, because I think these Ten Rules of Surveillance Dystopia stories, fit right in with the rest of the hacker genre.

But, don’t think I don’t have love for fantasy writing, too!
In fact, because the writer can use the full range of their imagination in a fantasy setting, I think rules are even more important for that genre.  Don’t agree with me?  That’s okay, I’ll just refer you to IO9’s article Why Does Magic Need So Many Rules?  Of course, I think the most important thing is to stay consistent with those rules, and that holds true for the “magical” parts of science fiction, too!  That internal consistency makes the fantastic parts of the story seem more real.
And, while we’re on the subject of additional reality, have you ever wondered why fantasy heroes never have to stop and empty their bladder before they slay the dragon?  I always enjoy when characters break out of stereotypes and do things that, well, real people do.  It adds so much more interest and realism to the work.  Need more examples?  Then check out Twenty Things Characters Should Do More Often, according to award-winning fantasy author Lev Grossman.

So, there you have it!  Hopefully, if  you’re stuck in your NaNoWriMo work, following, or rebelling against, one or more of these rules will help you get unstuck.
Good luck!

Random Fiction Helpers

Last year, I shared these tools to help people participating in NaNoWriMo and, since it’s that time of year again, I’m going to share them again.

Maybe one year, I’ll be able to get myself together again and give this a try.  Maybe this coming year, I’ll have all my regular posts queued up and ready to go and have a story idea and all the research done and have been practicing my writing and…  Well, maybe.  In any case, until that happens, I’m going to share some things I hope will help you all who are participating in NaNoWriMo.  This week, all the tools come from one of my older sites, that I don’t really update that often any more,, and my World Building Page.  Here, I’ve collected a number of little generators that I created, either from scratch or to mimic other programs that have gone away.

If you’re looking to fill in some historical background for your story, try the Historical Timeline Generator, which serves up a random historical timeline.
If you want to randomly “fill” one of your character’s pockets, check out the Daily Carry Generator, which generates a modern character’s “daily carry“, and if you’re working in a fantasy setting, the Fantasy Pocket “Litter” Generator, which is the fantasy equivalent of the Daily Carry Generator, may be just the ticket.
If  you’re looking for a name for one or more of your characters, you can try finding one via the “Funny” Proper Name Generator, for giving characters odd, random names, and if you want to whip up some background props for something with a steampunk or pulp setting you might have fun with the Crazy Pulp Science-Fiction Invention Generator, which, well, sort of has to be seen to be fully understood.

And, even if you don’t need these generators, per se, you may find them a fun distraction for a couple of minutes while you figure out where your novel is going next.
Good luck and keep writing!

Tools for NaNoWriMo

I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but if you are, here are some tools that might help those of you who are.

First of all, for those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, which is, according to their website, “… a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.”  If you’ve never heard of it, and would like to know more, then pop over to their site and read up on it quickly.  And, if you’re considering doing this, it’s not too late!  Everything kicks off tomorrow morning so there’s plenty of time, especially if you use the tools I’m about to share with you.
(Okay, these tools really don’t have a direct effect on how much time there is before starting, but they may help if you start writing.)

First of all, there are an amazing array of tools for writers, whether you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month or not.  PC Magazine has a good round-up in their article Tools to Help You Write a Novel in 30 Days.  I’ve written about several of these before, including Scrivener.  Scrivener is a pretty main-stream tool that runs on Mac and Windows.  It has a fairly long list of endorsements from authors of many stripes.  I’ve been personally reluctant to start using this tool mainly due to cost.  But, now, not only has it gotten less expensive, but you can get a free, trial copy especially for NaNoWriMo that will last until December 7th, which is a little bit longer than the regular 30 days.  And, if you complete the NaNoWriMo challenge, you can get a 50% discount via a code that will be included on your “Winner’s Goodies” page at NaNoWriMo.  But, even if you don’t “win” NaNoWriMo, you can get a 20% discount with a code found at the trial download link.  You can also find a special NaNoWriMo template there to help you with your work in November.
If you’re still not ready to commit to a paid bit of software, you can try Plume, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before, in 2012.  It’s free and has many of the same features as Scrivener.  On the other hand, if you want yet another bit of free software that has similar but different features, check out the recently updated opensource project oStorybook.  Again, it has a different look-and-feel, but it’s based on the same code as another popular, opensource software project that went dark.  It’s free and should give a novelist all the tools they need to write their book and keep track of, well, everything.

Or, you can go the simplest route of all and just use a text editor, like I often do!
Either way, let me encourage you to take a risk and give NaNoWriMo a try if you have any interest in writing fiction for a living.  It will be an eye-opening experience!


Free eMagazines

I don’t have much for you this week.

Seriously, it’s been a long, tiring week and I’m kind of burned out, but I have to work part of the weekend, too, so I’m afraid this week isn’t great.   Basically, I’ve just got one thing, but at least it’s free.
If you like to read, especially magazines, and don’t mind reading online or via an app, then check out Issuu, the free digital publishing platform.  Yes, it’s basically a news stand in digital format.   But, it’s a news stand with about 19 million magazines about everything from photography to the San Diego Zoo.  You name it, they’ve got it.  And, they have apps for your iOS devices, so you don’t have to just read on the web.

Also, if you’re so inclined, you can publish your own magazine here for free.

So, yeah, that’s all I’ve got.  It’s free, and searchable, so go, find what sets your heart on fire this week and read to your heart’s content.
See you next week!