Quote of the Moment

"It's never wrong to hope, Byx," said my mother. "Unless the truth says otherwise."
- from Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Unofficial Accomplishments

Anyone with even the most remote dreams of eventual publication has likely heard of NaNoWriMo. If you haven't, and are too lazy to click the link to read up on it, the basic idea is to write a novel in a month, more specifically the month of November. The official goal is a 50,000-word novel (roughly 175 pages.) It doesn't have to be good. It doesn't have to be shared. It just has to be written between November 1 and November 30. The official prize is a little button to go on your website, and knowing that you wrote a 50,000-word novel in a month.

I've been a wannabe author almost as far back as my memory extends. Like so many wannabe authors, my biggest obstacle in becoming a nonwannabe author (also known as an author) is myself. My lack of confidence. My lack of persistence. My lack of willingness to write the reams of crud it takes to produce that shining gem. So NaNoWriMo, which not only suggests but guarantees that the story written will suck spider-infested burnt toast, would be ideal. But another obstacle I face, not only in writing but life in general, is my own cowardice. Every year I intend to sign up for it, and every year I chicken out. There's always a reason; the holidays are breathing down my neck, I have a job, I need a job, I ought to be doing this, I might be doing that. The bottom line is that I'm a coward. (I'm also a major league procrastinator and incredibly lazy, and I'm not winning any beauty contests in this space-time continuum. But I'm getting sidetracked by my own inadequacy.) Putting my name down on a list - any list - where I'd be held accountable, however remotely, for actually producing something... that would be an act of bravery. And we cowards aren't very good at bravery.

This year, though, I decided enough was enough. I have two stories stuck midstream. I haven't come close to hitting the vast majority of my resolutions. 2008 hasn't been the greatest of years on many levels. So maybe, just maybe, I could manage to write an incredibly cruddy story in 30 days, just so I could look back on the year and say I accomplished something. But... 50,000 words. That's 1666.67 words a night. (Actually, it's 1666.66 repeating to eternity, according to my calculator, but that's close enough.) It seemed a little steep. Plus there was that whole adding my name to a list thing.

As November crept ever closer, I hemmed and I hawed, until finally I found myself at the very tail end of October. I'd wasted a significant portion of time in October creating a work shirt for Halloween, and was somewhat disappointed that few people outside my family even noticed the thing. So my creative spirits were a little low going into the end of the year. I needed a shot in the arm. I needed a kick in the teeth and a whack on the head. (I needed health insurance before I got any of those things, ideally, but that's another story.)

"To heck with it," I told myself. "I'm gonna write a novel."

But... there was that whole signing-up thing, and the seemingly steep 50,000 word goal. And I didn't know how to write 0.67 words. And, like it or not, the holiday crunch was about to take a bite out of my time. Like the chicken I am, I couldn't bring myself to sign up on the official site. Again. But I set myself an alternate goal. I would write a 30,000 word novel as an unofficial participant. That was only a thousand words a night. I knew at the outset it was going to suck. I knew going into it it would be unlikely that I'd finish. But, dang it, I had to try. I had to know if I could stick to any goal I set myself.

So, the night of November 1, I picked a story idea out of the thin air within my cranium. I booted up Word. And I sat down and wrote. I didn't let myself revise, edit, or outline. I didn't let myself do character sheets. I didn't let myself even take notes on the world or the history or anything else I do to distract myself from actually writing. I just wrote. One thousand words (give or take a few) a night. It started out not so bad. It went strange. Round about the last third, it grew downright goofy, and then bizarre. If characters had unions, I'm pretty sure I'd have had a walkout on my hands before Thanksgiving. But I didn't stop. I didn't give up. I just kept writing. Every night, another thousand words, come heck or high water, pushy cats or whining relatives. Some of it was written on my tower, some on the Little Black Critter. Once again, I found myself grateful for the existence of flash drives.

Did I pull it off?

Unfortunately, I did not end up with a 30,000-word novel.

I ended up with a 36,226-word novel. It will never see the light of day. I doubt more than a fragment will ever be redeemable in any future works. But I wrote a story in 30 days, and the only person I was accountable to was myself.

Oops, wait - I miscounted. It's actually a 36,228-word novel. Those last two words are my favorites, and ones I don't let myself write nearly often enough: The End.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Me and My Shadow

So, thus far November hasn't been a very productive month.

Thanksgiving's just around the corner, and I haven't even finalized designs for the annual Xmas ornament blitz.

I haven't managed to sell one of my drum ornaments in over half a year.

I still haven't finished a story, let alone tried to market one.

But at least I can see my shadow again.

When my graphics card died last month while finishing Project Halloween Thing, I evidently misread my old card's specs. It wasn't a 7200, like I thought, but a 7600. This meant that the 7300 I replaced it with was technically a downgrade. While this didn't affect much of what I do on my computer, the deficiency became all too apparent when, in a fit of nostalgia crossed with a need to virtually wreak untold havoc on the mythical monster population of ancient Greece, I booted up my copy of Titan Quest. Before, I had everything set on Medium in the Video options, but that was before the new card. Everything stuttered and jerked and drug. I had to drop everything to the lowest setting, and even then it stuttered. The only way to cure it was to disable shadows. Now, shadows aren't integral to the game. There's no need to see them. Heck, I was raised on the Commodore, where shadows were something of a novelty. But as I was playing without my shadow, I realized just how much I missed my old graphics card. So I decided to give myself an early Xmas gift and get myself a new one. 7600's were, after all, a couple years old. I ought to be able to snag one pretty cheap. Right?


It seems that the price hadn't dropped much from what I remember paying for my old 7600. While they are indeed cheaper than the newest graphics cards, they are nonetheless still a bit pricey for someone with just a three-day-a-week job. I could've tried another brand, but, dang it, I love my nVidia, and I know they work with what I have. I decided to keep my eye peeled with the occasional Google search and eBay check. It was eBay that came through for me. I found myself a nice, barely-used nVidia GeForce 7600 that, with shipping & handling, was about twenty to thirty-odd bucks less than anywhere else wanted it new (not factoring in shipping, even.) Now, I've been trying for things on eBay for about a month and kept getting them sniped out from under me, in the last ten seconds of the auction in one case. So, not holding my breath, I entered a bit and waited. And, amazingly, I won it.

Of course, it can never be as easy as that. The seller failed to specify the connectivity of the card, but all the numbers matched off my old one, so I figured it would work with my motherboard and monitor. Well, it snapped into the motherboard just fine, but the monitor... Evidently, there's a format of monitor I've never encountered before, a DVI-I, which my poor old VGA Viewsonic couldn't make heads nor tails of. I was not to be deterred so easily. The Universe had given me a new 7600 graphics card for a discounted price, and, dang it, come heck or high water I would use it!

A quick Internet search revealed that, yes, they do make VGA-to-DVI adapters, and that they were surprisingly affordable (as in, the cost of one still wouldn't make my new graphics card as pricey as it would've been elsewhere.) But where to get one? My first hope was Staples, or maybe Office Hole (a.k.a. Office Depot - I don't like their latest remodel job, and have dubbed them Office Hole in honor of all the items they seem to drop whenever they "upgrade" their stores), and I'd planned to spend today fooling with that. However, in another peculiar twist, the Universe instead handed me a chance to earn the money I spent on this little gift to myself when I was called on Monday with an opportunity to work today. Mondays and Tuesdays being "long shift" days, I would be making back the cost of the card and adapter, plus a little more.

Okay, thank you, Universe, I accept; I can always hunt for adapters on the weekend, or after work on Wednesday when I'm not getting out in the middle of rush hour. So I went to work today at an evilly early hour. (We're still working down the post-Veteran's Day backlog, but we broke a Tuesday record for items sorted, though I think the record should reflect that they had a partial crew working an hour early to help whittle things down. We would've broken it by an even bigger margin, but the boss got it into his head, once we saw that we were going to beat it, to waste five to ten minutes arranging us for a photo op to commemorate the occasion. Hey, you take the thrills you get in a job like this... But I digress.) On the way home, I had to pick up stuff for dinner at Safeway. In the parking lot of this Safeway is a Radio Shack.

Now, I don't know about you, but I have very mixed luck with Radio Shack. Yes, they carry some things you can't get anywhere else, but the help tends to be unhelpful. Downright rude, in a few occasions, if you don't happen to be a technogeek about every thing you're asking. But this time I was armed with the knowledge of what to ask for - a VGA-to-DVI adapter - and since I was pressed for time and too darned lazy to go elsewhere, I figured they were worth a shot. For once, they were helpful. I actually bought what I wanted to buy. Of course, for once there was nobody else in the store, so they couldn't ignore me in favor of someone more important or intelligent (who usually tends to be male.) I got the feeling they were a little desperate in this economy; the guy tried to sell me a flat-screen and a phone while I was paying for my adapter. I told him it wasn't in the budget at the moment, thank you very much. (A polite way of saying,"Dude, if I wanted a flat-screen or a phone, I would've mentioned it before I got to the register, so lay off already!") Of course, another part of my luck with Radio Shack is that the thing they sell me almost never works until I exchange it for a similar but not quite identical product at least once. I hoped this wasn't the case; there were only two such adapters in the store, and I picked the only one that had a female VGA and male DVI connectors. (Anyone else sometimes think the geeks who name these parts spend a little too much time fooling with cable connections in the lab?)

So, anyway, home I went to start dinner, and thence eat dinner. Afterwards, it was time for the big test. Out with the old card, in with the new. Off with the old connection, in with the adapter. Close it up, plug it in, turn it on and cross my fingers. Long story short (too late), it worked like the proverbial charm. The good kind of charm, for once, and not the kind that has a curse or ironic twist attached to it.

November 2008 may not go down in my personal history as the most productive month in my life, but I have to admit it's had its high points thus far. I got extra hours at work. I found a dime when I went for a walk. And, when I'm carving my way through hordes of satyrs, skeletons, and ghouls, I can finally see my shadow again.