Duke of URL

Just a quick note to let you know about a change or two I’ve made around the site.

  • Changed the primary URL of the site from www.thecabal.org to www.devinonearth.com. This is actually something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, to reflect the site’s really awesome branding. Devin on Earth has long been its own entity that has no real connection to my original web site.
  • Added a secondary URL of www.devinganger.com to the site. This is a nod toward the future as I get fiction projects finished and published – author domains are a good thing to have, and I’m lucky mine is unique. Both www.devinganger.com and www.thecabal.org will keep working, so no links will ever go stale.

As a final aside, this is the 600th post on the site. W00t!

Oh, Alaric Ganger, no!

For the most part, we have good kids. We get compliments on their public behavior all the time. Usually, this is because we’ve taught the kids to hold it together until they get back home, where we give them a bit more leeway. However, what it also means is that when they mess up in public, they tend to do it large and with style. Witness Alaric’s current example: getting caught taking his new pocketknife to school. In Washington, this is a bad thing, although not as bad as it could have been in another school district that has a “zero tolerance” policy. At least our district gives the principal leeway on how they handle things. Alaric’s a very lucky boy; he avoided suspension and has instead been spending the weekend writing two reports.

I’ve copied the first of the reports below, because I’m really proud of how it came out. He turned this out after three drafts and a day of research and notecard activities. All of the wording is his own.

The Importance of Responsibility
This is a report on the importance of responsibility and making responsible choices.

I found the definition of “responsibility” in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. One definition of responsibility is, “the quality or state of being responsible.” I think the definition that fits responsible is, “able to choose for oneself between right and wrong.”
This is what responsibility means to me: the habit of making the right choice. When I’m responsible, I make the right choices most of the time. I don’t make bad choices so bad stuff doesn’t happen.

Responsibility is important because it will result in affecting the people around you in a good way. Responsible behavior helps keep bad effects away; for example, if I eat too much junk food and not enough healthy food, I’ll get fat. One of the results of being responsible is making people pleased.
When you make choices, consequences come along. The type of consequence usually depends on whether the choice is good or bad. For example: I take my sister’s doll; I get grounded for the rest of the day. Some consequences will affect other people around you.

A responsible choice is a choice that is good. An example of a responsible choice is: I want to bring a toy to school, and it’s not toys from home day, so I don’t. When you make a bad choice, you get a bad consequence; when you make a good choice, you get a good consequence.
Making good choices is not always easy, so we need guidelines from other people. There are many ways to tell if a choice is responsible. Here are some of them: parents, teachers and principals, or the student hand book.

Now you know the importance of responsibility and making responsible choices.

He still is working on the one about the law on weapons at school.

New books!

WOrking on my latest book, Mastering System Center Data Protection Manager 2007, was a long process. However, Monday I got to experience my favorite part of the writing process — getting the box from the publisher with the author’s copies. There’s just something cool about seeing the final physical product; I don’t think I’ll get tired of that feeling after my 20th, 40th, or even 100th book.


It’s a good thing I have this memory to buoy my spirits; today has been a day jam-packed of small annoyances:



  • I was out yesterday with a migraine (neck was jammed in tons of different places), making me super pissy. Today seems to be a ramp back down from Pissy Devin, rather than a huge improvement.

  • Updating the sidebar of my blog (if you’re reading this via RSS or LiveJournal feed, you won’t see that sidebar) with the Amazon link was WAY harder than it really needed to be, involving having to reboot the damn blog server to get one little graphic to show up (iisreset didn’t do the trick).

  • Getting my new wireless headset (which I won in Sydney at the training conference) working was, again, more of a chore than it really needed to be.

Here’s hoping the day gets better.

Expanding Alaric’s world…and getting mine expanded in return

Recently, we decided to do something about a problem we’ve been noticing with our kids. While they’re both avid readers, they both tend to re-read the same books — tens of times serially if we’d let them. Alaric was not happy when we temporarily banned him from yet another end-to-end re-read of the Harry Potter series (by this point, he’s easily read them three times more than I have), and for a week or so has been ignoring the assigned reading we gave him off of our bookshelves. He was probably hoping we’d forget.


Well, he finally picked up the book we told him to read — Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Pretty soon, he was hooked (just like we told him he’d be). He even told me we were right, so let’s hear it for expanding horizons! If you haven’t read it, the book is about a future Earth that has been united only by the existence of aliens, insect-like beings colloquially called the Buggers. We’ve had two wars with them, both won only at great odds and narrow margins, and a third is inevitable. Earth’s military complex is so desperate for talented fleet commanders that they’ve set in place a process to detect, requisition, and train young children; an exceptional 8 year old will be taken into space to Battle School where he (or the occasional she) begins years of training. Ender, the main character, is younger than normal, but also more talented.


We knew that once he got started, he’d love it; the process of getting him to expand his horizons is sometimes a struggle, but usually worth the effort. However, in this case he returned the favor. If you’ve read the book, you know that one of the neat bits is the little quotes Card opens every chapter with. Many books do this, but in Ender’s Game the quotes are snippets of conversation between minor adult characters in the book. With one exception, all of the major characters in the book are children, so these snippets give Card a way to fill the reader in on the full political situation of which the children are ignorant. They are designed to be tantalizing at first, only fully coming into focus after the major plot points begin to be revealed, and it usually takes a re-read or two to be fully conversant with who is speaking in these conversations. Alaric, at first, thought that the Buggers were holding these conversations! He pretty quickly realized his error, but that really got me thinking about how cool it would have been if Card had pulled something like that off…


…and now I’m wondering if I can work that idea into any of my stories. Hmm.

A footnote in history

I’d like to toss a hypothetical out there for y’all to ponder.

Say, for the sake of argument, that you’re an editor for a technical book publisher. You have a line of books that you want to make roughly equivalent to textbooks in layout and feel.

Now, you have an author who begins to write a book for you. You send this author your standard in-house template — complete with detailed instructions — to use. Lo and behold, this author reads the instructions and uses the template. This author notes that the template instructions contain a detailed list of software features that they should not use with their book documents, so they don’t. They do, however, insert footnotes.

The book moves into production, and now suddenly the production staff send back an email to you asking them how to handle the footnotes. It seems that the built-in footnote feature produces footnotes that aren’t visible to the copyeditor in the view they use, so the production staff wants you to either move the footnotes into the text or delete them.

I bet you thought I was going to ask you something about what you, the editor would do in this case, didn’t you? Well, no. It’s a hypothetical, you see. But isn’t it a really stupid one, that a technical book publisher would have no mechanism for dealing with footntoes and safely passing them into their layout software? 

A writing question

For the past few years, I’ve had two novel ideas eating my brain. Last night, however, I finally made the decision to put both of these ideas on the shelf and work on another book. While I care about these ideas passionately, I do not yet have the confidence that I’m ready to write them the way I think they deserve to be written.

The first is Truth and Beauty, my retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast with more than a few twists. I first got the core of the idea for this one after reading Robin McKinley’s two excellent BatB retellings (written several years apart at very different times in her career), Beauty and Rose Daughter. Specifically, the ending of Rose Daughter addressed one of the points of the canonical BatB story that I have always had difficulty believing, and I was happy to see that someone else was not only bothered by it as well, but actually did something about it. Reading Rose Daughter freed me to articulate other things I disliked about the typical BatB story and start thinking of ways to fix them. Over several years and discussions with Steph, I came up with the story behind Truth and Beauty. This is a book I am very passionate about writing; it has evolved far beyond my original questions.

The second is tentatively titled Learning to See. When I’m feeling whimsical, I describe it as “The Adept meets Robert Parker’s Spenser novels.” If that doesn’t evoke anything for you, The Adept is the first of a five-book collaboration by Katherine Kurtz (of the Deryni novels fame) and Deborah Turner Harris, centering around Scottish noble and psychiatrist Dr. Adam Sinclair. Adam is, not to put too fine a point on it, a wealthy, successful man who also just happens to be a magician and one of the leaders of a “hunting lodge” — a group of good magicians tied together with a Judeo-Christian flavor of magic who work together to find and defeat evil occultists. While entertaining reading, The Adept illustrates what are to me the two central flaws that are present in nearly every occult thriller out there:

  • They’re always about saving the world or some other big earth-shaking events. I’m really tired of reading novels about magic where the stakes are always saving the world. By the end of the series, we’ve got Nazis, Templars, the seal of Solomon, and several other pivotal scenes and instances from English and Scottish history all woven into the tale (including Kurtz’s formerly stand-alone WWII occult novel Lammas Night). Adam and his compatriots live in a world of high society, money, and privilege; they are able to re-order their lives and commitments to go haring all over the UK and the world in pursuit of their goals and enemies at a moment’s notice. I can’t relate to these people; they don’t struggle to pay bills or otherwise deal with reality. Their biggest challenge, it seems, is whether to drive the Bentley or the Rolls on their latest quest.
  • They have a skewed view of the scope and impact of magic. If magic is real — and more importantly, if what we call magic or the paranormal exists in the world and has the particular relationship to religion and Christianity as I tend to think it does — then the big stuff is very rare. Far more common, and to me more interesting, are the stories of how (for example) someone with the spiritual gift of discernment might see that gift manifest itself in his life. This man, Gordon, is like me in many respects — but unlike me, he’s had some terrible things happen to him that have caused him to face these issues more directly. He’s not a superhero or a member of the glitterati; like Robert Parker’s Spenser, he’s a typical person with some non-typical attitudes, making his way along through life the best he can. He’s not perfect but is generally aware of his flaws.

Gordon’s story is, I currently believe, probably going to stretch over five novels (which I’m calling the Charism series) and possibly a few short stories. I also realized, somewhere along the way, that Gordon inhabits the same world as Caedmon (the main character of Silicon Cats, another project I need to get around to finishing); in fact, Gordon and Caedmon are good friends and we’ll probably see Gordon in Silicon Cats at some point.

These are the two fiction stories that have been eating my brain and demanding what little free time I can spare for fiction writing. Here’s the problem I have, though: I care so passionately about these stories that I don’t want either of them to be my first.

No novel is perfect; with each one you write, you’re learning more about the craft of writing. Now that blogging has gone beyond trendy into the realm of “makes good business sense,” I read a lot of blogs by authors. In every single one, I’m struck by how the successful ones can see the flaws in their work, but nevertheless finish up the draft and send it in because it’s the best draft they can write at that point. Writers who strive for perfection never finish their work. While you always want to do your best writing, you have to acknowledge that you can at some point only get better by letting your work be good enough and moving on to the next project. I’ve certainly had to cope with this over my years as a technical writer at 3Sharp; my current book on DPM is full of much better writing than I was able to do for the Exchange Server Cookbook, which was the best technical writing I could do at that time. Two years and a host of intervening writing projects will do that to you.

At the same time, though, Truth and Beauty and Learning to See aren’t just stories I need to tell. In many ways, these are intensely personal stories that reflect the last ten years of my struggle to be the best human I can be; they embody my thoughts and questions and reflections on the nature of love, relationships, spirituality, and the meaning of life. Perhaps it’s hubris, or maybe it’s just an honest reflection of where I’m not yet at as a fiction writer — but I don’t want these stories to be my first novel. A writer’s first novel is generally regarded as their learning novel. First novels are usually not picked up and published until a writer has shown that they can beat the odds and produce books that earn through their advances and make money, not just once but time and again. First novels, when when finally published, are usually much rougher around the edges, and may require a lot of additional rewriting and editorial care.

When it comes down to it, I don’t know if I’m ready to have either of these stories languish as a first novel. They’re not the stories I need to be telling when I’m working out the mechanics of adapting the lessons I’ve learned as a technical writer into the additional challenges of handling fiction and narrative and characterization and plotting. While I would do my very best writing on either of them, I don’t think that my current level of “best writing” is good enough for what these stories deserve. It has taken me literally years to trash through plot and character ideas and refine the initial concept to a story that I think will hang together well.

In contrast, when I sat down with Stephanie to hash out the minimal details I need to start any new story (character names are probably the biggest; as I’ve stated before, I don’t really have a sense on who the character is until they tell me their name), the ideas bubbled to the surface. By the time I’d described to her my idea (a fantasy novel that stems from an idea I had for a RPG contest), I knew the protagonist’s occupation (a glassblower). From there, it was a short distance to not only his name (Luc), but his wife’s name (Hannah). It took perhaps 45 minutes to go from concept to beginning of the draft. I think it’ll be a good story and I’m relatively confident that I’m a good enough writer to handle this story, but more importantly, if I’m wrong, I’m not going to be crushed. I care enough about this novel to do my best on it, but I don’t feel that the stakes are as high.

Is this arrogance, or is this wisdom?

I’ll check that out right away

I buy and read more than a few technical books. Big shock, I know, but what can you do? I have a local bookstore I like to visit, but I’ll often use Amazon as well when I’m not in a tearing hurry to get a particular book in my hands.


One of Amazon’s value-added features is that they’ll send you recommendations on books you might like to buy, based on the books you’ve bought or told them you own, combined with the buying patterns of other people who’ve bought the books you bought. Recently, they sent me a suggestion so on-target, so brilliant, I had to laugh:



Thanks, Amazon! I’ll check that out right away! It’s right over there on my bookshelf, about 10 feet away from me. And who knows…maybe I can get the authors to sign it for me!

And it’s about time, too

I finally managed to do two things today that I've been trying to do for several years now. I've had the idea for a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast in my head for several years, and had finally gotten enough of the world-building details worked out (geography, economy and politics, character names) last year that I was able to write the first chapter. I lacked only two important things: a real title (I had a working title of "The Next Day" which I only chose because I hated the other alternatives even more) and a fair idea of exactly how it was going to end.

(Okay, if you're confused how someone could want to retell a well-known fairy tale and not know the ending, I'll take some pity on you. My original idea for the story came about because the traditional ending has never set well with me, and even though Robin McKinley's fantastic versions of the story make progress towards fixing those problems, they don't go far enough. To me, the story really gets started once the Beast is turned back into a human. That's a fundamental change in his relationship with Beauty. And someone that powerful/rich doesn't go into a major spell like that without leaving a power vacuum in the surrounding lands; what about that? Nobody I'm aware of even attempts to address those implications, which to me makes the story less satisfying; I want the stories I read to give me some insight about me in particular and humanity in general, and the fairy tale is in the end a bit of wish fulfillment fluff.)

Thanks to the fact that I had to sit in traffic coming home from downtown Seattle today, I finally got jogged onto the right train of thought to solve the ending problem. I'd had all of the elements and ingredients for some time and even had a gut instinct as to the "correct" outcome for my story, but I'd never been happy with that ending because I didn't know why it was correct. Now I do — and now that I do it's clearly the only correct ending for the way I've set the story up.

Tonight, once I pulled out my laptop and wrote up my notes on the new ending, working out the minor logistics problems I encountered, I forced myself to apply that same sense of "Eureka!" to the naming problem. Words mean things, dammit, and names are special words. I find it nearly impossible to write without the correct names of things to work with; likewise, once I know the right names, the characters and stories come alive.

Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I am proud to introduce to you the novel-in-writing once known as "The Next Day" but now called "Truth and Beauty."

A nine-word poem

My friend Mir was telling me about a writing challenge she's been working on lately on one of her web forums; someone posts nine words and then people write a poem incorporating them.


I decided to do something different: write a poem in nine words.

Discipline.
Commitment.
Relationship.

Can't I have easy lessons, God?

Prose, Pros, and Wannabes

Elizabeth Bear did a very bad thing: she started a new LJ community called novel_in_90. The basic premise is that of NaNoWriMo — commit to working for a specific amount of time on the same writing project, building the discipline to plug away at attainable daily wordcount levels until they pile up into a real novel.

I am torn. On the one hand, 750 words a day for 90 days is a lot more sustainable in the long run than NaNoWriMo's frantic pace. NaNoWriMo always comes at a really bad time of the year. There's not even a set starting date, or any other of the various formalities that NaNoWriMo has grown. There's just you, the community, the wordcount, and the mocking. I really need to get some of this fiction inside my head out on paper. My fiction writing has been getting short shrift for years and I'm going to be busy for the forseeable future; I just need to pony up and carve the time out from somewhere, or stop talking about being a fiction author.

On the other hand, I'm pretty damn busy in the writing department. I've got four chapters I'm finishing up for a forthcoming Exchange 2007 book, I've got another chapter that I'll be writing for another Exchange 2007 book in February, and my editor and I are settling the details of a book I'll be writing with a co-worker come March. Let's not add in there that I have presentations for Exchange Connections in April to be developing, let alone the normal work load and the blogging. My family expects time from me, for some reason — more than they've been getting. All of the above writing gigs are paying gigs, agreed to with Steph's approval.

On the gripping hand…I subscribed to the community almost immediately. I've been watching the introductory posts roll in. Good Lord…it's is quite easy to separate the pros from the wannabes. One group is talking about deadlines, editors, revisions, and all the other nuts-n-bolts of the publication trade. The other group is talking about inspiration, the stuff they did in high school, and how they've had these ideas eating their brains for years.

When it comes to the technical writing, I'm firmly in the pro camp, even if I still struggle with time management and discipline. I know now how much work goes into writing and publishing a technical book. I don't look forward to it, but it's a known quantity and I know I'm capable of doing it. When it comes to fiction, however, I'm the wannabe.

So here's the decision: once I get these four chapters done, do I take the plunge to get The Next Day back in gear? 750 words isn't a lot at all, especially once I get writing. I can do that easily in less than an hour — 25-30 minutes once I get warmed up. And if I'm doing it every day, I'll stay warmed up. All I have to do is give up the faffing about that I do around the house. All I have to do is decide whether I want to be a wannabe or a pro.
 

Drive-by memeing

First, I would like it to be known that I am only doing this under protest. I don’t usually participate in blog memes, because most of them are damned silly. However, I got tagged on this one by Paul in what looks like a fairly typical spree of spreading the love, so I’ll go ahead and do it.


So here’s the meme, in Paul’s words:



The latest craze sweeping the series of tubes is “5 Things”, a sort of chain letter in which victims participants are supposed to list 5 things that others may not know about them, then pass the baton on to some other people.



And here are my responses:



  1. Those folks who read my professional blog (e)Mail Insecurity have already figured it out, but those of you here have probably not heard about it yet. This week, I got the official notice that I had been awarded the the 2007 Microsoft® Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award in the technical community of Microsoft Exchange. Basically, this means that Microsoft has noticed and appreciated the work I’ve done out in the real world (blogging, speaking, writing, spending time on mailing lists) helping people learn about and use Microsoft Exchange Server. It’s has some neat perqs that come with it, including a great network of other MVPs (many of whom I’ve already been blessed to work with over the years) and more direct access to the Exchange product group at Microsoft. Of all the things I’d envisioned for my five-year goals, this wasn’t one of them, and I’m truly blown away that I’ve been selected.

  2. Most of you know that my ambition is to be a full-time sf author and have many novels and story ideas in progress. Many of you know that I also enjoy singing and writing music, going so far as to dabble with guitar and keyboard. What almost none of you know (hush, Steph) is that I have the ambition to write and produce my own professional fully-sung Eucharist liturgy (a Christian Communion service, for those of you not up on high church terminology). I’d write it so that the congregation would definitely have parts that they’d join in, but there’d be four main celebrants (SATB, of course) with much harder parts to perform. In my perfect world, I’d be able to entice Jason Michael Carroll, Sting, Alison Krauss, and Sarah McLachlan into performing at the inaugural celebration of the liturgy.

  3. Taking a cue from Paul, I had my first paid computer job when I was 12. The secretary at the resort Dad was working at needed someone to do some data entry for her, as they’d just switched her IBM PC from one accounting package to another and she needed to get the accounts receivable data into the new software. IIRC, I was offered the princely (for the time) sum of $8 an hour. We estimated that it would take around 24 hours or so, so I was standing to make quite a decent chunk of change. The first morning, I went into the office, acquainted myself with PC-DOS for the first time, and spent the first four hours doing data entry. When lunch came around, I grabbed the manuals and read them while I ate. I noticed that the new package talked about being able to import data from a variety of programs (none of which was the old package) and formats, so I checked the manual for the old program. Sure enough, it could export to one of those same formats. I backed up the work I’d done so far and tried the export/import. Perfect! You’d think she would be happy, but no — she was quite upset that a 12-year-old had figured this out and somehow made her look bad. She paid me for one single hour of my time — since the actual export/import work had taken one hour and was in a separate data file from the one I’d spent the morning on, she claimed that it was the only work that counted — and that was that.

  4. While I grew up in Oregon and have spent the majority of my post-college years in Washington, I am not in fact a native Pacific Northwesterner. My family actually comes from back ’round Wisconsin and Michigan, and we moved out to Corvallis, OR when I was just 11 months old. The Pacific Northwest Native Advisory Board did, in fact, take this into consideration, decided that it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t get my parents to move out here before I was born (and in fact one member of the panel commended me for “extraordinary action in relocating his family while still shy of his first birthday”), and granted me PNW native status anyway. This is good, because if I didn’t have that status, I wouldn’t be able to gripe about the Californians as is the right of all native PNWers.

  5. During high school, I participated in an academic competition at our local community college. To fill out an empty time slot so I could take the entire day off, I picked the radio broadcasting competition, since when I was a young lad I used to spend hours in my room with cassette recorders pretending to be a DJ. The next year after the competition, I spoke to the college radio faculty director about doing a 15-minute radio show focused on events at the high school. Suddenly, I found myself gathering information for, recording, and producing a weekly radio show. The poor college DJ who had to run my piece before his own show quickly grew to hate me, as I pushed the envelope of what I could do by including clips of favorite pop songs and completely harshed the mellow of his own show (which was heavy metal, IIRC). I had the complete backing of the faculty director, though, so there wasn’t much he could do. My first year of college, I took radio as a pass/fail credit and continued harshing the mellows of the broadcasting program students; my format, right in the middle of a highly-desired timeslot, was an eclectic combination of news commentary, music selection and experimentation from all genres (there was literally nothing I wouldn’t play), and pure naked listener gratification. I must have been making someone happy, though it wasn’t the “serious” broadcasting students; I enjoyed a constant high level of feedback from the surrounding community. Again, that kept The Powers That Be from stepping in and messing with my groove.

I’ll just note here, for the record, that I’m only doing this because I already have a couple of things I wanted to blog about and I can twist this meme to my service. The fact that I’ve been needing to update here is just extra gravy. The fact that one of my other co-victims needs to actually fix his blog server before he can respond just makes me feel better about the whole thing.


And now on to my victims, which is the hard part. I’ve been seeing this meme running around the tubes for a while, so anyone who hasn’t already done it is either less connected than I am or just as likely as I am to say “Poppycock!” at the whole concept and just not participate. With that caveat in mind….


….I choose you, Alistair, AndrewBrian, Nick, and Steph (in alphabetical order so no ranking is implied).

Compassion is for the weak

One of the things I like about 3Sharp is that I have a great group of co-workers. We can be heads-down in the middle of the most amazingly deep technical discussion and without batting an eye (or dropping an ASCII smiley) transition into the most esoteric (or geeky — or for extra points, both) topics.

Just now, I was discussing the plight of  Co-worker A who was unable to get into a conference call for reasons beyond our control, and somewhere along the way, I uttered the phrase, "Compassion is for the weak." I was referring to the fact that Co-worker A was trying to get hold of Co-worker B, who was also on the conference call, and Co-worker B pointed out that there wasn't much he could have done (since he wasn't the meeting organizer). We all know how this sentiment is normally interpreted — if you're tough and successful, you don't have time (or energy, or a moral obligation) to think of those less fortunate than you.

What just struck me, though, is how our mental baggae is all wrong, even if we reject the explicit "Compassion is for the weak!" viewpoint. Perhaps we tend to think of compassion from a biological point of view. Over in this cell A, we have a high concentration of compassion. Over in cell B, we have a low concentration of compassion. Through the magic of diffusion, we see the compassion work its way through the barrier between cell A and cell B until they've reached some sort of equilibrium. Compassion, according to this model of virtue, is a hoarded commodity, reduced as we share it with others.

I don't think that's at all true.

I think compassion, like other virtues, are an inexaustable, renewable resource. Use what you have on-hand before it goes stale, to make room for the fresh new stuff rolling in. The less you permit yourself to obstruct the flow, the more can flow through you. It's never yours to begin with; you're just the channel, the vector. As we learn how to handle a small flow of compassion, it teaches us how to remove the obstructions we have buried deep inside us. We are weak vessels, clogged with the debris and detritus of years of pain and focus on ourselves. We are weak — and compassion teaches us how to rid ourselves of the weakness. How to be strong for the first time in our lives. How to be healed, to be whole. We cannot ever be whole and healthy by ourselves, cut off from all congress.

Our society teaches us to sneer at people who rely on crutches to get through their life. When you cannot walk — when you can barely hobble through each day — a crutch is a life-saver. 

Compassion is for the weak.

May we all embrace our weakness.

That would be why I love her

I’m still chuckling about the words that passed my wife’s lips fifteen minutes ago: “I try not to read books that encourage my homicidal tendencies.”

You see, I’ve finally gotten around to getting A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4) from the library and have just started in on it, after re-reading the first three volumes. Steph, on the other hand, read the first book and was thoroughly unimpressed. She said that by the time she was done, there were no characters in the book she liked. I can certainly understand why she feels that way.

Writing lesson for the day: I continue to be in awe of how George R. R. Martin can so thoroughly screw every single one of his characters over in such an impartial fashion, and in the process make you realize how much of your impression of a character is colored by the viewpoints you have of him, and how quickly that impression can change once you learn a few key facts. On my re-read, I watched carefully to see how he accomplished the redemption of one of the characters I most despised until the end of the third book. It was not as effortless as it appeared; he laid down a steady foundation for two books before dropping the final key scene that “suddenly” flipped my impression of this character. Had he not put in that time and effort (and made it look so effortless in the process), I’d not have reacted in the same way.

WritEx #1: A Boy and His Dog

I’m making an effort to extend my writing skills by writing up several epsodes from my life. Some of these I’m writing up just because they’re a good tale and I’ve been told I need to, while others are intended to be reused (with suitable alteration) in various fiction projects. This is my first tale, which is appropriately enough the earliest memory I have. I’d love to hear any feedback yo might have to offer.


My earliest memory is of a brush with death. I was three years old and had slipped the parental leash so I could go exploring without adult oversight. In order to have a proper adventure, though, you have to have companionship; I had Missy, our young part-Sheltie canine nursemaid, out scouting ahead for me. We made a good team as we made our way up the sidewalk past the houses on our street into the undeveloped lots; she’d dart around and sniff out potentially interesting sites to which I would then dutifully toddle over and examine. At least for the first few minutes, I was fascinated by each new find, even if a suspiciously high number of them were dead spots in the grass.

Then we arrived at the irrigation canal, over which the street and sidewalk continued their unbroken asphalt and concrete progress. While I’d many times ridden over it in a car, I’d never had the opportunity to examine it closely before. I hadn’t been planning on looking at it now, but at that moment Missy veered off onto the small game trail that bordered the edge of the canal, hot in pursuit of the tantalizing scent now burning into her nostrils. “Come back!” I shouted, and was disappointed when she heeded no better than I did.

This was my first dilemma of my new adventure. On the one hand, I knew my parents wouldn’t be happy with me for being out here in the first place so I wanted to stay safely on the sidewalk. This course of action wouldn’t keep them from being displeased, but it probably would save me from any discipline worse than a quick swat on my butt, especially since I pointed out my ace in the hole – the fact that I had prudently selected an older, experienced companion for my excursion. Missy might have been a dog, but she had proved several times over that she had more common sense than I did; she had been gifted with an awe-inspiring amount of mothering instinct and used it as naturally as breathing. On the other hand, if my ploy of taking Missy along as my adult supervision was to retain any value, I had to be able to say truthfully that I’d stayed with her the entire time. I confess that even then, I was quick enough to consider the fact that by following Missy, I would have the opportunity to examine the canal safely from the bank.

I was off in a flash, abandoning the safety of the sidewalk to plunge into the scrub grass, dirt, and shrubs that filled the undeveloped lots through which the waterway traveled. The canal was dug in more or less a straight line, although it had a slight dogleg to the left a good distance away. The edge was loose dirt, sloping steeply down a good distance to the surface of the water. There was a tiny dirt path that more or less tracked a line two feet from the edge of the canal, weaving in and out of the grass tufts. Missy had run down this path and was rapidly disappearing around a bigger bush up ahead, so I churned my stubby legs and ran as quickly as I could to catch up. By the time I arrived at the bush – which was a monster of a specimen – Missy was no longer in sight, and my piping cries to her continued to go unanswered by her presence or even a bark.

I slowed down as I approached the bush. The dirt game trail we’d been following went under the foliage and Missy had been able to squeeze under it, but I was going to have to go around it. This would take me right to the edge of the canal. I never really stopped to consider what I was doing; the only thing that concerned me was keeping up with Missy. I stepped off the trail and began to make my way around the bush. I didn’t even make it half-way around before the lip I was standing on gave way and I began sliding down the slope. By chance, I managed to grab one of the branches, which momentarily checked my descent. I was now laying face down on a steep, dirt slope, crying in terror while hanging onto a flimsy branch that was slowly peeling itself free. “Missy!” I screamed. “Help! Help!”

Finally, the inevitable happened and the traitor branch parted from the bush, allowing me to tumble the rest of the way down the slope into the water, ass-over-teakettle. I hit the water head-first and promptly gave free reign to panic, screaming and thrashing as I attempted to right myself. The slope of the wall continued underwater and gave me no purchase for me feet; I remember sinking entirely beneath the surface of the water and managing to desperately push my head back up for another gasp of air. I had water and mud all over my face and couldn’t see and I knew I was in the biggest trouble I’d ever seen in my life. All I wanted was to see Mom and Dad, and if that meant a spanking, so be it.

And then something grabbed me from behind by the sturdy fabric of my toddler overalls and began pulling me inch by slow inch out of the water. At first I didn’t know what was going on and screamed even louder. I’m not sure how Missy was able to keep her hold on me with all of my wriggling and thrashing, but she kept her jaws locked on me until I suddenly figured out that I was being taken out of the water. At that point, I calmed down enough to start using my feet to push against the slope and give her a bit of extra leverage. At that point, our progress back up to flat land went more quickly.

We lay there on the path, totally exhausted – soaking muddy child and panting dusty dog. Several times, she lifted her head and thrust her nose into my face to give me a comforting lick before settling back down to rest. That is the only time in my life that I’ve ever welcomed a dog licking my face. The sun was shining enough that I felt like I was starting to dry out, and after some time had passed I’d calmed down enough that I could consider my next choices.

Now that I was safely out of the water, I really didn’t want to face my parents after all. Even though my precautions had clearly been sufficient to get me out of any trouble, they would be unlikely to see it that way. They would insist on delivering unto me the mother of all discipline; spanking was definitely in my future, and I might even lose some privileges. It was unthinkable. Clearly, I couldn’t go home until I’d dried out. Dirt and even some mud I could explain; I was by no means a naturally clean child, and when you live in a neighborhood where the older kids regularly engage in dirt-clod fights, parents are no stranger to kids covered in good clean filth. I’d get a scolding, but that was definitely preferable to the alternative. I cautiously allowed that perhaps I’d even earned a scolding this time.

Thus we set off, boy and dog, victim and rescuer. She didn’t leave my side for the rest of the day, and when I finally came home encrusted with dried mud and dirt, I got the scolding I expected (but not the one I deserved). My parents didn’t know the truth of that day for many years, long after we’d said our final goodbyes to Missy. After her, I’ve not had the heart for any other dog.

Looking up

I had a pretty nice weekend than has gone a long way toward getting my attitude back close to being fit for human consumption.


On Saturday, despite the now-standard insomnia and sleeping in late, we got out of town up into the mountains to a party at a friend’s house. They’ve got a lovely place right out in the middle of nature, with a spectacular view of a particularly impressive bit of mountain (complete with a waterfall). I barely even touched a computer Saturday.


On Sunday, we slept in — we’d meant to get up and go to church, but we slept right through the alarm. Oops! However, I was able to get up and going and get a few writing odds and ends taken care of. The draft of Chapter 6 of my DCAR ebook — long overdue — is now in the hands of my editor. Yay! Plus, I watched Serenity, which completes my viewing of the Firefly material, and started getting some of my thoughts about that put down into a review. I have resigned myself to the fact that when I do get around to posting my review of the Firefly oeuvre, I’ll probably get more comments (and flames) on that one post than I will have on my combined two previous years’ worth of blogging.


Steph and I had a couple of productive chats last week on the novels I’m writing. I’ve figured out the resolution to a pretty complicated issue in The Next Day — basically, how it all works out — so I’m ready to get back to work on that. We also got some of the important character timeline work down for my Charism series, which moves me closer to being able to dig in on that.


As a bonus, the party Saturday seems to have knocked loose a song that’s running around in my head. This is good on two counts — first, it’s something I obviously need to write for me. Second, it’s going to be useful material for the first Charism novel, so that’s a bonus.


Thansk to all for supportive comments, prayers, etc.

I’ve talked about it long enough, I need to just do it

For a while now, I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a book on Christianity. All this recent fuss over The Da Vinci Code just convinces me of two things: today’s Amercian Christian churches serious need a well-placed slap upside the head and there’s a lot of free publicity just waiting for the enterprising writer.

Without further ado, here’s an excerpt from the introduction of my proposed book Following Christ Without Being a Christian:


Introduction

I’m completely convinced that many potential readers of this book will end up thinking I’m one of the biggest heretics to ever walk the planet. If Judgement Day goes down the way a lot of people think it will, I’ll end up in the first wave of people who get burned at the stake. I console myself with the knowledge that at least my stake will be fresh.

In all fairness, this book is not for a lot of people. I hate when authors waste my time and suck me into a book, so I’ll try to avoid doing the same thing for you. I’ve provided a handy list of warning signs so you can decide if you want to keep reading or just want to go lay in stocks of lighter fluid right now:

  • If you ever have stated, or can state “If the King James Version was good enough for Our Lord Jesus, then it’s good enough for me” in all seriousness, here’s your Zippo.
  • If you believe in a literal seven-day Creation — complete with God building in all sorts of tricky false fossils just to confuse Darwin and his heathen followers — here’s your Zippo.
  • If you believe that every single word of the Bible was divinely authored and made it rhough multiple centuries with every jot and tittle of meaning fresh and tasty, without any need for historical context and analysis — and you think that the human politics surrounding the transmisison of Scripture has had no effect — here’s your Zippo.
  • If you think that your ultimate ideal as a Christian is to turn America into a Christian Nation, here’s your Zippo.

In short, if you practice a religion that calls itself Christianity while remaining dissociated from Christ’s core teaching, that relies more heavily on the contents of Christian bookstores and Christian radio programming than it does on the (often contradictory) words and letters and throughts of its leaders, then this book is probably not for you. It’s definitely not for you if you like things this way. If, however, you feel something is missing and you’re not sure what…you admire the teachings of the Bible but can’t bear to be associated with the Church…keep reading.

I don’t offer any certainties. I have been wrong in the past, I’m probably wrong about a lot of stuff now, and I’m sure I’ll be wrong in the future. However, I’ve come to a pretty good rule of thumb; the more certain I am of a belief, the more I need to re-examine that belief. Many times, my re-examination gives me new insights and observations that are valuable. In some cases I find that I’ve allowed myself to accrete a lot of baggage around that belief that doesn’t belong. Sacred cows make great hamburgers.


Whaddya think?

Kids, don’t try this at home!

Today, I did something I’d never done before. It was risky and a bit scary, and I don’t recommend it as a general procedure for everyone.

Yes, I upgrade my new Window Mobile Pocket PC. What made it risky was that I upgraded it to the ROM images that didn’t come from my manufacturer, but rather from that of a similar device. In fact, there are several devices sold by various vendors that are all basically the same hardware under the hood; they vary in the specific software their vendors bundle on them.

If you’re interested in why I did this, and how I did it, you can read all about it either online or via Word doc.

Well, that’s no good

Chatting with my sister just now and I realized that a lot of my problem with this current chapter is that it deals with the people side of the process. And as you all know, I’m such a dynamite people person, so clearly this is my strength.

Not.

I also realized that somewhere along the way, I’ve fallen back into the IMPS (I Make Perfect Shit) mindframe. When I’m in IMPS, it isn’t enough to write a good draft, or even a great draft. No, it has to be perfect. It isn’t enough for me to neatly and concisely distill all the information and opinon on the topic I’m working on, leaving a clear and accessible summary — no, I have to impart some unique and brilliant insight that will leave the reader gaping in awe.

Now, you may think this comes from ego, and I’m sure there’s a bit of that lurking around. However, most of it comes from fear. Fear of being seen as a young snot who has no practical experience with this topic and has no business writing about what is one of the most complex topics in today’s IT world. Fear of being seen as a phony. Fear of finding out I’m a hack. I’m afraid of my editor pushing the chapter back to me and telling me, “You know, Devin, normally your work is really good — an easy edit — but now when the rubber meets the road, this is just crap.”

[Message from Devin’s brain to Devin here] Hey, idiot. It’s called a “draft” for a reason! [Message ends.]

So, now that I know what the problem is, I think I know how to solve it. It’s okay to produce material that isn’t polished and sparkling like a diamond. It’s okay to write material that lets the editors earn their pay and add value to the product. It’s okay to not be perfect.

Update: Not only is it okay to not be perfect, most of the time (if not all of the time) perfection is what really kills the effort. More on that another time, though — I have a chapter to finish.

teh sux0r

As you may remember, the local bookstore closed down last year. Today, I found out that our charming little hole-in-the-wall CD shop will be closing down in 6 weeks or so. This bites, because Steph and I try to support small local shops even if it means paying more, as long as we can get what we want there.


On the good side, they’re holding a 15% off everything sale, and I was finally able to pick up a copy of Billy Idol’s infamous (and very hard to find) Cyberpunk album, as well as a boxed 3-CD set of Queen’s greatest hits. Still, I’d rather that they were able to stay in business.


We finally diagnosed whatever is going on with Steph’s computer — motherboard or CPU. Well, shite. I wasn’t really looking to be rebuilding machines at this point, nor to be acquiring new hardware. I think we have a gameplan, but Steph will be computerless for another couple of days. Good thing she can read her email from OWA.


Oh, yeah — chapter 4 of the DCAR ebook is kicking my ass. I just cannot find the words to put on paper. This is doubly infuriating, because there are a lot of other projects that are clamoring inside my skull for airtime. I’ve got a wonderful essay rattling around in there, tentatively titled “The Relationship Lens: Re-imaging the role of faith and the church.” This sounds like a lot more fun to write, but it’s not what has the deadline.


Got a concerned email from one of the ladies at church. Rumors are now going around that we’re leaving. This wouldn’t be so bad of itself, because we are going to be actively looking for a new church home. What pisses me off is that it sounds like there’s already a healthy load of bullshit going around about my reasons — lots of gossip and speculation. Mind you, nobody’s bothered to ask me what the truth is.


If it weren’t for the fact that we still have a great school for the kids, I’d almost be thinking it was time to seriously consider moving from Monroe.


Update: the kids are really grooving on the Queen albums. They recognize a lot of the music from the Highlander movies and TV series. Yep, they are geeks.

Feeding the monkey on my back

Every now and then, I look up from the keyboard and wonder why the heck I’m blogging. I’ve been blogging for work for 14 months, and I still don’t have any really good feel for how many readers I have. Some days, it feels like five or six.

Well, this morning I’m feeling pretty good about my blogging. When I do a review of a book on this blog or on my work blog
I make a point of dropping an email to the author (if possible) to let
them know about it. Since I’ve actually worked with both of the authors
of Protect Your Windows Network : From Perimeter to Data (Microsoft Technology), when I posted review on my work blog I made sure to let them know. A few hours later, I got back a nice response from them — they seemed pretty pleased.

Apparently, the publicist at their publisher is too. I had a very
nice email drop in my inbox this morning, and the upshot is basically
that I’ve been invited to do reviews on any of their books I’d like.
They’ll even send me the books.

Free books for a book junkie[1]. Hmm. This, as they say in Canada, does not suck.

Now all I have to do is convince some of the major sf publishers to do the same thing…

[1] Yes, I consider writing reviews in exchange for books to be the equiavlent of free books. I like writing.

Sick days and publication news

Both kids woke up with an excess of phlegm, so we kept them home from school today. Sounds like a good day for them to work on updating their web sites and blogs, especially since I just handed out the URLs to the members of my family.

In other news, Microsoft has produced printed versions of one of the solutions I worked on in 2004, the Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 98 Threat Mitigation Guide. They’ve printed quite a few of the solutions produced by this group. Printed copies are $5 from the Microsoft web site.

Also, Chapter 2 of my ebook on DCAR (discovery, compliance, archival, and retention) is now up for download. All in all, a busy week. I’m very thankful for this project; I just got my first payment last weekend and it means Christmas shopping is going to go much easier this year.

First brush: Amazon reviews

I finally remembered to check the Amazon reviews for the Exchange Server Cookbook tonight. I was amused by this line:

Other recipes [I guess that’s the preferred term] assume you have an Active Directory server on your network, and show how to integrate your Exchange Server with it.

If you’re not immediately giggling, then let me explain that our book focuses on Exchange 2000/2003. Previous versions of Exchange included their own directory services, because Windows NT did not include any. Windows 2000 included Active Directory, and so Exchange integrates with an existing Windows 2000 Active Directory server rather than run its own directory service. It’s one of the basic requirements of how it works.

I wonder if that’s why we didn’t get the fifth start from that reviewer? At any rate, I’m not upset — 4/5 is great (thank you!) — I just wanted to be sure other folks didn’t somehow get worried we’d wasted space on things the average Exchange admin wouldn’t need.

Pencils, pencils, two for five!

If anyone other than my family knows where the title of this post comes from, I’ll be impressed.

I have belonged to a certain online community for many years, the only one that I’ve joined that requires a subscription payment. While there have been occasional downsides, it has been a mostly positive experience and I have made a lot of what I consider to be good friends there. However, my life has changed quite a bit over the last year, and some of the interests that brought me to this community have lessened or been fulfilled in other ways (my extracirricualr technical writing, in particular, fills a lot of one particular need). These interests no longer influence my life quite so much and I find that I am now only participating in one very small aspect of this community.

So when I got the notice that my subscription was due to expire on 01 Sep, I thought about it for a while and decided that although I could squeeze the $20 out of my budget, it wasn’t enough of a priority for me to do so. I’d get a lot more fun out of using that $20 when we take the kids to the fair over Labor Day weekend, just to name one activity. So, I set about saying my goodbyes and preparing to depart from this community that I have now been part of for many years.

A couple of people asked me to reconsider, and after hearing my reasons, volunteered to chip in a small bit towards the renewal fee. I was completely not expecting that, and agreed that I would look into putting a PayPal donation button on my site. I thought about it over the next few days and realized that I felt uncomfortable doing so just for this community; it seemed, well, presumptuous. Then, I was reminded of an old joke that I shared with many members of this community back in the days before I owned a Mac — I would gladly accept any and all donations to the “Devin Needs a New Mac!” fund. This was good for many laughs and (if memory serves) even a few small donations, which actually went directly towards upkeep of my web server (I host sites for free for a few people from the mystery community).

So, here’s the deal. I added a generic PayPal donation button down near the bottom of the sidebar. I am comfortable with having an ad for a book I have written (and that is on sale) up at the top; I am not comfortable pleading for stray pennies. Down to the bottom it goes. But if you ever want to prod me to, oh, make time to work on the next chapter of Silicon Cats or write an essay on a particular topic, making a donation is a good way to let me know you’re serious.

If it’s good enough for The Bard, it’s good enough for me. Heck, I’ll even write you a customzied sonnet as a thank-you note — and post it publicly — if you (the indefinite you) ever donated a largeish amount at one time. Since I once submitted a sonnet as a weekly status report, don’t think I’m not up to the challenge.

I have a line on an interesting writing project. All I want to say about it right now is that it involves group blogging, possibly introducing some established writers to blogging for the first time. As I am able to share more details, I’ll let you know.

My new ebook on email DCAR is now available!

DCAR (Discovery, Compliance, Archival, and Retention) is a big topic these days. I’ve done some work with 3Sharp in this space, and I have been fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to write an ebook for Windows IT Pro on the topic.

The first chapter is now available for free download with registration; the remaining chapters will be coming out over the next few months. So if this is something that interests you, feel free to go take a look.

Miscommunication

I hate it when I blow a deadline.

I will point out, however, that it’s hard to keep a deadline when one’s editor fails to inform you of it. Looks like I’ll be writing another magazine article this weekend. The last one was for Exchange anti-spam tools; this one will be on mitigating Exchange directory harvesting attacks.

Late night thoughts

Once again, I’m up far too late, trying to fix a raft of computer problems. This time I’m reinstalling my Exchange organization, migrating DNS zones, and trying to install a new reverse proxy web server. The usual.


I’ve got my iPod playing away — I love the Griffin iTrip I bought for it. For $40, I have wireless streaming media at home and in any car. The iTrip takes the output of my iPod and broadcasts it onto any FM channel I select. It doesn’t have a large radius, but it’s good enough to hit every radio in the house, which means Steph and I can listen to the same music all through the house. Not at all bad for the price.


Right now, I’m listening to my Favorites playlist on shuffle. It just brought up a song I’ve been meaning to blog about for the past couple of weeks — Big & Rich’s Live This Life — and I’m struck by how appropriate it is in light of some news I received Monday. First, though, the song:



For a bit of extra kick, go read what Big & Rich have to say about their songs. From the notes on Live This Life:


The first verse came from a late-night conversation Big Kenny had with a homeless man in Nashville. “I met a man on a street last night/He said his name was Jesus.” John and Big both felt that something very important had been laid on them, but three weeks passed by before its purpose hit them and the rest of the song was written. The second verse describes Katie Darnell, a teenage girl and a friend of John and Kenny’s who died of brain cancer in the summer of 2003.


The song itself is very simple musically, but B&R have a powerful way of harmonizing. They’re joined on this track (I think) by the talented and haunting vocals of Gretchen Wilson. The result is easily my favorite song on this album.


I may seem like I’m switching gears here for a minute, but bear with me. As the release of the Cookbook gets closer, we’ve had a bunch of last-minute tasks to take care of (uploading scripts to our blog site, publicity, etc.) and one of the ones on my list was finalizing who I was going to send my author copies to. During the QC1 phase, I realized that I’d left two very important names out of my acknowledgements list — Ms. Kathy Snyder and Mrs. Tricia Boylen, two incredible high school teachers who nurtured my love of writing while ensuring I remained challenged in their classes. Both of them took personal time to read my fledgling stories and give me meaningful critiques. I reealized that even though the Cookbook wasn’t quite the first book I’d imagined writing during high school, I wouldn’t have gotten to this point without them.


So on Monday afternoon, I called my old high school to find out if they had contact information for them. That’s when I learned that Mrs. Boylen passed away last year. It was all I could do to finish my conversation with the nice office lady who I am sure had no idea how her casual news gutted the heart out of my day. After I put the phone down, I sat and cried like I haven’t in a long time. I am still stunned and heartbroken as I write this. Although she was talking about retiring at the end of my senior year, she was so full of life and energy. She never seemed to be old enough to be even thinking about retiring; in the fifteen years that have passed in my life from the time I graduated, I’ve often visualized sending a copy of my first book to Kathy and Tricia. I just assumed they would always be around by the time I got around to getting published.


The worst part was the little voice in my head that whispered that maybe, just maybe if I’d pushed harder on the Cookbook all through last year, if I’d cajoled my co-authors and myself into keeping on schedule, I’d have had time to follow through and send her the book. So I did some more digging. Although the town newspaper charges for access to the web archives, I was able to finagle up enough free information to find out that she died on May 5, 2004. Even with our original schedule, there’s no way the book would have been done. Thus I banished that bit of guilt, only to confront another one: I don’t think I ever told her that she was one of my favorite teacher, that she and Ms. Snyder were often the only reasons I’d get out of bed and come to school.


I hated my high school years with a passion; I hated the town, I had nothing in common with most of the kids, and what few friends I did have always left me with the feeling they’d befriended me out of pity. I was lucky with my teachers; almost all of them left me feeling that they considered themselves lucky to have me, know-it-all that I was. Kathy and Tricia never made me feel like anything other than the most important student they’d ever taught. I know they tried to make every student feel that way, but the message sunk down deep into my psyche. I’ve never doubted once, over these fifteen years, that when I finally see my name in print, they’ll be absolutely thrilled to see it too. I was so blindly confident that I never thought to take the time to drop them a note and let them know how I was doing. I kept making excuses for why I wasn’t writing instead of just sitting down and doing it. If I’d been pushing all through those fifteen years, would I have been published by now? We’ll never know.


Between this news and Live This Life, I’ve received a wake-up call. We only have so much time and then we have to move on.


Speaking of moving on, Exchange is done upgrading. Time to move to bed. Thanks for letting me ramble, if you made it this far.

The Next Day; a beginning

[Editorial note: The Next Day is a working title for
now. I do not plan on publishing it on the Internet at this time,
beyond what is here. I will be starting to work again on
Silicon Cats and new chapters will be posted as they are completed.]

They were dancing again, keeping effortless pace with the music
only the two of them heard. The heavy drapes along the ballroom wall
let in just enough sunlight to show the footprints that quartered and
re-quartered the marble floor, tracks of last night’s spontaneous
celebration. Now that he no longer wore the skin of the Beast, I could
see how matched they looked, his handsome tanned face and orderly
length of straight black hair neatly pulled back by a simple metal
ornament complementing her flawless olive skin and curled blue-black
tresses. Her curls reached nearly to her waist; she had not spent any
time arranging an elaborate coiff and there was no magic to do it for
her this morning. The magic was gone as if it had never been, not a
single glittering trace of it to be seen anywhere in the dusty relic of
the estate house.

Yet I knew the magic was still present. It was not spread like
fog throughout the house and grounds as it had been for the long years,
giving me that instant awareness of all that happened. Instead it
curled tightly into a bright seed, tucked away within my chest. It
lurked there, a dragon in its lair, waiting for the right time to
emerge. I had never felt this before during my training and had no
trouble divining the meaning; it had gone, but it was not yet done with
us. The curse was lifted — Leandro stood proudly as a man among men
once again, no longer the fearsome monster — but the magic was only
biding its time. We three were still tied together, yet she only had
eyes for him. I realized then with dismay that I had been foolish
enough to fall in love with her.

This King kick and the power of words

Several months back, I bought the fifth novel (The Wolves of Calla)in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series for Steph. After we read it, we got the final two books from the library and read them. Since then, I’ve been on a bit of a Stephen King kick. I haven’t been reading everything he’s written, but I’ve been trying to read the ones that are in some way related to the Dark Tower series.

One of the ones that I picked up that isn’t related to the Dark Tower — and in fact isn’t much like his other novels at all — is Misery. This one is different because although he has some awful things in store for the protagonist, they are all purely human evils. There’s no supernatural source of the evil — just one very sick lady. No telepathy, no low men, no Breakers, no Beam, no ka, no haunted hotel rooms or telekinetic attacks or little girls who can turn an entire farm into a smoking inferno within a minute and a half. Just Annie Wilkes.

This book scared the tar out of me. Paul, the protagonist, is a successful writer who isn’t very content with his life or with the books that have made him a success. Up in Colorado Rockies, he is dumb enough to take on a snowstorm while drunk and pays a heavy price for his stupidity. You probably know the basics of the story (having either read the book or seen the movie) — he wakes up from a severe car accident, legs mangled and shattered, in the house of one Annie Wilkes. Annie declares herself to be his biggest fan who happened upon his car. He is in her guest room where she has been taking care of him, and his life is about to get seriously unhappy.

Annie is devoted to the main character of his best-selling series of books, Misery, and has not yet reached the finish of the lastest novel to find out that Paul has killed Misery off. Her reaction is the stuff of nightmares. No one knows where Paul is, his car is buried under feet of snow, and he is at her mercy. He slowly comes to understand that Annie is a killer, but she will not let him die until she has what she wants from him — a new Misery novel, bringing her favorite character back from the grave. Paul’s months with Annie break him in body, health, and spirit, even while strengthening him as a writer.

This book scares me more than any other I’ve ever read. Why? Because of my dreams of being a writer, specifically a novelist. I’ve wanted it ever since I was old enough to know that people wrote books. I’m acquiring the skills and discipline to make it happen, I think I have the gift, and I think I have the determination to get published and make my breakthrough. I have a head full of stories waiting to be told. All the pieces are in place; now I have to make them work.

I’ve got some freelance technical writing to do, but I’ve made an important decision tonight. I have to carve out time to do my personal writing or I will keep finding excuses not to do it. When I’m writing pieces for 3Sharp, I don’t have the luxury of waiting until I feel like it; I have to write to a deadline. Sometimes that means fighting an empty screen; sometimes it means staying up late to meet a commitment. Always, though, it means action, not intention. I will never be a novelist if I do not act to make myself one. It’s that simple.

Tonight, Steph and I — with the help of several friends from the PyraMOO — shattered one of my last excuses. I am now ready to write my first words for The Next Day, which will be a retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast with a few hefty twists. I don’t know how it is for other writers, but I don’t want to have a detailed outline for a fiction piece. I want to have a general idea of how it’s going to go — who are the major characters, what do they want, where does the story start, where do I think it ends, and do I know any major stopping points along the way? Do I have any particular themes or symbols that help provide structure to the story?

Once I know these questions, the words come and the writing begins. The hardest part of this preparatory process, for me, is finding out about my characters. At first, I maybe know them only by the vague outline of the role they play in the story, by the shadows they cast on the insides of my eyelids. Slowly, I start to puzzle out a few details. At some point, I know enough about them to have a rough idea of who they are, but the critical step for nailing them down is to find their names. There are writers who can pick out a collection of personal details, grab a name out of a baby name book, and weave a character from whole cloth; they are bastards and I envy them, because I have to go sleuthing. I have to tease away each detail, each fact, and fit it into the puzzle until I see enough of the picture to accurately name what I am seeing. I now know the names of the four main characters; I know the flavor and feel of the world. Before I go to bed tonight, I will have the first paragraph of the story written.

I must have frustrated Steph. For me, the name is the central skeleton of the character, the structure from which all else hangs. Since my storytelling style is character-driven, I can’t tell you much about the world until I can tell you about the people. The characters drive everything else, and the names drive the characters. Once I know the name, I know how they think, what they want, what they fear. The name is my window into their mind. Steph doesn’t work like this; she’s not one of the kind of people for whom any old name will do, but I think she sees the name as just another detail one chooses for the character (perhaps off of a limited list; wouldn’t want to give the character an inappropriate name, after all).

For me, words are the boundary between chaos and order. Because of my Asperger’s, I am much more aware of the role that change plays in my life. I want structure, I want routine, and I have only a limited capacity for dealing with change. Yet I also recognize that entropy and change are constants and that perfect order is static and lifeless. Life depends on the interplay between chaos and order. Words, to me, are that interface — change and constancy brought against each other. With words, we take a small bite of chaos, a small bite of order, and we package them together into an imperfect symbol. They will never mean exactly the same thing to others as they do to us (hence the change), but they get enough of the meaning across to get the job done (the structure). Words are the building blocks of life in a very literal and mystical sense. In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was with God, and the WORD was God. God spoke Creation into being and gave to Adam and Eve the duty of naming all of the things He had created. Words are a gift, a charism, a power to be used in the pursuit of our relationships with the Divine, with His Creation, and with each other. Through our words we build and destroy, heal and hurt, grow and diminish. Words are not intentions; words are actions.

Cookbook progress

The Exchange Server Cookbook
(final title) is still on schedule for a June release. We finished the
final author hands-on review stage a week or two back and got to see
our cover this week. (Yes, it’s a baboon; our editor Robbie told us that this was what the art department came up with from his description of the three of us, to which Paul manfully replied that I’m too bald and Missy is too good looking, so it must have been him.)

Those of you reading this from my site can see that I’ve added a
link to Amazon for the book (if you’re reading on the LJ feed or via
RSS, please come to the site and take a quick look). If this is a book
you think you’d like, consider ordering it from the link on my site;
you get the standard Amazon experience while I might get a small
kickback. (John Scalzi’s recent post about the economics of writing,
combined with my observations about the effect of my growing writing
self-employment income on my tax situation, made me do some thinking.

This is an experiment. Like a lot of bloggers, I’m going to make
judicious use of my shiny new Amazon associate status and see how it
works out. It cost me nothing and I see nothing morally or ethically
objectionable in promoting a book I helped write, so I have nothing to
lose. Since 3Sharp was kind
enough to take the contract for the book in its name, we got the
benefit of getting paid our regular salary to write the book instead of
receiving the advance and then having to factor it out into all the
hours we spent on the book. What this also means is that Paul, Missy,
and I (as the three authors initially assigned to the project; Tom
Meunier was in the trenches with us for a good part of it) got to give
up a lot of nights and weekends without even the dubious distinction of
the miniscule per-word rate we would have received the other way, after
all the work was done. (I’ve learned that you don’t go into writing
technical books to get rich. For the comparitive effort involved, the
money in magazine articles is astoundingly higher.)

Don’t get the wrong idea; I jumped at the chance to do this book and
would have no matter how they offered the terms. It was a valuable
learning experience in itself, as well as giving me a much-needed dose
of confidence and look into some of the darker corners of Exchange.
More importantly, I now have a baseline — and I know that I want to
keep writing. Good thing, too; I’ve got a few freelance projects coming
up that will be fun and profitable. More on those later.

The Good, the Bad, and the Bald

I just did a very difficult thing: I withdrew from an overdue RPG writing project that I thought would easily be within my capabilities and that turned out (for many reasons) not to be. I should have done this months ago; I did not because of pride (I’m a writer; I can do this, no problem!), unwillingness to give up on a dream (but I’ve always wanted to write for this company!), and fear of further corroding an already tarnished reputation with this company. On the other hand, I had to do it tonight because it has been hanging over my head for months and I start three days of vacation.

The whole point of this vacation is to take a few days where I don’t have to worry about my day job so I can take a running start at the massive piles of unfinished personal projects. It didn’t seem right to put off the inevitable and keep this project hanging over my head when I’m hoping to wake up tomorrow and start on the projects that I can get done. I was originally going to take five days, but it turns out I’ll be heading to an Exchange conference here in Seattle all next week.

While I’m not happy about facing up to the fact that I was not a suitable author for this project, I’m not totally destroyed. The Cookbook finished the copyedit phase a few days back, we’re heading into QC1 next week (we read over the PDF mockups and have our last chance to correct errors), and the book’s page on the O’Reilly website is finally up. I’ve resolved several logjams in my fiction work and now am reasonably free (once I get the pile of pending projects shortened) to jump into those stories, including the next few chapters of Silicon Cats.

Here’s a question for you: should I just leave the first three chapters up as a teaser, or should I post them all until I manage to sell it to a publisher? I’m inclined to post the whole thing in three-chapter chunks as I get them finished.

Alaric has joined what is now a three-generation tradition for male Gangers: shaving our heads. See the results here. My note to school on Monday (so they didn’t call CPS and file a complaint that we’d joined a cult) follows:

Just a note to let you all know that Alaric has not joined some space surfpunk band, nor has he announced his intention to relocate to Dagobah and use the powers of the Force to raise X-Wing fighters from the swamps where confused Tatooine farmboys landed them.

He has been begging me literally for months now to shave his head just like I do. He has been needing a haircut lately, so last night, he assured me that he still wanted to be completely shaved.

I never knew I was raising the Dalai Lama!

If we’ve joined any cult at all, it’s the “Women will pet my head when it’s bald” cult.

Funniest April Fool’s day posting I’ve seen yet

Charlie Stross goes posthuman.

My favorite line is the crack about the temporal vortex and needing the combined efforts of Stephen Baxter, Vernor Vinge, and Greg Bear to free him, and not just because I’ve met Vernor Vinge in person (although he is my favorite science fiction writer and one heck of a nice guy.)

Call me Demosthenes

Steph has started indulging in a nice habit, now that I’m getting my home office more mucked out; she’ll drag her chair into my office, along with some craft project such as knitting, and sit with me while I’m working. We may not talk much depending on how hard I’m concentrating, but she provides a comforting presence.


Today I was writing up a reaction to CNET’s interview with ITU Director Houlin Zhao for my work blog and she made reference to the story thread with Peter and Valentine in Ender’s Game (written by Orson Scott Card. For those of you who don’t know (or remember) the plot, Peter and Valentine are the brother and sister of the protaganist. While Ender is off in space learning how to lead armies and kill things efficiently, they’re back on Earth building up a power base through eloquent punditry using anonymous accounts on the worlds’ information networks. Their most successful identities are those of Demosthenes and Locke, a virtual Odd Couple who are just about guaranteed to take opposing viewpoints on any matter.


Steph pointed out that between web forums and blogs, we’re starting to get to that stage. We’re a little more transparent than Card envisioned — as a blogger gets popular, the ability to find out who they really are (and more importantly, who is funding them) increases. Likewise, today’s bloggers are not nearly so dependent on corporate sponsorships to pay for their blogging, although there are a growing number of bloggers who are making money just by spouting their opinions.


[Editor: I’m down with that. Yo, phat cash deals for corporate blogging consluting? I am so there.]


What Card got right, though, is that more and more, a blogger’s real identity is less important than what they have to say and how they say it. You don’t have to be a law professor to be the Instapundit (hi, Glenn!)…okay, bad example, but you get my point. By the time the real identities of Demosthenes and Locke were unmasked in his book, they had such a loyal following that they were able to wield significant influence in global politics, even though they were children. Bloggers aren’t nearly that influential, but the constant clashing between big media and bloggers seems to prove that bloggers of all stripes are exerting more and more influence on the world around them.


Heady stuff. Where do I sign up? I’d be a benevolent dictator, I promise.


[Editor: I see I’m not the first person to remark on this.]

This Idea Eats Brains!

I wasn’t a big fan of the story of Beauty and the Beast until the day I stumbled across Robin McKinley when I was 12. Although the first book of hers I devoured was The Blue Sword, it didn’t take me long to discover Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast. Years later, as a married adult, I was delighted to discover that she’d revisited the story with the masterful Rose Daughter. It blew me away, not the least of which because she at least began to address one of my central dislikes with the whole store of Beauty and the Beast:

Now that the Beast had won Beauty’s love and regained his handsome human form, what kind of difficulties would Beauty have in adjusting to his new (to her) external appearance, especially in light of the fact that people would once again be willing to be in his company? Cynic that I am, I also wondered what, if anything, would keep him from regressing back into his former patterns of behavior.

Over the past couple of years, these questions — and my answers to them — have been gnawing at me. I don’t think the story is over when the evil curse/spell is lifted. In fact, based on my own experiences as a married man, I think that’s when the real story starts. Beauty and the Beast don’t really know each other under the stresses of ordinary life, and there are sure to be some bumps and major potholes along the way. I like a happy ending as much as the next person, but the odds are pretty steep. Let’s also not forget the person who cast the original spell on the Beast; clearly, they’re a major magician. These people don’t go away. They’re going to be coming back to check out the results of their handiwork; will they like what they see? (And who is this magician, and what’s their real beef with the Beast? The standard answers never satisfied me. That’s some hella major mojo to toss on someone, even if they are being a completely stuck-up prat.)

I finally realized who the perfect viewpoint person for this extended story would be — the magician. Just to keep things interesting, my unconscious mind tossed out some other interesting connections and observations, and pretty soon I had the makings of a solid story on my hands. A couple weekends ago, the last major plot piece fell in place, so now I’m going to have to spend at least some of my personal time writing it out. Unlike some of the other novels I have running around in my head, this one feels like it is ready to come out, so here I go. Since it starts the day after the spell is broken, it will recover the familiar territory in a new way. The only problem is the title. My current working title is The Next Day. I honestly prefer After, but that’s too close to a certain Drew Barrymore movie.

Burst of Creativity

Thanks to the joys of wireless networks, laptops, and the rare conjunction of having a free evening, enough energy to do something about it, and enough brainpower to remember what all I want to do, I’m sitting in bed next to Steph (who is reading) and getting some bits and scraps of stuff done.


[Steph: You’re not blogging again, are you?]


Just with blog entries alone, I’ve got a list:



  • Write up a review of Wil Wheaton’s book Just a Geek (short version: buy it, read it, love it).

  • Write an essay about whether political bloggers are contributing to or helping contravene the blue state/red state divide in America.

  • Write an essay about the song “New Favorite” by Allison Krauss and Union Station, centering around the lyrics as a metaphor for the individual relationship with God.

  • Write up an article about the symbolic/elemental system I’ve been mulling, based around my thoughts about Christianity being a relationship.

  • Write an essay about my stance on homosexuality and gay marriage.

And then there’s the stuff notblog-related:



  • Finish my adventure for Steve Jackson Games.

  • Finish building the new Solaris proxy server.

  • Build the new Zope server.

  • Move websites to Zope.

  • Get Dad’s website finished.

  • Redo thecabal.org with the new logo I designed.

  • Redo the church website.

  • Finish up the appendix of tools and post it to the Cookbook blog.

  • Outline a fiction proposal for the Ten Worlds.

  • Produce an outline for the book on relationships that Stephanie and I keep talking about.

  • Produce an outline for the novel that’s chewing on my head (more about that in the next blog entry).

  • Write down the various ideas that I’ve had for books, short stories, or novels, and get them into a central place so I don’t lose them.

[Devin: I told you, dear reader, that I want to be an author. See how many of my action items involve writing? Maybe now you’ll believe me.]


Bleh. Now I’m tired enough to go to bed. Not that I will, of course.


Currently listening to: “Ghost in This House,” Allison Krauss and Union Station

Cookbook progress and the rediscovery of free time

Oh, right, since I forget to mention it — we got the last chapter of the Exchange Cookbook off to our editor’s hands (and thus into production) early last week, so I’ve actually had some free time again in the evenings. I now need to get Once Upon a Time in Seattle finished and off to SJ Games; that’s way late. It’s been nice to not have to stay up past midnight, though, to get obscure Exchange scripting done.

No word from O’Reilly yet on which cover animal we get, and I haven’t seen it show up on their upcoming releases page either. Ah, well. We took our sweet time getting it to them, and a little birdie told me that it’ll be a June release date, so it’ll show up on the list when it shows up.

All-nighters and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom

I’m staying up late to get a paper done for work. While I’d rather not pull late nights and long days, in reality I have an extremely high amount of flexibility and self-determination in the day-to-day details of my job. The flip side of that coin, however, is that I keep that freedom as long as I produce the deliverables I have been assigned by my deadlines. Having the freedom to take a bit longer lunch break and go on a walk with my wife, or work from home, or not have set hours that I have to be in front of the computer working, means that I have in turn committed to putting in the time to get stuff done.

In a way, I think I would do superficially better with a more strict office regimen, but I think my production would suffer accordingly. (One of my bosses seems to agree; last time I was in the office and we chatted, he mentioned that he’s seen my productivity climb noticeably since I’ve been working from home again). Not having to toe the line means I don’t have any excuses for bad performance. The end result is that I’m developing routines and better work habits because I want them, in order to avoid late nights and long hours. It’s an ongoing process.

Every now and then, my late nights have an unexpected side benefit. A few minutes ago, I heard what sounded like a heck of a catfight in progress out in my carport. After it continued for a few minutes, I realized that, no, it sounded like a dog — some small yappy thing — and a cat. I got a flashlight and went outside to break it up. At this point, I’m in pajamas and sandals.

About 10 seconds after I get outside, the flashlight is useless. Great, dead batteries. The dog is cowering directly under our car, giving out weird yips. It’s been hurt, I think, and I have a momentary fleeting sense of admiration for the cat (since I really don’t like small dogs and I love cats). But something is breathing very heavily, and I realize that it’s not the dog. So I walk around to the end of the car to take a look, because I’m starting to get the bad feeling what we’ve got is a poodle getting beat up by an enraged possum. Sure enough, I get around to the end of the car and look on the other side (still waving the useless flashlight, because it is large and has a comforting weight), and there’s a large shadowy figure that’s too large to be a cat. This thing is panting and hissing and is paying absolutely no attention to me; it’s fixed on the tasty treat that is probably busily pissing itself all over the concrete underneath my Ford Focus.

It’s about this time that I finally realize what is really going on.

I’ve wandered into the middle of two very pissed off, fighting raccoons. I’m standing out in my carport with a dead flashlight in plaid flannel pajamas and open-foot sandals at 3:30am in easy striking range of two big, nasty, energized scavengers who are more than willing to take a swipe at me if they feel that’s their best way out of danger. A year or two ago, we had a raccoon get treed in our yard; when the cops came to deal with it, the not-so-little bastard charged one of them. These are junk-fed raccoons with a sense of entitlement. So what the heck am I going to do?

Okay, yes, I spent a couple of seconds wishing I’d followed my impulse to grab my thick quarterstaff before coming outside. At least then I’d have a long stout stick to try to beat them with and gain precious seconds before my toes get gnawed off by the rabid little berserker sizing me up from the driver’s side of my car. And then I decided turnabout was fair play and started yelling at them. I wasn’t yelling too loudly — I really didn’t want to wake the neighbors up — but it was enough to get their attention. The raccoon under the car stopped his “Shit, I’m BLEEDING!” yipping while his opponent looked over at me and growled even more loudly (don’t worry, buddy, I don’t care if you beat him up, just go do it in someone else’s yard) as if to say, “Zip it, you wimp.” I refused to be cowed (and here’s where I do NOT believe myself) and even stepped closer to him.

At that point, he backed up. Trapped Raccoon saw this as a great opportunity and took off like the fat waddling bastard he was, running to his freedom across my front lawn. Mean Raccoon is justifiably pissed at this turn of events; garbage day was a couple of days earlier, so pickings have probably been slim for the past few days and here some dork in pajamas just chased off his midnight snack. He and I get into a real macho staring match; he’s growling and telling me nasty things about my parents while I’m doing my best crazy Walter impression trying to break his nerve. Eventually, he realizes there’s no point in standing there arguing with me; I’m too big to eat and Trapped Raccoon has a heck of a head start. He finally breaks off and heads back around the back of the house. Within a minute, I hear the fight break out again, but this time it’s a running fight that is half a block down and moving farther away all the time.

Mission accomplished. Crap, that was some adrenaline.

Of weekends, writing, and wonderful breakfast food

I love Saturdays, especially today. I got a decent amount of work done last night, including turning over two papers that came back yesterday for edits. Additionally, Robbie (my O’Reilly editor) got Chapter 7 edited and passed it back to me last night, so I’ve got some rewrites to do on that. But first, I need to finish up Once Upon a Time in Seattle so I don’t keep having that hanging over my head.

Breakfast was a new dish that has quickly become one of my favorites: Baked Amish Oatmeal. I don’t really like oatmeal, but Steph found this recipe in one of her cookbooks (The Best of Country Cooking) and gave it a try a couple of weeks ago. Everyone likes it. The contributor claims that it tastes “just like a big warm-from-the-oven oatmeal cookie” and she’s right. It’s pretty simple to make: mix up one and one half cups of quick-cooking oats, half a cup of sugar, half a cup of milk, a quarter cup of melted butter (margarine if you absolutely must), an egg, a teaspoon of baking powder, three quarters of a teaspoon of salt, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Once you’ve got it thoroughly mixed up, grease up a baking pan and spread it in evenly. You don’t want a thick layer, so make sure your pan is a decent size. Put it the oven for 25 -30 minutes at 350 degrees, making sure your edges are golden brown, and damn – your mouth will love you forever. You can eat it as it is (which is the way I like it) or crumble it up and pour milk over it and top it with whatever you like.

Now that I’ve got cuisine tips out of the way, I’ve got to work on writing. Once I get some time in on the adventure, I’ve got a book review to write and a political essay running around my head. And never forget editing Chapter 7.

Year Three: What will I learn?

Somewhere in the last ten days, I hit my two-year anniversary with 3Sharp. This is a big deal; the longest I’ve ever worked at one company was 2.5 years. I don’t think I’ll have any problems shattering that record here at 3Sharp. It is still the absolute best job I’ve ever had, even with some of the not-so-fun projects I’ve had to work on. What makes it so fun is that I work with a lot of really smart, gifted, and dedicated people.

So what have I learned after the last two years?

  1. Working with someone who is a stellar talent shouldn’t be intimidating if you are committed to learning what they can teach you. When I learned that I’d be working for and with Paul Robichaux, I was scared out of my mind. That fear paralyzed me for a good portion of my first year there and nearly cost me my job. Instead of focusing on how much he knew and could do, what I needed to focus on was doing what I could do and learning how to do the rest. He didn’t hire me with the expectation that I’d be mini-Paul (at least not that he’s told me); he hired me because I could do a job he needed someone else to do.
  2. A person with stellar talent is still a human being. They will make mistakes. They will forget things. No matter how gifted, they aren’t perfect; they have their flaws. If you expect them to make allowances for your lapses, you must give them the same courtesy. And you must also be prepared to call them to account when needed — not to say, “Hah! Caught you!” but rather to fix small issues before they become big ones.
  3. A person with stellar talent must still rely on others. You can’t do everything by yourself; neither can they. They may be able to do more than you can, but a large part of that is experience — something you will gather with time and dedicated effort. After two years, I now have a fairly good idea of the amount of work involved in writing a 30 page technical paper on Exchange 2003. Depending on what the focus is, it may be something I can write easily without a lot of research, because I’ve done enough other projects that I have a body of knowledge and experience to re-use. If it’s something new, I have a good idea of how long it will take me to learn it. Stellar talent knows when to do something oneself and when to have someone else do it.
  4. A person with stellar talent is always willing to learn new things from anyone who can teach them. It isn’t important if you finished that degree or have that certification; if you know what you’re talking about and can demonstrate it, you’ll be an authority. The first lesson of experience is to make valuable use of the experience of others. That’s why we write things down and teach each other how to do things, so we can see farther over the horizon because we’re standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before us.
  5. The difference between stellar talent and wannabe talent is not how smart or gifted you are, but how hard you work. And that’s not makework. It is putting the time in to learn the fundamentals of your craft, whatever it may be, and acquiring the discipline to use your skills all the time whether you feel like it or not. Stephen King and many other top authors constantly debunk the myth that “real” authors write from this cloud of ecstasy. Real authors write every day without consideration of mood. They gut it out when they don’t want to write. From watching my co-workers at 3Sharp, the same is true of programmers. The stars are stars because they don’t rely on mood (which as Gurney Halleck remarked to Paul Atreides, is a thing for cattle or making love) but discipline.

People with stellar talents have learned these five lessons and internalized them. They live them every day.

God willing, I’m on my way. Here’s to year three. Thank you, Paul, Peter, and John — these have been the most profoundly satisfying years of my professional life.

It’s done!

I just shipped the first draft of Chapter 7 “Routing, Transport, and SMTP” of The Exchange Cookbook to my editor and co-authors. I wrote this chapter entirely by myself. It started off with 47 recipes (including the introduction); final size was 27 recipes. Many of the missing 20 were duplicates of either recipes in other chapters, belonged better in other chapters, or could be added in with existing recipes in chapter 7. Only a few got dropped because of time pressures.

It was a ton of work. I have a lot more respect for technical authors.

Now comes all the revising and technical reviews…but the draft is done!

A Far, Green Country

“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

– J.R.R.Tolkien, Return of the King, “The Grey Havens”


“I did’t think it would end this way.”
“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back and all change to silver glass….and then you see it.”
“What, Gandalf? See what?”
“White shores and beyond. The far green country under a swift sunrise.”
“Well, that isn’t so bad.”
“No, no it isn’t.”

– Pippin and Gandalf discussing death and “a far green country under a swift sunrise”,
from the Return of the King motion picture


We bought the Return of the King Extended Edition DVD set for the family as a Christmas gift. As I’ve been writing and recovering from being sick, I’ve usually put in one of the extra documentary disks as background noise. It’s a nice short mental break when I need it — I look up and find out some little interesting bit of movie magic, then go back to my writing.

This time, though, I’ve found myself far more moved by the appendices than I was on the first two films. Partly, this is because the third movie was by all appearances so much more stressful on everyone involved and they’ve let that come through in the appendices. It’s not all “one big happy family” like it was portrayed on the first two movies; they let you see the sniping and the exasperation and the desperate struggles to put this immense movie together on time.

What it simply comes down to, though, is that this is the end of this project. I’ve been looking forward to LotR for five years, and when I sat in the theater last Christmas and watched Return of the King I immediately consoled myself with the thought, “Ah, but the DVD is coming out in the middle of the year, and then the Extended set sometime after that.” We got the theatrical release DVD when it came out, watched it, and thought, “And now the Extended DVD.”

Now we have it, and I’ve watched it. There’s no more coming. This is the end of this journy and I am saddened. I didn’t realize how much of a Tolkien geek I really was at heart until I began talking about LotR with Stephanie and explaining to her all the neat cool bits that Jackson got right. I am grateful he did such a wonderful job but I wasn’t ready for it to end and I can’t help but feel a little like Pippin and Merry and Sam, standing on the docks of the Grey Havens, watching the ship carrying Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf, and the Elves disappear into the West.

On Encouraging Tolerance (with thanks and apologies to John Scalzi)

John Scalzi posted his seven Maxims for Non-Believers and they struck me as so well-crafted, I immediately wished that I was a non-believer so that I could use them:

  1. Being a non-believer does not mean you have to be intolerant of those who believe.
  2. Being a non-believer does not mean you have to be ignorant of the beliefs of those around you.
  3. Being a non-believer doesn’t mean you need to keep your children ignorant of the beliefs around you either. Withholding information from your children is a very bad way to help them make responsible decisions.
  4. Being a non-believer does not mean you can’t empathize with the religious impulse in others.
  5. Being tolerant of belief, knowledgeable about beliefs and empathetic toward the desire for belief does not make one less of a non-believer. It makes one tolerant, knowledgeable and empathetic.
  6. I believe that my tolerance, knowledge and empathy makes my own non-belief stronger, because I know why other people believe, and why I don’t.
  7. I believe that in being tolerant, knowledgeable and empathetic toward believers, I encourage those who believe to be tolerant, knowledgeable and empathetic toward me.

Then I began to wonder what a corresponding set of Maxims for Believers would look like. Here’s my stab at them:

  1. Being a believer does not give me cause to be intolerant of those who do not share my beliefs.
  2. Being a believer does not make it acceptable to be ignorant of others’ beliefs or lack thereof.
  3. Being a believer does not make it acceptable to keep my children ignorant of the beliefs around me, nor do I need to hide from them the fact that many choose not to believe. My beliefs are not as valuable as I think if I can only successfully pass them by encouraging ignorance and committing acts of omission.
  4. Because I am a believer who values my ability to choose my beliefs, I should empathize with the beliefs or lack thereof in others.
  5. Being tolerant of, knowledgeable about, and empathetic towards the beliefs or lack thereof in others does not make me less of a believer. It makes me tolerant, knowledgeable, and empathetic.
  6. I believe that my tolerance, knowledge, and empathy make my own belief more personally genuine because I know why I believe and why other people do not.
  7. I believe that in being tolerant, knowledgeable, and empathetic toward those who do not share my beliefs, I encourage them to be tolerant, knowledgeable, and empathetic toward me.

It was surprisingly hard to put these into words, even with the framework of John’s example staring me in the face to copy from inspire me. Picking the right phrasing is key to ensuring that these guidelines themselves exhibit the tolerance and empathy they endorse without being so gently worded as to be useless. I hope that John is not offended by my derivation; it’s been churning around in the back of my head for most of the day.

Scary revelations at 2am

Put Steph to bed a couple of hours ago and came back downstairs to finish up a recipe or two for the Exchange Cookbook, which I am co-writing with some awesome co-workers, and which is way behind schedule. When researching one particular twist got me frustrated, I dropped over to Yahoo!’s Launch website and fired up some streaming music videos in the background.

Holy crap, dude.

Found out that Lindsay Lohan — that precocious red-head who did a pretty good job of filling Hayley Mills’s shoes in Disney’s 1998 remake of The Parent Trap a few years back — is doing the “Disney girl” thing and has a record album out, and one of her music videos (Rumors) has hit the top of the various countdowns. Decided to watch it.

For those of you on slow connections, let me save you the trouble; Ms. Lohan has put out a video that pretty much leaves her marching squarely down the trail of rebellion, “strong woman” independence, and barely-legal sluttishness that Britney Spears has perfected to a tee. The song isn’t too bad — certainly better than Britney’s recent efforts — but it’s tired and trite.

However, I’m not writing to rant about yet another 18 year-old sexpot turning out crap music videos. What scared me was that I remember seeing Ms. Lohan for the first time in 1998. The Parent Trap was one of Treanna and Alaric’s favorite videos for a long time, largely because of Lindsay’s performance. She was a spunky kid, and when Steph and I saw Mean Girls earlier this year, I thought she’d managed to hang on to that wholesome appeal while growing up and making the transition to being a young woman rather than a kid. But I was still thinking of her as “that kid.” She’s not — she grew up, with a vengeance, and now she’s definitely proven (to me at least) she’s not a kid anymore.

I’m just old enough — and just enough of a parent — to want to yell at her to put some clothes back on already, dammit! Because Treanna is almost 8, you see, and Alaric is 6, and it wasn’t all that long ago they were watching Lindsay’s debut. They are growing up, fast. Treanna’s going to become one of those hotties overnight; Alaric is going to be noticing the hotties (and getting some notice back from them) all too soon. If I’m doing my job, they’ll have good heads on their shoulders and will be better prepared than most of their peers, but they’re still going to get to a point where I’m cheering from the sidelines.

Bah. I should go to bed.

Oh, yeah — hot damn, Boston, what got into you? As long as it wasn’t the Yankees, I suppose it’s okay (but don’t tell the guys at work I said that, because I’m going to get really sick of their boasting about the Sox over the next year. Imigrants to the Pacific Northwest are okay until their hometown teams win; then they become annoying), but give a guy some warning, willya?

Thoughts on the Parable of the Lost Geek

As I was getting ready for bed, a casual conversation with my wife kicked off a thought that resulted in me rushing to the keyboard. This post is the result.

Those of you who read me on LJ may not know that I am a Christian. That’s not a very comforting thing to have to type. I’m actually happy that I’ve had this kind of post, because I want to have more of them. I’m not going to gloss over my faith anymore here, but I’ll still be the guy who swears when he’s pissed, who thinks that churches need to get over the lie that two men or two women getting married somehow attacks the sacred institution of marriage on any meaningful level, and who tries desperately to balance my Open Source longings with the steady paycheck from Microsoft money. In short, I’ll be even more me than I have been. I hope you all stick around to see it.

LJ readers: you are going to have to follow the link to my blog to read the full post.


Remember the parable Jesus tells about the shepherd who has 100 sheep?

One night, he’s getting them under cover for the evening and finds that one is missing. You can probably recite the ending along with me: the shepherd goes after the missing lamb, searching high and low, until he finds the lamb and brings it back. Clergy wax lyrical about this parable; they describe the typical sheep fold in detail (big round wall of rocks, thorny brush on top, small opening, more thorny brush to close the gap) and get dowright teary-eyed telling us about the trials and tribulations that shepherd has, searching for that lost lamb, naked uphill both ways through a blizzard with dead batteries in the Maglite. And anyone who has set foot in church in the last 30^H^H99 years knows the punchline: we’re the lost lamb, Jesus is the shepherd.

Well, rest easy. I’m not going there; I want to talk about how that stupid lamb got cut away from the flock to begin with.

(As an aside, you ever really stop to wonder *why* we’re sheep in all the parables? Our largely urban society has constrained sheep to the realm of Little Bo-Beep, things to count to combat insomnia, fluffy white animated bundles of wool, foul-tasting mutton and heavenly lamb dishes, petting zoos, 4-H projects, and the spunky mentor who helps a talking pig learn what life is really all about. But because the bulk of us aren’t getting up three hours before sunrise, we don’t know what sheep really are: the DUMBEST ANIMAL EVER. No lie. Sheep are noisy, smelly, and dumb. They panic more easily than IT buyers at SCO’s lawsuit against IBM, and when one sheep panics, they all have to get in on the act. One stinking butterfly can turn a peaceful flock into a stampeding rush to drown themselves in the river.)

(Kinda reminds you of people, when you think of it. I think Jesus spent more than his fair share of time in the hills, watching the sheep.)

So accepting that we are sheep — we are dumb, we are followers of all the wrong things, and we panic every time we take a breath (“Wah! It’s all around me, I can feel it!”), how do we get separated from the flock? How is it that we walk away from the shepherd when all our life, he’s been the thing that kills the snakes, leads us to green pastures, walks us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and foils SCO’s discovery motion digging expeditions?

The tools the Enemy uses aren’t new. Pride, greed, envy…you know them. The Seven Deadly Sins, the 42 Not-So-Deadly Sins, the 5,732.483 Kinda-Sort-Deadly Sins, the 157,150 More-Of-A-Minor-Irritant Sins, and so on the list is longer and more complex than the friend maps on LiveJournal. They all come back down to one thing: taking our attention away from where it needs to be.

For geeks (and I am speaking to geeks; where else, when my pulpit is a blog, for Pete’s sake?), I believe that the Enemy has an extra shiny tool lined up. It’s one of the oldest, but since it’s surgical steel, it still gleams prettily and still cuts just as well as it ever did. It’s called PRIDE, and friends, we geeks have it in spades. For above all else, we pride ourselves on our identity as geeks. We hold ourselves separate from the poor unwashed semi-literate masses who can’t program their toaster to record Law & Order while downloading the latest stock reports to our handhelds. We are so focused on being geeks, on establishing what we are, that we forget that as Christians, we have another identity badge that we should be cherishing even more.

Not that we geeks are alone in this behavior, oh no; we’re just elitist snobs about it. Listened to the radio? I don’t care which station you listen to; there are plenty of people dividing the populace into camps of “us” and “them”. Watched our country beating itself up right now over the Presidential election? I firmly believe that if you handed out blue coats to one political party, grey to the other, and pointed them to a field, we’d have the biggest re-enactment of the Civil War ever seen — and we’d have a lot more blood on the grass this time around. Now that our culture’s connection to God has been so thoroughly scrambled by divorce, alcohol, drugs, big business, suburban malls, chain stores, child abuse, spouse abuse, unemployment, and boy bands, we want our flock. We want to be a part of something. We want that identity so badly that we will do damn near anything to get and retain it. Baaaaah!

Take a good look at Jesus, as recorded in the Bible. Whether you take every word as absolute literal truth, or whether you look at him through the filters of metaphor and linguistics, the stories recorded for us don’t give a picture of someone who was a follower. Jesus, the man who time and time again talked and thought the Pharisees into a corner, who was no stranger to the temple or synagogue and was holding his own with the greatest religious minds of his day at the age of 12, who counted many rich and important men as his friends, was not a separatist. He was a bridge builder. He looked past the labels, the clothes, the group, the bankroll, and he reached out to men and women from all walks of life. True, his call was most often heeded by those who were disenfranchised and trampled, because they already had less to lose.

But, hey, let’s be honest here — which one of you reading my blog really would be the modern-day Nicodemus? Joseph of Arimathea? Heck, let’s go for Matthew the tax collector. Sure, he was hated, but he was rich!

Or would we be the Peters and the Johns and the Jameses and the other dregs of Judean society, the Galilean fisherman? I’m neither a mover nor shaker; I’m just this guy with a blog. In the day of Jesus, I’d be some miserable bastard living a life of not-so-quiet desperation. And He’d have taken me, if I really gave myself to Him. He’d have made me part of his crowd. He’d have started the long and never-ending process of teaching me how to reach for God, how to recognize that God was always reaching for me. He’d try to get me to raise my eyes out of the dirt and look at the real treasures. He’d have put me in the fields, encouraging me to the harvest.

He did all that, one day long ago in 1977. Far too many days of my life, I’ve forgotten that. I keep trying to live that life of not-so-quiet desperation. I keep trying to be a Galilean fisherman, a Republican, a science fiction fan, an aspiring author, a sheep looking for the next panic to join and the next river to drown in.

I don’t think Jesus minds that I’m a geek; I don’t think he minds that I am proud to be one. I’m pretty certain, however, that it hurts him greatly when I use that as an excuse to ignore my fellow Christians. I don’t have much in common with them, true — when you look at it from the world’s view. But they are my fellow believers. They are in the fields beside me, sustaining me and praying for me and expecting me to do the same for them. They are running the race all around me. If the first century church was scattered all throughout the known world, spreading the Gospel, what have I been smoking to think that I’m going to stay in my safe little self-chosen group and live a life of Christian comfort interacting only with those few I decide are acceptable?

Oh, no. If we’re to be Christians, we don’t get to pick and choose. One body, remember? I don’t get to tell the eyes I don’t need them. They don’t get to ignore me. We don’t get to try to make each other over to all be the same. God made us with these differences; He gave them to us for a reason. It is not wrong to celebrate them, but it is horribly wrong to let them keep us from pursuing the very work He gave them to us for, to sabotage the mission of the church, to poison the body, by permitting our differences to become excuses for avoiding fellowship with other believers.

If judgement is coming to this country in our lifetimes, this is surely why. Not ordaining women or gays, not abortion, not Democrats, not any policy or cause or statement of belief or creed or treaty. But rather because we no longer remember how to be a family, and we are stubbornly turning our heads away whenever God tries to remind us.

Good night, and may the peace of God always be with you.