Tag Archives: Technical

Biting the bullet

What with everything going a little sideways in the last seventy two hours, I’ve compounded my various felonies by signing up for Simon Fraser University’s Certificate in Technical Communication course. Three modules, the first of which is now bought and paid for. Most of the ground I’ve covered as paid work before, but as the saying goes in BC “If you haven’t got the right piece of paper”. My XML and HTML are a bit rusty, I need to get totally au courant with the Canadian style guide, and I’m fine with editing PDF’s, but now with WordPerfect I have the best tool for any writing job. Might even be worth my while buying Corel’s PDF editor, although I’ve already got an old Adobe 5.0 licence and software buried somewhere in my collection.

Now Angie’s on the home stretch of her biology teaching course, which the Education Ministry have insisted upon, the educational burden will shift onto my shoulders and she can relax and enjoy the Summer. However, my April and May will be spent head firmly wedged in English textbooks and burnishing my CV until it gleams. I have DreamWeaver if need be as a web site builder, and a spare domain name to experiment with, so away I’ll go. I also need to put in some serious work on my professional online presence, which is a bit sketchy at present.

Of course this will mean delays on the creative writing front, but as that doesn’t pay many bills, it will be done during ‘leisure’ time only. ‘Darkness’ has just undergone a major narrative restructure, and between now and Tuesday when we head off to the UK for a week, ‘A Falling of Angels’ will be getting similar treatment. If I’m really lucky, I may even get some writing time in while we’re on the move or hanging around in England. If not c’est la vie.

Improved proof reading

Finally installed my copy of WordPerfect yesterday, and was promptly reminded what an utterly superb word processing and formatting toolbox it provides. Proof reading is an absolute breeze using Reveal Codes. Editing likewise. Going through a current work in progress, it highlighted several errors I’d repeatedly missed using Word and OpenOffice, including a massive tranche of unwanted tab settings and assorted code. I’d long ago forgotten what a superb piece of word processing software it is. In the words of the advert ‘It does exactly what it says on the can’. Admittedly WordPerfect is for the advanced user, but once you’ve learned the basics, it’s not that hard.

On the home front, I’ve just celebrated my fifty seventh birthday, am signing up for a Techcomm course, and Angie and I are flying to the UK on Tuesday to undertake one of life’s sad duties. This interferes with main project writing and the prospect of being crammed into an alloy tube for ten hours like so much toothpaste is hardly enticing. Then the infernal hanging around in airports waiting for boarding and security. It’s not so much the travel I hate, I love watching the world skim by. Sitting in a passenger seat, or better still the drivers. That’s not the issue. It’s more the sheer fuss surrounding getting from A to Z and all stations in between. Still, we’ll do what we always do; grit our teeth at the indignities, then try to smile and forget the annoying impedimenta as best we can.

The one consolation is that we’ll be seeing more or less our entire diverse little clan over the next few days, so that can’t be all bad.

Moving on

Angie gets back from England tonight on the eleven thirty flight from Vancouver. Much to my relief. Cooking for one is difficult. While she’s been over the other side of the pond on family business, I’ve been busying myself with various paperwork, job hunting and looking for new accommodation. Somewhere more convenient for Metro Vancouver.

‘A Falling of Angels’ has found its final direction and with luck I’ll have the manuscript finished for first proof and edit by April. About 25,000 words to go, with the ending planned and plotted. The story threads are set to tie up neatly, with the bad guys (mostly) caught and brought to trial, my hero redeemed and on a new start in life. Until the next volume of course.

‘Falling through the Stars’ unfortunately, is crawling along very slowly. There’s a whole chunk of storyline that’s simply not working and has to be junked. I’ll just do what I normally do, cut and paste the offending section into a separate file. For future use. Maybe.

While Angie has been away, I’ve been doing a little reading to help keep my Technical writing skills current. One note of enlightenment came from an old copy of Arthur Plotnik’s “The Elements of Editing“. Although it’s a little dated, reading certain sections rather confirmed my suspicions about why so many submissions to publishers go unanswered.

Skipping Christmas again

Times are tight, as is the money supply, and this year we’ll be sending gifts and money to close friends and family as usual. As well as sponsorship for youngest daughter, who is firewalking for charity this year. But with the kids (Grown up young women really) and other family on the other side of the Atlantic and Pacific, Angie and I will be making this festive season a very low key affair. We’ll have a guest and friends over for Christmas eve and day but won’t be making a big thing of it. Don’t think I’ll bother with a tree. I might string up a few lights, but that’s all. I’ve even managed to avoid the day job Christmas party. Which gets me out of the interminable gift giving I can’t afford to people I hardly know. Fine if you’re well paid and have money to spare. Not so fine if you aren’t and haven’t. My boss was surprised when I told her I didn’t want to come, but respects what I do, at least enough to acquiesce. She even sat down as if expecting an explanation. I just hunkered down to begin my shift and said it would take a decade to explain why this time of year always makes me uncomfortable. Which it does.

This doesn’t mean I hate Christmas or any other time of year. No, I say live and let live. Respect the rights of others. If they want to participate, fine. Just don’t judge me for wanting to have a quiet time instead. Maybe work a little, go easy on the whole conspicuous overconsumption thing, smile affably, nod, walk on by. Chill away from the fuss, noise and ‘fun’. Most of it’s for the kids anyway.

John Grisham has a little novella called ‘Skipping Christmas’ about a couple who want to take a break from interminable ‘celebration’ and go on a cruise. Like all these cautionary tales it doesn’t end well for Luther and his wife. Charles Dicken’s ‘Christmas Carol’ and other like works of emotional blackmail are, like Santa, fantasies for small children. “Be like everyone else or bad things will happen.” Is the implied threat. Real life is usually somewhat more forgiving. ‘Couple go away for Christmas, save money and have a really nice relaxing time’ wouldn’t have made much of a story.

As I shall be working on and off, as well as putting in time and energy on my major writing projects, the TV will stay tuned to Netflix and YouTube. We’ll spend time with close friends. New year calls for study, when I intend to improve my various Technical Writing certifications. Writing novels is all very well, but it’s not very good at paying the rent.

Switching to WordPerfect

For Christmas this year I’ve decided; I’m treating myself to a full copy of Corel WordPerfect. I’ve always liked its functionality as a piece of word processing software, and liked the way I could always get deep into the code of a document. Unlike Microsoft Word, or Lotus, or OpenOffice which are basically very similar. All right, they’re fine for the basics, but when you need to turn out a document untrammelled by spurious code, you can’t beat WordPerfect. The ‘Reveal Codes’ command is the kicker as far as I’m concerned. It reaches the parts all the others can’t or won’t. Takes the Bloat out of the Bloatware, and makes a nice clean job of it. Especially when outputting XML or HTML formats for web based documentation.

I’ve always liked WordPerfect for its virtuosity as a piece of word processing software, although it requires a higher level of expertise than all the others put together. Yes, maybe the menu system looks a bit complex and old fashioned, but once mastered, you can do far more with it as an application. What has brought this desire to change on is my increasing frustration with the self correcting facilities in Word, OpenOffice or Lotus. When saving across formats, I tend to lose language settings and special characters, which in documents over 50,000 words long means a lot of extra proofing and re-reading. I’ve tried switching these features off, but even then MS-Word, OpenOffice Write and Lotus keep on losing the details, which is very frustrating. I actually gave up working in MS-Word when I found code fragments creeping in and ruining anything up to two months of work during document conversion. Yes, fine, Word can output PDF’s, it’s fairly intuitive, but because the code structure is not completely transparent and correctable, Word and its various clones won’t let you clean the whole document up properly. This has previously cost me time, money and energy that I could better spend elsewhere. There’s also the issue that WordPerfect is often the choice of Law Offices because it is more secure than most.

With the climax of ‘A Falling of Angels’ looming on my mental horizon, I’d far rather be writing than constantly correcting stuff that was already corrected.

Thought for the morning

Watching the sun rise this morning, I was observing the crepuscular light shedding angular dusty beams on the Eastern horizon. One beam of light was shining vertically through the clouds like some massive laser. Which made me think about alien invasion movies like ‘Independence Day’ where the invaders come zooming into Earth’s atmosphere with massive energy weapons, blowing up everything in sight. Thinking about it, why bother with Star Warsy / Trekkie type energy weapons? All very sparkly, all very pretty, but mostly all heat and fury with very little knockdown power. Comparatively speaking.

Now if it were me, I’d drop half a dozen or so hundred metre asteroids on the planet well before sending in ground troops. Any detonations, even within a kilometre or five of the surface would do enough damage to a major cities infrastructure to paralyse everything. Then leave for a year before hitting with another quick barrage of about ten Tunguska sized masses. Wait another solar year while all the humans run around shooting each other and running out of supplies before sending in my very expensive, and hard to fix number of terminator ‘droids. Minimal damage to the biosphere and game over for all those pesky humans. And some very nice living space on a des res planet once the meteoric dust has settled and things have warmed up again. Just send in the scrap scavengers.

Fortunately it’s all fiction. Because if any other species is smart enough and capable of crossing interstellar space en masse with hostile intent; basically, humanity is screwed.

Update: as opposed to airbursts, what if the asteroids were dropped in the seas near major coastal conurbations? A big enough water explosion a hundred and fifty klicks away would mess up LA, San Francisco and San Diego with Tsunamis. South and East of New York to push a wall of water up the Chesapeake. One in the Northern Caribbean would paralyse Florida and all of coastal Texas, as well as sending a massive tidal bore up the Mississippi. Polish off with a hit in Lake Michigan. Europe could be paralysed with three hits. One in the Northern English Channel, Eastern Baltic and central Mediterranean. Western Indian Ocean about equidistant between the Persian Gulf and Mumbai. The last reserved for somewhere in the Philippines. Residual tidal surges would at least severely damage every sea port everywhere in the world. Two years of solid rainfall from all the atmospheric water vapour would do the rest. Result: one freshly laundered planet ready for colonisation. Scary.

The dark art of prophecy

The nature of science fiction is all about how a change in scientific knowledge or technology can alter human society. To play the ‘what if?’ game with a vengeance. It is a literary tree with many branches. From the ‘hard’, based on an extrapolation of historical understanding, real life human psychology and proposed technologies, to space opera and sword and sorcery fantasies. It’s a prophesy game, which is the key dark art of the genre.

Most of the early prophets, like H G Wells in “War of the Worlds” and “The shape of things to come” had elements which have been since come to pass; substitute lasers for ‘heat rays’, mass airborne bombardment, poison gas. Wells saw all these things in humanities future. Jules Vern’s “Voyage to the moon” and “20,000 leagues under the sea” foresaw moonshots and submarine warfare, but not in quite the way he surmised. Arthur C Clarke is credited with predicting communication satellites, and in one short story the widespread availability of pornography via satellite TV. In Clarke’s version, his protagonist was going to use the technology to subvert Western society. Forget the title or what collection it’s in. Either “The Nine Billion names of God” or “Tales of Ten Worlds” I think. Used to have copies, but they either got read to death, or lost in one of many house moves.

Today I finished a dark, ironic, even cautionary little story about the misuse of satellite technology. What starts out as the ultimate weapon against individual terrorists gets hijacked by a couple of bored slacker programmers, who inadvertently create devastation by tinkering with what they think is a ‘simulator’ package. The premise and outcome are fairly straightforward, the mechanics of the story not so much.

At six thousand, six hundred and sixty six words I find myself, for my own perverse reasons, liking both length and content. What gives the story punch is the proposed technology is one of those ‘on the horizon’ things. Just on the cusp of possibility. To be honest, I’ll be surprised if something very similar hasn’t already crossed some defence analysts desk as a serious weapon systems proposal.

Without giving too much away, I drew heavily on my knowledge of computer networking and security, wide area networks, orbital mechanics and ablation in order to tie various elements into a plausible, dramatic whole intended to both amuse and stimulate. For some it might prove a bit too geeky, for others overly simplistic, but that’s the fine line walked when you’re trying to mix in complex story elements with the cynicism of experience. What can a character do when their carefully defended world is going to hell, and everything that happens seems to make matters worse? Simply because they’ve been pushed into making a beta level system fully operational.

When I have another few of these stories completed, at present I’ve half a dozen as ‘works in progress’, I’ll put them into a little eBook collection and give it a punt into the great nowhere. See what happens. In the meantime it’s back to working on ‘Darkness’ and ‘A falling of Angels’.

Amusing myself with my wifes iPad

NewMKJprofilePhotoAngie has long complained that my current online profile picture “Doesn’t do you justice.” So during a keyboard break I decided to borrow her iPad, which has a rather good camera setup, and had a bit of a play. Then decided to try a picture using a mirror. After a few tries, which should probably be best buried on an obscure hard drive at midnight with a stake through its casing, I came up with this. Which for once meets with her approval, and as a writer of science fiction, the ‘infinity effect’ using the iPad camera also amuses. Good grief, I’m even smiling and don’t look as much like a crazed axe murderer as I usually do.

The more I get to play with it, the cooler I think her iPad is.

Rewriting and structuring

I’m always willing to learn more about the art of storytelling. This has led me to re-examine what I’ve written so far on ‘A Falling of Angels’. My heroes relationships are intertwined with his character development, but also with the tangled web of his investigations into the corruption that allows murderers to remain unmolested. If they have the right connections. That and their shadowy supplier and master, whose motives will remain unclear. Right up into the planned volume “Shifting States”.

One story thread is about Paul Calvins relationship with another, similarly afflicted and brain damaged character, and how he assists her recovery. The problem was that key story elements were the wrong way round. Well perhaps ‘wrong’ isn’t the right word. Out of sequence? That’s probably more like it. That’s what was getting in the way. I kept stalling on story threads and couldn’t move the larger narrative forward.

So I’m spending the next day of two restructuring what’s been written so far. I liken this part of the writing process to editing and cutting a movie or TV show. All the scenes have been shot in mostly the right order (Well, kind of), now it’s time to shuffle elements around and hunt down continuity errors. The idea being to bring out an improved product. Threads need to be unpicked and rewoven. Fortunately this is at a relatively early stage of the game, so there’s only 30,000 words to patch into a better constructed tale.

I do a lot of episodic writing. I get an idea, put together a story, and then the fragment goes into file while I work on something else. Then at a later date it’s pulled out of the file, reworked, rewritten; and if it seems any good, completed. If not the story sits on file until I can find a use for the idea. It’s not as though I’m working under any deadlines, apart from those I impose on myself.

We are now officially cool….?

My wife now has a 4th Gen 32Gb iPad (With cellular data package) for work. iPads are supposed to be ‘cool’, therefore so are we, I think. Possibly. Maybe. Is it possible to be ‘cool’ when you’re over 55? I don’t know.

A lot of Angie’s high school level learners have Mac and iPads, and throw out documents in Mac format. They use Apple’s video messaging as opposed to Skype. Therefore she needs this piece of kit to work and communicate with them more effectively.

Playing with her new iPad on the deck via the house wi-fi while drinking a very nice Belgian beer, chilling and watching some serious boats go by, it is interesting to see, close up, how an iPad works. Very intuitive, polished, and slick. I can see why some folk get fanatical about them.

Me, I’m sticking with my old Acer Windows 7 laptop until it breaks, or gets so slow it’s not worth booting. Then I might, if budget allows, look at a MacBook as a replacement. I’ve always looked at it this way, it’s no use buying a sports car (iPad) when what you really need is a van (PC). Although the iPad 10 hour battery life is very appealing. Like with our Kobo eReader, battery life is crucial when you’re far from home and travelling with no available charging ports.

Anyway. Thanks to Marc, Victor, Scotty, and the guys in the ‘engine room’ at Nanaimo Future Shop for great, dare I say ‘awesome’ service and letting us make up our own minds. Having the Apple guy in store is a seriously good piece of service end marketing on Apples part. Hope we didn’t give the boys too much of a hard time. We’ll be back.

How to deal with Internet Trolls

Picked up this link from LinkedIn this morning. Apparently there are people with nothing better to do than post defamatory views on the works of others. Known as ‘trolls’. Not the dark Scandinavian monsters of legend, hiding under bridges to waylay the unwary, nor cute hairy little dolls sold as souvenirs. No. These trolls are most often sad, twisted, and rather lonely individuals with a keyboard and no real friends ‘trolling’ as in fishing terms, web sites and forums for attention. Most likely they are powerless people on an ego trip.

The best way to deal with these people is not to engage. ‘Do not feed the trolls’ being the cardinal unwritten rule of most comment threads. Because that is what they want. ‘Feeding’ / engagement, attention. To snag your ID from your e-mail address reply so as to impersonate you. A better idea is to let them batter their worthless souls senseless by simply removing their abusive / insulting posts from your web site comment threads without mention. In short, send them to electronic oblivion. Deny them the vindication of existence. Damn their sayings with faint praise if need be, but preferably do not even acknowledge their existence, or the existence of their insults, ever. If necessary ‘down arrow’ their reviews or mark their ‘review’ as ‘unhelpful’. Trust me, there are all sorts of ways to deal with these stalkers rather than the hi-tech. Psychology will always be your friend.

For the technically minded there are other, but more intensive, answers. Go on a ‘troll hunt’ if you must, but only if there is no other recourse. I posted this advisory comment as a rough guide on how to proceed over at ‘TheBookChick’

May I offer a little advice. The Internet is not anonymous. It is relatively easy to track these abusive posters down via their IP address if you know how. Even if they do the normally cowardly troll trick of hiding behind what are called ‘Anonymous proxies’. There is always a trail of electronic breadcrumbs.

With their home IP address you can track the point of origin of the abusive poster. Using ‘Whois’ (Type into search bar and use one of the many free services), Find out their service provider / employer and lay formal complaint that their user / employee (Cite time of posting and IP address) is in breach of their terms of service for posting abusive and insulting material. Ask a lawyer if you need to go all formal on your antagonist. If that fails, with the evidence at your back, simply threaten to publicly post that such and such a service provider / organisation encourages abusive posting.

Remember, trolls are creatures of darkness, they hate the light.

Which is rather provocative, as there are as many ways to block as there are to discover, and an IP address is not a phone number, permanently linked to one subscriber. The Media Access Control number, if you can find it, is a unique identifier for each individual web accessing device. Oddly enough, this can be tracked relatively easily if your abuser is not ultra careful with their wireless device using public Wi-Fi. A simple web search will throw up all sorts of tricks and tools for this very purpose.

In short, everything anyone does on line can be recorded and tracked. Find the IP address, which is the number divided into two or three letter groups by full stops (It will be in the header information of their post), and go to somewhere like IP Tracker online. For advice on how to track down the anonymous abusers to their source from a cops standpoint, may I recommend this article as a good starting point. This article is also useful, with several handy pointers on where to look. Yes it means extra work, but if someone is hurting you, what recourse have you got? While not infallible, there are resources like ‘Real IP’ and ‘Visualware’ or ‘Visualroute’. Although for the non-technically minded, the above will be little real help.

Personally I prefer the ‘do not engage’ option with abusive attention seekers. My attitude towards them can be amply illustrated in this little known quote from Douglas Adam’s character Zaphod Beeblebrox; “Hey, I’ll just turn my charisma down a notch, they’ll soon get bored.” Think of it this way; if you weren’t heroic, they wouldn’t be trying to pull you down.

The only problem with great ideas…..

Maybe there can be sometimes too much of a good thing. Inspiration, that is. Had a great idea the other day for a little dramatic vignette for ‘Darkness’. A sound piece for to round out the backstory. One that ties up two character threads neatly, just in case a reader asks “Hey, whatever happened to them?”.

The only problem is; sometimes an idea is too good and takes over from the main story sequence. Unfortunately, my story now contains too many conflicts with other character threads. At the same time it’s just too damn good to ditch, because what’s written tidies up a gaping hole in the narrative. On the other hand it opens several large tins of wriggling Oligochaeta.

Originally I’d planned to kill off the two characters in question to provide a focus of angry motivation for others, but I like them both so much I really can’t bring myself to do the evil deed.

This means yet another storyline restructure. Head meet desk. Hi. Ow.

Don’t know how anyone else copes with story conundrums of this nature, but it’s at times like these I’m glad that I use a laptop running word processing software, and not my old Imperial Safari typewriter. Think of the trees I’m saving.

Minor change to blog title

Blithely carrying on in my usual ‘full-speed-ahead-and-damn-the-torpedoes’ way, I hadn’t really noticed how many Martyn Jones’ there are out there. From Psychologists and Gynocologists to artists and politicians. So in order to distinguish myself from them and make it easier for people who want to actually find my specific profile, I’m changing my ID title from a simple vanilla ‘Martyn Jones’ to ‘Martyn K Jones’. WordPress was easy, but Facebook, as usual, is proving more user fiendish, demanding verification via cell phone text. This for me is problematic. I live in an area with poor cell phone reception, and two requests for a verification code from Facebook this morning have so far met with a blank wall. My phone is registering an average of 30-50% signal strength. Still no text.

Technology and social media. You gotta love ’em.

Taxes, Grants and subsidies….

Here’s the good news; the government of Canada subsidises and gives tax breaks to publications. Can I or any other independent Canadian writer access these valuable tax breaks?

Sadly no. They only give funds and tax breaks to publishing companies, not individual self publishing writers. Application notes here.

Today I am going to talk to the local Chamber of Commerce regarding company registration. I know how it works in the UK, but not over here. I shall invest a little time today in business conversations.

Update: There’s a tax break for publishers in BC – From Income tax act, too. Probably doesn’t apply to independents, either.